Tanzania, Kili, Camels and Horses


Nov 10th, 2013, 01:09 AM
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Another word to the wise in terms of clothing and the cars down in these areas. The Rovers- and by this I'm referring to the big, open, non air conditioned versions- are great vehicles, and the guides know how to drive them in the black goo mud and the deep sands that would defeat most mortal transportation. I was repeatedly amazed at how adept these guys were at getting out of sticky situations and maneuvering over what appeared to be quite impossible mud traps. However, one thing they just aren't good at: sheltering you from rain.

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

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

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

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

Again, this just argues for the right clothing. I saw lots of people wearing truly foolish garments and paying the price for it, whether it was being eaten alive due to their color choices or getting wet and staying wet and getting very cold because they wore cotton. Prior to this trip there was a lot of research done for the Kilimanjaro part, but I updated all the safari gear that was either old or worn out, and got some new shirts which are made by Columbia or Ex Officio which are now treated for bugs. You might find the nearly $100 price tag objectionable. But even when you wear them back home in humid South Carolina taking care of your lawn and the horseflies and mosquitoes leave your alone, or in Florida when the noseeums get after you, it will pay off. Good clothing is worth it. And besides, you'll have the gear when you come back, because you'll have Africa in your system and you'll definitely want to do this again.
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Nov 13th, 2013, 11:18 AM
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I'm sitting at the Stella Maris Hotel facing my next adventure, lovely Kilimanjaro takes up all the space in the window from this first floor hotel. The most wonderful shower with lovely hot water washed off the rest of the three days' worth of dirt that the bush bath wipes couldn't after the camel safari, which I heartily recommend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's 10:18 pm and time to get all this gear off my bed to get my last hotel night for six days. On to see a full moon at the top of the mountain- if she lets me- and we'll see how it goes.
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Nov 19th, 2013, 11:58 PM
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It's November 20th, and the first thing I did this morning was slap some very good muscle cream on my back so that I could move ;-) and the next, take a look out the window at the mountain that I just climbed- yes, to the tippy top. And for every fool who ever said sure, it's easy, well, I beg to differ. For me the climbing part was easier, it was the climb down the slippery, slidy, unpredictable gravel/sand/rocks that nailed my left knee. But I'm ahead of myself.
E-Trip Africa provided us with an assistant guide, Ignas, a tall, rangy, funny and absolutely sharp as a whip young man along with their quiet, thoughtful #1 guide August, a porter team that's been together six years (believe me you'll appreciate a well oiled team) and we started out on the well paced Rongai route Day one past fields. I've no clue why critics call this route less scenic. It's plenty scenic, because you pass through a variety of different zones, and the six day route is gentler both on your acclimatization and your knees as you steadily climb. About 3 hours or so each day, give or take. August checked our numbers each day. I will note here that Aurelie, Ben's wife, was more than willing to accompany me on this hike as she is with other solo female hikers, which is superb, as she is world traveled and multi lingual and just excellent company. The daily oxygen levels and pulse rates give you instant feedback on the climb about how you're doing, and what was intriguing is that even at basecamp up high my pulse never went beyond 71. This is why I am so clear on the value of training, training and more training.
Ranik, our cook, quickly learned that a huge portion at dinner wasn't going to go down the gullet, so he adjusted quickly to pounding down porridge and fruit and omelets for me at breakfast, a lighter lunch and one of his remarkably tasty soups at dinner. I heard many tales of boiled eggs by the dozen. Not once did we get boiled eggs. His cooking was simply excellent and a great reason that we never lost our appetite, one of the keys to success on the climb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is a lovely day to rest, write (back to the grindstone for a day) and relax, rub everything I can reach with the EFAC and organize the bags for six days in the bush on horseback with Kaskaki. And EAT EAT EAT EAT. Sleep on this big bed, and thank that big mountain out my window (damn, was I really up there two days ago????) for her lovely lessons.
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Nov 20th, 2013, 12:11 PM
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BTW, it's almost seven pm, and August did indeed send all the pics and videos as promised, and he and Ignas both asked after my health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully some of this gear rundown was worthwhile. I found that the sleeping bag and foam mattress provided by E-Trip were both more than enough, I stopped using my super duper extra special mattress and didn't notice a thing. Ah. $200. Oh well. In case I head to the Antarctic I will have it in hand.
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Nov 27th, 2013, 08:17 AM
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Back at the lovely Shangazi House after six days of Kaskazi Horsebackriding Safari, and this deserves some mentions. Even though at their permanent camp I was able to take yet another shower under the night sky, this afternoon when I was able to shower and really truly clean my very long hair it was a little appalling to see what came out on those pristine white towels. Ahem. No wonder Ms. Mud Dauber wasp was checking out the territory a while back.

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

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

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

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

Kaskazi is not for beginner riders. You will get sore. You will get aches. That EFAC cream came in really handy, in fact that jar is down to nearly nothing. But this adventure will go beyond your wildest dreams as a rider- a real rider, not a dude ranch rider. You'll KNOW you rode. And the stories will abound. Some will follow. Now to fly home. To the retail insanity that is Christmas in America right now.
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Dec 3rd, 2013, 10:54 AM
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So one of the best parts about these rides is getting a hot shower at the end of the day. Now, as Chris, one of the two owners of this outfit says, is that if the stars align and all goes right, you'll get your hot shower in the bush. This is Africa. I'd gotten in the habit of taking my shower a bit earlier since I was in need of a wee bit more sleep (I had after all just climbed the darn mountain) and so around the third night I head to the back of my tent for said shower, which the camp guys indicated was ready. I had my towel, soap, and boots, and my safari shirt. I get in the shower stall, which is a contraption of heavy plastic or canvas, a bunch of poles and a big heavy bucket of hot water over your head. No worries, right? However the wind was blowing and the zipper wasn't closed. So I tried to close the zipper. No deal. Tried again. NO deal. On the third try I put a real effort into it and the entire shower collapsed on my head, so there I was, standing bare-assed naked in the shower stall with about 80 lbs worth of canvas, tubing, and heavy hot water in my arms, trying to keep my where with all covered, laughing, and trying also to yell HELP while I'm sinking on my saddle sore legs to the ground. The Vikings I've been riding with all day are all celebrating around the campfire out of earshot, enjoying their beer, and I'm sinking south, laughing harder.

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

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

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

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

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

Do your due diligence, research your options, but in any situation, go to Kili fully prepared. I came to completely trust E-Trip Africa and couldn't have been happier. They're worth checking out against the big boys. Best of luck on your trip.
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Dec 7th, 2013, 06:21 AM
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Ah, a PS. I had written a list of things to bring. And here's one more I didn't. A working knowledge of Swahili. I literally ran out of time - and I came to Africa crippled. Last night I had my Viet Namese coach over and as we were working on my new language I pondered on how useless I had felt in Tanzania being wholly unable to communicate in the main language of that country. I had the tapes, I didn't make the time. And frankly, I don't buy my own excuses. When I come back to Africa, which I will in 2015 or sooner, I will carve out the hours. I won't forget the pleasure on the camp staffers face when I said thank you to him in Swahili and his disappointment when he realized that was the extent of my repetoire. I can do better. And it's part of the fun to be able to converse, even just a little, in the native tongue. Put that in the backpack too.
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