Pat's Log
Sun, 28 Oct 2012

Bye Tanzania
20121027 So ends the trip. We are all glad to be leaving Stone Town. I could spend another week on the beach, but most of us are happy to be going home.

As the flight was in the afternoon, the morning was spent on last-minute shopping and photography. An easy end to the trip ahead of the long travel.

Addendum: Mercifully, the flights back went off without a hitch. We even spent time in the proper Addis Ababa airport terminal, and it was a much better experience. It is good to be back home.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 27 Oct 2012

Stone Town
20121026 Today starts a big, four day, Muslim festival. Everyone is running around in traditional robes, and the streets are noticeably busier.

With more locals around, it is possible to make an observation about how women are treated with less respect. I can walk in a straight line and easily get where I'm going. Looking around my travel companions, Kelly, on the other hand, bumps shoulders with the men as they go by. They seem to harass her more when trying to sell their wares. If we are together and she asks for directions, the answer sometimes comes my way. It is different than what we're used to.

We went to see what remains of the slave trade. The Anglican Cathedral is now built over the site, but they maintained a few of the "horror chambers" where the slaves were kept. It was a little depressing to learn about, with intentionally small rooms being stuffed with humans. The cathedral itself was nice, but it was clear that stones get tossed at the windows every now and then. The culture clash here is alive and kicking.

We had Ethiopian food for lunch. This was a first for many in our group. It should be quite authentic, based on the proximity to that country. As with all the meals we have been getting here, delicious.

The afternoon was whiled away going through shops and drinking at local establishments. Many were closed for the holidays. There are many more things to see in Stone Town, but the concensus is that it is not interesting outside of the tourist areas. Or perhaps not inviting. The heat doesn't help, it is very hot and humid.

It would seem a number of our group is eager to get out of here. I can sympathize, though knowing we are flying out tomorrow tends to leave me with the feeling there is never enough time to explore things fully. Sunset off the coast of Stone Town can be quite dramatic.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Fri, 26 Oct 2012

Spice Tour and Hello Stone Town
20121025 The taxi trip to Stone Town was uneventful, though we had the driver couple it with a stop for a spice tour. Like the Maasai village earlier in the trip, the spice farm was definitely geared toward tourists. Nonetheless, our tour was fun and informative. The guide was really nice, and showed us a good sampling of the kinds of plants that grow on the island in larger farms. Particularly standing out was the nutmeg nut, which is in a fruit and has an internal red webbing that looks very alien. The other plant of interest was the cinnamon tree, where it's the bark that had flavour, and it is very delicious when fresh and moist. Roots of the cinnamon tree are used by locals as a substitute for eucalyptus, and it really is very similar. They made us leaf hats and fed us fruits, too.

Stone Town itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It has the potential to be glorious with minimal effort in maintenance to the ancient buildings. The metal-studded doorways, in particular, are really unique and very cool. Unfortunately, most of them are rotting away. It is a curious contrast, since all of the cars are constantly being washed and polished, meanwhile their houses are in complete disarray. Utterly bizarre.

We ate lunch at a very authentic Indian restaurant called the Silk Route. The butter chicken was delicious, and if there was more time, I would definitely be back.

Our stay with the Clove Hotel is cheap but the venue has a kind of charm. A rooftop terrace works very well, along with an honour system bar. It's right in the center of the action, just a block from the coast line.

We went for a walk and ended up in a market where the locals shop. The congestion and smells were a little too much, especially by the meat and fish markets. There is something to be said for the modern supermarket. Maybe it's not for everyone?

We had dinner at a night market. Street meat can be fun; it was nice to try authentic shawarma and locally prepared lobster.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Thu, 25 Oct 2012

Scuba Diving with Sea Turtles
20121024 Another scuba day! This was a shorter dive to a closer reef. At first, this reef seemed much less interesting, but then the stingrays and turtles started popping up. We saw four of the latter in total. Beautiful creatures, so graceful when they swim. There was also a large sea horse. I had seen one of these in Cuba, but I always forget how strangely they move through the water. Finally, we saw a fish with wings; it was the strangest fish I had ever seen, and moved through the water like a bird flies in the air. So bizarre!

The balance of the day was spent eating a great burger at the scuba resort, then lazing away until dinner, a seafood barbecue at our own resort. Amazing how the time went by, tomorrow will already be the transfer to Stone Town. This part of the trip was so very enjoyable.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Wed, 24 Oct 2012

Zanzibar Scuba Diving
20121023 Scuba day! We took a Dhaw-style boat out to Mnemba Island and dove the reef there. The first dive was a there-and-back trip along the reef, while the second was a tidal drift dive. We saw everything we hoped to see except for sea turtles. On board lunch was delicious and the two-deck setup made for fun diving off the stern between the dives. This really is prime diving territory.

On the way off the boat, I cut my foot on a sharp rock by the boat anchorage. I decided to take a long walk to the other side of the island along the beach. The idea was for the saltwater to clean our the wound. In the end, it didn't, buy I learned how much more secluded our side of the island beach was, and how much nicer our water was, too. This means that the larger resorts, like the Hilton, actually have a much less appealing seascape. Our Sazani is not only a deal, but really all around the best choice.

Again, the rest of the afternoon was chill, and we went to a neighboring resort for dinner. It's cool that you can do this, just walk off the beach and explore the resorts. They are all very inviting.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Tue, 23 Oct 2012

The Real Vacation Begins in Zanzibar
20121022 First order of business: check out the scuba situation. Even in the morning, it was too late to book for today, but a solid booking was made for tomorrow to Mnemba Island.

With a free day ahead, we decided to walk along the beach to the lighthouse. Moon was a slim crescent, and tide was high, so it was a fun, if treacherous, walk, with waves crashing up on shore and crabs running all over the place. This was fantastic.

We eventually happened upon the Dutch couple, Yona and Gwen's hotel, and made plans with them. Their place had a shallow salt-water turtle pond, so that provided a bit of amusement. They had sea turtles of all sizes.

The rest of the day we took it easy. This is, after all, vacation. We ate out at a Rasta bar on the beach. This seemed very Jamaican to me, but somehow fit.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Mon, 22 Oct 2012

Travel to Zanzibar
20121021 So much for unwinding.

We got up bright and early to make it to Kilimanjaro Airport for 08:00. That's when we found out that our new flight did not successfully merge in our old flight. The problem was that Fly540 had been bought out by Europe's EasyJet, and all October flights had been suspended. They had apparently not rebooked us properly on Precision Air, and for whatever reason, didn't bother informing us until less than a day in advance.

There were eight of us in the Fly540 office hoping for a fix: our group of four, a German newlywed couple, and a Dutch couple. To make a long story short, the people on the ground at JRO didn't have the authority to rebook the Precision Air flight, and couldn't get ahold of those who could on a Sunday morning.

Our group was eventually confirmed for the four remaining seats on the 13:00 flight, but we could hear things getting very ugly as we ran away from the Fly540 office to the security gate at 12:30.

Right before the plane left, the other two couples somehow managed to make it onto the flight, much to everyone's surprise and applause. We actually became good friends with the Dutch couple, Yona and Gwen, as we shared a cab ride to neighboring resorts at the Northern tip of Zanzibar.

The first view of the beachscape through the Sazani Beach Hotel gates was almost spiritual. From the colour of the water, to the fine warm, white sand, it was perfect. When we jumped in the water, we were surprised just how hot it was.

The dive shop was visible on the next resort over right from the beach, but it was too late to arrange anything. Instead, we ordered drinks and food, and had a great afternoon. The unwinding that got interrupted this morning was finally taking place.

When the sun set, we made our way out of the hotel for a walk toward the village. There really wasn't anything to see out there, but it made for a good walk. With the lack of electricity and lights, it was amazing how well the moonlight lit up the entire trip.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sun, 21 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Seven, The Last Little Bit
20121020 Slept like a baby. The morning wake up and breakfast routine was not unusual, but a little sad in knowing that it was the last one. We will miss the amazing skills of our team to keep us comfortable.

After a three hour hike that became progressively easier, we got to the Mweka Gate, just over 2000m. There was one final view along the way of the mountain; it is notoriously hard to spot from the towns.

Here, it was time to say goodbye to our great team of 26. However, they had one last touch that was greatly appreciated: sparkling wine. Yes, it sounds corny, but it was a celebration, and it was more appreciated than one might imagine.

Then came the long drive back to Karama Lodge in Arusha. There, we enjoyed swimming, relaxation, and a warm shower. Time to unwind and change pace for the next leg of the journey.

Then came an email about our flight to Zanzibar tomorrow being moved up from 14:00 to 10:30... so much for sleeping in...

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 20 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Six, Uhuru Peak, Descent!
20121019 Today was hard. Possibly the hardest I've ever had to push myself.

We started the climb shortly before midnight, and it was immediately apparent how unpleasant it was going to be. There was a lot of cold wind, even though the outside temperature was only -3°C. After a few hours of this, it was impossible to generate heat, and getting very hard to breathe. It was all I could do to just keep my eyes open. It felt like I would pass out every 10s or so. At times, I actually did, and it resulted in a stumble, sometimes a faceplant. I was asked several times by a guide if I wanted to give up my backpack, but stubbornly refused.

By the time we got to Stella Point, at the edge of the crater, the five layers of clothing were not keeping me warm and my fingers were numb. Every time we stopped, my head would start to throb. It was -10°C here. It was very welcome when the guides pulled out hot ginger tea from a thermos. Still, every moment spent sitting grew the headache and chill.

Six hours or so after starting, we finally made it to the top of Uhuru Peak, 5895m. At this point, I was so cold and worn out that I got my fake-smile photo with the sign and just wanted to start the trip down. I didn't even go explore the glaciers with the others. Seeing photos, with the beautiful colours of sunrise, perhaps I should have, but I certainly wasn't receptive to the suggestion at the time.

One thing I did manage to do at the peak was to send a text message to family and friends. Amongst all of the wonders of this mountain, and our Africa experience as a whole, where power comes and goes and hot water is unreliable, it is pretty amazing that the cell phone coverage was a solid thing on the entire journey up, right through to the summit.

The descent was, if possible, even harder. The entire trail down was separate from the more composed path up, and consisted of loose volcanic scree. There was no traction at all, and every step was both tiring to the limbs and dangerous. A lot of equipment and body parts got damaged just sliding down. At one point, during a break, my backpack started rolling away on its own. At least the headache and breathing issues went away.

All in all, the summit experience was unpleasant. There really wasn't much to enjoy there. It is cool to have gotten there. But when I speak of climbing Kilimanjaro, summitting will not be at the forefront of my thoughts.

After making it back down to Barafu Camp, there was some time for a nap and a good lunch. Then, it was time to pack up and continue the descent. On the way down, the landscape changed from the arid cold desert, to slight shrubbery, to small trees, to rainforest, all quite quickly. We ended at Mweka Camp, at about 3050m, right at the edge of the rainforest. It would have been possible to make it all the way down, but it was already a very long day.

On one hand it is sad that this is the last evening camping out. On the other, it will be nice to get back to having a shower and catching up on internet.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Fri, 19 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Five, Barafu Camp
20121018 Big day, today, but in sections. We got going intentionally late, and took a three hour hike to Barafu Camp, 4678m. At this point we are at the same level as the Lava Tower a couple of days ago, but thanks to that acclimatization hike, no one is feeling it.

The camp is very busy but desolate, right at the bottom of trail to the summit. The summit is finally appearing visibly closer. There are tents strewn all over, wherever the boulders will allow it. Half of them are for people on their way up, the other half for those who are just on their way down. When the winds come, you really feel it. When it's sunny, you boil. We are told the hike to the summit will be just like that, but at night when it's much, much colder.

We are turning in early to get a couple of hours of sleep before setting off at 23:00 or so.

This is it.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Thu, 18 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Four, Karanga Camp
20121017 Today's routine was a little different than usual. We started ascent at 06:30 to climb the Barranco Wall, with the intention of having breakfast at the top. This would allow for not having to climb right after eating.

The climb was straightforward, with a few technical bits. The twist came at the top, where rather than a normal breakfast, Kelly's birthday was celebrated with a little party. Actually, considering the setting, it was a very big party. There were party hats, and the porters were singing Happy Birthday, and the chef managed to procure a cake. The cake was iced and even had a message on it. All this with a beautiful, clear view.

The rest of the hike was all up and down, with a final altitude at Karanga Camp of about 4000m, which is pretty much the same altitude as where we had started the day. It was a short day. About half of the groups went on to the next camp and to do the summit tonight, but that is too rushed. After they summit, they will have to make it a good way down the mountain, too. We will have another short day tomorrow, plus an afternoon/evening break before the summit.

Our favourite guy here is Norbet, the camp manager. He reminds us of Rafiki from Lion King, in that he's always smiling and talking in melody. When he comes to wake us up in the morning with tea, he sings the words. When he brings food, he sings the dish name. In fact, it seems a lot of the porters and workers on the mountain sing, just sing. It's a neat part of the culture, but Norbet really exemplifies it.

Tomorrow should be the climax of the hike. Everyone is apprehensively looking forward to it.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Wed, 17 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Three, Barranco Camp
20121016 Morning was cold, the tent was iced over. We started the day on time, and most of the ascent was excellent. It was a slow and steady incline to 4600m, and everyone was happy with it. Right near the end there was a small drop and then a rise to about 4650m. It was this last bit that invoked altitude sickness in a number of us. For the most part, it was mild headaches. In my case, it was an 8/10 headache; it felt severe.

After lunch we began the descent. I was assured that the headache would go away. Unfortunately, it didn't, and I had the entire descent feeling like a massive hangover minus nausea. Two Tylenol Extra Strength eventually took care of this.

The walk down from the Lava Tower went through some pre-historic forest. It looked like a scene out of some dinosaur movie. The trees here are hundreds of years old and look completely out of place on the mountainside.

The camp for tonight is Barranco Camp, back down at 3950m. As always, our guys got to the camp ahead of everyone else, and chose the best spot. Tonight, it's a camp with a view. The team were also waiting for us and greeted us with The Kilimanjaro Song. Well performed! It was pretty awesome, except for my headache. With a warm and sunny afternoon, we got to enjoy a decent sponge bath and a bit of lazing around. There is also a lot of beautiful scenery to photograph.

Tomorrow is a short day. Hopefully altitude sickness will not kick in. Tonight is supposed to be colder again.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Tue, 16 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Two, Shira Camp
20121015 It would have been a perfect night, but digestion issues brought me to the toilet a good number of times at night. On the bright side, there was a dazzling display of starlight to keep me entertained on every trip. On the other hand, I wasn't planning on chemical toilet being my best friend this expedition.

Today's hike introduced us to the first taste of iodine-purified river water. It isn't tasty. Adding some CrystalLight effectively hides some of the flavour, but not the smell.

We climbed from 3000m to 3850m or so, during the morning. The distance was about 7km. At this altitude, mild effects of altitude sickness could be felt, and I was somewhat dizzy at times, needing frequent stops.

Along the way, we saw how Zara treats its porters. Porters in the park are allowed two packs for a maximum of 20kg of weight in addition to their backpacks. Some of Zara's were carrying very awkward packs that must have weighed in at 40kg or more. They were slipping and falling all over the place. Some had shoes falling apart, and we couldn't help but feel for these guys. Our company's porters moved swiftly and with relative ease. That's not to say they have an easy job, but there is a definitive difference. Without getting into too many details, it is a social dilemma that needs to be solved over here, and I'm glad we're supporting the good guys.

The vegetation at this altitude has changed from short trees to shrubs, but even the density of the small plants is still quite impressive. Large crows fly overhead. Trees that survive here grow by minimal amounts over entire decades.

The afternoon activity consisted of a short, one hour walk to see interesting lava formations near the Shira camp, where we will be spending the night. There were many interesting photo opportunities here.

When we got back it was decided I have to start taking the heavy-duty antibiotics (CiproXL) to ensure that my summit experience is not hampered. Hopefully, results will be forthcoming.

Tomorrow is a big day. There will be hiking comparable in length to the first day, and a rise in altitude to 4600m+, followed by some descent. The goal is to acclimatize to the higher altitudes. We are to expect shortness of breath, headache, nausea, and maybe even vomiting. Sounds like fun.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Mon, 15 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Rainforest and Machame Camp
20121014 Slept really well! The night sounds were all around and teeming with life. Today's the big day.

After the very familiar trip most of the way back to Moshi, we finally got to the Kilimanjaro Machame gate. This is at an altitude of about 1800m. Sign in, followed by tea. We met a nice girl from Australia, who was originally from Canada. She was going with Zara, along with a group we recognized from Springlands from yesterday.

The climb was a fairly steady incline for 12km. Frequently stops as the Diamox altitude drug made water pass very quickly. It also, at times, created a tingly feeling in the fingers.

Most of the day was in the rainforest. It was cloudy or foggy, and the scenery with the tall trees, vines, and mosses was phenomenal. Small amounts of rain were not much of a hindrance.

At the lunch break it became clear what sets our company apart from the others. The Zara group had been eating their standard-issue box lunch as the crew was setting up our dining table and laying out the stainless steel dishes and platters of food. They had assumed that it was for some kind of distinguished group, and when we came up, we overheard "oh, it's the Canadians." Funny. I expect we'll be hearing that all week. Lunch was great.

We eventually emerged from the rainforest to where the trees were a little less dense, and quickly came to the Machame Camp. There was a ranger's office with sign-in, and a radio playing American Top 40. Even halfway up Kilimanjaro there is no getting away from Ryan Seacrest.

Here, at an altitude of just over 3000m, the camp was already waiting with awesome Mountain Hard Wear tents, including a much larger mess tent. Not much happened next, just an introduction to how the camp works, operating our private chemical toilet, and so on. Dinner was served in the mess tent, and was delicious. Compliments to the chef (Jani) and the camp manager (Norbet) for making that happen, and on proper silverware! Hot drinks were also very welcomed; they just kept coming.

Sleep time now, tomorrow is a much shorter climb, but much earlier start.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sun, 14 Oct 2012

Spacer Day
20121013 We had a relatively late start, as we were to get our laundry from Zamo at 08:30, and picked up by the hike guys at 10:00. Our laundry was still wet, but otherwise clean, and we said a final farewell to Zamo. Our pickup was delayed to 11:30, so we used the time to dry clothes and take a swim. Even 200m was hard at this altitude. But it was refreshing.

The drive back to Arusha was, once again, lengthy. It just sort of worked out that we have had to make this trip many times. The hotel/spa that Adventure International uses, Karama Lodge, is phenomenal. Individual huts, all local materials and design, unique feel, and four star treatment. It's not that we haven't been pampered on this trip, it's that we know that there will be less luxury during the next week, so we should take what we can get!

After checking in, we got the Kili briefing from Frank Castro and his Danish-English partner whose name I forgot to take note of. We also met our guide, Godson (Gody). This talk was fantastic for putting us at ease about the climb, and it really was a nice touch to be briefed by the top brass.

Dinner was as on par with everything else at this place, and we packed our hike equipment. I sent a text message to Raf wishing him a good wedding day from Africa. Early sleep time to take maximum advantage of a real bed.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 13 Oct 2012

Last Day of Safari
20121012 This is the last day of safari. It started with a long trip East toward Arusha, and then a turnoff South. Along the way we saw Lake Manyara from high up, and could see where we explored on the first day. Unfortunately, there were pushy people trying to sell merchandise there, and I caved in for some trinkets.

The journey to Tarangire Park was lengthy, but we got a more personal discussion with Zamo about working conditions, how he gets paid, the significance of tips to workers like him, and family life in Tanzania. This was all new ground for us. Since he had been involved in organizations that promote better conditions for porters on Kili and elsewhere, we were able to get a better sense of how we should tip and generally interact with our team during the upcoming hike. It was all extremely helpful, and a relief to know that Summits Africa, our company for the Kili climb, though more expensive, leads the way in treating their people right.

Eventually, we arrived at the Tarangire Park. This park was clearly more within the reach of the locals, as we foreign tourists were outnumbered by school children from many schools on field trips. In the park we saw much of the same as on the rest of the trip, but the terrain was hilly, varied, and quite interesting in and of itself. There were a lot of Baobab trees and other vegetation we had not yet seen up close. On the whole, I thought that we could have skipped this park without missing much. At lunch, entertainment was provided by many Velvet monkeys. Although they would come and steal food and were generally a nuisance, they were interesting and rather cute, especially the little ones. The outing was saved when we ended up encountering a group of two elephant families right at the road, and got to see them eating up close. The baby elephants were suckling.

On the way out, our last safari experience was definitely interesting. Apparently, elephants have good motor control of their penis. One of them got a massive erection and then used it to scratch an itchy spot on his tummy. It then retracted back to normal. Just when you think you've seen everything there is to see... great way to finish.

The trip back to Moshi to the Springlands Hotel was very slow, and we were stuck in heavy traffic in Arusha. The drive was scary as night came on, with a lot of cars without headlights, or misaligned lights, or blinding high beams. Also, lots of very creative passing and generous usage of the highway lanes, shoulders, and sidewalks.

At Springlands, I was quite ready to pack it in. Thankfully, Zamo suggested he could get someone to do our laundry for a reasonable price. We tipped, thanked him, and went off for dinner, and to catch up on much-missed Internet.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Fri, 12 Oct 2012

20121011 Early start today. It doesn't really matter, since the jetlag never really set in.

To get back from the Ikoma Camp to Ngorongoro Park, we have to cross the Serengeti again. We made good time, stopping only once or twice for an interesting shot. The real destination was to return to the wildlife-rich Ngorongoro crater.

It took a long time getting there over really rough roads. It's quite amazing how much of a beating the Land Cruiser can take. The descent into the crater itself was spectacular. We found it a little harder than in the Serengeti to come across animals. The crater was full of zebras, water buffalo, gnus, elephants, and rhinos, but they tended to be hundreds of metres from the road. Where the wildlife was tricky, the panoramic vista of the crater walls made for a beautiful setting. It seemed as though every imaginable ecosystem was present within the crater. The salty lake plumed up a cloud salt dust on one side, another was very green and rich, the middle was dry grass, and other parts were just scorched clay. It is definitely the most scenic of parks.

Lunchtime was spent at a lake toward the brim of the crater. It was almost like an oasis of green in the otherwise surrounding dry area. We had to be careful about eating inside the truck, as overhead hawks were preying on those with food.

We drove out of the crater at the other end and headed back to the Highview Hotel from a few nights back. It was early enough that the pool was still open.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Thu, 11 Oct 2012

More Serengeti
20121010 Today was the main Serengeti outing. We started with many, many zebras on the drive in. Then, we were able to observe lions hunting for gazelle several times. We stuck around for at least twenty minutes, but each attempt failed. The families of lion were up to nine in size. Nearby, we also stumbled upon some elephants bathing.

We are told that the animals don't see individual humans. Instead, they see they truck as a large, multi-headed animal that they are familiar with, and know to not be afraid of. Getting out of the truck would change this, obviously.

After lunch, we proceeded to the large hippo pond. On the way, we were stopped by a large family of elephants who were eating by the road, and then proceeded to cross. It was interesting that the older elephants were guarding their young from us as they crossed. The hippo pond was rather disgusting, as it was small and packed with at least a hundred hippos, all of whom lived in, drank, and defecated into a tiny amount of water. The smell!

Somewhere along the drive, we were treated the sight of a giraffe on the run. This involves amazingly smooth motion. The heavy limbs could be described as moving in slow motion. It was a highlight of the trip so far.

This evening we returned to the Ikoma Camp. The dinner was absolutely fantastic, the best yet. After eating, we had some beers and played a few rounds of Asshole. Glad I brought the cards.

Tonight, must get to sleep early, as we're starting off the earliest we've started yet, and I have to be up at 06:00. This is actually before midnight Ottawa time. It will be a busy day through the crater, and then another park, before heading back to Highlands. Zamo says it is best to start early, and he's been right on everything else so far...

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Wed, 10 Oct 2012

The Safari Continues
20121009 Today was an early start. The hotel proved to be great by virtue of extremely comfortable beds. Slept like a baby. Lots of ground to cover today.

We started by entering Ngorongoro Park and traveled around the crater. Amazing views, but very bumpy road. We will be returning to the crater itself in two days. For now, the view from the ridge was enough to have something to look forward to.

Along the road there were many Maasai villages and herders with their flock. We stopped by a Maasai village and learned a lot about their rituals and how they live. It was all very fascinating, from their schooling, to circumcision customs, to how their family life works, whereby they are polygamous based on the size of their herd, and each woman builds her house for herself and children. The sandal of choice was constructed from treads of worn out motorcycle tires; neat. Unfortunately, the whole experience here felt a little touristy, with a entrance fee and somewhat pushy manner in which their overpriced artistic wares were imposed. Still, it was very informative.

We followed through to Serengeti National Park, for an afternoon game drive. Immediately, large groups of animals were easily within eyeshot. The small game (impalas, gazelles, zebras) were very plentiful, where we had a hard time finding them before. We encountered lions near the road, several hippos, groups of giraffes. Also were water buffalo, warthogs, and so on. We even saw elephants off in the distance. The experience is very dusty and dry, yet there are so many beautiful animals and plants.

Lodging tonight is just outside the North side of the Serengeti, at the Ikoma Wild Camp. We are sleeping in tents under permanent wooden structures. Not allowed outside after dark because of the hyenas. Interestingly, these tents have full washrooms with showers built in. The common lodge house is a lot of fun, and much beer was had. The food here, in the middle of nowhere, is better, if that's possible?

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Tue, 09 Oct 2012

The Safari Begins
20121008 We got up nice and early and headed out on Safari. The goal for the day was to check out the Lake Manyara, as this is on the way West from Moshi to the Serengeti. After getting our packs ready we got introduced to Zamoyoni (Zamo), our guide and driver. Nice guy, great English, drives well, knowledgeable. We stopped to pick up a box of water and drove over through Arusha to the park, about four hours. In there, we saw blue monkeys, baboons, zebra, water buffalo, gazelles and local deer-like creatures, and even a giraffe. Zebras a very graceful and beautiful horses, beautiful as a pack. It was a good way to start, but the lack of sleep coupled with heat made for a tedious day.

The Safari truck is really cool. It is a Tanzanian-modified Toyota Land Cruiser, made longer and more rugged, with a fourth row of seats. The top vaults open to give shade and a view. It is really fun to stand up and take in the wind when it's moving at 60km/h.

The way out of the park was breathtaking. The road climbed and climbed, all with the lake visible in the beautiful colours of the impending sunset.

We get to stay at the Highlands hotel just outside Ngorongoro park. This ends up being a significant upgrade from the initially planned camping. This place is very nice, on the side of a mountain, with very much a small hotel or spa feel to it. The rooms are much nicer (and hopefully quieter!) than Springlands.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sun, 07 Oct 2012

The Flight
20121006 Wake up call at 03:30 for flight at 06:00. The airport was surprisingly busy for a Saturday morning on the US side. Flight to Dulles was uneventful, though the sunrise was breathtaking. In Washington, we found out that flight to Addis Ababa had been delayed by several hours until 15:00. This timing wasn't clear at first, so I didn't have a chance to get out to the Smithsonian to see space shuttle Enterprise. Instead, used free food vouchers and walked around the airport. The flight to Addis was super long. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner was great, with electronically tinting windows and a wider body. Very quiet and gentle on the takeoffs and landings. It was a little disconcerting, though, how the body is not rigid and is free to twist. The walls would move differently than the seats, which would move differently than the overhead compartments and bulkheads.

The flight, as mentioned, was very smooth, and it was quite a view flying over the Sahara. Nice ripples of sand, with a view of the gently-swept, organically-shaped 787 wing.

The airport in Addis was terrible. One delay after another, and a number of other flights were also like this. The plane was broken, it was hot, they were writing bogus boarding passes by hand. After hours of this, the two remaining messed up flights were merged, so we got back on the 787, and did our flight to Kili with a stop along the way on the coast, in Mombasa. In total, we were late to the hotel about seven hours. Total travel time of about thirty two hours. At least the baggage made it (for most of us).

We've been brought out to the Springlands hotel outside of Moshi. The rooms aren't exciting, but the complex as a whole is nice, very resort-ish. Tried some of the local beers and liked Serengeting the most, getting food into myself was also a positive experience, though I had already had about eight meals since leaving YOW.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 06 Oct 2012

Tomorrow starts my first ever trip to Africa.

This trip has been a long time coming, and the three weeks are laid out roughly as follows: a week of Safari in and around the Serengeti, a week of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and a week of relaxation and scuba diving in Zanzibar.

One of my goals is to keep a log of all of the journey along the way, but without doubt, internet access will be a problem, as will time. So, the entries will be written daily on my PlayBook, but will be posted after the fact.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 15 Sep 2012

Powder Room Upgraded
20120914 It took a few months and went a little over bodget, but the downstairs powder room is finally done.

The project started with the replacement of the window on the Canada Day long weekend, and proceeded slowly but steadily to completion. The vanity, which was a real "steal" price at Home Depot last winter, now has a cabinet. The tile backsplash behind it adds a lot to the visual appeal of the room. The medicine cabinet mirror was stripped and stained to match the other dark woods being put in on the ground floor of the house. Otherwise, the fittings were upgraded, and the paint and trim were updated to flow with the rest of the ground floor renovations. We looked all over for a lamp that would work, since it needed to hang from the ceiling and not interfere with the medicine cabinet opening; Rona came to the rescue on that one.

In the end, the project went a little over budget on the choice of tile, but it was worth it for a much-updated and stylish washroom.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Sat, 01 Sep 2012

Time Flies
And so another month has come and gone, with September just around the corner.

This month has kept me busy with various things around the house. The biggest has been work on the downstairs powder room. Fun things like tile and plumbing I can add to my list of experiences.

We also spent last week in Hatteras, North Carolina. This was my third time there. The weather wasn't great, but every visit there has its idyllic moments. This time, I wanted to try my hand at scuba diving amongst some very impressive wrecks along that stretch of coastline. Unfortunately, with hurricane Isaac in its formative stages, all of the trips out were canceled. Will have to wait until Tanzania to dive!

[] | posted @ 03:54 | link
Thu, 05 Jul 2012

First Tomato
20120704 This evening I had the pleasure of enjoying the first tomato that has ripened in my backyard garden. It was flavourful and delicious.

The garden is not a serious project. It is literally a few plants, planted haphazardly in whatever place they would fit. Nonetheless, it looks as though there will be many tasty fruits to come throughout the summer.

Next year the garden ought to be expanded.

[] | posted @ 03:46 | link
Tue, 05 Jun 2012

20120604 This isn't exactly news, but it's nice to write about it, even a fair bit after the fact. Toward the end of our trip to Europe, I asked Wendy to marry me, and she accepted. That was nice of her, as it would have been a really awkward flight back home if she had said no! Of course, I knew it would be a positive answer...

It took some time to find the right moment to ask. I had been walking around with the ring (a family heirloom) in my pocket for some time, when the time felt just right. As it happened, the right time was at the cottage on a warm spring evening, on the patio, with the flickering fireplace roaring in the background and a beautiful starfield overhead.

Many good times ahead.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Fri, 01 Jun 2012

Europe 2012
20120531 Got back last week after spending two weeks around Europe. It was a whirlwind trip by car, with destinations including Warsaw, Kraków, Zakopane, Prague, Dresden, and Łódź. The first half was spent on the road, and the second half in Łódź.

With time flying by so quickly, it was an interesting case study in the similarities and differences between each of the old towns on our trip. It seemed that they all had an Old Market Square, with features that could easily have been transplanted from one to another. The highlight of going through the cities was probably the quality and variety of the churches. They were numerous and ranging from very simple to very elaborate, depending on what period they were erected, and which faith or denomination.

We spent more time in Prague than anywhere else on the driving part of our trip. There, the hotel we stayed at was call Pachtuv Palace, and it was really very nice. Apparently, Mozart had lived there at some point. Fantastic view of the river, Charles Bridge, and the castle hill. Overall, that city felt a little too touristy to me. Despite the fact that Prague is a genuinely old town, and Dresden is completely rebuilt, the lack of pandering to tourists in Dresden made it feel much more genuine. Dresden still had tourist attractions, it just wasn't over the top like Prague.

In the second half of the trip, I finally got to spend some time at my favourite place in the world, the family cottage. It was difficult pulling me away from there! Travel is fun; it's a shame I don't get to do as much of it as I used to.

[] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Tue, 01 May 2012

April Came and Went
If I didn't know any better, I would say that time has accelerated somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times this year. It seems that months are just flying by.

April has been pretty busy. Just in the last week, I've been putting finishing touches on my Europe vacation, booking flights and adventures in Africa for a trip later this year, searching for a nice beach house on the Outer Banks in North Carolina for what always turns into a nice summer getaway, and planning a scuba diving trip to Tobermory, as well as committing to do the PADI Open Water Advanced course in the St. Lawrence before then. My late birthday present, a BlackBerry PlayBook, arrived recently, and getting into it has been a fun pastime as well. But what is really taking all of the time is plucking the weeds in the much neglected yard and making the grass the best it can be.

I am consoled by the fact that May will undoubtedly be busier.

[] | posted @ 03:20 | link
Wed, 28 Mar 2012

The Big Three-Oh
Looks like it's my thirtieth birthday today. Looking back, my twenties were certainly exciting. Embarking on my fourth decade ought to be fun.

[] | posted @ 22:44 | link
Wed, 04 Jan 2012

20120103 And a Happy New Year it was. One of the many items on the list of to-dos in the precious little time before returning to work was to get the most recent batch of wine all finished up.

Last year's Ottawa Wine and Food Show left me with the distinct impression that perhaps Malbec is my favourite grape of all. All of the wines I had sampled had a nice smooth quality to them, with a gentle warmth after each sip. Celebrating the end of the major renovations would be accomplished with a fine batch of Malbec.

Though it's still aging, I'm certain it was a good choice. Even at the time of bottling it was surprisingly smooth and mellow. Cheers to that!

[] | posted @ 04:25 | link

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