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Kenya, Tanzania & Kilimanjaro

Map


Introduction


It was last minute trip to Tanzania and Kenya. I planned to go to South-East Asia in 2007. I bought book-guides but I couldn’t find cheap flight to the region. However I found very interesting offer to Nairobi. Swiss airlines flight form Warsaw to the capitol of Kenya cost 550 Euro. I booked the ticket and started preparation for the trip. I had only a few weeks to arrange everything. Generally I planned 3 parts of the trip: Safari, trekking to the top of Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. Kilimanjaro was the biggest and the most thrilling challenge. In the summer I usually jog 2-3 times a week. A few weeks before the trip I increased the frequency to 6-7 times a week and the distance was longer. According to internet sources holidays in Africa seemed to be very expensive and I must say it was.

Nairobi


We landed in Nairobi at 8 pm. We had to buy visa at the airport. It cost 50 USD and we had some problems with the 50 USD note. The clerk didn’t want to accept the money with the series 1996. We didn’t want to give her another notes and finally she gave up. She accepted the money and said that we would have problems with exchanging ‘old’ notes in banks. She was right. In Kenya the exchange rate for 'old' US notes was very low. By the way in Tanzania the money were accepted without any problems.
We took a taxi from the airport to the Flora Hostel. There were huge traffic jumps and it took us two hours to get to the hostel.
The hostel was very nice, clean and peaceful. It was run by catholic nuns. We paid 40 USD for double room with full board. The food was good and generally I recommend the hostel. Email address:florah@wananchi.com
We had a lot of organization issues at first day in Kenya. We visited a few travel agencies to buy Safari excursion. At least we went to Savuka agency. Joyce, the manager of the agency, had excellent negotiation skills. She proposed to organize us almost all holidays. We negotiated the price and accepted the offer. It was mistake. The holiday package included :
  • Safari: Masai Mara – 3 days, Nakuru – 2 days and Arusha – 2 days.
  • Kilimanjaro: trekking – 6 days
  • Bus transport from Kenya to Tanzania
  • Flight from Arusha to Zanzibaru and Zanzibar to Nairobi.
Generally we paid 105 USD for a day. During the holidays we had some organization problems. Savuka didn't provide us with promised services. I am afraid I can’t recommend Savuka agencies. We had some time to visit Nairobi late afternoon. During a day the city is safe. We only visited the center of the city. There were lot of people, cars and noise in the capitol. Nairobi is not interesting and one or half a day is enough for sightseeing. It is not recommend to walk down the streets at night. It can be very dangerous. At night it can be good idea to go to a disco in Nairobi. There are a lot of hot African girls and you can feel sex in the air at discos. It is safe to take taxi to and from disco. Don’t forget about HIV. Many people is infected with the disease in Africa.

Safari


There were six people + guide Sammy in our Safari team. It was not far away from Nairobi to Masai Mara but it took us six hours to get there. Roads are in very poor condition in Kenya. We were at a camping late afternoon. Luckily it was not to late to take the first tour in a park. First impression was fantastic. There were many exotic animals in Masai Mara. Some of them I had seen in a Zoo but this time they were free. The dinner and the company were nice too. We traveled with a couple from USA and two English girls.
In Masai Mara we saw tremendous amount of animals: wildebeests, zebras, waterbucks, warthogs, vultures, monkeys, gazelles, lions, hippos, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, buffalos. We saw famous great migration everyday late afternoon.
Huge amount of animals(wildebeests, zebras, gazelles) migrate from Masai Mara to Serengeti every autumn and come back to Masai Mara in the late spring. Only animals which can stand without surface water for long periods and adapted to the poor forage don’t migrate. Some herds wander overland. This is the safe way of migration. The biggest and the most demanding task for the animals is when they have to cross river Mara. Many animals do not make it. They are drown or eaten by the crocodiles. Only the luckiest survive. It must be thrilling experience to see animals crossing the river. We were too late to see it. According to our guide the animals usually cross the river in late September and not every day. They spend hours or even days for preparation or muster up their courage. Suddenly the herd cross the river. You must be lucky to be there on time.
Although we didn’t see animals crossing Mara river we witnessed some thrilling scene. In the evening we saw unsuccessful lion’s hunt for zebra. Next day I saw cheetah eating breakfast. The main course was antelope. Poor cheetah had its breakfast next to the road. Several tourists buses were around and tourists took pictures. Couple hours later herd of vultures delighted their meal. It was carrion of zebra. The vultures put their long necks to the bowels of the victim. The scavengers fought with each other for every piece of the meal.
There was 2 hours lunch break at Safari every day. Tourists had lunch and Sammy – guide and driver rested. One day we had lunch at the park near the herd of buffalos. Buffalos are one of the most dangerous and aggressive animals in Africa. Suddenly one of the buffalo approached to us very close. Sammy started to shout: ‘Quickly get on the car, buffalo is coming’. The animal didn’t look aggressive, he was rather curious about us but everybody was in the car immediately and Sammy burnt rubber. Next day we had lunch at a luxury lodge. The lodge had standard of 5 stars hotel and was situated inside the park near the watering place for animals. There was special viewpoint for tourist. At my lunch time I watched hippos, zebras, monkeys and birds. It must very thrilling experience to watch animals at the evening and night. At this time predators are active. They like hunting near water points. I am afraid that accommodation in the lodge is very expensive. One day cost 200-300 USD. But it is possible to watch the animals at viewpoint without paying accommodation fee. You need to buy some beers or other beverages and can stay there all night.
After Masai Mara we went to Nakuru lake. We traveled almost all day. Sammy was very clever and he encouraged us to visit Navashi lake. Following his advices we took extra paid boat excursion. It lasted two hours and was boring. Then we came to Nakuru lake at the evening. According to the plan we should take a evening tour at park but it was too late. Next day we spend only three hours in the park Nakuru. The park was interesting and there was a lot of animals. We saw male lions, rhinos and monkeys but most of our time we spent at Nakuru lake. There were thousands of flamingos. We left the park very quickly to catch transport to Amboseli park but there was no transport for us. We spent two hours waiting until Sammy arranged a car for us. Finally we didn’t manage to get to Amboseli for evening tour. We spent a night at hotel on the way. Next day we visited Amboseli. It is not interesting park. The park looks like a steppe. Generally it is very dry. We saw exactly the same animals in Masai Mara. The only advantage of the park is beautiful view on Kilimanjaro.
Conclusion Safari is rather expensive. I would suggest to concentrate on the most attractive parks: Serengeti or Masai Mara.
It is crucial to select good agency and have very detailed plan on paper. We paid for evening Safari and we didn't have it because of the delays.
Tips. There is huge pressure for tipping in Kenya. Tips for a guide, a cook and everybody else seem to be a part of your holiday budget. Try to remember simple rule: it is your money and you can spend them as you want. If your are satisfied with the service you can give extra money but remember it is up to you.

Kilimanjaro


There are a few trails to the top of the Kilimanjaro. The most popular and the easiest one is called Marangu Route. Totally it takes 5-6 days and it is expensive. The hiking is not allowed alone. At least you are obliged to hire a guide. It is good idea to buy climbing tour. One day of hiking costs from 110 USD to 150 USD. You don’t need to worry about accommodation, food and all organization staff. Everything will be organized for you. You can only concentrate on climbing, beautiful views and altitude sickness. It is very important to have good equipment for hiking. At least remember about:
  • good hiking shoes
  • warm clothes incl. underwear
  • warm sleeping bag
  • head torch
  • chocolate
  • drugs combat altitude sickness
  • 2 liters of water per day
My goal was obvious – the top of Kilimajraro (Uhuru Peak). Before I went to Africa I had tried to improve my condition. I jogged almost every day 6-8 km.
We started the challenging hiking at Marangu Gate. There were 4 tourists, 2 guides, porters and a cook in a group. We had to registered in a special book and enter Kilimanjaro park. First day was not difficult. We walked from 1700 m asl (Marangu Gate) to 2700 m asl (Mandara Hut). It was 12 km through the rain forest and took us about 5 hours. When I reached Mandara Hut I was not even tired. Our group Heinz form Germany, Wasilij form Russia, Gosia and I were accommodated in one small hut. There was hardly space for bunk beds and our backpacks in the hut. Before the dinner everybody was given a small amount of hot water to wash hands and face. It was only supply of hot water in the huts, enough to wash hands and face. Only cold water was available without any limit, except Kibo hut (4700 m asl). There were no water in the hut.
Generally conditions of life during the Kilimanjaro hiking are modest. Every day only small amount of hot water is available. Meals are fine but nothing special. We slept in small huts. There is enough place to sleep and nothing else. It is cold in the hut at night.
Next day we hiked to Horombo Hut (3700 m asl). The pace is fast and there is less and less oxygen in the air. At the beginning we hiked trough rain forest but after an hour we enter moor land. Totally we hiked 5.5 hours and it was 15 km. It was the first time when I felt the result of a lack of oxygen. The night was cold in Horombo hut. I had to put on extra cloth at night. We spent extra day in the hut to acclimatize. We waked up for 2 hours and then come back to the hut. The rest of the day we spent taking pictures and looking around. The views around were nice. In the evening I was thinking about next two days. Generally I was fine but I felt lack of oxygen. It was only 3700 m asl and in two days I hoped to be at the altitude of 5900 m asl. ‘Will I managed to do it?, Am I strong and fit enough’ – these kinds of questions were bothering me all evening. I was sure that I would not give up.
Next day we went up to Kibo Hut (4700 m asl). The trail is very steep. We went very slowly and our guide said all the time ‘pole, pole’. Sometimes I could hardly breath and the road seemed to be so steep. After 5 hours we reached the hut. There is no water in the hut. Our guide gave us instruction about final climbing. We had a dinner and I tried to sleep a little bit. It was difficult. I was so exited and the lack of oxygen didn’t help to sleep. I laid in a bed and thought about Uhuru Peak. At 11 pm the guide woke us up. I put on almost all my warm clothes and took 2 bottles of water, camera and chocolate. We left the hut. Thanks God the weather was fine, no wind and we could see the stars and moon. The light of moon was so intensive that we didn’t have to use torches. Walking up I saw three fireballs on the sky – it was for good luck. The trail was very steep (30-40 degrees). It was very monotonous switchback road. Climbing up I felt worse. My bag seemed to weigh a ton. I could not concentrate on anything I only felt a terrible headache and piercing pain in my chest. The temperature was – 20 Celsius degrees. It was terrible cold. From time to time I looked up to the top. It seemed to be so closed but it was so difficult to make single step up. I had to rest every ten steps. I breathed shallowly and very quickly. At last we reached Gillman’s Point (5685 m asl). I sat on the stone, I was exhausted. The guide came to me and asked ‘ Are you fine?’. I looked at him and stood up and said with a smile on my face ‘I am fine’. We took a picture and walked towards Uhuru Peak. The sun rose up. The sun light and warm gave me some power. I felt better. At 6.45 am we reached the top of Africa. We were at Uhuru Peak(5895 m asl). We took a picture and admired magnificent views from the top. I saw a glacier first time in my life. We spent at the top only several minutes. Then we started walking down as fast as possible. It was more oxygen every step down. The sun merciless beat down. I was drenched with sweat. At least we were at Kibo Hut. I took off my clothes. They were all wet. I slept two hours. When I woke up I felt a pride and happiness with my achievement. We decided to go down to Mandara Hut. It was not good decision. It was 30 km. We walked down till the evening. I was to tired to admire nature around. Last day of Kilimanjaro hiking it was a time of glory. We went down to Marangu Gate. We checked out and we were given a diploma. The diploma confirmed my achievement.
At the end of Kilimajnaro adventure there was a misunderstanding between us and the crew. We were very satisfied with the service. The guide Richarda Vitalis was experienced professional. I highly recommend him. The food was good and generally everything was organized very well. I thanked them and gave 50 USD tip. They started to complain. It wasn't enough to them. At last they accepted the tip and we said good bye to each other in peace.

Zanzibar


We came back to the hotel, took showers and wanted to take our tickets for a flight to Zanzibar. Savuka booked a ticked for 27th of October instead of 26th. We tried to contact the agency. They didn't pick up the phones. Next day we decided to go to an airport and rebook the tickets. We did it without any problems and extra fees. At 11 am we landed in Zanzibar. We took a taxi to Paja (35 USD). It was easy to find the accommodation. Our bungalow was next to the beach(20 USD). Indian Ocean and the beach looked like the paradise. Next few days I swam, took sun bathes, walked down the seaside and collected shells. We bought a dolphin trip (30 USD). In the very early morning we looked for dolphins in very small boat. Waves were too big for a small boat. Everybody didn't feel good. After two hours we found small herd of dolphins. Our boat approached to the herd we jumped into the water and usually there were no dolphins around. Only two times I managed to see them in the water. Once a dolphin was so closed to me that I hoped to touch him. It swam away faster than I moved a hand.
Last day we spent in Stone Town. Till the end of XVIII century there was slave market in the town. The street were very narrow and winding. It was easy to loose the way. We spent one night I Stone Town and next day came back to Nairobi. We did souvenirs shopping and in the evening we got a flight to Warsaw via Zurich.

Useful Information


Visa to Kenya and Tanzania 50 USD (2007)
Vaccination.A Yellow Fever vaccine certificate required in Zanzibar but nobody checked it at the airport. Jaundice, Typhoid and Malaria precautions are advised.
Currency. US Dollars and Euro. These currencies are the most popular in Kenya and Tanzania. They can be exchanged easily. Regarding USD check the note series. The notes with series lower than 1999 are not accepted in Kenya. Sometimes they are exchanged but the rate is very low.
Savuka tourist agency is not recommended. I had problems with the service of the agency. More details in the story.
Animal Migrations. Huge amount of animals(wildebeests, zebras, gazelles) migrate from Masai Mara to Serengeti every autumn and come back to Masai Mara in the late spring. Only animals which can stand without surface water for long periods and adapted to the poor forage don't migrate. Some herds wander overland. This is the safe way of migration. The biggest and the most demanding task for the animals is when they have to cross river Mara. Many animals do not make it. They are drown or eaten by the crocodiles. Only the luckiest survive. It must be thrilling experience to see animals crossing the river. We were too late to see it. According to our guide the animals usually cross the river in late September and not every day. They spend hours or even days for preparation or muster up their courage. Suddenly the herd cross the river. You must be lucky to be there on time.
Tips There is huge pressure for tipping in Kenya and Tanzania. Tips for a guide, a cook and everybody else seem to be a part of your holiday budget. Try to remember simple rule: it is your money and you can spend them as you want. If your are satisfied with the service you can give extra money but remember it is up to you. Regarding the Kilimanjaro hiking you should be prepared to pay extra money for a crew. It is a must and everybody seems to accept the rule. The crew would like to be tipped with hundreds USD. If you pay less they will complain about it. Be tough and don't give into pressure.
Kilimanjaro.
The crucial equipment for hiking:
  • good hiking shoes
  • warm clothes incl. underwear
  • warm sleeping bag
  • head torch
  • chocolate
  • drugs combat altitude sickness
  • 2 liters of water per day
The hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro is not difficult technically. You don't need to use racks or other climbing equipment. It is important to be in good condition and have drugs combat altitude sickness. Before I went to Africa I had tried to improve my condition. I jogged almost every day 6-8 km.
Statistics. According to the information from employee of HQ of Kilimanjaro National Park:
  • Every year a few dozen thousands people try to hike to the top of Africa
  • 80% of them managed to get to Gillman's Point (5685 m asl)
  • 60% - to Uhuru Peak(5895 m asl)
  • The youngest of climbers was 8 years old boy, the oldest one was 84 years old Japanese man.
Safari is rather expensive. Generally I would suggest to concentrate on the most attractive parks: Serengeti or Masai Mara. Most of the people should be satisfied with the nature of the parks.
It is crucial to select good agency and have very detailed plan on paper. I hope it will help to avoid our problems: we paid for evening Safari and missed it because of the delays.