Tanzania

Notes from Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro

I carry a small notebook in my shirt pocket when I travel. I scribble in it furiously. These notes are the starting point for many of the stories and POTDs that appear in Bible Land Explorer.

The following observations and reflections were made on the afternoon of July 22, 2019. On that day I reached Karanga Camp (elevation 12,992 feet) by foot. The camp rests directly under the peak of the Kilimanjaro.


The afternoon siesta gave me opportunity to recharge (watch and camera and self).

The resupply group arrived from Moshi. We’ll see what dinner holds. Lunch was ugali (corn fufu) and spinach with fruit on the side. I don’t see the appeal of ugali. Starch balls. Ugh!

The porters lounged . . . perched on rocks like lizards soaking up the sun.

White-necked ravens hunted hikers’ crumbs or tidbits from the dishwashing station. When one finds something he gobbles it up or tries to carry it off. The others pursue him, zooming through the tents and rocks of the camp in a mad game of Top-Gun.

It’s not the most comfortable napping spot on the mountain, but the view is without rival. Kibo, the central cauldron of Kilimanjaro, rises in all its fuming glory.

It’s not the most comfortable napping spot on the mountain, but the view is without rival. Kibo, the central cauldron of Kilimanjaro, rises in all its fuming glory.

I reclined on a rock and studied the mountain. It leans over me frosty and blue . . . glaciers creep downslope like icy fingers . . . lines in the talus below suggest watercourses or paths where boulders or ice chunks have tumbled down. From this side it seems unassailable.

Patches of small clouds passed. Their shadow gave momentary relief to the eyes. The sun is so bright up here.

I tried photographing the ravens and the moorland chats flitting about. The chats are drab little birds from the flycatcher family. They are friendly and funny when they puff out their feathers. Look like fuzzy tennis balls. This must be some heat-saving tactic.

I lay on the rocks in the sun and rested a long time.

Chef Julius gives me a dinner preview. All meals are prepared on this propane stove. At night, the dirt-floored mess tent converts to sleeping space for Julius and several of the porters.

Chef Julius gives me a dinner preview. All meals are prepared on this propane stove. At night, the dirt-floored mess tent converts to sleeping space for Julius and several of the porters.

I heard Julius was working in the mess (tent). He was carrying on a fierce conversation with two or three others.

I stopped in to see what was cooking. They seemed happy to see me and show off their work. They invited me into the tent. I thanked kindly but stayed in the door (in part, because there is no room inside and because it must have been 150 degrees in there!). Julius pulled alum foil and a lid from the top of a pot so I could see sizzling veggies inside. The lid was scalding. He juggled it between his fingers. I told him to be careful or he will never play the piano again. Laughter erupted in the tent. We chatted awhile. I eventually excused myself. From my tent I could hear them continuing to chatter in Swahili (or is it Chagga?) occasionally inserting the (English) word “piano.” Each time they said it, the laughter would repeat itself.

Back in my tent, the music of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” drifted by. In East Africa? Now that’s hilarious.

A blanket of clouds swaddled the mountain. Meru is visible on the horizon to the right. Photograph by Bryan, a member of our Kandoo Adventures team.

A blanket of clouds swaddled the mountain. Meru is visible on the horizon to the right. Photograph by Bryan, a member of our Kandoo Adventures team.

Moshi was not visible below—low clouds swaddled the mountain. Only Meru (the fifth highest peak in Africa at 14,967 feet) had the strength to raise its dark head above this woolly blanket.


Darkness settled over the Karanga Camp. We embraced it. It will likely be our last full night of sleep. Tomorrow we make for Barufu Camp (15,239 feet). We will nap for part of the night there, then begin our summit bid.


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I love Africa but my regular summer work is in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips.

High flyer

Everyone knows that birds fly high in the sky. But how high?

A quick check of the internet reveals some astounding observations. Flight heights for some vultures, condors, storks, and swans exceed 20,000 feet.*

The record-holder is Rüppell's griffon vulture (Gyps rueppellii). How do we know? One of these poor things was sucked into the turbine blades of a jet airliner at 36,100 feet. The altitude was noted by the pilot before he shut down the damaged engine and made an emergency landing in West Africa’s Côte d'Ivoire. A smattering of bird parts and feathers (Can you say Kung Pao chicken?) were used to identify the species.** Why this scavenger was fooling around at that height is another question altogether.

A human being in a 37,000 feet atmosphere would black out for lack of oxygen. But not this bird! It was built for such daring feats. Adaptations include keen eyesight, a huge wing to body ratio, contour feathers that insulate and streamline, and a unique form of red protein in its bloodstream that moves oxygen around in ways that would make Lance Armstrong jealous.

While immaterial to their flying abilities, this carrion-eater also has the ability to consume rotten meat. Does that dead gazelle have anthrax? Botulism? Cholera? No problem, This griffon vulture can consume it all; its gut-of-iron can digest all the bad bug-a-boos. Apparently, it can not only fly as high as an airliner; it can eat airline food.

Rüppell's griffon vulture. Image from    https://kidszoo.org/our-animals/ruppells-griffon-vulture/    (accessed 10 Aug 2019).

Rüppell's griffon vulture. Image from https://kidszoo.org/our-animals/ruppells-griffon-vulture/ (accessed 10 Aug 2019).

Rüppell's griffon vulture is an African species. It is native to a band of countries that runs across the center of the continent like a belt: Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Habitat loss threatens its future; the IUCN Red List has moved this bird to “critically endangered” status and reports that its world population of 22,000 individuals continues to decrease. Sadly, there is no monitoring scheme or action recovery at present.***

I captured a shot of this squadron on the ground in the Serengeti (Tanzania). They were just cleaning up after dinner. Coloration patterns—particularly on the feathers of the bird on the far right suggest Rüppell's griffon vulture. I’m guessing that the bird on the left is a juvenile. I welcome feedback from a real ornithologist out there who could confirm/deny our identifications.

I captured a shot of this squadron on the ground in the Serengeti (Tanzania). They were just cleaning up after dinner. Coloration patterns—particularly on the feathers of the bird on the far right suggest Rüppell's griffon vulture. I’m guessing that the bird on the left is a juvenile. I welcome feedback from a real ornithologist out there who could confirm/deny our identifications.

The namesake of the species comes from Eduard Rüppell, a German naturalist who was something of a rare bird himself. He was among the first wave of Western explorer/adventurers in the Bible Lands, making several expeditions into northeast Africa.

As early as 1817 he visited Egypt and ascended as far as the first cataract (Aswan). Note that this was a half-century before the better-known Victorian explorers such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, and Speke.

In 1821 Rüppell returned to Africa, venturing into the Sinai. He was purportedly the first European to visit the Gulf of Aqaba. He continued up the Nile to the unexplored regions associated with modern Sudan and Ethiopia. All along the way he worked to improve contemporary maps and build impressive zoological and ethnographic collections. The latter included ancient Ethiopian manuscripts.

Specimens sent back to Europe by Rüppell were used to help produce Philippe Jakob Crtzschmar’s Atlas zu der Reise im nordlichen Afrika (“Atlas of Travels in Northern Africa”) published in 1826. Rüppell’s own experiences were published in his own two-volume set, Travels in Abyssinia, published in 1838 (the same year that Edward Robinson, the American explorer and biblical geographer, arrived in Cairo).

“Vegetation below the snow line at Mt. Selki in the Semien Province.” This drawing was made by F. C. Vogel after a sketch by Rüppell himself. See the work by Ib Friis, “Travelling Among Fellow Christians (1768-1833): James Bruce, Henry Salt and Eduard Rüppell in Abyssinia,” pages 161-194 in Scientia Danica, Series H, Humanistica (2013).****

“Vegetation below the snow line at Mt. Selki in the Semien Province.” This drawing was made by F. C. Vogel after a sketch by Rüppell himself. See the work by Ib Friis, “Travelling Among Fellow Christians (1768-1833): James Bruce, Henry Salt and Eduard Rüppell in Abyssinia,” pages 161-194 in Scientia Danica, Series H, Humanistica (2013).****

Back in Frankfurt, Rüppell co-founded and directed the Senckenburg Natural History Society.

In honor of his work, the Royal Geographical Society of London awarded Rüppell its prestigious Gold Medal in 1839. Even more impressively, some 79 different plant and animal species were named after him. Among them was the high flying Rüppell's griffon vulture (Gyps rueppellii).


*See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_by_flight_heights (accessed 10 Aug 2019).

**Laybourne, Roxie C. The Wilson Bulletin, Wilson Ornithological Society 86/4 (Dec 1974): 461–462. Find it online at https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v086n04/p0461-p0462.pdf (accessed 10 Aug 2019).

***Check the status of Rüppell's griffon vulture and other endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List at https://www.iucnredlist.org///www.iucnredlist.org/species/22695207/118595083 (accessed 11 Aug 2019).

****This article is available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260070049_Travelling_Among_Fellow_Christians_1768-1833_James_Bruce_Henry_Salt_and_Eduard_Ruppell_in_Abyssinia (accessed 10 Aug 2019).


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I love Africa but my regular summer work is in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips.

Ants in your pants

Ants in your pants

Look out for the Siafu! This species of carnivorous ant swarms in massive numbers, eats animal protein, and has dedicated soldiers with serious pincer-style mandibles. An unfortunate encounter with the siafu in an East African rainforest made us all a little jumpy.

Rookie mistakes

Rookie mistakes

Two lessons here. The first is this: don’t brush your teeth. The second is akin to the first: don’t ever think you are faster than a black mamba. Follow these two rules in order to get the most from your foreign travel experience.

A good park for beginners

A good park for beginners

The sign at the entrance read “Home of Tree Climbing Lions.”

I thought it best to keep one eye skyward at all times. Having 400 pounds of tooth and claw fall on your head would be terrible surprise. It also would make an end to a lovely safari that Vicki and I and Mr Nixon had planned in the East African country of Tanzania.

Stork swarm

Stork swarm

Swarms of giant storks were suddenly everywhere. They were beyond counting. In the hundreds? For sure. Thousands? Maybe. Some circled slowly overhead, great wings outstretched. Many more rested, nested, and clattered their bills from poo-spangled trees. 

Noah's ark (sortof)

Noah's ark (sortof)

In the story of Noah's Ark, a portion of the living world finds sanctuary in a pinch. I thought about that as our rig bounced down the steep track into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Tarangire

Tarangire

Zebras and wildebeests drank the muddy water, flicked their tails, rolled in the dust, and fussed with each other. It may have just been in my head, but somewhere I could hear the soundtrack of "The Lion King" playing.

Taking a safari

Taking a safari

We pitched our duffels and then ourselves into Saidi's knobby-wheeled truck. Saidi found the gear and we lurched forward. Our aim was to encounter the wildness of East Africa, God-willing, in a bloodless way.

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Great sheets of ice flanked our walk on Kibo's rim. Aside from the fact that we were tripping along a corridor that was 19,000 feet in the sky, it could have been someone's gravel driveway. Or one of Jupiter's moons.

Then I let myself believe it

Then I let myself believe it

I caught her in my headlamp. She might have pretty in another place but she was beyond defeat here, maybe even beyond consciousness. She was draped between the wings of two laboring guides. Her head was lolling. Her toes were dragging. That little Piper had stalled.

The big push

The big push

Three other members of the team had walked out of camp an hour earlier. We assumed they were already pressing the envelope on the ridge above us. It was now our turn.

The most interesting man in the world

The most interesting man in the world

Ernest Hemingway dangled a riddle of death at the front end of his short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." But what kind of epigraph is this? A freeze-dried window decoration? A chewy historical tidbit? The most interesting man in the world may have solved the riddle.

It has an odd ring

It has an odd ring

The old king climbed into the icy womb of Kilimanjaro. On his finger was the ring of Solomon. His porters carried a vast treasure. None of it has ever been found, of course.

15K+

15K+

It was one of those nice mattresses with a heat-reflective layer that is supposed to keep you snuggly warm even if you choose to bed down on an iceberg or glacier or such. It also shared many qualities with a Wham-O Slip-'n-slide.

Starry night

Starry night

The icy peak was silhouetted against the night sky. But the longer I looked, the more I saw. And the more I saw, the less I noticed the mountain of our obsession. It was stars--sweet Jesus!--the stars that dominated this glorious night. They were everywhere, from horizon to horizon.

Mush balls

Mush balls

West African fufu has a an unusual odor and taste. And that's just the upper end of the experience. This is why I shuddered when they brought in the East African ugali.

Come and see, the moon is dancing

Come and see, the moon is dancing

Jason turned on a small speaker clipped to his packstrap. The speaker pulled tunes from a phone. It  bounced as he walked. So did we. And we sang. And it was magic.

Breakfast scramble

Breakfast scramble

The icy stream clawed at the bottom of the ravine. This contest of strength was initiated more than a century of millennia ago. Water versus rock. Fluid versus solid. Speed versus size. It is difficult to imagine a struggle more sublime . . . or primal.