Rough few days, but then: Uig, Skye

So, when you’re on vacation you are NOT supposed to complain. You’re supposed to recognize that You. Are. On. Vacation. And that is sacred stuff. And the people back home aren’t on vacation. So when you talk about your vacation, and you complain, you sound like a ninny. Like an ungrateful ninny that should be sent home from her vacation because someone else could obviously do it better and with being less of a ninny.

So when I say I’ve had a rough few days, I know I half deserve a punch in the face. But nevertheless, whether at home or on vacation, and especially when traveling alone, there are good days and bad days, and my last two days in Glencoe were a bit iffy.

Saturday, nothing particularly bad happened. I took the bus to Kinlochleven, a little town that is a stop along the west highland way, and that is currently known for its indoor ice climbing gym (unfortunately closed because of a fire). I had picked out a trail that started off of the west highland way that I thought would be a nice to hike and a chance to see some new sights. The hike was going fine, but I realized half way through that I hadn’t rechecked the weather before i left and that the sunny forecast of the day before seemed to instead be more of a cloudy with possible rain situation. On feeling some drops half way up the hike, I bailed because of the slipperiness/steepness of the trail.

Hiking alone, as I noted in the previous post, has been a lesson in humility and patience and solitude. Ive had to turn around on things I very much had the ability to continue on because I didn’t want to risk slipping while on my own. Aside from one or two very popular hiking trails, the trails here are rather unpopulated so if you get hurt, it’s not like someone’s going to happen upon you within the hour. So even though I have an emergency beacon and the ability to call for a rescue, there’s the additional consideration that if I get hurt, I might not be in state where I could press the SOS button. Anyway, I digress. I headed down the hike, a bit grumbly because my hike the day before hadn’t been spectacular either — I’d bailed on a hike because the trail turned to slippery scrambling and I didn’t feel comfortable on it.

When I arrived back at the hostel, I was greeted with instructions to move to a new room, as a massive group of 40 smelly, loud teenagers were spending the night. I loved their enthusiasm, I did, but the group was so loud that they basically took over the hostel and all of its bowls and burners and tables.

That night, however, was a super bright spot, and totally reinvigorated me! I went to the chalaig inn, where the live Irish/Scottish folk band was playing and it was just awesome. I met a wonderful couple that was on vacation (married 46 years!) and they bought me beers and we chatted while everyone in the bar – young and old – sang folk songs at the top of their lungs. It was awesome. I think Scottish folk music may be my favorite music.

The next day id planned to stay in — it was supposed to rain! But I woke to sun and a forecast of more sun so I planned to catch a 1:40pm bus (id missed the earlier one) to head back to Kinlochleven and hike south on the west highland way. I headed down early to the bus, and ended up an hour early to the bus station (oops!). I read in my phone and listened to podcasts and chilled out but was a little antsy to get going as it was my last day in Glencoe and the hike was long and I wanted to make me day “count.” It was not to be though. The bus never showed, and I realized I’d been looking at an incorrect bus schedule. Sunday is the day all buses in Scotland go to really sparse schedules so I couldn’t get another one out of town. I tried looking at my map and picking a different hike I could walk to on foot, that looked relatively interesting, and that I could get to and get done before night fell.

The walk there was short enough and the hike was on a dirt road before hitting a real trail. Now, maybe I took a wrong turn, but the real trail portion was only a few hundred yards long. And there wasn’t anything to see. So the hike just kinda sucked.

Discouraged and out of time to start a new hike, I figured I’d head back to the inn, have a beer and do some writing or reading. There was a shortcut on the map through a trail and over a river, which I thought would give me a little more hiking time. Turns out it gave me a little more ankle-deep-in-bog time. The trail was impossible to follow and there didn’t seem to be a way across the river. So instead, I had to walk along the road, on the teeny little margin next to the very thin roads. That cranked my anxiety up, for sure. Once I got to the inn, my nerves and patience were frayed.

The thing about mishaps and days when plans fail, when you’re traveling alone, is that they don’t feel as okay as if you’re with someone. Because if I was with joe or amy or a person I met, the at least we’re in it together. It’s would be a story. We could play 20 questions or cards or laugh about how poorly the day was going. Together, we could face it and laugh. But on your own, days where things go wrong feel not just wasted, but lonely. They make you question, what the hell am I doing here? Why did I plan my trip this way? Why wasn’t I smarter?

If I did my time in Glencoe over, I would have planned out the hikes I wanted to do – near and far – and hiked there. I would have spent less time in one place and instead moved to a new little town where there was more hiking areas I could walk to.

Live and learn, right? Right!

So, now I’ve left Glencoe and the last two days behind and have been in Uig for a full day. The hostel I’m staying at, The Cowshed, opened only two months ago and the premises show it. The rooms are new and shiny, the bathrooms are clean clean clean, the furniture is spotless, the kitchen awesome. I highly recommend it, though we’ll see if time is kind to it.

Today, a new friend — bridie — and I headed to do a hike in the northmost section of the isle of Skye, and boy, was it beautiful. Together, we got “lost” (aka missed a turn) and eventually found our way and during the whole walk we were treated with incredibly enchanting views. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the main idea is that the start of my time in Skye has so far been awesome. Here’s to some more great days ahead.

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unreal blue and clear ocean

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a few birds waiting for food while looking across at the place we were supposed to end up at

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stiles you have to hike over here and there

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rocks:) lots and lots of rocks.

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the correct destination.

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arches!

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one of many freestanding and colorful pillars

first time for everything. a herd of sheep trundled down the hiking path just as we planned to go up, blocking our way put for a bit.

first time for everything. a herd of sheep trundled down the hiking path just as we planned to go up, blocking our way put for a bit.

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“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts…” and other things I sing to myself

“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, deedle–ee–dee…”

“Kate, this is so dumb. You know not to follow random trails. You know that. You’re ridiculous.”

“(Spanish accent) mañana. (Attempted French accent) mañana. (Back to Spanish) manzana! (Chuckling)”

Those are three examples of conversations that I’ve had with myself, and that’s just conversations I’ve had today.

Traveling alone, it seems, inspires me to talk to myself. Sometimes about the scenery I’m seeing (“oh my gosh, is that for real?”), sometimes I just break into Pocahantas songs (“you think I’m an ignorant savage…”), other times I’m chastising myself, or making up my own songs, or playing word games…and then sometimes I realize I’ve been talking to myself for the last ten minutes about who knows what.

and who knows why? I’m not sure if other people talk to themselves while they hike or walk alone, but for me it seems to put me in a better mood. I feel less alone, like I can express my moods and excitement even though I am by myself. It’s gets me through the solitary days spent with me myself and I. (That’s not to say I don’t get lonely. I do, I so do. I miss my Joseph and my bed and all the comforts of home like my kitchen!)

Most of my time in Scotland has been spent solo, but yesterday I met several people I really enjoyed sending time with. They were all from France –Pierre, Alex and clotilde — and all mathematicians. Together, we hiked the Pap of Glencoe, laughing and talking about the French education system, midges (the bastards), the sun (which had made us actually concerned about a sunburn. In Scotland) and loads of other things. It was great and easy and I so appreciated their willingness to spend time with me and basically spend their entire day speaking in a language that wasn’t their own. We laughed and saw some beautiful sites together during the day…

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lunch break after they reached top of pap (i opted out of the final scramble

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clo and alex at the perfect moment

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glencoe and loch leven in all it’s glory

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yeah. thats the actual color of the sky. whhaaaaa

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happy hike. happy kate

…and at night we giggled while playing dominos and laughed out loud while we attempted balderdash in English — and aside from a few language issues, it went awesome and they loved the game enough they said they planned to purchase it.

By the end of the day, we were laughing like old friends, at Alex’s love of dominos and excitement at getting to play, at pierre’s love of cakes and all things pastry, and of the pronounciatiob mistakes and mishaps that they were making.

In the morning before they headed out, they all said that anytime I was in France I should look them up — that me or me and joe would be welcome to stay with them.

I love meeting people traveling who “fit” me. It’s a very life affirming experience.

Today I was on my own again And since it was another day of no rain (kinda –teeny drizzling here and there), I decided to hike alone. I left my hiking plans with the front desk…

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…and walked the four miles to the start of the hike. Through land that made me realize why Scotland is so green. Because it’s just a big bog. And if you aren’t careful — which for a millisecond I wasn’t– you totally get off track from the main trail and end up ankle deep in sucking mud and wondering what you did to deserve this.

But anyway, EVENTUALLY I found what I thought was the trail I was looking for (the people on it gave me a clue) and headed in. The hike was short but sweet, which was the intention on this cloudy/possibly-going-to-turn-rainy day. It was full of water and waterfalls, a little exposure, lots of nice stone trails and a zillion million views.

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two of the three sisters

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the hidden valley, where many of the macdonald clan escaped to after the murder of about 30-40 of their clansmen

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I’m constantly amazed by the clear water

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this is a midge net. i totally underestimated midges. they are. the worst.

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After the hike, I had my first hitchhiking experience. There’s a parking lot at the top of the trail where a lot of people pull off just to take pictures and get on their way. I awkwardly hung out while pretending to read my map, and waited to seeif I could spot a safe ride option. I was thinking either a couple, or a group of older folks, and avoiding people with children(cause I figured they’d feel weird about a stranger with their kid) and dudes, old or young (just cause.). So anyway, I was lurking and I saw them. The perfect group. A middle-aged couple and their slightly older than middle aged friends speaking English (bonus) and smiling and talking about hiking munros. I took the plunge.

“You guys headed toward Glencoe?”

“Yep!”

“Would you be at all willing to drop me a few miles up the road?”

“Oh” (Pause.) “…ah, why not?”

Ha! Success! They let me shove in with them in the backseat and we made very friendly, nice, only slightly awkward conversation and when I hopped out of the car a little later with a huge thank you and smile, they said it was a pleasant and nice surprise to have met me.

So, yeah. Now I’m headed back to the hostel to check in (so they don’t call mountain rescue on me) and then I’ll read and write and plan and perhaps meet some more people who “fit” me.

Glencoe: my intro to the highlands 

I made it to glencoe.

It’s incredibly gorgeous here.

I continually find it amazing that there are so many versions of gorgeous in the world. There’s New England waterfall gorgeous, Colorado mountain summit gorgeous, Africa safari gorgeous, Kilimanjaro flora gorgeous, Hawaii black sand beach gorgeous, California coast gorgeous…and an infinite other kinds of gorgeous. How lucky are we for all the gorgeous?

I wasn’t sure at first, though, that Scotland’s scenery could live up to what I’d imagined in my mind, what people told me to expect.

Especially because the change in landscape was gradual. A friend had mentioned that the opening to the highlands was kind of like a grand unveiling — you turn a corner and there they are: the highlands! But instead, for me, the beauty slowly unveiled itself.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal as the scenes around me turned from sheep and hills and the occasional shop to…well…the highlands.

“There wasn’t really a moment when the mountains began. It was more like the land unfurled, slowly revealing it’s sharpness and steepness in rock, it’s softness in its grasses. Rocks litter everything, looking like they were dropped randomly from the sky, like they don’t belong. Everything is green. Perfect and bumpy moguls. And the thing is, there’s no longer people or civilization. For miles and miles and miles, the landscape is all you see, untouched, undeveloped. The lack of people and houses and villages, of stores and gas stations, it’s like if people once occupied this area, they gave it up long ago, like it was too sacred to take for themselves, like they are protecting it.

And the green, the emerald in the golden sun that shines from every hill side, every mountain side. And the mountains! I’ve never seen anything like it. There are almost no trees at the bottom and so they give themselves up to inspection. You can see every crevice, every undulation, even the smallest ones. Green fuzzy grass turns to jagged rocks and the whole thing just shoots straight up into the air, defying you with its sharp, steep angles.”

On the bus here, I could hardly contain myself, close my drooling mouth, form thoughts of any kind except “whaaaa?” It’s just beyond majestic, beyond pretty. I plan to read up on how Scotland’s highlands came to be. (I’ll let you know.)

But eventually, I had to disembark from this magic bus.  I was pointed down the road to walk by a friendly man on the bus and off I went to walk the 1.5 miles to the hostel with my enormous pack.

Which was fine — I like exercise — but which also strained my back a little bit because of the boneheaded way I’d attached one bag to another.

After a friendly conversation with a fellow traveler, and lots of sweat, and more lots of sweat, and a pretty horse…

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…I arrived at my hostel at last!

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Except, of course, it was totally not my hostel. Ha! My hostel was just a little more down the road.

So once I finally found my actual hostel…

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…I bought a beer from the front desk and got on my way walking to dinner (because this is Scotland and that’s totally allowed?).

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Dinner was the the chalaig inn, which in addition to having bonkers views…

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…had delicious vegetarian (not vegan) food.  After a long day of hardly eating “real” food, it was great to have an awesome meal.

And then, because I’m sick, I walked home as the setting sun painted the mountain rocks pink, and went to sleep. Hard.

More later!

“You have to find your own way”

The good thing about getting sick on this trip is that there are still a lot of days left, so sitting one out doesn’t feel quite so bad. Today has been a bit of a rough day because of feeling under the weather but I did some chores (grocery and map and midge-fighting potion shopping) earlier and now I’m taking a needed rest at my bed at the hostel.

The last few days have been quite awesome.

Two nights ago, I spent time traipsing around the area with Ellen (22 year old who is abroad in France for a year and traveling around this summer) and it was super. We giggled and skipped our way from burgers and beer at The Tron to a folk/acoustic/awesome performance by my new favorite artist Matthew Dames at a place called the espionage. Which was all awesome except for the beer prices at Espionage. Horrifying prices. They should be ashamed! Ellen was a hoot. She’d had like two ciders and was feeling tipsy and hungry for dessert and we were waiting (creepily?) for Matthew dames to play on the street after his show and she saw a (random) guy walk by with a fried piece of something in his hand and she basically jumps him asking “excuse me, what’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” She really really wanted it to be fried cake or donut. It was fish. And she was so disappointed and the (random) guy was just all big eyes and confused and Ellen was totally unfazed. I loved it. We laughed for quite some time. :)

The next day, the 15th (Joe’s birthday! Happy birthday joe!!!!!), my goal was to make it to the Edinburgh Book Festival to 1) see what it was all about 2) feel inspired and 3) see the Pygmy goats (don’t ask me why they were at a book festival. I was just thrilled they’d be there) and 4) see if jk Rowling made a surprise didn’t (spoiler:she didn’t). The walk to the book festival was supposed to be a ten minute one. But, after making a left instead of a right, it turned into a two-hour epic journey through Edinburgh trying to figure out where I was without the benefit of Internet. At first I was annoyed at myself, because I’d wanted to make to make it to the festival by their opening event. But once that time had come and passed and I wasn’t missing anything, I settled in to my walk and enjoyed my little unplanned excursion.

And lo and behold, I actually happened across a place I’d wanted to visit anyway – the water of leith. With a landmark now known, I figured out where I was in reference to the festival (whoopsies, about two miles off, NBD) and headed that way along the waterside path.

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The festival was smaller than I thought it would be — all contained in a little square versus the Fringe, which is EVERYWHERE — but it was really nice to be surrounded by people who had shown up because of their love of an author or a book.

While there, I found out there was a talk happening with David Levithan (co-author of “nick and Norah’s infinite playlist” and author of “every day” and a ton of other books) and I signed myself up. I’d read “every day” a new months ago — it’s a story about a person A who spends their entire life waking up as a new person everyday. It was awesome. And here was a chance to meet an author I liked in person! Or at least hear what they had to say. And I loved what he had to say.

Levithan’s books are filled with LGBTQ characters and his talk was filled by people — mostly teenagers — who loved those character and were touched by them. A few highlight from his talk:

Boy Meets Boy“: His first book “boy meets boy” was, he said, his attempt to “fill a spot on the shelf that was empty.” As an editor, he kept looking for a YA book that, instead of focusing on the scariness or the intensity of being gay, of coming out as gay, focused on the joy of falling in love In a romantic comedy kind of way. But he didn’t find the book, so he decided to write it instead. There’s “power in being represented in a bookshelf,” he added.

On what two questions he was trying to answer in writing “every day”:  given that the main character A was a different person every day, with a different body, race, religion, gender, everything, levithan wanted to explore

1) What would you be like if you genuinely were not defined by your body?

2) What would it be like to be in love with somebody whose body changed everyday?

You have to find your own way.”: “Levithan was asked by someone in the audience how his experience in writing affected his work in publishing and vice versa and his answer was really poignant for me.

His experience as an editor, he said, gave him the understanding that all writers were different. Everyone had a specific process that worked for them and them alone. He talked about how when he writes, he just sits down and ideas and characters and plot come out him – he doesn’t plan the story or know where it’s going or what’s going to happen. (Which is what I do as well.) meanwhile, he said, a writer he knows might create a 70-page outline for a 300-page book and that’s the only way that works for them. The point was that lots of writers are all tied up when they start out about writing the “right way.” We think there’s a secret sauce. A special combination that will unlock our incredible writing abilities and lead to success.

Levithan said that because he was an editor first and was able to see all the processes and voices that worked, that he knew when he started that he just needed to do what felt right to him. And that others need to find their own way that works, uniquely, for them. “You have to find your own way,” he said.

I liked that. Which is what I told him an hour later when he signed the book of his I bought.

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What a treat!

After the book festival I walked to The Meadows, a (HUGE) park where I’d heard people sometimes Slackline. No luck tho. After a quick dinner made at the hostel, I walked around town looking for a cheap(er) drink before going to a comedy show. Major fails all around.

1) Saturday nights is not a night you can find a low key beer to drink. Why I didn’t recognize this before I started out? Who knows. 2) when a comedian starts his show off talking about wiping your butt, you shouldn’t be surprised when ten minutes later he implodes, calling a girl anorexic and a boy “retarded” because they weren’t paying his bad jokes enough attention. What a trainwreck it was — I felt bad for him until he started name calling and then I was outta there and off to bed.

And speaking of, my sick self needs a bit of a nap if I want to recover for tomorrow, which I travel north to Glencoe! The highlands, here I come!
P.S. I did end up seeing the Pygmy goats after all. Basically my dream come true.

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The land of bagpipes, Fringe, and beauty: Edinburgh Scotland

You know what’s really amazing? When you can brush your teeth with tap water from the sink. Which you can’t do in Moshi. In Moshi (aka Africa) you have to use filtered/purified water in a bottle to wet your toothbrush, rinse your mouth and clean the toothbrush. Is this difficult work? No. Not at all. But it’s one of those small teeny things that I take for granted every single day in America. So when I got to my layover in Amsterdam two days ago and could brush my teeth at the sink in the public bathroom I was so excited I brushed extra long and with extra vigor. And smiled the whole time.

But anyway, there’s something else (almost) as awesome as drinkable, safe tap water. Edinburgh!

Aside from the dreadful exchange rate, Edinburgh is a gorgeous city. Cobblestones everywhere. Old and dazzling buildings, a touch of wild place in Holyrood. And aside from that there’s the Fringe, which means tons of free comedy shows and street music. (And crowds, but let’s be positive shall we?)

The night I arrived I took a shower (Another amazing thing! Dependable hot water!!) and headed out on the town to see what I saw. I ended up at a free comedy venue and met two wonderful ladies — Ellen (hailing from Texas and studying abroad in France) and Nicole (an occupational therapist from Chile). Having met the day before on a walking tour, they had been taking in the sites that day together. For the night, we became three, giggling hysterically and laughing together over cultural differences and language barriers and sharing bits and pieces of our life stories. It was a wonderful reminder (again) of the people you can meet while traveling — they pass in and out quickly but they make life really fun while they’re there.

Speaking of making friends, the hostel isn’t so easy to meet people at. Maybe if I was a big partier, or more outgoing, but the hostel has about 200 beds. So even though 14 or so people share a room it feels a little more like a hotel. Like it’s kind of awkward with that many people to say hi and introduce yourself and share your story with everyone. There’s just so many people. And, with The Fringe going on, many of them came here for the specific reason to see shows and party hard. They have schedules to keep!

But that’s ok, because I did some exploring on my own yesterday. The second sunny day in a row, I walked about a mile to the start of the hike of Arthur’s Seat, which is basically the top of a very large and wild-looking hill in the middle of Edinburgh. About an hour to get to the top, the place is a little like a “microcosm” of Scottish landscapes (so says lonely planet) — there’s green-topped rocks, miniature cliffs, rocky summits, green rolling stretches and at least one loch. Basically, it was awesome and I have some pictures to share here. Not sure they’re as awesome in picture form as they were in person, but, you know, that’s kinda always the case.

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The hike was really fantastic. After days sitting pretty still in Moshi it was awesome to get moving again. And the city itself helps with that too — the whole place is hilly as all get out. I love it.

The only thing that’s weird here to me is the food. There’s baked potatoes everywhere. You can get cheese on your falafel wrap. There’s mayonnaise to dip your fries in. There’s mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches. There’s baked potato and coke “meal” combos. It’s a little…disgusting.

I can’t really tell if people are fit here (because there’s so many tourists) but it feels like they can’t be. Right?

Anyway, today is rainy so I devoted it to writing some fiction before meeting up with Ellen for dinner. So, im going to get to it!

Moshi and Me

I currently lay on the bottom bunk in the Edinburgh Castle Rock hostel, waiting for my phone to charge before I shower and head out to eat a delicious (and deliciously cheap) falafel wrap and watch from fringe festival comedy. But while I waited I thought, by gosh, I haven’t posted in awhile. (Instead, I’ve been reading in my free time. Like five books. It’s been amazing.) (But anyway.)

So, Africa first. Since I descended Kilimanjaro early, I ended up having to entertain myself for four days before meeting up with everyone. Entertaining myself turned out to be pretty easy at at The Hibiscus B&B (run by a lovely Brit named Rebecca — highly recommend!)

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My first night, I met some newlyweds – Sarah and Gabriel (“Gabby”). They had been traveling for about a month and a half and were spending two days at the hibiscus before jetting to Zanzibar. Hailing from NC (Sarah) and Argentina (Gabby), they live and work together in Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world (I believe). They sell tours to Antarctica. Which is just awesome. And they had tons of incredible Antarctica pictures, which were also awesome. And it turns out that they were pretty awesome too! We went out to dinner together to an Indian place and came back and sat around the campfire and drank beers while chatting about life and love and work and marriage and everything. I love meeting people that feel like they click, like they’re a breath of fresh air and talking is easy and genuine and flowing and silence is comfy and laughs are often. They were those kinds of people.

The day after we met we spent time at a coffee shop in town. And by coffee shop I mean the local gathering place for mzungus (Swahili for, basically “white people”). This felt pretty strange. The coffee shop was really quite cute. Smoothies and French press local coffee and sandwiches and pizza and hummus plates and western bathrooms. But it was also kind of awkward to be literally surrounded by tourists while everyone on the street was a local.

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As it was last time, it was an interesting experience walking the streets as a minority. There was lots of staring and always attention: from men this attention was most often unwanted: they either wanted to sell me something or, better, marry me:

An actual conversation at coffee shop:

50 year old Tanzanian man: are you married?

Me: no

Him: then you can marry me!

Me: no thank you

Him: but why?!

Me: uhhhh. Ugh.

However, I met another man at a different tourist-heavy place and he was very kind. We shared a table and he told me all about how he’d been driving for six hours to go see his daughter, who was at boarding school, a few weeks before she took her exams. He told me some interesting things about how the boarding schools work there — at his daughters school there’s no communication with parents. No packages, no letters, no phone calls. Instead, they have visiting hours about once a month. So he drove six hours to talk to his daughter for an hour and she had no idea he was even on the way. Blew my mind.

The attention from the kids was generally pretty cute. The younger they were the more excited they were to see me, a white person. They waved and smiled and giggled. The older they got, the more they were over it and either stared and said hello and giggled or were super straight faced as they passed.

The women were hit and miss. Generally a smile from me and a “Jambo!” (Which means “hello”) was awarded with a smile from them. I even struck up a conversation with a woman on the street who was on her way to work. But many just kind of stared stoically. Who knows what they thought of me. Or if they thought of me at all!

After a dinner of takeout Chinese food (seriously), and another few hours by the fire together, I bid Sarah and gabby goodbye the next morning. Then I just had two days left to figure out what to do with myself :).

First day, (which was also the day the rest of the team was summiting) I did a lot of reading and eating at various areas in the city. The second day, I went to a place called maji moto which translates to “hot spring” (or really “fire springs”). (It was lukewarm, but I like their enthusiasm.)

I took a cab from Moshi about an hour outside of town. On the way there, my driver was pulled over for speeding and would have been written a 30,000Tsh (~$17) ticket but instead paid the officers a 10,000Tsh bribe. I took a picture in the side view mirror of everything going down.

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And then we were off again! Turning off the main road, which was nicely paved, we slowly made our way down a very bumpy and rocky side road.

When we got to maji moto, it was a little awkward. It’s basically this beautiful spring in the middle of nowhere that the locals have monetized. They charged us 2,000Tsh to go over a bridge that leads to the spring (a two minute car ride away) and another 5,000Tsh once the car arrived. They had a little tent set up with soda and food you could buy, they had a (gross) outhouse and a they had a “changing room” (aka a structure that a mountain lizard often lived in where you could change if he happened to be out.)

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The spring was very gorgeous and perfectly clear through to the bottom.  The root systems of the trees were also incredible.

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It was also full of the kinds of fish that nibble on your toes, which was totally disconcerting and made the prospect of getting in a little less exciting. But eventually, I used the rope swing to fling myself in and as long as I stayed moving, the fish didn’t nibble.

Finally, it was the 10th, the day to meet up with the rest of the hikers at the mhabe farm (which btw is gorgeous).

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The reunion was at times awesome and heartfelt, at times awkward and disappointing, but all in all it was really wonderful to see everyone and hear the funny stories they had about making it to the roof of Africa. Everyone seemed happy to see me (that was the awesome and heartfelt part) and they also all got certificates for getting to the top of Kili (which was the kinda awkward and disappointing part).

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That night we ate dinner with the porters who helped us up the mountain, for once serving them first. The dinner was traditional Tanzanian cuisine and we ate and drank ourselves a bit silly. Topping off the night was an awesome game of farkle (because farkle is amazing and also because I won) and then a great night’s sleep.

The next day, Jessy and I headed into Moshi for lunch before I headed off to catch my flight. This lunch was awesome in that it was the first place that actually had Tanzanian food on the menu but horrible in that it literally took an hour and a half to cook and get our food. We were dying. Dying. And when we asked about it an hour in, they said oh yeah, it’s coming. It’s almost done. No. No it was not. But alas, once we did finally get it, it was amazing. Incredibly delicious.

And speaking of food, I’m so hungry, so I have to go shower and eat and tomorrow I’ll have an update about my first two days in the drop dead gorgeous Edinburgh, Scotland.

For now, though, a peek of the amazing “park” (aka mini highlands) in the middle of Edinburgh.

To fail. 

Embarrassed. It’s the only word that described how I felt about quitting Kilimanjaro — quitting at 12,500 feet no less.  Hardly anyone does that.

On what was supposed to be the third day of hiking, I sat in a car with two porters–who now wouldn’t be able to support the rest of the group that continued up without me and I felt ashamed. Drained. Confused. I trained for this – body and mind. What he hell happened?

From 9,000 feet, I didn’t feel right. That first day we’d started around 6000 feet and spent a slow, fun hike (full of 20 questions and “I spy”) getting to know each other before arriving at 9000 feet to the “city” of sleeping tents and mess tents and bathroom tents the porters had set up for us while we hiked. It was incredible.

At dinner that night, I felt rather nauseous and couldn’t convince myself to eat much. I also had quite a headache, which I’d taken ibuprofen for about 1000 feet lower. They took our vitals at the table and mine were “normal” for the altitude, but alongside my nausea and headache they scared me. I had definitely expected to feel the effects of the altitude at some point during the six day hike to the summit, but I was shocked I felt them at 9000 ft. It made me anxious and I panicked. I cried at dinner about it and though I tried to hide it at first, I couldn’t for long. It was embarrassing and stressful to break down like that in front of a group of people who I didn’t really know and who knew each other rather well. They were very sweet toward me but that night I still went to bed terrified. I was shaken and concerned about the rest of the hike.

The next day when I woke up, though, I felt pretty great. And sheepish about my panicking the night before. I apologized to everyone and we all cheered the lifting of the fog and clouds that had surrounded us since our arrival in Tanzania. That morning  we got our first glimpse of Kili’s summit above us and the blanket of clouds below us.
 My vitals were back up a bit and my nausea was gone so I was able to eat a good deal at breakfast. They packaged up more for me to take on the hike. The hike started off faster than the day before and pretty soon one of the other hikers (tawnya) and I were struggling. At a certain point Jesse, Tawnya and her husband Sean and I broke off into a slower group. Tawnya was really feeling the altitude and gave up her pack to one of the guides for awhile. I was doing fine for a bit but then I started getting a bit woozy and dizzy so I gave my pack up as well. (Which helped immensely — it was amazing.) we only went three miles and 3000 feet that day but it took us 6 hours to do so. The last mile of the hike was pretty rough on all of us. It was interesting to look at the trail and know in my mind that there was nothing difficult about it, but for it to be so hard for my body to do anyway.

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When we finally arrived at camp we were greeted with an incredible song from our porters — which definitely made me feel like a rockstar. At lunch, it was clear tawnya felt awful. I didn’t feel so great but my body seemed happier now that it wasn’t moving anymore. After lunch I was exhausted and went straight to my tent, took my first diamox and went straight to sleep. For four hours!
When I woke up I felt worse — way worse. Ridiculously nauseous. Woozy and dizzy. Unbelievably tired. I felt awful. Yet (because of the diamox?) my vitals were totally reasonable. My pulse was about two times its normal rate (which I think is scary but is within “normal”) and my oxygen was at about 90 (instead of the normal 98). I searched myself to figure out whether i was having a hard time with my breath and nausea because I was just panicking or whether what I was feeling had a different cause — altitude. I tried to force food down at dinner, but even bland potatoes and carrots seemed impossible. When one of the assistant guides told me to force myself to eat (you do need the calories), it pushed me over the edge. I was forcing myself to eat! Didn’t he know that I wanted to have an appetite? That I wanted to scarf down food and get seconds and thirds like the rest of the giggling and happy people around me. All I wanted was to feel normal and hungry and good like they were feeling. I felt trapped and helpless. Needless to say, I started crying again (meals, I guess, were tough) and at this point I really started to question whether i should or could keep going up.

My threshold for pain and for risk has always been low. I knew they had oxygen, but the way I understood it, the oxygen was for the summit day, not really for before that. And my numbers seemed fine. It was just my body that wasn’t feeling okay. I was pretty scared about the fact that if felt bad both the night before, during the second half of the hike and then at camp. Would it end?  Would I start to feel better at some point?

I was having a very hard time enjoying myself despite the incredible things I was getting to see — like the stars! The amazing stars! I couldn’t even enjoy those I felt so nauseous, so sick.

That night, I told Felix, our main guide, that I wasn’t sure I could keep going up. That I felt awful, despite the normal numbers, and was scared of feeling more awful the next day and the next. I was scared of being further from rescue and help. I could hardly walk to the dinner tent without getting a little woozy. How would I walk up 7,000 more feet? I felt like an idiot and ungrateful and alone and, again, like a drama queen. But going down felt like the safest idea to me that night.

Felix said we should wait til morning to make a decision (we wouldn’t be going anywhere that night anyway unless it was an emergency) so I spent two hours in my tent trying not to throw up — almost every position made me nauseous and made me feel like hurling but I really didn’t want to throw up. Vomiting (persistent vomiting really) is a sign of moderate to severe high altitude cerebral edema). I hoped against hope that once again the morning would bring health and normal feelings. That the worst I would feel was embarrassed

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But it didn’t. In the morning I still had trouble eating — one bite seemed like enough. Moving around just a little bit left me dizzy and out of breath. I felt nauseous again. Felix, the main guide, even suggested that even though my numbers were okay, my symptoms and my panic made him think it might be better if I went down.

Hearing that and all the encouragement from the rest of the group, though, made me want to keep going up. So I told him I wanted to try. The hike that day was to 14,500 feet and then back down to 12,500 — an acclimatization hike. If I could make it through it and back to 12,500, then I figured I’d have one more full day to get used to the altitude. So I filled up all my water bottles and camelbak and started up with everyone else.

Aaand I did not get far. As we walked I felt tired and lethargic, my eyelids drooped and I felt dizzy and unsteady. I kept going a few more slow steps, doing the breathing Felix had told us about the day before — two normal breaths followed by a long one. I asked tawnya how she felt and she said fine. I didn’t feel fine. I searched myself.

Was I just panicking? Were my symptoms real? These are questions that have often plagued me since my anxiety reared its ugly head however many years ago. How do you tell the difference? I don’t know if insucceeded. I was scared. What if I got hurt because I was unsteady? What if I got worse along the way and getting down to help was more difficult? But then again, what if i didn’t? What if I was really fine? What if I had to tell every person who was rooting for me, who supported me, who donated to the AFCA, that i hadn’t made it?

About 200 yards from camp, I called it. I told one of our assistant guides, Eligy, that I wanted to go down. The rest of the group, which had walked about 20 paces away, waved goodbye and started up again, while I turned and headed down. A little ways down we intercepted Felix, found out which porter was holding my bag and Eligy, my porter (whose name I didn’t catch) and I started down to the camp station.

There I wrote my name in a logbook that tracks who goes down from that camp. There weren’t many people on the list. Most were porters (you had to list your profession). From there we hiked down to where a car would meet us — turns out there are roads up a lot of Kilimanjaro and helicopter landing zones as well for urgent situations.

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The car that met us only had one seat in the front and I got it, relegating Eligy and my porter to the open bed of the truck, the wind, the dust, and clouds. I felt awful, like I should be the one in the back– I’d caused this. Why should they suffer?

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Back at one of the gates of Kilimanjaro, I signed another logbook to note my descent. There were more people on that list from the same day and before, but it’s unclear what elevation they were at when they descended.

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We caught another ride to moshi with the same car which meant Eligy and my porter again had to sit in the back. I made some conversation with the driver, Emmanuel. He had a wife and three kids in moshi (“no more,” he said…”okay maybe one more” hahaha) and he (at least during busy times) only got to be home with them five days a month! Five days!! Later on another driver (who did safaris) told me that between June and August he generally didn’t see his families at all since he took groups on safari one after another.

After a few stops (during which me and a kiddo made funny faces at each other) Emmanuel dropped me and Eligy and my porter at the Park View Inn, which I can only describe as very insulated. Big gate in front. A pool. A restaurant. Beer. Air conditioning (!). A shower separated from the toilet (a picture of a shower not separated from a toilet is below). Hot water. A big queen bed. Real sealed windows. It was, if I was in America, a nice room. But in moshi, where I knew things were not like this hotel at all, it felt pretentious. However, the SENE employees who came to meet the three of us there said that Mhabe farm (where I was initially scheduled to return to on aug 10) was full and I’d be staying at the park view inn for four nights — they’d already made the reservation ($67 per minute for b&b). It wasn’t a totally unreasonable price but the place felt wrong so I asked if I could stay at a hostel instead. I think they were confused by that (“no one has ever stayed at a hostel when they’ve come down.”) They said they could keep an eye on me better at park view, where they have connections, so I agreed to stay. (The next day they moved me to a less expensive, much cuter place that I like a lot more.)

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I still feel embarrassed. Why couldn’t I do it? Was it just a panic attack and I turned it into a reason to go down? I feel embarrassed that everyone will know I didn’t make it up. And what a low altitude I was at when I came down. I feel embarrassed that a group of people who didn’t know me well now think who I am is who I was on the mountain: a cranky, irritable, tired, panicked drama queen unable to recognize the beauty we were gifted on our hike. I imagine it was a relief for them when I went down — it’s hard to manage someone who feels so poorly, who can’t really be helped with kind words of the look-at-the-bright-side variety. Many of them we’re so kind when I felt bad — Anne, Donnie, Tawnya, Jesse –but what could they really do to improve how I felt? Unfortunately, not much.

…and yet, my embarrassment is also tinged with a bit of a shrug. Like a I-tried-it-and-it-didn’t-work-out-but-I-did-my-best-for-who-I-am-and-what-I-felt-like shrug. Like, maybe I do have a lower altitude threshold than some people, or maybe it was anxiety that caused my symptoms. And maybe I should have started diamox sooner rather than later to improve my chances. Maybe I could have kept going up and maybe I would have made it. Or maybe staying up was unsafe for me and I made the right choice.

And maybe I shouldn’t play the maybe game. Because I went down. And I can’t take it back, even if I wanted to.

All I can do now for the next few days is enjoy the sides of Tanzania I fell in love with last October — how nice and helpful the people are, the animals on the side of the road just trotting along, the other visitors I meet, the feeling of being a minority.

And when the rest of the group comes down from Kili after reaching the Roof of Africa, I will hug them and cheer for their amazing success and raise a glass of wine to them. And be the person who I wanted to be but just couldn’t muster on that mountain.