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Adventure Philanthropy: Climbing Kilimanjaro with Roadmonkey

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Kilimanjaro-1-500 Text by New York Times reporter and Iraq war correspondent Paul von Zielbauer, who started Roadmonkey as a way to combine adventure travel and giving back and engaging with local communities. He is currently taking guests up Kilimanjaro, followed by volunteering at a school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanina. Paul will be checking with us along the way.

Day 1: We’ve arrived in Tanzania and are ready to go…unlike the weather.

As I write this note, from the desk of my not-so-well-lighted hotel room in Moshi, Tanzania, our very eager ten-member Roadmonkey expedition team is just 90 minutes from launching its six-day trek up 19,345-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa.

It’s 6:30 in the morning; it’s dark out, and Moshi is thrumming rain.

The kind of African rain that would be great to wake up, listen, and drink coffee to. But not the kind of rain in which one wants to begin a multi-hour uphill hike. I just moved all my clothes into a giant Zip-Loc dry bag (who knew they made 10-gallon Zip-Locs?) and have flipped the mental switch from expecting a pleasant day hike to enduring a bone-soaking slog.

It’s okay. This is Africa. We’re Roadmonkeys. What doesn’t kill us make us…walk faster.

Our group–eight women and two men–is a hardy, cheerful bunch. There’s Jo, Christine, Susan, Julie–all from New York City; Jolie from Detroit; Rollie from Colorado; and our Joanie and Steve Wynn of Sausalito, Calif., whose production company, Bayside Entertainment, is producing a high-definition video documentary of our adventure philanthropy expedition.

This is Roadmonkey’s second adventure philanthropy expedition. The first was to Vietnam last November, where we cycled through the mountains and valleys of the northwest before spending four days build a playground at an orphanage west of Hanoi.

This expedition, likewise, combines an adrenaline-style adventure with meaningful volunteer work, in cooperation with a local non-profit partner: After we descend Kilimanjaro, we’ll spend four days at a grade school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, building a clean-drinking-water system, painting classrooms and replacing environmentally corrosive wood-charcoal cook stoves with clean-burning gas stoves. For this adventure philanthropy expedition, Roadmonkey is working with the Bibi Jann Children’s Care Trust, a 501(c)(3) organization founded by an American woman and former teacher at the school here.

While I’ve been writing this, Team Roadmonkey has eaten breakfast, packed, geared up and, amid some nervous chatter and morning laughter, proclaimed that it is ready to begin our climb, with our mountain guide, assistant guide, cook and about 30 porters from Moshi-based outfitter, Tanzania Journeys.

And so go my co-leader, Stef Levner, and I, off to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro with the girls, and Steve, of Team Roadmonkey.