birthday present from Serengeti

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August 23rd 2008
Published: August 23rd 2008
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I am still in Tanzania, my first trip with clients in this country just ended. I now have 2 more days to relax and get ready for the next trip before the new group arrives. But I am happy to do it all again as I really enjoyed it. The group was really nice, and we had favorable weather almost all the time, especially on the summit days, on Meru and Kili. The trip is amazing.

So the first part of the trip was Mt Meru, which I had done just before the clients arrived. I found it easier and less intimidating the second time, and the morning of the summit there was virtually no wind, so it was a lot warmer than the previous time. The sunrise was really beautiful, with the sun coming up exactly behind the Kilimanjaro that we could see very well on this clear morning. You just can't get tired of seeing such beauty. And it had a special flavor when Boni started making this special sound and singing as some of the clients reached the top. Of course this trip was a bit more stressful as I worried about some of the clients who were having a tough time with the altitude. But all went well, and after the long descent, we all rested in the afternoon before going down the next day, where a nice buffet awaited us.

We then stayed in a really nice lodge, we actually had little cabins, total luxury, for 2 nights before we headed to Kili. It was exactly like in my "african dreams", so beautiful and relaxing, I think I could have stayed there for many weeks. Or months. Except for the big spider that shared the hot shower with me.

We did a little safari the next day and visited a "snake farm". Quite interesting actually, with many snakes, and chameleons, and also big crocodiles. And turtles.

So then it was time to go to Kili, the main part of the trip. It was my first time too, so I relied a lot on the local guide that was with us. He did such a great job, and so did the other 55 staff with us... A huge team! But this is "les Karavaniers"!!!! Little extras all the time, like the plastic flowers that they put on the table for us at every meal!!! We spent 7 days on Kili. The first one was very short, but we first had to get to the mountain, the porters had to weigh their bags that they carry on their heads, etc, etc. We had 2 lunches, and this almost became the norm, on top of afternoon tea and pop corn, and supper. And breakfast, of course. The first day was short and a bit wet, but when we finally reached the camp, the porters were all singing and dancing for us, and we actually danced the last 100 meters with them, and it was heart warming, and wonderful and so African. I loved it.

The next day was a lot longer and we actually went very very slow, so that nobody was out of breath and it was the best way to get used to the altitude. So we walked for about 10 hours, "polepole" (slowly), and reached our next camp. There was almost nobody else, which is rare on Kili. We watched the sunset on Mt Meru this time, and it was really beautiful, and somewhat cold. The next day we saw hundreds of other trekkers, as we joined the Machame trail, one of the most popular ones. And the day after that, there was even more people and the trail was quite exciting with the Baranco wall, a quite steep ascent on about 200-300m. Part of it you need to use your hands and we wondered how the porters managed this with big loads on their head.

Then up to Barafu, another crowded camp where most people get up around midnight to make it to the top, and back in the same day. But we slept until almost morning, and climbed almost to the top, and down the crater where we spent the night. Camping at 5700m is not very pleasant and we all suffered from mild altitude sickness. Some more than others and I slept very little that night, partly because of a major headache and partly because I was worried about some of the clients. By morning my headache was gone, but I felt like puking when I saw the porridge, and organized the descent of one of the clients who was too weak to go up. The others all climbed the steep trail to the summit, in the dark and cold morning, and we finally reached the top shortly after sunrise. We stood on top of the highest mountain in Africa for about 10 minutes, took some pictures and then started the long descent.

It is amazing how quickly you start feeling better, almost like magic when you are a few hundred meters lower. The trail to go down was nice and easy, and we camped one more night before we reached the gate again, and drove back to Arusha, after more singing, dancing, eating and congratulating each other.

We then went on a safari, first in Serengeti, then in Ngorongoro and Manyara. The first day was great, we saw many animals, amongst them a lioness with her 2-3 day old cubs. Elephants, gazelles, hippos, giraffes, and a leopard that came so close to our jeep that our driver had to close his window very quickly!!!

But the next day was more special. It was my birthday. And just like a birthday present, Serengeti offered us some unforgettable moments. First we saw a cheeta that just had his gazelle stolen by a leopard. That leopard jumped in a tree, with the gazelle (or the half that was left) in its mouth, and left it there. It came down, and had to chase a chacal who also wanted the gazelle. the cheeta was not happy, and eventually walked away. Meanwhile, the leopard waited a while and eventually walked to a copjies (pile of ancient rocks), where we realized that she had 2 cubs. So we watched her licking her cubs and watched these cute little critters play for a long time. Eventually the leopard got up, walked back to the tree, grabbed the gazelle and brought it back to the copjies where she ate it while her cubs were still playing around. Amazing. And so close to us.

Then we saw lions. 2 females, one big male. They were walking on the road at first, then they climbed a beautiful yellow acacia tree. Only the lionesses climbed, the male was too big. He just scratched the tree with his claws and laid down under it in the sun. The two lionesses also were napping and the sight was just amazing. Lions rarely climbed trees apparently, but this time it was picture-perfect!

And then we saw a huge elephant, so big that our driver asked me to get back inside the jeep (I was sitting on the roof)... I didn't think much of it at first but when I saw the pictures, I realized that the elephant was at least twice as big as the jeep, so it was probably better to be nice with him...

Then we saw a big group of about 30 elephants. Fascinating. And more lions, and more baby lions. So altogether an amazing day, followed by a nice dinner, cake and a present from my clients. Unforgettable.

The next day we explored the Ngorongoro crater where we saw a rhino in the distance, just good enough to say that we saw the "big five"! And we finished the trip with one night in Lake Manyara National Park where we stayed in little huts, had another hot shower and did a short safari.

So a wonderful trip, again, and more to come. I am now staying in a nice hotel, and tonight I am the only guest... I am now studying some swahili and reading more about this wonderful country.

By the way thanks to everybody for the e-mails. I read them all and soon I will answer... But I had very little time in the last few weeks and also the internet here is painfully slow!



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