Category Archives: Tanzania

Lemosho Route, Part 2

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Day 5

The start to the day was made even more glorious with an oat porridge breakfast. The past few days, we, instead, had millet porridge which tasted fine on day 1, but started to taste sour in the days after. We literally rejoiced out loud at the sight of it, probably the only time people were this excited about oat porridge.

Then, we set out for the Barranco Wall above. If you look really closely, you’ll see the bright colors of the hiking gear of very tiny people.

The wall was probably our favorite part of the entire Lemosho route because it was a really fun rock climb. Nothing technical but still really cool. The above was the view of our last camp from the wall, becoming more and more empty as other hikers packed up their stuff and headed towards the wall.

About 45 min later, we were at the top of the wall and I immediately went into mermaid pose. An air mermaid, because I make sense.

With this incredible view, a Chinese couple engaged in a shouting match. Correction: the girl was yelling at her significant other who was failing horribly at trying to appease her. Jeffrey spoke Cantonese but he was able to translate the major theme of the couple’s very loud Mandarin. “How could you abandon me! You left me behind!” It appeared that she expected to be handheld throughout the Barranco Wall climb.

We made it to our next camp 3-4 hr of uphills and downhills later. On our last hill, though, Tom and Allie (brother and sister duo) devised a plan to build a bridge from the last hill to the campsite, all in the name of exhaustion, laziness…and tourism profits. They then came up with an even better, lower cost idea – a zip line. That idea occupied our minds for that last leg and helped pass the excruciating time. We estimated foot traffic to reach 25K people per year. With a per person charge of about $10-15, perhaps we could breakeven in the first year and start making profits the second. On what basis did we estimate building costs, I have no idea.

Karanga Camp – Elevation: 3,995m (13,107 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.

After a quick nap, we acclimatized with another hike up 100m to about 4,100m in elevation, about an hour’s worth. Our teeny tiny camp is in the middle of the photo above.

Back at camp, it was popcorn and dinner time before the CEO’s went into a brief history of Kilimanjaro, a name that, among others, stuck after being butchered by the Europeans. The current name was thought to derive from a saying in local dialect that meant “unconquered journey,” which was mistaken for its name rather than its description. Hm, foreboding.

Before heading to bed, I made sure to make a bathroom stop, which seemed to be everybody else’s plan as well. While waiting in line, Marilyn walked out of the bathroom enclosure and simply said, “I did not do whatever you see in there,” and walked away. I braced myself, took a deep breath and did my business as fast as possible. I walked out quickly, with Catherine and Allie as the next two in line, and planted myself by a rock a short distance away to take this night shot. A few minutes later, I heard Allie yell, “HEATHENS!!”

Day 6

It took about 3-4 hr to reach base camp. Gerald told us not to ask returning summitters how they felt during their ascent and we all laughed. After all, he wanted us to believe that it was all “easy peezy lemon squeezy.” The real struggle came at 5:30pm, when we were given a local dish of potatoes & plantains for dinner. The plantains just had a very odd texture and it was so starchy that it made us not want to eat it. It was the only dish that we collectively didn’t like, by the way.

By 7pm, we were in bed.

Barafu Camp – Elevation: 4,673m (15,331 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.

Day 7 – Summit Day

We woke up at 11pm for the midnight ascent. H and I probably managed to sleep only 1 hour. I had on 6 layers on top and 2 layers on the bottom and I still felt chilled to the bone. Apparently, it was about -12°C (about 10°F). I started to warm up as we zigzagged up the mountain but, my toes remained frozen the entire way.

Walking up a mountain with nothing but the light of the stars and head torches was a magical experience. I could only describe it as “like walking on the moon.” The only downside to the head torches, though, was that every so often, I would look up to see how much further we had to go. When I saw head torches wayyyy up there, it made my heart sink a little. The altitude and really cold winds started to take its toll on me so, I would walk up a zig, take a breather, then proceed up the zag before taking another breather. This, unfortunately, translated into “I’m having great difficulty” to the CEO’s and they insisted on carrying my daypack. I was stubborn about it for a bit but, finally agreed to it to get them off my back (pun maybe intended). Around 2am, I saw my first moonrise.

My hydration pack eventually froze but, luckily, the water in my Nalgene was only half frozen. At one of our short breaks, Jeffrey asked Tom to play a song that had high energy and when Queen’s We Are The Champions came out of his phone’s speakers, all of us started shouting along to the song, now fully pumped. “WEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS! NOOO TIMEE FOR LOOOSERS ‘CAUSE WEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS!” Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

Further up, our morale started to droop again. Saddam and the other G Fighters broke out into their local songs, the main one being the Kilimanjaro song, and brought it right back up.

“…Jambo! Jambo bwana! (Hello! Hello sir!)
Habari gani? (How are you?)
Nzuri sana. (Very fine.)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Guests, you are welcome.)
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata! (Kilimanjaro? No worries!)

Tembea pole pole. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Walk slowly, slowly. No worries!)
Utafika salama. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (You’ll get there safely. No worries!)
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Drink lots of water. No worries!)…”

By 5:45am, we reached Stella Point right before sunrise.

I never expected the top to be THIS beautiful. For some reason, I pictured barren land and more dirt. Instead, it was a sea of clouds broken up by a giant glacier that seemed to come out of nowhere.

It was another 45 min before reaching Uhuru Peak in time for sunrise. I lagged behind H a bit but, by the time I caught up to him, I gave him a dumbfounded high five which came out looking like an unenthusiastic, super exhausted gesture on his GoPro video.

The sun making its way up over Kibo’s crater rim…

…and over Rebmann Glacier and Mt. Meru in the back.

HELL FREAKIN’ YEA. Uhuru Peak – Elevation: 5,895m (19,341 ft).

The queue to take this photo, though, was mayhem. A bunch of Spaniards dumped their cameras into Tom’s hands before he even agreed to take photos, then proceeded to spend a good 5 minutes trying out various poses. They even had the nerve to tell Tom to take off his gloves so that he could take better photos. Um, the wind chill made the -10°C (14°F) feel like -30°C (-22°F). After that, H and I then pushed through and went up to the sign for just ONE quick photo but, when the porter lifted my camera, a Korean lady crawled under his lifted arm and walked into our space while gesturing to her posse of other Korean ladies. Ruthless.

After one last look, we began our descent, 2 full hours of running down scree (small loose rock and soil) with our trembling legs. We bumped into the slower half of the group still making their way up. But, in the end, everyone had made it. It was an emotional moment particularly for Floyd who, at age 70, decided to grab life by the balls and attempt Kili without much previous hiking experience.

By 9am, we were back at base camp and the G Fighters had set up a mini station where they gave us very enthusiastic high fives and glasses of the tastiest mango juice EVER. After lunch, we packed up our stuff and headed to a lower camp, High Camp at 3,950m, back in the moorland.

Gerald: “So, do you guys have any complaints?”
Everyone but Tom: “No, everything was great!”
Tom: “I agree that everything was great! Well, except that meal with the potatoes & plantains…”

Day 8

Before heading back to Moshi, the 30 or so G Fighters and CEO’s sang and danced for us again. Things got emotional. Saddam led the group once more and got so much into it that he kicked up a dust storm with his dancing. Gerald had to walk over and calm him down a little as people started to cough. They’re probably the most hardworking, enthusiastic group of people I’ve ever met.

5-6 hr later, we reached Mweka Gate and ran into blue monkeys en route who aren’t obviously blue until you see their testicles.

At the gate, the G Fighters prepared one last lunch for us.

“It’s an African dish…”

Tom’s face dropped.

“…beef with plantains!”

To make matters worse, the tables were set up with various soda bottles for people to choose from. I saw a bright yellow bottle labeled “Sparletta” and, never having heard of it, I decided to try it. Catherine warned me, though. She tried a green Sparletta once that ended up being an odd cream soda. That should’ve given me the hint. So, I took a sip. Bubblegum flavor. Gross! Now curious, everyone else wanted to try it. H thought it tasted like Malibu and Tom described it as “all the jellybean flavors at once.” We then discovered that the bottle cap said “Pine-Nut,” a misleading abbreviation for pineapple coconut.

Finally, we arrived at the hotel where we took excessively long showers and shampooed everything at least 5 times. For our last dinner, we decided to eat at Indoitaliano which Tom and Allie had been raving about for the past week. It was worth alllll the hype. We also proved that mosquitoes loved Asians because in the dim lighting of the restaurant, swarms of them appeared only on top of my and Jeffrey’s heads. This is even after we both sprayed copious amounts of bug repellant. Seriously?

Travel tip: The neighborhood around Moshi isn’t the safest so, even in broad daylight, the 11 of us split up into 3 cabs to go the short distance to the restaurant. All of us managed to squeeze into one minivan (the “clown car”) on the way back.

Lemosho Route, Part 1

We stopped in Bangkok before heading onto a midnight flight to Tanzania, with one layover in Ethiopia. If I ever shat on Laguardia or LAX before, I take it alllll back. The Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia is, by far, the worst. I could’ve implemented a better operations management system for a class project in college. The screens would tell you to approach the gate for your flight but, once you tried to, they would hold you back right before security. Apparently, a bunch of flights’ passengers were told to “Go to Gate” because a good hundred of us were sardined together by the security entrance. Then the airport officials started freaking out once they realized some of these flights were due to depart soon. So, they began to shout out random flight locations and let those people go through first but, it was still a whole crowd of us and security check became bottlenecked. I mean, doesn’t all this just involve common sense? I thought maybe this was a one-off thing but, I unfortunately had the pleasure of coming back here on the way to Cape Town and going through it all over again. Except, that time, when they announced “Shanghai,” a white guy next to me asked if I was going. I flatly replied, “I’m not Chinese and I’m going to Cape Town.”

Moshi, Tanzania

Right before landing, the pilot announced that we’d be seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro shortly on the left side of the plane. We were sitting at the window seats on the right. The Chinese lady next to me, however, did not give a shit. She jammed her camera-toting arm right in front my face and started clicking away at blue sky. Lady, the mountain is on the opposite side. And, you’re taking horrible flash photos of light reflecting off the window. I looked at the left side, though, and the Asians have gone wild.

Anyway, we were lucky to be one of the first passengers off the plane at the Kilimanjaro International Airport. Once off, we rushed off to immigration, quickly filled out the customs forms, then ran off to be first at the visa desk. We were able to get visas on arrival and, after going through Addis Ababa, the Kili airport was a breath of technologically advanced air. At desk 1, we paid the fee (multi-entry was only available for U.S. passports). Desk 2, we got our photos taken and a visa sticker printed out with our photo then attached to a passport page. Desk 3, we were fingerprinted. Efficiency.

Travel tip: We had our yellow fever cards checked before entering the terminal, so have those ready. Also, we pre-booked a taxi through our hostel for $40 to get into Moshi. Otherwise, you’d probably have to haggle with a taxi driver at the airport or take a short taxi ride to a bus stop that looked unreliable.

On the road to Moshi (maybe almost an hour ride), we were stopped at one of the many police checks. Our driver, who looked 19, began explaining something in Swahili to an officer with an AK47, then repeated “Sorry” a few times before the cop eventually let us go. At a second stop, the driver then told us that he needed to go out and apologize to another officer. Apparently, this one had taken away his driver’s license at his second speeding infraction. When he got back to the car, though, he told us that this particular officer was actually the twin of the one he needed to apologize to. Um, what are the chances? At the third stop, the driver seemed to know the officer there. It turns out that the second cop was the actual cop and not the twin. I knew it. It was almost too coincidental.

Our G group for Kili included 11 people in total – Carla, Floyd, Marilyn, Darcy, Catherine, Tom, Allie, Daniel, Jeffrey, Hayden and me. Canada, England, Germany, Macau, NZ and the U.S. Then we had our main G CEO, Gerald, leading the G Fighters (the awesome group of porters).

H joked that I should take one of those photos where people arrange their gear artistically and post it onto Instagram. I scoffed. Then, I saw him do it, and immediately did the same. (And, yes, 8 days of no showering requires a packet of baby wipes.)

Day 1

We left the hotel by 9am and stopped at a mini mart to grab trekking snacks (aka Snickers, Bounty bars and digestives). We then picked up the G Fighters and ate boxed lunches at the park’s ticket office. We drove past pine trees that, for whatever reason, made me feel weird. The stem portion was completely bare and the pine up top was too soft-looking that it reminded me of Tom Selleck’s mustache, copy/pasted a gazillion times.

By 1pm, we were off! We were already at an elevation of 2,100m (6,890 ft). Vegetation zone: Montane forest.

We hiked about 3-4 hours to our first camp, MTI Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp, just 7km of gradual inclines at a pole pole (pronounced po-leh po-leh) pace. It was almost too slow…though I would not be thinking that on day 7.

We encountered some black-and-white colobus monkeys (aka skunk monkeys) en route. Can you even point him out in the trees? Start from the bottom middle of the photo, then work your way up. Stop a little before the tree ends. Actually, it’s probably just better if you Google imaged it. Or just literally pictured skunk monkeys.

Because the porters are badass, they had our tents already setup by the time we got there and a wash wash ready as soon as we got in. Same badass service as on the Inca Trail. The outhouses were quite horrible, though, and I was very thankful that there was no lighting inside them.

Elevation: 2,650m (8,694 ft); Vegetation zone: Montane forest.

Day 2

Our routine became a 6:30am wakeup, 7am wash wash (has to be said twice), 7:30am breakfast and an 8am start. Day 2 was a 6-7 hr day and described as “some up, some down, some flat.” (Hm, where have I heard that before?) A majority of it was up as we trekked up and over the Shira ridge at 3,500m (11,483 ft), though very moderate compared to the Himalayas. We completed the hard part before we stopped to have our boxed lunches. Gerald (and the co-CEO’s) called this the “training paths.”

Other than trekking at a gradual pace, water (and lots of it) helps with the effects of altitude. “Water for life” became such a common saying (in addition to “pole pole”) that I eventually got annoyed into drinking water. Whatever works, right?

Shira I Camp – Elevation: 3,610m (11,844 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. This campsite was a vast land sprinkled with soft grasses and shrubbery. The higher we went, the dustier it became and no matter how short I cut my nails or how often I washed my hands, dirt found its way underneath them.

The clouds finally cleared around 6pm and revealed the very mountain we were going to summit in 5 days. Then came popcorn, hot chocolate/tea/coffee and a very hearty dinner. It still amazes me how these porters carry, cook and clean everything so effortlessly.

Once the sun set, the warmth was completely gone and frost formed on the outside of our tents. This day’s night sky may have been the best one all week. The Milky Way was so bright and the stars were so overwhelming that it was difficult to point out the Southern Cross. It was still dark enough for me to get lost on the way back from the bathroom, so I yelled out “H! H?” until I finally got a response. That was actually a little scary given how many tents there were. Most of us stopped drinking liquids around 6pm to avoid having to pee in the middle of the night. Otherwise, we would hold it in until it began to hurt, then go through a whole process of unzipping the sleeping bag, putting on an extra layer of pants/jacket and a head torch, unzipping the inner layer of the tent, unzipping the outer layer of the tent, then zipping up both, walking to the bathroom in the freezing darkness, then coming back to unzip both layers of the tent, zipping both layers back up, taking off the outer layers of clothing, then zipping back into the sleeping bag. If that was annoying to read, you can imagine how it felt to actually go through it.

Day 3

Sunrise. It was still frosty at 7:30am but, by 8am, it was almost as if the frost never existed.

Day 3 was an easy day, mostly flat with gradual inclines and only 4 hr of hiking. We also passed an emergency road that Carla decided to take. Because food poisoning. At least a car was able to pick her up. It would’ve been great to have that in the Himalayas. (Whomp whomp.)

Elevation: above the clouds.

Shira II Camp – Elevation: 3,850m (12,631 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. To acclimatize, we hiked an extra 100m up in altitude and back down, an hour roundtrip.

Fun fact: Mt. Kilimanjaro is actually made up of 3 volcanic cones – Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo (in ascending size order).

Back at the camp, the G Fighters introduced themselves one by one and then broke out into song and dance led by Saddam, the guy in the middle. Each one of them was so enthusiastic to be there and with each other that their excitement became contagious. This is going to sound cheesy but, they really made you happy to be alive and on that mountain. I’ll never forget that feeling. (Photo credit: H)

Sunsets and sunrises are always beautiful but, the ones in Africa are on another level. The mountain glowed orange as the sun sunk beneath the horizon of clouds. After dinner, Gerald and the co-CEO’s went into the history of the Maasai people, from the plaided red that the men wear down to their tradition of circumcision and polygamy. A young boy is forbidden to cry during circumcision (done sans anesthesia) or it would bring shame and make it difficult for him to find a wife. The boy would’ve also had to kill a lion beforehand, but this is no longer a common practice. Young women also had to go through circumcision but, this thankfully was made illegal in the country. And, a man’s wealth was and still is measured in cattle. The more a man has, the more respected he is. But, despite how all this sounds, they are a very friendly people and are more than willing to show you their villages and everyday life.

Day 4

The first 5 hrs were all about the inclines toward the Lava Tower at 4,600m (15,092 ft) elevation. Vegetation zone: Alpine desert, meaning bare open spaces with not much to hide behind for a wild wee. By the time we found seating on a large boulder littered with egg shells of hikers past, we were so famished that we ate in complete silence then took brief naps in the sunlight.

Then, sweet relief, it was mostly downhill for 2-3 hr.

We eventually passed through palm trees and heard running water and a waterfall a short while later, an oasis in the alpine desert.

Hello. And, bye bye birdie.

We’ve encountered a lot of cool birds along the way, one of which I labeled the “delightful pigeon” because they are prettier and a lot less likely to carry disease than the urban kind.

Barranco Camp – Elevation: 3,900m (12,795 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. From this camp, we were able to see a view of the Western Breach, the surrounding Breach Wall, and Moshi town below (well, once the clouds cleared the way).

July 22 – 31, 2016: Mt. Kilimanjaro Group Trek – Lemosho Route

Travel tip: We chose the Lemosho route because we felt that 8 days gave us sufficient time to acclimatize. We’ve heard that the shorter routes had a much lower success rate of summiting.