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Entries about travel dangers

A Single Scene from The Aftermath: London Riots

A surprisingly saddening scene the day after the worst of the rioting in Clapham Junction

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I understand that the news has travelled around the world, so you are probably aware of the recent rioting in London. The trouble started on Saturday night in Tottenham, when a riot broke out after a peaceful protest at the local police station following the shooting of a local man by the police. On Sunday night, the violence spread to other boroughs. On Monday night, it came to the top of my street.

I live about 5 minutes from Clapham Junction station, just half a block from the local police station. As violence started to flare on Monday, people at work started to leave early. I got out about 30 minutes earlier than I usually do, and was passing through Clapham Junction station at around 7:15 PM. There was a lot of police around the station, but no signs of trouble. I grabbed some food from the Sainsbury's and went home.

By 8:00 PM, hundreds of people were trapped in the station, as the police shut it down while riots broke out on the streets just outside the station. Rioters broke into a number of local shops, including a number of department stores, sporting shops and electronics stores. People in the area reported that it seemed as if the police had just retreated, allowing the rioters to gain control. A local party and costume shop was set alight, and it burned uncontrolled for hours.

In my flat, I watched the violence on TV. No riots on my street, but police cars and vans whizzed up and down my street all night, and helicopters hovered overhead most of the night. I saw a few hooded youths running down my street at one point, but they were obviously on the run and didn't cause any trouble near my place.

The next morning, I walked to the station. The main road up to the station was shut down, and the smell of smoke was still thick in the air. Even in the areas where pedestrians were allowed, a number of shops had smashed windows. At the top of the street, along the police tape, were a number of journalists and camera crews. I surveyed the scene for a bit, and then headed off the long way around to the station. As I walked away, a man in front of me was stopped and asked, "do you mind spending a moment speaking to Japanese television about the rioting?" Great image for London in advance of the Olympics, I thought.

I have some photos taken with my Blackberry, and there are better images from the newspapers, but there is one image I snapped that really struck me.


The Pizza Express on Lavender Hill with two smashed windows. Just beyond the window, tables with half finished meals still on them, including the one in the photo, with two half empty glasses of wine and slices of pizza on a plate in the middle of the table.

I imagined the diners. In my mind, they were two old friends - middle aged ladies catching up over a glass of red wine. They talk about their husbands, and the men's mishaps with DIY projects. They speak of their children, and their successes and troubles with jobs and lovers. Talk turns to their young grandchildren, and the ladies compare development timelines. Is young Billy walking yet? Has Jenny said her first word?

I imagined these two ladies, leaning in close sharing a funny anecdote, as the rioters came up the street, so quickly for any one to react. I imagine the two middle-aged ladies' fear as a hooded boy raises a cricket bat and swings it at the window, just at head level with the women.

I can see them now in my mind, these two ladies I have created, their eyes wide, mouths agape. One screams, "Oh, dear," her voice shaking with fear.

One of the waiters grasps the ladies' arms. "Please, follow me," he says, leading them to safety out the rear door. The ladies flee the scene up Lavender Hill towards the police lines, their hearts racing and hands shaking with fear.

They wonder why, but there is no answer. All they wanted to was a nice meal and to catch up.

Posted by GregW 12:01 Archived in England Tagged travel_dangers Comments (1)

See China It's Right There In Front of You

Beijing, China

sunny 20 °C
View Train from Paris to Hong Kong on GregW's travel map.

It's amazing what a hot shower and a change of underwear can do for one's attitude.

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The Bamboo Garden Hotel is a great deal for around $US 70 a night. It's a first rate establishment, built around a courtyard that once housed the Empress' eunuchs. There are quiet pools to sit by for reflection, a restaurant, tea room and bar, and (most importantly) hot water in the showers! The room is fantastic, including free HBO and a James Bond-like control panel to control and lights that folds up into the night stand to disguise itself as a drawer when not being used.

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The first day I went to see the Imperial Palace (otherwise known as the Forbidden City to you and me). It's an amazing place. Entry is 40 RMB (around $US 5). I spent 2 1/2 hours wandering through the grounds at a quick pace, barely glancing at any of the displays and still didn't get to see everything. A focused person with a map of the grounds and an interest in reading everything could take days to see the whole thing. And even then, there's probably stuff that you would miss.

I entered one busy courtyard and looked around. On my way out, I noticed a small, dark alley that no one was going down. I wandered down the alley and came out into an amazing courtyard with fantastic views of the nearby rooftop. Other than the Imperial Palace worker, I had the place to myself. Marvelous.

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Leaving the Forbidden City I met two Chinese students who were studying English, Shadow and Coco. They asked if they could talk with me to practice their English. I agreed. Shadow and Coco studied just outside of Beijing, and had a day off as their teachers were having a conference. Coco had never seen the Forbidden City, so they had come into the city to see it.

We went to Tinanmen square, all the while chatting in English about my life and their lives. Shadow suggested checking out old Beijing. We walked through a pharmacy with some really expensive ginseng and checked out the really old buildings.

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Coco suggested going to see a tea ceremony, as the tea festival was now on. We went to a tea house that had been in operation for over 200 years. The tea ceremony was performed by a young lady. She poured us different kinds of teas, and explained where they came from and their uses. When she spoke, she almost was singing. As harsh and unwelcoming as the Chinese had sounded last night in the Jining train station, it sounded melodic coming from this cute, button nosed girl as she poured us more tea.

However, no amount of melody could hide the disharmony of getting the 2461 RMB bill (around $330). Coco, Shadow and I were all shocked at the price. I ended up picking up the tab, as I remember what $110 a person would have done to my budget when I was student, and that was back in North America. Imagine the dent in a Chinese student's budget.

Shadow and Coco, by way of thanks, took me out to a restaurant for Beijing duck (also known in North America as Peking Duck), and then we walked more around old Beijing and the Hutong.

The Hutong is what all the narrow and alleys that criss-cross Beijing are called. The streets are narrow, the houses so small that people share washrooms. No cars give the place a peaceful quiet in the otherwise busy Beijing, though. Coco said that the Hutong was disappearing, though. In the two years she had been in Beijing, much of it had been bulldozed and replaced with wide streets and high rises in preparation for the Olympics. I asked her what she thought of the new Beijing that was developing, and she said she didn't like it. It was too noisy.

After spending the whole afternoon together, I parted ways with Coco and Shadow and headed back to my hotel.

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  • * *

Now, here's the thing about that whole story. I wrote it as I was feeling it at the time. What I didn't know, and learnt later, is that it's all a scam. "English students" ask to practice their English, and end up taking you to tea ceremonies or high priced restaurants. It's quite common in Beijing, actually. I had a few doubts when the bill originally came, but after spending another 2 hours with Coco and Shadow, I figured they were on the level. After all, would con-men take their mark out for dinner? The answer, apparently, is yes, they would.

The amazing things about it, though, is that I am not at all mad about it. It was such a pleasant afternoon and it was nice to have some local guides to the city. The scam was so expertly run that I didn't know it was even happening. Really, I was pretty stupid for not asking about the price of the tea ceremony before taking part. And what's $300 to me? Prior to that day in Beijing, I had spent less than $200 in Moscow, Irkutsk and Ulaan Baator. It was a cheap trip up to that point.

So, I am warned for the future, beware of English students and tea ceremonies. Life lesson, I suppose. But no point in getting upset about what is the past.

  • * *

The next day I had planned to go to the Great Wall. But I didn't want to go on one of the tour buses to the wall. Instead, I wanted to go to an untouristed part of the wall and do some hiking. My guidebook recommended a place, and it was easy to get to, just a couple of local buses and I would be there.

The problem was, once I arrived at the bus station, I couldn't figure out what bus to take. The station was chaos and there were no signs in English. I wander around for about 30 minutes, but can't make heads nor tails of the situation. Finally, I give up.

Now, at this point I could have taken a tour bus to the wall, or even hired a minitaxi to take me. But I didn't. I was so disgusted at myself for not being able to take the local buses that I lost all interest in going to the wall at all. And so, I ended up missing my opportunity to see the Great Wall.

I don't know why I act this way. I am on vacation, and yet I end up pushing myself to be less "touristy" and get off the beaten track. And because of that, I miss out on a fantastic experience like the Great Wall. Why do I feel the need to make every vacation more and more of an endeavor?

  • * *

After getting out of my funk, I had a good day in Beijing. I wandered around the town, and noted for sure what Coco had meant the day before when she said that they were tearing down the Hutong. High rises were going up everywhere. I saw lots of large lots surrounded by boards announcing new luxury condos and office tours. In one, I could still see people living in the Hutong alleys that were slated for a quick destruction.

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The Hutong is basically slums, so I can't complain about them being torn down. People deserve nicer places to live. But I do have to wonder about where the Hutong residences are being displaced to. In place of the Hutong it all seemed to be luxury condo buildings. I doubted they could afford to move from the Hutong into those buildings.

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Anyway, I am glad I got the opportunity to see it all before it disappears.

  • * *

That night, I was wandering back to my hotel after dinner, and came across a large square in the Hutong by my hotel. In the darkened square, women were line dancing to Chinese pop music.

That's the amazing thing about the Chinese. They are completely open. They wander around singing in public and line dance or do tai chi in the park. The spit in public and pick their noses. They use open public toilets without embarrassment. And they stare at what they are interested in. It's not rude, it's just open.

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All the staring at me in Jining wasn't malicious in any way, it's just that they were interested in what a white dude was doing sitting in a train station in rural China. I noticed that the Chinese stare at all sorts of stuff - people getting tickets, couples arguing, people haggling over goods. In Canada, were interested in all these things, but we hide our interest and instead take furtive glances and strain to overhear. In China, they just walk up and see what is going on.

Any discomfort with this is my problem, not theirs. I am, after all, the foreigner in Beijing. I'm the stranger, but the land is only strange to me. To the Chinese, it's life.

Posted by GregW 17:03 Archived in China Tagged travel_dangers Comments (1)

Playing Poker with the Ulaan Baatar police

Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

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View Train from Paris to Hong Kong on GregW's travel map.

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"Don't give your passport to the Ulaan Baatar Police. It's just a scam to extort money from you."

That was the advice I was given by a nice Russian woman on the train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Baatar. The problem is, she never said and I never asked what I should do if I am surrounded by 3 police officers and they are demanding to see my passport.

So, when walking to catch my train out of Ulaan Baatar, and the police demanded to see my passport, I handed over my passport.

  • * *

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Ulaan Baatar is the capital of Mongolia. It's a nice city, a mix of gers (traditional huts used by Mongolian nomads), wood shacks and new high rises. I saw Gandantegchinlen Khid monastery and the winter palace of the Mongol Khans. The museum of Mongolian History was closed on Mondays for "winter hours," even though the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.

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As dusk falls, I had 3 hours to kill until my train is leaving and everything is shutting down, so I decided to grab a beer at a local pub. After 5 rounds of South Korean beer in 2 hours, I headed out and towards the train station. After crossing a major street, I was approached by three men in police uniforms.

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"You're drunk," one said. He seemed to be the "leader" of this pack, a short Mongolian with a very unfriendly face. Shorty had two buddies with him, Grabby and Bashful. Grabby and Bashful seemed to be hanging back a bit, so I started talking to Shorty.

"Not drunk," I replied, using simple English. "Just two beer. I go to the train station. I leave Ulaan Baatar."

"Drunk. Walk," replied Shorty, indicating that I should walk along the line in the sidewalk to prove that I wasn't drunk. Now, I had seen a few drunk people in Ulaan Baatar, so I don't know that being drunk is an offense, but that was beyond my capacity to communicate to people who don't speak English, so I tried to walk the line. I got 4 steps off, but on the 5th step I stumbled.

"Aha!" exclaimed Shorty. "Drunk! Passport," he demanded. If I wasn't tipsy (not drunk, just tipsy), I probably would have pulled out the photocopy I keep of my passport, rather than the passport itself. But I was tipsy, and feeling quite threatened being surrounded by three police officers, so I just handed over my passport. I did think enough to slip the customs form out of the passport before handing it over. The customs form had listed that I was carrying $US 500 (hidden in a money belt), and I really didn't want the Police to know that.

Shorty looks over my passport, and starts patting me down. "What's that," he said, feeling a bulk in my left pants pocket. I remove some loose change, and Grabby takes it from my hand, and holds it. From my right pocket, Grabby takes my wallet. From my right jacket pocket, Grabby takes my train ticket. They find my camera and guidebook in my left jacket pocket, and Grabby's hands being full, Bashful is recruited to hold those items.

This is obviously a shake-down. I figure that I am going to for sure lose some money here. I am hoping that the $US 60 I have in US Dollars and Mongolian currency will be enough to cover the costs. I would hate to after retrieve my money belt so they could see the $US 500 stored there, and I am hoping that they won't feel it in the pat downs.

It's a little like playing poker at this point. The pot is my money, and I don't have much of a hand at this point. I am facing 3 police officers (3 Kings) and with my drunkenness as an excuse (almost like another King) they are holding 4 of a kind of the second highest card in the deck. I am going to lose this hand, my only hope is to manage the pot, and try and lose as little as possible.

Shorty points at my backpack, and indicates that I should open it. I put the pack on the ground, and then crouch down to open it up. As I am opening the pack, I hear a crash in front of me. I look up to see my camera lying in three pieces on the ground. I look at the faces of Shorty, Grabby and Bashful, and see a change. This was not in their plan. They may have four Kings, but I can see in their faces, I've drawn 4 aces.

  • * *

The camera I brought with me isn't much of a camera. It's a Fujifilm digital camera that I bought for $200 to travel with. It's smaller then my nicer camera (the one I took to Africa), but easier to push into my pocket and forget about.

$200 is not much to me, it's a night out for dinner and drinks. I think of the camera, in some respects, as being "disposable," in that if I lose it or it breaks, it's not a big deal.

However, in Ulaan Baatar I had only spent a total of $30 so far, and that includes all the museum entries, picture taking fees and my drinking binge. It was a big day of spending for me. $200 would buy dinner and drinks, plus the rest of the meals for the rest of the week, probably. $200 is probably a big deal to an Ulaan Baatar police officer, and I could see in their faces that they were scared. They'd broken my expensive camera, and that suddenly opened up a whole range of options for me.

I could complain about the camera, demand to go back to the station and see their supervisor. That would take most of the wind out of their sails, if not put them off completely. But I have a train to catch, and I want to get going. I decide that I can discount my extortion fee using the camera breaking, and get out with a respectable loss.

I stand up with my broken camera in my hand. Bashful takes the camera, and desperately tries to put it back together. Grabby then does the most amazing thing, he gives me back everything he took from me. My wallet, my money, my train ticket. Just hands it all back. I quickly stow it in my pockets.

Shorty still makes a show of it, rummaging through my bag and suggesting that my pocket knife could be an offensive weapon to stab the poor people of Ulaan Baatar, but already Grabby is backing away from the situation, and Bashful is looking more scared as he can't repair my camera. I scoff at Shorty's suggestion.

Shorty looks at his two mates, and realizes that he has lost control of the situation. He hands me back my passport, and makes a show to say that I need to go directly to the train station, and never darken the streets of Ulaan Baatar again. His way of saving a little face in the situation. I thank him, grab my camera from Bashful, and hurry down the street away from them.

I arrive at the train station and jump on my train. I pull out my busted camera and look at it. The three pieces, I notice, are all modular pieces. I snap the camera back together, and turn it on. It works fine. I snap a few celebratory pictures of the train cabin.

Somehow, I managed to bluff my way through this situation, and wound up not losing a cent. I'm not usually much of a poker player, but somehow I managed to walk away from this hand with the whole pot.

2005 10 31 G Horse.JPG

Posted by GregW 16:44 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel_dangers Comments (1)

I’ll be coming down the mountain when I come…

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

View Tanzania 2005 on GregW's travel map.

From great adventures come great epiphanies. And here is mine. I am not a high altitude kind of guy. Really, I'm not.

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23rd January

Day one was a nice hike. After lunch at the gate, we headed out through the cultivated foothills of the great mountain and then through the rain forest.

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Generally it was a pleasent hike, only two things worth really writing home about.

The first was when we were walking up through the fields of corn and other crops planted on the hills. The children would come out and greet us with that most beautiful of greetings, "Gimme chocolate." Most of our crew ignored the requests, but Dorrian, he of the big heart, couldn't resist the little imp in the Spiderman T-Shirt, and so Dorrian gave the child a piece of chocolate.

But the child didn't pull away and eat his chocolate, no, he put it in his pocket, looked back up at Dorrian and said, "gimme chocolate." Enterprising youths, are they not, realizing that a break to eat the chocolate now would cut into their available time to acquire more chocolate. And, if they keep going, maybe they can get enough chocolate to sell to their friends! These kids should be on the Apprentice, I tell you.

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Later that night we set up camp, and part of the crew went off to bed. But some of us were not sleepy, and decided to play some cards. So myself, Andy, Ann and Tom set up a table outside and played a few rounds of hearts. From where I was sitting, I looked up over a grove of Aspen trees (or Aspen like trees, at least) at the mountain, whose white snow-covered slopes were glowing in the near-full moon light. It was magic.

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24 January

The morning hike was fine, but an afternoon rain came in and did not let up all afternoon, making the hike completely miserable. My waterproof pants are not, I discovered, actually waterproof, and eventually even my rain ponco was no longer able to hold out the torrent of rain. Soon everything I had on was soaking wet.

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I was also starting to feel the effects of the altitude. I got a headache and shortness of breath. I also felt a little dizzy at times.

I debated taking Diamox, which is a drug that helps with high altitude sickness. You can either take preventively or as a cure when symptoms start to show. My symptoms were quite mild and much like symptoms others in the group were feeling, so I decided to skip the Diamox for now.

25 January

Happy Robbie Burns Day, Andy.

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Today was a good walk in the morning, but I was moving slower than the rest of the group. Peter (a paying member) and two of the guides, Happyson and Bernard stuck back with me as the rest of the group pulled ahead of me. I was feeling okay, I just couldn't imagine my legs taking me any quicker than I was moving. I probably pulled into camp about 20 - 30 minutes behind the rest of the team.

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In the afternoon we went on an acclimitization walk. This is were we walk up a few 100 meters higher than the camp and walk back down. This is to get your body used to the higher altitude, but allows you to sleep in a more oxygen rich environment.

I was fine going up, but as soon as we started back down, I felt incredibly dizzy. I stumbled twice, but luckly was grabbed by Maria and pulled back from the edge. Let me tell you, if you are walking along a ridge with rocky drop-offs on either side, feeling dizzy and stumbling = a bad thing.

Slyvester, one of the guides, came to my rescue, and lead me down the ridge holding my hand the entire way to make sure I wouldn't fall off. Back at camp, I conversed with Happyson. He suggested that I take a full Diamox tonight with dinner, a half one in the morning and we will see how I was doing.

I went to bed, but it was soon obvious that I wasn't going to get any sleep. As soon as I lay down I started to cough, and it wouldn't let up at all for the entire night. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I started to hear a crackling from my lungs. 6:30am came way too soon.

26 January

High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a condition that occasionally happens to indviduals ascenting to higher altitudes, especially above 8000 ft. Pulmonary edema is excess fluid in the lungs, either in the lung tissue itself or in the space normally used for gas exchange (oxygen for carbon dioxide). Fluid in the lungs renders them unable to perform their normal task, and thus the victim cannot get enough oxygen. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, weakness, easy fatigue (especially when walking uphill), and difficulty sleeping. If you place an ear to the victim's chest, you may hear crackling or gurgling noises. The symptoms worsen at night. Confusion, collapse, and coma follow. The victim may show a fever of up to 101.3° Fahrenheit (38.5° Celsius). Without descent, the prognosis can be as sever as death.

In the morning, after being barely able to walk to the mess tent, Happyson determined that I should go down. I was showing definate symptoms of HAPE. Frankly, I was happy. I couldn't even have imagined trying to climb to the next camp, even though it was only a climb of less than 400 meters. At this point, I was so tired and dizzy and short of breath, I just wanted to go down. The plan was for me to descent as far as Horombo camp (800 metre down) and wait for the rest of the team there.

Paul was assigned to get me down the mountain. Paul is a great guide and without him I probably wouldn't be writing this right now. I just wanted to say that, because in the telling of the story to follow it may seem like I am making light of Paul or questioning his methods. That is only because as it was happening to me, my perception of the whole thing was a bit off. He did everything he should of, and I thank him for it.

The first thing we did in going down the mountain was to climb up. Unfortunately, Mawenzi Tarn (4330m) where we spent the night was in a bit of a valley and the only way out was up. We started the hike, and about half an hour in Paul was obviously distressed.

"You are moving very slow. We will make Horombo very late at this pace. I think perhaps I should have a stretcher met you, and we will take you right down and to the hospital." And thus plan number 2 was born. I was getting off the mountain totally today.

To meet the stretcher, though, we would still have to make our way partially to Horombo and the paths of that route. That would mean working our way around the Mawenzi peak, which to me meant at least half a day of staying at altitude and climbing up and down ridges to get to the other side of the mountain.

Paul enlisted some help, and together the two of them carried me in a drunk man carry. I was in the middle with my arms around the guides on either side of me. They would guide my steps and set the pace, and I would blather on like a drunk. It was a position, I am ashamed to say, that I have taken up before, not due to altitude.

This is where a struggle of the wills started. I wanted to sit and rest. Paul wanted to get me down. I know he was willing to pull me down the mountain if he had to. But I was conscious, and thus made it much harder to accomplish that. I would keep pleading for a stop, and when we stopped, I would stretch the stop out much longer than Paul wanted. "You must get up," he would say, "resting is no cure, only going down is."

Sure, I would think, then why aren't we going down?!? We're going across this mountain! We are actually at a higher altitude than when we started this morning!!!

Because of being still above 4200 metres, my symptoms were getting worse. Soon, in addition to my coughing, I was spitting up gobs of yellow-brown liquid from my lungs. My legs were so tired, I could barely take 3 steps on my own without wanting to sit. Paul often ended up dragging me for 20 or 30 feet just to make sure we at least made some progress between my constant rest stops.

Finally at 2:30pm, approximately 6 hours after setting out, we reached the "saddle" and started our way down. One of the guides with us ran ahead to find out where the stretcher was, and we continued to walk.

About an hour later we met the man in charge of the stretcher - one of the Kilimanjaro Mountain Rescue Crew. The only problem is, he didn't have a stretcher. There wasn't one available. However, they were working on getting one. I voted to stay where we were and wait for the stretcher, but the Mountain Rescue Crew had other ideas. They were going to get me down the mountain if they had to carry me.

And so, they tried to carry me. First the main Mountain Rescue ranger (I don't know if they are really called rangers, but I am going to call him that) tried to carry me on his shoulders, much like a father might lift his daughter to see the Santa Claus Parade. He tried to lift me, and got me about 3 inches off the ground.

"How much do you weigh?" he asked.

"About 200 pounds," I replied.

"What is that in Kilos?"

I did some quick math in my addled brain. 200 pounds. 2.2 pounds per kilo. 100 kilos is a safe number. "100 Kilos."

He then made one of those sounds that indicates that he thinks I am full of horse droppings. "More like 120 kilos." Great. Bad enough that I am having to give up on my dream to climb Kilimanjaro. Now you have to make me feel fat.

They tried a few other ways to carry me - me sitting on two mens interlinked arms, me sitting on 4 mens interlinked arms, me lying across the interlinked arms of 8 men. All of them, apparently not enough to support my 120 kilo mass (maybe I weigh more at altitude - I don't know).

So, we went back to the old standard. We walked, me between two guides.

Finally, around 4:30, when I had been walking for abour 8 hours, the stretcher arrived. The stretcher was a board with side-bars, mats and straps for carrying me, and the whole thing was balanced on a single wheel. Like a unicycle with a bed for a seat. They strapped me onto the board, but my too fat frame made it impossible to fit both my arms inside the bars, and so I had one arm hanging over the side. But that was as good as it was going to get. With 4 men manning the device, they started rolling me down the mountain.

The problem was that there were no shocks on the stretcher, and the mountain is very rough. My head was bouncing up and down like a rubber ball, and soon I was developing a bad headache. Which, I wasn't sure, should I attribute to altitude sickness (it is one of the symptoms) or this constant banging?

Just before dusk (6:30), there was a grinding noise and the stretcher keeled over to the side. Apparently, the wheel had fallen off. Just like with the shock on the truck, there was some arguing for a while until someone picked up a rock and beat the arms holding the wheel back into shape and reattached it to the stretcher. I was strapped back in, and we were off again. However, the wheel would get progressively worse the entire night. It fell off two more times, and by the time I got off the stretcher, it was angled over on it's side at about a 30 degree angle. That, I thought, is not great for tread wear.

Finally, aching head from the banging, and aching muscles from being confined, I was able to crawl out of the stretcher and into the waiting ambulance at 11:00pm at night, 14 and a half hours since setting out in the morning from Mawenzi Tarn.

But the night was not over yet. Because I was still short of breath and had been coughing, Paul wanted to take me to the hospital to get checked out. But first, the ambulance had to drop off all the guides and Mountain Rescue Rangers who helped me off the mountain. So I sat quietly as we drove around Marangu and Moshi towns dropping everyone at home.

We arrived at the hospital sometime after 12:30am, which means that as I was walking into the hospital, somewhere near the top of the mountain, the rest of the group was starting their walk up to the summit. I wished them luck on one of the plentiful stars in the sky, and walked into the doctors office.

The doctor checked me out, gave me a shot and a prescription for Dexamethasone, a steroid that is used to treat HAPE. They figured I was well enough to go, and so we headed back to the hotel. This was around 1:30am. Given that I hadn't slept the night before, I was incredibly tired, and this was the best news I had heard all day.

But one last curve ball would be thrown my way. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a hyenna. The driver stopped, turned the car around and pointed his headlights at the hyenna. Everyone in the car watched the hyenna. Everyone, that is, except me. I, I was staring at the driver, trying to use my vast mental powers to crush his head. I WANT TO GO TO BED!!!!

Finally, 2:30am, I crawl into bed at the Kibo Hotel, and with just a slight cough, am able to fall asleep.


So, that's my mountain adventure. That is why, you can see, that my great epiphany is that I am not a high altitude kind of guy. This experience, along with my troubles in La Paz, Bolivia, have convinced me that really, truly, I need to take up activities that happen at or around sea level. Like water polo. So I think my next vacation will be a water polo retreat in the Bahamas.

And now a serious note. It wasn't until I was down the mountain and talking with some of the rest of the group that I realized how serious things were. The Mountain Rescue Crew trying to carry me without the stretcher of course plays like farce in this story, but they did that because they felt that getting me down BY ANY MEANS as quickly as possible was what was needed. The others in the group climbing with me said that for the morning I departed, the group was silent, realizing how serious the entire endevour of climbing a mountain close to 6000 metres high is.

So, for all their help, I offer my thanks (and apologies if I offended in the passage above at all) to Paul, Happyson, and the rest of the porters and guides of African Walking Company, The Kilimanjaro Mountain Rescue Crew, The staff at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Clinic and the ambulance drivers for getting me off the mountain when I was truly sick. Thank you for saving my life.


Back in Marangu, Tanzania and The Rest of the Group Report

Just to close out what happened to the rest of the team. Everyone in the group made it to Gillmans Point, which is on the crater rim of Kibo, the big peak of Kilimanjaro. For that, they all received certificates.

In addition, Tom, Andy, Audrey, Jim, Ann, Maria, Dorrian and Peter made it to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the Kibo crater rim, and thus the highest point in all of Africa.

Congradulations to all! Even though I didn't make it all the way up, I feel like you guys carried me up there anyway.

We had a hell of a piss-up at the bar of the Kibo Hotel, let me tell you!

- - -

I was given, as I mentioned, as subscription for dexamethasone. For those of you who remember the movie Vertical Limit starring Chris O'Donnell, "Dex" is the drug that is so highly valued to save his sister, but the evil dude in the film is hoarding it for himself, even though he isn't sick.

I bought 2 tablets of 8mg each, enough to last me 4 days. It cost me 200 Shillings, which is around $US 0.20. Chris O'Donnell should do his shopping in Tanzania.

Posted by GregW 19:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel_dangers Comments (3)

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