I lost my father in 2008 to an aggressive brain tumour. We didn’t have long after his diagnosis, but his last ten days were in an amazing hospice. I’ve supported and fundraised for them ever since, and I even worked there for a couple of years before relocating to Wiltshire last year. After losing him, I struggled with grief and I don’t know what happened, but something in my brain wanted to give something back to the Hospice as part of this process. My thoughts were “I shall go to Africa and climb a mountain – Kilimanjaro!”
Now there’s something you should know about me – I hate exercise, and the outdoors, but in my head at the time, it made sense. I signed up through an organisation where you book a place to go and do the trek to raise money for a charity of your choice and got on the fundraising wagon. I got fit (for me) and then, in February 2010, off I went to Tanzania (via Nairobi in Kenya) and set off to reach Uhuru Peak.
I look back now and know I was crazy – but then grief is some crazy s**t. The crazy thing is though, that I did it. I reached the top.
We started off at the bottom, with Colobus monkeys swinging over head through the jungle trees, and in sweltering heat, and ended up at -17 degrees at the top with the straw from my camel-back freezing. My guide had to slam it against the rock in order to break the ice so I could continue drinking.
We walked for many hours each day. Some days were sunny. Some days had rain. You name a type of weather and we probably had it on that trip. The whole way through, I kept thinking of my dad and I knew I was never going to give up. The only way I was not going to make it was if I got altitude sickness and I was ordered or carried off the mountain, which thankfully didn’t happen (probably due to how slow I was).
At the time I hated the trek. I was the slowest in my group and was at the back everyday walking on my own. It was pretty miserable – most definitely a mental battle every single step. I know – this probably doesn’t sound like a dream holiday to you, but for the impact it has had on my life, it definitely was.
A friend of mine back home actually died whilst I was away and so for a while on my return I couldn’t even talk about it. I felt like I was back at square one in the miserable journey of grief. I look back now though and all I feel is pride. The girl who hates exercise and fresh air did it. She went to Africa with no-one she knew, and spent 8 days on a mountain, camping (for only the second time ever) and came back to tell the tale. Now maybe my reasons for going are what drove me on, but honestly it is one of the best things I ever did. I reflect on it now and wish I had taken more time to enjoy the experience and appreciate what I was doing and the things I was seeing. Unfortunately such is life. I can most definitely reflect on what I know now to have been a life changing and character building experience. Now when I am having a hard day or feeling anxious about thigs, I can think back to the experience, and whilst it might not make the anxiety go away, it definitely does help to put things in perspective.
It really was an amazing time, and I love looking back through my photos, and remembering the things I did and the sights I saw. If you like exercise and/or the outdoors you will have an even better time, but I really do recommend it, whether for charity or not.
My only regret is that I didn’t book on the optional safari after the trek. In my head I thought “I will be homesick! I will want to come straight home!” and so I did. One of my all time dreams in life is to see the Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti in Tanzania. The country has so much to offer and I didn’t get to see any of it apart from the landscape on the mountain. I should have made the most of it whilst I was there, but hindsight is a great thing. Perhaps I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, as I probably would have found out about my friend passing away, and also I wanted to come back and celebrate the success with my family.
I know though, that one day I will return to Tanzania and do a safari and do it properly. I will see the Wildebeest migration, I will see the Ngorongoro Crater, I will visit Tarangire, I will see Lake Manyara and some of the other famous parks – I may even visit Zanzibar. I will continue saving my pennies and working towards this dream holiday to see more of Tanzania for now, but until then, at least I have my memories of my life changing trip to Kilimanjaro