the end

the primary language in Kenya is Kiswahili. Swahili is the culture, Kiswahili is the language of it. however, with all the history of Kenya rooted in the different tribal cultures like Masai and other groups, when you get out to the rural areas, you'll find the first language is of their original tribe, then Kiswahili and English.

the main tribe in Njabini is Kikuyu. most of the kids that come to house only know how to speak that when they arrive but slowly learn Kiswahili and English. if they're mad or really need to express their feelings, they're talking in Kikuyu.

most Flying Kites staff and some volunteers that come through the house end up getting a Kikuyu name. Toby, one of the founders and the leader of our Kili climb, his name is Uncle Jamba. Jamba means warrior or cockerel.

stick with me here, it's all part of the story.

about 3 weeks ago, i was finally able to get the brick-oven pieced together at the house. i've never built a brick-oven before. my experience with projects like this is somewhere between "absolutely none" and "i saw one on tv once." so the obvious answer when Brian asked me if it was possible was, "definitely" and my first thought after the answer was, "google".

slip 'n slide day

Mach and Juli


after stumbling over the language barrier talking about bricks with the local contractor that's helped build the school, tree house (more about that in a bit) and is our go to guy on repairs around the house i was well below hopeful that this oven would even work. the reason for the doubt was because everything i found online was Americans building these in their back yards with the best materials possible. the supplies and quality are different in Kenya. i was expecting a smoldering pile of brick crumbles when we fired it up and as it came together, the expectation from the family was heaps of cookies, fresh baked bread, pizza, cakes and the fountain of youth.

every kid asking "Uncle, when will you make the fire for bread!?!?!" as they do a little shimmy dance of excitement. every matron and guardsmen at the house pining with anticipation and every time it would leave me inhaling like i was taking my last breath and trying to temper their expectation with, "we have to test it first" and "i don't know if it'll work" answers. that's one lesson i guess i never learned at my old job in advertising, managing expectations.

judgement day...
it's 6:30am and i come dragging out of the volunteer bedroom across the yard from the house to about 20 kids brushing their teeth and piping full of energy. as soon as one eyeballs me, it sets off this ruckus exchange with all of them,

"UNCLE! TODAY YOU MAKE COOKIES!" but it sounds like i'm in a room that echoes because they're all asking at once.

"hhaaa uuummm uuhhh, can i get a good morning first please?"

"Gooooood morning Uncle! Now bake time!"

"thanks. good morning."

about an hour later i started chopping wood and trying to build a fire. Moses, watching eagerly over my shoulder and seeing me struggle offered to handle the fire for me. within about 30 mins he had a massive blaze going. shortly we had an oven so hot inside you couldn't put your hand in there.

while i was taking fire lessons from Moses, some of the other volunteers were making the cookie mix. oatmeal chocolate chip.

a test batch of cookies was dropped on this piece of scrap metal the matrons use as a lid for cooking rice and other stuff at the house.

with a crowd of eager onlookers and potential rioters, the first batch was escorted across the yard to the oven. in the back of my mind, i had an image of a mixed crowd of 27 sobbing and enraged kids, some carrying pitchforks and torches, cornering me and asking me why i lied, why i cheated them. i think i'm the only one that felt this tension.

within about 45 seconds of going in the oven, our first cookies were done.

i really can't believe it worked.

that night, after family meeting, we all had homemade cookies. i felt like a proud father to see those kids nibbling on these little pieces of luck.

the funny thing about those kids eating cookies though is that not a single one of them stuffed it down like i would have at that age. 2-3 bites and i'm ready for the next and barely tasting the first. they cherished them. it's beautiful to see gratefulness in thoughtless action, not words.

make no mistake, words came later and i'll never forget them.

Uncle Mkate Wa Tangawizi is the Kikuyu name i was given. the loose translation is Uncle Ginger Bread Man.
i'm not sure the family realizes the genious of that. ginger is not a term for redheads like it is in other parts of the world.

every night we have a family meeting. the meeting ends with gratitude. anybody that has something their grateful for can share it. the offerings are always great.

"I'm happy because Uncle Brian is here."

"I'm happy because we got to make necklaces today."

"I'm sad because Uncle Jamba is not here but I'm happy because Uncle Jamba is coming this weekend."

"I'm happy because we had chapati for dinner tonight."

"I'm happy I'm a part of this family."

"I'm happy because we got to slip 'n slide today"

"I'm happy because Simba and Nala (the house cats) are falling in love."

"I'm happy because the matrons do so much for us."

a couple days after cookie night, i was away from the house one night for some reason and when i got back Juli passed along one of the gratitudes from the night before. "I am happy because every time I think about cookies, I think of Uncle Sam and what a wonderful man he is."

since cookie night, Brian has made pizza and Devon made cinnamon rolls and apple pie!

i'm happy because there isn't a pile of bricks in the corner of the yard that was wasted as an attempt to make an oven and i'm happy because i'm a part of this family.

it went up in a corner of the school yard in a big blue-gum tree. from the roots, the tree split into 5 or 6 different trunks and went straight up. about 15ft up, we built the house. it's a 2-story clerestory style house with a loft. i can't say i played much of a role in the actual building. i carried supplies and climbed around a bit, but the actual building goes to the crew. i just kept an eye on it and made sure it turned out how we were hoping it would. all the credit goes to Brian's grandfather for donating the money to do it and our local contractor, Sam, and his crew for making it happen.

it's finished and it turned out amazing.

the kids call it the blue-gum house.

i asked Sam how many people it would hold. he told me, "two sleeping elephants."

we're still waiting to find out if this is the first tree house in the history of Kenya.

i came to Kenya without any plans for climbing Kili and changed my mind shortly before Flying Kites was leading a group up as a fundraiser. in less than 2 weeks, i asked you to help me fundraise $3,000.
within a few short hours, you had me over $600. by the time i climbed, you had put up $1,800 and i decided i was happy to pay the rest. when i got off the mountain, more of you had donated.

you donated during tight economic times.

you passed it along to people who otherwise wouldn't have found it.

you gave when you could have tucked it away for tougher times.

you gave to 27 dreams when you could have moved on and forgot about it.

i'm at a loss for words to convey my gratitude.

thank you.

now about the journey because i know you want the story too...

meet our climbing group, i call them the red coats:
Toby Storie-Pugh a.k.a. Uncle Jamba - founder of Flying Kites. british. 36. tough. crazy. really crazy. so crazy he once drove a motorcycle from the UK to South Africa and back up. he tells a great story about sleeping on the side of a dirt road in the African wilderness with a lighter in his hand after having poured a ring of gasoline around him in case the lions, leopards or whatever else there is out there got to close while he was sleeping.

Victoria Eisermann - google her. british. she was in playboy a couple years ago. now she's a huge animal rights and P.E.T.A. activist and vegan. she defined perseverance on this trip. she just competed in the british version of Wipe Out and she's been asked to do british Big Brother later this year.

Zoe Tolkien - british. Cambridge PhD student. i asked her what in. she said "iron" and made me feel really dumb to not have a clue what that meant. she explained, it's more about dietetics and supplements. if she wasn't there, i don't think i would have made it. she has the personality you want to have up there.

an adventure from the start...
just after 1am on the morning we were supposed to leave for Arusha, Tanzania and Kili i woke up and puked. i spent the rest of the night on the hallway floor resting between trips to the bathroom.

at 8am we left for Nairobi to meet Toby and head for Arusha (a six-hour drive from Nairobi) where we would stay the night before heading for the mountain the next day.

at noon, we left Nairobi in a taxi bound for Arusha. we stopped at a gas station to pick up some food for the drive. i'd managed to hold down about 3 gulps of water and a slice of bread. the gas station had the Kenyan equivalent of a KFC at it called Chicken Inn. it's Toby's favorite. it looked good. just like KFC. i walked in and promptly excused myself. i made it out into the middle of the parking lot before keeling over to puke as crowds of people changed paths to Chicken Inn to avoid me. as i finished up in the parking lot Toby walked out of Chicken Inn, gave me a look of, "can could keep going? do you really want to do this?" to which i gave a big grin and asked if he was ready to go.

at 4pm we hit the Tanzanian border. hanging around the immigration office waiting for our car to make it through the border i felt the urge again while mid-conversation with Zoe. no offense to Zoe. i made a break for the bathroom around the corner.

"10 shillings."

"what? (gag)"

"10 shillings to use"

2 second staring contest.

would you pay the equivalent of 10 cents to puke in a squat toilet at the Tanzanian border? me neither. i'm happy to ralph on the side of your building for 10 cents instead and i'm going to make sure i get it all out this time too.

7pm we get to the hotel in Arusha. meet the guides, Oforo and Halson. Oforo is like an east-african mountain guide version of Yoda; quiet, calm and wise. Halson has a cowboy ringtone on his phone is probably in his 30s and very focused. dinner stays down. bedtime.

i feel better the next day. no appetite but i could eat. we downed some continental breakfast and hopped on our bus headed for the gate at Kili.

by Noon we're on the trail up Kili. this first day is gorgeous. it runs up through the most dense, green forest i've seen so far. i'm dragging though. no energy and having a hard time keeping up with the pace of the group. i keep needing breaks. the guides finally approach me, "you're very sick?" after a short rest stop about 2 hours in i feel a little window of clearing from the crappiness and make a run for it. i push the pace hard, get some distance on the group and hope i hit camp before it runs out. it works.

at the start


the distant goal

the next morning, over breakfast, the head cook (Omari) asks for my water bottle. he has a special brew he wants me to drink to feel better. it looks like concentrated urine. it's supposedly water, lemon, salt, sugar and tea. i toss in some water treatment for good measure and start drinking.

if day one hiking i felt like 60%, today i feel like 80%. by day 3 i'm almost back to normal. the only thing that concerns me is my lack of appetite. we're not high enough yet that it's a side effect of the altitude but every meal is a fun game of how much can i eat before i gag. Toby is playing too.

the itinerary for this is 6 days of hiking with slow elevation gains, everyday sleeping lower than your highest elevation of the day to help with acclimatization. on day six we summit and head most of the way back down. day 7 we're off the mountain and back into Arusha. day 8 we're back in Nairobi.

over the 6 days up, i feel better every day. every day i ask for that special concoction from Omari. it's particularly good when it's hot.

everyday we wake up, eat breakfast in the mess tent, hike 4-6 hours (stopping for lunch), get to camp, have tea, rest, eat dinner and go to bed. the mess tent scenes remind of U.S. sitcoms. moving slowly up the mountain we're constantly passed by porters (our own and other groups) hustling along in odd combinations of outfits with a small backpack on and a 40lb+ pack balanced on their head while smoking a cigarette and passing around a bottle gin.

Kili requires 3 porters for every client. beyond that we have 2 guides, a cook and 3 other skilled porters. all told, for our group of four we have an attentive staff of 19. there are 100-200 other climbers up there with other companies on the same route.

the group dynamic is fun. Zoe and Toby know each other from attending school together at age 15 or so. Victoria has never done anything even remotely like this before but is loving it.

Toby worries me. he's decided to carry his own pack up. it starts at about 45lbs but 2 days in he decides he wants to add weight so at one rest stop he has me distract the guides for a second while he tosses in two rocks that push his pack up over 60lbs. what worries me is that the entire time he's had a really bad chest infection leaving him in these nasty coughing fits and only able to take shallow breaths. he looks terrible. no offense, but it's true Toby.

one morning, i'm waiting to get going and watching the scene of camp. Toby is packing his bag and the porters are distributing the food and camp gear, i notice some of the porters half-jokingly waving their hands in Toby's direction and back at all the camp gear. i realize what they're huffing about and relay the message to Toby.

"Toby, the porters would like it if you stop being such a fool, carrying useless rocks up the mountain and actually take some of the camp stuff instead."

the camp laughs but you can tell the porters kind of mean it.

it was dusty


camping looking towards the next days climb

high camp, looking up to tomorrow's climb

summit night
we get into the high camp around 11am. eat lunch and rest. dinner is at 5. we're having tea at 11pm before heading off for the summit to hit by sunrise at 6am. everyone must have 3 liters of water with them. we'll be going from 11pm - 9am.

when we get up for tea Toby looks terrible and Zoe is admittedly sick. Zoe has been the healthiest of us all this entire trip so far. she feels really nauseous and looks like a shell of the personality we've had over the last 5 days. i feel the strongest i've been in days.

i'm wearing a t-shirt, 2 long-sleeve thermals, a light fleece, light gloves, a hat, soft-shell pants, a pair of wool socks and trail running shoes. i'm packing along an extra thermal long-sleeve, a light down jacket, big gloves and waterproof jacket and pants.

when we get rolling the order is Oforo, Zoe, me, Toby, Victoria, Halson. it's been said that we'll move at whatever pace is needed. if someone is falling behind, Halson will hang back with them.

about an hour in, Victoria slides back with Halson at a slower pace and our group continues.

we keep having to stop because Toby is sick and struggling and Zoe is a zombie. Zoe doesn't have the mental clarity to turn her headlamp on or get it pointed to where she's looking. she's also forgetting to blow-back on her camelback which means her water will freeze in the drinking tube. i keep remindering her. at rest stops we sit, Toby keels over, i eat and drink and offer up to everyone in the group which no one takes and Zoe leans over to rest her head on my shoulder. she feels like my sick daughter that just wants to go home.

we're going so slow i'm having a hard time maintaining body heat. it's much colder than i was expecting. it's apparently -10 to -20 F. i've already added the extra thermal, down jacket, waterproof pants and thick gloves. my feet are going between severely cold and really really really painful. at the next break i ask Oforo, "i'm having a hard time staying warm, if i have to can i move on ahead on my own?" he says yes.

the mustache of my beard is frozen solid.

about 3 hours in Toby finally decides to ditch the pack, tosses it in some rock outcroppings and carries on with 1/2 liter of water and a candy bar. 30 mins later, Zoe announces her camelback is frozen. i've got about 2 liters on me. Oforo asks me to save it and share with the group if we need it.

we're moving faster now that Toby has ditched his stubbornness bag.

the majority of the summit hike from camp is spent getting to Stella Point. by earlier estimates, we were to expect 5-6hrs to get there. from Stella its another hour or so steady gain to the summit but all the hard work is done.

at 4:30am or so Oforo says its another 2 hours to Stella. we're all a little crushed to hear this.

at 5:15am we hit Stella. Oforo knows how to manage expectations.

we summit at 6:13am on August, 28.

it's still dark but over the 15 mins we're there the sun rises, shedding light on what we've just come through. we're on top of the African continent at over 19,000ft and we take the obligatory pictures in front of the sign.

everyone from our group summitted.

at the top


on the way back down

on the way back down and the last known picture of trip.

as we set off back down the mountain i realize something special. every step i take from here takes me directly home. i have a plane ticket bound for NYC on Aug 31 at 5pm and Seattle on Sept 3. these are my steps walking away from a trip around the world.

at some point you go from out exploring new boundaries and what's out in the world to turning around and heading back. this really feels like the end and i'm all elation, content and pure happiness.

the rest of the time on the mountain slips away. dinner that night is the funniest yet.

on the day we get off the mountain, instead of staying in Arusha with the rest of the group, i head back to Nairobi on a bus because i want to get back to the house in Njabini and get as much time with the kids as possible before i leave.

as i walk in the gate at the house i get spear tackled from the side by Gitogo. Rahab comes in high, leaping from a couple feet away and throws me off balance, taking me to the ground as a horde of 15 kids pile on screaming and laughing.

i'm happy because i'm part of this family.

at the check-in counter in the airport in Nairobi, i ask the lady at the desk if i can weigh myself on the luggage scale. she laughs and says yes. 78kg (170lbs) in jeans, shoes and everything. if i'm in a towel, i'm probably 165lbs, what i weighed at age 15.  she says, "you shouldn't be 78kg. you should be a bigger man than that."

the next day goes by in a blur. i fly out. i have 4 hours or so in Dubai before leaving at 2am bound for NYC. i get into NYC at 8am. Mike, my brother, meets me at the airport. he's flown out from Seattle to meet me. one of the first things he says to me is, "that's quite the beard you've got, how long have you had that thing going?" it's been almost 2 months. i make a joke about how i'm going to drink tap water until i puke purely because tap water is entirely safe to drink now.

by 11am we're checked into the hotel and head out to find some food and a barber.

lunch was a BBQ brisket sandwich.

we find a trendy men's barbershop in NYC for a haircut and old fashioned straight-edge razor shave. hot towel and all. haircut first, shave second. when the barber sits me up in the chair at the end i don't recognize the guy in the mirror. the first time Mike sees me i can see the same startled look on his face.

we wander around NYC a little more, take a nap at the hotel and get dinner at this great Italian place in the East Village.

the next day we get up early, catch the subway to Central Park, get bagels and coffee and walk around. after that we head for Brooklyn, stop in the Flying Kites office to say hi and then go back to the hotel. from there we head for Yankee Stadium for the game. they play the Blue Jays. on the way we stop at the original John's Pizzaria. supposedly the best NY style pizza in town. we get to the stadium, scalp some tickets and head in. it was a sunny 75 degree day in NYC and a 7pm night game couldn't feel better.

Yankee Stadium is only impressive from the outside. other than that, it's really not that great of a place.

after the game we get a couple drinks at Stan's, bar next to the stadium and take in the scene. our favorite is the guy that looks like a miniature Paul O'Neil with a giant foam Yankees top-hat on. we're chatting with him for a second as gives us the timeout signal, looks directly at the girl having a drink with her boyfriend standing next to us and says, "you're hot, you like this?" the boyfriend snaps his head around and stares at Paul Jr. and Paul quickly responds with a slightly slurred "sorry, no offense man." 30 mins later we see Paul Jr. out in the street buttering up 4 cops and getting his picture taken with them.

the following morning we fly back to Seattle. Mike heads off to a wedding and i head to my parents house in Puyallup where there is a salmon dinner and freshly baked peach pie with my name on it.

by 4pm i'm unconscious in a chair with college football on tv.

i'm home now, writing this from the bed i slept in for 20+ years, watching the sunrise, glancing at the postered walls of my youth and listening to the a train pass through town in the distance.

i don't know what the days ahead will bring me. the last couple weeks in Kenya people would ask me how i'm feeling about leaving, about heading back. i could never put a thumb on it and i still can't and i'm not going to try to. there are some good learning lessons from this journey and one has been that there is no point in getting caught up thinking about the future (or the past really either). the best you can do is take in the day. take in all that it's got in store for you.

i know a full-time job is on the horizon. there are a lot of things on the horizon and i'm excited to embrace them, whatever they are.

one day i was caught off guard by how comfortable and normal what i was doing felt. how it felt exactly the same as when i was working 9-5 and living in Seattle. i was really pleased with that because both of those times were merely moments in my life and there are more to come. the point is that regardless of the situation, i've learned to cherish that moment and enjoy it. we only get so many and it took me a trip around the world to realize that you can't compare sitting at your desk, sending emails with the moment at the summit of some mountain or after a good surf or puking your guts out the window of bus on the highway of a developing country. they're vastly different and should be enjoyed for what they are, not what they're not.

that's it. this is the end of the blog. i won't be posting anymore after this. i hope you've enjoyed this. i certainly did and while i wish you could have been there in person with me, at least you were there in thought. it was a truly great journey. i wish you all the best and encourage you to find your own journey.

much love,
Sam Horn

P.S. anyone know of any job openings?

P.P.S. watch this video:


  1. Welcome back to "Go", Sam. Thanks for writing your blog.

  2. I'm happy you're back, safe and sound. Let's get together soon.

  3. I really enjoyed this last post- welcome back Sam!

  4. Awesome wrap up post to a fabulous trip! So glad you're back safe...what a wonderful journey!

    Yanno, you're always welcome back at the WD (or should I say WDCW now) - I'm sure the team would love to have you back handling all my MRC projects. I know, decisions, decisions. :)

    Welcome home, Sam.