By NAVAYA OLE NDASKOI
Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world stands proudly in Tanzania. Andres Perez, a lawyer at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania, climbed it. Supported by East African Voyage Company Ltd, he biked from Arusha town to Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in the country, which he climbed in four days. He biked to Mount Kilimanjaro and actually climbed it to the summit, an imperious 5,895 meters above the sea level, in seven days, and biked back to Arusha. He calls this unique life adventure ‘a mountaineering duathlon’.
Navaya ole Ndaskoi: Would you mind telling the readers about yourself?
Andres Perez: My name is Andres Perez. I am a citizen of Venezuela and the United States. I live in Arusha, Tanzania, where I work as a lawyer for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Ever since I was a child I always enjoyed going into the outdoors and pushing myself with outdoor adventures.
How long have you been in Arusha?
I have been living in Arusha since this February. I was also here for three months last year, from September to November.
What other high mountains did you climb and how are they different from and similar to Mount Kilimanjaro, if you ever climbed any other mountain?
I climbed a couple of other mountains in my life, each has its own character. Just a year ago I did a trek through Northern India in the Ladakh Province. I trekked from Lamayuru to Alchi via the Stakspi La. After a day and half of resting, I summated a mountain called Stok Kangri together with two of my brothers. The mountain is over 6,000 meters above sea level. I also summated Tronador in Argentina as well as Muhavura in Uganda on the border with Rwanda and several other smaller mountains.
One thing that set Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru aside from all of them is the fact that they are both free standing. I have never ever been on a mountain that is as majestic as Mount Kilimanjaro. I felt like I was sitting on the wing of an airplane when I was on the summit. It was absolutely amazing.
Did you climb the other mountains you mentioned through tour operators in the respective countries or how did you climb those mountains?
Normally I would climb by myself, self supported or accompanied by a ranger when necessary. This is actually my first experience with a tour company and was a very positive one. Outside Tanzania I never climbed through any tour company.
Is it a good thing that people climb Kilimanjaro and other mountains in Tanzania through tour companies unlike in other countries?
A lot of people are able to summit Kilimanjaro thanks to tour companies because not everybody has the experience to climb alone. Me personally I like adventure and the independence to climb by myself but given that one has to summit with a guide in Tanzania I was very happy to climb with East African Voyage Company Limited. They allowed me the independence that I need to enjoy my trip as somebody who likes to do these things by myself.
You biked from Arusha town to Arusha National Park. Then you climbed Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania for four days. Next you biked from Momella Gate to Umbwe Gate from where you started a seven-day climb of Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Where did you get that fascinating idea from?
Well, as I said I really enjoy putting together adventures for myself. I task myself physically especially in the outdoors and I got this idea because before I moved to Tanzania I lived in Colorado in the United States and I raced in duathlons (a single sporting event composed of two disciplines, in this case biking and trekking) which combined running and cycling. So I thought I should apply that concept to mountaineering and then basically ride my bicycle to the base of each mountain and then back and I wanted to do so continuously and wanted to do two mountains back to back. In short that is how I got the idea.
You climbed through East African Voyage Company Ltd. How did you know the company?
I was introduced to East African Voyage Company Limited by a former co-worker called Julie Veillette and as I was asking around for advice about which company is good for me to go with for something like this, that gave me that degree of independence where I did not feel like I was part of a huge group, in which I did not have a sense of personal satisfaction. She said that East African Voyage Company Limited can do this and that it is a small operation and also very qualified. That is how I became interested in it.
There are over 300 licensed tour operators in Tanzania. You surely had specific reasons for choosing East African Voyage Company Limited. What were your reasons?
Because I am normally somebody who does these activities on my own, I was initially skeptical about going with a tour company because I do not like to see that every single aspect of the trip is taken care of. I wanted to have some sense of personal accomplishment. I did not want to go with an enormous tour company that is impersonal. After speaking to Julie Veillette and getting to know a little more about East African Voyage Company Limited, I went with this company because they have highly trained staff and because they were willing to accommodate this idea. I thought they could be the perfect people to go with. For that very reason I wanted somebody who could organize things for me and help me with logistics but who, at the same time, agreed that maybe this guy want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro the hardest way possible, maybe he want to ride after Mount Meru and maybe he want to ride to and from and they were completely open to that and I appreciated that. I do not think every company out there could have organized this adventure for me, not at all.
What were the roles of the tour company in your remarkable achievement?
East African Voyage Company Limited helped me put together the itinerary. They also provided me with local knowledge on the mountains, because every mountain is different, as to what I probably need and what I will be facing. Most importantly they helped to coordinate the logistics from point to point and from day to day. I arrived at the Momella Gate and there was the vehicle ready waiting for me that I could put my bicycle into.
In short the company provided the necessary support. Along the way as I pedaled to these different places there was a car with me from some distance that I could count on if I had an accident. Also they obviously provided the equipment, food and organized porters. The services of the company were remarkable. They were excellent. I cannot imagine of any better.
How do you describe this unique combination of biking and climbing adventure?
I call it a “mountaineering duathlon”, that is what I can think of. This is my life experience. I never did anything like this before. I was wondering whether I could do it. I had the vision that this is something I could do. I did it. It was beautiful! It was beautiful as far as scenery, experience and spiritual aspects of being on these mountains but it was absolutely exhausting. It was a life time experience.
You successfully summated Kilimanjaro. What are your comments?
I am very happy about it. I very much love the experience of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. This is my first time on the mountain. It is the highest mountain in Africa. I hope in my life time to summit the highest mountain in each of the seven continents and this is a good start.
As I said before it is the most beautiful summit I have ever seen in my life. I never saw anything that wonderful, the sun coming up, the ice, the glaciers, the crater, the ash pit and all. It was a buffet, so to speak, of geological formations and colors and sights. It was phenomenal.
Kilimanjaro is literally a stone-thrown away from the Equator. This highest free-standing mountain in the world is snow caped. Is this not amazing Andres?
Sure! I saw snow. I saw huge and beautiful glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro. Seeing snow in Africa and along the Equator is something you cannot imagine. It is all over Kilimanjaro.
At night I slept in the crater, which was another interesting aspect of this trip. It was a personal record as far as overnighting at higher altitudes is concerned. I fell asleep to the sound of the glaciers creaking and popping which was a really nice experience in my life.
What do you remember mostly about this unique Kilimanjaro climbing adventure?
The ascent of the Western breach from Arrow Glacier to the Crater was surely intense, it was about four and half hours of walking absolutely straight up with a full pack at high altitude. Every time I turned around and stopped I felt like I was climbing in the clouds. That was really nice and obviously being on the summit you feel the cold air and hearing my boots crunch on snow and seeing the sun come up with the beautiful colors was phenomenal. One other thing that I really enjoyed on this trip was meeting everybody in my group. We shared jokes. I practiced a bit of Kiswahili. We ate the food together and many other things.
What was the easiest and hardest part of the adventure?
The easiest part was enjoying it. I loved every second of it. I have nothing to regret at all. The logistics coordinated by East African Voyage Company Limited made the whole adventure easy.
The hardest part was some of the cycling. I rode a single speed bicycle. I had one gear. I had no suspension. It has neither shock-absorbers in the front nor in the rear. I chose one gear to make it more challenging. Riding from Protea Aishi Lodge to the Machame Gate is about 11 kilometers straight up on one gear and it was raining on me. That was the toughest part of the trip. Likewise the last 30 kilometers on the way back to Arusha from Mweka Gate were really hard. I dug deep in order to continue. Also, falling asleep in the crater was not easy. It was very high. I felt safe but it was a new experience. I did not sleep soundly. It was hard. I don’t think I slept at all. Maybe I slept for about two hours.
You used a single speed bicycle?
It is a Redline single speed mountain bike with 29 inches wheels which helps a bit with the climb given the fact that it is a single speed, the wheels are bigger than the standard mountain bikes. The frame is steel, which makes it easy to repair. It maintenance costs are comparatively low.
You had mountain sickness on Kilimanjaro?
No. Not even once! I felt very strong. I did not take any diamox and I carried my own pack all the time and I made sure it was fully weighted and it was not lighter than anybody else’s. I credit a lot of that to my training and also the fact that I was well nourished in the entire trip. My team ensured that I was drinking enough water all the time and I eat sufficient food.