These stories are pulled from the journal writings I made at the end of each day... photo post to follow.
"Pole, Pole" a young kid commented as the National Geographic camera man went blitzing past us on the grassy slope and subsequently slipped, feet first downhill with his massive camera held high. Hoisting himself back onto his two fee he acknowledged the kid, gathered himself and continued on to capture his next shot.
This was actually day 2 of my time in Tanzania, by day 1 and the official start of our Run Around the Roof of Africa. We started by walking down from the Mbahe Village Cottages perched up on the hill at the end of "town" meaning the end of the power line. Simon constructed each guest home on his parents' property (Dad 87, Mom 70) and has developed the land to accommodate all guests. He built a hot water heater heated by fire, providing the best shower in Tanzania. Installed solar panels and a generator to provide power when needed (usually from 6-10 both AM & PM). Developed gardens in most open spaces growing passion fruit, kale, chard, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, coffee (primary crop) and many, many more amazing fruits and veggies. He has established an impressive bee population and the honey is incredible! His parents still tend the animals including pig, goats, chickens and cows. The land is well utilized, comfortable to move through and completely sustainable.
Our group (Andrew, Steve, Jerry, Jake, Simon, Sigfreid, Iddy, Tim, Kate, Joseph) reluctantly left the comforts of the Mbahe cottages after a hearty breakfast and jogged the 1.5k downhill to a tree planting ceremony organized by Simon. Simon's guide company Summit Expeditions and Nomadic Experiences (SENE) is focused on the problems of Kilimanjaro and the positive impacts that can be made around action and education. One effort that was explained to us today is tree planting to help sustain the soil and preserve their resources. There was time taken to address both Swahili and English and explain our efforts. A bit of ceremony around the process and my favorite part was getting a couple of kids to help me plant two trees. "Make a friend" Simon said and with dirty hands we shared a couple of funky handshakes after securing the trees in the pre-dug holes.
We then made our way to the gate, the entrance to Kilimanjaro National Park and had another gathering to celebrate the first official circumnavigation run of Kilimanjaro. This is Simon's dream, to share these trails and his community with his trail running friends that he has made from all over the world. He has obviously gone to great effort in all of the planning and so far this is a dream trip. After a bunch of photos & video and our group completely hamming it up for both, we took off like a herd of turtles to start the first day of our adventure.
Day 1 was planned to be about 40k's of running, but all told we ended up about 35-37k and gained about 5900' of climbing all between 5500 and 6500ft, so we saw countless clubs and descents. All very short and steep and most off camber. We continually ran through farms, gardens and amongst people. It was as if the game of telephone was being played spreading the work ahead that the (white) runners were coming. Kids would run barefoot and in beautiful stride along with us for surprising distances. Everyone would stare and stare without awkwardness and seemed to not realize that we knew they were staring until we waved, smiled and said "Jambo!" (hello). Those simple greetings would wake them from the stares and either trigger a return greeting or a massive case of shyness and giggling. I tried the few Swahili words I have picked up, but it isn't even enough to engage, only acknowledge.
The first day included a lot of filming opportunities with the National Geographic team. We would see them pop up in a variety of places along the route and our group did great sticking together and kept moving so we could cover our distance. At the end of the day we ran to our lowest point of the day and as the trail turned to a double track and then dirt road the number of people along the path increased. As the tents for our evening camp came into sight, set up on a soccer field near the village school, the masses of people became overwhelming. After a long day of running in a completely foreign environment and countless memorable interactions I sensed we were all impressed and wow'ed by this attention from the village. We finished up on the field with at least 150 kids filing in behind us. We taught them how to give a hi-five and Kate and Steve (better versed in Swahili) were able to interact and share a little bit of their conversations with us. It was a complete emotional rush and high to finish day 1 this way.
Highlights from the day included:
1) the amazing gorge. We saw a couple of baboons as we descended and were amazed by the waterfall 300' up.
2) Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler" blasting from a home high up near the forest line
3) Seeing the crew at 2k and 22k for cream cheese and sun-dried tomato spread sandwiches along with sweet potatoes.
4) Camp arrival!
4) Dinner started with hot chocolate, sweet corn & sweet potato soup with bread. Chicken legs with brown rice & amazing peanut sauce, green beans & mushrooms. Fruit salad for dessert. Our crew piled into a large tent for a sit down dinner.
5) We were in bed by 8:30pm... sometimes I get excited about going to bed early.
Run Kit for the day:
Additional clothing: Buff
Black Diamond: Gizmo Headlamp (in pack just in case)
Additional Nutrition: Clif Bloks, Honey Stinger Waffle