Vancouver is a coastal city, and my apartment happens to be right near a beach. I pretty much live at sea level. During my nearly year-long preparation for my trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, that was making me the most nervous. How would my body handle the altitude?
Kilimanjaro is 5895 metres (19 341 feet) tall, and if I were to make it all the way to the top, it would be the highest I would've ever been. By quite a bit.
Due to my 4-day, 14 550 kilometre journey to Kilimanjaro, I had a lot of time to think about the potential outcomes of the extreme altitude: headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, physical weakness, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, and at worst, death. I became obsessed with height. At each layover on my journey, decided to check out all the tall things I could find, in hopes that it would somehow prepare me for the hike.
The trek started early—too early, in fact, and all for a 48 minute flight from Vancouver YVR to Seattle SEA. And of course I had stayed up almost all night repacking my bags, so I slept for most of those 48 minutes.
I arrived early, and the city hadn't awakened yet. Pike Place Market was just setting up for the day and I got a mixed bag of directions to my next sightseeing stop, the EMP Museum (mostly because I didn't know it was called the EMP Museum and not the Rock and Roll Museum), so I eventually found my way to one of Seattle's most iconic landmarks: the Space Needle.
At 184 metres (605 feet), the Space Needle is not the tallest building in Seattle. That distinction belongs to Columbia Centre, a commercial office building. But the Needle has the city's tallest observation deck at 158 metres (520 feet), and I wanted to start working my way above sea level.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The view from the observatory was clear and I could see the high-rises clustered around the downtown area. I got a good look at Puget Sound, as well as, surprisingly, that EMP Museum that I had so much trouble finding earlier and happened to be located right next door.
After a much-enjoyed nap on the grass in the shade of the Needle, I wandered my way back to the metro, rode the Link to the airport, and flew 14 hours and 30 minutes to Dubai DXB.
Unlike my daytime layover in Seattle, this time I just had the night to spend in the city. With such a limited time to explore, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: the world's tallest building.
My friend Megan picked me up from the airport. I knew it was going to be hot, but it surprised me just how warm it could get—my glasses fogged up as soon as I stepped outside. It may have been 7pm, but I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity.
We made it to Megan's apartment and I was able to freshen up after my long day. She offered two options for our visit to the Burj Khalifa: 1. go to the world's highest observation deck on Level 148, or 2. get dressed in some fancier clothes and party at the luxury bar, Atmosphere, on Level 122. I, of course, wanted to get as high up as possible, so we went with option 1.
At 555 metres (1821 feet) high, I didn't feel like I was on the ground; I had just seen the exact same view from the plane when I was landing at DXB. The view was spectacular and not as acrophobia-inducing as I imagined it might be, considering I was standing at what would be the very tip of the spire on the CN Tower in Toronto.
The next morning, Megan and I caught our 5 and a half hour-long flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and after a couple nights there we took a 10 hour bus to Moshi. Finally, there it was.
We first saw Kilimanjaro from the taxi on our way to the hotel, and now looking at it from our hotel balcony was intimidating. It was huge.
I had travelled 14 550 kilometres in four days, and all that was left was an 8-day climb of the remaining 5042 metres of elevation.
We were on our way up.
To visit the Space Needle from the airport, take the Link light rail to Westlake Station (37 minutes). From there you can find a bus or walk northwest for about 20 minutes along 5th Avenue toward the tower. Regular tickets are US$22, and are for a particular "launch time" up the elevator; if it's busy, expect a wait for your turn, so book your ticket in advance.
In Dubai, you have to visit the Burj Khalifa, which has been the world's man-made structure since 2008. From the airport, take the MRed to Burj Khalifa Metro Station (23 minutes) and walk 14 minutes to the tower. Tickets are AED350-500 (about US$100-135) and can be booked in advance.