Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Amboseli Safari

Amboseli National Park Safari: 6/25-27/2007

After climbing three mountains in East Africa, Rod and I were ready for a few days relaxation. We decided to go stay at the Amboseli Serena Lodge in the Amboseli National Park… maybe we will see some animals too!

Little did we know, Josiah hooked us up with the full safari deal. A driver picked us up at the Tanzania/Kenya border to drive us to the lodge. Turns out, he will be staying at the lodge for the whole time we are there; ready to take us out to look for animals any time we want! Yahh Hooo!!

Just on the drive to the lodge we saw some real treats! Warthogs, Wildebeests, Herons, Gazelles, and so much more!

It is kind of weird the way the parks are set up. You must be in a vehicle at all times, you cannot get out and walk. They all have pop top roofs so that you can feel like you are outside (and get the unobstructed views). The lodge is fenced in with electric fence… no animals in, and only white trucks out. And all the vehicles must stay on the designated roads. In this way, it seems that the wildlife is undisturbed by the big white metal creatures that walk along their paths and sometimes stop. It was like we were just another species grazing on the plain, and could therefore be ignored by everyone else. It made for amazing wildlife viewing and some great photos!

We took two drives, one in the evening (when we saw Elephants, Hyena, Ostrich, and Zebras, just to name a few) and one in the morning. The morning drive was spectacular… the most amazing sunrise! We also got to see a cheetah, with two cubs, who has just made a kill. The rest of the time, we relaxed, got massages, ate too much, and enjoyed watching the little monkeys run all over the trees and buildings. The lodge was very nice. We had a great room with a bath tub and clean white linen… such luxury after weeks of camping.

The morning we left the lodge, the skies cleared and reveled Mt Kilimanjaro overlooking the abundant plains. It was the first time we saw the mountain in whole. What a great way to end our East African journey; driving along marsh lands busy with elephants, hippopotamus, and eagles, with a glacier capped Kilimanjaro back drop!

Kenya and Tanzania… we have enjoyed our time here very much, met friendly good-natured people, and fallen in love with this amazing place.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai

Ol Doinyo Lengai: 6/23-24/07

All we can think is '' This is crazy!!!''.

We are on top of Lengai, IN THE CRATER, and it's active. There is lava, warm, inside the crater, and less than 50 meters away we can see black lava shooting in the air every 30 seconds or so.

God is on the summit

Ol Doinyo Lengai is Mountain of God in Masai. When the volcano is errupting, legend has it that god is on the summit. We didn't see god, but certainly felt that we were really close to meeting her.

After Kilimanjaro, we spent the night in Arusha. We had dinner at the L'Oasis Lodge restaurant, after a taxi drive that you only see in movies. The taxi took us through a neighborhood with fires lit up on the street, lots of people mingling, probably pretty safe, but we were still glad we were ın a taxı instead of walking. The atmosphere reminded me of being in Santiago, Chile the night of Pinochet's ousting aniversary. There were people celebrating and mourning the event, and they weren't necessarily frıendly to each other, or anyone else.

Arusha, by the way, is mosquito heaven. Open stangant water everywhere, and as a side note, over 80 % of the people have malaria, sometimes under control, but never cured. Somebody might know the answer, but why doesn't malaria spread thru Europe, where there are a lot of African immigrants, some presumably malaria afflicted?

A day later we were being driven to Lengai, a 4,000 meter active volcano, which errupts once a year or so.

As we turned off the main road onto a dirt one, we saw two teenagers in full Masai dress, WITH spears ın their hands. My immediate thought, loudly spoken, was:
"This is so fake! Look at the lengths the Tanzanians are going to provide a tourist experience!"

Lucky for us, they were the real thing, and over the next two days we saw plenty more, boys and men, all in full dress, and with spears.

Masai Village

It took a little negotiation (it's too eaaarly!!!), but in the end we convinced the guide to leave at 2 AM (instead of the 6 AM originaly proposed by him). So now we are driving on a pretty bad road, driver and guide never having gone to sleep at all after drinking the whole night, and we see Chuck, but taller. (Chuck is our tabby cat).

İt was an African wild cat, from which the domestic cat descends. The wild cats mate with domesticated ones, which makes me wonder how much longer they will survive as a distinct species.

Anyway, we are hiking now, pretty steep, and definitely very loose dirt. After a couple of hours we get to the crux, in this case a 40 degree, 1000 foot stretch of lava covered with salt, which made it preeety slippery, OK for going up, but what goes up must come down!
So at sunrise (yeah for early risers) we are in the Lengai crater. A spectacular view 360 degrees. Twice a minute a booming sound and this black liquid shoots in the air, pretty close to us. Beautiful, then we realize that it's lava, at well over 1000 degrees.

Holly shit, this is real! All around us there are barely cooled down, hardened lava flows that crack and pop as they cool. They spill out of the crater and down the side of the mountain. The whole experience is definitely not OSHA approved.

İn the crater

Rasta man

Lots of pictures later we start down, and we manage to get down the steep salt covered rock without tumbling. Definitely sketchy!
Going down

"So, did you kill a lion?" we asked the Masai guide. Head low, in a scolded dog attitude..."NO, i didn't. And... İ only have two cows. İ can't get married.... "

The Masai tradition, still in force today, requires that a man kills a lion, with a spear, before he can get married. And he needs a bunch of cows as well, to buy his future bride.

Bad for the lions, of course, but in a way self limiting: Lions get killed, Masai men can't marry, Masai population goees down, lions thrive again.

A bit lower we see some quail look-alike birds, and this is where cultural differences are revealed: Shelly and İ: "Oh, look at the pretty birds!" Masai guide breaks into a run and throws his spear to get dinner. Lucky for the birds, which by now were pretty freaked out, his aim was the same as with the lion... off.

Lengai was a beautiful hike, the kind of mountain that nobody would go to Africa specifically to climb, but its erupting crater 4,000 ft above the flat plains make it spectacular. And of course, all the way up İ was thinking: İMAGİNE THİS THİNG WİTH SNOW! İt would make an epic ski run.

Baobab trees

Did İ say how much İ love our Hillebrand tent?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mt Kilimanjaro

Mt Kilimanjaro: 6/17-22/07

Summer Solstice

"Summer Solstice is active: it's about doing and expanding, living the dream envisioned in the dreamtime of Winter"(Ruth Barrett, 2004). Our trip around the world, visiting and practicing with sacred mountains, is entering it's second half, its third phase, as the cycle of earth enters summer. The shoots and cotyledons of spring have grown into muscular stems, ready to build and support the fruit of our practice. We feel strong and able to nurture and sustain our focus as we travel into the second half of our circumnavigation. We spent the winter solstice on Mt Shasta, California, the spring equinox on the slopes of Mt Illampu, Bolivia, and the summer solstice summiting Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; the other side of the globe.

We were strong on this mountain. "You are strong, like Bu-FAllo", a porter said to us as we arrived at the high camp. Still acclimatized from our time in South America, the elevation of Kilimanjaro (5895m, 19340 ft) had little affect on us. But somehow, the physical act of hiking had little affect as well. We summited in record time, and amazingly, weren't even tired. It was no problem, no suffering, not even memorably any work. Very odd... it was the power of the Solstice. The prediction received at the Rock of the Jaguar (Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca) was right on.

After we returned from Mt Kenya, Josiah hooked us up with bus transport over the Tanzania border and to the town of Moshi. He also hired his cousin, Jerald, to be our guide for the mountain. Kilimanjaro is highly regulated by the Tanzania government (and milked for all the profit possible). All climbers are required to have a guide, despite the fact that the route is just a walk up trail, and camping locations are all well marked and obvious. And, it is basically impossible to just hire a guide... they come with porters and a cook... the full shebang. Rod was calling it the Full Employment act of Tanzania.

Anyway, the morning we are to head to the mountain, a reggae blaring, red-yellow-green painted, "one love" stickered van pulls up to our hotel... packed with a bunch deadlocked Rastafarians. We pile all our stuff in the Van and get in. Crammed full with us, the 3 porters, our cook, Josiah, bags of fresh vegetables and loaves of bread, our driver circled the van around town a few times looking for Jerald, the guide. Once everyone was stuffed inside, "Team Rasta" headed to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate, at Umbwe Village.
We decided to hike the Umbwe route up to the Barranco Camp (3950 m), instead the more popular and less steep/direct Marangu route. Glad we did, because it was a beautiful trail through the jungle and then along the top of a steeply sided ridge. It even had some rock scramble sections to keep it interesting.

At the Umbwe trail head, the porters packed up their bags to be weighed by park personnel. We were supprized to see that they were not packing the stuff into backpacks... it was packed into baskets and duffel bags. Why? These crazy guys carried 50+ lb bags on the top of their heads! Up trails that were rocky and steep and sometimes 3rd class scrambles!! Wow!

Some children at the gate were very interested in us. They stared and stared, and wanted to touch my skin and my hair... it was all the wrong color... was it real? At the trail head also was a father and daughter from Poland. They were very nice, and since we are leaving at the same time, we will probably be seeing them our whole trip. Worried about altitude sickness, they were carrying 4 L of water each! That is heavy. We named them "Team Poland".

After weighting and signing papers and such, we started up the mountain. We camped that night at the Cave Camp, just a clearing and flat spot in the thick forest. We were pleasantly surprised at dinner time because one of the porters, Stanley, will also be our server! He was very careful and sweet, saying "Welcome" every time he did anything. Imagine... hiking up and camping on a mountain, and being served tea and dinner on a table cloth!
The next day we slept in a bit, then continued up the steep trail toward the Barranco Camp. The excitement came when the trail stopped at a rock wall. A short 4th class scramble up the wall and we were off. The porters with huge bags on their heads carefully scaled the rockiness. We stopped for lunch a short way from the camp, and followed it with an hour nap in the warm sun. Liking Kilimanjaro so far! We had arrived at camp much earlier than most people, and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing in the tent. "Mambo VP, Dada" said Stanley as he served us our hot morning tea in the tent vestibule. "Ready for breakfast, Caca?" (Team Rasta had begun calling each other Dada and Caca, which means sister and brother respectively). We had a leisurely breakfast and were last of the groups to leave camp. We were the first group to arrive at the next camp, Karanga Valley camp, 4000m. To get there we had to walk up "the wall", which was a steep lava rock ridge. Along the way we met a group of Italians, Team Italy, and I really enjoyed talking with Gretchen, the woman of the group (have not had a lot of contact with other women on this trip :). At Karanga Valley camp, we watched a truly Kilimanjaro sight... a group of porters arrive and set up a huge, heavy tent, tall enough to stand in. Then set up a table and chairs inside. Pretty soon a group of about 5 hikers show up, eat lunch in the tent, then continue on up the trail. The porters clean up, collapse the table and chairs, take the tent down, and put it all on their heads and walk on up the trail. All that just for the group to have lunch!! Crazy!

The next day we continued at lightning speed to Barafu Camp (4600 m). This is the high camp. We enjoyed the great views of Mt Meru (4566 m) along the way, and drank water until we could take no more at the last creek before the camp, as there is no more water available above it. At Barafu camp, we had most of the day to kill, so all of Team Rasta took naps. Some of the other porters when arriving at the camp, were jealous that their colleagues got to rest so much, so walked around our tents yelling "Wake up Rasta!". We had an early dinner so that we could get a full night's sleep in before the summit attempt the next morning.

Stanly brought us hot tea and peanut butter and hunny sandwiches at 1:45 am, the night of Solstice. We left camp at 2:30 with Jerald and one of the porters. We were the last group to leave the camp, and enjoyed seeing the ribbon of headlamps bobbing up the mountain in front of us. About half way to the Stella point, the porter with us turned around, our pace was killing him. We passed everyone on the way up, hung out at Stella point (5680 m) until we were just too cold to stay, and were on the summit before sunrise at 6:00. We stood at the summit to watch the sun rise. What an amazing view. The crater's rings and glacier ice of Kilimanjaro with a Solstice sunrise raying gold and orange. It was cold though, otherwise i would have wanted to stay there all day! But, we headed down... Got in some good gravel foot glissade above Barafu, packed up our stuff, had second breakfast, and continued down toward Mweka Camp at 3100 m. This was a 10,000 ft decent! With knees aching, we stopped about 2 hours before Mweka at a hut where they were selling beer. We rested, imbibed, then continued "pole, pole" ("slowly, slowly") downward.

When we finally arrived at Mweka, were were beat. While eating dinner, we saw Team Poland arrive at the camp. They summitted, but they looked exhausted and not very happy. The following day, we walked the last decent through the forest to the Mweka Gate/Village. We talked with a father and his two sons from Reno (Team Reno) on the way down; they ski at Squaw. Small world.

At the gate, we received our certificates saying we climbed Kilimanjaro, and were picked up by Joshia. Team Rasta drove into town and ate one last meal together (ugali (corn meal mush), goat meat, greens, and beer), before they dropped us off at our hotel in Arusha.

"Summer Solstice is active: it's about doing and expanding, living the dream envisioned in the dreamtime of Winter"... Thank you Kilimanjaro! And thank you Team Rasta!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Mt Kenya

Mt Kenya: 6/8-14/07

We arrived in Nairobi at 4:00 in the morning and were immediately accosted by tour operators and scam artists. We took a nap at the hotel, and when we walked back into the lobby, they were waiting for us! We couldn't get away! Finally we shook everyone off and began looking for transportation to Mt. Kenya, our first mountain in East Africa. That is when we met Josiah, he was a nice, honest, and capable guy to organize our logistics.
Mt Kenya is a 5199m rocky mountain with two peaks, Nelion and Batian. Around the base of the mountain are 12 glaciers, but the one we saw, was small and getting smaller every day. It is well known that the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are disappearing, but the more immediate tragedy are the glaciers on Mt Kenya. Throughout history, many of the tribes around Mt Kenya held this rocky ice covered spire as sacred. The Kikuyu people deified it and still believe it's the seat of their supreme god Ngai. Some say it is the mystical source of the sacred Nile. Both summits are technical climbs, and Batian is best done in June and July, when Nelion is covered with Ice. We decided to climb the Batian North Face Standard Route, a 22 pitch rock climb with an overnight bivy about half way up.

Josiah hooked us up with transportation to the Sirimon Gate of Mt Kenya National Park, stopping for lunch in Nanyuki. From there we decided to take a chance hiking through the forest to the Moses hut that afternoon, instead of doing it in the morning as planned. It can be dangerous to hike the forest late in the day because of the elephants. When we asked what we should do if we see an elephant, they said, "well, elephants are afraid of smoke, so you can light a fire in the road." Yeah, right, an elephant is about to charge us and we just light a fire real quickly... "OK. What else can we do if we encounter an elephant?" They told us that elephants are very near sighted, so we will see them first... "So, drop your bags and run. Run downhill because elephants are slower going down." So with this great advice, and our 50+ pound backpacks full of climbing gear, we set out through the forest yelling "Hey Elephant!" every minute or two, and singing the Elephant Song (which we just composed!).

"we are Friends Of Elephant
Shelly and Rod are F.O.E.s
elephants are nice
elephants are beautiful
elephants have big ears
and elephants are wise
we are Friends of Elephant
letting our presence be known"

We made it to the Moses hut before dark, and just after a group of ~25 middle school kids on an end of the year field trip. They were so loud! These kids operated at volume 11 all through dinner, continuing until their teachers finally shut them up at 2 or 3 in the morning. Rod and I slept in our tent outside, but could still hear the giggles and screams well into the night.

The next morning, we reluctantly slugged our enormous packs (Rod’s was 62 lbs) onto our backs and started the grueling 19 km hike to the Shiptons Hut (4200m). As we walked up the long valley toward the distant peak, the scrub vegetation changed into a woodland of odd Joshua tree-like plants, and 'Cousin It' relatives.
With the rocky summit of Mt Kenya appearing through the clouds periodically, we trudged through this otherworldly alpine flora and felt like we were entering a mystical land.

Once at Shipton, we set up camp and went inside the hut to make some dinner. The kids were there again, and louder than ever. We hoped the long hike would tire them out, but no such luck. We made onion soup with spaghetti, and drank hot sugary milk. Tomorrow we will take a rest day and prepare for the climb.

We spent the morning napping and reading and chasing the cute curious Hyrax. These little marmot-like animals are the closest living relative to the elephant! Go figure. Then we walked up to the base of the climb to check out our route. The group of kids hiked up to Point Lenana, the highest point you can hike to. We thought for sure they would be quiet tonight, but no! Loud and boisterous as ever.

In the morning we woke early and headed to the climb.
Our packs were heavy because we had a full climbing rack and gear to bivy overnight (bivy sacks, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, water, food, some warm clothes). The first pitch was slow as we got used to climbing with the extra weight, but the second and third were faster.

When we got to the prominent corner, that leads to a slab traverse that will take us to 'the amphitheatre' (where we bivy), we were behind schedule. And then, the clouds started to move in; icy cold wind and quickly closing visibility. We were tired from climbing with the overnight gear, moving more slowly that we wanted, and it sure looked like something big was rolling in. Within 15 minutes, it started to snow. We reluctantly decided to turn around. We rappelled off and were shaking uncontrollably from the cold by the time we reached the ground. Good thing we turned around too, because it wasn't just an afternoon thunder storm, it snowed all night and put down about 5 inches. If we had continued climbing, we would have had a freezing night, and a climb covered with snow and ice in the morning. The next morning a rescue helicopter was circling the mountain. I guess another climbing team, on a different route, got stuck up there.

Well, this is another mountain I definitely want to come back to. Perhaps in the winter to climb the Nelion route. It is shorter and doesn't require the overnight bivy. And the weather is supposed to be more stable at that time. Regardless, the experience was great. And still, as my friend Paul said, "getting stormed off a 22 pitch climb in Africa is pretty cool."

The next day we hiked to the Mintos Hut and set up camp. All around this camp sight are beautiful lakes that look over the cliff edge of the Gorges Valley. In the morning we set out for the Chogoria gate. This decent was absolutely beautiful and varied. We started in the funky alpine flora, into grasslands, through bamboo, and into jungly wetlands. We saw (smelled first) a waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) as we entered the wetlands, and were careful about surprising the Buffalo as we crossed it. We made it to the Bantas in the late afternoon. We got a cabin, enjoyed a HOT shower, and even acquired beer with dinner!

Josiah met us there the next morning, arriving in a Land Rover to get us over the muddy jungle road and to Chogoria town. The Land Rover filled up with folks heading to town, including one riding with the bags on the roof.
Mt Kenya. Outstandingly beautiful. And the god Ngai sent us away with the mission of visiting this place again.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mt Zion & Temple Mount

Mt Zion: 6/2/07, Temple Mount: 6/3/07

... coming soon ...