Friday Sept 8, 2006.
We packed up and drove to the Microtel hotel near the Denver Airport. Our gear was packed in four large North Face bright yellow duffels. We each had one duffel intended for the climb and one for the safari but I had to put some climbing gear in the safari duffel to even out the loading.
Saturday Sept 9th.
We get up at 4:15 AM and ride the 4:45 hotel bus to the Denver airport. The lines at the airport are short at 5 AM so we move quickly to the gate area. It's nice not to have to rush. Our bags are checked through to Kilimanjaro International Airport. We fly to Kennedy changing planes at Chicago. At Kennedy we take the Airtrain to terminal 4 (international departures) and have plenty of time to get some food and relax before boarding the KLM Boeing 777 to Amsterdam. It takes about an hour to taxi to the runway for our intended 6 PM departure. That's the longest I've ever had but in spite of the delay (I'm guessing they anticipate the long lines of planes leaving at this time), everything seems to be back on time from there on. After watching some movies we both manage to get in a nice snooze on this flight. The ear plugs and inflatable neck pillows seem to really help.
Sunday Sept 10th
We arrive in Amsterdam at 7 AM. Mike Strong recognizes us as we stroll to our gate. We get together have some coffee and wander around the terminal until our plane leaves. We arrive in Tanzania at 7:45 PM fairly refreshed as we managed to sleep some on both of the KLM flights. We quickly get our visas ($50 each) but then discover to our dismay that our baggage did not make it. This is a huge problem as we are to leave for our Kilimanjaro climb in the morning and we have very little in our day packs that we used as carryon baggage. A driver from Good Earth Tours is waiting at the airport to pick us up and we have about an hour long drive to our hotel Le Jacaranda in Arusha. Unfortunately we're treated to music from a nearby bar until about 2 AM. Our ear plugs (worth their weight in gold) let us get a fairly good night's sleep in spite of the music.
Sunday Sept 11th
The hotel served us a nice breakfast at 7 AM. Lynn was already there and was having good time chatting with some of the other travelers. After breakfast we met with our guide Amani S. Minja. He said our baggage would probably arrive the next day and we should start immediately on our climb. Since we had only a light jacket and the shorts and t-shirt we wearing on the plane, we rented a parka, gaiters, pants and sleeping bag ($43 each) to handle the first few nights until our gear (hopefully) arrives. We were joined by three German medical students (working in a Coptic hospital in Nairobi) who would also be joining us, They were Holger Heidenreich (Holgerxx82@web.de), Daniel Hilger (email@example.com), and Nidhi Kulamadayil (also using the last nameThomas) (firstname.lastname@example.org). (The Germans rented all their gear from Good Earth but Nidhi had problems with the boots that she obtained.) They were a great addition to the trip and we had good time trading stories with them! The Germans had their own guide and porters and were therefore somewhat separated from our group but we were able to hike and socialize with them. This gave me chance to chat in German which is always fun for me. Our group of four had 8 porters, a helper, a cook, two assistant guides (Rodrick and Alfred) and Amani as our head guide. This worked out very well because Lynn would typically zoom ahead and she could have her own guide. Among the Germans, Nidhi would be slower so she also was able to have her own guide. We found Good Earth Tours to be well organized and amazingly flexible in accommodating the individual needs of their clients. They were able to accommodate any special needs of the climbers and everyone was able to go at their own pace. (This was clearly not the case based on what we saw with many of the other groups climbing Kili) Many of the other groups were composed of large numbers of clients (in some cases more than 30) where everyone was forced to go at the slowest pace of the group. (I would strongly advise anyone climbing Kili to make sure they don't get stuck in such a group. This type of group was particularly horrible on summit day.)
From the hotel we had a one-hour bus ride to Machame gate of Kilimanjaro. On the way we stopped and we each picked up 4.5 liters of water. I got toothpaste and a small flask of vodka to use in place of our missing hand sanitizer. It took quite a while to sign in at the Machame gate (elevation 5900 ft / 1800 m MSL).
It's a mystery to me why this process takes so long but this was typical at most of the national park gates we entered. We ate lunch while we waited for things to get going. At about 1 PM, we finally started hiking (even though the paper work still hadn't been completed at this time!).
The start of the trail is tropical and parts are extremely muddy and slippery. We had been warned by friends that had climbed Kili that the mud would get splattered all the way to our waist and that we should carry an extra pair of pants to replace the pair worn the first day but the mud fortunately wasn't that bad (we didn't even bother to put on our gaiters). Since Dianne and I weren't wearing our boots but rather the hiking shoes we wore on the plane, we took extra care not to go too deep in the mud and worked hard to keep our hiking shoes as clean as possible. Daniel lent me one his hiking poles which helped me greatly avoiding getting too deep in the mud. As expected it was warm and very humid during the 4,000 foot climb to Machame camp. I was sweating quite a bit in my shorts and t-shirt! I'm glad I wasn't wearing long pants and long shirt-sleeves as many of the hikers were doing. Even though we were all taking anti-malaria pills and wearing insect repellent, I didn't notice any mosquitoes.
We went extremely slowly (for us) but the guides all said "pole pole" (slowly, slowly) in an attempt to slow us down. Pole pole is their mantra to clients they think are going too fast but we're in much better shape than most of the clients climbing Kilimanjaro and we're already going as slowly as we can stand. Lynn is even faster and zooms way ahead of everyone else; Amoni thinks Lynn is going way too fast but we explain that Lynn was the strongest member of the "Women's Everest Expedition" and had been to the South Summit of Everest. Upon hearing this, Amani and the guides no longer say "Pole Pole" to Lynn or the rest of us. We reach Machame camp at 5 PM (it took us four hours to complete the so-called 7-hour hike.) At Machame camp (now moorland rather than tropical jungle) Dianne and I climb in to our new and large Eureka tent. It was nice to have so much room for our gear inside the tent. I did surgery on an empty 1.5 liter water bottle to fabricate a p-bottle for the night.
It was surprisingly cold at the 10,000 foot elevation of Machame camp by the time we hit the sack at about 7:30.. It took me a while to warm up my toes in my (15 degree F rated) sleeping bag. Because of the late start we had a rather late but extremely good supper. I'm impressed by the quality of the food that we get on the mountain. (Getting good and sanitary food is a major concern on a trip like this.)
The porters tended to stay up late talking and playing their radio so I found ear plugs to be important to get a good nights sleep. This was our second night in Tanzania so I still wasn't totally accustomed to the time change and woke up at about midnight. I listened to my MP3 for a while which helped quiet my mind and I slept well for the remainder of the night.
Tuesday, Sept 12th-Machame camp (10,000 ft).
After breakfast Amani called the office and informed us that our duffels had arrived at the airport. We were overjoyed! Later we learned that only two of the four duffels had made it; (big disappointment!). The two duffels should arrive at our camp some time that evening.
The vegetation and views were quite different that the other mountains we had climbed. As usual, Lynn sped out ahead of most of the group. Holger made the mistake of trying to keep up with Lynn and was totally exhausted and had a headache by the time we arrived at Shira Camp at 1PM.
(View from inside our tent at Shira Camp)
We had plenty of time to relax and fed the ravens some of our leftover lunch. We had afternoon drinks and snacks and went for a walk including a visit to the Shira caves before supper. As usual, supper is great; we're all delighted to be getting such good food on the mountain. Amazingly each meal includes some fresh vegetables and fruits. At just aft 7 PM, as Dianne and I were settling in for the night, our duffels arrived. Unfortunately, it was both of our safari duffels! What a disappointment! This did provide me with my boots, protein bars, and hiking poles so it wasn't a total loss but we were missing all our cold weather gear for the climb to the summit.
Wednesday, Sept 13th Shira Camp (12,750 ft). After breakfast Amani calls
Arusha to see the status of our two missing bags. He reported that only one of the two missing duffels had arrived so we asked them to send up that duffel and some boots (for Dianne), down jacket, balaclava and mittens as well. Everyone had had a good nights sleep except for Holger and Nidhi. (They both had headaches and trouble sleeping and seemed not to be hydrating enough so I offered them some suggestions to help with the altitude acclimatization.) We started hiking at 8:45 and reached the Lava Tower around noon. It was a beautiful hike. We climbed the Lava Tower (really fun class 3 or easy class 4 that I'd highly recommend taking the time to climb) to find Lynn already at the summit (15,400 ft). We had some snacks, took photos and then returned to the base of the tower just as we passed Holger and Daniel who were on their way up the tower. We were impressed that the two of them were climbing the tower since they had little experience doing any climbing.
(Having lunch in front of the Lava Tower)
We ate some lunch by the tower and then hiked down and up (about 1,000 ft) and down again to Barranco camp (13,150 ft). The clouds were moving in at that point and it was eerie descending back down through the clouds to the camp.
Interesting vegetation on the way to Barranco Camp (Mike, Dianne and Amani)
We reached camp at about 2:30 (in the fog) and found afternoon drinks and hot popcorn waiting for us.
Thursday Sept 14th, Barranco camp (13,150 ft). I stopped by the German's camp and learned that Holger and Nidhi seemed to be doing much better. Nidhi was still having problems with her boots but a new pair was on its way along with our duffels. We had our usual 7:30 breakfast and headed out of camp. There we encountered the Barranco wall. This was actually an 800 ft, fun, class 2 or easy class 3 (no exposure or fall potential) climb but was extremely slow because many of the large groups had individuals that had problems moving up this wall. This meant we had to wait a lot and try to pass the slower or motionless groups. On the wall (as was typical on the hike) we yielded the trail to porters (typically carrying large unwieldy loads). This further slowed things down and caused Lynn and I to get separated from Dianne and Mike who were ahead of us. At one point, as Lynn and I were about to overtake a slower group by taking an alternate route around them, one fellow blocked our path by straddling the opening with his butt in Lynn's face forcing us to wait while his group slowly made their way upwards. When Lynn and I passed a group of Americans, a girl sarcastically said "hurry hurry" but Lynn and I were already going at a pace much slower than our normal pace and were separated from Dianne and Mike who were quite a ways ahead of us. After reaching the top of the wall we stopped to take some photos of the view and then found we were descending for a height that exceeded the climb we had just completed.
After descending it went upwards again and then back down and upwards to arrive at Karranga Camp at about noon. The Mweka route to the summit joins our trail near there and we found to our delight the not one but both of our duffels had been delivered to Karanga camp along with a new pair of boots for Nidhi. It was really nice to have a guide company that could provide this type of support! We had to quickly repack our duffels so that one pair could be taken back downhill. We then wolfed down some lunch and set out on the steady uphill climb to Barafu (means "ice" in Swahili) camp.
Barafu camp at 15,200 ft is in a very rocky and vertical area. We camped down on one of the lower areas of the camp which was nice since it kept us out of all the traffic and noise. We ate supper promptly at 5 and hit the sack before 7. The plan was to get up at 11:30 PM and be hiking by midnight. The Germans were slower so they were getting up earlier than us. We both got our packs as ready as we could for the climb before trying to sleep. I replaced our headlamp batteries with lithium AAA cells (Lithium cells do much better in cold temperatures) and put fresh batteries in both our cameras. I couldn't fall asleep at 7 but Dianne managed to nod off some time after about 7:30. I read and listened to my MP3 and dozed off around 8:30.
At 11 PM I was already
awake. Dianne also woke up before 11:30 so we started to get ready early. At
11:30 they brought us some hot chocolate (nice way to get woken up in the
middle of the night.) We got up and met
Mike before midnight. Lynn was planning to leave an hour behind us since she
was the fastest. I was wearing my base layer, wind shirt, thin fleece jacket
and Gore-Tex shell on my top. and thermal underwear, Schoeller pants and thin
activent shell on my bottom. It was 22
degrees F at the tent when we started hiking.
Unfortunately, Amani, our fearless leader, was not yet up but he was not
far behind and were started hiking at 12:09.
Five minutes after we started we all had to stop to unzip all our layers
(too hot). We were disappointed to see
that there were several large groups ahead of us. One group had about 30 climbers. We quickly
caught up with these groups and started to pass them--it was hard work to
suddenly do a sprint to quickly get around these groups but it was well worth
it When climbing at this altitude it's
particularly important to maintain a steady pace. You don't want to go too fast
but if you start out too slow you may get cold. There was a section where we
couldn't get around a large group and it was agonizing. In addition to moving
very slowly, the groups would totally stop for about 30 seconds every minute or
two. Arggh! Ultimately we passed all these groups. We took drink stops every hour and each time
we stopped I would zip up one more of my layers. My toes were cold and about half way up I put
a chemical warmer pack in my socks to help keep my feet warm. We passed Nidhi (the Germans had apparently
started much earlier than us) who was sitting down resting at about 17,000
feet. She had never done any hiking
before this at all and we were all amazed at how well she had done and her
super spirit (she was always so cheerful and a delight to be around in spite of
having problems with the altitude and her boots) . We passed Holger and Daniel a short time
later. We reached the crater rim (Stella Point, 19,000 ft) at about 5:10
AM) By this time I had zipped all my
layers but was getting rather cold.
Dianne and I both put on our down jackets at this point (no pun intended
We hiked along the crater rim and reached Uhuru Peak (19,340 ft or 5895 meters MSL) at 6:06. This was perfect timing for the sunrise! It was just starting to get light and I managed to get sunrise shots at about 6:15. Holger and Daniel arrived a short time later. We learned that Nidhi had turned back before reaching the summit. I got a photo of Holger and Daniel opening their cans of Kilimanjaro beer on the summit. I spent a lot of time at the summit sign.
("Africa' highest point...etc.) taking obligatory summit pictures (for our group and then several others). This was tough since my fingers quickly froze each time I took off my down mitts to operate the different cameras. By the time I got done shooting pictures at Uhuru Peak, Dianne and I noticed that Lynn and Mike had already left.
The descent was dusty but really went quickly since we were able to plunge step in the dirt and scree quickly downhill. About 10 minutes below Stella point I was already too warm to keep my down jacket on and had to remove it. The descent is very dusty and I'd advise a dust mask unless you can be sure you are separated by a good deal from the person ahead of you. We have a pretty good cross wind and I manage to hang about 100 feet behind Dianne so the dust isn't too much of a problem. By the time we drop to 16,000 ft., I have stripped down to my base layer on my top (unfortunately I can't strip off my Capilene long underwear).
It's downright hot when we reach camp (8:36 AM). I notice that in spite of avoiding the dust clouds I am totally covered with fine dust. We get some food and then retreat to the tent to catch some brief shut-eye. I think I get maybe one-half or an hour of sleep but it makes a big difference.
I feel reenergized when I get up for some lunch at 10:30. By noon, it's cold again and there's a light drizzle as we hike out of camp. In about an hour the sun is out again and I have taken off my Gore-Tex parka and am back to just base layers; It's pretty fast going downhill but the trail is really dusty and I wish I had a dust mask handy. Dianne uses a bandana to as a dust mask pretty effectively. We make it down to Mweka Camp around 3 PM. This is at slightly over 10,000 feet MSL but it's much warmer than when we were at the 10,000 foot Machame Camp. You can really feel that you are now again in a tropical zone with all the heat and humidity (and bugs but fortunately no mosquitoes). Because it's only another 2 to 3 hours to the Mweka gate, it's tempting to continue to the gate rather than spending the night in Mweka camp but do not do this. We had some extremely fit friends do this (more fit than we are) that really regretted doing so. Remember it's another 4,000 feet of descent on an already long day!
Although there seem to be quite a few bugs, there is nothing that bites and no mosquitoes here so we don't don't bother with insect repellent (we haven't used any repellent on this trip except for the very first day). The guides confirm that there shouldn't be any mosquitoes on this part of the route even down to the Mweka gate. We hit the sack early and everyone sleeps like a log.
Saturday Sept 16th Mweka Camp (10,170 ft). We pack up and have our usual 7:30 breakfast. It's already pretty warm. The Germans are already hiking at 7 AM (reportedly because they are slower). After breakfast we pay our tips to the porters, cooks and guides. I give an extra big tip to the cook who did a super job providing us with tasty food on the mountain. This puts everyone together at one time so this gives me my only chance to get a group photo with everyone included. It's already warm when we set out downhill (hiking in T-shirts and shorts). You can really feel the heat and humidity here in the tropical zone. It's a nice change of pace to view the lush tropical scenery. Unlike the Machame trail, this trail never gets really muddy although there are few slippery spots. There's a really nice view of Kilimanjaro about 15 minutes out of camp. Near the bottom, the trail turns into a road. We are constantly stopping to look at interesting birds, vegetation and views so we're moving slower than normal.
We reach Mweka gate in about 3 hours but it would have been much faster if we hadn't stopped so often. The Germans are already there ahead of us but we must stand in a long line to sign out and fill out the log book for our summit certificates (there's a green certificate for those that reach Stella Point and a gold certificate for Uhuru peak). My boots are horribly covered with mud and dust. For 1,000 shilling (less than one dollar), a fellow does a super job scrubbing off my boots. Mike also gets his boots cleaned as well. After leaving the park gate we still have a bit of hike. At this point all the local trinket vendors descend upon us like vultures (or perhaps flies would be a better analogy). It's hard to move forward with everyone trying to get your attention. The crowd is so bad that I miss our bus and start to walk past it before I hear someone calling me. I do buy some ebony carvings of a woman and some Masai warriors. We stop in Moshi to exchange some money and I pay the tips for the guides. We get a much better exchange rate there (1270 shilling per dollar) than what we got at the airport when we arrived.
By the time we get back to our room (Le Jacaranda again), we are starving but we are also filthy so a shower is the first order of business. We then all meet in the hotel restaurant for a snack. I get an Indian dish and Dianne gets a salad. Really, really good but I'm sure it didn't hurt that we just got back from six days on the mountain!
We then walk with the German's assistant guide to downtown Arusha. He leads us to a shop that he says has good prices. We have to get out our headlamps to see the goods in the shop and pick out some items. The fellows in the shop initially try to vastly overcharge us so I'm pretty sure this was just a case of the guide getting kickbacks from dragging tourists to that shop. It seems to be typical that the initial price is three to four times the final price. After that we eat supper at about 8 PM in a cheap but not very good restaurant. Lynn leaves early to meet her husband Mark who should be arriving back at the hotel from Kenya. We walk back in the dark along the main road dodging rocks, puddles, and pot holes. I get out my headlamp again and it's much easier going. I was expecting to have some problems with music from the disco again but even though it's Saturday night, things are quiet and we both have a wonderful snooze without need for earplugs.
Sunday, Sept 17, Arusha. We meet Lynn and Mark who are already eating breakfast ahead of us. Mark fills us in on his safaris in Kenya. He was staying in high-end lodges but got sick for two days in Kenya. (It's remarkable that he had problems staying in expensive lodges while we did fine roughing it on the mountain.) The Germans join us and we all say our farewells.
At 9, we meet our driver, Komba and head to Arusha National Park. We have a rather beat-up Toyota LandCruiser with long-range tanks and removable roof panels (so we can stand up and view the wildlife). It's drizzling slightly so I'm wondering what the day will be like. It takes about an hour to sign in at the park gate by which time things are sunny again. At this point we're running somewhat late so we drive at high speed to the lakes. In spite of our rush we do see some zebra, water bucks, and giraffes on our way to start canoing on Little Momella lake. It's beautiful weather and relaxing to see wildlife this way; you feel much more part of the environment when sightseeing this way. We see many birds, water bucks, giraffe, cape buffalo, water bucks, a python, and several hippopotamuses. Really enjoyable. I can't believe we were the only ones canoing on the lake! This sure beats driving around to view wildlife! After that we have a picnic lunch on a nearby hill and then start exploring the park. We soon see our first elephants, monkeys, and giraffes closer up. Lynn and Mark record many, many, new bird sightings.
In addition to spotting many things we would have missed, Komba is very accommodating in stopping the vehicle whenever we see something interesting. He has worked as a ranger in some of the parks and has amazing knowledge of all the wildlife and birds. At 5:57, we barely manage to exit the park gate before the 6 PM mandatory closing time. It's 7 PM by the time we get back to the hotel so we just eat in the hotel restaurant. The hotel is managed by a German fellow and endorsed by Good Earth Tours so we feel safe eating fresh salad there. Everything on the menu is quite delicious. Dianne and Lynn arrange with the manager to get some of the more interesting spices that are used in some of the dishes prepared at the hotel.
Monday, Sept 18th Arusha. After breakfast and putting two of our duffels in storage at the hotel, we meet Komba and our cook Mek. We head out to Tarangire National Park. The main highway is actually quite good and we can cruise along at 60 mph. We turn off the main road and have a leisurely lunch but initially have to fight off swarms of bees. No one gets bitten but the bees are pretty pesky and very interested in our food. Oddly, after about 20 minutes all the bees disappear. We leave our gear and Mek behind at the campsite and drive a couple miles to the entrance to Tarangire National Park.
For once it's fairly quick to get through the gate. Komba warns us about the Tsetse flies that are present in this park (and the Serengeti); they can harbor sleeping sickness so it's important to have plenty of insect repellant on. As soon as we pass the gate we notice the flies are all over us. Even though we just reapplied our 100% DEET insect repellent, the flies are a quite a nuisance. Dianne gets bitten and gets a big bump on her leg. Once we get away from the gate the flies seem less of a problem and we really don't give them much attention for the rest of the drive. It seems like there isn't much traffic in this park compared to Arusha National Park. The wildlife is just amazing! We immediately get a lot of up-close and personal views of elephants, cape buffalo, giraffe, zebra and many other animals. While we're watching some elephants we notice we have a flat tire but what an interesting place to site while the flat gets fixed. We barely manage to exit the park again before dark. Back at the campground Mek has prepared a nice meal and there are some musicians/jugglers/acrobats doing their act to entertain the people eating supper.
Tuesday Sept 19th, Tarangire Campground. We have our usual 7 AM breakfast. Just as I'm about to bite into some PB&J toast, a bee manages to land on the toast and bites me on the inside of the lip. Youch! Fortunately, the sting quickly stops hurting and there is only minimal swelling. We leave at about 8:30 and pickup more charcoal, and bananas along the way. Near the village of Mosquito River, we stop at a campsite where Lynn and Mark will be staying in a few nights. This campsite looks very nice. We head out and go through the border formalities at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The road climbs to about 8,000 feet and follows the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. At this point the road gets quite dusty but Komba does a good job quickly passing most other vehicles so we don't have to be exposed to their dust for too long.
Later we eat lunch as we stop at the gate to the Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill. We eat lunch there and do a brief hike up the hill as it takes Komba well over an hour to do the entrance paperwork. At this point the road gets even dustier and we're constantly closing and opening the windows to avoid the dust clouds. We drop Mek at the Dikdik campground and head on to the Lobo Lodge in the northern part of the Serengeti. We have a long distance to cover so we do just short stops to photograph the wildlife.
We get to the Lobo Lodge at about 6 PM. Both Dianne and I really like the Rock Hyraxes that seem to have free roam all over the lodge. They are relatives of the elephant and manatee and look like big rocks from a distance. They somewhat resemble marmots and seem very sweet. We immediately get our rooms and take a shower. I am amazed how dirty we have become during the drive. The lodge is just amazing! It is built into the natural rock of one of the Serengeti Kopjes. (The Kopjes, from the Dutch word for head, are islands of rock that occur across the Serengeti. They are among the oldest rock on the surface of this planet and predate life on this planet.) The builders did a very good job integrating the lodge into the natural environment. We are the first people in the dining hall and have an opulent supper at 7:30. Unfortunately, Lynn has gotten some stomach problems and can't eat anything so she nibbles a bit and then retires to her room. We give her some I-flora, a very good probiotic, since we suspect that her use of doxyclin for malaria protection may have contributed to her problems. Mark and we enjoy the excellent buffet offered by the lodge.
Wednesday, Sept 20th, Lobo Lodge, Serengeti. We wake and observe a beautiful sunrise from the lodge. We feel spoiled staying in such luxurious surroundings but it sure is nice to get clean and get extra good food. Before breakfast, I learn that Lynn is doing much better but Mark has now come down with a serious stomach problem and was up all night. Dianne and I eat breakfast (just the two of us) and then check with Lynn and Mark. They decide to stay in their room rather than do the morning game drive. It's just myself, Dianne and Komba. We have a more relaxing drive since Dianne and I don't stop quite as often as Lynn prefers. Early in the drive we get some really close up pictures of a male lion. Really outstanding!
We return to the lodge about 12:30 to see what's up with Mark and Lynn. While we wait, we eat lunch in the lodge lobby. A Rock Hyrax comes by and tries to get some of my food. At one point he would have gone in my lap if I hadn't chased him away.
Mark reports that he's feeling somewhat better and is well enough to travel but really wants to stay in a lodge rather than camp. I can understand that! We can't confirm a room via phone so we decide to drive to the Serena wildlife lodge to see if they might have a room free. On the way there we do our usual stopping and get some more good views of lions and get some great hippopotamus and crocodile photos. At about 5, we reach the lodge and find they don't have any rooms free so we go to the campground. At this point Mark seems to be doing better so the campground actually works out OK.
Thursday, Sept 21st, DikDik Campground Serengeti. Mark seems like he is doing much better in the morning. I think the I-flora that we gave him yesterday may have helped. While we wait to get the LandCruiser packed up, I get some good shots of some baboons as they try to raid some food from the campground. On our way out we stop a little less frequently to view wildlife. We've now gotten used to seeing giraffe, elephants, ostriches, and many other animals so we only stop if it's a particularly interesting view. We do a slight detour to visit the Oldovai (AKA Oldupai) museum and overlook over the Oldupai gorge. We eat lunch there with a nice view of the gorge while we're treated to a lecture. After visiting the museum, we stop off at a Masai village for a tour and some photos.
Dianne and I have a room the Sopa Lodge on the Ngorongoro crater rim for the night. Lynn and Mark were hoping to join us if they could get a room but it looks unlikely even though Mange from Good Earth said "no problem" when they initially asked if he could switch them from camping to the lodge for that night. We stop to views some more wildlife and then head to the Simba Campsite on the Ngorongoro crater rim after we learn that there are no extra rooms available at the lodge for Lynn and Mark (I later learn that this lodge books out months in advance).
The Simba campsite is much cleaner and nicer than the DikDik or Tarangire campsites. We get some good shots of an elephant that is roaming just outside of the campsite. It's amazing to have such huge creatures roaming freely so close-by! We leave Mark, Lynn, and Mek behind at the campsite and head over to the Sopa Lodge. This is another really beautiful lodge nicely integrated with the environment.
When we try to check in, we learn that there is some kind of mix-up. Good Earth has booked four doubles and three triples but all the rooms are occupied. It seems that one of the rooms contains just one person who probably shouldn't be there but he can't be located in order to remove him from his room. We get some decaf coffee at the hotel's coffee bar and wait for things to get resolved. It finally gets dark and we are getting worried we might have to return to the campsite. Finally the hotel people announce they have a room for us. We are really happy until we see the room. It is tiny, looks really dingy, smells musty, and has stained walls. It is room number TL1 which does not correspond to the normal room numbers. Hmmmm We shower and then go eat. In the dining hall we ask a few questions and discover that we do not have a normal guest room but a "tour leader" room (apparently provided gratis or at low charge to tour leaders). Considering all the money we had paid for the room, this is unacceptable. Dianne demands to see the hotel manager. After a few minutes, he appears. He is an older Caucasian fellow with a British accent. Dianne explains that a refund is called for since we paid for a guest room and clearly don't have one. He says he'll do whatever it takes to make things right. He explains that a female pilot is occupying a room on the house and he can ask her to move. She is eating dinner currently and he'll ask her to move. In about 30 minutes, we are moved from our dingy room to the nicest room we have ever stayed in. (The pilot understandably doesn't seem too happy to get booted from her room.) The room is huge and has an enclosed veranda overlooking the crater. I'm glad to be settled in but what a hassle!
Friday, Sept 22nd, Sopa Lodge Ngnorongoro Conservation Area (on the crater rim). We sleep in late (until 7 AM) and have a leisurely breakfast. We have the best coffee yet; each table has its own French press carafe of coffee. After breakfast, we meet a confused Komba (who had been looking for us in our old room) and drive down into the crater. On the way, we get some good views of hyenas, jackals, ostriches, and lions.
We meet Lynn and Mark (who were taken down by another Good Earth Tours Land Cruiser) near the center of the crater. We continue game viewing. I ask Komba when we'll get picked up for our ride to Arusha. He says he'll have something specific around noon. At one point we finally see a rhinoceros. It's a tiny spec almost a mile away. I manage to get a view by using my long (450mm) lens and zooming in on the picture. You can see almost nothing in binoculars so I'm rather puzzled when Lynn wants to spend extra time staring at the tiny dot.
We then drive off to take lunch near a tiny oasis featuring a lush lake. Because there are so many people picnicking there, there is little wild life visible at the lake. There are some hippos basking in the lake and some birds including some black kites. Komba informs us the black kites may try to steal food from our hands and that they have sharp claws so we should eat inside the Land Cruiser. After eating lunch, we go for a walk around the lake. It's about 1:30 so I ask Komba what the situation is with the ride to Arusha. He says he is waiting for a cell call from a driver who is driving to Arusha from the Serengeti. I am getting increasingly anxious that we'll make the airport in time. Komba says we'll do another circuit of the crater and then head up to meet the driver at the campground. On the way we spot another rhino. This time it's closer and I manage to get some better shots. It's really getting late so we tell Komba to go head and hurry up to the rim. He now reports that the other driver is already waiting for us but he doesn't hurry much and stops repeatedly (in spite of our requests to hurry) to look for wildlife. This is driving me crazy because I've done the math and see that we're barely going to have time to make our flight (we were hoping to shower and eat supper before going to the airport). The plan is now to meet the driver right on the rim rather than the campground.
The road up to the rim is slower going than I expected and it's 3:09 by the time we meet the driver (Raphael) in another LandCruiser. We hurriedly transfer our gear, say "good bye" to Lynn and Mark and tip Komba before leaving. Fortunately, Raphael drives quickly but stops and gets just five liters of fuel on the way in to Arusha; we then move oh so (agonizingly) slowly in the Arusha rush hour traffic. We finally arrive back at Le Jacaranda at 6:05. Our flight leaves at 8:55 and we have another one-hour drive to the airport so we really rush to change and transfer gear to our duffels from our backpacks. Our hopes to shower and get a meal have long been given up. I am really concerned we may miss our flight. As we zoom out of the hotel, Raphael explains that he must stop for fuel; I see we are on empty on both the front and rear tanks but am angry that he didn't get more fuel on the way in. We now spent about 10 minutes filling both tanks to the top. I ask Raphael to please cut short the filling and start driving but he says his boss (Mange) won't allow him to do this. We finally leave the gas station and I am appalled when I see we were not on the airport road but are backtracking back into Arusha! Argh! We have just lost another 25 minutes! It's now two hours before our flight and we have a reported one hour drive to the airport! Raphael drives faster than I have ever seen anyone drive on these kind of roads. There is still quite a bit of slow traffic; Raphael frequently drives between both traffic lanes in the middle to pass the slower traffic. Once outside of the town, we drive 120+ kmph (over 75 mph) which is super fast for these roads.
When we get to the airport it's 7:33 PM and there's a huge line extending out the front of the terminal. We confirm that we need to stand in this line and wait. We are the very last ones in line. About five minutes later some other Americans arrive just behind us. Somehow it's reassuring that we're not the very last ones in line. The line doesn't seem to move at all for about 15 minutes and then slowly we creep in to scan our baggage and then stand in a second line for the ticket counter. We are relieved to see we still managed to get two seats together. We then go through another scanning/screening (they confiscate the water bottles that we hoped to slip on to the airplane) and enter the departure lounge; it's now 8:50 (five minutes before our departure time). We quickly spend our last 40,000 shillings and do a quick wash-up in the surprisingly clean bathroom. We're almost the last people to board the plane. Whew! I'm so glad we made it--this was a very nerve-wracking departure. We actually have nice seats on the very back row next to the window. We have a one hour flight to Dar Es Salaam. This airport seems much bigger than Kilimanjaro International. We have all seats filled by the time we depart at 11 PM.
Saturday, Sept 23rd (air born departing Dar Es Salaam).
They feed us a nice dinner after we depart and we manage to have a pretty decent snooze before we eat breakfast and arrive at Amsterdam (Schiphol Airport) at about 7:20. We have about six hours to kill until our 1:30 PM departure for JFK. It's nice to be able to once more trust the water. We get some coffee and fruit smoothie and since we are tired of sitting, we wander around the airport. We discover a very nice "meditation area" that has no loudspeakers and lounge chairs that would be great for sleeping. On the way to JFK, we realize that our runny noses are not allergies but both of us have come down with a cold. Once at JFK, we spend the night at the Comfort Inn and then continue home the next day.
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