Africa
(Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania)

20 Aug 1999
I caught the 6 a.m. bus headed for Harare, but got off in Tete, Mozambique.
Alone on the road again, and alone in Tete is really alone!

For 15 years Mozambique was embroiled in a bloody civil war. Foreign sponsored guerillas waged a campaign of destruction on the country's infrastructure and people attempting to destabilize the radically socialist government. The peace agreement was only signed in 1992 and the ravages of the war are still quite evident.

Like a lot of Mozambique, Tete has a ghost town feel. Big colonial buildings with beautiful lines, but everything dirty and run down. The hotel where I stayed was obviously once a grand place to be. But now, there are only few patches of paint left on the walls, the doors all show evidence of being jimmied and the bathroom is a museum. Still present was the clawfoot tub, but the only functioning fixture was a bare pipe delivering cold water into a bucket.

Heightening my sense of isolation in Tete, nobody spoke a word of English. It took me a long time to find the bus station and even longer for them to convince me in sign language that the only bus going to Beira was leaving at 2 a.m. In the restaurant for dinner the menu was entirely in Portuguese, Mozambique's official language, and I was completely in "guess and point" mode. I fortuitously ended up with a nicely grilled chicken.

21 Aug 1999
I caught the 2 a.m. bus to Beira.

Midway down the coast, Beira is Mozambique's second largest city after the Southern capital, Maputo. My guidebook listed the sidewalk cafes of Beira's central square as one of the highlights of the country. I found only a squalid little coffee shop alongside gutters running with human excrement. They did make a decent cappuccino though, the best I've had in Africa.

Arriving at 2 p.m. Saturday, I went through my usual "new city" routine: find a place to stay, then figure out the money, phones, and fun. In Mozambique money would turn out to be a huge problem. Most places only accept Mozambiquan meticais (pronounced "meta-cash"), credit cards are unheard of, travelers checks are frowned upon and all of this might have even mattered if anything was open on a Saturday. As it was, I was a prisoner to my dump of a hotel until I could find a way to change enough money pay the bill. Since I usually rely on plastic and don't carry a lot of American cash, running out of money would haunt my whole visit to Mozambique.

22 Aug 1999
Sunday, with even less stores open, I explore the beach.

It's a pleasant enough beach and the huge wrecks that line the shore are oddly decorative. They certainly maintain the decay motif. Another sad theme are the cripples and amputees, victims of the millions of land mines still strewn throughout the country. With missing limbs, withered limbs, bent and twisted limbs they work the streets on makeshift crutches begging everywhere. Many of them are in terrible shape and they cracked my usual resolve against beggars.
Land mines are a bad thing.

Late in the day I discovered Biques, a nice South African run resort on the beach that changed a traveler's check for me. Yeah, cash! I spent the rest of the day researching the bus situation in pantomime and Portuguese. I got three different answers so just chose the one the best suited my schedule.

23 Aug 1999
Bad plan.

The 10 a.m. bus I was promised didn't exist. Instead, I was to make due with a 3 p.m. departure giving me another afternoon to kill in Beira. I passed my time watching the locals partake in the national pastime of shitting and pissing in public. Modesty is not a big thing in Mozambique.

The bus turned out to be a completely non-African experience. All the livestock had to ride on the roof, the aisles had to be kept clear, excess baggage had to be paid for and -- believe it or not -- the seats were assigned. The conductor spent vast amounts of his time chasing people around the bus trying to explain and enforce assigned seating. very un-African.

At midnight, the bus dropped me at the turnoff 20k from Vilankulo. Yikes!

No sign of the transfer lift I'd been promised would be "no problem," and no sign of any traffic to hitch on. I started to scope out the possible sleeping arrangements. The junction area is seedy little market. Thatched huts that might be shops, bars or restaurants, but of course, only the bars were open at midnight. These markets are ubiquitous in Africa and range from ok to really scary. I didn't relish the thought of sussing this one out in the dark, but of course, wandering off into the bush isn't safe either with the land mines.

I was a few minutes from throwing my sleeping bag down on the median when a local guy asked me in English if I needed a ride. "Oh yeah..." These guys were heroes.

I should have known something was wrong when they didn't recognize the name of the place I'd picked out of the guide to stay. "No worries," I thought though, "I have some vague directions." For the equivalent of less than a US dollar they drove me not only the 20k into town, but also another few kilometers up the coast on a treacherous sand road. I thought for sure we were going to get stuck, but those guys could drive!

Now it was getting close to 1 a.m. and I made the discovery that the backpacker joint I was expecting had transformed itself into a five star resort. I don't have the heart to tell my ride we were in the wrong place. I hop out and decide to go upscale.

24 Aug 1999
Explore the town and then return to "Beach lodge."

After a swim in the Indian Ocean I wandered up the hill to my luxury chalet and watched the sun set. I sat there with my feet up on the deck railing and thought, "You know, this is pretty ok. I should write about it."

I booted the laptop but as I hit the first key, the screen went dark. I listened as the fan wound down, the dyeing breath from a CPU cooling into rigor mortis. I worked on it for hours, with no luck. I couldn't get the slightest sign of life out it. Plugged into the wall and trying with each of my three of my batteries I couldn't even get the "charging" LED to blink never mind anything more promising. Ratz!

Finally I succumbed to my Y-chromosome and took it apart with my Swiss Army knife. No sign of any obvious problems inside although there were a bunch of loose screws. Double Ratz! Now I'm really really alone in Mozambique!

25 Aug 1999
Enough luxury. I paid my bill, it was the only place in town that took plastic, and switched to a more typical rat hole in town. Actually, it was a very nice rat hole, after I got used to the bucket toilets and army cot bed.

I'd come to Vilankulo to dive the Bazaruto Archipelago, but the weather started to go bad and the money issues were weighing me. That the only bank in town wanted US$15 to cash a traveler's check was the final straw. I made plans to leave.

I ended up not thinking much of Mozambique, but what many people tell me is that it gets nicer the further south you go. Vilankulo was far nicer than Beira, so maybe I believe this theory.

26 Aug 1999
Caught the 5 a.m. bus to Chimoio then got a minibus taxi to the Zimbabwe border at Machipanda. Trying to dump my meticais at the border I discovered an inventive little scam. The guy would show me the rate on his calculator, but then as he did the calculation he'd switch into hexadecimal mode! I double checked all the math with me piloting the calculator...

The guy in Zimbabwe customs had a friend who'd take me into Mutare for only US$10. Outside, the first cab I asked offered $US 1. I made it into town just in time to buy a ticket for the overnight train to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe and a big, modern city.

Leave Mutare at 9 p.m.

27 Aug 1999
Arrive Harare at 6 a.m.

First order of business, find the Tanzanian high commission and get my visa processing started. Second order of business, get someone to look at my computer. It took me till 4 p.m. to find someone who felt confident enough to even look at it. Of course, as I pulled it out to show him the problem, it booted just fine. Sigh.

Of course, when I brought the laptop to a phone to download my messages it again wouldn't boot. Sigh. I head for an internet cafe and send a pleading message, to Sony customer support:

     "So, I was on this beach in Mozambique..."

28 Aug 1999
Errands in Harare.

Back to the internet cafe, no sign of any help from Sony. I send them another pleading message and confess the sin of taking my laptop apart.

29 Aug 1999
5:45 a.m.: I get on the bus to Lusaka, Zambia.
9:45 a.m.: The bus leaves.
7:00 p.m.: Arrive Lusaka.
8:00 p.m.: Realize I've broken a new frontier in stupidity. I left my travel wallet in Zimbabwe!

This is really a drag because it contains not only my plane tickets, back-up credit cards and diving card but also my brand new cache of American dollars. I called the hotel and they had found it! (I'd put it someplace "safe" and then forgot about it). If you are ever in Harare, the Elizabeth Hotel (753-437) might be a bit noisy, but the people are fabulous.

Now, how to get it to me? Going back isn't a great option because it will cost me a fortune in visas as well as lost days.

30 Aug 1999
Out and about running errands in Lusaka, this time without the security escort.

A solution to the wallet issue. DHL will fetch it from the hotel for me and then ship it to the DHL office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Great! I'm back on schedule, so I buy my tickets for tomorrows 36 hour train journey to Tanzania.

Still no word from Sony, but the laptop again decided to boot. I'm going to save this update off to disk and try to upload it. at the I-Cafe.

Where's my apple pie?

On the excuse of getting some new pages stapled into my passport, but really just to check it out, I visited the American Embassy in Lusaka.

I somehow expected to flash my passport and be served a bit of apple pie. Instead I was subjected to my first real search in Africa, and this by Zambian soldiers, no US Marines in sight. They confiscated my pocketknife and escorted me into an office with the thickest bulletproof glass I've seen since eating in a Harlem Kentucky Fried Chicken. Using a phone out of a bad prison movie I communicated my simple request and sat down to read some tax literature while I waited.

Far from being the little Yankee oasis I'd expected the embassy turned out to be a veritable fortress catering mostly to foreign nationals in search of visas. As cars enter, their hoods are raised to check for explosives (I presume). Then, a little mirror on wheels is used to similarly inspect the undercarriage. As a direct result of the bombings of the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassies the whole compound is now surrounded by a fence of thick concrete and steel barriers. An formidable sight, but not the warm reassurance I was looking for.

As she delivered me my thickened passport the attendant called for a guard to escort me back to the gate. On the way I did something they obviously don't get very often, "Umm, excuse me, is there a toilet here?"

The Zambian guard gave his best effort at blushing, but clearly didn't know what to do. After confirming that I was indeed an American he walked me over to the "real" embassy. Ahh, this was what I'd expected-- plush carpets, wood paneling and honest to goodness American Marines complete with southern accents and crew cuts.

"Umm, hello? I've got to take a leak."

Of course, they didn't seem very excited to see me, but then what marine ever has? I was run through another battery of scanners and to my embarrassment this one turned up my Chinese manufactured knockoff of a Leatherman Tool. Ooops. Then, with his hand on his pistol, marine #2 came out from behind even more bulletproof glass and escorted me to the bathroom. He stood in the next stall while I did my business and tried to chat him up about the bombings and what it was like to be a redneck stationed in Zambia. That didn't go so well and shortly I was relieved in more than just the obvious way to be back on the streets of Lusaka.

 

31 Aug 1999
Catch the TAZARA train to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I enjoyed Zambia, but in addition to being one of the poorest countries in Africa, it's just a bit odd. I had one cabbie who was all flustered about making sure I was in compliance with the seat belt law while the door was tied shut with a shoelace and the road looked like a minefield. That's Zambia.

Another of my favorite Zambian things are the billboards that, to me at least, fall a hair short of making complete sense:

A government with no women
is like a pot balancing on one stone
A roof without Harvey tiles
is like a mouse without a computer
or vice versa
 
 
   

1 Sep 1999
The (current) TAZARA slogan is, "On time all the time." The Journey from Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was slated for 36 hours.

I didn't hold my breath.

Built in the 1960s by the Chinese to connect Zambia's copper belt with the sea, the TAZARA line was once the pride of East Africa. These days it's a bit run down, but full of history and the scent of its former glamour still lingers.

Our journey was halted for 45 minutes around 1 a.m. when the train hit a hippo.

Toto, I don't think we're in New York anymore.

2 Sep 1999
We arrived in Dar es Salaam only 4 or 5 hours late. If you think of that as a fraction of the entire journey it really isn't too bad.

I checked into a place with some folks I'd met on the train and went in search of DHL to inquire about my wallet. Of course, they had no idea what I was talking about and had no record of any package being sent under my name. The best they could do was to send an e-mail inquire off to the folks in Harare. Fabulous...

3 Sep 1999
Bad news: A bunch of Americans got killed in a Tanzanian plane crash.
Good news: I wasn't one of them.

Good news: DHL heard from the folks in Harare.
Bad news: They haven't done anything because don't accept COD shipments.
(why they didn't mention this while I was still in Lusaka is beyond me)
Good news: We can try a credit card.

This is all actually a bit worrying. You can't get cash from a credit card in Tanzania. My plan had been to use personal checks and my American Express card to purchase traveler's checks. But of course, both my checkbooks are in the wallet mired in DHL bureaucracy and still setting at a hotel desk in Harare. I'm limited to the amount of cash I have on hand, about US$200, until my wallet shows up. Scary given the amount of progress shown so far.

Good news: I heard from Sony about my laptop.
Bad news: It may be singularly most unhelpful piece of e-mail I have ever received.

The only place in the world my laptop can be serviced is Fremont, CA. If I send it to them though, I need to back it up first, because export restrictions require them to format the disk before sending it outside the states. Just how am I supposed to back up a 6 gigabyte drive on floppies? In addition, I have to pay for all the insurance and shipping and then want untold amounts of paper work all of which is probably buried in a Boulder, CO storage locker. Fabulous.

On the brighter side of things, despite all the admonitions I'd received to the contrary, Dar is a really fun town. It's a confluence of African, Arabic, and East Indian cultures and the mix is really working for me. I have never before been in a place where knowing three words of the local language (Swahili) buys you such incredible amounts of good will. If you can do the greetings it's as if you've made a friend for life.

Jambo  -  hello
Habari  -  How are you
Nzuri -  I'm fine thanks

4 Sep 1999
Despite promises to do so, the DHL customer service manager never called me yesterday and today she is neither in the office or answering her cellphone. Fabulous...

Instead of getting upset, I took the ferry to Zanzibar.

5 Sep 1999
I spent the day exploring Zanzibar's capital, Stone town, perhaps the most labyrinthine city I've yet been in. Several times I lost confidence in my even still being on the island only to round another corner on the narrow crooked streets and find my hotel right in front of me. I'm convinced all the buildings are on rails and they shuffle them each night while the tourists sleep.

Part of my plans for Zanzibar were to catch up on my writing, but of course my laptop decided not to boot again. It seems to change state from working to not working when I carry it about, so trying to think positive thoughts, I took my laptop for a walk.

6 Sep 1999
A day of successes.

I found a place where I can get cash off my Visa card, I wont starve!

I changed from the dump of a place I was staying to a pleasant guest house with flush toilets, hot water, and a good breakfast all for the same price as the dump, 8,000 shillings (US$10).

I found a great bookstore with an amazing selection of English novels.

I finally figured out how to jiggle my laptop for it to come to life, I no longer have to take it on indeterminate walks.

I discovered the best Indian restaurant in town.

My only failure, DHL discovered there is money in my wallet and shipping cash internationally is a big no no.

7 Sep 1999
Two mediocre dives in the Indian Ocean off Zanzibar. Beautiful reefs, but they were practically ghost towns. Perhaps due to over fishing?

The highlight of the day was lunch. As we munched samosas, chili fried potatoes and other Zanzibari snacks a group of dolphins frolicked only 20 or so meters from the boat. We watched for close to an hour as they would explode out of the water launching their entire bodies into the air then do a half twist before crashing on their backs into the water. It was an impressive display with no obvious purpose besides maybe good clean dolphin fun?

8 Sep 1999
More news from DHL, they've had a change of heart and have decided to be helpful. They'll use some of the cash from my wallet to cover the shipping costs and then will wire the rest to me in Dar es Salaam. Why this plan took a week and a half to concoct escapes me, but there are worse places to be stranded.

I took a "spice tour," an organized visit to several of Zanzibar's plantations. The tour ended in warm, gentle rain on a gorgeous white sand beach. I went for a swim with a lawyer from London I met on the tour. This was her first trip after recovering from a coma and other serious injuries sustained in a rollerblading accident. We compared head injury stories as we drifted on the crystal-clear jade-green waters, the rain drops texturing the surface reminding us to swim and not fly.

9 Sep 1999
A Visit to Beit-al-Sahel, the Palace Museum on the history of Zanzibar's Sultans.

Our guide pared a section of bark off the sapling and gave each of us a piece. I popped it into my mouth-- cinnamon!

The spice tour was all about putting natural colors and shapes to tastes I've always thought of as being from powders from the grocery store. Cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cloves, turmeric and others, we picked, nibbled and sniffed a bit of each. Standing there with a strip of cinnamon bark in my mouth, I was struck by just how much the last 500 years have been shaped by the search for spice. Much of our modern day geopolitical alignments stem from colonialism and much of colonialism was about flavoring rancid meat. Cloves shaped the world.

Seyyid Said, sultan of Zanzibar in the early 1800s, understood this and not only planted cloves on the island he turned Zanzibar into the center of the East Africa spice trade and later the slave and ivory trades as well. He forged trade treaties with all the western powers and soon virtually all goods in the region passed through Zanzibar.

This is the land of merchants, genies and thieves, business, intrigue and wonder.

The traditional Zanzibari doors can still be found in Stone Town, massive panels of wood intricately carved and studded with brass spikes. I felt like Ali Baba each night sneaking back to my guest house through the crazily winding streets and politeness only just coerced me to ring the buzzer instead of thudding the thick door with the pommel of my imaginary sword.

Long a melting pot, Zanzibar contains a mix of cultures and politeness gets you a long way. Tourists and locals alike congregate each night at the harbor in front of the old fort. The catch of the day is grilled with fresh vegetables while samosas and paratha fry, all to be eaten by lantern light as people have been doing here for hundreds of years.

Slaves and ivory fell out of favor when Zanzibar became a British protectorate and tourism is creeping up on the spice trade, but the ancient Arab dhows still ply the waters each day.

Some things change, some things stay the same.

10 Sep 1999
Took a shuttle to Nungwi, an idyllic little fishing village nestled on the beach at the northern tip of the island. Down the beach from the village budget resorts are sprouting like weeds. For 9,000 shillings (US$12) I got a cottage with a bed and a fan. The shared toilets flush but the showers are cold and it all wouldn't seem like much if it wasn't a two minute walk from the pristine white sand beach.

Life in Nungwi -- wake up, have breakfast, go for a swim, lie on the beach and wonder why it is I'm rushing from here to the snow on Kilimanjaro. At dusk the candles and kerosene lamps come out to light the beach-front restaurants. It's a 20 minute stroll down the beach to see what each is serving that night. After dinner everyone gathers at the campfire to sip a beer, watch the stars and listen to the waves. Maybe I'm not in a hurry.

11 Sep 1999
A Nungwi day, but in the late afternoon I summoned the energy to sign up for a sunset snorkeling cruise on a dhow. I was distraught when our dhow puttered up on a 40 cc outboard engine. Slow, ungainly and uncomfortable, the joy of traveling by dhow is in the nostalgia of doing it the way it's been done for centuries. Luckily, after a pleasant enough snorkel we talked the captain into pulling the engine and raising the sail.

Just up the coast from Nungwi you can watch them building the dhows. Logs sawed into planks are treated with fish oil, pegged to a frame and sealed with pitch. Masts are made by lashing a few poles together and we were told the entire process takes only three weeks (which I'm not sure I believe). The sail is hung from a single spar supported by a mast. Tacking is a complicated affair where the spar is tilted to vertical and then pivoted around the mast.

With the sail up and the boat rolling with the occasional gust of wind we watched the sun make it's daily journey to the horizon. At that perfect, but fleeting, moment with the sun's ocher disk half set I scanned the horizon for another boat hoping to get the archetype Zanzibari photograph of a dhow under sail at sunset. Glancing to shore I saw battery of cameras trained in our direction and realized that we were the token sunset dhow.

12 Sep 1999
A cool, rainy day, perfect for me to catch up on some writing and correspondence.

13 Sep 1999
A bus from Nungwi back Stone Town, and then the ferry back to Dar es Salaam.

Goodbye to Zanzibar

Arrive Dar and make the fateful phone call. I'm amazed to find that my travel wallet is here. On pick up I find the contents intact, sans only US$100 which I've internalized as a stupidity tax.

14 Sep 1999
Take care of some finances and then take the 10 a.m. bus to Moshi.

15 Sep 1999
Organize my Kilimanjaro trek.

16-20 Sep 1999
It's hours after midnight, I am flat on my back, every muscle in my body is begging for mercy and I seem moments from throwing up last nights goulash. As I lay here contemplating all that, I look up to see the constellation of Orion brighter and clearer than I have ever seen it before. I also notice it's tipped over at a funny angle. That turns out to be a mistake, because in the moment it's taken me to realize that I've forgotten to take a deep, lung swelling breath and that lapse brings me once again into hypoxia. The world begins to spin and I'm terrified of falling off.

Usually it's hard to fall off when you're flat on your back, but I happen to be laying on a 45 degree scree slope. With that and the lack of oxygen the odds are pushed from possible to likely and the consequences are dire. For some number of hours we've been hiking up the steep, loose rubble that is the Barafu route on Kilimanjaro. The precise number of hours escapes me, but if it's 2 or 3, or even say 5, it seems unlikely to make much of a difference when they attempt to identify what will be left of my body if I fall.

Best of all, I'm paying big bucks for this, and that seems as good a as any to begin.

Planning

Her name was Cecilia, and her mother is highly placed in the Special Investigations Division of the local police. She befriended my on the bus ride from Dar es Salaam to Moshi, and then, sparing me the mob at the bus station, offered me a cab ride (we were staying across the street from each other). The conversation as we exited the cab was far beyond my limited Swahili, but from the body language, it was obvious that it went something like this:

Cabbie: Excuse me Mam, but I can't help but notice you are in the company of a tourist. I'm afraid it's company policy that I'm going to have to rip you off.
Cecilia: Huh? What are you talking about? I've lived here my whole life, I know what a ride from the bus station costs, he is just along for the ride.
Cabbie: Sorry Mam, no exceptions...
I laughed as they came to some sort of agreement, I'd both warned her and offered to pay. Welcome back to tourist hell.

As a tourist walking around the streets of Moshi, you quickly pick up a shadow, a guy who escorts you around to the places you need to go and then (I'm assuming) gets a small commission from each place you do business. In general I avoid these guys, but with limited time to pull together a complex plan I acquired a decent one and let him be my shepherd.

Access to Kilimanjaro is highly regulated by the Tanzanian government. It's not possible to just climb the mountain, you must climb with a guide, the guide insists on porters, and there are lots of fees.

 
Entrance FeeUS$25 per day
Guide/Porter Entrance FeeUS$5 per person per trip
Camping feeUS$50 per day
Hut feeUS$40 per day
Rescue feeUS$20 per trip
Summed up, it's at least US$300 just in fees to climb the mountain.

Because you must climb with a guide, you are at their mercy as to what they feel like taking you up. Kilimanjaro is really a trekking/tourist mountain. They make it very difficult to do any technical mountaineering. My goal was to do the most serious route I could talk anybody into, as cheaply a possible, and with the minimum amount of assistance.

The worst they had to offer turned out to me the Umbwe/Western Breach combination, and the four places my shadow took me to all quoted me the same price, US$520. In theory that should have made things easy, but this is Tanzania and nothing involving money is easy. They wanted payment in US dollars, but thanks to American Express screwing up my account I had none. Some places would take credit cards, but charged a 10% commission, I could get Tanzanian shillings from my credit card at a rate of 715 to the dollar, but then they would charge me 810 shillings to change back into dollars. My meager supply of traveler's checks was also a possibility, but that involved another set of commissions and rates. After an hour with the calculator and some negotiations via my shadow I finally struck a deal with one of the places. You'd think the hassling was over, right? Hah! You've never been to Tanzania...

I was short a few pieces of gear (sleeping bag, jacket, gloves, hat). The original deal was that they'd provide everything except the sleeping bag which I'd rent for 5,000 shillings, but somehow I ended up paying 11,000 for all the rentals. The sleeping bag was Army/Navy surplus, the jacket was thin Polartech, the gloves were more suitable for driving than mountaineering, and the technicolor hat sported a pom-pom that would be the envy of camp.

Even then, I wasn't done with the finagling. The tour organizers came to my hotel at 8 p.m. claiming it was impossible to get a permit for my route, and wouldn't I rather do something easier (for them). No! I put my foot down, sent them off, and went to bed uneasily.

Day 1

The unexpected expected, they picked me up on time. They expected unexpected, instead of Mr. Tunzo as I'd been told, my guide is Kunta (I make none of this up). The plan is for them to drop me at the trail head while Kunta goes somewhere else to acquire the permit and then join me.
9:30 a.m. They drop me off at the trailhead, which is one building in the woods, miles from anywhere.
10:00 a.m. I wait.
11:00 a.m. The ranger notices I've been sitting here a long time, and in Swahili, begins to chew out the porter who was dropped with me.
12:00 p.m. I ask the porter if he is sure the guide is coming. His response, "Hakuna Matta" (no problem).
1:00 p.m. We get chewed out again in Swahili and warned we won't be able to leave after 2 p.m.
1:45 p.m. Kunta shows up with the permit, we acquire a second porter and we're off.
The route we took, the Umbwe, has the reputation for being the most difficult approach route to the mountain. This is Tarzan's Africa, lush green jungle with dangling vines and moss covered trees. The trail is a steep mud rut that weaves its way among the tree roots. It was thoroughly unlike anything else I'd seen in Africa and I greatly enjoyed our 2 hour hike.

I carried my backpack containing my clothes and all personal camping gear. In bundles balanced on their heads, the porters carried our food and group equipment. Kunta carried a plastic bag with a load of bread and a flashlight.

At dusk we set up camp, and while the porters made a fire from damp jungle twigs Kunta took stock of our supplies. To his horror, he discovered we had no margarine or cooking oil, and with a 5,000 shilling note of mine he sent the porters back down the trail to fetch some. They wouldn't return until well after midnight.

Day 2

Oh my. I've gone to sleep and woken up in a caste society. Luckily, I'm on top.

For breakfast I get two eggs, toast with margarine, lots of fruit I don't recognize and as much tea and instant coffee as I can drink. I'm well into my third cup when I realize I'm monopolizing our only mug. I relinquish it to the guide whose breakfast is tea and toast with margarine. He eventually relinquishes the cup to the porters who wash the cup and get some plain bread. This hierarchy of living conditions existed throughout the trip end neither I nor any of the other trekkers I spoke to ever got comfortable with it.

The days hiking is one of transitions. We start out with more muddy scrambling among the tree roots, but the jungle gives way to dense forest of groundsel (a single stemmed plant looking a bit like a joshua tree), and then finally to rocky alpine scrub.

Over the course of the day I take stock of our group. Much to my dismay, I find we are Team Cotton. Kunta wears jeans and a button down dress shirt, the porters have on cotton tights and sweat shirts. Outside of my meager stash, there isn't an inch of wool or synthetics to be found amongst us.

I also begin to realize that we aren't a group of mountain people on an outing. To the question, "What is your favorite route?" Kunta has no answer. In fact, on prodding, it's obvious the question doesn't even have meaning for him. He is here because it's the best job he can find, not because he loves the mountain.

It's also obvious that he has essentially no mountaineering training, and I'm on my own to set a proper pace and maintain hydration. The annoyance of having a "guide" who was far less competent than myself forced upon me by the Tanzanian government festers in my heart for the entire trip.

We end up at Barranco huts where several other groups are camped. Kunta takes one look up at our proposed route, The Western Breach, and declares it too icy to climb. My protests notwithstanding he joins forces with another group and makes plans for us to proceed together up the Barafu route.

Day 3

The plan for the day is to hike from Barranco huts (3,900 meters/12,792 feet) to Barafu huts (4,600 meters 15,088 feet). All was going as usual until one of the porters challenged me to a race. Well, he didn't really challenge me to a race. Really he just passed me a bit too quickly on the trail, but in the land of Evan, that's equivalent to slapping me in the face with a white glove.

It was hardly fair. He was of course on the porter's starvation diet and he carried a load twice as heavy as my backpack balanced on his head. He still kicked my ass. We were a match on the uphills, but I couldn't even come close to hanging with him on the descents as he bobbed and weaved down the step gullies in tennis shoes.

Somewhere in this performance Kunta realized I wasn't your average muzungu tourist. At his urging we pushed on hard from the lunch stop and after an agonizing effort reached Barafu huts around 1 p.m. Kunta had the idea of going for the summit that day and after a short break we headed out.

I was completely wrecked from the days effort and after only five minutes I knew going for the summit was a bad idea. After 10 minutes it was clear I was going to suffer mightily. After 15 minutes I realized it was just plain stupid and we returned to camp for a well deserved nap.

Day 4

For a reason I've yet to fathom, our summit day began at midnight. After a quick tea and biscuits (cookies) Kunta and I were again on the trail. Or first omen was a woman sprawled alongside the path. She had spent the night inside the crater and had come down with altitude sickness. Somehow she'd been carried over the rim and a group was administering oxygen to her. It was a bit intimidating considering no one I was associated with had as much as a Band-Aid, never mind oxygen.

Kunta's 2 D-cell flashlight lasted about 20 minutes. We carried on for another 20 before he demanded my Petzl headlamp for himself to spy out the trail. That was the last I saw of my feet till sunrise.

It's difficult to describe the rest. The trail is vague switch backs ascending steep sand and scree. Kunta kept a few meters ahead, never shedding light behind, and leaving me to paddle along in the dark on treacherous loose rock. Without being able to see where to place my feet for each two steps I took I slid back one.

As if that weren't maddening enough the altitude began to take it's toll. Normal breathing wasn't sufficient. Each breath had to be a maximum effort, consciously inhaling until my lungs felt ready to tear and then forcefully blowing out . The slightest stray thought distracted me from this effort and brought on incapacitating dizziness. Even with the best breathing I could go only a few minutes before collapsing in need of rest.

Step, step, slide, collapse. Breathe, breathe, breathe. My memory is a montage of resentment, frustration and confusion. Mindlessly staggering up the trail in Kunta's footsteps bemoaning my lack of a light.

At 4 a.m. we reached Stella Point on the rim of the crater. From here to Uhuru peak, the summit, the difficulties eased off but the effects of the altitude grew more pronounced. Surprisingly, I had no headache (the most typical high altitude symptom), but I did have severe nausea and disorientation. Rising from one of my many breaks I found it impossible to stand up. The ground bobbed and weaved beneath my feet and I collapsed again into a heap with far less control than any drunkard has ever had.

With Kunta's incessant herding we negotiated a small snowfield, and at 4:45 a.m. reached the summit. At 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level it is Africa's highest point.

There was little to enjoy though. It was pitch dark and bitterly cold. As my toes and fingers went numb I contemplated the wait till sunrise. Bypassing the opportunity for a flash photograph in front of the summit sign we quickly retreated and began our descent.

It took 2 hours to reverse the trail back to Barafu huts. Two long and difficult hours, but with the weight of the summit behind us, the air seemed so much thicker. On the way, we passed many parties still on their ascent. Although I could see that look grim of desperation in their faces, I envied their journey with its awaiting sunrise and wondered why it was we'd started so early?

After A bowl of soup and a quick rest at Barafu we continued our descent all the way down to Mweka huts at 3,100 meters/10,168 feet.

Day 5

I awoke with tender calves and swollen knees. A last breakfast, the torturous task of figuring out what to tip the porters, and then a final hike down a slippery, clay-clad streambed to the trailhead where the park officials made out certificates proclaiming our success.

Kilimanjaro-- been there, done that. For better or worse.


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