Thursday, May 27, 2010

Caroline Gets Married

We had the pleasure of celebrating the marriage of our daughter Caroline on May 15 to Neil Kron. She planned and coordinated the whole event and did a wonderful job pulling everything together.

Her son Colten gave her away, an appropriate and sentimental choice. Good friend and fellow teacher Lacey Brown from College Station served as maid of honor. Neil's good friend and co-worker Chris Cummins was the best man. A good crowd of friends and family showed up for the joyous occasion, so much so that more chairs had to be set up. Rather than tell you about the ceremony, let me share some pictures instead.

Mr. and Mrs. Kron

The new Neil Kron family: Colten, Caroline, Ty, Neil, Callie, Korben.

Lacey and Caroline had a good time seeing each other again.

Colten and Caroline

Neil and his sons Korben and Ty.

Neil's daughter, Callie

The Bride

Bill and Alice Liles, Caroline, Neil, Janell and Ken Kron

Erin, AJ, Maya, and Ben made the trip to share in the celebration.

Maid of Honor Lacey Brown, Caroline, Judge Sherrie Harrison,
Neil, and Best Man Chris Cummins.


And they will live happily ever after. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One More Story About Kilimanjaro

Just the other day I was asked what I found when I made it to the top of Kilimanjaro. My too-quick response was snow, clouds, glaciers, and the peak's marker that previous trekkers had festooned with mementoes to signify they had been there and to leave a piece of themselves up there, I suppose.

What I should have said, and what is true, is that I found God up there.  As we neared the peak I was in the lead, as everyone had decided that as the oldest of the group, I would be given the honor of summitting first. The peak was about fifteen minutes away and the closer we got, the snow became whiter, the sky became bluer, and I had this overwhelming need to cry. Great deep sobs rose up in my throat completely out of my control. By the time I made it to the peak I was crying. By the time the others arrived I couldn't stop. They were consoling me, patting me on the back, trying to comfort me, but really didn't have a clue what to do with me. I laughed and assured them I was okay and then walked to the edge of the mountain alone to take it all in. The chatter and congratulations going on behind me seemed a million miles away, and I was only aware of the quiet, the beauty, and the distinct feeling that God was there with me.

I said a little prayer, said hello to Mother and Daddy, to everyone I loved no longer on Earth, thanked the creator for this spectacular creation, and then as a calm settled over me, I took one more panoramic look at the world from this perspective and joined the others for celebration and pictures.

So the next time someone asks what I found on Kilimanjaro, I will be ready with a more specific answer: what I found was the presence of God.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


After my trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (see "I Stood on the Roof of Africa," May 6), I stayed over for a two-day safari. We received our summitting certificates and ate a picnic lunch at Mweka Gate and then drove to a lovely place, Kigongoni Lodge, where I luxuriated and used no telling how much water taking my first shower in nine days. We spent the night there before driving the next day to Ngorongoro Crater where we enjoyed the animals and birds for a day and a half before driving to the Serengeti for the rest of the Safari.

What's a safari without pictures of animals, right? By my count, we saw 33 birds and 21 animals. I certainly didn't include all of them here, but picked some that I thought were good examples. So here we go again with a few words and more pictures:

At Mweka Gate Bernard, the head guide, congratulated us all for a successful trip up the mountain. You can see all the support crew in the background.

Heading into the shower at the Kigongoni Lodge.

Kigongoni Lodge was tucked away in a sub-tropical woody area, and while obviously designed to please tourists, was still very much African in style and form. I am tempted to show more pictures of it, but we must move on to the safari.

We encountered this baboon on the highway as we were driving and he showed no fear of the vehicle. We were driving slow and he looked like he expected us to stop and feed him or something. Our driver said baboons are a real problem in the city dumps as they are looking for food. They are Africa's version of rats in crowded places, only bigger. He also told us not to put our hands out toward him because he might bite and a baboon's bite would make us sick.

Grey-crowned Cranes

Thomson's Gazelle


Grant's Gazelles

African Elephant

Lioness and Cubs

Kori Bustard

Greater and  Lesser Flamingos


The edge of Ngorongoro Crater from our Land Rover.


Vervet Monkey



 Side-Striped Jackal  Puppy

African Buffalo

Marabou Stork

Maasai Villiage-Note the huts, made of grass, mud and cow manure.

I included this shot for my West Texas readers-the Serengeti looks very much like our part of Texas, doesn't it? There are trees and some rock outcroppings called kopjes, but for the most part it looks like the Panhandle and the High Plains. Well, minus the animals.



As we waited for the small airplane to take us from this regional airport in the Serengeti to Arusha, the sun was setting on a wonderful day and one heck of a trip.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Stood on the Roof of Africa

In 2007 I decided I wasn't getting any younger, the world wasn't getting any saner, and if I ever planned on seeing Africa, this was the time to do it. I also decided, and to save my life I can't remember where this came from, that I should also climb Mount Kilimanjaro while I was there. Not surprisingly, I couldn't find a single other person who shared my passion to climb the highest mountain in Africa, so just like the Little Red Hen, I decided, fine, I'll just do it myself. And I did.

And what a trip it was. After being immunized for a boatload of diseases: typhoid, flu, tetanus, Hepatitis A,  Hepatitis B, yellow fever, and malaria; buying all the clothes and equipment necessary to trek through the five climates encountered on the  mountain, breaking in my really cool hiking boots, beefing up my exercise routine, reading up on Kilimanjaro and Tanzania, applying for and receiving a US passport and a Tanzanian visa, and becoming the proud owner of a nifty new digital camera, my patient husband took me to Houston International Airport, kissed me goodbye, and I was on my way to my very own big adventure.

After a 17-hour flight with a stopover in Amsterdam, I landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport at 9 o'clock at night. After passing the passport/visa checkpoint, I rounded the corner and just like in the movies, there was my tour guide, all smiles, holding a sign that said Thomson Safaris, 9 Day Trek. The eleven other Americans in my group and I eagerly walked out to the Land Rovers that would take us to our first night's lodging. The night was still and quiet, almost surreal, and not at all what I was expecting. And that was just the beginning.  

I took 1,396 pictures during the 13 days I was there, and I won't bore you with all of them, although I'd love to, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then let me share a few of my pictures accompanied with just a few words.

We started the first day of the trek at Londorossi Gate at the edge of Kilimanjaro National Park and entered the forest at 9,000 feet. This area was lush and beautiful and green.

Gilbert was my personal porter and Godlove was one of the three assisant guides. At 61, I was the oldest member of the group and I think the head guide was afraid I might have trouble making the climb (silly man!), so I think he very quietly told Godlove to look after me closer than the rest. I always lagged behind because I would stop to take yet another picture, and many times I would look around and it would be just the three of us in the middle of nowhere without another human in sight. They took good care of me and we had good conversations along the way. I felt like I had my own private tour with them.

This is a giant groundsel tree, probably 20 feet tall and several hundred years old. We had climbed to 15,000 feet, but traveled down into Baranco Valley, 14,000 feet, and then back up again as part of the acclimatizing process. The terrain is beginning to become steeper, as you can see behind the tree. Lava rock and other volcanic debris was apparent here as it is in other areas, too,  which is only right since Kilimanjaro is composed of three volcano cones, two extinct and the one we are headed for, Kibo, is dormant. That night at Barafu camp, Bernard, the head guide, checked everyone's oxygen levels and resting heart rate again to keep tabs on possible altitude sickness problems.   I may have been the oldest person in the bunch, but my numbers were always the best!

On summit day, we arose at 4 am, had breakfast and were on our way by 5, using our headlamps and flashlights to make our way up the trail. At this point we are above the clouds at about 17,000 feet.

In the distance is one of the many glaciers we passed on our way to the peak. The scree, loose slick gravel in the snow, made our footing tricky. The sky really was this blue and continued to be dark blue the higher we climbed.

We started at 5 am; we summited at 2:45 pm. Here I am at Uhuru Peak, which means freedom in Swahili. My guidebook listed the peak at 19, 440 feet; the map of the mountain that I bought at the end of the trek says it is 19,685 feet. It is the higest mountain in Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, and the fifth tallest of the seven highest summits on each continent. I was blessed to have no sign of altitude sickness at any time during the entire trek. 

This was the view from the peak, glaciers all around.

We stayed on the peak for about an hour and then went down 1,000 feet to Crater Camp where we would spend the night. That's me in front of this glacier fragment. Crater Camp was across the moraine from the glacier. Don't ever camp next to a glacier; That it is cold is putting it mildly...

The next morning five of us chose to take a side trip up to see the crater rim of Kibo; the others started down the mountain. It was worth the extra climb and time. We did not go down the very edge of the crater, but people have reported the smell of sulfer the occasional stream of smoke coming from its depths, a sure sign it is still hot down there and not extinct. The heat from the volcano core is also partly responsible for some of the snow melting that everyone is blaming on global warming. I was told this is the most perfectly round volcano rim in the world.

We hiked for eight days to make it to the summit, starting from the west, going east around the mountain, and going northwest to the summit, so we saw the mountain from many viewpoints. This also allowed our bodies more time to adjust to the altitude. We came down in a day and a half by a different route and came through this rain forest, quite a change from the woody forest, heather area, moorland, and alpine desert we had been through. At the final stop we were given an official certificate as bragging rights that we had indeed made the summit.

Yes, I stood on the roof of Africa. I saw the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and experienced the presence of God in the process. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Being privileged to do it once? Priceless.

After the trek, I stayed on for a two-day safari, which I will share with you next week. In the meantime, if you would like to read more about my trip. log onto  and look in the archives for the Lifestyles section dated August 28, 2007, to read the article I wrote about the trip for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.