Saturday, July 3, 2021

The second ascent...the mountain of moving

Nay's family came to visit
Rebecca writing: Two and a half weeks ago, Paul and I arrived on the roof of Africa. Currently, we are back in the sky, at about the same altitude, looking across at the summit of Kilimanjaro through the windows of the aircraft which is carrying us away from Tanzania and into our new lived assignment in Ethiopia. Climbing this second mountain – the mountain of uprooting our life and moving to a new country – was far more demanding mentally and emotionally than the delight and physical effort of climbing Kili.

So, the week after our big hike, we had a lot of work to catch up on, as is the way of things when you take a week of vacation. Paul had many hours of online meetings, finalizing things in many of our food security projects. We were so grateful for our new Food Security Programs Manager in Addis, Mesfin, who kept everything rolling while we were away.

Meanwhile, I had a very different assignment: facilitating worship for a gathering of Christian leaders from around East Africa. This was actually the 8th time I have participated in the Great Lakes Initiative reconciliation gathering and I have facilitated worship many of those years. But this time we had to meet online, of course. And it was quite a challenge to think through how to prepare five days of meaningful worship when we are not together physically, and I can’t just tap volunteers to bring their gifts of music or scripture reading or testimony spontaneously. The gathering includes leaders from anglophone and francophone Africa, people of different Christian backgrounds, and many ethnic groups, and our worship has always come out of the particular community that is gathered in a given year, to practice what it means to be a diverse and reconciled beloved people. 
Irene at open house
I was able to ask a variety of participants to prepare musical pieces in advance and send recordings to me to use on various days of our Zoom meetings; even a video recording of a Swahili prayer song from Congo, a south Sudanese original chorus on being Ambassadors of Christ, and “I surrender all” in French from Rwanda. Other people read key scriptures.  (I was very grateful to learn from the experience of interactive online zoom church services with our home church in Baltimore, where I have seen really excellent lay-led worship prepared every week for more than a year!). Overall, it was possible to have a good conference with solid teaching. But still, being together in person is probably 500% better. I look forward to the time when we can all safely meet, but that was not now, as a third wave of COVID is sweeping East Africa. So, this conference (and my monumental blisters) kept me tied to home for most of the week.
Open House

On Saturday, we decided that we needed to invite a variety of friends to come to an open house so that we would have a final time of sharing and farewells with them. We remain grateful for the covered veranda on our house, where we could safely sit with friends in the fresh air. Many dear friends from church came to spend some time. 

It was also wonderful to see them happy to see each other, and to take the time to talk – some friends know each other from past interactions but hadn’t seen each other for a long time, so it was great to facilitate some reunions. We had snacks and sodas and tea, and it was a very relaxed time together to appreciate each one.

About halfway through the afternoon, Oren started getting dressed up to go to his Year 11 Graduation dinner. The IGCSE exams are considered a big deal in the Cambridge system, and the end of one key stage of education. A number of students will be going on to other schools next year, even university.

Parents were not invited, and so probably the kids had even more fun together! When Paul and I had cleaned up from our party, around 9 pm, we set off to go pick up Oren across town. A few minutes along the dark, sparsely populated East Africa bypass we suddenly spotted a couple of young men running into the road and violently waving arms and shovels. They were basically blocking our lane, and at first, it seemed like they might be in need of help, but then we realized they were most likely hijackers. Paul swerved around them and gunned it. It was over quickly, we were fine, but we came back home by the busy roads through town. We subsequently heard about the murder of a motorcycle taxi driver from the neighborhood on that road on Friday night. It was a good reminder that even sleepy Arusha is not always safe after dark.

Sunday was officially the “farewell Sunday” for us at church. Several people are leaving together with us, and sadly, they all seem to be key musicians at church. Our little church choir met once the week before to prepare a few songs – great to sing together once more. And I offered the sermon that Sunday – about how storms can sweep in on us at any time, even when we are faithfully following Jesus. We feel a bit like this, with COVID and the loss of our job in Arusha. But we know so many friends who are dealing with serious illness or strife in their families, through no fault of their own. Many of them need the comfort of knowing that Jesus is with them in the boat. After church, we enjoyed one final actual bible study with our family bible study group. They have meant so much to us as a foundation and support over the past three years. And then we headed home to make sure all was ready for… Secondary Activities week!

Oren was off at 5:45 am to catch a bus at school and head to the coast. He and 5 others in his class joined a younger grade for a week at a beautiful eco-resort on the Indian ocean. They paddled kayaks into a mangrove swamp, took a boat trip to a sand island, went snorkeling and played a lot of cards and other games. I was particularly grateful that his oldest and most faithful school friend, Abraham, joined him on that trip.

Here is what Oren has to say about it, taken by dictation:
“The trip was pretty nice. We went to the beach with my friends. We went snorkeling in a mangrove forest off kayaks. In the afternoon, we were riding on an inflatable hot dog pulled by a speedboat. We also went snorkeling in a coral reef. I saw a moray eel and an octopus. At high tide, we were able to jump off a very high jetty. The only downside was the long 12-hour bus ride back and forth each way.”

David didn’t leave until Tuesday morning – they needed Monday at school to practice setting up tents and getting ready for a real camping trip. He and 24 of his classmates piled into safari vehicles and spent 3 nights in the Ngorongoro conservation area. The main goal of the trip was to learn more about some of the smaller, indigenous tribal groups of Tanzania, including the hunter-gatherer Hadzabe people. Apparently, David was sensible on this trip and went to bed early most nights!

Here are some details taken by dictation: “On the way out in the morning we went to the Snake Park and Maasai museum. Then we got to the campsite. The first afternoon was going to a Datoga village, going inside a house and learning about them. The house was made of mud and smelled like a cow because it was made of cow poop. Then early in the morning we went hunting with the Hadzabe and walked for two hours. Along the way, we ate fresh honey that they found from a baobab tree they had marked that had bees in it high up. Then we walked back and bought some souvenirs. Then we had a bow contest, and the only kid who got it was Shedson who got a bow at the right level for him and could pull it back. The rest of us got bows that were too hard to pull back. Then we went to Ngorongoro the next day but we didn’t see any lions. We only saw 3 jackals, hippos, buffalo, wildebeest, and one hyena. It was a bit disappointing. Then we went to another Datoga house outside the crater, and we went to the Datoga blacksmiths and saw them make an arrowhead and a bracelet. They just took a nail, slammed the hammer a lot on the nail until it was a good shape, then they took some sharpened metal and made the arrowhead and added spikes in the arrowhead for monkeys. We had a talent show at the campsite and swam and then we came home the next day.”

My second hand shop
Meanwhile, our kids’ absence gave Paul and me the opportunity to knuckle down and move out of our house into the next-door apartment. Our former neighbor Wendy departed in March, but she left it fully equipped for her mission group to use as an Air B&B when needed. It turned out to be a godsend for us because we needed to get rid of our beds and pots and pans, but still continue to sleep and cook somewhere. And we were right next door, so we could manage all the comings and goings of our furniture. I had pre-sold most of the furniture and even collected on it, so on Tuesday, most of the big stuff was out of the house. On Wednesday, I had a yard sale of the smaller items for the workers on the compound (sheets, towels, kitchen stuff, and some of the kids’ toys), which continued on into a total giveaway of whatever was left to families in more desperate need by Friday afternoon. Our housekeeper Nay had bought a lot of things to set up her own small hotel restaurant in the village, and so she also benefitted from a lot of odds and ends. She wisely recruited the help of various family members to help her carry off loads, day after day.

Nay's purchases
And amidst all of that dealing with material goods, Paul was continuing to work hard at our actual job, answering emails and representing us on virtual meetings. He was also dealing with the latest crisis in our work – on June 18th, Ethiopia abruptly stopped issuing e-visas in advance, nor were visas available on arrival. The only way to get a visa was to get our passports and applications to the nearest embassy in Dar es Salaam. So, we were back to contacting our trusty agent in Dar, George, to pick up our passports from DHL and facilitate the process.

We also learned of some great sorrow on our team in Ethiopia. Our accountant Eyerusalem is due to be married on July 4, but her mother passed away over the weekend. On top of that, her fiancĂ© was meant to arrive on Monday from Zambia, but he also got caught up in this visa problem and couldn’t travel without doing a similar process to us. And in addition, another staff member has a mother in critical condition with a respiratory illness. Our hearts were heavy for our colleagues, even as we were trying to wrap things up on our side.

In the evenings that week, there was also the opportunity for some last meals with friends. On Tuesday, John and Mary Israel invited us to share a Pakistani dinner with them at a local restaurant. We enjoyed hearing more about their mission initiatives, school decisions for their kids, and reminiscing about good times we’ve shared in church, and playing Ultimate Frisbee on our compound. On Wednesday, we met our former colleagues Chrispin and Lucia at Gymkhana. It’s wonderful how our relationships with each other have grown over the past four years of working together—it’s not a given that it’s fun to meet socially with one’s colleagues, but we really enjoy each other – and we were all regretting that we were not granted more time to develop the Tanzania program together. On Thursday evening, we had a final “resident dinner” on the Joshua Compound. Again, it was a very meaningful evening, around an outdoor fire, sharing our appreciation for one another as neighbors over the past four years. I was sorry that the kids were not with us that night because Oren has become very much part of the adult conversation with that group of neighbors, and David loves playing with the new neighbor kids. 

On Friday evening, our children returned to us from their various trips. Things were a bit discombobulated with uncertain arrival times for each of them but in the end, we collected them from school and went to grab a quick dinner out at a restaurant at the mall near our house. When we got home, I was intending to spend several hours finally working on packing, and I realized that my phone was no longer in my possession. With horror, I realized that I had left it behind at the mall! We called my number and a man answered to say that he had found my phone (and driving license) and that we could pick it up from him in the morning when he came back to work. I was pretty stressed about it all night, but in the end, we managed to recover it, and that guy got a big thank you gift from us! It underlined to me how essential it is to have one’s phone in a time of transition.

bible study farewell
On Saturday, we had set aside time for a final farewell lunch with our family bible study group. We met at Rivertrees, one of our favorite safari lodges to go for a relaxing social afternoon. There is plenty of space for our kids to throw frisbees or find a separate table to play cards. We adults lounged around at a long table and enjoyed good conversation for hours and hours, as various people came and then had to leave again. We were graced with the company of a big band of black and white Colobus monkeys in the trees overhead. They are so astonishing and wonderful to watch with their lush white dangling tails, funny faces, and acrobatics between tree limbs. We spent nearly six hours together and really gave thanks for the time we’ve been able to spend supporting and encouraging each other. 

Bible study farewell

I was glad to have one more Sunday at our church, doing what I nearly always have been doing – taking a taxi early to do something or other for the service. This time, our friend Neil invited me to play music with him one last time, and I was glad to do it as long as I could just show up and practice on the morning of. There were some tears as we said final farewells to a few people after the service and then headed back home. Nay came with her children to say a farewell to us in the afternoon. Her kids had wanted to give gifts to our kids, and soon they were parading around in Maasai shukas and practicing with the Hadzabe bow David had bought on his field trip. At 4 pm we transitioned into playing our ultimate game of Ultimate Frisbee with the neighbors and a few friends from outside the compound. Again, it was a tough game, and the speed of the younger folk seemed to overwhelm the skill of some of the adults. I’m so glad we were able to establish this tradition while we have been in Tanzania – it took the place of the folk dances that we once hosted in Burundi, an active social opportunity that brings various people together to enjoy each other’s company in a unique way. And our growing boys have enjoyed frisbee a whole lot more than dancing, and are both really quite good at the game now. We left our frisbees with the neighbors and made them Admins of the WhatsApp group so that they might summon a game at some point in the future.

Picturesque 18th hole on an island
On Monday, we let the kids play hookey from school so that we could take them for their COVID tests for travel…and squeeze in one more chance to meet some of the Taylors at Kili Golf. Paul needed to have a final round of golf with Mike, and Katie and I enjoyed one more walk around the perimeter of the course. Oren hung out with his friend Harry for a final game of Munchkin with David. We’ve been able to enjoy such beautiful places together! And then on to the hospital for the tests… and to DHL to pick up our passports with the visas for Ethiopia… and to the Nairobi, shuttle stop to drop off five heavy boxes of documents to ship to the MCC office in Kenya.

We needed one final “normal” evening at home after school. Oren and I took that 5k walk down the road in the evening and had a good chance to talk about random things. I’ve really been glad to live in a place where it’s been easy to get our boys out to walk and talk with us. Hopefully, we will still find a way to do that in a more crowded, busy city. After dinner, I decided to work on packing until after midnight and found that we were going to need a bigger boat, i.e. more suitcases. I definitely had to get our house in a condition where Nay could clean most of the bedrooms with the vacuum cleaner so that I could pack the vacuum into a suitcase!

Tuesday involved some errands (particularly delivering kids’ Lego sets to people who had bought them on WhatsApp – I should get a commission for that!) And then preparation for Oren’s birthday party. We couldn’t imagine how to have a birthday party at home since we had no home. So we invited two families of friends to join us as one of our favorite Arusha restaurants, George’s Tavern. Oren had a table of four teenagers, David had a table of four Taylor age mates, and we enjoyed a table of six adults and good conversation. Again, it was one of the most relaxed and joyful evenings we’ve had in a long time. We had many good laughs at Paul’s Indian puffy-sleeved shirt with strange, oversized pockets sewn a little too low. It looked great with a vest over it, but when the vest was unzipped, it was clear why he was wearing it as an item of clothing to leave behind! 

Oren's birthday

Many of us had ordered a particular dish that turned out to be unavailable, so the manager, Festo, showered us with appetizers on the house. Interesting how we got to know him well two years ago when our volunteer’s backpack was stolen at that restaurant, but that’s part of how relationships are formed. Towards the end, all the restaurant staff paraded our sad little store-bought cake out to present to Oren, complete with a festive version of “Jambo Bwana.” He was embarrassed, but it was very fun. Honestly, it was probably the best kind of birthday party for a kid turning 16. We really hope to see these good friends again when we come back to Tanzania for a visit, or maybe even in Maryland, (one family originates from the same county as my parents).

And our last two days were a flurry of packing, cleaning, final disposal of trash (or treasure?), and a very late night of final packing. It’s amazing how much stuff one can accumulate in just four years –but honestly, we had started bringing a lot of our specialized camping and hiking gear over to this side of the ocean in a series of trips from the US, since this is where we intend to live and enjoy life for many years. We’d also invested in things like an electric piano (sold at the 11th hour when it was too large for air luggage and Cargo turned out to be too expensive) and a basketball backstop when we anticipated 4 more years in Tanzania. It’s just a real pain to now have to move most of it onward to another country, in a single trip. And the grand total of goods included 2 suitcases left for a colleague to bring in October or later, 2 suitcases of camping gear, and a set of golf clubs left with the Taylors in anticipation of a Tanzanian holiday, and 11 big suitcases coming with us on the plane. In desperation on Wednesday afternoon, I was out of suitcases and still had a pile of clothes to pack, so I found an old canvas cargo shipping bag, lined it with a garbage bag, and stuffed all kinds of last-minute things inside. We gave away at least half of our clothes, but still, there were household goods we didn’t want to re-buy in Ethiopia, so it was kind of worth the extra baggage. And then, with a big send-off from our neighbors and Lucia and Chrispin, we departed for the airport on Thursday afternoon.

It’s all a bit surreal, as I sit in a new home on Saturday morning finishing this blog, basically, all unpacked, and try to take it in. This is now our new home. It’s not a visit or temporary situation. We will need to grow and adapt and learn to love a new place.

Last view of Kili from the plane.

We will be leaving this blog site and moving full time to our Ethiopia blog which we have already begun as we have been in transition for several months. To follow us in the future, you can go to:

A few more bonus photos

Tramp's last day with us

David with his awesome music teacher, Mr. Kalule

With Katie, S and Lena

Patrick, Paul and Mike

David and buddies

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Grueling Luxury: Summitting Kilimanjaro


I do not have a bucket list. Therefore the question "Why does a man climb a mountain?" is pertinent, and the answer "Because it's there" is certainly a necessary, but not an entirely sufficient condition for making the effort. In my case, Rebecca's suggestion of doing it as a way to do something final and unique to Tanzania that will not be affordable after we lose our residence permits, and our desperate need for some time together after nearly four months apart and living in two separate countries during this transition, was probably the reason that pushed us to a decision. There were factors that we had to take into consideration. This is not normally an ideal time of year. It is winter in Tanzania right now and coming to the end of the big rainy season. The prospect of climbing wet in clouds and sub-zero temperatures was a risk we would have to take. 

Preparation was another matter. Our first consideration was what to do with the kids. They had school during the only week we could plan to go and Oren was finishing the last of his 'O' levels. Our kids are day students at a boarding school so a quick inquiry about possible short-term boarding was given a positive reply, and we then psyched (and bribed) them into accepting the idea. They were not thrilled, but since they have been at the school for four years and are well known, they were not entirely traumatized by the prospect. 

Kilimanjaro protea
The next consideration was a tour company. I did some research and found a company that was at the low end in terms of cost. It is called Monkey Adventures and had many good reviews on Trip Advisor. Choosing a route is also an important question. There are about 8 ways to get to the summit and it is important to consider the pros and cons of each. The longer ones are more expensive but are more likely to assure success as there is more time for acclimatization. On the other hand, every day costs money, and there is an exhaustion factor as you hike many miles each day before summiting. I have read that overall success in summiting is about 45%, but routes 7 days and over have a rate around 64%. (Tour companies will always say their success rates are 99%!) 

We decided the 7 day Lemosho route looked the most promising as it offered exquisite views as we started on the west side of the mountain, crossed the Shira plateau then circled the Southern side of Kibo peak before summiting from the Eastern side between Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. It is described as one of the most beautiful routes. It is also a 'camping route' which meant we would be sleeping in tents the whole way rather than staying in a cabin along the way--a bit dicey considering the possibility of rain.

Fortunately, we had a fair number of the items on the long equipment list needed: Oren had tried the ascent the year before with a school group, and we had invested in some gear for him. Our predecessors in Ethiopia also left some awesome daypacks complete with camel water tanks that we brought back for the trek. The tour company rep. insisted that we come up to the town of Moshi the evening before our trek began to go through a final equipment check and to meet our guide. 

Moorland chameleon
After church, a confirmation Sunday for which Rebecca was the worship leader, we dropped the kids off at school and headed to Moshi where we stayed at a nice resort hotel (Lindgren lodge), bereft of tourists because of the devastation of tourism caused by COVID. We met our guide, a very experienced young man named Charles, and a company rep. (Kennedy) who explained the rules and schedule. We also had to leave all of our money in the hotel safe as the national park does not allow tourists to hike with more than $200, to avoid problems of theft (or false accusations!). Rebecca and I turned in early and on Monday morning we boarded a daladala with equipment, 2 guides, a cook, and 7 porters to head to Londorosi gate for check-in. (Rebecca and I were the only non-staff trekkers, so this was all for us.) Just as a note, tour companies generally contract local guides who are specialists in climbing and have special training in sumitting and dealing with medical emergencies. The guide is also responsible for assembling the team including asst. guide, cook, and all porters. The tour company provides the equipment. 

Check-in was an interesting process. There is a weigh-in of every bag to be sure that no porter's bag exceeds 25 kgs. The porters have a union that protects them from abuse. It was interesting to see an intense negotiation as there were about 8 kilos too much weight in our group's baggage (the excess weight lay there in the middle of the circle: 8 kg of maize flour for ugali = the porters' meals!). After about an hour of negotiation, a settlement was reached and the guides took on some more weight. 

From Londorosi gate we drove to Lemosho gate where our trek officially began. 

Day 1:

Day 1 is planned as a relatively short day. For one thing, there is a fair amount of driving and processing at the Londorosi gate, so you don't really get underway until after lunch. The hike is about seven kilometers through a temperate rainforest. The hike starts about 7000 feet so it is not really warm under the shade of the trees. We were fortunate as it was cloudy, and we were hiking through the cloud layer but did not have rain. There is an abundance of beautiful and unusual flora as well as colobus and blue monkeys and many species of birds. We were hoping to see the very rare Hartlaub's turaco, a large bird I have only glimpsed once before from a great distance during our Meru trek last year. Their incredibly loud call belies their ability to completely elude being seen. They tend to hide in thick leafed trees and are completely green except when they fly and reveal bright crimson underwings. 

Black and white colobus monkey
We were thrilled when we heard one in a tree right above us, and Charles was able to spot it and point it out. Then we realized there were 3 in the same tree! In the next 3 to 4 kilometers, to our delight, we spotted nearly a dozen of them feasting on a certain kind of fruit tree that was growing in places along our path. 

Our seven-kilometer hike ended in the evening at a camp called Mti Mkubwa (big tree). Our porters and cook ran ahead of us and already had our tent set up with our mattresses down and gear inside. There was also a mess tent with two chairs and a table, already set with hot beverages and popcorn. It was always amazing to arrive to a completely set-up campsite. Dinner came after we had some water to wash and did some unpacking for the evening. Dinner was always a multicourse meal beginning with soup and always included fresh fruit and vegetables. I felt like I was at very nice restaurant. Our food was also always delivered by one of the porters onto the table, like a waiter. We were not responsible for clean-up either. The paradox of being in a high-end restaurant in a very rustic setting was characteristic of a lot of the experiences we had on the trip--grueling luxury.

Alpine chat
By the time the sun set, it was very cold but not freezing. We found that they provided us with a 'polartech' tent which meant it had a double thick layer of nylon that really kept in heat. I was chagrined to find that the sleeping bag I brought, which was Oren's, was a fiberfill and not down. I worried I would be very cold and stuck my feet in a gortex raincoat and put on a down jacket before climbing in the bag. To my great surprise, I was very toasty warm the whole night!

Day 2

Shira II Camp
Day 2 was a long day with a pretty steep climb to higher altitude. It was at least 17 kilometers of walking as well as an ascent of several thousand feet to get onto the Shira plateau. We went through the top of the cloud line and exited the rain forest as well to find ourselves on a large very slowly ascending plateau. This is the remains of another more ancient volcano that is part of the three peaks that make up Kilimanjaro. All that is left of the Shira peak is some sections of the rim. It was at one time even taller than Kibo peak, which is what we see as Kilimanjaro now. The climactic zone was moorland, and had dozens of fascinating flowers. When we first arrived onto the plateau, Kibo peak was shrouded in cloud, but it blew over as we walked and we ended up walking the whole time on a very clear day (above the cloud line that shrouded the lower plains of Arusha and Moshi). 

Meru above the clouds
We had lunch at Shira 1 camp. By that time we had hiked about 10 Kms and were pretty exhausted. The first part of the hike was also the steepest. Our porters and cook had gone ahead and had set up the mess tent so we could have a hot lunch. After that we proceeded on to Shira 2 camp, several thousand feet higher (about 12,000 feet.) We arrived in the evening and had a great view of Mt. Meru sticking out of the clouds to our West. We enjoyed dinner that night which was another delicious hot meal, and hot beverages. 

Our team: back row Vuvuzela, Enocki, Raimondi, Ola,
Simon, Charles, Me and Paul. 
Front row: Juma, Daniel,Rashidi, Linus
I should note that every evening after dinnr, Charles and Asst. Guide Simon came into the mess tent and did a health check. This involved asking a series of questions about our health and putting a pulse oxymeter on our finger to measure pulse and oxygen saturation (%). Generally we felt well but were warned that we could get headaches and nausea at 12,000 feet. The guide is trained to administer oxygen, give diamox, a diuretic that can prevent pulmonary oedema from altitude sickness. They can also arrange to have the porters carry you down to lower altitude in an emergency where you can get into an emergency vehicle. 

That night when we went to bed, the temperature dropped well below freezing. Our wash water froze solid by the next morning. Once again I was amazed to find that I was toasty warm in the polartech tent in my fiberfill sleeping bag.

Day 3:

Day 3 is an acclimatization day and involves a 12-13 km hike in which we climbed up to a place called Lava Tower Camp, an altitude of 15,200 feet (a bit higher than Mt. Meru). We had lunch there, then hike back down to a camp called Barranco, which is about the same altitude as Shira 2, but continues further around the south side of Kibo peak. 

The hike up to Lava Tower was quite exhausting, and you could feel the air was thinner. Once again, the cook and porters were waiting for us with the mess tent set up and hot tea waiting. After tea they served us some lunch, then while they packed back up, we started back down the other side of the point toward Barranco camp. We were told it was a shorter hike down than up, but it did not feel that way to us. In fact, the descent was very steep and difficult to do quickly. It felt that this day was at least as long as the day before, with less distance but far more work in changing altitude, going up and down about 6000 feet.

One thing we appreciated was the head porter, who, after making sure camp was set up, would come back down the path to meet us, and take Rebecca's backpack. It was very helpful, especially where there was a steep downhill descent that required poles and even hands to go down. The porter's nickname was Vuvuzela (named after those special horns used by South African football fans), and he was quite a character. He often also relieved the guides of the oxygen tank which they must carry with us the entire trek, in case we need it. 

Barranco camp was deep in a valley and felt steep in that none of it was level. This would be true of most camps at this point. It overlooked the valley where Arusha and Moshi were, and that night, the cloud layer disappeared and we could see the lights of the two towns perfectly. It was very cool to see considering that the valley was always shrouded in cloud by day. 

Day 4:

Rebecca was dreading day 4. It began, after breakfast, with a very steep ascent of several thousand feet on a near cliff called the Barranco wall. It is like bouldering for a good distance and while not a technical climb, if you have any vertigo, you are going to have to deal with the fact that you can look down over 1000 feet as you are climbing up. It is very unnerving. With the help of Charles and Simon, Rebecca got up despite her severe vertigo. Thankfully, we felt the benefit of our daily strength training and didn't have difficulty with the actual climbing part. It was just the mental stress that was tough for Rebecca.  (Hard to believe how quickly the porters do it with 25kgs on their backs or heads.) 

The top was a real treat. Some of the best views of Kibo peak we would have the whole trip, with clear views of the glaciers hanging over its rim. The hike over the whole day was only about 6kms, but the steep ascent made the going slow. We started coming out of the moorland but were treated to some very strange flora, namely the giant groundsels, a relative of Euphorbia. They were like trees from another planet, and gave the landscape an otherworldly feel. We ended up doing another steep descent to get into Karanga camp where we would stay the next night, and fortunately Vuvuzela was there to help Rebecca again. 

Barranco wall
Karanga camp feels way off kilter. It is very steep and I found it difficult to get to the outhouses that were around and return to the tent. I felt like I was going to tip over after dark when walking. 

Another change was that we were finding more hikers at the camps were staying at we neared the base camp. Several routes join at Lava Tower and we could see there were a half dozen other groups (mostly small) that were now on the same route as us. I am sure that in seasons when there was no COVID it would have been quite crowded. Weather continued to be miraculously cloudless and dry. 

Day 5 and 6:

Day 5 was not a long walking day in the morning. In fact it was only 4 kilometers between Karango and Barafu camp. Barafu is the basecamp for about 4 routes to summit Kilimanjaro.  It is also 15,000 ft, the same elevation as Lava Tower and Mt. Meru, only this time we were staying up, not descending. Spending the afternoon there is a good test of whether you are going to get altitude sickness. It is also a hard camp to be at because there is no water there, so all water we had, had to be carried from Karanga. At this point we were way above the treeline and it is like volcanic desert, almost looks like you are on the moon. We also got our first view of Mawenzi, the smaller peak on the East side of Kilimanjaro, by this time we were well above it and looking down. We also begin to run short of fresh food at this point, although the meals were still delicious. 

At Barafu, after lunch, Charles told us to go lie down in the tent until we had a 5pm dinner in which he would brief us on the summitting. Then we were to sleep again until 10pm when we would be awakened to eat something before the summit. We followed the routine he laid out. Unfortunately, we had, for the first time during the trip, a real bad turn in the weather--WIND. Wind started whipping up mid afternoon and the intensity became alarming. Many gusts were over 80-100 kms per hour. I felt like our tent was gong to be yanked off the ground and pulled over a cliff with us in it. Fortunately that did not happen, although some tents did get blown down. 

This created a problem in terms of motivation to go out of the tent to the bathroom. At high altitude you really need to pee a lot more if you are drinking enough. As the wind whipped up, I stopped drinking a lot of water in the tent and began to feel dehydrated. Consequently I could not sleep. By 10pm when we got the wake up call, I had laid there for several hours, but no sleep. 

wind at Barafu Camp
We went to the mess tent and had coffee and sweetened porridge. The team that was to ascend was me, Rebecca, Charles, Simon, and Vuvuzela. They packed everything for all of us in 3 backpacks that they carried. One big challenge was that it was freezing and we had a huge amount of gear on. But water freezes, even the camel water bags tubing would freeze, and once that happened you had to wait until morning for any thawing. 

We started ascending at about 11:30pm. It was pitch black, no moon but the stars were abundant as it was clear. Fortunately the wind had died down to occasional gusts or ascending would have been all but impossible. In the first 20 minutes I realized, to my horror, that I was not OK. Not altitude, but I was dehydrated and hypoglycemic from the sweet porridge and sugared coffee. I was extremely weak and jittery and knew we had 7 hours of steep ascent to go. 

I honestly cannot say how I got through it. Climbing endlessly in total darkness (with a headlamp only) is surreal. I know Buddhists are fascinated with 'living in the moment' but if you want to really experience living in a perpetual, relentless 'present' with no awareness of past or future, just trudge up a steep slope behind the lighted boots of a leader, for hours on end. You lose all sense of time. I hummed the Taize song "Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away" endlessly. Rebecca reported feeling that there was no reason not to take the next step, but there was no sense of when that would end. 

At one point we did stop for a break. Stopping feels dangerous because you begin freezing as soon as you are not moving. But we chugged some frozen water quickly and ate a few bites of Gorp. I felt we had been hiking about two hours and I knew I had to give up. I had no energy in my legs. I was just about to say "I give up" when Vuvuzela said to Charles "Ni saa Kumi". I could not believe it! Saa Kumi (10th hour) is 4 in the morning! We had already hiked 5 hours. I knew that in an hour I would see the first hints of dawn over the horizon and I knew if I saw the light I could make it. (I often thought of Frodo and Samwise on Mt. Doom).

Inside the crater
One of the curious tricks of light that was quite fascinating was looking high and straight up in front of me toward the stars. I would see bobbing lights almost straight up above me on the switchback. They seemed to be strange stars, then I realized they were other groups of hikers at various stages of the climb. Some were so high, they blended into the stars. (It was a bit disheartening to see how much more there was to go since there was no other point of reference.)

snow on the crater rim
It is always darkest before the dawn, and freezing, but slowly the hypoglycemia worked off, thanks to the gorp, and then I could see a distinct graying in the east. The day was coming, I would make it! We climbed on and then I began to be able to see the gray rock we were walking up. The first ray of sun came just below the first point where you emerge onto the crater rim, called Stella Point. We stopped and had a cup of chai. The day was clear and cold and we could see the top not far off. 

Within the next 15 minutes we arrived at Stella Point, about 6:20am. Stella Point is not the summit, but it does open onto the lip of the crater, so you are on top of the mountain, but not the highest point. It is considered to be 'summitting' as you are able to look onto the shallow crater at the top. But along one side of the crater is a ridge that rises several hundred  more feet where Uhuru Peak is. The true summit of the mountain. 

Although you can see Uhuru from Stella point, distances are deceptive. It looked like a short walk, but Charles said it would take another hour to arrive there. One reason is how slowly you need to walk. At this point you are above 19,000 feet and the air is noticeably thin. You feel breathless pretty quickly and cannot go fast, especially up hill. Fortunately the sun was out in full force and although freezing cold, it did feel warmer and it was cloudless on the peak. (Still the blanket of clouds 9000 feet below.)

Climbing to the peak requires crossing some snow which seems to be sitting on a glacier. There are numerous glaciers on the summit with very strange shapes, quite beautiful. Rebecca, by this time was really exhausted. Despite that we did manage to trudge to Uhuru peak with the encouragement of our guides. There were about a half dozen other sumitters there when we arrived. All were exuberant. Rebecca broke into tears in disbelief at having made it. (Tears also for leaving Tanzania, and for the realization that once you reach the roof of Africa, you also have to get back down in your exhausted state...)

We stayed a few minutes and took pictures. The cold and thin air does not make this an inviting place to hang out, or have a meal. Getting down is also a challenge as the descent path is even steeper than the ascent. Fortunately Vuvuzela held Rebecca by the elbow to keep her from slipping down the snow, and then the miles of scree (small volcanic stones) back to base camp. What we won slowly in 7 hours we descended in less than 3. You can almost ski down the scree, and descending feels much easier, especially as the increase in oxygen is palpable with each foot you go down. 

Descending looking toward Mawenzi peak
We got back to basecamp, and it felt like late afternoon, but was only about 10 in the morning. We ate some breakfast, took a 2 hour nap, then began another leg of our descent. In order to get out of Mweka gate the next day, we had to do several hours more of descending to a place called Millenium camp. It was quite exhausting after having hiked 10 hours already. (It was 5kms to the summit but rose 4000 feet from the base camp.)

Barafu camp from above
Millenium camp felt quite warm and pleasant compared to Barfu, but was still at about 12,000 feet. We enjoyed our last supper in the mess tent. Our cook (Rashidi) never disappointed. 

Day 7:

The last day was no less grueling than any of the others. We still had to descend about 14 kilometers to the Mweka gate where our daladala was waiting. It turned out to be the worst day for Rebecca as the descent was steep and sometimes treacherous. When we went back through the rain forest this time, it had recently rained and we walked for miles in thick, slippery mud. Our boots were caked. Worse for Rebecca were her boots that for some reason did not protect her toes during the descent. At the bottom, when she took her shoes off there were multiple enormous blisters on every toe, some almost entirely engulfing the toe. So it was harder to enjoy the beauties of the cloud forest on the way down.

It was a great relief to finally get to the gate. The total distance of our trek was about 70km (50 miles). We were pretty dead by then. From there we drove back into town for a debrief at the Monkey Adventures office, then back to the hotel where we disbursed the very much appreciated tips. For the most part, like waiters in the US, the team depends on tips to provide a descent wage for the trip. The Monkey Adventures website provides guidelines, but it needs to be factored into the cost of the trip as a whole. It adds about $400 per person to the cost of the trip as a whole. But we felt it was wholehearedly deserved, as we felt we were treated like royalty the whole time. 

One real blessing for us was being able to speak Kiswahili. It is very unusual that tourists sumitting can speak to guides, the cooks, and porters in their native language. We got to know all of their names and learned a lot. Charles drew most of his team from Arusha where he is from, in an area called Ilboro. Like us, they go to a Lutheran church there, and we have actually been to the Lutheran Cathedral in Ilboro where they pray. 

Charles our guide
Charles told us a lot of interesting stories about how tours are organized, the devastation of COVID on tourism and lost income, and a few horror stories of dreadful tourists who refused to pay when they were not able to summit, some even skipped out on the tip by claiming money was stolen (only to confess later that they made it all up.) It was good to get to know him and his crew and I do pray they can start to see an increase again in tourism. 

I remain amazed by the paradox of what is a very expensive safari, in which you pay big bucks to freeze, trudge, and then do what feels like a forced march up a hill in total darkness. And at the same time, at the beginning and end of each day, be treated like a King served delicious hot food and drink before and after the grueling activities of the day. 

Can I recommend this? Cautiously, yes. Although it would be worth considering the wonder of the whole experience rather than making sumitting the entire goal. No one was more surprised than the two of us that we actually made it to the top. We wanted time together, away from all internet, etc. to share an experience. We were not counting on the summit as the 'meaning' of the adventure. We enjoyed seven days of seeing some of the most sublime views on the planet, and we will never forget that. We were beyond lucky as far as weather goes. Endless days of cloudless sky (above the treeline). I don't know if we could have made it if we had had 7 straight days of rain and snow (as happens some times according to Charles.)

Hopefully this account will give others some idea of what such an adventure is like, and a way to preserve the memory for us. 

We are now down to our last 2 weeks in Tanzania and have one more mountain to climb--packing and selling all of the stuff in our house and getting our family to Addis by July 1st. 

Kibo from the Mweka path

Farewell to our team