Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holy Kilimanjaro

     Starting on December 19th, my mom, my older sister (Lindsey), Keela, Audrey and I began our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. The route we chose to take is the Shira 8-day route, which starts on the western side of the mountain and winds its way through some of the most beautiful rock formations and landscapes I have ever seen. Throughout the journey, I kept a journal (mainly so that hilarious events could never be forgotten). I've decided that instead of writing a novel (and I would put you all through that pain if I hadn't already written the journal) about the trek, that I would share with you some of my favorite quotes (and pictures) from each day of the climb. ENJOY!

Day 1
"So, the rocks are cool"

"We crossed three rivers on the way to camp; mother's tiny little legs (and Lindsey's hiking poles) failed her at the third crossing so she got wet (and slightly mad)"

Day 2
"I dub this camp, 'camp in the clouds'"

Day 3
"Apparently, today is the end of the world. Thank god I'm surrounded by rocks."
Me enjoying a glacier valley

"Mother fell again today. Lindsey just laughed and took a picture"

"After rest time and lunch, we did an acclimation walk. It was pretty hard and tiring, but the view from the top of the cliff was wonderful. And the rocks were sweet."
Holy slate towers

Day 4
"Theme of the day: wet and cold."
Lava Tower and sad Keela

"Our acclimation climb to 4,800 m today was rough; we had to cross at least three streams, had to walk over a myriad of fallen slippery rocks and had to traverse freshly fallen perfect for snowball making snow."
View of part of our acclimation hike

Day 5
"Apparently all of my rain gear has failed me. I'm one really cold freaking mess of soaked clothing."
Clouds everywhere

Day 6
"I love bed tea"

"More rain and more wet clothes. Sleep will not come easy today; we start of final ascent to Uhuru Peak at 11 pm"
 Base camp

Day 7-Summit Day
The summit began at around 12 am on Dec 25. We climbed for about 6 hours by headlamp until the sun rose (the sun rose just as we reached the first bench mark of the climb- Stella Point). Oxygen levels at base camp were 75% what they are at sea level, and that level quickly dropped as we continued to climb. The going was pretty rough, both mentally and physically  but despite a minor breakdown halfway through the final ascent I MADE IT TO THE TOP OF MOUNT KILIMANJARO!

"The night was clear, and the stars were magnificent. I on the other hand, was not feeling so magnificent."
Looks of exhaustion (and slight pain) at Stella Point

"By the time we reached Stella Point, I was literally about to cry"
Sunrise at Stell Point
 Sipping our tea at Stella Point

"The glaciers were beautiful, the view was amazing and the rocks, I mean COME ON... it's a freaking volcano!"
Up above the clouds
I could not believe how cool the glaciers looked

"We took some classic pictures with the Uhuru Peak sign, and of course mother insisted on some santa hats"
Linds, Mama Deborah, our lead guide Henry and I
 The entire group (all 14 members) made it to the top!
Audrey, Henry, Keela and I with the upside down Tanzanian Flag

Day 8
"Could barely move my body this morning, and the thought of descending down the mountain for six more hours made me want to hold myself up inside my tent."
 Porters, guides and the climbers 

"It's only official once we get our golden certificates because, you know, pictures don't count or anything"
Enjoying a Kilimanjaro beer while waiting for our golden certificates

Holy Kilimanjaro that was fun. But I certainly won't be doing that again anytime soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Goodbye Kenya, Goodbye SFS

     Today is my final full day at the SFS (the School for Field Studies) center in Kenya. This morning has been a whirlwind of emotions. Our group had a final meeting with the staff, and the center director, Okello (the most wonderful man I have ever met in my life) ended our discussion with requesting hugs all around. Some of us were crying, some of us were in denial, some of us were ready (and still are) to get home to see their friends and family. I can honestly say that these three and a half months spent in East Africa were some of the most amazing months of my life. I met some of the coolest people that I have ever met, both staff and students, and I will go out of my way to remain in touch with everyone. I have seen some of the most beautiful landscapes, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and its foothills in which the center is located. The wildlife has blown me away. I never thought I could gain so much enjoyment from watching a baby elephant play in the mud, lions cubs napping under a tree, lazy leopards hanging out in  a tree, hippos fighting or a cerval attacking its prey. I never thought I would enjoy the baboons that inhabit (and slightly terrorize) the camp, or the dik-diks that hide in the bushes.
     If I have realized anything from this trip, it's that there is no way I can stay away from East Africa. I'll be back. Whether for grad school or for a family trip, I'll be back. Our SFS group started out as 30 strangers, hoping that there would be at least one other we could connect with. But we're family now, and the fact that we have to leave each other is hard to deal with. I'm so happy that I get to spend about another two weeks with two of my fellow SFSers (Keela and Audrey) as we venture up to the top of Kilimanjaro, but I wish I had more time with everyone. Goodbyes in the airport tomorrow will be one of the hardest things that I've done. However, I will feel better knowing how changed we are by this experience and knowing that all of us will be going home to do great things.
     I will never forget my time spent at SFS. All of the game drives, field lectures, expeditions and directed research fieldwork are some of my best memories from the program. It's not everyday that you get camp in the Serengeti with the hyaenas, buffalo and lions. It's not everyday that you get to go on a game drive in the pouring rain and still enjoy yourself. It's not everyday that you get to carry water or help build a house with a Maasai mama. I could go on and on, boring you with stories you've already read (or heard), but I'll save your eyeballs and your time. I'll just leave you with this, if you ever have the chance to study abroad in East Africa through SFS, or any other field focused study abroad program for that matter, TAKE IT. You will never regret it.

Asanta sana SFS, Kenya and Tanzania. I will never forget this experience.

Staff and students in Tanzania- Moyo Hill Camp

Staff and students in Kenya- KBC

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Final Game Drive

     Yesterday was our last non-program day of the semester. About half of us decided to spend it doing one last game drive to Amboseli National Park. It was a wonderful day, despite the almost unavoidable sunburn most of us suffered (I am currently rocking a pretty sick headband burn line). I hadn't seen cheetahs since the first full day in the Serengeti, but our group got to see three cheetahs, a mom and her two cubs, early on in the day. Of course, we also saw tons more of the famous Amboseli elephants (I seriously do not get sick of watching them stomp around through the mud), lots of gazelles, zebras and even some eland and waterbucks. The day was an amazing way to end our SFS adventures, but it was also bittersweet knowing that I won't be setting foot in another national park for a game drive in East Africa again anytime soon. At this very moment, my mom and sister, Lindsey, are on their way to Tanzania for some exploring before our epic climb begins, and I can only hope that their game drive experiences are as fantastic as all of mine have been.

My old friend, Mr. Elephant

Stuck at a dead end- not too shabby of a view

 A cheetah mom and her two cubs
So majestic 
 IT'S SOOO FLUFFFYYY!!! I just want to die.. 
(Despicable Me reference for anyone wondering why that sounds so damn familiar)
 Well hello there you wonderful extra large kittens
 Staring longingly at the shade

Kwaheri Amboseli

     As we approach the final two days of our time here in East Africa, most of us SFSers are dealing with a waterfall of emotions. I am beyond excited for my next adventure climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with friends and family and I'm also happy that I will get to see the rest of my family (that's you dad, Marisa and princess pambs) back home very soon, but I am also extremely sad to be leaving the company of the amazing people (both student and staff) I have met on this program. I wish there was some way I could explain to those of you reading just how special and life-changing this experience was; I've tried so many times to put words to it, but I've realized that the best I can do (and have done) is to just share my many stories and adventures from this semester abroad and hope you can grasp some understanding of it. I know that when I get back home life will go on, but East Africa will always hold a special place in my heart. I'm in the process of writing a final goodbye, which I promise to post very soon. I just hope I can make it through the next two days with minimal tears, although I know they will be unavoidable.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Water Crew

     Today was our last day of directed research fieldwork. It was a tiring eight days, but I had a tremendous amount of fun with my group (the water crew) slopping through the Noolturesh River or climbing through thick acacia shrubland. I managed to escape multiple almost falls, extra wide jumps over rivers, traverses and climbs of cliffs and of course a myriad of encounters with the horrendous Acacia melliferus (aka "wait-a-bits"). Despite puncturing my rainboots with an acacia thorn, falling into the river, falling straight into an acacia bush and witnessing just how far my skin stretches when stuck to a barbed acacia thorn, tripping on multiple rocks, somehow I am still alive. Tomorrow begins our data analysis period and after a couple of days we start our final paper writing. I have just about two weeks left here at KBC in Kenya (I cannot believe how fast this semester has flown by-my family is literally going to have to drag me back to the U.S.), and even though I have to spend a lot of it behind a computer, I know I am going to take every chance I get to explore my surroundings just a bit more.
View from a "hill" on our last day of field work.

What a good looking bunch of kids 
(from left to right)- Ed, Kylie, Haley, Laura, Me, Julia, Cam, Tally, D, and Kjersten

The Water Crew=the bomb diggity

The best group of guides we could have every asked for (from left to right)- Samuel ("Sammy"), Rana ("Ronny"), Dansan ("Danny"), Mwato ("Marry"), Wiper ("Franky"), and Ernest ("Ernie")

We gave all of our guides and Ernest (only the coolest staff member at KBC) "American" names. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Slopping around in the Noolturesh River

     Yesterday, that would be Thanksgiving for all you folks back in the states, my Wildlife Ecology directed research (DR) group began our fieldwork. Cam and I (the only two geology majors on this trip) were assigned the task of mapping the Noolturesh River and measuring turbidity (basically the amount of suspended sediment in a water sample). We decided to add some of our own measurements including suspended sediment load, which required us to take one liter samples of water from the river at various points, and width and depth measurements to calculate flow velocity. Because we spend so much time slopping around in the river, we have to wear rainboots all day-which basically means we get to hike ~9km each day in shoes with little traction or support. And yes, after day two my feet are killing me.
     On day one of fieldwork, I managed to escape ultimate embarrassment (although Cam did have to hoist me out of the side of the river at one point). Today on the other hand, I managed to overflow my boots with water thirty minutes into the day, managed to get sort of somewhat stuck on the side of vertical cliff in rainboots (don't worry mom-I made it down) and also managed to lodge myself in a hole so big that Cam had to yank me out. Needless to say, it wasn't my day, but the fact that all my limbs are in tact, I'd consider these first two field days a success. 
     Our group has six more days of fieldwork, and I have a few more (hopefully) days that I get to spend slopping around in the Noolturesh River. I'm sure I'll have some more wonderful accident updates as the week goes on.
Glorious rainforest we somehow made our way through

More glorious rainforest

Measuring turbidity

Measuring river width

Slopping around

Cam carrying our guide, Dansan, across the river (he didn't have any rain boots)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A black mamba, Amboseli National Park and Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary

Since I’ve last posted, a lot has happened. Our group went out in the field for an Environmental Policy exercise and interviewed local farmers. During the trek through muddy irrigated fields, my group came across a black mamba (which one of us almost put her foot on). It was my first live black mamba sighting, and of course it was me- the girl who’s terrified of snakes- who was one of the first to see one in the entire group.

Well hello there venomous fella

On Wednesday, we went to Amboseli National Park. We didn’t get to spend much time there, as we had a rescheduled lecture that interrupted the day, and since the rains have started, many of the animals were not inside the park. However, we did get to see some cute baby zebras and we even got to see some of the famous Amboseli elephants. We also went to lecture given by a senior Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officer, who told us the park has no poaching inside the park boundaries despite the park not being fenced and explained many of the management challenges the park faces (i.e. population increase, increased human-wildlife conflict, land-use change, etc.). 

Cute wittle baby zebra

Just playing in the mud

Emerging from the muddiful goodness

Baby elephant and her mama

On Thursday, we went to Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located about five minutes away from our camp. It was set up for the purpose of community benefit from wildlife conservation. And although we later learned it has been a complete failure here, it served as a successful model for wildlife sanctuaries around the country that have been able to bring economic benefits from wildlife to the local community. This day was very cool though because while the wildlife sanctuary has failed to bring monetary gain to the community, it has been somewhat successful in protecting habitats and wildlife within its borders. During the trip, we saw a poached elephant that had been killed by a poisoned spear after it raided crops from a nearby field. KWS had taken the ivory from the elephant to avoid illegal harvesting of it, but the rest of the body remained and we could clearly see the spear marks on its body.

Holy Kilimanjaro (and zebra)

Poached elephant, ivory was taken by KWS to avoid illegal harvesting

 Well hello there Giraffe
Oh look, a giraffe family- how adorable.

Today, we finished classes in Kenya, and we are in the midst of beginning or directed research projects. I was assigned to the wildlife ecology water project DR, which I am very excited about because I get to play geologist. Hopefully I'll have some hilarious fieldwork stories to divulge soon.