And then there’s the food!

Ahhh…the food.  When I travel somewhere, one of my first questions is about the food.  When I traveled to Ireland several years ago, I was certain the food was going to be bland; mostly boiled potatoes and meat. I was wrong about that, and I was equally surprised about the food in Tanzania.

On Kilimanjaro you’ll travel with a cook and wait staff.  You’ll have chef prepared meals and snacks. Really, it’s more food than you can eat, and it’s all delicious.  We cater to the clients dietary needs and wants, and I’m certain you’ll find it to your liking.  One of my favorite items is the soups.  I love soup anyway, and the soups are always freshly prepared and tasty.  You’ll generally take your meals in the dining tent, which can be one of the best times of day.  Sitting with your fellow trekkers sharing your experiences, getting to know those you don’t know.  It’s a very special time on the mountain.

On safari if you’re staying in a tented camp, a cook and wait staff will also travel with you. If you opt for staying at a lodge, there will be full dining service, and either way, when you go out for your daily wildlife viewing, you’ll be sent with a box lunch to enjoy.

If you’re like me and you want to explore local culture, by all means ask your guides about the local food.  It’s delicious as well!  Their diet is not that different than our western diet; lots of fruits and vegetables.  Meat is mostly eaten in stews, accompanied by their version of polenta, which they call “ugali”  It’s made with very fine cornmeal, and served along with a meat and vegetable dish, as the starch for the meal.  Tanzanians absolutely have to have ugali a few times per week, and the guides and porters will be eating it on Kilimanjaro.  Definitely check it out! 

Here are a few pictures of some local food and markets.  Bon Appetit! Or as they say in Swahili, Karibu Chakula!

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Pole, pole

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Pole, pole….slowly, slowly.  The guides and porters on Kilimanjaro say it frequently to their clients.  Going pole, pole greatly increases your chances of getting to Uhuru Peak.

So whether you’re at 10,000 feet or 19,000 feet, chances are you’re going to go pole, pole.  And if you don’t, if you’re a young, brash man who is in terrific shape and you’re certain you can go much faster, chances are you’re going to find yourself with a debilitating headache, unable to eat or breathe.  So listen to those who have been up their hundreds of times.  They know.

Then on the way down, all that gets tossed aside.  You’re wanting to go slowly, pole, pole, and they are racing past you with your supplies on their heads, running and sliding down that mountain. Going down is much harder than going up. You want to step carefully, you’re afraid you’ll fall, so you take your time, and wow, your knees and your thighs begin to scream.  You start to feel blisters on your toes. And by “you”, I mean “me”.

So next time I’m coming down that mountain I’m going to do what they do; reckless abandon, letting gravity take me down.  My knees will thank me.

 

 

It takes a village….

IMG_0087IMG_5566IMG_0285I had such a great experience in Tanzania my first time.  Everyone was so nice, the guides, the porters, every local I came across.  I chalked it up to the fact that they are very dependent on tourism.  And they are, that’s true.  But I’m a cynical American.

Every morning on Kilimanjaro one of the kitchen staff would come to my tent and say, “Good morning, how did you sleep”, as they brought tea.  I’d say, fine, then say, how did you sleep?  They’d always say, “like a baby”.  Each meal we came to, each day when we entered camp after a day of hiking, they’d greet us with, “Karibu” which means Welcome. 

I always tried to make sure my belongings were packed when I went to breakfast so the porters could just gather everything.  But on the summit, I must admit, I left my sleeping bag unrolled and things in a bit of disarray.  No worries, they packed everything up just as usual.

On the way down from the summit I was certain I had blisters, so when I got to the lunch stop, I took of my boots and got my first aid kit out. There was my assistant guide, looking at my toes and putting on the bandaids.

Fast forward a year later when I returned to see if what I’d felt for my beloved was true.  I arrived at Kilimanjaro airport.  My biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be there.  My female friends who’d been with me as I struggled with what to do had assured me he’d be there.  My male friends were more cavalier.  So what if he’s not there, just enjoy the trip anyway! Or, just get back on the plane and come home!

I walked outside the airport with my bags, and he wasn’t there.  My heart sunk. I felt sick. All the drivers were there asking, “you need a ride?” I said no, my friend is coming for me. I waited there.  It seemed like an hour, but it was really about five minutes.  One of the guys approached and said, “You have his phone number, we can call him?” As I was getting my phone out to look up his number, he was there. I was so happy to see my mpenzi that I didn’t take the appropriate time to thank the man. 

There have been so many times since then that I realize these people operate in community.  We have traveled a couple of times to Zanzibar.  We are Christian, they are Muslim.  They have always embraced us.  More than embraced us, befriended us.

I’ve seen adults on public transportation (also called dala dala) sit a complete stranger’s children on their laps, and those same children fall fast asleep.  Once a little Muslim girl fell asleep on a stranger’s lap and her headscarf started to slip, and the young man holding her pulled it forward to keep her head covered.

So you see, there is so much to see and do in Tanzania.  The wildlife is extraordinary.  You’ll never see anything like it in your entire life.  Mount Kilimanjaro is majestic, and if you have the chance to reach the summit, you’ll never forget it.  But the country is so much more. The people and their generous, giving spirit are what separate it from almost everyone else in the world.

 

Endless Plains…..Serengeti

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As Wikipedia reports, the Serengeti is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world.

Serengeti means “endless plains” in the Maasai language, Maa.

It hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world and as I’ve shared before, it’s got one of the largest lion populations in the world.

You can either drive to the Serengeti, or take a small plane.  If you’ve got the time, I’d recommend driving, at least one way, which allows you to see some of the beautiful scenery the Rift Valley offers. That and you can make a stop at Olduvai Gorge. Olduvai is significant for the early human remains and fossils that have been excavated there over the last 100 years. Literally is starting point of mankind.  You may have heard of Louis Leakey and his wife Mary, who are probably the best known researchers (I remember them from National Geographic magazine) and there is a museum of sorts at the edge of the Gorge. It’s an hour and a half stop at most, and then you can continue on to Serengeti National Park.

My first trip to the Serengeti started out perfectly; we were eating lunch near the entrance and within 15-20 minutes a herd of elephants showed themselves.

The next few days I saw more wildlife than I’d ever seen in my entire life.  Guess that’s to be expected given where we were.  From sunup to sundown, it was constant. We’d leave our camp after breakfast and be out all day, stopping only to eat lunch, and then we’d be back at it.

It’s so beautiful, vast, it just defies description, and the pictures don’t really do it justice either.

I think one of my favorite parts was lying in bed at night listening to the quiet, interrupted periodically by the zebra bark.  And, strolling back from dinner and taking in the Africa sky so unobstructed by light pollution.

I could stay out there forever.

The Lions of Africa

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I’ve seen lions in zoos many times; there is probably at least one lion in every major zoo in the world.  But actually seeing lions in their natural habitat is something not to be missed.

They are so majestic, so beautiful.  King of Beasts.  Hmmm….The Lion King.  I’ve seen both the animated version many times, and also seen the musical on Broadway.  Simba  means “lion” in Swahili.

I think they are very aware they are in charge, because they are so relaxed and seemingly indifferent to the tourists.  Now that I think about it, they’re like house cats.  They could care less whether you’re there or not!  They go on doing whatever it is they were doing, whether that’s napping, hunting, or having sex.

But they are under serious threat.  Between the loss of habitat and threat from humans and poachers, lion numbers are dwindling.

Fortunately, between 30-40% of Africa’s lions reside in Tanzania alone.  Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania has over 7500, Ruaha-Rungwa in central Tanzania around 3800, and the Serengeti shared with Kenya about 3700.

So if you have a love of the big cats, and want to see them up close, come visit us in Tanzania.

 

Volcanos, Flamingos and Maasai, Oh My!

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In the Rift Valley of northern Tanzania you’ll find Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano, who’s name comes from the Maasai language (their language is called Maa), and means “Mountain of God”.

This area is less well known than places like the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater, but definitely worth the time if you can include it.

There are both campgrounds and luxury tented camps in the area, and no matter which way you go, you won’t be disappointed.  Campgrounds can be appealing if you want to truly embrace the gentle flow of the river and the African sky.  You’ll have a chef with you, so although you’ll feel completely alone, you’ll be fed sumptuous meals and snacks.   The luxury tented camps offer a full dining experience with a bit more of the comforts of home.

The Maasai tribe have lived in the region for centuries, and make wonderful hosts.  A tour of a local boma is easily arranged.  There are Maasai all over eastern Africa, but one of the most authentic experiences can be found in this part of the continent.  The Maasai women of the region make and sell beaded jewelry; they are persistent, but it’s so inexpensive (about $4 for a bracelet) that you can buy many pieces for yourself, or to bring home as gifts.

Lengai is always in view.  You can hike to the top if you’d like; it’s a bit challenging but the view of the crater and the surrounding area when you get up there is extraordinary.

The other attraction, and the one most people come to see, is Lake Natron.  It’s been reputed to turn animals to stone.  The alkaline water has a pH as high as 10.5 and comes from sodium carbonate and other minerals that flow into the lake from the surrounding hills.  Sodium carbonate was once used in Egyptian mummification, so it does preserve any animal that’s unlucky enough to die in the waters.  The high alkaline water also attracts millions of lesser flamingos (as well as great white pelicans and lots of other species), so it’s one of the best places in the world for birding.

If you go, bring your camera, because just like the rest of Tanzania, no matter where you turn, there’s a memorable shot just waiting to be captured.

Messages from Kilimanjaro

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Even though I’ve gotten lots and lots of texts messages, e-mails and phone calls from the mountain, it never ceases to amaze me that it’s possible.

When you’re on the mountain, it seems so remote.  You’ll cover 4 distinct climates zones on your trek.  You’ll either start or end in the Rainforest.  You’ll then go through the Heather/Moorland Zone, the Alpine Desert, and onto the Arctic Zone.  White necked ravens and other birds are plentiful, but other than the little camp mice you occasionally see, there isn’t much wildlife as you climb higher either.

It’s very quiet, and peaceful.  The sky is magical.  I remember one night when I got up to go to the bathroom, and just stopped and stared and the sky.  I couldn’t get enough of it.

So don’t worry, you’ll be able to communicate with your loved ones on the mountain.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.  Your loved ones can keep up with you.

But by all means, enjoy the experience.  Immerse yourself in it.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be changed by it.  I was.

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