BootsnAll Travel Network

What my blog is about

My name is Jill. My sister, Jaimi, and I are going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We can't wait to return to Africa and fulfill a lifelong dream!

Update News Years Day

January 1st, 2010

Happy New Year to all of you! This is Achim writing. You guys must wonder what’s going on. Basically no network in the middle of Africa. Just got a call from Jaimi for a couple of minutes. 3rd day of climbing or shall we say hiking? They are now up on 3900m (for the Americans, please figure out yourself what this is in feet). Everything is great: legs work great (no surprise to me. I keep telling Jaimi that she has strong legs), they get a lot of good food, multiple times tea per day, and even more often the opposite of drinking .. not to mention the air release (you know what I mean). This is a sign that they are adjusting very well to the altitude and almost no headache. Well, no surprise too as they are not getting any booze up there.

So, no worries. I will update the blog as soon as I hear back from them.

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False Start

December 29th, 2009

2:30 am and we are ready to go…. I guess we should have taken that melatonin last night.  Plus we have been up 3-4 times to pee already.  In these early hours we are second-guessing the new route proposed by our guide.  Does he have our best interests in mind, or some other motivation?  Juli, we wish you were here, too, but hopefully thoughts of you rushing us up the mountain will keep us going when it starts to get tough.

Well, I guess we will try to go back to sleep if we can get our minds to quiet down (and Jill’s incessant chatter.)


Last preparations

December 29th, 2009

We are in bed.  It has been a busy day and I have to say I’ve been amazed at Jill’s energy; after such a horribly long trip, I expected today to be more filled with siestas than sightseeing but we didn’t take a nap at all.  No wonder, I guess, that upon exiting the shower, I found Jill asleep over the laptop instead of completing the photo uploads.   I woke her up long enough to properly get into bed, now she’s already slumbering while I post the last real update for a few days.

The briefing with the guide was good and to his quiz of: “do you have….?”, we were able to consistently provide positive responses, so we’re feeling well equipped.  Whether or not we’re ready is another question altogether!  He informed us that we’ll have to slightly change our route to avoid spending 2 nights at a high camp – there has been a lot of precipitation and temperatures are well below zero so he’s worried too long up high is unnecessarily taxing. We also received confirmation that summit day will be between 12 – 14 hours with very short stops (3-5 min) at Gillman’s Point and Uhuru, then a longer break on our way down again to enjoy a hot breakfast.  After the briefing, we came back and started packing (and re-packing – everything now sealed in Ziploc bags to avoid getting drenched in the downpours they’ve been having); Jill suddenly mid-seal looks at me and says, “Wow. I just really got bungy-stomach!”  And she is right; this is definitely reminiscent of pre-Bloukrans Bridge!

We won’t have the computer with us on the mountain, so the updates during the coming 7 days will be brief (typed in with the phone when we have a signal).  But keep your comments coming!  We will be avidly reading them for motivation at each camp!

P.S. Reader poll: what to do with long hair for a 7-day hike and no washing opportunities? 

P.S. 2   A big “Thank you!” to all our equipment helpers – esp Lou for the sleeping bags, waterproof bag, drink bottles, etc.  and Achim for the high-tech goodies and power gel!

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December 29th, 2009

The Coffee Shop, Moshi, Tanzania:  nice outdoor courtyard and sitting area, seems to be the standard place to take tourists.  Not sure why – food was a bit strange (tasteless grilled bacon and cheese sandwich and salad of wedged tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers with no seasoning or dressing).  Our guide book says they have good baked goods, but maybe things have changed since that trip.

Kindoroko Hotel, Moshi, Tanzania: this was our great lunch spot on day 2.  Roof top seating with views over Moshi (and of Kibo if the clouds permit), nice breeze and large, varied menu.  We had lamb cous cous and a very fresh Greek salad – both recommendable!  We peeked around the hotel and found it charming: nice touches with tinga paintings and decor, some rooms very small but also very cute.


Springlands Hotel, Moshi, Tanzania (meals provided for guests only): buffet style breakfast-lunch-dinner. Okay.  Some local food which is good but not remarkable, offered with some other random things they think will appeal to tourists (pizza which doesn’t resemble real pizza, for example). Excellent service, very friendly staff. Our post-climb snack (fresh fruit salad and french fries – random, but it hit the spot!) and bottle of wine (white South African) were great, complete with laughing waitress when she heard us using Swahili. 

Hotel rooms were okay; very basic, but en-suite bathroom with partially hot showers.  Fans in each room to try to move the hot air around at least, mosquito nets hanging over each beds, lots of shelves which came in handy when organizing our gear.  Pillows were not comfortable – I think sleeping on my fleece sweatshirt in the tent was more effective.  Swimming pool is nice and there are lovely gardens. Overall, okay place to spend a couple of nights before and after the climb.

Zara toursKilimanjaro ascent, Rongai route: Rongai route was great – not nearly as many people as other routes, usually only 2- 4 groups at each campsite.  Nice trails, we were mostly alone along the way.  We took 7 days for the trip, so had relatively short hiking days (2-3 hours/day) supplemented by additional acclimatization hikes in the afternoon.

We had 3 tents set up each day for us: our sleeping (main) tent, dining tent and a toilet tent.  The food was plentiful and good (pasta and rice with meat and vegetable curry sauce), especially the first 3 – 4 days.  In the middle we had some appetite loss and were less appreciative, and towards the end it seemed a bit like more of the same and we were ready for fresh salads and variety. 

The team was great, our porters, cook, waiter and assistant guide were very quick and efficient; we rarely had to wait for anything.  Our guide left something to be desired; his English was not very good, making communication difficult and he did not seem very excited to be there.  This might be explained in that he only received 1 day notification of the job (according to him, Zara forgot our booking).


Tipping: this is an area to consider in advance and not let yourself get confused by the different recommendations you might get (we read some things in books, heard a different approach from Zara, and yet another proposal from our guide).  In the end, we’ve come to the conclusion that the only acceptable and reasonable approach is to give each individual member of the team their tip personally.  One idea we’ve since heard is to put them all in individual envelopes with the person’s name, so there is no confusion and also less visible what money is exchanging hands.  This is not as easy, however, as it sounds.  It means you need to make an effort to learn each persons’ name and face, to ensure you are tipping the right person, which is not always straightforward as you don’t see much of the porters.  We were deterred by our guide, who wanted to collect all tips and then distribute them; he actively sent porters away from us at the end of the hike so that we did not have an opportunity to give the money directly to them; we can only assume he planned to take a cut.  We hunted down all the team members we could find and gave them the tip directly, and they were thrilled.  Even in this process, our guide tried to convince us that one particular porter was not on our team – since we had handed out chocolate daily and seen who was setting up our tents and knew his name, this was clearly not true.  We tipped him and eventually the guide did admit he worked for us.  The fact that this was so complicated and not well managed is our biggest criticism of Zara and our Kili trip; it put a negative end on what was otherwise a great experience.

The best approach we have heard comes from Bushmen Expeditions, with whom we booked our safari trip.  They bring the entire team back to their office in Moshi, set up a round of lawn chairs in the yard and pass out Kili beer to celebrate a successful climb.  They also recommend the individual envelope approach; the celebration is an opportunity to make a small ceremony of sorts, thanking each person and handing them their envelope.

Bushmen Expeditions: After already booking our Kili trip (through 7 summits, who subcontracts to Zara), we found Bushmen on the web.  They offer a variety of tours and services, including Kili climbs and safari.  We booked a 3 day package safari trip including Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park.  The manager we worked with (Seth) was very friendly, helpful, and took the extra time to drive us around Moshi for a couple hours on our first day there.  Overall we are impressed and happy with our safari – they seem to have connections to accommodation options that are off the beaten track and beautiful, we feel like we have gotten our money’s worth and more (see next two entries).  The first day could have been improved with less time in the car and more free time (which we had specifically stated we would like to have); we had a few stops in Arusha to pick up lunches and such – this should all be pre-arranged instead and would save valuable time.  It would also be an improvement to clearly set expectations on driving times / distances between parks and hotel locations as we were negatively surprised at spending over 9 hours a day in the car.  Our guide, Richard, is knowledgeable and clearly enthusiastic; he also speaks English well.  Some of the background detail is a little overkill for our taste, but might be appreciated by others.  this is the company we booked our kili climb through.  They were great!  Harry has a wealth of knowledge, and was very responsive with advice, answering questions, etc.  Even during the climb, when I was unsure about the advice our local guide was providing, I sent a text message to Harry and received a response within 24 hours.  He put together our personal climb, and we had a better setup up than other climbers who either booked directly with Zara or through another agency.  I would definitely go back to; in fact, I’m now considering going through them to do an Elbrus climb so that I get at least 2 of the 7!

Lake Manyara Hotel: we loved it, despite it feeling a little bit ghostly (see the travel review for more).  Our room was  beautiful, with wood floors, mosquito nets, balcony with leather cushy chairs, lovely linens and bathrobes.  The best part of the hotel are the grounds, with a fantastic (albeit small) pool area overlooking Lake Manyara.  There is a bar down by the pool, and a couple of different terraces with lounge chairs or table/chairs.  We wish we had spent more time here! 

The restaurant was good, with a very friendly and attentive staff who were somewhat lacking in true upscale experience (our waitress needing coaching from the manager on opening a bottle of champagne), but they made up for it with enthusiastic and pleasant service.  Buffet dinner with salad, soup, and a selection of entrees/sides; food was creative (pork chops with banana ginger sauce for example) and good though certainly not standout.  Buffet breakfast including freshly cooked eggs to order/omlette, fruit, bread and cereal. 


Maramboi Tent Lodge: again, this is a place where we wish we had had more time.  The assitant manager and general “host”  was James, and from the first moment he made us feel very welcome and taken care of.  The Lodge comprises 20 individual “tents”  with en-suite bathroom, winding sand and wooden walkways (partially bridges/boardwalks above swamp area) between the different buildings, a main building with restaurant, bar, and seating area, and a pool down a boardwalk from the main building.  The pool overlooks plains filled with animals with Lake Manyara behind them.   Things run on solar power, so you have to charge batteries at the bar (not in your room) and lights went off shortly before 23:00, but we needed sleep anyway.  The food was great here.  Dinner was 4 courses (pumpkin soup, fresh salad, then very tender meat in curry-like sauce (swahili style), rice and vegetables, and concluding with chocolate mousse that was more a cross between mousse and pudding – very very rich and wonderful chocolate!


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Hakuna Matata

December 29th, 2009

And yes, they do actually say that here, so now we know 5 words!

Today is a great day.   We are finally getting our traveling legs back, I think.  This morning  we woke up before our alarm went off, thanks to the cheerily chirping birds outside – and were actually in good enough shape to appreciate them.  We started off in good spirits, feeling well rested despite our fears of wildlife visiting during the night (the creepy small kind, that is).  Following breakfast we started the next phase of packing and perhaps the most fun – the pharmacy.  While sitting on the bed with our supplies strewn around us, popping our vitamin and malaria pills, we were glad we were in Africa where drug raids are less common.

After that, we ventured into town.  We ignored the multiple recommendations and offers for a town escort (apparently that is the modus operandi) and wandered about on our own – kind of like the chickens and goats. Despite our aimlessness we ended up feeling quite successful!  Managed to purchase  bandanas of the Tanzanian flag (we think) from a one-eyed street vendor, learned not to follow random people on the streets who offer to take us somewhere “around the corner,” and found a lovely lunch destination atop a quaint downtown hotel, offering a view, a breeze and the best food we’ve had yet.

After lunch we practiced our negotiation skills, and discovered that buying a painting means talking and negotiating with a minimum of 7 people. Meanwhile, 7 more people are hovering in the background waiting to take you to their store next door.  In the end and with a lot of patience (it took about 45 minutes to close the deal, which included stories of not having eaten yet today and needing to sell so they can buy food,…), we walked off with our works of art.  And true to their word, the artists all headed up the street to get lunch.

So we’ll go for a bit of pool time now, followed by re-packing #4, and a meeting and pre-climb briefing this evening with our moutain guide.

Please see our “Review” section for information on local venues we’ve tried.


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Moshi, Tanzania – trying to complete another posting before Jill passes out (again…)

December 28th, 2009

Wrapping up our first day in Tanzania, and the end of a very long travel day, we’re eating chocolate and trying to stay awake just a bit longer.   The flight of delirious giggling from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro was great fun;  at least we thought so – the other passengers just may have found our behavior a tad obnoxious to begin with, but were laughing along with us by the time we landed.  Walking from the plane into the Kili International Airport we were on a high; during landing we had gazed down on lush green countryside and even had seen the mountain faintly through the clouds, then upon arrival we were greeted by friendly people and beautiful landscaping.  Once entering the building, it quickly became apparent how they afford the uptake of the grounds, as we were duly informed with much smiling that a “multi-entry one-year-visa” is compulsory for Americans (only) and costs $100 per person. L  Talk about a buzz kill.

As we tried valiantly to get over the $100 visa issue, we exited the airport and found our driver waiting as planned.  Another climbing pair joined us shortly after and we sheepishly acknowledged that they had about half as much luggage as what we’d loaded into the van.  We chalked it up to just another gender difference; but then our last passenger arrived – and she also was more appropriately laden, able to carry her complete gear with her own two hands. 

Driving from the airport to the hotel we were very aware of how long it’s been since we were last in Africa.  As we passed through a number of villages and saw (hundreds) of people everywhere, just milling about the streets, children playing in the dust by the side of the road, free range goats and cows wandering aimlessly, we realized we’re going to need a bit of an adjustment period.  As we arrived at the hotel we were pleased to see the beautiful gardens and pool; then entered the room and realized this is no Club Med.  This also helped the puzzle pieces fall together on why all the other guests were so amused with our luggage – we’re packed up for a 4-star vacation and staying in a backpackers hotel! 

We spent the afternoon unpacking, relaxing by the pool, and getting a brief introduction to Moshi town by our safari guide, Seth.  The highlight of the day came on our way back, when Kilimanjaro made a very grand appearance from behind the cloud cover and we got a good up-close look of what’s in store for us.  It hovered there majestically, far above town, covered in freshly fallen snow and gleaming in the sun.  This perked us up, and we’ve been talking with the other guests about the climb – so far, the consensus of those who have completed it is, “Great climb, but it’s hard.  Really hard.  And a cold like you will never experience anywhere again.”  And so on that note – maybe we’re not sorry that we’ve packed so much!

P.S. Jill is very distraught by the fact that her ankles are still swollen from 36 hours of coach class.


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December 27th, 2009

We are sipping hot cappuccinos in the humid jomo kenyatta airport in nairobi, kenya after a very long travel itinerary with just 1 more short flight to go (to kilimanjaro).  The sun is just now coming up.  Our travel was not without incident, but overall ran fairly smoothly considering the number of flights and stops to deal with.  I (Jill) started my journey some 30+ hours ago in portland, oregon where my luggage was accepted readily but my flight to Denver was delayed causing me to miss my first connecting flight.  I was wandering around Denver airport trying to figure out a new plan when I was lucky enough to reach a real person by phone who informed me I had already been rerouted on a lufthansa flight – I made it to the gate just barely.  In Frankfurt, I was so happy when Jaimi found me (since verizon failed me and I did not have phone service) and ushered me into the fancy lufthansa senator lounge where I was able to shower and eat good food.  We celebrated the beginning of our journey together in the comfy leather seats with our cute matching packs, before boarding our flight to Cairo.  Unfortunately, we failed to get seats together on our long flight from Cairo to Nairobi.  I tried to do a seat exchange, but despite all the talk about africans being laid-back and relaxed, they were very adamant about sitting in their assigned seats.  So, I had to sit in the back with the screaming children, and Jaimi got harrassed by her overly-friendly seat mate who was very interested in the women’s underwear ads in the magazine she was reading.  But… it could be worse, I realized, as I was sitting next to a girl from Moscow who’s trip was delayed 24 hours and is scheduled to start her Kili climb today!!  They really wanted to sell us a visa here, but we insisted we did not need one to walk through the airport and finally got directions on where to go to get our new boarding passes and ensure our luggage transfer.  So now we are set, excited to get to our final destination, glad to have a couple of days to unwind from our journey, and trying not to think too much about the climb just, yet.  We have been practicing swahili and have down about 3 words.  Habari za leo (yes, we did just have to look that up!)


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Luggage overflow and insomnia

December 26th, 2009

So while everything was listed in my excel planning file, it seemed harmless enough: sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, hiking boots, sticks, 2 hiking pants, 2 fleeces…. etc.  Now that I’ve tried to cram it all into suitcases, I am feeling a bit more overwhelmed.  Don’t be fooled by all the lists and literature: this is a big undertaking!  and I have the luggage to illustrate it!

Finally convinced I can’t re-arrange any more effectively, went to bed early to have a last really good night’s sleep before my journey begins (and by the way, Jill is already on the road I’ve got the first text message  that connection #1 is concluded and travel is less than ideal so far…not sure what’s happening but will find out soon enough).  Unfortunately at 1;30 am I was wide awake again and am wondering if this is the sleeping pattern I’ll have to get used to up on the mountain.  Argh.  Just packed a couple more melatonin to ensure nights 1 and 2 at the hotel before we commence are a bit better than this.

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Final itinerary

December 23rd, 2009

The countdown has been on for the past 6 weeks, and we are now only days away from the start of this adventure.  I have now banned myself from reading any more blogs about Kili climbs (a couple days ago I read one where half the group got altitude sickness, one guy summited but vomiting 6 times going up on summit day); reading as preparation a few months ago was fine, but now so close to the actual climb it just makes me nervous!

It is amazing to be only days away from something that I’ve wanted to do for 18 years!  Logistically, we should be pretty much set – final itinerary is:

26 Dec, Sat – Jill’s travel starts!  PDX – FRA, 13:30 – 8:55

27 Dec, Sun – Jaimi’s travel starts!!  STR – FRA 11:35-12:30. After meeting up at frankfurt airport, Summit Sistas continue on together FRA – CAIRO, 15:10 – 20:15 and then Cairo – Nairobi, 21:45 – 3:45

28 Dec, Mon – Switch to Precision Air for NBO-JRO, 7:50-8:50; pick up at JRO and transfer to Springlands Hotel, Moshi

29 Dec, Tues – Relax at the pool or visit Moshi (this is the day we’ll be remembering and longing for during the next 7 days)

30 Dec, Wed – Kili 1: to Rongai Cave 1950m to 2600m (6400ft to 8500ft – about 4 hrs)

31 Dec, Thurs – Kili 2: to Kikelewa (2nd) cave 2600m to 3600m (8500ft to 11800ft – about 7 hrs)  Woo hoo – new years’ eve in the cave! 

1 Jan, Fri – Kili 3: to Mawenzi tarn 3600m to 4330m (11800ft to 14200ft – about 4 hrs)

2 Jan, Sat – Kili 4: acclimitization day – hike in Mawenzi area  (Jill might just stay in her sleeping bag)

3 Jan, Sun – Kili 5: to School Camp 4330m to 4750m (14200ft to 15600ft – about 5 hrs)

4 Jan, Mon – SUMMIT DAY!!! Kili 6: to summit and Horombo Hut 4750m 5895m (and down to 3720m) 
15600ft to 19300 ft (and down to 12200ft – about 11 hrs)

5 Jan, Sun – Kili 7: to Moshi 3720 to 1700m (12200ft to 5500ft – about 6 hrs)  Return to Park Gate and Moshi, enjoy a Kilimanjaro beer!!!

6 Jan, Mon – Depart Moshi at 7:30, visit Lake Manyara with picnic lunch and wildlife viewing; afternoon at the pool, dinner and overnight at Lake Manyara hotel

7 Jan, Tues – After breakfast descend to Ngrongoro Crater floor with picnic lunch and half day wildlife viewing.  Afternoon transfer to Maramboi tented camp (swimming pool!), dinner and overnight

8 Jan, Wed – Morning game viewing in Tarangire National park, late afternoon transfer back to Moshi for departure: travel home commences at 20:10 from JRO

and travel home concludes on the 9th for Jaimi, on the 10th for Jill

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August 23rd, 2009

We’ve got the boots and sticks – now the training REALLY begins!

dsc00132.JPGdsc00133.JPGEnd of a training day

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