Monday, June 27
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I slept pretty well until about 5:00 am. I woke up to use the bathroom, but when I came back to bed a whole host of annoyances started. I heard both music and bells through the windows - which I was later told was the Muslim call to prayer - but I'm not sure the time was right. I also heard trumpets - the wake-up call on the nearby military base. There was also a cacophony of animal sounds, including a rooster crowing (though dawn was still over an hour away), dogs barking, and a mosquito trapped inside the net incessantly buzzing in my ear. After dispatching of the mosquito I was able to fall back asleep until my alarm woke me up around 7:30 am.

I still hadn't seen Mt. Kilimanjaro yet. I hopefully looked out the window only to be greeted unwelcomingly by another dreary and completely overcast day. I've been in Tanzania over 24 hours now and still haven't seen the mountain. Slightly discouraged, I got ready for the day and headed up to the dining area for breakfast. Mike, Alan, Hilary, and Alex were already there. Alex had been feeling a bit ill the night before at dinner, so it was good to see him up and eating; he also said he was again feeling well. Breakfast was a buffet, and I had eggs with tomatoes, potatoes, sausage, bread with butter, and orange juice to drink. It was nice to have a substantive breakfast (with eggs and protein) again after only airline breakfasts the last few days. We were scheduled to leave at 9:30 so after breakfast we headed back to our rooms to get ready. The plan was to hike to a waterfall, so everyone was getting on all their hiking gear as a kind of practice run for the mountain. The driver arrived fashionable late around 9:45 ("Africa time") with a truck to seat eight people. We have ten people. Apparently a communication issue had led them to believe we only had eight people, even though just the day before the same company had driven ten of us to the lodge from the airport. A few phone calls later (and after over an hour of waiting) another truck arrived and we were ready to go. I was a little wary of the second truck and driver (it just didn't strike me quite as solid) so I jumped in the first truck - which turned out to be a pretty good decision.

We took off at almost 11:00am and headed into town. We hit the city of Moshi pretty quickly and stopped for gas. Gas was priced expensively at TS 2150 / liter (around $5.50 US per gallon) at a pretty ghetto-looking gas station, with a lot of old cars and tires in the lot. We got some gas (though why they didn't do that before picking us up we couldn't figure out) and continued on through some fairly heavy traffic. There were definitely more cars than we had previously seen, though there were still a lot of pedestrians as well. The driving was a bit crazy (at least compared with the US), but not nearly as bad as South Korea, though here the pedestrians seemed even more intent on getting run over. We turned onto a dirt road a bit later where we were now really the only vehicles on the road, surrounded by a lot of pedestrians. We drove for a while on bumpy but adequately maintained dirt and gravel roads, passing by a lot of dilapidated storefronts and shacks, people on motorcycles, and a lot of people walking. At one point along the road we stopped to pick up a local of the area - Oscar - who would be our guide for the hike.

The road got worse as we drove along. We were driving up a mountain road on which it had recently rained (and was still raining higher up). It was in bad enough shape to begin with (bumps, potholes, etc) but the rain on the clay road made it especially slick as well. We were in the trailing truck and could see the other truck ahead of us having some issues sliding in the mud. Mike explained that clay is especially slick in the rain because it doesn't really absorb or let pass through water (so it stays wet), and it's built in layers which slide horizontally over each other preventing traction. As we were watching, the truck ahead slid off into the ditch, while repeated attempts to extricate itself proved futile. We continued on in our truck after the drivers had talked, with the plan that our truck (which had so far been handling pretty well) would take us to the trailhead and drop us off where lunch was waiting for us before returning to pick up the rest of the group.

We powered through the tough section the other truck was unable to pass, though it was slow and difficult, even in the lowest gear and with full four-wheel drive. We got a little further up the road, slipping and sliding ourselves, until we just couldn't go any further. This whole time people were walking up and down the road, precariously close to our sliding truck, without really seeming to care (or move) out of the way. Having now figured that getting to the top wasn't happening in the truck, we discussed hiking the rest of the way, but decided instead to head back down. It was still another two miles or so to the top, it was raining, it was very slick, and we still would have had to come back down in those same treacherous conditions. With no room to turn around we started back down the hill in reverse without turning around (the road wasn't wide enough). Bad idea. Not too far back down we started sliding and the driver couldn't recover, leaving the front right (driver's side) in the ditch. We all got out of the truck and the driver and our guide Oscar worked on the stuck truck, only to see it end up now with the entire right side stuck in the ditch.

We grabbed all of our stuff out of the truck and started to walk down the hill. Oscar and the driver continued to work on getting the truck out of the ditch. There was a small driveway a few hundred feet further down the road, so they just kept moving backwards down the hill toward that driveway. The entire time the side of the truck was collecting dirt and plants from the wall of the ditch, keeping no more than two of the tires on the road. The driver did make it to the driveway and was able to use more solid ground over the ditch area to get the truck out. Using the driveway to turn around he got the truck facing back downhill and ready to go. Overall we were quite impressed with the driver getting out of the ditch and the truck for handling as well as it did. At some points it looked like the tires and axles were close to coming undone.

Just as our truck got turned around the other truck came up the hill (complete with a few locals holding onto the sides to hitch a ride up). Apparently, with the help of "a lot" of locals pushing they were able to get the truck out of the ditch. That driver used the same driveway to turn around and we all got back in the trucks to head back to town, skipping the hike.

But that didn't go too smoothly either. Our truck was in the lead and we often slowed down to wait for the other truck to catch up. It did a few times, and then it didn't. A phone call between the drivers (cell phone coverage on this road was apparently quite good) determined that they were stuck once again on the side of the road, so we all got out of the truck after spending most of the time we were waiting in the truck discussing coffee. Oscar is from the village at the top of the road and knew the area and everything in it quite well. He and his father are coffee farmers (amongst other crops), so he talked all about the coffee process. Shortly after getting out of the truck the other one arrived - so we all got back in and continued down the road.

Since the originally planned hike was now off, Oscar took us on a walk through some of the trails in the area around the homes, stores, and farmland. He talked about the many traditional uses of the plants in the area, noting that many had medicinal uses. He pointed out that the plants were used instead of doctors and hospitals (of which there were none along the road), including using poinsettias to treat ringworm. He also talked about all the plants that are grown to eat, including maize, bananas, coconuts, potatoes, yams, papaya, avocados, mangos, and passion fruit. Most except for the potatoes and maize seemed to grow wild, though I wasn't sure which were planted and which were naturally occurring. He did comment how the bananas they grow (36 varieties) only produce a single inflorescence ("banana heart") in their lives - from which all the bananas grow. This may sound small, but a single inflorescence can produce up to 100 pounds of fruit.

The whole time we were walking around mud was caking on our boots from the very wet ground and we were being followed by the local kids. Every time Oscar would stop to talk about something we would add a few young local members to the group. Along an open stretch of road they would all run together making what sounded like engine and honking noises, or pushing a hoop of some type (rusted metal, a plastic lid, etc) with a stick. Yes - hoop and stick. But they had fun doing it. They all wanted their picture taken, scrambling to get in the shots and happily reviewing the results. Kids, it seems to me, are basically the same at that age (under 10) all over the world, no matter whether they have a lot (like in the US) or very little (as in Africa). They laugh and play with whatever they can. Mike did tell us to note the difference between the kids we saw today (relatively well off in African standards - they had enough to eat living in the fertile forest and farmland) with the kids we'll see tomorrow (the "children of the corn") who really have nothing.

Oscar did mention something that made me think a bit. He commented on a few things his grandparents and other older members of his village say. When asked how old they are, they would reply that they had been around since the maize was "this tall", putting their hand low to the ground but not really giving an answer, clearly indicating that it really didn't matter. When asked how many children they have they would respond that they had "enough for me", a response to not brag or bring shame on those who didn't. Similarly, his grandfather would say something along the lines of "I have coffee in the morning and bananas to eat - what more do I need?" The village was not rich by any means, but the people were satisfied with enough to eat and the ability to provide a place to live for their families. He's saying this as each of us is probably carrying on them things that cost more than many of these people may make in their entire lives (median income in Tanzania is well under a couple US dollars per day). I do appreciate consistent electricity and clean drinking water, but how much more does someone need?

Oscar also talked about some traditional/mystical beliefs that still persist despite most of the population practicing either Catholicism or Lutheranism due to the work of the missionaries over the last one and a half centuries. He talked of the "evil eye" that some people would give you or your things; this "evil eye" could cause bad things to happen. Protecting yourself involved basically being happy - it seemed to me to be a kind of anti-jealousy metaphor. The "evil eye" does result in practical changes for the villagers though - including how they keep farm animals in enclosed pens with limited (if any) views of the outside to protect against it.

We also talked about basic life there. School is split into primary school (approximately ages 7-14) and secondary school (a few more years - kind of like high school for us) and then a 2 year long pre-college time. He explained how labor in farm families is split by gender: fathers and sons work on coffee while mothers and daughters work with the bananas, though they do other things as needed depending on family makeup. Oscar said that he learned English from his father along with his 12 siblings ("a soccer team with 2 substitutes"), as in school they only learn basic English words but not really sentence structure or grammar. English is a key skill, as most of the good paying jobs in the area are related to tourism and most tourists are either American or speak English (mostly from Europe).

He did also explain to us why so many people walk, especially from his village and the areas around the road we were travelling along. The women can take a bunch of bananas into the town several kilometers away and can earn up to $4 US or so. There is a bus service (they're more like vans, and the ones we saw were always packed full) but that is relatively expensive and they wouldn't end up making much net money after the cost of the bus, so they walk in order to keep as much money as possible.

After walking (and learning) for a couple of hours (probably covering 3-4 miles or so) we got back to the truck and headed back into town. Since we never ate lunch, the drivers stopped at a restaurant they knew on the way back. The entire restaurant was filled with white people - including a large group from Australia which had just climbed Kilimanjaro. Once again it was not an African restaurant, but rather an Indian/Italian place; I ordered an individual pizza. I've been wanting to try some authentic (though safe for me to eat) African or Tanzanian food, though we really haven't come across any. One of the drivers explained that it could be at least partially due to the fact that traditional African food takes a very long time to prepare. I also asked him why all the restaurants were Indian or Asian, and he explained that most of the businesses (lodges, restaurants, etc) are owned by people from India. This also included the AMEG lodge we were staying at.

After eating and paying we headed back to the lodge as it was too late to go to the market, though personally I would have rather gone to the market first and eaten later. During our meal the Australians leaving were surrounded by street merchants trying to sell shirts, posters, jewelry and other trinkets (just like in Mexico). It looked a bit annoying to me, but they were buying stuff from them and the other shops in the area so I guess everyone was happy. Most of the merchants had moved on by the time we finished eating so we were only harassed by a couple of them as we covered the short distance to the truck.

As we drove back to the lodge we passed a couple of points of interest to me. One was the bus station - a large parking lot filled with dilapidated looking vans (these were the "buses" - basically a slightly larger version of a minivan), often filled with people packed in as tightly as possible. The other was what I thought was the nicest looking place I had seen in town - the Diocese of Moshi. A couple of things came to mind, including the definition of how "nice" something is. In Moshi, the diocese looked nice, but in the US it would just have been another building. Our lodge rooms are perfectly fine (and quite luxurious compared to what most people here live in), but they're no better than my graduate student housing at Purdue and would struggle to rate even 1 star in a US hotel (no AC, loud noises, inconsistent power and hot water, no carpet, small/hard beds, etc). It's just a different kind of perspective, summed up by the phrase "It's Africa" used to explain away any kind of problem encountered here. Oscar did mention how the politicians in the capital (Dodoma) and largest city (Dar es Salaam) don't really care about anyone living away from them, so at least we have that in common.

We met briefly with Azizi again back at the hotel to go over any last minute items and to collected our rented sleeping bags. A few of us then distributed the tip money into envelopes (for the guides, porters, cooks, etc) while others went to get some water. I had previously purchased a few bottles for Alex so Alan (Alex's dad) grabbed a few for me while he was out. Although the electricity was again not working when we arrived at the lodge, it was now working allowing us to make sure batteries were all charged and ready to go for tomorrow morning. We still hadn't seen the mountain we were about to climb, though hints of a blue sky between the ever-present clouds offered a small hope that we might be able to before we leave tomorrow. I packed up my bag and got my food and water put together. After a lot of writing about today it's time to get some good rest. We climb tomorrow.

>> View all pictures from today <<      

Road to the Rainforest (Moshi)

People on the Road (Moshi)

Items for Sale (Moshi)

Into the Ditch (Moshi)

Dirt on the Truck (Moshi)

Catching a Ride (Moshi)

Bananas (Moshi)

Hoop and Stick (Moshi)

Local Kids (Moshi)

Animal Enclosure (Moshi)

Residence with Farmland (Moshi)

Rainforest (Moshi)

Rainforest (Moshi)

Rainforest (Moshi)

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