Adventure Travel

There Was Snow on Kilimanjaro

After three glorious days of rest and some adventure enjoying the spectacular setting and friendliness of Nairobi, I was ready to continue my trip with a departure from Mombasa to India by way of the Seychelles.

We came down from the more temperate climate of Nairobi down to the baking east African savanna.  My route led south through the Amboseli Game Reserve to see large herds of elephants up close and many other wild animals wandering about.

The Park was right on the Tanzanian border and I could see Kilimanjaro rising in the distance to the east.  It is a dramatic peak, rising above the plains.  It is a dormant volcano, so it towers alone and challenging. It is the tallest mountain in Africa.  At that time, it was still covered with a white cap on the top.  This snowy ice cap has since dramatically decreased.

I caught a ride with a pretty, young woman named Jane Ferguson who was dressed like she was ready for a safari.  She smiled broadly at me and invited me to come to her nearby Tea Plantation for… you guessed it, high tea.  (Oh, maybe you didn’t guess that…) How could I refuse such an offer?  I did refuse to say “Me Tarzan…” even though this was Africa and she was Jane.

After lunch in her family’s grand villa on the plantation, she gave me an hour tour of their property.  It was situated in the western foothills of Kilimanjaro.  The tea needed the higher elevation and heat to grow.  The British had not only brought people from South Asia, they had discovered this was a great place to grow their national passion – tea. Jane’s Scottish family had been here growing tea on the estate for several generations. Like most such families, the children had been sent back to English boarding schools for their education. Jane had an interesting British/East African accent.

She was optimistic that she and her family would be able to continue in the newly independent Tanzania. Thus far they had experienced no backlash or problems from the Mau-mau centered north in Kenya during their fight for independence. The family was generous in supporting the local population, even supporting and sending promising local children to University in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. 

Now I can recall one promising Kenyan student who went overseas to school in the U.S. and became the father of a U.S. President, Barack Obama.  But who knew then?  I did encounter African students studying at the U.S. universities I attended (especially at University of Pennsylvania).  They were surprisingly different people from the born in the U.S. African Americans I encountered.

Jane invited me to stay the night and had a beautiful guest room prepared for me.  It was like life in the Raj for someone like me who had done more than his share of sleeping by the roadside! 

The British had carved out quite sustainable lives in this former German colony.  There were also coffee plantations on Kilimanjaro’s slopes.  Most were owned by British ex-pats, but some were owned by Germans, particularly on the Tanganyika slopes of the mountain.

Now many hikers climb Kilimanjaro, and it is reasonably accessible.  I know middle aged women who have done it   It is quite a draw, appearing on many bucket lists.  For me at that time, the large ice cap on the top meant I wasn’t going to do anything but admire the amazing mountain, ever so close to Mombasa and my boat to Bombay.

That afternoon, I was even able to telephone the nearby Kilimanjaro Medical Center and connect with my Dutch friends Peter and Karen, with whom I had traveled through the Algerian Sahara several months before.

They were delighted to hear from me and remembered our face offs with the authorities in In Salah and the dangerous Mauritanian who lurked about when their VW van broke down.  We agreed to meet early the next morning at the hospital where they were working as medical professionals.

They still had the intrepid VW Van which they had driven from Amsterdam through Europe, across the Algerian Sahara (part with me). They went through the heart of Africa to the Congo River where they had taken it as cargo to Kisangani.  They followed a route similar to the one I had hitch-hiked to cross down the Ruwenzori into Uganda and Kenya.  They were now happily situated near the slopes of Kilimanjaro. 

We were delighted and excited to see each other.  We spent a few hours recounting our joint and separate experiences and laughing about the obstacles that seemed to have been insurmountable at the time, but with the help of time were now amusing.

After our reunion, I had to resume my journey to Mombasa – a boat to India and Japan was calling me onwards.

1 comment on “There Was Snow on Kilimanjaro

  1. Jane sounds like a great person to find. I wonder where the VW van ended up? Those are great for safari travel and fairly easy to fix.


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