Sunday, February 6, 2011

Travel TidBits: Hiking

Hiking at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro

[sorry, picture upload is not functioning here in Tanzania today!  Pl visit my web gallery for images at]

A day in higher elevations (2000 ft) hiking among banana and coffee fields at cooler temperatures was just heaven!!
Along the road

Hiking through the banana fields

This morning at 9am, we were picked up by Alfred, our guide for the day, to drive up to the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro for a hike to the Ilano waterfalls and a visit to a coffee plantation. Since Alfred and his brother have a tour company, it was nice to be picked up in a car and not have to walk 35 minutes to town (our usual exercise). Alfred is a 25-year old, very open and fun young guide who speaks English well. He went all the way through primary and secondary school (passed Form 4 exam in Grade 11) and then attended college to study tourism. He is a certified tour guide and now works with his brother Edgar in the touring industry. He leads climbs to Mt Kilimanjaro, safaris to Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti and he told us that he is touring Zanzibar with a group of Chinese later this month. We drove out of Moshi north direction Kili and soon start the road climbs. The pavement stops and the red dirt road begins sprinkled with gigantic potholes and the going is slow.

Children carrying banana beer on their heads ack to the mudhut - It's Saturday!

We pass by street villages and this being Sunday morning, lots of people on the road in their finest to go to church. The majority of people in this region are Christian with a few Muslims, and Sunday mornings into afternoons are reserved for church. As we reach higher altitudes, the road is lined with banana fields and it reminds me of my picking bananas and banana trees in Thailand last year, and it is a welcoming sight.

On our left, we see Mt Kilimanjaro in the morning light with a cloud bank below its peak at ~5000ft and we talk about Nuala and Renee, who are currently climbing and should be close to summiting tomorrow around 6am after attempting the last stage right after midnight. We have not heard from them since they departed on Wednesday. Moshi is the starting point for Mt Kilimanjaro climbers and we see quite a few Westerners in town and often their goal is to summit Mt Kilimanjaro.

At about 1500 ft altitude, we park the car and start hiking through banana and coffee fields – both crops are often planted together since the taller banana trees shade the coffee bushes. Co-cultivation of both also provides better nutrient ground management. Most people up here are farmers and their crops also including avocados and other vegetables are sold locally as well as exported. The coffee grown on the slopes of Kili is Arabian coffee and farmers either grow the beans to sell for further processing, or process the beans in small, often hand-operations. Later we will visit and hear more about the processes from bean to a wonderful cup of strong coffee.

The regions at the foot of Kili received quite a bit of water from the snow melt up the mountain. Farmers take advantage of it and channel the water in small water canals so the fields can profit from this resource in a land where water is a precious commodity. We hike along one of the water ways on a narrow footpath. Ever so often, we pass by a small homestead often no more than a small hut with a porch for living and some sheds for animals and tools. The walls are constructed out of sticks and ‘glued’ together with mud and animal dung. The mud is peeling and the sticks become visible. This kind of dilapidation is often seen along the road.
Houses here in Tanzania are not well kempt and most of them could benefit from a can of paint. In this dusty land where dust devils are wiped up in no time, a rusty color prevails from the red-colored earth.

We are walking in Chagga Tribal Land and mid way we stop at a small group of houses and Alfred, our guide, pays the fees for our hike up to the waterfall. A sign indicates that entering without payment has serious consequences!! We continue of small footpath steadily going uphill, with people going back and forth in their daily chores, leaving the creek far below. It is lush green up here and cool under the canapé.

Paying our fees at the local village

After about 2 hours, we reach an enormously high waterfall and the end of the valley. The water spills over a 300ft rock face and splashes into the cool pool. The temperature in the shade is perfect for our lunch, and soon we are surrounded by several local boys that had been playing in the creek. Since this is an easy destination, we are not the only group that hiked to the waterfall today. The guides are talking to each other while the ‘mzungi’ - white foreigners sit and talk. We share our lunch – bread, cheese, carrots and cucumbers - with Alfred and enjoy the beautiful scenery. When it is time, it’s hard to leave. The cool fresh air is inviting and the lush green is a feast for the eyes.

Local children along the way

Reaching the waterfall where we have lunch

Lush green vegetation

As we descend into the banana fields again, the boys trail behind us until we reach the creek. And jumping and laughing they jump over rocks and disappear in the valley below. Children here are walking barefoot and to me it is surprising with what ease they jump into the rocky creek.

Walking ahead, Linda calls out that someone has lost a pack of business cards – and surprisingly these were mine. We had a bunch of young boys trailing behind when we came up and I was walking last in line. Thank God, I did not have valuables in my outer pocket of my backpack!! These little buggers were already refined enough to open my lover backpack zipper without me noticing!!

We continue our hike back and have a delightful visit at a small coffee plantation and meet Oscar, Mr. Coffee. Oscar is a young man around 28 years of age who together with his family run a small coffee banana plantation. He tells us that the men run the coffee business and the women harvest the bananas. Roles are strictly delineated by gender. When he shows us the kitchen – a small dark hut without windows with 2 small coal pits for cooking – he points out that this kitchen is ruled by his mother. Since he needs a fire pit for roasting his coffee beans, he built a new fire pit outside in the yard.

Mud huts along the way

Oscar, Mr. Coffee

Oscar with Mom

Grinding coffee the old fashioned way

Alfred helping Mr. Coffee ouring hte brew into thermos cans

hmmmm, so good and strong!

Oscar describes to us the process from red coffee bean to the roasted dark brown ground coffee, and then he brewed delicious coffee for us to taste.

From red coffee beans to a strong cup of black coffee – all in the span of 2 hours!
Children at the coffee farm

They train them early!

By the time we left, we had learned that the red raw coffee beans are first peeled form their outer housing, then washed for a night in water to get rid of the hulls, then dried in the sun for a day, followed by pounding in a mortar with a pistil to remover yet another hull. The white beans are roasted over an open fire in a metal pot for about 20 minutes to yield either a light or dark roasted coffee bean depending on the time on the fire. Grinding is done again in the mortar and pistil. Oscar then brewed the coffee the old fashion way in a pot of water heated over the open fire. The grind is sieved off and we all enjoyed a good, strong cup of coffee.
While all the activities were going on – all outside the mud hut used for sleeping – children peaked around the corner and the youngest member of the family helped pounding the coffee beans for hulling while some other kids played in Mama’s dark kitchen:

Shortly, we were on our way to the car not far away and happy that Alfred would take us to GTHA directly without having to walk back from town. What a treat.

Overall, it was a fun day: I enjoyed the hiking out of town so much and the coffee making was an entertainment in itself. Simple pleasures!