Monthly Archives: March 2013

Bus Banter

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2 Americans and 1 Canadian are sitting on a bus on Thursday night in central Tel Aviv, speaking in English (the dialog you are about to read is the word for word account of an event that actually transpired):

Random Israeli Dude: America roooooooooocks!!!!

Canadian: I’m Canadian.

Random Israeli Dude: Neeeeeeerds!!!

Where in the World is… Nora Sandiego?

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The time has come for our next adventure, and things are PRETTY different this time.

How could anything possibly be MORE different than India and Tanzania, you ask? Well, this time around… we’re traveling independently.

During the last few weeks of our time in Bangalore, Tal and I talked a lot about what our move to Tanzania would mean for me. While we knew that traveling together was what we wanted for us , the decision meant that I had to put my career on hold and once again pack up our lives to start fresh in a new location. But unlike in India, I wouldn’t have the automatic network of support that a job provides, not to mention the comfort of a place to go each day and a steady set of  goals to achieve. 

This is probably an understatement, but I am not especially good at being idle. I’m the best version of myself when my to-do list is on the precipice of pandemonium. For this reason, Tal and I were both moderately concerned that “housewife” miiiight not work out for me.

SPOILER: It did not work out for me.

Around the same time we were drawing this conclusion, Tal began to have conversations with his company about his next project. It was quickly shaping up to look like another African adventure, but this time  he’d remain only a few weeks in each location; a complicated and extremely expensive scenario should we decide I come along.

What came next was the result of a string of conversations dating back to the beginning of our relationship, when the idea of living abroad was still just a fantasy. But when the idea became a possible reality, we went from inception to actualization in under 48 hours

For the next few months, Tal will be bouncing around Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania doing whatever it his is does (is it bad that I’m not totally sure?) and I am in Tel Aviv, Israel.

I’ve wanted to learn to speak Hebrew since I was a kid, and this ambition only intensified after I fell for an Israeli.  I’ve taken classes, and Tal has patiently tried to teach me bits here and there, but I feel the only real way to learn the language is to immerse myself full time. This is my chance.

Fewer than 72 hours after I finished my Kilimanjaro climb in Tanzania, I was sitting in a classroom here in Israel, sharpened pencil in hand. I am attending an intensive language program called Ulpan; 4 hours a day, 4 days a week for 4 months.  Though I don’t expect to become fluent in this time, I do hope to gain a solid foundation.

Make no mistake; though we’re physically apart, Tal and I are still very much together. That guy’s the peanut butter to my jelly, the mint to my chocolate chip. So while the name of my blog is currently a little misleading, we know that this part of our adventure will be a meaningful experience in part of a much larger journey. 

Respect the Mountain: Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Climbing Kili was not my idea, and frankly, I’m not sure I ever actually agreed to it.

Shortly after I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tal and I had the following conversation:

Tal: What do you think of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?

My totally appropriate response: HAhahahahahahahaha

Tal: I was thinking maybe, March 2nd through the 10th?

Me: Dramatic Pause

Me: You’re asking me if I want to climb Africa’s highest mountain, less than a month from now?

Tal: Yes.

Me: HAhahahahahahahahahaha

Tal: Puzzled look on face, head cocked to one side

Me: You’re not joking?

Tal: So I can book it?!

Me: How did you reach that conclusion?

Tal: HIGH FIVE!

See what I mean?

And yet, on the evening of  March1st I found myself on a plane with a pair of hiking boots, the ugliest portion of my wardrobe, a sleeping bag, a trekking pack and a deliriously happy husband.

We were greeted in Arusha by my equally giddy father-in-law. Amir had flown in from Boston the day before to join us for the trek. Get this; he has already climbed Kili, he thought it would be fun to do it AGAIN.

Some girls get to marry into families who go on cruises together.

The next morning, we were scooped up from our hotel by our fabulous guides William  and Francis.  After a quick check of our gear, we were ushered into a mini bus already filled with the 10 porters who would make up our climbing team.

That wasn’t a typo. We had 10 porters. I initially joined you in thinking that this was absolutely insane. I’ve hiked before! I’ve camped before! I don’t need no stinkin’ porters!

Omg.  Yes I did.

After a couple of days on that mountain I would have given a kidney to these men. Heck. I’d have given them my first-born.

It took us about an hour to reach the gate of the park. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement equivalent to the size of the mountain itself. But I was genuinely excited too.  There are several trails that ultimately reach the summit, we were following a route called Machame.

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The first day of trekking was a breeze. The incline and gain in altitude is gradual and the rain forest terrain is gorgeous to the point of distraction.

Rain Forest

By day two we were more aware of the shift in elevation. The trees were beginning to give way to rocks, and the thinning air meant that we were finding ourselves out of breath after simple scrambles.

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But the elevation also meant that we were at the start of what was to be a week of spectacular views.

Great Heights

Day two also included the introduction of my first blister, four more would follow in the days to come.

Document Everything

Each day, our beloved porters passed us on the trails (despite carrying loads two and three times heavier than what we had on our backs) and arrived at the campsite to set up before we arrived.

Superhero Porters

When we did finally reach each site, sometimes hours after they had, we found our tents already pitched and we were welcomed to our home for the night with bowls of warmed water so that we could wash up.  Once we’d freshened up and reset our gear for the next day, we joined our guides and porters in the larger Mess Tent, where they’d boiled water so that we could make ourselves  hot drinks.

Luxury Home Sweet Home

On the third day of hiking we were in the clouds. The vegetation was almost completely gone and we were surrounded entirely by rocks.

Hiking in the Heavens

Day three functions as an acclimation day. We spent the first several hours of our hike on a steady incline towards a point called Lava Tower, 4600 meters above sea level.  But after a lunch break, our fearless leaders William and Francis lead us down a trail for the first time on our trip. Our camp that night would only be slightly higher than the previous night’s.  Though we were taking altitude sickness medicine, this is the best way to prepare your body to reach such unusual heights.

Day four was simultaneously my favorite and least favorite day. We began the day began with the total domination of Barranco wall. I’d like to call this portion of the climb “harnesses are for sissies”.

Harnesses Are for Sissies

I absolutely loved the bouldering portion of the day, and even if I hadn’t, the view from the top of the wall would have made it worthwhile.

Family That Climbs Together...

But then, we had to climb down other side. This might be a good time to explain to you that I have a totally irrational and unfounded, seemingly unconquerable fear of falling forward. I am not afraid of heights. I am not abnormally afraid of falling backward. I am only afraid of falling forward. When I was little I used to tell other kids that I had a medical condition that made it hard for me to walk down the stairs, so that they wouldn’t make fun of how slowly I took my turn in childhood’s endless stream of single file lines.

So on day four I introduced our guides (who thought they knew all there was to know about climbing maneuvers) to:  The Nora Technique.

Ass first ladies and gentleman.

The Nora Technique

This is the very steep, multiple hour trail we did that day.  On day five I found my first gray hair.

AKA Hell

The fifth day’s climb finally took us to Base Camp. It wasn’t a long hike, or an especially difficult one, but it was filled with anticipation.

When we arrived at camp, even though it was much earlier in the day than we typically ended our treks, our main goal was to rest. We tried our best to sleep the afternoon away, and while Tal and Amir were moderately successful, I wasn’t able to quiet my mind.

At 11pm we began to put on our layers for the final ascent.  The summit climb is done in the middle of the night when the ground is the hardest. With our headlamps turned on to guide the way, we began the trek with the ability to see only the feet of the person preceding us. Throughout the last 5 days, William and Francis had repeated the Swahili phrase “pole, pole” over and over again.  Slowly, slowly. This became our mantra that night while we walked in silence, steadily upward. As the clock neared 2am, and we reached an altitude of 5000 meters, I began to feel the combined effects of lack of sleep, multiple days of hiking, and the overall anxiety of what was still to come.  After several breaks I was forced to admit that I could not climb further. As heartbreaking as the decision was, I knew that I did not have the mental stamina to push through what I was feeling.

I wished Tal and Amir luck before I turned back, but I knew that they would make it.

At 6am, they reached Uhuru Peak, the rooftop of Africa.

Glaciers in Africa Sunrise from Uhuru Total Champs

They returned to camp just after 9, and by noon we were on our way down the mountain.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re rock stars.

ROCK Stars, Get it? What Goes Up

By the end of the sixth day, we were all getting a liiiiittle bit punchy.

Classay

On the last day of our adventure, we took a moment before leaving our final campsite to snap a few photos with our incredible crew.

The Kili Crew

If I’m being perfectly honest, I need to admit that by day seven I was done. I was sore and cranky, I wanted a shower and a bed, and I wanted OFF of that mountain. But when we saw the gates at the end of the weeklong trail, I was a little bit euphoric too. I may not have made it to the peak, but damn it:

I CLIMBED MOUNT F***ING KILIMANJARO!!!!!!!!

The End

A Prayer to the Gods of Trekking Juju

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O Great Powerful Rulers of all that is Outdoorsy, ye who determine my fate on this trek of such magnitude, as I set off on a trail paved for me by my forefathers (well… not MY forefathers, but somebody’s) I offer to you these simple prayers:

Please do not allow the countless, mind-numbing, joyless hours I’ve logged on the elliptical trainer, the stair stepper, the gazelle and the treadmill to have been for naught.

I pray that my stomach, which has been pissed at me since my abrupt departure from the Western world, does not select this week to make a point.

I graciously ask that you do not allow a single song to lodge itself in my brain for many days at a time. And if, Gods of Gortex, a song must itself lodge, please permit it to be one for which I know more than a single lyric.

Let the layers upon layers of clothing and gear for which Tal and I were forced to mortgage internal organs to purchase from REI and Patagonia, provide us with warmth and protect us from the rain and wind. And please grant that those organs were not vital.

O Great Creators of GORP, I ask, nay, BEG of you, do not invite Aunty Flow to join me on this camping trip with my husband, father-in-law and several male strangers, during which we’ll have neither bathrooms nor running water.

Offer me calm as we reach altitudes that make me want to hurl. Never mind. I’d settle for simply having a mint nearby whenever necessary.  I ask instead, that you reserve that serenity for every time my well-meaning husband falsely tells me “we’re almost there”.

Permit my fugly but functional hiking boots, which have survived the terrains of Chile, Argentina, India and Vietnam to carry me to top of this magnificent mountain without blisters. Ok. Without many blisters.

And finally, O Great Scout Leaders in the Sky, ignore my other prayers if you deem necessary, but do whatever you must so that my next blog post reads:

I CLIMBED MOUNT F***ING KILIMANJARO.