It has begun. I ran around the house sure that I could find something to pack that would make my big adventure that bit more comfortable. Mum and Dad sat on the lounge blankly watching Dr who, full of our last supper of chorizo and crusty bread and trying to forget the reality that this would be our last night together in almost eight months. Over the past week Dad couldn’t help but give me constant advice on how to travel and I must stay in contact. I was beginning to take it seriously when he would say he wanted to sell the house and join me. It has been a nightmare trying to pack for an around the world trip. The clothes required for climbing the snow covered peak of Mount Kilimanjaro are not exactly comparable to those needed for picking up Grecian hunks.
Tickets booked, travel insurance covered, bags packed and goodbyes hastily said, Daniel and I headed to the airport. I waved at Mum and Dad wildly, fully knowing that Mum would not sleep a wink tonight. We drove until the early morning, keeping ourselves awake by singing along loudly to Adele and Jack Johnson. By 1 am we were head banging and had the windows down as we pulled into Ashley’s place on Glebe Point Road.A quick sleep and realisation that I probably wouldn’t be sleeping in such a huge, cosy double bed for hundreds of nights to come, we kissed Ash goodbye and Daniel dropped me at the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to my little brother, but I’m clinging to the hope that he will suddenly get the urge to make loads of money and come and join me along the track (I can hear Mum and Dad laughing at me for the prospect). I was wearing me big, battered yellow pack and a little daybag. I swear my knuckles are still white from tightly clutching my passport and valuables, so well trained from the constant barks from my family never to let them leave my body – not in a locked room, not when I’m having a shower, not when I’m swimming in the Mediterranean. When I wanted to have a sleep in the airport after the 14 hour flight to Johannesburg (exhausted from my obsession with watching as much in flight entertainment as time would allow and pocketing as many cheese and bickies and baby spirits as I could, trying to get my goddamn moneys worth) I slept in a chair with a string tied around my wrist which connected to my day bag. Looking smooth, Jessie girl
Thirty hours after walking into Sydney airport, my bone dry nostrils and skin from the iconically over the top air conditioning on planes and I walked off the small 50 seater plane to the Mt Kilimanjaro airport. The warm air actually smells like Africa should! I hugged my equally buggered flight companions goodbye, hopeful that we might cross paths on the mountain. On my flight legs to Kili I met Aussie school teachers working in Johannesburg, parents coming to visit their children who are volunteering, a man from Germany who has come to visit old friends in remote Tanzania and lots of hikers.
Tom was waiting there for me, his dreads hanging down to his mid chest and looking much taller than I remember him from school almost three years ago. He came out here straight after school in 2010 and volunteered in Tanzania for three months doing wildlife surveys for an organisation called Greenforce. He went back to Australia and started a biology degree at Sydney Uni, but when another company called Village to Village called him a few months and asked him to come and work until December, he eagerly accepted. He has been back for a month, with a rap from the locala who call him rasta man. We jumped into a taxi and talked non-stop on our way to Arusha, a main town about an hours drive. Tom taught me some of the most basic basics for greetings in the Swahili language, some of the main customs and general information about the country. Comparable in size to maybe Western Australia, the country has 46 million inhabitants and you would be hard pushed to find an area with no-one around. Twelfth poorest in the world, the roads looked pretty decent. However, Tom assured me it was only quiet because it was Sunday church, normally there are constant road accidents. We were stopped by police looking for a bribe, wearing khaki jupers and thick green belts, the officials were talked out of it by our knowing, local taxi driver.
I looked out at the blurs of material on bodies and lumpy bags f food skilfully carried on heads. The people shouted ‘karibu’, welcome to Africa. Bikes, carts, old vans and motorbikes dominate the streetscape, with people walking in the middle of the road everywhere. We dumped our bags at a backpackers in Arusha, US$12 per night for a room with a bad and communal bathrooms, a gorgeous view from the restaurant upstairs (which I am sitting at as I write). Somehow, I think I will be able to keep within my budget here in Tanzania. Tom showed me around town, apologising that there isn’t much ‘sighseeing’ here in Arusha, I assured him that I am intrigued by the everyday life of these normal sized (I thought they were going to be freakishly tall) dark skinned people. The older ladies wear patterned material wrapped around their bodies with a scarf on their head and often flip flop thongs. Their hair is what gets me though! No one’s is the same. Some have it weaved into little worm like things, some have cornrows that go into a spike on the top of their head and some are obviously bald because of their unnaturally large forehead and a huge wig of curls sits high on their crown. They look so freaking cool, I watched one lady in the markets do a girls fluffy hair, weaving it into a masterpiece of exceptionally neat, minute braids while she chatted away on her mobile (I reckon she was trying to take her mind off the pain!). I sort of want cornrows but Tom wisely reminds me that only black people can pull that sort of thing off and I’m worried my skull is a warped shape under all my hair anyway. I will settle for learning how to do it and bring the trend back to the geeky western community. On that note, we should probably learn how to carry bags on our heads too so that we can accomplish some serious multi-tasking. The younger girls wear a combination of material or jeans and a top. Men just wear pants and a top, I am looking down at a man in a casual suit right now, walking right past a cripple in ripped clothing.
Tom just reminded me something; the women’s famous booties! There’s so much to tell about these ridiculously pert bums that I could literally sit my cup of tea on! Who knew!!
We explored the local markets, saved from the regular tightly packed crowds because of Sunday church. The colours and scenes were just picture perfect. Masses of fresh produce, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, dried fish, breathing fish from nearby lakes, slaughtered carcasses, grains of every size and colour propped up in hessian sacks, rotting fruit and dead rats underfoot, then came clothes and materials like a rainbow of colour, hanging on clothes hangers that emphasize the size ob the hips, obviously an attractive trait. Pots and pans made of clay, hawkers recognizing Tom and shouting ‘Mambo Rasta Man!”, white teethed smiles from children testing my pathetic Swahili and taking pictures of markets women and showing them the camera screen only to receive glorious uproars of laughter. It reminds me of Asia but louder and brighter.
We stopped for pizza in a tourist complex, not because I am afraid of the local food, but because Tom says that’s all we will be getting for the next few weeks out in the village. As the only white people there, I don’t think they will exactly be catering for burgers and salads. Tom loved the pizza and the hot showers in the backpackers, he hasn’t had one for almost two weeks, being out with the Massai tribes and at his small village. We saw about thirty white people over the course of the day, and I overheard some saying they were volunteering as teachers and Tom reckons about half of them would be undertaking some kind of charity work.
I fell asleep at 5pm after one beer at our rooftop restaurant and Tom rose me about 7pm to get some noodles. I crashed again and without a sense of time, got up at 2am. This new time zone thing might take a few days to settle into!
Fourth – Sixth June 2012
We spent the morning wondering around and waiting for Toms mate Joe and Joe’s brother, Luke to arrive. Joe is very immersed in the Tanzanian scene, having lived here for the past year and a half. He wants to make it a long term plan, find a Tanzanian wife and a stable job with a volunteering organization and settle down. He is tall and slim, probably because of the amount of diseases he has caught over here – malaria six times over, bites from the Nairobi fly which lays its maggots under your skin and a tape worm chewing at his insides currently – all good times, he assures me. His older brother, Luke, is a visiting accountant from their hometown of Gloucester, England. I get along better with Luke, as we are both pathetic in Swahili and both in awe at our surrounding – an effect which has worn off over time for our companions.
Tom and I are led though the markets by some keen rastas who want to show us their hip hop music stall once they have shown us around. We are in not rush so we walk freely with them. When I try to take pictures with my electric blue, shockproof camera, people literally jump off walls to prevent their face being snapped. Even if I try to capture a street dog or a clothesline of underwear, someone rushes up to object. Therefore I am becoming a master of the inconspicuous photography (or think I am at least).
The rastas take us through roads that are in the seemingly constant process of construction. Huge mounds of dirt, the result of dynamite explosions, are piled high and it’s a maze to find your way. They lead us to a group of Massai ladies who are knitting decorative beads on belts and sandals. Earlier we had been shown a powdery black tobacco like substance which the men rolled between their fingers into0 a firm ball and placed it between their lower lip and teeth. It sits there for twenty minutes before you spit it out and drink loads of water to make sure none goes down your throat and makes you sick. So, when I see the Massai ladies chewing away, I use my new found knowledge and say the name for the tobacco stuff, pointing at their mouths. Everyone has a good laugh at me (something I am quickly getting used to) and tell me it’s chewing gum. Ha, what a small world.
We follow the street men back to their market stall and stand around for a while listening to their African hip hop. Everyone4 who walks by starts singing along and saunters off doing some smooth looking hand/foot movements – somehow I can’t really picture this going down so well at the Moruya markets on a Saturday morning. We creep out of there are the majority of street hawkers are fended off because of the helpful Swahili Tom has picked up. I have been lucky enough to begin my travels in Tanzania; the only African country with Swahili as a first language. On the bright side, it is forcing me to picks up the basics or otherwise be taunted by patriotic mothers because I can’t communicate with them.
With Joe and Luke, we all make our way to the local bus depot, which is much more crowded than your local Aussie bus stop. We have a great variety of choice of rickety, decorated old buses and find an empty bus heading to Moshi. We sit and watch the world go by as the seats slowly fill, the driver repeatedly revving the buses and getting our hopes up that we will soon be on our way, but it’s just a tactic to try and get people to jump on last minute. men come to my window holding not only trays of biscuits and frizzy, but 5 foot tall boards holding anything from pocket knives to barbie dolls. I’ve never really considered it, but shopping whilst wasting time on public transport could be a major revenue maker! It’s hard to sat no when cokes and lollies are being froced to your lips by these street sellers – yes, I know that to do with it! I am well and truly sick of them when a man grabs my hair to play with while I look away. I refused eye contact by continuing to read Hunger Games on my Kindle. It’s probably the mot obsessive series I have ever gotten into. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t download the third book of the series when I had the chance, but if I had, then this dairy wouldn’t get touched.
The drive from Moshi to Arusha took a few hours, and I couldn’t help but notice the frequency of changing between decent housing and circular mud huts. People really are everywhere, whether it’s a shepherd leading around his emaciated looking cattle or schoolgirls looking impossibly immaculately clean walking the dusty road home from school. The land is so flat I can’t remember going over a single rise while traveling. They have a simple road system, the same road zig zags across Tanzania, sometimes making it very long and tiresome to get somewhere geographically nearby.
Once in Moshi, the hook-up point for all trekkers keen to attempt Mount Kilimanjaro, we walk the busy streets to find a taxi. Twenty minutes later we arrive in Uchira, home to a scattered seven thousand residents, including the only ‘mizingus’ (white men), Joe and Tom.
We drop my bags at the lone hotel, where the women don’t speak a word of English. I am so grateful when they just whip up some eggs on toast and tea for me the next morning, as there was no chance that we could have come to an understanding regarding food.
Tom gives me a whirlwind tour of the main street, and even though I am wearing jeans and a long sleeve top, I have to do a double take that I’m not naked because everyone stops to stare. He shows me the family he is staying with, and on the way I walk past broken vehicles, relatively healthy dogs and beautiful smiling children shouting ‘jambo’ (hello).
We check out the little English classroom which offers free classes to anyone in the area. Ten children under the age of nine roar around the classroom and can’t contain their excitement, or their hands, when they spot my camera. So much for learning!
I check out the house that Joe is renting and we laugh about the doors that won’t close, the lack of windows or roofs on some of the rooms and remind him it’s all part of the experience. I also meet Jenny, a nineteen year old English girl who has been sent out here by her rich father to do her some good for a few months. I can feel Jenny’s reluctance to be here through her words. It’s understandable though, if you weren’t in the mindset to be here, you are stranded in a Swahili speaking African community who eat Ugali (maize dough) and, apart from mobile phones and chewing gum, couldn’t be further from the Western world!
Everyone meets at my hotel for dinner and Joe immerses himself signing with a deaf local while the rest of us discuss the best things to do to complete an African experience. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti are high on everyone’s list, and I’m pretty certain that Tom and I are about to knock one off our list. It’s crazy to think that only five months ago I was in Nepal trekking to Everest Base Camp and hearing others rave about Kilimanjaro. Now here I am in, the mountain literally in sight from Uchira,, and I know I can’t walk away without exploring it.
We spend the best part of the next morning discovering Uchira and its surround. Tom takes me through crops and crops of cheerily colored sunflowers, maize, avocados, coffee, bananas and plants I don’t recognise. The dirt a a rich red, cracking expanse which reminds me of Central Australia. Not matter how fare we go from the village, there are people within earshot working on the crops of digging up huge grey rocks. When I point my camera at a view, movement catches my eye and it is inevitable someone dashing out of the way of my camera lens.
Tom and I sit in the shade reading a National Geographic excerpt on Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees in the very countries I am visiting. We are happily parked until large waves of goats, cows and warped looking sheep walk over us. I’m out of there. On the way back, I fund my sunglasses are the center of attention with a huge group of school girls. I take pictures of them posing and we sit in the grass outside their boarding school attempting to communicate. I give away dolls (donated be Auntie Jean back home) to small children with tattered clothes and big grins. I’ve realized that it’s better to give one to everybody or none at all if someone’s going to miss out.
Dancers from Moshi entertain the locals as we wonder through the markets, keeping to the shade wherever possible. I see women stirring big pots of thick, gluggy white liquid, and remind myself not to drink fresh milk in Africa. Tom guides me into a local dalla dalla, a van like taxi which stuffs in thirty or more bodies when required. We pay out 20c (300 Tanzanian shillings) to get to Moshi and Tom takes me to a popular local hangout. Named ‘Fresh’, I come to understand the name. I order mixed fruit for $1.30 and out comes plate loaded with mango, bananas, paw paw, melon, tomato avocado, watermelon and more. Loving Africa!
In the afternoon we scope for potential guides and companies to climb Kilimanjaro. Kessi brothers have been recommended by Joe, who tells us it should only cost US$700. The park and camping fees cost US$600 alone and this is proving to be a much more expensive affair than first thought. Tom and I sit down over coffee and a calculator, and Tom makes the rational decision that he can’t afford it, with 8 months left in the country and no income. I am slightly offput but still eager to undertake the challenge. We take one last shot before dark, and find a deal with a lazy fat man called Jasper who offers $800 compared with the Kessi brothers $1000. I’m pretty certain Jasper wouldn’t be physically capable to climb the mountain, but he assures me a UK couple will be leaving on Thursday that I could join and guide and porters will be included. He wants a $100 deposit but I slide out of giving that to him just yet, telling him I don’t have cash on me. My head and my heart bicker with each other in my dream, unsure whether to spend $800 on climbing a mountain. My heart wins out.
Seventh June 2012
The lot of us spend the next day swimming in natural springs in a secluded, grassy area outside Uchira. The boys go wild over my bubble maker, which I have brought for the kids, and we drink conyagi (potent local vodka) because it’s Luke’s last day in Tanzania. They ramble on about the essential Swahili phrases and we are entertained by Joe’s friend, Tanzanian Desderry. he is 22 years old and already has two kids to two different women, all in a time period in which he has had the same, oblivious girlfriend. Very questionable morals.
We arrive back in Uchira tired, sunburnt and starving, and just in time for me to stuff a bag with hiking gear and jump in with Jasper for the drive to Marangu.
Tom and I exchange nervous, fake smiles as I am driven off, hoping that this isn’t too good to be true and I might just end up dead at the bottom of this goddamn mountain. I squeeze my money belt tightly and try to make some friendly conversation. By the time we get to Marangu it is well past dark, and I am confident that Jasper is in fact just a lazy, fat man who is overworked and nothing to be afraid of. The dirt road leading to their cottages in Marangu is so severely bumpy that I would be faster to walk if every pedestrian didn’t manically shout out Mizungu!(white man!) when they saw my pale skin and desperately try to communicate. Jasper tells me they like me because I have money. Very bluntly put but yes Jasper.
The cottages are beautiful and if Jasper is a bore, his sister Helena is exactly the opposite. She comes bounding up to me with her perfectly painted toenails and bouncy bottom and leeches into me for the night. We drink ginger tea and watch music hits together on Austar – I can tell this family isn’t doing too badly. Helena shows me her handbags, a different colour for each day of the week, while servants run bustle around our feet cleaning. I cherish my first and last how shower in a few days and sleep in a bed with a luxurious mattress that’s thicker than my palm.
Conquering/surviving Kilimanjaro 19/06/12
I woke full of beans and rearing to go. As usual when you are excited, things take a while to get going. After running around for the morning trying to keep up with Helena’s frantic pace, we arrived at the marangu gates, the door to mount Kilimanjaro. I jumped out of the air conditioned van and Helena waved me off. I had no idea of who was my guide and all of these men were in my face and taking advantage of my confusion trying to sell me hats, waterproof pack covers, wristbands. Someone got my attention a little more officially and I followed him down the road to a clothing store. I still don’t know who the man was, but at this little shop some money was exchanged and I spent at least an hour being decked out in all sorts of cold weather gear. They gave me anything and everything to hire for the trek – poles, sleeping bag, thermals, ski pants, fluffy socks, balaclava, scarves and even sunglasses. When I felt satisfied and my only fear was that I would overheat rather than freeze, they stuffed my temporary possessions into a duffel bag and I met with my guide.
Steven is 27 but skinner than my brother, he is cheeky and as the days have progress he appears to become suspiciously more fluent in English. I sat reading on my kindle while all the permit business was being dealt with, and after about an hour I knew there was something wrong. I found Steven and asked where the UK couple were; his saying hakuna matata only served to make me more annoyed, and he explained that the couple that were supposed to be joining me on this trek had flown into Nairobi that morning and their luggage had never arrived. Great, so they are going to kill me I think to myself.
Steven gives me a lunchbox and I set off on the journey with mari-dadi, my porter and waiter. He is one of our team of six. Steven, my head guide, the chief cook and three porters to carry everything from chicken to teapots. The service throughout the trek is indeed impeccable and very over the top. I feel like katniss everdeen in panem if you get my gyst- plates of mango, paw paw and banana, pancakes, sausages and eggs, porridge, beef stew and chicken legs are laid out each day on my personalized tea towel in a big tourist mess. I eat alone and read on my kindle and listen to the chit chat of the tourists, which are beginning to increase with the high season looming. Kilimanjaro truly is a global affair, and it is rare to hear English. Loads of Europeans, Japanese and Americans dominate the track (according to the registration books) and it is not until the fourth day that I meet an Australian couple. Our country of origin alone unites us while traveling in foreign lands and we chat like old friends.
The landscape on the trek is dramatic. In just three days I traverse from moss covered rainforest through to rocky alpine desert.
That first day, mari-dadi and I walk through this indescribably picture perfect tangle of moss covered vines and thriving, ancient tree trunks. The dense foliage blocks out the sun and because of our language barrier, we are silent and listen to the trickling of the streams surrounding us. We spot monkeys which crash around in the trees above, unalarmed by our presence. That day I am also exposed to colobus, a black monkey with a bushy white tail- Terrible for camouflage but wonderful for admiring. When a tree appears to be spurting water from one of the branches, I question Steven. He points to the hyrex peering in the tree. A weird little animal like a massive rat with no tail. When I think about it, the first day was filled with lots of unusual creatures, a mongoose even shared lunch with me.
Along the track, I passed Trekkers returning from their adventures. Not many wanted to chat so I tried to read their faces. Later, I realized that after the elatedness and exhaustion you feel from reaching the summit, you immediately return to thinking about where your next footstep will be, when is an appropriate time to remove your thermal pants, how the hell that porter is carrying that load on his head. However, I did meet an American whose words had an effect. She was skinny in her twenties and wearing bug eye sunglasses and football socks over tights. She told me that no matter how much it hurts, just keep going, because it’s so worth to push for it. I remembered her words on summit night when my head was throbbing and that summit seemed impossible, an elusive goal.
The first night we stayed at huts at mandara, 2700m. We ‘acclimitised’ by walking up ten minutes to a crater which offered a good view of marangu and Moshi. The trees began to grow sparse and rather than the spongy moss, wispy threads like an old mans beard hung limply from their branches.
At dinner, I learnt that I was sharing this track with a group of 15 Israelis and a lone Japanese man I think he understood English, but every time I spoke to him he would just giggle nervously. Fantastic.
I was still getting away with shirts and joggers, but the cold was beginning to bite at my exposed skin. As the trees grew thin, so did my breath. Even though the contour of the track is a steady incline, the altitude begins to invade your body making it feel as though youve been a life long chain smoker. We rose from 2700m to 3700 m in a matter of hours, and only small hardy scrub was there to meet us at horombo camp.
Throughout the days, Steven and I speak about anything (while I’m not breathlessly walking uphill). He wants to become a safari driver, and is lucky that a Canadian lady is sponsoring him for a year of schooling in order to achieve it. He has been working in this job as a porter and through the ranks to become a guide, making very opportunistic global contacts since his early twenties. He saunters along in his jeans and hiking boots complete with authentic mammut jacket (all gifts from hikers of course), stopping to greet every guide and porter along the track as though they are best mates. The people have a ridiculously laid back aura, and every morning he tells me we will leave by eight, but of course he isn’t ready until nine. Tom captures the attitude perfectly with the phrase I am beginning to understand; TIA. This is Africa.
Horombo is a busy junction as people sleep on their way up and down the mountain when walking the marangu route like me, and the campsite also intercepts with those descending from the rongai route. When we arrive i register, scanning the pages for fellow Aussies or definite English speaking origins. I am led to my own hut and test out all the mattresses in the room, absorbed in reading the inscriptions that cover the walls. People from all walks of life and dating back to as early as 1982 have carved or pencilled in their name and country and some little quote. The most disturbing one I found was from a Tasmanian;
in this room I slept with two swedish chicks. It was the best Australia day ever! Top that Kilimanjaro.
There had been obvious attempts to scrub it out but it was hard to miss. Cheers for the rep, tassy!
Mari-dadi brings a bowl of hot water to me each night for washing, but I can feel my hair beginning to tangle and my clothes smelling not so polite. Huge, huge black birds with a white stripe across their neck swarm the site, pecking at cables and being a nuisance. I would probably be afraid of them if I was alone, and I’m not sure if Steven was kidding, but he told me not to leave my camera out around the birds!
At dinner, I am seated next to a Pole, an Englishman and two new zealanders. They have just come down from the summit and look absolutely wrecked. One of the NZ’s has a gash across her nose and her hair is smooth down to the point where her beanie ended and then her hair is smeared out in all directions like a birdnest. At some stage during dinner she excuses herself to be sick. Feeling hopeful!! The English guy is super enthusiastic though, and looks at me with wide, bloodshot eyes, preparing me for the hardships to come the next day. Only he and the Pole made it to the summit, and he gave me the same advice as the American girl on the first day; no matter how disasterous you are feeling, just keep going. I had to force myself to break away from his constant jabbering, and at breakfast the next morning I consciously busied my head in my Kindle when I saw him. However, I lay in bed that night a little more determined to complete this challenge. It can’t be that hard, right?
Day Three and Four; The summit saga
So it’s the big day! The sky opened up perfectly and allowed great views of Kili. As I walked, I had the mass of snow and huge gentle slope of Uhuru Peak (Kilimanjaro) to my left and the jaggard unclimbed 5100m mount mawenzi on my right. Throughout the day, all plant life ceased and we walked over windswept mounds of rubble. A freezing desert.
My hands and feet tingled fericiously from the altitude sickness drug, diamox. I remember my doctor gave some to me for Nepal and said to take one tablet every eight hours. The effects were extreme, it increases your red blood cells so my cheeks burned and I got so much tingling in my body that it woke me at night. It’s sort of hilarious, and at one stage I even had pins and needles in my imaginary snout. So I bought some in Moshi and lightened the dose to two tablets per day (other Trekkers I met were only taking half!!). It’s so good, I’m considering taking up diamox full time.
The day was long and we stopped amongst the shelter of some huge boulders to have lunch. Even up here at 4500m plus there is wildlife. Cute striped mouses ate bread from my hands and birds hopped around anxiously looking for food. Maybe they live off Trekkers scraps, because I definitely can’t see anything else out here that’s edible.
A couple from the Czech replublic were on my tail for the day. When they caught up, we spoke a little but they were pretty standoffish. She was a size 6 ball of muscle and he looked about 50, broad shoulders and an experienced trekker.
We inched our way to our final campsite, kibo. As I pushed on, I was sympathetic to the porters who have to slog up the mountain with the long metal emergency stretchers that have been used to evacuate those with altitude sickness. On the second day, two stretchers flew by us with with a gaggle of men running alongside and taking turns to push. One big wheel supported the metal tray which held a helpless trekker wrapped inside their sleeping bag. If they weren’t already sick of injured, then I’m sure the ridiculously bumpy stretcher ride would aid with that.
Kibo camp was basic. The Czech couple, the Japanese man, a German father/son duo and I shared a room. We tried our best to sleep for the afternoon because there wouldn’t be much chance that night. Our porters rose us for a huge pasta dinner and I thanked god I had taken diamox because it was obvious some of my roommates weren’t feeling that crash. We had a little briefing from our guides and I crawled back into my sleeping bag, prematurely dressed for the evenings occasion. I wore thermals, two pairs of trackies, ski pants, 2 long sleeve tees, jumper, scarf, three pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves and to top it off when I actually set off, a down jacket and a pair of hilarious looking wet weather fishermans pants complete with suspenders. So that’s why I crawled back to my sleeping bag; I could hardly move a limb!
At eleven pm I woke to the sound of movement and laid there for a while, mentally preparing. I knew it would be fine though, because I had a magic weapon- my iPod!! I listened to the Czech man saying he felt really sick, and after debating for a while the Czech lady said she would stay with him. Neither of them even attempted! I really don’t understand love.
For last minute energy, I ate as many biscuits as I could and even downed some drinking chocolate powder for good measure. The Germans set off first, then the Japanese man I left at 12pm, my headlight not entirely necessary under the shine of the moon. We had three obstacles as far as I was concerned. I could see the first, Gilmans Point, about six kilometers walking up an altitude rise of 900m. The whole scene was incredible, with mawenzi outlined to my rear, the twinkle of lights of a large town near the border in Kenya below and the blue-black sky above showed the burning stars with amazing clarity. The snow began in drifts not far up the escarpment and it seemed to glow white.
Steven walked immediately in front of me, and I replicated his steps. We were steady and rhythmic, stopping about every half hour to peel off some clothing or take a sip from our ice filled water bottles. They had been filled with boiling water as we set off, and the change was quick. I cant tell you what the temperature was (maybe 40 degrees under my clothes!!) but I know that if I took off my gloves for my than ten minutes my fingers would begin to hurt. Maybe -10 degrees or something, but the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The air was dry and there wasn’t a single wisp of fog or cloud to spot.
We plodded and plodded, passing one group and on the tail of the Japanese man. I used mawenzi as a guide, as I knew its height. For a long time we still seemed to be well below mawenzi and I was getting dizzy. I wasn’t sure if it was just my iPod, but about three quarters of the way up I started to feel the thumping in my head.
By 4am we were nearing the top, and rather than just zigzagging up a gravel track, we began climbing boulders. It took all my energy to pull myself up and I swear I couldn’t have done it without my walking poles. My head was going a bit crazy, and as I followed Stevens footsteps, I remember seeing black streamers come out from his shoes.
Finally, at 445am we arrived at Gilmans Point, 5680m. The English guy the day before had told me that once you get there, it is all smooth going to the peak. Stella Peak was our next objective. I walked slowly because I knew my brain wasn’t acting sensibly and it would be too early to break your leg or fall down into the crater.
We were in snow now. It wasn’t fresh but crunchy and needle like. There was a considerable amount because there has been a lot of rain this year. We stopped for some bickies and my arms were getting exhausted so I gave Steven my poles. I asked for them back immediately because without poles, I had no balance and just fell onto the rocks. We walked at a steady incline now, nothing like on the way to Gilmans Point. We intercepted with others coming up the Machame route, their voices carrying a long distance. Once at Stella Point, I felt more relieved than elated. The final obstacle – Uhuru Peak- lay ahead.
The light of the yet to rise sun was beginning to show behind my back in a spectacular array of colors. It is impossible to catch the grandeur of these scenes on camera and I just hope I can remember them for always. I walked hurriedly, probably at a snails pace, towards the peak so as not to miss the sunrise. Steven was fantastic, and I apologized later that I was a bit of a bitch to him. My head was thorobbing, I had zero energy and every time we reached a scramble of rocks that should have been Uhuru, it was ‘oh no just a little further’.
Some tall handsome guys walked towards me on their way back down the monster mountain towards the promise land of oxygen and urged me that the peak was just over the next ridge. I laughed in my head at how good they still looked in a place of such hardship. If I had a mirror at that moment I surely would have cracked it with my appearance – chapped lips, matted hair, wagging dehydrated tongue, suspender pants, should I say more?
Uhuru Peak, at 5985m asl was decorated with a huge sign and a group of manically excited English sounding people. The view was incredible, and I arrived at 625 am, just in time for sunrise. A fiery ball of orange peaked up over the horizon and swirled itself with a mix of clouds for the perfect light show. I began to choke on tears but I stopped myself because there was hardly enough oxygen to breathe, let alone cry. I slumped on the ground and looked over the shadow of Mount Meru, natural works of art that are named glaciers, elated Trekkers dancing, and it slowly set in that this was the roof of Africa. One of the English girls pulled out a violin from godknowswhere and played beautifully. After a few essential photos, we made the journey back down.
I was spent, and dreading the 2.2km descent to Hormobo Camp. However, there was a surprise in store. Once we had passed Gilamans Point and the big boulders, Steven took my hand and we actually slid down the rubble. You feel like you are gliding, with at least three paces for each footstep taken. Its magical and even though I was exhausted I didn’t want it to end. Every few minutes you stop to relax your knees and quads, but it’s so much easier than pounding down on your toes with footsteps. We glided past the israelis, who decided to make the climb during the day. They watched us with awe struck faces. I have never heard about sliding down Kilimanjaro, and I wonder if everyone does the same. We slid back into kibo camp and I managed to take off my shoes before passing out on the bed. With One hour sleep and some food in my belly, we walk another 10 kilometers to Horombo. Steven and I are ecstatic, and while we walk I get that newfound status of a satisfied trekker on the way down the mountain. When I pass others heading up, they look at me with wide eyes and ask how it was. I give the same advice the American and the Englishman gave me- awesome, just don’t give up!
The next day we descend back to 1800 m to marangu gates. The different vegetation passes in a blur of shapes and I return to Jasper’s house after giving tips to my crowd of helpers. Helena makes chapati bread and hearty beef stew and I sleep the afternoon away. The next morning, jasper gives me a lift to Moshi and we grab Tom along the way through Uchira. From Moshi, Tom and I catch an assortment of dodgy buses all the way to MtuWaMbu. Here, we begin a whole new adventure!
13 June 2012- waterfalls and Masai parties
The evening before, Tom and I had departed the chock a block local bus at MtuWamBu and made our way to a basic, well secured inn, complete with its own Masai guard. We had to wait for Reuben, an english speaking Masai man who occasionally works for green force, which is where Tom got to know him during his last stint in Africa. Reuben is delightful, wearing a typical Masai patterned shawl over smart trousers and dress shoes. We share stories over a plate of nyamochama (2kg of sizzling beef accompanied by nothing more than sliced tomatoes to quench the dripping fat). Mother dearest would be disgusted at our meal, and even I, a loyal meatosaurus, vowed that I would go vegetarian until at least the next evening.
I slept in a double bed with a mosquito net and sheet draped over me. MtoWamBus direct translation is ‘river of Mosquitos’, and my juicy white skin was a well received gift to the endless swarms of bugs.
Our first day in the small village was action packed. Milky chai tea got us going and we hired mountain bikes for the day. Reuben must accompany us everywhere, because this is not a safe place for white skinned girls to be alone. We saw enough mizungus though, MtoWamBu is a gateway to the Lake Manyara and Ngorogoro National Parks, countless safari plains and on the main road to everywhere. In the middle of the long street which defines the town is a gated tourist haven called Twigger. I go inside and look around, waiting for Tom to collect his second bike because his first got a puncture merely 500 m from the hire place.
I am sure that some tourists would barely leave the manicured hedges, swimming pool and cocktail bar that make Twigger, except to venture out in their pumped up safari vehicles and return home satisfied with a high definition shot of a lion roaring. But I shouldn’t judge.
I went to the markets and scraped up some fresh avocado and tomatoes and chapatis rolled in newspaper as our picnic lunch. We finally set out, veering off the main road to a dirt lane with so many bumps to navigate on our already shaky bikes, leaving our hands vibrating and rear ends tender well after the riding is done.
The road was buzzing with activity – women planted on buckets gossiping in a circle with the backdrop of a basic mud and stick house. Through the frames of the houses I could make out women cooking, a man paving with mud blocks outside. When not fixated on finding the smoothest bicycle route, I laughed with small children running alongside and grabbing our shirts, screaming in utter joy.
After too long for my bum to enjoy, we arrived at the base of the Rift Valley Escarpment. This is a monumental landmark, indicating the gradual force of tectonic plates ripping east Africa apart from west. We parked the bicycles and began rock hopping up the valley. Tom is a natural rock hopper, and Reuben being Masai can do anything of course. But I, no matter how much walking and various activities I undertake, will never learn the precise art of coordination. The Waterfall we reach is wonderful. With the amount of rain this year, it is still flowing heavily, white streams gushing over dark rocks that crumble when poked.
On our way back to the village, we make a stop at the orphanage of which joe is on the board of directors. A canadian woman funds the running of the orphanage, and sixty children are growing up happily through the generosity of this foreign lady. As soon as we are off our bikes, they are there, holding our hands and asking names. I find a spacious area in the courtyard and sit down to give out a huge bag of head bands and dollies that I have lugged since Australia. The children are ecstatic, and before Reuben calls them to into an orderly line, I can hardly move for the amount of tiny black bodies packed over me, hands outstretched and crazed spittle flying everywhere.
There is almost enough for everyone, even something as simple as a little paper box satisfies. The kids are amazing, entertaining themselves with carrying around coals and blowing on them for the glowing response, helping with the lines and lines of loathing required to cover so many bodies, cracking open seed pods and chewing on their findings. At one stage, they dispappear from us and reappear lined up with their plastic cups to receive a generous ladle of hot milk.
They are aged between one and fourteen years and there seems to be a friendly hierarchy established amongst them, the older children feeding the younger ones mouthfuls of milk as if by natural habit.
The adults who work here are saintlike, and you can tell they are entirely devoted to the welfare of these young orphans. I walked away feeling humble, and I’m sure we will make the effort to visit again before I have to leave.
Following this,we catch a va-jay jay (choice name) which is like a covered, three wheeled motorbike. It seems to be the locals pick of transport also. It drops us out at a faraway boma, or Masai village. Reuben has invited us to come to a Masai party, and we have high hopes for this unusual encounter.
At the gate we are met by a drunken old Masai man thrashing about with his trademark walking stick. At his feet lies another man, passed out cold from alcohol. Tom explains that he has probably only had one banana beer, and is not used to the effects of alcohol. It appears we may be a bit late for the party!
The rest of the afternoon is filled with red eyed, blurry speeched (maybe, I wouldn’t actually know) old men grabbing my hands and gabbling away. The party is a celebration for many of the males under fifteen years, having been circumcised that morning and preparing to head out bush to battle alone for a few months in the symbolic process of becoming a man.
It was wild to be out in such a foreign environment. We stood amongst dirt and cactuses, and the circular mud and straw huts in a spherical formation which define a Masai boma. Because of the special occasion, the Masai had dressed up, the women adorned with a heavy load of beaded white and silver earrings through their stretched ears, arm bands and anklets, huge plate like constructions of beads floating around their necks.
The boys being celebrated wore dramatic face paint, thick white and in various designs that was was a stark contrast to their jet black skin tone. Long black feathers protruded from headbands, and small head birds hung from their skulls. They stayed in a tight congregation of about thirty, chanting manically, waving sticks, and taking turns at jumping symbolically. They blatantly refused pictures, and stood poised with rocks to hurl at us if I attempted to break their trust. We were there with them for a few hours, but I have never felt more distanced from any group of people. All we seemed to share were smiles.
It was overwhelming to witness, and I doubt white men had entered this boma in many years. I slept exhaustedly, now annoyed at myself for too easily forgetting the upside down culture my eyes had just been exposed to. An incredible experience.
14 June 2012 – Mini Van Safari
I can’t believe how much dirt finds it way onto us – Into the cracks of your feet, combining with your hair to make it a coarse mass, embedding itself in clothing and under fingernails. Multiply that by fifty and you have the dust effect in the mini dalla dalla van which we hired to explore the salt flats of lake Manyara and the bush surrounding Iscililae. It blew into the vehicle in clouds, filling our mouths and making the screen of my kindle almost indecipherable.
I was absolutely hooked on my latest read, The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a story of a group of prisoners in a Soviet labour camp who escaped and walked 4000 miles through Siberia all the way to India. its brilliant and I’m so happy to have finished it because it was impossible to put down.
We drive in this creaking mini van with joe, Tom, Reuben and our big friendly giant of a driver, negotiating rocky slopes and bushes in this completely inappropriate vehicle. It was hilarious, being thrown around, hitting the low roof. When we got out to walk, the most vicious of thorns threatened us underfoot and we walked over the roughest parts of terrain to let the van go a little more gently without the weight.
Our first sighting was a herd of zebras, including a baby zebra that hadn’t developed its stripes yet. They were calm and walked away without a sense of urgency. Today, we also saw gazelles, marabou stalks, baboons, catfish and a wide variety of bird life. I can’t wait to see a flamingo.
This little safari of ours (certainly done the cheapest way imagined) offered some good animal tracking, but not as much as will be around later in the season when I come back through. However, we came across a long lake and walked it’s banks, observing men in the water using a combined effort to drag fishing nets. They pulled up many small fish, a scoop of the hand brought dozens into the Palm, but they only kept the large ones.
Joe decided he wanted to buy one for his new Tanzanian girlfriend, angel. I was beginning to discover that business in Africa takes a long time to eventuate, so while they bought a monstorous 90 cm catfish weighing 2.5 kgs, I busied myself looking out at the mirage of water (salt reflecting off the burning desert plains) and unusually shaped creatures grazing on the grass seeds stretching all the way out to the horizon. We tied the huge catfish to the windscreen wipers of our vehicle, and the immense size if it made our puny van look even more pathetic. On the way back through town, we got many looks and shouts thanks to our new fishy friend.
The van managed to outdo itself and get us to the top of the Rift Valley, offering a spectacular view of lake Manyara and it’s associated national park. The lake covers some two thirds of the 390 km square national park, and looks more like an ocean to me. The steep ridges, dense with vegetation, have expensive tourist resorts perched on top.
Out final adventure to close the daylight hours was the Masai market, held weekly. I felt very white amongst the black feet protected by sandals of rubber tyre, wiry limbs encased in blue or red patterned material according to gender. The men, in their shades of red, have iconically stretched ears like the women, so deformed that they can loop the bottom of the ear back over their ear top. Through these holes, the women are bound to have that beady long jewelry that tinkles as they walk. Some wear western clothing, but it is predominately robes.
The markets are sectioned out, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, livestock, slaughtered meat, grain, clothing and jewelry separately. We are not heavily harassed, but Tom assures me that I should keep my valuables close.
When Reuben and joe arrive, we wander over to the bar area and I take a sip of beer, labelled ‘super alcoholic banana drink’. It’s repulsive, but not so much as the frothy milk like substance which they keep urging me to drink or buy for them. I learn that there is no milk in this liquid and I wonder what it is made with.
Drunk elders sit on benches around us, freakishly bobbing up and down, and laughing hysterically. I silently reflect on what a terrible thing alcohol can be. Reuben doesn’t drink himself, and comforts me by explaining that the young men see their elders pathetic state and refrain from the substance, which is such a prominent staple across the globe.
We va- jay jay it back to town and are currently seated in a jam packed pub watching Italy versus Croatia in soccer. I am the only one whose eyes are not glued to the television set, and it has been a good chance to write up on the last few days. I am squished between a German doctor and my Masai friend, Reuben, with cheering Tanzanians lined up in chairs to my fear, brimming with sportsmanship. Even though Im in the other side of the world, the people look different and I have a bundle of dried fish in front of me to snack on, the atmosphere may as well be a pub anywhere back home.
15 June 2012
After a long morning lazily sleeping in (subconsciously trying to avoid spending money) we breakfast at our regular chai place. (I have obviously been here too long that I have a ‘regular’, and need to get moving soon.)
After a bit of deliberation, we found ourselves on a dalla dalla where there was much reshuffling of people according to the distance of their destination. I sat in possibly the most entertaining seat, next to the constantly sliding door. As soon as I thought that not another body could pack into the van, I would breathe out when we stopped to let out some very blaze looking local, only to breathe in again and welcome four more huge Masai men! They would play tetris for a while trying to close the door, with the final position involving a pungent Masai armpit in my face and meter long knives wrapped in cowhide rubbing dangerously against my side. Babies were passed back by cramped and trusting mothers through the bus and found safety in the arms of a stranger with a better seat. Throughout my African experience, I will be sampling many more of these local transport conditions thanks to my hesitation in parting with money.
I have no idea how Reuben knew which part of the road to stop off at. Amongst the barren land and cactuses, one of those bushes must have been a really good marker.
We made our way offroad, failing to dodge the toothpick sized thorns and persistent prickles. With further inspection, you realize there are bomas everywhere scattered throughout this arid landscape. Reuben’s boma appeared similar to the others I had seen. Gap toothed children posed as shepherds, abandoning their post and rushing to greet us, but too afraid to come close. A couple of Elders met us at the ‘gate’, a layer of extra spiky branches, and invited us into their small community.
The families of Reuben and his siblings reside here, equating to about fifteen residents of all ages. Once inside, joe presented a customary gift of sugar and tea to the women, having been badly berated for coming empty handed in a previous visit.
An old woman sat on a hessian sack under the shade of an acacia tree, tending to the majority of the children. To calm the baby in her arms, she would rock back and forth and chant deeply using the power from her chest.
The children, dressed in an odd assortment of tattered robes, suddenly gained the courage to touch us, smearing some sort of animal poo on my arms in the process.
A beautiful, narrow beanpole of a woman wondered over to us with her one moth old baby. She clearly had no issue with the baby weight! The Masai are striking, depicted in caricatures and symbolic paintings with stick limbs and a spear held above their head for intimidation. The men do carry their own stick, which has been tailored to suit them and is used for walking or whacking. Joe has built a great repertoire with the local Masai,and jokingly steals their sticks only to receive blood drawing slaps when they manage to retrieve it.
The women seem delighted with out visit, beaming at us with their ornately decorated faces. When a Masai is about 3 or 4 years old, a scorching hot end of a metal pipe is sizzled into each cheek. This indentation remains with them for life and can always be seen to indicate their origins. I first heard that it was done to keep the flies interested in something other than their eyes and mouth ( as a bloody sore if much more entertaining). It was later confirmed that this is a symbol of beauty. Im glad the only torture I had to go through in the name of beauty were the pin prick sized holes in my ears!
Back on the road, no one was keen to stop and give us a lift, so we began to walk back toward MtoWamBu. Whirlwinds of dust form regularly and dumb donkeys linger on the roads effectively causing road raged drivers.
As promised, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the orphanage. Jenny and her brother and sister visiting from England joined us there. The kids went wild with such a crowd there to visit. I sat in the dirt, wincing as hoards of children yanked and pulled my hair into surprisingly neat little plaits. I’m pretty sure they don’t have barbies to practice on like we did !