Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 3 & 4 London to Tanzania

Day three and a late start. Penny was up till 2am watching NASCAR online! Sometimes I wonder about that girl......
After a quick shower Penny & I were out the door to have lunch with one of her friends that made the trip over from Florida. I guess my wife is not the only one that's nuts. We ate at the same restaurant near the hotel that Penny & I had ate our first English meal of fish & chips. This time though I opted for a good ol hamburger figuring it would be my last "normal" meal for a while.
After lunch it was back to the hotel to wait for my shuttle ride to Heathrow. The shuttle was scheduled to pick me up between 2:30 & 3pm and the room phone rang at 2:20 for the shuttle waiting for me downstairs. Penny & I said our "goodbyes" and kissed as I boarded the shuttle The driver let me know he had one other hotel stop before heading to the airport and off we went. Just as we were pulling away from the hotel a very strange thing happened. On the radio was the song "Africa" by Toto. It just seemed appropriate for the moment so I had to catch a bit on the Flip camera to share. The video's a bit shaky but it was mainly to capture the sound of the song as we are cruising out towards the airport.

Once at the airport, Heathrow, which is HUGE BTW, I was immediately struck by how helpful and nice everyone was. I made it to the counter of Kenyan Airways and checked in my two bags. I then had my big scare for the day. The ticket agent insisted on weighing my carry-on bag. Knowing this was going to be a problem I went into "please, please sympathy mode". Anyone that watched the video of my carry-on bag pack knows that it's heavy! You should have seen the woman's eyes as I placed the bag on the scale. She let me know it was over twice the allowed limit. I explained what was in the bag and she didn't seem to care. I asked to speak to a supervisor and a few minutes later a gentleman showed up to check things out. I showed him the contents and he let it slide! Two down, four more connections to go!

From there is was a quick trip through security and the most polite agents I've ever dealt with in an airport. I had to remove my belt with the large metel buckle but as I started to unlace my boots I was told not to worry about them and to just pass through. REALLY?! I'm not talking about sneakers here, I'm talking about my hiking boots. Big, heavy hiking boots with tons of metal eyelets? No problem. I guess the British realize by now that everyone is not a shoe bomber.
Now I'm sitting at the gate just waiting for my plane and it finally hits me. Holy Crap! I'm headed to Africa!

On board my flight I'm very impressed with Kenyan Airways - the Pride of Africa. That's their slogan. The plane is very nice, a 777, nicer in fact then the Virgin 747. The seats are more comfortable though not quite as much legroom by I would guess an inch or so. At least the TV in the seatback is working. First time I've seen airplane TV's that are set up to a DVR like device. Complete control over them movies, starting and stopping like a DVR. They also auto-pause when the cockpit makes an announcement so you don't miss anything! Picture quality is a bit to be desired though but typical for airplane TV's. I tried watching Cowboys & Aliens but since most of the movie takes place in the dark of night it was difficult to see on the screen. No problem, just go back to the DVR menu and pick another. Next choice, Minority Report. Dinner on the flight was great. My first taste of Africa with boiled rice and beef. For desert some pastry roll. Then time for a nap and before I know it I'm being awaken for breakfast before landing in Nairobi. Glancing out the window I catch a spectacular sunrise over Kenya

Once on the ground we had to disembark the plane out on the tarmac because our gate was blocked by two other jets. Then up a set of stairs and back into the terminal. So this is what a third world airport is like huh? Hot, muggy, smells of B.O. and just plain dirty looking. I guess this is what I can expect for the next couple weeks? I find the gate for my connecting flight and hang out for what seems like forever. No one is speaking English and I suddenly feel very alone.
After a while a guy comes and sits next to me and is going through his carry-on bag. A very well worn satchel that looks like it's seen a few miles. I notice he has a Spanish passport but I ask him if he speaks English. Fortunately he does. He tells me he's a freelance reporter and that he's headed down to South Africa to interview someone for an article. I ask him if he travels much and he sort of laughs. "Yes, all the time. I travel about 250 days per year." He has two passports because his first one is full, no room for anymore visa stamps. The second one is getting full fast. I mention I'm a bit nervous in this airport and he again chuckles a bit. He says this airport is great, you should fly through...I forget, but he mentions several cities. I give him my card and tell him I'll be writing about this trip. Hopefully he has time to check it out and maybe even leave a comment here. Sorry I forgot your name.
My next flight is on a small "puddle-jumper" so I'm concerned about my carry-on bag. Turns out once it was time to board the bag was not even questioned. That's three out of six! It wouldn't fit in the overhead of this much smaller plane but fortunately it fit quite snugly under the seat. We are once again in the air and the pilot makes an announcement that we'll be flying over Kilimanjaro in a while and our current altitude is 19,000'.
He better pull back on the stick!
As we get nearer to the mountain he makes another announcement that we are going up to 19,500' to fly over the summit and that we should get a clear view out the right side windows. So here's the sequence just as it was revealed to me and I start to get this feeling in my gut that I'm in this way over my head........

 The peak in the background of the above image is Mt. Meru, 14,977'

You know, I've read and researched this mountain so much in the last six months planning this trip but to finally come face to face with it is just downright awe inspiring. This mountain is so large it creates it's own weather patterns! You would think looking down on it like this wouldn't be so bad but it's just so freakin' huge..........
Now we are on the ground at Kilimanjaro airport outside Moshi, Tanzania, my home base for the next couple days. I'm very impressed with the airport. Much nicer and cleaner then the Nairobi airport.

A quick trip through customs to check my visa then grabbing my bags and a welcome site in the lobby. My guide, Zach, is standing there with a Mountain Guides International flag waiting for me. We head out to the waiting van and he hands me a bottle of water. "Start drinking" he says. Little did I know how much I was going to hear that over the next week.
In through town to get to the Springlands hotel over roads with nicknames like "Dancing Rd." because it's so rough you can't help but move all over the place in the van. "Double Lane Rd." for obvious reasons. "Coca Cola Circle" because Coke has paid for everything and all the signs have the Coke logo on them.
Finally we arrive at the hotel where we'll hang out for the rest of the day and all day tomorrow. The following day we will head for the mountain But I'm not going to bore you with our "rest/prep" day.
I'll continue on here with the rest day so we can get to the real adventure one day sooner.

Pulling into the hotel gate, I'm very impressed. The place looks nice and the people seem very friendly.

The open air dining area where all the meals are served.

Nice pool. I took a dip. Figured I packed the bathing suit, might as well use it.

The next morning after breakfast I get a chance to meet David and Colleen, my climbing buddies for this grand adventure. They are a father/daughter team and we seem to get along ok. Good thing cause we are really gonna get to know each other well over the next 8 days. Turns out Colleen lives about four hours from Vegas outside of L.A. Hard to believe I've flown half way around the globe and one of my climbing partners lives so close. Her dad lives in Alaska and looks to be in great shape. I only hope I am still doing this climbing stuff when I'm in my late 60's.
After breakfast we take a walk through the nearby forest to check out the wildlife with a couple of the guides from our hotel, Victor and Emmanuel. Here's a shot just as we left the hotel:

That's Colleen in the white tee shirt and her dad, David, carrying the water bottle.

Into the forest we go where Victor explains all the plants and how the locals use them for all sorts of healing purposes. Here he is showing us the local spring for which the hotel is named.

And one of the locals doing her washing. She seems none too happy that I'm taking her photo. Sorry about the graffiti, I didn't even notice that at the time the photo was snapped.

Next we head out across one of the rice fields before entering the forest to search for monkeys.

As we walk I'm talking with Emmanuel and learn he's a big fan of American sports. He tells me he likes Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I'm not sure what to make of that. People that know me know I don't follow any sports but even I know it's been many, many years since M.J. has played for the bulls. I ask him how old he is and he tells me he's 37. He looks like he's 25. he goes on to tell me he's been on the mountain now for nine years working first as a porter and now assist. guide. I ask him how many times he's been to the top and the only answer I get is "Many times each season." followed by a big smile. They are very proud people but they do not brag about their summits.
Finally we enter the forest and we are in search of the Blue Faced monkey and the Black & White Colobus monkey. It's not long before the B&W Colobus is spotted but they are very far away and I only have a short telephoto with me. They are hard to spot but there are four in this shot.

No luck getting a decent shot of the Blue Faced monkey although we did spot a couple. We finally make it to the magic tree. I forget the name they have for it but the legend is that it was cut down at one point and when the people returned the following day to cut it into smaller pieces it was standing back up. Ever since then the locals worship it. Here's a couple shots of our gang at its base.


Time now to head back to the hotel but first here's a few random shots along the way. check out the old bike!

And what seems like a good sandal that's been left in the road.

Back at the hotel gate I run onto these three kids that look like they are coming or going to school. I just so happen to have a few Bic pens so I give them each one and they love it. They decide to pose for me.

A guy I've come to know named Tim Rizzo told me before I left the kids over here sometimes have to share pens and recommended I bring some to hand out. I bought two bags of Bic pens before leaving and ended up giving them all away. Thanks Tim for the idea. The kids really seemed to appreciate them. Tim is one of the many people that inspired me while training for this trip and he has a great blog about his experience. If you are interested, here's the link to his site: It's In Africa You Know .

Once inside the hotel compound it's time to drink more water... Zach has preached to us the importance of drinking 4-5 liters of water per day, every day in order to stay hydrated. I doubt I drink that much in a week at home so this is gonna be a tough but necessary part of the journey.
In the mean time, another large group has just returned from the mountain and they are having their certificate ceremony in the garden bar.

There are three significant landmarks on the mountain and you receive a certificate for the highest point you reach. You can think of them as the Bronze, Silver and Gold medals of the mountain.
Gilman's Point is the bronze at 5,681 meters or 18,638'
Stella Point is the silver at  5,739 meters or 18,828'
Uhuru Peak is the gold at 5,895 meters or 19,340'

Time to drink more water........

I'm sitting around outside and overhear someone say "Did you see it?!" and people are headed to the front gate. I know what this means. The mountain is visible. It's been shrouded by clouds ever since I landed and the flyover was the last time I actually saw it. I get up and head for the gate myself. Should I? Hum...I can't resist. We walk out into the street and that lump appears in my throat again. The same one that I felt as we were flying over it yesterday. Holy crap, what I have I gotten myself into I ask again....

It's hard to explain but this mountain is very intimidating. Partly because it stand more or less alone. It's not really part of a range that it can blend into. It just sort of rises up out of the ground and never seems to end. No wonder it creates its own weather patterns. Look at it! In the photo above you can see another much smaller peak behind the clouds to the right of Kilimanjaro. That's Mawenzi Peak. It's 4,958 meters or 16,266' high. Remember that name, Mawenzi Peak. It plays a key role in the drama of day four on the mountain.
Stay tuned.... tomorrow we head for the trailhead.