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Trip Report Tanzania, Kili, Camels and Horses

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Earlier this year I set out to find a safari outfit to work with me on creating a set of adventures in what has turned out to be one of the more expensive (live and learn) countries in Africa. I got suggestions. Sent queries. Got ignored (the word budget will do that). Received some eye-popping numbers for people who live in houses far larger than mine and who get far more than my VA benefits to live on. Then some kind soul suggested E-Trip Africa.

Ben Jennings, the head honcho at E-Trip, has a young company that he has directed into the midst of the feeding frenzy of safari operators who are competing hard for the tourist dollar. He has most assuredly earned mine by

-listening carefully and responding to my interests, desires and budget limitations
-taking into account my previous Africa experience (four trips) and the need for something different
-hearing my desire for adventure, physicality and roughing it vs luxury
-being available, responsive and clearly caring about what I wanted to accomplish.

As a result, the trip that leaves in just a few short weeks will include a walking safari, camel safari, a climb up Kili (note I didn't say summit, that's not guaranteed), and a horse safari that I booked before I met Ben.

Ben may operate out of CT, USA but he has strong African networks, experience and connections based on years of experience, and as I watched him bring them to bear in my favor it was impressive.I like to get dirty, sweaty, tired and exhausted, and the idea of a five course dinner in the middle of the African wild is, well. Give me a piece of fruit and let me take in the stars.

On October 30th I leave for Dar, and Ben and I meet to begin this journey. I will be writing whenever I have a connection to provide stories and feedback. For those of you who want to know what to expect from a journalist and author, please see my 30-day thread on Argentina last May. I hope to be able to give you insight on Ben's operation, a little different look at Tanzania, and the experience of a 60 year old athlete taking a shot at Kili after taking five months to train in Colorado. As far as Kili is concerned, we Coloradans respect the mountain. She gives, she takes away. And when she has beaten you, you come down. Porters and tips be damned.

If anyone has favorite places, ideas, loves, experiences, I'd love to hear them. Fodor's has proven to be one of my most beloved places to play. My thanks to all in advance for what always ends up being wise, useful, wonderful, funny and insightful advice from people who know considerably more than I do. Bless you for all you do for us.

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    What does your itinerary look like?
    How many total days in country?
    Where will you be visiting, where staying?
    Where will you be doing the camel safari and the horseback riding?

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    Sandi sorry for the late reply, I'm in serious training mode while also attempting to run a business.
    I land in Dar on the 1st November and head to the Selous/Ruaha for six days (3 each). I will be doing a three day camel safari, then head to Kili by the 14th to do the Rongai Route. on the 21st I head over to Arusha to meet up with Kaskaki for the six days on horseback. Total days in country: 30.
    The camel safari and horseback riding are both very close to Kili. To the best of my knowledge there is only one camel camp- and I simply don't know of others at this time, others might- which is run by the Masai. It's called Mkuru, www.mkurucamelsafari.com.
    I'm staying in Lake Manze Camp, Mdonya Old River Camp, African Tulip, Stella Maris and Shangazi House. Pretty much all of these were places that came with the location rather than my choice-although two of the main events, the Kili and the Kaskaki will involve tents, and that makes me very happy.

    The Southern Circuit camps are pricey, which is what happens when there isn't a lot of competition. The trade offs are fewer crowds, prime viewing and the potential for more intimate encounters. More time talking to guides, staff, locals. More education and experience.Or at least that is the impression from this side. I don't know yet and can only guess from previous experience in SA and Botswana. I'll find out when I get there.

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    jhubbell - interesting itinerary especially the camel safari. Am familiar with those done in Kenya, but this in Tanzania new to me. Of course you'll spend sometime stop a camel, but remember 'camels are not pets' and can have attitude, besides they like to spit. More time is often spent walking, but still an awesome experience. Do look forward to your report on this segment of your trip.

    Yes, the southern parks do tend to be expensive, but you've got a good mix there as mid-priced camps (these sure aren't the more luxe ones)... but the environment completely different than the northern circuit. Certainly less crowds and vehicles.

    And from what I've learned over the years - never do compare one country vs the next. Even though Kenya and Tanzania are similar, they are also quite different and so too you will find that South Africa and Botswana do not compare. You've got to take each individually and on their own merits which they each offer - game, people,

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    Sandi, all well said. Tanzania is half a continent away from SA and as a result, my expectation is that it's going to be massively different. I've always been tickled pink when I hear someone say that they've "been to Australia" because they went to Sydney. Or they've "been to Africa" and therefore know all about it because they've been to Joburg. Well, they've been to a tiny fraction of an enormous continent. I did SA and Botswana together on one trip and there was no comparison as you point out.

    It's interesting how hard it was to research camels on line- from trying to get insight on riding information to valuable understanding about the animals themselves. I do know some of their idiosyncrasies but found most of the online posts were from extremely young travelers who complained or who didn't provide particularly useful information for those of us hoping to learn. What I am aware of is that their handlers are very protective of them and that relationship is to be respected, which I would anyway, and that their propensity to spit means bring more bandanas. As a rider, you get used to getting horse spit on you, but not actually spat AT you, which I find hugely amusing. In my supplies there's a fat collection of wet wipes which is good to bring anyway. Any time you're dealing with OPA (other people's animals) you ask permission to touch, and you ask how they like to be touched, and what they like to eat, if anything, and what bad habits to watch out for. The other thing is to remember that you're temporary, and that relationship is permanent.

    I've been reading up on some of the advice for those who want to hike Kili, Sandi, and it really strikes me how varied that advice is. From "be sure to start an exercise program" to the real rigor of "Fit for Trips" which is more my style, it runs the whole gamut. This morning I slept in four hours because of the rigor of the weekend workouts- a reminder that rest is as much a part of a workout regime as the hard work especially as we age- but I think that the exercise portion of prepping for Kili is a bit understated for average American tourist especially those over forty. Some of the emails I've exchanged with folks on this forum really indicate how little people prepare for such a significant trek.

    As far as the countries are concerned, it's the same as in Latin America, in that from country to country, neighborhood to neighborhood, tribal border to tribal border, geographical delineation to geographical delineation there are going to be significant differences. The whole point of travel is to explore them and to be delighted, amazed, educated, humbled, exposed, re-educated, informed, and made better by those experiences. I was in a hostel in Buenos Aires talking to a very bright and fun young woman from the US and she told me about a man who was bored by his travels and couldn't wait to get home. He was jaded, annoyed, and ticked off by all the newness of his surroundings. He needed McDonald's, Subway, and Starbucks. She eyed him and asked why he didn't just get on an airplane home if it was that bad. Precisely. If it's sameness that we want, we don't belong on an airplane heading overseas.

    Thanks for the sage advice. Looking forward to hearing more from you too.

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    A couple of suggestions for those doing some serious shopping for climbing and hiking gear. While our good friends at REI provide fine options for many of us, I've found cheaper options by going to a website called Spadout which gives you multiple sites to shop on for the same items at lower prices. Sometimes you can find a killer deal, sometimes not. My best option has been a website called The Clymb, which repeatedly sends me announcements of sales that blow the top of my head off. From a $650 down jacket that I scored for about $179 to really good camping knives for practically nothing to sports gear to technical gear, The Clymb was amazing for preparing for Kili. Sierra Trading Post was another, but The Clymb almost always had better pricing. To wit, SmartWool layering pieces which run about $90 each were about half that on The Clymb while they were still $60-70 or so on Sierra. Another good set of options suggested by friends which I've already packed up were individual packets of almond butter, available at Whole Foods or REI or many other groceries. GU, Honey Stingers and other energy packets make for terrific energy sources on the trail. Those were also on sale at The Clymb. Another experienced Kili climber advised to bring your own spices, as they aren't available on the mountain, so a small salt and pepper shaker can be a godsend for those hardboiled eggs, and I am bringing twelve packets of rich hot chocolate for morning and night. I'm also bringing a pound of roasted almonds and dried mango, pecans and other rich snacks. Another excellent idea was that lots and lots of water, while helpful, isn't as useful as water packed with electrolytes and the other stuff your body is losing on such a demanding journey. Hence, energy drinks: Vitargo, available at limited vitamin shops and a super carbohydrate drink for Olympic athletes. And I'm adding something called Octane which is a fine tasting energy drink. Octane was strongly recommended by one of the Kili climbing companies and it's available on line. It actually tastes great and mixes easily in water (many drinks don't). While it's more expensive to do so, get the packets so that you can pack only what you need, as loose powder might make customs a little nervous.

    One trick I've used in getting in shape for this trip was to put one of my bikes up on a trainer in front of the television. I train for at least an hour every single night while I watch TV or a movie, so that no matter what, there's at least an hour of leg work every day. Also, there are weights in the living room so that in addition to the bike work, I do weight training while the TV is on. Weighted vests are readily available online and you can use them to get your legs and body used to carrying loads. Also, finding a building where you can do the stairs for an hour or two if you don't have a gym membership is good training, just put on the music and climb. Build up to wearing your vest while you do it, and after a while you'll be amazed at how your cardiovascular and leg strength have improved. Other side benefits: muscularity, power, weight loss, energy.

    Another great investment- and there simply isn't a way to get them cheap- is the selection of dry bags from REI or other stores. Sea to Summit makes them. They come in different styles and colors, and their purpose is to keep your stuff completely dry in case of rain, snow, etc. For your precious warm clothing, socks, shoes and all other things that must absolutely stay dry on the mountain, you can use zip lock bags -which tear- or you can use these beauties which are tough, especially the Dry River styles. For those intrepids who also travel to the Amazon Rain Forest this is a superb investment. I mark mine with permanent markers as to their contents or you can spring a bit more dime for the ones that have a clear window to the contents. They come in sizes from 1 liter, small enough for your tiny camera or a translator computer, to 35 liters, for all your warm clothing. I pack all my stuff neatly into Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep it organized, then slide that into a dry bag. The end product fits neatly into a big gear bag. Just one of those excellent, excellent handy packing organizers. Warning- they do get pricey, but if you are in a downpour, you will thank your lucky stars you had the foresight to buy them.

    Another amazing source for gear has been TJ Maxx, where for example I found Marmot jackets for less than half price from previous season. Wicking layers from Hind, Northface and other quality providers are there in force for practically nothing (read- $9-16 instead of $40)so it pays to check them out. Marmot is one of the best on the market, and if you're not terribly picky about colors, you can score big time on uber quality gear, which is really the point. TJ Maxx was also where I found tons of training equipment for swimming and running for cheap- Tyr gear for lap swimming and the like, training gloves for the weight room, Pearl Izumi bike clothing and even Goretex hiking boots for $29 which is ridiculously inexpensive.

    Kili is expensive enough without dropping another fortune on gear. The training piece is absolutely essential. You must work out and prepare physically. These are some of my insider tips on what to take based on my interviews with people who've already climbed Kili and what they wished they had brought with them (especially the spices). One of the MOST ESSENTIAL PIECES OF ADVICE is that all of them said they wished they had trained more for the downhill part of the mountain, as their legs simply weren't prepared for nine hours of downhill work after the summit. You must have poles, you must train for this. It's exhausting on the knees. Just wanted to pass that along. Definitely do your research on the mountain, take the gear lists seriously and research all your options on where you can find stuff for cheap. I hope my suggestions help. I saved lots and lots of money this year by going to The Clymb, Spadout and Sierra Trading Company, and all the other discount camping sites on line. REI has good sales too, sometimes. My very strong suggestion is to start physical training about 6-7 months out, especially if you're not an athlete. Test out your gear and your energy drinks and make sure your gear works. Break in your boots. Take things you WILL eat on the mountain because appetite wanes at altitude. Invest in extremely good socks. And finally, talk about an insider suggestion, here's the best tip I ever got about preventing blisters from my fireman buddy who does wildfire work all over the country, who himself got it from a hotshot. To prevent blisters from your boots (which they wear 18 hours at a time) wrap your tender areas in duct tape first. Yep, good old duct tape. Heels, toes, wherever you might feel the heat. Not AFTER they start getting sore, that's too late. Do it as a preventative measure. Once you have a hot spot, you've already got a blister started. These guys wrap their feet in duct tape and don their boots and never get blisters. I don't know about you, but I'm taking a roll. The last thing I need is a nasty blister coming down Kili with nine hours of hiking to go. Paul said that he's never used Moleskin again after using duct tape. That's good enough for me.

    We are allowed 33kgs or 70 something pounds for our gear bag going up the mountain. Fully loaded, mine weighs around 48-50lbs, and much of that weight comes from the snacks and drink mixes, nuts and goodies. The actual gear is very light. That means that by the end of the trip that bag is going to be light for the porters and very light going home. Everyone is happy.

    For those of you in the planning stages, I hope all this helps. I've interviewed a number of experienced climbers, people who have done big mountains, including Kili, and these are their suggestions. I'll be posting how all this stuff works later. I leave on Wednesday next week, happy to answer questions if anyone has any.

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    Duct Tape - one more use for this amazing product... interesting!

    Still must remember that regardless the amount of pre-training or having climbed elsewhere previously... if at any time you're not feeling well, get your butt down from whatever altitude you find yourself. Do not push ahead.

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    Agreed, Sandi. I've written elsewhere in this Forum that when the mountain says stop she means stop. You don't argue. This is where people get hurt- and whether it's an argument with a tip-hungry porter or a summit-hungry tourist, it makes no difference. It drives me nuts when people lose sight of the real message that it's the journey.

    Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite athletes, RGIII, whom most football fans will know as the QB of the Redskins. He played us yesterday in a losing effort- and in the process got badly injured, and even tried to sneak back on the field out of sight of the medical professionals who had just benched him. The profound lack of respect for his current limitations and the sheer arrogance that he alone can lead the team to victory will combine eventually- unless something changes- to cut short what could have been a remarkable career. That same kind of Mememememememememe thinking is what gets people in serious trouble on hikes. You get just so far, so close, and part of you thinks, quite irrationally, "hey, I can do this," despite every single indication to the contrary. "But I paid so much money. I want my photo at the top." Know what? Your photo at the top could be you coming down under a sheet if you don't back off. Kili is like any other massive, demanding climb. You can only do so much. Mitigating factors like altitude sickness, fatigue, illness, not enough food or water intake, who knows.
    What I most appreciate about your reminder in the thread is that most of us aren't good at listening to our bodies for clues around thirst- which we more often read as hunger- for clues of disorientation or exhaustion because they may be unfamiliar, and all too often the American way of "I can do this on my own" leads us to carry on without asking for help.

    Part of me thinks that we've all seen too many adventure movies and we somehow see ourselves as Indiana Jones or Laura Croft. I'm backing you up here, Sandi. I've put months and months into training and preparation. But I hold no expectation whatsoever of summitting. I do hold the expectation of having a fine adventure. What that holds, I have no idea. What will happen, I have no idea. Whether I summit is no guarantee. Nobody owes me that. Just because we plunk down x amount of cash to climb Kili is meaningless. We try. And if we're smart, we prepare. And when we reach a limitation, we back the heck off. Because hey, I've got Viet Nam in January, and Peru in April, and I have no intention of messing any of that up. What are we trying to prove here?

    So many thanks for the comment, I can't agree more. And by the way, I put that duct tape suggestion to the test. This morning in the chill of oncoming snow here in Denver, I broke in a brand new pair of Goretex hiking boots for an 8.5 mile hike with duct tape on my heels, which is where I get my blisters. It worked like a DREAM. Who'd'a thunk it?

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    For anyone who is planning on a quick overnight in Johannesburg close to the airport, the Emerald property Airport Inn B&B was a perfect choice. Not quite on the airport but very close, it's a great rest stop for those of us who are moving on the next day. They offer a shuttle bus for pickup,which includes waiting for you while you shop at the airport Woolworth's for goodies to tide you over, and I found the staff to be very warm and welcoming.

    A small, but very helpful, item they offer is adapters. I hadn't thought to include a ZA adapter for my trip and they provided one so that I could charge my Kindle and computer. Really thoughtful.

    The only minor downside is that for those of us who are hostellers the cost of the dorm comes out to about $30 a night which is a lot for a dorm bed. However I scored big in that the dorm was empty so effectively I had that huge room to myself (therefore nothing to complain about), and the showers were nice and toasty, which can always be a challenge overseas. A private room is about $52.00. The grounds are nicely kept with blooming trees and bird's nests announcing spring, and small turquoise pools for toe dipping. The morning breakfast included eggs, sausage, mushrooms and plenty of carbohydrates, but also yogurt and fruit, and the dorm room also had coffee and tea supplies along with a hot pot. The dorm room was splashed with bright sunshine in the morning, too, a nice wakeup call. Shuttles take you back to the airport on the hour, you tip for the service.
    As a place for a layover when en route elsewhere I strongly recommend it. Great place to take care of the jet lag and wake up refreshed.

    Dar es Salaam's Transit Motel sits practically on top of the airport, literally across the street, about 10,000 TSH taxi ride to get you there. It's a nice facility; the only challenges the first night were no hot water and dim lights in the room. The shower refused to put out anything more than cold, so I waited until morning. When morning came, the power was out, the room was, well, warm, and at that point, a cold shower was ideal. The staff was working hard on the power problem (she shrugged and said "this is our country") - it's not a big deal, so you go out and explore. Happens at the Hilton, too. So I needed more shillings anyway and walked up the road back to the airport. The air was full of the smells of cooking fish, vegetables, sweat, spices and cooking smoke. The dirt road was potholed, patched, and full of people, kids and commerce. A riot of color, mostly on the women, purples and yellows and blues and reds and oranges, sparkled head scarves and billowing skirts. Beautiful. The short walk to the airport revealed barbershops featuring headshots of Obama and Jay-Z, lonely pieces of meat hanging on hooks in the heat, tiny shops crammed cheek by jowl, giggling kids cuddling up to mama's thigh. And massive Toyota trucks taking up the whole street, with motorcycles making their way around them. A circus for the senses.

    Upon return to the hotel the sweat was dripping and a quick cold shower sounded divine. However, now there was no water at all, anywhere. Staff said to wait a few minutes. First thought: that this could be several hours. So I stripped down, opened the drapes to let some light in and was rewarded with the startled faces of two workmen who were walking by the back alley window just at that moment. I'm not sure who was more surprised. Needless to say, the drapes were immediately drawn tight and I chose option two: nap. Soon as I closed my eyes, the lights came back on, the fan started up, things cooled down and the water was available again.

    Another note about Transit Motel, the staff came and got me around 10 am to make sure I was fed. This was extremely kind of them since I didn't realize breakfast was available. The staff had fruit, coffee, tea, and eggs out, and the cook was using a gas burner stove to make the eggs on a table in the dining room. They had extra fruit left over and gave that to me as well. What I've appreciated from other contributors on here is the advice on tipping, which has been so very helpful, and to remember to show gratitude not only by saying thanks for the service.

    Of course that also meant to change a lot of dollars, and that means having great massive wads of several million TSH to squirrel away, which makes for tumor-like protuberances in one's pockets,and on one's person. But hey. Nobody said you had to be svelte on the veldt. So, off to find cubbyholes in the backpack. One trick I have used to great success is those plastic bandaid holders. Gonna need a lot of 'em.

    Quick tip for those new at this, you old hands are pros. If you're washing stuff in the room, and have a fan,make sure you put all your damp stuff (dry it in a towel first) in the fan's wake. Bathrooms are wet and humid, don't leave stuff to dry in there. That way your fast dry AND your less than fast dry stuff will be done by morning, even in humid areas.

    For those who are looking for feedback on E-Trip, as I was writing this, Ben and his wife Aurelie showed up today right in the middle of the penning of it. They hand delivered all my tickets and materials along with a loaned phone for any emergencies loaded with thousands of minutes just in case. If I go over I can buy more. This is a nice service, and they were right on time as promised. They also took me to lunch, an adventure that took us four and a half hours not because it was a long meal, but because we sat in traffic for most of the time. Josef, our driver, did a fine job with shortcuts, but that bought us minutes, and we still ended up with long intervals staring at the colorful rear ends of city busses. The good news was that I was able to watch people walking by, and talk to Ben and Aurelie and Josef, and that made the afternoon a joy.

    Women in clothing sparkling with with silver threads glided by with a tower of buckets on their heads, and men pushed loads of fresh cut two by fours stretching two car lengths in front of them. The city buses held an overflow of humanity, arms and elbows and heads hanging out to escape the heat inside Many were reaching for the drinks and cashews being proffered by the long line of street vendors who showed up after we'd been sitting for five minutes or more. It was like Home Depot and the local 7 Eleven shop packed up for the road. Everything from bolts to CDS to flags to screwdrivers made it up and down the road. I was reminded of the impulse buy aisle of our big box stores; this was like that, only the impulse aisle walked up to your window. The only sad thing was that chocolate wasn't on the menu in this heat.

    It also struck me how patient everyone was. There was no horn blowing, at least until we got moving again. While we sat, all was quiet. At one light the wait was nearly an hour. People left the busses and started walking, which was faster anyway at that point. And cooler by far.

    As for the E-Trip team, Ben speaks Spanish, French, English and a smattering of Swahili and a few other languages, as does his French wife. My understanding is that their commitment in their business is to offer a more customer centered experience in the overcrowded safari field, as well as to find ways to benefit the communities they operate in. To wit, Kili climbs to help build schools and the like. They spend much of the year in country and close to the network of providers who know them well, so they can provide opportunities such as negotiating last minute deals (like they did for me)which might not always be available with larger operations. They treated me to a chicken dinner (BTW roasted doesn't necessarily mean "roasted," in this case it means deep fried to death, never assume)and I got to find out a lot about Aurelie, with whom I'm climbing Kili.She's a one time gymnast who still sports her muscles, still very much an athlete.

    Then they packed away all my bags for transport to Arusha, and sent me on my way for Selous and Ruaha tomorrow morning.

    One good lesson I learned today was that despite the fact that my gear bag weighs less than it needs to for Kili, that bag still has to be transported by E-Trips internally while I travel elsewhere, such as to Ruaha and Selous. Hence, it's subject to the same luggage restrictions- such as 20kg, not 33kg, on the smaller airlines. While obvious in retrospect it wasn't beforehand, so I need to cover the costs for E-Trip for the extra weight. Not much, but still. This is just a head's up for anyone who is doing more than Kili, and for whom there will be bag transportation involved.

    Another note about the Transit Hotel, they offer dinners as well, a pretty varied menu, which makes it convenient when you don't want to fight the traffic. After being exposed to said traffic on a Saturday afternoon, I'm reminded of two things: why it's so great to get out of the city to the hinterlands as fast as possible, and why it's so great to have a super savvy driver and plenty of time to just sit if you must head out. This motel is so very close to the airport it's a 12 minute walk, and it's incredibly convenient to get back to for your next flight.

    Hope everyone had a great Halloween!

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    Finally arrived in Arusha after six days on the Southern Circuit, no wi-fi of course, working on the reports. Here's the first bit. Trust that duct tape, Sandi!!

    Three days in this luxury tented camp were enough to almost convince me to take my Rocky Mountain camping up a notch. Imagine showering in warm, solar powered heat while you gaze at billions of stars (remember them?) and pick out the big dipper.Possibly hear a lion's roar in the distance. You're perfectly safe inside on a nice firm bed where candles are lit on the headstand. No electricity- that would ruin it- but lamps, candles and a multifunctional torch take care of everything just fine. You have a modern toilet, so don't imagine the worst. In fact, if you're the right kind of traveler vs tourist, this is the place for you.

    A well equipped (three weapons, and yes they've killed lions with them) Maasai accompanies you to the breakfasts and dinners in times of lesser light, making you feel like royalty, and ensuring your safety. When the enormous but remarkably mild bull elephant comes up quiet as a mouse to strip the local bushes of its early spring green, they stand between you and his great bulk, but out of the way of your camera shots. I was sitting at the lunch table when the elephant had come up all the way to my shoulder and I hadn't heard the slightest noise. He was no more than six feet away. Gets your attention, that.

    The wait staff are eager to please, this is partly because they work for tips and partly because this is who they are, which is generous of spirit and smiles. The food is not five star- howevere it is well done, it is bought locally, not shipped in. And many other sustainable points are notable including things like recycled toilet paper and other goods, an emphasis on intelligent water use, and ensuring that what is sold for souvenirs is also made locally. I found that my requests for tons of fruit was cheerfully met and brought to my tent because I had to work at night. All kindnesses that I very much appreciated, and by that I mean not only verbally but financially.

    Another valuable aspect of this facility are the guides. It's so easy to claim that a guide was great or fantastic or whatever. What makes a guide great is that on an all day safari, he knows precisely where the lions sleep. Where the hyenas take their midday siesta. Where the favorite quiet hidey holes are for the animals so that the time between 11-3 or 4 pm isn't a long string of looking at impalas gathered under spreading shade of branches at a distance. A good guide has taken the time to educate himself on the flora and the fauna and can tell good stories about why the hippo yawns. Many of them pick up bits of languages from all over the world and can do a fair bit of communicating in various tongues, but the lingua franca is English. A good guide can see the ears of a lion or its tail from quite a distance, and knows precisely how close his boat can get to a pod of hippos. One big plus is that the guides are very adept at finding the best angles for your camera shot, the light, and they are continually going off road to accomplish this for you. Since the population of travelers isn't so huge down here you won't find yourself in a circle of forty Land Rovers looking at a pride of lions. Maybe two or three. What a very nice change of pace.

    This outfit has terrific guides, using this kind of measurement. And another. If they infer that you are curious about termite mounds, ten minutes or so later you are facing one that's at least ten feet over your head, and getting the entire background and history on how they are built. They tend to be very sensitive to the preferences of their charges and will do their best to deliver what you're interested in, if it's possible. Nature does the rest, which means that you may not see those wild dogs discussed in the brochure.I never did. But I wasn't disappointed in any way. The vast range of wildlife and the remarkable variations in the land made it so entertaining that you don't hold forth for one thing or another.

    A few lessons learned, this by way of short story. Girl has camera that burns batteries fast. Girl buys six extras so as not to miss the big dramatic moment. The day of the morning boat ride, girl gets in Rover at 6:30 am, armed with three extra batteries. Not thirty seconds out of camp the BIG DRAMATIC SHOT happens: Massive male hippo charges the car. Does the girl get the shot? Hell no. Camera was off, conserving battery life. By the time the camera is on, girl gets terrific shot of hippo butt cheeks. So.....lemme see here, why again did Girl buy extra batteries? Moral of story, keep your camera on. To wit: on the way to the airport, I turned the camera on right away. Not 600 yards out we had some fabulous shots of magnificent birds of prey. This time I got them while everyone else was fumbling with their cameras. 'Nuff said. Buy the extra batteries and keep the damn camera ON. There are animals and birds and cool things absolutely everywhere all the time.

    Can you charge up at this camp? Yes. Central place, the only place, international access. It's right next to the bar, everyone uses it. Should you bring a hair dryer? Nah. Don't ask that question. Hairdryers are absolutely positively useless. You're going to have hat hair (you did bring a big hat, right?) and you're in Africa. In the bush. Like putting on lipstick out there, or perfume. Chapstick with sunscreen, sure. Besides, you are so limited on the weight you can put on those small planes, why on earth waste space and weight on stuff you cannot, will not use?

    About hair: another lesson learned: If you have long hair, men or women, the best way to handle it is to braid it up and forget it. However, given the dust, sweat and dirt out there on the savannah, there comes a time, and mine was during a conversation with Tricia, the manager.

    A mud dauber wasp took serious interest in my dome and would simply not leave me alone. Not scary, it was just looking for a place to build. Ahem. A nest. My hair. Point taken. I shot for the shower, laughing.

    All I'm trying to gently suggest here is that makeup, hairdryers, perfume and other city goodies don't belong on safaris. Not only do they take up room, they can sometimes draw insects (not good) and hey, this is an opportunity to really strip all the city away and experience nature raw- and yourself in the middle of it. How often do you get that gift?

    Another lesson: Trust the guides. These guides - borne of long experience- know how close to get to hippos, lions, or any other dangerous animals including the extremely unpredictable water buffalo. I heard of guests who were terrified of getting too close, which costs other guests their best shots. Then you hear of yet other guests who insist on trying to get too close. Well hey. I figure these guides live with these animals. They know what they can can do. They have great respect for them. And their priorities for us are, in order: safety, safety, safety, safety, and then a joyous and magnificent experience. Trust these folks, they really do know their stuff down here. One guide shared with me his biggest frustration: people who demand to see a lion. Or elephant, or a rhino. Whatever. These guys are good, and they do their best, but they can't whip up a large mammal on command, or one which has been hunted or poached out of existence. One gentleman on my Rover did just that- demand to see a rhino. There aren't any down here. He was very angry. Not the guide's fault. C'mon man.

    Other thoughts: Buy quick drying Patagonia or Ex-Officio tops. I ended up living in one pair of undies, two shirts, one tank, two pairs of socks and two pairs of pants for 3 days. Basin washing took care of everything. I had a fan in my tent and that dried the socks after I'd rolled them in the towel. Very economical for weight and space. I'd brought more, just didn't use them. I used one of those cooling bandanas that expand with water- it gets heavy, thumbs down, but it does help with the heat. What did work was getting the Ex Officio tank top soaking wet and wearing it as is. Keeps you cool as it dries, perfect.

    Best bug spray I ever found that worked with the tsetse files was Coleman's 100% Deet. Expensive, but it WORKED. I didn't get bitten by mosquitoes or tsetse flies once in three days. Cost about $15 and worth every single penny.

    When you're on the channel for the boat trip, try not to argue when someone on the boat says that they see a croc up ahead and you think it's a log. They've probably got better eyes. It's a croc. You're going to feel foolish when your "log" eases itself into the water. Especially if it's right under the boat and you can feel those reptilian spikes scraping along the bottom under your feet. Yep. Log.

    Buy your souvenirs here. It directly benefits the local community. This is a very eco-sensitive company- they watch their footprint. Admirable. Learn more from managers Phil and Tricia, and if you speak a different language, chances are Tricia can speak it, too. She's terrific.

    Keep in mind that there are several good offerings in this area, but this was my experience of the tent camp. Since I prefer tents to hotel rooms, this was the best choice. Getting a super nice bed, the aura of a beloved movie (but Bob Redford was nowhere to be seen) short of the Mozart, you could hardly be more charmed. If you don't mind a little dirt or mud, a magical hot shower under the stars at day's end shared with the wild animals of the savannah, I heartily recommend this camp.

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    I forgot to mention. Seasons. Yeah, everyone loves to come when the rains have made the world so green, and everything is happy and exploding around here. Well, something else explodes in November, and that's the birthrate. November is the only month you get to see babies babies babies babies and more babies. I don't care if after an hour you've seen as many impalas as you care to see, you can't see enough baby impalas, especially when twenty odd of them are gathered around one Mommy as though she's giving catechism class. Sorry, Sister Mary, was that capitalized? So here's my point. Sure you can come during high season. But I love to see very young things. And in lake, you can see baby hippos pop to the surface, and, startled, immediately pop back down like they're playing whack-a-mole with you. Funny as hell. Moms do it too but it's just not as cute as Tiny Tubby over there, and not quite as threatening as the nearly three ton Bull over there. Close to the boat. Uh, yeah.

    The young hyenas have eye-popping spots, quite beautiful, not like adult Mom who is sinewy and gray.Young things are every reason in the world to come in November, along with sometimes better rates. And there is just nothing so cute as to see a tiny elephant waddling fast as it can holding on to Mama's tail. You wanna see cute? Show up in November. It won't be as green yet, but it will be worth it to be able to see the babies.

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    OK so here's more this coming about Mdonya River Camp in Ruaha.

    “Bring your DEET and enjoy the bush more”


    Why? Here's a fine illustration. Our driver and a guide pick a few of us up at the airport and we head over to the park. I have covered myself with my Coleman 100% DEET. When the tsetse flies come, they come in droves. Avoided me completely: bare arms and legs, face, not a bite. However, they did swarm, annoy, and torture the poor workman who sat next to me on the second seat. Why? Because he was wearing blue.
    So get this: All around this camp are tsetse fly traps. The colors they use to ATTRACT the flies are black and blue. I do not know which nitwit chose blue overalls for the workers but it guarantees their misery. I sprayed him and the misery was over with. That day.

    So those of you even thinking about civilian clothes? Blue jeans? Those flies can bite right through denim. Bite the bullet. Get thee to Ex Officio and buy the safari colored zip off pants and the travel shirts, you can find them on discount sites, yes I know they're expensive. But they are fast dry, wicking, which really is important, they have lots of pockets, you'll love the shorts to pants option when the sunset is over with and it gets chilly (it's spring and it does get chilly just like it does in desert country), and the shirts roll up and stay there, and they also have a ton of pockets. The right gear is worth the money, besides, you'll be coming back. Betcha 10,000 TZH. More.

    Here's the acid test to find out if this property is for you. You walk into your beautifully appointed tent, you are amazed. BBIIIGGGG bed, candles, lockbox with provided locker, canvas wardrobe, plenty of hangers. Cool. No place to plug anything in. GREAT! You walk into the huge bathroom and have a horselaugh, because a monkey has pooped in the shower, and on the other side, other monkeys have had their paws all over the toilet seat doing their best to drink the (very scarce) water. You take our your camera and photograph both, then clean it all up. If this is your reaction, you are prime for this place.

    You hear jackals screaming and fighting in the night and run out onto the verandah to see what the fuss is about. You wear DEET to bed because stuff may have come into the room despite the fact that you diligently zip the tent closed every single time.You welcome 6 am because you have no idea what may be walking around the tent, maybe a lion (you're safe and you know it, just don't walk outside), monkeys with tiny babies hanging on to mommy's belly hair, impalas.

    The Maasai greet you warmly on the sand path to breakfast and again at night to make sure you get safely to the dining tent, where Johanna scares up great regular and vegetarian fare and a mean fruit bowl. Mary, a Kenyan born woman of British descent who is lively, funny and one strong cuppa tea, runs the place and ensures everyone is well cared for, is in all places at all times. Sandy and dusty, this camp at the height of the heat in November is bullishly hot during the day and downright chilly at night. Which makes bundling up under those great big fat blankets all the more yummy,

    Another reviewer of this camp spent a lot of time making points about what she didn't get, or what wasn't up to her expectations. We all have opinions, but perhaps it's fair to keep in mind where we are out here. Deep deep deep in the bush. No electricity. So when she says my drinks weren't cold, come on, man. We're in Africa, and there's only one charging station, it's all solar power, and in all fairness, this isn't the Hilton. You just aren't going to get icy chilled drinks out on the bush. that's five star. That's not who comes here. Tsetse flies are part of Africa and so is using elephant dung to keep them off you. The smell isn't bad at all, in fact it's not offensive at all. Would you rather have a bit of smoke or a swarm of flies that bite? Part of that is using old traditions that work.

    I had two very talented guides in the three days I stayed in this camp. Talented in that they both knew the area extremely well. The network among the guides was excellent and on multiple occasions led to our being able to get underneath a fabulous leopard dozing away overhead. They have a policy of four Rovers around an animal at a time, so if there are more, they wait their turn so that the animals aren't surrounded by twenty grilles. They all share information when they pass each other and we found many lions- young males, females with cubs, a cranky old male.

    About which there is a story.

    Now this isn't my first rodeo but it's a classic case of how you can know better but still be a dolt.

    Our guide had seen four giraffe facing upwind. Knew something was up. Snuck up to a big bush, very close. Sure enough, big old male lion inside. We are very very close. We start taking pictures. He says to me stay inside, I have no intention of getting out of the Rover. But that's not what he was referring to. My hands, holding a peacock blue camera with a yellow scuba handle, were outside the line of the vehicle and in the sun. Mr. Grumpy locked on me, and sat up. Growled. Tail switched angrily. The hair on my neck and arms prickled and we started up the car and headed off in a circle and came to a stop another ten feet away, He lay back down, satisfied. Kishembe explained, kindly and without looking directly at me, what Mr. Grumpy was having a fit about. He was being nice but I was the culprit. The trick isn't knowing, it's using the knowledge. It embarrassed the hell out of me but guaranteed I won't do it again. That's good guiding.

    You're going to love this camp if you can pry the city goods out of your hands and leave them at home- stuff like the goo we insist on putting on our female faces or in our hair. Frankly, nobody is looking anyway, and if you do the full day safari (recommended) you will be sweaty, gritty, happy, smoky, utterly delighted and at some point, wondering why you ever bothered with that gunk anyway. You'll pick it all back up when you get home but for now, it's wonderful to be unbothered by beauty rituals other than moisturizers with SPF. DDF and Neutrogena both make good ones, and they aren't sticky and heavy which is good down here.

    As mentioned in other TA posts I bought a small spray bottle of Coleman 100% DEET, it was priceless. I will never go anywhere there are biting things without it again. Here however you are provided with bug spray, and boy does it work. I had an enormous evil looking ant that was wending its way up my calf and went after it with this stuff. While it stinks like all bug sprays do, I never saw a monster ant expire so quickly.

    All the tents face the Old River bed, which at night becomes something of a hotbed of activity. Lions, jackals, impala, elephants can all wander around down there, fight, make up, party down or have a plenary session of the UN for all we know, but it provides wonderful background noises for sleep. If you are the kind of person who like me grew up listening to the symphonies of the night, and can't sleep when it's too quiet, you'll love this place.It's magical.

    The mistakes most people make are that they bring too much clothing, not enough tip money, stuff they just don't use. As mentioned elsewhere, in this November heat, because it is so like Arizona, you can basin wash a thick pair of hiking socks in the morning, hang them in the tent loops and they are dry by noon. So at night, if you have a very light (NOT COTTON) quick drying tank, the made for travel quick drying undies (these camps will not wash undies or bandannas for you), you can plop them in the shower with you or in your basin and in seconds they are clean, and they are ready for the next day.

    Kishembe, as far as the animals went, drove home to the Italians who were in the Rover with me for two days, that finding one animal and watching it for a while just doing what it does: eat, roll in the sand, dig for water, whatever, was far more educational and interesting than running full tilt around the park searching for this or that mammal. And he's right. This one gentleman demanded to see the Big Five, he was heading home the next day and he was determined. He told Kishembe he was being graded by points as to which animals he could show this couple. He wasn't kidding. To his credit. Kishembe ignored him. He was polite, but he wouldn't be bullied. For one thing the park doesn't have all the Big Five, and for another, it WAS more interesting when we found an elephant herd, and one matriarch put on a fascinating show of how she would clean her grass of root dirt before eating it, and then how she ate.

    One tidbit, when you're patient. Nature will throw you a circus show.To wit: We see one zebra. My favorite animal, so our driver stops. Lively little zebra walks to the left of the Rover, stops and faces right. Stage right, as it were. Now here comes the rest of the herd. One by one, they might have been holding tails. They walked in a perfectly straight line across our line of sight, until they filled the horizon. About nine of them. Meanwhile, perky Mr Circus Master on the left, ears pricked forward, is watching us with deep interest, and then he looks at the lineup, which has simply stopped. We take a whole bunch of photos, they just stand there like they're posing. Pretty soon we're done, and as if on cue, first zebra in line starts to walk, and then everyone else follows. Quite calmly, no running, until they disappear stage left. Then Mr. Circus Master, who has been watching their progress, turns and looks at us one more time, then makes a turn to the left himself, and follows his performers off Stage Left.

    I am not making this up. I have pictures, Check it out. We were completely and utterly delighted.

    If you are in such a doggone hurry to go find your lion because you have to see your Big Five, or whatever your mission is, you might miss your magic. Hey, just sayin.'

    This camp doens't get a ton of visitors. That is a huge advantage for those of us who do come, because we get to see more. November. I wrote elsewhere about Lake Manze that the reason to be here in November is babies.The other reason is that you get to see the many many many baobab trees feeding the impalas and monkeys with their blossoms. You get to see a land just waking up. The trees with shallow roots apparently dead (dormant) and the ones with deep roots still a deep and abundant green. You see the giraffe with their babies working on the delicate beginnings of the bushes and trees, and learn how to tell males from females by their eating habits.

    I personally like fewer people and small groups, relative isolation and roughing it. This camp delivers on all those, while delivering excellent food and very talented guides. I delighted in their extensive knowledge, their passion for their jobs, and their willingness to share their horror about the poaching and other challenges the animals are facing.


    Bring enough money for tipping, ten dollars US a day is considered a good tip here, and it's always nice to remember the cook if she has had to do something special for you. Take some time to learn about Mary, she's fascinating in her own right.

    So in sum, if you have a sense of adventure, can leave the city behind, are willing to get a little dusty in order to experience Africa, this is the place for you. I absolutely loved it here just like I did at Lake Manze. Two terrific spots on the Southern Circuit, same owner, same dedication to green, locally sourced foods, locally made souvenirs.

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    I was reminded of how much we are our parents on this trip when I was at Lake Manze Camp. My mother was one of those unabashed, very bright, slightly unpredictable people who thoroughly embarrassed their teenage daughters (oh MOM!!!!!) by doing things like breaking into song without apparent provocation. Here's how we know we can't escape our parents. Sitting in a Rover and getting ready to leave on a safari one morning, a couple was sitting at the front of our Rover. Introductions were going around, and the German couple introduced themselves. The man said his name was Henry, for the life of me I couldn't contain myself and I broke into "I'm Henery the Eighth I am" from the Sixties, which some of you will remember. Their Teutonic sense of humor was NOT tickled, and they studiously ignored me the rest of the day. And the next, and so on. And in fact when they showed up at Old River Camp they continued to treat me as persona non grata, and no attempt on my part could melt the ice.

    Well hell's bells.

    What I finally came to realize is that my mother had a deep well of joy inside her and it burst to the surface in song, and I happen to share that characteristic. Show tunes, Beethoven's Ninth, doesn't matter. That I inherited it is a gift, and that I don't always know when that particular spring is going to overflow is one of the Great Mysteries of Life. I most certainly didn't expect to find a rich appreciation of my long departed mother here in Africa, but I can most certainly also thank the unamused Germans for causing me to think about and find some answers. Thanks, Mom.

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    Another priceless moment from Lake Manze Camp, and another really good reason to go on the all day safari: the hot springs. When we headed out early in the morning, I predicted rain. The clouds were gathering in the distance but refused to get anywhere near us all day. It rained in the distance, on the periphery all day long, while we suffered in the heat. I continued to argue that we were going to get hit hard, but began to seriously doubt it as the clouds stayed grey and stayed away. However, I got my wish just as we arrived at the hot springs.

    We took out our gear and climbed up to the springs' source, where the extremely hot- and I mean boiling, burning hot- sulphur waters came out of the ground. They cascaded down to the larger pool, leaving a stream of deep green algae and yellow sulphur. At the bottom was a warm waterfall as lovelt as a hot tub, and you climb right in. And as soon as I stuck my toe in the water, the clouds unzipped and all hell broke loose upstairs.

    So there I am in this nice, hot, achingly wonderful springs, and my face and hair are being washed by clean, fresh African rain. I'm sorry, life does NOT get better than this. In the meantime, my two compatriots are standing poolside getting soaked. The driver high-tails it to the Rover to get rain gear and my guide hides under a towel- sure, that'll keep you dry- while the rain pours down in buckets. I'm warm and comfy, and there he is shoreside taking photos of yours truly while he drips. Fifteen minutes later after my guide is now soaked to the bones the drier shows back up with rain gear, and at that point I'm ready to brave the cold rain. The guide puts his hand out and as soon as my foot touches the shore, the rain promptly stops. You can't make this stuff up.

    I crack up and accuse my guide of angling pretty hard for tips if this is the relationship he has with the weather, that he can call down the rain soon as I get in the pool, and call it off as soon as I get out. First, he doesn't quite get the joke, and then we laugh about it all the way home.

    The hot springs are a huge highlight, soothing to the muscles and spirit, and if it does happen to pour down on you, it's a real treat. First piece of advice, if it looks like rain, take the gear with you. Second pieced of advice: don't miss this part of the area, it's just too beautiful. The waterfall of hot water is perfect to soothe aching shoulder muscles and is a special event you don't want to pass up.

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    Another note which anyone in the business world will find interesting. I find it sad and interesting in kind. In the Old River Camp area there are a great many more baobab trees, which like the high altitude, and the elephants like them for their water. This means that many of them suffer the indignity of being regularly attacked by elephants, some all the way around the base, resulting in what the locals call the Coke or Coca Cola baobab.

    In another example, the impalas are so plentiful, so ubiquitious, they also have a nickname:McDonald's.

    I had multiple reactions to this: first it's a little funny, then it's amazement when you realize the extraordinary power of American branding. Billions and billions of dollars' worth of American branding. Coke is so ingrained in the minds of the world's people that people will choose it over water anywhere. McDonald's is so ubiquitous that a common animal earns that nickname. It's funny- and terrifying. Lastly, Coke is about the most evil product the US exports. Ruins teeth, causes diabetes and obesity, ruins female bones. Diet coke creates sugar craving. McDonald's replaces good indigenous food with pure junk, causing weight gain and bad food habits. I've seen it everywhere people adopt our exports in lieu of their own good vegetables, grains and fish or lean meat diets. While some may disagree with me because they like these products or are impressed with the supply chain that makes all this possible (I work in supply chain so I am also impressed, trust me), I don't respect the impact these products have on the physiology of those who consume them regularly. Right now Pepsi is waging a huge war for the hearts and wallets of Tanzanians, they are marketing everywhere. Oh well. All due respect to those who work for these companies, I just believe in good food, good things to drink, and excellent health for all, all over the world.

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    I was reminded of how much we are our parents on this trip when I was at Lake Manze Camp. My mother was one of those unabashed, very bright, slightly unpredictable people who thoroughly embarrassed their teenage daughters (oh MOM!!!!!) by doing things like breaking into song without apparent provocation. Here's how we know we can't escape our parents. Sitting in a Rover and getting ready to leave on a safari one morning, a couple was sitting at the front of our Rover. Introductions were going around, and the German couple introduced themselves. The man said his name was Henry, for the life of me I couldn't contain myself and I broke into "I'm Henery the Eighth I am" from the Sixties, which some of you will remember. Their Teutonic sense of humor was NOT tickled, and they studiously ignored me the rest of the day. And the next, and so on. And in fact when they showed up at Old River Camp they continued to treat me as persona non grata, and no attempt on my part could melt the ice.

    Well hell's bells.

    What I finally came to realize is that my mother had a deep well of joy inside her and it burst to the surface in song, and I happen to share that characteristic. Show tunes, Beethoven's Ninth, doesn't matter. That I inherited it is a gift, and that I don't always know when that particular spring is going to overflow is one of the Great Mysteries of Life. I most certainly didn't expect to find a rich appreciation of my long departed mother here in Africa, but I can most certainly also thank the unamused Germans for causing me to think about and find some answers. Thanks, Mom.

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    Another word to the wise in terms of clothing and the cars down in these areas. The Rovers- and by this I'm referring to the big, open, non air conditioned versions- are great vehicles, and the guides know how to drive them in the black goo mud and the deep sands that would defeat most mortal transportation. I was repeatedly amazed at how adept these guys were at getting out of sticky situations and maneuvering over what appeared to be quite impossible mud traps. However, one thing they just aren't good at: sheltering you from rain.

    E.G. The first night I arrived at Lake Manze, it was threatening rain for our evening drive, and as promised, the skies gave forth about two minutes after we'd taken off. I had on a pair of REI fast drying safari pants and Goretex boots. My shirt was an Ex Officio fast drying safari version and I was getting very wet very fast as the wind was blowing the rain under the canvas roof which I'll come back to. In fact let me address that roof right now. Folks, that canvas roof is great for shade, terrific for keeping most of the startingly bright African sun off your body unless it's early or late in the day. It's flat out useless in rain. The rain soaks it and then that water comes right through it, and plops on you. so not only is the rain pounding you from the sides, you're getting this constant pour of water from the canvas top. This is especially true if you've been off trekking somewhere with your guide and you return to the Rover and it's been sitting in the rain. Well boy howdy, does that lake come down on your punkin head when the Rover starts to move, and if you're neither prepared for that dunking nor wearing the right gear, then you're going to be angry as a wet cat all the way back to camp.

    The guides provide you with rain gear but nothing for your legs. I'd left my black Patagonia rain gear at the camp, so I was just soaking wet. Feet were fine, but legs were drenched.

    So here's the deal. When the rain eventually let up, about 90 minutes later, body warmth took care of the problem and immediately the pants dried out. The socks were okay, shirt was dry. I'd had on an Outdoor Research Goretex hat (MUCH RECOMMENDED- it's shaped a little like an Aussie style but it's water proof and you can shape it to your liking, it has a brim for sun protection.) My head was warm and dry. BTW, that OR hat has been in the middle of an Amazon rainforest downpour, and those of you who've been through one can attest to their ferocity- and nary a drop touched my noggin. So this is a good hat, what an understatement- it costs a bit but for sun or rain I wouldn't be without it anywhere in the world. The chin strap keeps it on in the wind, just super well designed. We all have our faves, but this one wins hands down for lightness, water and wind and sun proof value.

    The Rovers are simply wonderful for what they're designed for, but like I said, the big open styles are just not designed to protect you from rain. And this argues for layering, which means a polypro layer under your safari shirt. Remember not black or blue unless you want to be the tsetse flies' main course.

    Again, this just argues for the right clothing. I saw lots of people wearing truly foolish garments and paying the price for it, whether it was being eaten alive due to their color choices or getting wet and staying wet and getting very cold because they wore cotton. Prior to this trip there was a lot of research done for the Kilimanjaro part, but I updated all the safari gear that was either old or worn out, and got some new shirts which are made by Columbia or Ex Officio which are now treated for bugs. You might find the nearly $100 price tag objectionable. But even when you wear them back home in humid South Carolina taking care of your lawn and the horseflies and mosquitoes leave your alone, or in Florida when the noseeums get after you, it will pay off. Good clothing is worth it. And besides, you'll have the gear when you come back, because you'll have Africa in your system and you'll definitely want to do this again.

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    I'm sitting at the Stella Maris Hotel facing my next adventure, lovely Kilimanjaro takes up all the space in the window from this first floor hotel. The most wonderful shower with lovely hot water washed off the rest of the three days' worth of dirt that the bush bath wipes couldn't after the camel safari, which I heartily recommend.

    Mkuru Camel Safari is an outfit that was originally started by an NGO and handed over to the Maasai, and I was booked for a three day version solo, to be met by E-Trips for the Kili adventure at the end. I need to note here that they were at the airport right on the button to pick me up and take me to to lunch, had all my gear ready to go and I spent the night at the African Tulip which was a grand luxury after six days in the bush. A great little boutique- and this hotel really does earn that moniker- place, full of bright flowers and great service and good food especially if you like Indian food. I had a first story room where the bed was enormous and I loved not having to dig for adapters.

    Anyway Ben from E-Trips was there early the next morning to take me out to the camel camp. You drive around Mt. Meru which many use as a training run for Kili, and we drive over some pretty rough roads to find our camp which is pretty isolated among the Maasai bomas. Simu, or Sam, a retired air traffic control officer, was there to greet. He took us on a short tour, and we took a look at the tents. Similar to the ones in the Southern Circuit but more rough in all ways. Small beds, no ambiance, basic everything, and the showers are heated water poured into a big bucket over your head. And they are just enough, and just hot enough to be perfect. It does blow at night, and despite how hard it does tend to blow the tent isn't going anywhere. The fun is to see Kili to the south, and to be heading right for her for three days.

    I got permission to visit my ride after Ben left so Sam introduced me to his handler and I got in the corral. Big big animal, about 1000-1200 lbs, regal and aloof.

    Camels have three defense mechanisms: bite, spit or kick. When a stranger trespasses into their space, and they have clear space considerations, they will do one or more of these things. So that means we have been rude, not that they are ill tempered. The handler knows their habits and their personalities so it's good to ask them what to do and not to do.
    Over the next three days I got a crash course in camel riding, how to sit, whether to ride back or top of the hump (either is good) what kinds of bushes they like, and how to earn a camel kiss from my buddy Dominique. Dom was a sucker for a certain kind of flowering bush, thankfully not a thorny one, and on our second morning I spent about an hour ferrying tasty branches back and forth. That was also the morning I got bit on the head by the one I called Irrits, who, when I came to see Dom, smelled, realized I didn't have food for him, and promptly chewed on my noggin. Nothing painful at all, just a warning that said next time, you want in my space, bring ME something. So I did.

    After a while Dom was rubbing his head on my shins when on the ground, then the moment came when he lowered his enormous mug into my face and took a deep breath. Bussed me. We were buds. I got to find itchy places on his nubby old head and put him to sleep, and he gave me a fine, swaying ride. For those of you thinking about doing this, don't think, sign up now.

    The camel riding experience for experienced riders is a breeze. You take all you know and adapt it. For non riders, it begins with not being terrified of the animal, they will know it, and trust it to be the tender, gentle, and very curious being that it is. Food goes a long way towards making you an okay guy, and soft touches on the neck show your good intentions. When a camel has had enough, there are several signals, including a quick move of the head towards a part of your body, quick switching of the tail, loud unhappy noises, and if they are standing while tied, they will attempt to move away from you. Give the animal space or you will pay for it.

    The only time Dom made a move towards me was at the end of our trip, when we stopped at a village. We were swarmed by villagers who insisted on getting far too close, touching and touching. I was close to his head and he'd had enough, and he moved towards my arm in way that said give me space, so I did. Up to that point I'd been getting my CKs, camel kisses, saying goodbye and having a good bawl.

    The Maasai handlers, seeing that the villagers were crowding in, fixed the problem quickly by getting the three tied camels to stand, which scattered fifty people about as fast as live cobra. I never saw so many previously fascinated people get so terrified so fast!

    More on the riding, and the saddle. The saddle is an adapted English version, although to adapt to a camel it has big metal fittings and the stirrups are at one place so it depends on whether your rear end is seated in the far back (most comfy) or you're seated on the high seat or right on top of the hump, which is hugely entertaining, because you feel like the King of Calcutta surveying the area.

    The trick to the ride is what every equestrian knows: perfect posture, let the pelvis move with the animal. Back straight and you keep your shoulders level. The result is that if you have a sore back, the long, low, deep walk will take the sore out in a few minutes. If you sit way up top the movement is exaggerated, and you feel like a bellydancer, and depending on your belly, this could be rather nice or rather mortifying. Either way, for young equestrien/nes, it is fine fine training for letting your lower body follow the animal's movement, and for anyone, just a super fun ride.

    Now for that getting up and down bit. Well there's a lot of activity involved with a camel, and here's a bit of very simple advice. First, go to the corral and watch them get up and down. Just study. Think about where you need to put your weight when the front heaves up and when that butt goes down. Think of it this way. When a horse heads up hill, if you lean back, you put much pressure on the animal to pull your weight up, so you lean into the horse, forward. Same as when the horse goes downhill, you lean back over his behind. So using this concept, when your camel's front goes down, you lean back. When his front comes up, you lean forward. Easy peasy. And you will impress everybody because when your camel gets up or down, you're holding on with your legs and you're doing this hands free and everyone thinks you're an old hand. Too cool.

    The days can range from about 4-6 hours in the saddle, so unless you ride regularly or are an endurance rider, you would be wise to stretch out a bit. You find out right away how much movement is going on up there if you take one foot out of the stirrups, so always hang on to the metal or a piece of the saddle leather if you're stretching which is highly recommended. Stretch your legs in the stirrups, stretch your back. And to keep the camel behind you happy (he will end up in your face when you stop) steal him goodies off the tree and feed him as you're walking. Consider it spit insurance. They do remember. I did this with Mr. Irrits and by the end of the trek he wasn't going after me any more. He didn't kiss me but he never bit me again, and in fact poked his nose in my leg in a nice way. Kindness pays off.

    The cook made what I considered more than adequate dinners in the bush, fresh fruit and veges and hot rice and chicken and African dishes and eggs. The crew put up nifty little tents with all you could need and there was even a drop hole private toilet put up for your privacy. They offered to put up a shower but I demurred, preferring to try out my bush wash wipes to see how they would work on Kili.

    The wipes I used were almost twelve years old, never opened, and were still perfectly good. Moist with aloe vera, they come in paks of 8. It takes three to do an adequate job on the dirt, sweat and general accumulation of debris that the trek deposits on you up there on the camel. From toes to nose, and then a few facial wipes for good order, it's not a shower but you definitely are left cleaner and more fragrant. They work well enough for the bush.

    Because this was dry season, we saw almost nothing in the way of game. Near the bomas, all the giraffe are either hunted out or have moved on. You can tell because these guys are the bonsai experts of the African landscape. Where we went, the Acacia bushes were high and the acacia trees where bushy down below, which meant that no giraffe had been round for a good long time. However, part of where we went through was turning green nearly overnight, and would be awash with wildlife in a month or two. Having already seen plenty down south, I was more than happy to spend time learning about and learning to love the camels, which was quite an education.

    We went to bed with the sunset and got up with the birds. If there was a complaint, it was sleeping on the hard, rocky African ground on a not too well filled air mattress. I had one back with Ben's outfit at E-Trip, but as with two other key things I forgot to bring, left it behind.

    Since I am riding with Kaskaki, I had custom made chaps. For the life of me I can't imagine why I didn't think I might need them as we were going through tons of acacia. Flat forehead slap.

    I was on a saddle up to six hours a day. I had a custom made sheepskin saddle cover that would have been perfect padding. Flat forehead slap.

    What is very very clear, as I look back over all this preparation, is that a separate gear list for each of these events (although I most certainly have one for Kili) would have made transferring gear from one event to the other vastly more efficient.

    The advantage of doing the camel trek before Kili? I watched Kili weather for four days as we walked right towards it. I got to practice using other gear (like head lamp, etc) I'd be using on Kili to get even more familiar with it. I got used to being in tents on the ground rather than in luxury tents in a massive bed. Very good lead up to Kili. Ben's suggestions and planning were excellent, and each event has flowed very well.He saved me oodles of money and has provided me a perfectly thrilling safari so far.

    Another thing I have much appreciated about E-Trip Africa is that they are right there on time for each pickup, we go out to dinner or breakfast or lunch, and he is sending his wife up Kili with me tomorrow. This does several things for me since I am alone on my trip and there was no one else doing this route on these dates for him to put me with. I get to go up with an experienced woman, which I just love, and she's done this before several times. Nothing could be better.

    August, their top guide, came here to Stella Maris to do the briefing today at 3 pm. While I have done much of the research and a lot of what August said I knew, you simply don't know if it's accurate until someone who really is an expert goes over it with you and validates, and then fills in all the other details. I am now very very comfortable. We had great fun going through my bag, and while I discovered that I misunderstood a weight limitation (lbs vs kg) I spent a few entertaining minutes going through and reducing the poundage. Not hard, it's easy to bring more than you need and cut down. Not easy the other way around. Once the guide explained the weather and temps, some of what was in my big gear bag was unnecessary. Perhaps a good bit of it has to do with your willingness to come down the other side smelling a little less like a rose, but not having to pay for an extra porter because you needed to look fashionable on the mountain. I vote for slightly gamey but much lighter.

    Ben has also made sure that he takes his charges out the night before where he can control the quality of the intake to ensure nobody starts out with a rumbly tummy. Those are the kinds of small details I've come to expect but which always surprise me. It's nice that someone is taking all aspects of the comfort and success of a Kili trip into account.

    My last note on the camel safari is that their website is woefully inadequate. I have promised to provide photos and some copy and perhaps there will be some improvements so that visitors can get a much better sense of what's available. I would not have missed this part of my trip. I didn't quite know what to expect and it exceeded my delight by a mile. Truly recommended, and that to any tour guide on here, to go check them out and see what they offer. They have a one day trip too which is their most popular but also a seven day to Lake Natron, which for the intrepid who really wants to get out there would be a superb adventure. I'd do it in a heartbeat. With Dominique.

    It's 10:18 pm and time to get all this gear off my bed to get my last hotel night for six days. On to see a full moon at the top of the mountain- if she lets me- and we'll see how it goes.

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    It's November 20th, and the first thing I did this morning was slap some very good muscle cream on my back so that I could move ;-) and the next, take a look out the window at the mountain that I just climbed- yes, to the tippy top. And for every fool who ever said sure, it's easy, well, I beg to differ. For me the climbing part was easier, it was the climb down the slippery, slidy, unpredictable gravel/sand/rocks that nailed my left knee. But I'm ahead of myself.
    E-Trip Africa provided us with an assistant guide, Ignas, a tall, rangy, funny and absolutely sharp as a whip young man along with their quiet, thoughtful #1 guide August, a porter team that's been together six years (believe me you'll appreciate a well oiled team) and we started out on the well paced Rongai route Day one past fields. I've no clue why critics call this route less scenic. It's plenty scenic, because you pass through a variety of different zones, and the six day route is gentler both on your acclimatization and your knees as you steadily climb. About 3 hours or so each day, give or take. August checked our numbers each day. I will note here that Aurelie, Ben's wife, was more than willing to accompany me on this hike as she is with other solo female hikers, which is superb, as she is world traveled and multi lingual and just excellent company. The daily oxygen levels and pulse rates give you instant feedback on the climb about how you're doing, and what was intriguing is that even at basecamp up high my pulse never went beyond 71. This is why I am so clear on the value of training, training and more training.
    Ranik, our cook, quickly learned that a huge portion at dinner wasn't going to go down the gullet, so he adjusted quickly to pounding down porridge and fruit and omelets for me at breakfast, a lighter lunch and one of his remarkably tasty soups at dinner. I heard many tales of boiled eggs by the dozen. Not once did we get boiled eggs. His cooking was simply excellent and a great reason that we never lost our appetite, one of the keys to success on the climb.

    We were offered the opportunity to do the Upper Route, as opposed to the Lower, which is better done on the 7 day program. The seriously foolish adventurer (sure I can do that) part of me thought about it, but two things prevailed: August explained the demands on energy and muscles, and a blister had appeared in a most odd place at the bottom of my foot, which happily decided the issue. I strapped it with RockTape (highly recommended) and it worked like a charm, and we carried on for our very short third day.

    My morning routine includes pushups, which I continued every day, and one day Ignas decided to join me, which was a bit of a disaster (for him)since the porters were watching. He's one big strapping kid, but he can't do sixty pushups, so while August taped us, he crapped out at about twenty while I finished my set at sixty. I got the nickname Simba, and Ignas gave me a break dance exhibition, including all kinds of amazing moves he knew I could never do on the African dust. What sheer delightful fun.

    Every day, I drank a Vitargo drink before breakfast, about 200 calories of pure carbohydrates specifically for athletic peformance, since I don't eat complex carbs like breads. I did eat rice on this trip, however. I also took, and drank daily, Octane, which I strongly recommend to put in your bladder.

    One flat forehead experience for both August and me: when we were going through my gear- I was hugely well prepared, and he was duly impressed. He duly asked me, did I have batteries? Well proud me, OF COURSE I HAVE BATTERIES; TONS OF 'EM. The question we didn't ask, are they in the gear bag? So natch, when it came time for me to use my Steripen to take care of the water on my first night and I get that little frowny face, batteries. Ah. Well. Hmm. Batteries. Yeah well. Yeah, tons of em. Back at Ben's house. My fault, and I know it. Funny as hell. I have to get Alex, the waiter with the raccoon hat, to get me boiled water every day. Not August's fault, my fault.

    And speaking of Alex. Alex delivered that delicious blue bowl of steaming hot water for baths every day. We'd get to camp and one day, 'cause dumb me wasn't with the program yet, didn't realize that you take the bath when the hot water lands at the tent, PERIOD, I missed my bath entirely. Now mind you, I have those bush bath thingies, .but the hot water - a good couple liters- means you get into your hot tent (you get to camp at midday) strip to your altogether and scrub down with the soap they provide and your little camp hand towel. Absolute happy heaven. Every single day. You don't "take your bath" at 7 pm or thereabouts because it's too damned cold and the water evaporates too fast and you'd be freezing. So midday is perfect.

    Another gee glad I brought this was a sleeping bag liner. I got a Sea to Summit liner, which proved invaluable, and that extra ten to fifteen degrees made things so very toasty inside that bag and sooooooooooooo hard to leave to run to the toilet- and get this, guys, a standing chemical toilet, which had a privacy tent around it. Now, okay, is it cold first thing in the morning. Ahem. Well. Uh, yes. But based on the stories from previous hikers who had to squat their very tired legs over a hole in the ground? This little courtesy (which I happily paid for) was heaven indeed. If you, as I did, happen to get what can only politely be referred to as a digestive malady, then you don't wanna squat.

    Another don't leave home without: I brought something called EFAC pain relieving cream which my sports chiro uses, and he works with the Denver Broncos, and I figure they know something about pain. Trust me that when your hips or thighs start having a conversation with you at the end of the day or first thing in the morning, or especially like today when your back says, 'scuse me buddy, we just did WHAT? you need a very good product to slap on your raggedy sore patootie. Five minutes later you're up and at 'em. Made by Hope Science. Love this stuff. Didn't have much real pain until the day after the 15 mile hike to the gate yesterday, and then this morning. Yowza.

    No matter where you are at camp, there are guaranteed lovely sunsets. August and Ignas took us on acclimatization hikes for both nights just before base camp, long, slow lovely hikes to high points that we would again hike the next day but that would give them and us a way to determine how well we were doing. My highest point was somewhere around 15k in Quito several years back but still, there was no guarantee. The best way to approach Kili is to be open, soft and curious, and for every day we made it to another higher camp, in good spirits, happy crew, great. It tickled the hell out of me to leave the camp first and in a few minutes the porters would come by us at three times our speed, the loads of food and gear and tents balanced on head and back, smiling and waving, and disappear into the distance with their ground eating strides.

    Ignas taught me some key things about the crew that I want to pass along to anyone who plans to do a trek on Kili, because I had a lot of fun with the porters, and he gave me some feedback about how that makes the crew feel. The day that the crew got paid, I heard singing from my tent, and I came running out with my camera. They were dancing and I also started dancing, and one of the porters came right over and soon I was right in the middle of the group having a ball. This is the kind of thing Ignas says makes them very happy. There's a story I'll share shortly about three of the porters that got special attention but I ended up hugging everyone and sharing a handshake that I had learned years ago in South Africa and it was just a generally joyous all round experience.The porters, Ignas said, want us to be happy, they want us to feel good about our trip, and in any way that they can be included in that, it makes a huge difference for them. I can't speak for other outfits, but for E-Trip, for these guys who've worked together six years, I very much appreciated this attitude and the fun they had together, the laughter I heard every night and the enthusiasm I sensed from them. I think this is just good advice anyway, because they are working very hard. They are tasked with finding a good site, a spot for our tents out the wind, places where rain won't soak us, and in every way to protect our comfort. And BTW I didn't mention two very key things: we were absolutely alone on this trip right up to base camp. Flat NOBODY around. We won the lottery on this one- and it was like Kili gave us a gift of enormous proportion, a private, personal adventure where we didn't have to fight for a good spot. Those of you who know more about this than I do know full well the advantage of such a thing. Even base camp wasn't bad.

    The other was perfect, gorgeous, magnificent weather. We didn't get a drop of rain until the night after ascent. I had already retired (hahahaha, the more appropriate word is collapsed) in my tent, all hell broke loose outside, and I went to sound sleep to the soothing sound of a huge thunderstorm, which is music to my ears. The next morning it was bright and clear and very very cold- for a few hours. Then mild and pretty. I love Africa.

    Each day we got closer to Kili, and enjoyed the small things, like gladiolas in bloom, the caves along the way, Ranik's cooking. I had brought a full iPod of music but it was far more interesting to hear what Ignas had to say, or August's comments. We fell into an easy rythmn, which might drive the more athletic and determined nuts, but even my overly eager stride took to the pole pole after a while and spent more time looking back over the scenery, picking out Kenya, appreciating the cloud formations, how the ragged clouds would chase us up the mountain, the huge black ravens who searched the camps for food.

    Another idea that I recommend, and this depends on the sites you end up in, are using the picnic tables for stretching. Your thighs are your biggest muscle and they get yeoman's work, and your back bears the weight of all that water and whatever else you carry. So it really serves to get up early enough to do some serious stretching first thing. I had an exercise tube that I did a serious of simple exercises on for all but ascent day. Yoga exercises are ideal.

    Base camp for Kili is great fun, more people and activity, and porters everywhere. Our team had secured a perfect site out of the wind, and we had a cozy spot which gave us perfect views of our upcoming adventure. Aurelie and I had voted on a 3 pm lunch so that we could get as much sleep as possible for the big attempt. Ranik had put together a simply monumental platter of my favorite food, but oddly, I couldn't do much honor to it but just nibbled around the edges. I'd developed a bit of digestive malady but since Diomox tends to cause that we all agreed that's what it was. It wasn't, but who knew, we sure didn't.

    I woke up at ten til 11 pm in bitter cold and starting putting all my things in my pack. My nose was dripping like someone had left the faucet on but I ignored it, and my tummy was a little unhappy, but Diomox causes that, too, so I poo poohed it. I did pound down my breakfast and then we were off. My bag weighed about 30 lbs as I was taking backup boots, and extra warmers, lots and lots of Octane flavored water. Ready to go, and off we went, bundled like the Michelin man!

    I must state here before I go on that August check in with us regularly- how are you feeling and doing, and like an old lady at a rest home, I dutifully reported to him any changes in physiology no matter how small. So what came was a surprise to everyone, and was not August's fault- and I am not one to point fingers anyway. I actually found this funny in retrospect because it was a comedy of errors.

    As we headed up the mountain, my stomach was not particularly comfy. Not bad enough to stop but not very happy either. I'm listening to Robin Williams, George Carlin, Wagner, Mozart, Bach, you name it. And I'm concentrating hard on Aurelie's feet, and Ignas is right behind me. One foot at a time. In fact I'm so warm I have to take my expedition gloves off down to my inner glove liners, and take my hood off. I'm right toasty, working away here.

    Somewhere around 17K feet I am focusing on the light area thrown by my headlamp and I am suddenly convinced that there are two giraffe on the horizon off to my right. Conversely, I am equally convinced the mess tent is just off to my left, right out of view. I am, of course, hallucinating, and a quite sane part of my mind informs me of such, but we go merrily along while the Valkyries ride and Carlin spews about eupemisms and I rather bemusedly consider the absurdity of the situation at hand. My nose is dripping so badly that I a sheet of snot frozen solidly on the inner lining of my huge down jacket and by now I am desperately in need of liquids. This is not a good recommendation for Platypus, but the insulated tube has frozen and there are no liquids to be had. Well poop.

    Up we go. At one point I need to drop trou, I never did get used to that Shee Wee and I figure my nether regions have a right to feel the winds of Kili on their skin, so off I go with permission from the group. I've got four wonderfully warm layers plus undies, and they're pooled. Finished, I pull everything up. I try to walk. Something is definitely not right because the walking apparatus is not functioning. Come to find out all four layers are up but undies are still somehwere around the knees which makes forward movement decidedly challenging. After I stop laughing I drop everything again and fix the situation, and in the process, manage to loosen a zipper on my snow/rain/wind shell pants. Which of course comes back to bite me later.

    About four or five symphonies, multiple comedy routines later we are nearly at Gilman's point and the clouds form a base later, with some towering anvils and the sun is coloring it all from below. Deep turquoise, blacksmith hot orange, here comes the sun. There are some bigger rocks to get over here and my aching body is struggling with something, I know not what, something pulling and pulling, I feel like hands are grabbing at me, pulling me into Hades, I'm about to give up, until Ignas comes up behind me and pulls up my pants, which are now down around my ankles. I'm sorry, this cracks me up. Stupid pants unzipped halfway down and now the damned things are almost all the way down my legs and here I am trying to climb over these boulders. He should have had my camera.

    So up we go, and suddenly I feel free free free, gee whiz how much easier it is to work your pegs when you don't have errant undies or shell material wrapped around 'em. We are at Gilman and celebrating. My tube is froze up solid and I'm nauseous as hell. I'd had a migraine upon waking up (I get them regularly) and it responded immediately to meds, but I really wanted to hork, but nothing was forthcoming. And I felt weak as a newborn. And thirsy thirsty thirsty.

    Ignas led me along the crater while I did a little dance to Michael Jackson's Dangerous (it is, too, you don't wanna fall in) as I did my best to stay energetic. I was very very happy but I also had seen where the Uhuru sign was and a little bitty voice inside me said REALLY? My legs felt uncomfortably like Gumby in a microwave and I was badly dehydrated. Ignas sat me down and spent a solid fifteen minutes beating the poo out of my Platypus until we got enough drops to wet my whistle, whereupon it promptly froze again, but at least it was enough to keep me going. Up up up up up. All these ridiculously happy people coming down. Damn 'em. Grr.
    August and Aurelie came up behind and about 100 yards from the sign August talked me into giving him my pack, at which point it felt like the entire weight of the world had just been lifted, and I marched the last few very joyful steps unburdened.

    At this point August bequeathed me with a hat. Mind you, not any hat, but THE hat. It's a hat that Ranik the cook had on at the beginning of the trip, a huge ridiculous, outrageously ugly, oversized cowboy hat of such appalling proportions I immediately grabbed it and put it on for our startup picture. I had no clue whatsoever this was going to be a prize for making it to the top. So here I am wearing this stupid, wonderful, butt-ugly, appalling, gorgeous, I made it hat. And we took lots of photos. In seconds, all I could think of was, uh, um, guys, I need to um, kind of, throw up. NOW.

    Never happened. About every ten steps. Stomach gripes. Tied in knots make a sailor proud. Nothing doing. Just mad. Ow. Need liquids. Nothing doing. And oh, by the way, it's a long way down. Yep, got that. Anyone got a helicopter?

    August and Ignas are very attentive, checking in, I take my pack back, need it in case I fall on my patootie on that gravel. And BTW, NOBODY tells you in adequate detail about the sand, gravel and rock mix that you slip, slide and euphemistically "ski" down right after you've burnt your thighs and all those calories for hours going up. Nowhere did I read a good description of this hellish mix of many many many vertical feet of sand trap, full of nasty big rocks, which if you're not fast enough (I wasn't) can do your legs some unfortunate turns.

    Well, Aurelie, being 28 and a bit more enthusiastic about this part than I (she nailed down, I nailed up) sailed merrily past me (frowny face here) and within minutes my left knees complained like a frail old man after it collided with a particularly unmovable piece of Kilimanjaro and since I'm malleable I lost that argument. Ignas to the rescue, and his great big strapping 6'4" frame provided enough for me to hang onto as we went sailing downhill, and soon August came in from the other side and suddenly I knew what NFL athletes feel like when they're helped off the field. In the meantime my big Asolo boots are carving one beauty of a blister in one mightily unhappy toe, but hey, baby, we are coming DOWN.

    About 600 meters from camp a group of our porters meet us with fruit juices, OMG thankyou thankyou thankyou, and three of them take up lift duty until the ground is flat enough for me to carry on my myself.

    Now several things come out of this. First, the porters consider this part of their job. You cannot know how grateful I was for this courtesy. I needed this help and even more than needing the physical help I needed the lesson in learning how to receive it which was much larger. So this is what Kilimanjaro taught me, and mostly why I do this stuff. I gave each of the three porters who helped me down an extra 20000 TZH, which made them deliriously happy, because they did not in any way expect it. But it was for teaching me how to receive help, because I am independent, hard headed, let me do it myself. August, Ignas and the porters gave me this luscious, priceless gift from letting the guides buckle my backpack when my jackets got so bulky I couldn't see my belt, to allowing these guys to help me down a mountain when my left knee yelled "owie." I knew when I began this trip that there would be some big fat gem in the process, and there always is, but I had no idea what it might be. That was it.

    So when we got to the camp, I marched to the tent, which was right warm, and without remembering that we had another three hours' march that same day to the next camp, I skipped lunch and collapsed to just sleep. My guts were in an uproar, my body was aching, and I hadda sleep. Soon Aurelie was informing me that I had twenty minutes to pack up and get going, (wha'? wha'? huh?) and yep, off we went. I mean, you have to have a sense of humor about these things.

    Ignas, who by this time has learned the word vicissitudes and has now turned it on me (to my great delight) and also the term "walk a mile in someone's shoes"- and who has been reaching into his grey matter for physics, geology, earth sciences, astronomy and I honestly can't remember what else but it was nothing short of a combination of hugely entertaining and informative to try to keep up with his lively intelligence- combined with his great big East West smile and handsome face. Ignas kept me preoccupied because I had come out of my tent at base camp knowing I had intestinal flu- and August and Aurelie had both plied me with the best meds they could add to my supply. At this point I had the liquids I needed but no appetite, so I sucked down Octane which helped immensely and just focused on Ignas feet, and we kept walking, and walking, and walking. We made the next camp during another spectacular sunset, and as it darkened, we saw our tents laid on high ground- god I loved our crew- which was great because that's the night the skies unzipped and all hell broke loose.

    Alex showed up with hot water just as I was crawling into bed at 7 pm and I remember hearing the lightning crash and the rain start to hit the tent and nothing afterward.

    I woke up at 5 am to weak light, ice on the tent, snow on the rocks and after 10 hours of blissful rest, feeling marginally human. We had a 15 mile hike ahead of us, and today was tip day. Somewhere around 7:30 the singing started, and after I'd joined the dance, we pulled out the three porters who'd helped me down the mountain and I gave them the extra tip, and then everyone got their envelopes. It was a pleasure giving August and Ignas additional tips for their excellent professional, personal and attentive service. And it was far from over, we had a long trek ahead.

    I can't begin to explain the joy that we felt that morning. It was a combination of relief to an extent. There's this almost existential feeling of gee, did I really do that? combined with the fact that I was sick as a mutt all the way up and down, funny in retrospect, but it had a lot to do with a good constitution that things went as well as they did. Kili is under clouds now as I look at her and the whole adventure seems like a complete dream, otherworldly. But the porters are very, very happy when it's successful, and when you jump in and play and dance and hug and express your joy, and most especially can laugh at a bad situation, then it is hugely appreciated by all involved. Poo happens to us all, it is inevitable. Nobody guaranteed me a summit. I got it. But I wouldn't have done with without a superb team and that was E-Trip Africa, and I feel most fortunate to have picked them. Those guys got me down the mountain which everyone said was harder and I must emphasize they were all right but no one goes into enough detail. I honestly hope I have done so here. Coming down is brutal, and not at all what I expected, and frankly, I don't think you CAN train for it.

    What I loved about the Rongai route is that you come back down on the Marangu route, which means that you get to see much more tropical, lush, gorgeous foliage, Colobus monkeys, and have such wonderful shade. Hey if the hike is going to go from about 8 to 3pm as it did for us it might as well be pleasant, and it most assuredly was. We passed many a porter headed up, and many a hopeful tourist going up as well. Someone laughed and commented, "Everyone looks so HAPPY coming down!!" Well, yeah. The farther down, the thicker the foliage, the moss and ferns dripping from the trees, excellent photo ops.

    I began to feel the weight in my back and did my best to readjust the backpack ( and BTW, the guides have such experience in helping you figure out to distribute or redistribute weight by using straps- LET THEM)

    Ignas and I discussed some of his horror stories about people who insisted on going up despite clear indications of altitude sickness. We discussed training and obesity and so many things. I saw people headed uphill who were clearly 200 lbs overweight. And his comment was that your constitution has a great deal to do with your success. The extra weight makes it ever so much harder on your heart and legs. But overweight people succeed every year. And smokers do too, but he told me the story of an Italian man who was a smoker, who pooped out early, but his wife, who was not an athlete, who made it to the top, and who didn't. I saw many cigarette butts at the summit.

    Which brings me to an Aussie woman's website that I found before I ascended. Now I happen to love Aussie women, having lived in Oz for four years. But this one wrote what I think is damned fool advice. The gist of her website is that "you can make it up Kili without much effort or training because my sixty year old mum who smokes did. You can too." That's full out blather, horse pucky and nonsense. You're a damned fool if you buy into it. She has a right to her opinion but woe to anyone who buys into that crap. What's misleading is that she does have some truth on the site- like the folks who tend to fail are young fit men in the 20s and 30s. That's true. They blaze out because they want to climb it fast. I heard so many tales from August- who has a whopping 305 climbs so sorry, Missy Oz, this is someone who has a pooload more knowledge than we do- and Ignas, who has 108 climbs- these guys know what it takes to get up the mountain. Smoking is damned foolish.Trying without working out in advance, months in advance- is downright stupid. I climbed her once, and I woke up this morning sore in places I hadn't felt in years. And I'm also just fine. The only reason I'm just fine and ready to go on a six day horse safari tomorrow is training, training, training, training, and training. The guides respect you if you train seriously. I also knew I wasn't guaranteed anything more than an attempt. Both August and Ignas said that the guys they see having the worst time are big strong bodybuilding types who think they can do anything, and they assume they can bull their way up the mountain.

    At the end of our hike. when we signed in at the gate, I hauled off my pack and plunked down next to this handsome German kid who was about a third my age. His guide, a few feet away, had just brought him down from Kibo hut due to altitude sickness. We spoke quietly for a few moments. He climbs the Alps. Very experienced. Serious climber. Smart kid. Young, strong, assumed he could make it, easy. Wrong. Case in point. Kili has her own ideas.

    It's also important to note here, since there has been considerable chatter on TripAdvisor and elsewhere about guides who push people to summit when it's not advisable, that there was nothing of the sort from the E-Trip crew. If anything August and Ignas kept a close eye on our physical status and watched carefully for any changes. As I said earlier, August, being the top guide, was kept well aware of everything and we discussed all changes, and there was nothing that alarmed us. Because the symptoms I had mimicked those of Diamox, he and I quite reasonably assumed that I had side effects when I began the ascent. Had there been any doubts, he'd have pulled me off the mountain immediately, and I'd have respected that requirement.

    What I very much respected about Ben Jennings is that he grilled me about these very things: did I feel pressured? Did I like the food? How was my treatment? How was the crew? We spoke for about 45 minutes in detail about all aspects of the trip, and since I'm a consultant who used to work for DisneyWorld I can look at it from a service view, and I can also see it from a client view. I love Ben's constant hunger to improve, to be best in class. Aurelie was playing with their son Killian, and already talking about going up the mountain on another route with a solo woman in a few weeks or months because this woman's travel partner bowed out. To me, this hunger to provide an excellent experience for the customer is why E-Trip is already my choice for another big African journey in January 2015, and more to come. They hire the best staff- and by this when you see a crew that's been together six years, that means they are paid a living wage (they do not live solely on tips, a very critical definer here) and they are friends and work together well. That shows up on the mountain, and in their pleasure and happiness every day. It means that by the time you've finished your six or five or seven day trip you're giving August and Ignas your email and saying write me, and meaning it, and August will be sending you his candid videos, and he will, and you know he will. He does what he says.

    E-Trip Africa worked hard to shear off costs where they could, they added a key rest day (today, God bless them) knowing that I would absolutely need it, they offered me the kinds of options that Ben, as he learned my personality, knew I would jump at. And he was right. My hope is that when others write a string or comment on other providers they will offer clear, concise and useful information on why so and so was "GREAT! WONDERFUL! AMAZING! THE BEST SAFARI COMPANY IN AFRICA!" and other superlatives. I don't know if E-Trip Africa is the best safari company in Africa. I do know they did yeoman's work for me. I never had a tour company work harder, give more and care as much as these guys did, and I flat fell in love with Ben's delightful wife as a friend, and that was a bonus. I also think it's foolish to pay tens of thousands of dollars and expect you're going to get better service, just as you're a fool if you ask a tour operator to get you up and down Kili quick and cheap. It's unfair to the operator and you look like a rookie.

    Today is a lovely day to rest, write (back to the grindstone for a day) and relax, rub everything I can reach with the EFAC and organize the bags for six days in the bush on horseback with Kaskaki. And EAT EAT EAT EAT. Sleep on this big bed, and thank that big mountain out my window (damn, was I really up there two days ago????) for her lovely lessons.

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    BTW, it's almost seven pm, and August did indeed send all the pics and videos as promised, and he and Ignas both asked after my health.

    Several things I could have left behind: pre-packaged Stingers and almond butter. Brought enough for six a day, for six days. Gave 'em to the porters. Two extra turtlenecks. Four extra pairs of super heavy mountain socks and liners. Classic, too much clothing. One of those chemical filled bandannas that expands when you wet them. Don't bother. They get big and heavy and it takes weeks, months for the stupid thing to dry out. I'm throwing mine away. Simple bandannas work best. Mine were used daily. I brought, and never used, a very expensive pair of Black Diamond leather ski gloves. Thought they would be a good base camp glove. Never took them out. Dry soap. Useless.

    I wish I'd known I was going to wear my safari shirt every single day. Every. Single. Day. At the end of the trip I had to chase the shirt and pants down the hallway and tackle them to get them into the laundry. Three pairs of socks escaped and were last reported seen in Nairobi.

    Couldn't have made it without (and wish I'd had more) RockTape, blister plasters. Hot hands and foot warmers saved my toes (I've got Reynaud's) but I stood at the summit in glove liners more due to a fever than anything else. Bring RockTape, scissors, the bandaids that are designed specifically for blisters. Almost guaranteed you'll get at least one if you don't bring supplies.

    Stuff I brought as an experiment that worked: sports compression sleeves for my calves. Surprisingly helpful. Tried as an experiment en route to base camp to see, they did a nice job of providing blood flow. I did, however, get areas of little blood spots here and there, so I don't recommend long wear.

    Neutrogena face wipes. They're sold as makeup removers. Ignore that. They are lovely for cleaning your dusty, dirty, filthy face at the end of the day. And for your pits, too, for those of us who really don't want to smell like piglets at the end of the trek, Neutrogena helped out in that department big time.

    Cyclists will appreciate this: I brought my winter Pearl Izumi fleece lined lycra pants. Sleek, body con, the first layer under heavy duty layers. The E Trip gear list suggests lycra. These were fantastic, warm to beat the band, and you can also sleep in them if you get chilly. A really really superb last minute idea that worked on ascent day.

    Scuba gloves. Huh? You read right. Probably the most functional useful pair of gloves I own for damned near everything is a lightweight pair of scuba gloves. I wore them day and night, to bed, in the wind, up to and including base camp. For someone who has Reynaud's these guys keep my hands protected from most cold until it gets genuinely nasty, and then I go expedition. I wear them riding and hiking and just about everywhere. Hardy and warm. Super versatile. Oh, and they're actually good for diving too.

    August commented that he almost always knows when a woman isn't going to make it on Kili: she packs her makeup. I nearly peed myself. He was serious.

    What else doesn't belong in Africa, and this brings me to a story. Last September this guy from DirecTV calls me up to sell me the NFL package. Were I not going to be gone November and January, maybe I'd buy it. I'm a football nut, not an addict. Big diff. Guy pushes. Asks me if I'm taking a phone or a computer. See where he's going. I know you can watch the games on your device. I ask, why the hell would I want to watch a game, any game, when I'm on a fricken safari? This guy does not get the point. Yo, man, I'm paying a pooload of cash to get out of the country, to see amazing animals, to be in a vastly different place, to have a hugely life changing experience. Why on EARTH would I pay you to take America with me when I am leaving it behind? I have Tivo. Maybe I'll watch the games later. I already know Manning beat KC. All I need to know, buddy. You sell the NFL and I will be on top of a rather large piece of rock looking at a perfect full moon across from perfect dawn. Be where you are.

    Bring extra Chapstick. The good, high SPF kind. The sports kind. You will go through it day after day after day after day. Or you better. I probably used four or five tubes. And I'm not done yet. I never reached for anything so often as liquids and chapstick, and after that, fine sunscreen.

    A small notebook, with lots of paper, pen and pencils and a sharpener, because pens fail, computers run out of batteries, and you want to remember little details all day long. You can't unless you write them down NOW, on that little bitty pad you have in your (dirty safari) shirt pocket.

    A good Swiss Army knife. I always find uses for mine. And when you buy a good men's- don't bother with women's, they are useless- safari shirt, make sure it's the one with the zippered pocket, not just the velcro. Why? Because if you have a knife and glasses, that stuff will slide out into the sand, water, gorge, whatever you just leaned over, and you may or may not be able to get it back. My most precious things like prescription glasses lived in what was designed to be the passport pocket. Why those idiots didn't design the same thing for women is beyond my ken. So buy the men's and roll the sleeves up.

    Another thing that saved my buttkus (apologies to Dick) were the Sea to Summit Dry Sacks, all colors, which I used to protect my gear from the wet, color coordinate all my stuff and keep it all very very neat. I also took a lot of time to mark the contents, something I had no idea was going to be a godsend to Ben Jennings, when he had to take my big gear bag through customs without my being there to explain all the powders, which of course were in factory sealed packages, but the guy didn't trust any of that either. That these packets were carefully marked helped Ben out enormously. Let me assure you, when you are tired and sore and it's black as a Black Hole in your tent and you want THAT ONE THING, your head lamp can find it in seconds by lighting on the color and the label. The prep, and organization, were well worth it. I'm sure that the customs guy, after a while of seeing a label and then finding what was promised inside the bag, got a comfort level after a while. These pricey bags were worth every penny. And they last a long long time assuming you don't cut them. They are as mentioned another Sea to Summit product, and after this trip I'm pretty much a Sea to Summit fan. From their bags to the bag liner to their tinky tiny backpack which I wore til I tore it (it's fixed with duct tape), they are a brand worth investigating. Whoever runs that company knows a lot about sports.

    I forgot to mention that E-Trips provided me with a working phone and number plus plenty of minutes upon arrival, and it was great to have a lifeline to call anywhere I needed. I used it once or twice to clarify a point with Ben, but if I wanted I could have called anywhere. I like that touch. Ben is organizing a dinner with me prior to my departure to send me away happy and make sure that I was pleased with Kaskaki even though they didn't book it, but they do work with this concession. Details.

    Hopefully some of this gear rundown was worthwhile. I found that the sleeping bag and foam mattress provided by E-Trip were both more than enough, I stopped using my super duper extra special mattress and didn't notice a thing. Ah. $200. Oh well. In case I head to the Antarctic I will have it in hand.

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    Back at the lovely Shangazi House after six days of Kaskazi Horsebackriding Safari, and this deserves some mentions. Even though at their permanent camp I was able to take yet another shower under the night sky, this afternoon when I was able to shower and really truly clean my very long hair it was a little appalling to see what came out on those pristine white towels. Ahem. No wonder Ms. Mud Dauber wasp was checking out the territory a while back.

    Jo and Chris, two young and extremely talented folks who run this adventure operation, put forth quite the schedule, and laid out six days for a group of us- basically one American and six very close Swedish friends who were kind enough to allow me to join them on holiday. Chris was born and raised in Tanzanian and speaks Swahili and Ma fluently, and it is a joy to watch him track animals large and small with the kind of competence you see portrayed in movies and hear about in stories. This man is Africa, loves Africa, personifies Africa like the crew he has assembled from the many tribes around Tanzania. Jo is the lead guide and horsewoman, and she is the one we turned to for guidance on our mounts. This came up often especially after the first time she took us out into the open area and pretty much let 'er rip and we found ourselves running at nearly full speed alongside a herd of wildebeest. Each of our horses leapt to the task with great joy, and we all struggled a bit with holding them back as they took us for the first hard gallop of what would be many. These gallops took us in and amongst giraffe, zebra, all sorts of herd animals, and gave us all the excellent chance to test our riding skills as well as get closer than we'd ever imagined to these amazing creatures.

    The mobile camps, which leap ahead of us on our rides, provide drop toilets and hot bucket showers, which are a treat after anywhere from six to nine hours in the saddle. We do, of course, have a sumptuous bush break each day catered by Mark, a South African chef who managed to tempt us each day with anything from Thai salad to freshly baked banana bread and beef lasagna. This was followed by a nap on the big mats which allowed us to stretch out under the acacia trees in a big circle, with the dessert filling out our tummies like a well fed pride.

    Because tsetse flies are a danger to the horses, Kaskazi does not ride in areas that have them, so for the most part we weren't annoyed by insects. Due to Chris' tracking skills, Jo's bush knowledge and the eagle eyes of our various Swedish compatriots we saw a healthy variety of wildlife as we rode a considerable way all within a reasonable distance of Kili. This included riding through Maasai areas, observing herding by tots as young as four, and at one point, going to a Maasai market where white men had not been to our knowledge.

    I knew I was in for a treat when the early afternoon of Day One, the longest day (about nine hours of riding), the group separated when we approached the wildebeest herd. Chris had taken a group farther ahead to my left, and I was behind with others talking to Jo. My eager little mare, Naisha, was clearly wanting to catch up and I asked Jo for permission to let her loose. Jo said, with a wise smile, yes but try to take it easy. Two inches of loose reins later Naisha's afterburners have set my cheeks flapping and we are flying across the African pan at a dead, flat out run. I am watching for holes (she is too) and my legs are tight around her like a forest tick. And I've got goose bumps on goose bumps on goosebumps. I know full well this will likely be the only chance to ride her at full speed, that she will stop at Chris' group (yep she did) and that I had a grin plastered from East to West. Naisha didn't understand "take it easy" and Jo knew it. But she does expect you to watch out for your horse, so that when you do your exhilarating gallops among the giraffe you are keeping a careful eye out for the many aardvark holes that appear like bad road work absolutely everywhere.

    Kaskazi is not for beginner riders. You will get sore. You will get aches. That EFAC cream came in really handy, in fact that jar is down to nearly nothing. But this adventure will go beyond your wildest dreams as a rider- a real rider, not a dude ranch rider. You'll KNOW you rode. And the stories will abound. Some will follow. Now to fly home. To the retail insanity that is Christmas in America right now.

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    So one of the best parts about these rides is getting a hot shower at the end of the day. Now, as Chris, one of the two owners of this outfit says, is that if the stars align and all goes right, you'll get your hot shower in the bush. This is Africa. I'd gotten in the habit of taking my shower a bit earlier since I was in need of a wee bit more sleep (I had after all just climbed the darn mountain) and so around the third night I head to the back of my tent for said shower, which the camp guys indicated was ready. I had my towel, soap, and boots, and my safari shirt. I get in the shower stall, which is a contraption of heavy plastic or canvas, a bunch of poles and a big heavy bucket of hot water over your head. No worries, right? However the wind was blowing and the zipper wasn't closed. So I tried to close the zipper. No deal. Tried again. NO deal. On the third try I put a real effort into it and the entire shower collapsed on my head, so there I was, standing bare-assed naked in the shower stall with about 80 lbs worth of canvas, tubing, and heavy hot water in my arms, trying to keep my where with all covered, laughing, and trying also to yell HELP while I'm sinking on my saddle sore legs to the ground. The Vikings I've been riding with all day are all celebrating around the campfire out of earshot, enjoying their beer, and I'm sinking south, laughing harder.

    AnnSophie, one of the delicate Vikings, comes to the rescue and she can't hold anything up, she's tiny but she can bellow HELP with the best of them, and this brings Chris and several camp staff running. Moments later I'm standing and Chris gently suggests I wrap my now (soaking wet and cold) towel about my person and step next door to the neighbor's shower where they will move the (now cold) shower water, so I do, and seconds later I am safely inside my Viking neighbor's stall.

    Well then. I turn on what I thought would be nice hot water and ice cubes hurtle onto my goosebumps, and this isn't helped by the fact that the zipper on this shower won't close either and I'm not making THAT mistake again, so the cold water and wind make for the one-legged freezing stork dance while I do my best to lather up and rinse off. Just about the time I'm nearly done the zipper unzips all the way up and my neighbor's husband is standing there eyeing me, and I eye him back, and we regard each other like that for a long moment before it dawns on his beery brain that it might be a good idea to CLOSE THE ZIPPER. Then I grab the icy cold very wet towel, my shirt and boots and sprint for my tent. Hot bush showers. On most nights, they worked.

    Now there was a most awkward moment for me and for most of us when one night, I walked to my tent to find someone in it, and I was quite startled as I'd been sleeping by myself. It was a camp staffer, and I was most uncomfortable, because like most other travelers I'd heard plenty of stories about how staff would take a bit for themselves out of your money supply, you had to watch your gear, all kinds of things. I'd been warned and warned again at every turn. My money belt was sitting right on top of the table next to my bed. Worried that I'd made a big mistake, I quickly (mis)counted my cash and found a chunk missing, which I then reported to Jo and the group. Chris took this to the staff, but Jo made me recount, and she was right. Unfortunately, the word already went to the staff, and they were rightfully upset. This team has never had a theft problem, and they didn't take this well, because they knew they had been falsely accused. Now here's the thing. This kind of mistake doesn't just go away. While the camp staff knows they aren't guilty, it sours the trip for other travelers and of course for Jo and Chris, and the next morning I made my apologies to our group, and asked Chris for the best way to make amends to the staff. That opportunity presented itself that next night when the man who was in my room came to my tent to tell me about my hot shower. Happily I recognized him and was able to immediately apologize to him, to which he said "Be free." I also apologized to the camp manager, his boss, at which point the problem was handled. I relate this because of the excellent reputation of Kaskazi for their crew, and also because it's very easy to listen to the stories and the warnings and jump to the wrong conclusion when something happens rather than to ask first to understand. Then you look, expecting to find something that your brain has already decided is there- lost money, or whatever it has framed as fact. So my purpose for sharing this story is that yes, it makes sense to be careful.But it's also important to check twice or three times to make sure before you embarrass yourself and other good people, which is what I did, and find yourself in a situation that you need to make amends for. Everyone was most gracious about it and for that I am grateful.

    Kaskazi was the cherry on top of a remarkable itinerary. Ben Jennings checked in with me at the end of the trip to make sure I was pleased with my experience with them, another detail I was happy about. As he books clients with them he is always eager for feedback on the suppliers he uses. I'm planning on booking with E-Trip Africa from here on out and strongly recommend both that outfit as well as Kaskazi. Professionally managed, good outfits, great long term teams.

    I hope I've given a bit of the flavor of the pure joy and extraordinary pleasure I've gotten out of a month in Tanzania. It would be ridiculous to list all the animals I saw- we all see them. However, it's more fun to share some of the stories, the bumps, that make a travel story funny, and give you a sense of the adventure that we all were on. Also I hope that you got a better sense of why everyone says that the trip down Kili is a lot harder- a friend suggested going to an industrial site and practice going up and down mountains of gravel. If the site's lawyer doesn't catch you out there, that sounds like a terrific idea. I'd have done it, had I known better. Hopefully some of the gear ideas were useful.

    Do your due diligence, research your options, but in any situation, go to Kili fully prepared. I came to completely trust E-Trip Africa and couldn't have been happier. They're worth checking out against the big boys. Best of luck on your trip.

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    Ah, a PS. I had written a list of things to bring. And here's one more I didn't. A working knowledge of Swahili. I literally ran out of time - and I came to Africa crippled. Last night I had my Viet Namese coach over and as we were working on my new language I pondered on how useless I had felt in Tanzania being wholly unable to communicate in the main language of that country. I had the tapes, I didn't make the time. And frankly, I don't buy my own excuses. When I come back to Africa, which I will in 2015 or sooner, I will carve out the hours. I won't forget the pleasure on the camp staffers face when I said thank you to him in Swahili and his disappointment when he realized that was the extent of my repetoire. I can do better. And it's part of the fun to be able to converse, even just a little, in the native tongue. Put that in the backpack too.

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