Friday, July 4, 2008

Tanzania, one of my new favorite places!

Mt. Kilimanjaro
"The Rooftop of Africa"
June 19-24, 2008
The last of the New Life Church mission teams left on the evening of June 16. Our pastors, Aaron and Evan wished us luck on our adventure hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro and they got on the buses too, bound for the Nairobi airport. Emily and I stood in the parking lot of the Guest House where we were staying and waved goodbye. We were on our own in Africa.
We stayed an extra day in Nairobi and ended up running all over the city trying to exchange my traveller's cheques. Remind me never to use those silly things again! Despite the challenge, or perhaps because of, it ended up being a great day and we got to experience downtown Nairobi and we made it to the bank and safely home-though not before stopping at one of our favorite cafes, Nairobi Java House.
It's hard to see, but this is Simba Street!
More of downtown Nairobi
One of my other favorite experiences was the taxi ride. It was actually a taxi bus and we were on our way to the center of Nairobi when we heard something on the radio that sounded a little familiar...were they saying, Barack Obama! It was a fun reggae song about Obama and all Emily and I could do was laugh! As most of you probably know, Barack's father is from Kenya and they all love him there and everyone wants to know if we're going to vote for the "hope of America". Oh boy!

We spent one more night in Nairobi and then woke up early the next morning to catch our shuttle heading down to Moshi. We were finally getting closer to our next adventure!

We boarded our shuttle, thankful it was there to pick us up because were weren't exactly sure it was actually going to happen. Against my better judgement, we bought two round trip tickets, which would come back to haunt us later. The bus company we used, Jamii, were aweful and totally tried to take advantage of two American women traveling alone, assuming we didn't really know what we were doing. Little did they know who they were messing with...boy I straightened them out, but the lesson I learned, was only buy what you need when you need it.

So anyway, back to the story, we started on our long and bumpy ride down to Moshi. The boarder crossing was fun, we got completely assaulted by con-artists trying to exchange money with us and overwhelmed by Massai women adorning us with their jewelry to sell. I will from now on, fly into the Kilimanjaro Airport. It was a slightly different situation for us because we were already in Nairobi for other reasons, so it didn't make sense to fly from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, but I wish somehow we could have just avoided all this nonesense with the shuttle!
Well, seven hours and two buses later, we arrived in Moshi!! We'd made it! Now we just had to find Ady, our contact and new friend, though we'd never met him before. The bus dropped us off at a taxi station and once again, we were mobbed by all kinds of taxi drivers wanting to take us wherever we wanted to go. The trouble was, we didn't know where we were going! One of the taxi drivers graciously let us borrow his cell phone and we called Ady and he was there in no time. And we met, for the first time, someone who would become a great friend in the days to come.
Now this is not the fun part of the story, so I'm going to be brief because this was just a small hitch in our adventure. Plus, it's good information for anyone planning to hike Kilimanjaro in the future. As it turned out, the company we used to book our trip mislead us and in my opinion, cheated us, and booked us not with the company we asked for, but another one I had never even heard of. We wanted to climb Kilimanjaro with Zara Tours and the people at Zara were so incredibly helpful to make it happen. Adventures Within Reach, however, was definitely not making it easy for us. But in the end, it all worked out and we were able to climb with Zara, the company about which we had heard so many wonderful things!! My advise would be to book directly through Zara-they are so helpful and simply wonderful people!
In the middle of all the craziness and stress of trying to get our trip figured out, God gave us this beautiful, and uncommon view of Kilimanjaro the first afternoon we were in Moshi. For me, it was kind of a reminder of the beauty of God's creation and the blessing that it was to be, experiencing something I'd only dared to dream of. This time of year (June), the summit is often covered in clouds hiding the peak. But on our first night in Moshi, the skies cleared enough for us to be mesmerized by this spectacular view. I could hardly take my eyes off it!
We stayed the two nights prior to our hike at the Springsland Hotel. It was beautiful, even though the rooms were tight. We enjoyed hanging out and just relaxing and decompressing from our mission trip the two previous weeks. It was much needed!
Emily got some great pictures of the flowers and grounds of the Springsland Hotel.
We often enjoyed our morning tea in these beautiful gardens!
I don't think we could have asked for a better backdrop. I swear, it's real! In just five short days, we'd be at the summit!
After resting at the Springsland and touring the town of Moshi, June 19th, the day of our departure, had arrived. We were packed, dressed and ready to go! Here's the first picture, just before we left the Springsland Hotel bound for the Machame Gate to begin our 6 day trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Emily, Ady, John (our Guide) and me
We drove about an hour to the gate where we signed in, and waited, waited, and then waited some more. We had to wait for our permits or something. All I know is that it was cold and wet. All I wanted to do was get moving! I certainly learned patience during this time. "Hurry up and wait" became a phrase we used often...
Machame Gate, 5,400 feet

As we waited, we had lots of opportunities to take pictures. Emily got one of the warnings posted. It was pretty amusing. I wish everyone would have seen the "Do not litter" part. It was unfortunate that we saw so much trash and especially toilet paper on the trail.
Here are the porters getting everything ready to bring up the trail.
These guys are my heroes, they were truly incredible!
Finally, we got to start up the trail. It was pretty wet and while moving through the rainforest, this first biome of Kilimanjaro, hikers would normally see monkeys swinging from tree branch to tree branch. Unfortunately, the only ones we saw were at the very beginning of our hike, and then no more. The first day, we only hiked for about 4 hours and John let us go at our own pace. He warned us, however, that the next day he would go first and we'd follow him, "Pole, pole", Swahili for "Slowly!" To this day, I'm not exactly sure why we have to go so slowly, but I guess it's so we don't get too tired or become suceptible to altitude sickness. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, we got to look around and enjoy the scenery more, which I really enjoyed, especially once we got above the clouds!
No, this is not where we stayed. We slept in tents, this was just the cabin where we had to sign in to prove we were there. It was kind of neat to look through the roster and see where other people were from. There were certainly a lot of Americans, but there were also a good number of Brits and other Europeans; some South Africans, and a couple from South America.

This is our team, our amazing team!
Setting up the tents...I guess this one goes somewhere else!
There we are, me and Ady, we'd made it to Machame Hut Camp at 10,170ft.This picture above shows just how spoiled we were. Every afternoon when we arrived at camp, Robert would bring us warm "Water for Washing". Those of you that know me know I love camping and getting all dirty, but getting to wash every morning and afternoon, well it was heavenly!
After "Water for Washing", we went to our dinner tent and had some yummy popcorn, biscuits and tea. Mmmm! I was hungry!

After a good night sleep, and truly it was, we started our second day on the mountain. After only a couple of hours, we found ourselves above the clouds.

Below's a look at the trail, but a little further up, we caught our first glimpse of...

The Summit!

It was truly amazing and I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat! (even the memory still takes my breath away a little!)

After catching my breath, we continued on a little way to our lunch spot. I think overall, lunches were my favorite meals. Here's Emily digging into some chicken. Mmmm, protein!

"Food is fuel" became an encouraging motivation for us. Sometimes as we got to higher altitudes, I didn't always feel like eating, which is normal, I guess.
After a nice lunch break and admiring the summit again, we continued on our way. There's John in the front, setting the pace...pole, pole!
Here's John again, our fearless leader! We reached Shira Hut Camp, (12,300ft) early in the afternoon and after a short rest, we set out for a brief acclimatization hike. It was great! We had the trail to ourselves (a unique experience on Kilimanjaro) and such a fabulous view of the summit!
Ady, John, Emily and RobertJohn, me, Ady and Emily
Walking on clouds!
Mezmerizing, isn't it?
Shira Hut Camp. As you can see, we weren't the only ones...
Day three we started hiking and I remember it being pretty quiet most of the morning, we were all just sort of chuggin' along. This was until, however we arrived at the Lava Tower! Aside from the summit, this was my favorite thing we did! This was also the point at which we realized we were at the highest altitude we'd ever been at in our lives, just over 15,000 ft! The best part was that I felt great! I was really wondering how I'd do at the higher altitudes, but so far so good! It was so much fun!
So the Lava Tower is just that, a tower of lava from when Kilimanjaro was an active volcano. John, Emily and I decided to climb to the top, and a climb it was! It was the closest thing to rock climbing I'd done in a long time. Definitely a worthwhile side trip!
Some groups camp at the Lava Tower, hence the tents. But here it is, the Lava Tower!

Me, John and Emily at the top of the Lava Tower. Too bad it was too cloudy to see the summit behind us.
Climbing back down the Lava Tower-so fun!!
Ady, waited for us a the bottom, but now, I think he's ready to go!
As we continued on from the Lava Tower towards Barranco Camp, we ran into these plants, though I don't remember the name. Kind of funny looking, but when you lift up the leaves...
..these beautiful blue flowers are revealed! John showed them to us. He knew EVERYTHING about the Mountain!
A beautiful little waterfall towards the end of our hike for that day
We arrived to Barranco Camp late in the afternoon. The clouds were beginning to float away, but throughout the afternoon, they continued to dance around the summit, it was spectacular. This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip.
That night, while we were eating dinner, the most bizzarre thing happened. All of a sudden we heard all this cheering from all over the camp from various teams all over. We thought maybe something was happening with the Mountain and so I popped my head out the door of our dinner tent, but of course it was too dark to see anything. We had no idea what was going on! About a half hour later, it happened again, wild and crazy cheering! When Robert came back in, we asked him what was going on, and he simply said, Tanzania is playing Camaroon. Of course, the porters were listening to this soccer game on the radio! Futbol, as it is called in Tanzania, is definitely something to get excited about!

We finished dinner and headed to our tents. Because of the clouds, we had still yet to see a clear African night sky. That night, however, was the first time I had to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. When I stepped out of our tent and looked up at the sky, I think it took my breath away and I just had to stand there for a few minutes, completely forgetting how cold it was! There have only been a few other times I have ever seen a sky that clear! I would have loved to stand out there watching shooting stars dance arcross the sky all night! Truly amazing!


Today we started the day by hiking Barranco Wall. It was a lot of scrambling and tons of fun! Here's a shot of one of our amazing porters. It's hard to see, but he has a backpack on his back as well as a burlap bag filled with God knows what balanced on his head. These guys were truly incredible!
At the top of the wall, my heart skipped a beat, again! I felt like we could reach out and touch the summit! It was the closest we'd been up until that point and what an amazing view!

Emily and I had pushed ahead on our way to Karanga Hut.

Groups that hike for 7 days stay the night at Karanga. We pushed through in 6 days so we just stopped for a quick lunch and then continued on our way.

Emily, glad to have a seat!
This is a picture of Mawenzi, one of Kilimanjaro's three volcanic cones. Reaching to 16,890ft, it is also dormant and I think would be fun to climb...some day :-)
This is Barafu Camp, our last camp before the summit. The camp was pretty rocky, but we had a great spot for our tent. Wow, butterflies are returning even as I just think about this night! The anticiapation of what the next morning would bring was killing me! I was always at my best when I was hiking. Emily and I arrived more than an hour before Ady and John. Unfortunately, Ady was not doing very well and made the difficult decision not to try for the summit. I was so proud of him for making it as far as he did. He really pushed himself to get to Barafu, well done, friend! Next year, Ady, you'll make it to the top!!
We were over 15,000ft at this point and I was tired! It had been a long day. It wasn't a tough hike by any means, but we started hiking around 8am and by the time we arrived at Barafu, it was 4:30pm. I finally broke out my down jacket for the first time-even with the sun, it was pretty cold.

What an exhilerating evening! In about 12 hours, we would be standing at the top! A million things were racing through my head: Will I make it? Will I freeze? Will I be able to keep up? What's it going to feel like? What am I going to see?

After dinner, John came in to talk to Emily and I to give us the program for the next day. We would wake up at 11 to get ready for a midnight departure and hopefully make it to the top by sunrise, which would be a little before 7am. We would fill our water bottles in the morning with hot water to keep it from freezing for as long as we could!

It was important to get to sleep as early as we could, but with all the excitment and energy racing through my veins, any sleep I got was brief. It was more of a 3 hour rest before our summit push.

I think it was Robert that came at 11:20pm to wake us up, though I don't know if either of us were really sleeping. We gave him our water bottles, gathered our day packs and packed up our sleeping bags and everything else as quickly as we could. We enjoyed some hot tea and biscuits and then the moment I'd been waiting for...we slowly began to ascend to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!
I don't think we took any pictures for the first five or six hours. It was cold and any stopping was to rest, get a quick drink or refuel. The sky was so clear, and although we didn't plan it, the moon was almost full and I didn't use my headlamp at all. I don't think we could have planned for a better night!
Soon enough, the sun began to rise, and it was incredible to watch. We weren't quite at the summit yet, but we were getting really close.

The sunrise behind MawenziWe'd gained more than 4,000 ft in elevation, from 15,000ft to more than 19,000ft in about 7 hours and it was quite a trek. There were portions that were quite steep and I think it was good that it was dark so I couldn't see where I was going! Emily raced on ahead with James, our assistant guide, but John was great and stayed with me the whole time encouraging me, step by step all the way to the top. He was a phenomenol guide!
The glaciers were gorgeous as we got increasingly closer to the top. The sun rising made it spectacular.
Another shot of the sunrise.
And then finally, after six and a half hours...the summit! I could hardly believe I'd made it-it was quite a surreal feeling. Emily gave me a big hug and I'd be lying if I denied that a tear or two fell down my cheek. It was so incredible to see the view. We were so high up that you could just barely make out the curveture of the earth. I wish we could have stayed up there all day, but it was freezing so we enjoyed it for a few minutes and then headed back down to Stella Point. James (our assistant guide), me, Emily and John
It had been a wonderful four days and we had succeeded! We rested for a bit at Stella Point and passed another group that was heading to the top. They congratulated us on our summit, and then one gentleman said something that was quite funny, "Don't forget, the summit is only half of the still have to get down!" And that's where we were headed...down, down, down!
We made it back to Barafu, but it seemed like it took forever! It was fun sliding down, though, through the sand. It was pretty soft and therefore not too hard on the knees which I appreciated! We rested at Barafu for an hour or so, had some lunch and then continued on our way. Ady had already made it down with some of the porters to Mweke Camp, where we'd be staying that night, so John, Emily and I contined on to meet up with him. The trail down was much more direct and we were moving pretty quickly. Our legs were a little tired, but I think we were just excited to make it down to camp. I don't know if we said more than five words to each other during the entire 3 or 4 hour hike for no other reason but that we were all pretty exhausted! We'd been hiking for HOURS on very little sleep! It didn't take us long to get down below the clouds again, and I lingered a minute to get one last look at the summit. It was like a dream.
Finally, we'd arrived at the Mweke Camp and we were reunited with Ady. He was back to feeling like himself, hanging out with some of our porters. We all had tea, relaxed for a bit and I really wish I could speak Swahili! Next year... :-)
As it turned out, we were really only another 2-3 hours from the base of the mountain and John gave us the option, if we wanted, to continue down and back to the Springsland Hotel that night. Emily and I barely had to talk about it, we both wanted to stay the night on the mountain. As for me, I know I wasn't ready to leave just yet.
Ady, on the other hand, was anxious to get back down to see his wife and daughter. So John went down the rest of the way with Ady while Emily and I stayed back. Dinner was great, and then we had tea with James and Killian, the two assistant guides that ended up hiking the rest of the way down with us the following morning. We really enjoyed getting to know them better :-)
The next morning, we woke up early for an early start to make it the rest of the way down. It was pretty rainy and we were just about soaked to the bone by the time we reached the gate, but we really didn't care. There's something fun about hiking in the rain sometimes, especially when you know a hot shower is in your near future!
Here we are, the end of the trail. We'd made it! James, Emily, me and Killian. We had a great time hiking down with these guys. I was hiking most of the time with Killian and I really enjoyed listening to all of his stories from previous hikes.
Soon after arriving to the gate, and signing in one last time, we loaded into the truck and started back to the Springsland Hotel.
There we were, back at the Springsland Hotel where we met up with John and then Ady joined us a little later. John was all showered and clean since he'd come back down the night before, he cleans up well! Em and I still desperately needed a shower but first our "after" shot! It was bittersweet, returning to the hotel, but isn't it true that all good things must come to an end.
Overall, we had an unbelievable experience and met some wonderful new friends. I would go back tomorrow if I had the opportunity, but for now, making plans for next summer is keeping me occupied and inspired.
After our hike, we spent a couple more days in Moshi and Ady took us to one more school that he has been working with through the Asante Foundation. Below is the Headmistress and one of the teachers along with Emily and talking to much of the school during an impromtu assembly. It was great to meet these teachers and see their school and all they are doing for these students. It is Ady's hope that through the Asante Foundation, he can help many of the schools in the Moshi area develop and receive the teachers and equipement necessary to properly train the future leaders of Tanzania. It's exciting to see!

On our way back to the hotel, we had one last view of Kilimanjaro.
I don't quite know how to close this novel of a post, except to say that I have fallen in love with Tanzania. It is such a beautiful country with such incredible people. It is one of my new favorite places and I can't wait to go back! Thank you to everyone who made this trip a wonderful and memorable one.


Jennifer said...

Incredible, Mindy. Thank you so much for sharing all of your amazing journey.

Tara said...

wow, mindy! i had quite a lot of catching up to do! i loved every word of your adventure. i am speechless w/ your photos... can i go w/ you to tanzania on your next trip??! :)