Some thoughts on Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Development

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Some thoughts on Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Development

 What do Rhinos, beadwork jewellery, HIV and football have in common?

After completing my two-week intensive conservation internship at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (Kenya) to become a Young Conservationist and Lewa Ambassador, I came back with more than just photographs and memories (via Honey Guide Safaris).

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I came home with a more precise idea of what conservation is to me, and how I want to get involved. (Hopefully, this will start through the prolongation of my internship in London as more the just an ambassador).

Part of this role comprises of fundraising for Lewa, and I would greatly appreciate any donation. I also sell prints, the funds of which will go to Lewa! My new galleries will be online very soon ;)

 

 

PLEASE SPONSOR ME HERE: https://give.classy.org/AliceYoungWildAndLewa

For the time being, however, here are some brief thoughts about conservation and sustainable development, based on what I learnt, saw, felt and loved. 

 
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Conservation isn’t just saving animals for the sake of a happy family (or me) bringing home a picture of a lion, telling tales of beautiful sunsets and sundowners (does help though). 

It’s so much more than that. Two beautiful quotes I heard during my time at Lewa perfectly summarise what I believe conservation should seek to depict and represent. 

“Milking the rhino” - James, our Maasai Guide (note : SERIOUS eye opener)

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The Maasai are famous for their ancestral traditions, and have always heavily relied on cattle. Milking the cow’s literal sense was derived by James to show how tourism can become the Maasai’s- or any tribe/ community’s - new main source of revenue. Lewa is so heavily involved in different community service programs, be it for water, health, education, youth, women empowerment, security through different programmes, such as their HIV treatment services, women micro lending programmes, youth football teams or spring water stations…

They have achieved an immutable form of respect from the neighbouring communities, who now understand the importance behind saving rhinos or any form of wildlife/ species/ ecosystem. 

On rhinos, Lewa’s incredible security system (now used as an international and national example for wildlife monitoring and security software) and ranger training (they have 4 GORGEOUS tracker dogs) means the Conservancy has achieved zero rhino poaching rates over the last 3 /4 years. People from the community trust Lewa enough to warn them of any growing discrepancy amongst villagers or strangers. 

 

“Making conservation about people” - Ian Craig

 

In a sense, this refers to James’ rhinos. But it highlights the key links between wildlife and people, creating a relational tie between humans and nature, rather than solely instrumental. This interdependence is especially explained through Lewa’s CEC (Conservation Education Centre), where man is presented to the pupils as an integral part of wider ecosystems, and how we can harmoniously co-exist.

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This is a truly beautiful message, and I firmly believe Lewa’s avant-gardist model should not only be supported but studied to enable other communities, conservancies, nations to learn to sustainably manage people, wildlife, health, education, the environment….

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More generally, I was extremely touched to see how driven the people I met who work at Lewa were about their wildlife. They had that same, burning passion in common, ready to give all of their energy in the name of protecting animals, both for the sake of wildlife but for what this meant for the lives of the surrounding communities. What does planting two trees when you destroy one mean if the one you cut down for firewood hosted a bird’s nest? Why not cut certain branches off the tree, and plant trees before you plan on cutting ?

I loved how part of the activities proposed by the CEC in their education programmes are planting trees. So interesting (and refreshing) to see relational education (what I call teaching children to build relational ties with the environment, see KWA, 2016) in practice. One of my most beautiful memories will be to have accompanied the children we met on a game drive, some seeing lions for the very first time. 

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In my time at Lewa, I learnt about how two different types of soil will have an impact on livestock, water, food, and wildlife. I saw water stations bloom in a land where the drought has been severe for the past three years. I saw rangers smile proudly when they explain that they do what the Kenyan police should be doing, yet don't get the credit for it (but they don't care, because they know the people know). I was lucky to see a newborn baby sleeping against his mother’s breast at Lewa’s main clinic, which provides some of the best services in Northern Kenya. I danced with Maasai women, who belong to a culture trying to adapt to modern laws, and ways of being. I visited Lewa’s backbone, the very unsexy logistics department, which holds the entire organisation together, but of which no one speaks about.

Driving conservation without seeking to include people who depend on the very land to be conserved and hosting protected species will most probably be vowed to fail, or result in poaching, illegal logging and, at times, violence. Wildlife manages itself perfectly well on its own if given the chance to. Which is why showing communities what saving rhinos can bring them is probably the smartest way in which the species can avoid extinction. 

 

This model is slowly growing, but funding is, of course, key to its safekeeping and development.

 

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So please, help me support this incredibly innovative and inspiring way to promote strong relationships between people and wildlife. 

 

Asante sana,

Alice

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Kili Advice

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Kili Advice

This post is to compliment my previous one, which was more of a narration (see Climbing Kilimanjaro).  You'll find a more global approach, based on my experience, and on what I would have liked to have known beforehand. Hope it helps, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment! Again, all phone pics. 

Morning Porridge - Meet the team <3

Morning Porridge - Meet the team <3

Also, for general info - I went in September 2016. It's still the dry season, though towards the end of the month some rains will occur. We summited on the 16th, and had no rain (or snow after 2000m), but 2 weeks later Kandoo (the company we climbed with, which I DEFINITELY recommend) posted a shot of hikers in the snow. Make sure you have waterproof clothes. I didn't (long story) ...was terrified it would rain.  

Dust EVERYWHERE (this is in the pre-tent, which is covered)

Dust EVERYWHERE (this is in the pre-tent, which is covered)

1) Bring kilos of wet wipes, and face wipes as well (the baby wipes were quite aggressive for my skin, but at that point I didn't care). Hand sanitiser as well, as the dust will be engrained in your skin. Dust starts to become an issue by day 2. It was EVERYWHERE. The wind didn't help either. I'd even recommend a face mask to limit breathing some in. 

2) Bring snacks you know you'll want to eat, and that won't freeze. I had loads of dates, and managed to overdose on them, but their surcharge in sugar was vital (don’t think I’ll be eating some anytime soon though to be honest). Also, bring some isotonic supplements. Caro had some and they were great for rehydration and mineral deprivation.

3) Thin liner socks to go under your big thick ones - summit night is COLD. Ww had -15/-20 (with the wind) . Liner gloves as well. If you're prone to getting hot really quickly, don't necessarily disregard these, as they'll help avoiding blisters anyways.

The stuff we were leaving behind - they all chose something from the orange mat. 

The stuff we were leaving behind - they all chose something from the orange mat. 

4) Bring a huge bag with you, filled with stuff you don't want / need, to give to the porters. And leave what you won't be using behind. They need it. I borrowed most of the clothing I had, so I left small things like socks and a balaclava...would have loved to leave more though. 

5) Photographers - I carried my DSLR and 17-55mm f2/8 lens in my daypack, which, with 3L of water and food weighed around 8kg. It was completely fine with me, but if you actually want to take pictures it will be easier if you have it around your neck as you walk. Else, you won't take many pictures if you have to keep taking it in and out of your daypack. Spare batteries goes without saying. Nico and Graham had tripods in their daypack on Day 1, and they ended up in their main bags. Great for night pics though! I borrowed Nico’s. You won't need one during the hikes -no time. I also had a go pro, but didn't use it as much as I thought I would.

Carried my camera EVERYWHERE

Carried my camera EVERYWHERE

IMPORTANT - Don't be afraid to take a DSLR with you. If it gets too heavy in your daypack, you can always stow it in you duffle bag, or ask a guide to help you carry it. Phone batteries are unreliable when things get really cold. 

6) As mentioned in my previous post, I brought a deck of cards and some of us played with Robert (our lead guide) after diner. It was great for bonding and messing around. Always a nice thing to do after a long day :) Nico and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the guides as we hiked. We learned loads - like “Poa kichizi kama ndizi ndani ya frigii". Literally means “I’m cool like a banana in the refrigerator” when you want to say “I’m well” in a chill way. “Mambo” (what’s up?) and “poa” (I’m cool/ good) were the most frequent expressions we heard. 

Snack break. "Anyone want a date?".

Snack break. "Anyone want a date?".

7) It's the adventure of a lifetime. You will go far beyond your limits, however fit you are. My recommendation is : get some cardio training done as well as hiking and you'll be fine (unless you suffer from altitude sickness....take Diamox for prevention, and if you do get AMS then get as much rest as you can, drink more water and EAT. Some members in my group felt it badly. Food helped loads !)

8) If you're doing Machame, go for the 7 day option if possible. The last three days are exhausting - in 36hours you sleep for about 5(very badly too, as it's mostly naps) hike for about 18hours and get lunch breaks. The night you summit, you have already hiked earlier in the morning to go to base camp. Without the 7th day, you get a full hiking day, and 2hrs sleep before summiting. Summit night is long and cold, so compromising your chances after all of the preparation and planning, and travel, by not giving yourself more time to rest -and especially to acclimatise- is a bit of a shame.

Living the high life. Sandeep took this one

Living the high life. Sandeep took this one

and this one as well. 

and this one as well. 

Sneaky shot of Sleeping beauty at Shira

Sneaky shot of Sleeping beauty at Shira

9) I’d recommend sharing a tent, even if you’re traveling alone. If someone snores, everyone will hear it :p So you might as well enjoy some company, especially if you feel sick at some point. I felt safer having someone next to me, knowing that if I had an issue at night, Nico was there to help, and vice-versa. I usually always prefer to be alone, but in this particular case having Nico was not only plain fun, it was also super reassuring. 

10) Take Diamox. Taking it doesn’t make you a “lesser man” as I’ve heard one guy saying, but not taking it does if it means suffering and complaining about mild but painful AMS for a week. A group we met had their trek ruined by a guy who thought Diamox was for the weak -he complained day and night. In our group, those who didn’t take it at first started it two days in. Climbing Kili in less than 11 days is dangerous, you’re not giving your body enough time to acclimatise. Diamox supposedly helps your body absorb more oxygen. Does make you pee a lot more though, which, 7L of water in, means getting up at night.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Welcome :)

I've been wanting to write about my experience for some time now (hard to think it's already been 5 months!) To share it of course, but also for myself. I realised that every time I told the story, I relived it fully. So I thought writing it down must be on a whole other level of re-immersion. And… reading multiple blogs and recounts of other people’s treks helped a lot for the preparation and anticipation. So if my advice/story can be of any help, then why not?

 

My next post will also be on Kili, but will be more advice based...don't want to bore you :p I hope you enjoy reading this first post. The pictures are all iPhone, the DSLR ones being in my gallery

 

Below, you’ll find a more or less detailed account of my climb (I’ve tried to include as much as I could…this definitely doesn’t do the actual version justice of course, but nothing ever will). 

 

 

 

Robert, Gerard, Eric and Micheal 

Robert, Gerard, Eric and Micheal 

 

Meet Our Guides

We went with Kandoo - which I would recommend any day any time. Guides were very pro, lovely, funny and considerate. Food was amazing, which is a must for this type of adventure. They rank first with the KPAP (Kilimanjaro porters association) and that was important as we chose our operator.

Thank you Robert, Gerard, Erick and Micheal for being the best guides we could have hoped for. And of course, what would be Kili without Nico, Graham, Sandeep (known as Sandy), Jenny, Caro, Becky, Rafma and Trish?! Mr. Delicious and his cooking obviously, and Phillibert, Joseph an Michael who accompanied Nico, Graham and I to the summit for sunrise. I never stopped laughing and giggling and was honoured to be dubbed “Baby” of the group by the guides (my age…). 

 

Ashante Sana Kilimanjaro

Ashante Sana Kilimanjaro

View from the terrace <3

View from the terrace <3

WHY KILIMANJARO?

Well.

Park View Inn - View from the terrace. Not bad eh?

Park View Inn - View from the terrace. Not bad eh?

As you’ve probably grasped considering my website, I have a thing for Africa. After travelling to Cape Town a year ago, to visit some cousins, I learnt climbing Kili was very possible, and did not require any ice experience. It is, after all, only a trek. So with my best friend Nico, we decided to go for it. Elbrus or Mt Blanc are closer, but there was just one problem - they aren’t in Africa. Plus, both of us are keen photographers (see Nico’s website here: nicolasvecchioli.com), and so it was a good excuse to visit the country afterwards. 

ARRIVING IN MOSHI

We were so excited. We'd chosen to get an extra day after we landed to avoid starting to hike immediately upon our arrival (which I would certainly advise on doing). So on Saturday, we walked around Moshi, the town at the foot of Kili, and started learning some Swahili.

 

We each bought "good luck bracelets" -which we both still  wear- and spent our days on the hotel's roof terrace, looking up at the mountain. It seemed unreal to think we were about to spend the next few days on its flanks, clambering up towards Uhuru ("Freedom") Peak . It just stood there, completely unaware of our existence. We met our team and guides that afternoon.. And what a team! I am forever grateful to have met such amazing people. We were going to spend the next 7 days sharing (almost) everything. 

Moshi. Proudly sponsored by Coca (Thanks Nico for the pic)

Moshi. Proudly sponsored by Coca (Thanks Nico for the pic)

Moshi Mosque in the distance . Spoiler : lovely wake up call in the middle of the night 

Moshi Mosque in the distance . Spoiler : lovely wake up call in the middle of the night 

Fresh faced and clean

Fresh faced and clean

Learning Swahili

Learning Swahili

FROM MACHAME TO BARAFU

We trekked through a jungle-like habitat at the foot of the mountain, before gradually climbing towards a more lunar landscape as we approached the summit.

Day 1- Moshi - Machame Gate in African minibus. Machame Gate - Machame Camp (3100m)

One thing we learned / reconnected with, was TIA -This is Africa. In other words, “departure at 9am” could mean 9am or 1pm. We left Moshi at 11:30pm, after a very interesting bag weighing session. Robert, the lead guide, simply picked them up and estimated them - “13.5kg. 11kg. 12.5kg…”. Quite impressive. The bus ride was also very TIA. Aka there were 40 of us, some which we picked up gradually along the way, including ports, cook, guides and hikers, in a 15 seat minivan.  

TIA

TIA

I managed to get ripped off - I needed a sunhat- and we stopped in a place some of us could complete our gear. I finally agreed to buy a much too expensive hat (apparently there would be no other way to get one). As we drove off, and stopped to pick up another guy, 3 street vendors rushed to the windows....with arms full of sunhats. For 5$. I was furious.

Further small en-route delays meant we started our ascent after lunch. By that time, we were super excited, and just wanted to start hiking. Finally, at 2pm we hadd the green light to get going.

BUT Pole Pole. The most important words on Kilimanjaro. It means "go slow", setting the pace for the trek. Going any faster means failing to summit in most cases.

Although we had an amazing sunset amidst the trees, we arrived well after nightfall, which meant things started to get quite cooler after sundown. Hot chocolate had never been so welcome.

 

Me and my 40$-i-got-ripped-off-hat...

Me and my 40$-i-got-ripped-off-hat...

Machame Gate selfie - typical gate selfie with a Sandy special

Machame Gate selfie - typical gate selfie with a Sandy special

Pole Pole 

Pole Pole 

Graham and the typical sign-selfie

Graham and the typical sign-selfie

Day 2- Machame Camp (3100m) - Shira Camp (3900m)

Group pic ft Erick's finger

Group pic ft Erick's finger

Mt Meru in the distance

Mt Meru in the distance

Our beautifully discreet orange tents <3

Our beautifully discreet orange tents <3

 

The next few days were all very intense, each in their own way. Getting to Shira Camp was tiring, we gained a little less than 1000m under the blazing sun and breathing in huge quantities of dust.

And yet we laughed so much, especially as we managed to get some Swahili slang out of the guides (e.g - the famous Hakuna Matata’s cousin: “Hakuna Matiti”). We reached Shira just after 12:30, which meant food upon arrival. Lunch -like all our other meals- was delicious. The afternoon was dedicated to napping... and selfies in our bright  orange tent. We explored camp as well: it was absolutely beautiful. The clouds were continuously moving around the mountain edge, adding a slight mystical perspective to the camp’s views. 

 

 

Below- Cool kids and smelly feet.....

Day 3- From Shira to the Lava Towers for Lunch ( 4600m), descent to Baranco Camp (3950m)

I remember Day 3 as quite tiring, considering we walked 8hrs at high altitude. Lunch at 4600m was windswept - we got attacked by the tent. BUT we were surrounded by literal lava towers, which was quite cool. And half the group seemed to be napping. The hike down to camp was loooong. It also involved a lot of singing and serenading. And more selfies. ALSO, I discovered Micheal's favourite song was "Papoutai", (by Belgian artist Stromae ....words are in FRENCH). 

Strike a pose

Strike a pose

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 Upon arrival at a camp, the general “rule” is to go straight to the “Sign-in Hut” and fill in your details. There was no queue for a change, which meant less selfies and more rest. That night, Nico, Sandy and I stayed a little later after diner, and taught Robert how to play the Chimney Sweep card game. We renamed it Baranco though -much sexier. Some very welcomed quality time with the guides.

To the right- Robert vs Nico. Highly tense moment of the game. A proper mountain experience. 

After playing....a little bit of night photography. My first....and I loved it. We had a full moon that evening, and although it was freezing, we braved the night to sit our cameras on Nico's tripod and shoot 25'' pics. We probably woke up the entire campsite with our laughing, but the fresh air and the altitude made us giddy. Oops. 

 

Day 4- Up the Baranaco Wall to Karanga Camp (4000m)

The fourth day was dedicated to climbing up the Baranco Wall. Such a cool way up, although harder for those with vertigo.

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Karanga camp was astounding in beauty. By far my favourite one. We properly felt above the clouds…the camp was kind of sloped and inclined towards the cloud cover… which was pink when I emerged from my nap, as the sun was starting to set. Put another way: we slept more vertically than horizontally. I had a little nose bleed incident which lasted 30mins or so. Weakened me a lot, and I can't say I didn't panic a bit (typical). I had no idea if it was the altitude or just the shock due to putting some warm water on my face and the air temperature. Still, another little game of Baranco post-diner, before an earlier bedtime - this was our last proper night’s sleep for the next 48 hours. 

Queuing in Karanga

Queuing in Karanga

Day 5- From Karanga to Base Camp, the Barafu Huts (4600m)

As we set off the next morning for our trek to Base Camp, Nico and I were discussing our overall rating of the toughness of the trek. Before reaching Barafu Camp, we were (I can’t believe how naive we were) saying that it was tiring yes, but not as challenging as we had expected. In fact -and I’m quoting - “we didn’t have any AMS, we slept perfectly well and ate like lions”. Our only worries had been waking up every night and having an internal debate as to whether to brave the freezing night to pee or not (obviously our “want-to- stay-in-the-snug-sleeping-bag-and-not-have-to-get-dressed-and-leave the-tent” argument lost every time). So, at that moment we weren’t exactly disappointed, but we felt it was much easier than expected. That was halfway up to Base Camp. 

Posing for Base Camp

Posing for Base Camp

Pre-summiting meditation

Pre-summiting meditation

And then as we approached Camp, and so, gaining altitude, it started to become colder as we were engulfed in a huge cloud. We were hungry, and most of the group started to get violent headaches, even more so than previous times. I was worried because of the previous evening’s nosebleed, hoping it was insignificant. We just wanted to get into our tents asap and sleep as much as we could before ‘Summit Night”. Our guides told us to get some rest after lunch, and before diner, which we tried to do, considering the night ahead of us. It was more like a very light nap. I fell asleep quite quickly, but woke every half hour or so. It was peculiar. My body felt awkward and I was a lot more conscious of each movement than on “normal” ground. I could feel my body burning anything I fed it, or anything I drank. It was rest without rest. So it was definitely a weird feeling. At least I had no headaches or nausea. 

SUMMITING

3 head layers, 8 body layers, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and 2 trousers and still almost froze to death

3 head layers, 8 body layers, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and 2 trousers and still almost froze to death

And then, it was time for the final ascent from base camp (at 4600m) to the top of Kibo Crater at 5895m. Again, after diner, we had 2hours to rest before our guides shook us up at 10pm. Ascent at 11pm. Outside temperature: -15ºC, with wind, chuck anther 5º off and that's what are exhausted bodies walked through. 

I was so tired, I remember just counting down the hours until sunrise because the cold was burning my fingers, my toes and my legs. Every time someone in our group stopped to eat or pee, the battle to stay awake started. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep, and for the cold-induced pain to stop. I didn't have altitude issues, so my breathing was fine, but that was it. My feet, fingers and legs were burning from the cold…despite wearing an extra pair of socks Sandy had given me (can never thank you enough for that, mate). My water had frozen less than 2 hours after we'd left camp, and taking my gloves off to eat was not an option. So metre by metre we climbed. It was steep and rocky, so we were on our all fours quite often, and the group gradually detached as we all had different progression speeds. I remember asking myself a few hundred times why on earth I'd decided to go and climb a mountain. I could have been in my bed in London, warm and snug, instead of shivering and suffering with 60% fewer oxygen in the air. 

And finally, finally, Nico, Graham and I arrived at Stella Point - the base of Kibo Crater- at around 5am. It was still dark, but we were just 45mins away from the top of Africa. I had been fine during the entire ascent but I suddenly found myself feeling very faint as the sun rose, and being me, I panicked. The air was incredibly thin, each breath in felt empty, and all I needed was sugar. Obviously, I thought I was dying and that my brain was shutting down.

So after Graham and Nico had sat me down and stuffed my mouth with dates, sweets and energy bars, we slowly made our way towards Uhuru Peak. And honestly, I have never, ever, ever seen something as magnificent and as gorgeous as the sun rising over the glaciers and eternal snows of Mount Kilimanjaro. The sea of clouds was pink, and the light over the ice-fields was incredible. We were all completely exhausted and so HAPPY (no other word for it) to have made it, after such an arduous and strenuous ascent. Things were peaceful at the top… we were too dazed and in awe to be able to do anything other than grin stupidly at each other. It was perfect. We summited on September 16th 2016, at 6:16 am (well around then, but it felt cooler to put it that way). 

Giddy with fatigue and happiness. and swollen because of the altitude

Giddy with fatigue and happiness. and swollen because of the altitude

Stella Point on the way down (it was dark on the way up)

Stella Point on the way down (it was dark on the way up)

GETTING DOWN

Post Uhuru. We look fresh....

Post Uhuru. We look fresh....

Day 6- From Uhuru (5895m) to Mweka Camp (3100m) and Day 7 - to Mweka Gate. 

The way back down to Base Camp was super fun. It took us less than two hours to run down (literally) what we had painstakingly crawled up in 7/8hours. To get to Camp, we trudged through massive dried up lava plumes (felt a bit like skiing). 

The trek down the mountain on the other hand, was less fun. In 36 hours, we had hiked for 20 and slept for about 5. The rest was meals, packing or unpacking, or trying to rest unsuccessfully. As soon was we'd summited, and arrived back to Base Camp, our bodies started shutting down. And yet we still had to push them to Mweka Camp at 3100m, which we reached for diner. Again, the next day, another hike down - our very last one- to reach civilisation. My nose was bleeding liberally at that point due to fatigue. And Nico and I couldn't walk properly for three/four days after we'd started our Safari because of the descent. It was so worth it though. Now that i’ve forgotten the pain, I would go through it all over again just to relive those unique moments. 

 
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We had a beautiful ceremony at Mweka Camp, “the tipping ceremony”. It is quite impressive, as the porters open and count the money in front of you, whooping and singing. Mr Delicious had baked us a cake (still find it extraordinary considering we were on a mountain) and we were all dancing and laughing. It is tradition to give a speech as the envelopes are handed to the porters, and I was voted (without my consent haha) to deliver it. Robert’s excuse - “Aleesi you are the baby of the group. You can do it”. I entirely improvised - I needed the words to come straight from my heart- and can only hope my words did the porters and guides justice, and accurately reflected our experience. 

 
 

And then all too soon it was finished. Back through the rain forest to Mweka Gate. The pictures speak for themselves....

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And then came the time to shower. After 7 days of sweat, dust, grime, more dust, and even more dust. Of course, everyone showered at the same time, except for me, and I had no hot water left. Still felt good though, maybe not as amazing as everyone said it did...

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MEMORIES

Kilimanjaro remains the toughest thing I have ever done, mentally and physically. It was beautiful, exhausting and cold. And dusty. And my most treasured memory.

The toughness of the climb isn't really relative to how strong, how fit and how much training you've done. The more cardio you do, the stronger your lungs and heart will be and the easier it'll be to breath up there. It's more the exhaustion of summit night, and the cold. Add to that AMS -Acute Mountain Sickness- which thank goodness I didn't get, and honestly it's intense. But the experience is utterly personal. I can only give advice based on what I lived and my understanding of others’. I consider myself to be quite a physically fit person, in the sense that I do a lot of long distance swimming, dancing and hiking. Add in a few workouts, and the blessing of a very slow beating heart, and my overall fitness levels were way more than what was required for Kili. Still had a hard time. 

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And yet...it's ALSO the most beautiful experience i've ever had. Living above the clouds, laughing all day and night with Nico -the best hiking mate I could ever ask for- Sandy serenading us with Justin Bieber, or a bunch of hikers we met telling us our singing was “off” when we collectively joined in on Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams”…the list goes on and on. I remember our nervous laughs every breakfast and diner when Robert came to take our health stats, aka heart rate and oxygen levels. The one thing we were scared of the most - not having stats above 80% for oxygen or a super fast heart rate. It was always a mini competition between Nico and I to see who had the highest oxygen - usually around 91%- even at 4600m. (I won, obviously ^^). There was also that one guide who, for some reason, managed to always be in the sign-in queue in front of us at the same time. He was clearly from a group of at least 15 people, and SIGNED IN ALL OF THEM. So it took forever seeing as he needed to put in each of their details he copied out from a piece of paper. I think some of us won’t be eating soup for a while, or porridge for that matter. But man the food was good, even if simple. I welcomed warm food with a huge appetite, and was beyond grateful for it. 

photobomb

photobomb

Kili means a lot of things to me. I learned a lot about myself, and the long trek is a little like meditating. Well for me anyways. When you’re not talking to anyone, you’re just breathing in and out, lost in your thoughts, and in the landscape. It is a kind of spiritual experience, in the sense that for me, it helped put things in perspective. I was confronted not only by the mountain, but by parts of myself. On a lighter note, I think baby wipes and hand sanitiser will forever remain the best allies we had during the week...the dust was absolutely crazy. It became engrained in our skin. It was quite amazing to see how quickly our supposedly civilised education disappeared in the name of simplicity and personal comfort.

Finally, the key to my successful ascent obviously lays with Sandy -who lent me an extra pair of liner socks - which was under my own pair for Summit Night. My feet would have probably frozen to death (well maybe not, but I honestly don’t know how much more cold they could have sustained).

 

Number 1 team

Number 1 team

Many thanks to Caro for this picture. Absolutely beautiful

Many thanks to Caro for this picture. Absolutely beautiful

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