Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Helene Hemus and her husband, Chris, and their children, Emma and James, all of Bethesda.
Where, when, why: Chris and I grew up in South Africa, and Emma was born in Cape Town. It had long been our dream to climb to the “Roof of Africa,” the top of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We wanted to climb as a family, and with one child in college and the other not far behind, time was of the essence. This summer seemed to be the perfect opportunity to go, and we invited any friends to join us. Emma’s friend Victoria Todd, our friend and yoga instructor Maggie Rhoades and our college friend Ian Jennings signed up right away.
Highlights and high points: The world’s highest free-standing mountain (19,341 feet) rising majestically out of the African plain. Being up above the clouds and still on foot was a thrill. The weather was perfect, with clear, sunny days and incredible stars at night. “Pole pole” — “slowly” in Swahili — is the only way to get up the mountain.
Cultural connection or disconnect: The guides taught us a little Swahili every day, and we had to answer in Swahili to acknowledge that we were feeling okay. Though of course, the lead guide spoke to us in perfect English. Our support team, who came from villages around Kilimanjaro, were so patient and kind, and we spent many an hour finding out about their lives and their hopes for the future.
Biggest laugh or cry: Being in agony with a terrible stomach upset just hours before our midnight attempt on the summit. We had come so far, and now it seemed like our family dream of summiting together would be dashed. A big dose of Imodium and some unmarked white stomach-settling tablets from the guide got me on my feet and ready to try. It’s true that getting to the top takes 50 percent physical strength and 50 percent sheer determination!
How unexpected: I had expected our six-day trek to be grueling every step of the way, and indeed the midnight ascent to the summit was hugely challenging. Surprisingly, we chatted and joked with each other along most of the trail. During meal times in the cozy mess tent, we laughed about all the soup we were served to keep us hydrated and the massive amounts of food we had to eat. Even so, we all lost weight. But no one got injured or suffered any serious altitude sickness.
Fondest memento or memory: Our whole group making it to the very highest point, Uhuru Peak, was incredibly uplifting and inspiring. Not just the memories, but the dust of Kilimanjaro came home with us, in everything that we took on the trip.