K2inCanada's Blog

November 1, 2014

Day 0: It took a long time…

Filed under: Africa, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 3:33 PM

It took a long time for us (that’s more me) to decide on a trip to Africa. I had started playing with the thought after we came back from Australia in 2009. But I could never decide where to go – so many places I would like to see. I was looking at organized tours that take you through several countries. But then I know how much I would hate to sit in a tour bus and not being able to stop where I want. I briefly looked into self-drive tours but that’s not as easy as driving and sight-seeing in Australia. On top of that, all that would take considerably more time than the 3 weeks of vacation I have per year. I almost resigned into waiting for the next time I get laid-off. And then, last year September a colleague of mine showed his pictures of a trip to Tanzania – a hike and safari. 13 day personalized trip. I was hooked, Tanzania it is. And two weeks looked doable. Why wait until I am too old to do the things I love. I spent a bit more time looking into what else we could squeeze in – but it would have been just that, a squeeze. Not going to work. At the end I emailed the same company my colleague went with and customized one of their standard camping trips. Achmed, the owner of Basecamp Tanzania, was really patient with me and responded to all inquiries immediately. Originally Jeff’s buddy Jeremy wanted to come with us but . That brought the cost up even more now that it was only the 2 of us – but to hell with that, what else do I work for but to pay for the fun stuff :-). I booked everything in February – 13 days including a safari and a hike up an active volcano. YEAH! The only addition was a 3-day layover in Germany to see my family. Can’t really go all this way and not stop in.

But the trip was not till the end of August. So many months of waiting and thinking “Did  I really do the right thing? Spending several months of salary on a 2.5 week trip!” On top of that we had one of the best summers I remember in a long time. It started early, very little rain, warm without being too hot. Perfect for doing stuff in our own province like extended fishing or kayaking trips. But no more vacation left for that. Well we made the best out of the nice weekends. Lots of great hiking (see previous posts under hiking) this year to train for the climb up the volcano in Tanzania. The write-up for the climb said it is steep and one has to be reasonably fit. Then there was the Ebola outbreak in West Africa which had us a bit worried for a while. More money had to be spent on getting all the shots and malaria pills – even though we kept it to the bare minimum.

Finally it was the evening of Aug 26 and we were packing up the backpacks. We had piled stuff on the living room floor for a couple of days beforehand but didn’t start packing till last-minute as usual. We did miss the last TNR though….

Day Zero: Aug 27 – 4:30AM. That’s when we got up to take a cab to the airport to catch a plane to Portland Oregon at 7AM. Why Portland you may wonder? Just to save almost a thousand bucks on the flight adding another 7hrs to our trip. Obviously it does not take 7hrs to fly to Portland but we had a 5.5hr layover in PDX to wait for our connection flight to Amsterdam. To kill the time we took the “Maxlight” train into the city – it was a gorgeous day. Takes about 45min and is cheap. Jeff had found this breakfast place, “Zell’s” on the internet the day before, somewhere near the downtown area. It was a good 30min or so away from the train station – much further than we had thought along some busy not very scenic street for most of it – but we eventually got there. The place is somewhat hidden in a quiet residential area but the food was awesome! I had a “German” style pancake and even though it was not like the kind my mom makes it was delicious – a deep dish apple pancake to die for!  And a side of fried red potatoes. Honestly, I did not need all that food but it was too good to not finish. The waitress was impressed or more like stunned when she saw the empty plates :-). On the way back to the train station we took a route along the Willamette River – a bit more scenic and all we really saw of Portland, other than a lot of homeless people everywhere. Seemed worse than downtown Vancouver. We had to wait for the train a bit longer than expected but at the end we got back to the airport and through security in time for the flight. Only to find out that our flight was delayed by 45min. In theory that is not a big delay but our layover in Amsterdam was only 90min – pretty darn close since Schipol airport is HUGE. Once in the air we got to enjoy the same beautiful scenery as we enjoyed on the first flight down with awesome views over the ring of fire volcanoes such as Mount Hood, Mount St. Helen, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, and we got to wave at Vancouver below us an hour into the flight. So FINALLY we were on our way towards Africa :-).

I hadn’t flown with Delta Airlines in a LONG time – we are talking decades. The leg room was ok, service quick and friendly, food surprisingly good (I know I should not have been hungry again after that breakfast earlier) and a huge selection of movies such as Life of Pi, Noah, Jack Reacher, etc. I didn’t even get to watch all the ones I wanted to during the 10hr flight. Not because I was sleeping lots, the opposite I was awake most of the time. The plan had been to get a good nap to be rested when arriving in Amsterdam. Well, that did not happen. Due to favourable winds we actually touched down in Schipol almost right on time. But then we were taxiing around for another 30min – so our 90min layover had now shrunken to 60min. Naturally the next gate was at the furthest away end from where we landed and we had to really hoof it to make it in time – only to be standing in line to board the next plane. Schipol/KLM has this weird system that security is done right at the gate which delays boarding endlessly. Never mind, we made the flight – I was still worried if the luggage did too though.  Nothing to be done about it now – off we went back into the air for the third time.

It was now just after 10AM local time which made it 1AM Vancouver time and we had another almost 9hr flight ahead of us. Service was again very good and I kept eating all they put in front of me – Jeff was smarter and hardly ate. He had this guy sitting behind him who was coughing and sneezing as soon as the plane took off – he was African. The stewardess eventually brought a doctor along who happened to be on board to check if this guy could have Ebola. Turned out he did not – so the doctor said. And we continued to enjoy the flight and the start of our vacation. No worries, right!? I had never flown south from Amsterdam – other than going to Frankfurt – so once past FRA I spent most of the time looking out of the window. Flying over the Alps, Greece , the Mediterranean into Africa. Not a cloud in the sky the whole way – almost. The views of the Sahara from up high were stunning – I wanted to stop and check it out. The light was too bright to take pictures – I had to wear my sun glasses inside the plane. The first clouds we saw probably when we crossed over Ethiopia into Kenya. We saw this huge storm to the west with lots of lightning – pretty cool to watch.  By the time we landed at Kilimanjaro Airport it was pitch dark, 7:45PM local time or 9:45AM Vancouver time Aug 28th.

Our plane made the little shack of an airport look even tinier – but somehow all the passengers fit into it. Now began another wait in line for the Visa. They recommend to get the visa at the airport  rather than applying beforehand and shipping your passport across the country but you have to expect to wait. Otherwise, it’s really painless. At the end of the first line up you give the guy behind the counter $50 each and get a piece of paper to stand in the next line. There they check your fingerprints and passport again and you get the stamp to enter the country. No word needs to be spoken :-). Took over 45min though and somehow we ended up being almost the last people out of the terminal. Quite surprised to see our luggage already waiting for us – yeah!! Achmed had promised that our guide would there to pick us up. But there was no-one in the area behind immigration. Maybe we took too long in immigration and he left? As we slowly walked outside, there were two guys chatting and one of them was Mike our guide. NOW the trip really started. Mike is just one of those people you have to fall in love with right from the start. He was a big fellow and always had a warm smile on his face (although over the next 13 days I am sure he must have cursed us stupid tourist a few times but it never showed :-)). His English was excellent. He loaded us and our two backpacks into this huge safari truck – a Toyota Land Cruiser 9-seater. I was sure this is just the vehicle they pick people up in from the airport. The drive to Arusha – our final destination for the day – took a good 60min. Traffic was surprisingly busy with few opportunities to pass and we weren’t going fast. But most Tanzanian drivers did not have Mike’s patience – they passed you never mind that there was no opening in the oncoming traffic. Someone will move out-of-the-way, right!?. Bit nerve wracking on day 1 in the dark after being awake for 30+hrs already. We finally made it into town and turned off onto this narrow lane, a really rough track and I was wondering where it would spit us out. We stopped in front of a big iron gate and voila it opened up into the L’Oasis Lodge – well named. We had our own little hut, porters carried our backpacks to it, flower petals on the bed, real bathroom. Quite nice! And of course there was a bar and we had our first Safari beer. Jeff finally was ready to eat again. Remember he hadn’t eaten since the flight to Amsterdam while I had stuffed myself on every opportunity I got. Even though it was already almost 10PM they still served a full meal. I stuck to just a light soup but Jeff’s chicken masala was awesome! And Safari Beer does taste good when on safari. Not long after though we crawled underneath the mosquito net – not that we had seen any mosquitoes yet – and fell asleep. We are in AFRICA – wow! It only took a car  followed by a plane, followed by a train (could have skipped that) followed by a plane and yet another plane back into a car again to get there: 31.5hrs of non-stop travel.

We really made it - Africa

We really made it – Africa

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1 Comment »

  1. Living vicariously through you guys is awesome!! Great pictures from the air. 🙂

    Comment by Krista — November 1, 2014 @ 5:30 PM


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