Sunday, 20 August 2017

"I know a game that will change your life" (A final Tanzania related post - I think)

These were the portentous words of Al, our expedition leader, one warm afternoon when we were twiddling our thumbs in camp at Monduli Juu.  We were well into our second bottle of Stoney Tangawizi by this point and even the sugar rush provided by a drink that really deserves a blog entry of its own couldn't lift the torpor we were feeling after yet another broken night of sleep and another morning of trekking in the heat.

I looked over the edge of my book and decided to leave Al and SW to play their silly games.....

You start with a couple of bottle caps each.  Put them a flat surface - the boys improvised with a large book - with the picture side down, as shown in the first photograph.  Put them a couple of inches apart.  Exact measurements don't really matter.  From this point on they can only be moved with your thumb(*).  You can only touch your own bottle cap and you can only touch it once on each turn - no sneaky double tapping is allowed!

The aim is to flip your bottle cap so that it lands on top of your opponent's bottle cap with the picture side uppermost.   Any overlap, with the the pretty side of your cap showing is a win and means that you have won that round and so take possession of both bottle caps.  Play continues until one player has no more bottle caps left.  You can start with any number of bottle caps - but three each seems to make for a good game.

 If your bottle cap goes off the edge of the table (or other improvised playing surface) then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.

If you flip your bottle cap so it lands on your opponents cap as shown in this photo then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.
 If you flip and miss your opponents cap and end up with bottle caps that look like this then you have lost and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.

It takes a while to master the knack of flipping the cap but as I watched Al & SW play against each other it was noticeable that they were drawing a small crowd of boys who were watching avidly.  In the absence of smartphones the game spread like wildfire through the group.  Whenever we had a few boys, a few bottle caps, a few minutes to spare and a flat(ish) surface a game would be started.  It is a great way to pass a few minutes and does get quite competitive.

Since returning home, I've taught it to my family, in fact Husbando and I spent 10 minutes playing it this evening while waiting for our curry to be served.  He's got the hang of flipping at last and we are pretty evenly matched now.  I love the low tech nature of this game, easy to play anywhere with minimal resources... and it is surprisingly addictive!

* If you are playing against a small child then you can let them use a finger rather than their thumb.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

It seems that I like being told what to do after all!

I posted a couple of day ago that I needed to learn to love running again.  For the last few years I've followed the same pattern.  Rest day on Monday, shortish runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, rest day on Friday, parkrun on Saturday and then a long run on Sunday.  The only variation would be the length of my Sunday run.  Sometimes I'd do a trail run with friends of an evening, and occasionally I'd do some form of speed work (normally called 'keeping up with Husbando') but there was no real thought that went into what I did.   So maybe what I needed to do was look at what I was doing and do something different.

I'd noticed a couple of friends posting about 'TrainAsOne' workouts they had done so hit the internet to find out what it was all about.  Basically it is a program that analyses your activity and gives you a workout plan for your next run.    I signed up, linked it to my Strava account and waited to see what it would tell me to do.

My first run had two incredibly slow segments (I couldn't manage to run that slowly even going up hill) and then the instruction was to 'run 2 miles QUICK!' followed by more very slow running.  I thought it all looked a bit odd, but did it anyway.  And you know what?  I 'ran' without stopping for 30 minutes for the first time in ages.  Day 2 was similar, although the middle section called for me to run as far as I could in 6 minutes.  Yet again, it didn't feel difficult, but I completed it.  And I was quietly smug that I had run further than the programme suggested I would in the time available.

Today, after the small matter of collecting my daughter's A'level results, spending the morning at school with my students getting their A'level results and a nice pub lunch with my colleagues, I was looking forward to getting home and going for a run.  I was actually looking forward to going for a run!  I was, according to the email that had arrived in my inbox, due to do an 'Economy Run.'  This is defined as 'a run at a steady pace designed to maximise the improvement in your running economy (calories consumed per kilometre) The majority of your running is at a slow comfortable pace, where you run at an economical speed, consuming a relatively small number of calories per distance travelled. For most people this is a pace at which you can hold a conversation.'  And the detailed instructions asked me to run really slowly for 5 mins and then 37 mins at a steady (but slow) speed.  I struggled to run as slowly as requested, but it was nice to have a run where I was consciously trying to run slower rather than striving to run faster!  I probably ran a fair bit faster than I should have done - but I swear a could have maintained a conversation - as I covered just over 4 miles rather than the just over 3 miles the programme suggested.   Again, I ran without stopping for an entire 42 minutes.

I think a few things are going on here.  I've handed over the responsibility for deciding what I do to someone else, someone who I can't argue with because it is a computer algorithm.  I know I could ignore the suggested run advice - but what's the point in that?   I'm not worrying about how fast I am running for the majority of the time.  The short bursts of effort are achievable, I finish the runs feeling as though I have accomplished something.

So it appears that running and I were only on a break, we are not heading for a long separation.  I've even entered a couple of races.... A six hour challenge with On The Whistle in September and a night time half marathon with White Star Running.  I have no idea what distance I will run in the On The Whistle run as it is only a month away, but there are still places available if you want to come along and run with me!

Monday, 14 August 2017

I need to fall in love again.

Have you been reading my blog for a while?  It is probably quite obvious that I like running.  I've planned my holidays around races and some would say that I am quite obsessed with running.  I've made so many friends through running and have been evangelical in extolling the virtues of running in general and parkrun in particular.

But, in the last couple of weeks I haven't been feeling the love.  My trip to Tanzania was something that I had looked forward to and planned towards for almost two years.  While far from being a holiday it was an epic adventure.  I'm left feeling a little bit flat now.  I am well used to the 'post marathon blues' that tend to hit on the Wednesday after a weekend marathon, this is similar but on a somewhat larger scale!

The post marathon blues can be cured by an extra slice of cake or glass of wine (or possibly both!) an internet connection and a quick browse of the races available.  15 minutes with a credit card means that the next race is booked and there is something to aim for... which is just as well given that cake and wine have been consumed!  The post expedition blues call for something more exciting.  Given that no one else in my family thinks that camping and walking up mountains is remotely enjoyable - Husbando is not known as the 'five star canary' without good cause - I will have to wait for the next chance to jump on an aeroplane with a group of teenagers!

Normally, when I feel glum, I put on my trainers and head out for a run.  Now running when we were in Africa was not really an option.  I had a couple of runs along the beach - about half a mile out and back because that is where I was stopped by security.  Out and back running, even on the edge of the Indian Ocean at sunrise, is dull!  It just wasn't safe to run in most of the places we stayed.  So, despite walking miles and gaining much altitude, I did virtually no running.  I didn't really run for four and a half weeks!

On the 'plane on the way home I commented to SW that I was really looking forward to running again.  The day after we got back I pulled on my running shorts and headed on out and up the hill outside our house.  Oh my word, what was going on?  I could barely make it a quarter of a mile before having to stop.  I persevered - completing a very slow 3 mile run with lots of stopping and swearing.  I began to dread going out for a run.  What was going on?

It has taken me over two weeks to realise that expecting to take a month's break from running and then to expect to be able to run as fast as I had before was unrealistic.  I ran a chatty parkrun with a friend on Saturday, she had a marathon the next day, so was happy to bimble around with me.  33 minutes for a 5k is never going to set the world on fire, but it was the first time I had run 5k without stopping since June!

Sunday saw me up in London as Husbando had a book fair.  We leave home just after 5am which means that, once he's unloaded the car, I'm free to go for a run.  The weather was beautiful.  I set off with no real goal in mind other than enjoying myself.   I would run when I wanted to, stop if I felt like it, walk if I need to.  At one point I was running along the Embankment while a Polish walk racing athlete (I think he was one of the Blocki brothers) was training.  No prizes for guessing who was moving faster!

But, something was different.  Despite the fact that I was running slower than a race walker (!) - it took me an hour and a quarter to run about 7.5 miles - I was enjoying it.  The aches and pains (dodgy piriformis) were not hugely in evidence.  I wasn't really thinking about the fact that I was 'running' (one of the benefits of London being so flat), I was just enjoying being out in my home town in the sunshine, without the place being crammed with tourists.

So, I need to take it easy and ease back into running.  I haven't got any races planned until The Royal Parks Half in October.  I ran that race in 1hr 43mins a couple of years ago.  I doubt I will ever beat that time, even if I trained for it.  As is is, I'll try to remember that running is fun and concentrate on that rather than on pace and times.

And while I run I will plot my next big adventure...  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Looking back...

Before, after and during our recent trip we heard comments about our 'holiday.'  The trip was many things, but it was not a holiday.  In my former career I got to travel widely and always sought to ring every possible ounce of excitement out of each trip - whether that trip be to South America or Cardiff -  I love travel and adore the chance to try something new.  Four and a half weeks in Tanzania was harder work than any other trip I have ever done.  Being 'on duty' 24/7 is exhausting.  If you are a parent, think back to those early days when you had a baby that didn't sleep through the night.  It was a bit like that - I never felt that I could sleep deeply and the unbroken nights were as rare as rocking horse poo.  And while I probably, on occasion, ignored my own child crying there is no way I could ignore one of my students.

Behaviour, in the main was excellent - but I still have a couple of 'tricky emails' to send to parents.  I'd not looking forward to that.  Most of the boys grew and developed over the 4.5 weeks, but decision making was still painfully slow.  The whole point of the expedition was that they boys take responsibility as much as possible, but this meant that it could take most of a day to organise a hotel, transport and places to eat.

Hmm, places to eat... teenagers don't tend to be the most adventurous souls when it comes to food.  Our food budget was meagre - purposely so in order, in theory, to encourage the students to try local food rather than more expensive western food.  I love food, I would quite happily eat street food at lunch time to allow space in the budget so that we could eat somewhere more exotic in the evening.  The boys were interested in food they could recognise, burgers, fried chicken, pizza... So that whole lovely holiday vibe of lingering over a good meal was not part of our trip.  We were much more likely to be dealing with a vomiting student.  NB One student who has necked 2 bottles of Fanta and a plate of chips in record time can empty a restaurant in record time by vomiting copiously at the table!

All this could drive one to drink... except that this is not an option on a school trip.  School rules state that at all times there must be two members of staff who have not drunk in the last 24 hrs - we had three members of staff, and the organisation running out expedition had a blanket 'no alcohol' policy.  So no relaxing evenings, sitting on the beech with a beer.  No chilled glass of wine with a meal.  I'm not an alcoholic but... Part of me wonders if an opportunity to model 'adults enjoying an alcoholic drink in a responsible manner' was missed.

So no, it wasn't a holiday.  It was hard, hard work.  Amazingly rewarding at times, incredibly frustrating at others, I experienced some of the (literal and metaphorical) highest of highs but also the lowest, bleakest and most lonely times too.  The days when I could not get in touch with home - but wanted to talk to Husbando or my children more than anything else.  The late nights when we stood in the pitch black in a remote bit of field (because it was the only place we could get a phone signal) spending hours on a conference call to discuss our concerns about certain boys and situations.  

Would I go back?  In a heartbeat.  I'd do this type of trip regularly if given half the chance.  The benefit to the boys is immense.  I've had emails from parents saying how much their son has changed, for the better, because of the experience.  I'd love to be able to run this type of trip with children from disadvantaged backgrounds - I have a hunch that they would benefit even more than our relatively privileged pupils.

I was amazed at how much of a circus Kilimanjaro was - I hadn't expected it to be quite so busy, which is naive of me I know. Hopefully my next long expedition with school will be to somewhere equally as exciting but very different.  Outside school, I've got a few ideas about mountains I'd like to climb, which is just as well as my running mojo seems to have deserted me at the moment.

It won't be with SW, which is a shame.  I am still struggling to come to terms with him sacrificing his summit attempt so that I could summit.  It was always going to be a very hard decision - I wanted him to summit as much as I wanted to summit myself, but going down, and choosing to go down rather than tossing a coin, must have been so hard.  I know that the day after he went down was one of the lowest days of the entire trip for me - I can't imagine how tough it must have been for him.  Maybe he realises that, at my great age, time is running out for me to get back to Tanzania!  I'll  miss him next term - work won't be quite the same without him there, but I know that he will be hugely successful and popular in his new school and wish him all the best.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Coming home!

After 4.5 weeks we were on our way home!

At Abu Dhabi
There's not much to say about a 5hr and an 8hr flight separated by a 6.5hr wait at Abu Dhabi airport, although Etihad Airways should be complimented for their excellent service. The cabin crew on our first flight new exactly what three adults who hadn't seen alcohol for a month needed.... and provided it in paper coffee cups, including some delicious bubbles that were brought back from business class - that on top of the other beverages they'd supplied meant that we were pretty giggly!
We had one boy lose his boarding pass within 10 metres of the check in desk, but apart from that the journey was stress free.

Arriving at Heathrow we were all excited to see our relatives again.  It had been so long since we had seen them and we all had so much to tell them.  But a little part of me was sad that the time we had all spent together was over.  It is true that there are bits of the trip I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, but the boys have amazed and astounded me in by what they have achieved.  

I have also had the great good fortune to have spent the time in the company of Shit Weasel and Big Al, Stu - our summit leader - must also get a special mention.  To have spent so much time together could have been an absolute nightmare but they were all amazing.  We have laughed and joked our way through the month away and I will miss them!  Thanks guys - you're the best!

The final countdown

I'd been in two minds about the R&R phase of our expedition for a while.  On one hand the idea of being able to laze around at the beach was mildly appealing, on the other hand I never 'laze around at the beach' and the idea of unstructured time with demob happy boys filled me with a degree of trepidation.

I've already blogged about our arrival at Kipepeo Beach Village and the poor food we were served on our first night.  Suffice to say the food didn't improve and, to make matters many times worse, we were all bitten by bed bugs.  The management were most unhelpful - saying that no one else had complained about bed bugs (which is patently untrue if TripAdvisor is to be believed) and therefore it was our fault!

We went out side the resort for lunch and supper one day - much to the consternation of the staff who kept issuing dire warnings about how unsafe it was.  We were also, wrongly, told that 3 people had been 'robbed at knife point' just after we had walked back from our evening meal.

On our second full day we went snorkelling.  I have never been snorkelling!  We took a dhow out to a beautiful, uninhabited island where we walked around the coast looking into rock pools and collecting see shells.  We saw crabs and sea urchins and sea cucumbers as well as lots of fish.  We then got back onto the boat to go out to sea for snorkelling.  I was one of the first into the water... and one of the first out!  I am sure it is wonderful, and I know that with a bit of practice in shallow water (not 3m deep!) I could get used to not being able to breath through my nose, but swimming with 11 boisterous boys was neither the time nor the place!  I panicked and got out as quickly as my flippers would allow me to climb the ladder!

We then had lunch back on the island, before spending a pleasant afternoon 'chilling' on the most idyllic beach.  There are days, or parts of days, when being a teacher is a great job!

It was a bit of a come down to return to the resort and be served undercooked prawns for supper!

Some of the boys were struggling with the lack of structure in these final few day.  We tried to mitigate this by meeting for meals and having planned activities - whether it be swimming, beach volley ball or tent cleaning.  We were all looking forward to getting home.

On our final night we walked along the beach to the neighbouring resort for our final meal.  The resort was virtually deserted on the Monday evening, despite being hugely busy at the weekend, and we were the only people in the restaurant.  We had our best meal of the entire trip.  They had no burgers or pizzas, so the boys had to be a bit more adventurous in in their choices.  I had a crab curry which contained so much crab that I had to share it and naan bread.  I went to bed with a very full tummy that evening!

Happy 18th birthday darling girl!

Got up early this morning to go for a run along the beech and a quick dip in the ocean.  I didn't leave a card for my older daughter - so I hope this photo will do the job for me.

Kipepeo Beach

Tonight, it is safe to say, our boys feel a wee bit aggrieved.  

There are two teams from our school in Tanzania.  We have the same start and end date, but the only time we are at the same place is for the final few days of R&R. The teachers with the other team have done this trip before and block booked accommodation on the Swahili Coast for both teams.  They booked all the available rooms for our dates. Most of the accommodation would be in 2 and 3 man beach bandas, but there would be one 6 bed dorm and we would work out who went in there nearer the time.  

This is what we had told our team.  So arriving today to find that the other team where here already, arriving a day before us, and that not only had the bagged all the bandas but our boys were all in dorms was less than ideal.  We spoke with the other teachers who said that they made the decision as our boys are older and need less supervision - which is nonsense as one of our team is in a banda right next to the dorms.  Anyway, we repeated this explanation to our team and refused to be drawn into discussion.  The boys aren't daft though....

After settling into rooms (the view from mine is lovely) everyone went down to the beach.  The Indian Ocean is beautifully warm, and if I was a beach lover I am sure it would be heaven!

We were excited about dinner.  The menu looked good with plenty of fish and seafood.  This close to the sea it has to be fantastic didn't it?  The only choice that anyone other than a teenage boy would make - they all picked pizzas and burgers.  We got tiny, flavourless prawns that looked like they had come out of a bag from Iceland, and my red snapper was so dried up and overcooked as to be unrecognisable as any type of fish. The veg (mixed from a frozen bag) was undercooked and the spice rice had a distinct absence of spice!  I didn't eat mine.  The boys seemed happy with their food (the pizzas did look distinctly as though they came from Iceland too), and had organised a small ceremony for after our meal.

One of the boys on our team is Deputy Head Boy - so he read out the speech he would have made on Founder's Day, adding on a few words of thanks to SW, Al and me.  We got presents too!  I got a glass that has 'pole pole' on it -  not only a souvenir of Kilimanjaro but a reminder not to drink my gin too quickly!  SW got a loud African shirt and Al a poncho style thingy.

So tonight I go to bed listening to the waves - which is wonderful, and a bar playing loud music - which is not quite so wonderful, but hopefully will stop soon!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Ice creams for breakfast...

SW and I had popped out to the supermarket to try to find nail varnish remover and nail varnish - SW is keen on a nice pedicure but only at the weekends.  We totally failed in this mission, but couldn't resist an ice cream.  At 8,500 TZS (approx. £2.90) this ice cream was more expensive than a lot of the meals we have eaten while here, but we enjoyed them.

My enjoyment was short lived - when we got back to the hotel the ice cream decided to part company with my stomach, so all the enjoyment with none of the guilt! 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Dash in a rush, run hurry or expect accident

20th July 2017

The title of this blog post is my favourite mnemonic.  The condition it spells out is possibly my least favourite.  The SW was poorly on our last day and night at Shia School and thoughtfully decided to share his bugs with me!  I started feeling a bit dodgy after breakfast, but was fine while packing up my tent and heading back into Moshi.  We went out for 'a quick lunch' but I didn't feel like eating, so just took photos of my entertaining companions while we waited, and waited, for food to be served.
It took over 3 hours!  By which time I felt decidedly ropey, so decided to return to the hotel, picking up my clean and dry laundry on the way.  Cool cotton sheets to snooze on and a conveniently ensuite loo were essential as I was soon hit by waves of the dreaded D&V!

I struggled up to the roof terrace to meet up with the group before they all went off for dinner, there was no way I was going to join them for food but it was pleasant to sit amongst groups of travellers all chatting about what they were doing.  I was at least 20 years older than most of them and nowhere near Australian enough to fit in.  I sat on for a while after the students had left, as Al and SW had bought me  a drink.  It has been a long time since I had just sat and relaxed in a bar without any students to supervise.

Today we had to catch the Dar Express back to Dar.  The journey was a bit shorter than the journey to Moshi, and we are obviously becoming accustomed to long journeys as it felt a lot shorter than 10 hours!  Mind you, no air con, vomiting and pooping boys did enliven the trip somewhat!

We are back at the Econo Lodge tonight - just for one night before heading off to the coast tomorrow.  The Econo Lodge is every bit as luxurious as the name implies!  At 28,000 TZS (about £9.60) a night for a single room I guess one should be grateful for an ensuite loo and shower, a working fan and a door that locks!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Monday and Tuesday

18th July 2017
The boys have worked their socks off digging drainage channels, mixing concrete and washing down walls.  

The children swarm over us whenever we sit still.  They start to arrive for school at about 7.30 and classes start at 8am.  The children arrive with firewood for the school cook to use, some children are sent home with a bucket of millet in the afternoon which needs to be ground before being brought back to school the next day.

We have been amazed at the difference in teaching styles between here and home.  The younger children, 4 year olds, are not exposed to any 'play based learning!'  From the earliest ages they sit in rows, reciting their alphabet and copying from the board.  Often teachers are to be found, huddled together, having coffee while their classes get on with copying out of a book.  

We are being cooked for by the school - the result of our epic shopping expedition, our food team provided menu suggestions, which seem to have been largely ignored!  For dinner each evening we have had a small piece of chicken, chips, over cooked pasta, cabbage and either pumpkin soup or baked beans.  Lunch and breakfast have been similarly repetitive.  Tonight it was a real effort to eat but at least it is better than us having to eat food cooked by the boys on trangias!  

SW is under the weather today.  He has a dodgy tummy and feels miserable.  I think he is really missing home.  We've got another week in Tanzania which can seem a long time, especially as it will be much less structured as we are on R&R.  He is doubly miserable as somehow one of his tent poles got broken today - in two places!  We've cobbled it together with gaffer tape and a bottle cap and he has gone to bed early.

Sunday at Shia School

After a slightly restless night, I couldn't settle due to the strange noises, we were awoken by the church bell. We had been told that there would be services at 7am and 10am - but the bell started tolling at 5am!  It only lasted for about 15 minutes, and somehow Al managed to sleep through the bell and me shouting at the boys that it was not time to get up yet!

I spent most of the morning on 'tent duty' as we cannot leave our tents unsupervised.  I finished one book, started and discarded two more, before settling on at third.  After lunch I swapped to help out with some of the tasks.  The boys are clearing a path of rock, digging a drainage trench and chiselling away at breeze blocks in a newly built classroom so that electrical wiring can be recessed.  

While clearing rocks I seem to have been bitten by loads of ants.  This has added to a few mosquito bites to make me feel really miserable.  One of the bites is just by my left eye and my eye is swollen almost closed.  My body seems to be producing histamine like it is going out of fashion.  I'm itchy and swollen and lumpy!

Moshi & Shia

14th & 15th July 2017
A couple of admin days!   This means lots of frustrating waiting around while the boys try to figure out how to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery.  I got clean clothes though - so not all bad!  

On Friday night we told one of the students the news that he had been chosen as head boy.  He was delighted - as were we as he is an excellent choice.  

On Saturday we travelled to the project phase of our expedition at the Shia School.  We had arranged with the school that they would cook for us is we provided food, so much of the day was taken up visiting markets and supermarkets trying to get the food we need for 5 days - there are no shops near the school.  

We set up our tents in a corner of the school playing field and were greeted by loads of local children.  We sent the boys out to litter pick the school grounds - the local children soon got the idea and helped too.  I struggled hard to overcome my aversion to being touched by strangers as all the children seemed to want to hold our hards or stroke our skin!

We'd been lead to believe that the toilet facilities here were extremely primitive - but they are actually far better than any of the toilets on Kilimanjaro or at our campsite in Monduli Juu!  

On returning to our tents after supper we encountered ants.  Or should I say ANTS?  They were HUGE - about 2cm long.... much fun was had identifying where they came from, stamping on them and working out that they were far too big to get into a tent through the mesh!

Our camp site is less secure than previous locations.  There is a security guard (he is walking around with a long white stick), but we are right next to a road on one side and forest on the other.  There is no fence.  As I type this I can hear SW and Al chatting as they keep an eye on the locals wandering up and down the road...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

What goes up...

If you walk all the way to the top of a mountain if follows that you also have to walk down it.  We'd come down a fair way yesterday afternoon, and this morning we descended 6900ft in about 8 miles.  That's quite tough on tired legs!  My quads and knees took a bit of a pounding.  We walked down through moorland vegetation and then into forest.  Dust changed to mud. I never thought I could be so pleased to see mud!  

Two of the boys came down on stretchers.  The one who had been really poorly on summit day was just too weak.  The other, we strongly suspect, has a case of swinging the lead!  He can't remember which leg his is supposed to have hurt etc.!   We checked out of Kilimanjaro National Park with the normal level of African bureaucracy - it took ages and then went for a final lunch provided by our tour company.  We were joined by two clean, non smelly people, SW and the recovering student.  It was so good to see them!  I'm getting soppy in my old age as I shed a tear or two - but that may have been due to the rib crushing hug SW gave me!  Honestly - we all smelt so bad I am surprised anyone could get within 10 paces of us!

We said goodbye to our team.  It took 37 guides, cooks, waterboys, porters and summit porters to get us up the mountain and we needed to tip them.  Some of the boys who had extra help to the summit tipped extra to specific guides and we were given our certificates.  

We got to the hotel the boys had picked (it is up to them to pick where we stay within reason and budget) and pure blind good luck seems to have hit upon a decent place!  Basic, but clean and with mosi nets!
The boys were given just over 2 hours to settle in and get themselves clean and warned that if they didn't look clean when we met at 6pm they'd be sent back to try again! During this time we only had one poo related emergency to contend with - so maybe now we are down from the mountain things are returning to normal.

I stood in the shower for ages - hot and cold running water and a loo that flushes!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven!  That coupled with clean clothes.... wow!  I even smelt like a girl until I covered myself with insect repellant.

After supper at a local veggie Indian place the adults sat in the bar, drinking coffee, catching up on gossip and planning the next stage.

No words...

12th July 2017

All wrapped up ready to go
No words can really describe today, but because blogs need words I better try!   If you are just dipping into this blog for the first time please skip back to at least last Wednesday and read them (or skim them at least) so that they make more sense.

Last night one of the boys was awake in the night - he was calling for Al so Stu and I decided that we has done our share of late night poorly boys and went back to sleep! Traveller's diarrhoea struck again!  According to Al, being woken by a boy holding shitty pants and waving at one is not the best alarm call!  What a night for it to happen - but at least he was one of our stronger boys.  And our start time had been pushed back to 2am so we had an extra couple of hours sleep.  At 'breakfast' at 1.30am he looked pale but determined. 

It was well below freezing when we left at 2.10am.  One boy had misplaced his head torch - he thought he might have put it down (!) while using the long drop!  

Within 15 minutes we discovered that one boy had only one bottle of water which was half full.  How many times had we told them that they needed 3 litres of water?  Another boy was wearing sunglasses - at 2am in the morning in sun zero temperatures!

Half an hour in the boy with the squits from last night was really struggling.  I was convinced that he was going to go down as he looked so weak.  Al was pretty certain that he was going down too.  That would mark the end of my summit attempt as he would need to be accompanied by a teacher.  I couldn't bring myself to go and see if he was ok as I knew that my desperation would show and I didn't want to add to any feelings of guilt or add to the pressure. 

It was dark, cold and the 'path' was scree - as Al had said the day before (although not to the boys) it was like walking up the down escalator for 6 long hours!  Our poorly boy rallied!  The summit porters, Al and Stu were helping him out.  Al and Stu were amazing - up and down the line of walkers checking that they were all ok.  We discovered a boy who hadn't brought his warm gloves with him.  His hands were frozen - he was less than grateful when the porters and Al tried to get my spare gloves onto him.  

We stopped for 10 minutes every hour. No sitting down (in case someone fell asleep), snacks to be consumed, and rapidly freezing water to be drunk.  Then we'd plod on again.  The pace seemed incredibly slow, but on the few occasions I upped my speed to move along the line (either up or down) the effort of walking at 'normal' speed left me breathless.  Other boys were starting to suffer.  They were monitored closely and encouraged to continue - supported by the summit guides.  I began to think that I might actually be able to summit.  The thought that I would do this monotonous trek and not get to the top was depressing in the extreme. 

Mt Mawenzi from Stella Point
The Sun started to rise at around 6am - which made the walk more interesting from a scenery point of view (we could see Mt Mawenzi) but we could also see how much climb we still had to go.  One of the porters asked if I was ok - I assured him I was, 'Dada (sister) is a strong lady!' was his reply - I told him I was just a stubborn woman!  I shall miss being called 'Dada!'

By the time we reached Stella Point we had 2 boys who were really suffering.  It is about 45-60 mins from here to Uhuru Peak, but at Stella Point we were given hot, sweet, black tea (urgh!) and a chance to regroup. It would be possible for boys who didn't want to carry on to go back from here and for me to still summit (as we'd probably only be half an hour behind them).  I was thrilled.  

I took some time to enjoy the stunning scenery - photos to follow  - they are on my camera, before we all proceeded to Uhuru Peak.  Only 250m of climb left!  We were seeing people returning from the Peak with a spring in their step.  This would be us soon!

And then we were actually there!  Two years (almost) in the planning!  Shit weasel and I signed up for this trip on our first day in our new job at our current school - before we knew each other at all - in September 2017.  I am gutted that he wasn't on the top of Africa with me today, but I couldn't be prouder of the boys.  They were, collectively, amazing!  Supporting each other, celebrating with each other, sharing Haribos with me! I shed a few tears, ok, quite a lot of tears, as we did group and individual photos.  

Then we had to come down!  Going down 1200m in about 4 miles of scree is hair raising in the extreme!  At one point I very nearly had a hissy fit, but one of the porters took my arm and guided me down! 

Back at Baranfu Camp we had an hour to pack up and rest before lunch.  This would be our final meal with Stu.  He had joined us to travel up the mountain as summit leader and he will be staying at one of the campsites to accompany other groups up the mountain.  I left him with a big packet of beef jerky and our grateful thanks.  He was a real asset to our group.

After lunch we had a 2 hour trek or Millenium Point Camp. I eventually got my second cup of coffee of they day - only 15+ hrs after the first! And I washed my hair with travel soap and water that had frozen on the way up to the summit - that's not something you do every day!  I'm not sure how effective it was, and I could have waited for a shower tomorrow evening - but after a week of no showers it felt very refreshing.

Early nights all around tonight I think!

I made it! 

Crater at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro

It doesn't look that far away!

11th July

A steady climb brought us back up to 4600m and base camp! The summit looks quite close, but in reality there are another 1200m (over 3700ft) of elevation to conquer tomorrow. 

We will spend this afternoon in camp, and go to bed for a few hours after an early supper.  We leave camp at midnight and climb for 6 hrs(ish) to Stella Point - from there it is another 2hrs (ish!) to Uhuru Peak.  Part of the reason for climbing through the night is that you can't see how much hill there is ahead of you. 

The boys have been amazing today.  Those who were poorly last time we were this high are fine today!  Some of them still fail to understand some basic ideas. From this camp until we come down from the summit water is just for cooking and drinking.  It all has to be carried from before last night's camp.  Our expedition leader just heard one of the boys ask one of the porters if he could have some water to wash the inside of his tent as it was a 'little bit dirty!'  Other boys don't appear to have washed their faces since we left Weruweru nearly a week ago!  I've been enforcing a hand washing before eating rule and have variously been called the 'hand washing Nazi' and the 'hygiene queen!'

I've felt a little bit down yesterday and today.  I'm missing my family and my friends.  I don't think that there has ever been a 6 day period where I haven't spoken to Husbando and my children before.  I'm seeing wonderful sights that the photos just won't do justice to, and I'd love to share this experience with them.

Climbing Barranco Wall

10th July 2017
After a couple of false starts, one due to my workday alarm going off and the other due to a boy pooing his pants, we set off late for today's adventure. This was advertised as a '4K trek which includes the Baranco wall and the a gentle decent across the plateau to our next camp.' I think the trades description people might take issue with that! 

It was steep - but that's fine!  What was not so fine was  the bits where I felt like I was doing a Tom Cruise impression!  Photographic evidence will be provided at a later date - but there is a picture of me looking almost as though I know what I am doing! I had the presence of mind to shout out to Stu, the summit leader who is traveling up with us, 'You better get a photo of this otherwise no one at home will believe me!'  I was well and truly out of my comfort zone and honestly don't think I'd have done it without the support of Al and Stu.  Even then, if there hadn't been the small matter of losing face with the boys I might still have chickened out!

At the top we paused to catch our breath and to take photos.  The boys took great delight in standing far too close to the edge for my liking, so some bright spark decided that we should all sit with our legs dangling over the edge.  I was almost ok with this, as there was a ledge just below the edge, until Al pretended to pus me off!  I swore, quite loudly, much to the amusement of the boys and all the other people on the trail. Apparently he only did it because I was scared of heights (and I was never in any danger - he had a vice like grip on each shoulder).  I've tried telling him that I'm terrified of fast cars and expensive jewellery...

The promised 'plateau' never materialised.  At 3.5 miles into our 4 kilometre walk this hill lay between us and lunch:

 We made it though, the boys were in fine form today.  We are resting this afternoon as the next two days are tough!  This is my view from the rock where I am perched writing this:

And closer:

In other news, I spoke to SW who went down the mountain.  Our poorly boy was in hospital on IV fluids and antibiotics for most of that night.  He has 2 bacterial infections but is now recovering in luxury (hot showers and everything) at Weruweru Lodge.  It was lovely to talk to them both on our guide's phone - but it reminds me that this is no longer the trip it should have been.

Up and down

9th July 2017 

Mt Meru
The advantage of being at altitude is the absence of mosquitos.  The downside is that it is bloody cold. Last night it was freezing
 .  When I got up for a pee at 10pm there were patches of frost on the ground and by morning any standing water had frozen! 

So today we went up to 4600m to Lava Tower Camp.  This was a steady climb, but fairly relentless.  The increasing altitude made itself felt for all of us.  Despite the fact that we were walking slowly, very slowly, I certainly knew I'd put some effort in.

A couple of the boys felt a bit poorly, headaches and nausea, but this is the point of today: to take us up to altitude and then come back down to recover.  The next time we go up to the same altitude and beyond it should be easier for all of us.

We had lunch right by the Lava Tower - in one of those  green dome tents you can see in the picture above (if it uploads!) before descending helter-shelter style to Baranco Camp.  The boys who had felt rough felt better as soon as the descent commenced.  I was conviced I'd be leaving the mountain with a broken ankle or two.  The 'path' was mainly boulders, rocks and rivers!  

Not looking forward to tempertures of -4c tonight - and it is only going to get colder!