Monday, October 02, 2006


We just returned from a 15-day trip to Tanzania in East Africa, where we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (tallest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet) and went on a safari in Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Carolina is proud to have survived with only 3 days of running water and electricity.

I've thrown a smattering of photos into this post to give you a taste. If you'd like to see them all, check out the full gallery:

Africa 2006
Oct 3, 2006 - 239 Photos

Here's a slightly abbreviated version of our trip log:

Sept. 17th, 2006 - Day 2 (by Carolina)

It's only my second night on Kilimanjaro, and I'm already wondering what possessed me to willingly sign-up for a trek that would take me across some of the dustiest trails in Africa under a merciless sun and through a field of ice and snow to the top of Africa at 19,300 feet.

Carolina stands near the mess tent with Kibo Peak looming in the distance - this shot is from about half way up the mountain.

The trek has been an odd mixture of hot and cold. At this altitude (about 12,000 feet), the sun, if it peeks out from behind its shelter of clouds, is quick to burn. But as soon as the sun has sunk into the horizon, Africa gives way to Antarctica. Last night, on our first venture at sleeping on the trail, I found myself with layers of clothing on and still shivering in my sleeping bag. The thought of leaving my sleeping bag to go to the bathroom was unbearable.
We are taking the Shira route. This is an eight-day trek with no running water along the way. Our guides, Meke and Lasti, keep encouraging us to drink lots of water to help acclimatize to the increasing altitude, but the particles floating in the water have given me pause. Kendall and I filtered our water today and gave it a dose of ultraviolet light to put me at ease drinking it.

On the trail.

Sept. 19th, 2006 - Day 4 (by Kendall)

My feet are freezing inside my sleeping bag at 2:30 in the afternoon. We rolled into camp at about 12:30, just as a small snowstorm opened. In fact, I can still hear the thunder outside of the tent. I also feel like everyone can hear my heart pounding in my chest as it tries to get enough oxygen to the rest of my body. The air here is thin, but will be thinner at the top. Right now we're at 14,927 feet, and the summit is a little over 19,300 feet. The air at the summit has approximately half the oxygen at sea level. I just took my resting heart rate - 104 beats per minute. I hope that is safe. We're supposed to take an acclimatization hike up another 1,000 feet or so in a few minutes. The motto "climb high, sleep low" is supposedly a truism for dealing with altitude adjustment. Carolina seems to be fine - most of the rest of the group seems to be dealing with headaches. Yesterday, a guide, a porter, and 2 trekkers had to head down with Malaria-like symptoms.

Marching through the beginnings of a snow storm to our camp at Lava Tower.

The food has been good - soup for almost every meal, plus other things like rice, chicken, pasta, etc. Unfortunately, my adherence to the Word of Wisdom is causing me some problems. When everyone else is warming up with a hot cup of coffee or tea, I either pass or get plain hot water (the hot cocoa ran out pretty quickly). I finally got a good night sleep last night, maybe 6 or 7 hours. It gets dark here around 6:30 or 7pm, and when the sun disappears the temperature plummets, so everyone usually heads off to bed around 8 or 8:30. I turn on my headlamp in my tent and read for an hour or two, then suffer through the night. The nights seem awfully long when you can't sleep well and it's cold.
There's not much vegetation left at the elevation we're at. It's incredible to look down and see the clouds below you. We're nearly at the base of Kibo Peak - it looks formidable. I can see the glaciers just above us.

Carolina huddles in the safety of our tent.

A view of the camp at Lava Tower from the side of a taller slope we climbed for an acclimatization hike.

4:40 - made it back from the acclimatization hike. No headache, just tired and a little light-headed.

A shot of the mountain side above our camp at Lava Tower.

Carolina surveys the camp the morning after our little snowstorm.

Sept. 20th, 2006 - Day 5 (by Kendall)

It's 8:15pm and Carolina is already asleep next to me in our tent. I have a pretty painful stomach ache at the moment - I think it might be the Doxycycline I'm taking as an anti-milarial. Other than that, I've been in pretty good shape. No stomach problems, only a couple of slight headaches and sunburned and wind-chapped hands and face. For sure the worst thing for me is that I have such a hard time sleeping. Last night seemed eternally long. Carolina had a rough night, too, suffering from a migraine.

Carolina is geared up and ready to go.

Today we scaled the Barranco Wall, a very steep, rocky slope that required quite a bit of scrambling. It rained most of the day so the rock was slippery, making the going pretty treacherous in spots. The entire day's hiking took about 7 hours as we did a lot of "up and down" to get around the mountain to the point where we can make our summit attempt. It's a lot warmer tonight - we're at only 13,100 feet. Now if only the rain would go away so our gear could dry out. I'm going to try to finish "Into Thin Air" tonight, then turn in. By the way, we read "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" yesterday - didn't have a whole lot to do with the mountain in the end. Hopefully I can get a good night sleep, as we begin the summit assault tomorrow night at midnight.

Some of the unique terrain we came across as we skirted the mountain.

We were literally camping above the clouds - the view was breathtaking.

Just about to hit the trail.

Onward and upward.

Kendall and Carolina enjoy the view of the peak from the trail.

Sept. 21st, 2006 - Day 6 (by Kendall)

Just finished lunch at Barafu Camp (15,300 feet according to my GPS). We rest for the remainder of the afternoon and evening, then we begin the summit hike at around midnight. My nose and hands are a little tingly at this altitude. I got a good night sleep last night - we slept lower, it was warmer (although there was a cm of ice in some water oustide the tent), and we were tired from the most strenuous day of hiking yet. The sun is very strong here - very little cloud cover and high elevation.

Sunset at Barafu Camp - you can see Mt. Meru in the distance.

Sept. 22nd - Day 7, Summit Day (by Kendall)

Summit day began at 12am, as we met in the mess tent to grab a few bites of porridge or biscuits before beginning our hike at 12:45am. I had on 4 layers on top (long john top, under armor shirt, fleece jacket, and a heavy coat) and started off a little hot, but before the end I was grateful for all of those layers. The hot water in Carolina's water bottle in her pack was icy within a couple of hours. Even with toe warmers, my feet were freezing. Our hands froze as well, despite two layers of gloves (they say it can get as low as 40 below zero with wind chill), but at about 5:45am the sun started to peak over the clouds, and although still quite cold at 17,000+ feet, there was no strong danger of frostbite.

Despite the cold, Carolina smiles with our guide Meke during our summit assault.

Because most of the ascent takes place in the dark, it's hard to tell how much ground you've covered until the descent in the daylight. After walking for about 5 hours on extremely steep terrain, the sun poked out revealing that we still had an awfully long way to go. The guides entertained us by singing Swahili songs as we walked along in the dark. How they can sing while marching along at that altitude is beyond me. I don't know how many times I heard them tell me "Don't give up the fight!" The first, and only, member of our party to give up threw in the towel about 2 hours in - he was suffering from stomach cramps that had been dogging him for some time. Then we split into two groups - the slow and fast groups. I joined Carolina in the slow group - and boy am I glad I did. I don't think I could've survived trying to keep pace with the first group. Anyway, at about 5:45am the sun rose, and the trail just kept going and going. It was extremely steep, and with the altitude each step felt like a major effort. It must've looked like we were walking in slow motion - one baby step in from of the other in a slow, repetitive manner. Getting to Stella's Point - the crater rim of Kilimanjaro - was extremely tough - probably the hardest physical thing I've ever done. On the way to the top, I saw a man in agony being pulled and pushed along by his friends. My immediate concern was that he should descend because he could be suffering from Pulmonary or Cerebral Edema. When we finally reached the top, we all collapsed, absolutely too tired to move a muscle. I think Stella's Point is about 18,800 feet. I didn't take any Diamox (meds to help with altitude) and got by pretty well - only a slight headache as I approached Uhuru Peak (the summit). We groaned as we rose from our relaxed positions near Stella's Point and began the 500 foot ascent to Uhuru Peak. Now you'd think 500 feet is no big deal. At nearly 19,000 feet, it really is a big deal, especially after having just climbed to Stella's Point. When we got to Uhuru Peak, at roughly 8:30am, we again collapsed into a pile of backpacks and tired human beings. Eventually we snapped the "badge of honor" photo with the sign at the summit, then we began the long march back to camp. Once we got back to camp we had to pack up our gear and descend another 2,500 feet to a different campsite.

Carolina gets a first-hand view of the snows of Kilimanjaro - the glaciers are slowly melting, and will probably be gone in another 20 years.

We did it!

I think I'll get a good night sleep tonight. Carolina is already sleeping and it's not quite 6pm yet. In Carolina's words, "I think that's the hardest thing I've ever done." It was truly mind over matter. Oh, and I can't forget the glaciers atop the mountain - they were amazing. I'm glad it's over, happy with the achievement, and exhausted. No altitude sickness for me--the acclimatization process seems to have worked well. Good night.

Our fearless guides Meke, Wilfred, Lasti, and Peter (aka Pierre).

The guides and porters sang and danced in gratitude and farewell - it was great!

Our group: Kendall, Carolina, Heather, James, Janet, Twana, Cath, Jim, Vanessa, Vic, and Amanda... (Rick and Samantha weren't there at the time).

The climate, and fauna, changes dramatically as you descend the mountain.

Sept. 25th - Safari

We made it off the mountain, but Carolina was too sick to celebrate with the team - she went to bed early after a long-awaited shower at the hotel, suffering from nausea and exhaustion. The rest of us had a big party at the Ilboru Safari Lodge (our hotel), where most of us drank freely and we all had a good time. We spent the next evening at the Moivaro Coffee Lodge, a beautiful hotel on a large coffee plantation. I went for a dip in the pool before dinner and a great night's sleep.

Luxury at the Moivaro Coffee Lodge.

A street in Arusha.

A Massai village (although they're primarily nomadic).

Today we began our safari - our driver/guide, Ema (short for Emanuel), drove us to Tarangire National Park. The first thing we saw was an elephant, then we snapped a bunch of photos ot distant zebras, not realizing that we'd see so many zebras right next to the car that we'd be ignoring them before long. We ended up seeing 3 of the "Big Five" - elephant, buffalo, and lion (still missing rhino and leopard). We also saw impalla, dikdik, lots of wildabeast, giraffe, mongoose, monkeys, ostriches, babboons, several types of birds, baobab trees, warthogs, and a cheetah. The cheetah was hunting, but the impalla gradually moved away and we eventually gave up on watching the attack.

A baobab tree - some are several thousand years old.

Sept. 29th - Safari

We spent another day in Tarangire, where we saw loads more sebra, wildabeasts, elephants, giraffes, impalas, a very funny troop of babboons, etc. The next day we travelled to Ngorongoro Crater, a huge crater that is now an oasis for wildlife. The 13 black rhinos left in Tanzania live in the crater. We saw a black rhino, albeit at quite a distance - that made 4 of the big 5. We also came across an elephant carcass surrounded by hyenas, jackals, and vultures. We also saw a group of hippos wallowing in a pool. We left the crater and spent the night at Olduvai - an extremely dusty journey. The Olduvai camp was more primitive than Mawe Ninga, but the bucket shower was a welcome relief from the dust. The next morning, we spent some time at a paleoanthropological museum - lots of homo sapien and earlier remains found here - then entered the Serengeti. Within 10 minutes in the park we came across a female lion and her two cubs. After lunch, we finally found a leopard perched in an Acacia tree - that was it - we got the big five! Just as we were pulling out from the leopard area, I started feeling very sick - traveller's diarrhea had struck. We sped back toward the visitors' center, but I couldn't make it. I asked Ema to pull over and let me out, but he wouldn't (I later learned that if a tourist gets out of the car, the driver can get a $500 fine and 7 months banishment from the park - in a country where the average income is $50 / month, that is extremely harsh). I thought I'd die and/or lose it in the Land Rover. Luckily, we were near the airstrip, and I made it in time - after some medication we made it to our camp for some rest and recuperation.
This camp is the most primitive of all, but it works fine. Today, Carolina and I realized that we have spent 15 days in Tanzania, and we've only had running water / indoor plumbing for about 3 of those days.

A group of huts used as homes by people living near Tarangire.

Bushmen created this door in a baobab tree for use in hunting. Tragically, poachers used the tree later to kill elephants and rhinos.

Hyenas feast on an elephant carcass.

A group of young Massai warriors pause for us.

Funny enough, hippos are probably the most dangerous animals in the park for humans!

A view of the Serengeti plains.

During the night we heard all kinds of animal noises, including what sounded like a zebra drinking from our wash bowl just outside the tent. At about 5:30am, I awoke to the sound of the zebra "hee-hawing" loudly, but fell back to sleep. A few minutes later I heard a lion's growl and yelling, then a bunch of trucks pulled up near our tent. I finally went out to see what all the commotion was, only to discover that a group of 15 lions (9 adults and 6 cubs) had killed a zebra about 30 yards from our tent. Two guides were walking to the tent nearest the kill for a wake up call when they flashed their light toward the cats, thinking they were hyenas - this angered a lion, who growled and began to chase them. They burst into the nearest tent - occupied by two British honeymooners - shaking and exclaiming "I scared! I scared!" They called for backup, and the trucks came to scare off the lions. By the time I got out there, the lions had backed off a bit and the hyenas had moved in. The lions soon chased off the hyenas and started dragging the zebra carcass down the hill and away from our camp. Crazy!

Today we saw a cheetah, many hippos, more buffalo, a crocodile, and many lions. In fact, one of the groups of lions we were watching was basking in the sun when a zebra wandered too close - the lions jumped up and attacked, but the zebra managed to evade their claws and ran to safety. It was pretty incredible to watch firsthand.

As we left the tent for dinner, Carolina yelped and jumped back into the tent exclaiming, "There's something out there!" I peered out into the darkness with my headlamp on to see two yellow eyes staring back at me from about 20 feet away. I presume it was a hyena, and I coaxed Carolina out of the tent and we rushed to the relative safety of the dinner tent.

Our tent for the last two nights in the Serengeti.

Kendall and Ema with the Land Rover.

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