Monday, August 17, 2015

Snow in Kenya - Mount Kenya Climb


Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot again as I stepped through ice and snow. I concentrated on not falling off the cliff to the right, or at least what I thought was a cliff. With my small head torch in the pitch black of night I could not tell if the darkness to my left was a cliff or just a huge rock. My fingers hurt from the cold, despite the snow gloves I wore. My heart pounded against my chest and my breathing was heavy as I tried to obtain the little oxygen in the air. I was wearing two socks, thermal leggings under snow pants, two jackets and a hat yet I was still cold. I found it hard to believe that I was still in Kenya.

Old Moses Lodge

Before arriving to Kenya I never expected to be walking through snow shivering from the cold. On Wednesday I began my trek to the third highest peak of Mount Kenya at 4,985 meters (16,355 ft). My group loaded into a colorful matatu (small Kenyan bus/van) and headed down a dirt road to the Sirimon trail head. We had a quick lunch and walked 9km on a dirt/paved road to Old Moses Lodge at 3,400 metres (11,155 ft). Here we ate a hearty meal of fried fish, soup, rice and veggies. We turned into our sleeping bags in the room full of bunk beds.

Fun with Lobelia telekii
Next morning we woke to walk 14 km to Shipton's Lodge at the base of the three highest Mount Kenya peaks. Along the way we crossed many bridges, became familiar with the mount kenya flora and fauna and ate butter and ham (or some unknown meat) sandwich looking over a beautiful canyon. We reached Shipton's Lodge at 4,200 meters, just as it began to hail. We enjoyed a plate of popcorn and a couple games of hearts before turning in for another cold night of sleep in a room full of bunk beds.
Shipton's Camp with Mount Kenya in the Background

We woke up on Friday for our acclimation hike. We headed up a trail to a ridge just below the tallest Mount Kenya peaks: Batian and Nelion. We watched as the clouds rolled into the valley on the other side of the ridge. Above us loomed the daunting rock faces of the two tallest peaks, which are only scalable with rock climbing equipment. We headed back for more fresh popcorn and card games. It began to snow as we sheltered in the small lodge making friends with the other hikers. We formed a small united nations as we sat and chatted with the Chilean, French, Italian, British, Canadian, and Kenyan climbers. We went to bed early knowing that the following day would be the most challenging.

Enjoying the view for breakfast

Our guide knocked on our door at 2:30 AM signalling it was time to get up and get ready to summit. We put on all our layers, turned on our headlights and started for the trail that would take us up to Peak Lenana. It was nice that we could not see more than 20 feet in front of us, it was less daunting not to see the looming mountain above us as we climbed. We concentrated on the trail under our feet stopping every hour for a short snack and pee break. We continued to climb as the earth began to brighten around us. Soon we realized how precarious the trail was. Shimmying around rock ledges, we began to scramble up boulders, climb ladders and tread through fresh snow. The peak came into view, the small Kenyan flag and wood signs marking the summit gave us a boost of energy to finish the long trail.

Our team at the Peak
We made it up just in time to watch the sun rise and transform the sky into a rainbow. After many pictures we headed down the Chogoria Trail to complete the rest of the long day ahead. The summit day consisted of a 5 km assent of over 750 meters to Peak Lenana a 3km descent to breakfast with a view of the Gorges Valley at Minto's Hut. We then proceed to Mt Kenya Bandas for dinner visiting a beautiful waterfall and stopping for many pictures of the Gorges Valley. We walked a total of 29 km from Shipton's Lodge to Mt Kenya Bandas, but the amazing views around us kept us moving closer to the end.

Minto's Hut

We spent the night in luxorious bandas with a warm shower, a wood burning stove and a small dining room. The next morning we headed down a small dirt road in a old jeep to Chogoria Town. From here we were loaded into a matatu and then a taxi for a 9 hour drive back to Eldoret for some much needed rest.
View of Gorges Valley from the trail

Overall Mount Kenya was an amazing trek. Its a little known gem of Kenya. People on out trek who had hiked both Killimanjaro and Mount Kenya said that Mount Kenya was hands down a more beautiful and less touristy trek. Not to mention its almost 1/10 the price.


I would like to thank our guides, porters, and cooks from Equatorial Star Adventure Safaris who made this trip possible for a student friendly budget. Find them at www.equitorialstar.com


What to Pack:
1. Warm sleeping bag (rated to below freezing)
2. Small backpack to carry water, snacks, rain clothes, camera
3. Large backpack for the porter to carry your other equipment
4. Good waterproof hiking boots
5. Rain top and Pants or a parka
6. Thermal top and bottom
7. Fleece or light jacket
8. Warm parka or down jacket
9. Three wool socks and 1-2 sock liners
10. Hiking pants and one long sleeve and short sleeve top
11. Warm hat
12. Warm gloves - snow-gloves are the best for the top
13. Walking sticks if that's your thing
14. Snacks and two 1L water bottles
15. Powerpack for charging camera/phone (there is no power in the lodges)
16. Camera
17. Roll of toilet paper
18. Toiletries



Monday, August 10, 2015

Off Roading in Mount Elgon National Park



This weekend I visited Mount Elgon with my friend Dainel. We pack up our camping equipment in his 4 wheel drive and headed off to this beautiful Kenyan National Park in Western Kenya. 



View from inside the caves

A bit about Mount Elgon National Park. It's over 1000 square kilometers and is shared by both Uganda and Kenya. The park boasts the second highest mountain in Kenya at 14,177 ft (4,321 meters) and is home to antelope, black-and-white colobus, blue monkeys, zebras and the famous salt mining elephants. 


View from our campsite

The first day in the park Daniel and I headed to the caves where elephants walk up to 200 meters in the dark bat infested caves to mine salt. Of course Daniel and I outfitted with our head torch walked deep into Kitum Cave, the largest and most famous of the caves. I was a little nervous of the thousands of bats flying over my head, but you only live once. We headed deep into the cave looking for the salty elephants. Although no elephants were in the cave, we did find where they use their tusks to dig out the salt. I wonder what food they are flavoring with all that salt, I guess I will never find out since I did not bump into any elephants to ask.



Selfi-stick
Next Daniel and I scoped out a camping place, of course we were told to parking in the designated camping spots, but who follows rules anyways, and in Kenya they never check. We drove our 4 wheel drive up the steep muddy roads to the Endless Bluff. This 2563 m (8408 ft) boasts spectacular views of the surrounding valley, and the views really are endless. We popped out the tent on the roof of the truck, cooked our dinner on the small gas stove, sat by a small fire and turned in for a good night sleep. We woke to a spectacular view and a wonderful breakfast of french toast. 
That mountain in the back, that's Mt Elgon, I was at the top. 

Saturday morning we woke up early and headed off to climb Mount Kenya. Of course instead of taking the normal path straight up the valley we decided to follow animal tracks and our human compass skills taking the long way around the edge of the valley and up Mount Elgon. I was exhausted but very happy when I saw the sign Koitobos peak at 4,222 meters. 



At Koitoboss Peak
After a quick snack we headed back down the valley to our car. It was beautiful hiking along the crystal clear river running through the green valley covered in a colorful array of wildflowers. It was also great stepping not once but twice into hidden holes filled with muddy water. I arrived back at the truck with both my legs covered in mud, wet up to my knees, go figure. 

As we headed back to the main campsite it began to rain, which Daniel got excited about because he wanted to return home with a muddy car. We started a fire in a small banda and hug all our wet close to dry (ie my pants, socks and shoes). We made dinner and again got cozy in our pop-out rooftop tent. 




The next day we awoke to the view of a group of Defassa waterbuck and zebras grazing outside our tent. We sat eating eggs and potatos (that Daniel grew on his farm, I know he would get mad if I did not include that) as we watched the grazing animals (more like they watched us the whole time). We packed up and took a drive around the last remaining roads we had yet to travel looking for other wildlife. 

Overall Mount Elgon is definitely worth the trip, it was beautiful, not very touristy, actually we saw no one the whole time, and full of amazing views and interesting wildlife. I am looking forward to visiting again. 



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

About Me


My name is Adrienne, I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area but I have always felt like I was a citizen of the world. My mother came from Chile to find the American Dream, if I am that dream she found it. I studied molecular and cellular biology and the art of having a good time in college at University of California, Berkeley. After graduating I worked for a little over a year at an international biofuel research laboratory. I wore a crazy white coat and genetically engineered bacteria. How cool! You can say I was a little bit of a mad scientist.  At the age of 22 I quit my job and dropped everything to backpack solo around South America, India and Nepal.

It felt freeing to be alone and make my own itinerary, and mainly be spontaneous. I would take a train to a new place without a reservation for where I was going to sleep. I would walk aimlessly yet with a purpose to discover something new and interesting. I had some rough stints getting sick and almost dying in Peru and getting harassed more than anticipated. I learned to be confident, self -reliant and adaptable. I evolved so much from the person I use to be. I remember thinking of the geeky shy girl I used to be, I am still geeky but the shy has been replaced by a confident and adventurous woman.

I fell in love with traveling at the same time as I learned I was accepted to medical school. I began to merge my two passions healthcare and traveling. I spent a summer volunteering in the Sacred Valley Peru and every break I get I jump on a plane to discover someplace new, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Canada, Jordan, Israel and Netherlands. Currently I am spending one year abroad in Kenya doing HIV research with kids. I love helping were I can, and love to learn about new cultures and traditions. I love to try new foods, dance to different beats, and do anything that sounds dangerous and adventurous. With this blog I hope to inspire others to travel, volunteer and learn about what the world has to offer. To all the wanderlust people of the world keep traveling and never stop moving.


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Thank You Adrienne






Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rift Valley Camping

On Saturday I headed to Iten with a friend named Joey. Iten sits  at over 7,000ft in elevation, and  is 1 hour north of Eldoret. Iten claims to be the Home of Champions due to its production of many Olympic mentalists and marathon winner. Its also situated on the edge of the rift valley also making it home to amazing views.



On the way to Iten our taxi took us to Kreuger Farms to see the family of giraffes who reside here. We then hiked up the Sergoit hill to the top where there was an amazing view of the surrounding farms. We were then dropped at my friends farm to eat lunch and help with some farming. After lunch and tea we all got into a truck and drove over to Lelin Campsite for dinner.


At Lelin we enjoyed a wonderful dinner overlooking the Rift Valley. The dinner included a cooked rabbit which one of my friends ran over the day before, chicken, cabbage, rice and chapati. After a long night of eating, drinking, laughing and being afraid of the spiders crawling around the wood hut that we were eating in, Joey and I headed to our already set up tent for some sleep. The tent was 750KSH ($7.50) a person.



The next morning we woke up had a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, bread and chai we headed off on a hike up the Rift Valley. We were guided to the trail head by a campsite attendant which required traversing local farms and saying hi to many children who ran towards us as we hiked.



The hike was steep at many parts, most of it was exposed to the sun until we reached the top, so make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen. As you hike up the hill you pass by a waterfall where people are swimming in the water and cooling off. As you climb higher you begin to see and hear monkeys in the trees around you. The trail begins to thin out and at some moments the trail will fork or even disappear. You push through bush to follow the trail hoping that spiders and other bugs don't fall on you.



We hiked up to where we saw a hut and some guys who were cutting wood, to the right we saw a rocky outcrop. We headed once again through the brush for the rocks. Once we arrived we were astounded by the view. A group of local children were playing with machetes on the rocky outcropping. We made friends quickly and ended up sharing chips (fries) and soda with them at the campsite.

We then called out taxi to head back to Eldoret. The taxi there and back was 5000KSH ($50) which is a bit excessive for this trip. Hopefully we get some better rates next time.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ready, Set, Action for the Pocket Square Project

Today I was on set of the new promotional film for the Pocket Square Project. The Pocket Square Project is a fashion meets philanthropy group. They support HIV positive youth support groups in Kenya. These support groups provide a safe place for HIV positive youth to share their stories, hear from other HIV positive individuals and learn about how to overcome challenges.

HIV positive children face many unique challenges while growing up. Some of these challenges include adherence to medications and sickness that comes with not taking medication regularly. The issues of disclosure is a huge barrier for children who don't yet know their status. Many parents and caregivers keep their status a secret due to social stigma and these children grow up not knowing they have HIV. The Pocket Square Project has created a space for kids to talk about these challenges and take each one in a positive way. 

Today I was helping on the promotional film for the Pocket Square Project.  We interviews a couple young adults who had benefited from the support groups as well as some counselors and peer group coordinators. I enjoyed hearing the stories and was reminded why I am here in Kenya. I am excited to help out more with the Pocket Square Project.

Thanks to our filmmaker Thomas Lewis who had dedicated his time to this project. Visit his site to hear his stories and watch his films at untitledevent.wordpress.com and watch his previous films about kids living with HIV vimeo.com/album/2505522


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Learning about Tumaini - Street Kids Program

Today I visited Tumaini Drop-in Center for street kids in Eldoret. I spent the day playing soccer and cooking food for the kids. Of course I arrived back home covered in dirt and soaking wet.

Tumaini in Swahili means hope. The Tumaini center gives refuge to the street kids of Eldoret. It empowers street youth, offers vocational training, feed them, gives them a roof over their head and gives them an alternative to living on the streets. You can visit their website at: tumainicenter.org

Today I accompanied two girls who live near me to the center down dirt roads to the Tumaini Drop-in Center. Upon arriving I quickly was swallowed into a soccer tournament. Of course no one was keeping score, but I am pretty sure I was the worst player. The kids ran smiling up and down the field most barefoot others wearing flip-flops and beat-up sneakers.


The Photographers
While catching my breath on the sidelines I let two of the kids, probably aspiring photographers, use my iphone camera. They took some interesting photos and videos of the soccer tournament.

I met the resident dogs, one of them named Malaria and played on the monkey bars and swings. I was also shown a snake by some of the boys (they thought I was going to be scared). Don't worry readers it was a small garden snake.

After the in-prompt-to soccer game we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and fried up some chips (french fries). We gathered in the dining room sans-electricity. The kids sat quietly waiting for food, many of them wanting to help serve. We chowed down on the food in the dwindling light, using our cellphones to find misplaced condiments and children.

The kids thanked us immensely, giving us hugs, fist pumps and handshakes. As they retired to their bunks we drove back along the dirt road to our home. I plan to return next week for another game of soccer. Maybe I will be better after a year of playing with these kids.

You can visit the website to learn more and donate to this awesome cause: tumainicenter.org

Waiting patiently for food


Hey Mzungu!

As I start my second week of living in Eldoret, Kenya I reflect over the last week. I have learned many things about the culture in Eldoret but its just the tip of the iceberg. I have learned new traditions of eating and drinking as well as many new Swahili words. One of the first words I learned was Mzungu.

Why did I learn this word first? Mainly because that is what I am referred to as I walk around the streets of Eldoret. Mzungu means white skinned person. I compare it to the work gringo used in Latin countries, but it is much different. Mzungu is not a derogatory term but merely a way to get your attention. Often foreigners will use it to refer to themselves. "The other Mzungu's could not come for lunch." or while bargaining "Is that the Mzungu price?"


As I have wandered the streets of Eldoret I am becoming more familiar with getting around by foot. I am still getting used to the cars coming from opposite directions. The weather has been fantastic, its rainy season, but has not rained much in the last couple of days. Kenyans consider this time winter. During the day it ranges from 65-75F (20-25C) which for me feels like perfect t-shirt weather. Around me the locals are wearing puffy snow jackets and scarves.

The markets are busy on Saturdays where large crowds squeeze through narrow passages between wooden shacks piled with second hand cloths and hanging fruits. As you walk through hands reach out and grab you attempting to direct you into their shop. Others shout at you "Mzungu Mzungu welcome please come!" If you find something you like you begin to bargain until you reach a price that you would pay. I always have a set price in my head before beginning to bargain, I start lower than that price, so when we reach a common price its closer to what I was willing to pay.

Besides the street life I have also learned much about the night life. Its common for people my age to spend Friday and Saturday dancing at one of the many clubs in Eldoret. I have been to 4 one one, Spree and Signature. These nightclubs mix local African beats with popular American hip-hop and Latin dance music. Men are very forward and the whole night you constantly spend running away from men attempting to sneak up behind you. Many are relentless chasing you halfway around the club despite your efforts to shoo them away.

Dress code for these clubs are liberal. Many women wear short skirts and crop tops but with the touchy crowd most Mzungu's opt for long pants and nice blouses. Even with conservative dressing you will still be chased around.

I am excited to learn more Kenyan culture and learn more Swahili. I have finished my first week in Kenya and I have 51 more weeks to learn. Make sure to follow my adventures in Kenya. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fast Simple Amsterdam Layover




On my way to Kenya I stopped in Amsterdam. My layover was 12 hours long and I was determined to make the most out of it. I have never been to Europe so you can imagine how excited I was, I was also really tired after a 10 hour flight.

I left the airport and hopped on the local train to Central Station. This costs 9.5 Euros round trip and takes about 20 mins. After leaving central terminal I looked around for a canal cruise company, I found many just outside central station. I chose Lovers Tour Company which was the cheapest I found at 19 euros for a hop-on-hop-off boat tour. 

I walked to the boarding dock and started off on the canal cruise. They have headphones and a recorded audio tour as you float down the canals in 19 different languages. You can hop-off and on at various locations. The next boat is only 15 minutes away. 


I walked the narrow streets, eating and drinking anywhere I felt. I had traditional croquettes along the canals. 

Unfortunately during the day the Red-light District is dead and the Ann Frank House has a huge line. I hope to go again to experience the night life of Amsterdam. It was a long and exhausting day walking the streets of Amsterdam. I was exhausted as I boarded the plane to Nairobi. 


Welcome to Kenya

As I am writitng this blog I am siting in my new home for the next year without any power. Its been the second time since I arrived in Eldoret that the power has gone off, the first time was the minute I walked into the house. 



I arrived in Kenya on Thursday morning from Amsterdam. I spent the day at the airport waiting to board my next flight. In the mean time I bought a Safaricom sim card. It was 250 KES ($2.70) for the card and 2000 KES ($21) for data and talk that should last me a couple months (as long as I am not instagraming constantly). Once arriving in Eldoret after 3 days of flying I was exhaused, but when does that stop me. 

After leaving my bags in my dark room without power we headed off to Mama Mias a local favorite among the Indiana University research team. I met the team in Kenya that I will be woking with for the next year. After a couple Pilsner beers from Kenya I headed home to sleep.



The next day I was taken on a tour of the Eldoret AMPATH Clinic and Moi University Teaching and Referal Hospital by the research director Micheal. I will be working out of these two placd most of the time and will be traveling to more rural clinics around the area. Micheal and I ate lunch at the hopital cafeteria called Cool Stream where I feasted on a mountain of bean stew, rice, chipati and cabbage for 100 KES ($1) under a small thatched roof bugalo sourrounded by tall grass and small farms. 

After a satisfying lunch we headed to a small research presentation with the kenyan research assistants that I will be working with the following year. That evening we were celebrating Micheals going away so we all met up at Mama Mias for pizza, beer and drining games wich required paticipants to name countries with the same begining letter. 



We then headed out to a local club named "4 one one" where we dance our hearts out to Afrian beats.  We ate a 4am snack at the kenyan equivalent of KFC. Today I woke up headed out to buy fabric for our Pocket Square Project that helps fund support groups for children with HIV/AIDS. (thepocketsquareproject.org) 

I then headed to the market to buy some food for the next couple of days. I went to Nakumatt that is kinda like Walmart because it sells everything from furniture to produce. 

After going to the market I went over to the hospital with Micheal to visit one of our HIV kids who is really sick in the hospital. Micheal brought her some food and I gave her a small cow keychain I brought from America. She was very weak and tired and waiting for dialysis due to HIV kidney injury. She has been on the waitlist for dialysis for over a week and tonight she is finally getting the chance to have dialysis. Next step Micheal says is to find her a kidney and money for a transplant. After I gave her a short back rub and talked to her mother I walked home thinking about her as I walked down the muddy dirt roads back to my small house without power. 


This next year will be full of stories like hers. I hope that you continue reading and I hope that the stories I bring you will help inspire people to give back to their community and volunteer to make the world a beter place. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Capital City Washington DC

I had the opportunity to drive down to DC over the beautiful weekend and spend two days wandering around. I decided a week prior that I needed to visit DC once more. There is so much to do in DC. With free entry into all Smithonian museums, beautiful architecture and sprawling parks, you can spend days exploring. 


I drove down from Philly on Saturday morning taking back roads to avoid tolls and parked at Landover Hills Metro station, which parking is free on weekends and took the train into DC. The metro in DC is one of the easiest to use. With clear maps and not too many different lines and routes it's easy to figure your way around the city. I took the metro to Federal Triangle to get to the national mall and monument, Smithonian stop also works. I walked along the epansive park from congress all the way to the Lincon statue. It was a beautiful sunny day. 


Along the way I stumbled upon the Global Citizens Earth Day Festival. Could not have been a more perfect day to visit. Not only did I enjoy bands like Train, Fall Out Boy and NoDoubt, I also got to hear speeches from leaders around the world talk about important issues of poverty and pollution globally. Tents were set up to show off new innovations to decrease pollution and end world hunger. Entry to the festival was absolutely free. 



Empowered and exhasted I headed to Burgers Taps and Shakes near George Washington University. I enjoyed a falafel burger and a cookies and cream shake and headed back to my car for some sleep. 



One of my goals recently was to try out car sleeping, boy was it hard. I slept in a Walmart parking lot because I heard it was good to car sleep, because people are around. I laid out my camp mat and covers and tried to fall asleep. First it was too hot so I cracked the windows, then I got nervous that security would see me and arrest me so I put shades over the windows, next I got nervous that someone would break into my car to i rechecked the locks and turned off the smart car feature. Finally at around 4am I was finally able to fall asleep. I woke up at 7am to realize that no one had arrested me nor had anyone broken in. I was still alive!


A little tired I again boarded the metro back to federal triangle station to explore some of the free Smithonian museums. I first visited the Air and Space museum. I watched a show in the planetarium, I walked around the exhibits and even tried out the flight simulators. I then headed over to the Museum of Natural History where I learned about weird ocean creatures, got really excited about stuffed mammals and awed over gems and rare crystals. I even turned myself into Paranthropus boisei, an early ancestor of the human species. I was thouroughly exhausted so I headed back to my car and drove back to Philly. 


Overall DC is a great place to visit especially for someone who wants to travel on the cheap. With so much stuff to do for free, everyone will find something exciting and interesting to discover.