The more I travel, the more the journey becomes about the people I meet along the way, their stories, and adventures rather than about the destination itself. Travel has been an education I couldn’t get anywhere else. Ive learned about myself and life in ways I never could’ve imagined.

My journey through Tanzania started off at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

What was a tremendous effort for me, others did with an easy smile on their faces. Our porters carried immensely heavy loads on their backs, cooked, and set up tents. They encouraged and instructed each person in the group. Each porter pushed everyone both mentally and physically. Their relentless energy could have pulled anyone from the deepest stage of despair. These porters are the heroes of Kilimanjaro, and their magic and strength are the reason most make it to the top.

Florian was the most experienced, as he had already summited Kilimanjaro more than 100 times, once helping a group of 27 disabled climbers reach the summit. Alex knew every plant and creature that inhabited the mountain and dreams of going to the United States to see the White House. Yusuph sang the Malaika song, a popular Swahili love song, every night during sunset to keep our spirits up.

The altitude sickness hit us hard at the Lava Tower, the turning point in the climb at around 4,642 meters. After I overcame it, I realized I didn’t need the benefits of civilization as much as I previously thought. I started appreciating simple things — food, water, warm clothes, good company. Without other distractions, I felt incredibly connected to the people there that day, all of us marching toward the same goal.

On the day of the summit hike, I woke at 11 pm to a song coming from the next tent. It was Moshe, a fellow climber, trying to wake everyone up with his rendition of 90’s pop music. I put four layers of clothes on and prepared for the seven-hour-long night hike to Uhuru peak ahead of me. Upon exiting my tent, I could see a distant string of lights going up the mountain, like fireflies. It was the flashlights of other groups who started the hike even earlier.

I didn’t think I could make it, each breath a sharp stab in the lungs, each step an insurmountable effort.

But, when I saw a sign with the numbers, 5,895m, on the peak ahead of me, my exhaustion faded away. Suddenly, I wasn’t cold anymore, and I didn’t care that the only thing I’d eaten for the past seven hours was two energy bars. All that mattered was that I’d made it. I was surrounded by ancient glaciers and a huge crater. Everyone was crying, laughing, and cheering at the same time.

On the way back down, I became more aware of my surroundings. I watched as ecosystems passed by — a rainforest inhabited by Colobus monkeys, the Mars-like Moorlands, and the Alpine Desert with giant groundsels.

After we descended the mountain and did a victory dance with our guides and porters, we set off to visit the Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Zanzibar.

I’d done what had seemed impossible — I’d reached the summit of Kilimanjaro — and it was a relief to sway lazily in a hammock and watch the Zanzibari children play football in the sand in front of the opaque blue ocean.

Related:  The Magic of Florence

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Olga Gordienko
Olga Gordiienko was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine. After graduating from University and taking a job as a professional model, she realized that she had a close connection to traveling and to photography. Continually inspired to look deeper by the artists she met in Singapore, Tokyo, Tel-Aviv, London, and Paris, she began to use photography as a way to communicate and to expand her own-and society's-horizons.

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