Coronavirus quarantine diary: the snows of Kilimanjaro

It was only when we were on our way down that I learned we were coming home to quarantine, despite the small number of cases of coronavirus in Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro  (photo credit: YARIV DAGAN)
Mount Kilimanjaro
(photo credit: YARIV DAGAN)
I had been planning the trip for months, not knowing that I'd be coming home to quarantine rather than the normal routine of family and work. I went off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with my good friend Ofer Ogash. No one is more suited for this kind of trek.
It's not easy, to say the least; no weekend jaunt with the family. Still, it isn't as hard as that army exercise a few years back when Ofer and I climbed Mount Carmel. There are hiking paths up Kilimanjaro. To get up the Carmel we had to make our way over boulders and through heavy vegetation, places even wild boars steer clear of.
When you're on the mountain, high up and cut off from the world, you're totally "out of contact." Only the Great Architect can hear you. It's fine to talk to God. The problem starts when you hear Him answer.
It was only when we were on our way down that I learned we were coming home to quarantine, despite the small number of cases of coronavirus in Africa. I trust that the decision-makers know what they're doing. It's their responsibility to prevent hundreds of avoidable deaths, if not more, from this miserable virus. The burden rests entirely on their shoulders.
Nevertheless, during the descent, which is very hard on the knees, I couldn't help thinking about all the people paying the price for their caution: the airlines, hotels, tour guides, bus companies, taxi drivers, the suppliers who won't be paid for merchandise they’ve already delivered, owners of event halls and sports, performing artists, restaurant owners and workers, and all the people who will lose their job or go bankrupt. Who is going to compensate them? Who is going to look out for all the economic victims of the pandemic?
The ascent begins at the gate of the national park at an altitude of about 1,900 meters (around 6,200 feet). You climb through a tropical jungle. No exotic villas, only jungle. It's hot and humid. You hear the sounds of rushing streams and shrieking birds. Every now and then you catch sight of monkeys or an occasional tree hyrax in the branches above, roots cross the path, and there are ants whose bite is excruciating. Welcome to Tarzan's world.
Around 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet) above sea level, the jungle gives way to savanna. The monkeys are gone, but we did see the droppings of servals, a type of wild cat, almost like being on safari.
At about 4,500 meters (about 15,000 feet), there's a sharp transition from savanna to alpine desert. All of a sudden, the vegetation ends and you're walking through a desert. Even this high up, there are crows, the white-necked crow, a huge bird with a ludicrously thick beak and, not surprisingly, a white neck. Crows are despised universally, regardless of nationality, race or gender.
Meanwhile, down below, the coronavirus was spreading uncontrollably throughout the rest of the world thanks to progress, the open skies, and the millions of people who fly daily from place to place, bringing with them souvenirs, impressions, memories and viruses.
Can we put a complete stop to all that? We might be able to slow it down for a while. Every year, between 300 and 400 Israelis die in road accidents, but nobody suggests halting all vehicular traffic. It can't be done. Can the whole country be quarantined? Maybe. Sometimes we just have to trust the authorities.
We hiked in sunshine, rain, and snow, until we finally reached the peak. A drink of water, a few photos, and then you turn around and start the descent.
On the mountain, all year long, convoys of porters, like convoys of tiny ants, climb up and down day after day carrying equipment on their shoulders and heads. Viruses don't concern them. They don’t fly anywhere. They simply keep going back and forth, greeting each other with a friendly "Jambo,"Swahili for "Hi!"
Translated from Hebrew by Sara Kitai, [email protected]