maybe that'll work. im getting lazy...
10 June 2012 

 Well, there ya have it. The blessings have already started. I got picked up at a gas station in Moshi by my guide to be, and after talking at their office, I decided to go with the 7 day trek and not 6. To my surprise, there were already two other people going on the 7 day and that if I went with them, I’d get a discount! Yes, I will take that....thank you very much. Then walking into my hotel, I met the two people. A mid 20’s couple from Sweden. OK, its time to charge my plethora of electronics. Ciao

11 June 2012 
 Its time. Today is the day. Day 1. The attempt to climb will start shortly. It is breakfast time, and as I have no idea what my food will be for the next 7 days, I’m enjoying overpriced eggs and juice. 

 NIGHT TIIIIIME! Day 1 is in the books! I had a few weak spurts, but overall a great day. All clouds, in the rain forest all day, and our vertical assent was 1200 meters. From 1800 (the park gate) - 3000. Tomorrow will be 800 vertical, and will take us about 4.5 hours, two less than today. 
 Arriving at camp this afternoon/evening was nothing short of amazing. The tents and chairs and “mess tent” was set up and waiting, and after a short rest we had hot tea and popcorn. Next came the carrot soup and bread. What a dinner. All 3 of us were pleased. Nice dinner we agreed....then came the potatoes and fish fillets, haha. Wow, impressive! I’m definitely full now, I thought. Midway through, another vegetable soup was served and I was speechless. This would be a very nice meal in a house. An amazing meal for a picnic. But all of this carried up a mountain on people’s shoulders? C'mon....
 Needless to say....dinner was tasty. 

12 June 2012

 Day two is in the books. Literally. Dinner is finished, my tummy is full, and my neck is sunburned quite bad. I sit in our mess tent writing by candle light not because I have no other light source, but because somehow, it just makes it that much better. Our dinner each night is accompanied by candles, and it has been wonderful. Another 3 course meal was had and we just got finished star gazing. They are un-be-leave-able. Johan is using a 15 second shutter speed to try to capture the Milky Way, and really, what you can see from up here is truly breathtaking. In the states it seems that you can see thousands of stars. Here it is millions. It almost looks like there is more white in the sky than black. Standing there with my head tilted back feeling the cool breeze around my neck I got a bit excited again and realized I am really lucky to be getting to do this. Despite there being +/- 100 people at this camp alone on this night, I realized again that I’m one of a few that get to experience this. Life is good. 
 We had a few sections of our trek that bordered “technical” or “climbing.” I enjoyed them. This morning, we started out walking in the rain forest under complete cloud cover, but were soon through them where sunburning was free and liberally distributed to everyone. I’ve only had a few light headaches so far, but tomorrow apparently, will be the start of the challenge. Challenge? Hmm, what exactly have the past 2 days been? Just kidding, it has really not been that bad. Do as they say and go slow and all will be fine. After all, the hike is scenic. Why not just cruise, and have a casual walk. You get to camp and although you get to rest, all you will be doing is sitting. 
I’m quite confident that I will sleep great tonight. I realized last night that earplugs DO work for me. Add that to being on flat ground tonight.....I’m excited. 
Tomorrow we climb to 4600 meters, then hike back down to sleep at 3900. We are at 3800 tonight so hopefully I’ll push through, without any major difficulties. Well, I could keep rambling but I’m yawning and should try to sleep. I do not even know the time...

14 June 2012

 The dogs are barking now!! Not literally, that is just what Vernon Taylor, my grandpa used to say. Its been a long two days. Well, technically a long day and a short one. I decided to keep up with a porter for the last 30 minutes or so on our decent into camp last night and I paid the price. Thinking “up fast” is bad but down fast isn’t, I opted to go for it. What I didn’t think of is that my heart/blood/oxygen would still have to be pumped and keep up. A horrible headache and nausea ensued and my evening plans changed in favor of Advil and a nap. I’d recovered by dinner and after a bit of chitchat I turned in for what would be my best night of sleep yet. 
Today we got to start late because we’re on the 7 day plan. up until now the 6 day people and us have done the same thing. The camp we will sleep at will only be their lunch stop. They will continue on for another 4 hours and relax (try to sleep) until midnight when they will start their ascent to the summit. I do not envy them at all.
 We on the other hand, will relax for the rest of today, and have another easy day tomorrow. 3 hours of hiking today, and 3 tomorrow. Then rest all afternoon and get up ad midnight tomorrow to summit. In every way the 7 dat choice is better. Especially since they gave it to me with no price change. 

15 June 2012

Dinner last night was good and we got to visit with the porters for a bit. One is 19 years old, one 20, and 22 I think. Its just so crazy to me, it really is (their lives). In too many ways to discuss....but some comfort comes from their acknowledgement that this is a good job, and I suppose it isn’t fair to them to compare their style of living to that of someone in another country. But is that a copout on my part? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t like being waited on and catered to. Especially by people who could use more assistance than myself, even if it is their job. 
Well, this is the dawn of the day that I will summit. Tonight at midnight we will set off for the top. 

 It is 5:15 p.m. now and we’re at our next/last camp (before the final climb). I forget the name of the camp. My headache reminds me of the altitude though. 4600 meters. Thankfully it has not been horrible every day. I think we all know I don’t do “sick” very well. 
 It didn’t take us very long to get here today, maybe 2.5 hours. What we walked through was called the alpine desert. The camp here is just below the snow line on the mountain and when you are not in direct contact with the sun, it gets cold fast. I just took at 2.5 hour nap. I’m glad I did because after the nap yesterday, I slept very little last night. Even as I’m writing I keep having to put on more clothes. It’s going to be a cold night, and even colder walk up the mountain. I’m a little worried though....I sure hope I have enough clothes. I should be good. Walking helps keep you warm. 

16 June 2012

WOW! What a day. Man what a day. I climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro today. I can summarize the ascent to the summit like having the flu, and being forced to walk up a never ending gravel hill in the dark with snow and ice where the temp is 15 degrees Fahrenheit and you are forced to breathe through a straw. Oh, and you start at midnight having no sleep and arrive at the top just before sunrise. So that is how Kilimanjaro is. But that is just the summit night/morning. The preceding 5 days are like walking up stairs for 4-6 hours per day. Yes, you still have the straw in your mouth. 
 When I got to the camp at 3100 meters this afternoon I spent about 5 minutes enjoying the ability to hold my breath for longer than 2 seconds and not worrying about passing out or throwing up. 
Oh ya....thats the other thing. En route to the summit, I couldn’t decide if my “Heart”/blood was going to burst out of my neck, chest, or head first. That altitude is something else. When I got to the fake summit, Stella Point, I literally laid down. the guide made me sit up, but I actually started crying. Why? I don’t know. Because for the previous 3 hours I really didn’t know if I was going to make it? We saw several people do an about face and accept their failed attempt. It gave me an uneasy feeling yet encouragement at the same time. It also might have been because I felt so awful, sick, hurt, and exhausted that THAT was the only thing my body had left to do. Or it could be that to my right was the congrats sign, and in the background was a breathtaking (literally) glacier, and to my left was the sunrise, peeking through 2 inferior mountain peaks. 

You can see the earth’s curve when you’re out on the ocean, when you’re in an airplane, and from where I was sitting. Man...the sunrise. I could actually see the earth from the same perspective as a commercial pilot; and I was sitting on the ground. Despite a few very sparse clouds above me, I had a beautifully clear sky. And even though I did need a little help from the guide, I still walked to 19,340 feet to see it. The mountain did require me to throw up 200 yards from the top though, before I could get a picture. Nice entrance fee. 

The decent was equally awful for the first 300 meters, and then something happened. Adrenaline. And a full shot of it. I felt great, awake, and excited. I naturally started walking faster, and that turned into some crude style of gravel sliding/skiing. It was amazing. Me and the guide were blowing past people like they were standing still. Some actually were I guess, haha. But most were trying to do this weird type of side step tiptoe thing where they were using their hiking poles....we didn’t need no poles haha. We were cruising. Upon reaching camp, the guide told me we made it down an hour and 15 minutes. it was supposed to take 2.5 hours. Hello nap time. My goal has been reached. 

What is traveling and why do people do it? What is the personal appeal? Can anyone differentiate between a tourist and a traveler? And why on earth did I come to Kenya? Was it solely because I had a week to kill or because I justified a 6 hour bus ride and a $50 visa as “been there done that”? Is all this a sad attempt to have a diverse passport? Or was it out of pure convenience that I thought about ticking another country “box”....because those reasons are a far cry from what meaningful travel should be. I can promise you that. I just barely came, but upon seeing the urban sprawl as the bus topped a small hill skirting the city, I felt mildly rejuvenated. It was different and offered something new. 

The excitement that had been building as the ride was ending took a big hit when I called my couch-surfing (C.S.) contact and was informed that he had no money for a bus ticket to come up and get me. His request was that I get a bus down to where he was. No big deal I thought....

Wait, yes it was. Crap. Um ok how about a cab. Ya...i’ll take a cab. After 2 discussions with drivers I agreed on 1500 Kenyan shillings. Thats $17. Grrrr. Not cool. So we drive....and drive....and drive....and drive some more. As we venture further to the South, thats the direction the quality of life goes also. South. Where the heck are we going? No worries. Hamna shida, “no problem” in Kiswahili. After about 6 phone calls between my driver and my C.S. contact, direction inquiries from almost a dozen locals, and multiple u-turns, I had given up on time and caring. Its been at least an hour.....probably 1.5 hours. At this point I’m glad for a fixed cab fare and not a running meter. We finally pull into one of the neighborhoods...can I call it that? Its the quality of the remote villages in Tanzania where I've spent the past 2 weeks. Except its twice as cramped, triple the people, and theres 2-5 story “projects” style housing everywhere. Really? This is the place?? Huh....whatever. “Roll w/ it Von.” 

We the middle of the street no less. Wait a few minutes and BAM! In pops this head saying hi through my open window. This must be the C.S. guy. So I pay and get out. 

Our walk down the trash lined street is soon traded for a trash covered narrow alleyway that runs along and in between multi-floor half finished concrete buildings. We turn and go through a rod iron safety door that looks like it belongs in a Martha Stewart commissioned jail. We climb stairs that are made of half broken cement and I’m told their apartment is at the end of the building on the 2nd floor. I can see the feet of another guy sticking out of the doorway as we make our way down the walkway. Staring through the doorway I see two padded lounging chairs up against the wall, side by side. Opposite of them is the matching couch. None have cushions, rather folded material to sit on and some extra pieces draped over the arm rests and chair back to liven up the decor. I side shuffle in, because the chairs cover all but about 6 inches of the doorway. Reggae music is blaring and I now feel that these guys are the self appointed DJ’s of this cell block. One friend is sleeping on the couch, and 2 others double up the occupancy of the other chair so as for me to have one. All people introduce themselves to me, are super polite and hospitable, and speak good English. Yet somehow, I'm not in my comfort zone, or so far out of my element that I’m just...not really enjoying the moment. 

The sporadic come-and-go typical conversation that accompanies a newcomer is for the most part overshadowed by the blaring reggae fest that is going on in this 8’ x 8’ living room. Which apparently is not affecting the sleeper on the couch, yet I can’t hear any of the questions when they’re asked to me. 

I’m invited outside to the walkway where the options are to sit on a bucket, stand, or lean over the railing. The view from the second floor is of roosters crowing and chickens pecking, dogs barking, and many mirrored illusions of this exact building. Almost every one a photocopy of the previous. People are stacked upon people: wet hanging clothes out to dry on sagging ropes, babies crying, kids throwing sticks and trash, and people shouting or talking. I can count half a dozen leaning telephone poles that are carrying 4 times their weight in wire and would make quite the payday for a copper thief in America. 

Welcome. Welcome to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. 

I have, at this point, thought of 3 friends. 
  1. Alex Harrison. Alex loves reggae music and would probably be loving this. I consider myself mostly laid back, but still occasionally feel the need for first world amenities. He on the other hand, would be standing, dancing, and probably wearing some sort of single piece shirt/robe thing that he picked up in Thailand or India. 
  2. Chris Thomas. Chris is often my inspiration when I find myself being scared, insecure, or too closed minded to fully appreciate the situation. He's the voice on my shoulder that says, “Suck it up Von.”
  3. Phil Leal. Phil is on the other side, aiding sometimes in my “ummm, maybe I shouldn't do this” feeling. I feel like I am to him what Chris is to me, which isn't a bad thing. Balance is good, always. Phil is just more cautious and reserved than I am I think. 

I kind of think Phil would have seen the place and not even exited the cab. And Alex, well he would have had his head out of the window smiling, like a dog in the wind. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m conflicted and don't know what to do. I came to Nairobi with no plans, and said I was open to anything. But am I open to this? This might be a little extreme. I tell myself to ride it out. After all, “Travel is truly experiencing other cultures and lands - embedding yourself in them, participating, living.” At least, thats what I keep telling myself. 

So afternoon turns into evening, and evening into dusk. We’re still on the porch/walkway...whatever...and I get passed a bag of leaves. 
 “Do you chew?” Kennedy asks. 
 “Huh?” I say, “Tobacco? No.”
 “No, Khat.” He says, while I'm holding the bag. 
 He reaches in and gets a pinch and bites off the leaves and says, “See?” 
 Yes I see, I think to myself but I'm not eating leaves. You're crazy. 
 He says, “Its stimulus, it keeps you productive, plus it helps us not sleep much. Maybe like 2 hours a night.” 

I smile as I think, “Ya, umm...I’m not going to chew on organic green leafy Kenyan speed. No thanks.” Well, Kennedy says its not drugs and it wont hurt me and that it tastes sweet. I’m still holding the bag and realizing now I'm really in the ghetto. Realizing my backpack is inside full of electronics, and that I have the equivalent of 2 months wages in my pocket, I feel like my bargaining position is somewhat limited. Am I in a scene from a undercover cop movie where the kingpin is testing my allegiance to his cartel? I spot a single leaf and continue to bite it off and chew. (Sorry mom.) And what do ya tastes like a leaf. Imagine that. They smile: test passed. They can rest assured though that that is the end of my induction test. I’m partial to my leaves in a bowl with Italian dressing on them.

It gets dark and chilly so we go inside. All 5 of them, ranging from 23-32 are surprisingly politically savvy. They want to watch the news. Were going to pause Reggae Fest 2012?? Awesome. Well, half way through the power goes out. Apparently this is common. Does this mean I’ll get to sleep in silence tonight? After about 15 minutes we decide to go buy food. Food? Here? “Mmmmm suck it up Von.” - Thanks Chris. Be where you are, I remind myself. So we walk from stall to stall, each illuminated by propane torches or candles, and me shelling out the cash for dinner. Kennedy is going to make fish stew. So we buy the chopped up bone in tilapia, and several veggies and make our way back to the flat. Still no power anywhere. Kennedy goes in to start cooking, and by go I mean use the mini table that is beside the 1 bed in the 1 room that I guess I'll be sleeping on. Am I finally traveling?? Because truly a new experience. I’m certain. 

I'm tired and fall asleep in the chair. I don’t how, but I do. I’m awoken by Kennedy and am a bit disoriented. Its made worse buy my contacts. Things are blurry. I regain my thoughts and am given hot hot stew and maize bread. A pitcher of water and bowl to wash my hands in, and oh eating utensils. We’re taking the hands on approach I see. I give a silent prayer for the safety of my stomach and the soon to be contents there in and go to town. Oh how I hate picking out fish bones. I finish and we’re one-third of the way through an old American movie when I realize its Jaws, but it’s not the original. Maybe 2, 7 or 49.... I don't know. Killer sharks invade fresh water somewhere up the Bayou. I’m quite tired again, and by the time the credits roll, I'm ready for some sleep. Even though I'm not too keen on the arrangements, I'm going to attempt the bed. I request the mosquito net, grab my mobile and headphones, and lay down. Using the White Noise app on my phone, the oscillating fan drowns out the reggae and I'm left to think and sleep. 

Laying there wanting to sleep, I am again, thinking of adjusting my length of stay in Nairobi. I don't know what I THOUGHT it’d be like or how I expected to get around, but this is not holding my interest. Upon arrival I had decided to go back on Friday and not Saturday, and now I'm scheming up a way to leave even earlier yet preserve my good standing with my new housemates. I guess this is where my inability to be straight with someone/them shows through and I like the idea of telling a lie better. I decide that if I am awake to take the 8:00 bus I will, and if not I'll opt for the afternoon choice. Proud? No. Relieved? Yes. Disappointed in my weakness? Getting there....

I wake up to movement on the bed and what do you know? It’s 6.33 a.m. Lets do this. Mission: Migraine is ready to start. I hesitate, as I do with almost everything, then get up. Check the time again and open the room door. I realize the movement I felt is the addition of 2 more people to my bed.  I almost step on another guy sleeping on the floor. A bit of sadness and remorse for them, the situation, and what I'm about to do, but I battle on. I wake up the guy laying on the couch and ask where Kennedy is. Out pops his head from under the sheet on the floor. He is right under me. Given the amount of “Khat” (green leaves) they’ve chewed I'm a little surprised to see anyone sleeping at all. Equally surprising is that they sleep with the music off. So I start off my story about my migraine and that I might just need to go home. I explain I've been trying to sleep for the past hour and its not helping. They ask what pills I take and I say I don't know the name. “They’re yellow capsules.” (What!? Why am I compounding this lie!?!? What an amateur....) And as luck would have it...James says, “Oh! I have some of those. Kennedy they’re on the shelf. Go get them.” Great....This is karma. Out pops the pack of pills and THANKFULLY they’re red and yellow. I politely decline and say that mine are all yellow and I should probably wait until I get home. 

The driver comes at 6:55 and in hop me and Kennedy to start my second $20 cab ride. Well, again I'm thankful for a fixed fare because we ask no less than 15 people for directions on where this bus station is, and by the time we arrive, it is 9:00. An hour late for taking the bus. But at this rate, I don't care. I’m glad to be in a place that I can walk around independently, and I'm over the awkwardness. Frankly I don't care if they see through my lie...I can handle it from here. I settle the fare and off they go. I get my bus ticket for 2:00 p.m. and set out to find the locally famous and tourist spot Java House. I’m in need of some first world flair. 

It is now 12:15 and I’ve been here in the coffee shop writing and reading and eating for the better part of 3 hours. I've had ample time to reflect on my decisions as well as the past 24 hours. I had battled through the questionable and concerning situations. No sickness from food or drink. I’m alive and still have not been mugged. The earlier situation I found myself in was different, new, and locally authentic. Completely. Why then, this morning, did I jump ship? Did I jump ship?  While I ended my stay and Kenyan trip a day early, I still gained a new perspective and experienced a different culture. Did I attempt and fail or did I just finish early? 

I am not opposed to challenging myself. I am not opposed to risk or (a little) pain for the opportunity of a unique experience. I am, after all, the same person who lived out of a pick-up truck for 4 months in L.A. and told only one person. I’m also the same person who has swam with sharks without a cage, ridden real bulls, and battled altitude sickness to climb Kilimanjaro. It is pushing your personal boundaries and extending your comfort zones that make you remember how many millions of ways are available for you to experience life, to explore the fringes of my physical and emotional perception. It is good for me. It is good for everybody. In the end, it is usually the mental barriers we place on ourselves that do most of the fencing in. So did I leave because I was finished and ready to move on or because there was no king size bed, crystal glasses, and personal shower at my disposal....

It's now 2:00 pm and time for my return to Tanzania. I'm at the bus early and get to choose my seat. My legs are already thanking me for my choice. I spend the next 30 minutes or so analyzing my decisions in my paranoid mind and watching the sporadic wildlife out my bus window as we cruise through the Kenyan countryside. I look back and see that the 2 Italians have a Kenya and Tanzania Lonely Planet book. I ask if they’re first timers or returning and that question was the catalyst for the next 5 hours of great conversation. After discussing my upcoming European plans, I was invited (an Italian demand) to come visit. They live in Bologna and guarantee that I'll have an unforgettable time. They were shocked that Italy wasn't already on my list, and now that I know people, I would not be allowed to pass up their country. 

So before I was able to complete an opinion of my Kenyan accommodations, I was given the opportunity to make more friends and experiences. And it is only now that I conclude my Kenyan experience might not have been an open and closed independent trip, but more of a prelude and facilitator of future travels. So again, I'm reminded to chill out, and take things as they come. It pays to remember that every journey is a story, and every story is an experience, and now I have experienced Kenya.