NOTE: I’ve got a lot of panoramas posting in coming days to capture the epic grandeur of some of our views, but the blog thumbnails them to look small; to see full size bigger versions, be sure and click on any photo at your leisure while reading the post.
DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS: Big Tree Camp (9700 feet) to Shira One (11,500 feet)
Lemosho Forest Camp’s Swahili Name is Mki Mtubwa, literally, “Big Tree”, and we wake around 6:30am to the staccato call and responses of colobus monkeys scampering in the trees, a variety of beautiful tropical birdsongs, the clanking of pots and pans in the cooking tent, with the low singsong Swahili conversation of chef Joseph and his assistant cooks. Breakfast is oatmeal, black tea or coffee, bananas and watermelon, eggs, toast and bacon, all designed to be easily digestible for alpine climbing. After we finish breakfast, we are formally introduced to all the porters. We can’t possibly remember all their names, but we certainly recognize faces we will grow to know over the coming days.
Viviano is leading the hike segment today, a soft spoken, friendly fellow who lives in Mushi, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. He tells us about the prestige and training Tanzania attaches to its natives who choose to the path to become Kilimanjaro guides. Pole Pole remains the operating word as we climb slowly up and out of the rainforest and into the heather and moorland zone. He indicates he and most of the guides go up Kili 2-3 times a month, time spent away from their young families..they see them maybe a week per month. Hard work, this.
Halid brings up the rear guard, another soft spoken guide whom we will soon rename to Speedy Gonzales, after the legendary US cartoon character…but the story of why is yet to come in the blog. I tease him and ask if needs any help with his giant pack, since he’s the smallest of the guides, but he simply says, politely, he will let me know.
As we climb pole pole out of the rainforest, the lush green of the forest melts away to shorter heather, still thick, but our visibility increases. We begin to be overtaken by a stream of porters with the camp on their heads, again headed out in front of us to setup camp by the time we get there. We rotate behind Viviano and pepper him with questions about various striking plants we see along the way indigenous to the region and altitude.
Eventually we climb up over a ridge and see a great ravine/gully and a steep ridge ascending up the spine of the mountain. We look across and see a tiny line of porters traversing up the opposite side and up the ridge. This is our major ascent for the day climbing into an unseeable mist high above us. After resting at the base for 10 minutes for water and bathroom stop, we begin the ascent ourselves.
After an hour of steep climbing, we’re about halfway up the ridge, and we stop for lunch. We’re around 10,500 feet, and visible from here are the plains far below, with looming clouds all around and the thick mist above us. Also visible is the edge of the Shira Plateau, a giant steppe on Kilimanjaro and the holder of Shira One camp, our target destination. In the middle of our lunch, we hear booming thunderclaps above us just around the corner of the mountain, accompanied by the occasional flash of lightning. JT has caught up with us and we nervously ask about the lightning and thunder. “No Worries,” he says, “Only one climber hit by lightning in past 10 years.” We note that in the US, this condition would have park rangers clearing off the mountain STAT. Instead, we finish our lunch, and JT and Viviano point us upward into the clouds where we can still see porters moving 500 feet above..away from the seeming source area of the lightning and thunder. We climb a bit quicker, maybe not quite pole pole.
As we hit the ridge top at 11,500 feet, it starts to rain. At first we balk putting on rain gear, which traps in heat during our climb, but then it starts coming down hard and we throw on the ponchos, rain pants, and pack covers and move out. At least we’re now in a lateral and slightly downward traverse, but as Viviano steps up the pace, the rain starts pounding the path into mud puddles. As we descend the final quarter mile into camp, the rain turns to a mix of hail, sleet, and rain, hammering pellets off of us. We get into camp, and huddle under the sign in hut, watching the porters try and setup our tents. Unfortunately, just as we make a beeline for the tents and get in, the rain is washing under some of the tents, causing them to float. While we hide in the mess tent, the porters move all the gear out and move the tents to better ground, frantically digging shallow shovel ditches around each tent to channel the water. An hour later, the rain finally stops. Cort, Caryl and I go 200 paces back up the trail to see a cairn forest we’d run past while inbound.
At dinner, our companion Paul looks pale, and JT checks on him (as he does with all of us before and after each hike). Paul’s been fighting stomach troubles during this hiking segment, and now he indicates he’s having breathing issues. JT puts him on Diamox, the miracle alpine medicine that tricks the body into forcing deeper and faster breathing, and ultimately more oxygen in the blood, relieving Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms. After dinner, JT says we have a big day ahead tomorrow, so we hit it early. The rain pounds the tent on and off, and we go to sleep with it pattering on our tents, but not before the skies clear on the open plateau, revealing a cloud plume drifting off the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, our first clear view of our destination. We again go to sleep to stars across the night sky, the band of the Milky Way clear and noting to our surprise that in this hemisphere of the globe, the Big Dipper has no North Star. Is this a foreboding sign? None of us knows, but stubborn determination tends to dismiss such nonsense, and we crash hard after a long day.
Oh, I loves me the Ray Bradbury quote that makes up this blogpost subject line. I’d like to think that the four month sabbatical I took on Saba and the months around it comprise a crossroads of sorts, and after a few discussions with my closest friends, it certainly has that possibility.
It’s not that easy to get to the dropoff in this picture, due to the dense vegetation that surrounds the occupied core of Windwardside village. You have to ramble down the winding rolling Road until you get to the English Quarter (the eastern settlement side of Windwardside), where you can make some cut throughs or paths you can take OR you have to have friends in cottages perched on the tops of the cliffs, which are many, relative to the general population. Regardless, the views from virtually anywhere in Windwardside range from the benign to the spectacular, typical of this l’il island that could.
This pic is from the bone dry days of early March in Saba, rambling along the Giles Quarter coastline and aiming the camera up past the ruins of the old beekeeper rocks, the cloud on the edge of Mt Scenery to the left, Peak Hill in the center, Booby Hill and The Level to the right. Note how very dry this is….it hardly even resembles the Caribbean.
A simple picture (converted to watercolor) of three old Windwardside cottages, lined up neatly in a row in the foothills of Mt Scenery. Something so orderly and cool about the way these villages sit on top of the Auld Rock just appeals to me, call me crazy.
Life moves at its steady pace here on Saba as I start collecting boxes to pack, plan a few last hikes, finish up my remaining dives to say goodbye to the aquatic life, and of course, make the rounds to thank the locals, expats, and friends I’ve made along the way. Life is good.
Everywhere on Saba lie these ubiquitous stair steps made of volcanic rock hewn from the isle, including the Mt Scenery trail and countless other pathways in the four villages. Of course, they often lead to nowhere, formerly to terraced farms that have long since overgrown. C’est la vie. They are still uniquely Saban.
Yeah, I s’pose this could be any nice garden in the tropics, with bougainvillea, roses, and other plants, shrubs, and trees–whose names I remain blissfully ignorant of–lookin’ pretty. But no, this is Saba where such well tended gardens are rare. Scout’s Cottage is built into the hills of Windwardside below Mt. Scenery, a venerable cottage still visible in photos of Saba from late 1800’s/early 1900’s, and the current owner has really done it up, inside and out. Note that the wooden deck here is actually built around and on top of the main cistern for the house. That’s actually Maskehorne Hill in the background, whose views of Windwardside you may recall from this earlier blogpost.
It’s tantalizing and teasing to be in the middle of a draught and extreme water conservation on the island and see storms come within three miles of Saba, and drop all their water offshore. As this picture shows, it may be beautiful to look at, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. But then again, I did snap the photo, so there’s that consolation.
Old Booby Hill stands off on its own between the Windwardside Level and Spring Bay. It’s an absolutely wonderful diversion off trail hike from the Spring Bay trail saddle, and a mere 20 minutes of scrambling up low scrub nets you fantastic views of Saba’s south coast that you can’t see without an airplane or being on a boat offshore: a full view of Hell’s Gate all the way from the airport up to Mt Scenery, as well as the rugged sea cliffs directly below The Level. I rambled up the summit earlier this week with UK Bob the builder and his artsy crafty French wife Marie. This picture captures just a smidgeon of the many grand views from the Old Booby Hill summit, as well as the short, but steep little climb to get there. I recommend this hike strongly, as a surprising number of locals and long term expats have never done this fulfilling side excursion in the many years they’ve been here. It was Bob and Marie’s first time in the seven years they’ve been here.
By the way, New Booby Hill (simply called Booby Hill) is on the way to The Level, and has many expansive homes with fantastic views.
Sorry ’bout the missed post yesterday. I was diving all morning…two months of diving and I finally see my first green moray eel at dive site 3rd Encounter, sitting at the top of The Needle, then we spotted an even bigger green moray–a big fat boy–at Babylon. Rock the house! Saba diving is awesome. Anyhow, I came back from the dive and walked directly over to Windwardside, running around doing errands and forgot about the blog until I got back home late, then I was so tired I conked out as I was posting. Alrighty then.
Snapped this tranquil afternoon from my front yard when I got home from the dive. Byootful, eh?
You may recall an earlier blogpost of the whale on Paris Hill, above the village of The Bottom. Today’s hike was to summit the hill and get up close and personal to said whale, but it proved to be anything but trivial. Indeed the hike up to the base of the whale was literally 12 minutes, but then it was a sheer, steep boulder scramble up sawtooth yucca and other cactus, that ended up taking an hour and a half. This rock climbing was easily comparable to the off trail route to Hot Springs (a no access trail) that Chef Michael from Brigadoon took me on a few weeks ago. Lots of route calculating as far as where my feet were going and where I was going to get handholds on the volcanic rock. In the end, it was worth it, as I snapped lots of pictures from the dramatic views up there. I managed to make it to the tail, called Tent Rock, but I just didn’t have the huevos to haul my fat butt up that sheer red face with 1400 foot dropoffs to the cliffs and bay below. Maybe another day. The yucca and cacti took a bloody chunk out of my legs on the way down; I’ll wear long pants next time I’m up here.