Building Up: Mt. Kilimanjaro

Bubbles leap from my cup, tickling my nose or landing on my book’s cover, leaving a sticky patina that I’ll notice for days to come. A similar patina, from deicing spray, coats the outer surface of the window Keri’s head is resting against. When we boarded the plane it was mid-morning and snowing on January 21. In fourteen hours, after flying through both sunset and sunrise, we’d step into hazy, humid 90 degree air and immediately begin sweating on January 23. 

Elated that all our luggage had made the trip, we exited Kilimanjaro airport with fresh visas pasted into our passports and packed into a 1980s Toyota van for the hour drive to Moshi. A boy no more than eight shepherded a herd of 20 goats across a barren field. Moments later a herd of bony cattle was being moved towards a shallow, muddy pool by a teen in scarlet robes clasping a spear in one hand and cell phone in the other. We were stopped at check points by men with AK-47s over their shoulder more than once. Views of the mountain were obscured by blowing dust and cloud. Occasional trees with wonderful flat, deep green canopies and bright red flowers provided relief from the all consuming brown, a result of it being late in the dry season.

We passed a small market with stalls containing bushels of banana, watermelons, corn, mangos, potatoes, pineapples before turning onto a single lane road, deeply potholed and rutted. Dust billowed into open windows, heads bounced off the roof. We all shared some doubt as to our destination, but soon enough we turned onto a paved surface and parked outside a hotel. Lizards scurried up walls of the open air dining area, mosquito nets hung above every bed, and our guides greeted us with four glasses of fresh watermelon juice.

Keri, always smiling and does she really need an introduction..

Four glasses? Keri and I were thirsty, but not that thirsty. We were joined by our friend Travis, who frequently participates in this blog’s activities, and Kyle, Keri’s childhood friend and surrogate brother.

It is because of Kyle we all now find ourselves in Tanzania.

Kyle, he who inspired and FNG to camping/hiking/outdooring

 A couple of years ago Kyle, who lives in Tulsa, OK, took a trip to Colorado and hiked Pikes Peak. After that trip, looking to challenge himself and experience other peaks, he began researching non-technical mountains that were taller than 14,000ft. Mt. Kilimanjaro, rising some 19,341 feet and done without ropes over 5-9 days, fit his desires. After talking to a co-worker who had ascended it years before, Kili became a mountain he had to climb.

He called Keri, “I want to go climb Kilimanjaro and you’re the only person I know who would go. Can you go in a few weeks?”

We’d just bought a house and had a wedding upcoming, so we said no, it wasn’t something we could do that quickly, but we’d look into it for a later date. Kyle’s mom called soon thereafter saying he’d die if we didn’t go look after him. We agreed to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in January of 2018. 

If I didn’t know her, I’d have guessed Kyle paid his mom to guilt trip us.

We invited Travis, who is always ready for an adventure, but typically unwilling to commit for laughable and often expensive amounts of time, paid his deposit months before yet didn’t buy his plane ticket until mere weeks prior to departure; a little peer pressure does wonders.

Travis looking like an easy target

So here we sat, dazed from two days of travel, drinking watermelon juice and trying to focus on what our guides were telling us. Though my attention wavered towards the lizards crawling up walls more than once, I managed to understand that we needed to have our bags packed and ready to leave at 8am the following morning.
During this meeting, we were introduced to a fifth person who would join us over the coming seven days on Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

Roi, international man of mystery, hasn’t officially consented to being mentioned in the blog, so I won’t tarnish his reputation too much at this point, signed on for Kili 10 days prior to our departure. Given a choice to join 8 Europeans of extended age or a group of four Americans for his hike, he choose us and we’re the luckier for it.

Roi, still not sure if he made a good choice for his mountain companions

We parted ways for the evening, repacked our bags, and slept. 

Being a consummate coffee hound, Travis read about a local coffee shop who sourced their coffee from the many local farms on Kilimanjaro’s slopes. We walked out of our hotel by 6:15 planning on Union Coffee for breakfast. We’d been told downtown was a 30 minute walk. This would be quick and easy. It was neither.

Now 7AM, we were being led by a 12 year old kid. We tried to chat, but sounds of diesel buses, motor bikes, and clucking chickens drowned out much of what was said. He learned we were walking to Union Coffee in downtown Moshi and we learned he was going back to his village after running an errand for his family. He appeared to be taking us a roundabout way to Union, making us slightly nervous.  We would later learn this was for our own good. Soon, he pointed us up a street and said goodbye. 

Taking for longer than a 30 minute walk, our time to enjoy breakfast was short. It was, however, excellent. We gorged plates of fresh fruit and avocado, honey cappuccinos for them, and one amazing latte for me. And we rushed back towards our hotel, running late, seeking a taxi, becoming stereotypical dumb tourists instantly. 

A leaf drawn in latte foam is art? Try harder, America

An offer of help became a setup and soon we were led to the market, which our young guide had earlier deftly guided us around, where we were pounced upon like lions upon wounded pray. Kyle bought bracelet after bracelet, Keri’s water bottle disappeared from her hands, we jumped into a random car offering the driver $20 to get us out of there. He obliged and we pulled up to our hotel 15 minutes late with nervous smiles. Roi and our two guides looked on.

Harm avoided, lesson learned. And now on to the mountain.


  1. Great stories and fabulous photographs! You guys are troopers. That was no picnic climbing Kilimanjaro. How nice that you had some help with the tedious stuff.


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