Onni's own stories:

Hazardous Orienteering

Letter From The Finnish Winter War

The Scout Movement on The March

A Visit to Kilimanjaro

Onni Goes Flying

Onni Goes On a Lion Hunt

A visit to Kilimanjaro

Onni Niskanen writes about a lovely holiday trip.
(from Duvbo IK's annual magazine 1950)

Everything is well down here and we have only just returned from an incredible holiday trip. We have been to Somaliland, Kenya, Zanzibar and Tanganyika. Instead of taking the regular aeroplanes, trains, boats, etc. we rented a private plane from Count Carl-Gustaf von Rosen, who is the commander for the Ethiopian air forces. The plane was a Swedish "Safir", which could take onboard two passengers and a pilot, who was also Swedish, namely Captain Kurt Lidbrink who is a flying instructor down here.

The first days flight was to Mogadishu in Italian Somali by the Indian Ocean, a flight route of approximately six hours over the most wild and uninhabited areas you could think of. We did not have a chance to navigate by a map, so we just had to fly by the compass. It went well and the same afternoon, we bathed in the billows of the Indian Ocean for the first time. That even put Lötsjön in the shade … It was the most salty bath I had ever had.

The next goal was Mombasa, approximately three and a half hours flight along the African coastline, where, for the entire flight, we flew only a few metres above the water and jumped over the fishing boats that we passed. We saw a lot of crabs running around on the beach at lightning speed. This whole coastline of Africa was, apart from one exception, one long sandy beach. A few coastal towns - if you could call them that - lay alone, pushed into a bay, and here and there, you could see old, now deserted, ruins of towns.

We sensed that we would not reach Mombasa that day. We had actually read in an East-African magazine that Malindi, approximately 50 km north of Mombasa, was a very nice place. Due to the Customs' regulations, we first had to go to Mombasa, but when we made a turn over Malindi, we all agreed that there was something wrong with the compass magnet, and considered it safest to land on a private airport that belonged to the hotel (which we incidentally had also read about in the same magazine). After an exploration round over the little airport, we made a splendid landing and when we got out of the plane, the hotel's female host with car and boys met us. While we collected our things from the plane, a lot of people gathered and curiously admired the beautiful Safir-plane. They were immensely surprised when they heard that we had flown from Addis Abeba in this single-engine aircraft. When the hotel host heard that we were Swedish, he lit up and instantly served us all a glass of - just listen to this - schnapps! Swedish schnapps, as he said. Apparently, it was Danish Aquavit, so it was almost true. We had all ordered lemonades to cool off after the trip, but we did not have the heart to turn his offer down. Mary could not stomach finishing her glass, so she poured it discretely into her lemonade when nobody was watching. However, the rest of us had to drink with him, even though we were not at all keen on schnapps in the middle of the day. We were also tired after the flight and had not had anything to eat since breakfast that morning.

We told him about our dilemma and wondered if it was possible to telephone the Customs authorities in Mombasa to tell them that we had to land there. Oh, that is a piece of cake, he said. He had a friend there, who was an officer and boss for the area. He would contact him immediately and said that everything should be taken care of. The friend arrived in a short while, telephoned the Customs in Mombasa and told them. We had also asked if we could stay a few days in this place, since we were forced to land here. After a while, we got the message that we could stay as long as we wished. They were sending a representative to sort out passports and customs issues. You can imagine we were pleased with the happy outcome of our "emergency landing".

Malindi proved to be the ultimate seaside resort. Between the hotel and the sea, there was only the sandy beach. We tried surfing for the first time. You were equipped with a surfboard, like a short and wide plank, on which you threw yourself up onto when a big wave rolled in. It was jolly good once you got a hang of the technique and we kept going all day. One day I stayed in the water for seven hours, only breaking for meals. Another thing we tried was goggle fishing. We went out in a boat, together with the hotel host and a Swedish coffee plantation owner, who we got to know there, and who had lived in Kenya for 30 years. His name was Fjaestad and, funnily enough, his nephew was my friend at the cadet school Karlberg. To return to the fishing, you were equipped with a pair of extra large glasses that covered eyes and nose, plus a harpoon gun. After that, you could just dive down and try your luck at fishing, or just lie on the surface and look for fishes.

I forgot to use the harpoon for all the beautiful things I saw. There were fishes in the most varied colours - yellow, blue, red, green and striped. Big schools of goldfish rested only a metre away and stared right at you. If you moved towards them, they just slowly shifted. The whole thing was so wonderfully beautiful and interesting and is a memory for life.

The Swede Fjaestad, whom we later met at several occasions, was a real expert on goggle fishing. In spite of his 60 years, he swam around for hours in this way and seemed tireless. He, among other things, told us that he went back home to Sweden many years ago. At that time, he had not been back for 12 years and he thought it would be nice to come home. One thing that he especially longed for was the nice white rolls that he remembered from his youth. Warm and crispy with large air bubbles that you could fill with butter … "I was so disappointed when I came home and found that they were not at all as tasty as they used to be", he said, "so staying in Sweden was not fun…" Nowadays, he is a well off plantation owner, situated right outside Nairobi, and he is presently hoping for rain on his coffee plants.

Another Swedish person, an elderly woman who was now married to a Dane, told us that when she arrived in Kenya 30 years ago, there were not a lot of amusements here. At that time, they were mostly out hunting elephants.

From Malindi, we continued to Mombasa, from where I went on with the plane to Moshi, right by the foot of Kilimanjaro. Mary, and later even the pilot after he had returned from Moshi, relaxed at the seaside, while I should - at least try to - climb Kilimanjaro. On Saturday night, I arrived up to Kibo Hotel, which is the starting point for the climbs. The first thing I did was to ask around if anybody was planning to climb in the next few days. And yes, there was a group, but it was probably too late for me to join them, since they were starting out on Sunday morning, said the hotel's female host. They were six Englishmen from Kenya. I asked if I could tag along, and it did not meet with any obstacles. I had to start getting my equipment together. The only thing I had brought with me was my old orienteering shoes and a pair of windproof trousers and a windproof jacket. However, the hotel supplied all you could need, like gloves, helmets, blankets, etc. Help to carry your equipment you had to hire yourself. The only thing you had to carry yourself was a rucksack containing the things you needed to have access to during the walk, i.e. cameras, binoculars and chocolate. At 9a.m. on Sunday morning, we set off. The first day's stage was around 18 - 19 kilometres and at first it took us through small native villages surrounded by banana plantations, but later, it led us through real jungle. There we saw fresh elephant tracks and even fresh elephant dung. It was not like walking in the Swedish mountains. You had to take breaks more often and the guide always kept an eye on us all, so nobody walked too fast.

The second and third days' phases went over rather easy and varied terrain, but at the end of the third day, it really started to wear on your lungs and your heart. After the third day's end goal, the Kibo Cottage, a couple of the Englishmen were feeling sick and rather tired. The huts that you slept in resembled our Swedish mountain huts and the furnishing consisted of a few bunks, a heater and a table. The other huts had room for 6 - 8 people, but the end destination on the third day only had room for four people and we were seven, so we did not have a lot of space that night. We tried to sleep two in each bed, which turned out to be rather difficult. Since we had an early start at 2 a.m., we would have liked as good a sleep as possible. Instead, we hardly slept at all, because as soon as you had fallen to sleep, you were woken up by your bedmate trying to get more comfortable and vice versa. After a while, you just lay there, waiting for the clock to turn 2 a.m. so that you could get up.

It was rather chilly when we stepped out into the darkness to start the final but most difficult phase of the climb. The two guides were equipped with a kerosene lamp each, one in front and one in amongst us, when in single file we started our ascent. One of the boys preferred to stay in the hut, since he had had problems with his heart and lungs the day before, but the other one, who had been rather "wilted" the night before, wanted to try to go along with us. As opposed to the previous days when the ascent had been gently sloping, the road up was now almost precipitous. You could not walk many metres without stopping for a break. The stops got more frequent the higher you came, and for every step forward in the loose sand, you slipped half a step back. The distance you could walk without a break shrunk considerably the whole time. You could only climb around, 10 - 15 metres, then you were completely shattered and the heart pounded like a piston hammer. One of the Englishmen, who had been ill the night before, was totally worn out and struggled upwards with a fantastic energy. He even started throwing up, which is common when you reach such high altitudes. We were now at 5000 metres. He seemed almost distant and I simply forbade him to continue. He was left with one of the guides, to start the descent back down to the hut after a rest. The rest of us continued towards the top. Now we had a couple of other people throwing up as well, but so far, they managed to get along.

The slope turned more and more steep and the distance between the breaks had shrunk to 10- 12 metres. Our hands and feet were cold, in spite of the two layers of socks and gloves we wore. It started to dawn and it was an eagerly awaited sun that rose at the horizon and spread some light over the slope we energetically struggled upwards. We could now see that we did not have far to go, but, oh, how slow it was. Two of the Englishmen were so tired that they wanted to give up, but now that we were so close, we should all make it. That is what I and "Andy" thought, who so far had been lucky not to give up the little food we had the night before. All we could do was to try to comfort them with the fact that it was not far to go, but they got slower and slower. I benefited from my fitness and did not even have any problems with headache like all the others did.

Andy and I energetically kept going, leaving the others together with the guide to rest a bit. We were overjoyed when we finally stood on a plateau with immense ice massifs, blindingly white, piling up in front of us. Hurrah, we were up! At least at the Gillman Point, that is the first of the three summits. To reach that is considered as climbing Kilimanjaro. We shouted to the others that they were nearly there. They looked like Buddha figures all four, where they stood, resting on the slope, or perhaps they were throwing up. They regained their strengths when they heard that they were close and after a while, all five of us had gathered around the shrine with the book, where we wrote our names to prove that we had succeeded with the climb.

The hardships were not over yet. If we had come this far, then we should climb up to the highest summit as well. Two people preferred to stay where they were. Nothing in this world could persuade them to go on. Andy, one more Englishman, the guide and I continued towards the next summit, the Hans Meyer Point, which we reached after a few difficulties. From here, we could see the goal, the Kaiser Wilhelm Point, which in spite of the fact that the distance was not great, seemed very far away to us. You could really feel the strain on heart and lungs now. However, were set on getting up there and after quite a number of breaks to regain our strength, we arrived there. Tired but happy we took a breather, while the guide took the book out of the shrine and it was with quite some pride that we wrote our names in it. The record height for us was now 6.100 metres above sea level. We had been lucky with the weather and had had a clear view with sunshine the whole morning, but now you could see the clouds come crawling up the slopes. That is the explanation to why you have to start as early as 2.00 in the morning to get to the highest summit.

I amused myself with taking my pulse after resting a while up there, and it was as high as 135 bpm (beats per minute). I just wonder how high it had been during the climb!

It was time to start getting back down, as the clouds came higher and higher up the hill. After taking some photos, we started downwards and that was considerably easier. I felt very sleepy but that was the reaction after the climb and the sleep deprivation the last night. The other two had the same problem. We walked like in a trance and as soon as we stopped, we fell in a sort of semi-sleep. When the guide cleared his throat as a sign to continue, you lifted one eyelid to see if the others moved. Nothing happened, so we sat there until the guide with an "OK" marched off. You had to follow him, whether you wanted to or not.

When we arrived at Gillman Point, where we left the other two, they had already started the descent and we saw them as small dots far down there. Now we had a rapid descent since we had the steep hill, which we had struggled so to get up, to slide downwards. It was as fast as the legs could carry us and, when it got too fast, we had to throw ourselves on the ground and rest a while. It was not long before we were down at the rest hostel, which is at 5.000 metres height. We revived ourselves with a cup of tea before we continued down to the next hut, Peters Hut, a distance of 18 km. We did not feel any tiredness anymore, but it was a nice feeling to have a real wash in a mountain stream there, change clothes and get a decent meal. That night, we did not have any difficulties falling asleep. The next day, we had around 30 km to the final goal, Kibo Hotel, but that went without problems. The last five kilometres, we walked with a laurel on our heads and the people, in the villages we passed, greeted us with congratulations and their "Jambo", which means "hello". We were a happy bunch, who arrived at the hotel singing, where other congratulators greeted us. There was a lot of photographing of our dirty and bearded bunch. We had not shaved in six days, so we looked rather wild. After half an hour in the bathroom, one was a bit more presentable. All tiredness was gone now and one only felt happy and contented to have managed to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. I went by car from Kibo Hotel, together with two of the Englishmen, to Mombasa, where I met up with Mary and Lidbrink, who had just returned from the lovely baths in Malindi. De had arrived with the plane an hour before me.

Next stage for us was Zanzibar, the wonderful island in the Indian Ocean. This is a rather strange place in many ways, where the Sultan His Highness Seyyid Sir Khalifa bin Harub rules. Zanzibar lives mainly off export of cloves and supplies more than 3/4 of the world's production of this product. We tried coconut liquid for the first time and that was rather interesting. We of course bathed in the salty sea as well.

From Zanzibar we were off to Nairobi and on the way, we flew over Kilimanjaro. The plane could not manage to rise all the way up, but we passed over at a bit more than 4.000 metres height and had a wonderful view over the huge massif. North of the mountain, we went down to a few metres height over the ground and saw heaps of wild animals in large herds. There were buffalos, zebras, ostriches and lots more. Unfortunately, the plane did not like the fast change in altitude, so the magnets started playing up and during a whole hour, we were rather worried that we would not reach Nairobi. To be stranded in the wilderness would not have been very nice. It is not easy to find a suitable place to land and if you have had an emergency landing, you do not have so good chances to get up again, since most of the time, the propeller is damaged. Finding a propeller in Africa is not an easy task. We managed to get to Nairobi and fortunately, the airport was on this side of the town. Otherwise, I do not know what could have happened. We would not have been able to stay up in the air for another kilometre. In spite of giving full throttle, the plane sank intermittently. We were really in luck. The ground crew at the airport heard from the sound that something was wrong with the engine and they feared that the landing would go wrong. It went well though and after a thorough cleaning, we were ready to continue our trip. We stayed in Nairobi, however, and among other things, visited the National Nature Reserve. It was very interesting to see the wild animals there live their own lives. We were even lucky to see a couple of lions have supper on a prey they had caught. It was close to dusk and we were so occupied by the lions, so we hardly even noticed a clan of hyenas, which came creeping out of the scrubs to see if the lions would leave any leftovers for them. That was a true picture of the animals' lives.

From Nairobi, we intended to fly directly to Addis Abeba, but first we had to obtain a special permit, since that distance is prohibited for flying, due to the vast areas you have to pass, where there are not any signs of civilization or runways. Everything went well and a few days after, we were back in the plane on our way home. That distance took around seven hours and we flew over alternating desert and mountainous areas, where there was not a trace of humans. At 1.00, we landed on schedule in Addis Abeba again and could feel pleased with a 100% successful and sight worthy trip.

Well, that is all for now and I finish this letter with the warmest regards to all friends and acquaintances at home and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Onni