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

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