Monday, January 14, 2013

Tips for Kilmanjaro/Tanzania! - Childreach International/CAMP

This is a massive chunk of writing to help answer some of the questions I had when going to do Kilimanjaro but get a pen and note down the parts that are useful. Apologies for the word vomit and lack of structure!

First of all, Africa is amazing. Tanzania is such an amazing place and you will learn all this! When you do get to Moshi, you will get harassed by people trying to sell you bracelets, sunhats, paintings and football strips. They are all stupidly expensive to start with because they are trying to get as much money as possible just to warn you. If you learn some swahilli they will not only give you a better price (just like numbers and “too high! Etc will do!) but if you just stay Hapana asante (no thankyou) in a calming tone they might just leave you alone. Don’t get all angry and stressed because they just harass you more. I always started with an offer that was just under half the price they offered, start realistically low as if you start high they will bid higher and higher. After all they probably want the sale more than you want what they are selling so if you walk away they might follow you and offer you your original low price. However, it might seem harsh that you are trying to scam them when you have more money than they might ever have, they are also scamming you so you need to find a balance between compassion and pride!

 If you want a break from the bustle of the street sellers then you can go to “the Kilimanjaro coffee lounge” or “The coffee shop”, both of which offer great coffee (seriously, the best I’ve had) and are tourist favourites so you might meet other travellers there. I highly recommend trying the coffee lounge’s banana smoothie! Just remember that the food here will be more expensive than buying it at a local eaterie. Club Alberto is another favourite of westerners, mainly because it sells nothing but burgers really. I didn’t like it because it was a bit of a seedy dive and would much rather go try something authentic. There is actually an artists 'village'  which anyone working in the coffee lounge will tell you how to get there. You can get really nice authentic souvenirs and the owners just let you browse without harassing you much.

There is a really nice little hotel in the centre of Moshi called Hotel Kindroko (it’s front door is literally sandwiched between two shops, I think it was near Hotel Newcastle which was hard to miss)which we used to organise trips to the surrounding areas but we all wished we had stayed there as it looked really nice! We stayed at Midlands Lodge which was a bit further out of the centre and you had to get a taxi back and forth, which wasn’t that bad since taxi’s cost nothing, just remember to agree on a price with the driver before you get in, also just because they are a taxi driver they might not know where they are going so a sense of direction and some swahilli phrases will again come in handy. Midlands Lodge let us keep bags there while we went up Kilimanjaro so if you are in Tanzania for more than the climb it is a good idea to see if hotels will let you safely keep your stuff there ( I wouldn’t leave valuables there just in case but check trip advisor for any recommendations).

 Remember to keep covered up when in public, this includes shoulders and legs; some girls in our group got abuse for wearing knee length skirts! Maxi dresses and a shawl was a good option for girls as it is similar to the local dress and guys get off a bit easier with something like a T-shirt and board shorts. You get fined big time in Tanzania for dropping litter in the street so make sure you keep your rubbish on you until you get near a bin and also be careful if you accidently drop something because sometimes pesky locals will jump on the opportunity to make money from you but look at the reactions of the on-lookers, they’ll be tutting at the fraudster, not you! When you are walking around, even indoors wear flip flops or something on your feet because there is a parasite called a cheggers that live on the floor and bury into your toes, particularly important to wear flip flops in the shower. Also Tanzanians don’t really use toilet paper so take tissues with you, and never shake hands with your left hand as it is considered rude as that is what Tanzanians use as toilet paper instead…

We did the Machame route and it was an amazing experience but gruelling at times! It took us 5 days up and one day back down. You don’t get much sleep and you will have to wake up at ridiculous times of the day. The climb all in all isn’t too hard as in it’s quite a gentle gradient most of the way, the horrible thing is when the effects of altitude kick in. You might not get sick but you will get breathless (if you have asthma take 2 puffs of your brown inhaler everyday, I ended up lending my blue one out to other people!). The first day is hard as you are getting used to it and the first leg is through a jungle and so the air is heavy. You will feel horrible on the first day unless you have legs of steel. After that the climb is a series of trails but until the last few days where you do some clambering up a cliff face. Doing exercises to strengthen your leg muscles is very important as they are what take the hit. It’s also highly recommended you take walking poles as it will take the strain off your knees, a bit. Aerobic exercise will also be beneficial but remember it won’t help the altitude! You will go through the suggested 4 litres of water and you should aim to go through it all everyday. I would suggest a platypus/camelback for the first few days as you can just walk with it in your mouth and constantly drink but it would be good to have a bottle for the summit attempt because the tube of your platypus will freeze (you can try putting some vodka in it but I don’t think that will help any altitude sickness you may have). Another handy thing to do is to add dissolvable vitamin C tablets or berrocca into your water for the day as it will help the immune system (even though getting a cold is inevitable) and you will get sick of the taste of water especially if you use chlorinated water purification tablets (again necessary even though they are often left out of kit lists!! It can be any form of water purificator though!) .

Food in Tanzania is very hit and miss. It can be quite basic but one thing it is, is cheap: you can get a meal for about £1.50 at local places (not westernised ones). If you go to Zanzibar the food is MUCH better but also about triple the price depending on where you get it. The lobster curry is amazing and some places let you go catch your own fish. On the mountain the team of porters and chefs can astound you. I went with Really Wild challenges and they cooked our food for us and it was a lot better than a lot of the stuff down the mountain! I guarantee you will be amazed at the standard of cooking considering you are thousands of metres above sea level! Be prepared for carbs with a side of something, lots of rice, toast and pasta! You will learn to love Milo and become acquired to their strange sugary butter. Be sure to take some kind of super sugary energy boost, I found Orkney Fudge was an excellent choice(Stephen, get everyone stocked up!) but you might get a chance to go past a supermarket before you go up.  I will warn you is that vegetarians will struggle in Tanzania as most places serve some kind of meat and then rice or ugali (a ball made of a kind of corn that you dip into the stew). I don’t think we got anything that wasn’t meat based, however the westernised coffee lounges might cater to vegetarians. Fizzy drinks are 10x more sugary than back home and often are neon in colour. The Tanzanian beers are actually pretty good and it is compulsory to have a ‘Kilimanjaro’ the day you come down from the mountain. Remember if you are going to Tanzania, Zanzibar especially, be careful when eating around Ramadan as many people are muslim and fast during the day. If you are there for Ramadan avoid eating in public during the day and it might be harder to find places to eat. One of my favourite culinary experiences in Tanzania was not Tanzanian cuisine at all but Ethiopian, in Stone Town in Zanzibar there is a great restaurant called Abyssinian Maritim and the woman who owns it is very helpful and basically you order an injera which is a massive pancake and then you get a series of stews, sauces etc which you pour on the injera in piles and then eat with the injera – cutlery free! Also try tej – an Ethiopian honey wine, it’s delicious! Oh yeah don’t try to “find your way around” in Stone town as it’s impossible to navigate, if you get lost find a legitimate looking restaurant and they might call you a cab (maybe for a fee…). Aftter walking around in Tanzania for a day you get covered in dust so avoid light clothing, go for earthy fabrics that hide dirt.

For independent travel we used a company called homelands adventure and they took us on Safari and to Zanzibar for about $550 dollars, I can’t remember exactly. It was pretty good and the company president Muskim is young and so took us past liquer stores and coordinated our time in Zanzibar with a full moon party on the beach. If you go to Zanzibar do not give up the opportunity to go on a spice tour or a trip around Stone Town. In the evenings there is an amazing food market at the harbour and I’d recommend trying shark!

When you get to visit a school you cannot really prepare. It's amazing.... indescribable really. Just make sure you have a video camera BEFORE you arrive because they sing as soon as they see you arrive and then you get mobbed.They will be grabbing your hands, stroking your hair and jumping on you and everything . They will be fascinated with your camera and most of them are massive posers, and rightly so! You will fall in love with them all and you will all be shocked into silence. This is where learning some Swahilli is again really handy, just stuff like what is your name and how old are you. Also try to have something prepared as a group like a song or a dance or something because they sing and dance for you! You will no doubt not want to leave and you’ll find that all children back home are now disgusting spoilt brats.

The guides suggest you should have started a drug called 'Diamox' I think it’s the day before the climb which is used for acclimatization and I cannot recommend this enough. We had 17 people in our group and all but two were on it and it was only one of the two who got any form of altitude sickness. You can get it from your GP but they can be a bit hesitant about prescribing it because it can mask the onset of altitude sickness which is dangerous. If your GP says no and you still want it then you can get it from online pharmacies (Dr Fox etc). Diamox gives you a weird pins and needles sensation in your hands and feet (and sometimes face) which can be strange at first but you get used to it! It also makes you need to pee A LOT and a lot more than normal so it is even more important to drink plenty water. I was on Diamox but I also took some herbal things I had read about just in case! I know some people might prefer a herbal option than throwing more chemicals into your body alongside antimalarials. I took beetroot supplements and another herbal tablet called Ginko Biloba which have both been shown to help with altitude! A quick note on antimalarials, I was on malarone because it has fewer side effects. It is a lot more expensive but with the risk of altitude sickness and inevitable gastroenteritis at some point I thought it was best. If you are taking doxycycline then remember that it makes your skin very sensitive to the sun and when you are altitude the air is thinner so it can be even worse, so even if you think you are a person who tans, take a high factor suncream.

Bring a headtorch and not a wind up one as it is important for the summit attempt which is done at night and believe me you can’t keep stopping to wind it up! Take GOOD waterproofs just incase and even waterproof bags or binbags if you don’t have dry bags. Sleeping bags should be at least 3 season and I’d advise a sleeping bag liner to save your sleeping bag getting too filthy. Having a good down jacket is important and take thermals/running leggings. It is important to layer up as the temperature can be variable. Take lip balm as chapped lips are horrendous in the cold, take abuff or scarf too to help protect them. When it comes to shoes, take a pair of good walking boots (start wearing them in around the house asap), nothing too fancy as you don’t use crampons or anything, and a pair of light trainers to relieve your feet after the main climb. Take several types of gloves, like from silk-style liner gloves, thicker waterproof golves and then a pair of mittens to go over the top. Take paracetamol or ibuprofen, knee support bandages and maybe some ibuprofen gel as you will creak and ache come day two.  You will pack two bags for the mountain, one day bag (about 30litres) and a rucksack (about 60-80l). You will carry the daybag during the climb so put all valuables and important things you might need in that. The porters take your big bag but it can’t way more than 20kg and you won’t want it too when you see what they carry. They are amazing and you will be in awe when they start running up the mountain! Get to know the porters as well, they are really amazing people and will help you a hell of a lot. But know boundries because several of us girls got proposed to, be flattered but reject politely and don’t tell them where you are staying unless you want them to arrive at your door when you get off the mountain, well unless you do want to marry them then go ahead! You’ll notice the guides and porters will often use English sounding names instead of their actual name. Tipping porters is a difficult one, you tip EVERYONE in Tanzania but how much varies and when I went we did kili first and we always looked back thinking we should have given more to the porters and guides. I gave $100 to a kitty that was divided between the porters and then there was a separate one for chefs etc. Usually if there is a porter or guide you feel did a really good job and made your climb amazing then take them aside in private and personally give them extra. Another thing people do is donate equipment they aren’t going to use again to the porters but this is considered an extra to the monetary tip.

I’m sure you are all very intrigued about the toilet situation, everyone seems to be. Basically on the mountain they vary from crouching behind a rock to quite a fancy building (Barranco camp!). The toilet banter will become a bonding topic between the group believe me! They are smelly but you will get used to it after a while, chewing  gum or putting some vicks vapour rub under your nose helps! Take plenty tissues as toilet paper doesn’t happen up there and put tissues in the bowl/pile when you’re done. There wasn’t any taps with running water when I was there so take a few small bottles of antibacterial hand gel and baby wipes (they are your best friends). There are no showering facilities but it doesn’t matter because everyone else is just as groggy and you will get to stare in awe at the colour of the shower water when you get back to the hotel! Our porters did give us a bowl for of warm water for washing and a bar of soap which we considered more than a luxury! Now for the girls, to make sure you don’t get a present from mother nature get the doctor to put you on the pill if you are not already on it. You can take it over your time in Tanzania as I can’t imagine much worse than dealing with that in those conditions!

A note on money (no pun intended!); Tanzania uses both shillings and US dollars. US dollars are mainly reserved for tourist activities and are usually specified in a price if you are meant to use them. You are more likely to get a better deal in shillings though. Kenyan shillings are different to Tanzanian shillings, seems obvious but we forgot. Also in Moshi most banks didn’t accept our European cards except Barclays which is on the main street in Moshi, you can’t miss it it’s just like the one in the UK. It would be advised to take as many shillings as you can from there (you will get confused by the infinite zeros) but try and work out how many dollars you will need while here using estimates then adding on maybe $100 more and get them exchanged in your home country as you will get a better deal there. Wear a money belt or similar and keep your notes and passport in there and obviously, don’t flash your cash or expensive items around.

The summit attempt is by far the hardest part of the climb. We had about 2 hours sleep and woke up at midnight to start walking at 1am. At Barafu camp you can barely walk to the toilet without taking a break. It was painfully cold and dark but in a way this is good as you can’t actually see how steep the climb you are doing is. The last day actually involves the biggest ascent of the whole climb so it’s good you can’t see it. You will be very out of breath so it will be quiet, this is when most people play their motivational Kilimanjaro playlists on their ipods (batteries of cameras and ipods etc run out quickly in cold conditions so keep then in a inside pocket or something to conserve battery, also those who are interested I did get phone signal at the top of kili!). You climb under a blanket of stars until you get near Stella point, at this point you do want to kill yourself until the sun starts to rise (you’ve been climbing for 5 hours now but you don’t realise it) and you can see the top and that’s when the motivation starts pumping. It’s very beautiful and impossible to describe without coming across all gap yah! I’m not going to try and explain the euphoria at the summit, you’ll all find out for yourselves I am sure!

I've documented my time in Tanzania and the climb up Kilimanjaro from Summer 2012 here!

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