Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And Down Again...

       I put Dad and Shannon's picture back in my pocket. The tears dried on my cheeks, or froze, and then we took some pictures on the summit. We spent about 20-30 minutes on the top but then it was time to go. Spending too much time at a high altitude has the risk of making you very sick or even worse. Our spirits were high and we were feeling great so the descent down to basecamp was quick and exciting. Along the way we would stop to take pictures and chat with fellow hikers, giving words of encouragement to those on the ascent. I felt revitalized.
      We stopped at base camp for a quick bite to eat and about an hour or so of sleep. We had decided earlier on that we would make the full descent in one day. A cold beer and a bed to sleep in was too tempting to pass up. This all seemed like a great idea until about 20 km into the day after very little sleep. My legs started getting pretty rubbery but it was too late now. At about 3 in the afternoon we finally made it down to the trailhead.
      "Frankie, we made it, where's the beer?"
      "Just down the hill a bit"
      Ryan and I looked down the hill about 100 meters to see a little shack. We looked at each other both thinking the same thing, "That seems so far away... but the beer is calling us"
      On the way down, I was stopped by a couple of young local boys that tried to sell me a beer out of the stream. As much as I didn't want to walk anymore I had to pass on the luke warm river beer. We sat at a picnic table inside a small shelter from the sun. The beer, the seat, the feeling of what we just accomplished. It was all indescribably rewarding. The soreness we felt the next day was a bit easier to swallow because we had the rest of our vacation to look forward to.
       We spent the next two days between the hotel, the town of Moshi, and our guides home. Frankie invited us over to his home for Christmas dinner which ended up being a very memorable experience. We were introduced to his wonderful wife Lilian who prepared us a delicious Christmas dinner. Chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad, all of which was perfectly prepared on a hot plate on the floor of one of their two rooms. We also had the privilege to meet their beautiful young daughter, Dores. Frankie had let us know earlier that she was excited for the holiday and had asked for a bicycle. This gave us a great opportunity to make a sweet little girls Christmas very special. She was so excited and grateful for the gift as was the rest of the family and neighbours. They were so welcoming and happy to have us in their community. We felt like rock stars.
       After our Christmas break we headed out on a 5 day safari. So much beauty and peacefulness was great for the soul. We saw every animal we hoped to see along with many others I didn't even know existed. We spent two night in the Serengeti. The endless plains. It is a beautiful vast ocean of waving grass and rock islands.
       Following the safari we headed for the island of Zanzibar for New Years. It is a paradise. White sand beaches and the warm Indian Ocean made for an incredible New years. The setting was perfected by some wonderful people who we met up with to celebrate the culmination of 2015. These were a collaboration of fellow travellers we had met along our journey. All of them were seemingly like minded people but all here for their own reasons. A great part about travelling is meeting new people from all over the world.
       We had a very memorable time, but after a few days of 40 degree weather we were ready for our next chapter. We took the ferry to Dar As Salam and after two nights there we were off to Rwanda. After a bit of visa confusion and a night sleeping on a bench in a Nairobi airport coffee shop we landed in Kigali.
       This is no knock against the places I've visited in Africa or the residents, but litter is an issue. I understand that it is a very low priority issue in Africa but I felt like it should be mentioned because Kigali did not fit the stereotype at all. It was immaculate. Clean, manicured grass, shrubs and trees were on every corner and roundabout. There was not even a fluttering piece of loose paper to be seen. It was very impressive and even more so given the likely state of the Rwandan capital only 20 years prior.
       Knowing only portions of the recent atrocities that occurred in Rwanda we decided to learn as much as we could while we were here. We stayed at the Hotel des Mille Collines, which was home to over 1000 refugees attempting escape from the brutality of the genocides in the early 90's. Made famous by the film "Hotel Rwanda" it was a truly beautiful hotel.
       Our trip was full of great memories and moments I will never forget. Kigali will stick with me forever but not entirely as a great memory. We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which contains facts, images, first hand accounts, and items, from the brutal 100 day period in 1994 where approximately 1 000 000 were murdered for superficial reasons that will never be understood. The images and stories will be with me forever. My eyes are right now filling with tears as I recount the stories from the section "The Children's Room".
       This blog has been very raw at times and quite emotional, but I won't get into further details of this experience. I would encourage you all to delve into this recent event. Not to understand it, but to see how we can often fail each other, and maybe learn how we can avoid any such atrocities in the future. Behaviour like this is still very apparent in other parts of Africa and the rest of the world.
       Next on our list was Uganda.  Yeah, I know. Great segue, Dan. We had met a friend on Kili, at our hotel, and then again on Zanzibar, who was volunteering his doctor skills at a hospital in the small town of Kisoro in Uganda. We stayed with him for 3 nights as we toured the area including a trip to see the famous silver back gorillas in their natural habitat. This was one of the entire trips highlights. We hiked up a mountain on the outskirts of the town where we encountered a family of gorillas. We spent an hour within meters of these 400lb beautiful animals who share so many likenesses with us humans. They were very intimidating due to their amazing size and strength but showed no aggression towards us, even as they walked within feet of where we stood.
      After Kisoro we followed a recommendation from our friend and headed for Lake Bunyonyi, where we spent our next 2 nights. A quiet lake with many bays and calm waters, made for some great days paddling around in the homemade dugout canoes. We encountered many people along our travels but a group of children we encountered on the lake may be the most memorable. There were about 20 small children in one dugout canoe along with an adult at either end. In unison they all said hello, asked us how we were and encouraged us to follow them to land where they would perform a song and dance for us. How could we say no?
      We reached land and we joined them for their performance. They were such amazingly happy children full of energy, you would never suspect the tribulations they had faced in their short lives. All orphaned children, they had lost their parents to AIDS. The adults informed us that 6 of the children also were HIV positive. You could not determine which children were facing the disease, especially given the huge smiles that all of them had on their faces. These children and this moment will always have impact on me, help keep me grounded and keep life in perspective.
      From Lake Bunyonyi we continued our journey through Uganda to it's capital of Kampala and then onto nearby Jinja, where we got to experience the power of the Nile first hand. We signed up for a day long white water rafting trip down the rapids of the longest river in the world. This was an intimidating feat as I have never done anything like it. We had a brief orientation and got ourselves situated in the raft. We started off with one of the biggest rapids of the day, which was a class 5 with a 4 meter drop. It was a great rush and set the pace for the rest of the day. The warm water, great people  and the perfect setting made me into a huge fan of white water rafting and the Nile. Thanks again to Nalubale rafting and their amazing staff.
        The next was a short stop in Nairobi on the way back to the town of Moshi, where our journey would conclude. We went back to the Springlands hotel for a few nights, collected our gear, said our goodbyes and then headed back home. It was an adventure of a lifetime.  Thanks again to everyone who was a part of it, through encouraging messages, donations to our cause (we raised over $12 000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation) and all the help and hospitality which we received in Africa.
        When I got back home I did some visiting with my friends and showed my thousands of pictures off as well. It was great to be back home, although winter was still upon us. After a week or two of being home I found myself falling back into a bit of a rut. The trip was over. A trip that had kept my mind very occupied and distracted for many months. And now it was over. Another chapter of my life over and I again had this feeling that I thought was behind me. No answers.... no real purpose.
     I sat there...almost stuck to the couch...for days...I thought of something Shannon had said to me while she was near her final days. "I know this is the end for me, but don't let this take both our lives." That's it. I have to get up. I packed up my truck and left for the west coast. A trip me and Shannon had done together a few summers back. So I was once again gone, unsure of my destination or what I was searching for. She wasn't riding shot gun this time but I could feel her with me, smiling.