The stars at night are like fairy dust, there are so many. The vastness of the country, the green and golden plains, the silhouettes of sharp trees against immense, empty can feel your soul expanding. The animals - things you have only seen in the zoo, roaming freely, masters of their own space. Brightly-coloured birds popping out of the bush like confetti. From the tent, lying in your silken sleeping bag, just listening to all the sounds of the natural world - the calls and hoots and thudding of hoofs, the wind through the leaves, the crackle of the campfire. Absolutely magical. - Min

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dating the bad boy

The head said no. The heart said yes.

Climbing Kilimanjaro had the same appeal as dating the bad bad boy. The more reasons not to - 14 days away from home, falling off a rock face, the unpredictability of altitude illness - the stronger the appeal.

So I escaped. Wife, mother, employee. These roles fell away on the trail. The purposelessness of the landscape bathed me like a refreshing waterfall and I grinded my barefeet into the new sensations. When the dirt got under my toes and covered my nails with a fine layer of dust, I wore it like a badge that I was no longer entrapped in an office cubicle. With a lot more space, and a green paddock to run around in, I was as happy as a pig in mud. When it was night time tucked up in the tent, I pricked my ears for the sounds of the wind and the porters chatting in low tones of the melodic Swahili. No ear plugs for me. Don't want to miss a thing, don't want to close my eyes.

Where we went or what we did on any particular day, I didn't log details. Aimlessly walking, feeling not thinking.

When my team mates started succumbing to altitude illness a few days into the trek, I flitted from tent to tent laying my hands, convinced that I could channel positive Qi and make everyone well for the summit. Up till summit night, I chuckled inwardly. Climbing Kili was a picnic trail and holiday camp! I couldn't wait to go home and tell everyone that it was a walk in the park.

I Ruler of the Wildnerness, tamed the bad boy!


All that pride evaporated on summit night.

Each of us were assigned a guide to help us. A porter called Godfrey drew the short straw. He got assigned to me.

I was taking pictures and videos of the sunrise, gleefully crunching through the snow until it hit me like a ton of bricks - a sickening wave of nausea and my stomach started to churn.

From fearless trekker, I became colicky and desperate. My first reaction was to solve it myself. I'd puke, then I would feel better. So I tried 3 times to puke asking the team to go ahead of me but nothing came out and I felt awful.

Unable to carry on, I closed my eyes and there on the slopes of Kilimanjaro prayed - Lord, I can't do this. In your strength, not mine.

It was a cheapshot. Just like the prodigal son, I was surrendering self reliance to the father because I had run out of resources, but that was the Grace. Simultaneously as I prayed, my head started to clear as if someone had thrown me a canister of oxygen and I could breathe!

Turning around to Godfrey and Simon, the two guides next to me, I declared that I prayed to Jesus who answered my prayer! They looked at me as if I was well and truly bonkers.

The rest of the push for the summit felt like a long hard labour with the guides as the midwives.

Simon kept saying "you're doing nice!" no matter how slowly I trudged.

I played being a baby to full advantage. When I needed to get a sip of water, Godfrey unscrewed my Nalgene water bottle and brought the bottle to my mouth. If I needed to rest, I leaned against him for support. I commanded Godfrey to leave me on the mountain so that I could fall asleep on a rock but he had the good sense to ignore me. And that was the way it was. Emotionally and physically breaking down, stopping to rest as I made the mountain an altar for complete surrender.

By the time we reached Uhuru Peak and celebrated our summit, the persons who deserved a medal were Godfrey and Simon, who did everything short of carrying my butt up there, to make sure that I got there.

I remember hugging my team mates, sobbing, big hugs of relief, high fives, victory signs, photos. The snow made everything celestial white.


I took 350 photos of our trip as well as videos but the most enduring memories are still, the ones which are captured in the heart.

  • Cheryl throwing bak kwa in the morning to me, the assuring outline of the human sized snail tucked up in her sleeping bag sharing the tent with me.
  • Su's boots which looked oversized against her elegant frame - our magnificent team doctor as she clipped clopped across the plains of the Alpine dessert like an Impala.
  • Meal tent and airplane conversations with Bhaskaran which nourished my soul and healed the spirit.
  • Min, running buddy and adventure mate, who quietly inspired and turned my life around.

The most sentimental interaction would have to be with my unsentimental tent mate.

We were at Nairobi airport enroute to Singapore. At the transit lounge, separated by several airport seats occupied by backpacks which we were guarding - the sudden realization that we were not going to live out of tents anymore, made me want to squish myself next to her.

She looked at me and read my thoughts, why you want to sit next to me izit?

And so I did, shamelessly scrambling over the bags as I plonked myself next to her.

At home finally, Gary prepared a welcome reception. Shane and Alix put a card they made in my hand and welcomed me with loving hugs even though I had abandoned them for 2 weeks. For several hours, I lay on a bed with my cubs reuniting with their smells and their soft warm forms.

Giraffes live in Africa. That is the only place in the world that they live outside of zoos. In Africa, I set free my lost and disconnected self and found my way home.


  1. What wonderful stories from all of you!! You guys had an amazing holiday adventure. :) - Lillian

  2. Thanks for supporting the dream and cheering us on! Surf camp when?

  3. Great blog. I would share it with our cck teammates._ Simon Kong