An African Safari

With no time to waste, we set off on our safari the morning after our return from Kilimanjaro with our guide Zamo. Our vehicle for the safari was a Toyota LandCruiser with a special pop-up roof for viewing animals in the parks.

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Lake Manyara National Park

We drove West for a couple of hours before reaching our first stop–Lake Manyara National Park. The park is situated in the famous Great Rift Valley that runs through East Africa for approximately 10,000kms. Our game drive in Menyara was very exciting because it was our first day of safari but, in hindsight, it was just a warm-up of what was to come. We saw hippos, giraffes, impalas, zebras, warthogs, elephants, and wildebeests. The highlight of the day had to be watching countless baboons play, groom each other, and eventually crawl onto the hood of our car. To top off a great first day, we were upgraded to a beautiful hotel where we enjoyed the best meal of our trip so far.

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Serengeti National Park

On Day 2 we continued driving west through Ngorongoro Conservation Area and finally reaching Naabi Hill Gate–the official entrance to the National Park because of its location on the only hill in sight on the Plains of Serengeti. On the plains, we drove past the group of 2 million wildebeests that are part of the annual Great Migration that moves through Tanzania and the bottom of Kenya. These Wildebeests move in the exact same pattern each year following the rain season to meet their food and water needs; they are followed closely by a group of 750,000 zebras who feed on the short grass left over by the wildebeests. After driving further into the park, we pulled up beside two large male lions bathing in the sun. Before long, the males decided they wanted to re-locate and chose our vehicle to walk right beside to cross the road. It should be noted that Maria had an undisclosed fear of large cats and during this episode she was on the verge of nervous breakdown. We continued our game drive and saw a leopard hanging out in a tree, different types of antelopes, and tons of zebras. The guides of all the different companies communicate via radio to share info about good animal sightings. Before calling it a day we got word that the two lions we had seen earlier had a kill. We raced to the scene to witness the lions tearing apart a hyena–so cool. Surprisingly, our guide informed us this was not because they were hungry, as lions don’t eat other meat-eaters. Rather, all cats share the instinct to kill things that move (like house cats killing mice).

We headed to our accommodation for the night–Serengeti Wild Camp. The camp is situated in the middle of the National Park and is comprised of 10 sleeping tents for guests and one large dining tent. The sleeping tents are a step (or ten) up from the ones we stayed in on the mountain. They are complete with a sun room with table and chairs, large bedroom with two double beds and armoir, and full bathroom with shower, toilet, and sink. After dinner we sat around the fire and spotted a number of hyenas out for a stroll come within 30m of us. Throughout the night you can hear the low roar of lions in the distance and the pitter patter and laugh of the hyenas right outside.

Our second day in Serengeti was action-packed to say the least. First thing in the morning we watched an impala guard her baby as it attempted to stand up for the first time (so cute). There were also a number of buffalos grazing just down the road from our camp. Vehicles are required by law to stay on the designated roads but, when no other cars were in sight, our guide didn’t mind bending the rules; Zamo said going off the beaten path is called “swimming” among the guides. Later that morning, we drove up and parked within one metre of a group of 12 lions taking a cat nap–awesome and exhilarating (too much so for mom’s liking). We did the same thing later in the day to come within feet of a cheetah! After lunch we saw another couple of lions in the distance and closer to our truck were their three small cubs in a tree. That night we had the peaceful campground all to ourselves–plus around eight staff making a 2:1 staff-guest ratio.

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Ngorongoro Crater

We set out early in the morning to head back towards Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Zamo explained that the difference between a National Park (like Serengeti) and a Conservation Area is that National Parks are strictly wildlife with no permanent human settlements, while Conservation Areas means wildlife and humans (within strict parameters). Essentially only members of the Maasai tribe are allowed to live in Ngorongoro because their way of life does not have any adverse effects on the environment or the animals living in the area. Maasai live a very simple and traditional lifestyle; they maintain large herds of sheep and cattle and live in small straw huts. They are easily recognizable because of their colourful traditional dress, big beaded jewelry, and iconic spaced ear lobes. Tourists find their dress and way of life rather fascinating and, as a result, there is now lots of tourism surrounding the Maasai ie. guided tours of Maasai villages. However, as with anything that gets commercialized, authenticity eventually comes into question. This was evident when we spotted four camels on the side of the road; our guide explained the Maasai had imported these non-native camels to Tanzania in support of their tourism business.

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The inside of the crater is filled with an assortment of animals. Most notably, we saw our only rhinoceros inside the crater! Rhinos are an endangered species and under 50 remain inside the crater and the entire Serengeti combined. In Serengeti they are kept in a controlled area inaccessible by tourists for preservation but they roam free within the crater. The crater also proved to be the best spot for viewing hippos up close. There was actually a hippo pool right beside the designated picnic lunch area. I actually ran into my friend from McGill, who was safariing with her family as well, right beside the hippo pool during our lunch break!

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Tarangire National Park

Our last stop on the safari was at Tarangire National Park. On day five of a safari in Tanzania you can’t help but start to feel like you’ve seen it all; however, it doesn’t take long to realize that each park is unique and the best for something. Manyara was bustling with baboons, Serengeti was a real-life Cat World, Ngorongoro is rhino and hippo haven, and Tarangire proved to be the elephant capital of Tanzania. At times there were over 100 elephants within sight! Most were in smaller groups of 10-20 with one or two babies in the group–our fav! The elephants’ favourite hobbies seemed to include eating, throwing dirt on themselves to keep the flies away, eating, rolling in the mud to keep the flies away, and occasionally locking tusks for a bit of rough housing. Another interesting scene we witnessed was a standoff between a lion and a pack of around 6 giraffes. Zamo explained that the only way lions would attack giraffes would be in large groups and if they were very hungry. Despite this the giraffes were extremely intimidated by the solo lioness and it was very entertaining to watch them squirm.

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And with that, our safari comes to a close. We successfully spotted the “Big 5” and so so much more. Until next time, Tanzania!

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Jambo (“hello” in Swahili) friends and family. The Barbers have returned safely and successfully from Mt Kilimanjaro. I plan to update this post at a later date to include more details but, for now, the highlight reel…

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Day 1
We took a bumpy one hour bus ride from our hotel in Moshi to Machame Gate(1800m). At the gate, we signed into Kilimanjaro National Park and a monkey nearly made away with Casey’s lunch before Dan–our fellow climber–saved the day. Finally, we began our 4.5 hour trek through lush rainforest to our first camp–Machame Hut (3000m). Our guide Stanley was constantly reminding us to go “polé polé” (slowly slowly) to allow for better acclimatization. This proved to be a struggle for myself at times and a saving grace for dad.

Day 2
The second day of the trek marked the beginning of our routine–eat, hike, eat, repeat. The trek to Shira camp (3700m) took approximately 5 hours and was rainier, steeper, and involved more rock climbing than Day 1. What we found most amazing was that all the porters were completing these same hikes with 15kgs of luggage on their heads! On top of all that, they were leaving after us and arriving before us in order to have our tents set up, private toilet tent (a godsend) assembled, and our dining tent ready with tea and popcorn upon our arrival.

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Day 3
Before departing on the day’s hike we treated ourselves to Starbucks instant coffee–courtesy of mom–and took some festive Christmas Day family photos. As the saying goes “climb high, sleep low,” we hiked for 6.5 hours through what is known as the Alpine Desert to as high as 4500m until reaching Barronco Camp (3900m). The weather on the mountain can change on a dime; we experienced sunny warmth, hail, wet snow, and rain, all in a day’s hike. The most entertaining moment of the day was watching a 57 year old French man sprint past us on a steep downhill over loose gravel leaving his guide in the dust. We found out later that this same man had also bought weed in town prior to the climb and was asking his guide where he could smoke.

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Day 4
The fourth day was a short 3.5 hour hike to Karangu Hut (3930m). It also marked our first day with no precipitation of any kind-YAY. The hike began with a free rock-climbing segment on “Barranco Wall” which we really enjoyed. Stanley told us that, in the past, tour companies only allowed their porters one meal per day and so the porters used to call Barranco Wall “breakfast wall.” He assured us that, now, porters unions exist to ensure this is no longer the case.

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Day 5 & 6
It was a short but very steep 3 hour climb to Base Camp (4600m). Upon arrival, we crossed many people who had just descended from the summit in a wide range of physical conditions–from elated and energized to dusted and downright out of it. Before and after our early dinner we had to squeeze in a few hours of napping in preparation for our 11PM departure for the summit.

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We got away a bit later than planned at around 11:30PM to head for the summit. We were decked out in 3-4 layers on the bottom, 5 on the top including a winter coat, hats, neck warmers, mitts, and headlamps. In total it took us 6 h 45 to reach the Uhuru Peak at 5895m. The climb to the summit was extremely long and difficult and NEARLY drove Paul to the point of cardiac arrest (surprise surprise). That being said, watching the sun rise from the tallest free-standing mountain in Africa with the whole fam jam made it all worth it.

The descent from the summit to Base Camp took approximately 3 hours. At Base Camp we were allowed to sleep for 2 hours before continuing our descent and departing for ANOTHER 4 hour hike to Mweka Camp (3000m). The entire family had the sleep of a lifetime–the first one above 0 degrees in a week–after 14 hours of hiking.

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Day 7
We enjoyed/suffered through our last camping breakfast bright and early before completing our descent to Mweka Gate (1800m). The final hike was moderate and oh so enjoyable knowing our first shower in a week was finally on the horizon. At the bottom we celebrated with a round of Kilimanjaros (the local beer) before heading back to the hotel and bidding our guides adieu.

I found a comment in the guestbook at the bottom of the mountain that I feel perfectly captures the feelings of a just-finished Kili climber:
“Definitely a great experience and religious awakening…not because I found God, but because I walked through Hell.”

And if you find yourself thinking that what we did was impressive in the slightest… Karl Egloff–a Swiss-Ecuadorian–set the record for the fastest ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro in August 2014, running up and down the mountain in 6h 56m 24s.

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Pre-Departure Poem & More

Twas the night before Kili, when all through the house,
Not a Barber was packing, not even a mouse.
The suitcases were laid open upstairs with care,
In hopes that Emily & Casey would finally decide what to wear.

This post marks the official revival of my travel blog! I am doubtful that I will have wi-fi on the mountain as Google’s Project Loon does not currently service Tanzania–YET. The hope is that we will have internet access after the climb is over and I will blog about the remainder of the adventure.

Tune in to hear about Paul’s physical performance on the mountain, how bad we all smelled after 8 days of no showering, what Casey wore, and how well all of Maria’s marathons prepared her to run from lions and leopards.

The journey there is looking like it may be more exhausting than the hike itself with stops in Cairo, Dubai, AND Nairobi before reaching our final destination a day later. We are considering buying name tags that say “Hello, I’m on points” so that other travellers in our vicinity understand why we randomly burst out into tears and look like the Grudge.

Until next time, Merry Christmas!

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