A Travellerspoint blog

Safari Day 5

"He is making zee dance"

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Because the Maasai have been using some of the national parks lands for centuries in their roaming, they are the only people that are allowed to live in them. However, even the Maasai are not allowed to live in the Serengeti, which makes it unique from the other two parks we visited.

They are allowed in the Ngorongoro crater area as we see this morning. Not only do they live here - they fend of lions. Even our guide said he is impressed with the Maasai's bravery in this aspect. We had stopped by another safari vehicle that spotted a pair of lions tracking down an animal on a hillside. Then, as quickly and startling as a news broadcast breaking in on your favorite show, a Maasai plainly comes marching through this scene with his herd, making all kinds of noise because his cattle are wearing bells. His cattle are wearing bells, because this alerts the lions to the Maasai's presence. Yes, this alerts the lions. On purpose. This tells the lions to keep away because the Maasai are coming through. Our guide says that he has seen a Maasai defend himself and his herd against a lion with his walking stick. That, plus the abundance of other fairly easy meals for the lions, lets the two live relatively peaceably together.

Salei tells us that the crater is where a lot of the older elephants go to die. They have a hard time eating the vegetation that is outside of the crater because their teeth are so worn down. He tells us he knows this one is older because of how well-defined the spine is.

Old elephant

Old elephant

I thought this tree was interesting.

Bumpy tree

Bumpy tree

Cute monkey baby.

Monkey clingon

Monkey clingon

We travel down further into the crater to see the very last of what is left of the lake. Since it has dried up almost completely, it is very salty and just right for a large flock of flamingos. They were hard to get close to, but it was such a large flock you can see the line of pink ringing the lake from far off. The mountains that you see in the background are part of the crater edge.

Flamingos

Flamingos

We saw a hyena with her pup,

Baby hyena

Baby hyena

and got up close and personal with the wildebeest.

Craig and wildebeast

Craig and wildebeast

Close up wildebeest

Close up wildebeest

This part of the safari required a little more patience than the rest. There was more driving around and less animal viewing. It was extremely hot, dry and dusty. We had our sights out for the last and most elusive on our list of The Big Five, the rhino! We keep our eyes peeled and did see animals here that we didn't see anywhere else. Lots and lots of birds, and I love birds. Here is a distance shot and a close-up of the secretary bird, named so for what looks like old-fashioned pen plumes on the tops of their heads.

Cool birds

Cool birds

Secretary birds

Secretary birds


Very pretty!

Where there are vehicles, there is usually something to see. So we drive over to where a bunch of them are stationed and see what at first looked liked three lions huddled together.

Lions in Ngorongoro

Lions in Ngorongoro

One lion decides that where there are vehicles, there is shade and starts lazily moseying over.

Lions approaching cars

Lions approaching cars

"Yep, there is some nice shade here. It's sure nice to get out of the heat. Look at my foolish friends over there laying out in the broad sun.

Lions and jeeps

Lions and jeeps

Oh, here they come. Darn, I thought I would have this all to myself." So one by one they all mosey over. Pretty soon shaded real estate becomes scarce and the last guy over is going to be left out. The first cat that came over gave her friend a nice warning roar to let him know that this spot was taken. So, he opted for the shade under the car.

Lions under jeeps

Lions under jeeps

It turned out there were more like five or six lions in the huddle and they had all slowly come over and found some shade. Look at the poor ladies in the vehicle that is now barricaded by lions! They were so astonished. It looked like they didn't know what they'd gotten themselves into.

Safari traffic jam

Safari traffic jam

It didn't take all that long to clear. Just around the corner from all of the big cat action, we were once again let out of our vehicle. This is the only rest stop out in the middle of safari nowhere that I remember. There was a nice little lake too. It did feel a little scary knowing that those lions were right nearby!

Jill by lake

Jill by lake

We also got to see a unique sight - one of my favorite on the trip which also produced my absolute favorite quote from the safari. Our guide spotted 2 male ostriches vying for the love and mating rights of a female. How does he do this? He opens up his over-sized wings (amazing they can't fly with those things) and does a combination ballet of twirling, airing out his feathers, flapping them and generally making a fool of himself. Or as our guide said "He is making the dance." Imagine a swarthy Frenchman closing his eyes and slowly shimmying his shoulders front and back while smoothing out "He is making zee dance." This is the impression I got when the words struck my ears as I sat and watched real life extra large aviary romance before my eyes. Sadly, I have no photo of Zee Dance, but here is one of the birds otherwise.

Ostrich

Ostrich

And with that, we are headed back to Moshi to rest up for our flight home. Too bad, no rhino siting! Maybe next time. Thank you for traveling with us on this wonderful adventure!

Us and the Ngorongoro crater

Us and the Ngorongoro crater

Posted by JillnCraig 15:34 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Safari Day 4

Circle of Life

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Buffalo

Buffalo

(Insert "Circle of Life" from the Lion King here.)
Vultures

Vultures

Baby zebra butt

Baby zebra butt

Jackal

Jackal

Salei takes advantage of our now callused rear ends to venture into an area in the Seregeti that is a little more remote. It is the best place to see the Big Cats!

Acacia tree

Acacia tree

Even though we see this kitty so cutely perched on a termite mound, and it looks like his prey should be able to, we hope for it that they don't. (We hope for them that they do! Oh, circle of life, it is so hard to know who to root for!)

Cheetah

Cheetah

In this area, having an experienced guide really pays off. There is no way Craig and I would have spotted (pun intended wink wink nudge nudge) this tail hanging from a branch or known that it was attached to the elusive leopard.

Leopard

Leopard

This shot was taken about 200 yards away and enlarged for your enjoyment. Out in the real world, this was most obviously just a tree branch.

A little later, Salei also spot-er picked out (you're welcome) this one.

Leopard number two

Leopard number two

Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched? Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched by a cute lion cub that was so statuesque that only a tiny ear whip across 10 minutes betrayed its animated status?

Lion statue

Lion statue

Another cheetah - this one much closer to the road, but almost as hard to see.

Cheetah

Cheetah

Back to the lodge.

Ngorongoro lodge

Ngorongoro lodge

Bush buck outside of our room

Bush buck outside of our room

That evening at the lodge, the Maasai entertain guests with their traditional tribal dancing. There was a lot of jumping straight up and down and grunting noises. Their arms were at their sides since their cloth wraps don't allow much arm movement. Craig and I started calling it the Popcorn Dance because they would stand in a circle making these rhythmic, screaming and guttural sounds and seemingly at random one would start to wiggle and shake and then move into the center of the circle and start popping around - jumping straight up into the air very high, then twisting then straight up again. They would slam down their feet very hard and solidly when they came down.

They hold their tall sticks during the dance. This makes sense as their sticks are very important to them. They use them for many things such as walking, herding their animals and carrying things over their shoulders with them.

Their women would stand around in the dance dressed with stiff "platter" necklaces. For the most part during the dance, they would stand there and swing their necklaces around their necks.

Ngorongoro sunset

Ngorongoro sunset

Posted by JillnCraig 21:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tree africa safari zebra cheetah buffalo lion Comments (0)

Safari Day 3

We are not alone

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In no stretch of anyone's imagination are Craig and I morning people. So it is impressive that Salei was able to convince us to get up out of our cushy tent bed before 7am. We were promised that the animals are most active in the morning and evening hours.

After I hear Craig's story about how his night went, I wonder if he regrets having to get up early. Apparently in the middle of the night, a herd of buffalo moved through camp! He said he wasn't sure it was buffalo, but said he was sure it was some very large animals that were puffing and grunting very close to the tent. Said he will never forget being that close to that many large animals in their habitat.

Getting up early was worth it for me though. Not far from our camp, we saw this prolific ostrich family.

Ostrich family

Ostrich family

Fourteen babies! Although, it turns out that there is a chance that not all of the offspring are from this particular pair as we are told that some ostrich lay their eggs in another's nest for them to raise. What a sight to see them all scurrying around!

We immensely enjoy our second day in the Serengeti.

Young giraffe

Young giraffe

Impala

Impala

Old giraffe (darker spots)

Old giraffe (darker spots)

If you have a great guide like ours, you may get a single-bound distance viewing of the King of Jungle or two.
Lion brothers up close

Lion brothers up close

Nope - This is a water eagle

Nope - This is a water eagle

Where babies come from

Where babies come from

The relative safety of the safari vehicle (mostly old Toyota Land Cruisers) is not something one is easily coerced out of. So when I heard we were going to cross a rickety Indian Jones-style bridge over crocodile and hippopotamus-infested waters, naturally I jumped out and said "Hell, Yes!"

RUCrazyBridge

RUCrazyBridge

Dramatic Effect

Dramatic Effect

Careful of the baboon feces! They enjoy risking their skins too, although I wonder if it is as dramatic for then, since it's unlikely that they have seen any of Harrison Ford's movies.

See? I said there were crocodile

See? I said there were crocodile

and hippopotamus

and hippopotamus

Safely back in the truck we see the plumply silhouettes of some guinea fowl.
Guinea fowl

Guinea fowl

Early to rise and early to return. We take the afternoon and the rest of this day for some much needed R & R. We thought this meant the last of our animal encounters for the day. One baboon had a different idea. Granted, we were warned the day before when we got to our tent to keep it zipped down tight as baboons are curious, bold creatures with appetites for easy opportunities. Touristly, absent-mindedly, chirping to Craig about the day's fun, I head up the front porch stairs to our tent. The next few seconds happened about like this. Second one: notice about a 12" gap at the bottom of our tent. Second two, brain thinks, huh? what is this? Second three, OH! right, keep our zipper closed tight due to baboons. Second four: there's a baboon on our tent. Second five: There's a baboon in our tent! Second six: a baboon emerges from inside our tent with what is left of my box lunch from yesterday. Second seven: baboon sees us. Second eight: baboon's brain thinks, huh? what is this? Second nine: baboon's brain thinks: OH! right, people live here. (eyes bug out) Second ten: OH! They're back! Second eleven: Must grab what I can and run. Second twelve: baboon puts green apple in mouth and high tails it.

He only goes as far as the neighboring tent porch though. He then happily eats my apple right in front of me. Right in front of me, the little twirp. Then laughs "Ha ha!" just like Nelson on the Simpsons. It was so funny to see him be just as surprised to see us as we were to see him.

End of day 3.

Posted by JillnCraig 19:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged crocodile lion giraffe hippo ostrich impala hippopotamus Comments (0)

Safari Day 2

The Serengeti

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The main reason we decided on a 5-day safari instead of 4 days is that this is the minimum amount of time it takes to get to the Serengeti and still have a day to enjoy it. I was not going to go all the way to Africa on safari and let one extra day of travel stop me from seeing it. In the end, we were both glad we did it. It is a long, bumpy, hot, dusty safari vehicle ride out there though. Getting there was not without sights of its own though. Here is a beautifully colored bird right outside of the hotel.

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First though, we had to be introduced to the guide that was originally assigned to us. His name is Salei and he was much more personable, knowledgeable and talkative than our other two guides. He apologized and tried to further explain the mix-up that had happened. Evidently, the owner of the company had unexpectedly come into town and requested to go on Safari. His itinerary overlapped with ours by one day and they had no choice but to send Salei out with him and use the other guides to cover for him with us on our first day.

Enjoy the other sights on the way to Serengeti National Park:

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Giraffes in bush

Giraffes in bush


Giraffe and one green tree

Giraffe and one green tree

I LOVE GIRAFFES!

Long panoramic shot of the looong travels of a Maasai tribesman.

Masaai and goats

Masaai and goats

At last we enter the Serengeti - an unceremonious sign announces to us.

I am the one to see the first animal after crossing the boundary. This is the second animal I spotted before our guide did. Not that I'm bragging. Okay, of course I am. ;)

Hyena running

Hyena running

I even made Salei back up about 20 yards to get a better look after the hyena had ducked into a ravine. Here he is peaking out to get a better look at us.

Hyena portrait

Hyena portrait

There is an interesting rest stop at a point along the road to the Serengeti where guides buy Park passes, clients eat picnic lunches and birds swarm to steal picnic lunches. Luckily for these birds even though they are as pestersome as pigeons, they are rendered with a most amazing iridescent blue and green plumage, yellow breasts and mesmerizing eyes and are thus somewhat charming.

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Bird bath

Bird bath

After lunch we are back on the road again.

Heartbeast and gazelle

Heartbeast and gazelle


Secretary bird

Secretary bird

Hippos and trees

Hippos and trees


Here is one of my favorite fellas. Although we saw a few warthogs he was our first and had the most personality.

Warthog

Warthog

We also saw quite a few hippos, but it was very rare to see them out of water like this.
Hippos out of water

Hippos out of water


Elephants and pond

Elephants and pond

Salei was usually very good at identifying the animals and when he couldn't he would find them in his guidebook. Somehow or another we couldn't identify this one. It can be difficult because of the differences in male and female, juvenile and adult. Some females of one species can look like the juvenile of another, for example.

Unidentified antelope

Unidentified antelope

Craig can tell you what a fan I am of baby animals of all kind and I was most delighted to meet this family of warthogs! Also, a baby zebra.

Warthog family

Warthog family


Zebra and wildebeest

Zebra and wildebeest


Nursing zebra

Nursing zebra

Distant elephant

Distant elephant

This next group of elephants were my favorite part of the Safari. They are such gentle, social, sensitive giants. This was a fair group of them of all ages, including a tiny baby. If I could have I would have stayed there all day observing. Salei was impatient to get to our hotel before dark though and moved on much too quickly for me! Our movement down the road happened to put us between one of the largest elephants and the rest of her group. This pleased her none too much and we were warned! Oh, were we warned! There was no mistake about her message to us, raising her head spanning her giant ears out to the sides, lifting her trunk and making a quick lunge toward us! Craig and I were both standing in the Cruiser with our heads out of the popped up top and felt the very appropriate "fight or flight" response to her message. We chose flight and Salei made haste. Amazing!

Elephants

Elephants

Giraffe and Jeep

Giraffe and Jeep

We pulled into Kirawira with time to spare. At this stop we chose to splurge on a luxury tent. You might think "luxury" and "tent" don't go together and that a good hotel would be worth the money. But here you are paying for the experience of being truly integrated with the wildlife. The tents are as much of a tent as the Swiss Family Robinson's home was a treehouse. It is a stand-alone wood structure that is covered with a tent material. It has wood flooring, plumbing and electricity. It has a four-poster bed, a full bath, closets, a desk and a front porch. Only thing is - you have to ask for an armed guard to escort you from it to the dining hall after dark, just in case.

Jill in Luxury Tent

Jill in Luxury Tent

Craig enjoyed trying out the local beer and we thought this one had a catchy name. Here is the Corona ad Africa style from our front porch.

Kilimanjaro beer

Kilimanjaro beer

View from our front porch

View from our front porch


Our front door

Our front door


Our porch

Our porch

If you're still not convinced that we chose the right location to stay, try to argue with this sunset as seen from the pool...

Serengetti Sunset

Serengetti Sunset


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Good night!

Posted by JillnCraig 18:53 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals tent safari luxury giraffe hyena Comments (0)

Safari Day 1

The Maasai

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Waking up from our coma-like post-climb sleep, we are dismayed to find out that there is another mix-up with our travel arrangements. Our tour guides are trying to find a safari guide for us. They tell us that the guide they had scheduled for us was going to be a day late because the owner of the tour company had come in for an unscheduled tour the following week and he wouldn't be finished up until the second day of our safari. They were scrambling to find us a substitute. There is much back-and-forth with the hotel owner and a tour representative before a suitable alternative is worked out.

We get loaded and head out toward Lake Manyara. On our way, we see a few roadside stands, people herding goats and cattle and some brilliantly purple trees.

Roadside stand

Roadside stand


Roadside goat herding

Roadside goat herding

Purple trees

Purple trees

We also pass by a restaurant in the shape of an elephant.

Elephant restaurant

Elephant restaurant

In talking to our various African guides, we noticed that Tanzanians are very proud of the tribes that they are from. Whenever we met someone and asked them where they were from, they would tell us their town and then their tribe. Freddy said there are 140 tribes in Tanzania, about 10 in Moshi. He is Chagga which makes up about 80% of Moshi. They are mainly a farming tribe. He grew up speaking Swahili and didn't learn his tribe's language until his family moved to Moshi when he was 10. The Swahili are the largest tribe in Tanzania and this is why their language is the most well known and common. Although the English definitely have influence here with their language too. One way this comes out is through people's names. For example, Freddy and Jon do not sound very Swahili to me. But, the inhabitants are divided. Jon told me he has two daughters, one is named Fousta and the other is Jennifer. Our driver's name is Jofus. I did not except to find so many English sounding names.

One of Tanzania's most famous tribes is the Maasai. They were definitely the most interesting to me. In my opinion, they are the most primitive and very protective of their culture as they have been living the same lifestyle for a long time. They are nomadic and basically follow the rain. When the rain and water for their animals moves on, so do they. They will tear down their thatch-roofed mud huts, carry the sticks from their huts and use them to build a new circle of mud huts at their next site. Each building is about 30' in diameter and there are usually about 10 in a grouping. Sometimes they will put plants in a border around the grouping or build a fence of vertical sticks. They will sometimes come back to the same sites on an annual basis.

Maasai village

Maasai village

They live entirely off of the animals they herd which are cows, goats and donkeys. They eat their meat and drink their milk and their blood using a special clotting substance so as not to kill the animal. Except for that, the only thing they eat are perhaps the roots and bark of plants and trees for medicinal purposes. Which, unfortunately, they need quite often as apparently gonorrhea is common among them.

They are easy to identify as they all wear plaid cloth wrapped around them. An iconic image from this area is the plaid cloth-wrapped Maasai herding their animal and walking with a stick taller than themselves. I asked s Maasai who was at our Ngorongoro lodge selling his wares if he had made the plaid cloth he was wearing (like I assumed) and he said that no, he bought it in Arusha. I don't know if this is true for most of them, but they definitely interact with other tribes. We saw them in Moshi and Arusha.

We saw 3 or 4 male Maasai teenagers on our journey with faces painted white accented with black around the eyes, nose and mouth. Our guide told us this is the traditional face paint of the male Maasai's coming-of-age ceremony.

The roads are dusty as it is the end of the dry season and bumpy as it is Africa. I can see now why our female Boulder travel agent said that some women advise wearing a sports bra on safari. Luckily, I am not too cursed with that problem.

About half way there, we pass through a small village. Much to our surprise, our driver stops and gets out of our Land Cruiser, and waves to what seemed to be a random guy on the road. Words are exchanged. Drivers are exchanged...?! Locals try to sell us their wares through the car windows. If I remember correctly money was exchanged between the two drivers. The peddlers get more aggressive. Our original guide tells us off-handedly that the new driver will take care of us now. This is not the most comfortable of situations. Who is this new driver? Is it really some random guy he picked up off of the road? The old driver tells us that he has to be somewhere else...? What can we do but roll with the punches? We are off down the road again.

We stop at a large store/tourist trap. I buy a small Tanzanite gem. Tanzanite is one of the most rare precious stone in the world - said to be a thousand times more rare than diamonds - and comes only from the foothills of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I think my Aunt will love it.

We reach the entrance. I am inspired by the entrance sign.

Park sign

Park sign

Let the animal watching begin! We scour the vegetation. Then, on what is surely to be known as the first instance that solidifies my reputation as "animal spotter," I am the first one in the vehicle to see an elephant on the side of the hill.

Where's the elephant?

Where's the elephant?

See him? Right there! Wait for him to move...Now! Did you see that? We have to back up a little, but the guide sees almost automatically. It takes the elephant some movement before Craig finds him. Another safari truck passes by us and I am pointing frantically trying to show them the elephant. They don't see it and continue on. Later, I understand why. There are much better opportunities to see elephants up close and personal. Not as much as baboons, antelope or zebra, but we are greeted closer to the road by an elephant not that far away. Still, I am swelling with pride at the sighting.

Here is the apparently very old elephant that we see just a little way down the road.

Old Elephant

Old Elephant


Old Elephant

Old Elephant

We see baboons and their families, buffalo, buffalo with baboons...
Big baboon

Big baboon


Baboon family

Baboon family


Buffalo and baboons

Buffalo and baboons

We pull up to the shore of a small lake full of hippos. Our driver says it is okay to get out of the truck and get a closer look and in fact there is a shabby fence built out of a few wood logs letting tourist know how far from the road they should go.

Hippo pool

Hippo pool


Craig on safari

Craig on safari


Hippos

Hippos

Lots of animals seem to use this watering hole. Lots of safari guides know it.

Safari jeeps

Safari jeeps


Plethora of animals

Plethora of animals

Although baboons turn out to be one of the most common critters out here, as of this day, I've never seen them in the wild before, so I am shutter happy. Plus, I love to see the babies clinging to their moms. I capture a nice impala specimen too.

Baboon and baby

Baboon and baby

Tiny Baboon

Tiny Baboon


Impala

Impala


Baboon mom nursing

Baboon mom nursing

Mom cleaning baby

Mom cleaning baby

Okay, I'll show you where that elephant is in that other photo. Trust, me it's an elephant.

Spot the elephant

Spot the elephant

While we are stopped looking at some monkeys in a tree, our guide spots something that he says is a very rare sighting and according to him, tourists "never" get to see. It is a monitor lizard, about 4 feet long, coming out of the water by a tree.

Rare monitor lizard sighting

Rare monitor lizard sighting

Later, baby antelope come from behind a bush with their mother.

Baby antelope

Baby antelope

For the description of the animal in this next photo, I ask you to please remove your children from the room. They won't have any idea what I am talking about anyway. It is my belief, or it is a great coincidence, that the animal in this next photo is the origination for the American term "blue balls." If you have never heard this term, believe me, I am not going to be the one to explain it to you. The reason I posit this hypothesis is that this animal does, in fact, have blue balls. Look closely. The other reason is that he only has these during mating season. I rest my case.

Mating season blue ball monkey

Mating season blue ball monkey

Next on the list of sights to see are the dik-diks. Is it me or is a theme emerging? I'm sure any 12-year-old boy could tell you, if he could keep a straight face. To western men's dismay they are the smallest of all antelope.

Dikdik family

Dikdik family

If you can't tell the scale them from this picture, they are only about 20" tall. No boys, no jokes about inches here.

This tree is teaming with monkeys.

Where are the monkeys?

Where are the monkeys?

Here, I'll show you.
Here are the monkeys

Here are the monkeys

Before we left the Park, I had to take a representative shot of the cool trees.

Cool trees

Cool trees

Goodbye Lake Manyara National Park! We enjoyed your splendors! Once out of the valley it sits in, we headed up toward our next hotel and were able to watch the sun set over the lake - beautiful.
View of Lake Manyara

View of Lake Manyara

We were lucky this time to land on the good side of overbooking and were upgraded to a suite at the Lake Manyara Lodge. We had a lovely dinner at their restaurant, gossiped about our fellow patrons, ate way too much food, and heard the local live band they had there. This is the life!

Lake Manyara Lodge

Lake Manyara Lodge

Posted by JillnCraig 14:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals elephant bird hut africa safari zebra lizard antelope maasai giraffe hippo baboon tribes hippopotamus lake_manyara tanzanite Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 7

Hakuna matata!

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Kili from Millenium camp

Kili from Millenium camp

It is a beautiful morning. We are back down into the taller vegetation and the peak once again looks like it's way off in the distance. With the clouds last night we couldn't see it, but this morning it is surreal to think that only a less than a day ago we were on top of that thing. Like Craig says, that is something no one can ever take away from you. From now on, you will always be someone who has climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. As if not to let the ego swell too much, the crew has gathered together for a photograph, reminding us that though we made it, it took 11 guys to help us. Here's are photo that makes us look like royalty.
Our Kili team

Our Kili team

Before Freddie lets our porters go ahead of us, they indulge us in one of their climbing traditions and sing a few songs to us. I wasn't sure how much memory this would eat up on my camera, so I only take a few seconds of each, but hopefully you get the idea.

More chatting with Fred, this time about religion. We learned that what we had read about Tanzania being mostly Muslim is not true and that most follow the religion of the Swahili. I tell Fred that back home my sister is a minister and he asks me if she is a public or a private minister. That's one I've never heard. Apparently there are state-funded ministers here and there are all kinds of them. Our hotel happens to be about 2 long blocks away from a mosque where they broadcast their prayers five times a day. Fred said most people don't understand the prayer language except the Muslims.

Sadly, what we had read about the trash on the trail seems to be true. Honestly, I suspect the porters because a lot of it seems to be candy wrappers from the same candy brand on the whole trail. It's hard to imagine that all of the visitors here would bring the same type of candy. I think they probably just aren't educated about the importance of keeping the trail clean.

I know I've said a lot here already about the endurance and strength of the porters but I have to add another thing on top of this. They smoke like crazy. I don't recall exactly if they were smoking while moving, but they would definitely light up at each stop. And not just tobacco either. Who does this kind of exertion with that kind of lung capacity?! Crazy.

Truly, those are the only, if slightly, ill words I can say for our generous mountain hosts. Overall, they were amazing. Asante-sana to our guides and porters!! You were wonderful!! (Asante=thank you, sana=very much, or very or more).

Back down, down, down. With all that I have already asked my bad knee to do, going down is the hardest on it. I was copiously encouraged by Freddie to keep up my pace as all of his guys would be down long ahead of us and waiting to get back to Moshi. He helped me a lot down the big steps and I used my good leg as much as I could. But, overusing my good knee eventually just made it sore too. I tried to ask him a lot of questions to slow him down.

He said that if we were going to see monkeys, today was the most likely day. We kept our eye out most of the way down. We once again saw many wonderful flora. And, trying to get my hiking partners to linger in addition to loving beautiful flowers, I stopped as much as I could for photos.Brown and white flower

Brown and white flower

Red flower

Red flower


Purple flowers

Purple flowers


Craig and Jungle

Craig and Jungle

Red hot poker

Red hot poker

Curly tail flowers

Curly tail flowers

We didn't see many others on the trail today. Mostly because they passed us yesterday to go to the lower camp or at the beginning of the day due to my slow knee. One porter we did see brought a grim example of mountain transportation with him. A lone porter with herculean strength (of course) passes by us coming up the mountain with a large metal frame. Attached to this frame is a single, small wheel right in the center.

Mountain Taxi

Mountain Taxi

"Mountain taxi" says Freddie. This is what they use to carry down the climbers who are too sick to even stand. They get put on this stretcher and depending on their size, 2-4 porters grab a hand hold and bumpity, bump them down to either the nearest helipad or in this case, the Mweka exit depending on the severity of the illness. I read another hiker's blog of their experience with the mountain taxi and it did not sound good. He said his head was bouncing like a rubber ball. This guy's writing and description of the whole ordeal is pretty darn funny (plus, it makes us look good for having finished the climb) so I post a link to it here, for those interested. http://gregwtravels.travellerspoint.com/66/

A stop for another flower shot
White flowers

White flowers


doesn't give my knee a long enough break so I ask Freddie why some of these gigantic, redwood-sized trees are missing a lot of bark. He says that we are down low enough now to where the locals will come up and scout out this particular type of tree and raid it of its bark. They believe it to have medicinal purposes.
Fred and giant medicinal tree trunk

Fred and giant medicinal tree trunk

Down, down, down so much down. The knee is aching with every step and has been asking me to quit eight times over. Freddie is fed up with us and is continually about 10 to 20 yards in front of us. We have a sense that we are getting closer to the exit as the path has once again turned into more of a road - much wider and no stairs anymore. Freddie, with his understanding of my knee situation, has finally stopped to let us catch up. Or, no, wait, it looks like he's spotted something he wants to show us. Monkeys?! He's waving us over. I can't see at all what he's looking at, it seems like he's looking at blank air near the ground. We get close, almost on top of what he wants us to see without seeing it. Then, a line across the path attracts our attention. It's moving and bubbling. A continuously moving, but not moving at all line of ants.

Ant line close up

Ant line close up

Not moving at all because the line was stationary, it was just all of the ants within it that were frantically going back and forth from one side of the forest to the other. I don't remember exactly how many, but I think we saw a few other smaller lines the rest of the way down.

Further down, we hear some rustling in the bushes where the vegetation is so thick it is like a wall along the trail. Freddie is at least 30 yards ahead of us now. The critters making the noise emerge, and they aren't critters at all. They are two girls who come out of the bushes with a ton of leaves on their head, piled high and draping down their backs. They see us and surprisingly - speak English. In my opinion, if you are going to only know one word in English, this is the best. They hold out their hands and ask, "Chocolate? chocolate?" Sadly, I had no chocolate. They did know at least one other word and this one was "Money?" When we refused on this one too they scampered away very quickly down the hill with their leaf pile that, from behind, made them look like a walking bushn. Freddie said later that they are know to come up the trail like this and (I think illegally) take vegetation down to their farm animals.

Again, Freddie lets us catch up to him by stopping and waving his arm for us. He's staring into the trees. Finally, our monkeys! There are at least a dozen of them, but they are very hard to photograph. Here is the best one I could get.
Kili monkey

Kili monkey

More down, down, down, pain, pain, pain. It's silly how much pain. But, all good things must come to an end ;) and we are finally down to the Mweka Gate. Hallelujah! There is a bathroom there and we wash up as best we can. There is also a much larger group of climbers and porters down there and we listen to them singing for a while as Freddie takes care of paperwork with the park officials. This includes picking up our summit certifications. My certification number is 74051. I'm not sure if that corresponds to anything like total number of certifications given. Am I the 74,051st summitor? Anyway, it is an elite privilege and I am both proud and humbled to have it.

Craig invites our crew back to our hotel to have some beers with us. We had read that this is sometimes a nice gesture. Some join, but a few feel it a priority to be with their families and we are not offended. We chat with Freddie and Jon. We are sad to leave our weeklong buddies. One thing nice about bringing them back to our hotel is that we got to personally thank them and give them their tips one-by-one, with Freddie translating for us. There was a little confusion about the proper tip rate. Freddie seemed disappointed at first and told us so. We checked with some other travelers at the hotel and did another quick search online. We thought we were pretty right on target, but didn't want to leave them, especially Freddie, with such a long face. We talked it over and gave Freddie additional money to distribute how he wanted. At this, he seemed overjoyed! All was "very good" now, he said over and over. I think this is just part of his job - to look out for his crew as best he can. There didn't seem to be any bad feelings after this.

We were told by our hotel manager that our hotel was overbooked for that night and that they would be taking us to another hotel a little bit out of town. He claimed a communication mix-up. It's hard to say what really happened though, something seemed suspect like possibly he was given the opportunity to charge more for our room or book a larger group by kicking us out. Oh well, the other hotel was just as nice and after 7 days on the mountain, any shower is a good shower.

We said goodbye to a few of our new friends here and some went with us to the new hotel where we said goodbye to them. One of the men said something very sweet to me which I will always remember, although I didn't catch the exact words. The idea though was that even if we don't meet again in this lifetime our souls will meet again. I thought it was very touching, he seemed so sincere.

The title of this day could have just as easily been named: Shower Day! Best. Shower. Ever. I don't care if the water came out a little sparingly or if the tile wasn't US hotel quality or if - anything. Seven days of stinky, sweaty climbing washed off and it was WONDERFUL!! Just for fun, I'll include the photo of Craig right before he shaved off his 7-day beard.
Craig shaving

Craig shaving


The only thing I remember after that was getting something to eat and falling into a nice, long, deep sleep. Whew!

Posted by JillnCraig 13:52 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals flowers hiking shower kilimanjaro ants mountain_taxi Comments (0)

Tips if you go

Do's and Don'ts

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Some friends have said that they have been thinking about doing this trip too. If so, I highly recommend it! It was a life-changing experience. Here are a few things I would do/not do based on our experience:

DO
- give yourself a rest day. At least 24 hours from the time your flight lands to the time you hit the trail. Allows time for your baggage to catch up with you if necessary (which it was for us and probably more often that you'd think), and for the jet lag to wear off.
- the 7 day trip. Any more days and you're just sick of sleeping in stinky tents. Any less and you're pushing your acclimatization too much. You want to enjoy your experience in addition to making it to the top.
- stay at Millennium camp instead of the Mweka camp. It distributes the climbing on the last 2 days better, pushing more of the climb to the last day and off of summit day. Summitting is exhilarating, but you will be hiking an extraordinary amount this day and it was nice not to have to pass by this camp.
- Pay the extra for the private toilet!
- Bring your own snacks for the climb and safari.
- Pack your stuff for summit day in a separate small bag so you don't have to unpack and repack it every night. Unless you want to use it as an extra pillow like I did, then bring an extra pillow case for stuffing.
- bring plenty of sun screen.
- bring a small journal or make journal voice recordings like I did on my iPhone. It's going to be an amazing experience. There's a lot to take in and you might want to remember it later.
- learn at least a little about the culture before you go. I didn't read the material that I had printed from the web until we were on the plane. It was too late then to bring dresses or skirts to wear which was what the women mostly wear in town as it is not customary to bare your legs. Also, I did not see much if any skirts or dress or women's clothing at all for sale in town. I saw plenty of fabric shops and men's clothing. Thus, I was walking around in African heat in jeans while we were in town.
- take the time it takes on Safari to visit the Serengeti. You will see a lot of animals if you don't but, I mean, it's The Serengeti. You've come all this way across the continents - go to the Serengeti. If for nothing else, the wildebeest migration is unforgettable and life-changing.
- look into bringing equipment to donate to the porters. It is expensive for charitable organizations to ship donations and usually on international flights you are allowed more bags than on domestic flights. My husband and I were allowed two large checked bags each. Between the two of us, we packed two large duffel bags with our gear, another duffel bag with gear that our US outfitters were sending over to their Tanzanian outfitters, and another one full of donated coats, shoes, etc. These items were delivered to our house before we left from a US-based Kilimanjaro porter charitable organization. So, we didn't even have to come up with the stuff to donate, we were purely offering the transportation for it. I have unfortunately forgotten the name of the organization, but check with your outfitters. They should be able to point you in the right direction. If they don't, find another outfitter because they are not very in touch with Tanzania. But, you can also, of course, bring your own stuff to give to them too. Craig gave a pair of old shoes to a fella that worked at our hotel who asked if he could have them when Craig told him he was looking for the donation box and was very happy to have them.

DON'T
- pack most everything into one big bag that then has to fit into another big bag (making it the thing that has to go into the bigger bag first). You're going to want to pack and repack quickly and having to wait to put your smaller stuff in the biggest bag takes longer than just having several smaller things that you can pack as they are ready to go in.

Posted by JillnCraig 17:53 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tips do's don'ts Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 6, Summit Day

And we didn't even barf!

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I pause here for dramatic effect and to discuss a few other things we learned from Freddie about "Tahn-ZAHN-ya" as he calls it. (I used "lasagna" as a phonetic reminder.) Some of the things that we read online about the country turned out not to be true. For example, we read that it was illegal to wear camouflage clothing. He said that hasn't been true for a long time. We also learned that the country only recently got it's freedom from the U.K. in 1961. That is when the peak was named Uhuru Peak - uhuru meaning "freedom" in Swahili. Very cool.

He said that Tanzania has a similar education system where they go to "nursery" school from ages 4-5, then primary school from 6-13, secondary school from 14-18 and then 2 additional years after that. He didn't call these 2 additional years college, but I'm guessing it is something similar or perhaps vocational school. However, they go to school year round. But it sounded like they have more intermediate breaks here and there than in the U.S.

Freddie says he likes to play volleyball and football (soccer). He is married and has one 3-year-old daughter.

Back to the climb. It is still technically Day 5. Our alarm goes off at 10:45pm. At 11:15 we are dressed in about 5 layers of clothing and Freddie is calling to us from outside the tent. We take just enough time to have a quick, light breakfast and leave our camp by 12:15 am. It took us at first a little while to just get out of camp because of the size of the camp. Also, we stopped about 3 times within the first 20 minutes for Craig and I to take off a layer or two of clothing even though it was bitterly cold. The exertion of climbing heated our core temperatures up pretty quickly.

Right out of camp the steepness continues as was the case for a lot of the mornings on the trail. We got a little bit of a break at a fairly shallow incline for a bit and then back to the steeps - even a little hand holding. At the top of this rocky area, things started to get really difficult. There is a sizable crowd with us. Everyone is going very "poli poli." There are several times where I ask myself, Why am I doing this? Who do I think I am doing this? Who am I? There were several times where for one reason or another Craig and I were feeling sick or nauseous or when I had a headache. In those cases, the length of my stride (if you could call it that) is about 1/2 of my foot length because I just had to slow down for being ill. Remember, no stopping! If you're going to stop you might as well turn back around. Yes, you can stop for rests here and there but not long enough for your heart rate to slow too much. It's "slowly, slowly" for a reason, not "stop, go, stop."

And talk about new experiences - I had hallucinations, whee! My eye doctor has since guessed that I was experiencing an ocular migraine. I had no headache at that point, but Freddy's feet in front of me were leaving a glowing trail behind them. This started, I think coincidentally, when the trail got so treacherous that the light of the full moon wasn't adequate anymore and we had turned on our headlamps. After about a minute of this, I decided to stop Freddy. We pulled off to the side of the trail and I tried to explain to my Swahili-native speaker in English what I was experiencing. This took some effort and Craig tried to enhance my communication with his own words. Freddie seemed to somewhat understand but also seemed still a little confused. However, he took it all in, paused for about 5 seconds and then with the certainty of a politician making campaign promises said "No Problem!...No problem, I think you will be fine." And with that, we all headed up again. He paused a yard or two later and said that maybe it was because we had turned our headlamps on. We all turned our headlamps off. Again, I don't know if that was it or that just by stopping again for a little bit my brain got the oxygen it needed, but the visions seemed to stop.

There is no question that this is the part of the climb where your mettle is determined. Sometimes the only things that kept me going at this point was all of the practice we had done and making promises to myself that I would never do it again. You need a lot of patience and determination to climb like this for hours. I wondered how many times and for how long I could keep telling myself, just one foot in front of the other. Slowly, the sun starts to rise and relieve us of our headlamps and warm us slightly. We had intended to be at Stella Point by now. That we aren't is regrettable in two ways. One, we've been climbing scree with nary a good bathroom rock to hide behind and are getting desperate. Two, we are climbing with the sun coming up behind us so that, though it is a beautiful, amazing sunrise, we only get peeks of it when we turn around ever so occasionally.
Sunrise behind Mawenzi

Sunrise behind Mawenzi

Once we are finally at Stella Point, the sunrise is pretty much over. Fred tries to get us a quick photo of the last bit of red-orange, but we're having none of it. We're straight off to the side of the hill where the only possible cover is offered. After that we are able to take a few photos and feel a jubilant victory. Us at Stella's point

Us at Stella's point

Stella's point - True peak is off to the right. I don't remember if it's in this photo or not.

Stella's point - True peak is off to the right. I don't remember if it's in this photo or not.


A milestone has been reached and the scree has ended! This is also the first time we can see the REAL summit.
Stella's point looking at the peak

Stella's point looking at the peak


Stella Point is an exemplary false summit. For those who aren't familiar with this term, you can likely guess it's meaning. It's the point that looks like the summit from the angle that can be viewed from below, however, once it is reached, the climber's heart is crushed to realize that it is not the actual summit. Luckily, the real summit is only about 45 minutes from here and it is not up as much as it is around the crater rim. Unbelievably, there are people that turn back at this point. On the one hand, it is a milestone that can be claimed and many are so tired and sick with altitude that they fear their health in going forward. However, PEOPLE - YOU ARE SEVERAL DAYS DOWN AND ONLY MINUTES TO GO. CAN YOU REALLY TURN BACK NOW?!?!?!

The crawl around to the summit is breathtaking literally and figuratively. Views of the crater can only be experienced. Many guides are practically carrying their climbers with them. A lot of climbers just look like they are in a lot of pain, grimacing, crying and yes, sometimes puking. Comparatively, Craig and I are feeling pretty good. Craig is doing better than me. His headache has finally wore off while mine is beginning. And then, an unexpected boost. Seeming to jump and float, climbers come down. I can almost feel the energy coming off of them as they greet us and encourage us with words like "You're almost there!", and "It's totally worth it!"

Then, if anything 6 days in the making can come suddenly, suddenly, a turn around a rock reveals the sign at the summit. The Sign!!! In the actual flesh. With real light and shadows on it. In real, life size, standing there, maybe 40 yards away. Hooooo. My breath leaves me, my senses are heightened, and it's almost like I saw Jesus himself. Tears well up in my eyes.
Summit sign

Summit sign

Craig has a strong emotional reaction too in which he tells me that he is so energized by this sight he feels like he could run to the top. I would have loved to so badly, but I'm still experiencing my physical downturn. He's like 5 steps in front of me from here to the top because he cannot help himself.

I heard angels sing, saw the future of the whole world in a vision and then I evaporated - what I mean is, I had a similarly hard-to-describe amazing, pure moment. WE MADE IT!!!! WE MADE IT TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA! THE TALLEST POINT IN THE CONTINENT! ONE OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS! WE MADE IT!!!!!
We did it!

We did it!


Jon Jill Craig and Fred at the top

Jon Jill Craig and Fred at the top

If political conferences could be held in the emotional state that everyone was in on the top, there would never be another war, AIDS, poverty or hunger or environmental crisis. I just know it. There is a little party up there. People are crying (including me). People are hugging (yep, me too - Craig, Fred and Jon, and if I'd had just a little less inhibition, everyone else up there.) People are laughing, taking pictures (politely, one at a time with The Sign), talking, cheering, congratulating. We get our turn with The Sign and take several with both cameras, just in case. Fred and Jon seem genuinely joyous for us even though I know they must get tired of this scene. What frigid cold? What lack of oxygen? We don't notice - we're on top of the world.

And then, Fred asks us if we are ready. Ready? We just got here. That's the thing, you can't stay on top of the world very long. You get sick. I would have stayed there much longer if I could have. Mountain top time is just not the same as civilian time, so it was hard to say, but I think we were there, at the most, 30 minutes. We did try to soak it all in. We took mental and digital photos. Some photos I took just to get Freddie to stop telling me I had to leave. Some I took though because we didn't take any on the way up from Stella Point, the objective to reach the peak taking our full attention.
Glacier and pond

Glacier and pond

Jill and glacier

Jill and glacier


Us and glacier

Us and glacier


Glacier and crater

Glacier and crater

Crater

Crater


Melting glacier

Melting glacier


Layered glacier

Layered glacier


Glacier waterfall - about 1/3 from the left

Glacier waterfall - about 1/3 from the left

Glacier

Glacier

It's hard to photograph glaciers and do them justice, but we did our best with what we had. So clear blue, so out-of-scale big, so majestic. So receding. <sigh> We're glad we made it before they are gone, which I hear will likely be within the next 10 years or so. We wonder later how this might affect the tourist economy here, as fewer are likely to climb after that. We understand now the feeling of those we saw on their way down. We try to pass on the same energy and encouragement to those coming up. You can see the struggle in their eyes. Hallelujah, we're on our way down! This part is easy. We stop for photos that we missed on the way up, the crater, distant peaks around the rim. We even spot a reference for the size of the crater - a small caravan of hikers coming through it.
Crater hikers way down there

Crater hikers way down there

Crater hikers, See?

Crater hikers, See?


Glacier and people

Glacier and people

Mawenzi

Mawenzi

We're at Stella Point again in no time. Now it's down the scree.
Coming down

Coming down


This is where the gaiters and skiing experience come in handy. The one step up, one slide back on the way up has turned into one step down, three steps of sliding. It's pretty darn fun. It is a little tiring too though because you have to stop yourself from sliding all the way back down several hundred yards. Freddie is taking it by leaps and bounds and I am having a tough time keeping up with him. He keeps calling at me like there is a fireball behind me that I need to escape. Definitely no "poli, poli" here. We take a few rest stops. We drink more water. Then, we are finally back at summit camp.

You'd think after 5 hrs of sleep and 12 hours of climbing a gal could get some rest. Turns out it's very dangerous to be at high altitudes for very long and even more so to sleep at high altitude. Fred gives us one sweet hour of rest in our tents before turning down again. But, man what an hour it was! In explicably, it was all that we needed to hold us until the next camp.

We packed up and headed down with the rest of the herd. A light snow turned into a light rain turned into a heavy rain just as we got into camp. We were so happy to see the hut at this camp and that we had decided to stay here at the Millennium camp instead of at Mweka camp. It was about 2 hours from Barafu to Millennium and I could not have imagined having to pass by this camp for ANOTHER 2 hours down to Mweka, the more popular camp. Enough hiking already! We were glad that our crew had long since set up camp for us and we had respite from the rain. We were soaked.
Camp 6 Millennium

Camp 6 Millennium


I wasn't sure if I'd documented any of the park ranger huts so I took one here.
Millennium camp hut

Millennium camp hut


This shot doesn't give much perspective for size. It's crammed with 2 bunk beds, a small table and two guys that sign us in and offer candy bars. We had waited out the rain here a bit while Freddie found our camp. Another delicious dinner and we look forward to our last night on the mountain, victorious!

Posted by JillnCraig 17:12 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 5

Short day #3

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The mountain was in the clouds last night so it was quite a nice surprise when we woke up to this:

Karanga view

Karanga view

Karanga camp is the camp that is skipped if you are doing the six-day Machame route. We noticed that the three gray-haired guys that started out with us didn't stay at Karanga and were amazed that they had chosen to do the six-day. They didn't seem like they were up for it. Maybe it was one of them that we heard about later who had some trouble. More about that tomorrow.

Because we DID choose to stay at Karanga, days 4 and 5 were shorter for us. Today we again came across new terrain. A part of the mountain looked like a shale quarry. It was clanking and chiming as we walked over it.

Jill and shale

Jill and shale

We arrived at Barafu Camp in the early afternoon. YEA!! We made it to Barfu camp - Summit Camp!

We had to wait in line to sign in at the hut. There were some grouchies there. Some people thought they were too important to wait in line.

In the hut, they offered Cokes and beers for sale. Beers. At 15,000 feet. Tempting, but no. I believe they did have some takers though.

We scrambled through the rocks down a very steep incline to our tent. Barafu camp slopes twice as much as Karanga camp. This was my least favorite camp. I nick-named it Barfy camp. Thankfully that was not the result, but it was difficult to sleep, eat and walk around at such an elevation and angle. Also, it snowed on us and the winds ripped through like Wicked Witch of West. We were forced to stay in our tents.

Barafu

Barafu

I got a little time to make notes in my journal. This being the night before summit day, we will dine early in order try to catch a few Z's before our 10:45pm wake up call. That's 10:45pm tonight. This waking hour is required as it is just enough time to eat breakfast, put everything on that we brought with us, and start out into the cold night at midnight.

Craig decided that he needed a good shot of our toilet tent and if I hadn't stopped him, he would have taken me demonstrating it's use. (You're welcome.) Instead I am doing my best Vanna White.

Jill and toilet at Barafu

Jill and toilet at Barafu

It is hard now not to be anxious. We're here, we made it to Barafu. Nothing left to do but summit. This is what I've been so nervous about all of the times we went up hiking to train for this. Will I sleep tonight? How cold will it be? How long will we go tomorrow? Will we make it to the top? Will we get sick? Will we be too exhausted? And now, it's HERE. All of this time training for this one day. Wish us luck!

Posted by JillnCraig 17:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 4

To Karanga Camp

semi-overcast

Luckily we have both been sleeping well in our tent. We are using a tent that is provided by our tour company. It's about a 2-1/2 person tent and just the right size for the two of us and our gear. I've realized why it was hard at first to find our group when we would get into camp each day. All of the tents in our group are the same size, style and color as ours, but the number of tents seems much smaller than what should hold our group of 13. We asked Freddie what the set up was. He said everyone else sleeps 3 and 4 to a tent. Just one more thing to about the porters to be impressed by. Freddie claims he doesn't mind and that it helps to keep them warm.

We are slowly learning a little more swahili. Ah-sahn-tay for thank you, Kah-ree-boo for welcome.

In addition to the crows we saw yesterday, we have seen a few other types of birds, some just smaller than robin size, sparrows, and yellow ones with brown stripes. The mice we've seen seem like a cross between mice and ground squirrels because they have striping similar to ground squirrels, but not the colors are muted. We asked Freddie about the wildlife. He said there used to be more before the trails became more popular. Through his accent and broken english I thought I heard him say something about "good" people and "bad" people, implying the bad people have scared away or killed the animals, but I'm not sure. He says we might be able to see monkeys on the way down.

We have enjoyed chatting with Freddie on the trails and meals and learning about him and life in Tanzania. He told us stories about what it was like for him as a porter eight years ago. All guides must start out climbing the mountain as a porter. It sounded like life was much harder on the porters back then as many of the human rights regulations were not in place. There was no rule on how much a porter could carry and he said he carried as much as 26 kg. He and his fellow porters also slept out in the open with no tent or sleeping bag and just blankets. Porters get promoted to cook by taking a culinary class or learning from other mountain cooks and then to assistant guide before they become a guide. He said climbs are easier the more frequently you go. In a busy season they will go on a week trip and come home for a week before they go up again. But lately with tourism down, crews are lucky to go up once a month and it is much more difficult for them.

In addition to being fit, motivated and acclimated for a trip like this, you really need to have little regard for what enters your nose. Pee-you! Every porter that passes you leaves a ripe funk behind him. No worries. In a few days, this funk is joined by your own bouquet, so you'll have a hard time distinguishing it. You can try to dry out your "quick dry" hi-tech fabrics in your tent, but what is the point really? The stench will just swirl around in there and eventually settle in again. We try anyway.

Life in our tent

Life in our tent

Hiking today is also mostly for acclimatization. There are longer stretches of up and down today instead of lots of short ups and downs like yesterday. Here is a photo of Craig and Freddie in front of what we are about to attempt a little while out of camp. If you look closely you can see the trail zig-zag in the background.

Craig and Fred

Craig and Fred

This is the first day that I remember doing any hand-holding on the trail. This spot (near the top of the last photo) was especially vertical. Still, the tenacious porters manage it.
Porters climbing from Barranco to Karanga

Porters climbing from Barranco to Karanga

There was a small celebration at the top of this mini-peak, with porters, guides and clients alike all smiles. I also remember hearing the porters ahead of us singing a song before we reached them at the top. It was in swahili and the words sounded something like "pajamas" in English. Freddie told us part of the song meant "clap your hands" and this is what they were doing along with the song. The song and singing seemed to amuse Freddie. So, it was very lively at the top of this intermediate peak.

The landscapes are as varied as they have been on the other days. Some with lots of vegetation, but some that look like mars.
Jill on Mars

Jill on Mars

Freddie said this would be another short day. Even so, we are surprised to see Karanga camp when we are only 2 or 2-1/2 hours from Baranco. If you look in the center of this photo, about a 1/3 of the way down, you can see Karanga.
Camp 4 Karanga

Camp 4 Karanga

We are proud and happy that all of our high-altitude training has made this day so easy for us. That is, until we get to the edge of the valley. Suddenly, Karanga camp is not so close. The valley goes waaaay down and then waaay back up to camp. This is Craig in front of the valley and you still can't see the bottom of it.
Craig and Karanga Valley

Craig and Karanga Valley

It takes us about 2 more hours to get to camp. The decent into the valley is very near a watershed and the rocks are slippery so getting down was harder than getting back up. Here I am once we got to the other side and were looking back. (Every vacation we go on, we try to have one photo where we are looking pensive. Here's mine.)

Jill being pensive

Jill being pensive

Karanga is on a decent incline and walking around camp is disorienting because of this. I was little wobbly on my feet.

Camp 4 Karanga

Camp 4 Karanga

We got into camp early enough that I had a little time to rest and even got motivated to do a very short side hike up the hill to take a look around. As I went, I picked up trash along the trail. I got some strange looks as it seemed that I am the only one who thought this was remotely interesting. I was a little afraid of offending our hosts but I felt like I was doing something good for the mountain so I figured they'd get over it.

We are treated to a nice sunset above that clouds that night before heading off to bed.

Camping above the clouds at Karanga

Camping above the clouds at Karanga

Posted by JillnCraig 15:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 3

Down, Up, Down, Flat, Up, Down, Up, Flat, Up, Down, Down, Flat, Down, Down

semi-overcast 65 °F

Loaded down porters blazing past us, we head out on day 3. I cannot emphasize how amazing the porters were to me. They are constantly passing the clients, weighted down with gear, wearing street shoes. If I saw any of them wearing hiking boots, it was scant few. So, there wasn't much chance of getting of an over-inflated ego about what a mighty climber you are.

Since acclimatization is the name of the game, day 3 was a lot of up and down. I seem to remember being at the top of the first or second hill on this day asking Freddie what the rest of the day's trek was like and getting an answer similar to "From here, we go down, up, down, flat, up, down, up, flat, up, down, down, flat, down, down." Well, guess we'd better get going then.

New fantastic views of the summit appear.
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Today is also the day we pass by the Lava Tower rock formation. I kid you not, some nutsos had their climbing gear on and were scaling the side of this thing. Sorry I don't have people in here for scale but I estimate it at about four stories high.
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That's an adequate challenge for an average rock climber at a moderate elevation, but we are now near 15,000 feet. Craig and I are excited to note that this is the highest we have ever been while hiking.

We stopped for a nice lunch. A few black crow-like birds came by to see what we might drop or give to them. They look like the crows from home except they are slightly larger, have much larger beaks and have a streak of white across their back and a white tip on their beak.

A few small rodents visited for clean up. I think they were mice. We chatted with Freddie a little about how the world-wide economic crisis was affecting Tanzania and how hiking trips were down quite a bit this year. When he asked our opinions about the things that lead to the American recession, we felt embarrassed for our country as we explained how too many Americans had over-extended themselves in their mortgages and credit cards. And how greedy bank owners and others were breaking laws and moral codes to horde all the wealth they could. It felt so sad to me to hear the effects of this half a globe away to people who have little more than a day-to-day living. It really made the world seem so much smaller than it had seemed to me before. It's incredible that they accepted American dollars as equally as their own currency. It opened my eyes as to how powerful America is. They were celebrating the election of our President as if he were their own. In town we saw souvenirs with Obama's face on them. Just unreal.

Here I am on the other side of the Lava Tower. You can't really see the whole ridge here. I estimated it to be about 6-7 football fields long or longer.
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Lunch was yummy. We've been eating pretty well on the mountain. Sometimes they even get pretty creative with the presentation.
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For dinner on night one, we had a delicious cucumber soup. To start dinner on night two we had pumpkin soup. For dinner tonight, Craig speculates, "What soup are we going to have tonight?" and I guess, "Cucumber-Pumpkin?" Sure enough, that's what it tasted and looked like. We've also noticed that each night the soup seems to get a little spicier. Harder to take out the spice as the week goes on, I suppose. The meals we have also reinforce our feeling of royalty. It is amazing what you can do with a small gas camping stove (which you use inside your tent). Every meal begins with tea or hot chocolate, includes soup, an entree and fresh fruit. We had mangos, oranges, and pineapple. Breakfast always starts with a porridge with optional honey and sugar. Then sausage and what they called fried egg which is really more like scrambled egg. One strange thing to us was the light color of their egg yolks. Don't know what dictates the color of an egg yolk.

A lot of people have asked us to characterize Tanzanian food since we've been back but I have found that difficult. On the mountain, they made a lot of what I would call stew I guess. A mixture of cubed meat and veggies in a sauce. But they also made french fries, noodles, rice, and fish sticks for us. I don't feel like there was a significant flavor or style. I'm not much of a culinary critic though.

We trek on through another martian landscape,
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before descending again to the land of senacio trees.
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In amongst them are giant lobelia. We walk by a fabulous specimen just inches off the trail and I get a perfect chance for a photo. (And an excuse to slow Freddie down.)
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This shot shows the very cool purple flowers nestled in each leaf.
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We descend and descend in and out of thick mood-changing fog. Makes the mountain seem like it's keeping secrets. Here's one of them, the only waterfall we saw.
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Finally, Barranco camp (my favorite for the views.) This is a lucky shot we got during the maybe 5 minutes that the fog wasn't surrounding us. 037-Camp_3..nco_JPG.jpg We also try to take some video when we get into camp, but (we're guessing due to the cold) the video camera battery only had a few seconds left. Oh well.

Here is an image of how thick the fog was.
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One of my favorite shots of a two-headed senacio.
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That's it for Day 3 and Barranco camp. We are wiped out! Dinner and straight to bed.

Posted by JillnCraig 19:49 Archived in Tanzania Tagged waterfalls trees backpacking kilimanjaro Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 2

Packing lessons

semi-overcast 55 °F

The morning of day two is a lesson for me in quick packing. Other than getting up twice at night to use the private toilet tent, we slept pretty well. After breakfast, we go to pack up our tent and hadn't done any prep work the night before. I look around and ask Fred where everyone is. They've already packed up and are on the trail. In fact, they're waiting for me to finish packing so they can pack up our toilet tent and our tent so they can get going. Oops. I feel like the royal princess but in a different way. Royal pain-in-the-you-know-what. So, I'm scrambling to finish packing while Craig is deflating and rolling up my blow-up mattress, and rolling up my sleeping bag. After that, every night we do as much packing and organizing as we can after dinner so we can be super ready to go in the morning. It takes me another few nights to perfect my skills. If you go, I recommend having several small compression sacks rather than two large ones. With the two large ones, those have to go into your larger bags first, and then everything else gets packed around them. It forces you to be much more organized. The multiple bag option allows for freedom and less stress.

The climb this day introduces us to the Kilimanjaro senecio plant. It looks like a tree, but I'm not sure if that's technically correct. It looks like a very tall, skinny ice cream cone with green ice cream. The top is a spherical pom-pom of green leaves. As the plant grows, these leaves die and fold down around the trunk. The tallest ones we see are probably fifteen to twenty feet. Fred tells us that we will see a lot of them and he's right.

Craig and senecio Day 2

Craig and senecio Day 2

We are quickly out of the jungle and into the moorland where the vegetation is shorter. We get to a clearing where we can see how far we've already come. Fred points out the valley were Moshi is and we take a photo.

Us and the jungle

Us and the jungle

We see lava rocks that look to me like giant versions of lava rocks that we have seen while scuba diving. These also have lichen and moss that looks similar to the stuff that grows on the underwater versions.

We are still feeling good and must be ambitious with our climbing as we are reminded to go "pole-y, pole-y", which in swahili means "slowly, slowly." They know that the best way up the mountain is to take your time, don't over exert and to drink lots of water. It's all about the acclimatization.

Today is one of the shorter hiking days so luckily even though we got a late start, we arrive at Shira II camp early enough to walk around the camp a bit and see an amazing sunset. Through all of the trees at the last camp, it was hard to get an idea exactly how many people were attempting the mountain with us. This shot shows about one third of the tents in camp.

Camp 2 Shira

Camp 2 Shira

Based on a quick perusal through the sign-up sheet at the start, we are with a very multinational group with climbers from Spain, Canada, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Brazil. Only a handful of Americans.

We also have a great view of the summit. So near, yet so far.

Shira camp

Shira camp

Jill at Shira

Jill at Shira

From this camp, another camp named Shira I is visible about two miles away. It is part of the Lemosho and Shira routes. Shira I is a camp that is used as an extra day for longer trips and is also used for emergency evacuation.

Here is a pretty good overview map of the routes. http://www.kilimanjaroroutes.com/

Posted by JillnCraig 13:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Supplemental Blog - Kilimanjaro Day 1

The Toilet Guy

sunny

I slept well but Craig says he was too excited to sleep. The owner of our tour company preps us for our trek. He advises us that the most important thing we can do to make it to the top, more important than water, food or getting acclimatized, is to leave your worries behind. Hakuna Matata! Do not worry about your troubles at home, do not worry about being embarrassed to ask you guide about anything. Your porters will make you laugh, your guide will keep you safe and comfortable. "Be" on the mountain. Do not worry and don't let yourself get too down. He actually put it much more elegantly and was much more inspiring but hopefully you get the idea.

He also said to know that you are not alone. You will get down more often and more easily if you think you are alone. Don't be afraid to tell you guide if you are sick or have a headache because in addition to your ailments, your worries will weigh you down. Who knew we were purchasing our trek from such a philosopher?! I think I am going to like this trip.

I have to say that this trek was as least as mentally challenging as it was physically. It also seemed that the concentration it took sometimes used up as much energy as the hiking did. Fortunately, I didn't have the time or energy to think about any worries.

Fred and the driver arrive with the van and who we later learned was our cook. Fred says that we are waiting on the rest of the guys who went to pick up some food. Before we know it a posse of about 8 guys walk into the hotel gate and cram into the van leaving 2 large seats open for us. It seemed like he had just picked up a bunch of guys off of the street. Later he told us that this was his usual crew.

We're on our way! That is, Fred (our guide), Jon (our assistant guide who pronounced his name "Joan"), our cook, waiter, driver, and 7 porters. Normally, Fred said, they take 3 porters per client but we had an extra to carry our personal toilet. More about that later. It is about a 45 minute drive back along the road that goes to the airport. We turn off at the Machame gate road and drive past a lot of banana trees and a few small Chagga villages. Some of the structures are marked with spray paint red X's. Fred says it's because they are planning on widening the road someday and these will be demolished to make way. He says the government give good money to the property owners for rebuilding.

We stop off at a butcher shop for the cook. We also see lots of coffee bean plants. The road is very bumpy at this point. Finally we reach Machame gate. We sign in at the national park office and eat our less than savory boxed lunches. We make guesses at the languages we are hearing from the other climbers: French Canadian, Cheque?, Spanish, and of course Swahili. We take some photos of the gate area. Local residents are standing right outside the gate trying to get you to buy T-shirts, hats, and even gaiters.

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Don't forget to obey the park rules!
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Fred and his crew are unloading the truck, signing in with the park rangers, weighing the gear (porters are only allowed to carry a certain amount of weight) and eating their lunch. All of this takes over an hour due to the number of climbers and other outfitters leaving that day. A long time for anxious mountain climbers to wait. Fred tells us that he has a few more things to finish up but he wants us to go ahead and get started, so he sends us up with Jon.

The wide road at the start is fairly steep. We had wonderful sunny weather and start out in our shorts and short sleeved shirts. Already, porters are passing us.
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Jon is easily keeping up with us even though it looks like he's carrying 50 lbs between his backpack and head pack and we just have our water and jackets.
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We walk through amazingly tall, beautiful trees, stunning ferns and unusual flowers. Craig offers me a vine to swing on but I decline. He gives it a good tug but realizes just in time that it's not going to hold his weight. Jon gives a chuckle.
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Jon teaches us the Swahili greetings "jambo" and "mambo". The response to either of these is not jambo or mambo however, it is "mumbo por" which means good or cool. It is hard not to say jambo or mambo back to someone who says this too you as if it i more like hello.

The wide road narrows into about a 3-foot wide timber-lined trail and we continue to see lots of new interesting jungle plants.
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We are quite the eager beavers this day and are setting our own pace. We actually pass our porters (this will never happen again) who are taking a smoke break (just to taunt us, I think). Fred catches up with us after 3 1/2 hours and tells us that he has been on the trail for 2 hours. Bragger. Just kidding, he is a very polite fellow. It took us only 4 or 4 1/2 hours to get up to Machame hut. Each camp has a ranger's hut but the "hut" at Machame camp is no hut at all. It is about a 2500 sq. ft. log cabin. Strange to see after you've been hiking up jungle trails for 4 hours.

By now the sun has gone down and we are around 10,000 ft. high and I am freezing. We are required to sign in at each camp. Over the course of the last 4 hours I have put on my long pants (okay, zipped on my pant legs on my zip off shorts) put on a long-sleeve shirt, hat and fleece jacket yet I can't read my own signature because my frozen fingers aren't responding correctly to my brain's signals.

We take a short video right outside the cabin while Fred is looking for the rest of our crew. (Who did eventually pass us.) When we get to the camp sight, they have already set up our tent and our toilet tent and are working on setting up our dining tent.
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What? You don't expect us to camp with only one tent, do you? No, three is the absolute minimum for us. HA! And if that isn't enough to make us feel like royalty, after they get the tents up, they bring us a bowl of hot water and soap so that we may wash up for dinner then serve us hot chocolate and popcorn, warm and delicious cucumber soup and a tasty beef entree.

Fred had told us earlier to keep our tent zipped up. A report had come in to the Machame hut that a porter had been caught stealing gear from a camp two camps ahead of us and running down the mountain from there with it. Then, as straight-forward as he had told us this, he says that the man was beaten severely and punished. ! Hmmm. I'm thinking that the "beaten severely" should have accomplished the punishing but I suppose he meant that they took away his right to be a porter. Not wanting stolen gear or to be responsible for the career loss and beating of another human being, we kept our tent zipped.

After dinner, Craig started looking a little green and saying that he felt a little sick. He also had a slight headache. The best we could determine was that it was altitude sickness. Not wanting to take chances, that night we both got started on our once-a-day Diamox, the altitude sickness drug with the adorable side affect of frequent urination. Yes, this is where I pick up discussion of that personal toilet. Any camper knows that frequent urination and backpacking do not make good bedfellows. As if freezing night temperatures weren't enough to deter a woman from making the escape out of a -20 degree sleeping bag tied up so that just her face is showing, the thought of a twice-a-night stumble over to the camp latrine to squat over a hole in the ground would.
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Much better to have your own personal toilet a few steps away where you can sit down, out of the wind and reach for the TP hung up inside by your "toilet guy" who cleans and carries your toilet and its tent to the next camp. Believe me, this guy gets a big tip.

Posted by JillnCraig 19:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Supplemental Blog - Africa Day 2

Moshi

sunny 80 °F
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We woke up around 8:30 and exchanged dollars for Tanzanian shillings. The exchange rate was about 1,300 shillings per dollar! However, when we poked around in a local grocery store items cost about the same (after conversion) as items in the US. For example a gallon of milk was about 4,300 shillings so it's not like they go that far.

On our way, we got our first daylight view of Kili.

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We did some shopping and were approached by entrepreneurs selling their goods. It was obvious we were tourists (I felt like my white skin was flashing neon) and were fairly easy targets, but the solicitors weren't too overwhelming especially as compared to say, Mexico. One guy who said his name was Frank was particularly stubborn (thought polite enough) and approached us 3 times that day. I was at first more impressed by the batiks being sold by a fellow named Secky and bought a painted scene of a Masaai village with Kilimanjaro in the background and a banana leaf batik scene of a giraffe, acacia tree and Kili. We bartered with him a little but still probably paid too much, as he wasn't asking that much to begin with. We walked to the end of the block and I decided I wanted a picture of the artist so we turned back. Here we are.

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Then we passed by this cool sign in the center of a roundabout.

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Walking around we are aware that even in town there no sidewalks and pedestrians and cars alike use the road. This must be why the Tanzanians love their car horns so much.

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After this is when Frank approaches us for the third time and I finally buy a few banana leaf batiks from him partially just to get him to go away but also because another merchant told us what they thought the fair price was.

We made a few more purchases and went back to the hotel in between for meals, since the food outside of our hotel scared us. :)

Here's an idea of what our hotel was like.
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That night our Kilimanjaro guide, Fred, met us at the hotel to run through the trek with us and answer last-minute questions. Craig told him about the luggage we had lost and his trek supplies that were in there. Fred assured us that this happened often and often the travelers have their bags the next day.

We then met with a representative from the Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Program who had come to pick up the bag of donated gear that we brought with us. Craig said he'd go get the back from our room but that there were still two coats that hadn't arrived yet because they were in the lost bag as we had had to rearrange the bags due to weight limits. He came back from the room with...2 coats and a big grin! Turns out we had lost the donation bag and had Craig's bag with us the whole time. What a relief!

Not for the charity of course. Turns out they would have to wait for their donation until we were back from safari even though the fourth bag arrived from the airport that night. What a hassle. We explained everything to the hotel manager, who apparently failed to tell his staff. They wouldn't give the bag to the charity because they thought it was for an orphanage. Or as the guy from the charity said "She told us it was for the beggars."

Posted by JillnCraig 18:33 Archived in Tanzania Tagged shopping Comments (0)

The Supplemental Blog

Back to the Beginning

sunny 75 °F
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So, as you can see we didn't get much time while we were on our trip to add to this online blog. We did however keep written notes so I'm going to pretend like I'm on the trip again and add new entries from our notes. That is what The Supplemental Blogs are all about.

Day 1. 5:15 am. We head out to the Stapleton Park-n-ride and are on our flight to Minneapolis at 8:46. Two hour flight, one time zone and a two hour layover later we are on our flight to Amsterdam. Our flight is seven hours 15 min and crosses 9 time zones. Crazy. Scrunch a day and a half into one day. We were told to help with jet lag it's best to stay awake if we saw sunlight which we were able to do most of the flight. I was exhausted when we got there. No rest for the weary here though. They have a very nice sleeping area - individual loungers seats - yet they are all full. I try to snooze in the bar area of the casino (yes, casino) but the bar tender is none too keen on that. We did some wandering around the airport and found out that Amsterdam is so fond of their sex shops that they make them in miniature and sell them at the airport.

After a few hour layover in Amsterdam and we are off on our 8 hour flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport. I finally get some sleep. We cross yet another 2 time zones. A long wait in the Visa line and we are then allowed to pick up our bags. Well, 3 of our 4 bags. Since we somehow managed to be the last ones in the Visa line we are the last ones picking up our bags. There is one bag left and it looks A LOT like our bag but it isn't. We have to fill out all kinds of paperwork to claim our bag when it comes in. Luckily, our driver hasn't given up on us and we are loaded into a van for the 45 min. drive to our hotel in Moshi.

Our driver points out the mountain to us on the way. At night with its white snow cap above the clouds lit by a fairly bright moon it looks unreal. It is SO BIG. Mt. Meru next to it is fairly visible too. He also points out the Moshi nightlife as we come into town - about 10 bars strung together on the side of the road. Little wood shack places with people standing or sitting outside. Some have small porches you can walk up to and order drinks through large long window openings. People are walking in groups, pairs and singles (even women by themselves around 10pm) along the side of the road. No one's heard of sidewalks around here. Some are carrying things balanced on their heads.

The hotel is just a little bit better than a Hotel 6 in the States but fine with us.

Jill

Posted by JillnCraig 17:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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