seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Thoughts and reflections on trips I have taken, from across the planet to across the state.

Kili: Climbed

So we made it. We actually made it in a stunningly fast time. Too fast. The people who organized our trip were stunned. We made it from our basecamp at about 15,100 feet to the crater rim (18,900 or so) in just over 4 hours.

At sea level, I hike up steep inclines at just under 1 hour per thousand feet. At high altitudes, where you get half the oxygen per breath, we should be hiking considerably slower than that.

However, Russ, John, and I are decently fit and we were feeling good. After 2 days at 13,000 and 1 day at 15,000, we had no problems. I was the most sluggish - between my gut and pack, I had 65 lbs on Russ and probably 30 on John. Plus, my legs are not used to the weight yet...

I was carrying about 35 lbs during the trip - the same as our guide and only 10 less than the porters. On the final ascent, I still had about 20 lbs (thank you camera stuff and all my layers of clothes).

We started at midnight - gunning for the summit at dawn (6:30). I could not sleep before due to my extreme excitement and anxiety. At 11:00, we packed up and had chai with the guides. At midnight we started. Within 1.5 hours, we had passed everyone huffing and puffing below us.

Our guide seemed to know what he was doing, so we did not question him though we wanted to take longer breaks (or break more frequently). He was worried about how long we stopped because of getting cold (it was below freezing and there was a stiff wind, but nothing really dangerous). I was never cold but John did not have as good a wind layer and was a bit cold, so it was probably good that we didn't break too often.

However, we started to drag ass (hey, it is the middle of the night - try walking uphill for 3.5 hours wearing 5 friggin layers of clothes). Unexpectedly, we made the summit. I could barely walk up through the loose, frozen gravel so our guide took my arm. I sat down at Stella Point on the rim and made my last coherent memory.

The rest of my experiences at the Rim come in the form of short hazy clips or stories of others. My brain stopped working. The last thing I remember is us leaving Stella Point - heading for the peak of Uhuru. I just wanted to collect myself but our guide was too eager to move on. We dropped our assistant guide (still not sure how that happened) and walked another 40 minutes uphill in the snow.

I remember finishing the trek with my arms linked with John - both he and I were incapable of walking but we stumbled alternatively and therefore kept our footing. I can only thank years of rock climbing balance for being able to walk with no brain functionality.

We took a couple of photos at Uhuru - 5:15 am or something. Cold. No sun. Wind. I formed a memory of the signpost but the next thing I remember is clutching my hood back at Stella Point and agreeing with John that we could not wait for the sun to rise in one hour. We needed to descend immediately.

So we did. I started forming memories again after realizing how close to giving up I was. I just wanted to sleep. Every blink of my eyes was euphoria followed by the torture of re-opening them.

I have one minute left at the cafe. The short story is that our guide went too fast and I suffered at the summit. Therefore, no photos. I guess I'll have to come back!

Up Kilimanjaro

In one hour, we depart for Machame gate. In 3 hours we will be starting our ascent. In 5 days, we will stand atop both peaks at nearly 20,000 feet. In 7 days, I will be back in this internet cafe posting a quick message that my legs are about to fall off.

Today, I am excited and nervous - not that I am afraid of something bad happening because we are with an experienced group and this is not a technical climb. I am only nervous because the only reason I may not achieve the top is because I am not fit enough - and that is my biggest fear. So here we go... one step after another - poli poli as they say here - slow slow.

Tomorrow: KILI

We finished safari tonight. 5 days and 4 nights. It was unreal. Last night, John and I went to bed, there was a zebra grazing between our tent and Russ and Lisa's tent - 2 meters away!

I fell asleep to the sounds of the striped donkey ripping grass from the earth and chewing it. It was more pleasant than you might think - and considerably better than sleeping next to a starving hyena, eh?

Tomorrow we start Kili. In 7 days I will post the results. We feel good and our guide has done it more than 100 times. I have no time to post because we are hungry and need to eat. But the photos I took should be sweet.

Looking forward to seeing you all!

Oh yeah, and everyone else is doing great over here too. We had a great time and any annoyances people had with John and my constant jokes and laughter was kept quiet =)

Dar Es Salaam Blows

Provocative title, I realize.

Russ, Lisa, and I left Mpwapwa (for me, for good). We went to Dar, where I saw it in the light for the first time. We spent one night, grabbed John Garbe from the airport, and boarded a crowded-ass bus for the southern sticks.

CROWDED. Capacity of the bus is perhaps 70 sitting on top of each other, making domestic coach seats on planes look like first class on trains (remember, no fatties here). At different points of the trip - including the 2-3 hours on unpaved, rutted and gutted hard-packed dirt - we had 20-25 people in the "aisle." Woof.

We finally got to our stop and fought our way through the aisle to de-bus and found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with very little clue of what comes next. Turns out the guest house we planned to stay in was closed for renovations and the other nice guest houses were all booked. The Udzungwa national park did not rent tents (as we were told it did) so we booked in a different guest house. Rooms were cozy and the bathroom shared, but we only saw one huge roach, and it left us alone quickly enough.

Let's see, there are many stories I could tell but I don't have enough time to type it. At any rate, park fees were a lot higher than expected - so we cut short our stay. We saw some great waterfalls, took a sweet 10k hike and swam (with John because Russ and Lisa were chicken) in the pool of one of the waterfalls.

Took the bus back to Dar - it was wretched. The bus driver was going 75mph at times (at least) with the bus swaying all over the place and passing people left and right. Ugh. I rarely have a problem with crazy drivers (usually I enjoy the adrenaline) but this dude was irresponsible. But we made it - rather late thanks to the many stops.

We were mobbed by the taxi drivers as usual and Russ was in a foul mood (still pretty cheery for the average joe, but foul for Russ) and the taxi drivers were pulling at us - oh yeah, we'll take you blah blah blah but Russ is like how much (most of this is in Kiswahili mind you) and they ignore him and keep pulling and he is like whatever, and one guy keeps hounding him and Russ is like, I'll pay 5,000 but not more and guy gets more aggressive and starts acting sketchy so Russ tells him to piss off (in multiple languages) and he eventually does. We finally find a decent taxi that will only charge us 20% more than the standard rate to go to our hotel - the Wazungu (white person) tax I guess.

Reasons to travel in Tanzania: you want to to pay more than everyone else for everything and then get shortchanged even after they have charged you more. When you ask for the correct change, they act like you are a dickhead. In short, Tanzania is not nearly as welcoming to foreigners as you might think.

We hear karibu all the time - it means welcome. But generally, only 1 in 4 people seem to actually mean it and act friendly. On the upside, that one person in 4 really means it and is always very sweet and generous. The people are nicer in the rural areas but I'm super unimpressed with Dar.

I can only imagine how this sounds - a weathy American trashing an African city - but it is hard to write anything else. Russ and Lisa subsist on teachers wages and we have been ripped off nearly everywhere we go. I'm not surprised that tourists rarely leave the northern National Parks - Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. If you are not in Dar or elsewhere with a purpose, save yourself the frustration and hassle by not coming at all.

At the same time, John and I have been having a great time. We are sharing a room everywhere we go and having a great time. Our experiences have been trying at times, but I have no regrets whatsoever because being around Russ, Lisa, and John has been tremendously rewarding. Russ and Lisa do all the work and negotiations and John and I are comic relief.

We leave tomorrow morning to go to Moshi and start the safari. I hope to post again before attempting Kilimanjaro.

Things are good, but my eyes are wide open when it comes to the problems of Africa. I'm sure I will write extensively about my impressions and thoughts, but for now I just want to say that the people who volunteer here for years are great hearts and do good work. Doing anything here is difficult and there are few rewards.

I miss you all - and look foward to seeing people when I get back. I want to create a slideshow and have a party for anyone interested. I'm stuck on a windows box without photo editing stuff so no photos for now.

Last Photo

I can't just leave and have the last image posted on my blog be of one of my least favorite corporations...

This man comes by the house to talk to Russ every Friday.


Traveling in Tanzania

There is no escape - even in Mpwapwa - 2 hours away from paved roads...

Clear Channel

Clear Channel reigns supreme everywhere I guess....

On Sunday morning, Russ, Lisa, and I will board a bus for Dar es Salaam. It will take 7 hours to get there if the bus does not break down anywhere. We will pick up our friend John Garbe at the airport and go to a hotel room because buses do not run at night (it is not safe both for security reasons and the competence of the driver). In the morning (Monday) we are going to the Udzungwa Mountains for a couple of days of camping.

On Friday, we will leave the mountains on the bus back to Dar to pick up Lisa's friends and Russ' sister. We'll spend another night in the hotel before taking another bus in the morning to Moshi - an eight hour trip that occurs entirely on paved roads.

We'll be spending a night in the YMCA and then doing a safari for a few days. Following that, Russ, John, and I will split off to tackle Kilimanjaro via the Machame route. This is a slightly more difficult route than the easiest but we will do it in 7 days (rather than 6 - an extra day at altitude for aclimatization) to have a better chance of success.

Following that night, we will have one night in Moshi (lots of sleep), then an 8 hour bus ride to Dar (lots of sleep and not much stiffness I hope), then one night and one day until we get on the planes to go back to the U.S.

I'm not sure how much I will be able to post - probably once every few days or even just once a week from here on out.

I've had a great time at Russ and Lisa's place - it would be hard to not have a good time when they have taken care of everything and ask nothing of me but to enjoy myself. As expected, their hosting skills are incredible.

Hiking and Moonshiners

Before I go too far - good luck to Kimmi in her Maui triathlon. Russ, Lisa, and I are all pulling for you and wishing you luck!

Also, I have been posting photos in the gallery of the trip.

Finally, Klink won the caption contest - please read all of the great captions for our photos and enjoy. I'll bring Klink something back once we figure out what it is.

Russ and I decided to change our 2-day hike into a one day hike due to his recent illness. He was not able to eat much and we were afraid if he pushed too hard, he might not be fully healthy for the more important things later. So yesterday we woke up at 6:00 am and started a long one day hike with our friend Matayo.

It was a good day for a hike - overcast with a temp somewhere in the mid-to-upper 70's I would guess. We made good time, I was carrying maybe 20-23 lbs in my pack (mostly camera gear as usual) and we had another pack with some water and food.

I knew it would be a difficult day as we approached the first of many small mountains we would climb over. The key for us in preparation for Kili is to climb slowly so we don't waste too much energy. So we tried but it was hard. We made good time but did not exhaust ourselves, so I guess that was a victory.

We followed a hiking trail that is actually the main "road" to the villages we would skirt around. This was an intermediate difficulty hiking trail (as would be rated in the U.S.) that progressively became harder and harder to follow. Eventually, parts of it were so overgrown that we could not see our feet as we walked it. Suffice it to say, not a lot of villagers go to town.

Those who do, are often carrying massive loads on their heads. Grains, fruits, charcoal, you name it. The charcoal is almost definitely produced illegally (the state is trying to track down on massive deforestation problems). The charcoal runners are impressive though. Later, as we returned to Mpwapwa, after many hours of hiking and carrying our 20-30 lbs loads (at that point) we were passed on the trail by a young man and his mother. They were both carrying stuff on their heads - the 17ish year old boy had probably 100 lbs of charcoal. They did not stop as they climbed 500-1000 feet on the trail and continued for miles undoubtedly. Wearing flip-flops.

After passing many beautiful terraced farms on irrigated hills (via canal-ditches and at least wooden bridge aquaduct), we came upon a farm with a decrepit old house nearly falling onto the trail.

Moonshiner House

The man who lived here was very excited to talk to us. At first he thought we were doctors we think - he was saying that something is wrong with his stomach. Then he talked with Matayo at length about his family - trying to see if they knew people in common. We asked if I could take photos and he was thrilled - very proud of the farm and especially his trees.

Moonshine man and his trees

At this point, I should note that people here tend not to smile for the camera. Not sure why, but they don't. At any rate, he was also selling moonshine from bamboo and Russ picked up a liter for practically nothing - people this far from the village have so little money the prices are almost below the lowest currency value...

At any rate, he was very excited about the photos and wanted to include his wife. So we walked across the farm to where she was harvesting potatoes and came upon some serious domestic strife. She was not a big fan of the camera and Russ was barely able to comprehend anything she said - a combination of her rural dialect and apparently borderline insanity (something our moonshiner exhibited occasionally as well). At any rate, we slowly backed away from her rants - her husband quickly regaining his smile as her voice (but not her words) faded.

We continued on the path, already quite tired and climbed the final summit to what Russ and Matayo called the soccer field (or more properly, futbol pitch) - a meadow on a high plateau. We rested on the ground, drank water, at some trail mix and a package of Clif's Shot Blocks (I love you Clif). I was resting in the middle of the path when a young man approached us on his way to the nearby village. Russ told me to get my ass out of the middle of the path and I stood up. He was maybe 40 yards away and as I stood, he looked terrified and turned to flee. (insert fat joke here)

Russ and Matayo called after him that it was alright and he turned back to approach us though somewhat wary. He had a minor deformation - looked like he could not open his left eye and appeared to be a bit off. He talked nervously with us and then went on his way - we figure he may have never seen a white person before. Damn few white people have ever come this far into the countryside and people perceived to be "different" (as in blind, deaf, or deformed in some manner) tend to be hidden in tribal cultures. At any rate, we laughed about the whole experience on the way back.

Before we could gather our things though, 2 ladies approached us. The older was carrying a water jug on her head. They put it down and came over to us, asking us to take their photo - we didn't have the camera out at all, so we figure they must just assume that all white people carry them. (I guess they stereotype us as we do the Japanese)

I pulled out the camera as they adjusted their clothes the way they wanted.

Village Ladies

Before leaving they asked us to give them something - a tradition I'm catching on to. Local people assume that white people are rich and here to give stuff away so they are constantly positioning themselves to get the good stuff. Russ and Lisa, paid amounts comparable to local wages, have to explain that they are not fountains of wealth. The few times I've heard of westerners trying to help locally, they have only benefitted the corrupt and not had the intended effect.

Back to the hike - we started back. Going back trends downhill but still requires climbing over several ridges. The sun had come out, making everything that much more uncomfortable. We passed by the farms again, but this time Matayo wanted to buy some produce for his family (it is way cheap at the farm - prices in the city are mostly reflective of the difficulty in getting it there). So we stopped several times as Matayo made arrangements and got what he needed. We pulled a third pack out of the second so we could carry everything.

Russ was already carrying two big bamboo sticks (ideas of a wind chime in his head) when Matayo spied a neighbor cutting sugar cane. He insisted we take some, so we got 3 big sticks (about 7 feet long and thicker as thick as my forearm). We chopped one up and put it in a bag and carried the other two. Between these items and Russ's liter of moonshine, we had picked up a fair amount of weight.

So we continued back and grew weary as the sun hit its zenith. We foolishly believed we were nearly home as we crested the final ridge but it took yet another hour to make it back into town. Exhausted. I had drank more than 2 liters of water and was fairly dehydrated.

Stopped at a local cafe for Chipsi Mayai (eggs and fries) and another liter of water and a cold 7-up and cold Coke for me. Feeling much better, we returned home and lay around reading for the duration of the night. I did finally try pure sugar cane. Interesting - you bite off a big cellulosic chunk and check it up, sucking the glucose right out of it and then spit out the dried up parts. Tasty.

More TZ Photos

Last night, Russ, Lisa, and I took advantage of another golden sunset to take more photos. This is them outside their house on their great porch.

Russ and Lisa Estate

I have spent a lot of time sitting on the porch reading. So much in fact, that I may very well run out of books and magazines! I always overpack reading material, so this could be a first. I have one magazine left (all the others are being devoured by Russ and Lisa already) and a couple of books.

I read an old Ludlum book at the suggestion of daddYman - The Holcroft Covenant and loved it. Flew through it - that guy can write (so well, in fact, that he has published some 5 books since dying - no lie). Russ is on it and will probably be half done by the time we walk back from the school internet connection.

Russ took a long nap yesterday and awoke outside after Lisa and I decided we had enough of his deafening snoring.

Tired Russ

Russ and Lisa are teachers and teachers frequently have a Mzee (pronounced Miz-ay) - or someone we might think of as a helper. He brings them water, takes care of little tasks, and cooks great lunches. Our Mzee worked for decades with an Indian family and he knows how to cook some damn good food. His calloused hands work better than a cutting board for him...

Mzee chopping veggies

Yesterday, an older woman came by to winnow the sunflower seeds. Russ and Lisa had grown hundreds of sunflowers, cut out the seeds, and dried them in the sun. Below, Lisa and a local lady (hired by their Mzee) separate the seeds from the chaff.


Once completed, they put the last of the sunflower seeds into a large bag and loaded it onto Mzee's bike. Having fully harvested the seeds, they now needed to have them pressed to extract the oil. They were taknig bets on how much oil they could get. The bag was heavy - Russ strained to even lift it (though he did lift it because he is man's man!).

Mzee thought there would be more than 10 liters of oil. I thought 1 (because I am a total idiot), Lisa guessed six and Russ guessed 7. The bag gets loaded on the bike - strapped tied down by a piece of rubber (perhaps the most useful binder available here). Mzee pushed the bike and we walked with him through town to the shop with the press.

Loading the bike

There, we dropped off the bag (our tiny bag compared to bags 5x larger) and later returned for the oil. It took 2 people to move the larger bags - they would stand on opposing sides of the 5 foot sack with a 4-5 foot circumference. One guy would grab the other guys wrist, then lean the bag against that support and they would both grab the bottom of the far side of the bag and heave. It was impressive.

Nonetheless, our little bag created 9.5 liters of sunflower oil (Russ and Lisa previously used 5 liters of sunflower oil in 6 months). This was much better than the previous year's harvest because the rains were strong this year, creating far more seeds per plant.

When I arrived at the airport, Russ and Lisa's friend Matayo picked me up and brought me to their village. Last night, his family prepared a great dinner - Pilau (a spiced rice reserved for Christmas and Easter) for many of the Peace Corps volunteers and me (Russ's besti - or best friend). We had chicken, chipsi (fries), and lots of fresh fruit and cold beverages (a rarity for us here).

Matayo Family Dinner

It was a great evening - capped off when Russ said "I want water" in their tribal language from Kenya. Matayo's family were amazing hosts and I am grateful for their hospitality.

Bike Trip

Russ and I took the Peace Corps Trek bikes out to a nearby village - about 20k there and back. Biking along hard-packed clay roads accustomed to foot traffic (human and non-Eddie Murphy-animated donkey). Many people also bike along the road, bringing their goods to the market on old Phoenix bicycles. They are made by the Chinese and used in Tanzania, but apparently have to be named in English?

We stopped in a local village with some environmental volunteers that I had met at Russ and Lisa's house previously. James and Christy took us around their village - asking if I can take photos and generally telling us stories about it. The first stop was the local water station - where people line up to fill up the jugs they'll take back to their houses.

The problem with photography in these situations is that people want to pose for the camera or run from it. You cannot just get a "normal" shot. I generally deal with this by leaving the camera in the bag - this is also known as giving up. But today, I pulled the camera out and took a photo or two, then pretended to be absorbed in playing with it - they did not realize I was still shooting, but without looking.

Children at the water hole

Thank you to everyone who has thus far contributed a caption to the couch contest. You have some great suggestions already - I hope we can get some more before closing it in a few days.


One of the things I missed most about Russ and Lisa was them cooking for me. I haven't been disappointed since joining them although I do not think I would make it very long on the local staples. I remain confused as to why my advisor (Peace Corps in Burundi back in the day) has such fond memories of Ugali.

Russ and Lisa, never afraid to experiment with cooking, have improved upon Ugali but it still looks like mashed potatoes from afar and tastes not unlike congealed elmer's glue (I'm guessing). It is corn flour and water but they added curry powder and salt to dress it up a bit. We ate it with mchuzi (vegetables cooked in a tomato sauce). The mchuzi was damn good. Eggplant, green peppers, onions, oil, tomatos, and sunflower oil.

For breakfast we had uji - a combination of millet flour, peanut flour, and soy flour with water. Looks kind of like Cream of Wheat (which I love) but has a bit of a sandy texture (of which I am not fond). I put lots of honey in it and finished it, but did not really enjoy it that much.

Lisa made buttermilk pancakes this morning - those were damn good. No maple syrup, but I had some good jelly on 'em.

My favorite dish thus far came from a local bar - french fries cooked in fried eggs. I ate it at night in the dark while hanging with a lot of volunteers (U.S. and British) who happened to be in town that night. It was oozing either oil or undercooked eggs, I couldn't tell. But it was good and I haven't gotten sick yet, so who cares? Chipsi mayai if you care. I've heard someone locally makes it better, but he appears to have disappeared temporarily and no one knows if his business is closed for good or not. Good gossip is hard to come by, I guess.

Russ and Lisa appear to stick to the local diet more than other volunteers - something I really admire. They have come here to live here (but look forward to returning to Minnesota I hope).

The local corn-on-the-cob is definitely not sweet corn. It is hard to chew and wears out your jaw faster than an entire day eating only bagels (which I've done). No butter either.

We get our milk from kids that deliver it straight from the cow each morning. Lisa boils it for ten minutes and either cooks with it or saves it for Russ to drink ... while denigrating "that skim milk crap from back home."

Last night we ate a Hershey's with almonds bar for desert - chocolate is a rare commodity here (hint to Hannah and others coming in soon).

I have not been taking many photos yet. I dont' want my expensive camera to draw too much attention and I want people to become more accustomed to my presence before wandering around taking photos. Many of Russ and Lisa's friends and acquaintances are excited about having some photos taken, so I hope to get some good ones before I take off. Until then, don't expect much more than stuff from Russ and Lisa's house and the sky...

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