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Dear Eddie Frank,

Jambo bwana! How does one write a letter describing their most life-changing experience? It has been two weeks since I returned home from the biggest and best adventure of my life. I made it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro with Tusker Trail on June 14, 2011 – my 30th birthday. I am still processing different aspects of it, but I wanted to write to you while the memories are still fresh in my mind and heart.

When I mentioned to my friend Art Stone that I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for my 30th birthday, he said he would go with me. His father had done it and he would find out which outfitter he used. Well, it turned out to be Tusker Trail and after talking to his dad about his experience, there was no way we were going to go with anyone else. Safety was our main concern and Tusker is unmatched when it comes to safety. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. My friend Jennifer joined us and our trio was ready to go!

My first contact was with Haley Brunello, our trekking coordinator. Not only was this my first time climbing a mountain, it was my first time camping! Go big or go home, I always say. Haley was extremely supportive from the very first email all the way until a few days before I left. She showed patience as well as expertise when I would send her links to gear from various websites and ask her opinion. Thanks to her, I felt confident that I had the right gear for every situation!

Once in Moshi, the exceptional quality of service began before we even got to the mountain. Our head guide, Eliakim, gave us a tour of the town and helped us find a cell phone that would work on the mountain so we could call home. This meant so much to all of us as we were excited to share our experience with our loved ones.

When we did get to the mountain, it was obvious that we were in the company of a first-class group of individuals. I was constantly amazed and inspired by the strength and spirit of our porters. The set-up and break-down of our camps were incredibly efficient; everything was right where it should be at all times. Their friendly smiles and melodic voices added richness to this experience that I will never forget. I’ve never had a better alarm clock than the beautiful up-and-down rhythms of Swahili-speaking voices floating through the morning air.

I am aware that there was so much effort and work from the Tusker crew that I did not see with my own eyes. Based on what I am aware of, there are some individuals to whom I would like to give special recognition:

Godlisen – Dubbed ‘The Best Voice on the Mountain’, he certainly lived up to the name! We had some of our biggest smiles and cheers as a result of his booming, amazing voice singing to us in Swahili.

Matthew – He showed up near the end of every day to carry my pack for me. It was a small gesture of kindness that was extremely appreciated.

Reagan – He was my summit day porter. When we would stop for water, I would lean my head on his shoulder while I drank from my Camelbak. He stood there patiently and let me take as much time as I needed. I told him, through Pastori, that I could never have made it to the top without his help.

Naftali – Just seeing his name brings a smile to my face. He was our emergency gear porter, so we were all glad to have him around for that reason. As the days went on, I was glad to have him around for a different reason. He was shy and soft-spoken but we developed a friendship and even referred to each other as ‘caca’ and ‘dada’ (brother and sister). His kind smile was always a welcome sight. He and Reagan literally held my hands to help me descend from the summit when I was completely exhausted, something for which I will always be grateful.

Pastori – He was technically our assistant guide, but my two friends and I spent a lot of time with him due to the nature of our group. One of our favorite games to play was trying to make him laugh; he has a great laugh! It was Pastori who led us to the summit and I will always remember giving him a big hug and thanking him for helping me realize my dream. I grew to admire and care about him very much, and it is my firm belief that he would make an excellent head guide for Tusker.

Eliakim – There is a reason that this man is a head guide for the best outfitter on the mountain. He is charismatic and fun to talk to, yet he takes safety and health extremely seriously. From the smallest complaint to the more serious concerns, he always gave prompt, professional action. His biggest gift to me was the emotional support he provided when I needed it most. Whether I was feeling homesick or overwhelmed by whatever obstacle we were facing, he was always there for me. From orientation until we returned to Moshi, I always knew we were in the very best hands. He is not only an excellent leader, he is also a tremendous human being.

I have not been able to write this letter without tears filling my eyes. It is hard to accept that I may never see any of these incredible people again after they played such a major role in helping me achieve a dream. But, they have given me a gift that will last a lifetime. The gift that they gave me was a reminder that we are all more alike than we are different, and that our time on Earth is very short; we must embrace life every single day whether climbing a mountain or not. I thought this adventure was going to be about accomplishing a huge goal to ring in my 30th birthday. It turned out to be so much more in ways that I never could have expected.

To anyone who is thinking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro there is simply no competition – Tusker Trail is the only way to go. Let me tell you one short anecdote to prove this point. It was night three and we were at Moir Camp. Sometime in the middle of the night, I was awakened by the sound of a man’s voice. He was at the guide’s tent, which was next to mine. He was saying “Pastori! Pastori!” in a very rushed and worried voice. My eyes shot open and I felt worried that something was wrong with someone in our group or perhaps with one of our porters. I listened closely but Pastori and this other man ran off in the night and I could no longer hear their voices. The next morning, I asked Pastori what happened. He said that a man who was climbing with another outfitter had fallen very ill. This man had been sick for 3 days straight and his guides had not known what to do. When things had gotten so bad that they could not wait another minute to get help, his guides had come to Tusker for assistance. Apparently, Tusker’s reputation is known not only amongst climbers, but also amongst other outfitters. Sadly, Pastori said that the man would have to be evacuated because he had been too sick for too many days and his condition was very serious. In that moment, I knew that every single penny that we spent to climb with Tusker was more than worth it. They were absolutely vigilant about our well-being at all times.

Mr. Frank, your team is incredible beyond words. I have been changed for the better because of this experience; not just because I made it to the summit, but because of the incredible people that I met and got to know. It is my sincere wish for Tusker Trail to have even more success in the years to come, and I will do everything I can to spread the word about your company!

From the bottom of my heart, I want to say ASANTE SANA to everyone who has been a part of this experience for me. I will treasure this adventure for the rest of my life.

Very sincerely,

Hayley Bushnell

Tusker Trail

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