Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 13:01:43 +0300
From: Claude Marthaler

Dear Redfishes!
Moshi, Tanzania, km 988O5

The legend said that Queen Elisabeth gave Mount Kilimanjaro to Kaiser Wilhelm (her grandson) as a birthday present, but the Germans, proclaiming that Hans Meyer, who in 1889 had been the first white man to conquer the mount, would honour his nationality by staking ownership to the great mountain. When the former Trust Territory of Tanganika gained its sovereignty in 1961, the volcano became Tanzanian as well.

Today, Kilimanjaro (which might derive also from "Kilemieiroya" - "the mountain cannot be conquered") is worth 5 million US$ yearly in climbing charges. But being some 2 million years old, the free standing volcano is wise enough to sleep. Riding at his foot, the Yakman couldn't escape to his mountainous instinct and soon learned that the cheapest climb would cost anybody 500 US$!

Climbing Kilimanjaro, like taking part in a safari resembles a giant frolicking simulacra of what Africa means to a Western world which has long since lost any predators. Each year some 20,000 tourists pay these high fees to climb the African giant, often without any altitude experience, with a compulsory guide and often porters, eventually receiving a diploma from the Tanzanian authorities, who understood quickly that the white man, former colonist, could nowadays transform even that singular white elevated patch of snow into gold. The price of a symbol.

Opening new routes means to receive any idea (as foolish as can be considered) like a gift and to believe first in the sound of the words. Or, like Robert M. Pirsig put it best: "It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top". Kilimanjaro has taken all the space in my mind. It's still invisible crater had already suggested that in the biggest artificial net, there was still a natural hole. Volcanic, huge, without limits, to be filled with dreams and I had not 2 million years to realize them. As man is on the edge of celebrating worldwide a mercantile and pretentious 2OOO years anniversary of Christianity, even the Kilimanjaro climbing fees have strangely doubled to a 1000 US$ summit.

According to the last measurement (this week!), the dormant giant, estimated previously to an elevation of 5895 meters, had lost 3 meters... After the climb, Saidi, my guide, paid 17000 Tanzanian Shillings (21 US$) for 5 days to his boss, invited me for a hot meal in his small house. Already with 10 years experience on "The Mountain", he'd like to put a roof on his future house, open a business and take English lessons before 2005 instead of putting himself again and again on the roof of Africa. Will his 3 month old son, destined to follow the path of his father, reach a higher summit in his own life?

The Kilimanjaro, though dormant, is still active. Reaching Uhuru Peak at 5892 m. ("freedom" in Kiswahili) so named to celebrate the independence of Tanzania, I felt humans had perhaps forgotten about themselves and even more: - the volcanic Kilimanjaro ("the mountain cannot be conquered") simply doesn't need any calendar to celebrate its own freedom...

The YAK_


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