Detomo's Abroad

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Archive for October, 2010

Tanzania 2010 – Part IV – Zanzibar

October 2, 2010 5:04 am

September 6 Monday

Off to a new adventure, we boarded the plane for Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania that thrives on tourism.   It was not a good start when no one met us at the airport.  But cabs were handy and we negotiated a rate and headed in to Stone Town.  Ten minutes later we arrive at the Tembo House Hotel to discover that the hotel was not expecting us.  So while Julie C. got the scoop on the town from our cabbie, Ali, I made phone calls and sent emails to straighten everything out.  We ended up with quaint rooms furnished in African and Swahili antiques in the oldest hotel in town.   Now hungry we started out to walk and find food.  However it was Ramadan and most restaurants are closed till Sundown unless it is in a hotel or a non-Muslim run establishment.  We settled in an Indian restaurant on the third floor overlooking town and had a delicious meal at little cost.   We then walked the crooked streets of town till we found the local market.  The market was fascinating with plenty of fish, fruits and hoards of people.  We continued our walk thinking we were headed toward our hotel but since there is no order to the layout of streets we walked instead to the Peace Memorial Museum and a football park where cows were grazing.  At that point we could see the water, found the museum on a map and triangulated our position.  We headed now toward the hotel stopping to talk to a guard who advised us that we had a long, long way to go.  Ten minutes later we were at the front door of the hotel.   Distance is all relative depending on whom you talk to. Tembo House is in the heart of Stone Town with the beach on the back side of the hotel.  It was formerly the American Consulate in the 1800’s.

Tembo House Hotel

We had a wonderful breakfast this Tuesday morning at the Tembo House including fresh coconuts with milk, several breads, eggs of all types, and fruits.  We met Talib, our guide, who would give us a 2 hour walking tour of Old Stone Town over the next 3 ½ hours.  Old Stone Town is 3 kilometers big with 30,000 thousand residents while there are 1 million residents on the entire island.  There is no poverty or food shortage but ample space and food for everyone.  There are no property taxes or personal taxes for the residents.  Only large business and industries are taxed.  We discovered the beautifully crafted brass studded square and round doors of the town.  We saw the last slave market sight, the House of Wonders (which dominated the skyline), mosques, Tippu Tip’s house (famous Arab slaver), the Old Fort (which now houses an amphitheater and artists) and the Dhow Palace (now restored to a hotel).  We walked the waterfront and saw the Forodhani Gardens (favorite gathering place at dusk for locals and food sellers).  The House of Wonders was once the tallest building in all of Africa is topped by a large clock tower.  It was the first building to have electricity and to have an elevator. Today it is the National Museum and the front entrance is flanked by large cannons from Portugal.   We also saw the home of the late Freddie Mercury (lead rock singer for the band Queen) the most internationally renowned Zanzibarian.  Tourism is a huge industry in Zanzibar dominating spice production and exportation.  Most of the hotel staff and restaurant waiters attend hotel school, learning the art of hotelier and 5or 6 languages.  Twenty percent of the tourists are Italian.

Talib our guide

We returned to the hotel for a lunch at the water’s edge, watching the fishing dhows come ashore and selling their catch.  They sold fish and octopus to the hotel chef as we watched!

The afternoon found us again on a tour as we headed toward our beach resort.  We stopped at Mr. K’s Spice Farm.  As various rulers came and went at one point one ruler dispersed 3 acres farm plots to the locals and that is now Mr. K’s.  Here our guide and 2 local boys walked us through the farm.  It is a true mingling of a variety of crops: cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, turmeric, black & white pepper, chili, cumin, lemon grass, mustard seeds, coconuts, oranges and bananas.  We did war paint and lipstick with the berries from the Rangiyamdomo tree (or the lipstick tree).The boys wove us baskets to put our spices in, gave us a fruit tasting, climbed a palm tree to get fresh coconut and entertained us with stories of the spices. 

The Fish Market

We headed down the road to the end of a long peninsula to the Ras Michamvi Beach Resort.   Here atop a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean is a bit of heaven:  white powder sand beaches and turquoise seas, a large ocean front swimming pool, hiking trails to the beaches and local red colobus monkeys.  Four bungalows have 15 rooms with a large open makuti thatched pavilion housing a restaurant, bar, and internet.  There is reliable power, air conditioning in each room, antique Swahili beds and a wonderful Arabian style bathroom.  There is even a gym and pool table!  There are few hotels in this area and quiet is guaranteed.

Ras Michamvi Beach Resort

After sleeping in and a leisurely breakfast, Pam, AJ and I picked up snorkel gear and headed to the beach to a waiting Dhow.  Julie C elected to relax in the sun at the pool.  We rode 15 minutes or so to a heavy concentration of the coral reef that is off shore and went looking for colorful fish and there were plenty!   The water was crystal clear and you could see down forever.  We saw every color of fish there is including one with pink strips, several varieties of angel fish, parrot fish, Coney fish, sea amenities, coral (small and delicate and large and massive) and even several small barracuda.  There were plenty of sea grasses which are now farmed and exported.  As it was Ramadan, our boat captain was unable to dive/snorkel with us.  He regaled us about all the fish we missed swimming by the boat as we were off on the reef including a large black octopus.  We had a late lunch and were going to explore the beaches but the tide rolled in leaving no beach to be seen so we headed to the pool to sunbath.  Dinner was freshly caught king fish and octopus.

Freshly caught octopus!

Up early at 5am Thursday we were off to Kizimkazi Beach where the dolphins are known to be seen.  We are going dolphin diving and our hotel manager Romina is accompanying us to take pictures.  We got in a large Dhow and headed for the open ocean, the sun is barely up.  But there are 4-5 other boats doing the same.  After 20 minutes we spot a large family of dolphins…it is time to put on the snorkel and fins and jump overboard.  The dolphins are under you and all around.  One is not allowed to touch them but it is a wonderful sight to observe as the bottlenose dolphins swim and dive and frolic.  Pam and AJ were the bravest in this venture and dove in 2 & 3 times.  The seas were 2-3 foot and really rough but that did not stop the dolphins.  After an hour we headed back to shore for a box breakfast of jam sandwiches, juice and bananas. 

Red Colobus Monkey - Jozani Forest

Then we were off to the Jozani Forest.  We wanted to get there early morning as it is the best time to spot the monkeys.  Fifty years ago the government named this area a forest and have since protected the monkeys and the trees here preserving the forest and reestablishing the forest in an area that had been nearly deforested.  Here is now a “Natural Forest”, a “Tropical Forest “(much wetter area), and a “Mangrove Forest”.  We immediately saw the Red Colobus monkey unique to Zanzibar as it has no whiskers frolicking around the main entrance area.  We saw fresh water crabs, and giant red mahogany trees which provide food for the monkeys.  We also saw the world’s smallest frogs and safari ants! There are civet cats and the endangered Zanzibar leopards existing in the forest but rarely seen.  We saw Strangler Fig trees which strangle the healthy Sycamore Fig Tree.  We walked a board walk through the Mangrove Forest and our hotel manager Romina climbed out on the roots of these trees.  Our ranger has been working in the forest for 13 years and spots animals long before we do!  We even saw a bush anteater.  As we exited the forest we saw the Blue Monkeys.

Mangrove Forest in Jozani Forest


We walked the beaches Friday hunting shells and beach glass.  We did not collect any glass as it was all new glass, sharp edges and clear, not worn yet by the sand.  We have packed our bags and head to the airport at Kiembe outside Zanzibar Town.  We are flying to Dar es Salaam in order to reach Mt Kilimanjaro.  We are anxious to see if the whole team made it up the mountain.  During our adventure we have met several groups of climbers of which many did not make it up the mountain.  None of us can predict how the team did. As we leave Ras Michamvi Beach Resort we are informed our flight has been canceled so we rush to the airport.  The first leg of our flight is leaving in 20 minutes to Dar es Salaam so we board and will deal with the next flight after we arrive in Dar es Salaam.  The problem is we are traveling on the end of Ramadan and today is the first day the Muslims can eat…it is a national holiday which has changed all the flight schedules in the airport as this is a predominately Muslim area.  At Dar es Salaam we wait for a later flight hoping that it goes off on time and that we get to the Springlands Hotel where the climbers are to celebrate with the team.  We have run into some climbers that arrived on the same plane we did and are now sharing their Mt. Kili and Zanzibar experiences with us.

Tanzania 2010 – Part III – Safari 4

3:45 am

This morn, Thursday, September 2,  the 12 Mt. Kilimanjaro climbers departed for their long drive to Moshi.  The German party at our camp also departed leaving just the 4 of us for a morning game drive into the Serengeti Park.  At the camps entrance was a herd of Tope and Zebra.  We took a different route that previously traveled crossing great vistas of plains with the horizon miles and miles away.  For the first time the spotting of animals was sparse. We saw Giraffes with 2 males wrapping their necks around the others neck – a sign of aggression our guide Darimo stated.  We saw a hyena in her hole hiding babies from sight and we saw herds of Antelope and Hartebeest.  We returned to camp for lunch where we found a beautiful salad awaiting us.  After a siesta we packed our bags and headed north to the Ikoma area of the Serengeti.  We stopped for a break at the hippo pool which had more than a hundred hippos lying on their sides and on top of each other. This is a stagnant water pond that is formed at the meeting of 3 rivers.  The behavior of the hippos has evolved due to protection of the calves against crocodiles (we saw 3 on shore) and to accommodate the maximum number of bodies. It was fascinating to listen to them as when they are submerged hippos make a resonant honking call.  When they are on land hippos are silent.  We reached Ikoma Wild Camp at dusk.  It is located just outside the Serengeti in the Grumeti Game Reserve.  The camp itself lies between two kopjes (bizarrely shaped rocky inselbergs protruding from the underlying plains).  This is a permanent tented camp with 11 tents built on stilts into the rocky hillsides and 10 bandas (traditional round huts) with a large dining tent.  We were welcomed with hot towels and coffee.

How many hippos do you see?

We are off this Friday morning with a box lunch and a quick stop to pick up Ranger John complete with an M-60 gun at the local ranger station.  We are headed north to the Tanzania/Kenya border hoping to see the great migration.  We will be driving through several villages of native tribes.  There are over 120 different tribes in Tanzania. Ranger John is with us as we will be traversing in and out of the Serengeti and through some wildlife reserves and hope to cross into Kenya.   As we head north the terrain becomes hilly and rocky, the plains are gone.  This area is quite agricultural as we see fields of Cassava and Aloevera bordered by Cissel (the rope plant).  We see our first elephant skull.  We reached the Mara River and the crossover to Kenya.  The Ranger station at this junction has posted a “no crossing” warning as the water is washing over the road is fast and deep.  No vehicles will be allowed to cross today.  So we settled on the banks of the river for lunch watching crocodiles and hippos and storks.  There are no wildebeest or zebra at this area of the river.  On our return to Ikoma we see sugar cane.  We met a young camp volunteer from Germany.  Natasha is 19 years old and preparing to go to University.  She has traveled Europe with her parents and spent a year in Australia as an exchange student.  Now she is at Ikoma for a month doing all the same chores as any camp trainee would.  Yesterday she was on greeting duty, today the kitchen.  During her month here she will get out on safaris about 4 times in addition to learning how the camp works and learning Swahili.

Massai Warriors Dressed for Circumcisism Ceremony

Saturday begins with a game drive traversing in the Serengeti.  We are greeted by a Black Back Jackal, the first this safari.  The big surprise was the sighting of a cheetah and her 4 adolescent cubs.  Mom hid under dense scrub brush and a tree while watching her 4 cubs.  We watched her cubs inspect our vehicle before lying in the sun.  We watched them for at least 30 minutes and were so pleased with this find.  Then 5 minutes later we spotted a lioness with 2 cubs.  Out in the middle of nowhere the car suddenly made a loud metal dragging sound.  Upon stopping we discovered a weld that held the running board on had broken and was dragging.  There were no other people or vehicles around so AJ and Darimo assessed the issue and ended up using AJ’s luggage strap to tie the running board up and hooking the luggage strap to the front passenger seat belt and down the road we went.  We passed Massi warriors (young men ages 14-17) with white painted faces and ceremonial dress.  They were headed off to their circumcision ceremony.  A few hours later we arrived at the top of a sunny Ngorongoro Crater.  The view is breath-taking and the road down steep.  It is 2000 feet to the crater floor.  The entire crater is a conservation area with no residents or lodges and is a world heritage site.  Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken ancient caldera nearly 3 million years old.   Once in the crater we saw fox, water buffalo, cranes, hyenas, flamingos, zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, impalas, elephant’s, eland and a variety of birds.  While some of the animals migrate in and out of the crater the majority of them live in the crater year round.  It was very windy in the crater and because of the wind we never saw a rhino which was rather disappointing. We ate lunch in our vehicle as the fish eagles by the lake like to dive and take people’s food.  As were preparing to depart we were lucky enough to find a lion and lioness mating.  We celebrated our day with drinks and popcorn at the Highview Hotel.

Four Cheetah Adolescents

September 5, 2010 Sunday

This morning we were greeted by Darimo who has repaired the car and presented a clean luggage strap to AJ.  We headed off to Tarangire River and Park stopping at the Lake Maryara overlook to snap pictures.   Tarangire National Park is fiercely hot with dusty red roads and dried straw grasses.  The wildlife here is migrating to the water.  It was so cool to witness a line of zebra and wildebeest snaking from the horizon to the front of our vehicle as the animals crossed to get to the river; a constantly moving line of animals.  This park has the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti.  It is here we saw storks, vultures, turkeys, and the kori bustard (the heaviest flying bird).  We saw massive Baobab trees and lots of tsetse fly (annoying biting things!).

Tanzania 2010 – Part II – Kilimanjaro

3:33 am

Friday morning started with breakfast at the hotel and loading up the bus with the 12 of us for the 1-hour drive to the Machame Gate, (elevation ~1800m = 5910ft).  As would become typical, we got off to a slow start, forgetting to turn in our room keys, and needing to stop for supplies at the local store.  Cliff had the occasion to negotiate one of the best bargains this author has ever witnessed, convincing a local merchant to reduce his price from 1 Kilimanjaro hat for $7 to 10 hats for $20!  Having acquired 10 new hats, Cliff then proceeded to give away 9 of these to those in the bus, including as gifts to two of our assistant guides who were accompanying us.  Machame Gate (there is an actual “Gate”) was a flurry of activity with climbers arriving and registering with the Rangers, and various organization sorting out trucks full of equipment & gear, assembling and weighing loads for the porters to carry, and hundreds of guides and porters “buzzing” about, shouting instructions and readying themselves for the mountain.  It was much like a scene from a movie where a “great expedition” readies itself at the far edge of civilization, preparing to embark into the great unknown.  Our box lunches are distributed to us, and everyone makes their final, personal preparations and nervously awaits our start.  At 11:45AM, we are excited to finally begin our ascent; initially a relatively easy hike on an old gravel, which then grades into a dirt, jeep-trail, and finally after an hour or so, turns into a maintained hiking trail.  We continue hiking 2-abreast, talking and joking much of the way, conversing with other climbers who are also on this ascent-only trail.  As we penetrate the rain forest, a slow drizzle begins to fall and the trail steepens, causing most of us to break a good sweat.  We are amazed by the steady stream of porters that rapidly pass us carrying large tote bags on their heads and traveling almost at a run.  After ~2 ½ hours, we stop along the trail for lunch, sitting on fallen trees, enduring the rain, and picking through our box lunches.  A group of climbers from Glascow join us for lunch and we make acquaintance, as we will cross paths with them numerous times during this journey.  After a 45 minute break, we set off again.  By now, the trail has turned to dirt and stones, with many tree roots to step and climb over.  The rain, heat and steepness of the trail tires everyone, but at about 5:30pm (a hike of ~15km = 9.4mi) we reach Machame Hut, (elevation 2980m = 9780ft); a campground within the edge of the rain forest.  After registering with the camp’s Ranger, we locate our tents, which are already here and fully set up, although our porters left the gate well after we did.  Our group of 12 climbers is supported by a staff of 43 locals, including: 1 Head Guide, 4 Assistant Guides, 2 Cooks, and 36 porters, including 2 who specifically take care of the two portable bathroom facilities that they have brought with us.  Our Outfitters, “Zara” Expeditions, has provided us not only with 7 personal sleeping tents with ground cloths and sleeping mats, but also with Men’s and Women’s portable toilets, each with their own outhouse tent, and a 12 person dining tent, complete with tables, chairs and china to drink from, and metal camp gear to eat with.  After cleaning up, we assemble at the dining tent for the daily, pre-dinner tea hour, complete with popcorn.  Dinner is a wonderful combination of cucumber soup, boiled potatoes with cooked cabbage, a vegetable curry sauce and deep fried fish.  We desert on fresh fruit and Bruce begins his daily after-dinner round-table status of every person to check on everyone’s condition, and to brief us on the next day.  Everyone is doing well except Michael – who feels weak, Gabriel – who has a slight headache, and Nikki – who is having digestive problems.  At this point, Bruce suggest a change of plans for Day 3 where instead of day hiking from Shira Camp, we actually hike and stay a night Moir Camp.  This will also allow us to acclimate at a higher altitude before we actually summit.  Everyone agrees that this is a good plan, but there is some apprehension and conditional acceptance pending on how we do tomorrow.  I suspect that Bruce and our guides are unsure of our group’s ability to successfully deal with altitude and are proposing this not only to better acclimate us, but also as an early test of how we might do at Kosovo and the night of our summit ascent.  We go to bed, exhausted, at ~9:00PM, and experience our first night of cold weather (4 deg C = 39 deg F).  That night, many of our group who have begun taking Diamox, make regular visits to the bushes & toilet tents.  However, Michael comes down seriously ill with recurring vomiting and severe diarrhea throughout the night.  Imodium, Pepcid, and other over-the-counter medications do not seem to help, and Mike is weak and exhausted as we arise at 7:00am for a breakfast or porridge, Spanish omelets and toast.

Kilimanjaro National Park

It is Saturday morning, and Bruce and many others on the Team are seriously worried about Mike as he has obviously caught some kind of “bug”, and given we are not at any significant altitude, yet, this does not bode well for him.  Today’s climb will be a steep and difficult one from Machame Hut to the Shira Camp on the Shira Plateau, an ascent of over 800m and there are concerns that Mike will not be able to make it and our Group may lose its first member!  With the help of Bruce and the Assistant Guides, Fort (short for Fortunato) & George, who carry Mike’s day pack, and various other members of our group who carry Mike’s water and clothes, he forces himself to continue.  We begin the day’s hike to Shira at 8:45am and complete the climb 400m up during the first 4 hours to our get to our lunch spot.  By this time, we have left the rain forest behind, and have crossed into the moorland zone, which is characterized by sparse vegetation and giant senecias, a type of cactus-looking plant.  It has been a difficult hike, and Michael, who has hardly eaten all day, has tried to keep hydrated, but is now feverish.  He is put on a steady diet of Advil, but can barely keep up with the group and is often balancing on his poles.  In addition, Nikki is overheated, exhausted and frustrated that we have not arrived, yet.  However, in spite of all of this, we ascend a steep wall and are greeted for lunch with a beckoning vision of our dining tent!  There, we take a well-deserved hour’s break to rest and feast on carrot soup, toasted cheese sandwiches and a box of juice.  After lunch, with renewed enery and determination, we continue our climb up some very steep ascents and long traverses to the Shira Plateau.  However, by now, Michael has taken a turn for the worse, suffering continuous bouts of nausea and diarrhea along the trail.  Progress is slow, and the rain strikes once again as we crest the final ridge at ~3:30pm and Shira Camp, (elevation ~3840m = 12,600ft), finally comes into view.  We have hiked ~9km = 5.6mi today, but it was steep and difficult.  We locate our personal bags, enter our tents and begin to clean up from the day’s long journey.  Today’s tea hour surprises us with popcorn and deep fried chicken wings that are not very meaty, but are a welcomed delight, and we snack greedily while Michael rests.  At dinner, we have our obligatory soup, (every day’s soup is Peter’s “favorite”), with rice, fried chicken and vegetable gravy, and Bruce reviews our condition and briefs us on the next day.  At this point, he recommends that Michael start taking Cipro, an strong antibiotic that will hopefully improve his condition, as he is very, very weak.  Luckily, Peter has some spare tablets, (6 tablets over 3 days) that he can take.  Bruce also suggests that instead of proceeding to Moir Camp, we hike a shorter distance and stay tomorrow night at Lava Tower, instead.  This will allow us to hike even higher the next day to Arrow Glacier, and will help in getting us prepared for the altitude without wearing us out hiking long distances.  We all agree to decide in the morning on whether we are capable to going to Lava Tower tomorrow, or whether we will stay at Shira Camp.  That night, the stars are aglow and the Milky Way is so close one would think you could sweep the stars away with your extended hand.  We all gather to try to take pictures of the night sky, and then hunker down in our tents as the temperature drops to 0 deg C = freezing.

Shira Plateau

Sunday morning we wake to frost on the ground, condensation on the tents, and hot tea in China cups brought to our tents!  As we exit our tents and head to breakfast, a beautiful sunrise occurs from over Kibo Peak.  Michael has had a full night sleep and feels much better, but is still weak having not eaten in over a day.  With a good night’s rest behind us and the golden glow of the morning, we all agree to head to Lava Tower today.  Mike carries his own pack today, although the weight of drinking water is born for him by others.  His sickness is gone, but he must stop to eat crackers and toast all along the 5-hour climb to replenish energy to continue.  Meanwhile, Cliff has taken to stopping to urinate frequently, blaming it as a side-effect of the altitude medication.  After a 5-hour hike that is not quite as strenuous as yesterday, we reach Lava Tower Camp, (elevation ~4630m = 15,190ft).  Lava Tower is a vertical lava flow that emerged through a fissure on a ridge between two valleys, and it stands ~150ft vertically, protecting us from the wind, at the foot of our tents.  We are the only ones there at this camp, and the late lunch is ready for us very soon.  The soup today is vegetable, and we are surprised by delicious empanadas, chocolate wafer biscuits, tea and juice.  Michael hoards the left-over empanadas for snacks tomorrow, and after lunch, it is clear that at this altitude, many are starting to show signs of acclimatization difficulties.  Laurens, Helena, Gabriel, Peter and Carlos are all suffering from some form of headaches now, and it is at this point that everyone except Michelle is either on Diamox, or begins to take Diamox to relieve some of their symptoms.  Helena suffers a bout of nausea, vomiting and slight dizziness, which gratefully disappears later in the day.  While some rest in their tents this afternoon, Michelle and Gabriel “boulder” their way up Lava Tower, while others gather in the Dining Tent for a spirited card game of “hearts”.  Michael is finally recovering from his illness and he begins to sketch again, and by dinner, everyone has settled into a comfortable, but fragile, feeling of well-being.  Dinner at 7:00pm was soup with pasta covered with a type of beef stroganoff, with fruit for dessert.  Bruce arrives in the dining tent at dessert, and begins the daily individual medical debrief.  He recommends that everyone be on Diamox, and everyone complies except Michelle, who has had no AMS symptoms, yet.  However, overall, the group is faring well, with no serious problems, and a strong Team motivation to continue and to help each other.  Bruce is impressed, and we decide to tackle a climb to Arrow Glacier tomorrow, before descending to Barranco Camp.  That night, the skies are clear, the wind is still and the Milky Way shines like a belt of diamonds sparking above our heads.  This night, the temperature drops to -10 deg C or ~15 deg F and everyone struggles a bit with our coldest weather, yet.

Arrow Glacier

It is Monday morning and we again wake to hot tea served at our tents, assemble for our traditional breakfast of porridge, toast, omelets, sausages and hot tea, and ready ourselves for what we expect will be a cold, dusty hike.  We leave Lava Tower at 9:45am and climb 2 hours to Arrow Glacier Camp, a hike through barren, dusty rock and skree to a deserted, flat spot that used to serve as an Eastern Access point to the crater rim.  Here we are at 4980m = 16,340ft in altitude, and are only about a 6-hour difficult hike from the summit!  However, we will take this climb as an experience for what the ascent will be like in a few days time.  Everyone in the group is feeling well, excited and strong, and our guides are clearly impressed with this accomplishment.  It is at this point that everyone’s confidence in successfully tackling the summit rises, and after a few Team pictures and some snacks, we begin our climb down to Barranco Camp, (elevation ~3950m = 12,960ft).  We arrive at Barranco Camp at ~2:30pm after a descent of nearly 1000m. The camp is located in a valley below the Western Breach and Great Barranco Breach Wall and we quickly clean up for another late lunch.  After lunch, most people nap, draw and watch as the sun disappears over the Shira Plateau.  It is a spectacular view of orange and gold as the setting sun highlights the walls of the Western Breach that will be our target to ascend tomorrow.  After dinner, everyone is doing well and our staff treat us to introductions and entertainment.  All 40+ of them gather, sing songs of conquering the mountain and dance for us, calling us in to join them celebrating the past day’s accomplishments.  We are such a novelty, that many of the other groups in camp come to see what was going on, and take pictures.  Bruce personally introduced each staff member to us, we shook hands and gave hugs (Peter’s special recognition to the cooks), and then we settled down to marvel at the night glow from the ice sheets on the great mountain looming above us.  We climbed into bed knowing another night below freezing was in store, but we were now secure in our knowledge that “we could do this”!

Climbing Barranco Wall

It is Tuesday morning, and we rise for tea and breakfast, and to prepare for the scramble up the Great Barranco Breach Wall.  After breakfast, another group of Scotsman emerge for their journey to Barafu camp wearing silly costumes, including an excellent Spiderman outfit and a broad assortment of wigs, wings and silly dresses.  It is a short hike to the “Wall” where we put away our poles and adjust our gear to prepare to use hands and feet to climb up a 100-meter near-vertical rock face.  The wall is steep, but hugging the wall with sheer drops below is spaced out by having to wait in some sections where only one person at a time can possibly pass.  It is amazing to watch as the porters – mgumi (singular) or wagumi (plural) – accomplish this feat without poles while carrying their own packs and balancing huge bags on their shoulders & heads, often while wearing “Jordan” basketball shoes.  Most deal with the “heights” well, but Michelle has some issues and cannot stand to have anyone too near to her while in this precarious position.  In 90 minutes, we finally get to the top and have a great view of the Kibo massif and the Heim Glacier looming above us.  When we look back, we can see the Barranco Valley and camp site that was our previous night’s stay.  From here, we hike for another 4 hours, crossing numerous valleys and ridges, some of then best described as “moonscapes” – eroded fields of rock and dust without a sign of living things.  We finally descend into Karanga Valley and reach our camp, (elevation ~4100m = 13,450ft), by ~2:30pm – another day of a late lunch.  This day’s lunch includes a thick bean sauce over rice that tasted great, but soon gives many of the team a bloated feeling and a bad case of indigestion and gas.  After lunch, those who are feeling up for it again engage in another card game of “hearts” while Michael draws caricatures of all the players.  Today was fun and an excellent day for recuperation in preparation for our ultimate ascent.  However, the lunch and consequent indigestion has many people upset and worried about their condition tomorrow.  After dinner, Bruce instructs us on the details of our coming day, which will include a hike to Barafu camp, and hopefully on to Kosovo camp where we will rest until 11:30pm to begin our ascent to the summit.  We go to bed early knowing sleep again will be a long way off.


...and Climbing!

Wednesday morning begins with the usual routine, however, today Carlos has come down ill with serious digestive problems and diarrhea.  This is a worrisome development coming less than 24 hours before we begin our ascent.  Bruce provides various digestive medications, and then leaves early to go ahead to talk with the Ranger at Barafu camp about getting permission to stay at Kosovo.  Assistant guides, George, Fort and Adam are our leads today, as we start the 5 ½ hour ascent to Kosovo.  Kosovo camp is located one hour further up the trail past Barafu, and will save us two hours of climbing and hiking in the night in reaching the summit.  This is a strategic move to shorten the journey and we have prepared for the extra time at this higher altitude with our excursions to Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier.  As we pass through Barafu Camp, we sign in with the Ranger and learn that Bruce has successfully secured us permission to continue on.  Barafu Camp is like a frontier mining town, with people camped willy-nilly everywhere.  Groups of dirty hikers are arriving and leaving from all directions and there is a sort of “wild” atmosphere around the camp.  Here, the dust in your mouth and the smell of sweat and urine in your nose characterize a place where everyone is transient and focused on getting somewhere else.  We gladly exit Barafu Camp, immediately climb a small wall, and hike about one hour to the Kosovo camp – a small flat place along the trail where we camp just by ourselves and prepare to ascend.  Carlos is doing better, but he must build up some energy to make the climb to the summit.  We eat a 3:00pm lunch and rest/nap until 7:00pm, when we get up, have dinner and receive our final briefing.  Carlos is now doing much better, and after the briefing, we are all back off to bed to rest, and be awaken at 11:30pm.  As we rise, it is already below freezing, and the temperature will drop as we ascend in altitude.

Karanga Valley

We begin our ascent at 12:20am on Thursday, September 9th in the dark.  We are led by Fort, with Adam, George and Bruce distributed among our group.  The rest of the support team will remain in camp and, hopefully, welcome our triumphant return later.  Progress is initially slow but steady as the trail steepens immediately and we try to keep moving to keep from getting cold.  We stop for water and snacks every 45 – 60 minutes, and given we are currently the 1st on the mountain this night, we have a wonderful clear night view of those following us.  Looking back down the mountain at night is a string of headlamps, snaking their way along in the dark, resembling a candle-light pilgrimage reminiscent of scenes from the movie “Conan the Barbarian”.  Are steady pace and hourly stops allow some faster-paced hikers to pass us, but we are all together and doing well in our ascent.  Every 10 minutes or so, our guides either break out in song, or call for a “Yah” or “Kili” shout from the Team and our spirits are kept high.  Finally, at 5:50am, we reach Stella Point at the rim of the crater, (elevation ~5685m = 18,650ft).  It is still dark, but in the predawn light, we can see others joining us from different routes that finally coalesce here.  Just beyond Stella Point, we stop briefly and are surprised by our guides as they break out a dozen china tea cups and thermoses of hot tea, obviously carried up the entire ascent for our benefit.  At this point, we take a reading on the temperature, and it is -15 deg C = ~4 deg F – much colder with the wind chill!  From Stella Point we could see the colored sky announcing the impending sunrise.  And then, all together we begin the last ascent to Uhuru Peak – the Top of Africa!  Along the way, the sun rises, lifting our spirits and the temperature.  To our right is the crater floor, and to our left shimmering in the emerging light are the remnants of the summit glaciers.  We reach Uhuru Peak at 6:40am, (elevation ~5895m = 19,340ft) where we take time for hugs & congratulations and various team pictures.  All 12 of us have made it – “The Simba Team” – and we’ve done it together.  Along the way there were personal physical & mental challenges that everyone needed to overcome, and these were successfully tackled by all.  We begin the long descent down at ~7:00am in the daylight, each person picking their own comfortable pace and route down the loose skree.  Everyone is tired, but Sue, Cliff and Carlos are particularly struggling with the downhill pounding on their knees.  We arrive back at our Kosovo camp between 9:30am and 10:30am to the hardy congratulations of our support team.  We can get a brief rest until 11:00am, but then it is time to pack up the camp, eat lunch and set off on an epic journey to Mweka Camp, a further descent of over 1500m = 4920 feet!  We leave camp at 12:30pm knowing we face a 6-hour journey down.  Where our stay at Kosovo shortened our ascent, it has now lengthened our journey down, and we all settle in for a long, grueling hike.  We pass through Barafu camp again, and then descend through the varied ecosystems to transverse the Moorlands and re-enter the rain forest.  Along the way, we pass through “Millenium” camp, a trading outpost that has been in place since the year 1900, where bootleg beer and Coca Colas can be had by celebrating hiker for the right price.  Many people are tired and/or hurting on this leg of the journey.  Nikki is struggling until she has her first Coco Cola in a week, and then she, Laurens and Helena strike out into the lead.  Gabriel, Michael, Rocky and Peter trail along 10-15 minutes behind, Guy & Sue following, and Carlos and Cliff assisted by Michelle rounding up the group.  We all reach Mweka camp between 6:30 and 7:15pm, as the sun is setting.  Everyone signs in at the Ranger station, settles into their tents, wash and immediately head to dinner.  Bruce rewards everyone with congratulations and a well deserved Kilimanjaro beer, and after dinner, the exhausted group goes to bed before 9:00pm.

The Summit

On Friday morning, we arise early with our compulsory morning tent tea and have an early breakfast at 7:00am.  After breakfast, we have one final get together with the entire Support Team where we take pictures, sing songs and dance together celebrating the mountain and our accomplishments.  There are handshakes and hugs all around, and we are humbled by the intensity of the bond that has formed between the staff and ourselves as we say our last “goodbyes” to many of them who will go ahead to finish their trip and reconnect with their families.  We set off for a final 3-4 hour hike to Mweka Gate to meet our first transport other than our feet for over a week.  The trail continues it’s steep descent until it finally turns into a rutted rescue road, traversing local villages and communities along the way.  The people who live there are harvesting crops as their young children beg for chocolate or any other handout – a sign of “tourism” that disappoints us.  Everyone reached the gate between 11:00am and noon, signs the official Park Registry recording our official moment of peak ascent, and then we board a bus with our gear on the roof to return to Springlands Hotel, arriving back at ~1:00pm.  Back at the Hotel, most prepare for a long-awaited shower while we sort out the final details of insuring that appropriate tips are paid to the Guides, Cooks and Porters.  Many on our group donate unneeded equipment and unused medications.  The presentation of certificates will take place later this evening.  After cleaning up and taking lunch at the hotel, many of the group assemble for a final lively game of cards in the outdoor courtyard while the wine and beer flow freely.

The other members of our group are supposed to arrive from Zanzibar at 7:00pm, but they are delayed 90 minutes in Dar es Salaam.  Meanwhile Bruce and the assistant guides and cooks were supposed to meet us for certificate presentations at 7:00pm, but they actually arrive at 8:00pm, and only after checking names are they prepared to present.  Therefore, the Zanzibar group arrives as the presentations are going on and got to participate in the story-telling and evening’s festivities.  The partying continues late into the night, and after confirming everyone’s transport for tomorrow, it was off to the room to pack and sleep as everyone sets off for home.  As we depart over the next day, everyone expresses the fact that was truly “an adventure of a lifetime”.

Southern Icefield

Tanzania 2010 – Part 1 – Group Safari

3:21 am

 August 30, 2010

Monday morning we meet our 3 drivers – Darimo, Mohamed, and Loukindo (James).  They are driving two 6-man safari jeeps and one 4-man safari jeep.  We load-up and begin our adventure with a drive to Lake Manyara.  The landscape is covered with agriculture, particularly coffee crops shaded by evenly spaced shade trees.  Everywhere, the fertile land is farmed and along the roads are burlap spreads with millet (red porridge seeds) drying on them.  These same seeds are often wet and forced to sprout, and then fermented to provide much of the local region’s alcohol.  We leave Moshi, pass JRO airport and the city of Arusha, and drive to the ~300sqkm Manyara Lake which is surrounded by a game preserve.  Here we see velvet monkeys, baboons, grey hornbill and a family of resting giraffes.  At the hippo pool, pelicans and storks, (Maribou storks, yellow-bellied storks & red-bellied storks), cover every inch of available space.  We spot impala, zebras, water buffalos and mongoose before we take a drive along the former lake’s edge (the water level is now down).  We follow a giraffe who leads us to a family of elephants crossing the road right on top of us, including a youngster who demonstrates annoyance at the difficulty of pulling grass from the packed ground.  When the elephant’s wander past us, we proceed up out of the park stopping to look at the huge, surreal Bilboa trees along the way, and spotting our first sign of a lion – a clear paw print in the mud – a sign of things to come.  We get to the Highlands Hotel at about dark where we are greeted by cool drinks at the end of a dusty day.  That night after dinner, local entertainers put on an impressive show of native music, singing, dancing and gymnastics.  Many of the group join in the festivities and fun is had by all.  However, we talked with two groups of people who had just returned from Kilimanjaro, and we were given ominous news that neither group made it to the top of the mountain!

Water Buffalo & Storks at Lake Manyara

Tuesday we rose, had breakfast and headed to the Serengeti.  Along the way, we crept our jeeps along through the dense fog on the Ngorongoro crater’s rim road until we reached the overlook.  Here, it was cold and very windy without much visability.  We headed down into the beginnings of the Serengeti, and we stopped at a local Masai Village where we were honored by the warriors’ dancing and the women’s singing.  We entered their huts and learned some of their values and customs, bought a few trinkets and continued our journey.  Along the way, we spotted jackals and ostriches, stopping to have lunch at Olduvai Gorge, where Dr. Leeke found hominid footprints and the research into the cradle of human-kind and civilization began.  That afternoon, we learned to identify a Thompson’s gazelle from a Grant ’s gazelle, before we came upon 2 cheetahs classically poised upon a termite mound, surveying the landscape around them.  The afternoon continued to bring surprises as we encountered 2 female lions, hartebeest, hyenas, eagles, water buffaloes and another herd of elephants led by a bull male.  Our first real treat, however, was finding a leopard in a tree near the road, with a recently killed Thompson’s gazelle hanging from a branch nearby.  We spent some time here trying to get the best view, but as dusk closed in, we moved on to our camp for the night.  We pulled into the Serengeti Wild Tented-Camp, had a refreshing drink, took hot showers to wash the dust off and met for dinner at the dining tent.  In addition to the 16 of us, there was a group of Germans in the camp, some of which we befriended.  After dinner, we joined them in the center of camp for a warming campfire and we relaxed, told stories and recounted the day.

Ngorongoro Conservancy

Massai Warriors

On Wednesday, we were to spend the whole day on game drives on the Serengeti.  After breakfast, we left in our three vehicles and soon came upon a pride of lions consisting of 2 mature females with 8 youngsters of only ~1-2 years old.  We observed them for awhile, but then moved to the other side of the creek they were near where we came upon another lioness, but this one with 4 very young cubs, likely only ~1-month old.  They cried like little kittens as their mother moved them along next to our jeep, stopping to mouth/pick one up when it refused to budge any further.  A little ways off, we could see two male lions keeping a wary and protective eye on the pride.  We finally left this heart-tugging scene, traveled back past the leopard in the tree, (yes, he was still there), and to the local airport to renew our park permit.  Along the way, we came across a large number of hippos in a local pond behind a weir, accompanied by a single large crocodile, and then came upon a lone, young male lion laying in a ditch on the side of the road, looking lonely and on his own.  While Dorimo renewed our permits at the airport (a dirt flat spot with 1 small shack) we watched the local weaver birds enter and exit their encapsulated nests in the tree.  We then left and headed back to camp for lunch and a lively card game of “hearts” while we waited for the heat of the day to pass, and for the animals to again become active.  The afternoon started slowly with only the spotting of hyrax sunning themselves on the rocks, a Butler eagle and various vultures, until we came upon a large family of elephants.  We took up a position on the road ahead of them, knowing that they would cross nearby.  One of the large female elephants was obviously “in heat”, and the large bull male was obviously aroused by it.  At the back was a young baby elephant with a birth deformity the made us wonder whether or not it would survive in the wild – its trunk was seriously short – less than half the length it should have been.  It was so short, that the baby would kneel down every time it wanted to eat grass in order to reach it.  It was a sad sight, indeed.  After the elephants passed, we continued our drive and came upon another lioness, but this one was hunting a gazelle.  We watched as she stalked and slinked in the local lows of the terrain, and in the tall grass. But at the end of the day, the gazelles were alerted, and we lost her in the camouflage.   Without a kill to observe, we moved on again and were treated with another leopard in the tress with a gazelle kill, but this one providing a much better view.  After shooting dozens of pictures, we started to head for the camp, but came upon another hippo pool where two hippos appeared to be engaged in a bit of romance!  We reached camp just as elephants and giraffes were wandering by, and then at dinner we surprised Julie (Mike’s wife) with birthday napkins and cards – today she turned 30 years-old!  After dinner, the camp staff also surprised her with a watermelon and pineapple fruit “cake” – truly original, healthy and delicious!  Again, we sat around the campfire and reminisced upon the day before calling it a night.  “Lala Salama” and sleep well – a good night in Swahili.

Lioness & 4 CubsElephants

Leopard Standing in Tree



Thursday morning, we packed our bags as we prepared to leave the Serengeti Wild Tented Camp.  Today, our group would split into two groups – one group (4 people) continuing on the safari, and the other group (12 people) to return to Moshi to prepare to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  For the group heading out of the park to Moshi, James & Mohamed bring us to one final lion encounter where a male and female pair took up obvious high-ground attracting the attention of all nearby potential prey.  But, while their attention was focused there, a third lion, a female stealthily moved up on the flank, hidden from view by the berm of the road.  We anticipated a potential kill, but the prey was finally rescued by alerting-calls from other herds that could see what was going on.  With places to go, we left the area, but the lioness patiently pursued the next possible target knowing that sooner or later, one would make a fatal mistake.  The drive back to Moshi was long and bumpy, stopping only for a brief overlook or break, or for our box lunch, and arriving back at the Springland’s Hotel in time for showers and dinner.  Before dinner, we had a short briefing and met our Head Guide – Bruce.  Bruce is 29 years-old and has been a guide on the mountain for 10 years.  He is an engineer by training, and is one of the few guides who was actually never a porter himself, but he is very well known by everyone on the mountain, and he tells us that this will be his 258th trip to the summit.  Bruce has a wife who works in the Springlands Office, and a young, beautiful daughter and is beginning to think about hanging up his boots and working closer to the office and his family.  He is personable, well spoken and a strong leader, and we all appreciate him immediately.  I privately broach the subject of staying the last night before we summit at the unapproved Kosovo camp which is another hour up from the final Barafu camp.  Bruce is unsure of getting permission from the Rangers, and is unconvinced that our group will be able to handle the extra altitude, so we defer the final decision on this.  We would be leaving at 8:30am tomorrow morning.  After dinner, everyone was busy packing their items and readying themselves for Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Many of us made final decisions to rent duffel bags or waterproof bags, and everyone was weighing their bags to not exceed 15kg, and their day-packs to be no more than 5-7kg.  Some were surprised by the weight of their snacks, or by the condition of their boots, but in the end, everyone was ready, and anything not going up the mountain with us was put into storage.

Tanzania 2010

2:41 am

Tanzania 2010

 August 28

The moment was finally here!  We had planned this trip for ourselves, family and friends for over a year, and the time had finally arrived.  This was the 2010 Trip to Tanzania, including Safaris on the Serengeti, an ascent to the “Top of Africa” – Mt. Kilimanjaro, and an historic vacation at the “Spice Island” of Zanzibar.

Kilimanjaro Airport

Our trip begins with flights from around the world to JRO Airport in Tanzania, and with assembling our diverse group at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi.  Our group’s earliest arrival is Cliff – a good friend of ours from Houston who works as an independent exploration geologist, and who has traveled extensively.  He arrives 3 days early for a private safari to Ngorongoro Crater, a must for his geologic curiosity and his animal photography hobby.  On Saturday, my wife’s sister – Pam, and her husband – A.J., arrive from Ohio, and spend the day hiking the local water springs around the hotel.  Pam is a civil engineering architect and her husband is a retired aeronautical engineer.  They operate a farm in Ohio and care for their family of Golden Retrievers.  My son – Michael, and his wife – Julie, arrive with us on Sunday, having met up with us in Nairobi airport.  He is an architect in north Virginia, and Julie is a Video Editor.  We are joined by my work peers from Lagos, Nigeria – Sue & Guy and Helena & Laurens.  Sue & Guy are British, and Sue runs the Employees Spousal Group for our company in Lagos, while Guy is an engineer working Logistics.  Helena & Laurens are Dutch and both exploration geologist with significant hiking experience.  Our good friends, Peter & Nikki, arrive on Sunday afternoon from Houston where Peter, who was born in Hungary, is an engineer and Nikki sells insurance, when they’re not raising their teenage girls.  Next Carlos arrives with his 16 year-old son, Gabriel, traveling from South Africa, where Carlos, a geologist in Nigeria has met up with his Brazilian son for this trip.  Finally, at 10:30pm, Michelle arrives, completing our group.  She is an engineer from Louisiana who joins us to make new friends and to share in our adventure.  We are now complete – 16 of us aged 16 to 60 years old – representing 5 nationalities – men, women & children drawn together by the beckon of the unknown and the promise of adventure!  The evening is spent acquainting everyone with each other and celebrating our safe arrivals with beer (Serengeti and Kilimanjaro brands) and wine.

Local Market

Springlands Hotel

The Adventure Begins