Climbing Kilimanjaro: How my brain took the lead when my body gave up

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro between the 22nd and 27th of July 2018. I successfully reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, in the morning of the 26th of July.

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Despite the title, this post is NOT to convince you not to climb Kili. It is without doubt a life changing experience and I’d highly encourage everyone to do it.

But. Yes, there is a but. It’s a very challenging adventure, both mentally and physically. So challenging that some people give up and turn around.

Luckily for me, I had enough mental strength not to give up but it was challenging enough for me to burst into tears few times. And throw up. Also few times.

For the sake of statistics, I cried 4 times in total and threw up 3 times. All the throwing up happened on Summit Day. Yes. I left my vomit on the glacier.

Day 3 was our first real test with altitude and acclimatization, we were hiking through a semi desert and rocky landscape with the aim of reaching Lava Tower at 4500m.

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It all started well until it was scorching hot. Despite drinking water, I started having a headache. A headache that was getting worse with every step.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try to relax and enjoy the experience, when you are setting off to summit a big mountain like Kilimanjaro, you worry about the smallest thing that could stop you from achieving your goal. High altitude sickness is a serious thing to worry about.

So when I had the headache, my brain started playing games with me. I was worried I’m having high altitude sickness. I was also worried if I’m already struggling with altitude on day 3 at 4000m, how am I ever going to reach the summit?

Worse than the headaches, were the thoughts I had. It all conspired against me. My body couldn’t hold me anymore and I felt like giving up.

The first rule of Kilimanjaro is “Pole, Pole” which means “slowly, slowly”. But at that time, slowing down or stopping for breaks meant not being able to walk again. Instead, I just kept going. Every step was bringing me closer to my goal. Every step was bringing me closer to Lava tower.

I’m not the fastest walker among my group, if anything I was among the group of the slow walkers but that day I was the first one to reach Lava Tower.

I didn’t even pay attention to my pace, I didn’t plan to be fast or to lead the walk. My brain was telling me to just keep going. Just keep going.

When I reached Lava Tower, I burst into tears. To my own surprise. Tears of pain and pride. The pain of the headache. The pride that I did it despite the pain.

I guess I was proud of my mental strength. This was the first mental challenge on the mountain and my brain did carry me through when my physical strength couldn’t do it anymore.

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I wasn’t done with tears that day.

Another rule of the mountain is : Walk high, sleep low. Camps are usually at a reasonable altitude.

So after reaching Lava tower and having lunch there, we had to walk some more to spend the night in Baranco Camp at 3900m altitude.

The rocky route wasn’t kind to my knees and the headaches weren’t kind to my head.

I felt like the path would never end and I would never reach the camp. It took me way too long. I arrived just about sunset and I burst in tears again.

Then I “superwoman” posed for the camera and smiled.

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Day 6 was THE day, summit day.

Day 5, we reached base camp around mid day, we had lunch then we went for a nap. An early dinner was served at 6PM then we went to get few hours of sleep since day 6 starts at midnight.

We started hiking towards the summit in the dark.

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Despite the anxiety and anticipation, it was a beautiful hike. The path was lighted by the climbers head torches and the chants of the guides filled the void.

The views of the mountain and the sunrise were spectacular.

I did my research and I knew it’s absolutely crucial to keep drinking water and eating on summit day. I needed all the energy of the world. Reality was a different matter. I didn’t really eat or drink and ended up severely exhausted and delirious.

Once again I knew that I just need to keep going despite the pain.

My pain was so obvious that other climbers were being supportive telling me that Stella peak wasn’t far away and I was almost there. But I couldn’t see the sign.

When I finally saw the sign, I cried. I cried because I made it. I cried when my teammate told me “I’m one tough cookie”.

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It takes only about 40 minutes from Stella point to reach Uhuru peak. I never thought about stopping at Stella, not at any point. But I also had no idea or energy on how I’d walk for another 40 minutes.

Half way through And I couldn’t keep going anymore. I was told that the peak is around the corner.

When I turned around the corner, I could see the peak. It was around 100 metres away. 100 metres that felt like 100 kilometers. I cried “It’s too far away”. And I threw up.

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5 minutes later, I made it to Uhuru. I faked a smile and took a photo in front of the sign.

I learnt that day that I’m stronger than what I think. I also learnt that summiting is not the best of Kilimanjaro.

Stay tuned for my best of Kilimanjaro in the next post 😉

 

 

 

Colombia: Don’t listen to what they say. Go see!

Let’s first  agree on one thing: we all have our own biases and prejudices. The only difference between one human to another is some acknowledge those biases and try to get past them while others take biases for facts.

The truth is, it’s hard to get rid of biases especially when travelling. You can’t simply leave them outside the airport door.

So like most humans, when travelling to Colombia I took with me a suitcase and a bag full of biases. Watching the last season of Narcos in the airport doesn’t particularly help.

Two Decades ago, Colombia badly suffered from all sorts of things but that was two decades ago. People  tend to remember the bad news, it doesn’t matter when the bad news happened, people seem to freeze in time, in those bad moments.

My parents, my friends, my boss, they all were not very enthusiastic about me travelling to Colombia because, you know, “It’s dangerous”. The Internet didn’t help either, the horror stories no matter how infrequent or minor they are, they showed up first.

It felt almost like Colombia is a battlefield between gangs and police, cocaine is floating in the air (you wish right 😉 ) and all taxi drivers are kidnappers.

I do my research before any trip to see what’s the best way to explore a city and what to see. It’s when I was doing this research that I started worrying. Hailing a taxi from the street as you’d do in most cities could end up badly in Colombia.

Even though this is not common , it’s common enough to have a name “The millionaire ride”.

That was about the only thing I needed to be extra careful about in Colombia other than the usual stuff I do in any country like being careful of my surroundings, not waving my fancy camera in the air, not looking lost or ending up in dodgy areas. To be clear, every city had dodgy areas.

Now, let me tell you what happened to me in Colombia. I HAD AN AMAZING TIME.

My trip to Colombia was one of my best trips ever, the people there were so friendly and helpful and the country was simply beautiful. I can’t highlight enough how much I loved my time there.

I’ve never been to South America before and Colombia is definitely a good introduction.

I guess the reason why I fell in Love with Colombia is because it has some of my favourite things :

Coffee

I’m not sure I ever mentioned that on the blog, but everywhere else on the interweb, I made sure everyone knows I’m a coffee snob. I love a good cup of coffee or two, maybe three…

Colombia is one of the biggest coffee producers in the world, I believe the third biggest . But just because they produce coffee, doesn’t mean they know how to roast it. Luckily for me, they do.

That’s why Colombia was heaven for me.

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Catación Pública coffee shop in Usaquén, Bogota  
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Catación Pública coffee shop in Usaquén, Bogota
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They have a lab in Catación Pública where they offer workshops

Visiting a coffee farm in Colombia is one of the experiences I will never forget in my life.

If you are visiting Colombia and would like to go on a coffee farm tour, pretty much all tour companies have one. I went with Toucan Cafe in Medellin and we visited Luna farm in Fredonia where the lovely family who owns the farm spoilt us to some yummy organic food and coffee and showed us the full process of making coffee from picking the cherries to roasting them.

It was such a fun day!

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Luna LLena is also home for some interesting animals and plants!
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The coffee life cycle
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The farm
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Me, working hard and picking coffee cherries.
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I planted my own coffee tree in Fredonia ^^
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Coffee cherries
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We hiked in the farm and saw some amazing waterfalls as well

Graffiti

They say South America is home for the best Graffiti in the world. They are probably right.

In Colombia, you don’t even have to look for it, it’s everywhere.

 

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Graffiti in Bogota
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Graffiti in Bogota
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Graffiti in Bogota

Another awesome experience I had when in Medellin is the Graffiti walking tour in Comuna 13.

Comuna 13 used to be the most notorious dangerous neighberhood in Colombia but now it’s seeing amazing transformations through art. Being able to stroll its streets, enjoying the art with my camera hanging in my neck without being worried about my safety was proof how far this area has come along.

 

Breathtaking nature

I truly feel blessed to be able to travel , to walk for miles and to hike. I do love my vitamin green and I got plenty of it in Colombia. Whether you are in the city or completely in the countryside, the scenery is simply breathtaking.

Bogota city center is dominated by the beautiful Monserrate mountain which adds to the charm of the city.

Medellin is in a valley surrounded by mountains, the drive from the airport to the city is an adventure in itself.

Antioquia , especially Guatape was a real treat for an outdoorsy person like myself.

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I spotted these cool creatures on the way from Medellin to Guatape
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Antioquia is of such beauty!
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Guatape Lake
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Guatape Lake as seen from the top of the Guatape Rock
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Bamboo
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Bananas

Colourful Guatape

I feel like I keep telling you facts about myself through out this post. Brace yourselves for the next fact.

I love bright colours. And when Colombia offered me a whole colourful little town, it had to go on the list of my favourite things about my trip to Colombia.

Ladies & Gents, without further due, I present you colourful Guatape.

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Colourful Guatape
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Colourful Guatape
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These colourful Tuk-Tuks are very popular in Guatape
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More Tuk-Tuks

Another amazing thing about Guatape and just before reaching the town is the Guatape Rock aka El Peñón de Guatapé aka  La Piedra or El Peñol.

The rock looks like something thrown from the space , standing tall in the middle of the countryside.

There are about 700 steps on the rock to climb. I’m really scared of heights but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to climb the rock so I did. I climbed 400 steps and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Also the view is totally worth it.

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Friendly People

I felt so silly when I was finally in Colombia interacting with its people using either my almost non-existent Spanish or their non-existent English. After all the horror stories I read online, all I saw in Colombia was kindness. People were so friendly and willing to help in any way.

I even like the taxi driver who made fun of me and how I said “Englaterrrrra”.

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She was so pleased with herself winning the race
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This is a very normal way to commute for farmers

 

This is only a taster of what to expect in Colombia. I will definitely go back to explore the rest of the country, drink more coffee, eat more yummy food and dance more salsa. Of course I salsa-danced when in Colombia 😉

Yours Truly,

The traveller inside me

Adventure

Adventure is not always easy. Sometimes it’s not fun and it can be borderline dangerous. But it’s in those moments when you hit the summit, reach your destination or simply survive, that you realise that you can push your limits and challenge yourself.
It’s in those moments that you realise you are not the same person you were when you started out, because adventure is a great teacher.

Here are few things I learnt from my adventures:

  • Adventure doesn’t require a lot of money and it doesn’t require you to geographically go somewhere else. It still can be called adventure without involving volcanos. Exploring the places under your nose could be sometimes a very pleasant adventure.
  • Adventure needs a bit of planning: spontanious plans are cool but if you want to go on a hike, you may want to have your hiking shoes on not flipflops. Believe me, I hiked in Miami Keys (Key largo to be specific) in flipflops midday in a hot august day. Bad idea. Luckily the swim in the Atlantic afterwards washed out all the sweat and dirt.
Key Largo Hammocks State park
Key Largo Hammocks State park
  • More planning: If you want to hike a national park, you may want to have a map because the internet may let you down.
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It’s not like we couldn’t find our way but technically we were lost in Dartmoor and couldn’t find the proper path. Oh well…
  • Adventure is all about knowing your limits: I’m all for challenging oneself but there’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid. Knowing when to stop is sometimes the right thing to do. Don’t turn your adventure into drama.
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It may not be clear in the photo but it was so windy and foggy that day that we couldn’t see the path and had to go back.

One last thing: Never stop wondering and exploring, there is a whole world for you to see and billions of adventures and experiences to live 😉

 

Yours Truly,

The traveller inside me