A Challenge Unearths a Memoir
Ever since I attended my first anthropology class, I have dreamt of traveling to Africa. My husband has traveled to Africa a few times and was not too keen on going back. I knew how to change his mind…he is incapable of resisting a challenge. ‘I bet I can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro faster than you can.’ Looks like we might be going to Africa next year…
Steve unearthed his saga about his trip to Africa in 2011 and, while reading it, I found it to be either the ravings of a madman or potential genius so I wanted to share it with you. Initially, I planned to edit it prior to posting, however, I decided to leave his words as is. I hope you enjoy his tale as much as I do.
In 2011, on a whim, I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African Continent and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world…the Jewel of Africa. Turns out, summiting the mountain (19,343’) was the most physically demanding, emotionally intense accomplishment of my life, except for maybe landing a jet on a pitching deck of an aircraft carrier on a moonless, dark-as-hell night. So, when my wife of three years casually mentioned that she would like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro my reaction was; “Are you out of your Freaking Mind! Why would I want to risk life and limb to climb that F*^#ing mountain AGAIN, not to mention battling cholera, malaria and people who are expert at separating you from your money!” Unfortunately, what came out of my mouth was…”Sure Babe, let’s do it.”
Shortly after sumitting in 2011, before blogging was a “thing” I felt the need to sit down and write about my experience on the Mountain which I shared with a few friends. Now retired from both the Navy and Delta Air Lines, Carrie and I have embarked on a new adventure. We’ve started a company, LBJ Adventures, for the sole purpose of inviting those free spirits out there to join us in some adventure travel/retreats. Our common theme involves Yoga. But it is not just yoga. Carrie is an accomplished yoga instructor and I like to do other stuff, mostly scuba and am currently working on my Divemaster certification. Our first adventure is a scuba/yoga retreat to Cozumel in February, 2018. We hope that some of you can join us.
With the advertising plug out of the way, back to Kilimanjaro. I hope that you find my early “blog” interesting and entertaining. As a career military and air line man I have not been the most politically correct at times. Carrie has promised to clean up those sentences that may offend. Personally I hope she leaves them in. They are some of my funniest and not meant to offend.
So, with that disclaimer and without further adieu, let the journey begin… – Stephen Lillie
Day One: Journey to Kilimanjaro
About nine months ago the seeds of Kilimanjaro were planted in my head. A friend of mine from college, whom I had reconnected with after 30 years, had mentioned that summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was on her to-do list. An avid climber, she had summated Mt Rainier twice and several other Washington peaks. Not a climber myself, I was doubtful of attempting the highest peak in Africa.
A couple of months later, while working a Delta trip, I met a Flight Attendant named Anya Beutler. While I was regaling her with tales of exploring the tropical beaches of Easter Island that previous Spring, she casually mentioned that she had recently climbed to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro (19,341’), and was going back to do it again. Nicely played, I thought to myself. Not only had she crushed my ego with her “derring-do,” but she was going to rub it into my face by climbing the mountain again…..just for the fun of it!
That sealed the deal! Two women, whom I considered myself far superior to in strength and stamina, had scaled mountains that I had not even considered attempting. The decision was made. I would climb Mt Kilimanjaro, or would die trying.
This was going to be so far “outside the box” for me, that I didn’t even know where the “box” was. The farthest south in Africa I had been was Egypt and Tunisia. Considering the recent events in those two countries, my trepidation about entering Kenya and Tanzania felt palpable.
Anya would become an invaluable source of information and help in the planning of the trip. Without her guidance, the trip would not have been the success that it was. Did I say success? Maybe I bespoke a little too soon.
The next order of business was to solicit for volunteers to join me on this great adventure. If I was going to die on the mountain, I wanted to have company. I approached my college friend to see if she were interested in accompanying me on this great journey. Before she could respond, her husband quickly said yes, that: “Debbie would love to go!” Then he mumbled something about needing to contact his Life Insurance agent.
A month later (two months before the trip), while mentioning the trip to my next door neighbor, he quickly volunteered his 26 year old son, Adam, for the trip. “All expenses paid,” he said. It wasn’t till later that I discovered why he was so quick to volunteer his son for such a perilous trip. Needless to say, it involved a girl (doesn’t it always?), a seedy bar in Tacoma, and lots of whiskey (and not the good stuff either).
On 11 February, my travel companion, whom I shall heretofore call Debbie, and I left for Africa via Amsterdam. The plan was to spend two nights in Amsterdam, soaking up the local culture, before leaving for Nairobi. Adam would meet us in Amsterdam, but would be flying a circuitous route on another airline to Nairobi on the 14th.
Even though we were traveling standby on Delta, we managed to get the last two business class seats on the airplane. This was a very good omen for what lay ahead. Stowing our carry-on luggage in the overhead bins, we were sipping our mimosas and preparing to take our seats when we heard those ominous words behind us: “Mr. Lillie and Mrs. Owen, we are terribly sorry but the passengers who purchased your seats have shown up for the flight, so you will have to take a seat in coach.”
Slinking back to our seats in coach, we took our place next to another couple, the mother holding a ONE YEAR OLD BABY! Oh well, a set of earplugs and some lively conversation with our neighbors, and the party would be back on. Then we learned that the husband was traveling to England to attend his father’s funeral. By then, all I could think about was; “What happened to that Stewardess with the mimosas?”
Ten hours later we arrived in Amsterdam, a clean, beautiful city in which everyone seemed to get around by bicycle. Hence, the lack of fat people in the country.
On the recommendation of a fellow pilot, we ate dinner at a great little restaurant called Castille. During the meal, I had been observing a rather big boned, beautiful woman who was sitting at the end of the bar. While we were eating our dessert, she walked by and I motioned her over to where we were sitting. Striking up a conversation, I complemented her on her looks. In a rather husky voice she thanked me. Then without any thought or reason, I asked if she were a man. What was I thinking? Obviously I wasn’t, the wine was doing the thinking for me. I think the next words out of my mouth were: “Check Please.”
The next day we took a boat tour of the city, enjoyed the wonderful pastries of the local bakeries and visited some coffee shops. It was then that I learned that some of the coffee shops served more than just coffee. Trying not to inhale, I sipped my coffee and vicariously relived my college days watching the other patrons inhale.
Dodging bicycles, we made it back to the hotel and anxiously prepared for our flight the next day to Nairobi…
To be continued…
Continue to Chapter TwoMemories of Kilimanjaro, Chapter 2