Archive for the 'Travel Blog' Category



Snapshot: Bamako, Mali

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By Kimberly Tiscione, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment/Flintlock Public Affairs

I recently had the opportunity to spend a month in Bamako, Mali, while supporting Exercise Flintlock 10. Flintlock is the special operations forces exercise, conducted by Special Operations Command Africa with participation of key European nations, focused on military interoperability and capacity-building with partner nations throughout the Trans-Saharan region of Africa.

It was my first time traveling to Africa and I honestly didn’t know what to expect of the citizens, the city or the culture. What I’ve learned is that Malians are very hospitable, the city is quite large, there’s an active marketplace and physical fitness is widely common.

Bambara is the local language in Bamako. Many people in the service industry speak French, maybe with a little of English too. Few in our group knew much French, but we learned. We also found that Spanish and Italian were similar enough to help us communicate. The Malians we worked with regularly taught us French and Bambara during our month-long stay.

The dress in Bamako is a combination of traditional African dress and western influenced design. Shoes are different forms of sandals. We also noticed a lot of clothes from America that appeared to have been donated. President Obama t-shirts and stickers on scooters were everywhere!

African traditions haven’t been lost in this city either. We especially noticed the local influence in art and music. Women also still carry things like baskets and bags balanced on their heads and babies on their lower back, secured by a light-weight cloth.

Driving in the city is an adventure. We had contracted drivers, which was probably the safest bet for us because we were unfamiliar with the city and driving norms. There are paved streets, with vehicles and pedestrians all sharing the space. Police direct traffic at intersections, including traffic circles. There is definitely a culturally understood manner in which all of these elements mix together. I had a white-knuckled grip more than once.

You may see vehicle makes from Toyota to Mercedes, in sizes varying from SUVs to small sedans. There are yellow Mercedes taxi sedans for hire. But the most popular form of mass transportation we saw were green van-sized busses (think Scooby Doo van) with routes throughout the city. This also just may be the Power K scooter capital of the world. Scooters are largely popular and often seen transporting multiple people.

Though poverty is pretty widespread, the marketplace is active. We mainly saw open markets that line the roads and city centers. You can buy anything and everything you need for life support and entertainment at roadside stands. People also sell items like fruits, pre-paid phone cards, fly swatters and cigarettes at street intersections to drivers and passengers in cars and on scooters. We even found a grocery store we nick-named Wal-mart: it was two-story and sold everything from four-wheelers, to beverages, to food and toiletries.

Sorry, guys: No Starbucks or McDonald’s here. But the food in our hotel was good and we enjoyed meals on the local market. You could buy kabobs and pizza in many places. Don’t miss out! Ask around for the most reputable local eateries. You’ll enjoy a good meal without being rushed.

Another cultural icon: Football is King in Bamako. There is a local team and excitement is building for the World Cup. We also saw several local youth and adult leagues. And every night on our way home from work we saw players doing physical training, practicing and playing games. Soccer jerseys are a hot commodity. And as a World Cup sponsor, Orange, proclaims on a local billboard, there are many countries with many languages, but we all have one in common: football!
If you’re visiting Bamako, I recommend the following:

1. Be familiar with a little bit of French. It will make your trip much more enjoyable.
2. CFA (the local currency, pronounced “see-fa”) is the only way, and surely the safest, to make purchases in many local places.
3. Ask your hosts to show you the local markets and eateries.
4. Travel safe and smart. It’s a big city.
5. Bring sunscreen, bug juice and a hat. It’s HOT!
6. Bring clothes that are comfortable, but stylish.
7. Smile and engage the local citizens.

http://www.africom.mil/africomDialogue.asp?entry=1247

Ouagadougou by Bus

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By Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

Each day during much of FLINTLOCK 10, those of us assigned to the Multinational Coordination Center would travel by bus from our hotels in Ouagadougou through the outskirts of the city to Camp Baangre near the village of Kamboinse. Morning and evening, dozens of exercise participants from more than a dozen different countries would make that 45 minute drive and for many it was a priceless glimpse into daily Burkina daily life.

Ouagadougou is a city of more than a million inhabitants and has traffic typical of any modern capital. Fortunately we would travel opposite the normal flow of Burkinabe commuters. So each morning and evening we would pass long lines of cars and trucks that would give way to carts of wood, stones, sand, vegetables or other goods drawn by jaded donkeys or pushed by weary young men as we moved away from the city. Often our progress would be slowed by a donkey or goat loose in the road or a group of men trying to move an exceptionally heavy cart. There were also the buses full of people with boxes, bundles, suit cases, chicken cages bikes, piled high, defying gravity, on top.

And everywhere were people, young and old, on bicycles and motorcycles. Women in colorful dresses with a baby strapped to their backs or with a toddler clutching her back. Men in traditional outfits that would billow in the wind or three or four teenagers balanced precariously on a single bike.

Once I expressed my amazement about a young lady who rode by on a bike with a large platter of papayas balanced on her head and a baby on her back and the Nigerian officer sitting next to me snickered and said, “Brother, this is Africa.”

Along the side of the road, there was the constant movement of people walking. We would see the mass of bright African cloths with an occasional glimpse of Bob Marley or Barrack Obama from the back of a t-shirt. We would see groups of children going to school and often one or two would break away from the crowd to run waving after the bus.

What has always amazed American visitors is the ability of many African women to balance almost anything on their heads. Sacks of grain, tubs full of shoes or toys, bundles of wood, trays of fruit, bags of cloths, a broken bench are just a few of the things I saw conveyed on the heads walking or riding past the bus. Or there were the groups of four or five teenage girls standing in a circle gossiping, each with a plateau of mangoes or papayas poised on their braids.
Behind the people we would see the shops and stands selling everything imaginable. It was like driving through a shopping center with themes that would change by the block. There was the block with the furniture stores. Row upon row of couches, love seats or recliners on display on the side of the road and trestle tables piled high with fifteen or twenty twin sized mattresses. Next would be the hardware stores with metal gates, electric fans, bricks and lumber for sale. At the next corner there were people hawking cloths, toys, fruits, vegetables, grain. All the necessities of life seemed available along this single stretch of highway.

Usually our bus driver would put on some sort of entertainment for us. Sometimes it was African music videos. Other times it would be African sitcoms that would leave those who understood French hysteric with laughter and leaving those who don’t understand French wondering what was so funny.

On my last day on the bus I was surrounded my officers from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Burkina Faso, and the driver put on a Kenny Rogers CD. I thought it as an odd choice until they all energetically began singing “you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.”

Then I remembered the words of the Nigerian officer, the one who was singing loudest about his four hungry children and his crop in the field.

“Brother, this is Africa,” he said.

http://www.africom.mil/africomDialogue.asp?entry=1241

(Note: Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

Pack like it’s Arizona

Major Steven Lamb, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs wrote

I am a private person; I don’t do Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or any of those other social networking things that have become so prevalent in our society today. The funny thing is I am the acting Social Media Chief for U.S. Africa Command. I like to have my experiences and share them with my kids and family, maybe a pic or two but that is really about it. Thanks to my career as a Soldier, a public affairs officer to be specific, I have had the opportunity to meet lots of interesting and famous people and to see lots of really neat things but most of it is recorded in my mind for my own use and sharing with those closest to me. I don’t collect photos of “Me and so-and-so,” and I only bring up such encounters when I feel it is germane to teaching a lesson or helping us accomplish a mission we are currently working on. Doing a blog about a trip, talking about my feelings or experiences, is foreign to me so please don’t approach this with the idea you will be traipsing down memory lane with a documentary similar to Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom….” you would be sorely disappointed! Ugh, I just dated myself too didn’t I?
OK, so I have been asked by the folks in my office to write a quick blog about my first trip to Africa. I will cover the personal aspects of it because I already had to write the official “story” about the visit anyhow and while telling stories is fun, regurgitating what is already out there is a waste of time to write and worse to read.

I found out I was going to get my first opportunity to travel to the continent around the first part of March. Botswana, Namibia and perhaps one other country were on the list. Needless to say I was very excited. I quickly looked at my calendar to get the timeframe in my mind and to begin laying out the incredible amount of work ahead. Six weeks, not much time to plan. Granted, people from U.S. Africa Command have been going to the continent for the last two years but this was my first trip so I had a head immediately filled with questions, concerns and most importantly ideas of what I needed to do to make this a good trip.

As I said, I am a PA officer so I have the responsibility of preparing the commander and others to engage with the media. This involves a lot of research which ultimately winds up in a 30-40 page read-ahead book full of all sorts of talking points, current news articles, copies of speeches and transcripts and testimony from ambassadors and government leaders among others. We also begin working with the U.S. embassy country teams and any of our own command who happen to be where we are headed. We need to coordinate whatever media coverage we deem appropriate because transparency is a cornerstone to our command’s way of working, and failing to announce a leadership visit would lead to rumors of clandestine bases etc. All of that is, of course, untrue but by being open and inviting the people in we can circumvent such sensational reporting, and it provides us an opportunity to focus on our real reason for visiting. A media roundtable, a press conference, an interview on TV or the radio; there are many possibilities we must consider to ensure the right message is delivered to the right audience, at the right time and with the right medium.

The trip was almost immediately dropped to two countries, Botswana and Namibia, which are both on the southern end of the continent. From here in Germany this means traveling roughly 5,000 miles or flying the length of the United States twice.

The short timeframe meant that I couldn’t possibly get a visa for Namibia so I planned to make the Botswana leg.

Next step, get with the Embassy. Gaborone (pronounced “Hah-ba-ro-nae”) is the capital of Botswana. Army Lt. Col. William “Chris” Wyatt is the Office of Security Cooperation Chief there at the Embassy and his team was incredible. I asked a whole bunch of “new guy to Africa” questions like where they stood with malaria, if there was going to be internet available, what uniforms I needed and what money / exchange requirements there were? I was relieved to discover that if I wanted malaria I needed to go north about “900 miles,” although AFRICOM policy still required I take medications to prevent getting it regardless. I also was pleased to learn that internet was available at the hotel which is critical for my doing my job. I would need both uniforms (wait, I was not pleased about that because size 10W boots take up a lot of space in your luggage), and money could be exchanged at the airport (I know, a no-brainer). The OSC office began to chuckle at some of my personal questions, I was obviously very green.

Finally they told me to “pack like its Arizona.” Well that is easy! I have been there, I vacationed there, I hiked the Grand Canyon with my father there 20 years ago, and I can do Arizona. A desert, no problem!

I packed light; I had to have my normal ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) but also my Class As (our formal jacket and tie type) and I needed some civilian clothes for travel and the evenings. Arizona, desert, short sleeves, light clothing, this is easy.

I arrived in Gaborone in a driving rainstorm. It turns out that they are just entering their winter and it had been ceaselessly raining for the last week. The “desert” was lush with green vegetation; the roads, many of which were unpaved, were chuck full of mud puddles and pot holes. Everything was soaked!

It rained all day, almost every day, until the day I left and that day was beautiful! General Ward, the AFRICOM Commander, was to arrive the day after I did, but visibility was so bad his plane was diverted to Namibia overnight. The next day they had to turn on the lights at the airfield just to land the plane.

Botswana, for this week was no Arizona; not by a long shot.

The trip itself went really well though. I learned a whole lot about the people of Botswana and the Botswana Defense Forces. I also got to try some different traditional African foods like Mielie Pap (a stiff corn meal mix) and spiced chicken. I really gained an appreciation for their spices, fantastic flavors, very rich. The Gaborone Sun Hotel was very comfortable and the service was great. The last day there the OSC folks ushered me around to several shops and markets to get a feel for local crafts and the people. I also was able to pick up some souvenirs for my wife and our six kids that are still at home.

In the long run the trip was a great success. Gen. Ward had the opportunity to meet with media and answer their questions, his visit was well covered and all the media reporting was very positive. He also shot some Public Service Announcements and addressed a large group of BDF officers on Intelligence operations.

On the personal side, I learned the value of doing a bit more research on my target location and also the benefits of being prepared for whatever changes might occur. I am excited about the many opportunities I will have to travel over the next few years because this assignment will open doors and experiences others can only dream about, but here I am getting paid!

Visit us at www.africom.mil

A Day with a King and Crocodiles

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Baangre in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

  Exercise Flintlock participants in Ouagadougou had a day of rest May 17 and many took the opportunity to take a tour of the nearby villages of Bazoule and Kokolongho.

  

Sergeant McCarty and The Crocodile

  

Never Smile at a Crocodile 

We first travelled to Bazoule to bravely visit their local crocodiles. A dozen or so crocs welcomingly crawled out of the water to greet us upon our arrival. I’m no Steve Irwin and was very nervous to willingly seek the company of these animals. When I saw a child’s sandal (no child) on the ground near the crocs’ pond, I really got nervous. The locals assured us the reptiles were pretty friendly (what I was afraid of–them being too friendly). We fed the crocodiles several small chickens just to be more safe (if that even makes sense).

After they had eaten a couple of chickens, I tried my luck and straddled a big croc and sat over him to have my picture taken. I was scared, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to do something so unique. And, of course, I wanted the bragging rights. Then, I made it safely away from “my croc” to watch others being fed.

We learned that the crocs were more than just an attraction to the people of the village. The crocodiles were sacred. They inhabited the area long before it was a village. The people there said they think of the crocs as their ancestors and when one dies they treat it as if one of the villagers has died, even holding a funeral.

The event was a hit for our group and we all left with a story to tell about the magnificent (and friendly) crocodiles of Bazoule.
Our next stop was another sacred place a royal palace in Kokolongho. 

  

The Crocodile

 

   

The King and I 

The Group at The King of Kokolongho's Palace

  

The King of Kokolongho himself greeted us outside his palace when we arrived. We came into his yard, as he called it, and sat around him and his village’s chiefs to hear about his kingdom. Moognaab a Bagoogo is king of 11 villages – a population of around 55,0000.  

He told us about his father, Naaba Boulga, who was the 15th king and constructed the palace in 1942. He died in 1985 after serving 55 years as king. He and his wife were both buried in the king’s yard and were shown to us on the tour.  

Our group also got to see the living quarters of the king and his wife, where her maids cook and prepare meals, where councils were held with the people and disputes between neighbours were heard and resolved.  

The king and his 11 chiefs invited us to sit again with them after our tour for a drink. It is customary when they have visitors to provide them a drink. We were served a choice of cool water or their special millet beer. Millet, a small-seed grain, is a staple food for the Kokolongho people, along with beans and rice. They also brew it into a light-tasting beer that I found quite good. However, rather than drinking the beer from a typical bottle, it was served in bowls.  

We had not only learned about the their history and their culture, but had experienced it firsthand by sharing a homemade drink as part the people’s custom. And for me, it was my first meeting with a king.  

It was a very special day with two unique and new experiences that I am grateful for. The crocodiles of Bazoule and the King of Kokolongho will remain part of my memories of my time in Burkina Faso. 

Visit us at   www.africom.mil

Finding Common Ground in Africa

On 5/12/2010 5:12:11 PM Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty wrote:

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Bangare in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

I arrived in Burkina Faso May 10 in support of Exercise Flintlock. Being my first time to the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be part of the union of so many countries in the exercise and to experience different ways of life, but I have to admit a vast change in culture can be a bit un-nerving for me sometimes.

I awoke the morning after my arrival and headed down the restaurant for breakfast, not sure what I’d find. I entered a large room to find a plethora of different patterned uniforms, Americans eating raisin bran flakes next to Malians eating eggs and Frenchmen eating croissants. They sat together like family, talking in French and English, as they enjoyed breakfast. I stood, just observing for a few seconds before I went on. I ate thinking of how a meal can bring people from all walks of life together.

Later that day when lunchtime rolled around, I made my way with a fellow American to check out what African cuisine would be served at the Camp Bangare where the exercise was taking place. The venue was an open tent outside, filled with large round tables seating eight or more people. The dishes were served buffet style and as I made my way through the line I met an African-born U.S. Army lieutenant serving as a translator. He explained to me the different dishes, like yam, and how it is a starchy staple for many. Chicken, rice, potatoes, avocado and pineapple were a few of the other I items dished up. I put a few things to try on my plate and looked for a seat.

I had lost my American colleague, but found an open seat at a table of mainly Africans. We talked and enjoyed the food and each other’s company. I learned a little about each person I spoke with and discovered any concerns I may have had were gone. It seemed again that food was a common denominator for us.

I realized that despite our differences, we all shared at least something – a career devoted to service, the hope and determination for a more stable and secure Africa, and of course, a meal that brought us all together around the table to learn more about each other, make new friends, and eat whatever may be the cuisine du jour.

Visit http://www.africom.mil

Stranded in Africa Part 3 – Rwanda Trials and Looking Back

Travel Blog By Danielle Skinner and Hadley White

(Note: Danielle and Hadley are blogging from northern Tanzania while caught in worldwide flight delays. Yesterday they visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Giraffes stand by Lake Manyara during our weekend safari, April 16, 2010

Giraffes stand by Lake Manyara during our weekend safari, April 16, 2010

After a busy couple of days, and then waking up to a downpour of rain, we decided to stay in Arusha on Thursday and see what activities we could do indoors. April is the rainy season in Tanzania–we have been pretty lucky with the weather though. It rains a little each morning, but by afternoon it usually clears up and the strong sun comes out. We’ve repeatedly noted how beautiful the clouds are here, especially contrasted with the green and brown earth when you get outside of the city.

After enjoying sandwiches and fresh squeezed mango juice at the Africafe (a popular coffee shop/restaurant in downtown Arusha), we headed over to the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC), where we were all of last week for the 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference. This time, we wanted to see if we could drop in for an open session of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is being held there. This international court was established in 1994 by the United Nations Security Council to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994. The tribunal has been located in Arusha since 1995.

We tried to see a trial at the AICC earlier in the week, but were asked to leave when a protected witness did not feel comfortable speaking in a public session. This time, we attended a trial of three detainees who were former executive leaders of the Mouvement Republicain pour la Demoncratie et le Developpment (MRND). They are accused of joining with other extremist groups within the military, MRND, and “Hutu Power’ parties to seize control of the government following the assassination of President Habyarimana and creating a corps of militia that would respond to their orders to attack and destroy the Tutsi population.

We watched the session behind a glass wall, and headphones were provided to us for translations, as the trial is conducted simultaneously in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. It was very interesting to see how the trials were run and to hear the witnesses speak. One of the defendants’ witnesses was Ferdinand Nahimana who was sentenced to 30 years for publishing articles and ordering broadcasts for Radio Rwanda encouraging people to rise up against the Tutsis.  We could immediately tell he was well-spoken and extremely good at evading

the prosecutor’s questions.  The prosecutor even described him as “a man of words, who manipulates words to fit the situation.”

Nahimana was questioned for most of the session, by both the prosecutor and the defendant. What struck us the most was the fact that this particular trial had been going on since 2005, still without a resolution. Incredible.

So now that Friday is here (Hadley’s birthday!), we are getting ready to leave Tanzania with bittersweet feelings. Our flight is scheduled to depart at 9:30pm tonight, so feel free to send good vibes our way. We are looking forward to getting back to Stuttgart, as well as discovering clean clothes again, but we are also sad to leave Arusha, where we are starting to feel like we have become permanent residents here. We’ve loved learning all that we have about this city and Tanzanian culture. At dinner last night we reflected on everything we did over the past two weeks, including: learning about military HIV/AIDS issues at the health conference last week; visiting a busy HIV/AIDS voluntary testing and counseling center in Arusha; seeing almost 30 animals including giraffes, lions, elephants, and zebras on a weekend safari; visiting local markets; meeting with and learning about the Maasai people; becoming the proud owners of custom-made tire shoes; hiking around the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; and engaging with many wonderful people here, not only from Tanzania, but from all over the world. It’s absolutely exceeded our expectations!

We hope we have the opportunity to return to Tanzania again someday, and next time we’ll be prepared with our gear so we can climb Kilimanjaro!

See Part 1 at Stranded in Africa – Opportunity to Explore

See Part 2 at Stranded in Africa Part 2 – The Road to Kilimanjaro

See Photos at Stranded in Africa

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

A choir welcomes us to the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

A choir welcomes us to the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Lab technicians show us their testing center at the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Lab technicians show us their testing center at the Arusha Lutheran Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, April 14, 2010

Monument in Arusha

Monument in Arusha

View of the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

View of the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

A zebra stands in a field of flowers at the Ngorogoro Crater, during our weekend safari, April 17, 2010

A zebra stands in a field of flowers at the Ngorogoro Crater, during our weekend safari, April 17, 2010

Zebras and wildebeasts rest in the Ngorogoro Carter, April 17, 2010

Zebras and wildebeasts rest in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

Lions rest on a hot day in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

Lions rest on a hot day in the Ngorogoro Crater, April 17, 2010

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: https://africom.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/stranded-in-africa/

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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