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Kinda Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

October 23, 2015 by · Comments Off on Kinda Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro 

The challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro attracts many a mere mortal as well as adventure enthusiasts. It’s the biggest freestanding mountain in the world, rising over nineteen thousand feet! For those that train, it is doable endeavor, unlike the monster Everest, but, I didn’t visit the area with that in mind. Nonetheless, I wanted to see the famed peak.

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Moshi on a clear day.

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Moshi on a clear day.

Visibility is typically difficult from the Moshi area, the location of my Discovery Corps Homebase. Most days the mountain hides behind clouds, only occasionally playing peek-a-boo. But, Day Eight of my Tanzania itinerary called for a visit to the mountain.

 

Baobab Tree down a dirt road.

Baobab Tree down a dirt road.

My group boarded a bus and headed out past the dry, dusty surrounding. As soon as the incline rose even a little, we encountered vibrant greenery. We continued climbing higher in the hills where lush vegetation abounds. Huge banana trees towered overhead shading the ground under their palms. We stopped in a touristy little town that sits at about five thousand feet. It rests in a humid rain forest, and mist was swirling around us. Alas, the visibility was even worse on this day. But, we picked up our official guides, those rugged and hearty sorts that head pilgrimages up the peak.

Boy rolling tire on dirt road

Boy rolling tire on dirt road

 

 

 

 

 

The plan was for my group was to trek to a few waterfalls that lie just below the National Park boundaries. We began on a gravel path that soon became narrow and as slippery and wet as a fish right off the line. I was happy I wore my Gore-Tex jacket because the air was chilly, a first on this trip. I had to plant carefully my footing, especially on the downhills. As on the Maasai trek, I was torn between taking in the scenic beauty, snapping photos and not slowing down those behind me. And, in this case, definitely not falling off the inclined path.

Hiking in lower Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Hiking in lower Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The first waterfall we came upon shone brightly through the spray, and we stopped for photos. Then, we proceeded onward, the path becoming more perilous and steep. The tricky part was that dampness making traction difficult. Thankfully Richard and a few other men from the Discover Corps staff lent a stabilizing hand.

One of the waterfalls in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park.

One of the waterfalls in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park.

We passed by a few houses partially hidden in the lush overgrowth and around small, terraced farms. Like the dancers, the farmers in this region are Chagga people, and they grow mainly bananas, and some corn, beans and coffee.

The surprising serene and lush trails on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The surprising serene and lush trails on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We trudged on, carefully balancing and traversing rocks over a shallow but flowing waterway. Nearby, we rested at another wondrous waterfall with water cascading down multiple falls. Flowering plants like impatiens peeked out of the nooks and crannies.

Beautiful waterfalls on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Beautiful waterfalls on Mt. Kilimanjaro

To proceed onward, we had to ascend one very steep, treacherous incline. Whew! We were then above the waterfalls and could stroll on through grassy fields and pass more small homes. It’s peaceful up there, far from the sounds of the city.

Steep climb

A steep climb.

Eventually, we returned near our starting point and enjoyed a picnic style lunch. Mama D had sent boxed lunches. Fried chicken, hard boiled eggs, a cheese sandwich, an apple and a piece of sweet banana bread. Yum.

The group had been asking about Banana Beer or mbege, a homebrew that we are anxious to try. One of our guides thought he could get some nearby. He returned, however, with a banana drink. We gingerly took sips, and all agreed, it tasted horrid. Later we asked Mama Simba about the banana drink and her comment was, “people drink that and go crazy.”

The Bad Banana Drink

The Bad Banana Drink

Instead, we discovered the local bottled beer, Kilimanjaro, and it was quite tasty.

Kilimanjaro Beer

Kilimanjaro Beer

I decided to skip a portion of the afternoon hike, not wanting to press my luck. Instead, I ventured on to the Visitors Center to learn all about the mountain. I also dropped into the gift shop where I bought a tee shirt emblazoned with a drawing of a Kilimanjaro beer bottle “If you can’t climb it… Drink it!” it said. Exactly my sentiments.
Eventually, I caught back with the group as they were making the climb to the Marangu Gate, one of the official starting points into Kilimanjaro National Park.

The Starting Point for a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Just kidding!

The Starting Point for a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Just kidding!

Our guide explained that most hikers take four days for the ascent and another two to come down. He said he wakes the climbers around midnight the night before they reach the summit. I asked if that was so they can watch the sunrise from the top. “No,” he said, “it’s so they don’t see the trail. Once they are on top, they have to come back down.” Hmmm. Mountain climbing has never been my thing. Need I say more?

Kilimanjaro: If you Can't Climb it...Drink it!!

Kilimanjaro: If you Can’t Climb it…Drink it!!

 

Chincoteague Pony Roundup on the Eastern Shore

June 9, 2015 by · Comments Off on Chincoteague Pony Roundup on the Eastern Shore 

Drawn by oysters and wild ponies, not to mention uncrowded beaches, Virginia’s Eastern Shore becomes a solid choice for a summer getaway. The peninsula includes 23 undeveloped barrier islands and a chance to experience the engineering marvel of the 23-mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

 

I approached from the Norfolk area after visiting Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown, known as the Historic Triangle. Driving through the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, built from 1960-64, deposits you onto a road that stretches like a spine from Cape Charles in the south to Assateague Island to the north. The top half of Assateague belongs to Maryland.
Chincoteague is the most popular destination on the Peninsula and must be doing something right because the spot has won happiest town, friendliest seaside town and other lifestyle awards over the years. The plethora of ice cream stands may help the voting. My cone from the Island Creamery earned rave reviews.

The town of Chincoteague on Virginia's Eastern Shore

The town of Chincoteague on Virginia’s Eastern Shore

If you grew up on Newberry Award-winner Marguerite Henry’s books and fell in Love with “Misty of Chincoteague,” the Museum of Chincoteague will be a must stop. The famed horse stands as a stuffed display with Stormy, her third and last foal. The Museum isn’t much more than a photo op and a quirky one at that, but Misty fans shouldn’t skip. Very doable with kids.

Debi meets Misty of Chincoteague

Debi meets Misty of Chincoteague

 

Oysters At Don's Seafood

Oysters At Don’s Seafood

Oysters from the Eastern Shore also garner extraordinary kudos. Don’s Seafood is my recommendation. The oysters served at Don’s are grown at Tom’s Cove Aqua Farms based on the island.
To see the wild ponies, you need to visit the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Stop by the Assateague Island National Seashore Visitors Center at Little Toms Cove, and then drive along the Wildlife Loop Road. From there, hopefully, you’ll catch a glimpse of the ponies on Assateague Island.

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island

The popular myth is that the wild horses washed ashore from a capsized Spanish galleon, but genetics indicates they were of domestic stock and were placed on the islands to escape a livestock tax. The ponies proved tough enough to survive scorching heat, abundant insects, stormy weather and poor quality food.

 

Festival and Auction Grounds

Carnival and Auction Grounds

I had the opportunity to meet Denise Bowden, the first woman accepted into the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, and now director of Public Relations. She explained that the fire company owns and cares for over 150 Virginia-bred but free roaming horses that produce from 60-90 foals per year. According to Denise, the Chincoteague firemen have auctioned off young ponies as a way to control the size of the herd since the early 1940’s. The money is used to purchase and maintain firehouse equipment. Today the average price for a pony at auction runs around $2,700.

Misty Book Cover

Misty Book Cover

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteaague in the Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The annual roundup is an immense event for the little town. The population of 3,000 grows to over 50,000 with visitors. The calendar calls for the swim from Assateague to Chincoteague, Pony Penning, auction and carnival on the last consecutive Tuesday and Wednesday of July. The preliminaries – rounding up the herds, walking them to the assembly area and checking the ponies for health fills Saturday through Tuesday. The swim takes place on Wednesday, this year the date is July 29, 2015. The auction runs on Thursday. On Friday, the remaining herd swims back to Assateague for another year.
Make reservations early! www.esvatourism.org

National Park Week: A Visit to Yosemite

April 17, 2015 by · Comments Off on National Park Week: A Visit to Yosemite 

The week of April 18- 26, 2015 is National Park Week. Entrance fees to all the 400 national parks are waived during opening weekend Week, Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19! That’s a good deal so be sure to visit one.

One of the best senior travel bargains anywhere is a low-cost lifetime national park pass that admits seniors free of charge to most U.S. national parks, forests, refuges, monuments and recreation areas. U. S citizens or permanent residents who are at least 62 years old can purchase a Senior Pass for a one-time processing fee of $10. This Senior Pass to national parks and lands offers benefits to you and your traveling companions.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Nat Park

After a lifetime of wishing to see Yosemite National Park in California, I finally got there back in December. I drove in so early, the entrance gates were not even manned. (I own a Senior Pass.) I then stopped in the Mariposa Grove, the southernmost area, to see a preserve of giant sequoia trees. This area becomes quite distant once you make it down into Yosemite Valley and the center of the park. Talk about feeling small and humble…these behemoths are magnificent megatrees, a species whose trucks soar skyward nearly 300 feet and boast a base circumference over 90 feet. Their branches don’t begin to sprout until high overhead and seem undersized by comparison. The grove makes a grand statement and you find yourself wanting to stop. As I took it all in, I listened to the forest and it surely has much to say.

Bachelor and the Three Graces

Bachelor and the Three Graces

 

Stroll along and pass the Bachelor and the Three Graces whose roots are all intertwined before reaching the Grizzly Giant, a tree that’s probably 2,000–2700 years old. It’s one of the largest in the world. A sign shows a photo of President Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others in front of the tree in 1903.

A little further on, you come to the California Tunnel Tree- cut in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to pass through and as a marketing scheme to attract visitors. No vehicles are allowed today, but it is fun to walk through the opening in the tree.

California Tunnel Tree

California Tunnel Tree

I returned to my car and drove further into the Park gaining elevation on a very windy stretch until I passed Glacier Point Road, and saw a “sneak peek” of El Capitan. The road continues through the long Wawona Tunnel and my excitement grew. I parked after I exited and found myself standing at the famous Tunnel View vista: the spot where the first Euro-Americans “discovered” the valley, and one of the most photographed places in the world. Woo-hoo! Ahead, I could see the entire valley, the sheer rock wall of El Capitan and the renowned Half Dome. I’ve found when I actually come to a place that I’ve seen photos of for years, I’m rarely disappointed. There is something special about being there and this is one of my real joys in travel. I pinched myself and marveled at the view.

Tunnel Vista View

Tunnel Vista View

Afterward, I continued driving down into Yosemite Valley and spent the next two days trying to capture waterfalls rainbows, and reflections. I managed to catch a rainbow in the upper section of the falls one morning. That evening, I hiked a trail to the bottom of the two-tiered Yosemite Falls and as I was returning and nearing the meadow, the top quarter of Half Dome was ablaze in what is called Alpenglow: an optical phenomenon that occurs when is sun is just below the horizon and reflects light upward. It’s surreal and gorgeous.

Rainbow at Yosemite

Rainbow at Yosemite

Alpenglow at Yosemite

Alpenglow at Yosemite

Unlike Yellowstone, wildlife is not the main attraction in this National Park. Visit Yosemite to stand in awe of nature. Its beauty inspires contemplation of your place in the universe, similar to peering into the Grand Canyon. You’ll also feel the presence of so many who have previous trod the sacred grounds.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

If possible try to book lodging within Yosemite Valley as the drive in and out takes over an hour on difficult terrain – especially difficult for those prone to motion sickness. The granddaddy of National Park resorts, the Ahwahnee Lodge is a jaw-dropping luxury, if you can afford. I couldn’t but made a reservation and enjoyed dinner there.

Early December was an ideal time to visit as snow had not yet fallen, but the summer crowds were gone. I suspect early November might be even better to catch some of the lingering fall foliage.

I flew in and out of Fresno, California which requires a drive of two hours – one to Oakhurst and one more within the Park. Two days and nights is not enough to keep a photographer happy but certainly allowed me time to appreciate the splendor of this historic National Park.

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