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!


Across the clouds to Mr Meru 
8th July 2017

Me and my floppy hat
Today was a day that I hoped wouldn't happen.  Our student, who was poorly in Monduli Juu, was ill again last night.  We all hoped that it was just something we had eaten, but as the day progresses (an easy 10k ish walk where we gained only about 200m of elevation) it was clear that he was still unwell.  His energy levels were way down, he had headaches, sickness and diarrhoea.

When we got to camp we put him in his tent, staying with him constantly, trying to comfort him while we assessed the situation and got in touch with the ops room. He was an utter star, he kept stating that he didn't want to let us down and that he felt bad that one of the teachers would have to go down with him if he 'failed!'  We reassured him that we had always known that one of us would have to go down and that we'd draw straws.  We joked that the prospect of a shower and the absence of dust and freezing temperatures at night was quite appealing.  

For the record, we don't think he has altitude sickness. There is no doubt that his symptoms aren't helped by being up here, but they are exactly the same as in Monduli Juu.  

While I was coaching him through his breathing exercises and allowing him to squeeze my hand when the pain was really bad (he says I should quit teaching and be a midwife), chatting about all manner of stupid things in an effort to distract him, my colleague was talking to the rest of the group.

Without consulting me he had informed them that he would be going down with our poorly boy.  I was furious and grateful in equal measure.  This was never going to be an easy decision, not least because we are good friends as well as colleagues and we both wanted the other to go up the mountain as much as we wanted to do it ourselves.  I called him a shit weasel and went off for a little cry, he went off to gather his thoughts while arrangements to get them down the mountain were made.

Add caption
I couldn't be any prouder of the student, or any more gutted that his trek up Kili has ended. He is such a lovely boy who was a real asset to the group - as he has been to the school.  We had a group photo before he left - because getting this far was a huge achievement given how ill he has been, and we teachers had a photo too. 
I'll miss them both.  Our expedition leader tried to soften the blow and my guilt by saying that the ops room had said it should be the male teacher who went down - but I'm not sure I believe him, and it doesn't take away from the fact that the shit weasel (it is a term of affection - honest) was willing to do it anyway.  I've cried a bit, and not just because he has half the Haribos we bought for the boys for summit day in his back pack, but now it is time to move on.

We went for a short walk before supper, just half a mile out, gaining 100m of altitude.  We sat for a while looking at the view - across the clouds to Mt Meru.  
Our guide asked us if we wanted a group photo.  I immediately said 'No!'  It feels too soon  - the boys seemed to agree.

Tomorrow is another day.  We climb 900m higher to the Lava Chimney, before descending to camp about 200m higher than we are tonight.