Researcher, Mother and traveler

Kilimanjaro from the Skies

Kilimanjaro from the Skies

I may have become a medical researcher, but from a young age I have had a fascination with volcanoes and aircraft. I could, and still can, be a full day along the runways of Schiphol looking at the takeoff and landing aircrafts. I am always looking for the name of the airline and the aircraft type and I still look to the type of aircraft I go with after making a flight booking. As far as volcanoes are concerned, that seems to me the ultimate natural disaster. The film of the eruption of the Pinatubo that we have seen twice in secondary school during geography, made a big impression on me. But I have always said, I will never live near a volcano. And now I have lived for seven years at the foot of one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, the Kilimanjaro.

The Kilimanjaro

Many people do not know that Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano. Or actually three volcanoes, one of which is extinct, Mawenzi, one collapsed, Shira and one sleeps, Kibo. Kibo is the famous pimple with snow. A volcanologist from Belgium has indicated that the chance is very small that it will erupt within a short time. So I’m not that worried, although Meru can burst any time, even ‘tomorrow’ and a supervolcano under Lake Duluti too, only 60km away. We were shocked a lot in 2007 by earthquakes (up to 6.8 on the Richter scale) on the slopes of Kilimanjaro (caused by eruptions of Lengai 150km away) but I was fascinated too.

Flying: ecstasy and fear

Flying is fantastic. I can really enjoy the view from the windows on the clouds and the land below. Even during night flights, I can stare out for hours and see the lights of towns and villages, however these are scarce on the African continent. I always choose my seat in the plane based on the expected views especially the side of sunrise or sunset. At the same time I always try to hold the armrests with sweaty hands and brace my feet on the faded carpet. If the plane moves forward in a steady straight line, I think it’s all fine. But when the female pilot yesterday before taking off from Johannesburg indicated that we would get mediocre turbulence on the way, I got really scared.

View from the plane on the volcano

On Monday, I left from Kilimanjaro Airport. Until then I never fully understood why the airport is called Kilimanjaro Airport and I believe that the city of Arusha is not always happy with that. However, on Monday it was not cloudy for the first time and the huge mountain rose behind the departure hall. Finally I understood the name. After taking off we had a short view of the mountain, because it was clear, but soon the plane hung to the right for a bend to the south, on the way to Zanzibar. But with the hope that I would then fly back to Nairobi after Zanzibar, I found that no problem. And indeed on the way to Nairobi I was on the right side of the plane and we flew along the eastern slope over the saddle (between Kibo and Mawenzi) with a nice view of the volcano. Unfortunately, there was no snow. On our way to Johannesburg from Nairobi, we flew further away from the mountain and it was now in the clouds. For the flight from Johannesburg to Nairobi I had chosen the east side of the plane because we would land just after sunrise, so I expected a spectacular view. When we approached North Tanzania, the red African sun slowly came behind the Kilimanjaro and Meru, the sister of the Kilimanjaro. Knowing that Lisa, my Dutch colleague, at the time was at the top of Meru, made it extra special. Many people think that the Kilimanjaro is in Kenya and Kenya also makes great use of this in its promotional films. It was a bit of a shame and even I found it painful that the pilot called this morning when we were flying over Tanzania: people on the right side of the plane, you can enjoy the beautiful Nairobi Sunrise with Mount Kilimanjaro in the foreground. Oops … that even hurt me. Kilimanjaro is really in Tanzania. But it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.

With the plane around the volcano

After this, the final leg of my trip started. From Nairobi, to Kilimanjaro Airport, normally a flight of 35 minutes. I had chosen my seat on the left side of the plane, because from Nairobi they always fly between Meru and Kilimanjaro. When we got up, I saw Kilimanjaro in the distance, shimmering white in the sun. Wow … I thought … this is going to be beautiful. But just after that the plane suddenly took a sharp turn to the left and suddenly the Kilimanjaro was no longer on my side. Shit … I hoped that it was a temporary change of course, but when I saw the mountains of Tsavo at one point, I thought that we probably already had passed the Kilimanjaro for a long time . But at that moment, the pilot announced that we would soon land, but that we could first see the Kilimanjaro on the right side. Shit … I was on the wrong side. Quickly I was looking for an empty chair and fortunately I found it on the right and with the moment my eyes were looking for the window I became so happy … so happy … because there was a shimmering white Kilimanjaro below me. I think the pilot saw the same and decided to fly two laps around the mountain. We were so close that it seemed like we could hit the mountain like that. I could even see the different coloured tents of Barafu Camp. It was so beautiful and awesome and fantastic and special to see this. I am still feeling hyper. I have flown very often along the Kilimanjaro, but this was unique. Even the flight attendants came to take pictures while they had already taken this route a dozen times. Tanzanians often show their emotions far less, but even my Tanzanian colleague was completely ecstatic after landing. We wondered if our former boss, who was in business class, had a better view. We concluded that his resolution was probably higher or that it should have been HD. But even with my low resolution and LD window, it was fantastic and I was able to make beautiful videos and photos. This was an extra gift for us after a very successful trip to South Africa. And now … (s)he who can not climb it, (s)he drinks it. Home sweet home !!!