Monday, June 30, 2008


Yesterday, we flew from the Kilimanjaro airport to ZANZIBAR, the spice island! Just the name Zanzibar conjures up so many romantic connotations, and so far, I'm finding that they're pretty well-founded. This place has the architecture and music of Arabia and clothing and people from Africa, the Middle East, and India. Last night, we walked along the waterfront and saw an Indian music video being filmed, very fresh fish and octopus being sold in a market, a Muslim man praying on the beach at sunset, and traditional dhow sailboats skimming across the water as the red sun illuminated the western sky. I'm not exaggerating - it really is that magical. Of course, it still has dirty streets and run-down buildings like mainland Africa, but there's a sense of charm and history here that masks the ugly and makes it exotic and vibrant. We met up with Victoria and Jenny, two girls from my climb who are staying at the fanciest place in town, and had sundowners and dinner while listening to Middle Eastern music and watching some local people play in the surf. While our hotel wasn't quite as nice, it's still beautiful, and I'm happy to have any sense of luxury after living in a tent for 9 days.

Today, we head for Matemwe and scuba diving on the northeast coast of the island! We'll be back in Stone Town (where we are now) for a few days to wander the streets and go to the Festival of the Dhow Countries, an annual event that celebrates Zanzibar's unique history of trading between Africa, the Middle East, and India by joining together these cultures for a big party of music, art, dance, a film festival, and more!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Now that I have a space bar that works, I can elaborate more...

I MADE IT!!!! On June 26th at 2:26 PM Tanzania time (7:26 AM at home), I made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro! It was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life. After nearly a week of climbing, and a net gain of over 12,000 feet, I reached Uhuru Peak, the Roof of Africa, at 19,340 feet.

This time of year, there's quite a bit of snow on top, which makes for both pretty pictures and tricky climbing - thank God for trekking poles and mini-crampons. The weather throughout our journey was excellent - sunshine every day, with a few clouds and misty weather at lower altitudes. Apparently, it was rainy in Moshi (at the base of the mountain) all week, but we were literally above the clouds, so it didn't matter. We began at about 7,000 feet in rainforest, sometimes almost knee-deep in mud. On our second and third days, we passed through a heather and grassy moorland zone - the heather reminded me a lot of the fynbos of South Africa, and then I remembered it's because they have a lot of the same plants since they originated from the same place millions of years ago. Finally, we left living things behind as we climbed through the dusty alpine desert and eventually came to the snows of Kilimanjaro.

After summiting, I was one of three in our group (out of ten people) who felt well enough to camp at Crater Camp at 18,370 feet! It was just the three of us girls, a guide, and a few porters at the top of Africa. The next morning, we hugged a glacier and hiked up to see the inner crater and the ash pit, which still spews out sulfur gas, so we couldn't stay long. I'm really glad we spent extra time on the top of Kibo - we didn't just run up and down to bag the summit, we enjoyed the views and savored the moments that were our reward for a week of hard hiking.

Our climbing company, Tusker Trail, was excellent. The twice-daily medical checks, where they asked how we were doing, checked our pulse-ox, and listened to our lungs, helped put me at ease since I'd never been about probably 11,000 feet. They were very proactive about solving any health issues, and at the first sign of a high-altitude headache, they gave me some dexamethasone, which relieved the problem and meant I never felt really bad, even at 19,340 feet. No nausea, no hallucinations that I know of - just a mild headache.

The people I met were great. We had quite a diverse group - I was the youngest, there were a few other college-aged girls, and the oldest were two guys in their 60's. Despite the age range, we all got along really well, and I sincerely hope to stay in touch with all of them. They are all so accomplished, too - one of the other girls has been living in Oman for the last year teaching at a school there, a couple of people have climbed Mt. Rainier, one was a plastic surgeon, the other two girls just graduated from Yale, two women are marathon runners and one recently quit her job and sold everything to travel and live in Italy for a while. Seriously, amazing people.

I never saw the mountain before I climbed it, but the day we got back to our hotel, the skies were clear and Kili was in full view. Looking at the mountain, I couldn't believe I had just climbed it, and that I spent at night at the top - it's huge! I stared at Kili for probably an hour and watched the setting sun illuminated Kilimanjaro's southern glaciers. It was the perfect ending to my expedition. I felt almost like it was Kili's reward for me, for having made it to the top - I finally got to see the mountain in its full glory.

Leaving was hard. I haven't let myself get emotional on this trip (or haven't had time), but leaving Kilimanjaro and Moshi behind left me with a few tears in my eyes. I've dreamed of Kili for so long, and now that it's over, it's hard to move on. It was a milestone, and it made me realize how blessed and lucky I am to be able to do these things in my life. No matter how many more mountains I climb in my lifetime, Kilimanjaro will always hold its own place above the rest.

It's really hard to summarize my climb in just a few paragraphs and a photo or two. If you'd like to hear more about my climb, I'd love to tell you more, and I could go on for ages if you want - just ask me and I'll tell.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back in Moshi

We've spent the last two days in a village on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro with the doctor that Mom is volunteering for. The little house we stayed in was bustling with people, mostly children from neighboring houses and a few Mama's. We were all dancing to the radio last night and it reminded me that kids here are just as silly as we always were (and are). The people in Tanzania are so, so friendly and beautiful. I watched my mom see a few patients, then a few of us went to a waterfall. The dirt roads wind up and down hills, and it felt great to walk around for a few hours. The forest is so lush and green, and with all the waterfalls, it feels like the Garden of Eden. We're seeing a side of Tanzania that tourists rarely see - our experiences at Gonja with the church services, getting traditional food served to us, staying in very rural villages up in the mountains, etc. It's wonderful - this country is beautiful and peaceful, and our time here is just flying by. My Swahili is slowly, but surely, getting better - I know a few key phrases now, but still can't hold a conversation.

I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about how health care is so needed in places like this, and maybe I should be a physician... but when a skinny dog showed up at dinner time and stuck his head in the door, wagging his tail and hoping for food, my heart when out to him, and all I could think about during dinner was how to sneak food to him (but the people we were staying with did feed him). I realized I really am meant to be a vet; no matter what kind of medical doctor I become, human or animal, I'll be saving lives and making a difference. And in a developing country like Tanzania, the health of your cow or your chickens can mean that your family gets proper nutrition, stays free of disease, and is able to sell the animal to buy your kids a pair of shoes or pay for them to go to school. People always assume veterinary medicine is all about the animals, but really, it's about serving the people who depend on those animals, too.

I've thus far survived the transportation system in Tanzania. Africa is notorious for bad road safety. We initially rode big buses, like Greyhound, which were pretty decent, although they drove too fast. In the last few days, we've started to use daladalas - mini-vans that they stuff full of 20 to 30 people. They seem to average 25, and by the end your limbs fall asleep and you really can't tell where you end and someone else begins. Quite an experience - and cheap, too. An hour or so ride costs about $1.50.

Now we're back in Moshi, at the foot of Kilimanjaro, and the clouds have cleared below the peak, above the peak.... but I still have yet to see Kibo, the top of the mountain. Hopefully I get to see it before I actually climb - it's hard to believe I'm really here when I can't see the mountain. Just a few clouds are between me and the mountain I've dreamed about for so long. Tomorrow, I meet with my guide and fellow climbers, and then on June 20th, I hit the trail! I should summit on the morning of June 27th if all goes well. Here's the route I'll be taking - 9 days total. Thoughts and prayers are appreciated as I try to reach the Roof of Africa!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Very brief update

I don't have much time, but we've spent the last couple of days around Same and the Gonja Hospital visiting with the missionaries who have helped me coordinate the shipment of medical supplies. It's been an amazing and inspiring experience, and we've even gone to a confirmation and a worship service at the church. The people here are thankful, beautiful, happy, and a real joy to work with. I'll have to update more later - just wanted to let everyone know that things are going well!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Layover in Arusha

I'm back in Arusha after a wonderful safari! The Serengeti is beautiful, and Ngorongoro Crater is simply breathtaking. We've seen, among other things, 28 lions, 8 cheetahs (including 4 cubs!), a leopard with its kill in a tree, a few servals, an elephant 20 feet away from me in our campsite, huge male lions a few feet from the car, and heard the sounds of lions and hyenas in the night; one hyena even stole the camp trash can and dragged it up a nearby hill. Our driver, David, was great, and the cook, Jof(rey), made some delicious food. I've picked up a few phrases of Swahili, and David called me 'dada', which means 'sister'. We visited a Maasai village which, although much more commercialized in feel than we would have hoped, was still neat. I've been more covered in dirt and dust than I remember being for a very long time - but personal hygiene has a new definition when there are no showers available for a few days and everybody else is just as, if not more, filthy as you are. A few curio vendors have taken us for more money than their wares were worth, but I've still bought some beautiful souvenirs. Despite a few hassles, be it pushy street hawkers or a stubborn tent zipper, I love Tanzania and I can't wait to see more of this beautiful country. I still haven't seen Kilimanjaro (too cloudy), but hopefully I'll get the chance when we go to Moshi tomorrow, which is at the foot of the mountain. We head off to Gonja Hospital, the center I fundraised for, the day after tomorrow, and then I begin my climb in just over a week. More updates soon!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Goodbye South Africa, hello Tanzania!

My last few days in South Africa were awesome. Great white shark diving was absolutely amazing. I thought I'd be scared out of my mind, but once the sharks came and I saw other divers in the cage, all I wanted to do was get in the water! Being 6 inches from the gaping jaws of a great white... there's nothing like it in the world.

Cape Town was a lot of fun. We went bar hopping on Long Street, where we taught at least one person in every bar "Go Green! Go White!" I've met quite a lot of South Africans on this trip while out on the town, and they all seem to want to talk about their country, the U.S., politics, and development/poverty issues, which is fine by me - I love to hear the opinions of people here in Africa about the problems they're having and any solutions they might see. I even got to talk to a guy from Malawi about the recent xenophobia, and his insight was very interesting.

We went to the Cape of Good Hope, which is beautiful, and saw the African penguins! Every time they waddled by me, sometimes inches away, I broke into giggles. They remind me of 2 year old children learning to walk. Sort of like baby elephants, too, who don't know what to do with their trunk, their ears, their tail... so they run around as fast as they can holding all of these up in the air. On Wednesday, we went to Robben Island and saw where Nelson Mandela and all of his anti-apartheid comrades were held in prison for decades. When we entered their cell block, I felt like I was entering a hall of champions, where even when the jail guards tried to segregate by giving non-blacks more food than blacks, they shared and overcame the segregation. We went out at the waterfront for our last dinner in South Africa, then returned to an Irish pub for live music and a round of drinks. Since I had to leave for the airport at 4:45 am, everyone decided to just stay up with me and hang out in the hotel, which was awesome. I'm really going to miss everyone.

Yesterday was spent on planes all day long, from Cape Town to Joburg to Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro. Even from the air, Tanzania seems much more vibrant and lush than South Africa, and it feels like I'm actually in the "real" Africa now. Everything is green here since the rainy season just ended, and I can no longer blend in being a mzungu (white person) - I stick out like a sore thumb, and all the street vendors take advantage of that. I met Mom at the airport last night, and we headed for Arusha this morning. We've spent all day shopping, and already spent too much money. A few times we've discovered that we've really overpaid for something when we see it a lot cheaper elsewhere, but I guess that's how you learn, right?

I loved my study abroad program in South Africa, but if I was not continuing on to other parts of Africa, I would have been disappointed by the lack of cultural immersion... but no longer! I am immersed and loving it. I didn't have much culture shock when I went to South Africa, and I never truly left my little bubble of American friends, but I definitely felt some culture shock here. I wish I had learned more Swahili before coming, but even the few words I'm picking up here and there are helping. It might even be more of a culture shock once I get back to the U.S. after being here for 3 months than I'm experiencing just now - I'm not sure I'll even remember which side of the road to drive on.

Tomorrow, we head for the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara on a 5 day camping safari. Then after that, I'll visit Gonja Hospital, and then on June 20, start climbing Kilimanjaro! I really do love Africa, and I'm having the time of my life.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Southern Tip of Africa

I've been in the Western Cape of South Africa for a few days, and I absolutely love it. It feels what I imagine Ireland or Scotland is like - not Africa. While I wasn't sure I could handle living in some of the other areas of this country, whether due to the arid climate or crime or whatever, I could definitely live here with no problem.

We visited De Hoop Nature Reserve for a few days in the fynbos, a very unique ecosystem that is only found on this coastline. It's full of over 8,000 species of plants, many of which are found nowhere else. We've been staying in some beautiful places. I thought I'd lose weight on this trip already, but not with the way they've been feeding us! We're living like kings. When we arrived on Thursday, we headed straight for the beach where I got my first view of the Indian Ocean! Yesterday, we hiked up Potberg Mountain in the morning, which felt great after a few weeks of sitting in the safari van. In the afternoon, we headed back for the beach, where we saw two southern right whales and swam in the frigid Indian Ocean - it's winter here in South Africa!

Today, we headed for Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa, where I had my left foot in the Atlantic and my right foot in the Indian Ocean. Now, we're staying overnight in Hermanus, and tomorrow we go cage diving with great white sharks! Then, it's off to Cape Town tomorrow night, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held in prison) and Table Mountain the next day, and the Cape of Good Hope and penguins on our final day in South Africa. On Thursday, June 5, I'll fly to Tanzania. This has been an incredible time in South Africa, and I can't believe it's nearly over. I love this country, and I already am looking forward to returning someday soon.