Thursday, May 17, 2012

Milano & Bergamo: Ciao Italia

I can't believe that this post sums up a travel experience I've been enjoying since December. How does that happen? How am I home now, in Bountiful? How have I already completed my first week of summer school? "Do you miss it? Or are you happy to be home?" I have such mixed feelings.  So happy to be home, to be with my family, and to be reunited with so many people that I love.  On the other hand, there is much to be missed- the people, the lively cultures, the learning opportunities. To say that it changed my life would be the straight (and cheesy) truth.  

So, after Africa I thought it only appropriate to extend a three hour layover in Italy to three days.  Just the thought of the food alone made it hard to pass up.

I stayed in Milan for three days and spent most of my time exploring the city, eating delicious pizza/pasta, people watching, and reading.  I stopped at the Duomo on day one. 
It wasn't too crowded and the building was gorgeous.

 Climbed to the top and enjoyed a very pretty view.

 Milan is a city of man made beauty- charming little street after street. 




Need I say more? 

 Took day three and visited the beautiful hill town of Bergamo. This is a nice view from the bell tower.

"Let's get rich and build a house on a mountain making everybody look like ants."

Cherry on the top- being able to enjoy dinner with one of my best friends in the whole world, Sorella Simkins (and her comp). She is incredible.  Eagerly anticipating her arrival back home in August.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tanzania: Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro was just an hour flight from Nairobi, so when the idea popped into my mind last October I couldn't help myself and thoroughly looked into it.  Hiking in gorgeous African terrain to the top of the world's highest freestanding mountain? I couldn't resist.  After reading review after review I decided to book a 7 day climb with a group called Focus in Africa.  I arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport (which by the way was the most disGUSting airport I've ever witnessed- bugs the size of my palm buzzing and crawling around everywhere) and was transported to Arusha on the 28th. My equipment was all sorted out and we departed for the climb on the morning of April 29, 2012.

Some friendly warnings at the park entrance.  Lucky me I didn't suffer any symptoms of altitude sickness.  I can most likely attribute that to Diamox, rest/hydration, and a lot of prayers from m&d.

Day 1 through 5 were spent hiking anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.  We began around 7:30 a.m., usually reached a higher elevation than the previous day (acclimatization purposes), and then descended just a bit for camp.  This is the view from my tent on day two. So gorgeous.

I made good friends with an elderly man from So. Africa who was attempting to summit as well- he was kind enough to take a few photos for me throughout the week.

You wouldn't believe the amount of food the porters carted up for me. I was absolutely STUFFED for every. single. meal. Great strategy for providing a good energy supply and defeating the altitude sickness.  Not such a great strategy for preserving my "undying" love for popcorn. 

Also enjoyed some beautiful views of Mount Meru a few days out of the week.

The national park has a handful of requirements, one of them being the assistance you're to hire for the duration of your climb.  Even though I was the only one going with my particular group, I had four porters, one cook, and a head guide to assist me in reaching the summit.  They were fantastic!

Camp on night three.  Had the chance to become very accquainted with my tent.  It was also coincidentally one of my favorite colors so it seemed appropriate to include it in a large majority of my photos. Oops.

The only snapshot I got of the porters and the loads they carry- their own day pack on their backs and about 45 pounds on their heads!! Completely typical.  It blows my mind that this is what they do for a living week after week.  "We depend on the mountain," my guide would constantly remind me.

Camp on night four.  The photos simply don't even come close to doing these views justice.

My favorite time of day was just after sunrise, when the sky was clear and the clouds were gorgeous. This is camp on day 5.  After three hours of hiking I went for a short nap and woke up at 11:30 p.m. to prepare for a sunrise summit!  We left camp at 12:30 a.m. and hiked uphill (extremely steep incline) for a solid 5 1/2 hours. This was unquestionably one of the most mentally and physically exhausting experiences of my life.  Firstly, the temperature- absolutely FRIGID.  If you stopped for just more than 15 seconds you could feel the pain from the cold and your fingers start to freeze.  It was absolutly necessary to maintain movement almost the entire time.  Secondly, I was tired and it was dark.  Probably in the end a good thing that you don't have the daunting task of the summit so visible in front of you- the "one step at a time" mentality most definitely got me through.  Thirdy, the altitude plays games with your mind.  There's no doubt that ascending to a point of 19,340 feet above sea level entails a bit of mental adjusting.

All in all, the summit night was one of the most challenging tasks I've ever faced, yet one of the most rewarding.  After 5 plus hours of hiking under a full moon (not even planned, how lucky am I?) we finally reached Uhuru Peak.

The emotion and excitement upon seeing this sign cannot be expressed.  After 26 hours of hiking and months of anticipation I had finally made it to the top.  I was truly elated and attribute all of my success on the climb to my amazing guide, Babalui, who has now reached Uhuru peak over 360 times.  His thorough instruction, positive encouragement, and love for the mountain brought me to this moment.

Although there were others on the mountain, we just so happened to be the only ones who reached the summit at sunrise that particular day (a very rare occasion indeed).  While most climbers reach the top and are encouraged to descend after 5-10 minutes, I had the opportunity to spend nearly 30 (freeeeeeeezing) minutes at the summit to see the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed in my life.  If you enjoy the outdoors, love to backpack/hike, and have the means or opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, I would recommend it in a heart beat.  This photo is of Kibo Crater Glacier- an enormous (length of a couple of football fields) and beautiful glacier that is seen just near the summit.

A quick snapshot I took right before we began our descent back to the base camp. I'm going to reiterate and say again that my summit day photos do not even come close to portraying the remarkable beauty at the viewpoint form Uhuru peak. 

A beautiful climb, some of the most diverse terrain, and an experience that I will never forget.

Also, here's an obligatory little video I threw together yesterday of the climb.
A few side notes: A) Buffalo Soldier is in dedication to my guide, who converted me to Mr. Marley this week.  If we weren't listening to him, his beats were flowing through my mind constantly. They basically worship him here. B) Videographers/film-makers/technologically savvy peeps, judge not this project (ha). C) Also just wanted to reassure all viewers that I was ECSTATIC to reach the summit and experience all this.  After watching the video clips I realized that I sound a bit unenthused/passive/meh.  But the truth of it is that I was f*r*e*e*z*i*n*g. [JSYK].