Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mensa, a witch doctor, and the fax machine

Where did I leave off…okay, I was talking about the amazing people I met.  There were many but for the next 4-5 days I spent my time sharing stories and learning some amazing things.  I met Annu, Anna, and Joakim at the hostel.  Annu is a journalism major at GW and Anna just graduated with a degree in photojournalism from GW (George Washington).  Where, Joakim graduated with a degree in biology, was born in Malawi, and was in Zambia on an internship working with lions at a gamepark.  It was luck meeting them because they happened to be heading to Livingstone on the same day and as a result they offered me a ride.  Joakim's mother worked for the Finish embassy and so we were able to use a private vehicle for the trip.  This came in handy partially because instead of being hassled for tolls by the Zambian oleic, when they take a look at your license plate you quickly become very important and are allowed to pass.  Secondly, you have more room and the absence of little kids peeing on your lap is just icing on the cake.  

Along the way to Livingstone we caught up on each others lives and played a fe games to pass the time.  Upon arriving to Livingstone, in particular, Jollyboys Backpackers (an oasis of living and good karma) we got situated in our rooms and headed to the restaurant at Jollyboys to have a quick dinner.  This quick dinner turned into hours as we vegan playing the game-2 truths and a lie.  Having not played this before, I was a little slower than the others.  While playing this game, I learned that Annu was in Mensa, Anna's grandfather invented the FAX MACHINE and Joakim was kidnapped by a local witch doctor in Malawi after he was born.  I know…quite some impressive stories.  

The next day we all traveled to Victoria Falls together and had an amazing  experience.  After some time we parted ways-me, to jump off the bridge over Victoria Falls and the others to swing into a gorge a ways up the Zambezi river.  I also was able to visit the dam just opposite of Victoria Falls-where Livingstone and the surrounding areas including many of the schools get their electricity from.  The rest of my time in Livingstone, Zambia was spent researching Lion and Rocket stoves as well as researching ways to convert areas of the desert into a semi-habitable  place and how to generate electrical energy from sand.  I read an interesting article online concerning the Chinese and how they were turning parts of the Sahara into forests through a process involving converting sand into silicon and using this silicon to produce conditions that are conducive to creating forests. 

That's not yofu, it's myfu. Wait...maybe it's Tofu.

I have finally made it to Dar Es Salaam!  For those of you who are a little unsure of where that is…it is on the eastern coast of Tanzania.  The bus arrived later in the day and as I didn't have a lot of light left to walk the 10km to my hostel, I had to get a taxi.  Upon arrival to the hostel located in an area called the Indian Quarters I was met with a warm welcome and a much needed room key.  The daylong bus ride was rather crowded and all I wanted to do was lie down for awhile.  

Following a quick nap I ventured out into the city looking for an atm and an adequate place to eat.  Who am I kidding, I would eat pretty much anything at this point.  I had to be quick however, the sun was setting rather quickly and I if you know anything about ordering food in Africa…it takes forever.  The menu oddly enough was foreign to me, a first, so I figured ordering something that looked familiar was a safe bet.  Ha…a safe bet if you like tofu!  I am not sure how it happened and why, but I sat there and ate it all-surprisingly it was good.  

The next day after the best nights sleep I have had yet was spent visiting the city, famous Dar Es Salaam fish market, and getting lost several times along the way.  At one point I managed to cross the busiest intersection in the city, don't really know how, but only to have to go back the over way in search of my hostel.  Now, I am usually pretty good at directions but this city has a way of taking out any aptitude that relates to directions.  Thankfully, I found my way grabbed dinner and made it an early night.  My second day in Dar Es Salaam was even more eventful than the first.  I booked my ticket for the Tazara, managed to see where the city gets its' electricity and met some new friends.  Somehow I always manage to befriend the taxi drivers where 10min conversations turn into hours and hours of talking about life and family.  

Finally, after two long weeks in Tanzania I was able to board the train to Lusaka, Zambia.  I heard that the train was only supposed to take a little more than 24 hours but let me tell you…this was not the case.  The train took nearly 3 days.  Usually this wouldn't be quite so bad, however, due to first class being booked I spent the first two nights in second class cramped in a little tin box with 5 other gentleman and a kid.  The Tazara is a little old fashioned in that men and women can only bunk with each other unless you want to buy a complete cabin and in that case you can have either a 4 person or 6 person cabin to yourself.  I was surprised at how cold it became during the nite…for some reason they do not shut the window as well.  As cold and cramped as it got I would do it all over again.  The views were out of this world.  The train passed through mountains, climbed valleys, passed over decades old bridges, all the while provided entertainment for the many Zambians and Tanzanians we passed each day.  Who would have thought that a train would bring so much excitement and joy to so many.  The train is nice in that you meet new people but always have to keep your guard up-you never know who is just trying to gage what you have so at the most opportune moment it will become theirs.  Luckily, this didn't happen.  

Riding trains always has a way of clearing your mind-bringing it back to the most simplest of stages in your life.  Especially when you have countless and countless things to look at.  In all the articles I read concerning the train, almost every one of them said you can see wildlife along the way (ie. giraffes, elephants, lions, etc.).  Cough, cough…a baboon.  This was the only sign of life apart from the fruit vendors, fellow passengers on the train and occasional bugs that crawl on you while you attempt to fall asleep at night.  A little disappointed, but it was one very large baboon!  

The final day on the train went by fast-breakfast came and went, a quick, very delicious lunch followed as we pulled up to our last stop.  Following the crowds departing the train I ended up on a bus to Lusaka-another 4-5 hour journey; this trip was more cramped than the last due to two kids who somehow fell into my lap.  I didn't mind much, they were quite cute and managed not to pee on me.  On the bus ride I met a kid from the UK.  As everyone was paying for the bus he fell short on cash and asked to borrow some-without reservation I gave him the difference, hopefully I don't end up in his position.  Once we reached Lusaka-well after dark…a taxi was the only option.  I try not to do this for two reasons: first, most taxi drivers know you are in need, especially at night, so the prices increase and second, did I mention how expensive they become?  After some haggling for the price I made my way to ChaChaCha backpackers.  

At Chachacha backpackers I met some really amazing people...


Moshi-what a wonderful name..Moshi-ain't no passing place, it means no worries (sorry, I have the Lion King stuck in my head.  I don't know what it is about Africa, but I find myself singing more Lion King songs than ever before-shout out to my sister Casey with whom I sung to death every Lion King song for months and months).  Moshi is such a beautiful, but expensive city.  After climbing Kili I spent several days recovering.
 Sophie, Carole, and myself all still managed to have fun.  One such instance was when we attempted to take a scenic drive and view hot springs.  Instead of paying the appropriate price to see hot springs an hour outside of Moshi-we hired a taxi, for very cheap and made our way, clueless to where we thought were the hot springs.  Sadly, after taking our taxi driver on a wild goose hunt, down roads that more resembled mini-mountains plagued my cliffs and ledges, surely not the place for a small little 2 wheeled-drive taxi we decided that the hot springs would just have to wait until another day.  That day Carole and I had ice cream while Sophie used the internet.  This was a particularly fun day in that Carole and I had the chance to chat with a Rastafarian.  He had so much insight!  We learned, sadly, that female circumcision is still very prevalent in Tanzania, talked about the earth, mother nature, and life…by the way-if you haven't had the chance to talk to a Rastafarian let alone somehow who is properly high on something more than life…it was an experience.  And so there we sat, watching the sun go down while our new friend (actually an artist whose job it is to hassle tourists day in and day out so he can make a living) slowly talked himself to sleep.  The funny part was…whenever new mzungus (white tourists) would walk down the street where we were sitting all focus would then be directed to the new arrivals.  Before we knew it our Rastafarian friend would spring into life, jump out of his seat to catch up to potential customers. 

In Moshi, I also had the opportunity to visit a sugar cane factory converting sugar cane waste into electrical energy.  What I found out during this trip was that the Tanzanian government and Moshi will not allow the factory…which is run by the French, to distribute the electricity to the local areas because it would lower the cost of electricity for the area residents; thus, lowering profits.  How far and long can corruption continue to go on…I feel a good book is coming along appropriately titled-Seeds of Corruption.  

The last two days in Moshi were spent saying goodbye to the girls and booking my bus to Dar Es Salaam.  It was sad saying goodbye-I mean, we just climbed a mountain together, who wouldn't be a little sad.  Truthfully,  it was great meeting Carole and Sophie-they will be missed.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I want my baby-back, baby-back...Chili's baby-back ribs

Are you sure it is time to leave already-my first thoughts when our guide made his rounds to our tents.  There is no way it is 11:30pm already.  Nonetheless, I slowly packed my things, put on every article of clothing I owned and made my way to the food tent for a quick breakfast.  It was cold here, very cold.  So much so that I definitely should have ditched the many books I brought up the mountain with me for a proper pair of long johns and cold-weather gear.  

Breakfast was quick..some toast and jam, tea, and fruit.  Hardly enough food for energy-if only I had an appetite.  A quick snapshot of the next 6-7 hours was provided by Frumence (our guide) and we began the grueling climb in freezing, hurricane type winds without the guidance of the moon.  Each step of this climb was terribly slow-where at times it seemed as though we were moving backwards.  Breaks could not come soon enough and the only light we had was that of the torches (flashlight) attached to our heads.  Maybe his was a good thing-not seeing where we were going.  At one point, the wind was so strong and to our left was straight down for as far as my torch could provide light to-surely without my poles, in incoherent, improper footing of conditions I could see how many die each year trying to reach the summit.  As each stepped became progressively heavier, the times we stopped only brought tiredness and an unwillingness to continue on.  Knowing who and what this climb was for and how many lives would be impacted propelled uncertainty into determination and fortitude.  I remember at one point we stopped-Stellar point (this stop was different in that after climbing for hours and hours we had to make our way around a rock where there was only inches of space to move-to the right nothing but a vast expanse of open air.  Being so tired and cold made it easy to navigate around) to take a 40 minute break-time was unknown until after the break was finished.  I picked the first available spot to lay down and shut my eyes.  Off into the distance I heard through crying wind the girls calling me to come sit next to them so we could warm each other.  Sadly, as cold as I was, I couldn't be bothered or moved, so there I lay.  "Alan, Tuende"? (shall we go?) the guide proclaimed-and as though I was moving an unmovable boulder I slowly picked myself up off the rocks, put my head down and continued on.  

Today was a cloudy day and any chance of seeing the sunrise was slowly fading away.  Although we were nearly 5590m above sea level-clouds still seemed to engulf the surrounding sky.  The only thing that was going through my mind for over an hour-partially to lesson the pain of taking each step for some incredulous reason was…I want my baby-back, baby-back-Chili's baby-back ribs! And I don't even like ribs.   The summit crept up on us and before I knew it the girls were skipping, that is right, skipping their way to the boarded up-riddled with stickers Uhuru Peak Sign.  Where they got their energy from, I don't know-so I continued to walk, slowly of course, to catch up to them.  

At last-although tired beyond words and cold to the bone I reached the highest point in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world, Uhuru Peak.  After four very long days, becoming ill, sliding several feet down a rock face, jumping boulders, and mountain climbing in the dark I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Thank you to everyone who supported me in my climb and in particular thank you to everyone who has donated to the Jane Adney Memorial School.  I can't begin to express, describe, animate how much this means to many secondary school girls in Muhorini, Kenya!  

After having spent only 20min at the summit we began making our way back down the mountain-not as fun as one would imagine.  In doing so, we were able to see just how crazy of a climb it was and it appeared as though our guides couldn't get down fast enough.  At one point, it felt as though I was running down rock slides and in-between rock crevices.  After only 2 hours we made it back to Barafu for a quick nap before we continued back down for another 3 hour hike.  Upon making it to our camp for the nite-we had spent a total of 11 hours climbing and descending that day-sleep was all I could think about.  

The next morning, after sleeping for nearly 12 hours I was as refreshed as I have ever been and honestly at that point could have done it all over again.  Now, if you would have asked me 12 hours prior to such a great nights rest at a normal altitude whether or not I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again, I would without reservation say no.  Not because it was cold and I was tired-but honestly jumping off the couch to climb was wrong on so many levels.  With better conditioning the climb would have surely been more enjoyable if at least more manageable. For now, this midwest transplant will spend the next few days in Moshi before I depart to Dar Es Salaam to catch the Tazara to Lusaka, Zambia.  

Maybe in the works-running the entire coastal outline of continental Africa.  Has it been done yet-probably not, but just think how many lives could benefit and how much money could be raised  by taking on such an incredible journey.  

You want me to do what?

All I can say is that what a great nights rest.  I would need it!  Our camp site was set against the side of what would begin our initial decent to Barafu (spelling sorry), the main campsite that takes you to Uhuru peak.  If I could only describe to you how scary of a climb today was going to be.  You see, usually when we climb we cant see where or how difficult of a climb it will be-well, today was a little different.  Onlookers were able to gaze at the first portion of the climb, a shear mountain face-honestly I had no idea how this was going to happen. 

After a quick breakfast-food becoming more difficult to put down we packed everything and made our way to the edge of the mountain.  After what seemed like a miracle, we began following a very narrow path up the side of the cliff face.  At times, there was little room for failure-with less than a foot of room to the right, one slip, mean falling hundreds of feet to what I would presume to be-imminent death.  Thankfully, after hours of climbing we reached a point where the ground leveled out and there was room to breath.  What a relief!  Also, we were able to sit for a few minutes and take in the views-I should have taken more pictures.  For the next part of the climb we went down and up, up and down to a point where we were only hours from where we would stop and eat lunch.  Our guide decided that it was important to eat a hot lunch because later tonight we would be making our trip to the summit.  

Upon eating a very good lunch with the wind howling from every direction, our tent seemed to be the only place we wanted to be-outside the rain was falling from every direction and it was bitterly cold.  Several different times our deliverer of foods and the like (just doesn't seem right calling him a waiter) asked if we were ready to go-each and every time, yes was the answer, but we hardly moved.  Finally, after over an hour our we forced ourselves to bundle up and begin our next leg of the climb to Barafu.  The weather on Mt. Kili is quite amazing.  Just an hour ago we were freezing and could barely move and now we couldn't seem to take off enough clothes to cool down.  Tricky mountain. 

Our next campsite, Barafu arrived unexpectedly.  I didn't think it was a campsite because of how small it was but in fact our tents were being assembled as we made our way into a shanty of an office to sign our names.  If I had to describe Barafu in one word-amazing! I know, not a very good adjective, but finding one word let alone a series of words to capture the sights encompassing Barafu is rather difficult.  Okay…let me see if I can describe it a little better.  Do you remember the first time you ran downstairs during Christmas morning or the feeling you had when you first learned to drive?  What about your first date-or the first time you lost someone.  It is the culmination of all of these such that-without reservation you learn not to question how, who, or why put all of this here, yet, unassuming you find yourself thanking and becoming quite sad knowing that at some point you will have to move on.  I can't expect Uhuru Peak to be quite as beautiful; as for now, I will stare in amazement at my christmas morning, the next best thing.  

A quick nap followed by a brief dinner should have prepared me for the long morning ahead.  After being debriefed on what was to come later this night 11:30pm we made our way to our tents for some quick shut eye-4 hours to be exact.  The wind at Barafu was even more relentless than at any other time on the mountain.  At one point I imagined my tent being caught in an updraft that would send myself and tent over this table of a very small mountain we were situated upon.   

Is that real lava... or the fake kind?

Sorry for taking so long to upload these blogs-I have been having intermittent computer problems…

The next morning brought clouds from every direction to our campsite…but through all the mist and fog, still visible, was Uhuru Peak.  I must say that there is nothing quite as beautiful as when the clouds lift completely and the off into the distance the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, ever so welcoming becomes enflamed by the sun's early morning rays.  A sight I was assuredly not prepared to gaze upon.  

This morning I became very ill, after having spent most of the night in the bathroom-today was even worse.  All I knew that as long as it was not mountain sickness I would just have to trudge on,  however long of a day it was to be.  The goal for todays climb would be to climb to Lava Tower-for acclimatization purposes, spend some time there, and climb back down 3-4 hours to the next camp.  By far this climb was the most scenic.  Everywhere you looked no matter the direction-there you stood in awe.  Today we also met many other climbers-slowly the mountain became crowded and for some reason the three of us always managed to pass up other climbers.  Either we are very fit, or everyone else is just taking it much slower.  Even those who are taking an extra day to acclimatize at the next camp seemed to be moving very slowly today.  I didn't seem to mind much, as long as none of us became ill with AMS I would have been okay with running.  After the Lava tower, which was amazing, we made our way back down-passing waterfalls, many many rock formations and the occasional porter, stopping to smoke.  After what seemed like another long day we made it to our campsite just as the sun was beginning to flee from sight…for now, popcorn time!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Asante Sana-Squash Banana

Mt. Kili-Days 1 and 2

At last…our first day of officially climbing Kili began with breakfast- freshly squeezed seasonal juice, pancakes (traditional Tanzanian style), toast, jam, and fried eggs rounded off a good start to the morning while we waited for our transportation to arrive.  

After what seemed like forever we finally set off East towards Arusha to the Machame route entrance.   Driving up a steady incline, off into the distance I could barely discern the entrance sign, engulfed in the morning mist-seemed more to steer away possible Kili hopefuls rather than welcome. Needless to say, excitement overwhelmed me even more so once I set foot on its hilly doorstep.   After the usual paperwork, paying for, and greeting local vendors our morning climbing time pushed back our initial day 1 ascent to almost 2pm.  After a few pictures and the proper weighing of your bags (important-each porter is only allowed to carry a maximum of 20kg, therefore before each climb all gear, food, and misc. must be weighed).  A side note: when we were paying for the park entrance fees, we couldn't help but notice our guide had an ID badge which read assistant guide, questions only followed.  

Once we gathered our belongings, namely a wonderfully packed midday lunch and appropriate gear our guide…(cough cough, assistant guide Frumence- pointed to a direction up a very steep hill) saying, "You can go, I will be behind you."  And so we set off…an American, a Belgian, one happy-go-lucky girl from England, and no guide…

The climb started off rough, the little sleep I had coupled with a lunch that was mistakenly packed with my main rucksack, left behind-set off a series of events that of which catapulted my immune system into overdrive.  Let's just say that for the first day of climbing, I was properly overshadowed by the girls and at one point I am absolutely sure porters and cooks ran by (and not the type of run us midwesterners have grown accustomed to, but what seemed like a dead on sprint)-maybe getting of the couch to climb wasn't the best of ideas.  After what seemed like forever, a quick stop for lunch, and to gaze upon the the scenery (aka. catch my breath) we reached a break in the forest where the trail opened up, allowing the sun to set an ominous glow over the path ahead-t"his isn't so bad," I thought.  The trek ended after nearly 4 hours of climbing at a campsite that became progressively more crowded as the day wore on.  And to top it off-our guide, was no where to be found.  What an exciting day…the best part, for dinner we had popcorn, chocolate, rice and chicken (I think) under the stars.  And for any of you wondering what the stars look like at 2 miles above sea level on Mt. Kilimanjaro-beyond words.  Every second spent staring into an oasis of  contrasting white and blues only brought a new set of stars to gaze upon.  I could have spent the entire night standing, admiring, wondering-how beautiful, if only worlds could adequately describe, for  now, sleep became a priority considering the long day we had to look forward to tomorrow.  

Day 2

Okay…so let me start off by saying, long johns would have been appropriate for this trip and I am discouraged that given all the material I read-no where did it say bring long johns.  What a cold nit! Breakfast came bright and early at 7:30am, where the morning sunrise served as a primitive alarm for all those whose rays it happened to touch.  After a very good night's rest I was ready for the long day ahead.  Day 2 of climbing began at almost a 60 degree incline and continued on for hours.  At one point we reached a set of rocks, smooth in texture, which was where I experienced my first fall-slide down.  This was a good place to stop for rest.  This day was exciting in the sense that we met many people, in particular, a couple from Austria who were climbing Mt. Kili together.  After many hours of climbing we stopped at a very nice look out point where we spent nearly an hour admiring the views.  At one point I decided that I would put my camera on a rock about 40m up trail to capture the crowds of climbers passing by.  Situated on a perfect rock, I began filming and after our long stay at the look-out point we continued on.  Now, I am not sure if it was the altitude or just sheer tiredness but as we passed by the rock where I left my camera, it was gone.  Come to find out, I was only able to capture 3 mins of filming before a tour guide from another company snatched it up.  The best part, video to come, is the video captured the camera being taken and the universal adage-"Cha-Ching."  In Tshilings, my camera was worth 1.5million shillings-quite a lot considering a 1.5L bottle of water costs 1500 Tshilings or roughly a $1.  From that point on I never took my eyes of my camera.  We climbed for another 2-3 hours before making it to the next camp.  This camp was set across a vast area, where to the right West stood Uhuru peak with all it's snow and glamour, to the East-clouds filled the sky below where momentary breaks in the cover captured hilly slopes below.  If it were up to me, I would have built a home at this very spot and that would have been all I needed.  Day 2 was also where my health gradually worsened.  Having spent all night in the bathroom gave me time to reflect on what may have caused me to become so ill-I narrowed it down to an orange I had or some bad water; nonetheless, hopefully I would feel better tomorrow.  The best part of the day besides the people whom I met and the views was when Sophie, Carole, and I all crowded together in their tent to watch the Lion King!