Stranded in Africa Part 2 – The Road to Kilimanjaro

Travel Blog By Danielle Skinner and Hadley White

(Note: Worldwide flight delays with the Europe volcano meant that two U.S. Africa Command employees found their visit to Tanzania unexpectedly prolonged following a military health conference. They’re spending the time journeying around northern Tanzania to explore and meet people)

Danielle (left) and Hadley (right) meet Vicki Nsila Swai, a chairperson of the Tanzanian ruling party and hotel owner, while on the way to Mt. Kilamanjaro, April 21, 2010

Danielle (left) and Hadley (right) meet Vicki Nsilo Swai, a chairperson of the Tanzanian ruling party and hotel owner, while on the way to Mt. Kilimanjaro, April 21, 2010

Excited about spending our second day with Hassan and seeing more of the country, we set off for Mount Kilimanjaro, with some planned and unplanned stops along the way. As we drove east, we passed rice paddies, corn fields, banana groves, and flower plantations. Evidently the flower industry in East Africa has been hit hard by the disruptions to air travel, and thousands of flowers have had to be tossed out. We kept an eye out for Mount Kilimanjaro along our drive, but the clouds kept it hidden. We were hoping for a clear view at some point during our day.

When we arrived in Moshi, our first stop, we stopped at a guesthouse that was owned by a friend of Hassan’s, Vicki Nsilo Swai. She was introduced to us as “Mama” and Hassan explained to us that she was a chairperson for the ruling party. Mama was excited to meet Americans, as she had lived in the US for 15 years, when her husband worked at the UN in the 1970s and early 1980s. She invited us into her living room to visit and asked us where we were from. When we said Pennsylvania and Georgia, her eyes lit up as she told us she had traveled to both places. She talked a little about President Kikwete, saying how he is a young and energetic leader, who is popular with many Tanzanians. We wanted to learn more from her but didn’t keep her long because she had a few visitors who had traveled a good distance to talk to her about problems they were having in their districts. We said our farewells and told her that we’d send fellow Moshi travelers to her guesthouse – and we will! So if anyone needs a recommended place to stay in Moshi, we’re happy to share this great find.

Finding hidden waterfalls seemed to be a theme for the day. Our first waterfall was a short walk behind a small hotel with a courtyard. Hassan brought his family there for Easter, and commented on how peaceful and beautiful it was. We almost got hit on the head by a falling avocado as we were exploring the area. Avocados were everywhere!

We picked up a guide named Rizickson, or “Ricky”, who was from the area and who Hassan felt would be knowledgeable about the local culture and terrain. We drove up to the base of Kilimanjaro, a little frustrated by the fact that it was still hidden by clouds, and parked by the Marangu gate, where people start climbing. Seeing the entrance and actually being there made us decide that if our flight was  cancelled on Friday, we would climb it ourselves. I mean, why not? We are so close to this magnificent mountain, and though we have absolutely no practical gear (although our tire shoes might come in handy), we found out that you can rent out everything that you need to make the climb – even wool socks! Hassan also got excited about the prospect of climbing, so the three of us made a deal that we’d do it if we were still around this weekend.

Around 1pm we were starting to get a little hungry, but Hassan wanted us to see more, so we went along with him. We walked about ten minutes along a path towards the Kinukamori falls, which are named after a Tanzanian woman who, according to legend, was going to be killed for getting pregnant before marriage. She decided to run away, and as she stood at the top of the falls, a leopard came up behind her and she fell to her death. Local people have commemorated her by placing a wooden statue of her at the top of the falls.

Slightly ravenous at this point, we made our way to a restaurant that was highly recommended by Ricky. Hassan didn’t want to drive his car on the roads leading up to it because they were in such bad condition, and we soon found out why when our hired taxi took us there. It’s amazing that the taxi’s tires weren’t flat and that we weren’t too bruised and battered by the time we got there. We had a yummy lunch of Indian food, and feeling stuffed, we decided to take a long walk back to the car.

Along the way we passed our third waterfall of the day, Ndoro Falls, which was the largest one in that area. We were surrounded by banana groves and more avocados, as well as colorful flowers of all different types. All of a sudden, Hassan told us to look over our shoulders, and there was Mount Kilimanjaro, with not a cloud in the sky. We were so thrilled to finally see the mountain in all its glory, and excitedly took a few dozen photos, all of which look the same, but hey – it was Kilimanjaro.

We continued our long hike back to the car, walking through a football pitch that displayed a large billboard of the last Chagga chief. The Chagga people live in the area, and Ricky told us that the last chief and his son had both recently died, which meant the Chagga were currently without a chief. Ricky said that the chief can put a curse on people before he dies, and that it wasn’t uncommon for others to die along with him. We walked by the graves of the chief and his son, as well as a house of another relative who had suddenly died just a month ago. We also passed by the graves of the past chiefs, including that of the first chief, who had ruled in the 1800s. According to Ricky, the Chagga chief lineage has come to an end.

By this point, it was late in the afternoon and we passed many kids coming home from school. We stopped for a bit to watch a big group of teenagers playing football (or soccer, to our American readers), and bought some small bananas from women selling fruit. Our walk had taken at least an hour, and we were pretty tired after our long day. We hopped back in the car and could see Kilimanjaro for most of our ride home – it seemed like it was following us. The sun was setting and the clouds looked beautiful framing the mountain. As we approached the Kilimanjaro airport, we decided to try our luck and see if flights were actually coming and going. To our utter delight, the Kilimanjaro to Amsterdam flight was scheduled and on time. It’s looking good for our Friday departure (hopefully we didn’t just jinx it by writing that). Although we are having an amazing time here, we are looking forward to returning to Stuttgart – not to mention having some clean clothes. It’s looking more and more like climbing Kilimanjaro will have to wait until our next trip to this beautiful country.

See Part 1 here:

Danielle Skinner works for the U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs Office. Hadley White works for U.S. AFRICOM’s Outreach Directorate.

Our first view of Mt. Kilamanjaro when the clouds cleared

Our first view of Mt. Kilimanjaro when the clouds cleared

A banana tree at the base of Mt. Kilamanjaro

A banana tree at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Sign at the base of Mt. Kilamanjaro

Sign at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Ricky (left) and Hassan (right) stand in front of the Kinukamori Waterfall in Kilamanjaro, Tanzania

Ricky (left) and Hassan (right) stand in front of the Kinukamori Waterfall in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Danielle and Hadley stand in front of the Kinukamori Waterfal in Kilamnajaro, Tanzania

Danielle and Hadley stand in front of the Kinukamori Waterfall in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Flowers on the road near Mt. Kilamanjaro in Tanzania

Flowers on the road near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

View of Mt. Kilamanjaro on the way back to Arusha as the sun was setting

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way back to Arusha as the sun was setting

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