M = Mountains


I grew up in Ontario, Canada.  In fact, before I moved out to Colorado, I had never lived anywhere else. Mountains were never really a part of my life.  I knew they existed but had never been given the opportunity to experience them first hand.

I learned to ski at Horseshoe Valley Resort, north of Toronto. Horseshoe Valley has a difference in elevation of 308 feet. Another place in Ontario where I have skied is Calabogie Peaks, which apparently offers the highest vertical drop in Ontario of 761 feet.

My new home resort, Keystone Resort near Dillon, Colorado has a difference in elevation of 3,128 feet.  Just to give you an idea of what I’m used to and what I’m experiencing here in Colorado.

So, back to mountains. To be honest, I don’t know how I managed to live the majority of my life without being surrounded by mountains! My first time experiencing mountains was in Bosnia and then Switzerland. It was astounding to see them jut out of the earth as if they were the most powerful things nature had to offer.  It was terrifying driving switchbacks in Bosnia with no guard rails. It was exhilarating noticing the thinner but cleaner air.

When I cycled through the Canadian Rockies, I was really nervous.  I thought, how can I possibly get my little bike up those HUGE mountains?  But the mountains can be forgiving.  There are ways to get through them without going straight up. Valleys and passes assist us in being able to experience their majesty without as much effort as we might think.

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Although they can be forgiving, they are also not to be messed with. When I climbed Kilimanjaro, I truly learned to appreciate that the mountains are boss.  We passed many people who simply couldn’t handle the altitude, returning down the slopes with looks of defeat on their faces.


Since I’ve lived in Colorado Springs, the form of Pikes Peak follows me wherever I go. I can drive into the mountains each weekend if I want to. I truly feel as if “The Mountains are Calling”, and I truly feel as if it’s where I belong.

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E is for Elephants!

ImageElephants are big. African elephants can weigh up to about 15,000 pounds. Female elephants are called cows. Male elephants are usually found alone, while females congregate together with their young.

When I was in Africa, we saw a lot of wild elephants. Of the big five in Africa, elephants weren’t really a concern.  Everyone thinks that the lions and cheetahs might be the most dangerous.  From what I’ve heard, and especially from river rats, hippos could very well be the most dangerous animal, even worse than crocodiles!  Apparently, though, elephants can become pretty nasty if they think they’re in a bad place. Or if they’re males in heat..


Another little “fun fact” about elephants: they are REALLY quiet!  You would think that being 15,000 pounds, you would definitely hear an elephant coming from a distance! Or at least feel the ground tremble!  We were stopped on the road watching elephants down in a nearby watering hole.  Our jeep had an open top and we were watching and taking pictures.  Suddenly, I heard a quiet rustle in the bush behind me and turned around to see a group of elephants RIGHT THERE behind us!  We didn’t even hear them until they were right next to us!  They ignored us, crossed the street and made their way down to the pond, not even making a sound.  It was surreal!  I felt deaf!



Amazing Africa Part 4: Lake Manyara

5 September 2009

We have arrived at the Lake Manyara Serena Lodge.  We’re perched on the edge of the Rift Valley, overlooking the Lake Manyara conservation Area, The huts are designed after Maasai villages and each hut has four rooms; two on each level.  My room is on the second level with a breathtaking view of the valley.

Birds stop to enjoy the sunset on the edge of the pool.

Birds stop to enjoy the sunset on the edge of the pool.

Endless Africa...

Endless Africa…

It’s quiet here, but for the sound of a large variety of birds singing their evening songs.  There was some entertainment tonight at the outdoor pool and bar.  In this little area at the top of the Rift Valley is a tribe called the Iraqw tribe, originally from Ethiopia.  They did a song and dance for us.

Members of the Iraqw tribe sing and dance during supper.

Members of the Iraqw tribe sing and dance during supper.

6 September 2009

The next morning, the lodge did all my ‘Mountain Laundry’ for $18 and while I was eating last night!  Now I am clean, and so are my clothes!  I was starting to feel really grungy, especially with the other travellers I joined for the Safari having just arrived fresh on their first days of vacation with clean clothes and lots of energy.  I was still feeling the fatigue from the Kili climb!  At this point, Kilimanjaro seemed a distant memory.  It almost felt as though I had dreamt the whole thing!

We visited the conservation area this morning and I got my first taste of baboons, elephants, giraffes, hippos, warthogs and zebras in the ‘wild’.  It was absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t get over all those animals cohabiting in one area without fences or gates!

Always take time to stop and smell the flowers!

Always take time to stop and smell the flowers!


It’s Pumba!!

Hello, giraffes!

Blissful coexistence.  Or so it would seem...

Blissful coexistence. Or so it would seem…

We drove to the Serengeti after lunch and were late arriving at the hotel because there were so many animals to see along the way. We saw san ostrich and stopped to check it out, and when our driver went to restart the engine, there was a BANG! like a gunshot and the truck wouldn’t start!  We had to push and jump-start it, but when we stopped to look at a group of hyenas, our driver accidentally turned off the engine.  I heard him say “Oops!” and all of a sudden felt very vulnerable our there in the plains.  Luckily, the hyenas were afraid of us and bolted when the driver threw rocks in their direction.

Run! Ostrich! Run!

Run! Ostrich! Run!

Hyenas are just as weaselly as you may think from watching the Lion King.  Didn't get a warm fuzzy being broken down beside them!

Hyenas are just as weaselly as you may think from watching the Lion King. Didn’t get a warm fuzzy being broken down beside them!

Cheetahs resting after a chase and hunt, taking in the warm evening sun.

Cheetahs resting after a chase and hunt, taking in the warm evening sun.

There is nothing more beautiful and serene than an African sunset.

There is nothing more beautiful and serene than an African sunset.

At the hotel, we had armed escorts to take us to our rooms.  We were told to call for an escort to come back to the main building for dinner, as buffalo and other large animals often wandered onto the property! What a day!  I was beat, but couldn’t pass a hearty meal and some lounging on the terrace.

Our huts for the evening, perched on the edge of the Serengeti.

Our huts for the evening, perched on the edge of the Serengeti.

Amazing Africa Part 3: The Summit

3 September 2009
I put on every layer I had, ready to start climbing. Angela had Emanuel as her guide and I had Eli, so that we could go at our own pace. We climbed very slowly, taking one step at a time. It was the night before the full moon (I think) and so I didn’t even need my headlamp; we were guided by the light of the moon. I have no idea how long we were climbing for, but we went from steep trails to zigzag scree. After a while, I could look down and see the headlamps of others directly below me and knew that one wrong step would send me plummeting down the side of the mountain. 
I’m not sure of the time, but about ¾ of the way up, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I quickly got water from Eli and started to feel better immediately. I continued climbing but about 30-40 minutes later felt confusion between needing to pass out or throw up. Eli told me that I was ok and told me to force myself to vomit. I got a little bile out and continued up, but I was not doing well. It was everything I could do to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. The last scramble over rocks brought us to 5685m and Gilman’s Point. It was amazing how fast the sun rose; within minutes it went from dark to daylight.  I remembered our briefing before the climb.  We were told “Whatever you do, don’t have a nap at Gilman’s Point no matter how tired you feel”.  Now I knew why.  Not only was it unsafe to nap at such a high altitude if I was feeling the effects of altitude sickness, but I would miss the sunrise, which was worth every penny I paid for the trip just to experience.  
Eli thought I was fine to continue to Uhuru Peak, although I wasn’t quite sure. He took my arm and we began walking slowly toward our final destination. He was telling me to look back at the other climbers, reassuring me that I wasn’t the only one having difficulty. We passed an American man coming down who said it was his twelfth summit of Kilimanjaro. I remember thinking to myself “Why?” It took another two hours to get to Uhuru Peak (5896m) and I couldn’t believe how crowded it was! People from every nation waiting their turn for a photo op by the summit sign. In my itinerary, it says “spectacular glaciers that still occupy most of the summit area”. It was a spectacular glacier that BARELY covered any of the summit. There was no snow or ice anywhere we walked, and the effects of global warming were evident. This mountain may not see any of its glacier left in the next 10-20 years. It was truly a beautiful yet sad sight to behold.   The air was thin, but I barely noticed in my excitement to capture every bit of the experience.  The summit was buzzing from the energy of all the tired climbers realizing their dream!
We began to head back down and after scrambling over the summit rocks I was instantly glad that we did our ascent in the dark. It was super-steep! If I had seen that hill, I would have surely been demotivated to continue!  Eli grabbed the back of my shirt and we slid down the loose scree like we were skiing. It was a lot of fun, and the lower we went, the better I began to feel. But when I got back to Kibo, I had a brutal pressure headache and severe chills. I couldn’t get warm until I started moving, had to take Motrin for the headache but couldn’t eat barely anything. Eli explained that it was normal to feel this way. We spent the night at Horombo Hut and ended up sharing with two Slovakian soldiers that we shared with at Mandara. One of them summited. A Canadian girl named Leah also didn’t make it, but a 62-year old woman ticking off items from her bucket list made it! I was really impressed!
Sunrise at Gilman’s Point
I was really tired….
Have to keep going…
Our team!  Eli and Emanuel were great and encouraging the whole way!  
I might not have made it if it wasn’t for them!
4 September 2009
Back to Springlands for a hot shower and rest! We were lucky on the way down to walk through a part of the rainforest teeming with monkeys. I learned “Safari n jima” which meant “Good Luck” and I said it to everyone climbing up. We made it to the gate and “Maliza!” we were finished! Eli told me after that he was worried that we might not summit because the night before saw a 50% success rate. Angela had been taking Diamox since day 2 because she was feeling sickness the first day. I didn’t take any altitude drugs and had a bit more trouble at the end, but made it anyway! 
I gave the North Face jacket I was wearing to our waiter/porter Fide. The whole tipping situation concerned me. Before our climb they handed us a tipping sheet with guidelines on what was expected. If I was on my own I would be expected to pay per day: $20 to the guide, $10 per porter (x4) and $15 to the cook for a TOTAL of $345!!!!! This on top of the $1000+ I paid for the climb! I simply could not afford to tip that much. I don’t know where the money from these organized climbs goes, but the tipping expectation was a bit much. A couple from the UK, who the husband climbed had the porters/guide demand tips from them on the mountain. If that had happened to me, I wouldn’t have tipped at all.
Angela and I had dinner, sorted out when we could afford to tip and then I met with three Americans and a Swede who turned out to be the owner of Zara and Springlands. He met his wife on a plane and in the 80’s as she was working as a travel agent in Tanzania and they were unable to book clients because the hotels were full, they decided to build their own. Over the years it expanded with more buildings and the pool to be what it is today. I was telling the story of my summit and mentioned that I met a crazy man who claimed he had summited twelve times!  They all laughed and one of the Americans, Macon Dunnagan told me that he was the one that I saw! His wife had died of ovarian cancer and he carried her ashes to the top and buried at Uhuru Peak.  He asked me if I had called my mom and told her of my achievement and when I informed him I hadn’t, he handed me his cell phone and told me to.  From Africa!  It’s incredible the amazing people you meet around the world when you’re travelling!
This photo is deceiving, but it’s actually taken pointing up at the sky. 
 This gives an idea of how steep it was going up AND back down!
We’re on the moon. It started raining for the first time of the whole trip on the way back down.
We were really lucky.

Amazing Africa: Part 2 – Climbing Kilimanjaro

Money continues to be a problem for me. I was worried to bring too much cash with me, but now that I’m here, I can’t get any. I’ve had to budget my money to make sure I can eat and have enough water. I spent the whole day lounging around and doing nothing. I slept in – a well needed rest after months and months of working. Living in a cashless society has made the beginning of this trip difficult, but as I was riding into Moshi Town with four local guys, I had an interesting conversation with one of them who seemed well educated about history and world politics. In a cash society like Tanzania, you spend what you have and save what you have for unexpected expenses. Himself, for example, explained that because they don’t have insurance, they must save their money incase they get sick and need medical care. I went to the bank and took out money. Probably too much, but I won’t have to worry about that for the rest of the trip. I met some students from an Ottawa University eco program here in Tanzania. They had the best luck on their Serengeti Safari and had animals all over the place. I met my guide Eli (pronounced Elly) who seemed very nice. A girl from Australia will be joining us up the mountain. Her name is Angela and she’s travelling on her own as well. I have to eat well, sleep well, drink lots and polé-polé (slowly, slowly). No problems there! This is going to be quite the experience!
31 August 2009
Where do I start? I’m sitting here at Maranda Hut, which is, according to my trusty GPS, sitting at 2715m above sea level. Our total journey from Marangu Gate ascended 831m in 3 hours of walking for a total distance of 10.8km. Our average walking speed – well it says our moving average was 3.7km/h but I think that includes our driving distance. Polé-polé! When we started, I was feeling a little strange: my chest felt tight and I was having trouble breathing. My head ached! We were walking very slowly, almost ridiculously slow, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Honestly, what’s the rush? We stopped at a site for lunch along a main road – apparently the porters were cheating! Just kidding – we have one chief guide, 1 assistant guide, one cook, five porters, each porter carrying 20kg. Angela told met hat the porters get paid $7 for the whole trip? I hope that’s not true. I would really like to know who’s benefitting from my $ spent because the trip wasn’t cheap! The food has been delicious and Eli has been a real treat. A positive, smiley man eager to please. Today was really great and I’m very tired but not exhausted. I’m going to sleep well tonight!
Eli and I at the entrance to the Mandara Huts (2720masl)
 We ate everything on our plates so we’d have the energy needed for the next day’s climb
1 September 2009
Today was a longer day, but not too bad. We made it to Horombo Hut, sitting at 3780masl on the edge of the world. We are above the clouds and ascended out of the rainforest and through the moorland. Eli has been the best guide and very patient with us. He is always smiling and laughing. He checked our oxygen and pulse when we reached Horombo: 91 oxygen and 89 pulse. Not bad! He said if oxygen is below 50 and pulse over 150 (?) then they don’t let you continue. So far I am rockin’ but I am nervous. We met a guy at the lunch site from Bermuda who said he didn’t make it to the summit. Now both angela and I are a little scared of how we’ll do. A positive mental attitude, coupled with eat well, sleep well, drink lots, polé-polé, and mine: smile all the time! We learned some slang today “mumbo” means “what’s up” and we respond with “poa kecheezie, kaman deezie”, which means “crazy like a banana!”. Well, poa means ‘cool’ so it would be “I’m cool, crazy like a banana!” Both Angela and I feel pretty good, no headaches or nausea. I think tomorrow will be the real test.
I still can’t get over how these guys can carry 30 pounds on their heads without using their arms or hands to keep them in place!
I made it to Horombo! (3780masl)
It seems as though we’re at the top of the world!
2 September 2009
The climb today went through the last of the moorland and into the lunar desert of the saddle. We stopped for lunch with some mountain mice, one of which decided to drink Angela’s juice box through the straw. How in the…? There was a chilling wind as we walked through the clouds to Kibo Hut. I kept looking for Beth or Shingo. I finally saw Beth as I arrived at Kibo (4700masl) and she was just heading back down. She didn’t make it to the summit; started feeling nauseous at Kibo and tried to climb but couldn’t continue. A lot of others we passed didn’t summit either and Angela and I were starting to get worried about our chances.  To help with the altitude, after dropping our things off at Kibo, we climbed for a while and hung out above the huts before coming back down.  Eli wanted us to start early to get to the top, so we ate and crawled into bed around 1730, to wake at 2300h! For the final push.

 There she is!  Amazing to look at today’s picture of Kili, and one from 1978.  There’s almost no snow left on the mountain top.  We’re running out of chances to see the mountain like this…

 The long trek ahead.  We’re climbing although it doesn’t look it!


Kibo (4700masl)  5 hours to Gilman’s Point!

Amazing Africa – Part 1: The decision to go

I was in much need of a break from my overseas work, and we’re entitled to two 2-week vacations during our 10-months away from home.  Since I was already halfway around the world, it didn’t make sense for me to go back to Canada when I could see so much more on the other side of the Atlantic!  Where to go?  I looked at Seychelles, I thought about Thailand, I even considered Turkey.  Dean, a longtime friend of mine mentioned it has always been his dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so I started googling.  I learned that Kili was a mountain that anyone in ‘reasonable physical condition’ could handle, and I thought: I’m in reasonable physical condition!  So on the spur of the moment, I searched around, emailed some travel companies and finally came up with a plan of what I wanted to do and see in Tanzania!
I finally settled on a combination of Kili climb, Serengeti Game Drive and R&R in Zanzibar.  As soon as my trip was booked, I ordered everything I would need for hot and cold weather and mountain climbing from Mountain Equipment Co-op and prayed that my order would make it from Canada to the southwest asia on time!
I departed Dubai on the 28th of August.  My gate didn’t open until about 1045pm, so I had about 40 minutes to wait before I could check in my bag.  I was amazed at how smooth and quick the check-in process at the Dubai Airport is compared to Canada.  Security was a breeze.  The clerk at the check-in asked me where I got my PacSafe locking wire mesh I had on my backpack and told me it was good that I have it for this flight.  This made me a little nervous.  I had never been to Africa and was travelling on my own.  I managed to pack everything I would need for a mountain climb and another week and a half of adventure into one hiking rucksack.  What an adventure this is going to be!
The flight to Nairobi was very nice, and the Precision Air flight to Kilimanjaro was nice and short. We flew right between Kili and Meru (I think). I have put myself in a bit of a pickle. I was only able to get Dirhams and then hoped to get $$ in Nairobi, but time was a bit tight and I didn’t get any. I didn’t have enough U.S. Dollars for my visa when I arrived and I had to change Dirhams at such an outrageous exchange rate. 100DH = $14US. I’ve been hosed. Now I have no idea where to get any money.
There were three others on the ride from the airport to Springlands Hotel. Danilo and Chris are brothers from Brazil who were celebrating Chris’s 40th birthday by climbing together, and Beth a young British girl, who, like me decided 3 weeks ago to climb a mountain. We hired a local, whom we nicknamed Shingo and he took us into Moshi. We went to the bus station, police station, all the markets and walked back on the railroad tracks and through a tiny village between Moshi and the hotel.
One of the things that really impressed me about Tanzania so far was in an area of the world where religion truly divides, the mosques and churches sat across the same town and for the most part, Moshi and I would soon learn the rest of Tanzania is relatively peaceful.  The people in the town I spoke to were rather proud of this fact.
While the others were shopping, I asked Shingo about school He told me that school is very expensive and to go for two months it costs $50. He wants to go back to school to learn more English. I told him ‘practice makes perfect’ and he knew that phrase! It suddenly dawned on me, watching every Kenyan on that flight from Dubai try to open the plane bathroom door but unable to read the instructions. They may make enough $$ to fly, but they are illiterate in both English and Swahili.
As we were wandering around Moshi, guys all over the place were trying to sell us stuff. One guy made a comment about buying from the shops vice the ‘community stores’ and supporting drug lords etc. It makes one stop and wonder: where is any of the $ spent here REALLY going? Who is benefitting from my visit here? Uneducated, illiterate men? Or something bigger?
Taking a walk along the tracks through Moshi Town
The hub of Moshi Town (approx 145,000 pop)