Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tanzania: Moshi, Tloma Lodge

This was supposed to be the day of our decent from Kilimanjaro but because we came down early, we had to wait for Donna and Donna who made it to Uhuru Peak and Abbi who made it to Gilman's Point which is about 200 metres lower than Uhuru Peak. They then had to  descend to Horombo Huts last night.
We heard that Donna and Donna had no difficulty but Abbi was unwell and required a fair bit of assistance from several porters who helped him get to the top. Because he was still unwell, two of them basically supported him under each arm and screed him down to Kibo Hut. We got this news second hand from Nadir who was in contact with Godfrey, Honest and John. This information was confirmed by Honest and John when they arrived at the hotel.
For me, Sunita and Sabena, it was a long day of sitting around until what we thought would be 1:00 or 2:00pm till the other group came back to the Parkview Inn but because Abbi was sick, he took more than 3 additional hours to descend from Horombo Huts to the Marangu Gate. That, of course, meant that we left Moshi close to 5:30pm and arrived in Arusha at nearly 7:00pm. And we still had another 3 hours to get to Karatu for the night.
We met Hilda from Shades of Green Safaris who we booked our entire trip with. So far, the service has been exceptional so when I was presented with a bill of USD $744 for two nights stay at the Parkview Inn, I was beyond shocked and surprised. There was no itemization of what the charges were for - just the amount. She gave me with a smile but after looking at it, there was no smile on my face. I am not sure what could cost that much but the rooms at the Parkview Inn are about $75 per night and the bill for the food the 3 of us ate for the last two days added up to $130 (the hotel staff gave us the bill which we were arranging to pay through Hilda).
I left Arusha feeling disturbed at the cost but planned to enjoy the safari part of the trip before returning to Arusha to ask for an itemized expense list so I could pay for the services we received.
We spent another 3 hours driving to Karatu on some very dusty roads (lots of detours over dirt roads because of construction). Dinner was served at about 10:30pm but by that time, everyone was extremely tired so we each had a bowl of soup and barely anything else to eat and we retired to our semi-private chalets which even at night looked lovely. It was unfortunate that we were didn't arrive earlier so we could enjoy it. 
 Inside our chalet

Bathroom in chalet
We were glad to have a nice hot shower and hit our beds which looked very comfortable.  By 11:45pm, we could no longer keep our eyes open so conversation came to an abrupt end.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tanzania: Moshi (Should have been Kilimanjaro Day 7 & 8)

 We are back in Moshi and glad to be clean again. We each had a long shower last night and washed some of our clothes but we each have a duffel bag full of very dusty clothes so we soaked quite a bit of it in the bathtub last night and decided to wash them today and hang them on the railings outside. Of course we did not factor that this is Moshi and everything - and I mean everything - is dusty. And that includes anywhere we might think of hanging clothes to dry.
What that meant is that we first had to wipe the areas off that we intended to hang the clothes; then we hung them on half walls and banisters; then we picked them up off the ground when the heavy winds came and blew them off. Then we got clever and anchored the clothes - not with clothespins. No. That would be too easy. We used a bunch of bananas (see below), a book and several bottles of water. You must have heard the expression: "Necessity is the mother of invention." I am not sure that many people have or will in the future use a bunch of bananas to dry clothes but hey, we're being creative.


We each had a great massage which the hotel staff offered to arrange for us at USD $40 each but Sunita knows someone who lives in Moshi and has a massage therapist who came to the hotel and charged us USD $20 each. We are beginning to find out that we have the big tourist sign on our head that reads: $$$$$$$.
Prior to leaving for the climb, we left a small bag of laundry with Mauly Tours to be dry cleaned. Yesterday we picked it up and to our shock, the bill was USD $21. When I say it was a small bag, it was a very small bag - about a small plastic grocery bag. I don't think I would have paid half as much in Canada so to say I grossly overpaid was understating the obvious. The rate at the Parkview Inn - which I expected to be inflated by at least 50% as hotels generally are - was about one third of the price that we paid to Mauly Tours. And the massage at $40 instead of the $20 each that we paid was just another example of gouging the tourist.
We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, sitting on the top deck of the hotel and enjoying the view of the beautiful jacaranda trees with a treetop carpet of mauve/purple flowers.
Jacaranda trees

The pool looked very inviting but we didn't use it because we'd end up with wet bathing suits which we have to pack wet to leave tomorrow for our safari.

We had a great dinner of the usual - butter chicken, naan and saag paneer. Why do I say "the usual?" Well, we ordered the same thing several meals in a row so that the server came this time and simply asked if we wanted that again. We burst out laughing and had a tasty dinner. We watched the full moon for a while waiting for the lunar eclipse to happen but I was not certain of the exact time of the eclipse so we went to bed without seeing it. The sky was lit up though, just from the light of the full moon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tanzania: Day 6 Kilimanjaro-Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate

We started off the day in below freezing conditions. Our sink and vanity had frozen bits of water so there was no "hot water for wash." Fortunately, Godfrey brought us some but we had already used our water from our hot water bottles to clean up.
We had hot porridge and toast for breakfast and then we left. I have to say, I miss my chemical toilet. Although there are toilets at Horombo, most of them were not working; consequently, we had to wait for one very smelly toilet (at least it was flushable or at least, it was supposed to be flushable).
We walked on a fairly well laid out path going down toward Mandara Gate, crossing several bridges and streams along the way. You can tell when there is water around because of the vegetation like the Kilimanjari plants - some of which are almost 30 years old.  
Kilimanjari flower
One bridge crossing

Looking in the distance at Mawenzi, it was almost surreal to realize that yesterday we were there heading to Horombo. It looked so daunting before and after!

Mawenzi Tarn (where we walked from yesterday)
We walked slowly, and with every footstep forward, there we were, walking right through the cloud forest which I had been photographing last night. At times I felt like I could reach out and grab some of the fluff but it was misty and of course I couldn't. Godfrey was very patient while I stopped every few minutes, untangled my hands out of my walking pole straps and snapped a few pictures. That went on for almost the entire way down to Mandara Huts. 

Walking through the could forest

I noticed that the vegetation was changing quite a bit, getting taller and more green the lower we got. Godfrey said that some of the flora can only be found on Kili.
Kili flora 

Brush fire started by poachers
There were several areas where the earth looked like it was scorched by fires and Godfrey said that some are controlled fires and some are set by poachers. They set the fires and when the animals start to run away from the fires, the poachers nab them. There is a tremendous trade in illegal animals mostly to Asian countries. They claim to use parts of some animals for medicinal purposes.
Going down was getting increasingly hard on the knees so we relied on our poles even more. I can feel that tomorrow I'll have some sore quad and calf muscles. There was one section of the path that was covered in moss, making for am eerie feeling as if walking through a haunted jungle in a Harry Potter movie.

Moss throughout the forest on the Marangu Route

Eerie forest through Marangu 

No Tarzan swinging from the vine

Tree root in the Marangu path

Kili flora
Mandara Huts

We got to Mandara Huts where Cusmus and the other porters had a hot lunch waiting for us. I don't really know how they do it - pack up the previous camp after we leave and pass us on the way down with a 44 pound load on their heads and then get our hot lunch ready when we arrive. I have so much admiration for them that it's hard to express. They are the hardest workers and they get the least respect from their own people.

3 serious hikers on Marangu Route

Marangu Route
Sunita leading the walk
We didn't waste much time after lunch because Godfrey had arranged a rescue vehicle for us but we still had to walk for almost an hour to get to it. He said the rescue vehicle fee was paid for as part of our costs but I must say, if you are in serious trouble, don't expect to be helicoptered off the mountain. It won't happen. The rescue was only for the last hour of the entire trip so plan carefully and if you are unwell, just know that you are not going to have an easy time going down from wherever you are on the mountain. After seeing and knowing how much effort it took to come down over the last two days, I was very glad I decided to come down with Sunita.

Kili "rescue" van

We were picked up at the Marangu Gate by one of the vehicles from Mauly Tours which was the tour company that does the climb. We gave the porters their tips (they were hired from Marangu Gate and would not be in Moshi on Saturday) and they were very happy. Each of them got USD $5 per day for the entire 8 days even though we had only completed 6 days. We felt that it was worth it. That amount might seem low but many porters do not even earn that as their daily wage. Some porters are treated very badly by the companies who hire them - some of them working only for the experience and no wages so they depend on tips. I don't think that these porters are poorly paid but I don't think they are paid well - only because Hilda suggested a tip rate for each person of USD$5-15 per day. When we figured out how much we could have to tip, the rate worked out to be more like $23 per day for each of us. That broke down to $5 per day for each of 3 porters = $15/day, plus $2.50 per day for Godfrey, plus 1.50 per day each for the two assistant guides Honest and John and Chinga the cook = 4.50/day, plus $1 per day for the toilet porter. That was more than twice as much as we had planned for but after seeing how well the group took care of us, we felt it was the best thing to do.
Then off we went back to the Parkview Inn for a hot shower and a good scrub and of course a nice dinner and a sleep in a not so comfortable but room bed. We arranged with the hotel to get massages in our room tomorrow. So happiness is a good meal tonight.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tanzania: Day 5 Kilimanjaro-Mawenzi Tarn to Horombo Huts

MAWENZI TARN CAMP (14,160 ft./ 4,315 m) to HOROMBO CAMP(10,200 ft./ 3,110 m)

Did I say that last night was a long night? It bears saying again that it was. Sunita was not feeling well at all so early this morning, she decided not to go any farther in the climb but that it was time to go back down. It was hard to believe from the picture below of us camping high above the clouds that the dust was as bad as it was.  

High above the clouds at Mawenzi Tarn

Long drop toilet
We sat in the tent talking about options and at that moment, I decided that I would go down with her. I could not bear the thought of her going down by herself with one of the guides while I continued. She was not happy about that - saying that we had agreed previously that if anyone got sick, the others would go ahead. I had already decided prior to leaving Winnipeg that if she got sick, I would go down with her. She started to cry because she thought that she was ruining my trip but, honestly, I would not be able to go on without her. I told her that we planned the trip together and I was not going without her.
With that decision made, I went to speak to Godfrey, explaining that Sunita and I would be going down because she was not feeling well. I also said that I was positive that if I decided to go down, Sabena would go with us. Sabena decided she would go down with us because by this time, the wind storm was still raging and even with antihistamines, she was still having difficulty breathing. And we were all covered with a heavy layer of grey/black dust, making us look like coal miners emerging from underground. Godfrey suggested that Sabena and Sunita could go down and I could go ahead to Kibo but I won't go without Sunita. I had another quick look around the camp and got a few more mouthful of dust before deciding to have some breakfast.
Mawenzi Camp with stoen figures on the hill

The others in the group were supportive and Donna even managed to talk to a doctor who was with another group. He came over and checked Sunita out - telling her that she did indeed have mild acute mountain sickness but her oxygen levels were good and she could go on if she wanted to but she may feel worse as she got higher. We decided to go with our original plan and head down to Horombo Huts. But first we had the daunting task of climbing another 300 metres up Mawenzi Ridge which is steep and quite jagged before heading to Horombo. I could not see how we would do it with two people who were feeling less than optimum.

Mawenzi Tarn and Mawenzi Ridge in the distance

Mawenzi Tarn camp below

Mawenzi Tarn where we were this morning

Getting farther and farther away from the rest of the group

Looking to the right at the distant Kibo Huts
Extremely jagged Mawenzi Ridge
We walked for an hour almost entirely uphill, ascending about 300 metres and making several stops along the way because it was so steep. I was so concerned about Sunita and Sabena that I was probably being overly cautious. I asked Godfrey to go back with us instead of one of the assistant guides for no other reason except that for the entire last 4 days were spent with him guiding us. I also felt that if we needed medical attention, he'd be the best person to provide it.  
It's at this point that I was struck by the realisation that I was putting my complete trust in a man who was a perfect stranger only a few days ago. I was trusting him to get us down from the mountain safely and I have to say that at that point, I really hoped that we'd all be able to make it to the top of the ridge and then walk for another 6 hours to Horombo. We finally made it to the top only to look down and see an almost vertical drop which we had to descend. At that moment, I thought that one or more of us would not be able to do it.
We sat at the top of the ridge for a few minutes but when I saw Godfrey go to the edge of the precipice and look down and turn to look at us, I felt a bit of fear for the first time. The look on his face told a thousand stories. The one I saw was "how am I going to take these 3 women down the mountain from this path?" I may have been right because he spent another couple of minutes walking back and forth as if looking for some divine intervention.  

God must have been in our mdist because Godfrey soon explained that there was a path down that was shorter but very steep and not as safe but he would take us on another path that would take us longer to get down but was "less" steep and somewhat safer. That was a bit of a joke that we laughed at a few days later but at the moment, we were trying to put our foot in exactly the same place that Godfrey put his. That was the only way to go down. Looking too far ahead down what seemed like an endless chasm was a recipe for disaster. The only problem with following Godfrey's every step is that he is taller that me by at least 6-8 inches so his leg stride is much bigger than mine so I had to really use one walking pole at a time while holding on to the giant boulders to steady myself while I felt for my footing on the next rock below.
 dared not look down but after an hour and a half, Godfrey finally told us to look back from where we had come because we could hear yelling. There on top of Mawenzi Ridge where we were only an hour before were Donna, Donna, Abbi, Honest and John waving to us!

Donna, Donna, Abbi , Honest, and John on top of Mawenzi Ridge

We started waving and shouting and then the magnitude of where we had just come from and what we had just accomplished sunk in. We started to laugh but then we looked ahead and saw that there were several more ridges that we had to cross before we reached Horombo.

Fossilized rock

We walked for another one and a half hours and finally arrived at a sign that showed Mawenzi Huts as 1.5 km away. I could not believe that we had been walking for almost 3 hours and we had only covered 1.5 km. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry because the distance from Mawenzi to our final destination tonight was 10km and we had only covered 1.5 km in almost 3 hours. That was impossible. Just impossible. I asked Godfrey how that was possible and he said that the short, steep route is 1.5 km away but we did not use that trail. We used the longer one so that's why it took us so long. That did not make me feel much better because I could see the other ridges we still had to cross and by this time I was getting a massive headache so I had to take 2 Advils.
Leaving Mawenzi Tarn at 10:40 this morning was  a bit late and with the walk expected to take 6-7 hours and we still had 8.5 km to go was disheartening. Sunita was still not feeling very good so I was constantly trying to make sure that she was able to keep up. We were at the point where the 4 porters who were accompanying us had already gone ahead to set up camp at Horombo so we had to get to the camp with our individual efforts. 

We walked for quite some time again, stopping to eat our boxed lunch that Chinga had packed for us but no one much felt like eating much. My head was still hurting, Sunita was still quite nauseous and Sabena was still breathing somewhat heavy from her allergy. We walked some more and arrived at Zebra Rock. That made me fell better because I knew that it was used as an acclimatization walk for people choosing the Marangu Route. Shortly after we got there, we saw a couple with their guide doing their acclimatization walk. Sunita had another wave of nausea and found a rock to go throw up but the nausea passed and we continued.

Zebra Rock

Cloud forest

Zebra Rock

Kilimanjari cactus
We were above the cloud forest so I stopped to take some pictures and to ask Godfrey how much farther we had to go. I felt like a little kid in a long car ride asking my parent "Are we there yet?"  Godfrey as only Godfrey can, said "We're almost there."  I was almost annoyed at that because on previous days, when he said we were almost there, it usually meant that we still had at least another hour or more to get to camp. I think he could see that I was not happy with his answer especially when I said: "Godfrey, when you say we are almost there, do you mean another 30 minutes or another 2 hours? You have to tell me in time not in "almost there". I don't know what that means. He smiled and said: " As soon as we get to the next ridge, you'll be able to see the camp below." That was not helpful either because when we saw Kikelewa Camp 2 days ago, it still took us more than an hour to get to it and the same for Mawenzi Tarn.
I made him point to the exact ridge that he was referring to but it's like pointing to a specific rock in a distant quarry that looks like any other rock. I stopped and made him describe the point and it was really only about 200 metres away and not vertical but very slightly uphill. I consoled myself with the thought that it was nearly 3:30pm and with any luck, even though we were very slow at the start, we'd get into Horombo before night fell. Plus I admit that the cloud forest in the distance held some fascination. The only time I am this high above the clouds, I am in a pressurised aeroplane. I actually walked all the way up here! 
When Sunita was till not feeling better at Zebra Rock, Godfrey said that we were still at 4,200 metres. After walking for almost 10 km, we had only descended about 100 metres so the altitude was still affecting her. And my headache which started earlier - probably because I gained about 300 metres of altitude on Mawenzi Ridge - was not going away.  

Cloud forest

We reached the ridge that Godfrey pointed out a few minutes before and there it was - Horombo Huts - only 15 or so minutes to walk to. I shouted out and Sabena looked up and promptly fell. I think this may have been the first fall any of us had. You cannot take your eyes off the path for one second to look around or you'll go down. If you want to view the landscape or flora or take a picture, you literally have to stop in your tracks and do do or you'll be sorry. Every rock looks like it's stable but as soon as you put your foot on it, you realize that no step is as secure as you think it is. So I relied on my walking poles to anchor me every step of the way. We all learned to use our sticks very efficiently on this trip. There was a nice clear path to get down but it was sloping so more care was needed so that we didn't hurl down the mountain from our own momentum.

Finally Horombo Huts but we were not sleeping in the huts. Our porters had set up our tent between the two dining halls where they said would be quite sheltered from the wind. And it was. The three of us would be sleeping in the one tent. It's actually a 3-person tent that 2 people were sleeping in but with 3 tents between the 6 of us, one group would have 2 and one group would have one. We were the group with one. We also decided to leave the toilet tent with the others becuase there are toilets at Horombo Huts.

Horombo Huts

Our tent between the two dining tents
From the picture above, Mawenzi Tarn was way in the distance and we each marvelled at how we had come from there earlier today. That was an amazing feat and if I have to descend, I'm glad that we went there because it really is stunning. Set against the cloud forest below us from Horombo, it's as if I was in sensory overload.
Cloud forest below Horombo

We had our "water for wash" and went off for dinner in the dining hall. There were a lot of people in the one dining hall we ate in and after the solitude of the last few days with only our group of 6 in our dining tent, this almost seemed like an intrusion to share the space. 

We walked around the camp for a few minutes but with the sun going down, it was getting cold and we wanted to get into our tent - which by this time was feeling very cosy (aka crowded) with 3 of us and all our duffel bags. The clouds below were getting quite thick so that I couldn't see the mountain below us for periods of time.

Thick clouds rolling in

Beside our tent was the Kili taxi - the vehicle that is used if someone is ill and need assistance getting down from the mountain. It doesn't look very comfortable and I can't imagine feeling nauseous and having to spend any time on that thing bouncing down a long 19 km rocky path down the mountain.

Kilimanjaro taxi

Godfrey scouted out a good table for us with a light (not lamp) overhead and he and Cusmus served a delicious carrot and ginger soup which was exactly what was good for Sunita's continued nausea. And there was pasta and veggies which was also good because we had expended so much energy walking for 12-14 kms today.

We enjoyed the Horombo sunset and settled into our tent for the night. The moon is so very bright tonight that it feels like the camp is lit with electricity. Full Moon is in another two days so we're enjoying its wonderful brightness. Our porters who had set up our tent could not have picked a more perfect spot. It was right next to a concrete sink and tap which felt like a decadent and unexpected luxury. We set up our toiletries on the "counter" and washed up and brushed our teeth before retiring to our "bedroom" (aka tent).

After a long but rewarding day that did not start out very well, it turned out to be a good ending. I'm looking forward to my bed tonight.