KENYA AND TANZANIA
December 4 and 5
If I were perfectly honest (who me?) I'd probably admit that I really hate and dread the process of some of the traveling I do. Here I am in the Geneva airport at 9 pm, twenty hours into this jaunt and I'm still 22 or so hours away from a bed. Yuck. On the positive side, Swissair is simply glorious. The flight left only an hour late (entirely traffic -- we pulled away from the gate on time) and on board it couldn't have been nicer. The plane even looked more trim and clean than usual and it was over-staffed with cheerful, pleasant flight attendants who carried off cheerful and pleasant in four languages including babytalk for the bassinet crowd. I made a tactical error and waited up for dinner. It was delicious, but it cut my sleeping time down to three hours so I'm hurting now.
Saw some of the most glorious sunrise colors coming into Geneva -- deep enough blue and orange to go right through to infinity -- then landed in cotton wool fog. So much for seeing Mont Blanc from Geneva. Visibility was down to about four blocks and never did improve a whole lot. Hit center city by 9am so had loads of time to fill. Spent the morning tromping one end to the other. Crossed to the Left Bank to check out the shopping on Rue du Rhone, strolled the jardin anglais and along the quai, then doubled back and wandered in the Vielle Ville. Very Parisian and vaguely medieval. Now of course it's upscale yuppie with mouthwatering galleries and antique shops. I went into the Cathedrale du St. Pierre (to get warm! Temperature was about 30 F) but mostly wandered. Eventually crossed over to the other bank and did the Quai du Mont Blanc down through Mummy and Daddy's area. Geneva seems lovely -- very clean, leisurely , sophisticated looking people, but also seems VERY small. It's probably more bustling in the summer. Had a bit of lunch in the Hilton. As usual, my stomach was in rigid knots, so I only got down a bit of ham and swiss sandwich, but did do two teas with sugar for energy. I wonder if my stomach does this by nature, by nerves, by loneliness, or by just plain jet lag. Some of all of the above I'm sure, but I blame mostly the jet lag. After all, I was trying to eat lunch at 7:30am body time. I hit the city tour for the afternoon which was pleasant. Repeated some of the Vielle Ville, but hit new stuff too. The light was wonderful -- very white, flat light cutting around the old corners. It reinforced the B&W Paris feeling. After the tour, I went to the movies to see The Mission which was quite good. Not deep, but visually stunning. That's Jeremy Irons. The theater was plush but icy cold so I headed out to the airport afterwards knowing that it'll be four hours here, but it is warmer. Hard to picture myself at the equator tomorrow morning.
Lovely flight to Nairobi. We left just a little late due to more fog in Geneva. Nothing like being the last flight out for the night. The airport was deserted. The plane on the other hand was very nearly full. I was on the inside aisle, but I did have one of the few empty seats next to me. This time I did some serious sleeping -- 5 and a half hours -- which stood me in very good stead this morning. Now that it's 1 pm, I'm absolutely out on my feet. Nairobi airport is terrifically civilized. I'd definitely expected something more primitive, but this was just dandy. Cleared through formalities easily and took a cab to the Hilton to pick up my Maasai Mara arrangements. Had an hour or so strolling around the shops. Many approaches made on the street, but certainly nothing to phase a New Yorker. Then back to the Hilton for lunch. Felt hungry, but when I'd had my soup and the omelet arrived, well, I very nearly tossed the whole lot. So I'm still out of whack. Can't wait for a night's sleep. Tonight.
Took a cab out to the other airport -- Wilson -- and hopped on, what else, a DC 3 for the flight to Maasai Mara. Got dropped at Governors Camp but was reserved for Little Governors. Don't know if that was a mistake; no one let on and I didn't worry. Paired off with some pleasant folks for my first game run and my God we saw everything!!! Lots of lions lying fat and sassy in the grass: males, lots of females, and several babies. They look so harmless and beautiful. No scars or scruffiness. All sleek perfection. Also a cheetah, elephants, zebra, gazelles, and SKY . All the way around. I know I'm still out of it, but it all started to sink in. Wowee. My palace at Little Governor's is huge. A lovely big tent, and a private attached bath with plumbing. Simply incredible. This is going to be great. Dinner with a lovely bunch of Brits. A pair of middle-aged sisters and a wonderful young honeymooning couple. Very comfy. Bed (what's a bed?) a bit restless and cold, but settled into a nice sleep.
Rain started around 5am, but got up to tea at 5:45 still hoping for balloon trip. Went down for the rendezvous, but we were rained and thundered out in the end. Had tea with the pilots. All charming Brits -- figures doesn't it? One sounds exactly like Anthony Andrews. Quite a thrill at 6am, but too much later on. The others were more middle-range, vaguely eccentric and perfectly and amusing for the tourists. Not macho like a hunter type, but adventuring and self-deprecating.
Went out for a wet soggy game ride as consolation. Fewer animals, but some great lion viewing in the rain. Watched two lionesses stalk a zebra and then a warthog without success. But what power. Neither was particularly huge, but strength and determination just rippled through the shoulders and paws. We were within five feet of them at times. Close enough so we watched with one hand on the window just in case. It was incredible to watch them slink across the open plain without the zebra's knowing. One lone zebra had been targeted and was only say 30 feet from the lion, but then the zebras bunched up and moved off while we circled the lions, whether to encourage a kill or cut one off, I wouldn't say. It was then that the two lions attacked a warthog hill, digging through the dirt like crazy dogs. They didn't get friend warthog though, and when they left he took off like a very sensible bat out of hell Came back for breakfast still in the pouring rain and nibbled a bit of food in the dining tent watching elephants and lions right out front. Quite a dining table view.
Today gave me more of a sense of the wildness of it all, the power. But there are so many animals just lying around that there's also a bit of a commonplace feeling about it. Very odd. Spent the rest of the morning napping, then had a late lunch eating next to nothing in the end. Only the fruit sat properly. Spent the afternoon lazy too, reading Dorothy Sayers and listening to the rain. It cleared up after 3, but I lay low and skipped the afternoon drive. I needed to catch up a bit. Very pleasant drinks and dinner with assorted company, then to bed. Many people had cleared out, so there were only a few of us left.
A random comment that there some lions down by tent 4, did I want to go down and see? No, I’ll go to my own tent thanks very much.
Beautiful morning starting again at 5:45, but with just reward today. The balloon trip was superb. I was just amazed. There's no sensation of movement whatsoever. Lots of heat from the burner and slightly bawdy jokes from the pilot. I was surprises at how low we flew most of the time. The better to see gave of course. We actually set down (upright) for a photo op then went up again, brushing -- literally -- the treetops. We drifted straight towards the Tanzania border apparently and went up to about 1000 feet at the end for the view. Landing was great fun. The wind had picked up so as we came in we bumped a few times then tipped over, ending on our backs against the padded side of the basket. A real hoot. Once we slithered out, we toasted with champagne, Moet if you please, and sat down to a breakfast feast with fruit, bacon, sausage, french toast, the works. Done with style. As the only single female along I got the champagne cork and kiss ... all part of the show.
Drove back and spent the rest of the morning in the bar finishing Strong Poison. Lunch then over to main Governors Camp to wait for the flight. Wild wind and sun shower passed through while we waited. Quite fun. Then on plane to go off to Nairobi. Small hassle at Wilson airport getting a taxi -- there were none -- so one was called from town. Then zipped into the Norfolk which is lovely. Guy at reception with gorgeous smile said, "But they have checked in Madame. Do you know them? I will escort you." Which he did. My roommate is Ellie Burford of Harvard Mass who seems delightful. She's middle-age-ish, Democrat, works for Digital, and talks a lot. But seems very pleasant. We met the others over dinner in the grill and it looks like a good congenial crew. Lots of laughing. Should be fun.
Breakfast in the Lord Delamere room ( dark wood and beams with light linens) then into Land Rovers to head off by 8:30. Judith Close seems terrific. Very much in charge and has a face that simply lights up when she smiles. Long ride through Maasai to Tanzania border. Besieged by Maasai hawking jewelry and junk while waiting through the formalities. Too bad. Then processed into Tanzania and switched into vans. Road immediately deteriorated to a very rough ride, not helped by sporadic showers through the afternoon. Saw several giraffe and lots of wide-open plain. Looks much like American West so the giraffes look truly incongruous. Lunch at Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha then continued driving. Caught dim glimpse of Kili in far distance. The plain really opened up with wonderful patterns of light and shade. More hills and mountains than I'd ever expected. Reached the Rift Valley in the late afternoon and climbed round to Lake Manyara Hotel up on top of the escarpment. Lovely lodge with pool and view over what must be the entire world. Watched light and shadow and rain before going in to drinks, dinner and bed. Life is going to be just fine. Judith's comment on the 1981 PLO bombing of the Norfolk was that the owners are Jewish and put up the passengers from Entebbe after the raid. (Actually it seemed very weird to see signs for Entebbe in Nairobi.)
Up at 5:30 for sunrise over the Rift Valley. Came up with pale color, white light, then color against through the clouds. This is no armchair group. All six of us were there for the sun. Game drive after breakfast. We drove through a herd of elephants before we entered the park. Then many baboons, gazelle, some wildebeest, giraffes (oh how I love them) lions, and hippos. Stopped on the way out to pick a bunch of wild watercress. It had a stingy hot peppery taste. Spend half an hour or so at a local market. Mostly curio shops with the attendant hassling, but out back were the fruit and vegetable stands. 'Way behind was a crowded square. I took one picture than moved on when someone got uptight. Shops were very neat and clean, but the overall impression was more squalid. The stalls were rickety bamboo, close packed together, quite dark, fruit skins and refuse thrown in the middle of the "aisles." Also fascinating to watch the shoppers at work. Every one got a super bargain of one sort or another. Lunch was back at Lake Manyara Hotel, then into the van at 2:30 to make the drive to Ngorongoro. Very bouncy, but when you climb into the park, up to 8000 feet, you pass through lush, verdant forest. At last on a ridge with the Rift Valley on one side and, wonders, the crater on the other. It is to marvel. ~~ 10 miles square; a collapsed volcano. Monument on the ridge to six conservationists, all dead: two plane crashes, two road accidents, two shot by poachers. One of the prominent only 25. Lions and elephants on the road to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge which sits smack on the rim. Rainbow down below as we checked in. We all scrambled down to a little lookout post just below the lodge and gazed at the view. Then retreated in the face of pouring rain. Ugh. Random observations: Vivid anti-missionary feeling on Judith's part. "They get paid $50,000 and up, tax free, while disrupting normal life, culture and turning nomads into dependents." Light, shadow and clouds. Rainstorms hanging out over the plain with sun playing around. More mountains and hills than I'd every imagined. Somehow I thought it would be flat.
Wowee! Spent all day on the floor of the crater. Unbelievable road down the 2000-foot side; there's a good reason why they require 4-wheel drive. Saw everything: lions, rhinos, wildebeests, jackals, hyenas, buffalo, elephants, gazelles, ostriches ... you name it. Morning off and on rain. Clear by noontime for our picnic lunch by the hippo pond. We all lounged by the tree, while the hippos eyed us like periscopes from the water. More game in the afternoon. A view, but no pictures of two lions mating, loads of flamingos, then up the wall around 4 four tea at the lodge. The group -- for me -- gelled a bit today. We had a few conversations spaced in among the wisecracks. Ellie and I have talked, but never really with the group. Always a deux. Armed guard escorts us between the buildings at night. The room is freshly painted and (night 2) still wet. Sunset view from the verandah is out of this world. Waster is so rusty or whatever that it looks like soy sauce.
Long ride today. From crater had fabulous view of clouds over the Rift V alley, then same route back to Lake Manyara for shopping and Arusha for lunch. Lots of bouncing and jouncing in the back of the van.
Better road from there to Kibo Hotel -- got clear view of Kilimanjaro and also Mount Meru on the way. Kibo's a funky place with big porches and fake fur bedspreads. Hot water is plentiful so I washed my hair and had a long delicious soak before hitting the mountain tomorrow morning.
Well, we're off. Slightly apprehensive breakfast at the hotel, then on the bus around nine for a quick ride up to the gate. Sign-in (joked about leaving my resume with the park accountant) then on the trail around 9:40. Trail very smooth by and large. Day bright sun and warm. I was seating the whole way. Started through beautiful rain forest: incredibly lush with moss dripping all over. Beautiful flowers, even a few monkeys. Then suddenly out into meadow covered with heather and wildflowers. Simply breathtaking. Everywhere beautiful sweet smells wafting about. Was a bit huffed on the last stretch into Mandara Hut. Fantastic chance to sit in brilliant sun and rest over lunch. Huts are absolutely lush. Swiss chalet shaped with four bunks in each end. All wood lined with metal roofs. Main hut is just like a ski lodge. Picnic tables and wood stove. Dorm for 20 people upstairs. After lunch strolled up with guide to Maundi Crater with Ellie and Floyd. Small crater lined with grass. Wide world views off the back side. In fact, the view from the main hut went straight into Kenya, mostly Tsavo reserve. Stayed sunny and clear all afternoon.
Eased off around bedtime. Zzzs by 8pm. Long walking. We took about 51/2 hours to cruise up to Horombo or so. Very pretty walking. Heathery and full of wildflowers. Gave up my pack at the start and had no problems coming up. My knees felt stiff, but that was the worst of Not much to tell. Gorgeous clear views of Kibo and Mawenzi in the morning; some mist later on.
Spent yesterday pm reading and lazing after tea. Dinner by six, then cold enough for parkas. Bed around eight and then a lovely sleep right through until 6:30 or 7:00. Lazy getting up then breakfast at 8:30. Four of us then "took a walk" around 10. One of the guides, Hans, took us (Floyd, Jim, Ellie and me) up the Mawenzi path for a couple of hours. We had slow going but gorgeous views of Mawenzi. Then, finally, a clear vista of Kibo peak across the saddle. Kibo hut visible only slightly above us and MOUNTAIN from there on up. Lots of snow and very impressive looking. Turned around and pushed down. Fog and rain rolled in, not too too hard. Back around 1:30 for a fabulous lunch of cole slaw, salami, cheese, tomatoes. Mmm, Mmm. Spent the afternoon in the main hut reading. Nice and lazy. Tomorrow will be a long day so I don't want to press now.
Well we're here at Kibo Hut and I feel good. Left in glorious sunrise morning at 8:10. Bit of a slog through rocks and mud for a while. We took off a bit too fast but were quickly corralled by Charles who set a pace like a metronome. I just worked my breathing for the grade -- a breath every two steps or three or four with a matching exhale -- and motored along. At no point did I get winded. All of a sudden we passed "Last Water" then came out onto the moonscape of the saddle. It is like the back side of beyond. The rocks make texture like Ansel Adams photos. All brown with shadows playing. Above all is Kibo Peak. Massive, white, symmetrical. All the way we could admire (?) the route to the top. Something like a snow covered ladder. We made our lunch and rest stops in the scattered rocks, sheltered from the wind and warmed by the baked-in heat. Quite comfy. Charles continued to set the pace and, sure enough, the mountain kept coming closer. Final pull up to Kibo Hut still at steady pace. Kibo is a large stone hut with several bunkrooms sleeping about twelve apiece. We have one to ourselves, so it's a coed jumble. Quick change into dry, warm clothes. There's snow and ice around the hut so it ain't tropical. Then tea and a bake in the sunshine. Seemed quite warm. Now naptime, the boys are all sacked out (and suffering) the girls reading and fine. Soon dinner and a bit of sleep before the real thing. Feeling good.
Well I've done it. I climbed Kilimanjaro. Gilman's Peak. 18,640 feet. I climbed a mountain that beat Hillary and Messner. Hot stuff.
It all started with supper around 5:30, then to bed by 6:30. Wake-up call came at 12:15am followed by much groping and grumbling, then tea and biscuits. Stepping outside was a dream. The moon was full so everything was etched in icy white light. Little if any need for a flashlight. A wispy cloud reflecting the moon made a halo over the peak. On the road at 1am, seven little do-bees all in a row. Up we plodded for six hours and I don't think there’s much to remember beyond Ellie's heels and my in-and-out breathing. We stopped a few times for rest, in some rocks, then in Meyer's Cave, but above that it was a straight plow up a steep (maybe 50 degrees) scree slope dusted with a bit of powdery snow.
Eventually the light changed ever so slightly and we looked up to see the first signs of sunrise behind Mawenzi. At one point all the guides scattered .with their groups all over the zigzag paths began to sing Christmas carols and hymns. It was like a religious procession heading up the mountain. On and on we climbed, quite cold (teens? maybe colder?) and breathless. Shortly before the top Harold, Jim and Bob all wonked out. Each one was propelled the rest of the way by porters. The rest of us did fine, drafting off the slow as molasses pace set by Charles. A final spooky scramble over snow and rocks plopped us on Gilmans Point at 7:05am.
Judith was there to greet and toast us with vodka. I got giddy and giggly in normal fashion. We waited long enough for all bodies to be delivered (although three probably won't remember it), a few photos, then boogied on down in a hurry. Once past the rocks and ice, we all went "screeing" down madly. A bizarre relative of skiing. Quite frightening, but loads of fun. The three guys were still wonked out, but we all got down quickly, reaching Kibo Hut by 8:30 all sunshine and sweat. We all had tea and juice, then packed and hit the road real fast. We set a land speed record from Kibo to Horombo: 12 or 14 km in 21/2 hours. We pulled in at 12:15 roaring for lunch. Afternoon spent dozing in the sack while rain poured outside. We'll celebrate tonight. Sure did. Had beer and two stiff hot toddies with the gang and an acquaintance of Judith's, another leader named Jim Alford.
Hustled off this mountain. We headed off from Horombo around 7:45, Mandara shortly after 11:00 root and rock filled shortcut, the porters' path. Quick lunch, then down to Could be record descent time. Another leader (Jim Alford) later said he couldn't Signed out at the gate (YaHoo!) got the t-shirt then back to Kibo for the nicest hot bath in history. Had to go through an absurd tipping ceremony with porters, then into the bar to start the fun. Couple of Camparis, then into the dining room for a hysterical spontaneous party. Our group, Jim's group of mostly Canadians, and a bunch of Aussies on the way up were all at one end of the dining room. Pretty soon we were calling back and forth, singing "She’ll be Comin' Round the Mountain" and generally being rowdy. Floyd and Jim left in a huff, but the rest soon joined in pass-the-balloon-between-your-legs games and much laughter. The waiters were flabbergasted and half the fun was watching their faces. We adjourned to the bar and continued with a banana and string game: down one person's clothes, up the next, all the way down the line. Tight jeans and all. We were all screaming. I hung on until about midnight leaving then since the others (Judith, the Aussies, Jim A) were waiting for someone’s 3am flight. That seemed a bit much. It was all a super blow-off. Couldn't have wrapped it up in better style.
Driving and shopping. Just about covers the day. We assembled for breakfast still giggling, admiring the Digital flag we'd all signed! and hung in the dining room. Special from Ellie.: Floyd and Jim were in such a snit they weren't speaking to us, poor dears. Judith glowing on two hours sleep. Into the van for six hours slog, mostly nap, back to Nairobi. Arrived around 1 pm after stops for Maasai pic, border, and speed trap (idiot Harold taking pictures!) Day suite at the Norfolk -- la de dah -- then frantic shopping with Ellie and lunch at the New Stanley. Back again to the Norfolk for lovely dinner on terrace of the Ibis Grill. Judith joined us with her sister, then into Land Rovers to catch the flight.
Ten days later Judith Close was killed in a private plane crash in Maasai Mara.
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