Basically, WE LOVED IT! The climb up Kilimanjaro was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We all made the summit and even on Matthew’s 27th birthday – how special – so we sang Happy Birthday to him on the rooftop of Africa. Our guides – Bruno and Christopher – were excellent and really encouraging when we needed it most. I cannot say enough nice things about them. However, the team of porters was also wonderful – very supportive, very nice. As we were a small group, we got to know them fairly well and had a couple of really nice sessions of singing and dancing together, especially on the last morning. The porters and cook, etc. also sang to Matthew. Seeing their smiling faces every day, even when carrying the heavy loads, was amazing.
Actually, we had fundamentally no major problems with the climb, except for Jan’s eyes (she can explain what happened), and the discomfort of sleeping on very hard ground! The excitement and tension of the summit day meant that we did not sleep very much for several nights in a row, but that is part of the process, I am sure. Bruno told us (maybe to be nice, maybe truthful), that being with our group was the best climb he had done.
[One comment: A big part of the reason that the climb was so enjoyable was because we took Diamox morning and night as of the second day on the mountain. Basically that avoided altitude sickness for all of us, together with the acclimatization of the seven day climb – a very good idea, also for physical fatigue. I would highly recommend this to all of your clients. We had no side effects.]
The Machame Route is a wonderful trail, as it allows for splendid views of Kilimanjaro from many angles. We really enjoyed the scenic path and being able to camp so close to the mountain almost every night. The views were very inspirational, but nothing like the views from the top! The snows of Kilimanjaro definitely do exist and we saw them firsthand. As it had snowed recently, there was lots of glacier to be seen and it was beautiful. Corinne will send you some photos. We were also lucky with the weather. Once of the days was very foggy and wet during the hike, but the last three days were magnificent, especially the summit day. It was cold but sunny and with little wind. I think that the mountain smiled on us.
The safari portion was very interesting as well. Given the fact that I could practically not move for an entire day after the descent, it was good to be able to sit in the jeep and view the wildlife. We actually saw a lot of animals in both Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro. In the end, ironically, it turned out to be better not to spend two nights in Ngorongoro because of the time change on the flight to Kigali. Otherwise we would have had to get up at 3 a.m. rather than 5 a.m., so we were not unhappy with two nights at Lake Manyara resort, which was very nice. Ngorongoro was actually rather cold all of the time, given that this is winter. There were African dances in the evening in both lodges and the food was copious and tasty. We were able to see all of the major animals, including a cheetah and a rhinoceros, both from a distance, but both very visible. We saw countless lions, with two males who walked right next to our vehicle! My favorite animal is the wart hog! Most of the pink flamingos in Ngorongoro had migrated for the winter, but we saw many of them in Lake Manyara.
In Rwanda we had a very difference experience, which was a nice contrast with Tanzania. The country is very impressive – clean, organized, safe and industrious. What an amazing change from the past 10 years. There is not much to see in Kigali but we did look around the city the first afternoon and got to do some shopping at the local markets, which we did not have much time for in Tanzania. The two days in the mountains were extraordinary. We loved the Mountain Gorilla Nest Lodge; it is a wonderful place. The renovations were for some of the rooms away from the main site and did not bother us at all. The setting is atmospheric and the food and services in the lodge restaurant are first rate. Our day hiking up the Bisoke volcano was a true experience. It was REALLY CHALLENGING. Have you ever done this? The hike is pretty much straight up most of the way – 1,500 meters – and we hiked during a typical day of rain, mist and mud up to our ankles. Obviously this meant that there was no view other than fog, but the experience was wonderful. I am now in much more admiration of the work of Dian Fossey than I was even before as she lived in these conditions for 20 years while studying the mountain gorillas. We were lucky with the weather the next day, as the sun came out and we were able to trek a very interesting family of gorillas – Group 13 – which Dian Fossey had actually observed. There are 25 members in the group and we saw around 16 of them including a magnificent silverback and a baby of six months. What an incredible experience to be so close, in their own environment. We were impressed with the care taken by the Rwanda Wildlife Services to protect the animals and to monitor them. A team of three to four men follows each group of gorillas (I believe there are 10 or so groups but only 5 have been habituated to human presence) every single day from morning to night. We were also lucky because on the way to the gorillas we saw the golden monkeys, which normally is the object of a separate walking tour.
Thank you so much for organizing our trip in such an efficient way. We know that you are not responsible for the change in plane schedules in Africa! We had a wonderful time and did and saw more than we could ever have imagined.
JAMBO and HAKUNA MATATA!!!!
Sherry Stephenson (and Jan, Abe, Corinne and Matthew)