If most people live sedentary lives, David Bonnici certainly does not. Leading the relatively quiet life of a pharmacist by day, he transforms after hours to become an athletic personality who manages to win his own feats, quietly so. Speaking to this 30-year-old man provides an inkling of the hurdles one can overcome, with the right frame of mind.
I started trekking some six years ago. It began quite perchance through a doctor who had done the Kilimanjaro Challenge and fascinated me by what she described. When I ‘enrolled’ to take on the Kilimanjaro Challenge with the second group, I had never actually travelled before. For my first trip, I went to London to buy my trekking gear. My second trip provided a first mountain taster on the Etna in Sicily, a mountain I have come to love. Kilimanjaro proved to be a wonderful first experience. Prior to leaving we had our first part of the challenge to deal with however – fundraising for a clinic in the Ethiopian villiage of Bulbula. It was hard but we managed to raise a considerably sum.”
Fundraising had seemed hard, but in comparison, the physical challenge was authentically strenuous. “The trek itself started out on jungle terrain, vervet monkeys and all. Slowly we met less vegetation and eventually temperatures dropped dramatically so we had to wrap up considerably at night when our tents would get covered in frost. Our arrival at the peak was pretty exciting, with very cold but exceptional weather.”
By the end of it, David Bonnici was well and truly hooked, and thereafter began his personal resolve to scale all mountains, where possible. He joined a small group of trekking enthusiasts and scaled the Etna (yet again), the Toubkal, the Imja Tse, the Elbrus, Mont Blanc ... “Each mountain brings along its own particular challenge. For instance, the Imja Tse in the Himalayas was the closest I got to the Everest, although we did stop at the Everest Base Camp. This camp is set up annually, every climbing season, atop a glacier, so you can actually hear the ice crack every so often and know that distant rumbling indicates yet another avalanche somewhere close by.”
The Toubkal was an especially tough experience which taught David that one can never know too much. “One day, we ventured out without a guide, relying on the knowledge acquired from a couple of recommended guide books. We had two mules with their owners tagging along and transporting provisions. The mules had to be led along an alternative and safer passage, and we trekked on confidently believing we would meet them shortly afterwards at the next camp.” However, unbeknown to them, part of the route they had meant to trek had collapsed shortly before, and so the team members found themselves blocked. Suddenly it was night and they realised they had to camp in a subzero temperature. Their sleeping bags were on the mules and they only had a couple of extra changes of clothing, plastic garbage bags and some extra light jackets. “We put on everything we had, including the plastic bags, huddled together and hoped for the best. We were lucky no storm crept up on us. Needless to say, we scarcely slept and resumed trekking with first light, arriving at camp famished, exhausted and stiff. To compensate, the summit was exceptional with lovely weather which allowed us to really enjoy the experience.”
The coldest peak experienced was definitely the Elbrus, a free-standing peak in Russia, the highest in Europe, perennially covered in snow. David joined a Canadian team and whilst the expedition started out with fine weather, day two presented them with a blizzard and by day three, David’s stomach was playing up and causing him severe dehydration.
Another mount, the Mont Blanc is associated with disappointment since shortly before reaching its summit, David passed out due to lack of sleep and proper nutrition. “The guide would not risk having me with the expedition as his responsibility was ensuring everybody was well and safe. He was afraid I could pass out again and compromise the others’ safety. Needless to say, I was pretty put out, having to walk back down to camp when I was so very close to the summit itself.”
The Imja Tse, at an altitude of 6200m led him to experience Asia, its food, its people, and provided a first taster of climbing ice. Led by one of the most brilliant guides ever, a Scottish 60-year-old called Victor Saunders, David along with his Maltese companions, managed to trudge along a staggered climb that lasted 19 days but led them to the peak and through the Everest Base Camp.
Feeling quite exhausted after all these accounts of strenuous treks and climbs, I ask about the here and now. David did not surprise me – he has now taken up long-distance running as he wanted a break from the mountain experience, even whilst he is pondering a solo trek or climb in 2012. “Longdistance running is, for me, a low-cost, travel-free alternative to the trekking experience which still provides me the type of adrenaline I need to boost my spirit.” But after a long day at the pharmacy, after the long-distance run ... what does he do to relax? This time, I was really surprised when I discovered David is an Argentine Tango dancer, yet another activity that calls for movement, movement and yet more movement.
“I only started Tango dancing three years ago. In Argentine Tango you need to learn the proper technique, but then the technique is universal and this allows you to dance with every woman who studied and practiced Argentine Tango.” Not being one to take half-measures, he also attends regularly international tango dancing events that brings together Argentine Tango enthusiasts from all over Europe. He has attended several tango festivals and marathons across Europe, namely Palermo, London, Cagliari, Rome, the Netherlands and Brussels.
“We dance all day, until the early hours of morning. Why tango? From a young age I was always fascinated with dance and music. When I was younger I was a Break Dancer, but that genre is not the kind you can do all your life. Argentine Tango is different, its music was born in the 1930s and dance ballads are about Argentine lifestyle, simple things, daily happenings, emotions. It is very intriguing. My only problem now is that when I think of Argentina I think of the Andes and Tango. They are two valid reasons for visiting one day.”