Kilimanjaro Day One

Well, I’m back. My apologies for the delay in this post, an action packed two weeks with extremely limited access to the world wide web created some obstacles to posting anything here. So, you know I’m alive and back in the USA–but how did it go? Lets talk about it. If you want to know if I made it you’ll just have to read to the end of these posts (or you already saw my pictures in which case you can pretend you didn’t know, so act surprised, I surely was).

 

I touched down at Kilimanjaro International Airport on March 30th, which gave me two days to adjust to the time change and mentally prepare (scare) myself for the adventure to come. These two days were filled with lots of physical preparation (packing, unpacking and repacking) along with a lot of mental preparation. My hiking partner Mack and I mistakenly watched several videos of Kilimanjaro summits on the internet hoping to calm our nerves but in fact found the opposite to be the result. Our trip was scheduled for five days, for several different reasons. Plans to safari through a few parks while we were there paired with limited financial resources meant we needed to complete this Kilimanjaro deal in five days. This shortened climb isn’t recommended by a lot of guide companies considering it leaves no days for acclimatization and often results in guaranteed altitude sickness, risks we were willing/had to take. After a night of very little sleep our guide company arrived around 7:00 AM on April 1st to begin our travel to the base of the mountain. Though we passed through several bustling towns in the three hour car ride, we said next to nothing on the way there. The stillness in the car didn’t help our nerves but we kept ourselves occupied with music or puzzled looks to each other wondering what the guides were muttering to each other in Swahili on the way there. However, the drive was beautiful. We passed through several small villages littered with cattle herders, small restaurants and roadside vendors. As we tried to scarf down the supplied lunch of fried chicken and vegetable samosas we couldn’t help but wonder what was to come…is fried chicken the best meal to eat before this? Do our guides think we can do this? Do WE think we can do this? Are we GOING to do this? The questions all generally remained unanswered and before we knew it we found ourselves in the parking lot of Kilimanjaro National Park. We registered with the park office, met all of our climbing team and made any last minute changes/preparations that needed to be made.  Following a pep talk from our guides Jerry and Hashim, a bit of a Kilimanjaro history lesson and a couple of forced smile pictures at the entrance to the trail, we were off.

DSCN0163

The Marangu route is the route we decided on. It can and has on plenty of occasions been accomplished in five days.  Locals refer to it as the “coca-cola route” as it is the one most commonly taken by tourists (not sure why coca-cola has anything to do with that, but either way that’s what they call it). From the gate I could tell I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The first few miles were conquered in silence, leaving a lot of time to wander in awe of the surroundings. I knew it would be like nothing I’ve ever seen before but I couldn’t have prepared myself for what I was heading into. Our excursion began at about 6,000 feet above sea level in the rain forest. This isn’t quite your Amazon rain forest but in comparison its the closest thing you’ll find to a totally equatorial forest. The air is damp, the vegetation is thick and the rain is generally constant (about 6 feet per year!).  There are giant trees dating back six hundred years, huge colonies of black ants and a large population of colobus monkey. We hiked about 12 km from the gate to an elevation of 8900 feet and stayed in the Mandara huts. These huts were small A-frame style shelters with four beds in each one. Also on the grounds were restroom facilities and a dining hall, pretty cushy right? I thought so. This was the completion of Day 1. No major hiccups, nothing had gotten to difficult yet, and we were well on our way to the summit. Should be a piece of cake from here right? We’ll see.

Advertisements

Africa’s Ceiling

“I always went my own road and on my own legs where I had a mind to go.”

-Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

                 th

So, this is it. In roughly five days and some odd hours I depart for the land I remember Joseph Conrad describing throughout Heart of Darkness early in my high school days.  I get questions all the time, why Africa? What are you even doing, is it safe? Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know, and gee…I sure hope so. Trust me, as time to departure inches closer and closer I ask myself these same questions every few minutes. The truth is that Africa, as one of the few places still with massive quantities of untouched land, draws in anyone looking for an adventure, and I’m up to the task. I’ve never been but I have always had a soft spot for the place, could be the aura of mystery around the continent, the indescribable landscape or maybe even the reoccurring theme of despair Conrad references throughout his book. I can tell you that two out of three of those are true.

I’ll be honest, planning this trip is and has been hard. I’ve never been to a place like Tanzania, not many people (that I know anyway) have. I really don’t know what to expect in regard to a lot of things. I read other blogs’ posts and various web articles but I get the feeling that no matter how much I look into it there will just be a large blank area on the canvas I’m not able to put the paintbrush to until the plane’s wheels touch the ground, and you know what? That’s okay with me.  So here’s what I know. I’m touching down in Tanzania on March 30th. The airport is a small one, JRO sees roughly a mere 800,000 passengers come and go in a year (compared to LAX who sees about 70 million in a year) and services only a dozen different airlines.  Located in the northeast part of the country, JRO is the known as the “gateway to Africa’s wildlife heritage”, visitors coming to explore the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park, Mt. Kilimanjaro or Serengeti National Park all have to touch down here before embarking on their respective adventures around the area. From what I can wrap my head around, Tanzania is divided into regions (think of states) wherein each region lies different towns or “districts”.  A relatively short car ride from the airport lands me in Babati, a subset (and administrative capital) of the Manyara Region. This bustling city just to the southwest of Kilimanjaro is pretty new to the scene considering a mere thirty years before most wouldn’t have considered it any more than a simple village. Nestled beneath the shadow of the flat topped 8,000 ft Mt. Kwaraa and on the fringes of Tarangire National Park, Babati is widely known for its natural beauty and, though elusive, overwhelming wildlife presence.  Hippos float Lake Babati, hyenas and elephants alike roam the plains at the edges of town, all the while it is not uncommon to be joined by a group of monkeys venturing down from the jungles of the mountain looking for a daytime snack.  Aside from the community of animals, nearly 35,000 people call Babati home and now that it is the capital city, population growth is steadily rising. Tourism is growing exponentially and stimulating economic growth in Babati, who, despite the modern world finding its way in, remains a place still deeply and uniquely rooted in ancient tradition.

So, you know where I’m going…but what am I doing? Well after a couple days of recovering from what I think will be an excruciating two part sequence of sky miles, I’ll be strapping on and lacing up my boots to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Completing this five day, twenty seven mile trek will put me nearly 20,000 ft above sea level and at the top of the tallest volcano outside of South America. Wait…volcano? That’s right, this “mountain” is actually composed of three volcanic cones, but don’t worry, only one is liable to erupt and I’ve got my fingers crossed it waits until I’m long gone.

I don’t want to get into too much explicit detail on this adventure right out of the gate for a number of reasons as I am going in prepared but with little expectation.  I’ve found that beautiful moments don’t come planned, but often when you least expect them.  I know the things I see, the people I meet and hurdles I overcome will be most enjoyable if I just let them find me. There will be moments I can write about, things to take pictures of and stories to tell, but the moments that will make this the adventure of a lifetime will be the ones I can’t explain. The ones that happen in my world and stand out in my own mind are what turn into the memories that I’ll connect to this time and this place forever. Those, I believe, are the moments we live for.

So that’s it, the next time I sit down at this computer to tell you guys where I am or what I’m doing I’ll probably have some of those photos, stories to share or even mistakes to reflect upon that I can tell you about, but hopefully a few of those forever moments that I get to keep to myself.

Cheers.