Friday, March 25, 2011

That Would Make a Nice Hat

As Fauntleroy pointed out at our usual Thursday night soirée, I have yet to write about our Tanzanian safari. After our time on the mountain we spent a relatively relaxing 4 days spying on, for the most part, majestic animals in various national parks around the country.

Indeed there were lions, but no tigers or bears, but in lieu of them, oh my, we saw cheetah, elephants, rhinoceros, a silva (silba?) cat, hippopotamus, ostrich, giraffe, monkeys, gazelles, water buffalo, zebra, hyena (ugly little things), jackals, numerous birds (I can’t name one except for vultures) and just about everything else Noah loaded on the Ark.

Without question, my favourite picture is the one of the giraffe with the umbrella acacia tree in the background. Shade from those trees looked so inviting that I just wanted to crawl under and take a nap. Fear of waking up missing a limb or appendage kept me firmly in my seat.

The animal I was most impressed with was the black rhino. Not that they ever got very close, but that we saw 14 of them in one day where most people are lucky to see one. Sad to think that the poor things are on their last legs because people want their horns for who knows what. Ditto for the elephants but there seems to be an abundance of them. And yes, I know, its tusks not horns, but the end result is still the same. A close second were the two cheetahs we saw stalking a gazelle. They gave it the old college try, but move as they may, lunch made a clean getaway and so did their blue ribbon for 'Most Impressive'. We wanted blood and carnage, but that prize went to 47 vultures feasting on some poor carcass. There were so many of them, and the smell so wretched, we didn't stick around to make out what it was they were devouring.

Biggest giggle award, and it doesn’t take much I know, were the monkey’s with the, literally, blue balls. It made me think back to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins saying animal ‘x’ has a plume, main, colour etc in order to attract a mate. I get the banging on the chest and chasing away the competition to establish your dominance. And the bright colour thing, sure, who doesn’t want to look at something pretty when your surroundings are all dry and beige. But robin’s egg blue balls?

And how many times do the females fall for that? “Oh hey, Betty, look at what Charlie has over there. Let’s go check it out.”

Animals aside, the lodges we stayed in were a delight after the tents on the mountain. The most interesting feature in the first Sopa Lodge, was that at night you had to have a security guard escort you to your little bungalow after sunset. Apparently, lions and leopards like to use the pool under the cover of darkness.

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, perched on the edge of the crater that bares the same name, was everyone’s top pick. The lack of an infinity pool was made up in spades by the view! After a day in the crater, add Ricard and a spectacular sunset to the lounge, and you have an experience you won’t soon forget.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kilimanjaro Music

Having done it once, I am now an expert on climbing Kilimanjaro. Or so I like to think. If you are thinking about attempting it, as everyone suggest, you best prepare by hiking as much as you can and I also suggest you try a couple outings on your own. If you have seen 127 Hours, you of course will tell people where you have gone and when you will be back, but try it none-the-less.

Regardless of how many people are in your group, after several hours of walking, the small talk dries up and those annoying people in penguin suits (no joking) who were full of spunk at the start of the day will soon fall silent.

I did not have an iPod to entertain myself, and those in the group who did either ran the batteries dead or tired of having those buds tucked in their ears for hours on end. Step after step, especially on summit day, your mind wanders to all sorts of strange and wonderful places.

A couple meditation techniques I learned on Holy Island came in handy, but I usually ended up tripping over a rock, root or some other lumpy thing.

CJ and I have an uncanny ability to memorize and recite entire movies at will and that came in handy until all I could see on every ridge was Belloq from Indiana Jones saying “we are all very comfortable up here” leaving me to perish with the snakes. Bastard.

The majority of time however, a lyric would pop into my head and I would hum along blissfully singing to myself. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t carry a tune in a bucket so having a windswept mountain to keep things out of others ears was most beneficial. Of course the lyrics changed according to where we were and what we were doing.

For example, when I was feeling rather smug about having my camelbak while others fiddled with their nalgene bottles, Gwen Stefani popped into my head:

A few times I've been down this trail
And my legs are just about to fail
But I got my camelbak girl,
I got my camelbak girl

This next one, I acknowledge is wickedly rotten of me, given the fact that without our porters I would have no place to sleep and nothing to eat. However, in a place where turning your clothes inside-out counts as doing laundry AND you only have one set of clothing for six days people start to smell. Whenever I heard someone yell “porter on the left” (for they were ALWAYS running effortlessly by us – both up and down hill) I knew it was time to hold my breath and hum a little Rufus Wainwright (for those of you who took long summer road trips as children sans air conditioning, you know the smell from those backwater gas stations):

Gasoline and sawdust smells
these are not a couple of my cravings
everything here smells a little bit stronger
a little bit thicker a little bit harmful for me

And what kind of queen would I be without a little Madge?

I’m going through the wilderness
Not sure I’ll make it through
If the guide leaves I will be so lost
And be in big do-do
My heart beat is incomplete
It needs oxygen as it’s turning blue
Sitting down will make me feel
Yeah, it would make me feel
Shiny and new

And Papi of course would be infinitely angry if I didn’t give props to our Fab 5 from Britain. Word to the Spice Girls:
Too Much hiking is bad enough,
My feet are sore,
my legs are fagged and I have to wonder,

Too Much of this hill is just as tough,
I need to know the way down or I might fall asunder.

If you are after any of these gems, they will be incorporated into next weeks episode of Glee and then be available on iTunes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Best and Worst

Well, as you already know, mission accomplished! Kilimanjaro is now officially off the bucket list. It was never actually on MY bucket list to begin with, rather my sister's, IronGirl.

Back in Canada, everyone is asking how it went, was it beautiful and the like. Great sense of achievement, without a doubt. If I had seen one person turn around and give up, I would have been right behind them. But I wasn't going to be first, not me, I was not going to be 'that' guy. IronMan says he would not have let me quit, but if starting rolling down that hill, there is not much he could have done to stop me. Would I do it again? No way. I would not wish how I felt physically on my worst enemy. If one of the guides had not carried my pack, there is not way I would have made it.

I think though, it is a little like childbirth. Or so I've heard. At the time it is hell, but the memories of pain and suffering fade fast and you start to think, well, maybe I would do it again. But I am not there yet.

So what was the best part, aside from actually getting to the summit? On our third night, we were so far up Kilimanjaro, that we slept above the clouds and had a thunderstorm below us that we could watch from our camp. I've seen that sort of thing while in a plane before, but it was stunning to see it with both feet on the ground.

We also walked in the clouds. That was pretty amazing. Not like cotton balls at all really. Just thick, soupy fog.

The best advice I had, and am very glad I took, was wearing a thong. The guide book suggested three pairs of underpants for the trip and then turning them inside out to make up enough for the 6 days. Same went for t-shirts. Apparently turning your clothing inside-out makes it clean?

I went for 6 cheap thongs that you just pitched at the end of each day. They took up less space, weighed less and were remarkably comfortable.

The worst piece of advice, and thankfully I ignored it, was not to take a camel back. I had one and it was the best piece of equipment ever! I also had nalgene bottles and a collapsible one, but that camel back was worth it's weight in gold!

As for the worst experiences, aside from puking on myself after we passed the Stella ridge, both were sleep related. First, there is not one piece of flat ground any place on that mountain. Every night was like sleeping on a listing ship. 5 or 6 times a night you had to inchworm your way back to the top of your sleeping pad just to wake 30 minutes later with your feet sticking out the tent flap.

Second, was my sister and her snoring prowess. And I am not alone here, it was the topic of conversation every morning. That girl has a gift just like her father. It was a nightmare for the rest of us, but at least she slept soundly.

There are more stories to come, but first day back, just sharing the highlights!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kili Conquered!

Just a quick note to say we ALL did it!

I can verify, from first hand experience, that altitude sickness sucks! I puked, IronGirl had "intestinal" problems and Strongarm lost her sight! No joking. It was back within a couple days, but still, no vision. And that happened while she was climbing and she kept going!

More details will follow, but off to Poland first.