Traveler Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro and Discovers New Passion while Teaching Abroad
Originally lived in/traveled from Denver, CO; now living in Moshi, Tanzania
Trip Date: February and March, 2014
Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level, it is also the highest free standing mountain in the world. An estimated 25,000 people climb Mount Kilimanjaro each year. In our interview below, Jennifer shares her climbing adventure and personal discoveries made while in Tanzania.
What was the purpose of your trip?
I was in Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro and to do volunteer work.
Did you travel alone, with family/friends, or with a group?
I climbed Kilimanjaro with Alpine Ascents International and volunteered with Cross-Cultural Solutions.
Do you have any previous experience with travel abroad?
Yes, I have traveled extensively and recently lived for a year in Bologna, Italy.
How did the daily life of the locals differ from the life you live back home?
In Moshi, most people live on less than $2 per day. People live with hardships such as lack of running water and electricity and high rates of HIV. They do not have many material things and so their joy comes more from experiences: visiting with family and friends, tending to children, making crafts, learning something new. They have the biggest and warmest smiles I have ever seen. They remind me that I don’t need security, status or things to be joyful.
Did you eat any local delicacies or interesting foods during your trip?
I ate a lot of fresh tropical fruits! The mango, pineapple, and watermelon in Tanzania are delicious. On the coast and in Zanzibar, I enjoyed lots of fresh seafood. I also came to enjoy ugali, or cornmeal porridge, which is a staple in East Africa.
How was the weather different than in your hometown?
Tanzania is on the equator and has a tropical climate. There are not four seasons, only a wet season and a dry season. I was there during the ending of dry season and the beginning of wet season. The rains are magnificent. When it rains, the streets become rivers of mud!
What was the most memorable experience during your trip?
Climbing Kilimanjaro was memorable because I made it to the summit but then developed HAPE – high altitude pulmonary edema. Climbing down the mountain with fluid in my lungs was far more difficult than climbing up, and was probably the most physically challenging thing I have ever done, and I have run marathons and climbed many other mountains. The other memorable experience was teaching high school during my volunteer placement. I was supposed to be doing health-related work, but this school really needed a teacher and they asked me if I would be willing to give it a shot. I tried it and loved it! The kids were amazing. I had such a great experience I am going back for at least another 6 months.
Did you find any cultural similarities between Tanzania and Denver?
People are people everywhere. Tanzanians love to laugh – they tend to have well-developed senses of humor. I would find myself joking around with the directors of my school as if they were my girlfriends back home. Sometimes I would marvel at how different our lives were. One of the directors was married when she was 14 to a man 30 years older who already had 3 wives, but we could still establish great rapport and working relationships, which were/are evolving quickly into genuine friendships.
What was most surprising about your trip?
I was surprised how much I loved teaching. I have never envisioned myself as a teacher – I always thought I would find the experience of a room full of children overwhelming. But these kids touched my heart every single day. I think I learn more from them than they do from me.
What places of interest or activities do you recommend in Tanzania?
Tanzania is a great country in Africa to visit. It is a poor but stable country, with over 120 ethnic tribes living peacefully alongside one another. Moshi is at the base of Kilimanjaro, which is a very impressive mountain – the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Even if you don’t climb to Kili’s summit, you can still enjoy scenic day hikes at its base. There are numerous game parks in the area: Serengeti, Tarangire, and my personal favorite, Ngorongoro, which is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world. You also shouldn’t miss the Tanzanian coastline, which has miles and miles of undeveloped beaches. The beaches of Zanzibar are not to be missed either. They are busier than the beaches on the mainland, but they are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The sea there is mesmerizing; it is varying shades of turquoise, and changes color throughout the day and depending on the weather. When I was in Zanzibar, I just wanted to sit and watch the water all day long!
Did you visit any other countries in the area? If yes, which countries?
I did not visit any other countries but when I return, I would like to visit Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda. I feel like I could continue to explore sub-Saharan Africa for the rest of my days and never run out of things to learn, places to see, people to meet.
How did your trip impact the way you view life abroad?
I would say the trip deeply impacted me – I moved to Tanzania in June! The biggest impact was the realization of how rewarding cultural exchanges can be. I shared my skills and knowledge with some local schoolchildren, and they taught me about hope, resilience, and courage. Some of my kids have HIV, yet they do not complain. They come to school on time, with their clothes pressed and smiles on their faces, ready to learn. I am humbled by their example.
Are you planning a trip to Tanzania or another country? Be sure you are healthy and prepared for your adventure by scheduling a visit with a travel health specialist before you go.