I used to be soldier. A para in fact. In the renowned French Foreign Legion. After my contract was up and I had decided not stay I went looking for home. I was in a specialised mountain combat unit as a soldier and the mountains had become part of me. So when the opportunity presented itself to go back to Africa, as a civilian, to climb a mountain, I was naturally overjoyed.
I found myself on a plane, just a few weeks into civilian life next to an overweight Scottish woman asking me if I thought her neck support for the plane was a good investment. Naturally as a newbee civilian I smiled and nodded politely. The para in me looking down on this poor lady who had no clue and was about to embark on an adventure way beyond her comfort zone.
The climb up the mountain was uneventful until the summit day. The days went by smoothly and the walking was easy. Friendships were formed in the group and the vibe was really nice. Turns out I wasn’t the only ex soldier. Thank god. And then there were a couple of Canadian ladies who were very, well, Canadian. Thank god again.
“Money raised by people to go on the climb would be given the charity British cancer research.”
The trip was a cancer research expedition. Money raised by people to go on the climb would be given the charity British cancer research. There were porters and cooks and guides and assistant guides and team leaders and thirty of us. The processions up the mountain was massive. It felt like I had stepped out of world were you carry all you necessary survival equipment plus rifle and ammunition by your self, into some kind of colonial film where wight man comes to conquer big mountain. Before we set of we were all given one porter each. Mine came up to me and asked me where my second bag for him to carry. Second bag! No idea what your going on about my friend. He looked at me almost wounded. Conscious that I might be putting some guy out of a job I have a pair of socks to carry. He seemed satisfied.
Kilimanjaro is technically a very easy climb. But it’s a mountain that is climbed all wrong when you consider its height. Get up quick, get back quick, and altitude sickness will not have time to get you. Hmmmm. Well it spcertainly didn’t work for our group. The imperialistic white team leaders belittled the locals guides and lead us up on he final day all wrong. Have these people ever walked? I asked myself. After doing a fair amount of walking in mountains as a specialized mountain combat soldier I was sum what surprised to see the way our procession was professing up this massive mountain.
“The final steps to the summit happened in a haze of semi consciousness.”
Many of us were sick. I was affected badly by altitude as were many. The final steps to the summit happened in a haze of semi consciousness. I got to the top with Canadians. The world is blessed to have Canadians. I cried for no reason. Tears rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably. The view was beautiful. The climb epic. It felt so high. I offloaded some demons ontop of the mountain and race down like a Sagittarius. I felt wild and free. The wind rushed passed my face as I jumped down the ash covered mountain. I would stop every now and then to see if people who had stopped were ok. They would vomit then I’d be off again. The lower we got the hotter it got. Final camp was at 3800m. We eventually all regrouped. There was about nine out of the thirty who made it to the top. We had breakfast.
Tragedy struck then. A women wasn’t feeling well. Head ache. Nausea. Them all of sudden asp sudden rush of movement. Shouting in a language home to Africa. Then she was gone. Cerebral edema. Dead. Many cried. People wanted to be left alone. We grouped into our friendship circles that had be created throughout the week. I found all the grief strange. Almost fake. I mean we hardly knew the woman. But a friend remind me that not everyone was a soldier here. Not everyone was trained to deal with death. Clearly this civilian world was going to take some getting used to.
We finally headed back down the mountain. The people close to the women walked with her as she was carried down by porters. We headed back to civilization. A genuine African world. Poverty everywhere to be seen. People fighting to get something out of the tourist. Such sadness it is to me to see such a beautiful and rich place perverted by man. I did three tours in Africa. Over all it was a year and half of my military life spent on this wonderful continent, and every time things have been the same. At least somethings don’t change weather your civilian or soldier.
“The Scottish woman was going crazy. Saying the leadership had put her life in danger.”
We got back to the hotel that night. The Scottish woman was going crazy. Saying the leadership had put her life in danger. She had done Macchu Pichu after all, so she noes how to hike. Anyways, she got a free upgrade in exchange to shut up. We said good bye to the porters and guides. They were super. We said goodbye to each other with promises of keeping in touch.
Today Kilimanjaro is fresh in my mind. Like many emblematic mountain assents when I look back them. I am older, broken. Repairing my aching body after the multiple accidents it has lived through for me. Every now and then I send out a little hello to some of the people I was in the mountain with. Sometimes you find yourself tagged in a comment on Facebook. It’s nice. Most of course I will never see or hear of again. Such is the way with these trips. But I’m sure when they look back, they remover it as vividly as I do. And that is what joins us. That is what unites all people who experience nature.