Summiting Kilimanjaro

There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going. – The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway

A capstone of the MBA at Georgetown is the Global Business Experience – a semester-long course consulting project for an international company. We work for a few months from DC, spend a week in country with the company, and finish the semester with an extensive paper on the project and experience.

The trip is an opportunity to travel extensively because the airfare is a required part of graduation. We chose to spend the week before Global in Tanzania, hiking the highest peak on the continent: Kilimanjaro.

The Plan

Our time constraint of making it back to the airport in a week for our global project meant picking the Marangu Route. It is the fastest route, but not the easiest or most likely to succeed because there is little time to acclimatize ahead of the summit. The success rate on this route is just shy of fifty percent.

In the Google map below is the Marangu Route. We enter at the point marked A, the Marangu Gate. From there, we hike to point B, the Mandara Huts. The next day, we’ll hike to point C, the Horombo Huts, where we’ll stay the next day for a day hike to acclimate to the altitude. From Horombo we hike to the Kibo Huts, the final point before summiting the next night to point E, Uhuru Peak.

Day zero: Travel

We flew out of Dulles, near DC, on Friday afternoon. Troy and I had the same flight schedule and Nick, Norm, and Stephen had the a separate one. Between the five of us, we only checked one bag, which I thought was impressive but the suitcase was massive.

Troy and I flew into Zurich, about a seven hour flight. It was the first time in years that I had been served a full meal on a plane. On the flight I watched The Accountant. It was the first movie I can recall that had a man with a mental disability as the admirable lead character.

From Zurich we flew to Nairobi and slept most of the flight. Once we landed in Africa we exited the back left of the plane which I didn’t understand because there were jetways available. We found the rest of the group who landed just after we did and together boarded the last leg of the journey on a four-seat-wide propellor plane that took us the 50 minute journey from Kenya to Tanzania.

Once we landed, we gathered the luggage which surprisingly had made it through all the transfers and found our pick-up shuttle. The truly last leg of the trip was the 50 minute drive through the quiet night in an extended Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a typical African safari SUV and we fit inside without even putting luggage on top.

After passing dozens of small towns, some working gas stations and many broken ones, we arrived at Mountain Inn, close to our entry point to Kilimanjaro, Marangu Gate. Although it was nearly 1:00 am the staff graciously made us some food and we sat in the empty open-air restaurant listening to the familiar sounds of the night made by unfamiliar birds and bugs and frogs before turning in.

Day one: Mountain Inn

We had a day to adjust to the timezone and elevation before we started the climb at the small inn near Moshi, Tanzania. We spent the day mostly getting our gear organized and relaxing in the open air restaurant. The grounds were beautifully maintained and lush–a stark contrast to the surrounding area. The inn was owned by Indian immigrants and we were quickly impressed by the quality of the delicious food. This was a trend throughout Africa, especially on the eastern side of South Africa.

Day two: Sunday – Marangu Gate to Mandara hut

Distance: 4.3 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

At the hotel we loaded the rented gear into the duffel bags, packed our daypacks, and loaded into a long van that would take us the kms from the inn to the gate. We also met our guides who would see us at our best and worst over the next week and push us to the top of the mountain. John, the head guide, was a mid-40s man with a broad smile and, we would learn on the trek, children just entering University in Dar Es Salaam. Jonathan, clearly being groomed to be a head guide soon, was in his mid-30s and had a quiet demeanor. He’d stop frequently along the trail to point out fauna and wildlife. Samuel, was the third guide who seemed to be the least comfortable speaking English and often hiked quietly 15m ahead of us. There were many other porters and a cook but they were entirely out of our sight and group, hiking on their own each day.

At the Marangu Gate we waited for a bit of paperwork to be finished, the last great unconquered obstacle of man. A few hours later, we set off onto the trail which began in a lush rainforest, the first of Kilimanjaro’s climate zones. The rainforest would continue until about 10,000 ft elevation.

From left to right: Stephen, Norm, Chris, Nick, and Troy.

After a few hours of hiking, we stopped for lunch along a trailside creek. This was our first taste of the food we’d be eating for the next week. Included in lunch were two half sandwiches, one with butter and one with cucumber, a small orange, a lean chicken wing, a small banana, and a few pieces of potato. The hike ended an hour or two after when we came to the Mandara Huts.

View out into the lower elevations from the Mandara Huts.

We quickly settled in, had dinner and called it a pretty early night.

Day three: Monday – Mandara hut to Horombo hut

Distance: 6.8 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

As the sun came up the next morning, I was struck by the the morning clouds and the view into the lower lands but it was nothing compared to later in the trip. The hike continued into the beautiful rainforest.

Rainforest just outside the Mandara huts.

After only a few hours the landscape begins to change from this lush green to low alpine, mostly brush and some high altitude trees.

Mawenzi peak in the distance. L to R: Stephen, Norm, Troy, Chris, Nick.
Uhuru Peak on the left and Mawenzi Peak on the right.

On the trail, we’d play the movie game. I was terrible at it. Someone starts by saying the name of an actor. The next person has to say a movie that actor was in. The third person has to say another actor that was in that movie and the process repeats. It’s an ideal game for an odd number as the players rotate actor and movie each cycle. When that got boring we talked politics, women, and anything that allowed us to speak in short sentences between belabored breaths.

We arrived at the Horombo huts after the long hike tired and ready to eat and sleep.

Day four: Tuesday – Stay at Horombo hut

Distance: 3.1 miles | Elevation change: 0 ft

Today was an extra day we had planned for acclimatization. The early morning was stunning over the clouds below.

A panoramic view down from the Horombo huts.

Without a long hike in store, we slept in this morning and took our time at breakfast–a welcome break–before setting out on a few hour hike to Zebra Rock. The brief hike led us along a path that provided stunning views of Mawenzi along the way.

Mawenzi, hidden behind the clouds.
Zebra rock on a day hike during our acclimation day.

With the hike behind us, we settled in for a slow afternoon in the meal hall and played poker using trail mix as our chips.

Day five: Wednesday – Horombo hut to Kibo hut

Distance: 7.4 miles | Elevation change: 3215 ft

Today was another long hike as we proceeded up the mountain from the Horombo huts to Kibo, the final base from which we would summit the next night. Unlike the previous days, we hiked through high alpine zone and saw little vegetation and no wildlife save a few birds here and there.

As we hiked between the two peaks toward Uhuru, we had beautiful unfettered views of Mawenzi.
Panoramic view from an outcrop near the Kibo huts, facing Mawenzi.

We arrived at the huts and settled in for an early night. None of us were at 100% given the altitude and length of the hike that day. Unlike the other huts, which were individual and more private, Kibo was more like a barracks – a long hall with large rooms on each side with 10-12 beds in each one. As we were unpacking, three girls who just summited joined our room and quickly fell asleep. Their expressions and recounts of the experience were daunting but they all made it to the top so we felt both intimidated and comforted. We ate a bit and drifted off to a light sleep.

Day six: Thursday – Kibo hut to Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak to Horombo hut

Distance: 13 miles | Elevation change: 3,911 ft

We awoke full of adrenaline and energy at 10:45 pm to get dressed, pack our gear, eat, and depart at midnight. We dressed for the freezing but dry weather donning multiple layers of socks, undershirts, thick gloves and balaclavas under beanies. Since we were coming back to Kibo after the summit we packed only light daypacks for the night ahead and left the rest of the gear.

As we stepped out into the night, I took a moment to look up at the stars. Stretched out in front of me, unimpaired by light pollution or clouds was the most vast and stunning stretch of stars I had ever seen. It was an immensely contrasting feeling to feel both so capable that you’ve climbed the highest peak on the African continent and so small in context of the night sky.

We set out on the trail, climbing switchback after switchback, our headlamps illuminating the ground in front of us and not much else. Ahead of us up the mountain we could see strings of other group’s and their headlamps, an encouragement and reminder of the long way ahead. Our guides somehow began singing through the more difficult parts and we slowly passed the hours alternating between their voices and the quiet crunch of the rocks beneath.

We finished the switchbacks (or so we thought) and arrived at the last few hundred meters of more steep rock that we scrambled over. A few hours of that and we pulled ourselves over the last part and in front of us was Gillman’s Point, the first place that qualifies as the summit, but not the true summit. Kilimanjaro’s top is mostly flat, sloping upwards nearly a mile from Gillman’s Point to Uhuru Peak, the true highest point on the mountain. We walked with stunning scenery passing us – the remnants of a volcano long quieted.

The stunning view on the right side of our ascent.
The path ahead to Uhuru Peak on the summit.

On top of Kilimanjaro it was so cold that our Nalgenes and Camelbaks froze over and we had to wait for the sun to come out before we were able to drink again. Nearing the summit, a girl briskly walked by us on her way down and said, “You’re close! Ten minutes!” We took this encouragement to heart for the next twenty minutes until realizing she had undersold the rest of the hike and we still had another twenty minutes to go.

Finally, as the sun came up, we reached the peak, looking out to the horizon over an entire landscape of clouds that stretched before us with nothing obstructing our view except the sun’s bright reflection off the glacier.

In front of the famous Uhuru Peak sign. L to R: Stephen, Nick, Chris, Norm, Troy

We celebrated briefly at the summit, but in the early morning cold didn’t stay long before heading back. Under the aspiration of summiting, none of us were mentally prepared for the difficulty of the climb down. Not only the walk from the summit back to Gillman’s Point, but the grueling downhill gravel slide of the switchbacks. One of the girls in our hut had said it was like skiing and, in wide-eyed state we discounted the truth of that. Once we got to the switchbacks, we saw what had been invisible in the dark – an alluvial fan next to the path up. With bouts of high energy, one could truly ski down the fine rocks and make it down quite quickly. This was immensely taxing and was difficult to keep up for long so most of the trip down was a slow walk.

Once we made it back to the Kibo huts, we slept for a few hours and then pressed on to the Horombo huts. At this point the group was exhausted and moved relatively slowly. It took us a few hours to walk the rest of the distance down and once we arrived we quickly settled in and slept.

Day seven: Friday – Horombo hut to Marangu Gate

Distance: 7.4 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

Our final day was the long hike from Horombo to Marangu Gate, where we’d be picked up and driven back to the hotel. After the summit, a long night of sleep, and in increasingly oxygen-rich air, our spirits lifted and we moved quickly down the mountain, retracing our steps.

From the Marangu Gate we drove back to Mountain Inn and relished the hot showers – our first in a week. We reconnected with friends and family on the hotel’s wifi and spent the afternoon in the outdoor restaurant drifting between sleep, cold beer, and hot food. There’s no relaxation quite like that after summiting Kilimanjaro.

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Cuba study abroad trip

Day One: Baltimore to Havana

Late Saturday night I caught the last Greyhound from Union Station up to Baltimore after beginning the packing process to late in the evening and missing the last MARC train up. Thankfully, I made it with just a few minutes to spare. Early the next morning I made it into BWI for my connecting flight in Fort Lauderdale.

It started raining on our descent in Ft. Lauderdale, a trend that would continue into that afternoon. At the gate, they sold visas for 55 USD and it took them just a few minutes. JetBlue seems to still be figuring out demand for the route to Cuba and I had the entire row open on my flight.

It was a quick 45 minutes from takeoff to landing in Havana. The airport is well outside the city and you could only see rural land surrounding the runway which battled back creeping overgrowth along the concrete seams. We had to wait for a covered set of stairs to meet the airplane as it rained steadily.

Off the stairs and into a waiting bus we packed like sardines. As one of the last on the bus, I was the first off. I was nearly pushed into a huge puddle beside the sidewalk, but stepped over and was into the security and immigration processing.

The age of the security staff was very surprising, no one could have been more than 30 years old and their casual attitudes and short hemlines highlighted this. Underneath the poorly kept uniforms the girls wore stockings of various fishnet thickness and design to accompany the skirts that weren’t longer than the ones girls in high school wore from Hollister.

Through the security checkpoint and after turning my forms, I was released from the quiet of that area to the teeming mass of Cubans waiting the arrivals of tourists. Most held up signs with specific names on them looking for someone. I navigated through the crowd toward the Cadeca (money exchange) to turn my dollars into CUCs, one of the two types of currency in Cuba. CUCs were used by foreigners and were about equivalent to 1 USD. However, that didn’t include the 10% fee they charged, effectively turning every 100 USD into about 87 CUCs. The landlady warned of this and said that she had a better rate near our rented home. So I exchanged about 40 USD to last that day and evening.

At the airport I met Joshua De Gastyne, the trip organizer, and Thomas Bright, an incoming law student at UVA. We had planned to share a taxi together out to our rented house.

We negotiated our taxi from 75 CUCs down to 30 (we had been warned of how much they overcharge) and began the trip. The airport is far from the city center so we travelled more than 25 minutes to get into Regla, which is on the south side of the Port of Havana (Puerto de la Habana). Those 25 minutes gave us a good sense of the rural parts of Cuba. Farms dotted the land around the road like the potholes we avoided. Some livestock ate amongst the fields and on occasion we saw roads large enough to indicate there was a significant population at the end of them. One memorable mural painted on the side of a massive abandoned factory was a portrait of an indistinguishable man in Cuban revolutionary military garb. Below the mural were painted the words, “Socialismo o muerte!”

We found the rest of our group and settled into our rented home. Rounding out the team for this week: Christian Say, a senior at Princeton; Miklos Szebeni, a recent graduate of Princeton; Brooks Powell, a senior at Princeton and the videographer; and finally, his wife Shelby, a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and the photographer.

Once we dropped off our bags and unpacked a bit, we took the first of many ferry rides across the bay and into Old Havana (Habana Vieja). Immediately off the ferry there’s the Casa Bahia Habana hotel which we’ve stopped by many times for Wi-Fi cards and at least once a round of beers. We followed the coastal road northwest leading out of the bay into Old Havana to find food. Less than a few hundred yards down the street, we came to an ancient Russian Orthodox Church, Basílica San Francisco de Asis. It bordered a large square with a fountain in the middle.

We continued walking and eventually stopped at La Imprenta, a fairly touristy restaurant that caught our eye because of the plates they served with smoking coals in small bowls. At the bar we waited with rum and mojitos for twenty minutes before our table opened. Once we sat down, I noticed one of the menu items was “Moors and Christians.” We asked and found out that was a euphemism for rice and beans. We finished the night there and headed back for much needed sleep.

Day Two: Havana

This morning we had orientation. Joshua walked us through the week and what to expect. Because this was their first week and the point was to capture everything on film and produce marketing materials, he wanted to explain that and what they were trying to do. We had a brief icebreaker, playing Bananagrams using only Spanish words. The two that I played were pan and pene.

We ate breakfast at the apartment. It consisted of bread buns, jelly, and butter. The buns are bought daily at a local store. For 1 CUC (about $1.05), you get a full grocery bag of 24 rolls.

After our spartan breakfast, we took the ferry into Havana and headed to the Capitol. You can see the top of the dome from across the bay and it’s striking in the way the Duomo is in Florence. The dome rises above the rest of the city and is strikingly elegant from a distance. Once you get close though, you see the truth. The dome rises amidst a yard of dead grass and broken concrete. The streets around it are dirty and ungoverned. Across from the steps of the capitol are apartments falling apart with laundry hanging from the windows. In the words of one Cuban I spoke to, “Es Cuba.”

A few gardens surrounded the capitol, adjoined by a cigar factory and the remaining facade of an old apartment. In one we found a statue of a large bust of Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the week we saw statues of foreign leaders and wondered why they were there. The common theme was that they were liberators of some group and that the Cuban government wanted the people to view Castro and the revolution as the  liberators. Liberators from what remains unclear to me, but the US has been cast as the oppressors.

We walked through the city to La Guarida, one of the places recommended by friends of mine who had visited Havana over winter break. It turned out to be our most expensive meal but was completely worth it. The smoked marlin tacos were phenomenal although different than other tacos I’ve had. They were cold and small, perhaps no more than four inches long. We had orders of honey baked chicken, fried plantains, and chicken tikka. From there we had the afternoon open and continued exploring La Habana Vieja, We went to Cafe O’Reilly, a quiet bar on O’Reilly. We also tried to stop by O’Reilly 304 but it was completely packed. We found our way from there to El Dandy, a bar with an equal mix of tourists and locals. Just in time for a second dinner, we had the pulled pork tacos and pimieintos padrón – some kind of grilled or roasted peppers with large flakes of salt on them. Absolutely delicious (in fact, I’m going there after this for an afternoon snack).  By chance we ran into Christian and Myklos there – they had run into Catholic friends of theirs and were eating in the next room.

We walked back to the ferry from there and stopped at a hotel by the port for a wifi check in. It was incredibly slow.

 

Day Three: Ambassador, Museo de la Revolucion

This was our most educational day of the trip.

We had a meeting scheduled with the “Chargé d’affaires ad interim” to Cuba from the United States, Jeffrey DeLaurentis. He has ambassadorial status but isn’t an official ambassador. He explained it as a way to show the seriousness of President Obama’s intentions toward Cuba without sending an actual ambassador.

The Embassy is in a building the United States built in the 50s on land leased from the Cuban government. When relations were suspended in the 60s, the building was occupied by Switzerland and the DR occupied the Cuban building on 16th Street in DC. When it was built, it faced a green plaza. During the 60s, the plaza was replaced with a venue specifically for demonstrations agains the US government. In the ambassador’s office, we could see the fastenings for a ticker type sign that ran around the building and displayed pro-American message. In response, the Cuban government built a sea of flag poles to block the display from being readable.

The ambassador told us about his two assignments to Cuba before the current one and his experiences at the UN. He explained quickly the history of Cuba and how he sees relations going from here. The comments were in confidence and off the record so I can’t say more than the topics he touched on.

At the end, I noticed a few lapel pins with the US and Cuban flags on them and asked if we could have some. They said they were out but happened to find a few as we were leaving and we each received one. What a trinket to return with to the US.

We walked across the plaza after leaving and found a small bicycle-themed cafe, Cafe Rueda. Occasionally in Cuba you can find extremely cheap and good food. Cafe Rueda was one of those places. We had three or four entrees for less than 10 CUCs (about $10 USD). Common here are small pizzas and sandwiches, which we ordered in addition to a number of egg dishes – fried, hardboiled, etc.

We walked quite a long way through Centro Habana before coming to the Universidad de la Habana and seeing the small campus with some beautiful buildings. Most captivating were the seven or eight large flights leading to the street from an open walkway.

We continued on, eventually making it to the Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution). It was similar to the capitol in grandeur and disrepair. The three floor building held some sparse exhibits mainly focused on the story of the Castros and Che Guevara overthrowing the Batista dictatorship. It leveled many accusations against the US, mainly the CIA, for attempts at interfering with matters in Cuba. Conveniently left out was the Cuban Missile Crisis. One particularly striking paintings was of the “Cretins” – the dictator Batista, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. W. was portrayed in a Nazi uniform. They weren’t subtle about their feelings at all.

We walked across the street to another recommendation – Ivan Chef Justo. We ordered what came with the recommendation – platas bravas and gazpacho. We also ordered the sangria which ended up being nearly half of the 65 CUC bill. The sangria was good but not worth that at all. Neither was the food.

A post shared by Chris Cottrell (@cottrellchris) on

We walked down toward Plaza del Cristo, the spot around our favorite spot – El Dandy. We discovered a place in the same square, La Familiar, with extremely cheap food. Entire plates of rice, beans, and shredded beef for 2.50 CUCs. I was skeptical but decided to give a chance later in the week.

Along the walk down, Brooks and Shelby had a young lady greet them enthusiastically and remembering them from customs. This became suspicious considering the language she used – “group” came in “Saturday or Sunday”. She talked to us for a while asking how the trip had been. We started seeing red flags when she tried getting us to go buy cigars at a friend’s house. This was a common technique the Cubans used on tourists. It would be a employee holiday, a national festival, or the like, and that would result in some special discount which we had to use today. It came for cigars and salsa lessons most frequently.

One particular interesting thing about this young lady was that she wouldn’t let her photo be taken and kept pointing to a thin red bracelet on her wrist when trying to explain it. She eventually said that her religion believes that if a photo is taken of you, it steals your soul, imprisoning it in this world. She Afrocubanism, but Google didn’t return results confirming this was a popular belief.

The group winnowed down to a few who stayed late and we went to a small bar with live music and bare walls with signatures from all over the world on it. A few were more uncouth than the rest.

Day Four: Hemingway’s hotel, late night out

Before departing for the day, Thomas, Brooks and I walked down with Lauren (our house coordinator) to exchange the remainder of our USD for CUCs. We found the house and entered a small living room with two elderly occupants in their 60s. They exchanged at a much better rate than the Codecas

Once we had crossed the bay, we set out on one of my missions – find a high quality panama hat. These are the straw kind that were classic in the 20s through 70s and are only regaining popularity now. I had asked a few tourists during the week where they had purchased theirs and even managed to ask a young waitress where the good ones were sold. All had pointed me in the direction of a market on the western side of the bay just south of where the ferry landed. We walked down and found a huge market of many vendors, including many who sold the type and brand I had admired. I tested a few and finally settled on a beautiful one. It was not the bleached white straw but a more natural color, but not too tan. It had a wide brim unlike the fedoras but a similar crown shape. It sat on my head in a different way than a ball cap would which took some adjusting but became quite comfortable and light after a few days of wear. I was expecting a more fragile hat but the salesperson confidently rolled the hat into a small packable size and unrolled it with ease. I decided it was a worthwhile purchase. It cost 30 CUCs.

We walked from there through Habana La Vieja to the hotel where Hemingway stayed when he visited Cuba. On the way we stay a gorgeous plaza and a statue of Christopher Columbus – credited with discovering Cuba.

The hotel had clearly overplayed its affiliation with Hemingway but the tourists didn’t seem to mind. Pictures (often repeated) of Hemingway lined the downstairs bar and lobby leading to a small elevator that transported us to the fifth floor where we toured the room he stayed in. In it, he finished three novels but none of the more popular ones. The entire experience was romantic and reminded me how much I need to finish reading through Hemingway’s books. I should start by re-reading The Old Man and the Sea.

The hotel had smartly added a rooftop bar where one could enjoy the same view Hemingway did and it was quiet popular with the tourist crowd. Importantly for our group it had very good Wi-Fi which we had not found yet. I uploaded a video that day to Instagram which was quite the feat.

We decided to walk down to El Dandy and La Familiar and stopped for street side churros along the way. The wait was long but well worth it. A cart with a large bowl for boiling oil was situated amongst a crowd of onlookers and patrons. The attendant had a dough mix that he would squeeze in circles into the bowl and with a long iron stick he would begin rotating it to form large loops of dough to cook together. We waited until our batch and walked the rest of the way sharing the churros. We should have ordered two.

We had lunch at La Familiar and walked from there to the cigar factory where we purchased cigars for later that night when we planned to go to a few bars with live music. The factory store was old and beautifully well worn but the building was falling apart around it. It was directly behind the capitol.

From there we visited a locally owned t-shirt store we had heard many people mention – Clanedestina. It was beautiful but low on stock (a good sign) and we spoke for a few minutes with the owner. It is a privately owned business, part of a growing contingent as Cuba starts allowing private business to run and operate.

One of the shots we wanted for the trip was a ride in a convertible taxi. We walked down to the capitol and caught one to take us down to the ferry port. We put into practice the negotiation techniques we’d learned throughout the week and talked our way down from 30 CUCs to 12. This is a significant amount still for 15 minutes of driving that we needed. We ended the afternoon with beers at the Hotel Armadores by the ferry.

Day Five: Free day

Today we didn’t have any activities planned. Our hostess had recommended a place for lunch in Regla, Eddie Chang’s, so after a slow morning we had lunch there. No one explained how a Chinese-Cuban restaurant ended up in Regla. I ordered the fajitas and was given the Cuban chicken fingers with sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t more than half of it.

Christian and Myklos went to meet some Catholic friends they knew and the rest of the group went to the beach. I decided to go into Havana and back to the hotel Hemingway had stayed at to sit at the rooftop bar and write. It’s a rare occurrence that I actually write down all the experiences of traveling and I wanted to be sure that I did on this trip. I spent a few hours there, enjoying the shade, the sunshine, and more than a few mojitos.

The rest of the day was spent walking to El Dandy to get another bowl of the roasted pimento peppers and walking through Plaza Vieja again before heading back to the apartment.

Day Six: Video shooting

In the morning, we shot recap interviews for the trip to capture each of our thoughts on Cuba and The Fellowship. Eddie Chang’s was visited again for lunch as the cameras charged. This time, I skipped the fajitas in favor of grilled pork. A unique drink was had there, a German-made drink called Hyper Malt. It’s a non-alcoholic malt drink rich in vitamins and nutrients. In small quantities it was delicious.

We walked that afternoon into Plaza Vieja for drinks and had street-side churros along the way, the first and only time we risked street food. It was absolutely delicious and worth it. We stopped again in La Familiar for cheap dinner. For the most part we had run out of cash and had to keep enough for the taxi to the airport the next day.

Day Seven: Flight home

Early this morning we took the ferry from Regla into Havana and caught a cab to the airport. In the dark, it was hard to see the road speed by under us. We were quiet most of the way as we looked at the broken infrastructure and natural beauty in the dim morning light. Cuba is changing and as we drove through the night I wondered what the future held for this country. I don’t know what Cuba will be like years from now but I do know that when I return it won’t be the same.

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The program put together some videos together capturing our experience. (They aren’t paying me or asking me to put them here.)

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A Guide for Incoming Entrepreneurs at Georgetown

Yesterday I spoke with many new students at Georgetown during their orientation about my experience with entrepreneurship and what resources I recommend. In the post below I’ve written out what I’ve found valuable at Georgetown, in DC, and in following entrepreneurship generally.

Entrepreneurship

Get on Twitter. Twitter is very actively used by entrepreneurs and those in tech. You’ll see the honest opinions of very powerful people in tech and VC posted here. Here’s a list of who to follow to get started. My top five are @marca, @sacca, @jason, @sama, and, yours truly, @chriscottrell.

Follow Jason Calacanis and subscribe to Launch Ticker. Launch Ticker is a daily email of the biggest news in tech curated by Jason Calacanis (one of the people you should follow on Twitter). There are great insights here about the big shifts. You won’t get these kind of insights at this speed from any other resource like Fast Company or Fortune, etc.

Follow Andreessen Horowitz. This is the most well-known VC firm in the world. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz are the two founders and are both elsewhere on the guide. Read this article in The New Yorker on Marc to see why. They have a ton of great content on their website.

Follow Gary Vaynerchuk. Awesomely inspiring guy and very successful entrepreneur. Check out his TED talk and sign up for his emails.

Read Paul Graham’s essays. Paul is a VC and one of the founders of Y Combinator. His blog has some great writing that is often cited by successful technologists and entrepreneurs. Some good essays to start are How to Start a Startup and The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups.

Follow Mattermark. Mattermark is a new(ish) software that lets you get insights on companies. Subscribe to their emails here and download their app here.

Follow Tim Ferriss and check out his podcast. Tim is a crazy guy worth knowing about. His website has some insanely (not a word I use lightly) valuable resources and his podcast is one of the best – guests like Tony Robbins, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Chris Sacca, Jamie Foxx, Rainn Wilson, etc etc etc.

Apply to attend Hive. Hive is an incredible organization of leaders started by a young entrepreneur in San Francisco. They just started hosting events on the east coast. I attended a few years ago and learned an immense amount while getting to know incredible people. My roommate was an astronaut.

DC

Visit 1776 often. Georgetown has a membership at 1776 so you can go work in their campus around other entrepreneurs and teams building businesses. They put on some good events and is the hub of entrepreneurship here.

Join the University Club.* This is one of the capitol’s oldest social clubs and is worth joining if you plan to stay in DC. If you plan to relocate after school, it’s probably not worth it. This is especially valuable for those taking a full-time job in DC after school but with an interest in entrepreneurship. It’s a good way to get to know successful people in DC. A number of students established in DC are already members.

Georgetown

Join StartupHoyas MBA.

Do VCIC. We are hands down the best school at preparing teams to compete on the national level for VCIC. Jeff Reid was a founding part of the competition and runs this really well. These are some really intense weekends but I learned more from this than from a few classes.

Get to know the Entrepreneurs in Residence. Georgetown has some world-class entrepreneurs who volunteered to help you. Have an idea you want to flesh out? Go ask. Not sure how to transition after business school? Go ask. Come with smart questions, know their background and become known to some of DC’s best entrepreneurs.

Apply for InSITE. The best part about InSITE are the classmates you get to know much better and identify with as peers. It’s challenging but if you’re considering the consultant route as you build towards starting something of you’re own this is really perfect. If you already know what you want to start and you’re ready to go, then don’t do this. Go get your idea off the ground.

Go on the Cal Trek. The companies we visit on Cal Trek are typically tech-focused, although most are well-established and not entrepreneurial. The experience is worth it because you get to know people and experience San Francisco.

Do Venture Fellows if you’re interested in VC. I’m not a Venture Fellow but I’ve heard good things.

Do Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is a challenge and is worth doing to experience the headiness of starting a new venture. You’ll say pivot more times in that weekend than the rest of your life.

If you have an idea, consider Summer Launch Program and Rocket Pitch.

General Advice

Read. A lot. You will get more from reading regularly than any other habit. Warren Buffett read “between 600-1000 pages per day” at the beginning of his career and “still devotes about 80% of his day to reading.”

You’ve decided to pursue the harder path. No one will instruct, demand, decide or measure for you. You do all that. The bar is so much higher and you have to respond by being that much better. So take lessons from history, read the great philosophers, think deeply about life.  You are the pioneer of our age. Equip yourself with everything you can. Learn life lessons from the mistakes and victories of others. Get the wisdom of a thousand lives in one. </rant>

My first recommendations: Zero to One, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and Ego Is The Enemy. Or get the Harvard Classics for free online and read these for 15 minutes a day for a “classic liberal education”.

Realize entrepreneurship includes stuff outside tech and is less competitive and is often ripe for someone who knows tech to come in and crush it.

Stop thinking about Steve Jobs.

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Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

This essay is from a Patagonia catalog in 2004. This ethos has resonated with me lately as I’ve seen more and more of the inside of the business school classroom. I hope to do a lot more thinking about the future of our economy and consumerism in the next two years and come out with a clear philosophy and model of what could work.

They also took out ads in 2011 with the same concept:

Enjoy.

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Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

by Yvon Chouinard & Nora Gallagher
Late Summer 2004

Near the headquarters of Patagonia, on the central coast of California, the Chumash Nation enjoyed a good life for thousands of years. They lived in small villages and possessed fur blankets, intricate baskets and soapstone pots decorated with shells. They painted elaborate abstracts in mountain caves. In every village were game-playing fields and sacred buildings. Almost every day, most Chumash enjoyed a cleansing sweat in the village temescal. In each village was a granary for stockpiling food that would later be distributed to those in need.

Chumash traded exquisite olivella shells for black pigment, honeydew melons, pine nuts, wild tobacco and various herbs and salt. By the 16th century, theirs was a complex society of hunters and gatherers with a far-reaching, sophisticated trade network.

Other nations along the western coast shared this life. Gerald Amos, a member (and former chief) of the Haisla Nation in Kitamaat, northwest Canada, recalls a friend of his father who would leave home in the dark to paddle to his trapline four miles by water. He would spend the day walking the lines, checking and resetting the traps. “Along the way back to the boat, during the late fall and early winter, the coho salmon would be still in the creeks that they passed, so they would stop at one of these creeks and take a couple of coho, which they would clean and pack home in their backpack together with what-ever animals they had taken in their traps. The fish provided them with their supper later that night.”

Such lives are often called subsistence, which brings to mind the barest, hardscrabble survival. But there is another way to look at them. At Patagonia we choose to call them “economies of abundance.” In an economy of abundance, there is enough. Not too much. Not too little. Enough. Most important, there is enough time for the things that matter: relationships, delicious food, art, games and rest.

Many of us in the United States live in what is thought to be abundance, with plenty all around us, but it is only an illusion, not the real thing. The economy we live in is marked by “not enough.” We once asked the owner of a successful business if he had enough money and he replied, “Don’t you understand? There is never enough.”

We don’t have enough money, and we also don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough energy, solitude or peace. We are the world’s richest country, yet our quality of life ranks 14th in the world. As Eric Hoffer, a mid-20th century philosopher, put it, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy.”

And while we work harder and harder to get more of what we don’t need, we lay waste to the natural world. Dr. Peter Senge, author and MIT lecturer, says, “We are sleepwalking into disaster, going faster and faster to get to where no one wants to be.”

We might call this economy, the one we live in, the economy of scarcity.

Lest you think the economy of abundance is gone with the old Chumash, consider Europe. Europeans still buy only a few well-made clothes and keep them for many years. Their houses and apartments tend to be smaller than ours; they rely on public transportation, and small, efficient home appliances and cars. Europeans enjoy a 25 percent higher quality of life than Americans (while we consume 75 percent more than they do).

Or, look at the people of Bhutan, whose king insists on measuring “gross national happiness.”

Any person or nation can grow fatter and fatter, richer and richer, sleepwalking toward disaster. Or we can choose to remain lean and quick, wealthy in beauty and time and, that word that inspired our forefathers, wealthy in happiness.

In Patagonia’s environmental campaign this year, we looked at the plight of wild salmon and what it might take for us to become what Ecotrust calls “a Salmon Nation,” a nation of people who make choices that contribute to the health of whole watersheds and the economies of the people who live in them. A salmon nation is a nation of abundance, where people live in a way that fish can thrive. If you think this is an impossible dream, check out Seth Zuckerman’s essay “The Gift: Salmon Recovered”and learn how wild salmon rebounded in Alaska after the state employed sophisticated tools like sonar, stream bank counters and airborne spotters to ensure their salmon were not overfished. In the last two decades, commercial catches in Alaska have more than doubled.

At Patagonia, we are dedicated to abundance. We don’t want to grow larger, but want to remain lean and quick. We want to make the best clothes and make them so they will last a long, long time. Our idea is to make the best product so you can consume less and consume better. Every decision we make must include its impact on the environment. We make ski jackets that are the right jackets, with no compromises, yet they are elegant enough to wear over dress clothes in a storm in Paris. (Most ski jackets sit in the closet nine months out of the year.) We want to zero in on quality.

In the economy of abundance, wild salmon are given back rivers in which to run. Trees grow to their natural height. Water is clean. A sense of mystery and enchantment is restored to the world. We humans live within our means and, best of all, we have the time to enjoy what we have.

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So run that you may obtain it.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV)

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Icon Ambulance

Found this great story about Steve Jobs from Vic Gundotra on Google+. Enjoy.

One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said “Caller ID unknown”. I choose to ignore.

After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. “Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss” it said. 

Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job. 

“Hey Steve – this is Vic”, I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn’t pick up”. 

Steve laughed. He said, “Vic, unless the Caller ID said ‘GOD’, you should never pick up during services”. 

I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?

“So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I’ve already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow” said Steve. 

“I’ve been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I’m not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient. It’s just wrong and I’m going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”

Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject “Icon Ambulance”. The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 

Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced. 

But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I’ll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

To one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, my prayers and hopes are with you Steve.

-Vic

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Startup advice, how to build a $100m business, how to build a world-class network – What I’m Reading (9/17/15)

Earlier this week, my first class essay posted from pre-term. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past few weeks.

How to Build a $100 Million Business – Boris Wertz
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain
 – James Altucher
Paul Graham’s Startup Advice for the Lazy – Stelios Constantinides
The Secrets of living to 200 years old – BBC
Ben Horowitz’s Best Startup Advice – Product Hunt
How to Give Advice So That People Will Listen – Ramit Sethi
Want to Design a Mobile App That Feels Like Magic? Start here. – Proto.io
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain – James Altucher
The Education of Airbnb’s Brian Chesky – Fortune
How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time – Tim Ferriss

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