“The basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
This is a VERY long post. But hey, I’m covering a long time.
In all my time traveling in Europe or the U.S., I’ve never been away from home (wherever that was at the time) for more than 2 weeks. I think my longest vacations were the 2-week trips I took during my holidays in France. This trip, however, ended up being 6 weeks. Despite my obsessive planning, it didn’t turn out exactly as expected. Overall, it was fantastic and I got to see so many new places.
My trip began on December 15th when I flew to Johannesburg. Matthew met me there, and we spent 5 days getting used to modern life (on my part) and relaxing. My first night I had an avocado and bacon pizza, which was definitely a highlight. I also got to wash my clothes in a washing machine! They felt so clean! I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle going back to the states… We didn’t do much tourism, but we did go to the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, which was about the Afrikaans movement in South Africa. It was a really neat museum and a beautiful building. One of the neat things about it is that there is a hole in the ceiling that is positioned so that the sun will only shine through and reach the bottom on December 16th.
After Johannesburg, we went to Kruger National Park. We met Dione, another volunteer, and her sister at the bus stop and went to rent a car. We ran into some trouble when the rental place was closed, but we got it figured out and were soon on our way. We got to Komatipoort, a town near the border of Mozambique, and settled into our hostel with a few drinks and some intense games of spades.
The next day we left bright and early for a guided tour of Kruger. Our guide had been working there for ten years after leaving a corporate job, and he loved it. From high up in the safari truck we were able to see a lot of animals. Almost instantly after driving into the park we spotted a giraffe crossing the road, and then a rhino lounging nearby. We also ran into elephants—close enough to touch—water buffalo, zebras, warthogs, baboons and monkeys, hippos, gazelle, etc. Around 10am we got word that there was a leopard that had killed a gazelle and dragged it up into a tree and was guarding it. We tried to drive by, but there were just too many cars. We couldn’t even get through! Our guide promised it would still be there later, so we drove around and got lunch. On our way back, we passed a tree with some lions lounging underneath! It was far and difficult to see though. I’m not sure I saw anything, though some people in our group did. We made it back to the spot with the leopard. There were still so many cars parked, and really only one spot you could spot the leopard from. The car in that spot was being very rude and staying there, just taking picture after picture. We pulled up beside them and Matthew was able to get a picture of the leopard by standing out the window of the truck, but it was impossible to see on our own. At the end of the day we came across a giraffe that had been born 1 hour and 20 minutes before. It was running around and everything! Later we headed back to our lodge for a braai and some more card games. I guess you could say that we saw the big 5, though we didn’t have a great view of 2 of them.
The next morning, we decided that since we had a car and were less than an hour from the border we should drive to Swaziland for the morning. We followed behind a Swazi tour that our lodge offered. Once across the border, we got to see a cultural presentation where a woman showed us a traditional Swazi house and explained some of the cultural customs. Afterwards, we had a seat and saw a performance of traditional dances and songs. It was a really neat presentation. We continued to follow the group up into the mountains to an art market. It was such a beautiful drive, and made me want to visit Swaziland again. Afterwards we had to leave to make our way to Kruger.
We made it to Kruger a bit after noon and drove to the camp where we were staying. On the way we got very close to some elephants! It was fun to drive around on our own, but didn’t have the same touring effect. We got to the camp and signed up for a night drive, then checked into our cabin. It was a very comfortable hut with a fridge and everything. We decided since the camp store had meat that we would have our own braai for dinner, so we bought materials before heading out on our night drive. The drive was cool: you shine flashlights into the darkness to find animals by looking for the flash of their eyes. It was actually pretty creepy—it was so quiet! We did see some elephants, gazelle, and smaller animals, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. Afterwards we came back and had our braai complete with chips and wine. It was a good night. The next morning we had to head out early to return the car. Matthew and I headed back to Joburg for a night while Dione and Nadine went back to Mozambique.
On December 24th Matthew and I flew to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro. Our plane to Kili was so small and pretty empty. We got there at midnight, taxied to our hostel, and crawled into bed, probably disturbing the other volunteers we were sharing a room with. The next morning I was able to greet the 6 other volunteers we would be climbing Kili with. We got some Christmas breakfast at a cute little restaurant called the Union Café and did some shopping for ingredients for Christmas dinner and our white elephant gift exchange. We had a limit of 2000 shillings, which is just over a dollar. I got some Barack Obama playing cards.
The view of Kili on Christmas morning from our hostel
Christmas dinner was started with the presentation of the Christmas melon. We had invited a 65 year-old PCV from that town and an Australian girl who would be climbing with us to join in the celebration, and they probably thought we were very strange when we sang the Mozambican hino as a tribute to the Christmas melon… It was quite a fun night, and the gift exchange included everything from necklaces to lighters to eggs. We took some silly pictures and enjoyed each other’s company.
The next day, the guys from Nyange Adventures, the company we were climbing with, came to check our equipment. Matthew (the only non-PCV) was the most equipped in our group, only needing to rent a water bottle. I had to rent almost everything. I was surprised it wasn’t more expensive though! After getting that sorted, we did some shopping and prepared to leave.
Matthew all prepared for the trip…
We left about 9am the next morning. Our group consisted of 18 people from all over the world—the 8 of us, 2 Australians, a Russian, 2 Italians, a Ukrainian who lives in Chicago, a Syrian, and 3 Japanese. In addition, we had 8 guides, 3 cooks, 2 waiters, and 54 porters, so we were a big group. When we pulled into the gate of the camp, I was surprised at how many people were lined up waiting to leave. There were so many, so we spent the next 3 hours sitting around waiting to sign in and watching the monkeys steal people’s lunches. When we finally got going, we had about 13 km of walking to do. The first day was nice. It was through the rainforest, cool and shaded because of all the trees. The second day we only hiked 5km, but in that 5km we went up almost a full km. It was a lot barer, and started to rain/hail right as we were getting into camp. I got very cold that night and was actually worried I wouldn’t be able to make it. Luckily with the help of some of the staff and a warmer sleeping bag I was able to keep going.
The third day there were no trees to be seen. It was very rocky, and a completely different landscape than the previous days. It was also noticeably colder during the day. Our guides insisted we go “pole pole,” or very slow, but we still made the 14km in about 8 hours (gaining 800m of altitude then loosing 600m). That day our crew greeted us with songs and dances, which was a nice surprise. We even had some time in the afternoon to play games. That camp also had the best latrines of all of them…
The next day involved some climbing up rocks, which was fun. It was amazing to watch the porters climb up the side of the mountain with 20kg of luggage on their heads and using one hand. The final day before summit day (day 5) we hiked up to base camp. It was only 5km, so we got there around noon. We ate lunch and went to bed. Then we woke up, ate dinner, and went back to bed. Finally at 11pm we woke up, put on all our layers, and had a snack. At midnight the mountain was ringing with cheers of people bringing in the New Year. We left soon after that.
Climbing to the summit was a lot harder than I expected. We were climbing up over 1km in only 5km distance. I was tired, it was dark, and I thought with the altitude, the dark, and the headlamps that I might just fall asleep where I was. I was cold and miserable and just wanted to give up, but I kept pushing myself. I finally got my energy back when, 5 hours later, we came to the second highest point, Stella Point. We stopped to drink a cup of tea brought by our guides and to watch the first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa. It took about another 50 min to get to the peak, which is at 5,895m, or 19,341ft. It was invigorating once we got up there! There were glaciers nearby. It seemed really cold because of the wind chill, but it was so clear and beautiful. We spent some time taking pictures, and then went back down to base camp. It was a wonderful, emotional, and exhausting New Years.
The first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa!
We weren’t done yet though. After a short rest and some lunch, we ended up hiking another 15km downhill to another camp. Matthew had a pedometer on his phone that said we walked 27km! We could have gone all the way down, and some of our group did, but we were so exhausted we decided to spend another night on the mountain. The next day we made it all the way down and were presented with certificates.
We had one more day in Moshi, and then left on a bus for Dar-es-Salaam. After arriving and getting cheated out of some of our money by someone who offered to take us to where we were staying, we settled down at the luxurious apartment of some expats who were graciously letting us stay there while they were on vacation. The next day we took a ferry to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is amazing and quite possibly one of my favorite places that I’ve visited in Africa. It’s just so unique. A semi-autonomous island that was once a stop on the spice trade root, Zanzibar has it all: nice restaurants, tourist activities, regular towns and cities, other islands, history, and spice farms. We enjoyed our time wandering around on the cobblestone streets, watching kids jump off the pier and dive into the water, eating at the night market where food was delicious and cheap. One day we rented bikes for a few hours and went riding around the island. One day we went snorkeling off of Prison Island, a nearby island with an impressive turtle farm, and went on a spice tour where we saw how spices were grown and got to taste/smell/buy some of them. It was a lot of fun, and surprisingly affordable!
It didn’t work. We tried.
We had heard that the overland route to Mozambique that we were going to take was impossible at that time, so we ended up having to take an even longer route overland. We went back to Dar for a night, then flew to Mbeya, which is near the border of Malawi. We were able to cross the border and make it to Mzuzu, the largest city in the north of Malawi, before dark. We got some dinner, then hopped on another bus to Lilongwe, the capitol of Malawi. We got another bus to Blantyre, then a bus to the border of Mozambique at Milange. By the time we got to the border, we had been traveling for almost two straight days and I had said goodbye to everyone I had been traveling with except for Justin. You can imagine how mentally and physically drained we were upon getting to the border of Mozambique. Now imagine getting there 8 minutes after the border had closed…
We pleaded with the border guard to stamp our passports. He did, then asked how much we were going to give him to get them back. He asked for $50, which we didn’t have, so we got them back in the end for 5000 Kwacha, or about $10. We ran to the Mozambican side, but got there too late. The customs man had already left. We begged with the guards to let us through there, and they agreed to let us through if we left our passports. Seeing no other option, we did. We made it to Milange and stayed with a new volunteer there. Early the next morning we picked up our passports (without having to pay a bribe!) and were on our way.
We rode in the back of a pick up truck with about 30 other people through the mud for about 5 hours. Finally we got to Mocuba where we got into a truck saying it was headed to Nampula city. Eventually we were on our way. It was a slow ride due to some construction, so by the time we got to Alto Molocue it was already 5pm. Not wanting to drive in the dark and the rain, we got out there and spent another night with another new volunteer. The next morning we headed to Nampula, and then to Nacaroa, Justin’s site.
While there, I got to see his cultural group, which was a really cool experience. They meet almost every day to practice music, dance, theater, capoeira, and to work out. He led the workouts and they performed a dance for me, which was really neat. We also visited the nuns, who were really sweet and showed me around their school. We made some delicious food and drank good tea. It was a great way to unwind from 4 very stressful days of traveling. Afterwards I went up to Pemba to visit some friends who work at the IFP there. It ended up being a big group of volunteers. I had a nice beach day, and we spent a lot of time playing bananagrams. It was another relaxing few days. I went back to Nacaroa for a night before heading to Nampula to fly to Maputo for midservice.
Midservice was a good experience. It was the first time we were reunited as a group since we swore in as volunteers 13 months ago. It was awesome to see everyone, and doubly as exciting being in the capitol city where they have Thai food and French bakeries and grocery stores. Personally I found the sessions useful and had a good time seeing everyone again.
Finally some of us headed back to Nampula to wait for the weekend. There had been heavy rains as I was coming back that made it impossible for me to get back to site (thus why I was traveling for so long). The floods had knocked out many of the major bridges, completely isolating the north. In addition, it knocked down some of the pylons that supply energy to the entire north, so since January 13th there has been no electricity in the northern part of the country. I plan on going into more detail in my next blog post, but it was impossible for us to get back to site at first. We made it back this past Monday and I’ve been adjusting to life in Cuamba again. School starts next week. Year 2, bring it on!
Swahili word of the day: Pole pole (slowly or slow. On our way up the mountain, our guides were always telling us to go pole pole, or slow)
Portuguese word of the day: Chuva (rain. It has begun)
French word of the day: Retour (return, as it is the beginning of the school year or return to school)
Macua word of the day: Inowa (snakes)