Aug 26 2010

Tanzania – diary 2010-06-29 to 2010-08-01

After our rapid escape from Kenya we arrived back in Tanzania via the Lunga Lunga border post. We were relieved to find that our visas seemed to still be valid even after we went to Rwanda from Tanzania in May which was supposed to result in the Tanzanian visa becoming null in void. With a saving of $100 we headed south, on an awful gravel road, towards Peponi Beach, a camp site and lodge that was set along the idyllic Tanzanian North Coast. We settled into our beachside campsite comfortably and enjoyed the views of the Indian Ocean with the fishing dhows sailing in with the day’s catch.

We spent the next 5 days at Peponi Beach where we made friends with fellow campers and enjoyed many meals together, a highlight being a fresh fish braai where we procured the fish ourselves straight from the fishermen who had literally just stepped off the boat. It must have been their easiest sale in months! Peponi was like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the very commercial Kenyan coastline. We truly enjoyed the serenity that the owners have created and will recommend it to many other overlanders in the future. We were still able to walk into the local village and not be harassed by the village folk but rather interact with them and shop at their little stores. We were also fortunate enough to be invited on a dhow ride with some fellow South Africans who we had originally met at Twiga Beach in Kenya. This was an authentic experience but left many of us feeling queasy and looking rather green.

With 2 weeks to go until we were to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, Kirk and I were getting anxious about being at sea level and felt the need to get to higher altitude, to acclimatise and so decided to head to Arusha and suss out its surroundings. We made the journey through some valleys and across some plains where signs for strong winds appeared very frequently. The wind swept across the flat plains and hit Mvubu with a vengeance. Kirk had a tough time counteracting the short sharp bursts. The terrain changed drastically from lush tropical palms trees and sisal plantations to dry desolate overgrazed land. As the altitude increased so did our hopes of catching our first glimpse of the challenge that we were to embark on in 2 weeks time. She appeared out of nowhere…Kirk spotted her first and I was still uncertain if we were facing Mt Kilimanjaro as there was a haze that was obscuring the outline of the slopes. The only thing that was convincing was the white snow capped top that was peeping out beyond some clouds. As we neared closer it became apparent that we were in fact face to face with the highest mountain in Africa. It was quite a chilling moment and both Kirk and I were ecstatic.

We made our way towards Arusha where the backdrop of Kilimanjaro changed to her older sister Mt Meru, which was equally spectacular although it was lacking the brilliant white snow. We made our way to Shoprite where we bought a few luxuries (Romany Creams and Ouma Rusks) and headed towards the Snake Park Campsite. En-route Kirk spotted a recently refurbished short wheel base 1981 HJ42 Toyota Land Cruiser which made up his mind…we were returning to Nairobi to purchase the green double cab equivalent the following day. He had been deliberating over this for the last 2 weeks whilst chilling on the beach at Twiga and Peopni and had made the decision to buy! This now meant that out trip would have a completely different element to it and I would be allowed to drive Mvubu for the remainder of the trip. For the last 8 and a half moths I had been forbidden to drive but now his affection for Mvubu had been replaced with the love for his new green Land Cruiser, Kobe.

After a good night’s rest we embarked on our journey back o Nairobi. The road was under construction and the dust from the road works added to the dust of the extremely dry plains – the effects of years and years of overgrazing. It was quite a cultural experience driving through Maasai country as the herders were in abundance dressed in their colourful shukas and elaborate jewels.

The border crossing back into Kenya was mayhem; it was the most commercial border crossing between Tanzania and Kenya and every tour guide and his European contingency was out in force. We managed to get through fairly quickly and made the journey back to Jungle Junction where we were to spend the next few days sorting out the admin for the ‘new’ car.

 Jungle Junction – Nairobi

Our time at Jungle Junction was enjoyable. It seemed to be quite a difficult place to tear one self away from as was evident from the number of people who were camped up in the front garden and had been there for more than a week. It became a little community whereby we shared gourmet meals – roast lamb and Mexican being some of our favourites as well as amazing BBQ’s and enjoyed watching the build up to the Football World Cup Final and eventually the final where our Dutch friends were enthusiastically blowing a vuvuzella and cheering for their team. It was nice to be in a city where everything is so accessible and they have amazing shopping malls where one can almost feel like they are shopping in London or South Africa. Nairobi is set at 1800m so we were getting the much needed acclimatisation without even doing anything in preparation for our climb up Kili. After 10 days of eating, socialising and internetting we were able to leave Nairobi and head back to Moshi to meet friends who were flying out from London and to prepare for our trek up Kilimanjaro. The traffic leaving the city on Thursday morning was a nightmare. With Kirk leading the way in Kobe, and me following closely behind in Mvubu, I was forced into a world of African city driving which was enough to give me sweaty palms and tense shoulders immediately. At one stage, it took us an hour to cover 300 meters. We stopped off at Nairobi International Airport to fetch Nils, a fellow South African and made our way back to the Tanzanian border. It was great to have Nils with us as he was given the opportunity to gain insight into just how interesting our lives have been for the last 9 months.

We arrived in Moshi at the Honey Badger Lodge after an arduous 7 hours of driving that challenged me with sand driving, gravel driving and beautiful tar driving. I won’t give prizes to those who can guess which one I enjoyed the most. We met with John, our guide for the Kilimanjaro expedition and finalised all plans as we were meeting the rest of the London crew the following day.

Mt Kilimanjaro – The expedition 

Saturday, the starting day for our trek, finally arrived. Nils, Paul, Kirk and I waited anxiously for John and his team of porters to fetch us from the Honey Badger Lodge. His punctuality meant that we were on schedule and proceeded to fetch Cathy, Laura and Esperanza from the Protea Hotel which was close to the Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro National Park, the starting point for our 7 day trek. It took some time for the porters to assemble our belongings and their belongings and arrange them into 17kg parcels. Whilst waiting we were astounded at the number of busses that were dropping off tourists and fellow trekkers; there must have been close to 200 trekkers that day who, like us, we hoping to summit Kibo peak. We eventually set off after 11am and enjoyed the 1st day of walking which took us through lush tropical vegetation similar to that of the Rwenzori Mountains. When we reached Machame Hut, at 3000m, we were welcomed by our porters who had already started pitching our tents and preparing hot drinks and popcorn for us. This was the 1st experience of the wonderful hospitality that was to follow for the remaining 6 days.

The days to follow were much of the same with us getting woken up by Lucas, our wonderful waiter/host who arrived at our tent with a hot water basin and a cheery good morning every morning, followed by an enormous breakfasts of porridge, pancakes, omelettes, sausages, tomatoes and toast with the occasional treat of fried pork. This hearty meal was enough to get anyone out of bed regardless of how cold it was. Lunches were prepared in the morning and arranged in a lunch box or on every alternate day we would arrive at our camp by lunchtime where we were treated to a 3 course hot lunch. At one stage we were concerned that we were going to be gaining weight rather than burning off the calories that we were supposed to after a long day of walking.

 The 5 days of walking that preceded summit night were delightful in that they took us through some beautiful scenery as well as altering terrain that consisted of valleys and spurs. We rose above the clouds after day 2 where we settled at Shira Camp for the evening and woke, on day 3, to the most beautiful sight – the valley below us was completely engulfed by tick cumulus clouds that resembled an enormous soft, fluffy white feather down duvet. It was simply stunning. On our 4th day we reached Lava Tower, 4600m, where several of our party started to feel the effects of altitude sickness. The most severe symptom was a headache which was easily treated with Paracetamol or Ibruprofen. After lunch at altitude we descended to 3900 where camp was already set up and many of us collapsed into our tents to rest before taking a slow stroll up to 4200m that afternoon where we would get our 1st glimpse of base camp to the summit. The nerves at dinner that night could be cut with a knife and it was quite unnerving to know that in 24 hours we would be summiting the highest free standing mountain in the world as well as Africa’s highest peak.

 The sun was bright and warming the following morning and Kibo Peak was peering over us with her beautiful snow caped crags. We set off for a 3 hour walk to Barafu camp, 4600m, where again we were treated to a hot lunch and afterwards took a slow walk to 4800m that afternoon all in the name of acclimatisation. After dinner we were sent to bed only to be woken at 11pm to prepare for the ascent. Not much sleep was actually achieved due to the cold temperatures and low levels of oxygen but the adrenaline seemed to kick in and motivated us to get out of our cosy sleeping bags and meet in the mess tent for a cup of tea or Milo before suiting up in our warmest gear and making our way to the summit.

 We started the summit at midnight when the stars were out and the ¾ moon was shining its light upon us. The long trail of headlamps lighting the way up the mountain side was encouraging but also unnerving as it highlighted the trail that we too would be ascending. We started the slow and arduous trek up the mountain side starting at 4600m with the desire to ultimately reach 5895m. The 1st 500m went smoothly with all of our party feeling strong and jovial. The singing of the infamous ‘Kilimanjaro’ song by the porters kept our spirits high and our feet in time with the rhythm. The going was slow and when we reached 5100m I started to feel unwell. The day before we did a practice run up to 4850m where I got terrible stomach pains – the gas was expanding as we ascended. The same was happening to me on summit night. I was trying all sorts of things – burping, farting, you name it, to get the gas feeling to subside but to no avail. My head wanted to explode so Kirk gave me a headache tablet which seemed to keep it at bay. At about 5200m I couldn’t hold back the belches any longer and I proceeded to vomit up the entire contents of my stomach – 3 litres of water and some pineapple! I felt instant relief and my headache instantly disappeared. Kirk was standing by my side whilst I was projectile vomiting and all he could say to me was; ’now I can’t give you a big smooch when we get to the top!’ I was very scared at this point as I had consumed the full 3 litres of water in my pack to prevent it from freezing and it was now soaking into the ground at my feet. I did however feel 100 times better and felt that I could continue my attempt to summit Kili. Not long after I had been ill did Kirk start to feel unwell. We had reached about 5500m when we were both crouched over vomiting up the remainder of the fluids that had been in our stomachs. The headaches had subsided but the will to keep our eyes open was dying quickly and at times we were literally walking zombies. We reached Stella Point, 150m below the summit and miraculously didn’t hang around there for too long – a good thing as I probably wouldn’t have got going again – instead we trudged on. Kirk was blubbering at this stage as he felt this was the hardest part of the trek for him. He really did have to dig deep and use up all of his reserves to make the last hundred metres. As soon as the end was in sight we were both a ball of emotions. It was the hardest thing that we have ever done in our entire lives…it took all the mental and physical strength that we possessed but the feeling when we got to that sign, confirming that we were at the highest point in Africa, was utter joy and relief. When we got close to the sign Kirk insisted that we needed to have a photo of just the 2 of us first, which I didn’t think to be unusual as we had reached a huge milestone in our trip through Africa. When we were both standing under the sign, me getting ready to pose for the camera he pulled out a ring from his pocket and asked me, through many tears, to marry him. It was a very emotional moment and I replied with, ‘of course I will!’ gave him a hug and a kiss and then got everyone in to have a photo. The moment was very surreal and quite rushed and there is a classic photo of me with this look on my face as if to say, ‘What the hell just happened?’

The sun rose from the horizon a few minutes after the proposal and spread its warmth onto us which filled us with renewed energy and relief that we had conquered what we had come to Kilimanjaro to do.

 The view on top of the mountain was simply stunning. Glaciers, of mammoth proportions surrounded us and gave off a brilliant white shine as the sun illuminated their shadows. Our heads were still a little fuzzy at this stage and in hindsight I would have loved to have spent more time at the top but the cold fingers and nose were enough encouragement to get us moving and make the descent. The descent took 3 hours, half the time it took us to get to the top and when we reached the base camp we were greeted by cheery Lucas who gave us a much needed cup of juice and we flopped into our tent. We had a good 2 hour sleep and were woken to have lunch before setting off for another 3 hour descent to Mweka Hut which was set at a good altitude that allowed us to recover without a pounding headache. That evening was a jovial one with all 7 of our team summiting Kilimanjaro and feeling great about it.

We arrived safely at the Mweka Gate 2 hours from our set off time the following morning feeling, surprisingly, spritely! It was strange to feel so good after such a physical and mental challenge and have ludicrous thoughts of actually doing it all again…you forget so quickly just how painful a feat it actually is – the euphoria certainly outweighs the despair.

We arranged to meet John and Lucas that evening for a traditional Tanzanian meal and some dancing afterwards which went off very well. The Nyama Choma was delicious and consisted of 4 kgs of BBQ beef and goat served with salad and BBQ plantains. That was all washed down with many Kilimanjaro beers and followed by a night of dancing at a local nightclub that had a live bans. Our muscles behaved themselves and allowed us to party until midnight but as the clock struck 12 our fatigue set in and we dragged our weary bodies back to the Honey Badger where we slept like the dead.

The London crew left the following morning with Paul and Nils, Laura, Cathy and Esperanza making their way back to Nairobi and me getting stuck into the copious amounts of laundry that we had accumulated during the week. It was a wonderful week and the group dynamics couldn’t have been better. The sense of achievement still exists and the surprise engagement is slowly setting in.

Kirk and I stayed in Moshi for a week after our trip up Kilimanjaro as we were waiting for the final papers for Kobe to be couried to us from Moshi. The time was spent relaxing and socialising with John and his family. We spent a memorable Sunday with the family at John’s father’s house in Marangu where we enjoyed a meal of chicken stew with plantain. The Honey Badger Lodge provided a comfortable and safe place for us to stay for the week but our morning lie ins were marred by the inconsiderate Overland Truck companies who would wake up at 4:30am and bang pots and pans, talk at the top of their lungs. Our detest for these people was heightened and the urge to get to the remotest parts of Mozambique became stronger and stronger. The papers for Kobe eventually arrived on Wednesday and we were pleased to be on the road again on Thursday morning…our destination Dares Salaam, 500km from Moshi.

The road was very good and we made it to the outskirts of the city by 3pm but our progress was deterred by large amounts of traffic. This was painstakingly slow and the misuse of traffic lights meant that we were sometimes stopped at intersections for 3 or 4 light changes. We eventually reached Mikadi Campsite at 8:30pm where we were tired, hungry and irritable from the frustrations of African city driving. We set up our tent, scoffed down a meal of fish and chips, enjoyed a hot salt water shower and hit the hay…tomorrow was going to be a similarly long driving day.

The road was equally good the following day with a bad stretch of road covering only 75km for the day. The road was under construction and in pretty good condition so we reached our destination, Seaview Lodge in Kiliowa Masoko where we were treated to stunning views of the Indian Ocean. The turquoise water was the picture of brilliance and offered us a sneak preview of what Mozambique was going to offer.

The next day took us further south to Mamasi, our last stop over in Tanzania before crossing the border. It was a useful town in that it provided us with a great place to sleep, in a clean en-suite room and relatively good fresh produce so that we could stock up and spend the last of our Tanzanian Shillings. We were on the road the following morning bright and early in search of a deserted beach, crayfish, prawns and fresh Indian Ocean fish. Mozambique was calling and we were eager to get there.

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