MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Adventures with Anxiety

On the 7th of February 2019, at 8.20am, I sat down on a rock and let myself cry. It was a silent cry, the tears just rolling slowly down my face as I breathed in the cold air. Being present in the moment can be a rarity in modern life, and as an anxiety sufferer, I spend a large portion of my day and week stressing about things that have passed and worrying about things that may be. But in this moment, as I felt the cold, and the tears and the immensity of it all, there was nowhere else for my mind to go.

I sat at Christchurch Airport the week before, quietly terrified. I’m used to gallivanting across the World solo, but I’d had a lot going on in my life recently, my mental health was fragile and I was stressing about how unfit I’d felt in the last few weeks despite training at every opportunity I got. This was serious business. I was returning to a continent that I hadn’t been to for over 13 years and I felt nervous about what would greet me when I got off the plane at the end of it all. I felt nauseous and unprepared. I felt like I was about to make a fool of myself. I sat there at that airport realising how much my anxiety had changed me from the woman who sold all her stuff and moved to the other side of the World in 2011 with no plans and no job.

The first flight that dumped me at Sydney came and went. I was antsy, eager to continue but nervous. I’d originally been booked via Melbourne but the week before leaving, I happened to look at my booking online and noticed that my flight had been cancelled and I’d been put on a different flight a whole 10hrs earlier. I’d had no contact from the airline whatsoever and it was total fluke that I noticed this far ahead. It had made me livid and after an agitated phone call to the airline, I was re-routed via Sydney. The second flight took me to Qatar, and I arrived in Doha to experience my first exposure to the Middle East. What greeted me at the airport was a giant freakish-looking teddy bear that was a large sculpture in the middle of the main hall. I got bored in the dull and enclosed space that was Doha airport, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a Qatari gentleman walk past me with a bird of prey on his arm. I’d landed in darkness but my 3rd and final flight took off in daylight, and the almost empty plane meant I got a window seat, and what a view I had. We took off beyond the city, turning and banking to see an intricate resort built onto reclaimed land that had been designed into a pattern. I made a mental note to come back to Doha some day and see the city itself, but as we turned south and left Qatar behind, I was enraptured with the sights below me. We curled round to reach United Arab Emirates airspace, then sneaked into Oman and followed the coast down towards Yemen. The landscape was stark but each country looked different and I watched the water come into view as we crept towards the Gulf of Aden and then entered African airspace.

 

In 2005 after graduating university, I took a 3-month sabbatical to South Africa that remains one of the defining times of my life. Doing voluntary work on the south coast, I had lived like a local, met some incredible people and fell in love with the country. But despite a strong desire to get back to the African continent, it had never materialised. In 2017 I made the decision to go to Tanzania and hike Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, and one of the Seven Summits. I knew a couple of people that had done it, but the desire for me only came years later. The two year wait seemed like an age, but here I was crossing Ethiopian and then Kenyan airspace. I decided that now was the time to get my hiking guide book out and read about the trek ahead. I’d vaguely read it when I’d bought it, but as I sat there on the plane and read page after page, I suddenly felt more worried. I’d packed for hiking with Scotland’s climate in mind. I knew it would be colder than the hiking I was used to in New Zealand, but I knew what cold was like in Scotland. Only I’d never done any winter hiking, only short walks, when I lived there, and as I read the recommended packing list, I became acutely aware of my lack of layers. I felt like an idiot. I’d been so caught up in the drama of my life that I’d overlooked the fact that it would be bitterly cold at altitude, and immediately I started having to work out plans to fix this which added to my stress.

When at last the plane touched down at Kilimanjaro International Airport, it was mid-afternoon. I hadn’t been lucky enough to see the peak itself on the descent and as we taxied I was disorientated with no idea what direction to look. Getting off the plane I was smacked in the face by the dusty African heat, and we all bundled into the airport terminal to deal with the muddle of customs. There was no air conditioning in the terminal and with a need to get a visa on arrival, it was organised chaos as people tried to work out which of the many queues to join. When I finally had my visa, I joined the frustratingly slow queue to get my passport checked, impatiently waiting to get called up. When at last I was summoned, I handed over my passport to the inspector and as she folded the cover back to scan it, the power cut out. The entire airport ground to a halt. The lights were out, the fans turned off and all of the computers went down. No generators kicked in. There was just the staff and those of us unlucky enough to not have made it through passport control yet looking at each other with no idea what was happening. Here I was in Tanzania, unable to get into the country. I was informed this was nothing unusual – a typical afternoon power cut in Africa. It was just a matter of waiting. And wait I did, and wait, and wait, and wait.

It took a long time for the power to come back on, and I had no idea whether the pick-up I’d arranged was still going to be waiting. I told myself if it was normal, that somebody would be there. When at last I had my bag, I walked out the building to a deluge of men trying to offer me a taxi ride. Through their faces I locked eyes with a man who’d been laughing with his mates, and as I saw the sign I wanted to see, I smiled, thankful that he was still there. It was time to see Tanzania. I still remember the drive from Cape Town airport into the city, past slums of corrugated iron and filth, and the shock that it had been to witness that first hand. The landscape was different, but that drive had the same effect on me. The ground was red and arid, and there were people walking everywhere, with livestock dotted around the place and a mix of cars and bikes crawling along the road.

I chatted away with the lad who’d picked me up, and he was the first of many amazingly friendly and welcoming people that I would meet on this trip. He told me about the low speed limit on this road, and we talked about his life and my plans whilst I was there. He told me about the area, and he asked about my flights. He took me to my hotel a little outside of Moshi and he introduced me to the loveliest and bubbliest people ever that ran the hotel. I was overwhelmed. They bent over backwards to welcome me, and took me up to the room that I’d have to myself that night. I went for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, ordered food, and as my eyes struggled to stay awake, I waited impatiently for my first Tanzanian meal. I listened jealously to some diners at a nearby table who had come down from the mountain that day. They’d successfully summited and they were elated. I wondered if that would be me soon. I waited and waited some more and after an hour and a half of waiting, my dinner finally arrived. I ate it gladly and hurriedly before disappearing up to my room and falling into slumber.

The birds singing outside of my window woke me up. The early morning light was trying desperately to sneak through the curtains and after acknowledging where I was, I got up and ready and went down for breakfast. There were several diners eating alone and I wondered if any of them were going to be in my hiking group. I’m very introverted, so although I smiled and said hello, there wasn’t much communal chat until a fellow diner walked in and introduced herself to everyone as she passed. It turned out we were all going to be hiking together, and we quickly sat together and introduced ourselves, making shared plans for our day of leisure. I’d read about a gear-rental shop in Moshi and everyone was keen to go into the city for a wander around, so we organised a shuttle to take us all there. Before leaving the lodge though, one of my new companions allowed me to ogle the view from the patio of their room: a direct look across to the snow-capped peak of Mt Kilimanjaro. It was my first view of the mountain that I was about to get very familiar with.

 

Moshi was an assault on the senses. It’s not a big city but it was bustling with life and we found ourselves dodging traffic and people as we tried to make sense of the streets in order to find the gear-rental shop I needed. We were approached often by locals and although everyone was friendly, some of them were almost too friendly and wouldn’t leave us alone. It was hard not to stand out, and I don’t like feeling hounded or harassed whether at home or abroad, so I quickly became a bit annoyed with the attention. Our group consisted of 3 women and 1 man, and whilst the three of us tried to play down the interest, our male companion was loving it, chatting away and happily being led into shops to look at wares. It’s hard sometimes not to feel intimidated, and I’m not sure how much is concern as a single female traveller, and how much is just me being introverted. It does probably mean that I miss out on some interactions with locals that more outgoing people than me get to experience, but irregardless, I wasn’t enjoying my experience of Moshi, and I became more keen to get to the rental shop and get out of there again.

After a bit of help with directions, we eventually found the shop and I was able to rent a large duffel jacket which I was convinced would be the extra layer of clothing I’d need. With none of us wanting to explore any more of Moshi, we headed into a coffee shop to grab lunch before catching our lift back to the hotel. It was a cute little place that served coffee roasted from beans grown on the fertile slopes of Kilimanjaro itself. As the afternoon pushed on and more of our hiking party arrived, it was hard not to move my thoughts to the hike ahead. We had a team meeting that evening, where we got our pre-hike briefing and I met my roommate for that night. We were made up of myself and in a small-world kind of way another guy from Christchurch, a few English people, a couple of Americans, an Australian and some Canadians.

 

The next morning I got chatting to some other guests at the hotel. Two of them had had to be air lifted off Kilimanjaro due to altitude sickness. It brought it home that this was no walk in the park. I was excited but nervous. It felt like an age before we were all packed up and on the road. We made a stop to pick up our porter team and we all trundled together on the bouncy bus along dust roads to reach the trail gate. Ahead of us all lay the behemoth that is Africa’s tallest mountain and the adventure of a lifetime.

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4 thoughts on “Adventures with Anxiety

  1. Pingback: Lemosho Route – Londorosi to Shira Peak | MistyNites

  2. Pingback: The Highs and Lows of the Lemosho Route | MistyNites

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