Trip Highlights: Africa
Our Tanzania, Africa trip took a bit more preparation than our other adventures, as we were required to obtain a visa, several inoculations and a multitude of preventative medications, for such things as malaria and altitude sickness. The itinerary for this trip included both a Serengeti safari and a hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Most itineraries of this type begin with the hike, however, we felt our 24 hour flight to the Kilimanjaro International Airport would best be followed first by the more leisurely safari. This allowed us time to relax and get acclimated to the time zone before we began the more rigorous hike up the mountain.
From the airport we traveled through the thriving city of Arusha where we left the main road and immediately became immersed in the native culture. We got a glimpse of the lives of the indigenous people as they went about their daily routines. The narrrow rutted roads were lined with shanty houses built of mud and sticks with the occasional higher-end home with a corrugated metal roof. Eventually, we arrived at a beautiful resort with a friendly staff eagerly awaiting our arrival. We spent our first full day in Arusha enjoying the grounds, and getting to know the area.
Our safari adventure began the next day in a Land Rover equipped with pop up roofs above each bench seat, ensuring every one of us had an unobstructed view. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the country’s history, as well as the various native cultures, animals, flora and fauna. He was also astute at following the sounds of the area, getting us in excellent viewing range to a variety of wildlife including baboons, hippos, giraffes, lions, zebras, wildebeest, elephants and more.
The safari also included a visited to a Masai village, where we were personally greeted by the chief. The village consisted of several small structures made of sticks and mud. The homes were only big enough to accommodate a small sleeping area for mother and children and a cooking hearth in the middle. The people of the village seemed as intrigued by us as we were with them.
As we continued through the Serengeti we got a glimpse at the rare Kori Kori. Standing four feet tall, it is the world’s largest flying bird. On this day, bird watching topped the list of activities, as we spotted birds of every color and size imaginable. At one location, we saw a tree full of lovebirds, and at another a barren tree full of buzzards. On another day, lion sightings were abundant. We tracked a male lion back to his pride. As we positioned the Land Rover about 50 feet away, we watched the lionesses cuddle and play with their cubs.
We ended our Safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, once an active volcano, now home to the nearly extinct white rhino, and several elephants, hippos and lions as well. We also got a glimpse of hyenas, wart hogs flamingos and buzzards, too. As we left the beautiful and unforgettable Serengeti behind we began thinking about Mt. Kilimanjaro and what the second part of our African adventure would bring.
For the hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro, we chose the Marangu route, considered to be the easiest of the trails on the mountain. An added bonus on this route was that our accommodations were huts to sleep in every night instead of tents. At the trailhead, our porters (a chef, a waiter and three guides) gathered everything we would need for the next six days.
The first two days of the climb were so easy and slow we were fooled into believing the rest of the hike would be the same. However, days three through five proved to be extremely challenging. On day three, we began hiking at 12,500 feet and continued to 16,500 feet where we rested for a while and then descended to our hut at 15,500 feet. At 11 pm that evening we began our final ascent to the top of the mountain under clear skies and a full moon to light the way.
Our goal was to reach the top of the mountain by 6 am and be back at the hut by 9 am. Unfortunately, at 17,500 feet altitude sickness struck several members of our group. Our experienced guides were very helpful and kept us going even though we were moving very slowly. At 9 am we reached the top of Africa — 19,340 feet above sea level. It was an incredible sense of accomplishment, and a very emotional moment as well.
What took three days to ascend, only took one day to descend, which was perfect as we were all anxious to return to the luxury of our very nice resort. The next day we relaxed and enjoyed the pool before we headed for home.
Even though the Marangu route is considered the easiest—none of the trail was technical or too difficult, and we didn’t need special equipment—altitude is a great equalizer. I can’t imagine anyone who has ever hiked this trail would never call it easy. That said, we wouldn’t change anything about the trip. We found the people of Africa to be very friendly, warm and very interested in the American way of life. All of our guides had as many questions for us as we had for them. Our very first adventure turned out to be one of the most amazing trips ever, and we can’t wait to return.