Day 16: April 19, 2014
Holy Saturday was AMAZING.
I slept in till 8 this morning, having been up a couple times briefly throughout the night but sleeping well regardless. I rolled around, walked around the house, and finally was dressed by about 9 as I needed to walk into town for some more airtime on my phone. Jason and Liane were to call me about hiking, and my phone had run out the night before. I was afraid I'd missed their call.
The view from my bed waking up in the morning...as if you were curious about it.
I walked the short trip down past Mbeya Hotel and across the road, navigating through a couple shops to the road that ran along the stadium (the one the coffee shop and Metro are on). I looked around for open shops and asked around if anyone sold airtime, but got a bunch of negative responses. I passed a woman making chapati and then made it all the way to the coffee shop, which to my delight was open, and I noted that for later in the day. I made my way back up the road and again passed the woman...so I asked if she had chapati (I didn't see any anymore but the street was empty and I had passed a big stack just a few minutes prior). She said something in Swahili and I asked how much. She said 3000! (In retrospect, I think she meant 300 but in English numbers get crossed with vendors commonly). I passed and continued walking. I finally found a stand on the corner (literally an umbrella and a table) where I bought my airtime and bought my last week's (!!!) worth of minutes, texts, and data...for a buck fifty. On the way back up the hill, I bought an Orange Fanta as a substitute breakfast, and noted the shops continuing to open up, with owners hauling in supplies (one of which was a mannequin being pushed up the hill on wheels)
As soon as I got home I texted Liane about the hike, and then enjoyed my peanut butter and Fanta breakfast. While waiting to hear back, I read a bit more. Just a couple minutes later, my phone rang, which was strange to hear as it hardly ever does here in Mbeya. Liane said we would meet at their house at ten and go from there. I finished up my page or two, then got dressed, threw a couple things in my backpack (water, peanut butter and a spoon for a snack later), and was ready. It was Carmelle's last morning, and as I envied the smell of her full cooked breakfast (eggs and fried tomatoes!), I said goodbye to her and to everyone at the house and headed out.
We all met at Jason and Liane's house just after ten. As my stomach was still not confidently 100%, I made a quick pit stop at their house and then we were ready to be off. I noticed Jason and Liane packing a roll of toilet paper in their bag just before we headed out, and I wondered if that was for my benefit or not. :-P
We started our climb by walking up the hill towards the clinic, and turned off on to a dirt road just a few hundred meters from their house. Up the dirt road a bit, we turned off the obvious car path and onto a single path hiking trail to the right. In a few moments, we were in dense forest, and curving up and around the creek below us. After a short incline and walk further, we opened up onto a clearing. To our right was the town below, and to the left a long cleared incline for power lines. The power lines would be our guideposts for the day, as they connected the town below to a power station at the top top of the climb, well past the cross I saw every day on the way to work.
The more forested area and a creek down below, which you can't see. And always time for a selfie!
To our right, the town below
To our left, the beginning of the incline...oh, how we had only just begun...
We continued up the cleared path, and though not difficult, it was certainly an uphill climb, and tiring for someone not used to hiking (totally different from running several miles). I passed a couple of very old tombstones, crumbled and faded yet still covered with fresh plants and flowers likely picked from not far away. I would climb a few minutes at at time, rest a short while, and then continue. As Jason and Liane flew up the incline, Mark and I were the slower pair and stayed closer together. The higher we got, the steeper portions of the climb became, it seemed, though still nothing too treacherous, just more demanding.
I really don't think the pictures do justice to the slope of these hills.. this wasn't too bad of one, but the future ones that are TRULY steep still don't look that bad.
After maybe an hour or so of climbing, the clearing became a bit more green, we started seeing more trees, and the vegetation became more lush. We approached a rather steep and larger hill shortly after this, and a group of local teens came running down it in the opposite direction as Mark and I trekked up. They laughed at each other and made a came of running and galloping down the hill with no fear. I think they were also laughing at us two white, sweaty, out of breath uzungus.
This is the view from not even up to the Cross, which was less than half the trip.
The view looking down from the green area where the local kids ran by going downhill laughing at the out of breath white dudes.
After a lot of breaks, and what seemed like even more sections of climbing, I finally saw Jason and Liane sitting at the top of an incline, and the white cross a short distance behind them. I huffed and puffed the last little segment and slapped my hand on the cross, triumphant. Then, as happened with many of my previous breaks to catch my breath, the view took that breath right away. It was beautiful! The city below was sooo tiny, and we could see in all different directions, to parts of town and nearby cities that seemed so far away. From up there, they were right next to each other and seemed no distance apart at all.
Don't I look exhausted?? I look terrible!
There, the hat helps.
And it looks even better if you just cut me out of it altogether!
We stopped for a break and some water/snack, and then after a few minutes Jason and Liane told us there was a bit longer up to the power station, with a bit steeper path but nothing bad and what I heard as not as long. I was game, and thought I could go a bit further. The clouds that had formed around us and in front of the mountain were the perfect metaphor for Jason and Liane's description of the second half of our hike. It was just as long, it turned out, and much more steep. Their words were just as veiled as the mountain above us, which I couldn't see at the time. The clouds in front of it hid well just how much higher we were going, and I was clueless...it was probably better that way.
This is what the mountain (ie just the first hill after the cross, followed by many more) looked like after the clouds had cleared a bit (this is from our return trip down.
And these pics show what the mountain actually looked like before we started climbing it...where is it? EXACTLY.
No big deal, just a steep slope hundreds of feet down on the right side.
Shortly we started up again, taking a narrow path to the right of the cross down a bit and then curving up and to the right, around an incline and a valley below. It was RATHER narrow in places, and I started thinking about the crater hike the week before. After we finished this curve, we turned to our left and UP the mountainside. This portion was VERY steep to me, had little to hold onto, and was rather rocky. Luckily, there were no drops off to the side, but I was more afraid of falling backwards onto a rocky slope. We passed a very large deposit of animal poo, and I took just as much care not to put my hand in it as I did not to fall down the mountain. A short while later, as the incline became a bit less steep, we passed four or five mountain goats, just looking around, eating, and running at each other on the slope of the mountain...no big deal for them.
Spoiler alert! Terrible joke incoming!: "C'mon, Chris, these slopes aren't so BAAA-d"
Following this, the inclines weren't nearly as bad, but it seemed that at the top of every hill was another hill, and at the top of that hill was a mountain, etc. Thus, there were again multiple opportunities to stop to catch your breath, only to have it taken away again at the sight of the mountain. Granted, much of the time the views were obstructed by clouds, but then I would realize that I was IN A CLOUD. All around me, mist and clouds moved over the green grasses and shrubs and flowers on the terrain. A large grey stone would pop up here or there. Every so often, the clouds would clear enough for me to see the slopes on the side of the path, with lush green leading into an unknown covered by white and grey misty clouds. At one point in time, with Jason and Liane far ahead and Mark a ways back, I stood and turned toward the downslope and peered into the green and clouds below. The wind blew in my face, and the clouds moved over the slope and toward me as well. Though I knew I was standing on solid ground, for a few moments it felt almost as if I were flying through the cloud and just above the slope below. Numerous times I watched as a cloud blew above the path and over the mountain up ahead of me. Once or twice the clouds moved out of the way just enough to see REALLY far below, allowing me to appreciate how high up we were and how beautiful the valleys below were.
Let's put this into perspective. I am holding the camera at a least a 45 degree angle to take this picture. Notice how the ground behind me still seems to be sloping DOWN? 45 degrees + still looks downhill = really freakin' downhill!
Maybe a bit better perspective.
I passed just one less than comforting area where the mountain was to my left and a sharp slope to the right, with a narrow path in between. A man with two donkeys was ahead heading down the mountain, and I stepped aside as he led his animals down from behind. I continued on, past a smooth large boulder than blocked the path, carefully finding places to place my foot and cross without sliding down it's face. As we got higher, the path finally leveled off and became only very slightly inclined with no slopes to either side. My pace picked up noticeably, and I walked through the tall grasses blowing in the wind with ease and joy. This continued on for hundreds and hundreds if not a thousand or so meters, with ghosts of power lines in the distance confirming the path I was on and brief movements of clouds revealing for a second or two how high I had climbed. It was probably the most peaceful 15 minutes of the day.
This was awesome....it was amazing to walk in the clouds...I still wonder what the view from up there was like...
As I looked up at the end of this stretch, one final steep slope remained, and after climbing its red rocks I noticed two figures sitting in the distance. Liane and Jason were again relaxing, waiting for us, though this time we were at the top of our climb for the day. Behind them, obscured by the fog of the cloud, lay a small building with a large antenna/tower next to it and, of course, some farmland! The farm area was surrounded by a rough wooden fence, with the actual station itself a bit more secure. We walked around the top of the mountain through a field of what smelled very strongly like mint, and then took a few pictures.
At the top!
Even the power station at the top of a friggin' mountain had farmland!
Remember these towers for future reference...
Minty smelling plants and farmland. This is thousands of feet above the town...hard to believe looking at it this way.
Though it was a bit of a shame that we couldn't see down below to the valley from the power station, it was still a bit surreal to think about the fact that we were so high up and surrounded by clouds. It was beautiful up there, and though I would have liked to have seen the AMAZING views, I wonder if perhaps the clouds were there to keep me from totally freaking out about the climb. I already recognized that this hike was not something I would have done on my own, and perhaps not being able to see exactly what or where I was climbing was a blessing. Looking up from the house up to the mountain now, it seems maybe that I rather needed the help the clouds provided. Plus, the walk among the clouds was amazing.
We sat and rested a bit more, and I had a bit of cheese that Jason and Liane offered. To my despair, my spoon was nowhere to be found, and so I went without my peanut butter. We packed our things up and headed back down the mountain.
The climb down was really nice! After the first little decline, we enjoyed the smooth path, along which Mark realized he had left his hat at the top. Apparently it had been all over the world with him. It was starting to get a bit cold and rainy, though, so Jason volunteered to run back to get it and we continued down. The clouds open up just before we got to the steepest part of the second half of our climb up, and the view was awesome...everything so tiny and the panorama of the Rift Valley awesome.
Yeah, the clouds opened up...this is a bit more like it...those tiny hill looking things are just smaller MOUNTAINS that we were higher than.
The steepest part of the climb was a little difficult to get back down, but not nearly as scary as going up. I was constantly afraid that I would fall and break something on a sharp rock, though not really afraid of sliding down the hill as it wasn't as intimidating going downward. After that last steep decline, the rest was fairly easy. We wound around the valley and reached the cross again.
An old tomb.
A back road to Jason and Liane's house
There is a monkey in there somewhere I promise!
Once to the cross, the views cleared even more and the remainder of our hike was rather sunny. We walked down the slopes of the last leg of the hike, and of course I slipped and fell twice, the first time catching myself with my right arm and tweaking my shoulder a bit. Nothing big, but the shoulder/back is still sore. We wound through the forest that bookended our trip and were essentially down into the city. Jason and Liane recommended taking a back road to their house, and along the way we saw a family of monkeys swinging through a high tree above. Jason said that he rarely sees any in Mbeya, and certainly not a whole family, so it was a treat to catch glimpses of their blurry outlines jumping through.
We stopped at Jason and Liane's where we met Mark's wife for a beer and some cookies to relax after the hike. I was so tired and a bit sore, and enjoyed the chocolate coconut sandwich cookies and the Safari beer. The others then started talking about the Easter lunch the next day, with ham, chicken, desserts, etc. I was starving, so it sounded even more amazing.
After finishing our beers and talking for a while, we all went our own ways and headed back home. I mentioned that I needed to EAT but needed a shower first, so Mark brilliantly suggested that I stop at the hotel, order, tell them I'd be back in fifteen minutes, go shower, and then be back long before the food would ever be ready.
I did just that. I walked toward home briskly, stopping at Mbeya to look at the menu, decide I was famished, order the chicken sizzler (essentially the biggest dish they had, with fried rice, spicy chicken (as close to General Tso's as possible), noodles, and fries all on one plate), and leave promising to be back in 15 minutes.
In 25 minutes, I was back...post-incredible feeling shower, new clothes, brushed teeth, etc. I sat down at a table and watched a soccer match going on, and ten minutes later my food came out sizzling. It looked amazing, and tasted such as well. I enjoyed every last bite with my bitter lemon, and covered almost every bite with chili sauce. It tasted incredible. I finished it without any problem and without any guilt, as it was really my one meal of the day, and I had just worked like a horse (or maybe like the two donkeys I passed on the mountain) all morning.
After finishing, I left very happy and headed for the Korean Coffee Shop. It was open, and so I was excited to jump on wifi and call home. I sat down and ordered some cookies and tonic water and then set to using the wireless. I was right next to the router, had a great reception strength...but my phone would not connect. I have no idea why, but it just kept cycling back to "available" every time I clicked "Connect". I asked the owner and he seemed to think I was doing everything right. He looked at the router, which was functioning. There were other patrons using the wifi happily. I was just unlucky I guess. I sat there for maybe 10 minutes trying and in disbelief before deciding it would be another email chat day for Ali and I.
As I walked to the house, the rain started falling, and so I walked through the dimly lit and fading streets up to the main road and passed Mbeya Hotel. The sun was almost gone as I turned toward the house, but the rain was not so kind as to follow along. For some reason, I felt like I was walking thru a scene in a movie. It was strange. In any case, I arrived at the house at about 7 and was EXHAUSTED.
At the house, I tried to rest, as I knew the Easter Vigil was coming up at 10 PM. I tried to rest without falling asleep, but was afraid to. I tried to drink some coffee, but was even to tired to finish it. Though I had just eaten, I was offered and accepted some of the vegetable soup from the night before, which maybe was a bit too much as I just felt more tired and a bit nauseated after finishing it. I sat at the table with the others after my soup was gone with my head in my hands, and shortly noticed the others laughing...at me...because I was falling asleep at the table.
I looked down at my watch and noticed it was time to get ready. I mustered up whatever energy I had and got dressed as fast as I could. I threw on my waterproof shoes, not caring if they didn't match since it was raining, and busted out my pancho, and was off to meet Mark and Michael.
Michael had pointed out to me the road they lived on earlier in the day, but at night all looked different, and I had to call Mark to find me on the road that led past the Hotel. As I followed him down the dirt road in the rain, my choice to wear my rubber boots was confirmed as I stepped into a big puddle, but remained dry. It was funny because I did this just as Mark was commenting on how there was this balance between trying to dress up nicely and then dress in case of bad weather...plop went my foot.
We walked down the road with Pat and Tom (from the Peace Corps, who were in town for the weekend) and turned onto the main road. As we walked, young teens/kids rain by in the rain, and we were all headed in the same direction. As we arrived in the courtyard, we noticed that streamers had been put up in preparation for the Easter celebration. As we walked into the Church, we noted it was still not full, and so chose a pew closer to the front. However, we immediately realized that the pew was a bit too small for all five of us, and were crammed. When we turned around to see if there were any other options, though, things had filled up, and we were stuck. One small final Lenten offering.
As Mass began, the lights in the Church that were on were turned off, and I maintain that this is one of the coolest feelings ever. Sitting in dark, waiting for the Light of Christ...a powerful symbol of death and life. It is awesome whether in Sour Lake, College Station, or Mbeya. The procession of light followed the blessing of the flame (which we could only barely hear), and the church filled with candlelight as the Easter candle reached the front and spread its flame to those with candles (it was apparently bring your own candle, and though amazing how many people spent money on their own, us uzungus hadn't thought to).
Fortunately for me, I had found the entire Easter Vigil Mass, with prayers and descriptions and readings, online earlier that night, and was following along on my phone unabashedly...it was too full for me to worry about a couple people seeing me on my phone.
The Exultet followed, and I followed along using Christ's name as best I could as a guide post (deep, right?). Somehow, the "This is the night" portion of the Exultet translates no matter where you go, so at least I caught that part. Following the long Exultet we sat for the marathon of readings.
We read all of them, friends. Not only did we hit all seven LONG-VERSION Old Testament readings AND the Epistle AND the psalm AND the prayer in between each, we had members of the choir as lectors, so each reading was CHANTED. Yes, this means it took longer than normal. I tried following along on my phone with varying success, sometimes finishing the reading way too early, and other times right on (especially the reading with Abraham...whose name is EASY to pick out in Swahili). Further, the reading from Exodus was chanted by a man who had a HUGE voice. He started belting out his reading, and was so loud that he caused the microphone on the altar to pick up feedback, and the church was filled with about 20 seconds of extremely loud feedback. He did NOT need a microphone, but the kind priest who walked up to him after the snafu suggested he just stand a few feet back from the ambo, which worked well enough. Finally, about the 3rd reading, Mark spotted an open chair one row up from us and decided to move, giving us all a much more comfortable seat for the endurance race we were running. Though I felt bad that he moved away from his wife, I didn't want to get up an argue with him about moving back and letting me sit there. Plus, I think we were all just happy to move our arms again, though my shoulder was still sore from the fall earlier that day.
I started to get the impression that Pat and Tom were getting frustrated. I realized quickly they were not Catholic and that this might have been their first time coming, at least to Easter Vigil. Things improved when Michael offered them her Missal and they were at least able to follow the readings. The readings took forever, but finally around midnight....
We were through the Old Testament....and then it got good! (Read: more interesting and so I wasn't as stressed about Pat and Tom being bored) The choir rang out into the Gloria, the Cathedral bells rang out along with numerous other bells in the church, and a group of young kids in white and yellow dress clothes walked up to the altar and did a really neat dance. The dance was smooth and fluid, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but they looked like a cat or lion/tiger dancing with joy next to each other. It was rather cute and the Gloria certainly livened the place up a bit.
After the Epistle, I was super pumped by the intonation of the Alleluia, which was with long, multiple notes for each syllable, with three Alleluias in each intonation and repeated three times, each time a little louder than before. Finally, the shorter alleluia just before the Gospel was read was one of the familiar ones that you hear often in the states, so it brought me home a little bit as well.
After the Gospel was sung, it was time for the homily, which was long, but was okay because I found and read the Pope's homily (or at least part of it) on my phone. After that I just relaxed, and soon the homily was finished.
I hate saying this, because it sounds bad, but I don't mean it that way, but I was happy when I found out there would be no Baptisms or Confirmations at this Vigil. It was already super long, and though I love the fact that many come into the Church at the Vigil, for time's sake I didn't mind not having them.
We skipped straight to the rite of sprinkling, which was hilarious. After blessing the water, the plump old bishop walked around with an altar boy following him with a larger pail of holy water throughout the church. He used what looked like a car wash brush, with a long stick and bright red bunches or bristles, the entire shape and size of which resembled a plunger. He went all in, and was rather soaking some of the faithful. You could see in his eye and the slight smirk on his face that he was rather enjoying it, as were the people. When he reached the back of the church and couldn't go up the stairs, the people in the small balcony above beckoned and he attempted to reach them with at least some success. Then he turned back and "sprinkled' the other half of the church, actually getting Tom and Pat quite wet. It was rather amusing.
After this, things started moving at a more appropriate pace. As per usual, the offertory was collected, and the procession of gifts included groceries and supplies and goods from the people for the church (I am guessing for the priests). In addition to the typical detergent, pasta, bread, fruits, etc, tonight there was a large pail filled with maybe three or four bottles of LIQUOR. I laughed a little bit and watched to procession continue as the large set of gifts arrived at the front with a member of the congregation carrying it. As they did, the children dancing before lined the communion rail and dance along as the choir sang again.
A couple things made my day throughout the remainder of the Mass. The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei were both sung in LATIN, and though slightly different in melody, I was able to sing along. As the Agnus Dei was being sung, I started to get a bit sad realizing that I was missing Easter at home of my own free will. I missed my family. At the same time, I tried to and did think of the tremendous gift God had given me in this trip and in this opportunity to see His ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, and APOSTOLIC Church, the Church that He founded, reaching to parts of the world that I didn't even acknowledge before. Truly it was a blessing, and I felt a bit better as I became very excited to receive Christ in the Eucharist. Some of the reading of Pope Emeritus Benedict's book about how Christ as God was able to offer Himself to the apostles in anticipation of His sacrifice was coming back to me, and I got even more excited. I happily received Christ in the Eucharist at this, the most solemn of Masses, at the true Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Alleluia!
After some very peaceful praying after Holy Communion, we stood for the final prayer and then were ready to...wait, no, not announcements!
The choir started up again, and soon a very familiar tune rang out in the church...it was the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah...IN SWAHILI. All Swahili (the only word I recognized was of course Hallelujah). It was AMAZING. They sang the whole dang thing...not just the main line or two. They were AMAZING. It was like a professional choir singing, and it rocked the house, friends. Even from a distance, I could see the Bishop's eyes shining and a smile on his face as he enjoyed it every bit as much as we all did.
After that amazing feat, we were blessed with the triple blessing as per usual for Easter Vigil (but I wasn't sure if we would get it), and then the intonation of the Alleluia on the dismissal.
It was over. It was long, it was painful at times, but IT. ROCKED. MY. FACE. OFF.
We all marveled at the Mass outside in the courtyard then walked home and \parted ways at 2 AM. It was a short while till the feast the next day. I got home and was super pumped, so wondered if I could sleep. The exhaustion of the day wore on me pretty quick once I was in my bed, but I had had a GREAT day....Jesus is risen. Alleluia! AND. HE. ROCKED. MY. FACE. OFF. PERIOD.
Did I take pictures of the Vigil?? No, I was too scared to, but in retrospect I kinda wish I had.
Did I take pictures of the Vigil?? No, I was too scared to, but in retrospect I kinda wish I had.