Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Change in the wind...

The rain sprays on the tin roof and makes a sound like static through the radio,
a chilling wind blows in my face and I find relief from this rare cool change. Another change has blown through me recently and has changed the course of my trip, and perhaps my life. Tim and I have decided to move on seperately, which is sad and leaves me travelling alone in this foreign continent. I lie awake in the morning and try to come to terms with how my life has ended me up lying in a reed hut and listening to the sounds of the Lake slapping against the rocks, whilst I'm thousands of kilometres away from family and friends. It is not something that one imagines possible, butit's refreshing and I feel a calmness in being by myself again. I have decided to take a completley different path in Africa and head upto Egypt this weekend to join two friends from Australia in some travel, I smile just thinking about seeing them as I need a familiar face right now. From here I'm not sure where I will go, but I am looking forward to seeing new things, and new places. My mum is worried sick about the prospect of me traveling alone, and this is fair enough considering my track record for outlandish behavior and thrill-seeking fun. I don't want people to worry - I will come home, I will be OK, and I will return for big hugs from everyone!
One thing this trip has taught me is that I am damn lucky to have such a brilliant family, and group of friends and the memories of them I carry with me are priceless. Whoever coined the idea that wealth is not how much money you have, but is measured by friends and family is right... because right now I feel extremely wealthy. The rain has turned torrential now, and I am marooned in this internet cafe... which is actually no longer working as nothing in Africa works when the rain comes. I need to wait for the internet to work again so I can book my flights to Egypt... I will be staying in Sharm and Cairo - and then will travel some more once Tegan and Nathan leave. One activity I will be doing for sure is taking a cruise down the Nile... In awhile crocodile!

Note: it is now two days later... and it's still raining!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fighting Poverty Through Education...

Earlier this month Tim, Paul and I had the pleasure of visiting St Jude's School, Arusha, Tanzania. The School of St Jude was set-up by Gemma Sisia (Australian) in 2002 - it began with just 3 students, and today the school has over 1300 students spread over two campuses (Usa River and Moshono). The school is largely funded by Australians, so it was a great feeling to walk in the gates and see the Australian flag waving. We had heard a lot about the school through friends and family, and also through the Australian media - to be finally there and standing in front of the first school building ever built was quite an experience.

My first impressions of the school was that it was much like any school I went to in Australia (even better!), and the school library definatley outshone school libraries I had access to in primary school. I was even surprised to find some Enid Blyton books there!
My second impression was that these kids LOVE school - they are proud to be wearing their St Jude's uniform (they look great by the way!) All the children were polite, and following their teacher's orders (unlike what we used to be like in school!) The selection process for a child to get into the school is very strict - they only take the poorest of the poorest kids around the Arusha area, thus ensuring that each child is coming from a family that will benefit most from the gift of education. The children get given 2 free full uniforms, all textbooks, transport from and to home, boarding once they reach a certain age, meals, and much more.
Some people think that white men and women coming into Africa and handing out free education is wrong, and is doing nothing to solve the problem. After seeing these kids speaking in front of a school assembly in faultless English and beaming with pride... I think those people are wrong. Education is something that all are entitled to... and if governments aren't going to provide this for their youth, then there is something lacking.

One of the men in our tour group (Also an Aussie) was chatting to a young girl in the playground towards the end of our trip... he asked what she wanted to be when she grew up - the response "A criminal lawyer" - we were all blown away, and left with a confidence in St Jude's that can never falter.

To give a child, and their family education, hope, and most of all an opportunity is priceless...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa

Summit: Uhuru Peak, 5895metres

Tour Company: Kessy Brothers

Hikers: Jess, Tim, Paul (Aussies) and Chris (Sweedish)

Length: 7 days

Day One:

I woke up in the hotel room and felt sick... I immediately had to go to the toilet (the first of many trips this morning) - my stomach was churning, and so was my head - "What the hell was I thinking signing up for this?!" The drive out to Machame Gate at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro did nothing to calm my nerves... as we jerked around in the safari truck, no-one spoke, and all eyes were on the mountain in the distance looming above us. Our arrival at Machame gate kick started our 10 porters into life, they grabbed our belongings and started packing them into hessian sacks they would carry on their heads (12-15kg each!!) - these guys are the fittest of the fittest.

Our assistant guide Jamal advised us it was time to start the walk... "pole-pole" he said (meaning slow slow in Swahilli) - this was to be the best advice they would give us throughout the trip as it allows your body to slowly acclimatise as you ascend. We didn't realise just how slowly we would be walking... at first it was frustrating, but after awhile we fell into the rhythm and it allowed us to actually enjoy the hiking. (Enjoy hiking uphill?!?! Yep, I can tell you now I was actually ENJOYING it... not just thinking "this is hell on earth!")

3.5hrs later we arrived at our first camp - Machame Hut... the rain set in just as the camp was set-up and we spent the evening huddled in our dining tent shivering from the cold mountain wind. I slept well (except for when I had to go to the toilet... it's so cold when you get out of the tent!!)

Day Two:

Today is the 5th March, and my 25th birthday... I awoke feeling excited - I was hiking Mt Killi on my birthday, quite a special celebration! I was treated to an extra Mars Bar for my lunch (I was stoked, I hadn't had a Mars Bar since leaving home!)

The walk today was quite steep, and it had me worried... but the advice "pole-pole" made it a gradual ascent, and I found myself once again enjoying the walking (my legs weren't burning with pain like on previous hikes). We had tremendous views of the valley below us (where we camped the night before), and spectacular views of the snow capped summit.

We have been running into a group of 3 German man... we have nicknamed one of them "Altitude Man" as he has a watch which tells you the altitude you are at and each time we pass him we ask for an update (we pass him quite regularly as he is very overweight, and looks like he may have a heart-attack, plus he wears a bright red jumper so you can spot him miles away).

The main hike today took 4 hours, and we were at Shira Hut with a hot lunch waiting. After a post-lunch rest we started the first of the Acclimatisation walks (you get to camp, and then walk higher to a higher altitude, then descend again - this prepares your body for the new heights it will have to experience). It's all about reducing the chances of Altitude Sickness. We reached 4050m today - a new height for me :) Each step from here will be an achievement!

After dinner, I was presented with a bottle of (non-alcoholic) champagne, a cake, and a chorus of singing from our guides and porters - magical!

Day Three:

This morning was FREEZING... frost everywhere. Paul left his t-shirt out overnight and it has snap-frozen (rock hard!). Today is a longer day... we have to ascend up to 'Lava Tower' - 4600m, and then down to Baranco Hut. I tried hiking with my walking poles today to practice for summit night... I found them hard to use and not so helpful... the terrain was very rocky and the poles kept getting stuck.

Today was the first real experience I had with how altitude can affect your body... as we passed 4,400m I felt myself gasping a little for air, I couldn't muster the strength to speak, and a dull ache was sitting in the back of my skull. As we sat at Lava Tower and had lunch amongst the mountain mice, my body slowly became used to the height.

My favourite part of the day was descending from Lava Tower... it was steep, and I enjoyed jumping from rock to rock like a jack-rabbit. The scenery changed a lot as we came into Baranco Camp... it was as if we were in prehistoric times... there was a huge rock wall above us (we were soon told tomorrow morning we would be climbing this!), and amazing fauna all around. I had some time alone exploring the area, and watching the lights of Moshi appear below us as night fell.

Day Four:

I am starting to have a little trouble sleeping - nerves are kicking in for summit night, and I worry as to whether we will make it. Our guides seem to think we are quite strong and are confident in us, so this gives me a little bit of hope.

The ascent up Baranco Wall was hard-going - 300m straight up - a couple of scrambles we had to make were a little scary for me (I don't like heights, OR feeling like I might plummet to my death!) Altitude Man struggled a little up the wall, and I think we passed him about 3 times... he may be getting a little sick of us asking for the watch readings!! (especially because he is usually bent over his poles hyperventilating when we pass)

I find the weather on the mountain so frustrating.... it changes so quickly... one minute you're so cold you have to put every piece of clothing you have on, and the next it's burning hot and you have to take them all off again!

After reaching Karanga Hut, we had another Acclimatisation walk... I found this a little harder as I was tired, and desperately needed to go to the toilet! As we walked back down to camp, the summit came into view and took our breath away... it was bigger and scarier than ever... and tomorrow night we had to tackle it!

Day Five:

We awoke this morning to a scary sight - the whole of the summit was covered in snow, there had been a snow-storm last night... and the hikers who had reached the summit last night had been right in the middle of it!

We hiked upto 4600m again, and then walked towards Barafu Hut 4800m - we realised before getting there we had to descend via a huge valley, and then up again - it was quite difficult, and dangerous and slippery in parts

As we walked into Barafu, we saw the hikers from the previous night... they looked like death... their faces were red with wind-burn, swollen and they were just staring at the ground. We talked to one hiker who basically described it as sheer hell... I was not encouraged! The four of us sat down to warm up in the sun, and our guide Hashim approached us and announced a 'group meeting' - we knew something was happening as we had never had a group meeting before.
Hashim began to tell us what we already knew - that last night a bad storm hit. What I didn't know he was going to tell us was that his advice was that we attempt the summit today (instead of resting, then starting off at midnight that night), that way we can do it in daylight and avoid the storm. I was dumbfounded and completely unprepared mentally... we agreed, as we trusted him and had seen the hikers from the night before.... but we were shocked, and scared. We had an hour to compose ourselves before we attempted the summit.

The summit hike was tough from the word go... the other hikers in camp couldn't believe we were attempting it during the day, and right after we had just hiked from Karanga to Barafu, and the walk through camp was kind of like a death march to your execution point - they were all just watching us... one man even gave me a hug to say good luck... then I really felt I may die! (10 people die on the mountain each year - so I was hoping 2010 had already made its quota!)

We hiked in silence, one-step after another, and tried our best to concentrate at the task at hand. Our advantage at doing this during the day was that we had daylight on our side... we could see where we were going - and we could see the fantastic views (oh, and it wasn't as cold - yet).

As we ascended higher, I felt sick... like I wanted to vomit. I told the guide and he responded with "yes, that's normal, and you will vomit" - I was not looking forward to this. One thing that this mountain taught me is Altitude sickness is a serious thing... Chris was the first to go, he was weak and walking slowly than the rest of us... Tim followed and started struggling - Paul and I did what we could to lift his spirits but it's a mental game that only the person themselves can play. I too was struggling, and had to create mantras in my head to keep me walking... I used the names of my two beautiful nieces as each time I said their name in my head I thought of cute things they do and smiled (rather than thinking of how much discomfort and pain I was in). Paul was the strongest - the ox of the group, bringing up the rear of our single file.

We got closer to Stellar Point and Chris started to lose it... he was singing and laughing like a crazy man, and we were all a little scared for him. Stellar Point was reached, it was cold and I felt like turning back... we stopped - I forced a mars bar down my throat, and then threw up all over the place... whilst throwing up the guide Jamal was slapping my back with his fist shouting "more more more" - I wanted to spew on him. From Stellar Point it was 45m to the summit - we could see it from where we were... I dug deep and was the first to follow Hashim out on the final path of ascent.

The last 45mins of hiking was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life... it was through thick snow, and each step was an effort in itself. Many times I nearly turned back, but I knew I had to reach the top... It was completely surreal... the sun was setting around us, glaciers were in all directions and we were moving slowly, silently to the highest point in Africa. Chris had gone downhill and the guides had to help him to walk. The last 100m I grabbed Tim's hand, as I didn't trust myself not to turn around - it was cold and every part of me was frozen. We reached the summit... as we approached the sign of Uhuru Peak, Tim started tugging on my arm (I was thinking get off me, we are nearly there), I turned around and he was on one knee - it all became clear - his proposal capped off the most incredible experience I have ever had... I will let the pictures of the summit tell the story as I don't know how to describe such a place.

I spent 10mins up the top and then wanted to get down... Jamal said he would take me and started running off into the distance... I wondered why he was running but followed him (thinking we would wait for the others at Stellar Point) - I soon realised he had other ideas in mind (like making the world record time for descent) Jamal said to me "we will ski down" - I looked at him and replied "but there is no snow past this point" - he grabbed my hand and started running full speed down the dirt covered slopes.... and I literally skied/flew down the mountain - I was TERRIFIED and horrified (I was thinking I might have a nice romantic walk down with my new fionsai!) We made it down in 55mins... and I was exhausted, thrilled and excited all at the same time! I couldn't sleep that night... adrenalin was kicking all night long.

Day Six:

Because we ascended the summit on day 5 - our hike would finish a day early - we would descend all the way to Moshi today. I'll cut this short as this blog is far too long! The descent was hard... downhill all the way, and it felt never-ending. We descended via Mweka route - and it ended in a beautiful rainforest with Black and White Colobus monkeys jumping in the trees above us. Celebrations followed :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goldeneye Dreams...

The train from Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam was to take around 22 hours... all the literature I read about the train advised to allow an additional 12 hours, just in case of delays (this is pretty common in African countries).

Walking through the carriages of the train when we boarded, I began to have flashbacks to James Bond's 'Goldeneye'- and particularly the Nintendo 64 game in which I used to spend hours tackling enemies on a very similar train layout. Although this time, I wasn't carrying a magnum, proximity mines, or a N64 controller.

Our cabin consisted of 4 bunk beds, 4 bottled waters which leaked, one soap, one roll of toilet paper, and a power outlet that didn't work (much to Lukas' disappointment). All meals were eaten in the restaurant, this was also the best viewing point for wildlife when we went through the National Park. On the day we passed through the national park, Tim and I spent an hour craning our necks to see an animal... we were proud as punch to spot a few buck... a couple of hours later whilst playing bao we started spotting hundreds of buck, Zebra, warthog and Bamboo's - we found out we had JUST entered the park!

Nighttime came, and I was first in bed - I drifted off to sleep and was rudely awoken by a jerking, clunking, wrenching, and spasming from our train carriage. I had an image of my carriage hurtling down the tracks away from the others, and sending me into deepest, darkest Africa. My wild imagination (as my mother would say) was soon interrupted by Tim checking I was OK (we had stopped at a station, and some 'routine' maintenance was being carried out apparently). Arriving in Dar was much the same as anywhere else in Africa, as I Leant out the window for a better view a man started to run alongside and shout out to me "Sister, Sister welcome to Dar... I am taxi at your service". I warded him off with the little Swahili I had learnt on the train ride. The taxi we did end up catching had it's radiator blow up half-way into the city, I realised I should have gone with the enthusiastic, proactive driver who sought my attention on arrival - not the lazy one who sits back and lets us seek him out (and who clearly doesn't service his car!)

Welcome to Dar my friend...

(An un-suspecting staff member who is about to run into the proximity mine I just planted... hehe... 007 style!)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eyes Wide Open...

I spent the past two days writing, re-writing and deliberating on what kind of blog to post this time... the material was un-worthy of posting, and I was having incredible writer's block... I decided I wouldn't post until we got to Dar Es Salaam in a couple of days, but this morning when I was sitting quietly listening to Lukas' ipod I started writing... of which may sound a little cliche, but I'm going to post it anyway.

'I have fallen in love many times in Africa - with the countries, the communities, the people, the animals, and its landscapes. I walk softly on the red dirt, and let it cover my feet - the soft glow of the pre-dusk sun glows upon my skin, and I smile because of the beauty that surrounds me in this moment, and many just like it.

Beauty in Africa can not be defined by a pretty girl in a magazine. Beauty is in the simplicity of life, the people one meets, the smiles one receives, the dreams and hopes of communities, and the love that is widely spread across the Continent.

A passion in me has been ignited, this passion is Africa... and to describe it is impossible. I feel happiness in the simple things in which I have never known... I smile often, and laugh more. I will share a few moments/descriptions with you:

- A local old man with a beautifully carved walking stick, and beautiful blue eyes stops me in the street and talks to me with so much enthusiasm I feel honoured... he talks of the World, Malawi, and the pride for his father who went to war.

- The voices of youths in the church singing and dancing

- The face of a child lighting up when you share some of your food with them.

- Brutal honesty from people as they share their stories with you

- The laughter you share with someone, even when neither of you can understand each others words

I am so grateful for the oppurtunity I have been given to travel through parts of Africa, and the people I've had the imense pleasure of meeting. I can't help thinking I wish I had come to Africa a few years ago... perhaps my eyes would have been opened sooner to the more important things in life. '

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A picture tells a thousand words...

Traveling to Cape McClear on local transport... Bart, Amilia, Lucas and I

Leonie and Tim - was great to catch up again!!

Tim trying his hand in a local dug-out canoe... very hard!

Local tailors that set themselves up in the street - Blantyre

Hash House Harriers Run with Sam and Rick

Ilala Ferry

Another shot from the ferry

Relaxing in "First Class"

Disembarking at 5am... half-asleep!! Lucas, Bart and I