Africa, a Great Cause and a Big Hill

Let’s go to Africa! That was what my friend John said. It all started out innocently enough. I went up to his yoga studio in Toronto, took an amazing class and then we chatted afterwards. He told me about an organization (Africa Yoga Project). I knew a bit about it but hadn’t really researched it. He said he was leading the group to Kilimanjaro. My response? I AM IN!!!

The what was decided. The how. Not so much. It was going to cost me about $12,000 including fund raising and all travel costs. Whatever. $12K is $12K. Right??? The question I asked myself time and time again is, “What are you going to do to get this done”? The answer simply enough was, “Work my Ass off to get it done!!!”.

Fast forward almost a year into the future. August 2014. I had done Yoga Workshops, yoga classes, fundraising online, saved a ton by doing without some things, scrimped, saved and made it happen. Yup. 9 months, $12K. This trip is happening. I made it my goal to ensure I had covered more than the minimum fund raising requirement and also managed to save enough personally to take a Safari after the event was over.

We arrived in Nairobi after 18 hours of Air and Travel. We got sorted and headed out to Sopa Resort at Lake Naivasha. WOW is all I can say!! Sopa is not just a resort but is also home of the Giraffe Rescue. As we drove onto the resort we were greeted by about 8-10 Giraffe.Just hanging around, eating leaves and not really too worried about any of us. It was the first of many encounters that we had during our safari activities that really impacted on me. I’ve been in encounters before but nothing on this scale. Deer, Moose, a bear or two, small critters. Most encounters involved me seeing the animal, the animal seeing me and then the animal hauling ass away. These encounters were different. These animals didn’t mind us, weren’t afraid of us really just accepted our presence as something not unusual! Our two days before the main part of our trip started were spent touring Hells Gate Canyon (They filmed Tomb Raider – Cradle of Life there). Also the “Pride Rock” inspiration for the Lion King is smack dab in the middle of it. We walked around Crescent Island with Impala, Zebra, Wildebeest and got pretty close (not too close) to a herd of Cape buffalo. The alpha made it clear when we were too close.

The event(s) involved working for 3 days at the Gabrielle Recovery Centre for Children. This little, amazing place in the middle of Tanzania was a working school/farm for children with developmental disabilities. There are no Social Services and agencies in most of Africa. All the work is done by dedicated people who are passionate about helping others. THEY make it happen. We built a huge fence, dug some plumbing lines and worked tirelessly to make a real, tangible, physical difference. WE DID! It felt good and the response was nothing short of love for our efforts.

Then we climbed a hill. Nearly 20,000 feet to the Top of Kilimanjaro. 28 participants and almost double that in guides, porters and cooks! Our guide Ronaldo Bunzo Mvungi and all his workers from Usambarra Trekking were incredible!!! They made sure each and every one of us were taken care of in every aspect. Climbing that high is precarious and they created a very safe and fun environment for us!!!

The experience of Hiking at altitude is one that I will remember forever. There were moments that challenged every bit of resolve I had. Still, I kept going up the hill. We were at the last rest stop before our final ascent and had just gotten up. It was around 11pm and I looked across at Dr. Kurt. He said, “I don’t know Mike”. I responded, “Neither do I, so let’s get the fuck going before we change our minds”. We got up and I have to tell you the final ascent took everything I had to make it. I chucked my cookies a couple times (and now I can’t eat green apple Jolly Rancher candies). I felt sluggish and nauseous but I still kept walking. Up and Up and Up. We reached Gilman’s point. The final stop before Uhuru Peak. We at, drank ginger tea and watched the sunrise over the Serengeti. I had a conversation with my guide Salum. I said I wasn’t sure if I could make the last 3 hours to Uhuru. He said “You are in control of your own story. You must decide how your story will end”. SHIT!!! How inspirational is that?

I MADE IT! Me and my dear friend Kerry dragged each other up the entire mountain and we certainly needed each other to made that final walk. Tears? Yup! Hugs? Yup! JOY!!!! YUP YUP!!!

Getting down the hill was fun! (NOT). We slid, humped, hopped, popped and made it down in less than a day! YIKES!!! Holy IT band Syndrome Batman!!! Once down I can only tell you that the dip in the pool when we got to our residence was about the best swim I’ve ever had! It was EPIC!!! I do believe they pre and post shocked the pool after we were all done!

After our closing dinner, some speeches from our AYP teachers and a ton of tears shed, we wrapped up the program and Six of us peeled off to a 3 day Safari to a Masai Village, Lake Manyara, NgoroNgoro Crater and the Tarangire Reserve.  Hyena, Lions, Hippos, more Wildebeest and Zebra than you could count, Warthogs, Ostrich, Mongoose, Elephants galore, more giraffe and really too many others to even mention. Don’t forget trees the size of apartment buildings and the most expansive open spaces, I’ve ever seen. Scale wasn’t even real to me at first. It was a LOT to take in.

Now that I’ve told my story, and you have an idea of what an experience it was, I can offer a few tidbits. First. GO!!! Just GO!!! Find a way, find a reason, do some work in the community if you can, but JUST GO!!! Second. If you’re going to climb Kilimanjaro, do your research. Read everything you can about people who’ve gone. I am always happy to answer questions so feel free to ask! But do research what you can expect. It’s a fast ascent. You can fall ill pretty quick. Be in pretty decent hiking shape. You don’t have to be a marathon runner. Just be in good walking shape. I walked a ton before I left. Third. You need more than 3 days for Safari. You don’t need to hire a luxury tour either. My friend Ronaldo (link above in this article) has a fantastic company. They do climbs and safaris. One stop shopping! Last was mentioned at the start. If you can find a good organization to work with, take advantage of it. Go and hang with locals, help out by actually helping out. It’s an incredible experience to be working hands on and making a real, tangible difference in someone’s life. You’ll make friends for life and will have the gratitude of people who don’t have much but who cherish everything they have.

Long article. Sorry for rambling but it really was life altering in so many ways. MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!

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