Africa Archive


Moroccan Reunions

With only a little over a week in Morocco and my parents along for the ride, we had decided to simplify the Moroccan adventure to […]

Parental reunion in Casablanca

With only a little over a week in Morocco and my parents along for the ride, we had decided to simplify the Moroccan adventure to 3 different locations and perspectives; a triangle of experiences so to speak. Casablanca of the movie and beaches fame, mostly because it was easy access; Marrakech for markets, desert and mountains and a small seaside artist town Essaouira, on the Atlantic. It meant not a lot of time wasted in transit which gave us more opportunity to settle in and soak up the respective flavours on offer.

After our false start with Ramadan the day before, we arrived to meet mom and dad at their hotel early afternoon, too firstly catch up but also brief them in on the planned adventure. It was wonderful to see them in person after almost 2 years, surreal as the location of this encounter was in the context of an Australian parental reunion. Rarely does time or distance change much with them, a major blessing when I am always overseas and never in regular proximity. I was still impressed that they had agreed to meet in Morocco during Ramadan and there was some relief that the setting, foreign circumstances or time had not changed the ease and comfortable nature of our relationship. If anything I was the one that was different here – thinner, healthier, less hair and more relaxed or at least that’s the feedback loop.

Later as we walked around the old medina and soaked up the markets and new environment, I had the joy of seeing things through mum and dad’s eyes. Sometimes as a traveller you do get jaded and take things for granted. The day to day of negotiating and buying food at the markets suddenly becomes an enlivened experience through the contrasting perspective of someone doing it for the first time. Country after country, back to back like this sometimes the process becomes the same and you take it for granted.

Buying food at the local street stalls

Watching someone who has never had to negotiate for anything in their life, become aware of the entire process for the first time is fascinating. The simplest items that seem cheap at first glance, escalate downwards in price as you walk away, sometimes ending up at 10% of the original asking price. Initially the prospect of entering this foray to buy something is daunting. I had to press Megumi for months at the start of our trip in South East Asia to engage in the game. She simply wasn’t used to it at all and hated the protracted engagement of it, she wanted out of a transaction as quickly as possible and was happy to pay more to do it. But the negotiation is a process in itself, it puts a face on the deal – both parties get to know each other a little better over the course of a transaction and it feels more real, you have to give more of yourself to own something. We have become so de-sensitized in the west to these things through consumerism. You can spend days buying something and never really talk or look at someone seriously at home. In SE Asia, India, Africa and the Middle East the art of bargaining brings the whole process alive more and there is a greater personal attachment to the purchase. None of which of course is obvious at first and my parents’ initial horror at the difficulty of establishing a real price was priceless to watch.

kids in the alleys of Marrakech

After a day of casual orientation and catching up in Casablanca, we caught a train to Marrakech, an easy 5 hour journey through a countryside that changed gradually from coastal agriculture to more arid inland and ultimately mountain desert. Again mom and dad refreshed our experience with their fascination with the countryside and the agricultural processes on display. This is what they do and love I realize, as the kilometres rolled ceaselessly by they let forth an uninterrupted commentary and speculation on the types of agriculture and plant-life on display. New things were revealed to me, that normally we would look at but not really see – hay bales stacked in barn like shapes with mud coverings on the roof to protect from the elements; strange irrigation systems, exotic crops and endemic plants. Suddenly I felt like a student again – they were going to give as good as they good on this trip, I realized with satisfaction.

Marrakech is famously a crazy place and from the station, we took advantage of an open coffee shop catering to hungry tourists (you eat where you see an opportunity as a foreigner in Ramadan), before plunging in and haggling a taxi to the old medina. A walled fort that represents the old Marrakech, the medina is a large extended marketplace and surrounding honeycomb labyrinth of streets and homes seemingly unchanged in centuries. Outside the walls, the newer Marrakech sprawls a vibrant bright apricot montage of stone buildings, the same uniform colour in all directions. All the colours seem to contrast themselves beautifully against the green of the palm trees, the white walls of the old fort and the orange browns of the town and Medina itself and the distant brown of the Atlas Mountains. Our taxi came to a stop at the end of a tiny, cobble stoned street lost deep in the Medina and all organization also came to an end. Ahead of us was the labyrinth of little laneways, somewhere in the vicinity of a traditional Moroccan home, called a Riad (Dar Tayib) where we had made a booking to stay a few nights. As we pulled our bags from the taxi, a skinny old man with a pull cart (think two wheels on a metal frame) started loading our bags, before we could properly agree a price (a big no-no) and suddenly we were on foot and chasing him through the tiny winding streets, dodging a cacophony of people, dogs, motorbikes and everything else – trying to keep him in sight as he shot left and right into little hidden cobblestone back alleys dodging kids at play to our destination.

The courtyard of our Riad

Arriving surprisingly safely at our Riad, we were greeted by the owner, a lovely Moroccan lady, (married to a Frenchmen) and ushered into a little haven of peace and serenity. The Riad was a 3 storey house and quite typical in design. Built around a central courtyard full of tall palms, plants and a water fountain; on the ground floor were cushioned lounge spaces, a dinning room and a kitchen, the second and 3rd floor contained beautiful bedrooms with stone ensuite bathrooms and the rooftop provided another covered lounge and a sundeck overlooking a closely packed, endless 3 story high jumble in all directions, Mosque turrets littering the skyline, the only thing to really break up the horizon. You can easily imagine jumping across these buildings in an action movie chase scene reminiscent of the ‘Bourne Supremacy?’

Overlooking the grand market in Marrakech

Later, under the careful guidance of a young maid at the hotel, on her way home to her family for the first meal of Ramadan, we were shown how to navigate to the main marketplace and square. A 15 minute journey through a winding network of seemingly all right turns down ever increasing corridors of activity; stalls and markets becoming more tourist orientated the closer we came, until ultimately feeding into the grand square itself. The great square of Marrakech is one of those amazing places, endlessly photographed and in films. Surrounded by Mosques on 2 sides and 2 story restaurants, the square is the gateway to the broader covered markets and supports an ever changing assortment of wildlife. Snake charmers with Cobra’s and other snakes sit around in baskets waiting for tourists to pay them a few bucks to do their tricks. Elsewhere men with monkeys on chains wait to do the same, in non-Ramadan times the place buzzes with jugglers as well, but the combination of heat and no food or liquid must be tough on athletes. At night, 50 or so food stalls set-up with tables and chairs and compete to serve all sorts of Moroccan delicacies – including snails.

Plates anyone?

We ducked the heat and sat on the second storey to take this all in, before plunging into the markets themselves. Marrakech used to be a border town and hub for the tribes of Africa and the Sahara to bring their wares. These days it is more considerably geared towards tourist staples and the operators are vicious salesmen – there are centuries of genetic, Darwinian selection mechanisms at work here on how to make a buck. The market features endless stores selling classic variations of carpets, ornately designed plates, tangines, leather and metalwork, clothing and the more exotic (ie strange herbal cures, owls and chameleons or lion skins). Intertwined with mosques, museums and other attractions, the market takes days to explore fully and even more patience to dodge the touts and friendly scams let alone negotiate a sale effectively. We had 3 days here, enough to get to know our way around reasonably well and get familiar with more realistic prices and some of the standard scams. We are able to hand hold mum through the buying process for an authentic tangine, some baskets and some other novelties to try and get her at least a better deal – no one wins here really though and as good as the markets are, the bargaining process totally wore her out I think.

An overheated driver and his Mercedes

A couple of days in we hired an English speaking driver (and his old blue Mercedes) for the day to take us up into the Atlas mountains and see some of the ancient Kasbahs (forts) and towns of the high plains and Saharan wilderness. Leaving early dad comfortably ensconced in the front seat and rattling off, a whole host of repressed questions about the agriculture and farming practices of the region, we passed through huge tracts of cactus bearing fruits covering the sides of the road and starting rising up into the bare mountains. At this point the Mercedes starting to struggle and the driver pulled over to show us a hole in the radiator. Apparently he needed our fare plus another in order to be able to afford the repair. Somehow he spent the next 10 hours climbing through the mountains, stopping regularly to fight the steam, cool down the engine and replace water without ever breaking his fast and taking a drink. The spiritual strength that the Muslim practice and its key rituals such as Ramadan develop is something to envy.

In front of Ait Bennadou

We weren’t to unnerved at the pace though, stopping regularly and going slowly gave us more time to soak up the dramatic mountain scenery and hundreds of stunning, mud villages set amongst oases along the riverbed floor as they slowly succumbed to the encroaching Saharan desert. We made a couple of key stops to check out the famous Kasbah’s, huge mud like forts where the Sultans used to live that oversaw the region. Decrepit and ruined on the outside, one we saw had stunning mosaic tile work inside the harem (naturally). A guide from the village, a Saharan Bedouin took us around for free which as it turned out meant we in turn needed to check out his carpet shop. They had some nice pieces, but after Iran I was pretty full up on the old carpets and the folks didn’t seem to keen on the potential for bargaining involved. We continued on down the valley, following the small winding stream and green oasis at the bottom as the mountains became more arid and opened into desert, the whole time. Finally we arrived at Ait Bennadou – the famous mud fortress that has appeared in dozens of films from “Gladiator” to “Jewell of the Nile”. Here we had the chance to explore the entire village, tourist trap as it is, it was a stunning location.

The Fort walls of Essaouira

When we eventually made it back to Marrakech, (our driver finally got a drink as the sun set) we had another day for some last minute shopping and exploration of the inner medina, before making the bus trip over to the coastal city of Essaouria a 3 or 4 hour journey. After the chaos of Marrakech, Essaouira was a very pleasant change of pace. Jimmy Hendrix used to escape here and the place has a very laid back, relaxed feel. Positioned by the sea, a fort built by the French out over a windy point; the walls of all the homes, fort and city are shaded white, but all the doors, windows and boats are painted a vivid bright blue. It provided a striking contrast and counterbalance to the apricot, dusty confrontation of Marrakech. We had booked a place at Riad Amana, a beautifully restored Riad with lovely bright, colourful rooms across several floors around a cental courtyard.

Juraba clad local selling hats in Essaouira

The town and characters here were intriguing which is always handy when there is little else to do other than wander around and sample the cuisine, sights and markets. The men here wear long hooded woollen jackets called Jurabas to keep out the wind, while women swaddle themselves in bright colours. The alleys are full of paintings, wood work sculptures and other bright local crafts. While primarily a fishing town, it is very popular with tourists taking in the sights from the fort walls and its cannons; braving the windy beach or just soaking up the seaside atmosphere and tranquility.

For our last stop, we caught a bus back to Casablanca. Compared to our other destinations this place did not really live up to its billing for mine, there was nothing remarkable here – its amazing what a movie will do to create a false expectation. We did get up to the beach / resort strip just to see how the other side partied though. Not quite the beautiful beaches we had imagined, more wall to wall gated resorts with private pools, restaurants and deckchairs. I get the impression that this is more where wealthy Moroccans come on holiday.

That aside, Morocco was a fantastic experience, it was exotic, unique and leaves a distinct echo in the memory. There are not many places we have been like that. Honestly, in many ways it could have been anywhere really – just being able to reconnect with family would supersede any backdrop for us. But the experience of being able to share our travel experience with mom and dad and in so doing, open up a destination to them that they would likely never have been able to manage on their own was also immensely satisfying.


Touchdown in Ramadan, Morocco

First impressions of a place are always memorable, sometimes though when you are travelling you also have that moment, I’m sure you know what it […]

First impressions of a place are always memorable, sometimes though when you are travelling you also have that moment, I’m sure you know what it feels like – nothing seems right all of a sudden, everything is foreign, threatening and heavy with intent and your instincts tell you that you are not universally aligned with this yet, that you have made a mistake, that you really should not be here. Arriving in Morocco during Ramadan was one of those for me.

Our plane got in from Paris late afternoon and my first Moroccan experience was getting into an argument with the taxi driver. Trying to bring down his rates to what I thought was an acceptable level, 12 months of travelling at least automatically trains you this way. After some heated discussion I was taken over to a faded official looking sign and shown the standard tariffs and made to realize I was undershooting the mark considerably, it was a 30km drive into town. I was gearing myself up a little too much for the infamous Moroccan rip-off I guess, but it set the scene appropriately enough. By the time we reached downtown Casablanca it was 6pm, the taxi driver had been driving way to fast, desperate to get us to our destination so that he could get home to his family to break his fast when the sunset. Can’t say I blame him really, if I hadn’t had anything to eat, drink or smoke all day I would be equally as daring I suspect. As he dropped us off though, he started in with that now familiar drama of pretending not to have any change, (even though I had seen him pull out the right note and hurriedly return it quickly to his pocket). What followed was a feeble show at an attempt to get change from a corner store and then the ‘I need to eat – its Ramadan’, just give it too me because you are a foreigner and must be rich, guilt routine. After our drama at the get-go this was a game I didn’t care to lose, me being a man of principles and all. So I started wandering to a couple of corner stores requesting change until eventually I just bought some water to get it all done. The driver by this time was yelling at me and playing furious. I finally got him his cash and he departed with a tire spin and a whole torrent of abuse in Arabic. Not an auspicious start really.

After that, we roamed a few blocks in downtown Casablanca looking for a hotel. Everything was closed, no shops were open anywhere, dust and rubbish flowed in the streets, young dodgy looking locals and rapid dogs cast nervy, threatening sidelong glances our way and all the hotel owners seemed disinterested to put it mildly. We eventually checked into a relatively clean looking cheapie and since things were now dark outside figured it was safe to go find something to eat. The earlier picture hadn’t changed though and if anything seemed worse, a few coffee shops were open with a scattering of men inside ominously smoking and drinking tea; more young, dangerous looking guys were about and it took us 30 or 40 minutes to find somewhere resembling a restaurant to eat at, there was not another foreigner in sight. As we sat down to order, I had that sinking feeling that I had made a big mistake. Morocco is a dodgy place at the best of times and travelling in Ramadan was obviously not going to work. Nothing of the vibrant, exciting colours and highs of the Morocco experience was going to be accessible. The place was going to be a grumpy, dangerous mortuary of entertainment. The last place in the world you would want to meet your parents for a week of shared travel.

Mom and dad had happened to be in Europe for a few months and since we were both in the same continent and hadn’t seen each other for a few years now, (long before we stated travelling), we had worked out a way to spend a week travelling together. I had sent them some options of places to go, but been pleasantly surprised and excited when they choose Morocco, by far the edgiest of the bunch. Mum, had been a little reticent later on once she had worked out Ramadan was on, but I had confidently reassured her that it would be great – it was the one side of the Muslim world we had yet to really experience in our travels. Now however that all seemed to be a remote pipe dream and extremely ambitious thinking. We were the seasoned travelers in charge of navigation, entertainment, planning, security and the rest. I couldn’t wait to see them, but was anxious to ensure they had a great time and experience and everything went smoothly.

Dinner was naturally a pretty sombre affair as I contemplated all this, an average meal not really helping to boost expectations either. As we walked outside though, (by this time about 9pm or so) the place was dramatically transformed. Suddenly the streets were heaving with people, unsavoury characters magically turned into extended families; cars and motorbikes woven into an intoxicating union of total congestion, while lights of all colours lit up the city in every direction. Stores were open everywhere and every sidewalk cluttered with spot market sellers, even the street cleaners were in operation cleaning up the days mess. The large centre square and fort walls of the old medina, previously abandoned now was a throng of markets and customers, touting all manner of touristy wares, vegetables and mobile phones. But it was the sound itself that left the biggest impression. Noticeably absent before, the place hummed with an energy and positivity that was both infectious and celebratory.

As we wandered the streets catching the mood, all the previous anxiety and tension eased away. The party seemed to continue all night and by morning I couldn’t wait for mom and dad to get here – it was different sure and was going to have it moments, but still going to be a lot of fun! We were just going to have to align ourselves a little differently with this strange new schedule and outlook, but that is what real experiences require anyway!


Spice Island Paradise – Zanzibar, Tanzania

Dhow boats fishing above seaweed gardens, somewhere off the East coast of Zanzibar.

Dhow boats fishing above seaweed gardens, somewhere off the East coast of Zanzibar.


Zanzibar Reflections

The spice islands of the Zanzibar archipelago, our last stop in East Africa, promised a great chance to relax and with its heat and Muslim […]

The spice islands of the Zanzibar archipelago, our last stop in East Africa, promised a great chance to relax and with its heat and Muslim population, a perfect transitional base for our next move to the Middle East. Located a couple of hours off the coast of Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar is one of those words that just seems to command thoughts of the exotic and mysterious. It is a place steeped in a complicated history, trade here dates back several thousands years. At various times it has been a hub for Persian, Arabic, Indian, British, Portugese and Omani trade. Famed for its spices and as an epicentre for the African slave trade, the sultans of Oman used this as the location for their palaces and centre of government as recently as the turn of the 20th century.

Stonetown's beautiful doors!

Arriving early morning on the ferry from Dar the first place you encounter is Stonetown. A pretty warren of whitewashed stone houses, cobblestone streets, craft shops, forts and palaces, it is a magical setting. From the beach and waterfront Dhow boats sail in all directions, while the doors of many of the houses here are intricately carved works of art and hundreds of years old. Both provide tangible hints to the islands past, traditions and history. We have actually decided to spend a few days here right before our departure, so we jump a ‘dallah dallah’ (an open sided truck version of a mini-bus) and head across the island to the East Coast, Jambiani.

Jambiani is a quiet village that extends several kilometres along one of the best beaches in Zanzibar so we have read. Our first destination is a lodge that we had heard about from most Japanese long term travellers we had met that had stopped through here. Malaika is a small, cheap guesthouse that Japanese seem to love not just for the price (it is the cheapest place by a mile), but for the food. Somewhere along the way the villager who runs this place has not only learn’t Japanese but more importantly how to cater to the Japanese stomach and sure enough when we arrive there are 3 other Japanese solo travellers there. The rooms are simple, no electricity, extremely basic bathrooms but board comes with dinner and breakfast. We dump our bags and head off to explore the beach, only to find that the water was lapping on the edge of the houses that line the waterfront, a little surprised we retreat to the village instead and spend a few hours wandering the thin strip that is the town.

Our rasta run getaway

Everyone is friendly here, Swahili greetings of Jambo (hello), Habari (How are you?) and Karibu (Welcome) echo around us in all directions; old men, play board games in fenced, seated areas beneath tree’s in the afternoon shade, kids chase us down the street so that they can hold our hands and for the first time in as long as I can remember no-one is trying to sell us something! Paradise indeed! The biggest industry in this part of Zanzibar (apart from tourism) seems to be seaweed. Just about every house has a pegged square of the stuff drying. I had read that Japan was one of the huge export markets for this stuff, but it was fascinating to see. As the afternoon grew long, the water receded and a thin beach reassuringly began to appear, so we walked along it looking at the various waterfront options trying to find somewhere to stay longer term. As nice as the food at Malaika might be, no electricity was a bit of an issue and it simply didn’t have the appeal of a 4 day stay. It is low season at present, so most of the hotels and beach escapes are closed or hadn’t seen customers in weeks, making it easy enough to negotiate pretty decent rates. After a few exploratory enquiries, we stumbled upon a bright, funky place called “Starfish”, run by a community of young friendly rasta’s with a constant reggae flow. They had a standalone villa, beautifully appointed, cheap, with hammock and right on the beach just along from the restaurant / bar, all the furniture constructed out of old wooden boats. We struck a deal for tomorrow, got initiated into the ‘family’ and headed back for dinner. True to form, Malaika served up a Japanese fish style curry, accompanied by mountains of rice and tea. Megumi was well satisfied, even more so by the stack of Japanese books they had collected in the library. Post dinner we wandered down the beach to another rasta bar with the other Japanese travellers and received our biggest surprise. It seems we had arrived at high tide and during the dinner interval the water had receded almost 500 metres from shore, in the process stranding the hundreds of dhow boats on the sand and revealing large seaweed farms and a wide sandy beach – the white water of the waves now no more than a tiny spec in the distance.

Our plan was simply to relax and do nothing for 4 days here, catch up on some reading, some blogging & indulge ourselves in other such nothings. As we moved into Starfish the next day we realized we couldn’t have chosen a more apt setting. The oceans daily transformations became the most hypnotic backdrop imaginable. With the ebb and flow of the tide, the entire village appeared, tending their seaweed farms in the morning, going fishing and hauling seaweed back to the shore. You could literally wade out ankle deep for half a kilometre amongst the farms, boats and villagers. Then as the tide came in early afternoon everyone retreated, the ocean a clean, turquoise blanket discreetly hiding all evidence of the labour. The evenings waves washing in with them a huge assortment of seaweed and shells, pickings for the early morning villagers to clean up, sort through and farm out for valuables.

Seaweed gardening at low tide

After a hectic several months, we hadn’t really had a chance to relax or reflect much on our travel to date. Kenya aside, Africa had been a constantly moving feast, with little respite for contemplations, as had our last days in India truth be told. Here, seemingly in a village devoid of tourists or agenda, the space finally revealed itself and in tune with the villagers magnetic daily routines, the thoughts flowed.

To be honest, I had little expectations in Africa. India / Nepal, the Middle East and South America were all my key destinations when we set out. Africa was kind of a Megumi indulgence, seduced by the animals she so loves and the chance to tick off another continent in our adventure. It was a surprise packet really, an unknown and after almost 3 months here I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Certainly there are a few places I would have loved to have gotten the chance to explore and allocated more time to – Uganda first and foremost, but also Botswana and some countries in the West Coast (Senegal, Ghana). Had we known more, we probably wouldn’t have flown to Egypt either, but rather tried overlanding through Ethopia and the Sudan. Yet everywhere we go, we have such compromises to make.

The endearing sense of the African continent is similar to my own feelings about Australia in many ways, though very different in others. Nature inspires here and is the dominant driving force of the land, everything subordinate; yet whereas the harshness of the Australian condition results in nature achieving numerous harmonious niches, Africa is different this way. It has a raw Darwinian feel to it – it’s all ‘survival of the fittest’, top of the food chain stuff here, something that extends to both its animals and its tribal conflicts among the people. Life is incredibly cheap here and only the strong survive.

Dhow boat at sunset

With a few rare exceptions; civilization and the cities don’t really offer that much in the ways of an experience in Africa. There is little to learn from most of the continents epi-centres, tending simply to be a place for the masses to try their luck at escaping the cycle of poverty. Crime, violence and desperation seem to increase exponentially with the population, but perhaps that could be said of most places in the world outside Japan. It is only out in the countryside, the villages and stunning expanse of the natural environment that Africa impresses. My abiding memories will be those of the safari’s, hikes and bus rides – immersions amongst both people and animals, totally unique experiences in the context of our global adventures.

The other thing that stands out unfortunately is the expense. Africa is not cheap and tragically not suited to the budget traveller. All the good things here cost serious money and they are really the things you want to do. In many places prices are anchored in US dollars, manipulated by corrupt, self serving governments and feel extortionate relative to the poverty of the surrounding people and villages. There is rarely a middle ground. It would not be a problem if it felt like the money was going to the community but this is rarely the case. Asia and other great tourist destinations do not work this way, they tend to embrace their exchange differences as a key attraction, catering to all the market segments and opportunities. In the desperate grab for cash in this land, everyone has sold themselves short of the bigger picture and the chance to captivate more people with the African magic and bridge so many of the cultural and financial divides that simmer below the surface here. For this and other reasons, I am actually glad to be leaving. The time spent here has been magical, insightful and an experience that will live long in the memory – but it is comparative poor value for money. We are not constrained by student budgets as many of the travellers that we meet, but we also know we have other places where we would rather spend it. There are cheaper ways to see Africa though I think – buy a 4WD and camp or alternatively volunteer (though most people we have spoken to working this way, said they have not enjoyed the experience and likely would not come back). Perhaps we will revisit someday if I happen to trip and fall into a fat corporate salary; a limited travel window would tend to hide the sting a lot more effectively.

Until then, though, we have the Middle East to think about. And as I look out at the incoming tide, a whole new set of challenges seems to be washing in – burka’s, conservatism, ancient civilizations, no alcohol and insane heat, all balanced by a completely new raft of exotic delights. I can’t wait!


On Safari in Tanzania

Ego bruised and body still numb from our Kilimanjaro adventures, stage two of our Tanzanian explorations involved a 5 day camping Safari taking in 4 […]

Ego bruised and body still numb from our Kilimanjaro adventures, stage two of our Tanzanian explorations involved a 5 day camping Safari taking in 4 of Tanzania’s national parks, with emphasis on the big 2 – the Serengeti & the Ngorongoro crater. We had chosen to do a combined climbing /safari package with Zara Adventures as this seemed to offer better value for money and was just plain easier really. While still exorbitant, it provided us with a quality budget camping safari scenario and we had also taken a liking to the hotel’s free wifi, hot shower, dining and laundry facilities that nicely bookended each stage of our journey. All up, this combined part of our travels though was far from cheap, eating close to 10% of our overall travel budget – but we were in Africa and somehow it seemed the right thing to do.

Our trusty safari steed

After being introduced to our driver / guide, Robert; our cook, Erasto and a superbly outfitted 4×4 LandCruiser, we were good to go. And after a few supply stops, we left Moshi, a peaceful town at the foothills of Kilimanjaro at about 10.30am and set off North towards our first stop – Manyana National Park.

The drive was a story in itself, perhaps acutely focused by the inability of my limbs to do anything at this point in time the eyes became transfixed by the changing landscape. Moshi is lush, green and verdant – the fields packed with coffee, banana’s and maize (corn). As we rolled past Arusha, the major town that serves as the launching part for Northern Tanzania and the Safari industry, maize became the predominant crop. As the plains appeared and the maize thinned, so too did small herds of goats and sheep, round thatched huts and red clad locals – the distinctive signs of the Masai. The Masai are very a traditional tribe and custodians of the plains and savannahs of these parts for millennia, attired in combinations of red & purple hued tunics (to ward off lions), each carries a traditional walking stick (even on a bike), a sheathed knife and in the wilds a spear. Slowly the singular huts became circular villages (or Bomvu’s) – hemmed by thorny fences to keep out predators and protect their herds at night. The countryside increasingly revealed finely, grazed pastures, the hills dotted with hundreds of small herds of goats, sheep and cattle attended by distant red robed figures. About 3 hours into the drive, we passed a way point where a thousand nomadic Masai had gathered at an impromptu market – trading all manner of vegetables, livestock and other essentials. It was infinitely colourful, blissfully free of cars or tech of any kind; a scene that seemed as though it could have taken place anytime in the last several hundred years. Further on we passed what looked like a council meeting – 30 or so men robed in red, all calmly seated under a large Acacia tree engaged in animated discussion. As the people changed, so too did the landscape and the flat plains began became inundated with the thorny Acacia tree that so dominates the savannah areas, so too the distinctive Boab tree began to emerge; its swollen trunk and twisted tangle of bare branches, ghosting the skylines in all its aged glory.

Lake Manyara

They really are 'blue' !

Around mid afternoon we reached our campsite, its large tree’s a pleasant haven for nesting storks. As our car pulled up, a team of locals stripped our vehicle, erected our tents and kitchens, freeing us for an afternoon game drive. Manyara National Park was not particularly notable, a lucky dip entrée as our guide elegantly put it. The park is a thin strip hemmed between a large lake and the steep hills of the Rift Valley. We saw the usual fare here – elephants, buffalo’s, zebra, giraffe, gazelles, baboons and a huge array of birds. Still sore, our expectations and energy were pleasantly low and the sight of a ‘blue balled’ monkey served nicely as the peak of our afternoons entertainment.

Udupai Gorge & a Masai village

The next morning, we departed early for the drive across to the Ngorongoro crater rim, which we skirted on our way through to the Serengeti. Descending down the crater on the other side, we stopped in at the Udupai Gorge – an archaeological marvel. In the distinctive bedrock layers of the gorge, exposed over time by the rivers erosion, Mary & Louis Leakey in the 60’s and 70’s first discovered signs of mans prehistoric ancestors, dating to some 1.7 million years ago. While earlier remains have since been found in both South Africa & Ethopia, footprints of man have been found here that date to more than 3 million years old – one of the true crucibles of our species and an apt setting for lunchtime contemplations.

Believe it or not, I'm trying!

Perhaps inspired, we stop at a local Masai Bomvu and bribed a chief’s son $40 for a tour of his village. They met us with a traditional greeting; in separate groups of men and women, they chanted their welcome and commenced dancing, a dance famous for the vertical jumping of their male members. As we watched, first myself and then Megumi (with the women) were dragged in to participate and work our incredibly tight calves into some vertical hangtime – it was a pretty pitiful display by comparison, but fun nonetheless. The chief’s son, Paul then explains the key principles of the Masai & clever design of their nomadic camps during a brief tour – the gist being that they are polygamous; they only herd goats, sheep & cattle – eating the meat of all and mixing a concoction of cows blood and milk for drink; these livestock are their total livelihood and invaluable to them, their wealth determined by their numbers; when boys turn 18, they are sent out to roam for 2 years and only become men / married upon return after killing a lion! There is much more of course and Robert our guide, gives us some other great insights on the more modern reality of their role in society & conservation, albeit somewhat cynically afterwards. The tour finishes with offers to buy some of their jewellery – for more traditional minded folk they also really know how to fleece tourists.

The Serengeti

As we came down from the crater rim and onto the single, straight gateway road that provides access to the Serengeti, the skies clear and the perspective is radically transformed. Serengeti is Masai for ‘endless plain’ and it couldn’t be a more perfect description. Before us, the flat treeless, ankle high yellow grassed expanse, opens up as far as you can see, you can actually see the earth bend on the horizon – something I’ve only experienced ever before in the Australian outback. Hundreds of thousands of gazelle, zebra, ostrich and other game roam freely either side of the road on a scale that is hard to fathom. The wildebeast and other larger animals have already left this area though, moving deeper into the centre of the park now that the higher grass has gone and things are starting to dry out. This is the foundation of the ‘great migration’ that builds steam in later July / August to become one of the worlds greatest natural wonders, we hoped to catch its infant stages later on and had planned our trip here accordingly. After another 30 minutes or so driving in a straight line into the plain, we finally encounter some trees, a rocky outcrop and giraffes – the entrance to the park. We had only just arrived in the Serengeti and already we were wonderstruck by the sheer presence of the place.

Leopards courting..

We had planned to camp in the middle of the park, so after registration at the gate, we took a slow game drive for the afternoon, as a roundabout way of getting there. We had briefed Robert our guide that we were really here to see cats & the migration, particularly cheetah and the elusive leopard having already seen most other things. He rapidly tuned through the CB channels to find the rangers station and other drivers that he knew and within minutes had teamed up with another driver from Zara. We then sidetracked and headed North across a rough dirt track, this is prime cheetah country he said. Sure enough, after a while of seeing nothing but grass, we stumbled across a young cheetah with a fresh kill – impala. Particularly sensitive and freaking out about the car, it was ready to abandon the kill without eating, so we let it be – Robert had also intercepted another ranger call – there were leopard sightings, safari’s great rarity. He stepped on the gas and 30 rough minutes later we were facing 2 leopards in a tree, obliviously engaged in a courting ritual. The female jumping around the tree, shaking her bits in an enticing, seductive dance – the male simply lazing away, either already worn out or simply not interested. It was an absolute rare event of the highest calibre and captivating for all. Since it was getting dark, we tore ourselves away all too soon, as we still had to set-up camp for the night, but in so doing chanced on a lion, up a tree. We had been in the park 3 hours and had already ticked off most of our ‘safari wants’ – what a place!

Wildebeast taking a breather mid 'migration'

That night, we camped in a small campsite; it featured basic toilets and dining areas caged off as protection from hungry animals. We were then warned to stay in our tents all night in spite of any emergency toiletry needs – there were no fences here and animals of all kinds liked to wander through. Sure enough, after eating a sumptuous camp feast prepared out of thin air by our chef Erasto, at about 9.00pm, a large male lion started roaring at the edge of the campsite, a few hundred metres from our tents at most. The loud call was him distinctly marking his territory, letting everyone know whose land this was. Captivated and not without a bit of trepidation, I stood in the middle of the campsite until quite late, chatting to an Aussie musician, Simon and a few other campers, while the lion slowly roared its way around our perimeter – there are no words to really describe the thrill and awe this experience inspired or for that mater the hyena cries later on, as they patrolled in the lions wake.

A lion family dinner

The next day we woke with the sunrise to head further into the centre – our goal was to catch the illusive migrating wildebeast as they started to chaotically form the groups and mass that would later tally in excess of a million as it stampeded its way into Kenya. For a few hours we were treated to little more than elephants, ostriches and vultures, so Robert stopped for a late breakfast at a hippo pool. There is nothing like seeing 300 hippo’s crowded all over each other, fighting and moaning to kickstart a days sightseeing, let me tell you. Shortly after this, we found our first wildebeast herd – a group numbering some 10 thousand or more charging through the undergrowth madly in one direction, getting tired, resting and then tearing off in another. They will do this for the next month, slowly building in number as the groups coalesce and fine tuning their direction based on water supply – even on this small scale though, the site is still exhilarating. We came across several other such groups that day, as well as herds of elephants, crocodiles and our big prize, a large pride of 20 or so lions that had just killed a buffalo. As we were pulling up to the site, a lioness emerges from the grass right in front of our vehicle to cross the road to the kill – to our amazement (and Megumi’s lifetime fantasy) a small procession of 5 tiny lion cubs then follow the lioness out of the bushes in single file – pure magic. We spent several hours simply watching this extended lion family feasting, sleeping and enjoying their afternoon spoils.

The next morning, we woke up to an elephant in the camp, a large herd was passing by and a big bull came to the campsite to investigate all the noise. (A large migrating herd of dutch football fans had arrived late in the night, driving orange cars of all description and making plenty of noise!) When Megumi tried to get close for a photo she was soundly trumpeted for her efforts.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Staring down into Ngorongoro crater

As we drove back through the Serengeti and the fields of game to the Ngorongoro crater, I could not help feel a sense of complete awe at this place. I honestly doubted there is anything that can compare to this from a safari perspective, everything else we had seen felt like a zoo or controlled environment in comparison. Yet, as we climbed up to the crater rim away from the sunshine and through the rain and clouds, then descended back down to the sunny floor of the Ngorongoro crater national park, a new wonder was revealed.

Ngorongoro is a volcanic crater about 25 km in diameter, surrounded on all sides by walls that rise more than 500m upwards, to create one of natures most stunning natural amphitheatres. Creating its own set of unique microclimates, the crater forms dense, impenetrable jungle in a cloud layer at the top, combining with the sheer walls to provide perfect isolation from the outside world. The floor of the crater is largely a flat treeless plain, with a large lake forming the centre, a marshland in one corner and a forest in another and also consuming the surrounding walls. During rainy season the roads in and out (there are only 2) become impassable and even now it was too much for a few 4×4’s. Leaving we were forced to give a lift to a Finnish couple whose safari vehicle’s radiator had burned out on the ascent.

Ugandan Clown Cranes

Once down on the floor, every form of African wildlife was in abundance and immediately accessible at close quarters. In our 6 hour drive around, we saw more than 20 lions, several different prides all resting uncaring in the sun or on roads – old males, lionesses, young cubs. Elephants roamed the marshlands, while hippo’s escaped the sun in the fresh water ponds. On the plain thousands of zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, rhino, antelope and gazelle graze side by side with ostrich, flamingos, storks and pelicans. We were treated to a cheetah resting under a tree, numerous hyena roaming and a rare sighting of a large civet cat. But perhaps the most stunning of all was the Ugandan, clown crane – simply the most beautiful bird I have ever beheld.

If the Serengeti was stunning for its raw scale; Ngorongoro is more than its equal, simply because it forms the world’s most perfect natural biosphere. The descent into (and out) of the crater feels like a descent into another world entirely. I would suggest that the inspiration for Spielberg’s movie Jurassic Park stems largely from here.

Tarangire National Park

Boab trees in Tarangire

On a post crater high, we returned to the same campsite near Manyara National Park (together with our Finnish rescuee’s) and next day rose early again for our final game drive, the Tarangire. By now, we had seen everything we had really dreamed of and this represented simply a scenic route home. The Tarangire is a large national park that is very popular in the dry season, but during the wet tends to clear of animals. The wet marsh and riverbed becomes unpleasant to most of the wild animals underfoot (think footrot), so they migrate out of the park and return when it’s drier. Consequently our expectations where not particularly high here and our real interest was the stunning collection of great and ancient boab tree’s that pepper the parks landscape.

As we started the drive, the huge ancient boabs immediately stole attention and after a while thus absorbed, we stumbled across a 4×4 bogged axle deep in the mud, attempting to cross one of those roads that screams out for avoidance. We then spent the next hour watching 2 Irishman try every innovation imaginable to try and free the thing – apparently their first day on a self drive safari – it’s a pretty tough school!

Well worth the wait!

True to form, there was little game here – we saw a few elephants, some giraffe’s and the odd waterbuck as we drove around, but Robert had heard that there were 2 cheetahs up ahead near a waterhole somewhere. As he pulled up approximately at the site, we assumed we had missed them, but cautioned otherwise we settled down to watch and wait, Robert convinced they were just resting in the grass somewhere and would stick their head up eventually if we were patient. After what seemed like half an hour of close attention (plus a bit of whistling and banging truth be told), Megumi spotted a cheetah head perhaps 70m from the road and we watched as it rose, walked across a few metres and lay down again under a tree. A bit more waiting, whistling and banging and suddenly 3 cheetah heads popped up – a whole family. In a park without animals, somehow we had hit the jackpot, likely the only one around as well.

In all, it capped off a remarkable 5 days. Megumi was in raptures – it was animal planet and more in the flesh and her absolute dream. As for me, it was everything I dreamed a safari and the magical African adventure should be. Worth every cent and as an experience something that will live long in the memory!


Of Climbing Kilimanjaro

I will confess upfront, that I got roped in a bit on this one. Megumi perhaps inspired by Nepal was dead keen to do it […]

I will confess upfront, that I got roped in a bit on this one. Megumi perhaps inspired by Nepal was dead keen to do it before the glaciers disappeared! I was happy to go along and help her achieve it, although I was not all that inspired and for these reasons probably didn’t research or really take the whole thing seriously enough, but anyway…

For those that don’t know, Mt Kilimanjaro is on the border of Kenya / Tanzania and at 5,895m it is the tallest mountain in Africa and indeed taller than all the mountains in Europe and many other continents besides. The mountain is particularly stunning and its snow capped, glacier covered cone rises from the surrounding plains to dominate the African landscape, somewhat similar too if not more imposing than Mt Fuji in Japan. While we had passed “Kili” several times in our travels so far, we had yet to really see it. The mountain seemingly constantly enveloped in cloud. It’s a strange thing, climbing something you have never seen.

Climbing Kili is not cheap though no matter how you go about it. It costs at least $1,000 per person to do. Half of this is due to the national park fees, something like $100 per day, the rest covers the compulsory guides and porters necessary to transport all your food, cooking gear (you need to bring your own gas) and other supplies including a tent (if you are camping). Megumi had found a company Zara, that offered a pretty reliable package according to other Japanese bloggers she had read, all had had a great experience with them. So we signed up, rocked up to Moshi from Nairobi and set about preparing to climb.

Now anyone that has seen our facebook updates already knows how this story ends, so I will get a few excuses in early here. While climbing Kili is one off those big touristy things to do in Africa (about 12,000 people try it a year), it is also a pretty intense challenge. Altitude sickness (AMS) is a serious problem for everyone who attempts it and Kili kills (twice as many people as Everest apparently), it had already accounted for a young 30 year old guy as recently as 3 weeks ago. I had actually come down with a bit of a cold in Nairobi, but it was only a light sinus infection and thinking that in Nepal I had had no real trouble with AMS, (whereas Megumi had really struggled) I didn’t particularly take it seriously. I just bought a bagful of chems to stave things off, if it got any worse.

With our guide, Felix

On arriving at Zara, we received a short briefing on the climb and along with the other member of our climbing posse, a Canadian woman named Joanne, got introduced to our guide (Felix) and his cousin and assistant guide (Wilson) for the trek. From conversations with other returning climbers we knew it was going to be very cold (and wet) so introductions done, we set about hiring essential gear – sleeping bags, rain gear, walking sticks and other such stuff and packed our bags. Simple really!

Next morning, we set off at about 9am. We had chosen to do the easy climb, the Marangu route which features convenient huts at the key stops along the way. We were attempting to do the climb in 5 days, without an acclimatization day, which is pretty aggressive but not that uncommon and didn’t seem to affect success rates either way. These days most people try to climb via the Machame route which is a little more scenic, takes 6 days so offers better acclimatization, though with no huts it requires tents and the additional ensemble of supporting porters and gear. With lots of rain about, this camping option hadn’t really appealed to us much. Even though we were staying in huts though, we still required 3 porters for my and Megumi’s gear and food, plus a cook, a waiter and the 2 guides all shared across the party. In total for ourselves and Joanne, it represented a support team of 9 people. In Nepal, we had had just one!

Arriving at the gate of the park before noon, we set about climbing. Day One was an easy, 3 hour gradual, gravel road climb through a scenic rainforest. Not particularly exerting it was quite enjoyable. We ambled along deeply in conversation with Joanne, trading backgrounds and stories; the tree’s all covered in moss and lichen, monkeys making noise in the tree-tops, all pretty pleasant stuff. When we stopped briefly for lunch, 2 Mongoose kept darting out from the bushes, rather sinisterly hunting for scraps. Arriving mid afternoon at the first set of huts and our stop for the first night, we found a family of black and white Colobus monkeys and 20 odd schoolkids on an excursion. After checking into our nice 4 bed hut, we had some afternoon tea & popcorn and then did a brief acclimatization walk up to a nearby crater. The thinking being walk higher and sleep lower to better help you adjust to the altitude. We were now at 2,800 metres – not much higher than Nairobi where we had been staying for the last 2 weeks, so everyone was feeling pretty good.

Our waiter / Porter - Manuel!

The next day, we set off about 9am with our guides; the porters and cooks had already taken off earlier up the trail, bags, cooking gear and baskets of food perched precariously atop their heads, African style. The second days climb was about 5-6 hours, rising about 1,000m – again nothing too steep or challenging, just a slow gradual climb into altitude. An hour into the walk, the tree’s started to drop away and the landscape transition into heather, moor and a fascinating local tree species that only grows above 3,000m not dissimilar to Australian “grass trees”. As we rose further, we started to ascend through the cloud layer experiencing a little rain and while we glimpsed some heavily veiled peaks in the distance, Kilimanjaro remained cloaked throughout.

The Horombo camp, was a pretty collection of huts, located on a river above a helipad, the view backward and beyond was that of an endless sea of clouds, quite stunning. At 3,700 m, we were starting to get into AMS territory, although all 3 of us were feeling fine. Again arriving mid-afternoon, we enjoyed our tea and popcorn (our last actually – it was giving us all gas!) and climbed up a few hundred metres in the late afternoon, just to gain some acclimatization before returning back to bed. After a solid meal, we slept soundly in our little hut, although the cold was starting to kick in more seriously now.

The next day was much like the 2nd only colder and we broke out the jackets and wet weather gear for another 6 hour gradual climb up a further 1,000m. Here the path climbed out of the heather and the ‘grass trees’ into an arid, alpine desert landscape inching closer to the craggy peaks. Winds howled across the empty, stoned landscapes adding a decided chill to events. Largely uneventful, we started passing a few other climbers coming down most looked exhausted, a few elated. As we got close to the Kibo Hut, our end destination for the afternoon, the path steepened and in the high altitude we experienced our first real climbing test. Nothing too challenging, but it left us short of breath, we could suddenly feel how high we were.

View from Horombo Hut

Arriving at Kibo Hut at around 4700m, we met several other climbers just recently descended, all were quite exhausted and they left little doubt at how hard the task was going to be from here. We got billeted into our dorm, a large room with 20 bunks and a table in a large cold hut; we promptly dumped our bags and crashed out. Now at this point, I had barely raised a sweat and was feeling really good, despite the dripping tap for a nose. However, when we awoke after a short nap, things were a little different. Joanne was feeling terrible, so we walked up the slope a few hundred metres to see if some that would help. Along the way she was overcome with nausea and threw up – not good signs. Not feeling that great either I postulated that maybe the sleep was the problem, the light breathing of sleep bringing on AMS as the body was starved of oxygen. Back at the hut, we had dinner around 5pm, Joanne and I had little appetite, though Megumi threw down enough pasta for both of us. As we did so, we watched another young male climber out our window throw up into the hillside, apparently everyone does it up here, says our guide, nothing to worry about.

The full 'Kili' expedition team

The plan was to sleep until 11pm, get up, dress in everything we had and set off for the climb about 11.30pm. I promptly fell into a deep sleep and next thing I knew was being woken up. Suddenly though, I felt terrible – just getting dressed was an impossible effort and brought on waves of nausea. Jo-anne hadn’t slept much at all and though not great was feeling ok, Megumi was raring to go. The sleep thing had obviously affected my badly – I hate it when I am right. Grabbing a handful of cold and flu tablets, some panadol and diamox (for altitude) I struggled out the door. I knew I was in a lot of trouble.

The first hour of the climb or so, was a slow trudge uphill under a stunning starry sky. No-one was saying much and I tried to battle through the nausea and tiredness thinking I could just work it off. Suddenly though, I experienced a dizzy spell and almost fainted, throwing out a pole to catch me for support. Our guide, Felix was in front and his assistant guide (and cousin, Wilson) was behind me bringing up the rear. They kept up a steady conversation in Swahili throughout and I knew I was under close observation. After the first dizzy spill, things got worse, I struggled to breathe, my nose completely blocked, every move became a huge effort and I was unable to get enough air through my lungs. I was forced to stop several times, my heart thumping, desperately short of breath, on the verge of throwing up and dizzy. Each time, Felix pushed me to keep going, each time I did thinking I might improve and it got worse. After 2 or 3 attempts at this, I realized I was simply unable to keep it up, headaches were circulating ominously now as well. We were only 2 and 1/2 hours into the climb, just over 5,000m which meant we had 5 hours more of this (and another 800+ metres) still to go and we hadn’t even hit the steep bits yet. Megumi was full of beans at this stage and Joanne, while grateful to stop, seemed to be doing fine as well. Felix was talking with Wilson about perhaps splitting the teams, one moving slowly, me, and the other pushing on to reach the peak at sunrise. I decided to give it one more go, but only lasted a couple of minutes before coming to an exhausted, breathless stop amid another dizzy spell. A cold reality and truth settled in, I could not go on. Normally I ooze willpower and there are very few times in my life that I have not achieved anything I set my mind to. But I realized this was just becoming physically impossible, mind would not bend matter. My breathing apparatus may have only been down 10-15% because of my flu, but I simply couldn’t get enough oxygen at this altitude and the resulting nausea, weakness and dizziness was pushing me to unsafe limits with AMS. I decided to turn back.

Sunrise on the 'roof of Africa'

After checking my pulse and heart, Felix decided to take me back down, as guide he was totally responsible and if my situation did not improve or got worse back at camp, he would have to take me down further or organize to sled / chopper me out. Wilson the assistant guide would push on with Megumi & Joanne. Megumi, god bless her, was happy to come back with me as well, but I urged her on telling her I would be fine – this was her dream after all! Immediately after we started down I began to feel better and knew I had made the right decision, I had been at the physical limit and my body simply could not support what would be needed of it over the next few hours. Back at camp, we could see the lights of the others high up on the side of the mountain and under Felix’s careful watch I collapsed, exhausted into my bunk – still suffering intense waves of nausea. It was just after 3am and I had no problems falling asleep, while I waited for the others to return.

Megumi at the summit (uhuru)

As to the ascent, I can only narrate what Megumi and Joanne told me afterwards. Megumi apparently had little trouble at all (according to Joanne), though Joanne said she had herself really struggled. Apparently about an hour after I turned back they hit a really steep incline which left them both breathless and exhausted – they both agreed afterwards that I had made the best decision turning back when I did. In all they spent 6 hours ascending step by step, constantly short of breath in the high altitude, taking in large sweeping u-turns and a gruelling last hour up the sharp rocky incline to Gilmans Point; then traversing across the snow a further 2 hours to Uhuru, the highest peak, with clear commanding views above the clouds and of the glacier, arriving just after sunrise. They were on a high and at the roof of Africa, though suffering from too much altitude to really dwell on it much. Megumi was elated to see the glacier and realize it was still in such stunning condition. Though completely exhausted, somehow she still had enough energy left to take a stack of photo’s and document everything along the way. The trip down only took 3 or so hours, coming straight down the gravel inclines they had worked so hard to zig-zag up at night. Felix sent up our waiter Manuel, a real entertainer, to meet them and grab their day packs and ease their final hour or so of descent.

When they both walked into the hut a little later, they were clearly exhausted, though Megumi still seemed to be jumping around the room. Both claimed it was the hardest thing they had ever done and neither wished to ever do it again (but perhaps they were just being nice). Though still feeling nausea I was definitely significantly improved and though well short of an appetite, we forced a quick breakfast and rather than delay any further with rest, decided to keep going down the mountain back to the Horombo hut and lower altitude as soon as possible. While mostly downhill, it was still a long way (12 km) after the all night exhaustions especially of the others and we stumbled into camp mid afternoon with very little energy left. Everyone slept well that night!

Toasting success - Megumi & Joanne

The final day was basically walking back down the paths of day 1 and 2 combined. We left very early, all our legs really feeling it, but in the lower altitude we were in good spirits and able to make good time. We got back to the hotel sometime around 3pm and after sorting out tips for our large posse of helpers, settled back with a few civilizing beers, some wine, rewarding hot showers and clean clothes

And that was it, funny really. I was outdone by 2 girls. I had felt physically fine right up until the final ascent and then it was all over before I knew it. In the next few days, I wondered what I could have done differently. Strangely for once in my life, I don’t think the climb or the fitness was the problem. The simple truth was that I had underestimated what was required and should have waited to do the climb in better health. Under the microscope of high altitude I was simply found wanting. No shame in it really though, I have heard as many as 40% don’t actually make it to the top. And as solace, the local beer Kilimanjaro has a t-shirt that says, “if you can’t climb it, drink it.” I have seen people wearing it – all good advice, which I have been diligently following since. Now I just need to find out where to buy one.….


‘March of the Elephants’ – Serengeti, Tanzania

One of innumerable herds of elephants encountered on our Serengeti Safari (including our campsite)...

One of innumerable herds of elephants encountered on our Serengeti Safari (including our campsite)…


‘Lions in training’, Serengeti – Tanzania

We came across a pride of more than 20 lions feeding on a buffalo. The cubs just kept appearing!

We came across a pride of more than 20 lions feeding on a buffalo. The cubs just kept appearing!


Zebra’s on the Serengeti, Tanzania

The endless plains of the Serengeti - where literally hundreds of thousands of animals roam!

The endless plains of the Serengeti – where literally hundreds of thousands of animals roam!


Dancing with ‘the Masai’, Tanzania

Megumi participating in a welcome ceremony at a Masai village, just outside Ngorongoro crater!

Megumi participating in a welcome ceremony at a Masai village, just outside Ngorongoro crater!