Kili or bust.

Not long ago, Jean and her friend Amy cooked up an out-of-the-ordinary adventure. It would revolve around summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, in East Africa.

     “The trip came out of a discussion at a prom party about what we were going to do now that our darling sons were leaving for college,” recalls Jean. “We were certainly going to miss them, but Amy and I both wanted to have something special to accomplish. Jokingly, I suggested climbing Kilimanjaro, and Amy said yes, she wanted to do that, too. I called [Africa travel specialist] Kiran Chand at R. Crusoe the following Monday. There you have it.”

     Soon, Jean—who had traveled with Crusoe previously—and Kiran came up with an incredible (and doable) journey that included climbing Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, as well as some time at Lewa Downs, a luxurious tented camp in Kenya.

     Jean and Amy booked their journey, then they spoke to other women friends about joining them. Before long, six enthusiastic travelers—Jean, Amy, Marcel, Deb, Sally, and Sue—were on board, exchanging emails and training notes.

     In February 2012, the Kilimanjaro Six finally arrived in East Africa. Their journey proved to be beyond their wildest dreams. “An unbelievable journey—the trip of a lifetime,” says Amy.

     “We had an amazing time,” says Marcel. “Everything went perfectly. Sitting back at home, I find I have to pinch myself to believe that we did what we did.”

     Marcel explains that they “all pulled in friends who were able to do it, able to get away, and able to bring something to the trip, including a good attitude. We made new friends by sharing this experience.”

     The climb up Kili, Marcel says, was incredible not only for the ascent itself, but also for the varied ecosystems they passed through. Every day offered different scenery.

     Kiran did an excellent job hand-picking the local guides, including Sam, who led the women up and down the mountain. “He was lovely,” Marcel adds. “So were the cook and the porters. Each day, they prepared camp before we arrived. As we approached after a day of climbing, they would spot us and sing to us as we walked into camp, and greet us with ‘Jambo [hello], mamas!’ We became the Jambo Mamas.

     “Sam was clearly well-respected on the mountain, and because he was into photography, he took 430 shots of us as we went. As a photographer, I really appreciate those pictures.”

     Before they arrived in East Africa, Marcel was a bit worried about the food in the mountain camps. But her anxiety proved groundless. “The food was amazing,” she recalls. “The cook used fresh ingredients, and his creations tasted great. They kept us going.”

     Kiran thought that a luxurious tented camp would be a perfect reward after the climb, so she booked the Jambo Mamas into Lewa Safari Camp for a few days of game viewing, some relaxation, and a chance to enjoy more of East Africa. The camp sits within the private 65,000-acre wildlife conservancy of the Lewa Wilderness Trust. This is one of the few camps in East Africa that offers not only game drives, but also horseback riding, camel treks, and guided bush walks.

     “Lewa was the most magical place on Earth,” says Marcel. “I thought that after Kilimanjaro, I’d want to sit down and relax. But no—I was so excited to go see the wildlife every day we were there, morning and afternoon. The place is so beautiful. And our guides were just amazing—Masai tribesmen who were interesting and darling at the same time. Every day we saw something new. I didn’t want to miss any of it.”

     Kiran pulled the trip together to meet the specific needs and desires of the Jambo Mamas. “She accommodated us just perfectly,” says Marcel. “She was just great. She chose excellent guides for us. I loved them. In fact, on Kilimanjaro, I’d look at other people climbing and think, ‘Those poor things—they don’t have our guides.’ And we all felt the same way in Lewa.”

     What’s next for the Jambo Mamas? Stay tuned...

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