How I proposed to my GF on top of Mount Kenya!!
"If you like it then you better put a ring on it"
Thank you Beyoncé. Now we've all got that song on our mind. But there is some truth to that simple sentence. I met my girlfriend at a wedding in Denmark in 2012. Le and I started dating some time thereafter and at some point the planing of the Saga had gotten so serious that we had to have a talk about our future. Le and I agreed to stay together through a long distance relationship as long as it made sense to the both of us. I left Denmark on October 10th 2013 and she stayed behind, while pursuing her career as a medical doctor within geriatrics in Copenhagen. Since then she has been out to visit me 9 times across the world making Kenya the 10th here in 2016. I wanted to make it special. I had been planing on it for a long time.
Le has a twin sister in Denmark. Her name is Pil and I wrote her on September 9th asking if we could keep a secret from Le. Then I asked if Pil could help me find Le's ring size? I had been thinking about a ring since South Africa due to their abundance of gold and diamonds. But in reality I found myself sitting with 2 Norwegian friends (Helene and Eivind www.pakaadventures.com) in Dar Es Salaam, when Eivind told me of a Danish man dealing in jewels in Tanzania. Eivind also told me about the very rare gemstone called Tanzanite. It is so rare that it is only found near Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and nowhere else. In fact it is said to be 1,000 times more rare than diamonds.
The Dane, Eivind was talking about, was Iver Rosenkrantz who turned out to be a formidable adventurer who spends a great deal of his time in the jungle searching for treasures, precious stones and adventure (www.rosenkrantz.co.tz). Iver and I never met as he was on his way to Dubai followed by London. But we did communicate and he got me in touch with Arjun at @LavingiaJewels (Instagram handle). Arjun was up for the challenge and together we managed to get what was in my mind handcrafted into the real world. Arjun delivered!
Now I had the ring. The next step was how and where to ask her to marry me? My friend Lars asked his wife at a special place with exotic flowers and butterflies. It sounded quite amazing, when I first heard about it and it put the mark up pretty high. I spoke to a few other friends back home and consensus seemed to be that the location didn't matter as much as the mood. My friend Zaitun Munawar Ibrahim works for the Dutch Red Cross, but comes from Kenya. We met in Zambia and she offered to help. While all of this was going on I was traveling through Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, while stressing about South Sudan. Le and I where trying to work out where to meet and there seemed to be two possibilities: Kenya or Ethiopia. With all the uncertainty and with Zaitun helping me I opted for Kenya. Zaitun lives in Mombasa by the Indian Ocean and my initial thoughts were to bring Le on a train ride from Nairobi to Mombasa, then stay somewhere secluded at one of the gorgeous beaches and work a plan from that.
Meanwhile I had been wanting to summit a mountain for a long time. First I wanted it to be Aconcagua in Argentina, but I reached South America in the winter and it would had been impossible. Then later on I wanted to trek up Mount Cameroon in Central Africa, but I eventually ran out of time, money and any form of excess. Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain on the African continent and I'd been thinking about it for a very long time! In fact I was talking to Thomas (from www.givevolunteers.org) about it while on Zanzibar in June 2016. Thomas and I were both interested in scaling that mountain. He then went on to climb Mt Kilimanjaro which I had already done 10 years earlier. Come to think about it I have wanted to summit Mt Kenya since I heard about it 10 years ago.
Something else has been rattling around in the back of my head: The Boma in Nairobi! (www.theboma.co.ke). The Boma is a superb luxury hotel in Nairobi which belongs to Kenya Red Cross Society. All profits from the chain of hotels fund the Kenya Red Cross. I first heard about The Boma when I visited Haiti back in 2015. Ruben Wedel who was a Red Cross delegate back then told me about it and I told him I intended to stay at it! Ruben laughed at me and told me that I had no chance. He said that the hotel operates separately from the Red Cross and furthermore was too exclusive. On that day back in January 2015 Ruben and I made my life's perhaps greatest bet: Would I stay at The Boma or not? If I didn't then I would owe Ruben a beer served in Belgium (because they make great beer). But if I did stay at The Boma then it would be vice versa. So now a plan began to form...
As we successfully left South Sudan we were ready to make Kenya the Sagas 121st country. On arrival in Nairobi I quickly met with Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) who have an amazing setup and national reach. Anthony Mwangi is the head of external relations and before I knew it I was speaking in front of about 70 members of KRCS! With passion I told them about the Saga for about 20 minutes. Then Anthony prompted me to tell them all about my plans for Le. In that moment a swore around 70 strangers into secrecy and told them about my plans for The Boma which served 2 separate purposes: 1) To win a long standing wager and 2) To be the setting for me and the woman I was about to ask to marry me. I then went on to tell them about my plans for the proposal on top of Mt Kenya. An elaborate plan for sure, but certainly worth pursuing! I think I made around 70 friends in that room ;)
In my most basic belief people are generally people all around the world. While you might find a few bad apples most people are good, genuine and helpful. In my recent experience there is nothing you can't accomplish with 70 Kenyans supporting you ;)
For a long while I had been trying to get someone to grasp the opportunity of supporting a man who had traveled to 121 countries during an unbroken journey without flight, who furthermore was about to summit Mt Kenya and propose at the summit! But in my experience to many people, companies, governments and groups are too slow to catch most opportunities in life. I've seen it again and again. Therefore it is very much to the credit of KRCS and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS www.kws.go.ke) that everything worked out! I was swiftly introduced to Mr. Juergen Gruebel who is the General Manager at The Boma Hotel in Nairobi. He liked the idea and immediately green lighted our stay. Actually I've come to like him very much, but that is a different story for another time. Suffice to stay he is a very interesting man. Another interesting person is Abshiro Halake who is the Deputy Secretary General of KRCS. Before the KRCS she used to work for KWS and now took it upon her to do all the legwork for me. With only a few days before Le's arrival it was all coming together. Why these things always need to be last moment I cannot say?!? I began preparations long before but no matter now - it all worked out...
With only a few days before her arrival Dr. James Kisia (Executive Director at KRCS) invited me to stay at his home and introduced me to his family. I believe that's where we left off in the last blog. Now the scene was set: I had the ring, I was in Nairobi, The Boma had been arranged for and KWS had agreed to sponsor the trek in Mount Kenya National Park. "Scene....aaaaaand: ACTION!"
Saturday November 12th 2016: Le arrives
Le knew nothing. I hadn't told her where we were going to stay. And I hadn't told her that she was going to climb a mountain. I simply told her to bring clothes for 4 days of trekking and to expect it would get chilly. She actually guessed that we would climb a mountain which I quickly waved away by saying: "What do you think you are? A mountaineer?" ;)
Sunday November 13th 2016
Le was very impressed with the hotel. But who wouldn't have been? The motto for The Boma is: "Hospitality with a conscience". It's described as a haven from the hustle and bustle and an ideal place for people all over the world to come together. My girlfriend was happy and Ruben owed me a beer served in Belgium. I love logistics! ;)
Monday November 14th 2016: Day 1
Abshiro of KRCS had arranged for a Red Cross driver (Peter) and a vehicle to pick us up early in the morning and bring us to the national park. Peter is a short man with a sweet smile and a calm voice. But he is a devil on the road and after a few hours we had arrived. We met with Laban Wanjohi who's a very capable guide who works for Kenya Wildlife Service. Laban had in advance arranged for a team of porters, a cook and the meals we would be eating. After a light lunch we were on our way and passed the gate to the National Park. I already sensed that Kenya possesses exquisite beauty just from traveling between Kampala and Nairobi. Generally the East African countries boast a great deal of beauty. But walking into this national park I knew I was into something really special. Only a few minutes before we entered the park, Le had been told that she was about to climb Africas second largest mountain. Priceless!! :)
Tuesday November 15th 2016: Day 2
We woke up after having had a cold night. There is something ironic about that since we walked across the Equator the day before. You'd expect massive heat, but we were already at relatively high altitude. My mind was a lot on the main topic: Would she say yes? If she said yes, then did she really know what she said yes to? At this point I'm not expected to be back home before 2019. And I will likely face more risk as I cross paths with much more of our world. Can she deal with that? And what about the mood? What if she wasn't in good mood at the summit? What if she had altitude sickness? What if we never reached the summit?
Wednesday November 16th 2016: Day 3 (the day)
We began hiking around 03:00am to reach the summit for the sunrise. However our chances of seeing any sun seemed dim as it was snowing, while we ascended up into the darkness. It was cold. Especially when the wind blew it was almost unbearable. But she was a trooper and kept marching on behind Laban with me in the back. On and off I would be able to reach a phone signal and tried to update FB. I have a lot of experience, when it comes to trekking in general. I had also had some prior experience with altitude, but for Le this was a first. At least regarding trekking in altitude. And as we neared the summit I knew that Denmark would be almost 5,000m (15,000ft) below us.
We reached the summit around 06:15 in time for the sunrise, but the sun was absent. The wind was however present and so was the ice cold snow which chilled our gloveless hands. We hadn't exactly over accessorized regarding equipment. Our sleeping bags were just below comfort zone, we didn't bring gloves and Le's shoes did not have the necessary grip for the ice cold mountain top. But we made it! Vikings!! Danish dynamite!! ;)
I asked Laban for 2 minutes of privacy. Then Le and I were left alone on the leeward side of a big rock. I put my arms around her neck, looked her in the eyes and made sure she was okay. Then I congratulated her on reaching the summit of Point Lenana at 4,985m. While I observed her my frozen hands were fumbling for the ring underneath the rain poncho, I had borrowed from James. Then I carefully made a step backwards trying not to plummet into the deep bottomless void behind me. I got down on one knee, presented her with a question and the ring. She said yes and began to cry. I put the ring on her stiff cold finger and we hugged at the top of Kenya. Le was worried that her face would freeze over from the tears :)
Laban sang and danced for us! Then we all agreed that it was time to get down to warmer layers!! My fiancée might as well have been walking on a cloud. Renewed with energy she was unbeatable and was nearly dancing down the mountainside. However she was holding Laban's hand as her shoes grip wasn't appropriate for the mountainside. We joked a lot about how Laban was spending more time holding her hand than her fiancé. We also spoke of how great it would be to return to The Boma for a steam bath and a soft warm bed. As we descended the sun broke through the clouds and the snow slowly disappeared above us. A rainbow appeared in front of us and we could now see the cabin where we would spend our last night on the mountain.
Thursday November 17th 2016: Day 4
Our last stride towards the gate where Peter would come and get us in his KRCS vehicle was lush and green. Le was proudly wearing the ring on her finger and I must admit that it looked more gorgeous on her finger than I ever could imagine. A special stone for a special woman.
The Boma was a welcome sight for sore eyes. Over the next few days we would be congratulated several times. At The Boma the kind Mr. Gruebel congratulated us and welcomed us back into luxury. The meals at The Boma, the kindness of the staff, the design, the accessories and the atmosphere: Perfection!
The KRCS invited us to join them at the annual gala. We were reluctant as we were quite exhausted, but Dr. Kisia borrowed me an African shirt and we eventually joined in on a quite spectacular night of fun and good food. Little did I know when I got out of bed that morning, that I would be on stage in front of some 500 people, while explaining the Saga along with my very recent engagement. Life is like a box of chocolates...
Before Le returned to Denmark we just did ordinary couple stuff. We played cards, went for a walk, visited the baby elephant orphanage, the giraffe center, went to see a movie at the theater and had sushi at a nice restaurant. 8 days go by pretty fast, but we certainly got the most out of it. I received a girlfriend, but sent a fiancée home. We don't know when or where we will see each other next time, but probably some time after Christmas. The Saga continues and we will keep on keeping on.
Thank you to everyone who has participated in making these 8 days memorable.
And don't forget that you can now donate to the Red Cross directly through Once Upon A Saga! How cool is that?!? Just check it out here on the right side of this page :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - engaged ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
ONCE UPON A SAGA