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Banda Island

By Ryan

There lives a man named Dominic, whose home on the island of Banda on Lake Victoria is part of a tropical island group consisting of 84 islands known as Ssese. An English retired mining engineer, Dom has seen most of the world in his youth but chose Banda Island in Uganda to be his home for the remainder of his days. It’s not a particular large island, roughly 1 by 2km is size, but is lush with jungle life, a large beach, and has that Gilligan’s Island appeal written all over it. Steve and I had first heard about Dom through Bob Kasule, the man whose farm we WWOOFed at upon arrival in Uganda. He had contacted Bob with the interest of becoming a WWOOF host, and we agreed to pay him a visit for the last week of our trip.

From Kampala we meet up with Bob and take a Matatu to Kasenyi harbour where we catch a boat loaded with people and supplies. It’s equipped with a severely underpowered 40hp 2-stroke outboard and there are no lifejackets; very handy considering Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake by surface area.

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The anchor is pulled and we set off on a 3 hr ride; Steve catches some shut eye under the front hull. The water is murky brown and we drive through a large algae bloom ~1 hr out of port. Terns chirp and fly around the boat, hundreds of them feeding on small minnows at the surface. The sun sets a brilliant gold over the lake. Ssese islands are considered the Wild West of Africa; a refuge for wanted rebels and criminals, and the rate of AIDS and freshwater diseases such as Bilharzia is incredibly high.

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We get into the island of Kitobo at dusk, and from the now visible Banda Island Dom sends a small shuttle boat to fetch us. He’s sitting at a beach campfire with two guests and welcomes us on land with a smile and shows us to the Banda where we’ll be staying. We enjoy a beer by the fire raging with super flammable palm leaves; tens of thousands of insects dive straight into the flames. Dom tells us the swarms of harmless Lake Flies (like midges) come in 14 day cycles with the moon; when it’s out in the night sky they fly to it, when it’s below the horizon they are everywhere on the island and a fire at dusk creates a blanket of them on the surrounding sand. We fill up on a delicious Nile Perch supper before retiring to bed.

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The next morning Dom gives us a tour. He shows us the bar, currently being rebuilt, that exploded from using alcohol in the kerosene refrigerator.

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The kitchen where all the meals are cooked and the ingenious solar cookers. “If I were President I would make these cookers law,” Dom says. “You can buy the genuine German model for $300 but I got them to make me a copy in town for less than half that. They can cook potatoes in 1.5hrs flat.”

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Dom’s house is actually a small castle; a three floor masterpiece with a gigantic dining room table, easily large enough to fit 40 people, hammocks just outside, a couple of bedrooms on the second and third floor and a fantastic roof top terrace above the trees for watching every sunset.

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Life is bountiful here, giant millipedes crawl everywhere.

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I find an Atlas moth floating in the water just off shore and bring it to our banda to dry off, its wings tattered from trying to rescue itself.

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Perhaps the most visibly plentiful and diverse of species on the island are spiders; their webs cover every single leaf on every tree and at night you must be careful not to walk into a freshly spun web. We had a real beauty living outside our banda and we thought Shelobe would be a fitting name.

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Over the following 6 days Dom had us do a wide range of jobs; we moved large rocks out of the water onto a jetty to help build the beach.  We scrubbed, recemented, replastered, and repainted a Banda just in time for some guests who arrived on Wednesday.

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And lastly, we relaxed. Banda has that almost magical way of taking all your worries and stresses and throwing them away. It was a perfect way to end our trip and I recommend anyone coming to Lake Victoria to put Banda Island on their list; and no, Dom is not paying me to say this. I managed to shoot some film over the last 2 days and hopefully I can turn it into a fitting piece for Dom to put on his Facebook group page.

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This post concludes our travels here in East Africa and Steve and I are both very sad to go. From the icy peak of Kilimanjaro, to the white beaches of Zanzibar, to the lush rainforests of Bwindi, we have seen so much over the last 2 months but have left much to still explore. One could easily spend another month in Tanzania and Uganda, then there’s Kenya and Rwanda that we didn’t even touch. If you ask us which of the two countries we prefer, I think we would say both for different reasons. Tanzania’s wild places are tough to beat and the exotic flavours of Zanzibar truly lure you back again and again. With Uganda, the greenery and topography was a good enough reason for it to be coined The Heart of Africa, but the people are what we will miss most; some of the most friendly and helpful Steve and I have ever met, and we have to add that the girls really like muzungus (white guys). For me, it is not a question of if I will return to East Africa, only a question of when. Ngorongoro and Serengeti are on my must see list and the Gorillas of Bwindi and Virungas are a privilege I would like to have again.

We board a bus in Kampala for the long ride back to Tanzania where we will reunite with some friends before catching our flight home to Canada. We’re excited for snow and dying for some real Canadian maple syrup! Hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and pictures as much as we have had fun writing it.

Signing off from East Africa,

Ry & Steve

By Ryan

Ever since I was a young teenager, primates have fascinated me; their physical attributes and behaviours are strikingly similar to our own yet represent a completely different branch of our evolutionary past. Of the great apes, the gorillas are, in my mind, the most revered; the largest of all apes, inhabiting the forests of Africa  with an almost ghostly presence, moving every morning to find new feeding grounds and a sleeping area. From Hollywood movies to birthday cards to stuffed toy animals, their presence can be found across the Globe; truly a charismatic symbol of Nature. For Uganda and Rwanda, the Eastern Mountain Gorillas, different from the lowland gorillas of the Congo, represent a very large and important conservation and tourism initiative; one that brings in millions of dollars a year to each country while attempting to protect the last remaining few of this species. Only 700-800 Mountain Gorillas remain in the entire world, a number that is ever threatened by poachers and civil unrest in the bordering DRC. I have followed them closely over the past few years and am an avid supporter of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda; an organization set up to study and protect the remaining half in that country and rescue infants that have been poached for sale in the pet trade. Anyone who has read the special National Geographic issue last year, Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas, knows that this species is at a critical tipping point, one that our generation will have to help to ensure survival or face impending extinction. Of course the price to see these animals, in either Rwanda or Uganda, is in many people’s minds an outrageous $500 US for 1 hr of viewing time but for me it was not an option on this trip; it was a must, quite possibly a once in a lifetime experience.

We had booked our permits before we visited Sipi Falls and invited a young Scottish guy named Craig Lawson to join us on this 4 day trip; a Phys-Ed teacher who’s on an incredible 8 month journey covering Africa and Asia.

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It was his birthday on the 1st but we had to settle for tracking the following day due to full bookings. Only 8 permits are sold for each habituated group in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP, making a total of 48 each day, but when the gorillas slip over to the DRC side of the Park that number decreases. In the high season, demand requires bookings be made months in advance so we were happy with a 1 week wait. We get to the bus station at 6AM on Halloween Day thinking that the bus departs at 6:30; but take into account Africa time and it finally leaves the terminal at 8:40. A Barbershop neighbouring the terminal catches our eyes.

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It may be spelled incorrectly but if Matt Damon goes there…we’re sold.

Just before we leave a passenger slides a window pane right out of the frame and nearly hits a Boda-Boda driver in the head. “Guess this is why the tickets only 20 000 Ushs (~9Cdn),” we joke nervously.  Over an hour later another window cracks and half falls on a young man’s leg; we stop in a village to get it mended. The road travels southwest for over 400kms. Asphalt dissolves to gravel and relatively flat roads transform to narrow, dug out terraces along steep valley walls. It reminds me of the so called most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia and I think, why is a bus on this road; why are we on this bus? We arrive in the small town of Butogota at dusk and the Coach attendant calls us a private hire to take us half an hour up an even rougher road to Jungle View Lodge in Buhoma; the cheapest accommodation close to Bwindi but still uber pricey for Uganda standards. There’s no electricity in Buhoma, and Jungle View has no running water, but we are exhausted and the clean rooms are a welcome site.

The next day we relax, check out Park HQ, do the only free walk in the Park and find some local cuisine; posho (maize flower), matoke (green banana mashed), beans, and goat stew. The hills surrounding us are thick with virgin tropical rainforest, unscathed from the last Ice Age. Some 120 mammal species dwell here, including 11 primate and monkey species, nearly 360 species of birds, and 8 endemic plants; certainly a Nature Lover’s paradise. I was entwined in the forest as soon as we entered. The numerous sounds of the jungle played like an orchestra; birds called, insects chirped, monkeys howled, all in a rhythm shockingly peaceful. This is what a truly intact ecosystem sounds like, one that has existed for millennia and has evolved some of the most complex and intertwined relationships possible in a terrestrial environment. One could spend their entire life here trying to understand the countless connections between flora and fauna, earth and biota, and end having hardly scratched the surface. Avatar would be a dumbed-down example of what I’m trying to explain.

We stop by some other resorts pretending we’re interested in staying the night and find the cheapest is $300 US/night; don’t think we did to bad at $12.50/person/night. The rains start at 3PM and come in bursts of intensity.

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Steve safeguards the laptop as the true rainy season arrives outside.

On Tuesday, the 2nd, we arrive at the Park gate at 7:30 sharp and get briefed on the do’s and don’ts of tracking gorillas. Our Ranger guide John shows us a picture of the Mubare group we’ll be tracking.

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Ruhondeza is the largest silverback among the 6 habituated groups and Craig says he can’t wait to fight him. There are two black backs, Malaika and Muyambi, teenagers who have yet to get that characteristic silverback at adulthood. Kanyoni, Wagaba and Kashundwe are the females and there is a 1 month old addition to the group whose name I do not remember. We are joined by a Ugandan and an Asian woman, both with short sneakers and no rain gear; this should be fun.

The rangers track each group throughout the day, and every morning they can spend a few hours following the tracks to the new feeding grounds. Gorillas are stationary at night so tracking can be quite easy compared to animals that run on the nocturnal timeslot. We drive to our starting point across the river parting the valley walls and hike up the Park boundary through farmers’ fields of bananas and maize. If you’re lucky, some of the gorilla groups cross the river and enter the banana plantations to feed on bananas; some farmers see them twice a month. They don’t however receive compensation for the lost bananas. We make it to the top of the valley ridge, the fog is thick.

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We continue over the crest and down into the jungle; we quickly come to realize why the Park got it’s name Impenetrable.

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The rain starts shortly after we start descending and I stuff my camera rig in the Sealine bag. It intensifies, we get on our jackets and wait patiently under a thick canopy while our guide John radios the rangers who are following this morning’s trail. The rain does not stop, and Steve gets out the GoPro in its waterproof case to be ready. We wait half an hour while everyone is getting soaked; two porters offer their jackets to the unprepared ladies. John gets the location over radio and we make the decision to proceed through the rain. 5 mins on we arrive at the spot; the black back
Malaika hardly pays attention to us as he feeds on flowers some 6 m away. I took a huge risk taking out the camera in the pouring rain but this was the footage I had wanted all trip. Steve did his best to cover me with the Sealine.

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Just around the bush Ruhondeza, the 40-something year old Silverback sits, arms crossed, looking absolutely miserable with the rain. Muyambi sits close by in the same position, chin in her arms; rain beading down their thick black hair. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of Ruhondeza before he retreats to thick cover but Steve captured some wide angle with the GoPro.

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5 mins before our 1 hr is up Malaika comes over within 2 m to feed.

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Try to spot the 2 black backs; one on the left, the other on the right.

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We leave these gentle giants in the misty rain and I don’t have words to explain the experience. I did not get the photos I wanted, the film is only slightly better, but even in the drenching downpour I was absolutely mesmerized; Steve and Craig were the same. You simply can not place a monetary value to what we saw; it is what I would call truly priceless, a term shared with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the love only a mother can possess for her child. If we, the human race, fail to save this species from the surrounding grasp of extinction, then I, as a man of 23, will lose all faith in mankind as it will signify a shameful failure of our moral responsibility and duty to act as stewardists of this planet; preventing a tragedy that can rightfully be averted.

We descend out of the rain and mist and dry our soaked clothes back at the Lodge. That evening we stay in a rat and roach infested Pineapple Inn in Butogota, wake before 4AM to catch the same amazing bus back to Kampala. That night we party in Kampala to the early morning hours.

 

Off to Banda Island on Lake Victoria for the last week of our travels, the Gilligan’s Island of Africa so we’re told.

Sweet gorilla dreams,

Ry

Sipi Falls for a Day

By Ryan

Flowing from the foothills of Mt. Elgon on the eastern border of Uganda, Sipi Falls are perhaps the most beautiful falls in all of East Africa; a tri-set of cascading clean water peering out over vast plains as far as the eye can see. It’s Friday the 29th, the sun rises in the East as it always does, but the air is noticeably cooler here; a welcoming change from the swelter at Murchison NP. Refusing to take a full Matatu after our horrible 5 hr drive from Kampala the previous day we luck out and find a Corolla hatchback for the rest of our journey to Sipi; only have to fit 4 people in the back seat, what a relief. The country side transforms from flat fields to terraced cliffs painted with green. We spot a pair of Paragliders riding the early morning currents as we drive up the range, zigzagging back and forth effortlessly along the cliffs. We arrive at Crow’s Nest at 11AM, a budget guest house set up by the Peace Corps with a view of the Falls that’s worth way more than what we paid for a night. We settle in a small Scandinavian-style cabin, taking in the view while we have lunch. “Quite romantic,” Steve and I joke. A group of puppies play at our feet.

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We meet Joseph, a man our age who takes us to the top of the main falls to abseil right down beside them, not 10m from the 100m high raging falls. I go first, Steve prepares the helmet cam for his abseil and takes some pics. Have to say in terms of heights, this is much scarier than our bunjee on the Nile. 15m from the top the rock wall curves away and you literally hang 250 feet off the ground; the deafening Falls on your right and your life in the hands of Joseph guiding you down from above.

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At the bottom, the Falls smash into the rocks and the water is sent sideways, soaking anyone within a 20m radius. I get to the bottom, unlatch the harness and take out the camera to film Steve. I’d post the pics large size but they get cut off by WordPress so you may have to squint to see Steve and these next few. Follow the rope from the top ledge and you should spot him.

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We hike up to the 2nd Falls, not nearly as high as the first but still stunning and a artificial cave allows us to creep in behind.

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The third Falls are on the very top of the valley, and we hike through farmers’ fields to the bottom. Here the falls remind me of Angel Falls; falling from the highest point for miles around, seemingly created from not a watershed but the skies themselves. The view expands over landscape that is not full of hotels, resorts and private estates but over land that is little developed and still has that sense of wild. It would truly be a shame if development did come; Sipi has this sense of exotic that Niagara Falls had long before it became a staple for tourists; a sense of mystery and adventure that tingles the very soul of anyone who visits.

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We take a Bodo-Boda 12km into Kapchorwa to replenish our dwindling wallets and thought we’d take some shots to prove the best way to travel here is by motorcycle. We buy 6 chapati (should be law to sell this in Canada) and 2 to the driver when we get back to Crow’s Nest; he smiles at the filling tip.

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The next morning I wake just after 6 and hike to the top of the hill behind Crow’s Nest to catch the sun rising over Sipi, casting its glow over the plains below. Unfortunately my timer for the camera broke on Kili so I had to do a video timelapse; won’t know how it looks till we get home. Steve joins me for a bro shot before we depart for Kampala.

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Tomorrow (Halloween) we’re off to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP to track the Mountain Gorillas. Only 2 weeks remain and we have decided we don’t have time for Rwanda; there is just too much to see and do here.

From Sipi,

Ry

A Uganda in Repair

By Ryan

At the turn of the 20th Century, thousands of rhinos roamed freely throughout Uganda. In Just 60 years those numbers were reduced to just 400 Eastern Black Rhinos in Kidepo Valley NP in the northeast and Murchison Falls NP in the northwest, and 300 Northern White Rhinos in the West Nile and Murchison Falls NP. A mere 23 years after 1960 and both species were completely gone; poached from the plains for their horns, destined to be sold as Traditional Chinese medicines throughout Asia and ceremonial dagger handles in Yemen. Civil unrest in the 70’s turned a blind eye to Uganda’s wildlife; practically all large species in Murchison Falls NP was nearly wiped out by troops and poachers, except the more numerous herd species. But over the last few decades conservation efforts across Uganda have had some very positive results. After returning from rafting the Nile’s source in Jinja, Steve and I set off on a 3 day safari to seek out the newly returned White Rhino, Nile Crocodiles, and our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

 

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

The first stop on our trip, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is ~50km southwest of Murchison Falls NP and was established in 2005 by the Rhino Fund Uganda (Est. 1997). 4 White rhinos were trans-located from Solio Ranch in Kenya in 2005, 2 more were donated by Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida in 2006; making a total of 3 females and 3 males. At the start of this year, they have had 3 calves, all from one male, contributing to the future goal of over 30 rhinos bred in this sanctuary; at which point a founder group will be released into Murchison Falls NP. Black rhinos are to follow suit later this year.

We arrive at the 70 km2 fenced in sanctuary early Monday morning and head of foot into the shrub lands with an armed guard. 10 mins in and we spot them, a mother named Nandi with the first calf born in this sanctuary in June of last year; fittingly named Obama, the first rhino born in Uganda in at least 28 years. We approach slowly, a male grazes ~10 m away.

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Nandi resting with her son Obama; a symbol of hope for the White rhino in Uganda.

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A large male keeping watch.

You can’t get much closer than this. White rhinos are much less aggressive than Black rhinos and because these are habituated we could get within 10-15m. They are the world’s largest of pure grazers, consuming some 150-200kg of grass every day. Think we could use one of these for our lawn back home. They can weigh up to 3000kg, 1.5 times that of the Black rhino, and can live in the wild for 45 years. We stay only for half an hour then leave the three in protection of armed rangers who monitor them 24/7; the electric fence is simply not enough of a guarantee.

Murchison Falls NP

At a little less than 4000 km2, Murchison Falls NP is Uganda’s largest park and contains the Albert and Victoria Nile, the latter of which has the infamous and awe-inspiring Murchison Falls, where this 50m wide river is literally projected through a 6m gorge with unimaginable power. Although our expectations for the game drive on Tuesday were not high, especially after being to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, Murchison’s ecology has greatly recovered from a vegetation standpoint. Before the poaching in the 70’s and 80’s, some 15 000 elephant, 26 000 buffalo, and many others consumed more veg than the park could sustain. The temporary wipe of large mammals has acted as a “breather” for the Park’s ecology and is now in excellent condition.

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A hartebeest grazing in the golden grass.

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Giraffes, Cape buffalo and kobs.

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Steve tests his luck with the hippos.

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Two species of bee-eaters; not sure of the names.

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A male elephant shows us the road is clearly is as he makes us reverse until finally stepping aside.

That afternoon we take a boat up the Victoria Nile to Murchison. Finally we see the Nile crocodile.

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We get off the boat and continue to the falls on foot. We hear the rumble before we see them; the sheer volume of water rushing through the gorge seems unquantifiable. Murchison Falls are the largest in the world by volume; Niagara Falls doesn’t come close. I think the film footage will do it justice.

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Steve takes a refresher in the mist.

Budongo Forest Reserve

The next morning we wake to crepes, French toast and believe it or not, for the first time on our trip, syrup (only 2% maple but still). We leave the park and head into Budongo Forest Reserve just south, home to some 800 chimpanzees. In 2006, a partnership between the Jane Goodall Institute, Uganda, and the National Foresty Authority was formed to ensure the present and future survival of the chimps and the forest they call home. Here are guide John, walks us into the lush forest and soon finds what a group of 10-30 way up in the far reaches of these massive trees eating fruit.

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Steve stands within the gaping legs of a massive tree (left); a giant millepede slowly crawls up the tree trunk (right).

The chimps were very high up for the first 45mins, then one at a time, descended into the thick underbrush to move on to the day’s next feeding ground.

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A mother and her young watch us curiously.

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A male relaxes while digesting his breakfast.

They move swiftly from the upper canopy; I try to track them through the underbrush but quickly lose sight. They move without sound, as if they are ghosts in a world surrounded by stationary giants.

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We leave them after an hour and start the long drive back to Backpacker’s in Kampala, and I think about the amazing progress Uganda has made over the last couple of decades in increasing and preserving its natural wonders. The civil unrest that rocked Uganda decades earlier and extirpated the rhinos from their home range are given a fighting chance to return to the vast shrub lands and plains. The lions, elephants, and buffalo are returning to a healed landscape in Murchison Falls NP and the chimpanzees of Budongo are free to their lives in their protected jungle reserve. This is the forward thinking, progressive Africa that few think of back home; an Africa that should echo in the minds of those ignorant and “too busy” to be bothered by world issues. These are stories of hope, stories of a new generation that can live off the land without destroying it and mend old wounds that tarnished the reputation of this beautiful Uganda. They may still have a long and rough road ahead, but the determination and passion I have witnessed in the faces and hearts of this country’s people assures me that the wilds of Uganda will continue to flourish.

 

Ryan

By Steve

Our way to Kampala after Bob’s farm was not an enjoyable journey.  After another crammed hour and a half Matatu ride we arrive at the heart of Kampala; the Old Taxi Park.  The sun is setting as we pull into the most crowded market either of us have ever seen.  Thousands of people and hundreds of minibuses hurry on their own agendas in a phenomenon one can only compare to an ant hill.  We jump off the bus, sore and tired, grab our bags and hire a guide to take us to the New Taxi Park located about one km away.  As we strap on our 70L bags to our backs and our smaller ones to our front we head off into the chaos of Kampala’s downtown.  We move as fast as we can, racing against the setting sun.  People bump into us as we try desperately to follow our guide through the throngs of people.  After another 20 minutes we arrive in the New Taxi park and to our dismay its just as hectic as the Old taxi Park.  Through some searching we find a Matatu that will supposedly drop us off at Backpacker’s Hostel; our destination.  We jump on the bus and soon realize that Kampala’s streets are a network of traffic jams on Friday nights.  Almost 40 minutes later we get off the bus and finally retire for the night at the hostel.  To make matters worse, we were so flustered that we forgot to call Adrift (rafting company) before they close to finalize our white water rafting trip on the Nile for the following morning.

 

I wake up at around 6 in order to call Adrift and tell them to pick us up at 7, it took me half an hour to get through.  Ryan and I quickly pack, gulp down a quick breakfast and hop on Adrift’s bus.  We stop at many hostels and hotels along the way, picking up other rafters.  We arrive at Nile High Camp, home of Adrift, by 9 o’clock and get led towards a quick briefing about the days events.  Helmets and life jackets are thrust into our hands as we are shown to a raft already containing a group of anxious English students.  I strap the GoPro to my helmet as we listen to our guide, Dave, inform us about standard safety procedures.GOPR0802Go Pro Snap Shot #1

We push off into the Nile’s strong current and listen for further instructions.  Dave shows us what to do when we hit the white water and told us not to panic if the boat flips… which it probably will at a few points, he says laughing. 

 

After 10 minutes of relaxed paddling we hit the first set of rapids.  There are ten sets along our 31 km journey down the Nile, all ranging from Class 3 to Class 5.  Class 5 is the highest Class that you are allowed to attempt in a raft… needless to say we are both very excited.  The first rapid was a Class 3.  We hit it head on.  Dave yells “DOWN!” which is the signal to get on your knees and grab the rope surrounding the outside of the boat.  Two English students react a split second too late and get rocketed out the side of the boat into the white wash. Go Pro Snap Shot #2   Go Pro Snap Shot #3 The rest of our 9 man crew managed to hold on as we flew down the rest of the rapids.   At the base of the set we pick up our floating comrades, they are laughing but are slightly waterlogged.

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Our second set was up next, a Class 4.  Our beginning is pretty good, our raft is relatively straight.  We go over one slalom of white water before our raft does a 90 degree turn.  Go Pro Snap Shot #7  Go Pro Snap Shot #8 Within another second a giant wall is looming over our left side.  Our raft arcs up the wall, stays perfectly vertical for what seems like an eternity before flipping and dumping all of us into the roaring spray.Go Pro Snap Shot #9   I hit the water and have no idea which way is up.  After a few seconds my life jacket does its job and brings me to the surface, coughing and sputtering for a breath of air.  At the time of the flip we are not even down half of the set.  The life jacket keeps me afloat as I get tossed and turned in the giant mass of flowing water.  Every where I look I get glimpses of my fellow rafters also riding out the rapids.  Go Pro Snap Shot #10 At the base of the set it takes us a few minutes to gain our bearings and retrieve all our crew from the Nile.  We are only done two of the ten sets and we are having the time of our lives.

 

After two more enjoyable sets our raft comes to a stop 100 m from the 5th rapid.Go Pro Snap Shot #11  Go Pro Snap Shot #12 Dave gains our attention and says, “Alright. Now this ones a lil’ different then the last few.  We got ourselves a Class 5 and its not actually a rapid, its a waterfall.”  We ask Dave how tall the waterfall is; his reply, “Oh its not that big, only 5 meters.”  This should be fun.  We watch a boat in front of us go first.  Within a moment we hear screams as the entire raft disappears from our field of vision.  We start paddling slowly towards the edge of flowing water.  Dave yells, “HOLD ON!” as the front of the boat tips over the falls.Go Pro Snap Shot #13   Ryan and I are in the back, time appears to slow down as we tip over the edge.  The front of the raft hits the water hard and the entire boat buckles, making us slam into the inflatable seats in front of us before the boat levels out and the current shoots us away from the spray.Go Pro Snap Shot #14   We come to a stop and witness a look of horror on the English students faces… priceless.  We stop at the bottom to watch another raft go over the falls.

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Right after the waterfall we are faced with a choice.  We can take the right path with leads to a simple Class 3 rapid… or paddle like our lives depend on it and head towards the left where a long Class 4 run lies in wait.  I think you already know which path we take.  After two attempts we make it to the left side.  As our raft floats in a pool of still water, hundreds upon hundreds of flying foxes burst from the underbrush of a nearby island. Go Pro Snap Shot #16 With a wingspan of 1.5 meters each, it was truly a sight to behold.Go Pro Snap Shot #17   After watching the bats for a bit we push out of the still pool into the raging white water.  Our raft fly’s over massive slaloms of moving water and we almost flip.  Somehow we manage to stay in the boat… well, some of us do anyways.Go Pro Snap Shot #18   

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We stop for a delicious lunch on an island situated at the bottom of the set.

 

After lunch we have another 3 sets of great rapids before the final 10th set. Go Pro Snap Shot #20 Go Pro Snap Shot #21 

The last rapid is a class 5 and its big water.  The largest rapid out of all the runs, roughly 200 meters long.  We are in for a wild ride.  We paddle hard and hit the main current.  We lose control of the raft as it shoots down the rapid. Go Pro Snap Shot #22 After roughly 70 meters we get hit by a big wall of water.  Ryan and I are situated in the back.  Both of us get shot backwards, I hit our guide and knock him out of the boat.  Ryan isn’t so lucky.  He has nothing to stop him as he plunges into the water. Go Pro Snap Shot #23 I get up and catch a glimpse of Ry 10 meters away coughing and sputtering as he breaches the surface.  That is the last I see of him until the end of the set.  Go Pro Snap Shot #24 Our guide managed to swim ashore and he rejoins us in the boat.  Four out of our nine person crew fell off the raft.  There’s still plenty of white water left for us to attempt.  After a few moments we manage to get back into the main current.  We soar down the rapids until near the end our boat turns sideways.  The last thing i see is a wall of water 4 to 5 meters tall before we get dumped into the merciless river.  Go Pro Snap Shot #25

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We regain our crew members before heading to the shore for a BBQ dinner.  Rafting was a phenomenal experience and left us wanting more.  We decide to stay over at Nile High Camp, complimentary of Adrift rafting, before going bungee jumping in the morning!  We fall fast asleep in a very cramped dorm after having a few drinks at the bar with some other rafters.

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Wake up around 7:30 AM, our jump is planned for 11 AM so we have plenty of time to pack and get ourselves ready for the dive.  I find the best place for the GoPro’s chest harness, I am ready to jump.  As I climb the stairs the entire idea of jumping 45 meters straight down then hitting the Nile with a splash seems to be not as appealing as it was a moment ago.Go Pro Snap Shot #1  P1080811 The bridge is narrow and the walkway is only half a meter wide, making the walk ten times worse.  Every time I look down to see where my next footstep will lie I see a sheer cliff face and the Nile below.  When I get to the end two people sit me down in a chair and begin giving me the simple instructions.  “Alright now, your going to hop to the edge.  Once you feel your toes go over your going to stand there.  We are going to count down; THREE… TWO… ONE. BUNGEE!!! And then you jump.  Make sure you get a good dive outwards, the farther you jump the more you get shot backwards.  Like a giant slingshot really.”  Sounds simple enough.  It’s time.  I hop to the edge, feel the air on my toes.  The jump master says, “It’s probably best if you don’t look down…” So of course… i look down.  Bad mistake.  Oh God, Oh God i think to myself.Go Pro Snap Shot @2   But then the moment of truth comes.  It’s Africa, we came here to do amazing things and have the time of our lives.  And so on the queue, “BUNGEE!!!” I take a massive leap off of the platform. Go Pro Snap Shot #3 Go Pro Snap Shot #4 The water rushes towards me, my hands touch before I get shot back 25 meters up and the same distance backwards.  It really is like a giant slingshot.  The cord rockets me back and forth around 5 times. Go Pro Snap Shot #5 Go Pro Snap Shot #6 Ryan has just as fantastic as an experience except he got a proper dunk in the Nile. PA240272

Go Pro Snap Shot #7 

Once I’m done bobbing up and down a boat at the bottom pulls me in and detaches the bungee from my ankles.  I simply lay on the cool bottom of the boat and try to settle my nerves after one of the most intense adrenaline rushes of my life.  Wish I could do it again but my money belt says otherwise. 

We’re off to Murchison Falls National Park.

Cheers,

Steve

WWOOFin Uganda

By Ryan

My eyes struggle to remain open as we cross out of Kenya into Uganda in the early morning hours of a new dawn. Steve flips off his sleep mask after trying his hardest to catch some shuteye and we slip off the bus to clear customs. It has rained here recently; the road is chalked with muddy potholes. A small vendor on the side is selling chapati with rolled omelet; we each buy one to fill our empty stomachs and grudgingly get back on the bus after some already 17 bumpy hours. The road from Tanzania was a patchwork of asphalt and construction detours and whenever Steve or I managed to drift off into the dream realm we would soon be jolted awake by the rattling of loose windows and creaky steel seat frames.

The sun rises in the east over strikingly different scenery then the dry and dusty Tanzania we left behind; rolling hills of green pastures, wheat, maize, some pine, separated by small villages. Steve slips back on his sleep mask while I take in the lush shades of green that Tanzania will soon receive with the upcoming rains.

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I ask the driver’s assistant to tell us when we arrive in Naggalama, our destination for the farm we’re suppose to volunteer at and says “no problem” with uneasy confidence. The only road signs that seem to exist in East Africa are those advertising cell phones and vehicles; and we’ve found it difficult to get our bearings on the map without some local aid. The farm at which we are suppose to volunteer is owned by a Ugandan named Bob Kasule; the only details on directions he provided us was this;

Take a bus to Mukono Disrtict, get on a Matatu (minibus) to Naggalama, then take a Boda Boda (motor bike taxi) to “Bob’s farm.                          Email from Bob Kasule

Sometimes you just have to have some faith, but when the driver’s assistant yells “Naggalama” from the front of the bus, Steve and I are both completely unsure if this is indeed our stop. Luckily a woman in the front row knew where Naggalama was and this was definitely not the stop for Naggalama. English in Uganda, in contrast to Tanzania, is taught at an early age in all public schools. As a result, almost anyone we talk to can answer us in full sentences; a welcome change when trying to get directions. Another hour passes and we finally get off the bus in Mukono District, ready for the crowd of street touts and taxi drivers hustling us for business. But guess what…not one single person rushes up to us; the street is very much alive but no one takes much notice to the only 2 white guys in town. What a relief. We find a Matatu that takes us north to Naggalama; a 12 seater Toyota van that has been retrofitted into a 20 some person van, and they don’t joke around. We approached the van thinking no way in hell it would fit us and our 70L bags, but it did, and then some. 21 people crammed inside, a chicken on a man’s lap, our bags in the back hatch (roped partly shut) with 3 bags of bananas, and a goat stuffed under the rear seat. Steve and I share a seat and we laugh at the thought of this same situation playing out in North America with obese people trying to stuff into this small van. We get into Naggalama, a small roadside town and hire two Boda Bodas to drive us down a red dirt road to “Bob’s farm.”

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After 3 days of we arrive at our destination; Bob Kasule’s Organic Resource Centre.

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Bob’s outside with his youngest son, 2 year-old Ebenezer, and his wide and bright smile wipes away any doubt that we came to the wrong place. “Rihan and Steve!” he shouts. “You made it! Welcome, welcome.” I haven’t met anyone in East Africa yet that can pronounce my name correctly. He brings us inside his simple brick house and we sit in blue plastic chairs as he sits across from us on an animal hide couch with Ebenezer on his lap. “So you are here,” Bob says with a grin. His English is quite good. “It started with some emails and now you are here…WOW!” We laugh. I already like this guy.

His house is a single floor, rectangular shaped building, with smooth concrete floors and white concrete walls that have long since been soiled with red hand prints from days in the field. 5 bedrooms line a hallway branching off from the dining/living room, each with simple wooden beds, a thin foam mattress, and blue mosquito nets hung from the rafters. The only hooks are nails loosely driven into cracks between the bricks and the windows are barred but not screened. There is a washroom with sloping floors but no running water; wash bins and rags rest half full of murky water. They do not have any running water in the house, instead they fill a 220L Polytank resting on the living room from well water gathered in plastic containers a km away in the village. I place my head in the tank’s opening and it smells of stale water. They drink this water, cook with it, bathe with it, and I can’t stop thinking about how easy this open tank is contaminated. The roof is made of thin rusty metal sheets, littered with holes that the African sun pierces in the afternoon heat. Bob helps us to our room and we give him back the mosquito nets and fleece blankets since we’ve brought along our own.

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He leads us outside and gives us a tour of his farm. He has ~2 acres, average size in this village, and he has just started a new staple crop of beans for they fetch a good value on the local market and many of the nearby schools buy them for school meals. The fields are a dark brown silty loam and we can tell that every farmer benefits from fertile pastures here. Banana, papaya, and jackfruit trees are scattered throughout the neatly tilled fields; each supplying a bounty of succulent ripe fruits throughout the year. He shows us his two pigs, purchased for the family by a past WWOOFer, his lone hen with 4 chicks, and a huge, empty hole lined with torn plastic, symbolizing a failed attempt at storing roof water for the crops and home in the dry season. “Water is a big problem in Africa,” Bob sighs at the hole. “It is there but many do not have the methods of getting it.”

We rest that rainy afternoon, and at dusk the rest of the family comes home. Comfort is 5 and is the most curious boy I have ever met. He confidently walks into our room and looks intently at our clothes and gear laid out on our beds. (Below Comfort practices his machete skills; Ebenezer & Comfort)

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Allaaie is 12, a responsible and polite girl who welcomes us with a handshake. (Below- Allaaie at school)

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Harrold (19), Bob’s nephew, moved in with them after both his parents died and is a talented artist; his works from art class proudly displayed on the house’s walls. (Below- Harrold cooking some yam and cosavo)

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Bob’s wife is Robinah, a pretty woman who works at a Saloon in town. (Below- Robinah with Bob, Ebenezer and Comfort at her Saloon)

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Harrold prepares chapati for dinner while Allaaie sautées shredded cabbage and garden fresh tomatoes. They cook all their meals on small portable charcoal stoves, plus a wood fire clay oven in a separate kitchen disconnected from the house. For dessert, Steve brings out the half empty jar of Nutella from Zanzibar and we spread it over the last remaining chapati. Ebenezer has never tasted anything like it; the expression of sheer wonder on his pudgy face after one bite makes us laugh. “They could feed Africa on this stuff,” Steve jokes.

Just over a month ago Bob managed to raise enough money by selling almost all of their chickens to pay for electricity to be brought into their home. Only two fluorescent tubes light the entire house and a single outlet in the living room provides them with the luxury of a radio or a charging port for their cell phones. Electricity in Uganda is privatized and as such, costs a whopping 500 USH per KWh, or ~25cents Cdn./KWh. I take a glance at their power meter outside and it reads only 18 KWh; less power than most of us use in a single day back home. “We thought for a long time about getting power,” says Bob. “We finally decided that it was a good sacrifice to make in order to move forward with new projects on the farm. You can’t do much without electricity.”

Over the next 4 days we helped Bob with various jobs around the farm. We planted carefully selected bean seeds in a freshly tilled field, de-weeded some others ever so carefully, and performed some house maintenance (below).

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This chameleon was walking in the weeds; assurance for an organic farm.

I have heard from several people their WWOOFing experiences and I think they are very different than WWOOFin in this country. Bob’s family only gets income when they sell some produce from the crops and the daily revenue from Robinah’s Saloon; hardly enough to stay afloat. They often eat cooked green banana, rice, beans, chapati and meat maybe once a week. Steve and I both start to feel de-nourished after only the second day and we make a trip into town to buy some groceries. We end up spending about $50 on food and some much needed cutlery, head back, and make them a much appreciated spaghetti dinner with chicken. The two small charcoal stoves take a very long time to cook with but we manage and have to say it turned out pretty good; the kids thought so anyways. Harrold cuts up some sugar cane for dessert. We finish well after 9 PM and retire to bed with our first full stomach.

Our connection with Bob and his family grew stronger everyday, and when Comfort holds my hand when we walk into town on the third day I get that warm fuzzy feeling of home. Even though they don’t have many of the, what many consider in North America, necessities of modern life, they have more love and happiness than wealth could ever buy. They don’t own a microwave or fridge, nor a TV or CD Player, nor a motorbike or car. But Bob Kasule possesses something that money can not buy; dreams. He has big, ambitious dreams. In collaboration with a WWOOFer named Ian, they plan to install an underground water tank to collect rain water off the roof and a pump to bring that water to a Polytank in the house where gravity will feed it to the shower and kitchen sink. Once they have running water, they can raise chicks and pigs that Bob calls “multipliers,” investments that can multiply profits as they reproduce. He has sketches of a WWOOFER’s Nest that he dreams of attracting WWOOFers and travelers alike to come and spend a few days volunteering and relaxing (below).

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He’s running for mayor in Naggalama and as far as we could tell, he will win. Along with community farmers, he has a project proposal (awaiting approval) for a small scale feeds factory in the village, one that will produce poultry and animal feeds for locals and markets in surrounding cities; creating employment and further opportunities for the future.

On Friday we say goodbye to Bob and his family. We donate 50 000 USh to buy 12 chickens and a saw for cutting firewood. It’s not much, but it’s a start, and we tell Bob that we will talk to people at home and see if we can collaborate to work toward his dreams. We take a group shot and hit the road for the capital, Kampala; our home base for the next 2 weeks.

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ZANZIBAR- Stone Town & Beyond

We wanted to start off by thanking everybody who’s been keeping up to date with the blog…the comments have made us miss home very much. We have seen pictures of the Fall colours on Facebook and now know how extremely lucky we are to experience such a magnificent natural event every single Fall. You may think we are a bit sarcastic, but seriously, here in Tanzania, just south of the equator, they have only two seasons; wet and dry. There are no changing colours; some trees lose their leaves in the dry and grow new in the wet, but brilliant hues red, orange and yellow cease to exist. So next time you grudge at the task of raking leaves in the yard, remember that much of the world does not get the privilege of experiencing Fall in all its glory.

On another note, surprisingly, no one has voiced doubt of our summit of Kili but just in case there are those secretly still unsatisfied, here’s some proof, and no, they are not counterfeit (though they would have been easy to get).

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We’ve decided to write this blog post a little different than our last 2; instead of day by day events we’ll do our best to describe the many sights and sounds of Zanzibar by breaking it up into locations. I’d like to start off with a quote from David Livingstone, a famous Scottish explorer in the 17th  Century who used Zanzibar as a resting spot while on his quest for the source of the Nile.

“This is the finest place I have known in all Africa to rest before starting my final journey. An illusive place where nothing is as it seems. I am mesmerized….”         Livingstone  1866.

Stone Town (by Ryan)

Whether it’s your first time to Stone Town or your 100th, I don’t think it would ever lose it’s touch of exotic. The history of Stone Town is much to vast and rich for me to write about in this post, and after 10 days in Zanzibar we have barely begun to scratch the surface of its past. I can tell you this: Zanzibar Town grew from a fishing village at Shangani Pt., now the western edge of Stone Town, way back around 950 AD. It quickly grew into a Swahili town with extensive commercial/cultural roots throughout the Indian Ocean. In the 19th century, many Omanis immigrated here and the rich among them built spice plantations and mansions along the sea front in Zanzibar Town. Sultans ruled in this era and even in 1890, when the island became a British Protectorate, the Brits kept the Sultan as the figurehead even though most of the power was held by the British residents. It was the Brits who abolished the notorious slave trade here though some still attempted to smuggle slaves at Slave Cave and Coral Cave north of Zanzibar Town.  Today, Zanzibar is not the spice capital it once was, but its exotic past lures travelers from all points of the Globe.

The streets in Stone Town do not follow any particular framework or pattern, and as we step off the Sea Star Ferry at the harbour we are instantly swept into their maze. Street touts, known in Swahili as papasi (ticks), follow us everywhere; one does not leave us alone until we finally take refuge in Abdalla Guest house in the heart of Stone Town. “They follow you because they get commission for bringing you here,” the manager tells us with a smile. Our original plan was to stay at Flamingo Guest House, which it turns out, does not offer commission; any papasi we asked for directions to Flamingo would tell us it’s either full or closed. At this point we’re sweating buckets and don’t care where we stay anymore, so we settle on a quaint double room with a bathroom and A/C that doesn’t work (not surprised). The next morning we wake to blaring Muslim prayers directly across the street at 5AM and decide we must find Flamingo. We do after a short hike through the twisted streets, and use it as our home base for our stay in Stone Town.

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Rooftop terrace at Flamingo GH with a view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

The following pics our from various places in Stone Town, some have captions below them, others are nameless and were taken during our 10 stay on Zanzibar.

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Beit El-Ajaib (House of Wonders) is one of the tallest buildings in Stone Town (left), built by the third Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said, sometime between 1870 and 1888. Multifloor buildings made from limestone concrete, the primary building material on Zanzibar, are home to the Town’s ~15000 residents (right).

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Rasti hats add some colour to the otherwise bleak stone walls of Old Fort, built ~1700 (left), Posters fill streets for the upcoming elections at the end of this month (right).

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Luukman’s (left) had to be our favourite local restaurant in Stone Town, easily filling us with delicious dishes such as briyani and chicken with fresh naan bread, chapati, and just squeezed Tamarin juice (right) all for around $3.

Forodhani Gardens was one phase of many that Zanzibar has completed in its rehabilitation projects. The shore walls have been rebuilt, walkways with pedicured gardens provide a welcome venue for relaxation from the noisy and clustered streets of Zanzibar Town.

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At dusk, Forodhani comes alive with street vendors selling the day’s catch of tuna, king fish, lobster, crab, blue marlin; you name it and they have it. We came here nearly every night to get dessert, a Zanzibar pizza; a rolled-up, elephant banana and Nutella filled chapati fried on a bowl-shaped skillet. Seeing Nutella on a chapati half a world away is one of the most amazing sights all trip, and satisfied our enormous craving for the maple syrup that simply does not exist here, whenever we had pancakes.

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Livingstone’s is a popular restaurant and club for locals and foreigners alike, and we came here a few nights after our fun filled days to unwind, have some drinks, and listen to some familiar tunes.

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These are some of the cool Norwegians we met on our tour to Kizimkazi down south. Every Tuesday at Livingstone’s they have a local DJ come and play some club music, and with the music comes some local dancers. These guys were unbelievable; back flips, headstands,  all kinds of break dancing moves. One guy knows Michael Jackson unlike any one I have seen and when Billie Jean comes on, he steals the floor. People throw him bills, girls whistle and scream…maybe he does dance lessons in town. lol We took a lot of pictures with Steve’s camera but he forgot the cable for uploading so he apologizes.

The South (by Steve)

At the south tip of the island lies the town of Kizimkazi, notoriously famous for the pods of Indian dolphins that call its shores home.  We leave Stone Town early in the morning to make it to the beaches of Kizamkazi at 9 AM.  As soon as we arrive, top quality masks (just kidding), snorkels and flippers are thrust into our hands and we hop aboard a boat.

Top quality gear

Right away we get stuck on the rocks due to tidal changes and spend roughly ten minutes helping our guides pry the boat off of the limestone shoals.  As we head out to open water we quickly befriend a group of Norwegian exchange students, studying Muslim-Christian relations on Zanzibar, who have decided to do the tour as well.  After 15 minutes on the open sea we catch up with a group of other boats that have already found the pods of dolphins.

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The goal of the game is to jump off your boat and swim right in the middle of the pod (hopefully) as they come up to breath.  Usually they come up for no more then half a minute before they dive into deeper water in order to find the schools of fish that they thrive on.  As a pod of 10 dolphins breach the water Ry and I jump in with a few tourists from other boats. And yes Ryan is rockin’ the pink flippers.

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We get to within 20 feet of the pod before it dives back into the depths. Luckily they do not disappear and, fueled on adrenaline, I take off after them, following them along the surface.  At first it looks as if they will never come up, slowly but surely the distance between the pod and I lessens; within another 20 seconds I am smack dab in the middle of the entire pod. The pictures are taken from the GoPro videos so the quality isn’t the best. The dome lens has an issue focusing under water so the footage has a slight blur.

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Everywhere I look these majestic animals cruise through the crystal waters, one even gets so close that I can slide my hand along its dorsal fin.  After 30 seconds of one of most awe inspiring moments of my life they once again return to the depths, this time to deep sea.  Ryan, not as lucky as I, continues his quest to swim with them.  Shortly after he gets what he came for and finds himself within the dolphins reach.  After a couple more dives in and a few more close encounters we head back to shore.  Overall the experience is amazing, the dolphins don’t mind the people but Ry and I both agree that there should be a limit as to how many boats are allowed at one time to limit disturbance to the dolphins’ environment.  We agree to meet the Norwegians for dinner that night and they offer us free stay at their 4 bedroom flat right around the corner from Flamingo.

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The North (by Ryan)

While some come to Zanzibar to experience the culture of Stone Town, others flock to the North where the turquoise waters lap the white sandy shores and every night is party night. Back on Kilimanjaro, we had arranged to rendezvous with the Kiwis when they came to Zanzibar, and a few emails later we were meeting them up in Nungwi at Langi Langi resort. Our mode of transport is…well we’ll let the picture describe itself…

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Sadly, we are joking…but instead we rented a 1996, 3 door, Suzuki Escudo, and we’d love to show you pictures of this beauty but some how I managed to lose the vids for that day. Our initial plan is to rent Indian copies of Vespas but when Sajid, a London native who came out to Zanzibar to escape the rushed life of home and start a small rental business, looks at our International Driving Permits, we realize that we don’t have the motorcycle license required. His business partner says, “Listen, here’s what you do….at police checkpoint you show them this (the Int. permit), they ask you what kind of license you have, you say ‘an International License,’ that’s it.” He continues taking a puff of his cigarette, “Now most police aren’t educated enough to know the difference, but in the rare case that they are, you just give them say….3000 TSH and that’s it.” I look at him for a second. “No way are we taking the chance of having to bribe police at every checkpoint; it’s 60km to Nungwi in the North, there could be at least 5 checkpoints from here to there.” We settle on the automatic Suzuki. Driving on the left side isn’t to difficult but driving in Zanzibar Town is another experience entirely, thousands of people, bikes, vespas, cars, dalla dallas (minibuses), and trucks crowd the narrow streets. Stop signs do not exist here, and you merge into a street by pushing your nose into it.

We pick up a student on a dirt road ~45mins out of Stone Town and agree to drive him to his village if he gives us directions to Coral Cave on the eastern coast. A few kms down a rough road (glad we swapped the Vespas) we are at the entrance, and stairs lead us down into the dark and humid abyss.

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This cave was the site where some 200 slaves were forced to climb down with a rope and sleep every night without a torch. The cave was used as holding cell after slavery was abolished by the British in the late 19th Century. Our guide, Allie takes us to a pool of fresh water, fed by the same springs where the slaves once drank. “There are 2 pythons in this cave, one is 2m long. I usually see it in the morning taking a swim in this pool.” Unfortunately, we don’t come across either.

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He takes us deeper into a side corridor, the air is thick with humidity and I struggle to keep the viewfinder on my camera free of sweat drops. We continue another 100m, the roof and floor begin to merge and we stop on our knees in front of a chamber full of bats. I use my flashlight to film, ISO is set at the highest of 1600 but it looks alright noise wise. The pic below is a snapshot from the film.

Bats in Cave

We turn around and travel into another corridor, an alternate exit where some slaves once attempted an escape. “Now I can show you the spiders on our path or I can not show you the spiders,” Allie asks. They were nothing like the spiders at home; 10-20cms wide with front legs that act like antennae, scanning the darkness for prey.

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Allie touches one with his flashlight and it scurries up the rock wall with unnatural speed. We have no idea what species they are, if any one knows please comment. We see the sun and emerge back into the heat, soaked in sweat. We’re close to the coast and the small beach is a welcome sight.

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We arrive in Nungwi shortly after 5PM, find Langi Langi Resort with some local aid and the Kiwis are nowhere to be found. We settle in at a guest house a short distance away. The heat on this island is non-forgiving; the only break from sweating is the few minutes following a shower. Some one should market Zanzibar as a weight loss program. At 7PM we return to Langi Langi and the Kiwis have arrived, and we all feast on fresh caught seafood on the elevated patio overlooking the sea, sharing stories from each other’s safaris.

At 2AM that night, back at our guest house, a girl knocks on our door, no wait, first she turns the knob to see if it’s open, then knocks. I say, “Jambo.” She says, “Jambo, then mumbles something in Swahili. I reply, “Hapana asente (no thank you);” that’s all I could think of half a sleep. She knocks a couple more times then walks away, her silhouette casted on the window curtains. I hear her knock on some other doors further down. Steve sleeps through the whole thing. The next morning we sleep in for the first time in a long while. I wake up shortly after 9AM, already sweating. We meet the Kiwis by the pool at Langi Langi and don’t hesitate to jump in. We chill for a bit then take off to Kendwa beach, a 10min drive southwest of Nungwi. I’ll let the pictures describe the beach; though I think the film will do a better job.

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Children play in craved out wooden boats, fishing dhows sail by, tourists sleep in hammocks strung under cone roofs of palm leaves. Perhaps this is the tranquil paradise foreigners search for in Zanzibar.

We return to Langi Langi for a game of beach volleyball under the setting sun.

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A cooking lesson follows, taught by the head chef, Saleh, a plump and humorous Zanzibar native with long braids who has a knack for hilarious Texan impersonations.

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Hands down, this is the best food we’ve tasted all trip (though it may not all look appetizing) and it just so happens to be Thanksgiving. We can’t name all the dishes, but they included: Palau rice, stir fry with breaded chicken, beef stew, seafood curry, fried potato balls with deep fried eggs inside, and too many spices to remember. Stuffed to the point of exploding, we talk till we are too tired, say farewell and head back to our guest house. Saleh offers us a complimentary breakfast the next morning, even though we are not guests at Langi Langi.

When we pack up the next morning we discover a message one of the Kiwis left us on the back of our Escudo.

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Kiwi humour is very similar to Canadians’.

Bawi & Great Northern Reefs (by Ryan)

I wanted to see the flipside of Zanzibar and discover its underwater realms so I jumped at the chance to join the Norwegians on a double dive at two popular reefs just a few kms south of Stone Town. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find me in the PADI database so I couldn’t dive with Thomas and Mai-Linn so I opted for snorkeling with the other three. Our boat was a broad and heavy dhow, and the little 2-stroke outboard attached to the backside propelled us slowly over calm waters.

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As the divers geared up we slipped on our 4mm wetsuits and jumped in. The water was clear and the corals were abundant and diversified. I took the GoPro off the chest mount and snapped some photos.

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A lion fish (centre left) swims past without even a second look at us. Our advertised “light” lunch turns out to be a mix of watermelons, mangoes, oranges, and the freshest papayas I’ve ever tasted, along with beef and veg swamosas, potato & fish dumplings, doughy triangles and other stuff I couldn’t describe. The dive after lunch is on the Great Northern reef and features a shipwreck that is slowly being consumed by the sea.

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Thomas and Mai-Linn appear on the bottom below us and their bubbles form transparent umbrellas as they race to the surface. We return to Stone Town a little sunburned on the back legs and head out for dinner at Forodhani Gardens.

Prison Island

Zanzibar seems to be the place that every tourist ends their trip in East Africa, and as such we were able to rendezvous with not only the Kiwis but also our Slovenian friends we met on Safari, Marco and Elena (hope we spelled it right). We take a boat one afternoon from Stone Town out onto the sea to explore Changuu Island, 5km NW of Zanzibar Town and infamously known as Prison Island. Although it was never used as a prison it served as a housing for slaves before they were purchased and shipped off to far away places. Later on, once the British had made Zanzibar their Protectorate, Prison island was used as a quarantine station for the sick and contagious. Today the island is home to Changuu Private Island Paradise Resort which had completely restored the central buildings but now is closed itself while but renovations are completed.

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We walk through the grounds; past a pool half full, rooms that have long since seen tourists, the central building that would have served as the jail (left) and a roofless dining hall where the tables & chairs stand dusty & silent (below).

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The Aldabra Giant tortoises are second largest in the world only to the Galapagos Tortoise, and here in their protected reserve on Prison Island they live in peace from the poachers that once threatened the population in their endemic range of the Aldabra Atoll of the Seychelle islands.  Some are absolutely huge, topping the scales at 250kg and the ages are painted on their shells. We came at their feeding time and they loved the spinach. The oldest we found was 185 years, while most were younger than 100.

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Off the shores of Prison Island lies a shallow coral reef, only a couple of metres below the surface in low tide. We spend nearly an hour checking out the abundance of marine life. (No that is not a bra Steve is wearing, its the GoPro Chest harness if anyone is wondering)

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Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park (by Ryan)

The largest remaining patch of mature forest on the island exists here, full of numerous palm species, a mangrove forest, and the rare, endemic red colubus monkey. We have a guide who understands English quite well but talks extremely fast so asking questions is difficult. We take a short walk through a forest of palms and spot a small group of red colubus monkeys right beside the trail.

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Once hunted by the locals for eating their crops, farmers are now offered compensation for damages if the monkey is spared. 2500 exist on the island, 1500 are found in this one small NP; and that number is slowly growing. They are not shy as we approach; allowing me to snap some close ups.  Hard to believe that much of the island was once covered in forest as beautiful as this.

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Our guide takes us to a mangrove forest where a boardwalk delicately meanders through the dense puzzle-like root systems belonging to 3 different mangrove species. “If you have good balance you can walk on the roots, they are very strong,” our guide demonstrates. Steve follows.

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As we depart from Zanzibar, I try to remember the last 9 days and it almost seems a blur; full of the exotic wonders that a traveller could hope for. The ferry glides across the calm morning sea, flying fish dart out of its way and the morning breeze on the top deck is the most cooling sensation we’ve had since we arrived on Zanzibar. This departure concludes the first half of our journeys in East Africa and with it came the farewells to the friends we had met along the way in Tanzania. Next, we are off to Uganda, to volunteer on a farm, the type of farm; we have no idea. The owner, Bob, is quite brief with his descriptions so expectations are kept low to avoid any disappointment. Not sure when we will be able to post next but feel free to leave us a message and we’ll do our best to read them.

From Tanzania,

Ry & Steve

P.S. Apologizes for the blog theme. We write the posts offline then upload them when we get the net so the final layout of the pictures is not how I intended it to be. Still working on it.

One can set goals for the wild animals you wish to see on Safari, but no such guarantee exists; for if you wish to see the real world behaviours and environmental interactions that make animals truly “wild,” luck is all you can truly wish for. Steve and I were very, very lucky on this 8 day Safari to see nearly every single animal we hoped to encounter, and more.  Tanzania’s wild places are a sight to behold; perhaps more then anywhere in Africa. From the giant and ancient Baobob trees scattering the rolling hills of Tarangire NP to the vast golden plains of the Serengeti, to the massive caldera known as Ngorongoro Crater; our path was a loop covering over 1200kms on the smoothest and roughest of roads. Our 3.4L, inline 4 cylinder diesel Land Cruiser was a veteran with 630 000 kms and counting, but was as smooth as the day she rolled off the Toyota assembly line.

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Each day is written by either Steve or I and we hope the pictures can do some justice to the natural treasures of this beautiful country.

Day 1 – Tarangire National Park (written by Steve)

We leave Arusha with high hopes of the adventures we will undertake and the beautiful animals that we will hopefully see.  Our first problem arises when we learn that our guides name is also Steve, a problem we overcome by calling him Baba Steve (father Steve) which he finds very amusing. Baba Steve has worked with Tropical Trails since 2006 and freelanced before that. He greets us with a big smile, “Good morning, how are you today?” Our cook, Nasoro, is also very nice, although he can speak only a little bit of English.  Our drive to the park takes roughly 2.5hours, even though it is peppered with stops.  After a nice lunch at Zion campsite, we head out on our first game drive.  Needless to say, our first day is not disappointing.  Within half an hour we come across scores of roaming wildebeests and zebras. 

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After that we witness a family of elephants grazing in the forest and Ostriches roaming the rolling plains. 

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It was not just the animals that amaze us but the flora as well.  Giant Baobab trees litter the national park, some of which were roughly 4-5 meters wide and are over a thousand years old.  Towards the end of our drive we catch a glimpse of a leopard sleeping in a tree, a very rare sighting in Tarangire says Baba Steve, sleeping within a trees lower branches. 

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Fueled on excitement we returned to Zion campsite completely satisfied with how the days events unfolded.

Day 2- To Ol Doinyo Lengai; Mountain of God (by Ryan)

Baba Steve looks over our itinerary carefully and suggests we make a change starting today to give us more time at Ngorongoro Crater later in the trip. Instead of heading to Lake Manyara NP we take off to Lake Natron where the active volcano called Ol Doinyo Lengai- known by the Maasai as “Mountain of God”- beckons from its spewing summit for us to attempt its steep slopes. But before we take off we help jumpstart another company’s Land Cruiser in Zion camp. We stop to learn about termite mounds.

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Our path quickly turns from asphalt to dirt road and Baba Steve contently calls it “Time for Rock and Roll!” This region is very dry, whenever we pass another vehicle or get passed we slide the windows shut to avoid a lung full of choking dust. Ol Doinyo Lengai appears on the hazy horizon as we drive over the dusty plains. Maasai herders wave as we pass, some look no older than 6 or 7.

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Giraffes, gazelles, and zebras roam these plains along with the Maasai, and Baba Steve says the government prohibits any hunting of wild animals without a permit. Baba Steve has brought refilled water bottles that he hands out to passing Maasai women and children. Many must walk several kms every day to gather water so this small gesture is greatly appreciated. Two Maasai boys appear on the road ahead, one is carrying 2 huge eggs. Baba Steve rolls down his window, says the little Maasai he knows to the boy, and hands him 1000 TSH for one egg. That’s about $0.66 Cdn for an ostrich egg that contains roughly 2 dozen chicken eggs. “How did he get the eggs?” we ask Baba Steve. He replies, “ostriches are very protective and aggressive of their nests; he must have been very quick. This will make one big omelet!”

We get into Kamakia campsite at 3PM, and start a game of haki sack with the locals boys hanging around the camp. They have never played, but their football skills would say otherwise. We join them for a game of soccer at 5 with boys from the village, mostly Maasai, some in traditional red gowns, others in shorts and even the rare soccer jersey. The field is on dusty volcanic plains and we play in bare feet as if we were on a beach. Steve takes a break to amuse them with his camera, at least 15 gather on all sides to watch videos he records of them seconds before.

We meet our guide, Raymond, a Maasai of age 23, who shows us the village after supper, a short walk from the camp. Here they have plenty of water, supplied by the Ngaresero River that flows through the Great Rift Valley. Over a beer, Ray tells us the rappers he likes; Jay-Z, “because he raps from the heart,” Kanye, some others. Funny how even here, in the seemingly far off reaches of Africa’s Rift Valley, Western culture influences the young minds of even the Maasai. We help jumpstart a large supply truck with 20 other locals before we leave. Back at camp Nasoro is busy making supper.

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We hit the sack at 9:30; for tonight we wake at 11PM to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai under the half moon.

Day 3- Lengai & Ngaresero Falls (Ry and Steve)

Ryan: At 2878m, Ol Doinyo Lengai is not even half as tall as Kilimanjaro, but Steve and I both agree that it is far more technical shortly after we start. At 12:30AM, Sept. 29th, we start at the base. Bamboo like, golden grass rubs past our shins as we ascend, quickly disappearing as volcanic rock and dust take over. The climb get steeper and steeper.

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We estimate a 40-50 degree slope half way up; making climbing on all fours the most efficient. “You have a good technique,” Ray comically comments. At 20 to 5AM we are a few 100 metres from the summit, the moon remains the only light from the sky for another 1.5hr. You have never seen stars until you climb a mountain at night; millions glisten like a glowing canopy of fireflies. Here we rest in a small crack until the sun rises.

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I dig out a small depression in the dust and sit with my back to the summit, looking out over the vast plains and onto the plateau above the Rift Valley. A small fire burns distantly on the plains. At 6:10 we start for the summit. This is where the fun ends for Steve. I’ll let him explain.

 

 

 

 

 

Steve: After our rest in the crevice 1.5km straight up from the valley floor the weather changes for the worst.  What began as a beautiful night, with relatively no wind turned into the most terrible wind and dust storm I have ever seen.  As we near the top, 70 – 90 km/hr winds threaten to knock us off of the volcanic cliff faces and dust finds its way into every single crack and orifice of our bodies (don’t picture it).  Slowly but surely we continue to climb the slope.  As we near the top the winds worsen further and visibility diminishes to 10 feet at best.  The air is thick with sulfur and volcanic dust that plasters us.  Even now we still have hopes that perhaps the crater at the top is clear and that we might get some respite from the brutal winds and dust.  Unfortunately… we don’t.  As I poke my head over the rim of the crater I turn away a split second too late.  My face gets buffeted by a blast of sand and both of my eyes get cut by granules of dust, leaving me practically blind.  Now I have to climb down almost 2 km on a 50 degree slope with no vision… fun? I think not. 

Ryan: We stay for maybe 5 mins max at the summit, I too get hit with waves of dust in the face but manage to avoid the blindness. The wind is strong enough to stand at an angle on the crater rim, and I laugh with joy; I’m absolutely loving this, apart from the sand blasting. Ray and I start down on our bums but Steve remains cursing at the crater’s crest, covering his face in apparent agony. I go back up to get him and he’s in a lot of pain. We guide him down to the same crack where we rested under the moon, clouds passing us furiously and the wind changing direction aimlessly. I grab the syringe from the first aid kit, fill it with water and attempt to wash out Steve’s eyes with some success. We wait nearly 40mins here, hoping for a break in the clouds but when 8AM arrives, no such opportunity arises and we decide to head down. I grab the GoPro helmet cam and take some shots, the three shown below are taken consecutively in less than 15 seconds.

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“I have never seen it this windy and dusty,” Ray says, he too suffering from the dust in his eyes. Steve’s eyes get worse as we shuffle down, he opens them for only a few seconds to memorize the next few metres, then walks and repeats.

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More than half way down he can not open them anymore. Ray grabs his hand as I help stabilize his steps by holding his bag from behind. “Small drop, smooth, steep,” I try my best to describe his next steps. A little farther down he sprains his right ankle. I take his bag. “That’s it man,” Steve moans. “No more effin mountains this trip…2 is enough. I’m so done with these damn mountains!” I can see the Land Cruiser waiting, Baba Steve must know something is wrong. 1km or so from the Cruiser Baba Steve meets us with a Maasai boy. He swings Steve’s arm over his shoulder and the boy grabs his bag.

Steve:  Tired, miserable, blind and in a lot of pain I ask Baba Steve how far it is to the land cruiser.

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His reply, “Oh, only about 100 meters, we’ll be there in no time.”  Ten minutes go by so I ask him again… same reply.  Another ten minutes go by and now I don’t know what to believe.  He finally says, “Ok my man, we are here!” My reply, “Nuh uh, let me touch it.”  I hug the land cruiser and man, cold steel has never felt so good.  After a 40 minute drive back to the camp I go straight to washing out my eyes.  It took a while but finally I could see, only barely, but it was the best feeling in the world.

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Ryan: We rest for 1-2 hrs then wake at 4:30PM to go see Ngaresero Falls with Ray.

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My right knee kills from the Lengai descent but the swim under the falls is replenishing and we return to Kamakia camp at 7PM, Nasoro has dinner hot and ready. Baba Steve is enticed by our stories of Canada’s landscapes and its wildlife.

Day 4- To Serengeti NP (by Ryan)

We wake at 6AM to see the sun rise over Lake Natron, a 15min drive from camp. Lesser flamingos are plentiful as the first rays of light set their slender figures a brilliant pink.

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We stop at the village to say goodbye to Ray and thank him for his help on the mountain. We exchange emails and promise to stay in touch.

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The road is long and rough. 2, old, dirty diesel, public buses pass us heading for the village; hard to believe they can make it on this road. The road bed turns to rolling hills of crushed quartz as we enter the small village of Loleondo. We stop at a makeshift garage where  Baba Steve attempts to fix a sticking rear brake. Once fixed, we drive into a transformed landscape of green 1hr from Serengeti NP; early rains according to Baba Steve. At the park gate, vervet monkeys play in trees as we wait for the clerk. The credit card network is down so we must pay the park fees the next day. 10 mins into the park we spot wildebeest, elephants, zebra, and a lion napping on the road bank.

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The evening sun shines through the clouds and dew on the trees and grass shimmers. This is the last Eden. Lobo Camp lies on the gentle slope nestled in front of a granite kopje. There are no fences here, Cape buffalo graze not 100’ from our tent. “Here you do not walk far from your tent, and if you need to go to the toilet at night, make sure you are quick,” Baba Steve warns. “Best you hold it till morning.”

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Washrooms are nicest we’ve seen so far; 2 stage flush toilets WITH TOILET PAPER! Bats fly above the urinals. A large group of South Africans join us in the the dining hut; very friendly but seem a little too “pampered” for us.

Day 5- Serengeti NP (by Ryan)

The Maasai know it as Siringit – endless plains- the Serengeti ecosystem covers ~26 000 km2, while the Park only comprises of the central core zone, surrounded by a number of buffer zones that each have their own unique conservation strategies. We wake at 7:30, swallow breakfast without chewing and head off for a morning drive in the North. We encounter giraffes and elephants not 7m from our cruiser and Baba Steve nearly causes one of the females to charge when he squeaks the breaks by accident. I get some fantastic footage.

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Buffalo, zebra, tons of antelopes, and many species I have already forgotten the names of.

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We return to Lobo for lunch, shower and pack up. Steve puts the GoPro on the roof rack; hopefully some good footage, and I roll out the solar panel on the roof to charge the camera batteries. Tonight we stay in the Southern Serengeti at Seronera camp, a 75km drive from Lobo. We stop at the “hippo pool” on the way; have never seen so many in such a small spot.

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Young ones, maybe a few 100kgs roll around and play with one another. Larger, old, seemingly grumpy adults snap at others for invading their private space. We continue on to rolling hills of yellow-barked acacia trees; the sun shines that all too famous African Gold from 5-6PM. Marabu storks relax high up in an acacia tree.

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Drive into camp shortly after 6PM, busiest we have seen yet, over 70 people. Eat a filling meal and hit the sack, exhausted. Every day we experience something completely new and as we rest our tired eyes, hoping for a glimpse of a cheetah tomorrow, we feel truly alive.

Day 6- Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater (by Ryan)

We start with a early morning drive at dawn, for this is the time when a hunt is most likely to occur. We pass a pregnant lioness walking on the road and soon see another in the bushes contently watching a herd of buffalo passing 50 m away.

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A little farther on we see our first cheetah, crossing the road not 20m in front. Baba Steve quickly turns the cruiser around. “It is heading towards that plain, we will try to meet it.”

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With binoculars we watch it approach the horizon and as we are about to drive on, a hunt commences instantly.  A cloud of dust is all we can make out as it bolts after an impala over the horizon but Baba Steve is quite sure it was successful. Further still we spot a leopard dosing in a tree.

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We leave the endless plains behind and continue our path to Ngorongoro Crater, and just our luck we drive by a cheetah resting on a termite mound on the road side.

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We make a quick stop at Olduvai Gorge, northwest of the crater, the discovery site of 4 early hominid species dating back some 2 million years, preserved by the unique volcanic deposits laid down sequentially over that time. It was Mary Leakey, who in 1959, found the 1.8 MA old skull known as Australopithecus boisei that gave rise to the heated arguments over our evolution.

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We reach Simba camp shortly before 6PM and race to find a nice, flat spot before they are all taken. A giant fig tree shades our tent in the middle of the campsite, and the view encompasses the crater rim with clouds rolling over.

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We thoroughly enjoy our first hot showers all trip then sit down to delicious pumpkin soup, rice and beef stew. An elephant wonders on to the camp’s border but is scared away by some of the guides. Baba Steve revels in content as we show him some of the GoPro footage from the previous day.

We go to bed excited for tomorrow, crossing our fingers to see the extremely rare and elusive Black Rhino.

Day 7- Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara NP (by Ryan)

Ngorongoro Crater is considered the one place in Tanzania every Safari goer must visit. At ~20km wide it is one of the world’s largest calderas, and contains forests, wetlands, saltpans, a lake and a very high diversity of wildlife. Its blue-green vistas are hard to describe in words and the pictures simply do not do this crater justice.

We wake early to beat the morning bustle of cruisers into the crater. The descent in is steep and Baba Steve puts the Cruiser into 4Low on the windy, red dirt road. We are instantly greeted by hundreds of wildebeest and zebras.

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Cory Bustards, Africa’s heaviest flying bird, walk amongst the grass looking for some easy food. We follow the right wall along the the bottom into dense forest. Vervet monkeys chew the fibre out of the acacia horns.

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Steve jumps out to pee and change the GoPro battery as a large elephant comes out of the bushes not 10m in front of us. “Steve! You must get back inside!” Baba Steve yells. Steve doesn’t have time to finish as he jumps back in. We catch our first glimpse of a Black Rhino a couple kms out on the plains towards the crater’s centre; barely visible with binoculars. We drive on and I spot a mature male lion walking diagonally towards our path straight ahead. Baba Steve quickly drives to intercept and we get to drive directly along side it for 0.5km.

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It does not take any interest to us, though it does look take a second look at the tour group out of their vehicles having lunch at a rest stop. We wave to them frantically, and as soon as one of the ladies spots the lion beside us the whole group rushes back inside their Cruiser.

We continue onto the wetlands bordering the forests, spotting gazelles, saddle-billed storks, cattle egrets, sacred ibis, and black-headed herons to name only a few. 100’s of wildebeest form a straight line across the grassy plains and 10000’s of lesser flamingoes eat algae on Lake Magadi.

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But our attention is soon focused on the large grouping of Cruisers a few kms ahead. Our curiosity draws us nearer, and in the distance is a black rhino, no 2 black rhinos, a mature female and her infant, approaching the rapidly growing line of Cruisers. “They are going to cross the road,” Baba Steve says as we drive towards the cluster of Cruisers. It seems every Safari Cruiser in Tanzania is here, all jostling for the best position as the rhinos approach. Black rhinos, unlike white rhinos, are very apprehensive and can get aggressive in an instant if provoked. The mother approaches a solid wall of steel, rubber, glass, and tourists, gets to within ~50m, then backs off. She does this 3 or 4 times and moves down the line each time, the Cruisers following their every move. “They won’t be able to pass here,” sighs Baba Steve. “She is too nervous around vehicles.” So we wait for 0.5hr as the rhinos move further away, attempting to cross the road every few 100m. We all agree we need to help them pass so we drive to the end of the wall of Cruisers. The rhinos start to turn around and head back towards us; the Cruisers follow. Baba Steve signals to the first car that approaches to stop in the other lane, blocking the road for the mass of Cruisers approaching. In 10 mins, we experience something I will never forget, nor will Steve or Baba Steve. The mother and her young cross the road behind us, only 1 Cruiser is closer, I snap photos and take video in complete awwwww. I am lost for words.

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There are 20-40 black rhinos left in Ngorongoro- the exact number is kept secret- and that same estimate exists only in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This mother and her young represent some of the very last of their kind, hunted to near extinction for the one, completely illogical reason, of their horn being worth more than gold to some Arabic princes who believe it cures cancer and is an amazing aphrodisiac. Baba Steve tells us that there are 5 watch towers surrounding the crater, each equipped with a telescope and radio, constantly monitoring the whereabouts and security of every black rhino in the crater. And yet, in 2007, a poacher carrying a silenced rifle managed to sneak in and kill one, cut off its horn and escape. “Corruption,” Baba Steve says, “is most likely to blame. We need people with a good heart to protect these animals, not those who feed from greed.” We start our way out of the Crater and see a spotted hyena on a fresh kill, a black-backed jackal and white-backed vultures watch closely. A golden jackal passes us soon after having smelled the torn flesh.

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We arrive at Jambo Camp in Mto wa Mbu (River of Mosquitoes), the village bordering Lake Manyara NP, around 3PM and relax for the rest of the afternoon; soaking in the sights and sounds from the past 7 days. We meet a Slovenian couple who was also in the crater that day but did not see the rhinos cross the road. They did however see the cheetah hunt that day in Serengeti. Marabu storks nest in the tree tops above and drop some of the days catch from Lake Manyara on the lawn. We go to bed with the feeling of complete satisfaction; what else could we see?

Day 8- Lake Manyara NP to Arusha (by Ryan)

Lake Manyara NP is a small park in comparison to the others we visited and is often underrated for high diversity of birds, tree-climbing lions, and multiple types of habitat bordering the western escarpment of the Rift Valley.

We get to the park shortly after 8AM, and start through the lush forest of acacia and mahogany trees; all fed by a shallow water table flowing from Ngorongoro. A young male elephant peacefully eats leaves on the roadside, baboon troops are everywhere, young ones play carelessly among the trees. Baba Steve barks and shows his teeth at the young ones jokingly, scaring the heck out of some while others just stare in confusion.

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A blue monkey licks sap from a bleeding tree, vervet monkeys cause a ruckus in the canopy overhead. An eagle (the exact species I forget) drinks from a stream.

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We cross a perpendicular path on the road ahead, 4-6 inches wide and smooth. Only one pair of tire tracks have crossed over it. “This is a python path,” says Baba Steve. “Must have crossed very recently.” We look in the nearby bushes for any signs but see nothing. He estimates 3-4m long. We continue on to grassland where wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, antelope, and giraffe graze.

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We get back to camp for a hot lunch and learn from the Slovenians that the python was indeed 4m long and had a fresh meal inside. We take a group photo with the Cruiser before departing Jambo camp and head back to home base in Arusha.

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Next we are off to the island of Zanzibar…

All the best,

Ryan & Steve

To Kili & Back Again

Well, it’s been a surreal 8 days; back at Masai Campsite relaxing in the bar waiting for our pizzas. Power flickers on and off; the last remaining day light flows through the open walls and skylights. We’ve had our first shower in a week, and our boots and clothes are drying on the bars in the window frames of our double room.

Day 1: To Mti Mkubwa

Climbing Kili in 8 days is nowhere near an impossible feat, but trying to fall asleep with booming tunes blasting through the campsite till early morning last Friday was. Masai is a hopping place for locals and foreigners alike on weekend nights and it was hard to leave the bar at 11 but we knew we had a long first day ahead of us. We wake at 5:45AM, pack our bags and scarf down eggs and bacon (I like this bacon!) before meeting our driver, Wilson, who will take us to the starting pt. Along with us is our cook, Syprion (nicknamed Baba Jackie), and one of our porters (did not speak English).

We stop about half an hour into the drive to pick our our guide, Felise, and continue on until Wilson realises they have forgotten to pack our winter sleeping bags (We told them we had bags for the tent site back at Masai). So we stop in a small village and wait…and wait…and wait. We listen contently to school children singing across the street; those too young for school wave as they walk by our Land Cruiser. One boy stops and asks for money but instead Steve buys him a Coke; he kindly accepts. Felise told Steve afterwards that he didn’t favor Coke at all. Many people have Honda bikes that are actually a Chinese knockoff (Wilson told us) and the road is a bustle of these, Dala Dalas (minibuses), trucks, and other Safari groups. Road laws need not apply here, drivers pass whenever they please and the speed limit is whatever you can handle. The sleeping bags finally arrive and we set off to the Park Gate, high up on the Western slope facing Kili. Porters are eagerly waiting for a job as one Safari cruiser after another pull up to the gate. Felise, our guide, sets off to find 5 porters and an assistant guide while we sign our lives away at the gate. All gear is weighed in and recorded; porters are allowed 20kg max, we are allowed 15kg, which the porters are suppose to carry but Steve and I each agree we will lug our own share up. We estimate that with 3-4L of water each, our payloads are ~30-35lbs.

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We leave the park gate with all 5 porters, 2 guides and the cook crammed in the back seat. We drive on dirt roads that tranform from smooth to rough to seemingly undrivable but Wilson proves to be as skillful a driver as a guide teaching us about the country side. Farmers who inhabit these slopes surrounding Kili are paid by the Gov’t to plant Cypress pine, a very valuable timber, in their fields. They may grow crops in between these rows of cypress until the trees grow to tall and block out the sun. What happens to the farmers then? They must move to other land, Wilson says, and start a new farm. The country needs the timber to build and cutting down the remaining natural forest can only be done with special permits. “Soon people will use iron and concrete to build houses instead of timber” says Wilson, “it is getting very expensive to build with wood.”

We drive onto the Shira Plateau, into the outer border of rainforest and Steve and I are taken aback by the sheer lushness and density of it. Wilson drops us off and Baba Jackie, our cook, gives us each a large Tupperware full of food; hard boiled eggs, tomato and avocado sandwiches, chips, a chocolate bar, and fruit punch. Any doubts of bad food disappear. We finally start climbing at 3:15PM, and the entirely new sights and sounds give us energy to absorb this seemingly new world.

P1060137 P1060143 Felise points out White Colubus (excuse the spelling) monkeys in the canopy overhead and I try my best to film them running through the trees; trees that all seem to be connected by vines and moss. We arrive at camp at 6PM to find our tent set up and dinner ready; potato and leak soup, breaded talapia with lime, spiced potatoes with peppers and tomato sauce. We couldn’t eat it all but Felise assured us that the leftovers would get eaten. He is a short, small build kind of guy, early 40’s, and leads climbs of Kili every 2 weeks. This is his 50th time. When home in Moshi, he is a carpenter and farmer, and says that climbing is the best way to make money quickly. He claims he has never been sick, never had a headache, and never got frostbite. We go to bed shortly after 8PM, full and exhausted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: To Shira 1 (3840m)

P1060160 We emerge out of the jungle mid morning into 6 foot high lengthy shrubs; well rested and energized, though Steve didn’t sleep well, and have lunch up on a ridge overlooking the valley we ascended from. To say the path is dusty would be an understatement; our pants, boots and hands get covered within an hour of leaving the jungle behind. We arrive at Shira Camp 1 at 1:25PM, the first group in. Steve tries to catch up on sleep and takes his first Diamox for his headache while I film with the glidetrack. The altitude is not helping his sinuses. We have 20 Diamox for the next 6 days, and I assure him that we will have enough. I crawl into the tent at 8PM, 1.5hrs after sunset, cold and tired.

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Day 3: To Shira 2 (3895m)

We wake up to condensation dripping in our tent. Steve woke up a few times in the night to go pee (side effect of Diamox) but his headache is gone so spirits are high. We leave Shira 1 last at 9:15AM and set off at a quick pace. P1060572

We pass a group of 18 Londoners, all of Indian descent, who are very excited when I point the camera at them. They nickname us the Television Crew. We pass another group of 4, 2 of which are Canadian (they asked when they saw our flag patches), from Calgary and NS. P1060597

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We pass other groups, some say hello, others say nothing. We stride into Shira Camp 2 as the first group at 12:30, I have a worsening headache. Ravens with white necks scavenge for scraps around the site.

P1060632 A very fancy outhouse with tile floors and walls greets us. At 3895m, Shira 2 is the last stop for vehicle rescue. Felise takes us for a short walk to Shira Cave, not much of a cave compared to those on the Bruce Peninsula.

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He tells us that climbers used to camp in another cave just like this until it collapsed a few years back; killing 5. 3 to 4 people die each year on the mountain he says, porters and climbers, usually of altitude sickness. I go to bed at 7PM, after taking my first Diamox, feeling like death, trying hard to keep down the little supper I had. Steve feels much better.

P1060659 The moon rises over a cloudless Kili.

Day 4: To Barranco Camp (3900m)

If there ever was such a thing as a Miracle Drug, Diamox would be it in my books. Woke up at 6:30AM with no headache to speak of. We have a long day of acclimatizing ahead, hiking up to Lava Tower (4600m) then back down to Barranco Camp which is sheltered by the cliffs of the Breach Wall. Leaving Shira 2 at 8:45, we arrive at Lava Tower by ~12:30 and have lunch while talking to some friendly New Yorkers (moved from France) who were curious about the camera setup. How much memory does it eat through in a day? How do you store it? How much does it weigh?

P1060714 We arrive at Barranco at 2:30PM; there are 100’s of tents scattered on this bluff overlooking a truly tremendous ravine. This is the site where many of the routes converge and bottleneck up to the summit. Steve tries to nap while I take the glidetrack and film.

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Melt water from the glaciers run down the left flank of camp, cactuses display their foliage in the last hours of sun, tiny wasps mate amongst the blossoming flowers of one 4 foot high plant. Steve got up a couple of hours later unable to sleep, we met some Kiwis (New Zealanders) who are a real laugh; they have 21 porters for 5 people; complete with a dining tent and chairs. Other groups have portable toilets to top the scale of luxury. We go to sleep with a nearly full moon rising over the cloudless peak. Kenya’s Mt. Meru hovers off in the distance. Life is good.

Day 5: To Karanga Valley (~3900m)

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A short hike today starts off as a long one as we start to climb the Breach Wall; a sheer face some 300 to 400m tall of rough and nubbly volcanic rock. 100’s of porters and climbers scramble up in single file, step by step; like stop and go traffic on the 401. We whisper to Felise, “shortcuts” and he darts up passing groups of climbers and porters. Following the Kiwis’ advice, we each take a 1/2 Diamox at breakfast and we feel great all day. At ~12:30 we arrive at Karanga; high above the clouds and almost level with the peak of Mt. Meru. For lunch, Baba Jackie prepares a hot lunch of fired chicken legs, cole saw, and the best damn potato wedges we’ve ever had. I draped the solar panel over our tent and charged 2 dead camera batteries as we hiked around. The sunset spoiled us with deep orange and purple but for some reason the timer for timelapse on my camera ceases to work at altitude.

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Day 6: To Barafu Camp (4600m)

The summit grows forever closer. Like the light at the end of tunnel, our ultimate goal is clear of clouds as we exit our tent at 7:30AM for breakfast. My appetite was healthy, Steve’s not so much as he struggles to sleep over the last few nights. His sinuses are fully clogged, but his spirits remain high as we leave camp at 9:15 at a quick pace. We pass at least 10 groups, many now calling us “The Canadians.” We get to Barafu Camp shortly after 12 and have lunch with the Kiwi’s on top of this bluff directly below the main route to the summit.

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The view is nothing short of spectacular. Baba Jackie manages to find a space to set up camp 500 feet below our lunch stop and before we descend we place a bet with the Kiwi’s; first to the Summit gets a free round of drinks paid for by the losers. They are leaving camp at 11PM tonight; we leave at 1AM. Steve attempts to nap while I charge the last of the camera batteries and Steve’s helmet cam. My netbook ceases to boot and I hope that it’s simply the altitude. No more backing up photos and video for the rest of the climb. I take a walk across the scree slopes and over rough volcanic rock left of our camp and stumble across small spiders running amongst the scree. What could they possibly eat up here? A little farther on I come across what looks like a grasshopper, living at an altitude void of all grass. Some cactus trees exist and moss manages to grow in the shady shelter of small caves under overhanging rock shelves.

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Back at camp, I join Steve in the tent; the sun is warm, the breeze is cool, and Steve’s farts are the worst he or I have ever smelled (Steve laughed the whole time). I go to sleep at ~8PM, trying to catch 4hrs of rest before we wake at 12 for our Summit bid.

Day 7: Up to Summit (5895m) & Down to Mweka Camp (3100m)

I wake at 10 to 12; the condensation in our tent has formed a patchwork of frost crystals on the ceiling. I wake Steve and we slowly put on every piece of warm clothing we have, slip out of the tent and have porridge, tea, and biscuits before departing at 1:15AM. The moonlight shines bright over our path and Felise notions for us to conserve our headlamps. My camera and shoulder rig are sheltered from the ice wind under my outer shell and 2 extra batteries are kept warm against my chest. I carry my camera bag on my back with energy bars, Steve carries our supply of water, sunblock, his HD helmet cam and a few snacks. Looking up at the final ascent, we make out long lines of headlamps slowly pushing upwards. Our pace is quick; we are the last to leave Barafu Camp (4600m) and will have to push hard if we are to catch up to the pack. The trail is steep; zigzagging up scree slopes, every step up is a quarter step back. We pass the first group roughly 1hr in, then we pass another, another; half way there and we are roughly in the middle of the pack. We only stop for a drink and pee break, the heat is robbed from our bodies if we stop for more than a few minutes. Steve estimates it’s –30C with the wind chill, I reckon –20 to –25C. Some groups mumble as we pass and refuse to move from at all to give us passing space, others are enthusiastic and cheer us on. We pass the Kiwis somewhere between 3 30 – 4 AM but it is no longer a race; the air is thin, every 2 steps require a deep breath. We give them moral support and continue on. We pass a few climbers that have simply given it all they have but must surrender to the mountain and return to thicker air. The last couple hundred meters are an easy grade, though the thin air makes it feel like we just ran a marathon. At 20 to 6AM, September 24th, Steve and I reach the Summit. I am filled with mixed emotions; excitement, fulfillment, joy, and everlasting respect for this mountain. Through our ski masks we have gleaming smiles. The sun does not rise for another 30 mins or so and our time on top is short. We are 5th or 6th to make it up and take flash pictures with Felise and our assistant guide Beni in front of the infamous Kili sign. We are on top of Africa, 5895m or ~19830ft up, and we feel great. Steve takes out his haki sack and we attempt, perhaps, the world’s highest game of haki sack. I give the camera to Beni to film; with some practice he could work in Hollywood. As we start to descend the sun illuminates the eastern horizon with a scarlet pink; warming our faces and setting the glaciers aglow. 10 mins down it emerges and warms our bodies. We pass the Kiwis; they congratulate us and we tell them “almost there, you can make it!” We descend at a rapid pace; our multiple layers get too warm but we continue down; too tired to bother taking them off. The scree slopes work to our advantage this time around and Steve straps on the helmet cam to his chest as we jump and slide down the slopes. We make it back to Barafu Camp at 8:10AM. Time to summit= 4 hrs, 25mins. Time to descend= 2 hrs.

We get to hours of rest before we start the long descend to Mweka Camp (3100m) at ~12:30PM. My bag feels very heavy and my knees feel the pressure with every downwards step. 1hr in I shift some weight to Steve’s bag. We make it into camp at ~3:15PM, exhausted and soar. Our porters had picked a very nice sheltered spot for our tent and I wash my feet with a bowl of hot water for the first time in 4 days. We have our last supper made by Baba Jackie; soup, rice, delicious stew and crepes. In the last moments of dusk, the entire crew lines up and we tip everyone. 35 US for each porter, 70 for the assistant guide and cook, and 100 US for our guide, Felise. This more than doubles their wages for the 8 days of hard climbing and Steve and I can tell it is money they so dearly cherish. Beni, our assistant guide, is saving up for 2 years to attend school, where he will learn English and cooking skills so he too can become a professional cook or head guide. They all sing and dance the Kilimanjaro song (wish we knew the words), we all cheer and clap, then Steve and I hit the foam pad at 8PM, exhausted, yet full and completely satisfied with our accomplishments.

Everyone is going to hate me for this, but I shot all the summit photos in RAW so I cannot post them on here. I will try to convert them ASAP. You’re going to have to trust us on this on.

Day 8: Back to Masai Campsite, Arusha

P1070326We leave Mweka at 7:15AM, all down hill, from shrub like trees to the dense, lush jungle forest we experienced on Day 1 from the western approach. Steve and Felise raced down as Beni and I stop to film Capuchin monkeys, some of which were babies, playing in the trees overhead not 40 feet away.

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I arrive at the bottom at ~10AM, Steve and Felise have already signed us out at the gate, and we say goodbye to the climbers from the US and UK that we met. Most simply came one week to climb then return home to work. They wish us all the best on our journeys. We walk a bit further into a village where a Land Cruiser is waiting for us. Passing children ask us for chocolate but unfortunately we have none to offer. Baba Jackie buys us each a coke as we sit and politely fend off vendors as the porters sort out a salary conflict with the office via cell phone. “Sorry, absolutely no money left,” we truthfully tell the vendors. We had spent it all on the tipping. Some have beautiful oil paintings of Kili and the Masai tribe, others have green and black Safari hats, some even have little toy Land Cruisers. “It’s OK, no money, no problem, how bout trade? I like your glasses,” one of the boys said. “Only pair I have,” I reply.

We drive back to Arusha, have lunch at a local restaurant with American music videos playing on the TV, and stop to withdraw some much needed cash. Taking out the maximum allowed withdrawal of $400 000 Tanzanian Shillings makes Steve and I feel like millionaires; even though it’s only ~$280Cdn. We arrive back at Masai Campsite and Schola, our assistant who has planned every day of our itinerary, has booked us a quaint double room instead of the tent (works out to be cheaper then renting a tent). She congratulates us, hands us a Kilimanjaro beer, and takes us to the man to talk to for getting our thilthy clothes washed and ready for our Safari in 2 days. Tonight we celebrate and rest, mostly rest, and dream of the amazing experiences we’ve had over the past week on Kilimanjaro.

La La Salama (Sleep Well)

Ryan & Steve

Well it’s been a looong couple of days but we’re finally here; living up every second of luxury at the Karama lodge in Arusha until we move to the Masai Campsite tomorrow.

Our 9hr layover in Amsterdam was eventful; took the train from the airport to Central Station, from which pt. we did a loop, following the canal south to Dam square then east through the markets and finally north up to the Nemo Science Centre. With only 2-3hrs of sleep between the 2 of us, we were pretty tired but the hustle and excitement of the city fueled us.

Everywhere were bikes, not expensive bikes, but these 2 wheeled, retro style, commuter bikes, 10’s thousands of them, and bike parking garages were everywhere. People were in business suits, casual wear, fashion escapade, you name it, but all were completely at home on these cheap and fun self powered vehicles. And guess what….not one overweight person, anywhere. I mean if we could do this to our cities in the summer months; think of the huge positives. Biking is a very social means of transport; people are always interacting with one another; weather it’s simple hand gestures or hand waves, or even just a smile; I really felt that you were a part of that city when you rode a bike. Needless to say, we did almost get creamed a couple of times crossing the numerous bike lanes.

We grabbed a bite at a little deli/bistro (seemed cheap for Europe), I took some time lapses in the Square. As soon as we made it back to the airport Steve passed out in McDonald’s until the manager asked us to leave.

The trip to Nairobi was smooth and we managed to catch some more shuteye but not nearly enough. Attempting to stay awake for our 2 hr wait in the airport was like trying to enjoy watching The Last Airbender; very very hard.

But we made it, and our shuttle guide, Hassan, was there waiting for us. 1 hr later, we made it to Arusha and settled in at Karama lodge. Small, thatched roof cabins are spread out on the terraced slopes overlooking the valley below. SO many new trees and plants that we truly feel like we’re on another planet. Bamboo is the only familiar species we can name. 

We had a delicious meal of lamb kabobs and fired calamari; Steve and I both agreed it was the most tender lamb we’ve ever had. I ordered a “Kilimanjaro” beer (thought it was fitting) for only 3000 TSH (shillings) or about 1.50 US. Our waiter, a young guy, joked with us, saying he could fluently speak Spanish and Italian after 4 or 5 of them.

Tomorrow we are organizing for the climb and abolishing all reaming jetlag. Hassan will also show us around Arusha and check out some local restaurants.

Ciao,

Ryan & Steve

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