Thursday, September 24, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 9: Know Your Coping Skills

I had a midterm both Monday morning and Tuesday late afternoon.  After maintaining such an intense and narrow focus of attention (I got a 102% on one of them, so at least it was worth), the letdown was palpable.  What was also palpable: the desire to pet rabbits and the craving for fiery onion rings.  To the shelter and Aldi I went.

One of a pair of litter mates named Cookie and Creme...obviously
Cookie...or Creme...not sure which, but definitely the other one

At Aldi, I found not only fiery onion rings, but also chipotle Cheez-Its.

I drove home eating both of them out of my passenger seat.  Knowing that if I brought them into my apartment, I would eat them all, I sagely left both containers in my backseat.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon.  I'm working on an assignment in the office and starving like WHOA because I ran for an hour before breakfast, when I remember BLAMO! I have fiery onion rings and chipotle Cheez-Its in my car a block away.

How would I describe the jealousy of the undergrads who I passed while eating both fiery onion rings and chipotle Cheez-Its by the handful, on my way back to my office?


Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Aerial Viking Funeral Off The Roof Of Africa

I did not expect the best part about climbing Kilimanjaro to be the people.  Summiting high things is always pretty cool (although I am not a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination and have only done Everest Base Camp as a high point of high points before this).  But honestly, Kilimanjaro was occasionally boring, occasionally death defying, and altogether not that much fun.  For one thing, although it's pretty good, the scenery never changes!

Uhuru Peak (5,895m) is somewhere at the top of that cliff that is about a quarter of the way from the right edge of the top.

Again, the peak is in the top left corner of this picture...several days and about 1800m walking away.
The summit day route snakes in and out of the right side of this picture.
We were above the clouds the entire 8 days
Stalking us in the clouds like a shark was Mt. Meru, 70km west
And, outside of walking, the only thing to do is sit around and eat while talking to your climbing partners.

And then there were 13: 5 Brits, 4 Norwegians, 2 Danes, 1 Aussie, and 1 person from Obamaland

What made it enjoyable was the people, my diverse climbing group and the 55(!)-strong army of guides and porters that supported us.

Notice Mt. Meru
Sorry this is sideways, but our porters passed us like this every day: flying, as if they aren't carrying 100-150 lbs in addition to their own body weight at 10,000+ feet of altitude.  In comparison we were constantly told "pole, pole" ("slowly, slowly") so we wouldn't over-exert ourselves and experience any of the acute mountain illnesses.

An assistant guide, Angel
Our head guide, Abraham

A porter, Veronika

When we took off from base camp, it looked like we staging a military assault upon Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, which is not an altogether inaccurate comparison.

We ascended to ~3500m and then stayed between that altitude and 4600m for 6 days until the final, middle-of-the-night 1200m ascent to 5895m.  Then we took a nose dive: over 7.5 hours of walking we descended 4000m.  That's 2.5 MILES of elevation difference between Uhuru peak on Friday at 7:15 AM and Mweka Gate on Saturday at 12:15 PM.

End of summit day: "I was all the way up there just this morning?!?"
Considering that descent was through rainforest on packed mud and slippery as hell, I might as well have side-stepped down a 2.5 mile-tall waterslide while the water was running.

Put another way, I would have preferred an aerial Viking funeral: to be lit on fire and thrown off the peak.

My camera actually had the privilege of such an honor.  I dropped it to its death on Day 5 in spectacular fashion and hiked the 6.5 hour summit morning with an iPad in my pants (to keep it warm) so I could get a picture at the top.

The sun rising over the clouds over Eastern Tanzania

This video is one of my prize possessions from this trip.  In advance of summit day, my group discussed that none of us actually knew what the top looked like because most people took a picture with the sign (see above) and neglected pictures that set the scene.  This video sets the scene pretty damn well.

I carried an iPad to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in my pants to take this.  Never say that I never did anything for the sake of this blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wear It If You've Got It

More so than any other place I've traveled, in Eastern Africa it is obvious that locals wear clothes previously worn by someone else in some other place.  I'm not throwing stones: I originally wrote this post while wearing a Beijing 2008 t-shirt that I bought second-hand in Namibia in 2002, and half of the clothes I climbed Kilimanjaro in were purchased at Goodwill.

The selection is mind-boggling, and their routes to this new home are equally as thought provoking.

Clothes arrive in 45km bales, labelled per type.  I witnessed a scene in Longido where a group of women opened a bale of towels, of all sizes, colors, and uses, and each was ooo'd and ahhhh'd over, shaken out for full effect.  

45 kg of "children rummage"
One bale is more than enough to open a clothing "shop" - or throw down a tarp and let people dig through a pile.  There are traditional clothing stores - with walls, doors, and new clothes that are hung up - but only in bigger cities.  Nairobi is the only place that had malls, as defined by western standards.

Although sometimes sold in piles (where you have to dig to find the other shoe of the matched pair), shoes lend themselves to more artistic display.

Here is a short list of the shirts that I saw:
  • really nice embroidered Harvard shirt (and a few not embroidered)
  • Brett Favre Vikings jersey
  • Brett Favre Packers jersey [Didn't complete set: never saw a Brett Favre Jets jersey :( ]
  • Tim Hortons camp day
  • McCain/Palin campaign shirt
  • Manchester United jerseys galore
  • Rivers Edge Game Reserve in Valders, WI
  • JFK Student Government  (I also saw a sign for the "Jeff K. Hotel")
  • Denison College
  • princess costume
  • Vans "off the wall" iconic logo t-shirt
  • Motion-W Wisconsin zip up fleece
  • Sprouts grocery store, which is a tiny co-op grocery store chain in Austin, TX
  • University of Texas hats and t-shirts
  • every conceivable professional and collegiate sport team
  • every English Premier League team jersey, current and recent (you can tell because of the sponsors)
  • McDonald's
  • Hard Rock Cafe Beijing
  • Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo
  • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (TV show)
  • Mickey Mouse with a freaky skeleton teeth mouth
  • Milwaukee, WI kids sport league jersey
  • GAP
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Oregon Ducks
  • endless Air Jordan, Jordan, and 23
  • Burnt Orange "Keep Austin Weird"...I don't even have that shirt
  • University of Wisconsin - Green Bay wind pants where the font was traditional looking cross-stitches 
  • University of Wisconsin t-shirt
  • Wisconsin red zip-up fleece with "Wisconsin" instead of just the "W"
  • NYPD jacket (yes, as in New York Policy Department)
  • Lands End cloth briefcase
  • one of my porters on Kilimanjaro has a sweatshirt that said "I ♥️ SHOES, BAGS & BOYS"
And the highlight for obvious reasons:

It's owner was selling live chickens next to the road, somewhere east of Singida and west of Arusha.  Which is a long way from the corner of Indiana and Kirkwood Aves.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Darwin At Work

Nearing the end of the wet season in February, 8,000 wildebeests are born every day.  The migration south and west to find fresh grass begins in May.  40% of these babies don't see June.

What stands between May and June?  The Mara and Grumetti Rivers and the crocodiles living in them that haven't eaten for 6 months, not to mention all of the food chain-topping predators that know 1.5+ million potential meals are heading their direction.

The migration is also a noun, in additional to being a verb.  In noun form it is animals stretching to the trees in every direction, and then beyond that line of trees to the next.  They travel as a group, as a "migration," separating to find shade in the plains and cross the rivers between them.

The river crossing are scenes fraught with anxiety, anticipation, water spray, and dust.  If nothing else, they are imprecise experiments in group think by two groups of animal - zebras and wildebeests - that rely on each other for survival: the zebra operates on sight, the wildebeest on sound.  Somehow at some point some single animal decides that now the risk is acceptable, and jumps into the water.  Others believe it, for better or worse, and skittishly follow at an increasingly breakneck pace, with every animal being urged forward by the animal behind it - and the crocodile behind that animal.

Somehow at some point some single animal decides that now the risk is too high and wheels away at the water's edge.  Others believe it, for better or worse, and circle back into oncoming traffic.  A few minutes later the crossing either restarts or the shore clears.  Either way, upstream the crocodiles roll their victims and feast for the first time in half a year.

It's ultimately a poker game of call of the will and calculated risk.  Will I be in that 40% that doesn't see June?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Africa Has Her Eyes On You

The Big 5 are the elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and rhino.

I have a video of this lioness and three cubs that is way too big to blog :(
EDIT:  Success on compressing video files!!

They are so named because if you hunt them, by the time you have killed them, they have killed you.

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (in Kenya) are slightly fictionalized in the movie The Ghost And The Darkness, but the bridge they were trying to build still sits alongside the Nairobi-Mombasa road.

I added leopard to my list this trip, and thus I have seen four.  Because enterprising numbskulls have poached rhinos to the tenuous brink of extinction, that is likely all I will ever see. 

My guide in Katavi was surprisingly surprised to hear that The Big 5 aren't found native in North America.  He knew of zoos, but assumed that that was just our way of viewing them instead of in the wild.  I had to explain that every single Big 5 in a zoo in the US somehow came from Africa.  

Although honestly, Africa doesn't think you're worth watching.

There are two maned lions in this picture
The above leopard was in this tree; this is where I took those pictures from

NOTE: None of these pictures are edited or cropped.  Africa and my camera were very good to me.
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