Ah I just remembered something important I left out from the previous entry! Our entire reason for being in Moshi on the slopes of Kiliminjaro is because we met Simon at the Conference on African Beekeeping in Arusha the previous week (I'm recapping a bit because I just met a bunch of new people in a friendzy), and Simon, of course, had some beehives. I'd been absolutely itching to get my hands into a beehive since I got there but it kept getting put off. Finally, Thursday night we were going to move a beehive out of a tree. I was excited!
In Africa they almost variably depend on bees inhabited their hives of their own initiative (as opposed to the developed world where people split existing hives or buy bees), and bees are more likely to move into a hive that's a fair distance above the ground. Traditionally they hang hives up in trees ... and traditionally they leave them there. One of the practices of modern beekeeping is to bring the hives down from the tree once they're occupied, so the beekeeper can actually do the many various things a beekeeper does to manage the bees, as opposed to being a "bee haver" with bees in a tree you destroy and harvest once a year.
Simon was at this sort of intersection of methods. He had modern rectangular frame hives, but he hung them up in trees and didn't take them down quite often enough. He had a number he had taken down, but as we found out with the two we tried to remove, he had let them get entirely full (and heavy!!) before attempting to take them down. For those of you following along at home, plz take your hives down the week after they've been occupied.
So I'd been clamoring to go through Simon's hives with him and finally we were going to do it Thursday evening. He wanted to do it after dark in the traditional manner, but I really wanted to do it while there was still daylight and we could see what we were doing -- in the manner of modern beekeeping practices. We compromised on doing it about an hour before sunset.
Unfortunately I forgot to take into account "African time." Which is definitely A Thing. So it was definitely dark by the time we finally set out. We needed to take a ladder with us but only had Simon's range rover, which didn't have ladder racks ... so I sat in the front passenger seat and an employee of his sat just behind me and both us us held on to the ladder out the window (!) as we drove through the darkness of the town at night. The beehives were on a large empty lot Simon owned towards the edge of town. It was quite pitch black by the time we got there. I don't remember if there was cloud cover or just no moon but I remember barely being able to see five feet in front of me. With the aid of flashlights with red cellophane over the front (bees can't see red, so if there's only red light it's still dark to them) we set the ladder against a tree at the far end of the yard, Simon climbed up and attached a rope over a branch to the hive while I held the far end. As the weight came on I could tell it was a FULL hive weighing maybe 60 pounds. We lowered it right on to a stand on the ground under it, though we had to wrestle it a bit to get it on right. Until that point I was thinking the bees weren't that bad, but of course they boiled out angrily while we were trying to wrestle it onto the stand. I insisted on taking a frame or two out to look at it, but we couldn't see much in the dark, and because it had never been gone through everything stuck together pretty solidly.
If you have enough very determined bees, they CAN find ways to sting you through a suit, so we were all getting some stings, and I had a few crawling around in my suit.
Still we persevered and tackled a second hive in the same manner. This time we were getting really worked by the time we got it on the stand and I think I didn't attempt to look at any frames. We beat a retreat back across the dark weed filled yard to the car to put out our smokers and load our equipment back out. Angry bees followed us the whole way.
Simon remarked that this was evidence of how bad tempered their bees are and why they can't be worked during the day and inspected like we do bees in the US, but I think a lot of it had to do with manhandling whole hives down from trees and onto stands in the dark. I definitely advised him to move the hives out of the trees before they became full in the future. We were going to make another attempt to go through some hives on Sunday evening, but that never happened.
This is a baobab tree. The above story does not involve any baobab trees. But they sure are rad.
Saturday, November 22nd - Saturday we ALL piled into one of Simon's safari vans. Doug and I, as well as Simon, his wife (an American), and his two young children. We headed back up the mountain (past the above-pictured baobab tree), to his ancestral village of Mbahe (which we had already visited on a day trip that Wednesday, so I'll try not to repeated descriptions) high up on Kiliminjaro's slope. Once again we parked our car in the same place and took the beautiful scenic mountainside trail across the cataracts and up to Simon's farm. This time, however, we'd be spending the night in this beautiful place!
Shortly after we arrived and gotten sorted out in our rooms, more guests of Simon's arrived. Two dutch guys who worked for a development agency in town, a dutch/canadian/australian girl on vacation from the remote village in Kenya I believe she's posted to through Aus-Aid (who I think was sort of the date of the younger dutch guy), and the wife and two children of the older dutchman. His name was Goris, pronounced "eu-ris," and I kept thinking of his name as Aeolus, because I'm a mythology nerd like that. Aeolus is a good name though, I'll have to keep it in mind. (: And since I can't remember the younger guy let's just call him Boreas shall we.
We went for another walk in a big loop around the surrounding area. As noted before, there were houses scattered all over the place, many improbably far from vehicle access. And a very distinct tree line where the Kiliminjaro National Park began. One interesting difference from our previous walk though was that it was apparently beer o clock ... we passed numerous little houses that had a dozen or so men hanging out on the porch drinking locally brewed banana beer.
We all tried some from the first group, and I guess that was enough for everyone else but we kept getting invited to try it with every group we met, and IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE I had to investigate the variety of qualities! It was.. interesting. Had kind of the consistency of a milkshake, with some bigger chunks of banana floating in it. It definitely had the taste of a wild fermentation. Not in a gross way, but what I'd identify in homebrewing as a sign a batch hadn't been done clean enough. But for example saisson style beers go for exactly that wild fermentation feel, and I think it was frankly better than a sour lambic beer (god knows why anyone drinks that). It was drank by passing around a central container, sometimes a boring plastic pitcher, but sometimes it's in one of these cool local calabash pitchers:
That evening we once again had an absolutely delicious dinner prepared by Simon's staff in his gorgeous semi-open-air dining room. If you have half a mind to ever visit East Africa you need to stay in this place.
Aeolus and the other dutch guy, as I mentioned, worked for a local development agency. We slowly learned the story during the walk and dinner. There's a huge sugarcane plantation just outside Moshi, with thousands of acres of sugarcane. It's the primary source of employment for all the neighboring villages since they cut all the cane by hand. They considered mechanizing, but realized that would cause such unemployment that they'd have riots on their hands, so they keep it manual. Even so, they're conscious that they need to provide development for the neighboring villages to keep them happy, so they contracted this Dutch development agency to develop the area. They've built roads and schools and engaged in various other projects. Naturally it came up that Doug and I do beekeeping development and that beekeeping is a very good development activity. They seemed very interested, and plans were made that when we came down the mountain Sunday we'd tour the villages and lands in question and talk more about this interesting possibility.
Sunday, November 23rd -The next morning we slowly emerged from our cottages into the beautiful morning sun, and had yet another fantastic meal for breakfast.
Then we went on another walk, this time with the wives and kids along a different route. We crossed the river downstream a little, where a stone bridge had a plaque proclaiming it had been donated by a Rotary club in California. Another occurrence of note was the finding of a chameleon by the side of the trail.
After returning to the farm the guys soon became restless and decided to go swimming in the swimming hole by the waterfall. At first I didn't join them because I really don't like cold water and this was glacial runoff after all, but I soon reasoned I would later be mad at myself for missing such a rare opportunity to swim in a glacial runoff naturally occuring swimming hole on the slopes of Kiliminjaro so I joined them and jumped in. And it really wasn't nearly as bad as I expected! After jumping in and swimming to the edge and climbing out I climbed back in and swam back out for a photo.
After lunch (delicious) we all headed back down the mountain, juggled some cars back in town and next thing you know Doug and I were off in the development agency's landcruiser to tour the development land. First we had to drive through the cane plantation since the impoverished villages were on the far side -- the town of Moshi pretty much abutted the near side. We passed through a security gate manned by the lethargic looking man in an olive green military looking uniform with a mchine gun and headed down a long straight road with acres and acres of cane on either side. It reminded me a lot of the cane fields I used to work in in Australia, and I reflected that it was kind of ironic that sugar cane has nothing to do with beekeeping (not a flowing plant), but I might end up keeping bees in a sugar plantation for the second time.
When we came out the other side of the cane fields there were large swaths of land full of scraggy forest surrounded by tall barbed-wire topped fences. This was land owned by the cane plantation that had soil quality insufficient for the growing of cane, so the plantation had set it aside for environmental preservation. I'm all for environmental preservation, but I'd imagine that this probably didn't imrpove relations with the neighboring villagers.
We drove out on a dirt road freshly plowed by the development agency that connected some of the villages. Previously there had been no road. I was very glad we got to see these villages, because previously on our travels we had only seen villages that had the benefits of being near major roads, and on the official "technical excursion" set up by the conference, I'm sure they went out of their way to make sure we didn't see anything like this. These villages looked deeply impoverished. The buildings were all made of rudimentry mud walls, everyone looked ragged and dirty. Men idled about without employment. Children played in the dirt. Most of the roofs were thatch, which to you and I may look quaint but if they can possibly afford it people seem to go to corrugated metal in preference to thatch. Except for this guy, who apparently has satellite tv.
Doug and I were optimistic beekeeping could provide some valuable employment here (as always, not just for beekeepers but for carpenters to make hives, garment makers, tin-smiths, as well as in making things out of wax and such), and they were very receptive, and frankly most importantly, they seem to have a budget (we've encountered countless potential beekeeping development projects that entirely lack funding and so can't go forward)
Presently Aeolus and Boreas swept us back to our guest-house. I've exchanged a few emails with Aeolus since then and he's interested in the project but he cautioned me that it will probably be a long time before they get around to doing anything about it so not to hold my breath waiting.
One last delightful evening in our little guest-house, early the next morning we were to take the bus to Nairobi!
I have no idea what those bundles leaning against the side of this house are.
( All pictures taken Saturday Nov 22nd )
( All pictures taken Saturday Nov 23rd )
[Originally posted 2015/01/13, readjusted]