Saturday, March 04, 2006

Kilimanjaro, part one

Day One - We Arrive

We arrived in Tanzania tired and confused after crossing eight time zones. None of us had ever been to Africa before. When we left the States, we wore parkas. In Tanzania, when we landed, it was 75 degrees at night.

In this photo my brother Andy is standing looking stunned. The shirt he is wearing he would later lend to me and I would wear it for seven days straight. I am in the background, applying mosquito repellant and worrying about malaria.

Among the crowd, we saw a friendly face, our driver.

We were so happy Tom and Andy posed for a picture with him. Never before have I been surrounded by so many black people. I grew up in New Hampshire, not exactly a hotbed of African-American culture. At UNH the African-American literature class is taught by a white guy.

Our driver wore a shirt that read "Endangered Feces" and had cartoons of feces on it. If you click on the photo, you can see some of them more clearly. At the time I thought this was an unusual shirt to wear while greeting American tourists, a shirt I couldn't imagine even the tackiest of Americans wearing.

I didn't realize until later how Tanzanians mostly wear the discarded clothes of America. Goodwill operates a huge pipeline to Africa - when you donate your clothes, this is its final destination. It's a strange thing to see a Tanzanian goat shepherd wearing an Oakland A's hat and an Arusha street kid wearing a Georgia Tech t-shirt but we saw this more often than traditional African clothing.

On the drive to Arusha, our driver acted as if the road were a two-lane highway, which it wasn't. Traffic laws are optional in Tanzania and drivers push their rickety vehicles as if they were sports cars. I read a stat that said there were 66 fatalities for every 10,000 motor vehicles in Tanzania. In comparison, the UK had 1.4. The most dangerous moments of this trip were the times we were being driven somewhere.

We went to our hotel rooms in the Jacaranda hotel. In the photo you can see the mosquito nets which are essential in a continent plagued by malaria and yellow fever. I got five shots and two prescriptions before coming here. The nurse at the travel clinic gave me so many health pamphlets it made me think this trip was the equivalent of parachuting into a war zone.

I screwed up the netting on the first night and fought mosquitos all night long. Terrified, I hid under the sheets convinced every mosquito carried a deadly virus. The next morning, we relaxed and laughed at my cowardice.

In this photo, I am reading a tourist guidebook of Kilimanjaro. Previous to this, I had read nothing about the mountain outside of glancing at the "Kilimanjaro" entry in Wikipedia on my way to the airport. That night before we left for the mountain, I thought to myself, "Good Lord, what have I got myself into?"

A photo of Tom and I relaxing in the Jacaranda hotel waiting to meet our tour organizer Menghe, a terrific and funny man, of Good Earth Tours.

I would recommend Good Earth Tours to anyone climbing Kilimanjaro. This tour costs around $3,000 when you go with a big American group like KE Travel. In comparison, Good Earth cost around $1,400. It's also part Tanzanian-owned, so your dollars go more directly into the local economy.

The average Tanzanian makes $264 a year. Try to imagine what it would be like if a pair of Nikes cost half your annual salary. I tipped everyone along the way as much as I could afford.

After lunch we left the hotel to check out the local city, Arusha. In the photo above, you can get an idea of the chaos of these streets, this picture doesn't do it proper justice though.

The roads of Tanzania support anything that has two wheels, whether it is a bike, ox-pulled wagon, tractor trailer, or a Land Rover. There are two lanes operating here but, with optional traffic laws, that can be expanded to a full three at any time.

Just to add to the hilarity, traffic travels in the left-hand lane. I didn't realize how deeply ingrained my habits of crossing the street were until I almost got hit by a car coming from my right, after I had checked on my left.

If you click on the photo above you can see a man hauling a cart loaded to full capacity. He's hauling it in 90 degree heat. Tools are lacking in this country and just about everything is done manually, which means everyone is fit, strong, and tremendously resourceful. Any kind of tool or vehicle is at a premium so everyone makes the most of everything they have.

Being white and walking on the streets of downtown Arusha is the equivalent of standing up and screaming "HELLO, I AM A RICH TOURIST LOOKING TO BUY CHEAP KNICK-KNACKS AND T-SHIRTS." We were swarmed by new "friends" downtown, all of them striking up conversation and offering to sell us t-shirts, posters, flags, and books. It was similar to the scene in Night of the Living Dead where the heroes are mobbed by zombies. Everywhere we turned, we had zombie salesmen in our faces. You think I'm exaggerating.

Being a minority for once in my life demonstrated one point - it sucks to be so conspicuous. Even though I desperately wanted to, I couldn't blend in with the crowd. Getting constant stares and feeling instant assumptions being made about you on the basis of the color of your skin is tiring and annoying.

Nothing encapsulates the chaos of Arusha streets quite as perfectly as the taxi service. The way it works - a group gathers at a taxi stand and when the van pulls up, everyone piles in to the point that people are spilling out of the windows. Here we can see the process in action.

I originally scoffed at the idea of going to an internet cafe, so I stayed in the hotel while Andy and Tom went. I later realized internet cafes were the best way to keep in touch with people back home, the cost is a dollar per half hour. Andy sent an email to my wife on my behalf on our last day there while I was suffering from food poisoning. I'll write more about that later.

Read the next installment - we set out for the mounatain


At 2:44 PM GMT-5, Blogger The Missus said...

LOL! Sounds like a really great experience. Wish I had the balls to do it. But I don't have balls. Cuz I am a girl.

At 2:44 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Dave Greten said...

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the writeup. This vacation was one of those things that is better in retrospect than at the time. I'm likely to talk about it for the rest of my life. Lucky you.

At 1:13 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Jacynth said...

Awesome travelogue. I visited Mt. K back in 1998. I was a bit obsessed with seeing Hyenas. Africa is amazing, you should feel incredibly lucky. Did you see a lot of Coke signs? i always thought that was really're in the middle of nowhere and then...a frickin' Coke sign.

At 3:50 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Dave Greten said...

Thank you for writing Jacynth! I do feel lucky for having visited Africa. I'll probably be boring people around me with stories about it for the rest of my life. Installation number two of the travelogue should be out this week.

You are right about the Coke signs! I can't decide if this is an act of altruism for Coke (funding traffic signs, giving money to people who very much need it, etc) or the most cynical marketing ploy in history.

At 5:48 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Jacynth said...

I actually took a marketing class on third world countries. You probably didn't notice any Pepsi signs...turns out Coke and Pepsi "buy out" third world countries. So, you can only get one of them in certain countries. It's an advertising ploy as well as a way for the country to make money in some skewed way.

At 11:17 AM GMT-5, Blogger Sarah said...

OK, I've just finished reading the first installment of your traveling experience - I've also read the last. I know you're alive since you've posted these - I'd just like to let you know I think you're nuts. Completely crazy! I can't believe you didn't read alot about Mt. K before you went! I am in awe....

At 1:59 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya i've hike the presi traverse from appalacia (mt. madison up valley way) to jackson about 23 miles,
would u say that a day of kilimanjaro is harder than the presi travers?

At 8:54 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Dave said...

Hello Anonymous!

Good to hear from you. I'd rank Kili as harder than the Presidential and Mount Rainier as harder than Kili.

Most difficult to least difficult:
1. Mount Rainier
2. Kilimanjaro
3. Presidential Trail in one day

Rainier was my first mountain over 14K high, so that might have a little to do with it. But it was a tough, tough climb.

At 4:11 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am uganda born asian. My uncle was the manager of the brewery there. This town is made famous by John Wayne. Movie is hatari. I used to visit my Uncle and he would send us to Norongro national park.

At 9:30 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Dave G said...

Anonymous -
Uganda! That's so cool. Someday I would like to return to Africa. Maybe the "Mountains of the Moon" which I believe are in Uganda.

At 4:11 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol. Nicely written. And Hope you really looking forward to visit Arusha again

At 10:37 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im from tanzania im glad u enjoyed staying in tanzania especially arusha.did u visit other places like serengeti,momela,and much more in arusha. wellcome back, arusha tanzania

At 1:58 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Mumbai Weekend Break said...

IT Sounds you had an experience of a life time

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At 1:58 AM GMT-5, Anonymous mount kilimanjaro tours said...

I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

At 1:23 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Reach Summit said...

Great Blog! I love your photos. Although being a popular trek, Kilimanjaro remains a challenging altitude trek. Training tips and trekking advice help increasing your chance of success on Kilimanjaro. An adventure of a lifetime!

At 4:00 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Kilimanjaro Trek said...

Nice Kilimanjaro blog, very interesting :-)

At 11:22 AM GMT-5, Anonymous eileen marie said...

Great Kilimanjaro blog -we leave for Tanzania in T-4 days!! Eeek! My best friend used your travel log as a scare tactic to convince me that I shouldn't do this. I am NOT a marathon runner (hubs is), and I am NOT an avid hiker. (Did you take the "whiskey route" via Focus Africa? (I am sorry if I missed that in the entries.)

At 5:55 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Climb Kilimanjaro said...

Great post! Big difference between Tanzania and NH. I guess you enjoyed the Mario Kart roads. Congratulations on reaching the top, sure your not the first person to wanna cry and go back!!

And Jacynth.. Coke and pepsi buy out third world countries!

At 6:36 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Philip said...

Great advice about tipping and looking after the local guys.

At 6:48 AM GMT-5, Blogger sojournsafaris said...

Great Ideas on how to tip these guides and porters.

To choose the right Kilimanjaro Climb route for you, there are plenty of variables to be mindful of.
Who: Who is climbing? The whole group's abilities must be factored into choosing a route. The rest of the party is relying on your decision. Pick a route that best fits everyone.
What: What limitations surround your climb? Are you bound by a budget? Or the number of days on your trip? There are cheap/expensive routes, and short/long itineraries.
How: How do you see your trek? Do you want the most challenging route or a less strenuous one? These answers will affect which route is for you.
Where: Where do you want to begin your climb? The routes start from all sides of the mountain. Where you begin affects cost, scenery and scenic variety.
Why: Why are you climbing? Is it very important to summit? Then choose a route with a high success rate. Do you want to take the best photos? Then pick the most scenic route.
When: If you are climbing during the dry season, great. But if you are climbing during the rainy season or the shoulder seasons, then the route you select can play into the climb's difficulty.
So Which is the best route to use to climb up kilimanjaro? Lemosho Route and Rongai Route are the most scenic routes up kilimanjaro. Mt Kilimanjaro Machame route is also a scenic and very popular route with many climbers.
The Marangu Route Climb is however the most used route since it has the advantage of sleeping in huts with bunker beds, hot showers, beverages and beers in the evenings are also available. Marangu is also the shorter route and can be done in 5 days although an extra day for acclimatisation is recommended.

At 10:42 PM GMT-5, Anonymous kilimanjaro climb said...

Great story Dave. I have read a lot of blogs about Kilimanjaro and you are the first person to talk so much about the local culture and the feeling of actually being in Africa.
My own Kilimanjaro climb is next year and I feel a lot more relaxed about the idea after reading your experiences. Thankfully I am dark skinned so I should blend in a little bit better than you did

At 4:53 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Kilimanjaro Lemosho Climb Route said...

Thats a great travelogue on climbing mt Kilimanjaro.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro Lemosho Trail

At 11:52 PM GMT-5, Blogger Doug Wagner said...

Thanks for sharing your experience on trekking kilimanjaro trips.

At 8:18 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Safaris in Southern Africa said...

I am in the training, applying mosquito repellant furthermore worrying about ague.

At 12:14 PM GMT-5, Blogger Kshaun said...

Hello Dave,

I came across your blog when I was doing some research on Mt. Kili. I wanted to discuss an affiliate partnership with my company -, which is a platform for adventure travel. We really believe that real traveller experiences and reviews are what is needed to give an accurate idea of such a trek and helps to prepare for such a journey. Do let me know if you would like to collaborate with us on this. I would love to get on a call and answer any questions that you might have.


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