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Kilimanjaro, Safari & Zanzibar report: BostonGal's trip report

Kilimanjaro, Safari & Zanzibar report: BostonGal's trip report

Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:35 AM
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Kilimanjaro, Safari & Zanzibar report: BostonGal's trip report

FINALLY it's here! I warn you, it's 32pages in Word so I will cut out some of it.

The place I’ve been dreaming of for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when it started, but my obsession for elephants has done nothing but grow as I’ve gotten older. I also don’t know what exactly it was that turned me on to this amazing animal, but I do know it escalated to insane proportions when I rode one at the Big E when I was 18 years old. Since then, I’ve inherited many an elephant token, be it a small ceramic one painted and purchased in Mexico, a big stuffed one from FAO, or most recently, the wooden hand-carved piece from India. I always knew that I’d get to Africa, especially after the past few years, where Jay and I have discovered that our passion for travel never ceases; rather, it, too, only grows with each trip and as each year passes. But I didn’t know when. And I certainly never expected the reason for getting there would be out of a desire to climb the tallest mountain on the continent.

But that’s what happened. One of Jay’s clients out in Chicago knew how much we liked to travel and knew that we started playing around with photography as a hobby. He forwarded us the website of his friends, a young couple who took a year off to travel the world before settling down and starting a family. While Jay poked around their website IM’ing me things like “get a load of that picture!” I responded with “screw the picture, get a load of the places they got to visit!”. Believe it or not, it was Jay who first casually suggested climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After playful banter over IM, I realized he was serious. I said if we’re going halfway across the world to climb some mountain, I better see some elephants!

And so began the ever consuming, detailed research and planning that goes into every trip we (read: I) plan, no matter the destination. This time was different. I had to investigate tour operators, sure, but once we chose one, I had to leave it all in their hands to take care of the details. Two weeks later, we had an itinerary confirmed. We chose to travel with a tour operator out of the UK called Africa Travel Resource. We created a 19-day tour of Tanzania, including a Kili climb, a safari and a quick visit to Zanzibar.

The preparation for this trip was a second job in itself. Since we were doing a bunch of different things while over there, we had to prepare for all four seasons. We had luggage weight restrictions. I think we had only two things on the suggested pack list for the climb. We were able to borrow some stuff, but in the end spent a lot of time and money in places like REI. We’ve never done a trip like this, and the week before we left, I found myself in packing hell, trying to get everything together, and separating out toilet paper and Gatorade flavoring for the climb and binoculars and the strongest Deet I could find for the safari. Let’s not forget to mention the shots and the medicine, too. All this preparation to some would seem too much to bear to ever want to go on a trip like this, but for me, it only added to the excitement for what we were about to do. I figured the more stuff that needed to be done to get ready, the better the experience was going to turn out.

I was not let down. In fact, I was so blown away by the trip, that as I sit here, weeks after returning home, I am still affected. I think this happens to most people that travel to places like Tanzania. It’s a life-changing experience. Which makes me turn around and know that I truly do believe in my company’s slogan Travel Changes Lives. Yes, it sure does.

On to the trip…
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:37 AM
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January 19
The day started a little hungover from the festivities in Amsterdam the night before. I had been there a week and Jay met me there the day before departure. But nothing could stop our anxiety to get to the airport to start our journey to Tanzania! Except of course, for those twelve minutes of sheer panic and agony when we couldn’t locate Jay’s passport. Those twelve minutes lasted a lifetime, and all I could think was “oh my God, all the dreaming, all the planning, all the preparing, and THIS is what might hold us back from going to Africa?! We’re going to miss Kili, I can’t believe we’re going to miss Kili!” But, thankfully, we found it. It was in his suit pocket in the suitcase going back to the States with my friend. Thank God we didn’t take separate cabs, and that our flights were so close to each other!

Finally able to breathe again, we sunk into our cab and made our way to the airport. I felt like I was four years old on Christmas morning, I was so excited and anxious for what was about to come. We go to check in and we find that our seats had changed, even though I repeatedly went online and manually selected them myself. So, once we sailed through security, we stopped at our gate and luckily we found two seats next to each other. Boarding the plane, my excitement grew to ecstasy – not only were our seats together, but we had seats 10A and 10B, which were by themselves, in the first row behind first class. I now felt like I was four years old and actually saw Santa out my window waving to me as Rudolph and the others pulled him back into the sky. It turned out to be a very comfortable and (due to a long nap) quick trip down to Kilimanjaro airport.

We touched down around 8:30pm and as I stepped out of the plane into that hot, exotic African air, I inhaled deeply and could barely contain the squealing inside. We retrieved our four bags in no time, and customs was a breeze. I had my camera ready to take a picture of whoever was greeting us with my name on a placard, but I got so excited that I practically hugged him instead. Driving to Arusha with the windows down, I stared out the window at everything passing by and couldn’t believe that we were actually in Africa. It didn’t feel any different yet. I wondered when it would hit me.

The drive was quick, and less than an hour later, we turned left onto a very bumpy, pothole-ridden dusty dirt road. Jay admitted afterwards that he felt a bit nervous of the direction we were headed, but I vaguely remembered reading about the road leading up to the lodge, so it didn’t bother me in the least.

We arrived at Moivaro Coffee Lodge around 10pm, and I could barely keep my eyes open. When we walked into our room, I was so relieved to see how comfortable and serene it was. I changed into my jammies as quickly as possible and collapsed into bed.

January 20
We had an early morning wake-up call. We wanted to get up early, walk around the grounds and have a nice breakfast. During breakfast, we were caught off-guard when the waitress said “you’re welcome” before we said “thank you”. Turns out, this is very customary in Tanzania. Every time someone showed us to a room, or refilled our tea, or brought us drinks – anything – we were told “you’re welcome” – Jay and I decided we liked this, and thought we could start the trend in the States. What do you think?

As soon as we were through wandering around, we went back to the room for a nap, and slept from 9:30-12:30! I wish we spent some time relaxing in the pool, but I needed sleep more than anything. We grabbed a quick lunch and went back to shower and get ready for our departure.

We left Moivaro around 2pm and headed over to Ilboru Lodge. We had to stop in Arusha to get some money, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get there in time for our 5:00pm briefing meeting with African Walking Company. Arusha is exactly the town you think of when you try and picture Africa. It's hot, dusty, packed with people, goats, Maasaii tribes, shops, falling down houses, jungle, plants, churches, etc. I must have been high on excitement still because I didn't get any pictures of the town for some reason.

We arrived at Ilboru Lodge. This is my only complaint for ATR. They quite often use Ilboru for bednights immediately before and after a Kili climb. I’m not sure exactly how many people that work at ATR who have actually climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. We arrived at our room to find twin beds, with no option to be pushed together, windows that we couldn’t leave open at night due to mosquitoes, walls that were so paper thin that I thought our neighbors were standing at the foot of the bed, and it came with a dirty and tiny bathroom with a shower barely large enough for me to be able to wash my hair without bumping my elbows into walls and in our case, a hot water heater. I didn’t want to think about the challenge of shaving my legs after going 8 days without a shower! I was very happy I took advantage of the nice, open Moivaro shower, but Jay was kicking himself for waiting! We all really should have stayed in a much nicer lodge, with bigger and more comfortable bathing options.

We dropped our stuff and went to meet up at the briefing, but it turned out that half our group missed one of their flights and was getting in very late, so we pushed the briefing until early morning. At dinner, we met two of other climbers, Jackie from London and Amelie from Montreal. Shortly after dinner, we retired to the room, as we had to rearrange our luggage and sort out our packs. We were feeling pretty anxious for the next morning, so although we turned in early, we both tossed and turned throughout the night.

January 21
We woke up early and luxuriated as best as we could in our last shower before heading over to the main area for breakfast. There, we met the rest of our climb team. Kathleen and Stuart from London and Colm and Miriam from Ireland got in pretty late the night before, but looked ready and rearing to go. We ate breakfast while African Walking Company briefed us – clarifying again the weight restrictions, going over what a typical day will be like and discussing the concerns of the hike, including AMS and other ailments.

Shortly afterwards, we locked up our safari luggage and gathered in the lobby area, waiting for our jeeps to take us to the gate and trailhead. As we were waiting outside, we noticed there were monkeys on top of the lodge, and we were so excited to see some wildlife, since it would be a while before the safari portion of our trip commenced. Two jeeps arrived to take the eight of us on a 2-hour journey through Arusha and other villages to get to the base of Kilimanjaro.

A little info about the mountain we were about to climb: Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and one of the tallest volcanoes in the world. It’s a triple volcano, the highest and youngest cone being Kibo, where the glacier-covered crater stretches across 1.5 miles and Uhuru Point peaks at 19,340 feet, or 5895 meters. That was our goal, to reach Uhuru. The other two cones are Shira, which we will accomplish on day 2, and Mawenzi, which, thankfully, we will not even come close to attempt. We will hike through five climate zones and see many different types of vegetation.

It was Saturday, and it was market day. We lost the 2nd jeep somewhere along the way, and pulled off the road right by a market, so we were able to witness the chaos firsthand. Turns out, the four people that missed their flight brought some bad luck – they got a flat tire and we were delayed by about 20 minutes. We finally found them, and on we went.

About halfway through the drive, the pavement turned to dirt, and it was a very bumpy and dusty ride. This made it a little tough, because we couldn’t keep the windows completely open because we’d have a dirt storm fly through them, but if we closed them it was stifling hot. Compromising, we found ourselves filthy, with dirt everywhere, from in the grooves of our water bottles to coating our socks to inside our ears and noses and eyes and fingernails, … we were filthy and we hadn’t even started climbing yet!

We first stopped at the gate to sign in with the rangers. We were greeted with a sign warning us of the dangers that we were about to face. Have no fear, we continued on! We passed by ___ village where there were many wooden houses falling apart, with little kids everywhere. It’s so cute how excited they are to see Mzungu (us, white people), but it’s just because they come to us begging for money and chocolate (what everyone wants, right?). Although I was uncomfortable with it, because I had heard of the customs, they let Jay take pictures of them, and squealed with delight as he was able to show them what it looked like on the LCD screen. As we made our way to the trailhead, we had a slight roadblock – a family of baboons was crossing in front of our jeep! It was great, we were able to get a few quick pictures in before the scampered away into the forest.

We came to a stop at our trailhead, which was just a spot on the side of the road. Well, it was to me, anyway. There were no signs indicating it was the start of the climb, like I had expected. For the route we took, there were no signs at all. That’s what we get for taking the Whiskey Route. We were greeted with the sight of our team – Justin, our head guide, Abraham and Remy, our assistant guides, Robert our cook, and the 22 porters that were there to haul all of our gear, the tents, food, water, etc… up the mountain for us.

We rested briefly and ate our packed lunches in the grass, said goodbye to our drivers and set off for our first day of climbing. We chose the Shira route, which was a 7-night/8-day climb, one of the most scenic and more difficult of routes. Of course, I was about to set off in a direction 90 degrees east from our route - me and my sense of direction! From the first step on the trail, it was pole, pole all the way. We set our pace from the get-go, going very slowly to help with acclimatizing.

Jay and I were both expecting the climb to be barren, brown, arid and flat. Instead, the next week had some of the most beautiful and unique scenery we’ve come across. We hiked across Shira plateau for about 3-4 hours before reaching camp, Shira One. The porters raced by us along the way, as they will do every day, to make sure our camp and tents were set up by the time we arrive. I noted in my journal that even on day one, I was nervous about getting altitude sick. I also noted how anxious I was about the bathroom situation, but I won’t go there… yet.

We approached camp and saw that the hard work of the porters racing ahead of us paid off – all our tents were set up, our luggage was on a tarp for us to claim, and tea was waiting for us – not too shabby! Even though I knew that there was hardly any wildlife to see along the climb, I was still a nazi when it came to fully zipping up the tent every single time we left or came in, I didn’t want any surprises!

Once we arrived at camp, we got our afternoon tea, warm water for washing, and then we rested for about an hour. I was pleasantly surprised at how roomy the tents were. Then, we went for an hour-long acclimatization walk before dinner. During this walk, I think I saw every shade of blue as the sun was setting behind us and the clouds were passing over us.

We settled in pretty early, as what turned out to be the norm. We didn’t feel like trucking our equipment halfway around Earth, so we rented sleeping mats, sleeping bags and hiking poles. We snuggled into our sleeping bags like caterpillars and called it a night.

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:38 AM
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January 22
Today we were introduced to what would become our daily routine. We were awoken with tea at 6:30am. Thirty very short minutes later, we were brought bins with warm water for washing (hands and face). We were expected to be dressed, have our bags packed and be ready for breakfast by 7:30am. Breakfast consisted of porridge, bread and eggs, and we were given biscuits and chocolate for snacks along the way.

We were also introduced to the typical weather patterns. The days started out bright and clear, with the sun coming up around 6:30am and quickly warming the land. The clouds would creep in around mid-morning each day – some days bringing welcome shade, and others, bringing fog and mist and blocking everything around us. The clouds would be thickest late afternoon, and then during dinner, they would head out and by the time we retired to our tents, it would be clear again. We were so lucky, in that we didn’t get any rain the entire time. The week before, it poured buckets every afternoon. I don’t think I would have lasted if that were the case – clothes cold and soaking every day, not being able to dry out. During the day, we were comfortable in convertible pants and a long-sleeved shirt. As the day wore on, the temps fell fairly quickly, and nighttime brought about very chilly temperatures, leaving us with frost each morning. I didn’t realize how fast the sun set, but when I read this statement from a fellow traveler, “Night falls at the equator with a speed I could never get used to”, I realized that we never really got any decent sunset pictures, and this was why. Sunset photo opportunities were always the blues of the clouds against the sky, as opposed to the purples and pinks that we’re used to back home. And it happened so fast. If your camera was zipped up in your tent during a spectacular scene, forget it. By the time you unzipped the fly and removed your shoes to crawl in and locate your camera, it was too late. You’d re-emerge and feel dismayed that it was already too dark, even with a tripod at hand.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself; back to day two. We started climbing around 8:15am. The day turned sour for me rather early. The combination of wearing a pack that I’m not used to and sleeping in a tent gave way to shoulder and upper back spasms, which continued to ail me throughout the entire climb.

Despite this, day two was a great hike. It lasted about 6 hours, and it was so scenic! So far, we have slept in and climbed across Shira Plateau, the caldera of Shira’s volcano. Today, we climbed to Shira Cathedral, one of Kili’s peaks. As we were climbing to the Cathedral, it felt like Kili was smoking a cigar. It went from really cloudy, foggy and misty to perfectly blue and calm so we had a clear shot of Mt. Meru, only to have the view be erased seconds later. There were so many different types of vegetation along this day’s route, it was so interesting. Because of the fog, there is so much moisture in the air, and many of the trees looked like they were covered in moss, and thus are nicknamed “Old Man’s Beard”.

From Shira Cathedral to our camp, it felt like we were walking on Mars, with all the different terrain and vegetation. We arrived at Shira Two camp with enough time to rest before our extra walk, which was much needed. Acclimatization walks are necessary each day – climb high, sleep low – that is the motto when climbing a mountain, to help combat altitude sickness.

We learned a bit of Swahili throughout the climb – mostly slang. Mambo? Mambo poa! Poa kachezi komandezi was our favorite though. According to Justin, it means: oh you know, cool like a banana growing in very fertile land. Ok, so it makes no sense at all, but you have to admit it’s pretty fun to say!

By this point, we were both feeling pretty anxious and found ourselves chanting like we were four years old: I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go – we’re talking the bathroom issue here. While each camp had outhouses, a.k.a. a hole in the ground covered by wooden boards with slats that you could see through, I still didn’t like the idea of a) going in a camp occupied with people other than myself, b) possibly having some of the widely known stomach issues that accompany trips to Africa, and c) did I mention going in a camp where I was not the sole person? I won’t go into details, but I will say the issue caused a bit of strife.

After dinner, we had a perfect view of the western side of Kili, and we’re hoping to be awoken with the same tomorrow morning. The sky was filled with stars, thousands more than I’ve ever seen, and bright as can be. Everything is different at the equator! I felt like I was on top of the world, yet so little, all at the same time. I went to bed with such a positive attitude and the hope that it would continue through the hike, no matter what challenges we faced.

January 23
My journal entry for today starts with: Today was a Holy Shit Day.

It began with a beautiful, soft sunrise and a nice, quick trek to our camp, Moir Hut. The time flew by and everyone seemed to be doing well. After two hours, we reached camp, and almost immediately, I was fall-down-exhausted and immediately took a nap. After napping, during lunch, I got my first bout of nausea, but thankfully it left almost as quickly as it came. Still, it left me pretty beat.

Moir Hut was really cool. It’s set in a sort of valley, with sky-scraping mountains all around us. Shortly after lunch, we started a challenging acclimatization trek.

We climbed to the top of Lent Tower, which was 500 vertical meters up, and we climbed up and back down to camp in roughly two hours. Comparing that to yesterday, where we ascended 400 meters and it took us about six hours, this was a huge jump. Also, putting it into perspective, it would be as if we climbed the stairs of a 150-story building and back down in two hours. I can’t even fathom that. It didn’t feel that bad, but it was awesome and steep and so rewarding.

It was tough going up to the top, scrambling up all those rocks, but when we reached the top and saw the spectacular 360-degree views, the only thing I managed to say was “Holy Shit!!” At this point, the group agreed that no matter how many stories we tell, nor how many pictures we show, there is no way we would ever be able to describe what it is we are doing, seeing, and experiencing.

For Jay and I, as well as others in our group, this is the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, and we’re only on day three. Already we have accomplished so much. We barreled back down to camp for dinner, and with the camp being at 4200 meters, many of us were feeling the effects of the altitude. But even so, we’ve got our spirits with us, which we know will be crucial over the next few days.

During dinner, Jay got sick. He lost his dinner, had a slamming headache and went to bed at 6:30pm. This is not a good sign.

January 24
Last night was a rough one. In addition to Jay feeling like he had “the worst possible imaginable hangover EVER”, it was very cold. Many of us only slept about four hours. When we asked Abraham how he slept, he responded with “ehhhhh a little bit like a baby” – that turned out to be his response each morning when we asked. At these altitudes, it is normal for climbers to have a loss of sleep, as well as headaches, nausea, irregular digestion, vomiting, and a loss of appetite; these are all signs of altitude sickness. Day three was a biggie. In some way, each of us felt the mountain taking its toll on us. Jay started taking Diomox, which he’ll need to take for the remainder of the climb, until we get back to Ilboru. Some of us started taking aspirin, as it helps to thin the blood. I wasn’t crazy about taking the medicine until I needed it.

Today, we climbed to Lava Tower. These middle days of the climb really are something. They’re all so different, with impressive sights to see. The way to camp was tough, but steady. Each day gets harder and harder, but each day also gets more rewarding.

Lava Tower is a 300-foot lava formation that juts out of the mountainside. Our camp is at the base of Lava Tower, and to one side you see acres of land and hills, the other is the Tower itself and the other is Kibo staring you right in the face! It would be nice to have climbed to the top as climbers from other groups on other routes are doing as we arrived, but we actually hiked to Arrow Glacier, which took three hours, and I don’t think any of us had the stamina for any more.

The walk along the rocky lower slopes of the Western Breach to the ruins of the old hut at Arrow Glacier was steep and difficult. The entire time, we were in the clouds and could barely see five feet in front of us. When we reached Arrow Glacier, it was strange to be standing in the camp where, just a week or so earlier, rockslides tumbled down and killed both climbers and guides as they were sleeping. Looking around, I couldn’t believe people would actually set up camp there – it looks like we just missed a rockslide minutes earlier!

The fog was thick and blocking all views when we got there. Our pictures of this point look like we’re in the middle of a cold rainstorm. We figured, from past experiences, if we stayed there long enough, the fog would give way to a clearing and we’d get the views we came to see – the Northern Ice Fields, the glaciers that hang on both sides of the Breach. Sure enough, a slight clearing came – but not nearly long enough for me to catch any snapshots.

The walk back down to camp was equally as tough, and for some of us, took every ounce of energy and it was a struggle to make those last steps. It was very cold when we got back, and the fog and mist made it difficult for photos.

However, true to form, it cleared right around dinner, and we were greeted with an awesome sight of both the Tower and Kibo looming above us. We decided to turn in early because we had a long and difficult day of us, and it was freezing, so we were hoping that our body heat inside the tent would help keep us warm through the early morning hours, when it was coldest.

Stepping out of the mess tent to head towards our own tents, we saw the sky was clear and bright, with even more stars than the past couple nights. A few of us just stood there for several minutes, taking it all in. We could have stayed out there for hours just bending our necks and opening our faces to the immense sky above us, but MAN was it cold!

January 25
Day five started out rough. It began with waking up absolutely frigid and exhausted due to the very cold sleepless night. We were all so anxious to just get moving to warm up. It took a good hour or so for me to gain feeling back in my toes.

The first half of the trek was bright, clear and unbelievably gorgeous. With each step, the view became more picturesque. We descended for quite a while, passing Senecia and Lobelia along the way. These trees are really cool – they only grow at high altitudes, and they can grow up to fifteen feet!

As we’re climbing down, our guides pointed out Barranco Wall. We squint, we peer, but we don’t see it. They point again. Finally, someone sees it. A tiny, winding pencil-thin line of a trail up the sheer face of a cliff. We’re going where??? TELL ME we are not climbing back down that thing. Oh, ok good, we’re just going over the other side of it. A bit of relief. I knew going up would be challenging but do-able; however, coming back down would be a different story.

Then, after descending 600 meters, we reached the base of Barranco Wall, and gazed up at the 300 meters of rock climbing we were about to do. The wall is near vertical, but the path cuts across it in a diagonal. For the first 30 minutes or so, it was great, we all had to use all fours, and scramble up and in and out and around the rocks like a maze. When we looked back, we couldn’t tell where we started. But then it got just plain hard. I can’t believe that the porters had to go this same route – it was strenuous just getting my body up it, nevermind carrying all the gear on my head! We took a short break once we were able to use just our legs, and I spotted two waterfalls across the way on the hill that we just came down from. In the time it took for me to look down, unzip my camera case and take my camera out, the fog and clouds came in, completely blocking the view, so unfortunately, I didn’t capture a picture of the random waterfalls in the distance.

We reached the top of the Wall and rested, complete with lunch. We needed to re-fuel before starting the long and painful descent down to our next camp, Karanga. Today was an acclimatization day. It was a necessary loss of hard-earned altitude – it’s quite helpful to take one day to descend before pushing up to the top. Otherwise, we’d just be even more uncomfortable if we kept going up each day without an altitude break. The terrain on the way down was volcanic scree, which made it tough on our knees. It was a bit of foreshadowing for the descent we would be making in just two days.

Once we reached Karanga, we enjoyed a nap before dinner. This was the last water point along the climb, so the porters had to carry water from here up to Barafu. Enough water to last through tomorrow afternoon, as well as to fill up our bottles for the summit, and then with plenty supply for when we arrived back down to Barafu. Karanga was by far the worst camp we stayed at. Up until this point, I was so impressed with the quality of the camps we stopped and slept at. But this one was different. It should be renamed Stinky. There wasn’t much of a view, and the entire camp, no matter where you were, smelled like the inside of one of our outhouses. And everyone’s tent was on a slope. So as you were lying down, you either felt like you were pitching forward down the mountain, or in our case, Jay woke up with his face smushed to the side of the tent and could have rolled down the mountain.

We’ve been so impressed by the food throughout the climb. I can’t believe what people can do without electricity, tens of thousands of feet up on the face of a mountain. The other thing we’ve noticed is that the closer we get to the summit, the smaller the toilet holes get. When we started, the holes in the ground were comparable to that of a real toilet seat. Come Karanga, it was like we were giving a sample at the doctor!

My last journal entry says: smelly, hairy and exhausted, but feeling good. I also mentioned that all along, we never really considered what this experience would be like, but after all the hard work, and all the rewards, I said with certainty that I would never regret this, no matter if we made it to Uhuru or not.

Did we make it to Uhuru? We’ll see!

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:41 AM
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January 26
Day six. The calm before the storm. Or as I like to call it, the day before Hell. Looking through my journal for notes on this day, I didn’t write anything about the day’s hike. I was too focused on preparing for the next day. I do remember the climb from Karanga to Barafu to be steep but relatively short, about four hours.

The entire time, we didn’t encounter many other people along our route. However, hundreds of climbers ascending via the western routes make Barafu their pre-summit camp. Judging by what we saw as we crested, it must be quite competitive for the porters to select an area for their group. I think we were placed in a decent spot – while our tent and the mess tents were tied to the mountain so they wouldn’t blow off the face, at least we had some shelter from the wind, rather than being fully exposed. It was cold, it was windy, and getting to the bathroom proved to be quite the challenge. We had to scramble down rocks, and the outhouse was teetering on the edge of rocks, and I can just picture trying to get there at night, you run the risk of flying off the cliff! So, easy decision. Either you just didn’t go once the sun set, or you find a nice somewhat hidden spot near your tent.

Here, we got our first glimpse of Mawenzi, Kili’s third peak. It’s jagged and spiky and it just looks mean! We spent the afternoon preparing for summit day. We got our outfits ready, we packed our day packs, we made sure our poles were coming with us, and then we took a very short acclimatization walk to the plateau at the bottom of the southeast valley. Here, we felt like we were so close to Kibo, and wondered why it was going to take so long. We also took a group photo, still intact and still smiling.

We had dinner very early this night, as we went in for bedtime at 6:30pm. The guides were going to wake us up at 11:00, breakfast was going to be served at 11:30, and we would start climbing at midnight.

Per my journal: it’s going to be one hell of a day – 15 hours of climbing, but it’s going to be phenomenal!

January 27
Obviously, I didn’t write until we got back down to Barafu. My journal entry for this day begins:
Day 7 = summit day = Holy bleepity bleep Misery Never Again.

Notice the attitude difference between yesterday’s last entry and today’s first entry.

Jay and I knew it was going to be hard, but we had no idea just how bad it would be. After only about 45 minutes of sleep, we woke up to tea at 11. We then finished getting dressed – we already had on multiple layers because it was so cold at Barafu – so basically, we just had to throw on 2 top layers, our outer pants, boots and hats and mittens. We choked down some breakfast, but at this point it was beyond nauseating to do so due to a) lack of sleep b) altitude effects c) anxiety d) exhaustion. We should have eaten more, but we couldn’t hack it. We were supposed to leave at midnight, but we were about an hour late. Something about the water bottles taking longer. My guess is that the porters stayed up too late having a grand ol’ time (they were one of the reasons for our lack of sleep) since they didn’t have to do any climbing the next day and hit “snooze” on whatever wakeup call they have up on the mountain a few too many times.

Finally, anxiety and tension nearly hitting the roof of the mess tent, we started our journey just before 1:00am. We put on our head torches, strapped on our daypacks, and set off for Kibo. For the first fifteen minutes, animal sounds from Simon, one of our porters, sent us off with encouragement. Looking up, all you see are stars and little lamps bobbing away. Groups of 8 or 12 or 4, moving slower than snails, resting every so often, the lamps looking left, looking right, but mostly looking down since nobody knew what the heck we were climbing and had no idea what the next step would be.

All along the way, we kept looking up for the bobbing headlamps. We’d see them hit what we thought was the top, and we’d think – ok, that’s where we have to go. But then we’d look up again to find that they just went over a lip, and just started another long, tiring, uphill climb. We knew and were prepared for cold; however, never did we think it would be so bad. I had prepared myself as best I could, save one thing. I had on 3 pairs of mid-weight pants underneath my Gore-Tex outer pants, 2 pairs of socks inside my otherwise toasty hiking boots, 1 lightweight wick shirt, 2 midweight shirts, 1 heavyweight shirt, 1 fleece, 1 Polartec jacket, and my outer Gore-Tex rain jacket. I also had on liners, mittens, a neck warmer, another neck warmer bunched up to cover my ears and head, 2 hats and my hood. In addition, because I was practically comatose from the cold, one of the guides also shed his huge fireman’s jacket for me to throw over everything, and still, nothing helped. I have never in my life been so cold, and I hope to never again come even close to it. I honestly feared the life of every one of my ten toes. I wasn’t thinking when we were down at camp. I forgot to put in toe liners, and by the time I realized, it was too late. Once they get that cold, toe warmers don’t help, they only add more bulk in your boots. I couldn’t feel my toes, the pain was excruciating and I had to force myself to move them to ward off frostbite.

It had to have been in the negative teens, with the wind whipping in from the right at least 40mph. THE ENTIRE TIME.

We were going so slowly, and every time one of us needed to stop for a rest – which felt very frequent, because the guides weren’t stopping at all – for some reason, we all stopped. This made no sense to me. We had 4 total guides with us, so why couldn’t the ones that needed a break stay behind and the others go up? I felt horrible, because I was one of the more frequent stoppers. Why does everyone have to suffer, stop their muscles from moving and in turn, get even colder while they’re waiting for me to get my act together? In addition, our head guide Justin was in rough shape. It looked as though he was sleeping as he was climbing. We were going far slower than the other groups, and I think this attributed to another hour of lagging behind.

After a few hours, my body started to shut down. Every inch hurt, I was so exhausted, and I was having breathing issues and waves of nausea slam into me as hard as the wind. My breath was erratic – I was fine while we were moving, but the minute we’d stop for a rest, I felt like I was suffocating and I had to bend over and practically hyperventilate to catch my breath.

Aside from being exhausted, Jay was feeling good. He was just pissed at how hard this was. He would take a shut-eye standing up every time we took a quick rest. As he cursed the mountain with every step he took, I sang every song to myself that involved the word “sun”. I knew that like every other day, once the sun rose, it wouldn’t take more than 30-45 minutes before it would quickly warm up.

I didn’t want to look at my watch, for the fear of finding out that only ten minutes had passed. We were surrounded in blackness for what felt like forever. Stella became the unreachable goal. Expecting to summit in time for sunrise over Mawenzi, we thought for sure we were nearing the top. Yet just as we had observed from far below, every time we came to the top of a hill, we hit a teeny plateau and in front of us stood many more steep inclines.

As night finally faded into one of the most awe-inspiring sunrises (and sights) I’ve ever seen, our level of pain and exhaustion hit a magnitude that I vow is immeasurable, and I couldn’t bear the thought of reaching inside two layers to get the camera to capture the moment. So unfortunately, we’ll have to rely on our memory of it instead. It was black as tar up top in the sky, the horizon was that burnt orange color, and Mawenzi stood out like a gray demon, it was magnificent.

Once the sky brightened, so did my attitude, but that was very short-lived. I was exhausted. My body was not cooperating with my mind. My mind was not cooperating with my body. I found myself needing to stop every few steps due to my breathing issues and total body pain and exhaustion. I thought I’d never make it to Stella, and almost gave up about an hour from the peak. We still couldn’t see the top, even once the sun was up. But of course, Jay, always my rock, pushed me to make the final steps. At this point, the guides saw that I was hurting pretty badly and to be frank, desperate, so they forced me to sit still and drink a full liter of water with at least two cups of glucose dumped into it. I don’t remember much of the climb, I consider myself to have been practically comatose.

After about 45 minutes, I could see the top. My mind was racing but my feet couldn’t keep up, I could barely shuffle them inches at a time. When I knew I was close, when I felt the summit just ahead of me, I lost it. I started crying quietly. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t even put two thoughts together at this point. My brain turned to mush, I couldn’t think of anything, and my body shut down. I was so ashamed, and tried my best to stop. I remember Jay was in front of me, and he turned and told me to smile for the camera, that Kathleen was at the peak ready to take a picture of me, to capture my moment of glory, summiting Kilimanjaro. At this point the tears were really flowing, I was about to break into pieces, and I was so embarrassed that I covered my face and turned away. I practically fell to my hands and knees and basically crawled up over the lip and collapsed onto Stella Point. I was on all fours, unable to move, and sobbing uncontrollably. Jay hugged me from behind, helping me to shed some of my outer layers, and telling me how proud he was of us that we made it. We made it.

Every time I think about that moment, I am filled with so much emotion. It was spectacular and overwhelming and unbelievable, all rolled up into one precious moment. We were the only ones up there, me and Jay, and we shared an amazing experience that only we could truly feel and remember.

After finding my composure and when I was finally able to stand up, I gave Jay the camera to snap a few pictures. There’s a picture of us at the top. Jay is grinning ear-to-ear, red scruffy beard in full force, and I look like the Lochness Monster that just got run over by a Mack truck. I remember nothing of what I saw up there. It’s as if I didn’t even make it. By this point, our group had split up. Our head guide took 3 members up to Uhuru, the Roof of Africa. Two women were in front of us, and waiting for the rest of us to reach Stella. And after us was Stuart, remember him? The 65-year old asthmatic? Yep, he made it! We all made it, our group had 100% success rate to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

One of the guides came up to Jay and me; he was in a hurry and needed answers. He looked at me and said he knew I wasn’t going any further, and then asked if Jay was ready to proceed. I felt bad, and tried to rally, but I knew that Jay wouldn’t go without me. If I had 30 minutes to rest and collect myself, and wouldn’t be rushed up to Uhuru, I would have tried to make it. However, it is strongly recommended that everyone be off the mountain and back at their camps by 11am, due to rapidly changing weather patterns that occur mid-day. I knew the guides would have hauled it up there, and I wouldn’t have made it ten steps. Because I knew we’d be rushed, I knew I wasn’t going. All for one, one for all. We stick together. So we waved goodbye to the others, cracked open the Godiva dark chocolates that I brought specifically for this moment, and went to town. I was a little let down that I didn’t make it to Uhuru, but that’s only because I am so damned competitive when it comes to my own personal challenges, but I knew at that moment when I had to make a decision, I didn’t need to be a hero.

Once Stuart reached the summit and rested, the three of us, plus two guides, made our way back down to Barafu, where we would race to the tent and collapse into a nap. A mountain that takes 7 days to get up and less than 2 to get down, you know it’s not going to be fun descending. I was thankful we didn’t descend the same route we came up, and we ended up using our hiking poles and skiing down the deep scree. Just like powder, the scree and dirt and dust flew up into our faces as we made our way down, getting all over our clothes, in our hair, our eyes, our teeth, every nook and cranny and crevice. It was awfully warm at this point, and I found that I had no room for the layers I was shedding, but the sun was just so strong! Almost back to Barafu, I felt like I was high. I was so giddy, just happy to be done. Done!

No more pole, pole, no more altitude, no more nausea, no more anxiety. As we were resting, Colm, Miriam and Amelie met up with us and we did the last leg together. We talked for the millionth time about what food we were craving, and for the first time, we could practically taste beer we wanted one so badly.

We reached camp, and I dove in for a nap and some journaling. I think at this point Jay finally appreciated my obsession in zipping the tents tightly every single time. We settled in for a nap, and I of course passed out instantly. It must have only been 30 seconds later, but Jay bolted up straight and freaked me out. Apparently, he heard scratching at the side of his tent – at first, he thought it was just the wind like usual. Then he felt a little furry brush up against his arm, which was thrown up by his head. He opened his eyes to see a mouse scampering out of our tent – I guess they’re pretty smart. They probably don’t have much luck at the smaller camps along the way, but somehow they know that they reached the motherload at Barafu, tons of groups/hikers with lots of food and scraps to be left for nibbling.

After ensuring there were no more critters to surprise us, we resumed our little siesta. Then, once Kathleen and Jackie made it and they took their naps, we went in for lunch. We tore at the food as if we hadn’t seen any in weeks. Robert, our stomach engineer, carved a watermelon that said “I Congratulations You” – it was great!

After lunch, we weren’t done with our day yet. We had just enough time to pack our bags before getting ready for more descending. We took the Mweka route down, and again, I was astounded at how gorgeous the scenery. It was green, there were flowers, it was so pretty! We reached our camp in just under three hours, and we were ecstatic and very surprised to be greeted with beer! We dropped our things, got changed and shared a Kilimanjaro Lager as a group. At this point, one beer got us all loopy, and we hung out, chatted and relaxed until dinner. Mweka camp felt like a “real” campsite – it was wooded, there were trees, and just over the bushes Kibo was waving goodbye.

After dinner, we were all knackered, and Jay and I decided to head in to bed after an hour or so. We just wanted to hurry up and get to our jeeps. I remember hoping I’d be able to sleep well. We went to bed at 8:30pm and slept like a rock for the full ten hours, until we were awoken at 6:30am with tea.

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:44 AM
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January 28
Our last morning, it was time to say goodbye to our team and enjoy the farewell ceremony. We got everyone together, and Stuart made a wonderful speech about the experience. Who knows if anyone but us and the guides could even understand him, but it was heartfelt, and we are so thankful we captured it on video. We handed out tips to the staff, and afterwards, they thanked us by singing the Kilimanjaro song. What a great bunch of guys!

Our descent down was long and tough. Our knees were screaming, and we all pretty much relied on our poles. It took us about 6 hours to get down, and once again, the scenery did not disappoint, as we descended through the jungle. We had little kids follow us for the last 30 minutes or so, and Abraham and Remy pointed out Colobus Monkeys hanging out in the trees.

We reached the jeeps and I almost jumped for joy. We had to sign out, noting our summit time and the highest point we reached. As we wrote our names, noting Stella Point at 8:45am, above us was a 67-year old man that summated at 6:45am. Talk about embarrassing! Once that was done, we practically skipped to our jeeps. We had lunch by the gate and got our first taste of the locals trying to sell us their goods. We also got a taste of how nasty the flies were going to be.

We loaded up onto a bus, and started the 2-hour drive back to Ilboru. We were all very much looking forward to a shower, a shave, a coke, a beer, and maybe a swim. Of course, we all knew the shower would be sub-par, but we didn’t care. We even contemplated going for a swim before hitting the showers, but I’d be afraid of what color we’d leave the pool!

We met for drinks and sundown by the pool. Petra from ATR met us and briefed everyone on their upcoming itinerary. We all had many beers and had a lovely dinner together, exchanging information. We knew that we were going to see Colm, Miriam and Amelie again along the way, but we planned to get to breakfast the next morning early enough to say goodbye to Stuart, Kathleen and Jackie.

My reflection notes in my journal are so interesting for me to read now. I talk about the experience and its effect on me, and how it brought Jay and I closer on a level that we would never have experienced otherwise. I also said that days one through six were outstanding, and that I’d do them again in a heartbeat. When I say that now, Jay says I’m insane. He thinks that I am downplaying just how hard they were. I acknowledge that they were hard, but so worth it! The vote is still out on day seven. I’m not sure I’d get out of the tent again at 11pm the night of day six. But then again, I wouldn’t have that moment forever etched in my memory. I do know that I’d never again do another midnight summit. But another long climb like this? Sure! Kilimanjaro was the best thing that I’ll never do again.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:46 AM
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January 29
We got up bright and early today to start our first day of safari. Edward, our guide that would be with us until we set off for Zanzibar, picked us up at Ilboru and we made our way towards the Ngorongoro Crater. I didn’t know this until we arrived, but every person or group that signs up for safari most often gets a private tour. So it was me, Jay and Edward for the next few days.

Early Sunday mornings bring huge numbers of people into church, where they were all overflowing! Along the way, we saw many Maasai people. The villages are comprised of tiny shops and little huts along the roads. Toddlers herding cattle, women of all ages carrying so much weight balanced on their heads, etc… They all wear vibrant colored dress, and the women wear very large jewelry and the men all carry spears or sticks.

It took us about four hours to get to the Crater. While we questioned the driving situation on the way to and from Kili, today it was confirmed that there are no rules of the road in Tanzania. I don’t think anyone pays attention to the speed limits, and maybe it’s just that Tanzanians are friendly to one another, but it seemed like everyone was passing someone, no matter what kind of road you were on, and if you didn’t cut back into your lane in time, and you have a truck coming right at you, the truck actually slows down to allow you plenty of room to get in front of the car you are passing! That would never happen in the States – well, at least not in New England!! We saw and experienced this time and time again.

I was happy that I applied the patch to my ear earlier that morning, we were in for a bumpy ride! Our vehicle was a Land Rover with the pullback roof – after today, I would have much preferred to have a pop-top.

We stopped by Lake Manyara on the way, which is usually packed with animals. However, due to the lack of rains in the region, Edward said compared to normal, it was dried up and barren. We saw one elephant far out in the distance through our binoculars, which thrilled me. I thought for sure that was a good sign for more to come. Then, as we headed back to our Land Rover, we saw a baby baboon on the back of his mother? father? Scampering over some rocks across the road. It was so adorable!

We drove along the rim of the Crater before finding the one road that leads all cars down into the crater.The drive from the rim to the crater floor was bumpy as can be, but from the time the Land Rover hit ground until we climbed back up, we saw animal after animal. We were down there for a little over three hours, and we saw almost every animal there is to see in East Africa.

The sun was burning that day, and with the top of the truck open, at times I felt like donning a turban ala Clark Griswold to help the searing heat on my head. It must have been 100 degrees, so even though we were just driving around, oohing and ahhing and taking pictures, it was pretty tiring!

We arrived just around 1pm, so we ate our packed lunches shortly after we got down there. Normally, you go off to a picnic spot, one of two designated areas where you can get out of the truck. However, the picnic spots were pretty far away, and continuing the trend that I had on the mountain, I was ravishing, so we ate our lunches as we oohed and ahhed. Due to the staggering heat, I drank a ton of water and as such, needed to hit the ladies’ room. I knew the safari etiquette from reading I had done pre-trip: boys to the front, girls to the back. Jay didn’t have to go, and I was relieved to have not one, but two men who could watch out for animals. It felt as though I was squatting forever and mid-stream, I heard a noise and thought for sure there was a buffalo behind me about to attack. I voiced my concern, but Edward reassured me that he had his eyes out and we were in the clear! After that episode, funny enough, I didn’t need to go at any other point on the game drives.

In the three hours we were there, we saw zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, lion, hippos in the pool, elephants in the brush, leopard in the tree, cheetah, flamingos in Lake Magadi, etc… I was disappointed that we didn’t see any rhino. The black rhino population is in danger. There are only 8 or 9 left in the Serengeti, but there are 19 in the Crater. This was our best chance at seeing one, but it just wasn’t our day. I’m guessing it was because it was so darn hot out, they were hiding until the sun went down. It was so amazing to be down there; everywhere we turned there were animals.

I was surprised at how much I took a liking to the zebras. Even though we saw thousands, I couldn’t get enough of them. They’re such great team players. They often stand head to butt, so they literally are watching each other’s backs. They hang out with wildebeest – wildebeest have terrible eyesight but a great sense of smell, and zebra have the opposite. It was so neat to see these animals interact. Also, we only saw male elephants down there. Edward said the mothers were with her children, and it’s too much for them to climb down. Lastly, we saw no giraffe down in the crater. The steepness of the slope is too difficult for their long, gangly legs. We would have to wait to see them.

During the day, I noticed that my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was able to see fine far away and through the binoculars, but if I went to look close-up at anything (like the dirt still caked underneath my nails from the climb), my vision was super blurry and I got dizzy. Weird.

On the way out, we came as close to an elephant as I’ve ever been. He was huge, his tusks looked to me longer than me, and he was just so beautiful. Slowly walking, munching the grass, moving his trunk back and forth. I wanted to stay there until he came up close to the truck, but for all we knew, it would have taken him hours to come 100 feet.

A little closer to the exit, we pulled off the side of the road to put the roof back on for the trip out of the crater back to the rim. Here, we saw vervet monkeys. They’re the ones where the males have a neon blue scrotum. There was one in a tree right next to the truck, and Jay was getting some great shots. They are very curious about us and of course want to steal any food that we have, so he jumped out of the tree and made his way towards us. Edward told Jay that they are friendly and he could get out of the truck to get closer pictures. The monkey let Jay get very close – so close, in fact, that Jay thought it would be ok to REACH OUT AND PET THE WILD, AFRICAN MONKEY. Clearly, he has never seen Outbreak! The monkey did what was expected, hissed and reached out to claw Jay’s hand. I screeched at the same time Edward yelled – No! Don’t touch him! Jay jumped back and came away, thankfully, with only a scratch. Had there been blood, I would have probably sent him packing to the hospital in Nairobi. Jay came back into the truck, his head hanging a little, sheepishly commenting on how cute the monkey was, that he just wanted to pet him. Lesson learned. Or so we thought.

Thinking back, I wish we stayed a bit longer and took advantage of our time in the Crater. All vehicles must be out by 6pm. Otherwise, the rangers think you are a poacher, and they have every right to shoot you without question. Most people take advantage and stay until the last possible minute, exiting the Crater just as 6pm bell rings.

However, we wanted to leave and be at the lodge around 4pm. We were staying at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which is by far the nicest place we’ll ever stay at. It’s one of the world’s most famous hotels, and staying here was simply out of this world. Outrageous, over the top, but so worth it. Most definitely the best place to stay the first night back from climbing Kilimanjaro.

The lodge is made up of three camps, North, South and Tree. Every single hut, no matter what camp you’re in, has a spectacular open view that overlooks the Crater. Some of the huts are set closer to the ground, while others are set high on stilts. No matter, in my opinion, it added to the coolness factor of the grounds. Some of the animals venture in and out of the crater. We had zebras and buffalo in our camps the entire time we were there.

We drove up to the gate, Edward handed the guard our paperwork, and we set off down the copper-colored dusty driveway to the entrance of South Camp. We were greeted by name, with warm washcloths and champagne. We’re in style now! Of course, with my doo-rag on and in dusty smelly safari clothes, I felt a bit out of place. I got over that pretty quickly once I saw what was awaiting us.

Walking into the main lobby area of South Camp, I did the unthinkable – my jaw dropped, and I think my mouth remained gaped open until we left the next day. It was so elegant, so unique, so homey, all at once. We had to check in, sign some papers, and then do what everyone does when they check into a hotel – meet their personal butler, who was there for us 24/7 for the duration of our stay to meet our every need. Who knew?!!!

Our butler ushered us to our room, which was very secluded and closer to Tree Camp than South Camp. He opened the door for us and I about fell over. I couldn’t wait for him to leave so Jay and I could squeal like schoolgirls and jump on the bed. But first things first, we put in our drink order, and the beers arrived in about 45 seconds. Talk about service! But back to our room.

From the entranceway to the bedroom area to the fireplace to the bathing area to the open shower to the balconies to the views of the crater – even sitting on the toilet, which was in a private room, you had brilliant views of the crater below!

Each room is actually a double-rondavel, one side being the bedroom/sitting area and the other being the bathroom. The bed is massive. It’s by far the biggest bed I’ve ever seen. I think it was made of two double beds pushed together. Honestly, we were able to lie spread-eagle and not come close to touching one another. We also discovered we had our own individual heating blankets! Then we quickly jumped up to see what else there was to surprise us. The bathroom was awesome. There was a bath in the middle of the room, with a vase of fresh flowers and bath soak next to it. The shower was open, just behind the tub, with one of those huge rainwater showerheads. We each had our own sinks, and it was all decorated in a kind of West African/luxury log house style. I couldn’t get over the chandeliers – they were so exquisite!

We sat outside on the balcony with our drinks before we each took a ridiculously long bath/shower. We had a bit of time to kill, so we went down to Tree Camp to check it out – I had read that it was smaller and more intimate, and indeed it was. We were the only ones in the main area, so we had a glass of wine and watched the sun set while we were a bit lower and therefore closer to the crater. Then we went back up to the dining area early to have some wine at cocktail hour before the elegant four-course dinner.

While there was no dress code at the lodge, it was great to see that everyone took advantage of their surroundings and dressed up a bit. There was a group of older couples – the men all looked dapper, and the women must have purchased their outfits that day on their way to the lodge – they were all wearing African printed tunics and long skirts, with long beaded necklaces.

I don’t know if it was the sun from earlier in the day, the fact that I was on a mountain the week before, the high from staying in a place so nice, or if the wine had extra kick, but all I know is that I was practically passing out in my soup, and I barely made it through the meal. We left shortly after dessert, for some reason asked for a bottle of wine, and had a Maasai askari guide us back to our room. We asked if it was really necessary to be guided there, and he swung his flashlight to the left, and there, no more than twenty feet away, were two buffalo grazing. I guess so! The askari lit our fireplace for us before leaving, we drew a bath to end the evening before falling into bed.

January 30
Jay woke up for sunrise this morning to take some pictures. While he got his gear together and set up on the balcony, I snapped some pictures from my spot in bed. There was no way I was leaving this heaven until absolutely necessary!

We decided to lounge around the lodge for the first part of the day – the prices to get into the Crater increased from $25-100 since we booked the trip in August! So, yesterday was our only chance at seeing the Crater, and Edward said due to the lack of rain, there wouldn’t be much to see in Oldupai. So, we took advantage of our accommodations and hung out there.

After taking another luxurious shower, I was trying to spruce myself up a bit and attempted to pluck my eyebrows and noticed that I was still having funky issues with my vision. Even though I was starting to freak out a bit, I continued to ignore it. After all, I was in heaven!

Breakfast was in the main dining area, and it was spectacular. Did we expect anything less?! Everyone else staying at the lodge must have gone down to the crater, because once again we were alone in our surroundings. We went back to the shop to look around again, but I felt that if I bought it there, it wasn’t truly ‘authentic’, and would much rather buy something off the street or in a market. Plus, the prices were outrageous!

We then went to walk around the camps, and at some point, we realized that a) we were off the path and on the grass, and b) the buffalo that was lying down in the shade saw us, stood up and was staring us down. He was at least 100 feet away, but still, I’m sure he could reach us before we had time to decide which direction to run. We started to meander our way back to the path, but in order to do that, we had to walk around one of the huts. This also freaked us out, because now we were at the very rim of the crater, and any animal could have been climbing up from the crater, and I certainly did not want to be there to surprise him as the first thing he saw as he emerged from the woods! So, we basically walked as fast as we could without running, tried to calm our breathing down, hurdled over prickly bushes and thorns and phew, finally made it to the path. After all this, the buffalo hadn’t moved a muscle – he definitely achieved scaring the pants off his intruders without having to work at all! But then we heard another noise and almost flew off the ground. It ended up being a few zebras clamoring to get underneath one of the huts to escape the midday sun that was beating down on us. I’m not sure I’d be too happy if I walked out of my cabin to see any wild animal lounging around under there!

After having enough excitement for the day, we figured we’d finish our tour and check out North Camp, so we had a drink on the deck of their main area. Here is where we think we saw a rhino down in the crater. I spotted this dark figure through the binoculars that looked unlike the other animals in the cluster I was looking at. It was so far away for us to know for sure, but as far as we’re concerned, it was a rhino!

We then slowly made our way back to our cabin to pack our things and tearfully say goodbye, we brought our things to the lobby area. By this time, the heat was nearing yesterday’s highs, so we decided to hang out and read a bit before lunch. We finished lunch just in time for Edward to pick us up at 1pm. Another terrific meal. It was served on a large wooden serving tray, with spicy chicken and vegetable and potato sides. What an excellent way to leave the lodge!

We departed the lodge and made our way to Olduvai Camp, located very close to Olduvai Gorge, the steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley of eastern Africa. Along the way, we spotted our first giraffes. They are so cute and graceful and awkward, we loved them!

We stopped at Olduvai Gorge, the ancient archaeological site where Richard and Mary Leakey discovered seven hominid sub-species, from Australopithecus to Habilis, Neanderthal to Sapiens… and where the 3.8 million year old footprints of Laetoli were found, giving the first clear proof that hominids were walking upright even this far back in time. Since then, excavators and archaeologists working in Olduvai have found skeletal remains of a number of ancient hominids. It was quite breathtaking to be right in the Cradle of Mankind.

We typically hear and see this ancient landmark as Olduvai Gorge. Turns out, someone long ago had misunderstood the Maasai when he said Oldupai. Oldupai is the actual name of the gorge, named by the Maasai for the plants that grow in that area. After a quick lecture, we left the museum area and headed towards camp.

I wanted to see the Shifting Sands, but for one reason or another, I forgot to ask Edward to point tem out to us. The Shifting Sands are volcanic ash that form crescent-shaped mounds. There is dust everywhere, and that dust collects around a stone, and as the wind blows, the mound grows. At one point when the winds shift, the mound begins to move. The crescents have their two sharp arms pointing the way the wind is blowing, and it’s supposed to be pretty cool to see. Oh, well.

We were expecting Olduvai Camp to be right around the corner. We drove across the plains into the middle of nowhere – there were no roads or paths leading the way, no trails, certainly no signs, we’re cutting diagonally across the grass when a bunch of kopjes (rock formations) came into view. I had no idea this was what camp was until Edward stopped the car. We checked in, and were showed to our tent. Climbing delicately over rocks and thorn bushes, our tent was fairly secluded, and we had a nice front yard – an open view across the plains with the volcano Makarot in the distance. The camp and tents are set into the grooves of one large kopje – it’s really cool!

Our tent contained just a bedroom, and then our bathroom was outside the back in the open air, with our entire space enclosed in a thatch roof. Our bathroom consisted of a bladder shower and chemical toilet – it brought new meaning to the term ‘outside shower’! Even though we’re staying in a luxury tented safari camp, I still felt like I was roughing it a bit. It was so cool, so unique.

Shortly after we arrived, we met up with a Maasai guide, who walked with us to kopjes in the distance to climb to the top and watch sunset. He explained that normally, the plain is packed with animals, but today we only saw the sheep herded by a fellow tribesman. The Maasai men always carry at least one weapon; normally, though, they carry one spear and have one knife inside their dress. He went on to tell us that the spear is for throwing at your opponent (most often a lion), but a spear would only distract the lion, so the knife is needed to actually make the kill. When you make your first kill, you take the lion’s tail as a souvenir. Then when you make your second kill, you take the left paw and plant it at the tip of your spear to show you are now “a man”. Our guide said he never made a kill before, which made us a bit thankful that all we had to dodge were sheep! Jay went on to ask what would happen if it was like normal, with animals all over, and we did in fact encounter a lion. Our guide looked at Jay, then he looked at me, looked back at Jay and said that he would take the spear, give Jay the knife and me the camera to catch their fumble for survival on film ahahahahaha! We all got a good chuckle out of that.

On the way, we passed by a tiny Maasai village enclosed in an African version of barbed wire – this is to keep the cats out. They make it high enough so the lions or cheetahs can’t clear it, and then they’d get stuck in the wire. We also walked by many dung beetles – they are so gross, but very interesting creatures. And they’re Huge! They find dried feces in the grass, and roll them along the ground, and once it’s big enough, they then pull it down into a hole, and bury their eggs into it for safety and hatching. We also learned that white dung in the Serengeti is from hyenas, since they are total scavengers and even eat the bones of the dead.

When we reached the base of the kopje, our guide showed us to the sacred Maasai cave-painting site, where to this day, groups of young trainee warriors still come to the site as part of their training and sleep in the cave, slaughtering goats to the spirits of the past and learning the history and tradition of the great Maasai warriors of the past. From here, we made our way past the Oldupai plants, which looked a lot like Aloe. Our guide stripped one of the leaves, took two threads of it and made me a bracelet, showing just how strong the plant was. He then led us to the top of the kopje, and I was surprised that I should have brought my hiking boots – my flipflops barely kept me grounded while scrambling to the top.

We got to the top and with the winds whipping, it was a challenge to stand up straight on the ledge! We plopped down, and while waiting for the sun to set, peered out, searching for animals. The 360-degree view was so impressive; I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be under normal circumstances, with animals as far as the eye can see. For us, all we had were the sheep on one side and 3 giraffes on the other. We stayed up at the top for about a half-hour, and then I was getting hungry. I had expected the sun to set a lot sooner, and as I felt my belly rumbling, I noticed clouds heading our way, so we made our way down early.

Good thing, because once we descended the kopje and were back on the plains, the skies opened up and it started to rain on us. The way the clouds were moving the light was changing, we were able to get a few really good shots. Then about halfway back to camp, we spotted a double rainbow, which neither of us had ever seen before, and provided a spectacular addition to the sun setting behind us. We went a little crazy until our excitement was dampened by the Maasai telling us he has seen triple rainbows in the area. It was a cool rain – it felt great and smelled even better.

We got back to the main area to find our Kili friends in the bar area having drinks. Our plan was to shower before dinner, but we were already wet from the walk back, and if we were to shower, we’d just get even wetter by the rain, so we just went back to change and grab the camera before joining the group in the bar. We had drinks aplenty, sat together at dinner and chatted until it was time for bed. We gingerly made our way back to our camp, being total rebels in that we didn’t have a guide lead us back, and fell into bed.

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:49 AM
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January 31
We left Olduvai early this morning to set out for the Serengeti. At first, I was disappointed because we would go for long stretches without seeing any animals apart from the tse tse flies harassing us inside the truck. But then Jay reminded me that we were completely spoiled by the Crater, which has a very high concentration of animals in such a small space. The Serengeti, on the other hand, is 14,700 square kilometers, where animals are spread all over the land.

The lands of the Serengeti impressed us both. As far as the eye can see, the vast Serengeti Plains stretched out on either side, melting into the fuzzy mountains in the distance. I felt like we were intruders on the animals’ sacred home. But they didn’t seem to mind us. As in the Crater, the animals are used to humans driving around and pointing at them. I wonder if they enjoy sitting in groups, and in their own way pointing at us.

We drove around for at least eight hours. It was nice, but often times tiring and boring. However, it was still awesome to see more cheetahs, another leopard, more lions, this time about five feet away instead of twenty. All the while, I had my eyes trained to the distance, searching for elephants…

As the day wore on, Jay and I sat down in the truck to rest our feet and have a little shade from the beating sun. We drove in one direction for a really long time when I noticed it had to have been almost an hour that we had gone without stopping for animals. Sure, we had seen plenty of guinea fowls – those things were everywhere! – but nothing big was happening out there. I could have stopped a bunch of times just to observe the zebra and wildebeest interacting, but after fourteen years of doing this, I thought Edward might die of boredom if I put in that request.

We drove and drove and drove and drove. Then out of nowhere, a few kopjes came into view. Still no animals, but it was a fresh scene. All of a sudden Edward takes a sharp turn by the kopjes. We are off the trail, barreling across the grass, and I’m convinced we’re lost. I waited about ten minutes to let it sink in, and then I kind of started to freak out. Little did I know, Edward knew exactly where he was going – he was leading us to our next camp, Ronjo Flycamp, located in the Seronera Valley in central Serengeti.

We arrived at Ronjo and were greeted with some tasty fruity drink, as well as the swarming of flies. I don’t know where they came from, but they were everywhere. We gulped our drink and hurried to get to our tent to escape the beasts of the tse tses and lie down for a few. Everything is very simple here, even moreso than Olduvai. There is no electricity here at all, no generators, and it’s very private, very quiet. Like a time capsule.

I went to take my first bladder shower, and I knew that I’d have to be quick. However, there was no such thing as water pressure, and it was pretty much like someone was spitting on me. Talk about a challenge washing your hair or shaving your legs! I hurried as fast as I could, but even still, Jay barely rinsed himself before the water ran out. This must happen quite often, as we had a staff member come in with a refill before I could even pop my head out to request it.

After showering, it was almost time for dinner, so we headed to our mess tent. We must have looked like Elaine Benes every time we emerged from our tent, with our arms and legs jerking this way and that, trying to deter the flies from getting near us.

The mess tent here was just a little different than the ones on Kili. The décor is gorgeous! There are oriental rugs on the floor, silk dupioni fabric hanging from the center of the room to each corner. The tables are covered with beautiful patterned fabric and lit by candles. There is a bonfire outside, and lanterns outline a sidewalk that leads the guests back to their tents. The ambiance was warm and very relaxing.

Dinner was delicious. We had a table to ourselves. The other guests here at Ronjo were a bunch of loud French folks. In the middle of dinner, one of the servers interrupted us and asked us (well, not us, because we weren’t the troublemakers) to keep it down. The cook had just left his kitchen workspace to empty a bucket of water when he encountered four lions staring him in the face. One of them reared up on his hind legs, ready to charge. Thankfully, the cook had a little bit of fire leftover on his heels and he booked back into his tent to escape the danger. Apparently, the racket that the French were making stirred the lions, who thought maybe it was dinner in our tent. When they saw a human, not an animal, they were surprised and thus one of the cats went on the defense. The French folks thought it was all a joke, but Jay and I decided we’d take it seriously. We also decided we needed another bottle of wine to help lull us to sleep! We sat around the bonfire with the Maasai guide for a bit before heading in to bed. He helped us spot some gazelles nearby with his flashlight, and he taught us how to differentiate between the eyes of a gazelle and a hyena. I was happy that the fire would be lit all night – this usually deters the animals from coming too close to camp.

I had no idea how tired one could get bouncing around in a Land Rover all day long, but I was tuckered out and fell fast asleep. During the night a few times, though, I heard animals. I wasn’t sure what they were, and forced myself to make a mental note to ask Edward about it the next day.

February 1
We woke up early this morning to set off for our last day of animal sightseeing before heading to Zanzibar. Our goals for the day were to see a crocodile and get close up to a herd of elephants.

During breakfast, we found out that the safari guides had to actually get into their Land Rovers and chase the lions away from camp last night. What a fright! It also turns out that it was indeed lions that I heard during the night. Lions calling out to one another. Pret-ty cool, I thought.

Our last day of safari was a bit long-winded. We had a couple of fantastic sightings – very close to camp, two young lions (one female, one male) had recently killed a wildebeest and they had just started to feast on him for breakfast. We also went to the hippo pool in the Serengeti, which took forever to get to, but it was worth it. We were able to get out of the truck and go to the edge of the pool. There were tons of hippos, loud and active and smelly and yawning. I guess it’s exhausting lying around farting all day… Also in the pool were a couple of scary looking crocodiles. It started to rain on us, so our stay there didn’t last too long, but we sure felt like rebels, being outside the truck and all, even if it was only for ten minutes.

Jay was the big winner today. We were driving around with no real destination, and Jay spotted something underneath a tree. Just yesterday he was asking Edward how often they see snakes, and Edward said they usually hang out in the sun on top of the kopjes. When we saw no one near the kopjes at all, we figured we lost our chance. However, we drive over to the tree and there on the ground was by far the largest snake I had ever seen. A python, about six inches thick and six to seven feet long. He was HUGE. Even Edward was impressed! He called his fellow guide buddies and before we knew it, five other Land Rovers were screeching to a halt beside us, kicking up huge clouds of dust. Twenty minutes after we left the tree area, Edward just shook his head and said: Man, that was a BIG snake! If it impressed Edward that much, it must have been a great find!

We almost saw quite a sight. There was a martial eagle, with a wingspan of mammoth proportions; I’m thinking five feet. There was a jackal on the ground next to our truck. Out of nowhere, this eagle comes swooping down, talons out, and ready to snatch up the jackal on his way back up to his perch on the acacia tree. At the last second, the jackal spotted his predator and scampered away. The eagle missed him by mere inches! It was pretty cool, and if Jay got a shot of the point just before the jackal took off, we definitely could have sent it in to National Geographic.

At one point we were driving along, and a baby wildebeest stopped us in our path. He looked at us, called out to us, and would not move. We saw the rest of his herd over to the left, he must have gotten away from his mother, but as wildebeest have poor eyesight, he couldn’t see that far. Edward got out of the truck to shoo him in the right direction, but the wildebeest only came closer! Edward finally got him onto the grass, as other trucks were flying down the road, and as he stepped back behind the driver’s seat, he explained that a wildebeest that young that gets separated from his family, he would think anything is his mother. So he had no fear of us, our vehicle, and was hoping that Edward would take him under his care. While sad to think about, because if there were any predators around I knew that the baby would not last long at all, but it was also very endearing.

Other than that, there wasn’t much else going on. Maybe it was my ignorance and expectations, but I was expecting a lot more. I guess when I look back at the entirety of the safari experience, we really did see it all, except for the rhino.

And my precious elephants. I didn’t see one elephant. Sure, we saw the males down in the Crater, but they were spread apart and far away. When I conjure up the Serengeti in my head, all I see are elephants! Edward said the week before, the plains were full of hundreds of them – of course, that just made me feel worse. But we did our best. We really did search both days all over for them, but none were to be seen. They must have moved fast. Oh well – yet another excuse to return to Africa again!

All day in the truck I noticed how insatiably thirsty I was. No matter how much water I drank, the minute I swallowed I was yearning for more. I chalked it up to all the dust everywhere, and didn’t really think anything of it. Then when we got back to camp, it got even worse. My stomach was killing me, so Jay went to get me some bread to help settle it. Of course, I took one miniscule bite and thought I was chewing on sand. No salivation at all whatsoever, it rolled around in my mouth, making smacking sounds and tasted like a dirty shoe. I spit it out, drank more water and laid down. Ten minutes later I bolted out of bed, cursed myself at my compulsion to having the tents zipped so tight. Finally, I get the back fly open and race to the side of the tent to lose everything I had eaten that day. I know this is gross, but I feel the need to document it. Never in my life (not that I can remember anyway) have I vomited bile. It is the most retched thing ever, and I hope to never do it again. My angel of a husband grabbed the chemical wash from the toilet area and cleaned up for me while I went to lie down. I was so confused, I didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary. And then it hit me. All the signs over the past couple days – the blurry vision, the unquenchable thirst… I was having an adverse reaction to my scopolamine patch. Funny, a prescription that is supposed to take away motion sickness actually gave me something much worse! I immediately ripped that bad boy from behind me ear and I swear, in a matter of minutes I felt remarkably better. I decided to take it easy though, and enjoyed Sprite with my dinner instead of the wine that Jay had to drink for me.

We went to bed relatively early – there was no need to sit around outside fighting the flies that persisted even by the fire. Again, I awoke a few times to the sounds of lions, and oddly, it was peaceful for me. Since we’ve been home, so many people have asked if I was scared at all on the trip. Not once did I feel fear. I felt so safe. I don’t know why, but I felt like we were out in the real hard world, respecting the life around us and in turn, we would remain safe. Call me crazy, but hey, that’s what I felt!

There are many highlights of the safari that I have left out of the trip report. It’s impossible to remember and document every moment, but that’s why I am so thankful at how shutter-happy we are. Our pictures from the safari truly tell the story of our experience with the wildlife.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:51 AM
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February 2
We slept in today, which was much needed. Our flight was scheduled to take off at 12:30, so we took our time getting to the Seronera Airstrip. Our plane was forty minutes late, and we were so happy to hear that instead of stopping in Arusha like we were supposed to, we were heading straight to Zanzibar.

Since we were in such close quarters, we couldn’t help but be affected by what was going on in the front of the plane. I felt nothing but anxiety. The gas gauge seemed faulty, there were many controls that weren’t being used for anything, and the pilot didn’t help matters. He was screaming into a microphone in Swahili, hands gesturing wildly, often taking his eyes off the road. Occasionally, he would turn all the way around in his seat to search for something (what was it? I never did figure out what he was looking for) on the seat behind him. Buddy! Keep your eyes on the sky!! He also kept scribbling numbers on a notepad. Jay said it looked like math, as in maybe he was calculating our coordinates for our route. The two-hour flight was very bumpy, and had the scariest landing I’ve ever experienced. I’d only been on a puddle jumper once before this and it was at night, so I never fully experienced it. This time, we had a clear shot of what the pilot could see. I felt like it was me flying the plane. For anyone that has seen me play video games, you know this is not a pretty sight and it would make anyone couch-sick. It was like that, only multiplied by 300. It looked and felt as if we were headed straight down with no control at all. We turned left towards the airstrip in Zanzibar. We sloped down towards the ground, without slowing down much. Don’t we need to slow down soon?? As the pilot tried to adjust our alignment for a smooth landing, not only were we shifting left to right as the wings fought to stay parallel to the ground, we were also shifting clockwise, then counterclockwise. I did not feel safe. The landing itself was pretty ugly, and I counted the seconds that we would be free from this deathtrap. I left feeling very appreciative of the doors that separate the pilots and cockpit from the travelers in normal planes.

We exited the plane and I was expecting some relief from the heat, but what a laugh. I think it was actually worse outside. I thought Boston summers were bad. Zanzibar heat is like none other. Hot, humid, sticky, it sucks the air out of you and makes you feel like jell-o, like you just want to slide into your own puddle on the scalding, steamy ground, like you see in the cartoons.

As we drove from the airport towards Stonetown, we passed by little villages with people all over. The women were dressed head to toe in black. Whereas the mainland is mostly Christian, Zanzibar is 98% Muslim. Kind of strange when you think about it, when most people travel to Zanzibar for the beaches. Not to mention how sorry I felt for them, to be dressed that way in this heat. I could barely stand to have my watch still strapped to my wrist, nevermind having my head covered in this stifling air.

Our taxi pulled into the parking lot of a building that looked to be falling down. He explained that cars are not allowed the rest of the way, and that we had to walk to our hotel, Emerson & Green. The minute I opened the side door, three men were at our sides, offering to carry our luggage. I shot an immediate glance over to Jay, telling him not to accept their offers, that we will carry our luggage ourselves and the help of our taxi driver, who had to lead us to the entrance of E&G anyway. I had heard plenty of stories about how everyone here is on a one-way track: money.

After telling the men “hapana asanti”, we gathered our bags, nodded to our taxi driver that we were ready, turned the corner and entered the maze of streets that make up Stonetown. Emerson & Green is right in the thick of town. It takes less than five minutes to get to the waterfront, and the markets run up and down the streets leading up to the hotel. E&G has been referred to as one of the finest small hotels in the world. They say it’s not for everyone, but we found it so charming and exotic and unique, I can’t imagine us staying in any other place. It’s a converted Arab merchant’s house, dating from the height of Zanzibar’s sultanic past, around 1870. Walking in to the lobby, the Zanzibarian influence is seen immediately in the décor.

We were staying in the West Room on the top floor. It was one of the first rooms to be done, as they worked on renovating the place from the top down. Looking up at the famous old staircase, I was counting on our room to be worth it. In that heat and humidity, it was such a challenge getting up the steep stairs without a struggle.

We walked into our room and it was definitely worth the climb. There was a large Zanzibar four- poster bed in the middle of the room, with an armoire and desk area on one side. On the other, an Arabic sunken bath was very inviting. The room had no windows; rather, light trelliswork covered in passion fruit vine gave way to light and fresh air (well, as fresh as Stonetown air can get). We also had a balcony that offered views of the tin roofs of town and the sea beyond them.

We dropped our things, snapped some balcony shots and then changed into something more appropriate to set out – we knew we had limited time in town, so we wanted to make the most of it. We hit the streets and it seemed like the entire town was out and about, weaving in and out of the shops, bargaining or avoiding the storeowners.

Never being in this type of culture before, it was a bit overwhelming. The streets were lined with people – Muslim women, little kids everywhere, men haggling without respite, tourists crawling everywhere, shops overflowing with goods, decrepit buildings falling down everywhere you turn… At first you wonder why anyone would want to visit such a run-down place, but after a little exploration and getting used to the hagglers, it all becomes part of the city’s charm and spunk.

Making our way through the tiny, narrow streets, it seemed that one out of every four people stopped to solicit us, and even when we said no, they followed us for blocks, unrelenting, trying to change our minds and convince us that we really did need to buy something, whether it was jewelry or scarves or paintings or shoes. Neither of us could focus on anything for too long, it was too much, too busy, too head spinning.

I wanted to take pictures every ten seconds, but felt very intimidated, as if it was something that wasn’t allowed. But I’ve never been in a culture like this and wanted to capture every piece of it.

After a little bit, we ran into Amelie from our climb and Olduvai. She was traveling solo, and was being harassed by three local men, trying to sell her directions. She graciously accepted our company. We headed to the famous Livingstone Bar on the beach for a beer and watched the local kids play in the water next to an oilrig. We also watched the local men making dhow boats, right there in front of us. Pretty cool.

A couple beers in us, feeling a bit more loose and confident, we hit the streets again. By this time, more than half the shops were closed for the day and there was no one pressuring us at all, so we started to shop. We were very successful. We got a tablecloth, three scarves, two wooden bowls, a painting and a ring. All in about ten minutes! Because of the decreased activity in the streets, I was able to get a few pictures in, but not nearly as many as I wanted.

We stayed with Amelie for the rest of the afternoon, and ended up heading to dinner with her. We went to Monsoon Restaurant, which was spectacular! There is space outside to eat, a little veranda with greenery surrounding you for much-needed shade. However, the inside is the real treat. We walked in, removed our shoes and entered the dining room, done lavishly in Arab décor. The walls are decorated with various tapestries and art objects, the tables are low so you have to sit on the floor, with cushions everywhere. We were lucky to have live music that night – the band seemed to be recording a CD and/or music video. It reminded me of my yoga music, and we really enjoyed the extra touch. While hotter than Hades, it had the best atmosphere. Very cool! The food was good – I was very happy that we were finally able to eat a real African meal. And of course, enjoy the African red wine!

Not ready to head to bed yet, we ended the evening with a nightcap at a bar along the water. Stonetown at night is not the safest, and the maze made things even more confusing. We got lost for a bit trying to find E&G after dropping Amelie off at her hostel, but we finally made it back safe and sound and in one piece. Jay took advantage of the bath, but I just wanted to fall asleep to the noisy streets below. It was beyond hot trying to sleep that night. Thankfully the wine made it a bit easier!

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:53 AM
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February 3
We woke up very early this morning to catch the 7am shuttle to Matemwe Beach. I woke up so many times last night because it was so hot. Early in the morning, a light breeze greeted me and I heard the Hindu songs playing somewhere in the city, which only added to the atmosphere. I decided to shower in the open air of the room and found it so peaceful. Thinking back, I kick myself. We didn’t even go to the rooftop restaurant at E&G to look at it. It’s pretty famous – I guess lots of people eat there when they visit Stonetown, but I heard it was overrated and wanted to try something different. However, I can’t believe we didn’t even look at it! We should have had a drink before dinner, or we should have stayed to eat breakfast and take the 10am shuttle. I hear it’s beautiful with gorgeous views. Oh well.

It took about an hour to get to the other side of the island to Matemwe Beach. As we drove through the jungles, plantations and villages, I wish we were going slower so I could take pictures of it all. Just before the entrance of Matemwe Beach Village, there is a local village that we passed by. I could not get over the standard of living. It felt wrong for us to be going to this oasis while people are living next door without roofs on their homes.

The Beach Village was so relaxing. The restaurant is adjacent to the lobby, and just past the dining area is a lounge area with tons of pillows looking straight out onto the beach. Pure white sand stretches as far as you can see, and clear, turquoise water practically begs you to jump in!

Since we arrived at the crack of dawn, our room wasn’t ready yet. We enjoyed breakfast with the other guests, and as we set out to lounge on the beach, the skies opened up and it started to rain. Thankfully, it stopped shortly after it started. In the meantime, we took advantage of the weather and fell asleep in one of the many hammocks that line the beachfront.

The cloudy, rainy morning gave way to a gorgeous beach day. It was so hot. It was also very windy. There are enough raised beach chairs for everyone, which is for a reason. If you were to lie down on a towel in the sand, you’d be covered in a matter of minutes. Jay went to put his thick mat on the rope beach chair, but didn’t hang on to it and ended up having to chase it down the other side of the beach! The wind was good for comfort, as it took away some of the heat, but bad for sunburn. We had no idea just how fast we were getting scorched.

This beach is very tidal, so we couldn’t just swim whenever we wanted. The tide was very low and out quite far for much of the day, so we took advantage of the hammocks and covered huts or out in the sun. Ultimate relaxation. For hours, we were the only ones on the beach, it felt like we owned the place! I had no idea where everyone else went! Turns out, this place is very popular with divers, as the Mnemba Atoll right off the beach is one of the best diving places in the Indian Ocean.

At low tide, the local ladies go out into the ocean and collect seaweed to dry out and make soap. It was so neat to see them, dressed head to toe in their clothing, out in the water collecting the long strands of slimy, hairy seaweed. The highlight of my day was watching three young boys running down the beach with a makeshift kite, made of string and a blue plastic bag. Maybe it was because I was reminded of those late afternoon / early evening beach days in Myrtle Beach, but the sight of them gave me a huge smile.

Our room was ready around lunchtime, which was perfect because we needed a break from the beating sun. I was so impressed with our room. I had heard the Matemwe Bungalows were the better option for the area, so I wasn’t expecting much here. We were escorted to our hut, which was just a short walk from the main dining and lounge area. It had stone walls and a thatched roof. I was starting to really like the thatch roof and Jay of course suggested we get our own for back home. Because it would fit with our Boston loft so well!

We were delighted to see we had a private patio just outside our front door, surrounded in palm trees. We walked into the room to find a bed all in white with mosquito netting, a desk area and a very cool clay and ochre colored bathroom. There were sarongs and beach hats for us to use during our stay.

I was a little disappointed that we weren’t right on the beach, but then I remembered this was done for both privacy and for some protection against the strong onshore winds. We were in the first row of huts, so it was only about twenty steps until we reached the shaded huts, hammocks and beach. Once we settled in, I was so thankful that we decided to add Zanzibar to our itinerary. I couldn’t have imagined going home straight from the safari. Matemwe, I realized, was the oasis that I didn’t know I needed so badly.

We caught up with Miriam and Colm just after lunch, and we were expecting to see Amelie later on in the afternoon, as she took advantage of the spice tour in Stonetown. Since lazy days at the beach aren’t exactly our thing, we were happy to have friends there to hang out with and pass the time.

Jay and I decided to take advantage of the insanely inexpensive massage on the beach. $15 for a one-hour massage in a tranquility hut on the beach, with the breeze coming in as you lie back and enjoy the pampering, complete with the sounds of the ocean just outside the hut. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Hmpf.

Jay took his turn first while I swayed back and forth on the hammock nearby. He came out and said it was nice, and then asked if I had any sunburn. I lifted my tank to check out my belly and sure enough, I was a little red. Jay said it hurt a little bit with sunburn, but it was still nice. Hmpf. My turn to go was at 4pm, which I decided was the worst possible time ever to get a massage on the beach.

It. Was. Horrible!! I now have a new definition for pain. The combination of sunburn, loads of oil and whipping winds bringing buckets of sand into the hut is downright torturous. I felt as though my skin was being rubbed raw with sandpaper! I was wincing the entire time, trying my best to relax, but every time my masseuse’s hands moved my entire body tensed as if I was awaiting a beating. I just kept willing it to be over, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to stop, or even let up the pressure. I squinted my eyes open near the end to see that my masseuse was enduring almost as much pain as I. The wind was practically sending sand right into her eyes, and she was pretty miserable herself. I felt like a masochist, and left looking like one oily chicken cutlet! As I was gingerly gathering my things together, trying not to bring too much movement to my body, she told me never to request a massage in the afternoon. 10am only. I wish we knew that beforehand!

My immediate thought was I needed a shower, and badly. But when I found our room locked, I went to get Jay, who was relaxing with our friends in the lounge area enjoying cocktails. I told myself that I surely deserved one myself, and joined them. While hanging out, I looked over some of the books that were sprawled around the lounge area and wished I took more pictures while I was in Stonetown. By the time I finished my beer, the tide had come back in and was deep enough for us to frolic in the waves. We all ran in for a dip before it was time to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was great; we sat with our three friends, plus two guys from Scotland. We all hoped the winds would die down. Not only was it wreaking havoc on massages, but it was also preventing anyone from going out to dive or snorkel. I guess everyone went into town for the day once the boat was cancelled early morning. We enjoyed a few drinks after dinner and then turned in for a relaxing night’s sleep.

February 4
We got up early for sunrise today, but it wasn’t nice enough stay out for, or even take a picture. We checked in with the snorkeling/diving folks, and they told us they would take us out for an hour at roughly the same price that it would be for a normal day. Thanks, but no thanks! What a waste of money that would have been! Instead, we all went swimming around 8am after breakfast. The five of us decided that instead of getting beat up by the sun again, we’d head into Stonetown for a few hours.

We lounged at the beach until our taxi came for us at 10:30. Once we arrived in Stonetown, we walked all over. It was once again mobbed with people everywhere you went. We made a few more purchases – another scarf, two carved wooden frames, and a gorgeous handcrafted wooden chest, which was made right in the shop at the back of the store. We had heard that the people in Zanzibar are a lazy bunch, and most of the stuff in the markets actually comes from the mainland, where the people of Tanzania are some of the hardest workers. I liked that we bought the chest straight from the guy who made it, and I wished that we stopped at a couple of shops or markets in Arusha to get more original work. Leaves me with yet another reason to return to Africa!

I was so happy to be back in town with the opportunity to snap away. While we didn’t go to any of the town’s sites or churches, I took plenty of pictures of the shops, buildings and people. The city was busy, the streets crowded with tourists and hagglers alike, with the sun and heat seeping in and consuming us – the combination was stifling.

We stopped at the Archipelago Restaurant for lunch, which offered much-needed shade and breeze. We grabbed a taxi around 3:30pm, and en route back to Matemwe, we had our first flat tire of the trip. Colm, Miriam and Amelie were in the truck on the way to Kili that got the flat, so they knew it would be no time before we were on the road again. After all the nightmare stories I’ve heard, this one incident didn’t faze us, especially since it took about 4.2 seconds to change the tire.

We got back to the beach just as the sun lost its power and my favorite part of the beach day began. I wish I could have stayed out on the sand until dusk, but since we were leaving the next day, we had to get our stuff organized and packed.

Tomorrow, we are planning to head out for the all-day snorkeling outing – they say the weather will finally be ok for it. We should be getting back to Matemwe just in time for a quick shower in the lobby before our taxi brings us to the airport.

Dinner on our last night was a big buffet, and we celebrated our final night with a few special Matemwe Beach cocktails. The lounge was packed, and we were planning on making our last night count.

February 5
Reading the last entry in my journal from last night, I have to chuckle. While we enjoyed our buffet dinner and special frozen concoctions, we were all still in bed at a pathetic hour. We all left the lounge area around 9 and I’m sure I was fast asleep by 9:30.

We woke up to another crappy sunrise, so we slept as late as we could. It turned out to be the perfect beach day, so off we went snorkeling. Sailing on an old dhow boat along the coast of Zanzibar to the tip of the island, we passed by Matemwe Bungalows. They did look nice, high up on the cliffs, but it seemed kind of far to get from your hut down to the beach. Either way, Matemwe is gorgeous!

Once we neared the tip of the island, we turned a sharp right to head towards Mnemba Atoll. I thought our beach had the prettiest water – it was even better there! A deep blue turquoise ended sharply where a bright, clear green began. Mnemba is a private island (owned by Bill Gates) and is one of the world’s finest beach retreats. People come to this part of Zanzibar to visit the coral reef for snorkeling and diving, as it’s one of the finest in the Indian Ocean.

We docked just at the edge of the coral drop-off. The divers went one way and we went another. If I weren’t so spoiled by the snorkeling I did in the Bahamas, this would have been fantastic. There was a fairly large area of coral, with hundreds of fish. Some were alone, some were in huge schools – I was so happy, because there were so many fish that I’d never seen before and couldn’t identify.

After about 45mins, we went back to the boat for a snack break before our second time in. This time, the boat brought us closer to the island and it was low tide. The divers took off to check out sharks and turtles (lucky ducks!) and we wandered around closer to shore. The tide was pretty low, and while it was very bright and clear, there wasn’t much to see. I started to feel woozy, so I headed back to the boat to get my bearings before the journey back to the Beach Village.

I really wanted to sit up front and soak up my last bit of African sun, but my body was begging for the covered, shaded seating area. I thought I fell asleep, because the boat stopped after only a little bit. Turns out, we’re at the edge of the tip of Zanzibar, and it’s very low tide. The boat can’t go any further because it will get stuck, so we have to pile in a truck and drive back to the Village.

Walking through murky but still bright white sand, and over soft coral, I take my last shots of the beach, beautiful water, dhow boats and seaweed hanging to dry. The truck that we had to take back wasn’t any ordinary truck. We all piled into one of the local ‘buses’. I was bummed that Jay couldn’t take a picture of it before he hopped in the back, but I know it’s something I will never forget.

A mini-mack truck / pickup truck, the bus has a covered cab in the back with two benches, one on either side, with rungs attaching to the top like a jail cell. Barely enough room so that our knees aren’t skimming those sitting across from us, we’re all wiggling in to make a bit of room so the people sitting next to us can’t smell our lunch on our breath. It was stifling hot, dusty, bumpy and slow. The road was nothing more than crushed boulders forming a path sandwiched in between prickly bushes and trees. Our guide warned us that it would be 45mins of hell, and he wasn’t exactly exaggerating.

Only adding to my nausea, I needed to find a balance between hanging my head through the bars and trying not to get side-swiped by the thorny trees passing by. Finally, after endless bumps and driving by the Matemwe local village, we all fell out the back of the bus. There had been a tarp covering the back of the bus to mask the dust, but the minute it was pulled up onto the roof of the cab, the hot, stale Zanzibar air that rushed in felt like sweet air conditioner!

We had just enough time to pay our bill, take a fast shower in the lobby, have a bit of lunch and say our farewells before our taxi came for us. Leaving was bittersweet. We had a terrific vacation, an amazing experience, met wonderful people, but we can’t stay on holiday forever – home awaits us. Once it’s in my head that the party is over, I always get so anxious to get back home.

We arrived at the Zanzibar airport, had a bit of struggle with the departure tax. Jay was convinced we were getting robbed, but I begged for his patience to just get it over with so we could be on our way.

Once again, our domestic flight was late. It was once we boarded the flight to Dar es Salaam that I recognized just what an experience our first inter-African flight was. This time, we flew out of an actual airport, went through security, there was air traffic control, we were carrying boarding passes, the pilot gave us a quick briefing, there was a co-pilot, and the flight was very smooth. With all the differences between this flight and the one from Seronera, a few things were the same – both flights were tiny, cramped, and stifling. It felt like it was 172 degrees, and I could barely take a breath it was so sticky. I was happy when we landed at Dar a whopping twenty minutes later.

And so began our 32 hour journey home to Boston.

We picked up our Kili packs that Petra had holding at Dar for the duration of our trip, and it concerned me just a little bit that they didn’t even require identification to pick them up. I got over it real quick; I was just so anxious to get going. We transferred from the domestic terminal to the international terminal, arriving to find we weren’t even allowed in the airport because our flight out of Dar wasn’t taking off for another six hours. Luckily, we had a cafeteria with televisions to occupy our time. Television!

After two hours, we were allowed into the airport. We took turns watching the carry-ons and wandering through the shops. Like everything else, the airport was roasting and I felt filthy. Once we boarded our plane to Amsterdam, it would be an eight-hour flight, then a seven-hour layover, and then a seven-hour flight home. I knew the only thing keeping me going through the long day would be our plan to get Pizzeria Regina and chocolate milkshakes for dinner! I’ve never craved anything like I craved these two things!

BostonGal is offline  
Old Mar 21st, 2006, 09:54 AM
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February 6
We boarded the plane around midnight, and I barely fastened my seatbelt before passing out. I woke up a couple times, just to fall right back to sleep. Even though I was stuck in a middle seat of a middle row, it felt so good to sleep. Waking up groggy as the plane was landing, we gathered our carry-ons and again were so thankful that the people at Dar were able to arrange for our luggage to go straight to Boston, rather than us collect everything at Amsterdam and keep it until we checked in for our return flight.

Stepping off the plane, I was flustered to find that we were in a line to get off the jetway. What the heck? I know we always have to wait to get on the plane, with people jostling for space in the overhead bins and getting situated, but to get off? Turns out, there were two security guards right at the gate checking everyone’s passport. I thought it was kind of funny that we were getting inspected coming off the plane.

Schipol Airport is a funny place to be immediately following a trip to Africa. Lights, shops, technology, restaurants, moving walkways, etc… I spotted a place with a bunch of computers with the internet and made a beeline for it. Once I re-entered a civilization I was accustomed to, I couldn’t wait to quench my thirst for checking my emails.

We made good use of our layover in Amsterdam. We checked emails, we ate breakfast, we wandered around the many shops, we found the super comfy lounge chairs to nap in, we had lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to board again!

After much unsuccessful begging to get better seats, we ended up again in the middle of the middle row. I was determined to stay awake as long as possible, I didn’t want to be going to sleep the minute we got home. With the great media center on NorthWest, we were able to fit in three movies to keep us occupied. And for some reason, I ate like I hadn’t seen food in four months. I knew I had pizza and a milkshake coming, but still I ate everything they gave me.

We landed in Boston around 4pm, and when we walked out of Logan with our eight bags in tow, we waited for our cab, and I just looked around. I felt like I was in a fish bowl. I felt like I was seeing things for the first time. I never expected to be so affected by a trip to such a different culture.

Unlocking the door to our loft, I walked in, turned on the lights, re-adjusted the heat settings, and turned on the TV. It was such a culture shock to be home! I started the grueling task of unpacking – mainly just to get my shower things and clothes for work the next day. I can’t believe we went to work the next day! Jay went and got our treats for dinner, and even though I was suitably full from the airplane food, I was still famished and ate like a queen. We were able to stay awake until around 9:30, and then we crashed into our bed. While it was comfortable, I’m sure, it could have been a flat wooden board for all I knew – I slept like a baby!

February 7
I couldn’t sleep much past 4am, so I went into work super early. I was planning on leaving early because I was figuring my body would crash mid-day. Sure enough, around 1pm, I started to go downhill. I left work around 3:30 and stopped at the post office on my way home. It’s smack in the middle of my commute, so it’s a whopping six blocks from the loft. I gave my name to the woman at the counter, and had my shopping bag ready to carry the mail home in. She comes back to the counter and my jaw dropped to the ground. An entire post office crate was overflowing. I said that’s my mail?!! I looked at the pathetic bag in my hand and laughed. It must have weighed about thirty pounds, and it took much longer than normal for me to walk the rest of the way to our place. I had to take a picture of that, as well as the mammoth pile of laundry that we had to deal with.

Final Thoughts
· Africa was everything and nothing that I expected.
· Kili was more beautiful, breathtaking and difficult than I could have ever imagined. It was the greatest thing I’ll never do again.
· We didn’t see nearly as much on safari as I though we would, but it felt just as surreal to be in that Land Rover, within touching distance of the most amazing wildlife.
· We lugged our stuff around to and slept in fourteen different places.
· We were very impressed with nearly all of our accommodations.
· We met amazing people from all over the world, and are truly hoping to remain in touch.
· Zanzibar far exceeded my expectations. I loved Stonetown – all its filth, rundown buildings, beggars, hagglers, shops and charm. Matemwe was the oasis I did not expect nor think I needed. The perfect way to end the trip.
· I had no idea I could get sunburn inside my ears (Kilimanjaro climb) or in my armpits (Matemwe).
· I have greatly underestimated the luxury of a proper restroom.
· We did not take half the pictures I thought we would.
· It’s astonishing how quickly one loses sense of day and time.
· I was surprised to find I was not homesick, even being gone nearly a month.
· I was surprised at things I did not miss (TV, internet, my bed, home), and things I did miss (cereal, the comfort of our couch, the comfort of my routine).
· Moments I did not catch on film, but I will never forget: sunrise over Mawenzi; the never-ending trail to Stella; having our beer at Mweke camp; the feeling after showering back at Ilboru; packed into the bus at Matemwe.
· I hope to always have etched in my memory: Shira Cathedral; busy Arusha; Crater Lodge; Stonetown market; Matemwe hammock; our summit to Stella; packed buses; beautiful women dressed head to toe in vibrant colors; and that hot, exotic air.

The Aftermath
While elated to be home with the comforts of our blessed, spoiled lives, I felt so odd and slightly displaced, even, to be back in the chaotic hustle and bustle that is our Boston life. It took a long time to get back into the swing of things. I was overwhelmed at how affected I was by the trip.

WOW I know this was long, thanks for everyone that's made it through the whole thing!

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 10:00 AM
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I'm at work so will have to really sit down with this tonight and eat it all up. But just wanted to say I love this beginning:

...as I stepped out of the plane into that hot, exotic African air, I inhaled deeply and could barely contain the squealing inside.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 10:17 AM
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Thanks for an outstanding report. Any chance of your sharing your photos?

Thanks, Kevin from California
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 10:28 AM
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How could I have forgotten the pictures?!!!

I have a ton on shutterfly - I just need to go through them all and weed some out. Once I do that, I'll be sure to post them.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 10:54 AM
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I skipped right to the Kili portion of your trip report and still need to read the rest, but that was quite a nail-biter! It is also making me re-think whether I'm up for that...I think I'm as afraid of what the outhouses look like as the altitude!
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 11:18 AM
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I, too, need to take time tonight to really relish this report! Thanks~ and get with it on those photos!

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 11:34 AM
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Ok i have only checked out part of it but its awesome! I can totally relate to your Kili thoughts and packing for all the different environments was hell.

Its funny but Kili is a very emotional experience and although i am apparently a grown man i had quite a few tears as well.

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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 01:24 PM
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Thanks for your wonderful trip report. I had tears in my eyes just reading about your summit

Looking forward to your photos.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 01:27 PM
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Here's to you for climbing Kili!
=D> =D>
It's also been a dream of mine so kudos to you!

An excellent trip report. Can't wait for the pics.

So a final thought you briefly touched on...do you think you'll be planning another trip to Africa??
Curious to know if the bug's bitten you like it has the rest of us.
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 01:39 PM
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I read it all the way through--instead of working--because I was enjoying it so much.

As you can imagine I had some serious deja vu moments (thanks for that).

Thanks also for the very detailed description of your climb--I was all set to go until about day 6. I think that I will have to withdraw my offer to climb Kili and figure out another way to scheme my way back to Africa!

I love the way you phrased it--"the greatest thing that I will never do again."
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Old Mar 21st, 2006, 01:43 PM
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I read every bit of it, and I thank you for making me even more anxious for my turn!
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