Taxi, Train, Walk

Yesterday Lana and I got back to walking the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) after a couple of amazing sight seeing days.

We were up before the crack of dawn (not joking, it was still dark outside) for a 5am train from Leon to Sarria where we would resume our pilgrimage. The train ride was 4hrs but in our first class seats where you could near totally recline, were provided with water, sleep masks, blankets and ear plugs we were only awake for about an hour of it. If only our flights to France and home from Portugal would be so comfortable!!

Arriving in Sarria we adjusted our packs, I transitioned from flip flops to sneakers (lots of asphalt roads in our walk today) and then we made our way to the Monastery of Magdalena about a km away. Here we were leaving a duffel bag of our heavy stuff like toiletries for transport to the albergue we stayed in last night in Porto Marin.

Why? No joke, Lana’s feet are in a bad way. She is a blister bandaid (compeed) advert! We are pulling all the stops to get her to a place where she can walk and enjoy it and that means diff shoes, less weight, compression socks, you name it. When every single step hurts, everyday is absolutely no fun. Usually Lana and I are total geeks together with jokes and antics – and sore feet make that really tough to be. So we are getting things sorted! We have weeks left to walk and we will be laughing till we cry again soon!

Well there was a wee mess up with the transport company. After a few telephone conversations in my less than adequate Spanish – we finally had the bag picked up at 11am. Instead of 930am as planned. Almost a couple of hours later than we wanted but hey we both had packs pounds lighter than before and we were ready for an awesome day and our first, much delayed cafe con leche in 3.7km in the next village of Balderado.

After that first coffee – we were spiced right up and getting silly already!

The day continued with walk and walk and walk on really easy paths and only some uphill but some lengthy downhill that timers the big toes ringing. It was over 30 degrees and we were roasting but loving it.

Much of what we walked though in the morning at least was farm land, and in this heat well it smells worse than you can imagine – we had a ready solution.

We pulled into a baby cafe about half way through the day for the yummiest sandwiches and the biggest coffee we have had yet! Oh and we met a new friend, wee gato. He very much loved the meat on our sandwiches.

The afternoon was well full of walking – imagine that. At about 22km we arrived in PortoMarin, a very small village organised around the main square and church (pretty standard for Europe).

We toasted the end of a great day, and enjoyed the local traditional fare – some Galicia broth soup (leeks, chick peas and potatoes) followed by some pulpos (octopus) and potatoes for the main course. Then some local desserts a flan (like our creme caramel) and a Santiago tart (chewy, thin cake). It was interesting and actually quite tasty but I don’t think I need to order it again.

Off to Palais de Rei this morning!

Beun Camino
Brande

Bye Bye Burgos, Hello Leon

Well sadly all good things must come to an end … and our time in beautiful Burgos did just that yesterday afternoon.

We had a 15:25 train from Burgos to our next sight seeing / break from walking day in Leon this time. We were primed to make the best of our amazing treat hotel and city though for the morning before departing.

To kick things off, we enjoyed quite thoroughly a breakfast for kings! The breaky buffet at the hotel was 7euros and check out our feast below. Crazy to think this is what we can get for 7euros in one place, but only get a piece of toast with jam and coffee or juice in another place for 5euros. We will be keeping our eyes open for deals like this from here on! Big breaky means skip lunch means save money!

After we stuffed ourselves quite completely. We put our packs in the left luggage room and ventured the old city again.

We headed in the direction of the massive chapel and came upon some stone stairs heading up to a hill above the city with a sign marked Castillo (castle) – ok! Slowly, being mindful this was a tourist day not a hump it up hills day, we made it up and up to a birds eye view of the city streets we had walked the night before. Here are a few of the pics up to and from the castle heights:

From up here for the first time we heard the Sunday bells from the massive chapel – wow is about all I can say to describe them. They are rung for 15mins every hour on Sundays and are just amazing. Like give you goose bumps amazing. From up high they sounded so smooth and combined but then from close to the cathedral you could pick out each individual bell. Depending where you stood in the plaza they sounded different again. The echo of the bells off the high buildings and stone was making a few dogs in town a little crazy. One poor pouch was going in circles barking trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Hilarious. I posted a video recording of the bells on my Instagram @brandedavison if you want to hear them.

We could not resist a few more pics of the cathedral and plaza in the morning light as we walked around the area enjoying the bells:

Finally we enjoyed our last Burgos cafe con leche (coffee with milk) outside of our amazing hotel:

We made our way by bus #25 from Plaza de Espana over to the train station and then by train for 2 hours over to Leon. We had a bit of a wait so got some sunshine naps in first!

Before departing we had our final Burgos entertainment … a guy who was a bit sketch and carrying 2 backpacks was told by security to exit the train station as he did not have a ticket. Well wouldn’t you know it as soon as our train pulled in, the sketch guy dropped one bag and went barreling for the nearest open train door – knocking the poor ole security guard down and almost between the train and the platform in the process. Sketch guy hid somewhere in the train and they could not find him. So he did end up getting the free ride to Leon he was looking for in the first place. Gong show!

Any who, the train trip itself was a really nice way to see the landscape change from green Burgos to dry Leon. We left the chilly wind, humidity, high of 21C in Burgos and stepped of the train into the dry heat of 34C of Leon. We were happy to leave that oppressive, soggy humidity behind.

We are super excited to explore Leon today. Will it stand up to Burgos? The bar is set pretty high!! Stay tuned to find out …

Brande

101, 22, 21, 13, 7 and 15

Another beautiful day on the Camino complete here in Spain yesterday!

And nope the title of this blog post is not lottery numbers (well I guess they could be if you were so inclined). Rather they are the # of pilgrims passed on the route yesterday, the # of kilometres walked and the temp yesterday, the # of locals passed on the route and the # of snails who crossed my path yesterday, and the # of big bites I have that we are still trying to find the source of.

All in all, I am just glad none of those snails passed ME! Oh goodness that reminds me of Lana joking on the first day (the brutal uphill trial by Camino fire) that she was slow up the hills and some slug was like ‘hey passing on the left’ as it “sped” past her. Ha ha! A laugh we needed so bad at that exact moment.

Any who, the route yesterday was from Puenta La Reina to Estella, 22kms or 42,137 Fitbit steps and it was meant to be an easy no incline / no decline stroll from the elevation map. That was not exactly true. There were some serious hump it up and up and up spots in my mind. Granted my legs are feeling these 20+km days so I may just be fatigued and those hills were but mere speed bumps to the average pilgrim.

The day started with this amazing view of Puenta La Reina (Lana took this amazing pic):

And continued with the amazing beauty this path offers! Some highlights of the route were:

Making it to Estella for 1pm made for an awesome afternoon and evening. Lana and I hit up a pub in a busy plaza (the classic European square) for a Spanish spin on Radler Beer and some raciones (like tapas but not called tapas here in this region). Cheese ball things, baked bacon of sorts and some kind of cheeseburger slider thingy. Mmmm

Then headed up (another darn hill!) to our albergue to chill and do some laundry. With only one maybe two of everything like shirts and such you do as much laundry as walking it seems! Once the laundry was done, we did a freshen up and headed back down to town for some groceries.

After a grocery shop, a pharmacy stop for some cream for my bug bites (?), we accidentally also got a pizza for dinner … we ordered a delicious soft goat cheese with tomatoes and arugula pizza and a ceasar salad but ended up with a ceasar pizza of sorts. Looks like I should have practiced my Spanish a bit more. It worked out though. While scary in concept the pizza was actually amazing in taste!

Full and happy, I loaded up on allergy pills and allergy cream to try and get these bug bites or hives or something at bay so I could get some sleep. So itchy and sore! What a sleep it was, we had our own little twin bed room again and it was awesome! Snore galore!

Today we are up and at em heading for a tourist day in Burgos. But first a bus to Pamplona then a train to get there. Yahoo a no walking day – our feet are thankful!

Brande

One Bridge Too Far

Yesterday was another great day on the Camino for this duo. We walked from Pamplona to Puenta La Reina which is just over 23km or 39,289 Fitbit steps.

Our day started as usual it seems with poor sleep, too many pilgrim body sounds recalled from the night prior, some white toast and jam and very strong coffee. The life of these pilgrims so far but we are still loving it!

We left our humble abode at 8:15am and commenced the day with a 5km walk though Pamplona. Along the way we had our cameras ready to capture a few sights:

When we hit the next town Cizur Menor we had already added another stamp to our Pilgrim Passport (thank you Universidad de Navarre), discovered how amazing and light you feel switching from boots to runners, and had a few laughs. Not bad for 5km!

When we hit a section of path that required boots, we would take a welcome break and switch them up. We were light as feathers with our sneakers – ok not really light with our packs still on but that’s what we kept telling ourselves. Especially after we ate our bananas about mid morning and further lightened our load.

Around 930 or so the proof of the ‘there is a big climb after Puenta La Reina’ came into view. This was all the talk at the albergue (hostel) and we were a bit confused. Sure the elevation map looked like we had a high blip but so much talk was a bit much especially when you compare anything to the climb of day one. As came around a bend in Cizor Menor we saw the windmill hill we were going up and over. It was a good one for sure and worth some pilgrim chatter but nothing these two pilgrims couldn’t handle.

Up and up we went over some amazing trail, largely across or beside farmer’s fields. Many that were wheat already harvested but some were all sunflowers. Had we walked maybe a few weeks ago I think it would have been a sea of yellow but by end of August, the sunflowers were scorched from the sun and not quite as picturesque. I felt for them – I was feeling the same way in the hot Spanish sun!

The highlight was coming over the ridge to find one of the most photographed pilgrim monuments on the Camino. We were pretty high up at this point (about 900m) as high as we had to climb that day. The wind was harsh and the wind turbines were all around us loud and looming. Once in a while you had to brace agains a gust of wind. But this did not prevent a photo opportunity for us gals! Including a reenactment of my favourite part of the movie, The Way. If you have see it, you will know instantly this scene. If you haven’t seen it, it’s amazing and you should!

The afternoon was down hill literally for the most part with some small ups – but generally easy walking and the weather continued to hold off any rain and give us long pockets of sunshine!

Mid afternoon when the tummies where grumbling for chow we stopped in for a couple of coffees in a town called Uterga. Well it turned into a massive lunch (I finally got some eggs and served with fries, come on! yahoo!) and a small ice cold cervaza. Mmmm

We walked the last 6km into Puenta La Reina maybe a little slower after that amazing meal but it was fun all the same! As we came through towns we took some pics and as we came by churches I took a peek inside. They are a welcome break from the heat and give you a peace boost!

Following a short back track (couple blocks) as I read the map wrong we were at our albergue. This is my second time in a week messing the map – not bad for being tired in mind and body and distracted and excited by all the new stuff around me. Not sure our feet agree lol

An evening of showers, journaling on the amazing terrace in the evening sun, a cold pint and some pilgrim’s food wrapped up the day for us.

We have a twin room tonight – so just me and Lana in our little individual twin beds with an amazing little balcony. So we will get much needed sleep (that’s so exciting I may not sleep) and a chance to air our ‘smelling like backpack’ clothes in the evening breeze.

Another amazing day on the Camino.

Buen Camino!
Brande

Running of the Pilgrims

Yesterday we walked from Zubiri to Pamplona. A wonderful walk with some tough inclines, some veritable death trap declines and some easy strolls over 21km (37,865 steps). Just enough trail variation to keep you guessing what would be around the corner.

We began our day at 545am which you would think is early but so far is about the time we have been laying in bed waiting from the rest of the dorm to wake up so we could make an exit without waking everyone. I don’t think we are on the right time zone yet OR maybe going to bed by 9pm dog tired has something to do with it OR maybe listening to everyone snore all night makes you wanna just get the hell outta there!

By 615am I was down in the hostel living room working on a blog post and by 645 Lana and I were enjoying our breakfast. Breaky was included with the bed cost and it was, to be blunt, a disappointment but not at all surprising … basically a piece of very hard toast, jam (a choice of strawberry or peach), margarine, coffee or tea, and juice. Our albergue, Hazel Sticks, also included cafeteria fruit cocktail and some cornflakes. Oh and everyone got a piece of cake. Again I ask, where is this famous Spanish egg and potato omelet I keep hearing about!? Oh or maybe the churro with chocolate treat others fav for breaky?

Once breakfast wrapped up, we finished getting ready, published a blog post for you all, I filled water bladder and we were on our way. See yah Hazel Sticks of Zubiri and bring on Pamplona!

Our day started nice and easy. Lots of adjustments to make to boots and socks but we made great time. Passing town by town hoping to make it to Pamplona before the rain which was looming in the forecast and the sky began.

A quick highlight reel via photo for you:



Today we didn’t stop into any cafes for coffee and instead enjoyed our lunch in Irotz about half way and sat on a half stone wall in the amazing sunshine while we gave our bodies a break from our packs and our feet a break from the trail.

Once rested up a bit and bellies full, we were on our way again. The afternoon included a tough slog up and that don’t get any easier as the sun gets hotter. We were at 28C in the afternoon. Hot for sure but I was happy to be putting on sunscreen not my rain jacket.

Afternoon highlight reel:

Well the last 5+km were tough for sure – as great as Pamplona is there is just something exhausting about walking through a city compared to the country trail. There are benefits though I will admit! Like switching from boots to sneakers and being distracted by the sights and all you wanna capture on camera!

Just a few of the pics from Pamplona for you:

Yes that last one is from an awesome candy store and yes I may have added just a wee bit of weight to my pack in sour gum balls – hey burning that many calories in a day deserves a little pick me up, guilt free!

We enjoyed a yummy dinner that was altogether way to white so had to be followed by some red at the hostel as we wrapped up the day with showers, some social media time and journaling. This is usually when Lana and I sit and laugh our faces off by recalling the antics of the day as we scroll though pics!

By 9pm we were in our space pods and ready for a good night sleep! And I literally mean space pod, look at our beds:

Well that good night sleep was actually worst night sleep. Who knew space pods were also snore and fart amplifiers! A personal body sound speaker! Not ok!

Get me outta here and on the trail to Puenta La Reina!

Brande

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Epiphany)

Well I subjected you to the run down of my roller coast emotions on the day we reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so its only fair I also subject you to my summit epiphany as well.

(If you missed my emotional recap, click Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions). Its pretty raw, you have been warned.)

mount kilimajaro summit

Any who, back to my epiphany. Drum roll please….

Getting to the summit is only half way!

Let me explain before you are all wondering what I am going on about.

Every conversation you have before you even depart for Tanzania, before you even pack your bags, get your travel insurance and start any training (if you plan on training) is about if you will summit Mount Kilimanjaro. When you finally arrive in Arushu or Moshi, whichever destination you pick as your ‘base camp’ all questions from the Lodge or Hotel staff, from your fellow trekkers and in your own mind are about if or if not you will summit. Then the day comes and you meet your Guide and climbing company and every conversation is about how they will make sure you summit. Summit, summit, summit!

Makes some sense. You travel all the way to Tanzania, you labour up that mountain one painfully slow step at a time, to do one thing: summit. Summit, summit, summit!

This ‘all about the summit adage’ once made sense to me but is now totally nonsensical. The summit is not the finish line, it is not the end of the road, or the end of your journey – it is only half way. Half bloody way!

Of course it is half way, duh – what kind of hiker, trekker, and mountain climber am I anyway? What goes up must come down, and last I checked there is no Gondola on Mount Kilimanjaro. But wait. You honestly do not think much about anything but getting to the summit, until one day the possibility of the summit is really real and then it hits you that holy crap you have to get back down. People need to know and I am serious about that – if you are debating that mountain embrace my epiphany. lol

The summit is not a finish line. It is not a marathon where my husband is standing at the finish line to hug me up, walk with me though the post-race snack line up to grab some chocolate milk, half banana and some cookies, and then get in the comfy car to head home for a long, well deserved shower. {oh wow that would have been amazing}

The summit is only half way. You have to turn your arse around and do exactly what you did for the past 6+ hours one more time but this time your legs are already burning, your lungs are on fire and feeling like the are fully on strike, your head is pounding, and you are willing yourself to go even 100 more steps without puking again.Did I mention the toes jamming in the front of your boots or the knees on strike? Every step you took on the way up already, you take again but this time fully exhausted not just kind of exhausted. Sometimes the cruelty of the mountain is such that you can even see your own footsteps in the opposite direction left in the scree field that you humped up just hours before and now you need to slide unbalanced down again.

Getting to the summit is a feat, and anyone who has done it or even attempts it gets a big, awesome, amazing kudos from me. The ultimate trick is if you can get up and down the highest free standing mountain in the same positive head space both ways.  A few on my crew were happy go lucky the whole up and down time, I wanted to be but don’t recall having the energy to be. I for sure had moments in my happy place and also in my get me the hell down head space over the course of summit day. Trust me, like many others before me, I was so focused on the summit, just like everyone with me and before me on that mountain, that I almost and very nearly missed an opportunity to appreciate the ‘coming back down’ as much as the ‘going to the top’.

I was happy to be on Mount Kilimanjaro, wow I was ecstatic to be honest. But there is nothing I wanted more than to leave that bucket list mountain top and get down and never see that thing again. Well now that I am down, recovered and looking back on the experience I maybe have a more reasonable opinion of the roof of Africa….

If you asked me if I would I climb it again? You bet! I would do it again in one heartbeat.

Brande

PS: Blog post with the step by step details coming soon. It would seem I needed to see more pictures from my fellow trekkers to piece together the day. Who knew altitude stole your breath and your memories! Pics and step details coming soon.

Lana Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 1

A look back at Lana’s experience of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana and me, ready to trek! (albeit a little nervous)

While sitting in the comfort of my arm chair with the first of the snow on the ground, I am trying to recollect the experience of Kilimanjaro Day One and I find myself wondering things like, “What happened on day one?” and “Was I even there?!”

Looking back, it all seems very surreal. I know I climbed a mountain, I have the pictures, 2 less toenails, and ongoing numbness in my feet to prove it! I can remember the anticipation that I felt at the beginning of the first day, the taste of the dust in my mouth and the grit of the dirt on my teeth, the smell of the dampness in the forest, and the warmth of the sunshine on the back of my neck as I walked with my head down, but when I try to break it down into individual and separate events, I seem to have forgotten all but a few ridiculous, painful, or beautiful experiences that contributed to this incredible adventure.

Brande’s writing has thankfully brought to the forefront so much of our experience that perhaps happened in a mere moment, but which are the very fleeting instances that make up our entire adventure, and so often life itself.

I remember the chaos of the rental equipment being handed out at the lodge: Our guide pulling out sleeping bag after sleeping bag from a cinched duffle bag, much like the way a magician pulls never ending handkerchiefs continuously from his sleeve, only to find that we were still one short; the dispensing of the rain gear somewhat willy-nilly and the laid back response of “it’s okay, everyone fits,” as we questioned who’s pants were whose and my mind flashed back to the painstakingly drafted itemized, personalized, alphabetized, and categorized inventory list of rental gear submitted to the trekking company three months prior; and my very own red, black, and silver walking poles that I carried faithfully for seven days that did not leave the safety of their position, strapped tightly to the side of my pack and on more than one occasion thumping the back of my skull, reminding me of their usefulness. And so Day One began with all of us, our crew, and our gear – purchased, rented, borrowed, and gifted – loaded onto the top, under the seats, and into the stinky bus. Interesting to note, I have absolutely no difficulty recalling the stinky bus!!

The stinky bus

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Perhaps if there was a straight road or two in Tanzania the bus ride would have been a bit faster.

Registration, weigh-in and lunch was a blur to me until B mentioned the soup. Delicious and steaming hot with tomato sandwiches and cookies on the side. It was an appetizing preview of meals to come and after what I thought was the final tightening of my hiking boots, we set off on the dusty trail. I do remember stopping about 20 minutes in and tightening my boots again because they had started to rub the already tender area on the inside of my heels. As it turns out, the short trek from the train station to the hotel in Amsterdam was longer than I anticipated and warranted a snug fitting boot tie after being loosened on the flight from home. So on day one of my seven day adventure, I already had blisters to contend with. The ongoing saga of which I fear will continue to the end of this great journey and beyond…

Kili looms

Our troop with Kilimanjaro calling ahead.

The 7 Day Trivia game began early on with Seinfeld episodes, music trivia (complete with sing-along),  The Simpsons, and Forrest Gump driving most of the questions.  This was an amazing way to pass the time. It not only gave us hours of entertainment and some great laughs but also helped some of us get to know one another. This came in especially handy for me as at first camp I would be spending the night with a fellow I had only met twice before! Well, three times if you include spending the night together with his brother in Amsterdam…It’s not what you’re thinking!


My tent-mate, Matty

When we arrived at first camp I was excited to see that each tent had not only a small foyer with zip closures AND a sleeping area with zip closures, but sleeping mats 3-4 inches thick! Those who know me will understand my elation as it is no secret that I am some kind of cold blooded creature that cannot wait to throw on an undershirt and/or turtleneck, and freezes out with visible goosebumps at the mere mention of any temperature less than 25 degrees Celsius. Fashionable layers upon layers of autumn sweaters completed with a scarf and boots are my most favorite of all… Oops, I digress. So we laid out our sleeping bags to achieve maximum loft, I inserted my heavy duty sleeping bag liner to add 15 degrees, and stuffed my fleece thermal outfit/long underwear/pjs inside to await me after dinner. Hot beverages to drink, hot water to wash, cookies to eat, and not one, but two toilet tents complete with paper were already set up in the distance – what kind of luxury was this?!

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First night supper – fresh and delicious!

Supper was fresh and delicious and more than I dared hope for. I was full and satisfied and as I stepped outside the dining tent thinking the day was done, I was surprised by what awaited me. I was immediately enveloped by an incredible blanket of stars that I felt were so close they could be touched!  The clear night sky was like nothing I had seen before. At this point, the first day of my adventure, I did not know what nature had in store for me and was unprepared for the raw beauty that continued to reveal itself daily. It was an unexpected and unbelievable gift and feeling grateful for a day of blessings, I crawled into my hobbit tent and got ready for the night ahead.

As my room mate with his 6 foot frame snuggled down into his mummy bag I could almost feel the heat rising and the tension beginning… Just joking! Although it sounds like something from a sultry romance novel I was snuggled inside my own mummy bag thankful that one more body (anybody) was producing more body heat than my own so it would help warm the air in the tent. The tension was the scene I created in my own mind hoping that Matt wouldn’t lose sleep, not only because of my snoring, but because of the acclimatization flatulence I had read so much about… So far so good. By 5:30am on day 2 I had slept like a rock, warm as toast, and my more than polite and easy room mate had no complaints…


My shiny new boots are no more… The dusty Asolos of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana

(Here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 1

boots

Lana and Brande’s Asolo boots are gonna rock this trek!

I am so excited that we made the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro; all 7 of our mighty mountain gang!

Now that we are back down the Mountain and back home in Canada and there is consistent, lovely, previously taken for granted wireless connection – I am just so excited to share the details of our day by day, mind over matter, adventure up and down the awe inspiring Kilimanjaro Mountain.

The Davisons

Mr. and Mrs Davison started out on our Mount Kilimanjaro, Rongai Route Honeymoon!

So here we go, looking back on Mount Kilimanjaro Day 1…

Date: Sept 30 2015 Wednesday
Destination: Rongai Gate to Simba Camp
Duration: 4hours walking
Distance: 7km
Elevation Gained: 638m (2,093ft)
FitBit Steps: 21,249
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,445

At 8am our Team Kilimanjaro climbing crew showed up at the Outpost Lodge and dolled out any rental items we had arranged (hiking poles, waterproof trousers and jackets, sleeping bags, summit jacket). These were quickly added to our day packs or our duffel bags accordingly and all bags tossed up and tied down on a rack on top of our bus. Along with a whole host of other gear the crew would be carrying up the mountain to support us. We piled onto the bus ourselves – freshly showered for the last time for the next 7 days and met some of the rest of our climbing crew. Most were really friendly and all were sizing us up to see which of us had the gumption to tackle this mountain.

The bus ride left much to be desired – I think everyone but us 7 had wretched body odour (maybe it helps with altitude sickness?), we were piled tightly into too few and too small of seats and were surrounded by all kinds of gear. The luggage rack inside the bus was full of bread for our breakfasts for the next 7 days .. not that I am complaining about bread. Just an observation. ha ha

On our trip to the Rongai Gate where we would begin our 7 day adventure our bus made a few stops. Well one was merely slowing down not actually stopping for a guy on the side of the highway to toss in a pair of waterproof pants that Scott had rented but they forgot to bring to the Lodge when they picked us up originally. One was to drop off the crew to pick up their altitude medication – which oddly smelt like skunk and gave them the munchies!? Another stop was to pay our park fees and register at the main Machame Gate, and another was to get food supplies where we also go the chance to pick up some last minute items and hit our last flush toilet!

Finally after almost 4 hours on the Stinky Sweaty Bus Tour we arrived at the Rongai Gate. This was my first experience of the nausea the mountain boasts at higher altitudes – well ok this was not altitude nausea, this was plain ole car sickness but in a big style way. What a way to start my trek – and the first thing we did was eat lunch. Oh my! Some early altitude nausea training for me.

Kilimanjaro Notice to All Esteemed Visitors

Notice to All Kilimanjaro Climbers. Not sure what scared me more – the grammar or some of the dire warnings.

About an hour after arriving at the Rongai Gate, everyone had hit the washroom, had eaten their lunch (yummy soup and tomato sandwiches), had their gear weighed in and confirmed our 30+ crew were not carrying more than the Kilimanjaro Park Association will allow each to carry, and each of us hikers did a pre-climb weigh in, we were off on our way!

I can be honest and tell you there were some nerves when starting out. I had a moment of ‘holy crap, once I start there is no getting out of this except on my own two feet‘ and then I had a moment of ‘squeee how exciting is this, I have had this on my to-do list for ages and its here, really here and I have my husband, family and friends with me on this journey‘ and then I had ‘ok get on with it and start walking girl‘. Not sure if that was in my head or maybe said by one of my fellow trekkers or maybe our Guide Leo.

Starting up the trail

Our first steps on the trail, Day 1 Rongai Route, just us climbers and 30+ crew members carrying their gear and ours.

The first few kilometers of the trek were on a very dusty path through a planted forest with some small villages and homes were locals were trying their best to make a living on what looked like tough land to make anything grow from. The path was dusty enough to warrant pulling my Buff up and over my mouth and nose to avoid ‘eating’ the sandy red dust. In additional to kicking up dust ourselves, even more was created by the Porters trucking past us with backpacks and all our gear on their heads making it look easy! As a climber we are only carrying our day packs with 3 liters of water, rain gear, a few snacks and whatever else we can get in under 20lbs each. Our porters on the other hand are carrying everything else – from my face cream and baby wipes (aka mountain shower) to all of the food we will be eating and the camp chairs we will be in to eat that food.

We stopped a few kilometers in at some picnic benches for a short break. Already our Guide Leo started to remind us to drink water (They say drinking 3+ liters of water a day can help combat altitude sickness. This was music to my ears. Finally the amount of water I drink normally was celebrated and not looked at as crazy!). We had some snacks, adjusted any gear that needed a tune up, application of MORE sunscreen, Lance and Paul took a potty break (this became an every break thing for these boys the next 7 days), Lana tightened her boots (this also became a regular occurrence for Lana at every break), and we were soon on our way again.

Just before we got back to the boots, Felix the Assistant Guide showed up and we were casually informed there was not enough porters to carry all our stuff. So he had been recruiting in the nearby villages for additional porters to join the climb. They had left behind what we did not need right away at camp for the newly recruited rookies to carry up. I guess we would not be the only ones doing this climb for the first time!

Rongai Route, Day 1

The crew starting out at the beginning of the Rongai Route through farmland and planted forests with lots of dust soon to be kicked up.

At this time the scenery started to change. We were in a real forest now (not planted after clear cutting), the farmland villages were no more, and we making a very slight slope upward. We would also randomly spot Colubus Monkeys in the trees – crazy, big, black and white monkeys. To me they looked like skunks with monkey bodies and really long hair. Odd creatures really but so cute!

This finally started to feel like a mountain. The air was so fresh, boots were feeling good (ok maybe not for Lana) and Paul (my brother in law) and Lance (my husband) had started what would become their 7 day trivia game. All things were up for grabs for the trivia game but it mostly centered on Seinfeld. Generally they would answer each other but once in a while between giggles at the two of them, one of us other climbers would jump in with the answer or add a trivia question of our own. The entertainment Paul and Lance provided the rest of us was priceless!

A bunch of Kili-meters later (see what I did there? oh hahaha sometimes I make myself laugh), we took another break for some more water (‘drink some water’ would become a request we would hear over and over again every day from our Guides – I loved it) and chewed on some more snacks.

We didn’t take long on our breaks. Our Guide Leo would keep a keen eye on us and if anyone looked like they were starting to chill, he would get us up and back to the boots again. Just after this break, our Guide Leo pointed out Kenya’s border and villages in the distance. The Rongai Route is the only Kilimanjaro route that starts from the North side of the mountain and for that reason gives you a glimpse of Kenya.

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Kenya in the distance.

Just when we felt so lucky to be able to glimpse Kenya in the distance the ultimate sight came into view – we could see the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. It looked far away and it looked like the most awesome achievement we could aim for. I cannot believe I was hiking towards it. Wow! Squeeeeee

Brande and Kili

Its only a glimpse but that there in the background is Mount Kilimanjaro (and me walking). I will be standing on the summit in just days!

We arrived about 4 hours later at our first camp, Simba Camp.

The Crew, Camp 1 on Day 1

We did it, first day under our belt – all smiles as we arrive at Simba Camp!

The site of our camp was amazing! Our tents already set up, sleeping mats already inside, and our duffel bags in the front entry of our two compartment tents. Each had an enclosed front entry, and a separate enclosed bedroom. They are 3 season tents so really quite warm which became increasingly important the higher up the mountain we got. We were assigned 2 people to a tent which was perfect for us couples, worked out well for Lana who bunked with Matt for company  (warmth), and for Scott who had his very own bachelor ‘apartment’.

Simba Camp

What a sight! Our sleeping tents and the dining tent in the distance. It was so exciting to see what our little homes would look like for the week.

Not too far from our tents was the massive Dining Tent where we would spend our meals (and half of our crew slept their nights), and a little bit farther away were our toilet tents. Yup toilet tents. They were basically port-a-potty shaped tents and inside was a homemade wooden box (the commode) and underneath was a bucket – conveniently in an inside pocket of the tent was a roll of toilet paper. Cute right!? While toilet tents may be a little like princess treatment they were so appreciated and necessary!

OK, yes if were wondering, a Porter was responsible for carrying the toilet gear and setting it up at each camp, and keeping it clean by dumping the contents in the long drop out outhouse toilets. We had a Porter in our crew for each of the toilet tent (so 2 peeps) and while to us this seems like a crappy position on a crew (oh my what a pun, sorry), it is in fact a high up position and receives a higher portion of the tips than the regular non-toilet carrying Porters. I can tell you, I was absolutely grateful for these guys. I think all of us were. The medication you take called Diamox to help with acclimatizing to altitude is a diuretic – so you spend a lot of time in these tents! Not joking, 3 to 4 times a night you are up and in the potty tent.

Just minutes after being shown our tents, two of what would become some of our favourite crew members Benny and Joffre showed up with bowls of warm water for us to wash the dust of the day off with and then minutes after that some hot water and the makings for whatever hot drink you could want (coffee, milo, tea, hot chocolate of 3 different kinds, and more) and told us there was popcorn and cookies in the dining tent to enjoy. They ply you with hot drinks at every turn, and they like to feed you salty snacks too – all to encourage you to drink more water. Sneaky smart!

Well then supper was served in the dining tent and wow! I assumed the meals would be like camping meals – simple and easy to make. Well surprise surprise we were going to get better food on the Mountain than sadly I make at home for Lance and I half the time, ok more than half the time. On our very first dinner we had >>>>. Wow!

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Its dinner time – wow this is better than home (I really need to stop serving Lance cereal or toast for supper)!

By 9:00pm we were all in bed and sleeping, I think from the horrid bus ride not the 7km hike, and it was starting to get a bit chilled in the air. We made our way to our tents, did a little forest side tooth brushing and crawled into our sacks. Not before we were in awe over the night sky – no light pollution here and the stars looked like they could be plucked from the sky if you could just get a wee ladder and try. Milky Way = amazing! I have never seen stars like that. (and am now craving chocolate)

There is nothing so wonderful as a day of hiking followed by sleeping in the fresh air of a tent with your husband to make you too excited at the amazing blessing you have been provided to experience such a trek to even sleep. After some excited squeaks and our usual awesome bedtime conversation, we drifted off to sleep ready to get in what we could before our 5:30am wake up for Day 2.

Brande

(If you are enjoying yourself – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

For the Love of Feet

Well doesn’t that title just entice you to read this blog post!

OK if you are eating, drinking, sipping, nibbling, snacking, whatever – STOP.

This is a pretty graphic blog post about the sad, short life of a toenail on Kilimanjaro and my concern for my feet considering the pain and punishment they have caused me in the past. You have been warned …. and warned again … this post is not for the faint of heart, the weak of stomach, or for the love of feet! BUT if you have ever hiked this blog post will totally make sense to you, sadly.

I have had some awesome experiences walking lengthy distances. It would seem that’s what I like to do – walk a lot. I have had the pleasure of the West Highland Way in Scotland 154km, Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales 299km, Hadrian’s Wall Path in England 135km and Great Glen Way 127km in Scotland to name a few of my most awesome adventures on my own two feet. And there are a b-zillion more walks that my soul and feet are just itching to complete – oh so many! Don’t get me started!

West Highland Way, Scotland

My first long distance walk in 2008 (Scotland, West Highland Way) that got me addicted to the seeing the world on my feet!

Its OK, honest, you don’t have to understand me. This walking thing is a illness. Sometimes referred to as a hill walker, walker, hiker, trekker, strange, crazy, rambler, munro bagger, weird, wanderer,  walkabout-er, pilgrimage-r, nuts, traipser, perambulator, peregrinari, etc.  To name a few of the loving names we walkers identify with and/or have been called across the globe.

Depending on who you ask, my love of walking is either just so super cool (thank you to my friend Jane, you are the best fan ever) or is just down right crazy (thank you to my husband Lance who loves me dearly but finds this love of walking thing rather odd).

However, as much as I love getting about on my feet I am one of those very “lucky” people who gets a blister from thinking about shoes – seriously. A shoe can be so comfortable for me for weeks or years and then one day KABLAMO there is a hot spot and a lovely blister to make my world painful and me grumpy for a week.  I get blisters in flip flops and have even gotten a hot spot from slippers. For real. What the heck?

Don’t believe me; allow me to dazzle you with some graphic foot-of-pain pics … final warning, stop eating!

heat rash and blisters

Heat rash and a horrible blister during the Great Glen Way, Scotland with my sister Shar.

I will spare you any additional pictures – too gross right!

Regardless of how unpleasant these look, I will not let this foot stuff taint or ruin my trek up Mount Kilimanjaro!!

As you may have guessed, I have taken my training for Kilimanjaro a bit seriously – hiking twice a week, running 5 mornings a week, core and lower body work outs, trying on every article of clothing I will be wearing on that mountain, etc.  Oh and yes this includes putting on every layer I will wear on summit night including head lamp and walking around the house, up and down the stairs, etc. to make sure I can move and am in a happy, sweaty, warm place for the slog.

I am, in fact, so dedicated to my training that I am already losing a pre-climb toenail  … providing great experience on just how absolutely NOT fabulous it feels to stomp downhill with your fleshy toe hitting the front of your boot. Queue the “learn how to tie your boots for downhill climbs” on Pinterest and YouTube commercial here … If this is me not even on the mountain, what will the mountain do to me!

Big toenail going

Toenail soon to be MIA thanks to all this pre-Kilimanjaro training.

I am not alone – I read somewhere that the average number of toenails lost on Mount Kilimanjaro is 4. Yes you read that right! This is some crazy stuff. When I googled Kilimanjaro and Toenail to dazzle you with some more quirky stats, I got 43,000 search results. That tells you something. Google knows!

Please cheer for me in what seems to be a crazy game of toe vs nail vs boot vs mountain game! Current score is Team Brande 9 vs. Team Toenail 1 … score to be updated post Kilimanjaro!

Brande

PS 13 sleeps to go, we are in the home stretch now!

A-Lone Cone

A little update on my training progress for Mount Kilimanjaro – largely because I am pretty impressed with myself (if that’s ok to say), and you have just got to see the view I was blessed with seeing this weekend!

This past weekend was the annual Fat Man Surfing Challenge in Tofino, British Columbia. No, this  is not an official event in B.C. or anything. Rather it is organized by our group of friends for our friends as a way to test the stealth, grace and gumption of a bunch of rugby players (“the fat men”) by suiting them up in wetsuits, marching them out into the waves of Long Beach, Tofino to see who can stand up on a surf board.

Yes you read that right, this is about who can just stand up, period. If you can actually surf, carve a wave, cutback, or layback good for you – but you get no extra points. Standing up is all you need to do to be a challenger. Sounds easy? Not at all – ask Joe’s tooth, and Lance’s head how easy it is! Barneys! [Shout out to the girls who surfed and how they kicked some standing up challenge butt.]

Any who, a tough decision but with all the amazing hikes in and around Tofino, and with Kilimanjaro looming just a month away – I decided to skip the surfing challenge and the fun of peeling on and off a wetsuit and instead get my hike on while the others got their surf on!  I picked the challenging Lone Cone for my Saturday hike.

The Lone Cone hike is located on Meares Island just a 15minute water taxi from the Tofino harbour. Yes I will admit… as a prairie girl from good ole Alberta, the idea of taking a water taxi on the ocean to get to a hike where the vegetation is basically rain forest was too good to pass up and part of the reason I picked the trail in the first place.

Lone Cone, Meares Island, Jamie's Whaling Station, water taxi, tofino

Water Taxi to Meares Island with Lone Cone Mountain straight ahead.

Dropped off at 9:30am on the dock of Meares Island, I arrange a pick up time of 3:30pm with Dennis, the water taxi captain, who dazzled me with all kinds of trivia on the way over. During our conversation we found out his family is from Vegreville, Vermillion and Mundare, Alberta where my Mom’s said of the family hails from. A fellow Ukrainian – what a small world! When I asked him if it would be possible to make the hike up and down before the pick-up time, he looked me up and down and said “you will have no problem; you have good strong Ukrainian legs.”  I took that as a compliment! Right?

Now on Meares Island, I made my way to the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground on the island, about 1km inland, and paid my park fee of $10 to the local First Nations community for upkeep of the trail and dock. The trail was in awesome shape!

Lone Cone trail is described as “it’s all uphill”, “things get really steep”, “feels though it goes straight up the mountain” and “watch your step and not lose control on the slippery, loose dirt” oh and this one “relentless on the knees”. As soon as I started on the trail, I could confirm all of these and some additional expletives are true.

Lone Cone, Meares Island, up, trail, Tofino

The easy parts of the upward slog of Lone Cone Mountain.

This hike is a slog to say the least. I debated multiple times my sanity and my willingness to continue with the stupid-dumb-hike on a stupid-dumb-mountain on a stupid-dumb-island – all of this of course said out loud in grumpy voice  with a couple of “Yuuups” in there to keep me safe from black bears, cougars, wolves and pumas! Because bears and cougars aren’t scary enough, lets toss some wolves in there shall we?!  Oh and if that was not enough to set my nerves on fire, the tape that was used to mark the trail was pink (pretty right?) with DANGER on it (not so pretty!).

danger, lone cone, trail marker, up

Danger tape as a trail markers?!

However, in addition to the super hard work and scary animal eating me paranoia it was also really fun. There were lots of logs to walk across over streams and fallen trees to go under or attempt to crawl up and over. The trail rangers were even nice enough to put in permanent rope in about 4 sections where the incline was super steep and there was no foot or hand holds on the loose dirt or where the bridge over the creek had fallen down. I felt a little like I was in a video game jumping over and across things or something. Yuuuup!

trail, Lone Cone, fallen tree, Meares Island, Tofino

The trail, under that fun mess of logs!

According to my FitBit, after just 6.72km, 2hrs and 58mins and 1,106 calories burnt I made it to the top – I conquered Lone Cone Mountain!

The fear of wolves eating me, of bears chasing me, of plummeting to my death down the dirt slop of a mountain alone, or being found swelled up like a balloon from a bee sting– was over! I was at the top and I was darn proud of myself. Yuuuup! The view was beyond amazing and I had to literally sit, breathe, maybe even tear up a little (not too dramatically, in a really pretty sort of Hollywood way) to take it all in.

Lone Cone, Clayoquot Sound, Tofino, top, Osprey, Asolo

Lone Cone view over Clayoquot Sound, Tofino British Columbia

lone cone, me, top, up, view, Clayoquot Sound, Tofino

So proud of myself, I couldn’t resist a top of Lone Cone Mountain selfie!

Wow, I did it. Wow!

Now where is the Gondola?! I wish!

What goes up, must come down – I always hated physics in school!

If I thought the way up was tough, I knew I was in for a “good” time on the way down. Additional expletives were added to the litany from the way up, some Yuuuups, and some yelps from the knee crunching and ankle jarring. Wow was it amazing though to truly realize how far up I had actually come! I pulled out one of my hiking poles and between the pole and trees on the way down I was making good time swinging myself down. I was mostly upright with just a few Gollum moments when the terrain was too steep for my fear of heights (refer to Lord of The Rings and how Gollum scrambles of rocks on all fours – not overly attractive but effective all the same) .

Wow was I getting tired. You know that tired where you get a little clumsy and don’t lift your feet quite as high as you think you are – I met a few roots in the toe and in the shin. I met the ground suddenly when I slipped and fell but still managed to pop up and pretend to be all cool in case some wolf was watching me. I didn’t need the Big Bad seeing I had a weakness; I am the lion not the gazelle in this story Mr. Wolf!

After 5.75km down in 2hrs and 38 minutes and another 305 calories burnt, I was back at the dock. I called my Ukrainian water taxi captain Dennis to come for me a bit earlier than our predetermined time and ate me a snack from my pack (mmm dried figs) watching the jelly fish floating about below my dangling feet while I waited.

Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, ocean, Asolo, Lone Cone, Meares Island

My tired feet dangling off the side of the dock as I waited for my water taxi back to Tofino.

I was a little worried about how my wobbling legs would get into the boat but, let’s be honest, gracefulness has never been my strong suit even without a crazy hard hike behind me – so why worry about it today.  The captain guy said to me as I got on the boat “did you see any wildlife; wolves or bears?” I replied “Nope, a couple squirrels and these jellies is all” and he says “Hmm, well they saw you”.  Yikes! Not ok!

Back in Tofino, I headed to Long Beach to heckle the fat man surfers, take off my boots and enjoy the warm sun and sand, a cold beer, and the company of great friends! {and maybe brag a little about how awesome the hike was}

Brande

PS: 32 Sleeps to departure for Mount Kilimanjaro