Africa, January 6 -21, 2012
Tanzania, Kilimanjaro and Safari
1-5-2012: Checked in at San Diego airport at 4:30am for a 6:30am flight to Minneapolis, then to Amsterdam, to Moshi International Airport and arriving at our hotel at 1:30am, bed by 3:30am on January 6th/7th. (Day 1)
Our first day in Africa was an introduction to rural town life. Walked by springs and small rivers that fed the rice fields, towns, cows, goats, people and also served as washing and bathing water. Frogs, many egrets and other birds were in the fields, harvesting frogs and insects while farmers planted rice. The small hamlets were surrounded by sun flowers and planed corn, chickens, sometimes goats and very tidy, swept yards. Garbage was brought out front towards the common pathway. Not sure who disposed of it and how. It seemed to stay there. People were friendly and the children curious and sweet. Our first guide’s name was Baragesh. Tanzania is deemed wealthy by African standards, it even exports food. The only overweight people I saw were government officials. I did not see much wealth or infrastructure. The only supermarket in town (sparkled and was well stocked) was gate guarded with armed guards. Schools are expensive and still you see children walking miles to school in their uniforms. Hospitals are almost non-existent. Many women and children still die because no medical help is available. Parts of the parks and Serengeti are overgrazed. The income from the fees for the parks is huge, yet the population sees none of the funds. Operators and guides pay huge fees to the park, but the funds are not used for the infrastructure. The funds, according to the people we spoke to, are going to the politicians and their families, who send their children to expensive schools in Europe and America. In the university parking lot I spotted 4 cars. That’s all. School was in session. Parents have to pay to send their children to school, even the public schools.
Still it is more peaceful than other countries and with Tanzania’s more than 500 different tribes and population groups it is a miracle there has been peace for some 50 years since it was liberated from England.
People return waves and smiles and I felt comfortably safe and welcome.
Day 3 Lemosho Route
Day 1 on the trail
Moshi to Lemosho Glades to Mkubwa Camp:
Our duffel bags were protected by heavy, bright- yellow plastic bags which also served as door mats throughout our ascent. Once they were weighed and loaded, we were loaded into a tall truck which took us to the trail head past the park’s entrance. When the ruts filled with muddy water were big enough to swallow my Prius, the truck stopped and we debarked on our first steps towards our goal, reaching the 19,430 foot summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or Kili as they call the mountain here. The ride definitely counted as our first adventure. Earlier, at the park entrance , a simple hut (with a Christmas Tree) and two bath rooms, large shade trees and a big scale we lunched on the lawn while the guides and porters carefully weighed and measured every porter’s load. I liked that they were protected this way. Still, seeing them carry their packs, our packs, chairs, tables, tents and all utensils needed to supply shelter and food was amazing. I have the highest admiration for these very hard working, young people. While carrying their burden they still offer their smile with a “Jambo”, the local “hello”.
Soon we were under the vast canopy of trees. St. John’s Wort here is not a low growing herb, but a tree reaching up to 30 feet. Where- ever sun touched the rain forest’s floor, flowers flourished, impatiens took the front stage along the way. Ferns, moss and greens of every shade framed our path. Sometimes muddy from rain and springs, sometimes just slippery. We arrived just before dusk. Prepared for the next morning’s trek before a tasty supper in our mess tent. It consisted of greens, boiled potatoes, vegetable stew, fish and fruit. Our porters also had the two tent “outhouses” standing near our tents, mats and the mess tent up before we arrived. I was still tired from the two-day flight and the heat and was thinking: “I wonder if I make it, I am exhausted!!! This was after walking from 6500 feet to 9000 feet at Mt. Mkubwa camp. (Big Tree)
Day 2 on the trail
Mkubwa Camp to Shira 1 Camp,
(11,500 feet elevation, an about 5 hour hike.)
The howler monkeys woke us about 3 am, but I went back to sleep until our wonderful helpers woke us with coffee and tea. Somehow the tea tasted better at elevation, so it soon became habit. Tea in the morning and with each meal, adding to our required, daily fluid intake. We left at 8 am after a hearty breakfast of porridge, toast, eggs, fruit and jam.
At first it went slow, but the giant, magnificent trees decorated with moss all over gave us shade from the heat and we soon were able to trek at a more reasonable pace. Occasional howls of monkeys told we were not the only mammals in the woods. When we came out of the rain forest into the open, heather moorlands it became hot again. Every time we reached the summit of a ridge, there was another ridge ahead of us. The porters as always “flying” past us. We had a short break at a stream, admired flowers, birds and the forests of heather and protea plants. Most were over 10 feet tall.
Again we rested and after tea readied ourselves for a voluntary but recommended “training hike” up the nearby mountain. Part of conditioning for the summit…I am huffing and puffing, but it goes well downhill. Saw prints of water buffalo, eland and gazelle. The landscape is taking on a surreal element. Vastness beyond anything I expected. Moorland with ferns, flowers, streams, all among lava rocks, the mountain reflecting the last light of the day. Hills are around us, some we traveled on to arrive at Shira 1. Slept fitfully after I washed my dusty feet in the stream. Wanted to bathe the next morning, but Angela, our leader firmly said no! Not because the environmental degradation I could have caused but because the water buffalo could have been a danger to me. A bath with a wash cloth had to do.
Day 3 on the trail: Shira 1 to Shira 2
Landscape: I could have stayed here for days. Magical. Everything was magical! The plants and grasses I never saw before, the stream cutting through polished lave rock, forming small canyons, vast grass lands and vernal meadows, springs bubbling out of the ground and above all, Mt. Kilimanjaro beckoning. Over and over I marveled at the sound and presence of water all along the journey. And yet I am told it is not from snow melt. The snow and ice on top of the volcano evaporates into the atmosphere. Summit looks so far away! It seemed like it would take a month to gain the distance to the summit. Bird life is thriving here. Their voices filled the air with music. The mountain remains clear of clouds. The open plain before us is ringed with “hills” of 12,000- foot altitude. Another, mid-day training hike led us up one of these hills. Wayyyyy in the distance we saw Shira 2 up towards the mountain. It looked much closer.
Tired, but encouraged by our guides and the surreal landscape ahead of us, we clambered on to the summit of one of the ridges before us. On top, the world dropped out underneath us. The vastness of the rugged, tropical landscape extended all the way to the horizon, actually the neighboring Kenya. Breathtaking would definitely be a fitting description, but it was more. Ur. A prehistoric landscape showing the formation, flows and energy of volcanic violence. Some flows, looking like vertical walls, were over 500 feet high. We have been on nothing but volcanic soil and landscape since we started. Wild magnificent wilderness. The right words escape me. I can say it touched me almost as much as my experience on the summit.
Exhausted, we arrived at Shira 2 camp. Other hikers and a sea of tents had arrived before us. United Nations! In the distance grand Mt. Meru towered above the evening clouds at sunset . Mt. Kilimanjaro’s clouds just began to lift. We were looking forward the full moon again. After tea and a short rest we got back onto our feet and-you guessed it- hiked some more. We had arrived 45 minutes before expected time of arrival, so we are “improving”? Still the training hike seemed torture at first, but we did not want to fail to summit, so on we slogged. Up above our camp! Coming down was better. Dinner was a delicious curry, pasta, some deep fried protein and tea. The temperature is kinder tonight. Roy, Toni and Ginny are resting since we arrived here and we all hope they will continue. Altitude sickness is upsetting them.
After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, sausages, toast, pancakes, tea, coffee, porridge and fruit we broke camp. Our capable, hard workers folded up the tents and packed all together and passed us on the trail not long after we took off, us once again laboring uphill, they just gliding by with a smiling “Jambo”!
Everyone is up and eager to continue. We are all very happy. No more damp mood. We broke up into two groups, one a little faster than the other. During the first part of the day I was in the faster group, but towards the end I switched to the slower part, no by choice. Breathing is difficult up here! We arrived at the Lava Towers (15,200 feet). Took a photo to prove it and slogged on. Downhill first, clambering along a solid lava wall, bordered by a small stream and springs with mini meadows. Then uphill again, downhill again…
By now we had passed the bush lands (2600’-6000’), the rain forest (6000’-9200’), heather- and protea forests (9200’-13200’) and now we are in the alpine desert zone (13200’-16500’).
We did not see all 140 species of mammals which live on the volcano, nor the 179 species of birds. But we saw enough to make us happy.
I was pleased to see many young travelers on the trail, given the effort it demands to fly to Tanzania here plus the effort to summit. The rule of the trail is to step aside when porters approach as they carry their load. We were grateful for the many opportunities to have a second-long respite.
As we approach our camp by a steep decent on nasty scree, another magical landscape began to emerge. Senecio Kilimanjari grows up to 5 m and looks like a palm. Delicate large leafs are upturned and are standing in the mist as we approach, sentinels along the waterfall and stream flowing alongside our trail. Lobelia DeKenii, grows up to 3 m but even a small specimen is spectacular with its deep blue blossoms tucked into its cone shape tower.
No training hike today, but I was delighted to wash body and hair in the stream (no upstream camp or cows) with Angela being my guarding chaperone. In the setting sun we had one last glimpse of “our mountain” before it disappeared in the clouds above us. Damp clouds flying in through the western breach from Kenya. We were once more at 12,960’. The magnificent, but daunting Great Barranco Wall at our back. Tomorrow we will climb up and over it before the sun does.
Dinner was aromatic rice and curry. I could live on that diet for a long time. Still drinking my Tanzania tee I brought back a year later! Cleaner and thus happier, I slept very well.
Day 5 on the trail: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
Got up before sunrise. All survived the 5 hour trek. The first 2 hours were the best!
Favorite hike of the entire trip! Although all hikes are “feast for the eyes and emotions”, these first two hours were my favorites. The camp soon vanished into the distance and looked like a toy village of tents. We might be the first group up the wall. The volcanic rock in our path had well worn hand holds that were smooth from thousands of hikers before us. I purposely touched these rocks with appreciation and gratefulness. I wondered who all had the pleasure and pain before us. The porters certainly must have endured so much more than us. Our group was helping each other and I noticed for the first time a relaxing of “individual” and blending to “group”. It could have been the challenge. At the summit of the wall the gathering was somber again, anticipating the rest of the hike. I think everyone had a “rush” at the wall. Adrenaline cursed throughout. Jimmy, as always, seemed to be undaunted and energized to go on. All through the trip he was my shining example.
Up and down, past highland meadows, creeks, scree and lots of interesting vegetation. By now I no longer photographed much, the exertion and altitude got the better of me. Arrived at 1 pm. Lunched. Slept. Up at 4 for another “practice and altitude adjustment hike.” Very wise. Karanga Camp is at 13,780 feet.
Dinner: curry, rice and fruit. Stars out again. No one knows how to find the Southern Cross! Never did see it. Far in the distance we saw the lights of towns. Water is flowing in every valley. None is left pure. Ours is boiled and treated and no one got ill. (At this camp our porters had to return to the last camp to fetch all the water needed for us, to clean dishes, our washing water and their water.164 liters! And they did it and were back in time for dinner. )
Day 6 on the trail: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp.
Last camp before the summit push. Now at alpine desert, we are way above the treeline. Hiking up and down, arriving at “base camp” of 14,930’ tired and cold. At least I am. Still I notice the trash. I read about the base camp trash in the Himalayas, this was worse. Sanitation be dammed! Our guides found spaces for our tents away from the worst of it. It is really difficult to accept, seeing the money the government makes form this park. A central bathroom facility and water source, and garbage collection could not only make this a much nicer experience, but also give jobs to the many men who would like to work. No one is lazy here. The ranger’s quarters are deplorable. No western ranger would accept these accommodations.
To our guides and their helpers, about 42 all together, who were our support team a huge praise! No one got sick because of sanitary issues in our camp. Early dinner and to bed by 8 pm.
Sleep at nearly 15,000’ did not come easy. My pack was ready, I was ready. My heart skipped a few beats. And again. I prayed to make it alive to summit and back to Charlie. Took an extra aspirin. Stopped taking altitude medications two days ago after a camp conversation we came to a collective agreement, that Diamox is useless and makes us feel funny. Angela shared that she takes Ginko Balboa twice a day 2 weeks prior to here high altitude trips and she did not seem to be bothered like some of us. Plus, all these exhausting after- dinner hikes paid off so far. Before falling asleep I asked all those I loved and had died to help me and asked all saints from many different continents to help us to make it back safely. Sleep finally came but did not last long…Up at 11:30 pm to get ready for the summit.
Day 7 Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak Summit and back to Millinium Camp.
On the trail by midnight. A long string of headlights are already ahead of us, looking like a necklace winding around the volcano. All is black otherwise. All of us walk slower than usual, all we carry is our walking sticks. The kind guides shouldered our day packs. Step by step we wind upwards, sometimes pulling us up on volcanic rock. It is getting colder, the wind is picking up. My headlamp fails. Exchange it with another, then the first one illuminates inside my pack. Batteries unfroze. Same happened again. Too exhausted to keep changing them. Jimmy lends me his, but it too stopped. (I was too ditzy to realize I need to put it under my cap, just peaking out…)
So I continued on in others’ lights. First short stop I started shivering as my hands seemed to freeze. I think Wayne or some other kind person gave me the warmers to activate inside my gloves. It helped. The ones I had brought were useless. The wind howled and it got colder. I wore three layers and added a wind/rain jacket over my parka and still was cold. Double wool socks and foot warmers in my very solid boots kept me from freezing, although it did not feel like it. On we went, up and up. Some guides came down, assisting their clients to find a lower altitude as they had suffered severe altitude sickness. I am not sure where in the 4,000- foot climb we were, but I saw the eastern horizon became lighter. Knowing that Stella Point and Sunrise at 18,650 ‘ were our estimated first goal, I became more hopeful. My dizzy moments stopped and the momentary dark thoughts of sitting down and not going any further stopped too. Those were long 6 hours! At last, over the last ridge, the sky became lighter and the first glow of the sun was visible! Then it rose. I still feel the emotion as I write this. Africa below us as far as the eye can see, our smiling guides waiting for us and before the sun was in full splendor, a young Islamic guide sang the morning prayer. It was a special gift.
But we were not at the summit yet! Almost instantly the air temperature became a “comfortable” -8 degrees. The night wind subsided. The crater below us and lesser craters in the distance were covered in deep snow. Mammoth glaciers shone in the morning sun like giant, polished diamonds. Some sat there like supertankers on top of the world. Ice lakes adjoined them in some places. The contrast of the brilliant white ice, sitting on a dormant volcano, its color of deep reds and blacks was a sight I will not forget.
The vastness of this place is very difficult to put into words. Imagine-2000 feet high glacial moraines sweeping down for miles before vegetation is evident. What glaciers had formed them! Powerful beauty.
We reached the summit (19,340’) about an hour later. We took photos, everyone did, another United Nation event. By then I felt no pain and would have stayed much longer had we not been strongly encouraged to head back. Reluctantly I left. I think the altitude made me happy and carefree and as long as the sun was out, I would happily remain and explore. So much beauty in one place!
While on the summit, I did think lovingly about Charlie, Tashidog, the soft bed, real pillows and not always searching for something in my duffle bag. Camping is: “not having everything in its place all the time.” My brain was still functioning… I felt an immense sense of gratitude to be here. Tears welled up in my eyes several times.
Mt. Kilimanjaro Facts:
Height: 19,340 feet.
It is up to 18 miles across.
It is a dormant, not an extinct volcano. It’s main peaks are Shira, Mawnenzi and Kibo. Uhuru Peak is the highest.
Since 1912 Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap.
Since 1962 it has lost 55% of its remaining glaciers.
Causes are thought to be climate change and deforestation and land cleared for farming. A big tree planting project is hoped to reverse the process.
Both walking sticks gripped firmly, we glissaded down scree (different route) and arrived back in camp in about 3 hours. It was fun, but my knees complained. Like in snow when you come off a jump you land, only on firm surface here. We are back at 14,940’. Lunch, a nap, “organizing” my duffel and day pack again, we continued DOWN 2,500’ MORE! Ouch. (Descended 6,500 ‘ in less than a day.)We arrived in the cloud forest of giant heather trees mixed with protea shrubs in bloom. Millennium Camp (12,500’). Mosses and herbs were the ground cover in our camp. Lovely, soft, moist volcanic earth. Slept well. Here Mt. Kilimanjaro stayed in plain sight all day and night, as of saying good bye to us, letting us imprint his majestic form before we descended into the haze of the city.
Day 7: Millennium Camp to Mweka Gate
After breakfast and a song by our 42-man support group we said our official good bye to the porters. No group could have been more cheerful, eager to help and make this trip a success for all of us. We all were very grateful, as without them and our team leaders organization and excellent leadership we would not have made it.
10 more miles downhill. Grueling by now. Knees complained. But the landscape took some of the pain away. Feathery ferns of all sizes, some trees, rain forests giant trees draped with greenery, frangipani and waist high impatiens framed our path and what seemed endless stops to our destination at 7,000’ where the bus waited. At 90 degrees I began to feel clammy, weak and sick, delayed altitude sickness. It passed eventually.
Back at the hotel I got to shower first, thanks to my generous, beautiful and kind room-mate Debbie. I washed clothes, hang them out into the sun onto the railing (no laundry here!) and joined Debbie at the bar to celebrate with a cool Tanzania beer.
At 3 pm we were presented with our certificates. Dinner was Elan and trimmings. Good I did not see one in the wild before enjoying it here. It arrived in a wheel barrel about the same time we returned, covered, but I caught sight of the hoofs.
I am touched by the congeniality of our group. Very diverse in back ground, all kind adventurers at heart and ready to help when anyone.