Friday, April 25, 2014


After 4+ weeks of traveling around the world, including our most recent endeavor of climbing Kilimanjaro, we were ready for a few days of lounging around on the beach! Zanzibar is an island just off the coast of Tanzania, and it is actually part of Tanzania, though I think the islanders like to think of Zanzibar as a separate country. We flew on a small prop plane from Kilimanjaro airport to Zanzibar. Frank, the owner of Karibu Adventure, had arranged for a driver to meet us at the Zanzibar airport. We decided that we would like to do a "spice tour" on the way to our accommodation in Nungwi, on the Northwest tip of the island.

Abdul picked us up and took us to "Hakuna Matata Spice Farm", where Saed was our guide. This was quite possibly the most awkward touristy thing we did on our entire trip, but it was fun and it was interesting. We walked through the farm and stopped at various trees/plants and played a game where we guessed the spices. Some of the spices we saw growing were nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. Zanzibar is famous for exporting spices. After the spice tour we had a fruit tasting, which was definitely the highlight of our visit to the spice farm. The fruit was too-die-for! During our time in Tanzania, both on safari and on Kilimanjaro, every time we ate pineapple, we could not get over how delicious it was. The pineapple in this fruit tasting was equally as tasty, and we also ate other yummy fruits such as papaya, watermelon, custard apple (which might sound disgusting but tasted amazing!), jackfruit, and orange (which are green there?!).

This guy climbed trees to gather spice plants.
Between the tour and the fruit tasting we watched a guy climb a tree on the farm to pick us a fresh coconut. I absolutely love fresh coconut water, so this was another highlight for me!
This guy was singing while climbing.
During the tour, Erik and I were getting "points" for correctly guessing each spice plant. At the end, I was the winner, so I was crowed queen of the spice farm tour. Again, super touristy, but fun!

Crazy tree with thorns
We got back in the car with Abdul and headed towards Nungwi. We arrived late afternoon, just in time for happy hour! We were greeted with a cold towel and a fruity drink, met the general manager (which I thought was a nice touch), and were given a tour of our accommodation, The Z Hotel. Our room was really nice and the rate included a tasty breakfast buffet where the view from our table was gorgeous!
Our room
Ridiculously awesome breakfast view!
View from my chair at the infinity pool...a spot I never really wanted to leave.
The hotel had two restaurants and we tried both. The first night we ate at Cinnamon, and I had delicious fresh fish (kingfish). On the second night, we tried the more "upscale" restaurant at the hotel, and unfortunately the food did not sit well with me. Figures that during 3 weeks in Africa I get sick from the most expensive meal of our trip! At any rate, it was not a bad place to be feeling ill, as we did not have much planned except to lounge by the pool and take walks on the beach. I'm pretty sure they had Bob Marley's greatest hits on repeat at the pool, which was good for relaxation purposes! I never got tired of the views from my pool chair.
Daytime by the pool
The restaurant with that gorgeous Indian Ocean in the background.
View of the Z Hotel from the ocean.

Another great happy hour + sunset.

We spent 3 nights in Zanzibar, and though I wished we could have stayed longer to explore more of the island or perhaps do some scuba diving, we were ready to go "home". Five weeks of living out of a 55 liter backpack will do that to a girl!
One last walk on the beach.
On the last day we had Abdul pick us up a bit early so that we could tour Stone Town before our flight left for Nairobi. Highlights of that walk including standing inside of a slave trading house, walking into The Old Fort, and winding our ways through the narrow streets checking out the "doors" of Stone Town.
Inside the slave trading house
Narrow alleyways of Stone Town
One of the cool door decorations we discovered on our walking tour
Not sure that this wiring would be up to Westernized standards?!
We were pretty impressed with the location of this tree!
Vibrant doors are common in Stone Town.
Inside "The Old Fort"

Walkway in front of Forodhani Gardens
We ate fish and chips for lunch in Forodhani Gardens before heading to the airport. Our experience at Zanzibar airport was quite an interesting one. Upon reaching security, we learned that the x-ray machines were broken. At that point, the security officer asked us what was in our bags, and that was the substitution for an x-ray machine! We told him we had clothes and sleeping bags in our packs. He looked at us suspiciously and then let us go, ha.
Surprisingly the security officer did not seem too concerned with our sketchy duct taped bag. We brought this on the first flight of our 5 week trip, the one from Melbourne to Hawaii, because we packed snacks for our flight inside. However, it remained useful for our entire trip, and we ended up using it as a checked bag for our hiking boots. Amazingly, it made it back to Melbourne in one piece!
We were on another prop plane to Nairobi, and we boarded from the tarmac. The plane actually left 20 minutes early, as apparently when everyone who has booked a ticket is on board, the plane departs. Maybe Westernized countries could adopt that stance more often?! Our flight took us past Kilimanjaro, however, she was surrounded in clouds, so we did not get a good glimpse of the mountain. Flying into Nairobi, we flew over Nairobi National Park, which is a game reserve just outside of the city. It's amazing to think that animals live so close to such a big city, and we could actually see safari trucks cruising around the park. We could also see zebras from the plane, but could not identify any other animals.
So long, Zanzibar!
Our flight back to Melbourne did not leave until the next day, so we had one more night in Nairobi. I could not find any reasonably priced accommodation close to the airport, so we stayed about 20 minutes away at a place called Nairobi Stopover House. The people running the hostel were very friendly, and they had a guard who walked us to get dinner at our first African fast food chain, Steers. We were served a delicious breakfast in the morning, including our last serving of mango juice (on the safari and on Kili we often had mango or pineapple juice...yum!) before heading off to the airport for our flight. Our stopover between Nairobi and Melbourne was in Abu Dhabi, but this time it was a short layover, just enough to stretch our legs before the 13 hour trip back to Oz.
Zanzibar was definitely the perfect way to end our African holiday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

When Erik and I first started talking about traveling to Africa, we did not have specific intentions to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. However, once we zeroed in on Tanzania as our destination, Erik mentioned Kili and I sort of though "why not?!". In terms of accessibility, Kili is easier and more cost effective than some other major peaks around the world, and the more we talked about climbing Kilimanjaro, the more excited we got about the idea! I was meticulous in searching for the "right" company to climb with for our trek. Ultimately, I ended up choosing Karibu Adventure, and that choice turned out to be a great one. Karibu is owned and operated by local Tanzanians, not by a rich white person in Europe or America. Frank, the owner, was amazingly helpful via email, and he was equally as helpful when we arrived in Moshi to begin our climb.

We had a day between the end of our safari and the beginning of our climb, and we arrived at the Key's Hotel in Moshi (accommodation included in the price of our climb) around noon the day before our hike. Erik's mom, Jill, could not pass up the opportunity to climb Kili when she found out we were going to hike the mountain, so she met us there as well! Charles, our head guide for the climb, met us at our hotel to walk us around Moshi for the day. Being with a local was the way to tour the town, as we were able to walk through markets without being harassed to buy things constantly. At one of the markets, women were selling clothes that looked like they were Goodwill rejects from the USA. Ultimately we ended up finding a local artist's shop where we bought so much artwork that we received bracelets for "free". :)

After our long day of walking, we headed back to the hotel to relax by the pool before our pre-climb meeting that night. Frank and Charles did a "gear check" for each of us, making sure that we were well-prepared for the mountain. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant that night and did some final packing before the climb, only taking what was absolutely necessary in our packs, as any non-climb luggage could be stored at Key's Hotel for free.

Day 1

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and brought our bags down to the lobby for a 9:30 pick up. In Africa, and particularly on Kilimanjaro, the saying pole' pole' is frequently heard. In Swahili that means "slow", and life in Tanzania is often pole' pole'. We ended up getting picked up around 10:30, an hour after we expected. This pick up was quite an eye-opening experience, as our entire crew for the hike was smashed into the small van that picked us up. There were 4 porters in the back, the 3 of us in the next row up, then two other rows of 3 and 3 guys sharing front bench of the van. We stopped to buy water for the first day of the hike and then again for our cook to purchase meat at a village near the start of the Machame (the route we chose to take) gate. The Machame entrance gate was a madhouse! There were SO many people, hikers and porters. We waited a long time to check in, which included time to get our permits for climbing and for officials to check the ID cards of porters. Outside of the entrance gate there were porters hanging out waiting to see if they would be needed. There are now strict rules for porters, and they can only carry 20kgs, so if a group of climbers has more weight than their company expected, another porter would be necessary. They use a big scale to weigh bags at the start and there are also scales at each campsite along the route. While waiting, we ate our boxed lunch surrounded by other climbers who were doing the same. A cheeky monkey actually managed to steal a banana from the guy sitting next to us!
Some guidelines for the hike. Erik is lounging in the background.
One man's lunch became this monkey's feast!
We started the climb around 1pm, and it was VERY slow (pole' pole')! However, once we got into the rain forest, we gradually increased our walking speed. There was a lot of uphill on day 1 (starting at 1800 meters and climbing to 3100), and it was amazing to see the porters pass us carrying SO much on their heads. Most porters were very friendly on their way through, sharing the greeting "jambo" or "mambo" with us. At one point it actually started to rain a bit, and fortunately that was the only rain of our entire 7 day climb.
Jill at the start of our 7 day hike.
Heading up, up, up with porters passing us easily.
These guys must be relatively new porters...most experienced guys don't use their hands!
This flower is only found on Kilimanjaro
Charles (head guide), Lucas (cook), and Erik.
Jill, Erik, and myself hiking through the rainforest.
Around 6pm we arrived at camp, which was already set up by our porters. The way we found "our" camp that night and every night after that, was Charles affectionately yelling for our cook. After arriving at each site, he would start calling out "Luca, Luca!" until we found our campsite. We were given hot water and soap to wash up (a twice daily occurrence that we really looked forward to!) and then we had dinner, prepared by Lucas and served by Simon. A small group of porters sang happy birthday to Jill, as it was her 62nd birthday! This campsite looked like a fancy refugee camp. There were SO many tents. We actually had someone "guarding" our tent that night, as apparently locals sometimes make the trip from town up to the first campsite to steal things at night. Sad story but life is hard in Tanzania and people are always trying to make a living. That evening we saw our first view of the mountain, which is often "shy", as our guide liked to remind us, so we were excited to see Kili emerge from the clouds!
Just after arriving at our first campsite. Paul (assistant guide), Jill, Erik, myself, and Charles.
We had twice daily checks of oxygen levels and heart rate and once a day checks of breathing with a stethoscope. This is Erik with the pulse ox monitor on as Charles and Paul record how he is feeling.
Day 2

We were up at 6:30 to pack our bags and get an early start ahead of some of the big hiking groups. More views of Kili that morning on our hike up to 3800 meters. This was a short day of hiking, and we arrived at the campsite around noon. Of course the porters had already set up camp even though they left our first campsite after we did! Once we got settled at camp, lunch was served in our mess tent before having time to rest before a short evening acclimatization hike. Our hike included a visit to Shira Caves and a view over a nearby caldera. Apparently there are animals up that high (buffalo, elephants, and jackal), however, we did not spot any of them. Back at camp, the porters sang the Jambo Bwana song for us for the first time and it was awesome! Afterwards we took a group "selfie". We had an amazing view of Kili that night.
View of Mount Meru and view of 1st night's camp to the left.
Mom and her son!
LOVE this guy!

Some other pretty flora on the mountain.
Typical Kili toilets. Some were nicer, some were worse. Basically just a hole in the ground though.
Shira Caves campsite. If you look closely you can see Jill. Our mess tent is near the center of the picture.
Jill enjoying some hot drinks. We had popcorn and hot drinks most days around 5pm.
Simon (waiter) serving up soup with a smile, as always. We had soup EVERY day, sometimes twice a day!
Most meals consisted of soup, meat, vegetables, and some form of carbohydrate. We often had fruit for dessert. My favorite dessert was banana fritters...they were an amazing treat. It's impressive the food that we found on our plates given the circumstances we were in. Lucas was an excellent cook. One interesting tidbit about food storage in Africa is that we were still eating meat on the last day of our climb, presumably the meat that was purchased on Day 1, and we obviously had no means of refrigeration on the mountain!
Paul, Jill, myself, Erik, and Bruno (one of our porters) in Shira Cave.
Outside the cave.
Found this on our acclimatization hike
Of course Jill had to find one her size too!
More groups of campers in the background as we make our way back to camp.

Our awesome crew!
The mountain looks so small here...but I can assure you it is not!

Day 3

There was frost on the ground when we woke up and it was COLD! Again we had great views of Kili and of neighboring Mt Meru. There was a lot of uphill on Day 3 but again our pace was pole' pole', so it was not too difficult. We actually had views of Kili for most of the day's hike. We joined with the Lemosho route that day, which meant more people on the route. At one point during this hike, the porters split off to set up camp while we hiked to the Lava Tower (4600 meters) for an acclimatization hike. It was on that hike that we met two guys who live in Carroll County, where I grew up! I actually learned later that one of the guys knows one of my college about a small world!! The conversation actually started due to Erik wearing a UNC shirt, as one of the guys had spent some time in living in North Carolina. I actually felt a bit dizzy and had a slight headache at the Lava Tower, but that went away once we started to descend. The Lava Tower hike is also done so that the guides can see how hikers handle the higher altitude, and even though they said we did well, I wasn't convinced that I was ready to hike higher than 4600 meters. We headed down to Barranco Camp and we were finished hiking by 2:30. There was lots of time for hanging out in the mess tent (it was warm in there!), reading, eating popcorn and waiting for our next meal.
Gorgeous morning view of Mt Meru from our campsite
Erik and Charles in front of the Lava Tower

Good times with Charles! Barranco Wall in the background. We would climb that the next day.

Another awesome shot of the mountain. The building in the bottom corner houses toilets.
Barranco Camp
Day 4

The journey on Day 4 took us up the Barranco Wall, which was insane! Essentially it is a steep mountain face that hundreds of people are trying to climb simultaneously. Porters and hikers were fighting for a spot to climb up. At the top of the wall we got another great glimpse of Kili. Day 3 and 4 involved a lot of "up and down", so my legs were actually feeling a bit sore. I also had a headache on Day 4, but it was alleviated with Excedrin. Day 4 was probably the hardest day technically, as we had to do a little bit of rock scrambling. We arrived at Karranga Camp around lunchtime and after eating we had plenty of time to relax and do some reading again. Some hikers actually skip Karranga Camp and head straight to "base camp", but we built in this extra day to help with acclimatization.
Groups of porters heading up the wall.
Nowhere to go! Steady stream of hikers and porters climbing the Barranco Wall.
Made it to Karanga Camp!
Simon was always folding napkins in unique ways! :)
Impressive presentation for tonight's dinner by Lucas!
Simon loved to serve us with a smile!
Evening at Karanga Camp. Getting closer to the top!
View down to Moshi from Karanga Camp
Day 5

It was a short 2.5 hour hike to Barafu camp (base camp), and we had perfect weather for walking with awesome views of Kili and Mt Meru. Our crew had raced ahead to get us the most amazing campsite at Barafu, where we could watch people climbing up and also speak to people descending from the summit. We had lunch around 1pm and then soaked up the sun until dinner at 5pm. It was warmer than we had expected for 4600 meters and the sun was shining most of the day, allowing us to use our solar chargers for various devices. After dinner, we were told to go sleep around 6pm. I'd say I slept about an hour or two between 7 and 11pm, but Erik was so excited he could not sleep!
On our way to Barafu Camp
Getting closer to that snow on top of the mountain!
Last campsite before the summit.
Our sweet campsite with views of Mt Meru.

Day 6 - Summit Day!

We were woken up at 11pm (so technically still Day 5!) to have small bite to eat (though I was not hungry at all and could not eat) and we departed camp at midnight. I had planned our hike to coincide with the full moon, which meant that we did not have to use headlamps for the hike - this was awesome! The weather was clear and cool and a little windy for the hike. We moved quite slow (pole' pole'!), but we managed to pass several big groups as we went up. Around 5000 meters, things started to get ugly for me. I felt REALLY sick. My headache that had been quite steady for the last few days had intensified and on top of that I was dizzy and sick to my stomach. Charles checked my oxygen (which was 70% - low but not dangerously low) and gave me a tablet of some sort that was meant to help my altitude sickness symptoms. The drugs did not help, unfortunately. We had to stop for a short break about every 10-15 minutes for me to rest from that point onwards. I felt bad, but that was the only way I was going to make it to the top! Somewhere around 5500 meters, Jill and Erik started exhibiting drunken-like symptoms! They were wobbly and having a few balance issues, but they were much better off than I was. It was still dark when we reached Stella Point, on the rim of Kilimanjaro. We stopped for a short rest and drank hot water (it was COLD - my Nalgene and Camelbak were both frozen) before starting the 45 minute walk around the rim to the summit. After walking uphill for 6 hours, having to walk another 45 minutes seemed daunting. I was freezing and stumbling all over the place, fortunately latching on to Erik's arm for that last part of the hike. As we neared the summit, the sun was rising above the horizon and the views from the top were amazing. It was a clear morning, so we could see Moshi, Mt Meru, the crater at the top of Kili, ice fields, and glaciers. These were breathtaking, awe-inspiring, awesome moments at the top as we celebrated reaching the summit. Those feeling were slighted skewed by the queue for pictures at the famous sign. People were pushing others out of the way and cutting in line to get in front of people that had been waiting. Eventually we got our photo op and then we took a few minutes to admire our surroundings again. It would have been great to stay longer at the summit, however, it was VERY cold and despite being excited and having the exhilarated feeling of accomplishment, I was still feeling quite sick. We made our way back around the rim, snapped one final picture at Stella Point now that it was light outside, and started our descent. Most of the trail down is on a different trail than the ascent, but we were still watching people try to make it to the summit. Some were being pushed and pulled by their guides. Some were sitting and contemplating giving up. We tried to offer encouragement to those who were close.
Good thing Erik was able to take some pictures, because I was too cold and delusional to do so!
Gorgeous sunrise. You can actually see Uhuru Peak in the background. We haven't made it there yet!
Kibo crater
Amazing glaciers that may one day disappear. Mt Meru again lurking in our pictures!
We made it!!

The descent was basically like a downhill ski course in "scree" or loose rock. It took about 2.5 hours to get back to camp, where our team was excited to congratulate us for making it to the top. We changed clothes, packed our things and ate breakfast before putting our boots back on and heading down the Mweka route to our final campsite. This was a 3+ hour downhill walk and it was hard!! We were tired and we had never been so happy to see our tents set up so that we could lie down. Day 6 was a 12+ hour walk on very little (or no!) sleep. Technically we could have hiked out on that day, however, we chose to rest up and spend one more night with our crew. We were asleep by 9pm.
Barafu Camp in the distance.

This is what they use if you have to get down the mountain quickly due to severe altitude sickness!
Simon carrying my bag with a smile, of course!
Our last dinner...toasted sandwiches and some creative spaghetti vegetable dish.
More creative napkin work by Simon!
Day 7

We slept like rocks until our wake up call at 6am. Our last breakfast and our last Jambo Bwana song were followed by tips to our guides. I think we were quite generous with our tipping, as we felt the porters and our guides, Charles and Paul, did much of the work to help get us to the top of Kilimanjaro. The hike out was about 3 hours, and it was hard on the body because we were sore from the previous day. Once we reached the bottom, we "signed in" (we did this at each and every campsite along the way as well) and then headed out of the park and back to Key's Hotel. We thanked our crew again and said goodbye...some of them would potentially turn around the next day and do the hike all over again, but they would not know that until the next morning. We had time to shower (a luxury after 7 days of hiking and no showering!) before our "certificate ceremony" at the hotel. Frank, Charles, and Paul were all there to present us with our certificates. I was really impressed that Frank made the effort to do this, another reason why choosing a locally owned company for climbing Kili is a great idea. We took pictures and celebrated before saying more goodbyes.
Our last view of Mt Kilimanjaro!

Jill, or "Jilly" or "Mama", as she was fondly referred to by our crew, with Frank (owner) and Charles.
The refreshing pool at Key's Hotel!
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out by the pool and drinking celebratory beers! I could remember 7 days before, when we had seen others who had just finished the climb celebrating, thinking back to that nervousness I was feeling about the climb and comparing it to the sense of accomplishment I was now feeling. Physically, climbing Kilimanjaro was not that difficult. However, mentally, pushing through the uncomfortable feeling of altitude sickness, was a great challenge, one that I am SO glad to have completed. Erik and Jill, along with our guides, were extremely encouraging and helpful on the mountain, and if I had been alone I'm not sure I would have persevered given the way I was feeling. What an amazing adventure to complete with my husband and mother-in-law...certainly something that we will never forget!

A few comments/tips about Kilimanjaro based on our experiences:

1. Definitely choose a local Tanzanian company that is not linked to somewhere overseas. There are companies that have office in Tanzania but are actually being run out of the US or the UK. We highly recommend Karibu Adventure.

2. If you can coincide your climb with a full moon, do it! However, keep in mind that a lot of climbers try to do this so it could mean a more crowded route.

3. Consider an extra day for acclimatization. I am glad we did this. We may have made it without the extra day, but why risk it when this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity?!

4. Choose your route wisely. Machame has a high success rate. Marangu, one of the most commonly climbed routes and the only route with huts, has one of the lowest success rates.

5. Ask for a list of crew names and responsibilities and bring a bunch of envelopes so that you can ensure each crew member gets a fair tip. We did not find out until the last day that one of our guys had been responsible for leaving camp early every day and running to the next camp to get us the best campsite. We tipped him a little extra!

Be sure to watch our crew singing the Jambo Bwana song and check out my mother-in-law's video as well in my most recent post. Feel free to comment with questions if you are planning a future trip to Kilimanjaro!
A great way to end the climb!