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January 27, 2006 - Februrary 13, 2006
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Getting there...
I think it was just about a year ago that I decided to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I asked a couple friends that I've climbed with before, but coincidently they were already already planning a trip to Kili (and at a time that didn't work for me). A few emails later and we had our group figured out: me (obviously), Marc, Erik and Blair.

After getting a bunch of shots, loading up various medications, sorting out plane tickets, trying (unsuccessfully) to contact hotels beforehand and sending out lots of emails we were ready to go! Erik showed up at our house sometime before 6am on January 27th and we got a ride to the airport with a very nice friend. First stop: Detroit to meet up with Blair (who lives in another state)!

The trip to Detroit was fairly uneventful and we arrived to find Blair waiting for us at the gate (how nice). After a quick bite to eat there we had to hurry to catch our next flight to Amsterdam! This was an eight hour flight and luckily we had cool personal video systems (with video games and everything)! A couple movies and a few levels of Bejeweled later and we were in Amsterdam. No time for looking around the city this time, but for sure on the way back!

The flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport was another 8-hour marathon (this time without the cool video system) but we survived on the excitement of almost being there. We stepped out of the plane into the hot, humid weather and were sweating within minutes. Getting our tourist visa was a pretty painless event; the only paperwork they checked for was the $50 bill. After that we caught our bus and drove through the darkness to our hotel. Settled into our rooms and went to sleep covered by the mosquito netting.

The next morning we got up and had our first view of the moutain! Looks good! However, before climbing we had a rest day during which we decided we'd head into Moshi and take a look around. On the drive to Moshi we got our first real look at the countryside. My first thought was "wow, so much garbage/litter." It's pretty different in a third world country. Wandering around town was okay. Had lots of people trying to sell us stuff or offering to be our guide for the day. By the end of the day we had mastered "Hapana sante" (which is "no thanks" in Swahili). Changed some traveller's cheques, bought some souvenirs and had a couple drinks in cafes. It was pretty hot and there wasn't too much happening on a Sunday so we caught the earlier shuttle back to the hotel.

Shortly after getting back we had a little meeting with our guide in preparation for our departure the next morning. We were somewhat lucky with our guide Benjamin, not only was he super nice and had an easy-to-remember name but he also spoke quite good enlish! Spent that night packing and getting everything ready. They even had scales to weigh your bags on (porters only carry 15kg, though they're somewhat lenient if you go slightly over).

On the mountain...
Met our bus in the morning and drove a couple hours to the Marangu Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park. After a bit of time getting our climbing permit settled and such we headed off. We climbed through a few thousand feet of rainforest to get to the first hut (Mandara Hut at 2700m (~8858')). This was a pretty nice walk for the most part. Although it did start to rain before lunch, it didn't last very long and we escaped fairly dry. Also our day packs were a little overfull and we had plans on moving more into our porter-packs that night. There are two sections of huts: some for the clients and some for the porters/guides. You may think the client huts get crowded, but that's nothing compared to the porter huts. Anyhow, as we got off on somewhat of a late start that morning we got stuck sleeping above the dining hall that night. Not so bad for going to sleep, but a rude awakening when the porters noisily get breakfast ready early in the morning! That night we took a little walk over to Maundi Crater and saw some flowers that only grow on Kilimanjaro!

After a breakfast of porridge, eggs, sausage and fruit we headed off towards Horombo Hut (3720m (~12204')). Already we could see a change in the vegetation. It had gone from tall trees to smaller shrubs. Still lots of vegetation, but just not tall enough to protect us from the harsh sun. Once at the hut we were somewhat unhappy to find we had (once again) lost the race for the good rooms and were staying above the dining hall. However since we were staying here for two nights in order to acclimatize we were promised a private hut for the second night.

For our extra day of acclimatization we took a hike over to Zebra Rock -- some place where the rocks have black and white stripes (like a zebra!). It was a pretty cool place and we got some neat photos there. The place got less cool when I was trying to be cool, fell and cut my hand. Oh well, merely a flesh wound! We continued on our hike up to where we could see across the saddle and see Kibo Hut. Unfortunately by this time it had started to rain and we were getting cold so we quickly turned around and headed back to the hut for some rest. While thankful for the quiet and privacy of the private hut we soon realized that we had much less storage space and our bags seemed to engulf the entire floor. Nevertheless we managed to clear off enough space for a game of Scrabble! It was also around this time that most people started taking their Diamox (to help the acclimatization process). Since I'd be at altitude before and knew how I handle it I thought I'd try climbing without using the Diamox (especially since we had the extra day in there), however I did have a supply of my own in case I needed it. Tried taking some photos of the moon and stars that night but with less than awesome results. Perhaps someone elses photos turned out better.

The next day we were off to Kibo Hut (4703m (~15429'))! The plan was to get there, eat an early dinner, try our best to get some sleep, wake up around 11:30pm and then start hiking towards the summit around midnight. Doesn't that sound like fun?? Just remember: mountaineering is fun in retrospect! During our hike this day the scenery drastically changed. The low-laying greenery disappeared and we were left with alpine desert (aka not much). We got to the hut at a decent time, had a snack and set-up our sleeping bags. It also turns out this was a fully stocked hut and even sold bottles of Coke! Just because I could, I bought one. After that Erik and I headed out on a short acclimatization hike up the mountain. Pretty soon we were feeling the altitude and just wandered over to a patch of snow we found in the shade. Once back down I busted out my iPod and settled into some rocks to write my journal in front of an amazing view.

Normally I'm undecided on my thoughts of iPods on the mountain.. Is it an invasion of technology in nature? Does it block out the peacefulness of nature that we're seeking by being out here? One of the latest books I finished had a mountaineer that listened to music while climbing and I figured we'd be too tired for much talking on this climb so I figured I'd try listening to some music on the summit push.

After dinner we settled into bed and tried to ignore the sunlight streaming in through the windows and go to sleep. All too soon our assistant guide came in a woke us up at 11:30pm for a bite to eat before our departure time of midnight. We were in the last stages of getting ready when Blair started feeling unwell. After some waiting to see it this would pass Marc and I set off with the hope that the others would feel okay to follow shortly. As with most alpine starts it was dark and we were using our headlamps to find our way. This also has the neat effect of letting you see where everyone else is on the route, pretty cool to see little moving patches of light! We passed Han's Meyer Cave and made it to Gilman's Point after a mere 5 hours and 51 minutes of hiking (the steepest of the entire hike)! w00t! This is considered the summit (if not the actual highest point on the mountain) and is about an hour and a half from Uhuru Peak (the highest point on the crater rim). We took a little break here and then continued along. Shortly Marc made the prudent decision to turn around and head back due to being very tired.

Saw the sunrise and after some more walking there I was!! Made it to the highest point in Africa at 6:44am! Snapped a few more photos and then started heading back down. I felt quite good on the hike up, didn't feel the altitude hardly at all! Overall I was very happy with how I performed.

What about the iPod you ask? It went quite well! I totally enjoyed listening to the music and it definately helped to keep my mind off of being tired/sore/etc. I don't think I'd want to listen to it all the time, but I think it's okay on dark, non-conversation-conducive summit pushes.

Got back to Kibo Hut around 9:30am or so (about 9 hours and 12 minutes after leaving) and met up with the rest of my group. They were all ready to hike back down to Horombo Hut but wanted to stay around until I got back (how nice!). They set off and I packed, ate and set off after them. Saidi (the assistant guide I was with all day) and I caught up to them after 50 minutes and I forced them to take a break for me. Getting quite tired now! Just under two hours later we made it to Horombo where we thankfully got a private hut again. Slept for an hour before lunch. Then slept for 5 more before dinner. Then slept for another 10-ish until the next day (even passed up a game of Scrabble so I could sleep!). Sleep has never been so good!

The next day we continued on our downwards trek with a lunch break at Mandara Hut. We knew we were getting near the main gate when we started seeing kids on the trail trying to sell us various items (again we used the "hapana sante"). Once back at the main gate, Marc and I collected our certificates, had a Coke, took pictures with most of our porters (some had already left) and then headed back to the hotel. Mission accomplished.

Safari time...
That night we only had a few hours to shower, eat and repack for the safari we were leaving on the next morning. First impressions of our safari guide Bacari? He drives fast! On the way to Lake Manyara we stopped at a large tourist shop for lunch (and shopping) where Blair managed to haggle some good deals. The campsite was next (to drop off some gear) and then we got to the lake!

To be honest, I didn't think I'd like the safari too much. Lots of driving to see few animals. Man I was totally wrong!!! So many animals with so little driving! Within minutes of getting into the park we saw a sauasage tree (no really!), monkeys, baboons, an elephant, and banded mongooses! A little more driving and we see zebras, hippos, warthogs, giraffes (from afar), helmeted ginea fowl, bushbacks... awesome! After it was time to leave we stopped by a little view-point place. As usual there were some kids their trying to sell us stuff, I passed on the trinkets but ponied up a 1000 shillings for a picture of a chameleon that one of the kids had. Back at camp we had dinner and relaxed in the bar while catching up on our journals and playing cards.

The next day we headed over to the Ngorongoro Crater (which is a caldera). The ride up the crater was not too bad, but the descent down into the crater was quite bumpy (understatement of the year). One of the first things we saw were more zebras. How quickly seeing zebras changes from "Wow, a zebra!!" to "Oh look, another zebra"...

Not to say we weren't having fun! We also saw ostriches, more zebras, wildebeast, hippos, various birds, hyenas, monkeys, female lions (from a distance), rhinos (from a greater distance). One of the things that made this day so cool though was the sheer number of animals -- entire herds of wildebeast! Another thing of note was that we were able to see a wildebeast give birth! It was pretty neat, especially seeing the newborn learning to stand within a mere 5 minutes (take that human babies!). Seeing a group of wildebeast jumping across a stream was pretty cool as well -- even got a movie of it (~4.8MB).

The ride out was even bumpier than the ride in as our guide's father had died that day and he wanted to drop of us to take care of some business. If we had thought our driver was going fast before, then he was approaching mach 1 on the way back! However we were delivered safe and sound to the hotel where we repacked (once again) for the next section of the trip: Zanzibar!

Chilling in Zanzibar...
The ride to the airport was pretty uneventful, though pretty nice as we shared it with a few fellow Canadians! The plane ride had some nice views to entertain us, but arriving at the small airport was still a welcome event (though they did give us free beer on the flight). Picked up our baggage, changed some more money and (eventually) found our shuttle driver to the hotel. At first we were pleasantly surprised by the air conditioning in the shuttle, but it mysteriously stopped after a few minutes and we got quite hot until we realized what happened and opened the windows.

Once at the resort, we cooled off with an orange Fanta and inquired about the on-site dive shop. Unfortunately it was closed until later in the day, which meant we had nothing to do but relax on the beach. Oh well, do what you've got to do! When it did open we arranged for two dives the next day (with snorkelling for the non-scuba folk) and tried on various pieces of gear until we had assembled a motley set for ourselves.

The next morning we piled into a dala dala (aka "bus") for a bumpy ride (~3.9MB movie) to the dive site. Got into our gear on the boat ride out and then got into the water! We were diving by the Mnemba Atoll and our first dive was at a place called Wattabomi. Got down to about 23m (my deepest dive ever!) and had visibility of about 6m. It was awesome! So many colourful fishes and I was amazed by the visibility in general (before I'd only dived in murky Monterey Bay).. very impressed!

Once that dive was done we had a snack and lounged about the boat for a while (to off-gas nitrogen). Then it was time for our second dive, this time at the Aquarium. Again we saw tons of fish, but the real highlight of this dive was seeing a black-tipped reef shark! Thanks to Blair who pointed it out as I almost missed it! Once finished with this we returned to the boat and had a scrumptious lunch on the ride back to the resort (which also meant we avoided another jarring dala dala ride!).

One thing we learned in our time here was how to play a local game called "bao" (which is similar to mancala). It was pretty fun and could easily take a long time, which our new friends soon found out! These friends were three folks from Sweden who were also staying at our hotel. We ate most meals with them and we enjoyed each other's company. They had some amazing photos from their 8-day safari as well!

All-too-soon our time at the villas had to end and we caught our ride into Stonetown where we were to spend one night before taking the ferry over to Dar Es Salaam. We quickly settled into our hotel and proceeded to explore. Stonetown is cool as it has a maze-like system of tiny streets and alleyways that you can wander for quite some time. And of course it's littered with tourist shops where we spent way too much money! Had dinner at Freddie Mercury's restaurant (apparently he was born in Stonetown!) and then cautiously walked back to our hotel through the dark streets.

On Marc's urging him and I went early to buy the ferry tickets the next morning. Lucky we did, as the ferry times in our Lonely Planet were wrong and we would have literally missed the boat otherwise! Had to skip breakfast in order to make it as it was. The ferry had a tv to entertain us with, but unfortunately we could hardly hear it (and they switched movies half-way through). Oh well, it was Blair's favorite movie so she was able to relate what was happening line-by-line.

After landing in Dar we acquired a taxi and checked into a room at the local YWCA (yes, they also take guys there). Even though we were leaving that night we wanted a safe place to store our bags. However, the ability to take a shower before our long flight was pretty good as well! We wandered around town, ate in a french cafe and checked out the local museum. After dinner it was shower time, then we piled into a cab (with rocking music) to the airport.

Amsterdam on a Sunday morning...
By the time we got off the train from the airport to downtown Amsterdam it was about 9:30am. On a Sunday. Let's just say the red light district is not at it's peak at this time. Oh well. We walked around there for bit before heading off to more civilized areas. Despite the cold weather and drizzle we kept warm by stopping in random shops along the way. I even bought an Amsterdam t-shirt (my first touristy t-shirt)! Among other things we saw the flower market, some random (tasty) cafe and cool European streets. Much too short of a time, next time we'll have to plan for even longer layovers!

The long road home...
The rest of the trip was a long series of travelling, broken up by periods of waiting in airports. Whee. The time it took from leaving the YWCA in Dar Es Salaam to the time I got to my front door was 38 hours. Not so much fun. Not super horrible; just long and tiring.

All-in-all it was an amazing trip with awesome people! I'd encourage others to do it and I hope that I get the chance to travel more of the world with my fine companions sometime soon! Stay tuned...
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