This trip had a different beginning from any of our prior trips. Rather than waking up in our house to head off to LAX, we woke up in a hide-a-bed at our friends' Mike & Adrienne's home. We had driven up the night before, because our flight today was leaving at 9:00 am and we cringed at the thought of how early we'd have to wake up for that. When we got up, Adrienne was out in the living room with their newborn Audrey (aka Adelaide) sleeping on Adrienne's chest. It looked nearly the same as how we left them the night before, but for Adrienne sitting on a different couch. We got cleaned up, caught a cab and headed off to LAX.


At LAX, the drill was slightly different as well. While we used the same travel agent we used in 2007, Julian Asher of Timeless Africa, who - as usual - helped us plan an impeccable itinerary, we had booked our own flights using AA points; because of the limited choices available when turning in our AA points, we were flying LAX to Washington Dulles, and then on to London and Nairobi. So for once we weren't leaving LAX on an international flight. Nevertheless, there were a ton of tourists in the terminal, and seemingly none of them knew how to use a kiosk. American Airlines apparently determined it would be wise to eliminate all of their ticket agents and replace them with dozens of kiosks, with a handful of agents (presumably less than their used to be) wandering around and helping people. Having now seen the results, we can only say that their idea was a horrible mistake. It was a major Charlie Foxtrot, so thankfully we had alotted quite a bit of time just in case.

Our mindset was also a bit different. When we got back from Southeast Asia last July, we returned to our four dogs - Meth, Debo, Suge, and Cabo. Sadly, we also returned to the news that Meth was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer while we had been on the trip - she'd had it for quite sometime, but hidden it to well from us, and there was nothing we could do. She passed away in mid-September. Cabo was diagnosed with the exact same cancer three days later, but because we caught it much earlier, we were able to amputate his right rear leg, and hoped for the best. But instead we got lots of complications, infections, follow-up vet trips, and then finally a broken front right leg that forced us to put him down (since he couldn't stand with a broken front leg and no rear leg) - he passed away in early December. As Mike put it succinctly "It's pretty much the worst dog story ever." We adopted a middle-aged English bulldog (Omar) in late January to keep Debo and Suge company, and hopefully inject a bit more of life into the house. He's been great, but he couldn't make Debo or Suge any younger. Suge sadly passed away just two weeks before we headed up to Los Angeles from old age. So we'd had a very rough last 15 months, since our last trip, and more than most of our trips, we were looking forward to getting away from it all.

Also, for once, we had to train for our trip. We had decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro after several years of it being on our "short list." Justin had wanted to climb it since he was about 12 years old, when he saw Johnny Carson talking to Elle MacPherson about it; she had just climbed it, and Justin figured if she had, so could he. [No offense intended Elle; we should all discuss over drinks!] We decided we weren't getting any younger and it was losing its snow and ice, which we wanted to see. We'd climbed Cerro Toco in Chile a couple years earlier, which was almost as high, but that was a day trip and we didn't need any gear besides water. Kilimanjaro is a several day trek, and the extended exposure to high altitude gives most climbers some degree of altitude sickness. To prepare for our hike, we spent the last six months doing training hikes, with one or two almost every weekend.

We started by climbing the tallest mountains in San Diego county, but none of the mountains there are that tall, all less than 2000 meters (6580 feet). We then moved on to the mountain range out near Palm Springs and Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto State Park, climbing Mt San Jacinto itself (10,833 feet, 3302 meters) and several of the other peaks, usually climbing in the altitudes of 2500-3000 meters (8200-9850 feet). Sadly, multiple fires in the area over the summer limited repeat trips, so we climbed Mt Baldy near where we went to college, which comes in at 10,069 feet (3069 meters). Ironically, the highest elevation hikes we did were when we spent a week at our house in Hawaii, when we climbed Mauna Loa one weekend, and Mauna Kea the next. We didn't make it to the top of either, but were doing a lot of climbing between 9,000-13,000 feet (2750-4000 meters). Kilimanjaro, however, stands at 19,341 feet (5895), and there was no (practicable) way to train for that type of elevation, so we just hiked for longer, and carried more weight, than we knew we'd be doing on the actual trail. Our training seemed to go well, and we were confident (but not overconfident) about our ability to make it to the top.

Finally, because of the Kilimanjaro hike, we had different bags than usual. We each had our backpacks, meaning that we couldn't also have the photo backpack we've taken the last few years. This meant that the bulk of the photo gear was in a small hand-held bag, small enough that hopefully no one would give us any grief about it being a "personal item." And since the photo backpack also doubled as a laptop bag, we had to put our laptops in a different bag as well, and so we used a small Red Oxx bag that we used several years ago before getting the photo backpack. Our hiking backpacks were filled to the brim, since we didn't want to chance having any of our hiking gear being in checked bags and getting lost. We made it through security without any issues, which was a welcome relief.

Waiting at the gate, we just grabbed some breakfast and orange juice. They had not seated us together, so Crystal tried to get moved next to Justin - instead they moved Justin's seat. They neglected to mention, however, that they were moving Justin from an upgraded premium economy seat to regular economy. At least it was just the "short" flight of the bunch. The flight was fine, with each of us getting some - but not much - sleep on the plane. We each read our Kindles when awake.

We landed in DC a little after 5pm local time. Since we hadn't eaten on the plane, we looked for a place for dinner. There was actually a City Wok, which was kind of funny since we had only seen a City Wok on South Park. I have to imagine that they get teased about that every day. We ate at a sandwich place instead.


While waiting at the gate for our flight to London, we saw the earlier flight to London backing out, and a lady and her kid pleading to be let on the plane after they had already finished boarding and pulled away the jetway. We could see where the lady was coming from (and hoped we'd never find ourselves in that spot), we could also see that there were hundreds of people on the plane, no doubt many with tight connections awaiting them in London. Suffice it to say that the lady did not get on the plane.

About an hour later, we got on our plane, but not before experiencing the nastiest, unhappiest ticket agent we've ever seen. She was unhappy with anyone and everything about anything and everything, from where they were standing to how fast they were walking to the gate to whether they had their passport out versus passport out and opened to the photo page. By the time we boarded, we were like Newman ordering from the Soup Nazi, so as to avoid her wrath. Onboard, a single mom with 3 little tykes asked to borrow our phone, as she didn't have a US phone and she needed to reach her husband, who couldn't make the flight and was (hopefully) getting a flight out of Philly. So she had to manage what looked to be a 2 year old, a 5 year old, and a 7 year old by herself. Completely unrelated to seeing that right next to us, Justin took a sleeping pill. About an hour or so after taking off, we were both fast asleep, roughly 1/3 of our way to our final (well, final for purposes of leaving the airport and getting a hotel room) destination.