Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here.
I rose Saturday morning feeling surprisingly refreshed despite the weary night sleep. Our hotel room was on the first floor next to some loud female cats in heat and finally around three am I had to shut the window to get rid of the noise and awful stink. I fell in and out of a fitful, jet lagged sleep for the next several hours lying like a princess under my white canopy bed net.
The sounds of Africa woke me up as the neighboring community outside our hotel compound walls arose. Cars honking, kids playing, birds singing and motorbikes buzzing. All the sounds of life told me that it was time to get out of bed.
We had nothing planned that day except our gear check and meeting on the details of our hike. I knew I couldn’t spend another entire day behind the walls of our hotel. I needed to get out and explore. I spoke with the friendly hotel staff and planned two outings for the day. A visit to a nearby orphanage supported by the charity of the hotel and a tour of the rice paddy fields outside the hotel.
For the rice paddies, I hired a local guide named Kebello and set off on a land tour through the rice paddies behind the hotel and into the rich, thicket forest harboring three different kinds of monkeys. Before I laced up my shoes, I knew it was going to be an adventure.
“Karibu!” Kebello bellowed welcoming me in the singsong language of Swahili. “Are you ready“? It was four o’clock and the sun was still rather hot but I was more than ready to leave the confines of the hotel and see what life was like outside its doors. I’d only stepped out briefly the night before to capture my first shot of Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the horizon. The guards opened the large steel door of the hotel and out we went into the surrounding fields and villages of Moshi.
I had no idea that rice was grown in Tanzania and in all my travels had never actually seen a rice paddy field. For some naive reason, I assumed rice grew mainly in Asia but realized how wrong I was. Along with maize, coffee, plantains, millet and cassava, rice is one of the main crops grown in Tanzania and is served with many meals. Despite the fact that only 4% of Tanzania’s land can be cultivated, like most countries in Africa agriculture makes up the largest sector of Tanzania’s economy estimated at over 26% of GDP according to the World Factbook (CIA). Over 80% of Tanzanians earn their living in farming and agriculture accounts for 85% of all exports.
As we walked past the harvested maize, views of Mount Kilimanjaro peaked in and out of the clouds. It was hard to believe that we would be leaving the next day to begin our climb.
We followed a dirt road leading us through a small village of homes. There were children playing and yelling Jambo! in delight as we passed by. I found the kids to be rather irresistible. Kids are kids wherever you go and Tanzanian children love smiling in front of the camera. I snapped their photo and then they huddled around me giggling and hooting with joy at their silly faces on-screen. I wish I had brought a Polaroid so I could have printed them a copy out right then and there.
The surrounding landscape of Mount Kilimanjaro is rich and fertile, and has a lovely subtropical climate that is highly conducive to growing crops. Moshi is no exception, having a moderate climate that receives plenty of sunlight and rain to grow crops and also breed lots of mosquitos!
Walking in the paddy fields was not exactly easy. It was muddy and exceptionally slippery and wet making each step a balancing act. I would soon find out just how slippery it was on the way back.
The paddy fields are divided up for each family into equal plots of semiaquatic, flooded arable land. They go for miles and miles. We could see men out in the fields harvesting rice and woman carrying back firewood for cooking on their heads.
There were tons of beautiful birds and banana trees lining the fields.
At the end of the fields, we entered a beautiful lush forest filled with the sounds of monkeys playing high above the canopy of trees. We saw the black and white coloring of the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkeys who thrive in the forests surrounding Kilimanjaro. As much as I wanted to get a picture, they were too darn quick and I had to just leave them to memory.
The sun was beginning to sink lower into the sky and it was time to head back. Unfortunately this is where my luck ran out. As we were crossing a homemade wood bridge through the paddies, I lost my balance and slipped into the mud below. My right leg slid right off the makeshift bridge, swinging the wooden plank abruptly upwards and striking the inside of my left leg. I winced in pain. Slowly I pulled myself up out of the muddy water and discovered that my left leg was bruised, swollen and cut. Oh no! This was not what I needed to happen to me right before a big climb! I had enough worries already given a bad right hip that I’d been nursing and strengthening for months before the trip. Now I hurt my left leg!
I looked over at Mount Kilimanjaro rising mighty off in the horizon. Somehow I was going to make it to the top, pain or not.
“How many times life has seemed too steep a hill to climb. How many times the hill has disappeared like mist”. – Alice Walker, “The Taste of Grudge”