Month: August 2009

Today I fly to Kilimanjaro

Today’s the day.

My flight to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro Airport is tonight at midnight.

I have been feeling more and more miserable because of whatever it is I have. It might be the anti-malarials doing this to me. It might be I have something else. I’m having a few tests run on my blood and should get the results just before I leave the house to go to the airport.

My packing is pretty much complete. I put my snacks in my suitcases. I have bags of dried fruits, some dates, Kit Kats, cashews, something called muffin bars (I’m assuming they are something like granola bars…they were the only thing I could find here in Cairo), herbal teas in case I get a cold, a cough, or diarrhea, and some Tang. I bought three large bottles of orange juice. When I went up Mt. St. Catherine last week one thing I was really missing was something to replace potassium losses. So I’m hoping this orange juice will do the job.

I’ve wrapped EVERYTHING in ziplock bags. I’m worried my orange juice will explode in the suitcase. I’m also conscious of the fact that it will be wet and rainy throughout most of the hike up the mountain. So I need to do everything I can to keep my clothes dry.

The daypack I will be using on the hike up (which will hopefully only contain small snacks, my camera, and whatever extra layers I’ll need for the day) is fully loaded now and I will be using it as a carry-on in the plane. It has the bare necessities I’d need to climb the mountain in case my luggage gets lost. I have one layer of every type of clothing I might need in there. I’ve also tied my sleeping bag to it. And I will be traveling in my hiking boots. That way if I do lose my luggage I could possibly still make the hike.

I’m recharging my mobile and camera batteries now. And I’m updating what is probably my last blog before I’m back from the trip on August 22 inshallah!

If you want to follow the progress of my hike, please follow me on Twitter I will do my very best to update my Twitter status while on the mountain. If you don’t hear from me on Twitter then there probably wasn’t much network coverage on the mountain or I had problems accessing the Internet for one reason or another. In that case, you’ll have to wait till I’m back when I’ll be sure to update my blog with my day-to-day activities and pictures.

Please keep me in your prayers!


1 day to Kilimanjaro

I start my plane trip to Kilimanjaro at midnight tomorrow (Saturday) night.

I’m horrified!

I think what scares me most is that I’m not feeling very well these days. This is probably a combination of the side effects of the anti-malarial pills I’m taking and what I’m sure is the beginning of a cold. Because I’m not feeling well, I haven’t been able to exercise all week. I’m feeling dizzy and weak most of the time and that’s when I’m at sea level here in Cairo. So how will I feel when I start exerting myself at any altitude, let alone high altitude?

I also normally get a feeling of semi-dread before I travel alone anywhere. I’m used to feeling that. It’s never easy to get up and leave the children. Always when I travel without them I wish they were with me. And (almost) always when I travel with them I wonder what got into me to consider taking them with me.

Once I arrive at my destination I feel free. It’s always a good feeling to get to know a new country and different people. I like getting to know my new hotel room and setting myself up in it. I’m usually quite happy while I’m away as long as it’s for a week or ten days. Anything longer than that and I start getting bored and edgy. I find it odd that leaving a hotel room after staying in it for a few days also brings me that sense of semi-dread. It’s like leaving something you’ve become accustomed to and knowing you won’t see it again.

I’m always relieved to be home and back with the kids. It’s so good to have roots and a place to come home to. A place you know is yours and people you know love you.

But…BUT…it’s usually only ten days until I start feeling the need to move again. I can’t deal with routine anymore. It kills me. It depresses me.

I’m starting to think that I survive on the stress of getting together travel arrangements, making sure the house is in order before I travel, making sure I have everything I need for the trip, then the traveling itself. I complain incessantly about all of that. But it never depresses me. A lifeless, routine existence does.

So, I have my normal pre-travel jitters. I’m hoping whatever it is I’m coming down with is something I can deal with at high altitude. I’m hoping that just looking at a beautiful, high mountain will pick up my spirits. I’m hoping my trip is a pleasurable experience and that I come back with memories and interesting stories to tell.

I’m done with almost all of my packing. I’ve bought almost everything on my list. I couldn’t find ski goggles, but hopefully my sunglasses will do the job. I have the exact amount of weight that is allowed for travel on Kenya Airways. I might actually be one or two kilograms overweight.

Tomorrow I fly to Nairobi and from there directly to Kilimanjaro Airport. I have a transfer awaiting me to take me to my hotel in Arusha, which I should reach around noon on Sunday. My roommate, an American woman, will arrive sometime later that night. I hope she doesn’t turn out to be a super-bionic power woman. I hope she has the same concerns as mine. I hope she’s just a normal person whom I can relate to. Monday is a free day where we make sure we understand our itinerary and have ourselves packed for the hike and maybe drop into the city for a short visit. And then Tuesday, August 11, we start our hike.

I ask for your prayers.

Nadia’s ten pre-Kilimanjaro concerns

  1. I only have one pair of good winter pants with me. What if I pee in or on them (both are a real possibility given past experiences).
  2. That I don’t have enough snacks with me.
  3. That I have too many snacks – adding extra weight.
  4. That I don’t have the right kind of snacks – thus not replenishing my body with my actual needs.
  5. That the aluminum water bottles I just bought do not act like a thermos and that the water in them will simply freeze.
  6. That I break my glasses and end up wearing sunglasses at night on the summit climb.
  7. That I have to pee in the outdoors because I can’t hold myself until we reach the next toilet and that it’s so cold that the pee freezes on its way out.
  8. That the two American women who are in my group (that’s my group: just two American women and me) turn out to be super-bionic power women and that I can’t keep up with them.
  9. That I don’t sleep at all during the climb exacerbating possible altitude sickness symptoms. Given the fact that I have never been able to get a real night’s sleep during any of my many (two) camping experiences this is a real possibility. 
  10. That I get sick before I even leave Egypt making the climb all that much harder. I am so concerned about this last one that I’ve actually been feeling sick for the past three days. I have no idea if this is real or imaginary.

2 days to Kilimanjaro

I’ve been trying to figure out what on earth gave me the impression that I might be up to doing something as crazy as hiking up Kilimanjaro (the highest peak in Africa standing at 5892 meters).

It’s not like I’ve done any sort of real hiking before. I have lived in Cairo for the past 23 years, for goodness sake. And never in my life have I ever lived anywhere near mountains, or even hills for that matter.

When I was in the fourth grade my dad took me and my brother hiking down the Grand Canyon. I suppose that counts. I have fond memories of that hike. I don’t remember it being particularly difficult in the physical sense. I do remember it being extremely hot. My dad would make us pour water on our heads and wet our caps at every water hole we found along the way. That was the funnest part of it all. It was most difficult on my dad. By the time we got back to the top he was suffering from a heat stroke. I remember my mom complaining frantically about the lack of help she got from the hotel management in handling my father’s heat stroke. Now that I think of it, though, it couldn’t have been all that bad. I don’t remember any doctors’ visits and he was not sent to hospital. And we got up and drove to our next destination the following morning.

When we lived in New Mexico for a summer, the same summer we hiked the Grand Canyon, my parents also took us to A-Mountain. I’m not doing any research for this blog so you must understand that I’m basing this purely on memory. A-Mountain was thus called because for some odd reason there was a huge A written on its top that could be seen from miles away. We hiked all the way up one evening; my parents and their three kids at the time. Since I do not recall it taking more than an afternoon’s stroll, A-Mountain couldn’t have been more than a hill. A-Mountain also has a very vivid memory because on the way down, my brother slipped into a crop of cactusi and it took the rest of the night for my mother to remove all the thorns using her ever-handy tweasers.

That summer was clearly our hiking summer. I do not remember ever doing any real hiking again.

In the summer of 2006 I visited Palestine for the first time. A friend took me to the north of the 1948 lands and wanted to show me an old castle on the top of a hill. I started up after him but after only three minutes I decided that I had no breath to take me up that silly hill.

In December 2007 (might have been 2008…all years are pretty much the same to me), I took a friend visiting from Palestine (the same from the hill) and my cousin visiting from the U.S. to Sharm El-Sheikh in Sinai. Part of the plan was to spend a night going up Mt. Moses (also called Mt. Sinai), which stands at 2285 meters). At the time I had started training semi-regularly at the gym so I figured I was good for the hike. I wasn’t really. Ask my cousin Andrea. There must be a word for something beyond the mere panting. It was pathetic really. I did make it to the top. But I vividly recall going up those final large stairs-made-out-of-rocks near the top and feeling like my hiking boots were made out of lead. I had not been anywhere really cold since I was a kid. So I was freezing at the summit and nothing could warm me up. I have a picture of me smiling on that summit. It’s not a smile. It’s a clenching of the teeth.

When I started training for the Kili hike I visited a protectorate in the Western Desert near Cairo. I hiked that twice (13 km) and that was fine. But that was flat land. Desert flat land, but still flat.  

So as you see, I have no history at all in any of this. As a kid I wasn’t all that athletic. I was the fastest runner in class till I reached the sixth grade. That must count for something. I could beat up boys if I wanted to (and I actually did at least once). I loved swimming and I know I could do several laps back and forth with no trouble at all (not any more). I was great at dodge ball! Remember that, anyone? Is that still even played? I climbed trees all the time (and other peoples’ garages, by the way). And then there was a game called Kick the Can. I remember that involving a can, lots of kicking, and some hiding. And red light, green light where you are asked to run as fast as you can on green towards a certain goal and suddenly freeze when the word red is called.  But all that is pretty much the summary of my childhood physical activity.

So what got this into my head, I repeat? I think it’s The Craziness (a disease I’ve had for the past few years), the Little Man in my head who just won’t shut up, my free soul gene that my mother tells me runs on her side of the family, and my dimagh gazma (traslated from Arabic: head like a shoe) that I’m pretty sure comes from my father’s side of the family although they’d probably more appropriately call it dimagh hagar (translated from Arabic: head like stone).

All these put together have made for a pretty crappy personality I can assure you. If I get something into my head (usually gets there as a result of a combination of The Craziness and Little Man) I cannot rest until I’ve at least tried to do it (a result of a combination of free soul gene and dimagh gazma).

It has also meant that I’ve done some rather interesting things these past few years. While visiting the Alps in southern Germany (I went up in a cable car), I bumped into a man who was getting ready to do some paragliding. I asked him if I could join him and since he was a certified tandem paraglider person he agreed. So I literally jumped off the Alps! That was an amazing experience. In Antalya, Turkey I actively sought out a place where I could get some bungee jumping in. The result of that was I jumped off a 53 meter steel structure. SICK! I’ve done some simple kayaking (on the Jordan River and on one of Turkey’s many rivers). I’ve pretty much given myself permission to feel like doing something and just doing it.

That can’t be all bad. I always know that I might not be successful in the try. But I usually don’t really care. Success has rarely been my goal. It’s more about the actual experience. I KNOW that if I don’t try I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting it. And I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

So THAT’S what is taking me up Kilimanjaro. I simply want to try. I am very aware that I might not succeed reaching the summit or anywhere near the summit. But I will have tried and I won’t have to live with myself constantly wondering what it might have been like trying to climb a mountain. I’ll know what it was like. I’ll have experienced it first hand – not read it from a book. And whatever happens, I’ll feel secure in the fact that I’ve lived my life; not just watched others live theirs.

3 days to Kilimanjaro

I only look thin here because I am completely depleted of water from all the peeing

Me on Mt. St. Catherine. I only look thin here because I'm completely water-depleted after peeing continuously for two days

I figure it’s about time I start a log of my Kilimanjaro trip. I have three days before I fly to Tanzania and I’m bloody freaking out, dude!

The idea came…came…I have no idea how I got this idea. The little man in my head tells me to do things and I’m just crazy enough to listen to him.

I’ve actually been dreaming about going up Everest for many years. I think I got that from some of the books I’ve read (books of people dying on the mountain). I figured if I really wanted to go up Everest I should try something more simple first. Kilimanjaro immediately jumped into the picture (actually Little Man gave me the idea).

So I started doing some research more than two years ago. I had started going to the gym already and I was feeling rather good about myself. But the information I found gave me the impression that I wasn’t fit enough just yet. So I continued training until I decided that if I didn’t do this now I’ll never do it. It’s a good time in my life. I’ve been training, I left my fulltime job and started freelancing, which means I have a flexible schedule, and my husband will be around to take care of the kids.

So I made reservations for August. I had more than four months to prepare so that seemed good enough for me.

Preparations meant jogging, swimming, horseback riding, biking, and going up and down the stairs of my ten storey apartment building.

Now, mind you, when I put it that way, it sort of looks like I’m a superwoman with super-physical skills. The thing is, I’m not. I jogged about two to three times a week in the beginning. I jogged around the horse track (about two kilometers) at the Cairo Horse Club. I started by going around once. Eventually I could jog around it twice, then three times. I’d get severe headaches afterwards and it took me awhile to figure out what my body needs to avoid post-exercise fatigue (my body wants water, bananas, and lemon juice…ask Little Man, he’ll tell you).

I went swimming twice a week. That means that I’d swim the width of the pool at Al-Ahly Club, rest a few minutes, then swim the width of the pool back. I’d repeat that for awhile and then get out and read a book. Eventually I was able to swim the length of the main pool once, rest a bit, then swim the length of the main pool back. And I also managed to swim the length of the diving pool several times back and forth with minor few-second-breaks between each lap. That’s big stuff for me. You have no idea.

When I say I went biking, that means I went biking about three times in the whole four months. Once I took the bike out onto the Cairo-Alexandria road and biked up hill and down hill for about 20 km as far as I can remember (it might have been twelve…I’m pretty sure there’s a two in there somewhere). The second time I biked through Zamalek (and got whistled at by a doorman and a young traffic officer). And the third time was in Alexandria along the sea shore. That’s me biking.

I did a lot of horseback riding. That was real. I took lessons three times a week for several months. Do you have any idea what horseback riding does to the thigh muscles?

I also really did go up and down those apartment building stairs. I eventually was doing 10 storeys, 10 times, in less than an hour, and about two to three times a week.

After ALL THAT, I pretty much figured I was the strongest person (not even just woman…PERSON) in the world. Now what I needed was to get some camping experience (yes…I had reservations to go up Kilimanjaro and I had absolutely no experience in camping). Thus one of my previous posts dedicated to peeing in the outdoors. Quite an amazing experience, that.

Now that I had peed in the outdoors I was ready! I cannot fail! If I couldn’t summit Kilimanjaro then no one could!


Last weekend a group I hooked up with organized a special honorary hike for me up Egypt’s highest peak, Mt. St. Catherine. Yehia, our organizer, planned it to be a rigorous hike to simulate what one day up Kilimanjaro would be like. I carried 17 kg on my back and we had very short and infrequet breaks on the way up. The group was all young (no one in that group was older than 27). Almost all of them went up as if they were strolling along the Nile on a cool summer’s night. They chatted (I have no idea how they had the breath to do that) and could have done without the breaks if they were allowed to. I panted all the way up. It wasn’t easy. But I managed. My main problem was that I had to pee (a main theme in my life these days) very frequently. I later learned that altitude diuresis is a healthy sign of acclimatization to high altitudes. How the heck it’s healthy to get dehydrated I have no idea. But I did get dehydrated. The result was that the way down was really hard for me. I did not bring anything that would make up for the loss of electolytes that was bound to happen. I had to give my backpack to our guide to carry for the last hour of the trip. I was that out of it.

I do have to add that it was very much worth it. The view from the summit was gorgeous. And while I was at the summit I was perfectly fine and healthy and had a great time. I have the pictures and the videos to prove it.

But on the way down, I had to take very frequent toilet breaks. On facebook, one friend asked me how I chose the rocks behind which I’d do my thing. Here is what I told her (I actually do think this is interesting enough to share with the world):

“Well, it has to be a boulder. You also need to make sure that when you go behind it that you are not exposed, i.e there are larger boulders behind it (unless when you go behind it you are exposed to a vast mountain with absolutely no humans in sight which I did once and must admit that it’s quite liberating). You also want the spot behind the boulder to have a flattened area without rocks that’s surrounded by what I call my stepping stones. The flat area is to avoid splatter which indeed does happen. The stepping stones allow you to be above the flat space. It’s also a major plus to have an additional large rock right behind you that you can rest on once done while you fumble through your toiletry kit for your toilet paper and wipes. It also helps keep your feet out of the puddle.”
That is experience beyond my years. And now you never have to worry about figuring something like that out. I’ve done it for you.
Since that trip up Mt St Catherine I haven’t been feeling very well. My muscles have not ached, thank God. That’s a good sign. But I’ve felt generally ill. I’ve only just now started thinking that this might be due to the anti-malarial pills I’ve started taking. I also might simply be coming down with a bug. Or my body just detests high altitudes and it takes days to recuperate from them.
Either way, I’m off to Tanzania in three days and I am absolutely convinced I am crazy. What the heck is a 40-year-old woman – who has never in her whole life been athletic – thinking when she makes reservations to go up a 6000 meter mountain! You crazy woman! (Actually, I really only blame Little Man, but still).
I’ve spent weeks, neigh months, getting properly equipped for this trip. For the past two years every time I go to the US or Europe I make sure to check off a few things from my list. I have the sleeping bag suited for 0 degree Farenheit weather, I have the walking sticks, the wool socks and hiking boots, mole skin to prevent blisters, a headlamp to pee at night, a first-aid kit I put together myself…and the list goes on and on and on.
I bought extra mobile phone and video camera batteries too. I’m hoping that I can twitter/facebook my ascent over the phone. I expect all you’ll get from me is: “Feeling very sick today”. But who knows who might be interested in that kind of stuff? And I’ll try to video-log the trip. I feel very weird about talking to myself in a camera, but I’m willing to try.
My goal four months ago was to reach the summit. My goal now is just to go and enjoy myself. If I get too sick to summit then to heck with the ridiculous sum of money I paid for this trip!
Bas khalas. I’ll keep you all updated when I next feel like it.