We Climbed Kilimanjaro! Well, Sort Of

A big thank you to Discover Corps for providing this adventure where we reached new heights! As always, all opinions are our own.

Hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro

From the time we arrived in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro had been shrouded in clouds, so we got in the habit of looking in its direction every so often just in case we might catch a glimpse.

It took more than a week, but that routine reaped rewards when the summit briefly poked through while we were driving back to homebase one afternoon. That was just a teaser, making us want to see the mountain in all of its glory even more.

Our chance finally came a couple of days later, when a clear morning afforded us a full view for a brief moment. Within a few minutes it had disappeared again.

Nature is an uphill battle

Village kids on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa

That certainly helped to build our excitement for what was coming up the next day.

The entire Discover Corps team was all atwitter as the sun rose, because this was the day that we would get to set foot upon the massive mountain.

Not anywhere near the top mind you, we’re talking about the biggest freestanding mountain in the world, rising over nineteen thousand feet!

So about halfway was going to have to do.

We drove up to an elevation of about five thousand feet (a bit of cheating, we know!) to begin our trek.

Where the Water Falls

A waterfall on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with Discover CorpsAt that altitude the terrain is classic rainforest, and we were surrounded by misty precipitation.

Once we set out on foot we were quickly soaked as we followed the trail leading us to the first of three waterfalls we would visit on our hike.

Gingerly walking across a span of wet, slippery rocks allowed us to test the water and, even though we were within about a hundred miles of the equator, it was surprisingly cold.

Flowers under the waterfalls on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa

Considering the accumulation of snow and ice above us as the mountain reached its peak, we probably should have expected that.

Climbing higher, we passed through secluded villages surrounded by the small, terraced farm fields that are typical of the Chagga people.

For centuries they have inhabited the southern and western slopes of the mountain, growing corn, beans, squash, coffee, and tons of bananas.

Farming on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Farming on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro

A village on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa

Levels are cut into the hillside and they reminded us of the ingenious Inca planting methods we learned about in South America.

We stopped at a little shop / bar to wolf down a well-deserved lunch and a conversation we had kicked around for several days picked up again.

We’d been asking our host, Mama Simba — and pretty much all the locals that we met — about a favorite traditional brew in Tanzania called mbege.

We love local brews and rarely pass on a chance to give them a go, but this one was turning out to be quite elusive.

A Seriously Terrible Brew

Mbege is type of beer made from millet and flavored with banana, but it is not sold in stores, only homemade.

Richard from homebase, who had joined us on our climb, felt like we might be able to find some in this village, so he headed out to scout. We adore Richard, he’s the man.

When he arrived back, he informed us that he could only find a similar beverage which the label proclaimed to be “Quality Banana Drink” and “Banana for my health.”

Popping it open, the bouquet was bad enough, but not even close to the taste.

After a sip we began to speculate on the recipe.

Our best guess was that they begin with a grimy bucket filled with giraffe urine (we surmised this from the pictures of giraffes and a bucket on the label), and add a burnt log (for a heavy, smoky flavor).

Let that steep for a few days.

A waterfall on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa

Next add some old, rotten, black banana peels (for your health) and a dash of diesel fuel, and set aside again to ferment for a week or two.

Then the cocktail is ready to be strained through a dirty sock into used beer bottles (original user’s backwash is optional).

This step seemed to be less than precise because a good amount of sediment made it through to the bottle.

Serve lukewarm… oh, and we highly recommend keeping water handy to chase it down.

Lots of water.

A Chagga woman carries a huge bundle on her head on the way up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

When we told Mama Simba back at homebase about our find, her comment was, “People drink this and go crazy.”

We certainly could believe that.

Setting back out after lunch our guide, Alfred, regaled us with stories of his many triumphant assaults on the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Telling Tales

He has conquered the mountain more times than he can count, including trips guiding Sylvester Stallone, Ice Cube, Martina Hingis, and many other celebrities from around the world.

Beautiful double waterfall on the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro

He also explained how burnt giraffe bones will draw the poison out of a snake bite, and how this method saved him from dying after a green mambo strike.

Then he demonstrated the bushman click language, which is his native tongue.

An attempt to show David how to speak it could be described as futile, at best. Hilarious, but futile.

After climbing nearly a thousand feet, we reached our third waterfall. This put us just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our destination, the Marangu Gate into Kilimanjaro National Park.

A Chagga Apology

Local Chagga legend has it that if anyone offers this plant to someone they have wronged, the slighted party is expected to forgive and forget. We couldn't decide if it is a lovely way to keep the peace, or a way too easy get out of jail free card.

Along the way Alfred gave us one more story.

He picked a leaf from a palm-like plant, tied it in a knot, and placed a one thousand shilling note inside the knot.

Local Chagga legend proclaims that if anyone offers this knot of goodness to someone they have wronged, the slighted party is expected to forgive and forget.

We couldn’t decide whether it was a lovely way to keep the peace, or an overly simple get-out-of-jail-free card.

Next thing we knew we were approaching the gate where most climbers begin their assault on the summit. And where we would end ours.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with Discover Corps in Tanzania
Just kidding!
The Race to the Top

Yohane Lauwo was the first African to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Just inside the entrance to the National Park we noticed a few plaques, one of which especially caught our eye because of the dates on it.

Yohane Lauwo was listed as having lived from 1871 to 1996. One hundred and twenty five years!

In 1889, at just 18, he guided German adventurer, Hans Meyer, to the summit as the first European to climb Kilimanjaro.

It is possible that they were the first people from anywhere to reach the peak’s pinnacle. Climbing the mountain was taboo among the Chagga since God was thought to live up there.

Perhaps Mr. Lauwo was rewarded with his long life for breaking that taboo? We briefly mulled over giving a full ascent a shot. Alfred was game.

If you can’t climb it, drink it

Kilimanjaro, if you can't climb it, drink it!

We ran over some quick calculations:

Considering we put in a pretty good hike to get to this official starting point for the Marangu route, completing the climb would be a mere thirty-four kilometers to go and up over ten thousand feet.

That would not be happening.

But we found that the gift shop had the proper slogan for our sort of lower expectation expedition emblazed on a tee shirt, “If you can’t climb it… Drink it!”

Kilimanjaro had already become our favorite local beer, so we were more than happy to go that route instead.

A sentiment more fitting for our half-ass(ault) on the summit.

The Plan B Restaurant on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa
When climbing Kilimanjaro, you need a Plan B!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Africa!

A big thank you to Discover Corps for providing this adventure where we reached new heights! As always, all opinions are our own.


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27 thoughts on “We Climbed Kilimanjaro! Well, Sort Of”

  1. Hi, You have carried out a fantastic job. I’m going to absolutely reddit this plus my watch advise to be able to my friends Travel. I am sure they will be benefited from this blog.

  2. You never know when something like that “Quality Banana Drink” will come in handy. Well, you may not have made it all the way up the mountain, but you still had an amazing experience. And you got the T-shirt.

  3. Congratulations on your waterfall+brew hike on Kilimanjaro … it was a pleasure to learn a little about the area at the base of the mountain! I’m glad you tried the banana drink,so I could read your report instead of having to do the “heavy research” myself one day 🙂

  4. A very entertaining post, especially the description of the banana drink. I do think the shillings in the knotted leaf is a pay off more than anything 😉

  5. My husband Henk is not good with altitude, unfortunately, so our Kilimanjaro experience extends only to the beer, as well. But the rainforest hike looks like a great alternative!

  6. Fabulous pictures! I love the local brew stories. Where are the O2 tanks? Your start/finish is high enough for me.

  7. My goodness this is a pretty awesome experience! Looks absolutely beautiful. The banana brew sounds weirdly interesting and you’re very brave to have tried and survived!

  8. What an incredible experience for you. Minus that weird drink that I couldn’t read about because I hate bananas. But how beautiful otherwise. 😉

  9. I’ve tasted quite a few home brews from my travels and unfortunately they tend to always taste exactly just like you described and served lukewarm to boot! What a wonderful experience you had there.

  10. I love the fact that you only ‘sort of’ climbed the mountain and especially that you drove the first bit. That is definitely my kind of adventure. You should come to Australia. You can climb our highest mountain by taking an afternoon stroll. Then you can stand with everyone else at the top taking selfies and ringing friends telling them you made it to the top.

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