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Friday, 27 August 2010

Trip Report of Takims Northern Discovery Tour. The Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara, Tanzania. June 2010.

Whilst Andy and Co were making their way back down from the Roof of Africa, I was sat on a KLM flight MAN-AMS-JRO. The plane was a bit old and dated, it was a Boeing 777-200 ER named Serengeti.
The seats were very hard, the entertainment system a little old fashioned and the food was not edible. The food looked good and was nicely presented, it was just odd. On the first service, I was served a starter of salad, then very green pasta in a box and an odd pudding. There was a second service of pizza, that was quite nice. The crew were very good, in the cabin most of the flight with one service or another. There were a lot of passengers from the USA and they were very impressed with the flight, food and free drinks. Saying it was a vast improvement on the Delta flights they had taken from 'The States'.
We landed after nine, and I was picked up and taken to Springlands Hotel in Moshi.
The road to the Hotel is a small, pot holed, dirt track, and the complex is hidden by large walls and iron gates. Inside it is a small oasis of lush vegetation.
The rooms were very basic, no AC, on this occasion no hot water ( I was told it was rather intermittent by my partner). The rooms were clean but the beds were rather old and shabby.
At 0900 the next day, the family went our separate ways. One to Dubai, one to the UK and us on our first ever guided safari.
John, our driver and guide picked us up at 09.00. He worked for a company called Takims Holiday Tours and Safaris Ltd.
We were driven from Moshi to Arusha.The area was very fertile, all sorts of crops were growing, coffee, banana, maize. I was hoping to see the mountain my family had climbed, but no luck, it was shrouded in cloud.
We stopped at a very modern hotel and were shown into a shop, trying to get us to bye carvings like the one above and a stone called Tanzanite. About 2 minutes from the modern hotel we were dropped off at The Arusha Hotel to sit for 2 hours before lunch. We then had a slow lunch at the hotel and had a 'safari briefing', basically our itinerary was read out to us! Eventually at 14.00 we set of to the Ngorongoro crater. It had been a bit of a wasted day really, and I wished I had not rushed to get up in the morning.
It was quite a slow 3-4 hour drive to the crater (if you could drive yourself you could do it as a day trip from Moshi/ Arusha). We had to stop at another curio shop, this one full of wood carvings, fabric prints and paintings..........I hoped this would not be a theme of the trip, shopping!The entrance gates.
I had read that the crater is an extinct volcano, but until I saw it I did not appreciate how spectacular this is. That volcano must of been massive, at least as big at Mt Kili. We drove up one side of the rim, through densely forested areas and on getting to the top stopped at Heroes Point to catch our first glimpse of the breathtaking view over the crater floor lying 600 mt below us. We then turned right and drove along the crater rim, with its red soil and rocks that had blasted from the volcano to our lodge, the Sopa Lodge. The lodge offered fantastic views of the crater floor so far below. The rooms were very nice, large with two queen sized beds and really modern bathrooms. The lobby and bar were great, as was the TV room on the first floor. The football world cup was on so the TV room was crowded. Dinner was a choice from a set menu, all delicious. The wine list was extensive and we had a lovely bottle of Nederberg to finish off our restful day.
On day two, following an early breakfast at the Sopa Lodge we had a full day in the crater. The Land-Rover roof popped up allowing us to view the wildlife through the open roof. All the game vehicles were of the same style. The Ngorongoro crater has a spectacular concentration of wildlife. Within the first half an hour we had seen the ‘Big Five’.This was assisted by the fact that if you spotted a 4 X 4 traffic jam, you knew some thing of interest was lurking there. The driver John, was on his radio all the time, talking to other rangers and taking us to where game had been spotted. So this was a very different experience for us as we were not seeking out the game ourselves, and it felt a rather lazy way of doing things?
The crater itself, with its breathtaking scenery, was some thing I will remember for the rest of my life. The hotel had provided us with lunch boxes and we stopped at a watering hole for lunch. Unfortunately due to the presence of Vervet Monkeys we could not get out to eat and had to have lunch in the van. Even then the monkeys got through the roof and tried to steal the food from us.
John, the driver kept asking us if we wanted to stop looking at game and call at a Maasai Village near the crater. He appeared quite disappointed that we had no desire to visit the Maasai. I did feel that we were being rather nagged at about craft shops, Tanzanite and Maasai Villages and it got a bit irritating at times.
The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge provided another good nights rest. The hot water is only on from 17.00 to 20.00, but this was not a problem as it was really hot and plentiful at this time. The dinner was excellent and the Lodge very comfortable.
The next morning it was raining when I got up. Looking out of my window I could see a very black shiny rock, I wondered if it was a Rhino, then thought I was being fanciful. When I came back to the window 15 minutes later the rock was gone. I don’t know what the ‘rock’ was, but it was not mineral!
I had imagined that we would drive through the crater again, but I was mistaken. We drove right around the crater rim and then headed for the Serengeti. Yet again, the subject of the Maasai Village came up. We agreed to visit the village and pulled in to it about five minutes later. The lunch stop was at Olduvai Gorge. This site is of significance due to the fact that the first fossilised remains of Homo Habilis, modern mans ancestors have been found here. There was a small but informative museum here as well as disgustingly dirty long drop toilets.
It was a dusty drive into the Serengeti and we were pleased when we arrived at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge. The Lodge had endless views over the Serengeti plains, but its design and construction seemed a little eclectic and did not really merge into surrounding landscape. The service and food were once again very good. There was an advert for a balloon ride in the lobby and we booked to do this the following morning, so knowing that we would have an early start we got off to bed in good time. The Land Rover called to pick us up at 05.00, and we had a ‘night drive’ through the park to the balloon launch site. When the car stopped, our driver told us to take care as lions had been seen in the area. As we waited for the dawn and for the balloon to be blown up, we could here the lions calling to one another, they sounded far away. As the sun rose however, it was apparent that the pride of Lions were very close to us, so close that the workers launching the balloon would not get out of there vehicle to help to inflated the Hot Air Balloon.
The Hot Air Balloon Safari is run by a company called Serengeti Balloon Safaris, http://www.balloonsafaris.com/ it was very well run. To take off we had to get crawl into the basket that was tipped on its side. Then the hot air was blasted form the burners and up we went. It was really a ‘Once in a Lifetime Experience’, just spectacular. I was worried about feeling cold, but I was close to the burners so was very warm. Seeing the animals; and we saw them all, herds and herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Giraffe, Hippo, Warthog, Hyena, and best of all a Leopard when we landed.
Back on Terrafirmer, we were greeted with Champagne, as much as you wanted, then we were served a full English breakfast under the tree that had had the Leopard in it! He left when we arrived. The Hot Air Balloon ride was very expensive, but how may time in my life am I going to sore over the Serengeti in a Balloon, it what MasterCard is for and is one of the best things I have ever done.
John picked us up from the Balloon breakfast point and we spent the rest of the day
In the Serengeti National Park; watching the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra on the move, we also saw all the Big Cats. It was a really special day. On day four we left the Serengeti Sopa lodge at 09.00 and headed for Lake Manyara. Here we stayed at a Community Run Tented Lodge above the park, it was very basic accommodation and not as nice as the Sopa Lodges.
We had a game drive in Lake Manyara National Park, which is famous forits tree-climbing lions, we did not see any. The park was small but nice and it is only a two hour drive from Arusha so you could easily do it as a ‘day trip’ from Arusha or Kilimanjaro. Early the next day we set off back to Arusha, and arrived for a late luch at where we had started from, The Arusha Hotel. Then it was time to get to the airport and board the KLM flight back to Amsterdam.
Reflecting on my five day guided safari, I feel that it is a shame you cannot hire a vehicle yourself and drive to the Tanzania National Parks. This does not seem to be an option for tourists. The only cars I saw doing this had Kenyan or RSA number plates. I felt our tour was rather drawn out at times. If I had planned it my self I would have left out Lake Manyara Park and just had lunch at Olduvai Gorge, I would rather have had 2 days in the Ngorongoro and at least 2 full days in the Serengeti. I did not like ‘chasing’ the game with the radio, but understand that other tourist would feel cheated if they did not see all the animals. We certainly did see them all and in abundance. And to conclude, I wouldn’t have missed the balloon safari for anything!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Kilimanjaro. Tanzania. June 2010. At The Top

Its 06.45 and I have been awake ages, waiting for the wash bowl to come. We have been woken with our hot water wash bowl and ‘knock-knock’ at 07.00 each day by our dedicated porters, the guys are great and you could not do this trip with out them.
We all seem to be in good spirits at breakfast. All ready for the challenges today will bring. At 09.00 the porters have packed up and its time to go. The cloud is very low and we are unable to see our goal, Mount Kilimanjaro.
Soon the vegetation disappears and we are walking through a desolate landscape called The Saddle, there are large rocks here. We reached the last water point after about 1 ½ hours walking. The porters filled up barrels from the very meagre stream by the sign post.
Then we set off again till lunch break. There are a lot of toilets along the route, of the long drop variety. I am lucky I can go behind a rock, but the girls have to use the facilities.
Finally we see Kibo Hut, its a very bleak place. 1 long dormitory, split into 5 rooms, with bunks and a long table, and yes it is COLD. The thermal underwear is retrieved from our backpacks and put on as soon as possible. Then its into the sleeping bags to try to get warm.
A simple supper of tuna spaghetti is served for dinner, its hot and its filling so does the job! The plan is that we will be woken at 23.00 and set off in the dark at 23.30. Felix has advised us he want us to walk very slowly.

At 23.00 we are up, and all the layers are put on. Thermal base layer, tracky bottoms, walking trousers, fleeces, and ski jacket. 2 pairs of socks are needed as are gloves and a hat. At 23.45 we go out into the dark, cold night and its snowing.
Sarah’s Altitude Sickness is back, she had a bad night vomiting, and is once again being sick as we wait to go.
We set off at a very slow, rhythmic pace, almost not walking. There is a line of twinkling head lamps ahead of us. We walk for 15 mins then stop for water, it is so slow and my feet are frozen. The path is steep.
By this point, is very ill, vomiting, weary, stumbling along but determined to go on. But eventually she has to descend, her porter Peter help her down. I am so sad for her, but very proud that she has got as far as she has.
At Houseman’s cave we stop and have a warm cup of tea, it is very welcome. Then again slowly up we go.We reached Gilman’s peak, the lowest point on the rim, just as the dawn broke, and not a moment to soon, as by this point you don’t think you can take another step in the dark. I was exhausted and starting to feel the altitude, but I had come this far and was determined to make it so it was upwards and onwards.
The walk around the rim to Uhuru is fairly level and it takes a good 2 hours there and back, but on I go....................................................................................
To the TOP.
Past amazing ice scenery, not to long at the summit thought as its a long way down.
The decent commences with a walk around the crater rim back to Gilmans Point, for the young with good knees, you can scree run down the scree slopes almost all the way to Kibo Hut, I walked!
I made it to the top of the mountain, but don’t remember much about it thanks to the altitude!
Again...just to prove I did it. The roof of Africa.
At Kibo Hut we had tea and biscuits and a short rest. Then we went back across The Saddle towards Mawenzi, the third of Kilimanjaros peaks. The views were great and we reached Horombo in two hours.
This meant that we had been on the go for over fourteen hours with just one hours rest at Kibo.
The next day it was a 7 hour walk from Horombo Hut to the Marangu Gate, passing the Mandara Huts as we went. The final stage was through the rain forest, and the guides offered to take us to look at the waterfalls.
At Marangu Gate we collected our certificates as we signed out, had lunch, then got in the mini bus to drive us back to the Springlands Hotel for dinner and a few beers.
Some call this route the 'coca cola' route, don't let the name fool you. It is hard work climbing this mountain and a lot of people don't make it. I did and I have seen what I wanted to. The ice cap on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro. Tanzania. June 2010.

To try to increase the chance of you making it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro many companies stop at Homombo to assist in the acclimatisation to the altitude. So today was our ‘Acclimatisation day’ and as such we were given a ‘lie in’, well we were told that we did not have to get up till 07.00! So following the ‘late’ breakfast we were to walk to Zebra Rocks.
Sarah was not feeling well, her altitude sickness started during the night when she started to feel very nauseated. Having eaten breakfast, she vomited it back up, and had a very bad headache. It could be Altitude Sickness, but may be sun stroke as the suns rays are so strong up here. My arms got very burnt yesterday despite sun cream, so I choose to wear a long sleeved top today.
The walk to Zebra rocks was slow but interesting. We are all starting to feel very breathless, so slow is OK. Sarah looks weak, but is trudging on.
Back at the main camp for lunch, Sarah had painkillers for the headaches and then we all chilled out with an afternoon nap. The nap seems to have worked for Sarah, she woke up feeling a lot better.
It was the usual routine for Dinner, Soup followed by Chicken with rice in a vegetable sauce.
The conversation at dinner was all about the climb tomorrow, up to Kibo Camp, it is over 5000 mt. The plan is to get to Kibo Camp after lunch, go to bed, then wake up for dinner. Then its back to bed for a very short sleep till 23.30. At this time we start for the top of the mountain.
Today we have met many people who are coming down the mountain, they all say it is cold and very hard work. A lot of people have not made it to the top; the altitude sickness was to much for them! We are all a little anxious going to be tonight.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Kilimanjaro. Tanzania. June 2010. Day Two

Every one was up early this morning. Breakfast consisted of porridge, bread & fruit. As well as sausage, omelette, tomatoes and cucumber. Writing it down it sounds a bit odd, but every meal is brilliant, especially when you consider where we are.
We started to hike again and very soon the path emerged into what Felix called ‘The Meadow Land’, it really looks more like a Mooreland, a sparse landscape with grass, heather and small bushes, it also has a plant unique to the mountain the Giant Lobelia. As we climbed higher it became more like the South African Fainbos, and the flowers we saw were small yellow everlasting ones. Interestingly there was no wildlife, not even many birds.
The rout took us up and down through gorges, climbing steeply all the time.After about 2 ½ hours walking it was time to stop for lunch. A lot of very large black and white crows were waiting for the lunch left-overs, Saz has been reading to many Twilight books and she stated that they are ‘The Omen of Death’.
After the lunch break it seemed a long hard slog up to Horombo Camp. We were the last party trekking up at this stage due to the constant call of ‘Poly Poly’, I was surprised that I adjusted to the pace but Saz did not like the slow pace and was racing ahead of the group.
We had been walking for about 6 hours when we rounded the top of a gully and saw the silhouette of the two large dining huts at Horombo Camp. They looked massive, shrouded in mist. The mist blows through Horombo all the time and it is a blessing, as with out it the Suns rays would be so strong your skin would get burnt in no time.
Horombo is a spectacular camp, situated above the clouds, when the clouds cleared, just for a moment, I had just a quick glimpse of the street lights in the town of Moshi down below. Following another good dinner of soup, pasta and pudding. Felix advised us all to get off to our bunks and get a good nights sleep, that along with drinking plenty would help with acclimatisation. I was just nodding off at 20.00 when a very loud shriek work me up. I thought it was RB who had seen a large mouse in the hut, but she said it was the mouse that made the noise! Seems like there is wildlife on the mountain after all.