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The top of Africa…… Mt. Kiliminjaro

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

We were excited and nervous about our 7 day trek to climb Mt. Kiliminjaro. From the town of Moshi, which is right next to Kili, you could see the top and it looked like a very, very long way up there-19,340 feet to be exact. The hiking crew would consist of Christy, me and another hiker from California named Kush that we had not met, but who turned out to be a really cool and fun guy. Along with the 3 of us we would have 2 guides, a cook, a waiter and 8 porters to carry everything-our packs with all our gear, food for everyone, right down to the napkins. We on the other hand would only have to carry a daypack containing our rain gear and our ready-made lunch. We would spend 7 days on the mountain, summiting on the 6th night. Six days up, and one hellish day down.

Our first 5 days were spenth hiking all day and trying to stay warm and dry at night. Unfortunately for us, we didnt get the best weather, in fact it was down right crappy weather. We would rise every morning with blue skies and cold temps. By 11 am the clouds would roll in and then it would rain for about 4 hours which happened to be exactly when we were hiking. I’ve never loved a warm sleeping bag more than on this trip. Luckily, the porters were amazing. they would prepare all the meals for us, set up camp and take everything down. Our only job was to hike, sleep and eat.

It was pretty hilarous to see the three of us.  We were all decked out in our fancy hiking gear with our treking poles and hiking boots, yet we were being passed up the mountain by the porters who wore flip-flop sandles and carried about 40 pounds of our baggage on top of their head. Even the altitude at 15,000 ft didnt faze them. One image that is burned into my head is sitting on a rock resting at 15,000 ft, eating some food as the snow was falling and watching a porter come flying past with sandles and shorts on. He cheerfully wished us hello as we shivered over our fried chicken…Really makes you feel like a wimp.

After 5 days of hiking we camped at 14,000 feet and would make our summit attempt during the middle of the night so that we could arrive at the summit at sunrise when the weather is supposed to be best. So at 11:00 pm, our guide woke us up and told us to start getting ready, it was time to head out. It was tough to get motivated knowing you had to climb 5,000 vertical feet in the pitch dark with only a tiny head lamp.  And to top it off, it was snowing. We headed up the mountain and after 3 hours, Kush our other hiker decided he had enough and headed back to camp. I think he was the smarter one of the group. Anyway, the guide, Christy and I trudged on up only able to see what our little head lamps would illuminate in front of us. I was in the back and pretty much just stared at christys shoes in front of me hour after hour one step at a time. Christy was one hell of a trooper and didn’t complain until we got to about 17,500 ft.  It was 5am, freezing cold and snowing sideways, which blasted us right in the face. We would take a few steps and then stop lean on our treking poles and try to suck in the little oxygen that was out there at such a high altitude.  At about 6am, Christy and I were exhausted leaning against our poles when she turned over to me, looked me straight in the eye through all her layers of clothes and said “THIS IS THE DUMBEST THING WE HAVE EVER DONE.” Now that’s saying quite a lot because we have done some dumb things in the past so I was worried that a mutiny might be taking place. We were only about an hour from the top and I knew I had to tread softly in order to get her to the top and not have a really pissed off wife. So after we caught our breath and warmed up little, she was ready to finish the hike and we continued on our way to the top. A few steps and then a little rest. It took us a good hour to go the final 200 yards.  At about 7am we finally made it to the top so that we could see the amazing view from 3 miles high. A view that would make all the pain and suffering worth it.  Well, as luck would have it, the mountain was socked in by the storm and we couldn’t see a damn thing except fog and snow. But, we were happy none the less for making it. So after a quick hug, a couple of pictures we were off back down the mountain where we had to go all the way down from 19,000 ft. to 9,000 ft. to the last camp site. We were exhausted.  It was an incredibly long day and we slept for 13 hours that night. The trip was one that we will never forget, one for being so tough and two for the beauty of the mountain. We went through 5 different climate zones in 6 days. Starting in a rain forest and ending on a glacier, something you don’t get to do everyday. The shower at the hotel that night was also one of the finest moments after going 7 days with nothing more than washing your hands and face and basically wearing the same clothes. We would have one night at the hotel to rest before heading out on the safari for another week of camping.

Pemba, A Scuba Diving Paradise!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

We still had two weeks of traveling to do before our big Kili hike and safari, so we decided we would make our way to the islands for some R&R. We left Loshoto after a short two-night stay (we were tired of the haggling and hiking was only so/so) and caught a shuttle to Tanga, a town along the coast of Tanzania. The shuttle ride was another interesting experience-a small van with about 50 unwashed passengers, some chickens, couple of baskets of fruit, etc. We were shoved into the very back row of seats with about four other people, one of them just so happen to be car sick and vomited the entire three hours. Luckily he had a plastic bag, but as he hopped off of the shuttle at his designated stop, he threw the bag of vomit on the floor which of course spilled opened and splattered all over the bottom of Christy’s back pack. Oh, the joys of public transportation in Africa.

From Tanga, an uneventful town, we booked a flight on a teeny tiny ten passenger plane to the island of Pemba. We arrived of course without any hotel reservations, etc., just a plan for scuba diving and beach relaxing. We were quickly informed that scuba diving was very costly and there weren’t many beaches on the island of Pemba, let alone resorts to stay in. There are a few shoddy guest houses and two really swank hotels that we could not afford, but Steve had done some research and found a promising scuba diving outfit that also had just built a “new resort” on one of the only stretches of beach in Pemba. So, we set off for the place known as Swahili Divers, which of course was on the complete opposite side of the island from the airport and would cost us half of the very small amount of money we brought with us just to pay the taxi. There are no ATM’s on Pemba…and no electricity for that matter, those who have it run off of generators…so we prayed Swahili Divers would take credit cards! Our taxi driver was a sweet old man who had lived on the island most of his 60 plus years and had only been off the island to visit the neighboring island of Zanzibar. That’s it. He’s never been anywhere else. Anyway, we were only a few minutes into the drive when pieces of his car, which was a decent car, started falling off. No bother, he would stop the car, throw it reverse, pick up the part, put it back on and off we went. This happened a few times with the headlight cover and finally he pounded it on so hard that the thing dented and stuck into place. The drive across the island was beautiful and all in all took around an hour and a half. We passed through one “town” along the way, which was considered the capital and that’s it. Not much happening on Pemba. Our driver had never been to Swahili Diver’s new beach location so of course didn’t know the road very well. Needless to say, he was driving entirely too fast down a dirt road and didn’t notice the huge ruts in the road, so the car essentially bottomed out and we were stuck. We then spent the next 20 minutes digging and pushing the car to get it unstuck. That’s first class traveling when you have to dig out your own hired taxi.

Swahili Divers turned out to be a God-send. We arrived without reservations which was a huge risk since accommodation on Pemba is slim to none. But, they had room for us and put us up in our own huge bungalow. The place was brand new and still being built, so not all of the kinks were worked out just yet, but it didn’t matter to us. We had a huge bed, a cool looking outdoor shower, and dinner on the table. Emma, the manager, was extremely good to us and helped us settle in nicely. She introduced us to her companion Stuart who would be our dive master for our scuba diving. Both are originally from Zimbabwe and we had some amazing and very educating discussions with both of them about their homeland. It’s incredibly sad to hear what has happened to a country that was once one of the most thriving countries in Africa.

As for the scuba diving, all I have to say is AMAZING! Probably some of the best scuba diving we have ever done. Visibility was fantastic, the coral so beautiful and bright and the numerous fish…just awesome! Swahili Divers had their very own Dhow boat, so we were never crowded or diving with people we didn’t know. It was like having an ocean all to ourselves. The only down side would be the amount of sea urchins. We always had to walk across the coral in the morning to board the boat because of the low tide, which meant stepping over sea urchins. Sometimes if the water is a little deep it’s hard to see exactly where the urchins are-they appear to be all around you since water tends to magnify things. At one point while crossing the water, Christy froze in place and shouted that she didn’t want to move because she couldn’t tell where the sea urchins where. So, I impatiently told her to hold on to my shoulder an I would guide her and I groveled that there were no sea urchins where we were walking…then I immediately stepped on one. I had about five or six quills sting the side of my ankle. Christy, however escaped unharmed and she loves to make fun of me.

Our stay on Pemba just happened to be during the Thanksgiving holiday and so we were feeling a little homesick. The staff found out that we were missing a huge turkey dinner and though they didn’t have turkeys on Pemba, they had chickens. So, for dinner, we had fried chicken and french fries. That was close enough for Steve and I, so we chowed down our “African” Thanksgiving feast. A few hours later, Christy woke up with a terrible stomach ache. She made a bee line for the bathroom where the lovely African Thanksgiving dinner decided to come back up. She was sick for hours and continued having terrible stomach cramps into the next day. There were a few other guests who also got sick…must have been the chicken. She didn’t eat much for days, even after we left Pemba and headed for Zanzibar. Still, she was able to ralley and enjoy some great scuba diving over the next couple of days.

We had a great time on Pemba, mostly due to the staff of Swahili Divers. They made us feel like we were old friends and we have some great memories thanks to them!

“Where are your teachers?”

Friday, December 21st, 2007
After a relaxing five day stay in Amani, we decided our next destination would be the western side of the Usumbara mountains-Amani is on the eastern side.  We had heard of a farm in Loshoto that produced it's own jam, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Emau Hill and some amazing people

Friday, December 21st, 2007
We left our lovely beach paradise in Pimponi with fears of more African public transportation nightmares. Luckily for us, there was a school from Dar Es Salam that was camping at the grounds in Pimponi where we were staying and ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Dhala Dhala adventure

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007
Pimponi, where we are currently staying is a small town, not really town per se but a jumble of huts by the sea in Northeast Tanzania. Were staying at a really nice place called Pimponi beach lodge. They are like ... [Continue reading this entry]