Category Archives: Tanzania

Zanzibar

After two weeks of ‘roughing’ in tents and dusty Landrovers we were ready for a holiday!  Zanzibar is an Island off the coast of Tanzania, set in the Indian Ocean and famed for its beaches.  An ideal place for some R&R before heading back to work.  The day after getting back from Safari, after Phil and Rich had gone home, Tom, Kimberley and I flew out to Zanzibar.  Again it was an early start for a 10:30am flight, Bobby’s had sent one of their 4x4s to take us us to Kilimanjaro airport.  We were a little worried about having too much luggage but they didn’t seem to mind and everything was surprisingly easy and efficient 🙂

Flying into Zanzibar we could see lots of reefs in the turquoise waters around the island, I was looking forward to a bit of snorkelling.  Zanzibar airport is tiny, there wasn’t a baggage conveyer belt just a couple of guys who handed out the bags one at a time!  Tom realised he had left something on the plane so he went back out onto the tarmac and walked straight onto the plane to fetch it – not sure you would be able to do that in Blighty!

On exiting the airport I immediately noticed the heat, a lot hotter than the Arusha but not too humid which made things pleasant.  We’d booked a hotel for the first few days and they had sent a car to collect us, on route to the hotel we noticed that there were lots of women in headscarves and a few even in full burkhas.  The island is 90% Muslim, we arrived during Ramadan, which made things tricky if we wanted to have a drink or have some food.

The hotel, Imani Beach Villa, is run by an English chap called Simon who left his job in the the city for a life in the sun (quite a life change!).  It was a very chilled out place with nice rooms and a relaxed bar/restaurant area, it was also right on a sandy beach on the West coast of the Island, about 15 mins drive away from the Islands capital, Stone Town.

After a little walk down the beach, which was initally sandy but soon turned into sharp lava formed rock, I decided it was time to chill out and headed for the hammocks with my book, now I was on holiday!  In the evening the tide came in and the sun disappeared beyond the horizon making for a nice sunset – Kilimanjaro seemed a world away!

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We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening, having read that Zanzibar is great for seafood I opted for Kingfish (a white meat fish) with a coconut curry sauce – it was delicious and a nice change from the food of the last couple of weeks.

Next day I had a lie in till about 9am, I hadn’t set an alarm but was awoke by a couple of guys chatting outside my room – I was used to getting up early anyway!  After a lazy morning on the hammock I met up with T & K and headed into Stone Town.  We took a local mini bus from near the hotel, which cost us 250TSH each, about 10p!  It was pretty cramped, but good fun – local transport is always a great way to get a feel for a place.  We were dropped off at a market that sold meat, fruit and veg, and various other local produce.  It was a bustling place, I expected Zanzibar to be a bit of a tourist resort but was pleasantly surprised to find it was a lot more than that.

The old part of the town is a mass of narrow alleys that at first seem a little daunting but it was a pleasant place to get lost and we made our way though them towards the harbour.  Along the way were plenty of shops mainly selling standard tourist fodder but one in particular stood out – it had a vast collection of antiques and artefacts from ancient and more recent history, it was packed out with lots of interesting things such as old paintings/photographs, maps, coins, and bits and pieces from old ships – they had a great working telegraph which I was tempted with but it was very big to get home!  You knew there was probably a hidden gem in there but not being an expert in such things it was hard to find it!

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It was easy to get a sense for the colonial past of Stone Town, having been occupied by both the Portuguese and the British there are several grand buildings along the sea front.  For many years the town was a centre for the slave trade, with slaves being brought to the island from East Africa for trade with the middle east – fortunately the British put a stop to this in the 1870’s, there was an interesting museum on this on the harbour.  There were also the remains of some nasty looking holding cells – not nice.

We visited several tour agencies to book a trip for the next day to some nearby small islands for some snorkelling, after a bit of negotiation we managed to get a reasonable price.  We then spent a while trying to find a working ATM!  If you go to Tanzania be prepared for banks ATMs to be a nightmare, fortunately at the third bank we found one that would accept our cards – hooray!!

In the evening a seafood market takes place in the Forodhani Gardens (a small park at the harbour) where locals setup tables, charcoal stoves, oil lamps and prepare seafood.  It was a nice atmosphere and there is a large choice such as grilled lobster, fish and prawn kebabs and spiced naan breads, very impressive.

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Also on offer are ‘Zanzibar Pizzas’, chapattis stuffed with a meat or veg and plenty of chilli sauce and then shallow fried in a large pan – lovely!  It was all reasonably priced although not dirt cheap.  As there were lots of stalls the competition was fierce and the traders worked hard with their sales pitches to entice you in.  I took the opportunity to have some lobster for about £5, pretty good although a little over cooked (probably a good thing hygiene wise!).  King fish kebabs were good with Chilli sauce wrapped in a Naan.  Even Tom who doesn’t like Seafood managed to eat a few things – we didn’t go home hungry!

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Next morning we were picked up from our hotel for the boat trip, which started from the harbour in Stone Town.  After selecting our snorkelling gear we boarded our vessel, a wooden narrow and long motor boat named ‘Jambo’ (Hello in Swahili) and headed off for Bawe Island about 3 miles off the west coast of Zanzibar.  The island is pretty small and we weren’t allowed onto it but we had come here to snorkel on the reefs just off its shore.

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The water was warm and turquoise, probably only a few meters deep at the deepest point although in some places over the reef it was only a couple of feet deep.  In and around the coral were tropical fish in an array of colours, it always amazes me how such colour can exist under the sea, and lots of black spiky sea urchins (I gave them a wide berth).  Tom spotted a Lobster hiding in the reef, and I noticed a few jelly fish near the surface – hoping they weren’t poisonous!  We spent an hour or so in the water before climbing out and relaxing on the front of the boat.

At this point I suddenly felt the urge for the toilet, maybe the seafood market wasn’t a good idea after all!  The nearest toilet was on Changuu (Prison) Island about 3 miles or 30 mins cruising away, with the boat rolling in the waves I didn’t enjoy that part of the trip too much.  The island didn’t seem to be getting much closer but finally we reached it and the much needed toilet – feel the relief!

The island is 800m long and 230m wide with some white sandy beaches, an abandoned prison, and a colony of giant tortoises – second in size only to their Galapagos cousins.  There were 30-50 tortoises and we were given a handful of spinach to feed them with, although they seemed pretty docile they soon perked up when they realised food was around!

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The British built the prison in 1893 although it never housed any prisoners, instead it was used as a quarantine for incoming boats with Yellow fever cases.  Ships only arrived between December and March so during the rest of the year the island was a popular holiday destination!  Eventually the quarantine station was closed down and today it functions as a restaurant and hotel.  The pizzas they served looked nice but I abstained as I was still feeling a bit dicey.  After lunch we were going to do another snorkel but the tide had come in and the guide reckoned it would be too deep to see anything so we had a swim off the beach instead.

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With the wind picking up and our guide anxious to get back to Zanzibar in time for his dinner we headed back to Zanzibar, the waves were now bigger so it was a rougher trip back with several waves breaking over the front of the boat.

We made it back to Stone Town in the late afternoon and I left Tom and Kimberley to some shopping and had a look around the Old Fort, Palace Museum, and the Zanzibar National Museum otherwise known as the ‘House of Wonders’.  It was an interesting museum detailing the history of Zanzibar and in particular I learnt a lot about the slavery trade.  I also had a walk up to the ‘Big Tree’ which was planted by a Sultan about 100 years ago, and now used as shade in which boat builders go about their trade.  Walking back to meet the others I noticed the market had started and I couldn’t resist a Zanzibar Pizza (I was feeling better now!).  In the evening we had a few beers before heading for a nice Indian curry (there’s a lot of Indian influence in Zanzibar) in a nearby restaurant.

The following morning we did a ‘spice tour’ where we spent a few hours with a guide walking through the spice plantations.  Zanzibar is apparently famous for it’s spices, in particular cloves, and it was surprising to see how a lot of the stuff we buy in jars back home is grown.  Amongst other things I can’t remember the name of we saw cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, pepper, and ginger – as well as lots of coconuts, oranges, bananas, and some strange exotic fruits – all pretty interesting.  Lunch was included in the tour, cooked with all the spices we had seen and it tasted good 🙂

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Whilst the beach at the hotel was ok due to the proximity to Stone Town it didn’t feel too tropical, we wanted to see some of the famous beaches of the island so on the recommendation of Simon we took a taxi across the island to the small village of Paje on the East Coast.  The journey took about an hour and once we left Stone Town we were travelling though small villages and forests.  Simon had recommended the ‘Paradise Beach Bungalows’ which were right on the beach, the rooms seemed decent and after negotiating a reasonable price ($55 for a double room) we checked in.  The view was amazing, clear blue waters, white sandy beach with palm trees and hammocks, it was easy to see how the hotel got its name – our beach huts overlooked it all (strangely my beach hut was called Bob).

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The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hammocks 🙂  The hotel is run by a Japanese lady and in the evening she prepared a seafood BBQ, more Kingfish, Squid, a strange white fish, and Prawns.  We washed this all down with a couple of beers and were surprised to see how bright the moon was, almost illuminating the beach like a spotlight.

The sun rises on this side of the Island, so next morning I set an alarm for 6:30am – as this was my last full day in Zanzibar I wanted to see it.  Reluctantly I pulled myself out of bed and sat outside the hut, at first there seemed to be a lot of cloud and I wondered if that might scupper a decent sun rise but I waited 10 mins or so and as the sun started to come up the clouds parted and red rays of sun shown through – it was worth the early start!  I watched for half hour or so and then went back to bed and slept till 10!

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The sea goes out about a kilometre at Paje leaving behind a shallow water in several pools.  During sun rise the tide had been in but now it was out, crazy how fast it comes in and out, Tom and Kimberley set off for the distant sea but it looked a bit far too me plus it was rocky further out with lots of sea urchins around – I left them to it!  Instead I hired a bike from the hotel and set off down the endless beach, I must of gone a few miles and it was still going!  It was nice to watch the local women collecting seaweed and men repairing their dhows (small fishing sail boats).  Around mid afternoon I headed back to the hotel and found Tom and Kimberley coming back from the sea, they had been out there for 5 hours in the midday sun  – they were a pretty red!  The tide was back in so I went in for a swim, I don’t think I have ever swum in such a warm sea – it was like a heated swimming pool.  After some more hammock time we went back to the a nearby hotel for a seafood curry, we asked them to not put Octopus in – lovely!

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Next morning I had a little walk down the beach and around 11 said goodbye to Tom and Kimberley and took a taxi to the airport.  The journey took an hour and a half because for some reason the guy to be driving very slowly, I think he didn’t want to damage his car!  Eventually we arrived and then it was into the chaos of the airport, its the only airport I have ever been to where the check-in desks are on the street!  After checking in I had to pay an exit tax of $30 and then clear customs all whilst being hassled by people wanting to carry my bags.  The airport lounge was a small room with a load of bench seats and a souvenir shop, unfortunately my plane (Kenya Airways) was delayed so I had to wait it out for a couple of hours.  Eventually it arrived and the flight to Nairobi only took an hour, the highlight was flying past Mt. Kilimanjaro – the only time I saw the mountain in its full glory, a fitting way to leave Tanzania.

I had a six hour wait in Nairobi, which went surprisingly quickly, and then I transferred to a KLM flight to Amsterdam and then from there another flight to Birmingham – the adventure was over!  I flew home in shorts and flip flops and expected it to be cold and grey back in blighty but was pleantly surprised it to be a hot day, it was nice to be home!

I would recommend a visit to Tanzania, friendly people coupled with mountains, safari, and beaches all in one, it was a great trip 🙂

I’ve uploaded my Zanzibar photos here.

Safari in Ngorongoro, Serengeti, and Lake Manyara National Parks

The trip had been all about Kilimanjaro and that’s pretty much all we thought about until we got back from the trek, but we had booked a weeks Safari through the Ngorongoro, Serengeti, and Lake Manyara national parks too. All we knew was there would be no more walking as we would get driven round the plains of Africa looking at wild animals!  I think we were all looking forward to the no more walking bit especially! We could of done with a lie in after Kili but they were due to pick us up at 08:30 – doh!

In fact our guide Rachiede turned up early, but he was a laid back chap and he didn’t seem in too much of a rush as our first day would just involve a drive to the Ngorongoro Crater. We needed cash so we tried the Barclays near our hotel but the cash machine was broken, Rachiede kindly drove us into Arusha and we tried several cash machines – non of which would accept our cards, very frustrating. Having wasted half an hour trying all the cash machines in town we ended up back at Barclays where we had to take cash out over the counter. The cashier was really moody, probably because he had to fill in 3 or 4 forms, take copies of our passports, and move from counter to counter to carry out the transaction – it took ages! Finally we emerged with a big wad of cash – 400’000TSH – and hoped it would be enough to last for a while as we didn’t want to go through the bank nightmare anytime soon!

We then stopped at a supermarket where we bought snacks, I had a doughnut – lovely, for the journey ahead. The road from Arusha to Ngorongoro was tarmac something we didn’t appreciate on the outbound journey but would look forward to on the way back! We stopped at a overpriced tourist shop that sold carvings of pretty much any African animal you can think of, we were tempted with a life-sized giraffe but weren’t sure if we could take it as hand luggage on the flight home.

There were five seats in the back of the landy, two behind the driver and a bench of three at the back, the journey took about 3 or 4 hours so we were all soon feeling pretty cramped. We had a lunch stop on the way and were all gutted to find it was exactly the same packed lunch as we had had everyday on the Kilimanjaro trail – fruit juice, carrot sandwich, over-cooked chicken, boiled egg, a banana, and a few biscuits all stored in a white cardboard box – this was our lunch for pretty much two weeks! Still we had lots of things to snack on from the supermarket. The tarmac ended at the gate to the Ngorongoro park, it was bumpy dust tracks from now on.

The main feature of the park is the Ngorongoro Crater, which is apparently the world’s largest unbroken, unflooded, volcanic caldera – formed by a giant volcano exploding and collapsing onto itself around 2-3 million years ago. The crater sits at an altitude of 1200m, is 610m deep and covers 102 square miles.  It is considered ‘a natural enclosure’ for a wide range of wildlife, which due to this enclosure do not migrate and therefore leave the crater – meaning its a good place to see African wildlife year round. On the way to the campsite we stopped at a view point and got our first look into the crater.

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The size of the crater was staggering spanning off in a complete circle, it must of been a massive volcano!  We could make out some herds of animals on the crater floor, although as they were just tiny dots it was a little difficult to make out what they were.  I think this was the first time it felt like we were going on Safari, it was definitely nice not to be walking!  The campsite was on the crater rim, a grassy area with a large tree in the middle and there were toilet and cooking blocks at each end.  We got our first sight of some Zebra as there were some grazing in the campsite and an Elephant was roaming around in the undergrowth nearby – pretty cool.

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It got dark around 6:30pm anda little bit nippy – I thought Africa was supposed to be hot?  Dinner was served in the mess building, a concrete building where all the various groups staying on the camp congregated for their evening meal.  Again we had deja vu with popcorn and soup being served first, but to be fair the food was always excellent considering the facilities available.  After dinner Rachiede built a small fire which we sat around before we headed to our tents for an early night.  Rachiede had told us not to leave food in our tents otherwise a Boar might smell it and chew its way into the tent in search of it – nice thought as I had the single tent!

Next morning we headed down a steep dirt road into the crater and straight away could see herds of Wilderbeest and Zebra.  Rachiede raised the roof (so you can stand up) on the Landy and now we were properly on Safari!  The Wilderbeaet are pretty cool, they look a bit like an old man with their grey beard.  Apparently the Zebra and Wildebeest follow each other as they eat different parts of the grass.

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We spent the day cruising around the crater, it wasn’t long until we saw our first Lions (females), which were surprisingly easy to see as they were just lying in the grass catching some rays!  They completely ignored us and the other 4WDs that had gathered around them, only 5m away – I guess they are used to it.  They act like big domestic cats, not doing much but sleep and yawn occasionally, although I wouldn’t want to step out the Landy to stroke them

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We spent about 20 minutes watching them and then headed off to see what else we could see.  There were plenty of other things – Osterrich, Gazelle, Wild Boar, Hyenas, and Buffalo were all pretty easy to see.  We werent allowed to get out of the Landy so we headed to a picnic area by a lake for lunch, and an Elephant came wondering past.

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Fish Eagles were perched in the trees around the lake and occasionally came swooping in the search of food.  In the afternoon we checked out the Hippo pools, lots of Hippos not doing much but making a deep mooing noise.  Apparently they only move around at night to graze when the heat of the sun has gone, and we could only see the tops of their heads and back.

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We also saw more female Lions and a cub that had made a recent kill of a Wildebeast as its carcas was nearby and they had blood on their faces.  We got pretty close to them, and again they completely ignored us.

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Unfortunately we didn’t see a Rhino though as this is apparently one of the few places they can be seen in the wild as they are very rare.  We did see a load of small but loud monkeys at a toilet stop that were cute and amusing.

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Late afternoon we headed back to the camp and spent a few hours relaxing, during which time an Elephant came and drank from the water tower only 20m from our tents.  He obviously came here reguarly as he knew exactly where he was going, although he was obviously wary of humans and was a little jumpy if anyone got too close.

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Before we went to bed we walked down to the toilets and another Elephant was near the big tree, we accidently got a bit close and he had a little aggresive charge towards us – noticed first by Phil who shot off in the other direction sharpish!  Next day we headed for the Serengeti and shortly after leaving the campsite we saw our first Giraffe, probably the most gentile animal in Africa!

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Along the way we stopped at Olduvai Gorge, a steep sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley, which stretches along Eastern Africa.  I didn’t know much about it but apparently it’s one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering understanding of early human evolution!  It seems they have found the remains of our ancient ancestors here, preserved by several volcanic eruptions.  The most important discoveries were human footprints from millions of years ago and a skull that was a cross between a monkey and a human.  They have a museum there and we had a short talk from the curator of the site, which was reasonably interesting – although Phil fell asleep!  Here’s a photo of the Gorge:

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Next stop was a Massai Tribe village, Rachiede had warned us we would have to pay 15’000TSH to get in so we were a bit apprehensive that it could be a bit of a tourist trap but thought we should have a look anyway.  We were greeted by a Massai Warrior called Nnn Terry (no idea how to spell his name but that’s how he pronounced it – we all thought John Terry!) and were first sung a welcome song by a group of women, and then the men did a jumping dance to show off their warrior prowess.  We  had a go at the jumping, whilst holding a Massai club.  Our attempts were pathetic alongside the warriors who cleared a couple of foot off the ground whilst we struggling to jump a foot high – given the higher you can jump the better warrior you are we were put to shame, it was very entertaining though!

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We were then ushered into one of the huts, which seemed to be owned by a small old lady who Nnn Terry made get out of the hut so we could go in – it seemed a bit unfair!  The hut was not very high so we all had to stoop low to get in, and once inside it was pretty much pitch black.  There was a fire smouldering which we had to clamber over, which made the room smokey, Nnn Terry told us to take a seat on the bed (a hard platform slightly raised off the floor) whilst he gave us a talk of how the village worked and the different roles of men and women. He told us to become a warrior each man had to kill a Lion, and that he had killed 6, obviously we weren’t too keen on that idea but acknowledged that this was their culture.   Here’s Nnn Terry  coming out of the hut.

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It was interesting  to hear how about their daily tasks, a life vastly different to ours, although it did make me wonder how much of it was a show for the tourists – several of them had digital watches and mobile phones!  Of course then we had to peruse lots of souvenirs that could be purchased such as necklaces, clubs, and  carvings – all of which seemed the same as we had seen elsewhere but for a higher price!  We picked out a couple of items and then we had to head out of the village to do some negotiation with a village elder and Nnn Terry, they weren’t the easiest people to negotiate with.  Eventually we agreed prices and made the trade.  They then showed us into a larger wooden hut outside the village that is used as the school.  As soon as we entered about 20 young kids burst into a rendition of a,b,c,d,e… and they explained they were teaching them English and Swahili.

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They also said they needed a new blackboard, it was covered with a,b,c, etc but didn’t look too knackered, and showed us the tip box positioned in front of the kids – of course we felt obliged to give some tips , the kids clapping every time we did so – a not too pleasant experience!  Having seen enough we headed back to the Landy, feeling a bit like we had just been taken through a standard tourist show – interesting but I wouldn’t rush to do it again!

The journey to the Serengeti was along dusty bumpy dirt tracks, and Rachiede was driving at a fair pace so we and all our gear were quickly covered in dust and sitting in the Landy became increasingly uncomfortable!  Eventually we reached the gate to the Serengeti, basically a signpost above the road, where Rachiede stopped to say our dreams were about to come true – apparently everyone dreams of coming to the Serengeti!  Nothing much changed initially but soon there were lots of Gazelles on the plains and the grasses became longer with plenty of trees dotted around.  Our campsite was pretty much on the plain surrounded by trees, meaning we were really close to nature as anything that wanted to come in could freely do so – it was definitely the best campsite on the safari though and surprisingly it had running water and a shower – luxury! Our tents are at the back left of this photo:

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We arrived around 4pm and we  thought that would be it for the day but Rachiede soon ushered us back in the Landy to go and see what we could see.  Getting back in the Landy wasn’t too appealing but we were glad we did as we were lucky enough to see a Leopard in a tree 🙂  It was pretty hard to sport but again it wasn’t doing much other than lying there but it was still great to see – can you see it?

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We also saw a lone Lioness relaxing right next to the road, she totally ignored us even though we were 5m away!

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Rachiede had said there was a 50% chance of seeing a Leopard and 20% chance of seeing a Cheetah so that wasn’t a bad start.  The Serengeti is the Africa you see in the wildlife documentaries – wide open plains with trees dotted around (you can see why Leopards like it here).  There were Gazelle everywhere as well as the odd herd of Zebra or Wildebeest that hadn’t followed the great migration, which unfortunately had started early this year and was now somewhere to the north.  It was also hot so finally it was comfortable to wear shorts and flip flops all day!

We headed back to the campsite and after an evening meal and a game of cards we headed to bed.  Rachiede told us not to leave our shoes outside the tent as Hyenas would come and take them, and although I didn’t hear them apparently they could be heard moving around the campsite that night!

Next day was a full day of Safari around the Serengeti, it was probably the best day on Safari for me.  In the morning we we found a tree that had obviously been used by a Leopard as their was a dead Gazelle in it!  We also saw our first (and last) male Lion lying alone in the long grass, he was tricky to see but with Binoculars (thanks Stu :)) we could get a good view of him.  The Serengeti has lots of rocky outcrops called Koppes, which were formed by lava bubbling up under the surface millions of years ago.  Lying in the shade  of one were some Lionesses and their cubs, and we also saw the Simba (Lion in Swahili) Koppe which is apparently the inspiration for ‘The ‘Lion King’ story.

We were really lucky because we managed to spot a Cheetah wondering through the long grass.  It was really tough to spot though as it blended in with the plain.  Smaller and more slender than a Lion or Leopard it was only in view for a few minutes before disappearing into the grass – even so it was great to see it even for that short time.

We went to the Serengeti visitor centre, where we followed a short but informative nature trail that explained some of the goings on in the park.  There were lots of Hyrax on the path a furry little creature, they seemed to like climbing the trees and eating leaves by somehow perching on the some tiny branches.  They were definitely the cutest thing we saw on Safari!

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We went back to the camp for lunch and to relax whilst the midday sun was at its hottest.  In the afternoon Rachiede took us to a river where lots of Hippo had congregated and also a couple of Crocodiles!  There was lots of Hippo poo about, they seemed to not mind swimming in it, which made the smell not to great but it was still interesting to see!  The Crocs weren’t doing much, apparently they can go for a year without eating, probably waiting for some unsuspecting Gazelle or Wildebeest to come and have a drink!  Here’s Rich and Rachiede overlooking the river, you might make out a Croc to the right of Rich’s head.

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Moving on we saw some Elephants in a stream, quite amusing as a little one was trying to climb the steep banks out of the stream but couldn’t quite manage it so his Mum pushed him up!  You can see him at the top of the bank in the photo below – I like Elephants!  Watching them eat we realised that they destroy anything near them – the banks of the stream,  bushes, trees, etc etc!

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Later on we got really lucky!  We spotted another Cheetah in the distance, stalking through the grass, it was pretty hard to see and Rich was struggling to see it.  There was a nearby broken tree so we used that as a reference but somehow Rich couldn’t see that either, thus a debate raged for about 10 mins as we tried to get Rich to find ‘the broken tree’!  Eventually we realised he was looking completely in the wrong place and he managed to find the Cheetah!  Even better the Cheetah then decided it need a drink and headed to the nearby river for refreshment, walking only 10m behind our Landy – how lucky were we!  It then proceeded to drink for ages at the river, we had a perfect view!  Then a Hippo noticed the Cheetah and wasn’t too happy, chasing the Cheetah away – and a stand off occurred for a few seconds but it seemed the Cheetah wasn’t prepared to mess with the Hippo!  Here’s a photo of the Cheetah drinking and you can see the Hippo coming round the corner just before their standoff.

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We had spent a long time looking at the Cheetah but all vehicles have to be back in camp by 18:30 so we had to dash back quickly.  We went to bed early as next day we were going to be up for the sun-rise at 6am, a bit painful but it was worth it to see the sun rising over the Serengeti.

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We passed by the tree where we had seen the dead Gazelle in the tree the previous day and this time spotted a Leopard in the tree 🙂  How lucky were we, two Cheetahs and two Leopards!  Again binoculars proved very useful as the Leopard was hard to spot, although you could see its tail hanging down.  Alas our time in the Serengeti, its an amazing place, was coming to an end and we head back to the campsite around 10am for some brunch.

After our brunch we headed out of the Serengeti, through Ngorongoro – basically back the way we came in, so there was lots of bumpy dusty roads, which had become rather tiresome by now!  We passed lots of Massai along the way, some decorated in their full traditonal dress complete with white face paint -basically they wanted tourists to stop and pay to take photos of them, a sad indictment of global tourism.  I tried to read but the road was so bumpy it was pretty much impossible, somehow Tom managed to sleep!

Eventually we reached the gate to Ngorongoro and with it the tarmac road thus making things a lot more comfortable!  We were in the mood for souvenir shopping so along the way we stopped at a couple of shops to purchase some carvings, paintings, and necklaces.  Our campsite was in the middle of the small town of Mto wa Mbu near Lake Manyara, the name in Swahili means ‘River of Mosquitoes’ which was a bit daunting!  The campsite was not like the others, it was a complex with many tour groups staying there, there was a swimming pool, and bar thus it felt a bit like a holiday camp.  In the evening whilst we enjoyed some beers (we preferred Tusker lager to Kilimanjaro lager) there was some African dancing which was fun to watch.

Next day it we headed off into the Lake Manyara National Park, Rachiede had warned us that after the Ngorongoro and Serengeti it wouldn’t be too exciting, although Lake Manyara is apparently the place to see birds.  I think had we done Lake Manyara first it would of been great, but having been spoilt in the other parks and feeling a little ‘animaled out’ it didn’t capture our attention quite so much.  There were things too see – Gazelle, Zebra, Boars, Baboons,  Giraffe, etc but they seemed to be quite thinly spread and we weren’t jumping out of our seats like we had done before.  The highlights were seeing a duck like bird eating a massive frog that it could barely fit in its mouth, a kingfisher type bird sitting next to the river, and a large group of Baboons playing in a large tree.

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An interesting morning but we were now a little tired of Safari, being stuck in the landy definitely wasn’t helping, and when we came back to the campsite for lunch we decided we wouldn’t go out again in the afternoon.  We had a little walk around Mto wa Mbu although we got hassled to buy souvenirs from all the little shops so decided to head back to the sanctuary of the campsite and spent most of the afternoon relaxing instead!  In the evening we had our final ‘Bobbys’ meal together and sank a few beers in the bar.

Next day we drove back to Arusha, stopping at the expensive tourist shop as Tom wanted to buy a  chess board, the road was tarmac all the way so it was a relatively comfortable 2-3 hour trip.  Once back in Arusha we stopped at the post office so that Tom could post home his newly acquired chess board, which took about an hour whilst we had to wait in the Landy all the time being pestered by random guys selling random things!  Things take time in Africa!  Eventually we got back to the hotel and said our thanks and goodbyes to Rachiede – he had been a good guide and we gave him a big tip.

Safari had been great, the Serengeti was the highlight for me, although a week had been enough for us and I think we were all ready to do something else.  Phil and Rich were flying home that evening so after a meal and a load of packing we said our goodbyes, it had been a great trip and it was sad that the journey had come to an end.  I had a room to myself that night which was a luxury although it felt a bit strange to have so much space to myself.

Whilst the Tanzania mainland part of the trip was over the next day Tom, Kimberley, and I were off to Zanzibar for some sun, beaches, and sea!

I’ve uploaded a load of photos from the Safari here.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route

I’m back in the land of the Internet!  I want to record our trek up Mount Kilimanjaro for future reference and as a memento of our hard work – so here goes!

Arrival in Tanzania – August 19th 2009

We set foot on Tanzanian soil at Kilimanjaro airport (Kili is the only mountain in the world with its own airport!) at around 8pm.  My first thoughts were – it’s dark!  There didn’t seem to be many lights on the ground as we came into land and it was difficult to see much outside as it was pitch black.  I expected to be hit by a heat wave when I stepped off the plane but was surprised to find the temperature similar to the UK, and there was not the humidity that you get in Asia – if anything it was a little bit chilly.

After filling in a couple of forms, being checked out for swine flu by a masked man in a white coat, and clearing customs we were relieved to find everyone’s bags had turned up – if they hadn’t it would of made things tricky and we all had checked in two bags!  Our tour was arranged through Bobbys Camping and there was a guy  waiting with a sign with my name on it to pick us up.  We were then descended on by a load of guys trying to help us with our bags – rather naively we let them help us, which of course they only did because they wanted some tips – how many times have I been caught out by this around the world!

I was pleased because Bobby’s had sent a large Land Rover to ferry us about! Our gear and us all  somehow got crammed in and we were off into Africa!  The drive to the town of Arusha took about and hour and it was tricky to see much as it was pitch black outside, apart from the odd small settlement with a load of guys stood around a pool table!  After a short briefing on our trek and safari at the Bobby’s office we arrived at the Outpost Lodge, which was to be our base for our trip, a pleasant hotel in a leafy suburb of the town.  All seemed to be going well – until……

….Tom realised he had picked up someone elses bag at the airport!  Disaster!  All his Kili trekking gear was in the bag so it was a potential show stopper unless his bag could be located.  The bags did look similar in red and black, even though it was a Gelert bag as apposed to Tom’s Hi-gear variant, and the bag had someone else name and lock on it!  After a bit of a panic and a few calls it was arranged that Tom would head back to the airport at 5am to see if his bag was still there and return the other bag.

Day 1 – Machame Gate to Machame Huts – August 20th 2009

Our day started early (not as early as Tom’s!) as we were due to be picked up at 8:30am and we had some last minute packing to sort out – this mainly involved asking each other “are you taking such and such?” and “do you think we will need this?” – never in the history of man has a packing list been so hotly debated!  Tom returned to the hotel with his bag, it was waiting for him at the airport, feeling a little relieved (spare a thought for the poor chap whose bag Tom took) – of course the rest of us gave him plenty of stick about it for the rest of the trip – “are you sure that’s your bag Tom?”.

Here’s the pre-trek photo taken on the first morning :

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After a quick breakfast we meet up with our guide Frederick and again crammed all our gear and ourselves into the Landy and headed off .  We got our first glimpse of Africa as we stopped in Arusha to exchange some money into the local currency of Tanzanian Shillings – US Dollars are widely accepted but Shillings can only be bourght or sold within Tanzania.  At the time of our trip it was approx 2200 TSH to the pound, hence we ended up with big wedges of cash!

The journey from Arusha to Mt. Kilimajaro took about an hour and a half, and because it was quite cloudy we didn’t get a glimpse of the mountain as we approached.  We passed through several small settlements and it was interesting to see how the locals go about their daily life’s, it was starting to sink in we were in Africa.  As we approached the mountain we ascended up to 1800m to the Machame gate, which is as far as vehicles can go.  The gate is a bustling place where each group must register their details with the authorities who control the mountain, we would each have to ‘check in’ at each campsite to ensure no one went astray.  There were lots of porters who seemed to be either trying to get work or be complaining about the weight that they must carry.  Each porters load had to be weighed to ensure it was within the 15kg limit set per porter, although further up the mountain it seemed they carried much more than this.  Just outside the gate were loads of souvenir sellers who would build up into a frenzy of frantic sales pitches if any unsuspecting tourist got too close – Kimberley decided to but a wide brim Kili hat and was instantly mobbed!  Heres a photo of the gate:

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Eventually we got the signal to start walking and personally I was relieved to get going as all the planning and packing had been going on for ages.  We must of set off quite quick as after 5 mins we realised our guide wasn’t with us, our assistant guide a nice softly spoken chap called Fostine soon caught up.  The path was a mud track through the jungle that had been smoothed by the passing of the many feet it carries each day.  The first mile or so was wide enough for 4×4 access but it soon narrowed meaning the only way forward was on foot.

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The trail was in the main up hill but not uncomfortably so, taking us from 1800m to 3032m over about 10km, it was a pretty gentle introduction into what lay ahead.  The air was fresh and it wasn’t too hot as the forest provided shade from the blazing sun, which occasionally shone through the trees.   Higher up it got hotter and I changed to shorts mode, which turned out to be the only time on the trek.  I expected to get attacked by mossies in the jungle section but I don’t remember seeing any until we reached the camp.  The jungle began to thin out just before we got to the camp, long grasses and giant heathers took over, and on the right we also got our first view of the Kibo peak – it looked a long way to the top!

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The porters had setup the camp before we arrived and a brew was quickly produced along with a large plateful of popcorn 🙂  As the sun went down the temperature dropped and we were all reaching for warm jackets, which made me wonder how cold it was going to be further up!   Dinner was soup and a beef stew, just the ticket.  As there were five of us and there were three two man tents Pip, Rich, and I shared the luxury (you could spread out all your stuff!) of having a tent to ourselves – swapping every night.  After a game of cards we were in bed pretty early, which would become the trend for the trek.

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Day 2 – Machame Huts to Shira Camp – August 21st 2009

After a breakfast of fruit, toast, omelette (with ketchup), and sausages we set off in good spirits.  The path was steeper than the day before and due to there being no tree cover there was little respite from the sun and it was very dusty – by the end of the day we were covered.   We were now above the cloud forest and the views were great with the Kibo summit and Mt. Meru in sight.

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The vegetation grew smaller as we climbed higher, following a ridge with several false summits up to our lunch stop about the halfway point.  The after lunch session was good fun with lots of rocks and boulders to scramble over or round.

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The trail rose up to 3899m on the Shira Plateau before flattening out and then dropping down to the Shira Camp at 3847m, one of the nicest campsites on the trek.  Looking out from my tent I could see a clear view of the jagged peaks of the Plateau in the distance, superb.

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Again as the sun set the temperature dropped and I was pleased I decided to purchase a down jacket.  We had covered  only about 6km but looking back it was one of the best days on the trek.

Day 3 – Shira Camp to Barranco Camp – August 22nd 2009

If the day before was one of the best day three, for me, was one of the worst!  It was a long day, covering about 10km and taking us up to 4642m before dropping us down to 3985m at the Barranco camp, thus we gained just 138m in height but it served as useful acclimatisation – even if I did end up with a nasty headache.

Ominously I woke up with a nasty sore throat, perhaps brought on by the dust the day before, and unexpectedly the tent and ground were covered in a layer of frost.  The frost soon disappeared as the sun came up and the day began with a gentle ascent up towards the Western slopes of Kibo, we soon left the grass vegetation behind and encountered a boulder strewn terrain.

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Our pace was slower today with Fredrick our guide taking the lead and deliberately setting a slow pace and repeatedly telling us to take it “Pole Pole” (“Slowly Slowly” in Swahili) so as to minimise the risk of altitude sickness, which we were all starting to feel.  We took regular breaks, and I think this was the day the challenge of  what lay before us started to dawn on us.  My appetite had disappeared and I forced down a cereal bar, which took me ages to eat.

The path forked with one route going up to a lava tower at 4600m and the other skirting around the valley as a short cut for the porters.  Rich and myself were not feeling great and were tempted to take the easy route but wanted to maximise my acclimatisation and pushed on at a slow pace up to the lava tower.  I got a bit ahead of the group and I stopped to let them catch up, Rich was white as a sheet and didn’t seem as chirpy as usual, he explained he had just thrown up – not good.  Taking it easy we reached the lava tower and took a break for lunch, the highest point we would reach for the next few days.   Tom and Phil climbed the tower but the rest of us just wanted to rest.  Here’s a photo of me in front of the lava tower, looking better than I felt!

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Thankfully the path then descended steeply crossing a couple of streams in a gully, we then of course had to climb up the other side but then it was downhill all the way into the Barranco Valley.  The vegetation returned and it was generally a much more pleasant place to be than up at the lava tower!  There were giant cactus along the way, which apparently could be hundreds of years old.  Eventually the camp came into view – although it still took an hour or so to reach it, I was knackered (we had been walking for eight hours or so) and just crashed straight into the tent with a big headache.

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A couple of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol and I soon felt much better!  The campsite had great views of Kibo’s southern face and the Barranco Wall, which we were to ascend the next day.  I struggled to eat much that night, even the popcorn, this was the first time I wondered if I could reach the summit but I had the tent to myself and slept very soundly.

Day 4 – Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp – August 23rd 2009

When we booked the trek we opted for an additional day for acclimatisation, therefore what would of been a one day trek up to the final camp at 4600m was split into two days.  Our mission for today was to scale the steep Barranco wall, which peaked at 4233m, and then head down into the Karanga Valley where we would camp at 4040m – thus continuing the ‘climb high, sleep low’ acclimatisation technique.

From the camp the wall looked pretty imposing, and we could make out a line of trekkers and porters slowly making there way up a winding path.  We had to stash our poles away as it was a scramble up the wall required some ‘hands on rock’, which made for a nice change and was a lot of fun.  Rich didn’t stash his too well, as they stuck out about a foot from the bottom of his backpack, a couple of times Phil and I nearly got an eyeful of his poles as we climbed up – we made him stash them safer.  The pace was again slow and the mood good, my sore throat had abated a little and although I had now picked up a chesty cough, I was feeling much much better than the day before!

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There were a few steep drop offs and a slip in a couple of sections could of been hairy but I was thoroughly enjoying myself.  Most impressive were the porters who came past us carry large loads on their heads whilst somehow scrambling up the wall – respect to the porters!

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There were again plenty of false summits but that just added to the fun and after about an hour and a half we reached the top of the wall and were presented with some amazing views of Kibo, Heim Glazier, and the cloud cover way below us.  We stopped for about half and hour to take in the views and have some snacks.

The 5 hat posse (left to right Rich, Phil, Shep, Tom, and Kimberley) over looking the clouds below:

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Our guides, Frederick (left) and Fostine (right) with the summit  towering above them:

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From the view point we descended down into the Karanga valley, which saw a return of the vegetation and whilst it was a bit of a scramble down some narrow and steep paths it made for a pleasant walk.  At the bottom of the valley was a stream, which we were told was the last place to get water on this route – porters would have to carry water for us to the last two camps, I felt a bit guilty.  As we were in the bottom of the valley we then had to do a steep ascent up the other side to our campsite.  It was quite a short day with only 3-4 hours of walking but probably the most fun, and I felt re-energised compared to how I felt the previous day!

The Karanga campsite had amazing views of the Kibo summit:

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However 30 mins after I took the above photo the clouds came swirling in reducing visbility to just a few meters, and the temperature dropped and everything became a bit damp – not particularly plesant – note the mountain has disappeared in the photo below!

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We had arrived at the camp around 1pm so we had an afternoon of relaxing, although with the weather being nasty we had little to do but sit it out in our tents.  We all crammed into one of the tents for a game of cards, very cosy!

Phil had been feeling a bit ill after dinner and went to bed early (I was sharing a tent with him), at about midnight he woke me up to ask me to find some things in his bag as he was feeling sick, and then all of a sudden he went all white and threw up – luckily he had managed to get hold of a plastic bag first!  He felt better and after we had a midnight stroll to the toilet – it was freezing outside and it made me wonder how cold it would be the next night on our summit push – he slept through till morning.  This was the only time I saw Phil struggle on the trek as he always looked full of energy – it seemed it was a stomach bug rather than the altitude.  At that moment my cold didn’t seem too bad!

Day 5 – Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp – August 24th 2009

Next morning Phil seemed a lot better and he managed to force down breakfast, which as we would head off for the summit that night it was very important to cram in as many carbs and fluids as possible.   The path was pretty gentle to begin with although the terrain soon became very barren with plenty of boulders and rocks scattered about, making it feel like we were on the moon.

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We descended into a shallow valley before a steep ascent section which involved a bit of easy scrambling as we made our way towards the highest campsite on our route at 4600m.  The porters as usual had left after us, packed up camp, carried the gear on their heads and past us on the way – for the small amount of money they earn its tough work!

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We reached a plateau and the path then lead steeply up to the left into the Barafu camp.  Apparently Barafu means ‘ice’ in Swahili, and camp is probably named after the nearby Rebmann Glacier.  It was a barren campsite, with tents pitched between large boulders where there was room.  It was also a lot more littered than anywhere else on the trail, which had been very impressingly clean.

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We arrived at camp around 2pm, and all thoughts now turned to the summit push which we would be starting at midnight – you can see the start of the path to the summit in the background of the above photo.  I think we were all feeling apprehensive, there was plenty of reassuring each other we would be ok.  We debated whether to take the drug Diamox (which Rich had be prescribed) that can help to ease altitude sickness – in the end we decided not to bother as there were some potentially nasty side effects and we had got this far without it.  With the sun up it wasn’t too cold and we tried to get hydrated and fed up with carbs.  As we would be returning to the campsite on our return from the summit I emptied all non essential gear from my back pack so it would be as light as possible.  I also used some spare socks and gaffer tape to do some DIY insulation on my camel back as we were concerned about our water freezing.

We went to bed early, about 6pm, and I was wearing a thermal top and leggings and several t-shirts, it was pretty cold!  I didn’t sleep too well, I had to blow my nose frequently and found myself dozzing in and out of a light sleep, maybe due to the altitude or because my mind was thinking of what was to come….

Day 6 – Barafu Camp to Stella Point and Uhuru Peak (and back) – August 25th 2009

The summit day starts around midnight with the aim of seeing the sunrise at the summit and also allowing enough daylight for the long descent back down to 3000m.  We awoke at 11:30pm but I had just been dozing anyway and I was keen to get up and get started.  It was pretty cold but not as cold as I expected and as we drank a cup of tea and had a few biscuits I actually felt a bit hot – I was wearing thermal base layers, two t-shirts, a thin fleece, a thick fleece, trousers, waterproof jacket/trousers (to keep the wind out), ski gloves, woolly hat and fleece balaclava!  I took off the thick fleece and felt cold!  Here we are having our pre-summit brew!

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Again I just wanted to get going but frustratingly it took a while for everyone to get sorted.  It was pitch black so we were all wearing head-torches, which offered visibility just in front of your feet.  Finally we set off and moved through the campsite towards the path to the summit – following Frederick at a very slow pace.  I had read that there is no such thing as walking too slow on summit night, it’s best to take it steady to allow your body to acclimatise.  Therefore I was happy plodding up watching the feet of the person in front and not a lot else!

We soon got split up as Tom and Kimberley were walking at a slower pace than Phil, Rich, and I – they also didn’t have camel backs so had to keep stopping for water breaks.  So the three of us ascended with Fostine, whilst Frederick hung back with the others.  Fostine was the better of the two guides, more knowledgeable and friendly, so we were happy to proceed with him.

Initially the path was a bit rocky but it soon flattered out  into a shale path, that had a relentless series of zig zags up towards the summit. It was uphill all the way, there would be no downhill until we reached the top!  There really wasn’t much to see apart from the feet of the guy in front of you, occasionally I would look up and see a line of head torches way above us and wonder how much further there was too go!  The temperature seemed colder as we git higher (I was happy to have all the layers on now!) and I pulled my balaclava tightly to minimise any skin exposed.  We only stopped occasionally to catch our breath (I had to blow nose to help me breathe).  It was cold so I only got the camera out once on the way up to the summit…

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I felt strong and was enjoying the sense of adventure, Fostine though seemed a little concerned about our pace, which I thought was strange as I could see lots of the head torches of groups way below us on the path, maybe he just wanted to spur us on a bit.  About two thirds of the way up Rich entered a drunk like state, he was struggling to stand up straight and was staggering and tripping over boulders.  He was adamant he could go on though so we pushed on, several times I had to support him as he tripped on a  rock but he never stopped plodding on. By now the water in my camel back had frozen (despite my DIY insulation) and the water in my insulated bottle had gone slushy! Later on as we had a brief rest I think rich was starting to doubt whether he could make it, but Fostine pointed up to the dark shadow of the ridge and said “not far, thirty minutes”, Africa runs on a different timescale so I was doubtful but suddenly it didn’t look too much further.  Unfortunatley higher up the shale got deeper and this made things a lot more tiring.

I’d been looking forward to the sun coming up and it started to rise at around 6:30am, it energised me and also showed us that we now were well within sight of the Stella Point (the end of the steep rise up to the crater rim).  I was feeling pretty knackered though and the last section was on deep scree that was very tiring as you came back a footstep for every three you went forward.  Nothing was going to stop us now though and we plouged on – Fostine had shot off ahead but we all went at our own pace.  I set myself little targets like the next big boulder and where I would rest for a few minutes and lean over my walking poles to breathe, which was definately more difficult.  I guess this lasted for about 30 mins, although it seemed like an age and it wasn’t that far, and eventually we pulled ourselves up onto Stella Point at 5752m .  Not sure if it was the altitude (apparently it can induce emotion!) or the joy knowing the hard bit was over but we all got a bit emotional, I’ve not cried since I was a kid but my eyes got a bit watery for some reason!  It was a feeling of great elation to have got this far.

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Rich was adament that he could go no further, he could give no more and given he had been told by doctors there was little chance of him getting this high he pulled of an amazing achievement.  Fostine pointed out the summit, which was a tiny dot on the horizon just over 100m above Stella Point, but there was no way I was not going to get there and I knew Phil felt the same.  So we left Rich to relax at Stella Point and headed off with Fostine.  The path to the summit follows the crater rim in a clock-wise direction with a gradual ascent – nothing like the painful scree we had just negotiated.

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It took us around 30-45 mins to get there, at low altitude it would of been a walk in the park, but I still had to stop frequently to suck in oxygen.   On our left was the stunning Rebmann Glazier so it was good to stop and admire the view anyway!  The summit sign came into view and it was just a case of slowly plodding towards it – people coming down were saying “nearly there!”.

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Phil and Fostine were a bit ahead of me (they are the dot on the path above) but it was nice to be alone with my thoughts coming to the final point – and even better there was no more uphill!!  I got there around 07:40 and my first thought were that it wasn’t how I expected – Its not a classic mountain summit, i.e. a defined peak, it is the highest point of the crater rim.  The signpost informs you that you are now at the highest point in Africa, on the highest freestanding mountain in the world at 5895m.  The view with the glazier, the clouds far below, and the crater was great.  There were quite a few people at the summit and everyone took turns having their photo taken with the signpost.

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We spent about 20-30mins at the summit but it was rather nippy and I was concerned about Rich being on his own so we headed back down to Stella Point.  Going down was rather easier than coming up and on getting back to Rich we found Tom and Kimberley with him too.  They were feeling pretty rough too and looked pretty fatigued having just climbed the scree, both we adament that they could go no further.  We got a group photo at Stella Point, not quite the signpost but close enough:

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I forced down an energy bar but it was too cold to sit around for too long and after one last look around the crater Rich, Phil, and I followed Fostine down the scree – Tom and Kimberley wanted to rest a while longer.  Going down was a lot lot easier than coming up as you could ski the scree down – it was however tiring on the knees and given that we had now been on the go for 8 or 9 hours we were pretty shattered!  A couple of times I took long breaks sat on a rock, it was hard to get moving again but I was looking forward to a lie down back at the campsite.  I also found my the skin around my nose and lips to be cracked and sore – we all suffered this, probably bought on by breathing very cold air and not helped by the cold I suffered for the past 5 days.  As the campsite came into view I found a bit of energy and went off a little ahead of the others.  Around three hours after we left Stella Point we arrived back into camp, immediately I went straight in the tent and whilst the mattress and sleeping bags were put away I just lay on the hard floor and passed out!  I think I was out for about 30-45mins at which point the others were sat having a  brew.  Unfortunately there was still more decent to do as we had to go from 4600m to 3000m that afternoon, so there was little time for a rest – I was dreading it!  However, after some food (soup was great) I felt a lot better and was now eager to just get on with it.

The decent was actually not that bad and as we started I felt re-energised, possibly due to there being more oxygen about the more we descended!  I went off slightly ahead of the others with Fostine and the porters who were walking pretty quick, so I soon found myself way ahead.  I found a rock and sat down with Fostine having a chat about the night before and eating chocolate.  Eventually the others caught up and the mood was definitely a lot happier than the night before!

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Phil and I went at quite a quick pace, I was striding out the downhill as I was keen to reach the Mweka campsite where we could finally get a bit of rest!  Soon we found the vegetation returning, at first just small signs of life such as lichen on the rocks, but soon the giant heather returned and the path became more dusty.  Unfortunately there were a lot of steps on the trail, which just hurt our knees and obviously weren’t popular as alternative paths had been made just to the side of the main trail.  The vegetation got bigger and bigger and soon it shaded the path completely.  We kept thinking the campsite “must be around the corner” but the path just kept going!  Eventually the jungle reappeared and our campsite with it!  It had taken us 2-3 hours to descend what had take us 4 days to ascend!  Phil and I arrived about an hour ahead of the others and went straight in our tents for a lie down!  We had walked for around 16 hours of the past 24 hours!

The Mweka campsite was busy and noisy with lots of groups and porters having done the hard bit now letting off some steam,  there were also some cleaner toilets – luxury!  It was still cold, but I was enjoying the richer air (everything felt fresh and suddenly I wasn’t coughing and so bugged up) and the not so desolate campsite!  We sat down for our final dinner on the trek, which as always was soup but then strangely rice and baked beans – not the nice carb rich meal we were wanting, we had obviously used up all the other ingredients!  I slept very soundly that night!

Day 7 – Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate – August 26th 2009

Next morning after breakfast it was customary to tip the 2 guides ($70), cook ($50), and 10 porters ($30 each),and  it was nice to thank them all individually.  We weren’t sure if the amounts were enough but the guide book had said they would act as if it wasn’t –  there were no complaints so maybe we gave them too much!  Given that a porter must pay his own transport to and from the mountain, and for his food, and then carry all our gear on their heads they more than earned our small token.  Several of us gave a little personal tip to Fostine as he had been great –  the better of the two guides, even though he was the assistant!

From Mweka camp it was downhill all the way (lots of painful steps) through the jungle to the Mweka gate and our waiting transport to the land of showers, beer, and a decent meal!  Having not had these luxuries for the past 7 days this was now very appealing!  We had 1400m to decend and we again went at a good pace, although porters came past us even faster!  I was with Rich, Phil, and Fostine (who looked as keen to get down as us!) and we were in high spririts, it rained most of the way down but this was quite refreshing as apposed to the dusty air higher up.

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It took us about two and a half hours to reach the gate which was bustling with porters packing gear onto 4x4s and showering in the facilities provided.  There was a toilet with running water, a real luxury and I was able to wash my hands properly for the first time in a week – my nails were disgusting!  There were also a lot of people touting for business and we quickly bought a coke and paid about 2000TSH for some lads to clean our boots, gaitors, and poles – lazy I know but thats about a £1 and they were very dirty!

We signed out with the authorities, picked up our ‘we climbed Kili’ certificates, bought souvenirs suchs as ‘Just Done It – Kilimanjaro’ T-shirts and then headed for the waiting Landrover.  An hours drive and we were back at the Outpost Lodge, the hard work was over!  Showers soon followed and we sorted our gear, I just dumped all the dirty clothes in a bin bag and then headed to the bar for a well earned burger and chips washed down with ‘Kilimanjaro’ beer!

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On the plane home I flew past Kili and was amazed at the size and scale of the mountain, which was piercing the clouds and wasn’t too far from the planes cruising altitude.  It was strange to think we had climbed to the top of it from such a perspective.

It was an amazing experience and looking back now whilst it was one of the hardest things I’ve done it was also one of the most enjoyable.  The challenge to get to the summit was forefilling and to have completed it very satisfying.  Following the recent BBC ‘Red Nose Climb’ there is a perception that it is not too hard, this is a myth – altitude can not be under estimated.  That said anyone with a reasonable fitness level and more importantly the will and determination to get to the top can do it – just take it “Pole Pole”!

I would throughly recommend it to anyone!

I’ve uploaded all my Kili photos here.

Kilimanjaro Summitted!!!

On the 25th of August I made it to the Kibo sumit of Mount Kilimanjaro – the hardest thing I have ever done!  We began our final ascent to the summit at 5895m at midnight from the Barafu camp at 4600m.  As we got higher the wind chill increased, making me appreciate the six layers of clothing I was wearing, including thermal base layers! It took six hours of trekking up steep and relentless zig zags, with the last half an hour up exhusting scree that made you slip back a step for every two you went forward.  Finally we made it to Stella point just over 100m from the summit at around 7am.  The others were feeling the altitiude and decided that they could go no further.  I was feeling pretty knackered but I was not going to let 100m beat me soalong with Philand our guide Fostine pushed onwards.  The route to the summit was not too steep and after 30 mins with regular breaks the summit sign came into view.  It was a great feeling to reach the summit, making the hard slog worth it 🙂

Here’s a photo of the three of us at the summit:

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I’m now on Zanzibar Island, having a nice relaxing time on the beach 🙂 The internet is unbearably slow so I will save a proper update for another time….