With the rising of the equatorial sun, the undercast clouds climbed the slopes of Kilimanjaro and slowly enveloped us in an eery mist. We had begun our summit push about an hour before dawn, a line of bobbing headlamps weaving through the sleeping camp at Barafu, 15,200′ above sea level. Now, as we ascended past 17,000′, pole pole (slowly, slowly), I was beginning to really feel the altitude. Despite six days of acclimatization and hiking along the Lemosho Route, all five of us were quietly focused on each slow step along the steep and winding switchbacks up toward the rim of Kilimanjaro’s volcanic crater; step, breathe, step, breathe. A few trekkers were already descending – those who rose at midnight to make their entire summit push during the moonlit night, jubilant from reaching the summit – and those who looked quite pale and were gingerly being led down by a guide holding each elbow. The altitude affects everyone differently, and the sick have to descend quickly. We pushed on, hoping for clear skies at the summit and for weather good enough to stay overnight in the crater as planned.
But I get ahead of myself. This 11-day trip, including 9 days on the mountain, is a long story. As you read the trip description below, be sure to check out the photo galleries of the trek, of our two days pre-trek, of the flora and fauna, and of night skies on the mountain.
Our final safari dinner, at the Enashiva nyumba, was Tanzania style food. Finally! although the food at all the restaurants and nyumbas was wonderful, it was basically western-style food. I was pleased to finally have a chance to sample some of the local food, including ugali and stew.
Day 9 was an opportunity to experience a tiny slice of the local culture, at least, of the Maasai culture. We started with an early-morning walk, before breakfast, strolling through the nearby meadows to see wildlife during this particularly active time of day. I was particularly interested in our Maasai guide, one of the rangers hired by Thomson to patrol the reserve. On his waistband he wore two items traditional for every Maasai warrior – a wooden club and a large machete-like knife, along with a cellphone. The old meets the new; the three essentials of any warrior strolling the hills of Maasai country! The knife has many practical uses, of course, and the cellphone provides connectivity even in these remote locations. The wooden club was a bit of a mystery; it had a natural bulb-shaped head, a burl or knot selected carefully from just the right stick. The shaft was whittled to a point. He explained that this club was important for self-defense, during his patrols, if he needed to protect himself he could swing or throw the club at an animal. Continue reading “Maasai”
Before lunch on Day 8 we passed through a couple of Maasai villages and turned left at the school (built for the community by Thomson) before entering the Enashiva wildlife conservation area. Formerly owned by one of Tanzania’s largest beer manufacturers, this land had failed as a farm. Fields of hops and barley were trampled and grazed by migrating wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, and all manner of wildlife. It was a losing battle, and the company auctioned the land with the understanding that the buyer would put the land into conservation. Thomson Safaris bought the land, hired local Maasai as rangers to patrol the land, and established a nyumba for use by its safari guests. More recently, Thomson’s non-profit affiliate built a school and a health clinic nearby, on land provided by the town, in support of the local community. We now had the opportunity to experience the wildlife in this reserve, and to meet the local community. Continue reading “Enashiva”
We knew Day 6 was going to be a long drive. From Gibbs Farm we had to climb back up to the rim of Ngorogoro crater, around the rim, and through the dry highlands of the extended Ngorogoro Conservation Area (where the Maasai graze their herds and live in isolated boma, clusters of mud/stick homes) to reach the grasslands of Serengeti. Although the map indeed indicates this is a main road, and signs refer to it as a highway, it is a dusty two-lane dirt road that treats you to 100km of washboards. I was glad to have skilled drivers at the wheel; Robert and Freddy zipped along at a steady pace as we rounded steep corners and avoided oncoming overstuffed public buses or transport trucks, skillfully avoiding the worst of the potholes and boulders that pop-up in the road from place to place. The sight of four dejected men sitting beside a new rover that had, perhaps an hour before, rolled over and over after they had misjudged a turn, reaffirmed the challenges one could face if one attempted to self-drive a safari through this countryside. Continue reading “Serengeti”
After another stop at a souvenir shop we ended our day at Gibbs Farm, a working coffee plantation with a delightful bed-and-breakfast nestled in the lush greenery along the hillside. Like the RiverTrees, it is structured as a set of individual cottages, each sleeping two or four, each with large sitting areas, luxurious porches, and individual fireplaces. Lush gardens of greenery and flowers line the paths and bushbabies scamper among the trees overhead. The main lodge houses an outstanding restaurant – easily the best food we had on the whole trip, and that’s really saying something because we had delicious food at every meal. More than 90% of the food they serve is grown on their own farm, from the vegetables to the eggs and meat, and the chef is outstanding. This was our base for exploring Ngorogoro crater, although Gibbs has its own series of activities (watch the bread-making operation, tour the farms, help pick the vegies for the evening dinner, or listen to a local church choir sing) that made the place a truly fun place to stay. Continue reading “Ngorogoro”
At the entrance to Tarangire National Park we settled in for a picnic lunch while Robert took care of the paperwork. (This would become a regular routine, as there seem to be plenty of fees and paperwork to enter each of the parks.) I have to say, the facilities at the parks we visited were generally excellent, with well-maintained picnic sites and flush restrooms available here and there.
We spent the afternoon driving slowly into the park, stopping to view and photograph all manner of wildlife. There seemed to be a maze of narrow dirt tracks criss-crossing the park, through open scrub on the higher elevations and some along the brushy tree-lined shores of the Tarangire river and its tributaries. Most intersections were well marked, but Robert and Freddy clearly know this place like the back of their hands, and they knew particular locations where one might have a good opportunity to view elephants or lions or birds. Continue reading “Tarangire and Manyara”
I awoke at dawn, despite seven hours of jetlag, to the sounds of the morning call to prayer at a nearby mosque and to the pre-sunrise chorus of birds in the surrounding trees. These sounds – and the mosquito netting hanging from the four-posted bed in this B&B cottage – quickly reminded me of our late-night arrival in East Africa. Barely three degrees south of the equator, and nearly in sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, we were nestled into the delightfully lush greenery of the RiverTrees Hotel outside Arusha, Tanzania. Today would begin our ten-person ten-day family safari with Thomson Safaris. Four of us had taken very nearly the same trip 18 years earlier, and were now back with the next generation along for the ride. The weather was dry and slightly cool and our aim for the day was to explore the highlands of Arusha National Park in the foothills of Mount Meru, one of several volcanic neighbors of Kilimanjaro.