Life Changing Journeys in Africa
by Martha Porter
March 21, 2019 50th Anniversary Stories
March 21, 2019 50th Anniversary Stories
In 1994 I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream, joining Mountain Travel on their “Kilimanjaro and Beyond” adventure. I had traveled to Peru with MT in the 80’s and was confident I would experience an authentic, memorable and perhaps life changing journey.
Our guide, Clive Ward, was waiting when I arrived in Nairobi Kenya and escorted me to our hotel where I met my fellow adventurers. The next day we traveled to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Greeted by members of a local group of Maasai we had our first sightings of elephants and our initial glimpse of Kilimanjaro, the setting sun glistening off the snowcapped summit. We began our climb the next day in northern Tanzania following the Rongai route.
Over the course of four days we ascended through rainforest, heather moorlands, then the high alpine desert and finally to the moonscape like terrain of the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo. Arising in darkness on the fifth day we turned on our headlamps and began the final trek to the summit. As we walked along the rocky and steep path, Fred and Restus, two of our porters, urged us onward with cries of “pole pole” (slowly, slowly). Clive told us to “puff like a train” for maximal oxygenation. A slow but steady pace and deep breathing was the secret to success and eventually everyone who set out that early morning was standing at Gilman’s Point on the crater rim and were rewarded with a view of the sun rising up through the clouds that layered below us. Several of us continued to Uhuru Peak at 19,331 feet. The climb was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done and I wasn’t sure how the rest of the trip could surpass the experience.
But I had yet to see Tsavo—the “beyond” portion of the adventure.
A National Park larger than Israel, Tsavo East lives in my memory as a place so special that it is hard to put into words. The evening light as we rode along in a Toyota Land Cruiser searching for animals, the crystalline clean quality of the air, the red earth, the heat of the afternoons—it all comes back to me as I recall our four days camping along the Galana River. Each morning we arose early to a hearty breakfast after which we waded across the river led by legendary Kenya Wildlife Service ranger Mohamed, ever silent yet watchful for dangerous hippos.
Soon after crossing, he spotted a herd of about 300 Cape Buffalo that kept us spellbound as they made their way down to the river. A multitude of exotic birds delighted the birders in our group. Impala, Eland, Gazelles and other animals dotted the landscape. In my mind and heart though, nothing compares with the sight of the majestic elephant. These creatures remind us of ourselves—living in families, raising their young, learning from their elders, mourning their dead. Walking near them on their territory in the African bush and then even closer during the evening game drives was an unsurpassed gift. In the evening, after a superb dinner, we would all sit around a campfire drinking Tusker beer and talking about the day. If we were lucky, Iain Allen, who had joined us in Tsavo, and Clive would share tales of their own adventures (of which there were many!).
Too soon, MT staff delivered us to Nairobi airport for the return to our normal lives. In farewell, Clive said only “come back.”
And I did, 23 years later with my two grown daughters and two dear friends. We joined Mountain Travel Sobek for the Ultimate Tanzanian Safari. I was happy to find that the black Africans who had been porters in an earlier era were now our guides and driver. James, Richard and Boni made our visit special and memorable. The landscapes in Tanzania were different than in Kenya but equally enthralling. Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and Tarangire will now join Tsavo in my memory as some of the most special places on earth—worthy of saving along with their wildlife—for future generations. Today Clive’s words still echo in my mind—“come back.”
Martha Porter, MT Sobek Guest
MT Sobek Trips: Kilimanjaro & Beyond, 1994 & Ultimate Tanzania Safari, 2017