"Kilimanjaro" - projection of ambitions and dreams. We finally made it on September 25th. The by far highest, coldest and hardest-to-reach point of our journey (so far).
Comparing this trip to previous trips in this project, some things were different while some thing were like always: Never before did a trip start that easy. Our car was waiting for us, shining and ready when we arrived in Chris' Jungle Junction in Nairobi - the nicest place for transafrica drivers in East Africa. The only thing we had to do in order to get started was go to the fridge and get a cold beer. Never before did we leave our car for as long as 6 days in order to just "walk" up a mountain. Like on every trip, however, one essential part of our Landrover engine broke down making us change the plan for the day....
You either go to Masai Mara or to the Serengeti at atime. Both are different parts of one big migration area for animals. In September/October millions of wildebeest (gnu) and zebra are crossing the Mara River in order to leave the dry Serengeti and reach for the green grass of the Masai Mara. We had seen the impressive scenes in a BBC film where the antilopes with their cubs bravely jump into the water and try to reach the other side before the huge crocodiles can get them.
Mara River Crocodile
Statistically the risk is neglectible in a herd of many thousand animals- for the individual antilope the outcome may be unfavorable, though. This time of the year is a good time to go to the Masai Mara (Kenya) because all wildebeest and their predators (many, many lions) are here, while the Serengeti in Tanzania is almost empty. The animals will migrate back and accumulate in the Serengeti making this place an attractive target for our next trip (maybe in February 2009).
13.9. 2008: Nairobi
Chris had already scheduled a service date in a nearby Landrover workshop where we show up the other morning to get our oil and filters changed. We spend the rest of the day, buying food for the first week in the nearby supermarket and having a nice BBQ with the Jungle Junction people in the evening.
14.9.2008: Masai Mara NP
We leave Nairobi in the morning. The roads are good apart from the last 35 km which are miserable. A few minutes after we have passed the gate we see the first lions (caught in the act). Soon they discover that in between two "sessions" it is nice to relax in the shade of our Landrover.
Lion relaxing in the shade of our Landy
All together the whole thing does not look like very much fun. A few seconds action followed by a long recovery period in which both are terrorized by millions of bugs. Then again a few seconds of action. Fascinating to watch this circle of life from a distance of less than 5 meters.
Flies and a Lion
15.9. Masai Mara
On the next day we meet Peter, a German guy that we met last year in the Jungle Junction. Just having retired, he now lives in Kenya with Monica from Tanzania. The two had visited us in Kassel in Summer 2008. For Monica this was the first trip to Germany. She discovered a make-up powder that she liked very much. Unfortunately in Kenya this brand is not available. So we carry two packages in our Landrover. I can catch Peter on his mobile phone. He tells me that he is in the middle of the Mara, "on the left side of a hill just next to a big bush watching a group of 6 male lions". We finally find him (and the lions). This is really great about the Masai Mara: you can drive straight through the bush - no restrictions!
Peter in his element (Mara)
After his retirement Peter had produced films for the German television. He knows a semi-official campground on a hill in the middle of the Mara, not far away from the Serena Lodge. That's where we will camp for the next 2 days. On the first evening a thunderstorm with heavy rain makes us have our dinner under our rooftent, protected by the side walls that we hardly ever used before.
Peters private camp
16.9. 2008: Masai Mara
A very nice tradition that we develop in the Masai Mara is our "Breakfast on Rooftop". We just drive out into the middle of nowhere with a thermos flask of coffee and our muesli. Then we start a gamedrive just cruising the gentle hills of the Mara.
Wildebeest are the reason why...
...these guys are here. The predators follow the herds. Each night they get one.
The flies are everywhere: you either get mad or used to it.
17.9. 2008: Back to Nairobi
we take the same way "home" and spend a nice evening in the Jungle Junction
18.9.2008: From Nairobi to Moshi/Tanzania
There are 2 borderpoints connecting Kenya with Tanzania in this region: Namanga on the main transit route and Loitoktok on a small rotten track built in colonial times through the middle of nowhere. We chose Loitoktok, hoping that at the small boarder point they will not notice that we have stored the car for 6 month in the country - while foreign cars are supposed to leave the country after 3 months.
The "road" is a nightmare. Construction sites, endless dustholes, severe corrugation for many, many hours. The customs officer finally is well aware of our situation. It is not a problem, though, we just have to pay the permit for 6 months (240 USD). Paying the fee is OK and unavoidable. The fact that he gives us a small "penalty receipt" instead of the real "permit receipt" points in the direction of the general problem in Kenya. The country charges USD 40 per month for using the roads but has the worst roads in Africa. Nobody knows where all the money goes.
In Tanzania (20 USD/month for using the roads) conditions get slightly better. Nevertheless it is getting dark and we are still far away from Moshi. When we finally arrive in the city, orientation becomes a problem. The district government has removed all private signposts. According to the regulation each signpost has to carry a label proving that the "fee" has been paid... We finally follow a taxi to the Honey Badger Lodge.
On our way to Kilimanjaro
Climbing up Kilimanjaro does not require mountaineering skills. It is not a walk in the park, though. I remember well when last year a colleague who just returned from a trekking tour on Mt. Kilimanjaro told me that he was severely hit by all symptoms of altitude sickness for many days (slepelessness over days, extreme headache, constant nausea and vomiting...). On the other hand side: the smile in his face was highly visible when he told me how he had struggled with tiredness, exhaustion, and freezing. He was obviously extremely happy that he finally made it. I left him with mixed emotions...
18.9.2008 From Nairobi to Moshi - 2 days in the Honey Badger Lodge
We booked in Germany at "Chamäleon Reisen" who contracted "Zara" the agency that organized the trekking tour in Tanzania. We recommend both agencies. Zara is the biggest and best tour operator in Tanzania. All in all the organization and the team were superb.
20.9.2008: Springlands Hotel
As agreed with Chamäleon we check in at the Springlands Hotel on the day before our tour starts. We meet our guide "Colman" who explains us how to organize our equipment (we carry one day-pack each containing water, raingear, camera, etc. The rest is packed in softbags of appr. 10 kg each which are carried by porters). The team for the two of us consists of 9 persons (!): 1 guide, 1 assistant guide, 1 cook, and 6 porters.
Day 1: From Machame Gate (1.800 m) to Machame Camp (3.000 m)
A small bus drives us to the gate, where we start at 11.15. It is an easy hike that leads through fascinating rain forest. We have received lunch packages that we eat on the way. At 4:00 PM we arrive at Machame Hut. Our tent is already errected as we arrive. The neighbour tent looks a little strange - like a house. Soon we find out that this will be our "Dining Room" for the next day. Half an hour after our arrival one of our porters "the waiter" serves tea and fresh popcorn in the dining tent. We enjoy the tea at a laid table sitting on solid chairs and start to understand why we have 6 porters. Oswald, our assistant guide now takes us for an extra hike. We climb up some 200 meters for heigth acclimatization. Dinner is served later and at around 8:15 PM we retire into our tent.
Day 2: From Machame Camp (3.000 m) to Shira Camp (3.800 m)
The porter wakes us up with a cup of tea and a small dish of water (no shower for 6 days!). A few minutes later we have breakast in our dining tent which consists of porridge, toast, omlets, small sausages, cheese, peanut butter, fresh fruit, and coffee - absolutely amazing! We start at 8:00 AM. The climb is much steeper but lovely. We reach Shira camp at around 12:00 AM. Soup, Chicken wings, Pancake, Fruits and a Muffin make up for the lunch. Then it starts raining (the only time within 6 days). After 2 hours it cleares up and we can dry our soaked sleeping pads. Later Oswald takes us for a 1,5 hours extra hike to Shira Hut. For Dinner we have soup, chicken, rice, baked bananas and eggplant. We enjoy the fantastic night sky: the milky way is clearly visible. On the other side of the summit a huge cloud accumulates with massive ligthnings for hours. We have a peaceful night.
Day 3: From Shira camp (3.800 m) to Baranco Hut (4.000 m)
The mornning starts with incredible light on Mt. Meru (4.700 m). The climb is not very steep. Lunch is served at 10:30 AM at a big Lava Tower that I climb together with Colman. From this point on Maren will have stomach problems. Later we reach Baranco Hut climbing downhill for a long time.
Mount Meru in the early morning light
Leaving Shira Camp
On the way to Baranco Hut
Day 4: From Baranco Hut (4.000 m) to Barafu Hut (4.700 m)
This will become a hard day. We can see it in the morning when we look at the 700 m high wall just opposite of us. This is what we have to climb now. Our tent is frozen. Clmbing up is OK. The mean thing is that once up, we have to climb down into a valley, then up again on the other side, down into a second valley and finally up to Barafu Hut. Maren is absolutely exhausted and has to fight with her stomach. We reach Barafu Hut after 7 hours at 2:00 PM and sleep for 1,5 hour. After dinner we go to bed early. From here we will climb up to the summit.
Shithouse in Barafu Camp (4.700m)
Day 5: Summit day (5895 m, 19.000 feet)
We get up at 11:15 in the night (on day 4) and start climbing short before midnight. Only Colman and Oswald are with us. The deal between Maren and me is that each one would push the other forward. If, however, one of us would show severe symptoms of altitude sickness both would climb down. So far we have not even had headaches. As many others we take Diamox (250mg/day). The pills have mild side effects like paraesthesia in the finger tips. The most obvious side effect is that you need much more pee breakes.
Maren has a bad stomach since day 3 which now becomes a true problem. It is absolutely dark, very cold, windy and after 2 hours of climbing with our headlamps she is exhausted. She has to fight with her stomach pain and increasing nausea. After 2 "vomiting breakes" she feels al little better. Later, as we reach an extremely steep passage she has been climbing for almost 3 hours being absolutely exhausted. Colman makes us go extremely slow ("pole pole") but in the thin air the intervals in between two breaks are getting smaller and smaller. Maren is at the edge of falling asleep everytime she sits down on a rock. Then all of a sudden we are standing on a small plateau that is almost flat. Colman smiles - we see a few people sitting in the windshield of a big rock. Only now we realize that we have reached "Stella Point" the first official peak.
Unbelievable! It is still absolutely dark: with the milky way above us, we can spot Moshi and Arusha as distant light points 5.700 meters below us. From here we reach Uhuru peak (5.895 m) within 40 minutes walking on the crater rim. Just before we reach the highest point in Africa the sun rises behind us. First it is just a thin line at the horizon. Within minutes the sky becomes red then orange and pink. Gradually we see the glaciers that shine in the same colors. It's an incredible feeling having reached this peak as a team and see all this beauty. Absolutely unforgettable. But also very cold! We take a few summit pictures, then Colman reminds us to descend. He told us before that the risk of staying on the summit too long is that you get dizzy in the thin air which would increase the risk of injuries on the steep way down.
Sunrise over Africa
Approaching Uhuru Peak
The shadow of the summit mirrors Mt. Meru
Remainings of Furtwängler Glacier
Maren in front of Rebman Glacier
The way down
Reaching Barafu Camp after 2 hours
After 2 hours we reach the camp at Barafu Hut. It is 9:15 AM and we sleep for 1,5 hours. After a breakfast we pack our equipment and around noon we start to descend to Mweka Hut (3.100 m) that we reach within 4 hours. Even walking downhill is now exhausting. We fall into our tent at around 8:00 PM and sleep for 10,5 hours.
Day 6: Tipping & Singing
On the next morning we feel absolutely refreshed. On the evening before we had a long conversation with Colman about the tips. This did not come unexpectedly. We read in many travelblogs that this is a big issue. In the Springlands hotel we had received a document with "tipping guidelines". Colman explains us that in the morning the entire team would come together and that I should tell everbody, how big his tip would be. The total sum could then be given to Cokman in the Springland hotel. Colman underlines the fact that more important than the money is what I would tell them for goodbye. We decide to (more or less) use the guidelines. We had 5 days to get used to the thought and now with this overwhelming experience we are ready for the biggest tip in our life. The team seems to be satisfied as well: Colman smiles and the entire group sings a very nice goodbye song for us.
The last stage is easy. After 2,5 hours on a very good track through the rainforest we reach the gate where we are officially registered.
Downhill through rainforest
Colman and Oswald join us for a last beer in the Springlands hotel. We pack our stuff in the Landy and leave Moshi heading towards Arusha.
26.9.2008: Masai Camp
we reach Arusha in the early afternoon and decide to stay in the Masai Camp. On the way our engine makes a strange noise. The camp operates a workshop of its own. Trying to find out what causes the new sound fails because the sound has disappeared. We try to forget it and have to struggle with a comlete different sound a little later: the camp restaurant turns into a disco at around 10:00 PM on fridays and saturdays (today is friday). A mixture of western and african beats until 3:00 AM.
27.9.2008: Arusha National Park
On the next morning we drive to the nearby Arusha National Park which turns out to be magnificent. In the early 1960s the movie "Hatari" with John Wayne and Hardy Krüger was produced here. Later Hardy Krüger bought the property and lived here for a couple of years.
All of a sudden the noise in our engine is there again. It clearly seems to come from the alternator (Lichtmaschine) which seems to be slightly unballanced. After only a few hours in the park we decide to instantly return to Arusha. A good decision. On the way out, the red control lamp indicates that our battery is not being charged any more. We luckily make the 30 km to the workshop of the Masai Camp. It is Saturday noon but everybody is still there. Soon it becomes clear that not only the bearings have completely gone. The alternator is more or less completely destroyed inside. We need a new one. This is not a problem in Arusha. We find the original spare part (now produced by Denso in Japan). It needs to be slightly remodelled since the geometry has changed over the past 11 years. Also we need parts of the destroyed old alternator. All in all it takes a few hours, 25 € for the garage team, 140 € for the alternator and some cold beers from our fridge. Africa: you keep on going. Sometimes slightly different than anticipated. For us this means that we stay another night in the Masai Camp - the true hotspot of Arusha. Saturday Night: Disco till 4:00 in the morning. We decide to have a few beers there. It is a strange mixture of people from the camp, overlanders, tourists like us, locals, white kids that behave like kings, expats and later prostitutes. We leave at around midnight and find a good sleep.
28.9.2008 - 30.9.2008: Amboseli National Park
On the other morning we return to Arusha NP. Our ticket is still valid until early noon. We visit the parts of the park that we've not seen and then leave Arusha heading towards Kenya again. Now we decide to take Namanga, the main boarder post. We discuss with the officer that we are going to park the car for 6 months instead of the allowed period of three months. No problem as long as we pay the permit for 6 months. This time we get a proper receipt.
It is late afternoon as we arrive in Amboseli National Park where we camp in the community camp, operated by a very nice Masai team
Entering the park on a shortcut through the dry Lake Amboseli
Our Landy in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro
View from Observation Hill
We like Zebras
Our Campsite in Amboseli NP
Elefant in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro
Elephant in the Amboseli swamps
Grey's Crowned Crane
Don't-know-the-english-name-bird on buffalo
"Out of Africa": Karen Blixens' farm in Nairobi
On the first of October we finally arrive back in Nairobi where we spend 2 lazy days, visiting Karen Blixens' coffee shop and exploring the city. Then, after 2.229 km this fascinating trip is over.