How Hard Is It to Climb Kilimanjaro?

A few years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa.  I have written about how I prepared, what I took with me, and how each day was from day 1 to reaching Uhuru Peak (Kili’s summit) to coming down the mountain.  However, one of the key questions I get is how hard was it to climb Kilimanjaro?  I also get that in a different way when people look at me like I did an almost impossible feat.  I get that it is not something most people do hence why it is a feat of a kind but to me there are crazier and/or harder things (it is all relative, isn’t it??).  So I wanted to share a little of my perspective on how hard is Kili…

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The first time I saw Kili outside of the Honey Badger Lodge

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A photo shared in my earlier post about what I took with me

A bucket list item that never was: Kilimanjaro

I never planned or thought of climbing Kilimanjaro.  It had never occurred to me, I had barely heard or read of people who did, nor was I a big hiker to begin with (my first multi-day hike ever had been the year before and I had never stayed at a tent in my life!).  I had hiked four days in Transylvania (Romania) the year before with Trekking for Kids (TFK) and, at a fundraiser for them a few months later, folks started talking to me about joining them in a few months to climb Kilimanjaro with TFK.  I considered the whole idea preposterous.  While I exercise regularly, I was not running half marathons (had done it once a dozen years before) nor doing bootcamps a few days a week nor anything of the like.  Climbing Kilimanjaro was for the super athletes of the world and I was far from a fraction of that though I knew I was in slightly better shape than the average person.  But, a lot of cajoling, elbowing me, and a couple (or 4) glasses of wine later, I succumbed and said yes, beginning to feel excited that I would attempt something so ‘crazy’ and out of character.  The next morning as I woke up and remembered the prior night’s events, I was asking myself why I had agreed to doing something like (instead of saying I’d think about it).  Well, I am not one to disappoint so I decided I was going to give it a shot after all not thinking I had what it took, expecting it took a LOT of training time I did not have, at altitude I could not spend time on, and requiring plenty more hiking experience at altitude or not that I did not possess…

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Ready to start the climb!

Getting ready for climbing Kilimanjaro

A million questions started swirling in my head.  How do I best prepare?  What do I need to bring with me?  What do I need to wear to deal with the cold?  Can I do anything to improve my chances at the exertion?  Can I do anything to help me be ready for the high altitude?  What did I need to know in terms of my personal safety?  How much was it going to cost me when it was all said and done?

I was fortunate to have been going to Kili with an outfit like TFK.  They provided a good bit of info and gladly answered all my questions as I researched things and acquired the things I needed.  I won’t repeat here all the things I decided to do in terms of preparation or to pack in terms of clothing and other gear; I will provide links to those posts below.  But I will address here the “how hard” question…

How hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro

Of course, you do not decide to hike to the summit of 19,340 foot mountain on a whim.  OK, perhaps if you are a superstar athlete or have the right genes you can… but most of us don’t fit that category.  Actually, I take that back even being a superstar athlete does not guarantee you will make it to the top.  Physical conditioning is only part of what is needed to make it to Uhuru Peak, the summit.  The other part, well, it is simply how your body deals with the high altitude and lower oxygen levels (for which you can do a couple of things that help a tad).  Nevertheless, you have to have an OK fitness level as you will be exerting your body through a few hours a day of walking and gradual climbs, mixed with some steeper climbs at certain points.

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Leaving the Lava Tower looks harder than it was (Day 3)

Training at altitude would help but, from what I understand, the body’s adjustment to altitude dissipates within a few days/a week so that may not be logistically possible for everyone (to go from training in high altitude in another continent and head straight to climb Kili).  I did not do any high altitude / long climbs as part of my training due to many constraints but certainly they can only help so if you are able to do some of that in the weeks before, then your fitness level will be better.

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Heading to Barafu Camp from where we would launch to the summit (Day 5)

Part of my training as I share elsewhere was walking on a treadmill on a high incline with a backpack loaded with twice the weight I would carry on the mountain.  It was an odd sight at the gym for sure but it helped physically if not just mentally…  That and the fact that I am in general good shape through routine exercise were in my favor but I still struggled summit night (who doesn’t?) and after the Barranco Wall.

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Climbing along (not up) the Barranco Wall had its challenging spots (me in orange!) (Day 4)

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A little while after the Barranco Wall (OK, an hour or so), we got hit by a little rain

So while Kilimanjaro was far from easy (each day I would end completely drained and able to move but barely), I feel it is a reasonable, attainable goal for people with a fair degree of training/fitness.  And, with all that, it will still all depend on how the high altitude hits each particular individual – and that cannot be predicted.

What was the hardest part?

It is a hard question to answer.  We are all so different.  My answer may not be yours.  Things I can think of include:

  • the cold,
  • the longing for a nice glass o’ wine or a beer (OK, I threw that in for comic relief),
  • the badly needing to get up to pee in the middle of the night (if taking Diamox – or not),
  • the constant packing and unpacking,
  • the not showering,
  • the bathroom situation at camp and on the trail,
  • the rocks to climb requiring longer legs than I have,
  • the having a sick tent-mate and wondering for days if you will catch it,
  • etc.

(NOTE:  Note food is not on this list.  I ate great stuff thanks to our great porters & crew!)

But all these things are “overcomeable.”  For instance, while I used wipies every day to sort of clean up after a day of hiking, I had no such thing for the hair.  Yet not even ONCE did I think that it had been days since I had washed my hair last (those who know me will know how incredible THAT sounds).  That’s what makes going up Kili something special.  YES, it is hard in many ways.  YES, physically, no matter how well trained (with those rare exceptions).  But the hardest part is the mental part when you wonder if you really can make it all the way and whether you want to on one of those moments you are too tired to think straight.  The hardest part is in keeping going, in putting one foot in front of the other when you think you can step no more.  And you can.  And you will.  And you will be so amazed when it is all done that you did it.  That you had it in you.  I never knew I did.  But I did.

And this is the face of happiness at 19,340 ft above sea level, with my family close to me.

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At Uhuru Peak – the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!!

How to Go to the Serengeti

I have been fortunate many times in life.  With the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, I have been fortunate twice.

Serengeti National Park twice!

Back in 2007, I went to Tanzania for the first time visiting projects my employer supported in Stone Town (Zanzibar) and the Mwanza region while also visiting our main office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city (but not its capital which is inland Dodoma).

During my stay in Mwanza, I had a day off and I thought “if I never get to return to Tanzania, what would I do with that day?”  Well, the answer was easy:  visit the nearby the Serengeti, approaching it from its western side.  Though a day is certainly not enough, when that’s all you have, you take advantage of the opportunity to sample a place so unique and so present in our imagination from movies and the like.

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The tiny Mwanza airport

Fast forward to late 2012 and I was convinced, sold, pressured, <fill in the word here> to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  Never on my list of things to do, I was surprised I agreed to do it (wine had something to do with it but also the great people with whom I would go on this adventure).  Once on board, the opportunity arose to do a four day safari through the Lake Manyara National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti after the climb.  I knew I had barely scratched the surface on my brief visit in 2007.  In addition, I had not gotten to Ngorongoro in 2007 because it takes a day of its own and it was outside the Serengeti on the OPPOSITE side from where I was coming and going back to (Mwanza).

My visits were very different in duration, in how they were guided, and in how I got to and departed from the park.  These visits provided me a view of the possibilities for someone contemplating visiting the Serengeti with potentially different itineraries.

How to get to the Serengeti from Mwanza

Getting to the Serengeti:  One option on getting to the Serengeti is to enter it from its western side.  You would do this if you were coming, say, from Rwanda or were to get to Mwanza (Tanzania) on the shores of Lake Victoria.  On my first trip to Tanzania in 2007, this is how I visited the Serengeti, as I mentioned.  From Mwanza, it would take 3 hours or so to get to the Serengeti’s western entrance, the Ndabaka Gate.  Fair warning:  the road in was rather rough from this entrance.

Staying near the Serengeti:  Since you really want to be at the park as early in the morning as possible, I stayed as close to the park’s entrance as possible.  They reserved a lake-shore bungalow at the Speke Bay Lodge (15 km from the park and 125 km from Mwanza) on Speke Bay (part of Lake Victoria) so I could get going really early – optimal time for seeing the wildlife at the park.

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My bungalow at the Skepe Bay Lodge – outside

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My bungalow at the Skepe Bay Lodge – inside

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The shores of Speke Bay

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The shores of Speke Bay

Exploring the Serengeti:  I hired a driver from my organization to drive me in and out of the park who was more than happy to make extra money.  For the cost of his hourly wages multiplied by the hours spent taking me there/back plus a rather generous tip, I got to sample the Serengeti.  While he was savvy enough to not get lost, handle the very rough roads), and show me a good bit, he certainly was not a regular safari driver who has more of knowledge and instinct for finding the action.   Once in the park, he took me to the impressive Seronera Lodge so I could have lunch.  After concluding the day, I went all the way back to Mwanza which made for a long day since I had crammed into one day.  Needless to say, I recommend more than one day in the park and staying in the park which, while more expensive, would allow for maximizing the early hours of light to make sure you see all one hopes to see when doing a safari in the Serengeti…

Some images from that trip (film, not digital camera!)

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Some of the wildlife…

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Some more of the wildlife…

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Love this zebra picture!

How to get to the Serengeti from Arusha / Kilimanjaro

Getting to the Serengeti:  The most common way to visit the Serengeti is to approach it from Arusha.  Arusha is proximate to the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) served by airlines like KLM (awesome way to go from North America with one stop in Amsterdam’s Schiphol).  More or less, it takes about four hours to get from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  The visit to the Ngorongoro can take a whole day so I would not recommend going back and forth from Arusha.

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On the road in the Ngorongoro Crater

Staying near the Serengeti:  We stayed at hotel outside the Ngorongoro called Highview Hotel in Karatu (the vistas from the hotel reminded me of the hills of Tuscany!) which made it perfect because, the day after visiting the Ngorongoro, we launched from there into the Serengeti.  We then spent two full days in the Serengeti staying in the park at a nice tented camp (we had a bathroom in the large tent as well as two separate beds!) that allowed us to get a very early start the second day.

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My tented camp “tent” – nice!

Exploring the Serengeti:  On this safari, we did go on a guided safari which definitely yielded a great experience.  We were a group of 12 or so; we split into two vehicles and one left before the crack of dawn and the other sometime after dawn).  I stuck with the group that slept a little more 🙂  We were taking a gamble… would we miss the best wildlife action (a lion kill – which really meant a lioness or two hunting down some wildebeest) because we slept until the late hour of 6AM?  Well, thankfully, we did not sacrifice the opportunity to see how the hunt takes place (and the kill which was not the most interesting part for sure).  The vehicles we rode in sat a small group and the top would open, as most of the vehicles you see during safari, so you could stand look out without the glass of the windows obstructing a clear view out.

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Second visit, an.other zebra shot..

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Hippos enjoying the water

We named ourselves the type B group (vs. the other group, which we lovingly labeled the type A group).  We had brought lunch boxes prepared by our camp but the type B group drove past the Seronera Lodge (yes, the one I had had lunch at six years before!) and we asked the driver to stop there.  Once inside, we decided lunch boxes were for the type As and we proceeded to go to the restaurant for the lunch buffet… yes, no shame here – we enjoyed the ‘luxury.’  Anyway, that may not be how everyone wants to do the Serengeti but it felt SO good to sit down, eat a real meal, sip on a glass of wine or a beer and look out the window at the Serengeti…

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Pool at the Seronera Lodge – with a great view of the plains

In this visit, we witnesses an almost lion kill in the Ngorongoro (we saw the lion patiently monitoring things with a three lionesses not far probably doing the hard work).  And then we saw the full lioness kill of some wildebeests in the Serengeti itself.  An incredible experience especially when witnessing the patience and finesse of the lioness, and also the cleverness of the wildebeests (OK, all but one’s…).

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Patiently waiting for the menu to walk by…

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This is not going to end up well for someone…

Africa never ceases to amaze me.  The vistas, the wildlife and the people – the stuff we see on TV and that is so foreign to our daily experience (at least for those of us urbanites).  I leave you with these two images of the sunsets I experienced in the Serengeti…

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Amazing sunset on its way while we safari

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Amazing sunset from the restaurant at our tented camp


Pin these images to your travel board!

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#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

Recently, the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou has been trending on Twitter and for good reason. The world’s view of Africa is often a negative one, focused on violence, disease, and poverty. The hashtag was formed to show the world that this is not what Africa is all about, in fact there is so much beauty that is overlooked by the media.

Several bloggers and I decided to join the movement and share what it is that we love about the continent. There are common misconceptions about the way Africa is portrayed in the media, and we’d like to be part of the solution. Our hope is that the world will see that we need to change our view of Africa.

Raul of I Live to Travel  (yours truly!)

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

The news outlets, unfortunately, tend to focus on the sensational, on the negative. Sub-Saharan Africa is mostly portrayed in an unflattering light unless there is a story about safaris perhaps. Wars, AIDS, etc. always get top billing. But there is much more to Africa than the media would have you see. And most of it is actually quite positive. During my work at CARE, I got to visit its work in Tanzania. One of my most enlightening and heart-warming experiences was outside of the town of Mwanza. There I was taken to visit a woman who had been shown how to earn a better livelihood by selling fried fish along a road many went on (mostly on foot or bikes) to get to a market miles away. She and her family lived in a mud brick house with a thatch roof; anytime massive rains came, they risked the house flooding – or worse, washing away as many do. With her increased earnings, she was able to start building a home raised from the ground made with real bricks – providing a safe home for her family. THAT is the Africa I met the first time I went to Tanzania. Go beyond the sellers of “news” and meet the real people of Africa, living their lives with hope and hard work!

Erin of The World Wanderer

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

No matter what stories I heard in the news, Africa was always a place I knew I would visit. The cultures, diversity, food, people, and wildlife have interested me for years, and when I finally saw the opportunity to travel to the continent in 2012, I took it. As soon as I arrived, I realized how wrong the media was. Every continent and country has their fair share of bad news, but as I have found by traveling, there is always more good than bad; Africa is no different.

When I think of Africa, I think of it as a place full of warm, welcoming smiles and unspoiled, natural beauty. For three weeks, I traveled throughout Southern Africa, not enough time to truly know it or understand the way it works, but it was enough time for me to fall in love. Botswana, in particular, took an immediate hold on my heart; I felt connected to the vast landscapes and kind people. During a few days in the Okavango Delta, we spent time with the locals who we bonded with, especially over the campfire. We shared songs and dances, one of the girls and I made everyone s’mores, and we laughed and joked until the early hours. It was one of those moments, I will never forget. My time in Africa was full of small moments like this, moments that I wish people knew about because if they did, they’d truly understand what the continent is all about.

Francesca of The Working Mom’s Travels

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

I traveled to Africa by myself at age 31 to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and go on a Serengeti safari. I was nervous for a few reasons, mainly because I was traveling alone and it was AFRICA.  It’s so far and so mysterious and only bad things happen there. At least that’s what I was led to believe by those in my life who thought my traveling there was a bad idea. Little did they know, it was just the motivation I needed to go through with the trip, to prove that Africa is not as awful as mainstream media portray it.

I arrived in a village outside of Moshi, Tanzania, on Christmas Eve, and was to spend the holiday with a local family, along with a group of my American friends (we all traveled there separately). I arrived to a festive scene and happy, laughing kids everywhere. Everyone, including the children, was dressed in their Sunday best: men and boys in suits and dress shoes; women and girls in fancy dresses and extravagant hats. After they returned from Christmas Eve mass, the father and head of the family began cooking up an enormous feast. For a family that seemingly did not have much, they wanted to make sure they shared everything with us. We ate, we danced, and we sang, and it stands as one of the happiest Christmas celebrations I’ve ever been a part of. This family was grateful for what they had and was able to share, and they were joyous. That’s an aspect of Africa we don’t see much of in the media.

Craig of Stay Adventurous

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

I don’t know one person who traveled to Africa and didn’t come back different. For most it becomes the trip of a lifetime. Today, they don’t speak of Africa in only hardships and poverty, but describe its raw beauty and tell of its energy and what amazed them. Their stories seem endless.

For me, much of my one five-week adventure to Africa is documented on my travel blog. Yes, I showcase sunsets, sand dunes and safari (all expected), but I show more and things I didn’t expect. Things I certainly don’t hear people who haven’t traveled to Africa and or the media discussing today.

Many of such memories happened in Namibia. One morning a few of us set out to explore Walvis Bay, along Namibia’s Atlantic coastline. Watching seals, dolphins, and taking a look at a shipwreck were part of the itinerary, but so was tasting the local oysters. Delicious. Fresh. Oysters.

I never thought I’d be on a boat in a bay in Africa eating oysters one day. Well, is that something you see in today’s coverage of Africa?

Gerard and Kieu of GQ Trippin

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

Kenya has made its way into the media more recently for terrorist attacks which, unfortunately, has negatively impacted its tourism, but we didn’t let this deter us from coming here on our honeymoon. During our time in the small town of Nakuru, we visited the East African Mission Orphanage and was immediately rushed by excited kids eager to meet us. Apparently, they don’t get visitors often, maybe once a month at times longer during the slow seasons. Here, the children learn to grow their own vegetables and spend a good amount of their day in class getting a proper education. It brought a smile to our faces to learn most aspire to attend a university and finish school to pursue careers like becoming a teacher or an engineer. Here at EAMO, we weren’t pushed to give a donation, a surprisingly different experience than we’d thought. Instead, we truly felt it was our presence that was most welcomed and wanted… and our gadgets — the kids couldn’t get enough playing with our cameras & phones, they asked to see pictures of our home or of really anything that was beyond the gated community they call home. It both warmed and broke our hearts, not going to lie. There are good things happening here, we wish more people knew about it.

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If you’ve been to Africa, we ask that you join us in spreading the good. Create your own post, share photos on Twitter and Instagram, and shed some positive light on this beautiful place. Let’s show the world what Africa is really all about, let’s show them #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

If you want to read more about my visits to Africa (sub-Saharan or not), just click above on the menu item “Africa”! Hope you enjoy my stories about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, visiting an incredible coastal town in Morocco, seeing post-apartheid Johannesburg, and other stories!

Essaouira: A Surprise on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco

When I decided to go to Morocco, my images of the country were more of what I encountered when I got to Marrakesh (though Marrakesh was so pretty that I didn’t expect every town in the country to look like that).  But, after an overnight in Marrakesh, we left the next morning to the coastal town of Essaouira (once known as Mogador a long time ago and pronounced something like “Ah swear” as the final vowel sounds silent to English speakers).  I had signed up to do my third trek with Trekking for Kids to help improve the lives of orphaned or at-risk children around the world and the center where we were going to work was located in this seaside town.  (Check out the work done at Bayti Centre here.)

The town of Essaouira – not the Morocco I expected

Upon arriving in Essaouira, it felt different.  That was likely due to it being a coastal town with nice beaches and the accompanying tourism infrastructure (I suspect the main source of tourists is domestic followed perhaps by those from neighboring Arab or European countries).  It looked clean and was not too crowded.  The town, currently with about 70,000 inhabitants, was a fort originally established by the Portuguese centuries ago and was coveted by all major European powers.  The town proper was begun to be built in the 18th century by Mohammed III.  I learned after leaving that scenes of the movie “Othello” by Orson Wells were filmed in the streets of the city.

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No, those are not Star Wars characters but palm trees held while they grow so they don’t blow away

We got to our hotel, the Riad Zahra Morgador, and I was very pleased.  It was beautiful and the staff very friendly.  I enjoyed our stay there in every way, except the wifi only really worked in the lobby.

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A welcome treat!

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The room I stayed at, spacious and comfortable

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The staircase at the Riad

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Did I mention the pool guest?

Among the many surprises was the climate.  Of course, I expected being on the coast meant sea breezes and slightly cooler temperatures than Marrakesh (which had hovered round 100 F when I was there).  But they were much cooler, like in the low 70s for THE HIGH!  A strong sea breeze contributed to actually feeling a little cold even before the sun set as we walked along the beaches one day.  And on the beaches for the visitors, there are camels… for the ride.  Some of my fellow trekkers decided to try their hand at riding a camel but first… one must successfully get on one!

Essaouira’s Old Medina

Another big surprise was the general personality, if you will, of the town.  People were not all over you like in Marrakesh.  They were more relaxed, I’d say.  Even in the market (or “souk”), I didn’t feel hounded.  People would certainly invite you to look at their wares, etc. but once you stepped way or said no, they were very respectful.  Given my temperament, this was more conducive for me to actually engage in more meaningful dialogue with store clerks than I would otherwise be inclined to be.  It led to a more enjoyable experience for sure.  It also led to me buying more as I normally shy away from aggressive sales tactics (which I understand are normal in some places).  Essaouira, Morocco, souk, market, Old Medina, food, bread

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Colorful wares!

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And more color and patterns

I found it fascinating to see guys pushing these massive carts loaded with fruit through the throngs of people – masters of their craft!Essaouira, Morocco, souk, market, Old Medina, food, fruit, Samsung Galaxy Essaouira, Morocco, souk, market, Old Medina, food, fruit, Olympus Essaouira, Morocco, souk, market, Old Medina, food, fruit, Samsung GalaxyI enjoyed walking around the Old Medina where I felt very safe so I could admire the details of the architecture around. Old Medina, souk, Essaouira, Morocco, market, goods, colorful, travel, photo, Olympus Old Medina, souk, Essaouira, Morocco, market, goods, colorful, travel, photo, Olympus Old Medina, souk, Essaouira, Morocco, market, goods, colorful, travel, photo, Olympus

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Pharmacy near the land-side gate into the Old Medina

A sweet tooth is always one in the U.S. or in Morocco!

However, all is not architecture and fruit carts.  A stop at a local patisserie on the edge of the Old Medina towards the beach (Pátisserie Driss) delivers delicious sweets and coffee!

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Ahhhh!!!

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Mmm…

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Double mmm…!

Essaouira’s old walls

On my first day, we explored the North Bastion with its old Portuguese cannons and the sea walls.  On another day, we got to spend time along the South Bastion next to Bab Marrakesh (the gate to Marrakesh from the walled Old Medina) where I took some of the sunset pictures shown later in this post.

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The Old Medina sea wall (ramparts) are now the perfect setting for shops

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Cannons along the sea wall

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The group of Trekking for Kids trekkers at the North Bastion

And the sunset photos…

Essaouira, Morocco, Old Medina, travel, photo, gate, Samsung Galaxy

Approaching the Old Medina at dusk

Old Medina, city walls, sunset, Essaouira, Morocco, market, goods, colorful, travel, photo, Olympus

City walls and the Old Medina as seen at sunset from the South Bastion

Old Medina, city walls, sunset, Essaouira, Morocco, market, goods, colorful, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sunset over the Old Medina from the South Bastion

sunset, Essaouira, Morocco, ocean, Atlantic Ocean, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Sunset along the beach – and me

seagull, bird, sun, sunset, Essaouira, Morocco, ocean, Atlantic Ocean, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Photobombing my sunset picture…

So, all around, Essaouira was a pleasant surprise; different than the Morocco I expected.  Here is to good surprises!!!

Trekking for Kids and the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

In the summer of 2014, I decided to do another trek with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I have trekked in Romania in 2012 and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2013.  When I learned TFK was going to go to the Camino de Santiago, something I’ve wanted to do since I learned about it, I knew I just had to go as it was the perfect combination of a trek and of service to improve the lives of children, something I am very passionate about.  The group of trekkers paid their own way and then raised funds for projects to be done at the center selected by TFK.

Trekking for Kids, TFK, trekking, Morocco, Essaouira

The group of Trekking for Kids trekkers before the first day of work – I was in GREAT company!

The service work was going to take place at a center for street and at-risk children in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco – a town that surprised me and of which I am writing separately.  TFK decided to work with the Bayti Centre to improve the facilities where they work with the children to protect them against violence, to provide psychosocial rehabilitation, to reintegrate families, and other related activities.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK being welcomed by Bayti Centre staff

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

A group shot with tons of kids is hard to pull off…

TFK selected a number of improvement projects like helping the exterior of the building be repaired and painted.  Another project was a kitchen renovation that facilitated the two kitchen staff to be able to work side by side in the small kitchen with two sinks, a new fridge, and a new stove as well as more shelving to better use the space.  New equipment for instruction (like a flat screen TV) and other items for the children were donated as well.  In summary, a series of projects that would enhance the facilities to create a better environment for Bayti to deliver its services and attend to the children of the streets of Essaouira.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

The facade of the Bayti Centre after repairs but before painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Finishing touches being applied on the repairs prior to the painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Painting the exterior – street level

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Building a wall garden requires woodworking skills!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One dirty (and happy) trekker after a day of work at the Centre!

Along with the works, we also got to take the children on outings and threw a party where we all got to enjoy food, games, and music much to the delight of the children.

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Getting ready for one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

Face painting in progress!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

A fellow trekker doing the artwork!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Another great face paint job and a happy kid!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

The end product of face painting!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One of the outings was to go to a park in the city for fun and games

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

The girl on the right sure knew the right technique for jump rope!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Precious little girl!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

He was having fun at the park – and I was glad to be a part of it

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Fun and games at the pool park in one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

More fun and games at the pool

A final word is to thank the amazing staff and volunteers who are the ones who truly made the world a better place for these children.  Je vous remercie, mes amis!

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK trekkers with the staff and volunteers of the Bayti Centre

I look forward to another TFK trek in 2015!

Djema el-Fna: The Central Square in Marrakesh – Full of Life!

Market time!  Marrakesh has a very lively market, Jamaa el Fna (or Djema el-Fna) spread out over the same-named square, second most famous square in African after Cairo’s Tahrir Square.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so that should command some attention, right?

Of course, the souks (or alleys) of the medina are full of shops but it is this square that is the main scene.  At night, the market is teeming with life.  Locals and tourists alike enjoy all it offers.  The range of items for sale, be them food or other goods is wide.  Eateries can be found all around from the basic to the restaurants.  Of course, be ready for the extra “persuasiveness” of any of the sellers around.  It is intense to walk around (a little bit of a turn-off for me).  You can also see diverse live animals to charm you.  But feeling the place’s vibrancy makes it a must-see and must-walk-around.  Perhaps even buying a thing or two?

dates, fruit, Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa

Dates, dates, dates

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So many orange juice carts! Must be a lot of thirsty people around…

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Food stalls, like these with spices, add a lot of color -and aromas- to the scene.

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Beautiful lamp

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And back to food after that lamp!

Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa

Continuing with the food vendors…

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Dried figs!

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The baked goods could not be far behind!

eateries, restaurants, cafes, Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa, Canon EOS Rebel

One of the many casual eateries in the square; more formal ones can be found in its periphery

drinks, entertainment, Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa, Canon EOS Rebel

Soft drinks are part of an entertainer’s set up in the square

eateries, restaurants, Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa, Canon EOS Rebel

Many restaurants all around

Djema el-Fna, Morocco, food stand, medina, Djemaa el Fna, Jemaa el-Fnaa, Canon EOS Rebel

So whether during a short visit like mine or one that allows you exploring every nook and cranny of ‘kesh, don’t miss out on an evening out at Jemaa el-Fnaa!

 

Images from Marrakesh, Morocco – Or Why I Would Return

On my recent trip to Morocco, I spent two overnights in Marrakesh on either end of my visit to the country.  It certainly was not the right amount of time to spend there, especially given that I loved its architecture and would have enjoyed seeing more of it.  However, it was a good amount of time to sample the city.  So, I thought I’d share some of the images that stuck with me so you can get a sense for the town.  Of course, I witnessed beautiful sunsets in Marrakesh but I will share those separately from these!

Airport

The airport in Marrakesh has a good number of international flights.  It must be very new and it is very modern indeed.  I loved getting off the plane after an overnight flight from the U.S. to Amsterdam and a 3-hour layover before heading to Marrakesh.

Marrakesh, Morocco, airport, photo, travel

The airport terminal as I deplane

Marrakesh, Morocco, airport, photo, travel

The departures area on the day I left Marrakesh – pleasing to the eye.

Our riad

A typical place to stay while visiting Morocco is the “riad.”  A riad is a home with a small inner courtyard or garden that offers quite a few benefits for its residents such as privacy and an outdoor space with little to no direct sunlight which helps deal with the high heat of this type of locations.  Riads remind me of the centuries-old houses in places like Old San Juan, which also had inner courtyards.

Marrakesh, Morocco, riad, hotel, courtyard, photo, travel, Olympus

View down towards the ground level at Mon Riad

Well, riads nowawadays offer a great design for small places of lodging and so it was with the one where we stayed in Marrakesh:  Mon Riad.

Marrakesh, Morocco, riad, hotel, courtyard, photo, travel, Olympus

Mon Riad

With a small courtyard with a small pool in which one could dip one’s feet, it certainly was a nice place to get to after a long trans-Atlantic trip!  I immediately dropped my bags, started meeting my future fellow trekkers (more on my trek along the Camino de Santiago soon!), enjoy a welcoming cup of hot tea (yes, that is actually the best thing in hot weather!), and taking my shoes off so I could refresh my tired legs in the small pool!  The staff and accommodations (great A/C in the rooms!) were phenomenal.

Marrakesh, Morocco, riad, hotel, courtyard, photo, travel

My welcome hot tea – nice touch!

I enjoyed the rooftop terrace where we had dinner one night and where I got to watch some very nice sunsets and sunrise!

Marrakesh, Morocco, Mon Riad, view, medina

View from Mon Riad’s terrace

Marrakesh, Morocco, riad, hotel, courtyard, photo, travel, Olympus

Perfectly set up for dinner up in the Mon Riad’s rooftop terrace!

Marrakesh, Morocco, Mon Riad, alley, medina

The alley where Mon Riad is located – quiet and clean!

Red everywhere

Most structures in central Marrakesh are red or pinkish-red.  The same red is visible in the pottery typical of the area.  It is a neat color especially in contrast to the beautiful blue skies, the sparse but present green of the palm trees, and the color of the desert that kisses the city.

Marrakesh, Morocco, medina, photo, travel, Olympus

Driving in towards the medina from the airport

Marrakesh, Morocco, minaret, Koutoubia mosque, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Minaret of the Koutoubia mosque

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Right before entering the medina, we passed this beautiful gate: the Palace Gate (or Bab Agnaou).

Marrakesh, Morocco, medina, photo, travel, Olympus, red walls

Going around the medina, looking for the entrance!

Marrakesh, Morocco, medina, photo, travel, Olympus, red walls

The outer walls of Marrakesh’s medina.  Red on the walls, red on the stop sign, and red on the curb!

Marrakesh, clay pot, pottery, handicrafts, souvenir, market, Morocco, Olympus, travel

Presumably the same clay that is used for walls is used for these clay pots – more red!

Decorations and architectural details

The best images I take away from Marrakesh (sunsets aside) are these.  I have always found Arabic architecture (if that is the right term) beautiful since the first time I saw Moorish Spain’s legacy to the current architecture of places like Granada and Cordoba.  In Marrakesh, everywhere I turned there was an interesting architectural or decorative element.

Marrakesh, Morocco, tile, colorful, Smasung Galaxy, photo

Though worn by time and feet, this tilework is still beautiful.

Marrakesh, Morocco, design, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Great patterns

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Incredible detail above a doorway – exquisite

mosaic, engraved doors, Arab design, Marrakesh, medina, Morocco, Olympus, photo, travel

Entrance to a building in the medina. Great mosaic and metal work

As I said earlier, I wish I had had more time to explore this exotic town but hope these images begin to convey the beauty to be found in the town.

Summer Vacation Is Almost Here!

This summer, I finally get to take a real vacation, not just a couple of days of here or there.  Actually, I get to take TWO real vacations!  The two vacations came about differently and it was certainly hard to plan them as I did not control when one of them took place and the other had to be coordinated with other people’s schedule.

The great cold and outworldly:  Iceland

The first vacation will be to Iceland, my first time visiting this unique land sitting astride an incredibly active piece of Earth (who remembers the volcano-whose-name-cannot-be-said-because-it-is-too-hard?).  Friends of mine were planning to go and invited me to come along with them and their two young daughters.  One of the parents has an Icelandic ancestor and has been doing research so part of the trip will be to visit the rural areas of her ancestors.  This is likely unlike what the normal tourist goes to do in Iceland and that is precisely what I think makes it a great opportunity for me to travel.  Of course, we will try to hit the major unique features of the island that make a visit there so neat (waterfalls, volcanoes, hot springs, fjords).

Upon landing, we plan to hit the Blue Lagoon hoping it will help some with jetlag (we have a 6-hr layover in JFK… remember, with two young girls aged 4 and 7…).  We will then spend some days anchored in Reykjavik but hopefully doing the Golden Circle and perhaps a day trip to the south part of the island.

After those three days we will drive clockwise on the ring road to the town of Akureyri.  We have rented a house across the “bay” from it with spectacular views.  We already see ourselves in the hot tub with a bottle of wine soaking in the late Icelandic summer day…  We will use this as a base to explore the northern part of the island and the area where my friend’s ancestors lived in.map, Iceland, Reykjavik, Akureyri, travel

Trekking with a purpose:  the Camino de Santiago and Morocco

Right after returning from Iceland, I will go on the second vacation of my summer.  This one is a special one as I will be doing 7 days of the Camino de Santiago with Trekking for Kids in order to help street and at-risk children in Morocco (I went with this organization to hike in Romania and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro).

The trip will begin by going to Morocco and spending a few days at the center that we will fundraise for (each trekker raises money that will go 100% to the projects we will fund at the center).  I have never been to Morocco and though I will not be officially “touristing,” I like that I will experience some of Morocco in such a unique way.  We will then fly to Madrid and train it to León from which we will begin our trek in the Camino.  I have wanted to do the Camino ever since a friend did it many years ago (though I am not sure I would want to do the route starting at the Pyrenees). So this trek is perfect as it will be about 7 days’ worth of walking.  A good bit of that walking will be in the area of Galicia where some of my ancestors come from so walking through it will be special in that way for me.

I have been to Santiago de Compostela before but look forward to the experience of arriving there by foot, as many have done since the Middle Ages, and getting my “Compostela.”

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I am very much looking forward to my vacations, long overdue.  One thing I will say before I conclude here is to urge you to consider doing a trek with Trekking for Kids – it will be a unique experience as the fact that many trekkers (like me) keep returning for other treks!  Check out the upcoming treks to Kilimanjaro, Jordan, and Patagonia here.

Zanzibar’s Park: Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park

Most people likely think of Zanzibar (Tanzania) for its beaches and resorts.  Or perhaps also for its very unique history and architecture.  Or maybe as the birthplace of Freddie Mercury.  However, get off-the-beaten-path and you will discover Zanzibar has other interesting places to explore.  The Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park is one such place.

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, photo, travel, Tanzania

Welcome!

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, photo, travel, Tanzania

On the way to the park

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, photo, travel, Tanzania

Entrance to the park

The park is a great example of conservation efforts that involve the adjacent communities that otherwise would tap the park for its natural resources, over time depleting them.  The efforts to conserve the park were part of my visit there and it was great to see how the neighboring communities, once brought on board, understood the long-term considerations and began adapting their own approaches.

The park is west known for its red colobus monkeys.  Quite comfortable with humans (which may be a concern), they are amusing to watch for sure.

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, colobus, monkey, photo, travel, Tanzania

Red colobus monkey

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, colobus, monkey, photo, travel, Tanzania

Red colobus monkey monkeying around

Besides the monkeys, it is neat walk around and look at the flora native to the area.  A bit humid but otherwise a great walk!

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, photo, travel, Tanzania

Vegetation at the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park

Zanzibar, Jozani, Chwaka Bay, National Park, photo, travel, Tanzania

Vegetation at the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park

So if  you ever head to Zanzibar, enjoy the beaches, Stone Town, and the local contribution to world music but do not miss the Jozani-Chwaka Bay Park!

 

Travel Inspiring Reads – “Dark Star Safari”

Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town”  presents the story of Paul Theroux’ overland crossing of Africa, quite the safari!  (“Safari” means journey in Swahili.)travel book, journal, Africa, Cairo, Ethiopia, adventure, reading, inspiration

I enjoyed this book because it presented interesting topics:

  • Thought-provoking questions
  • Rich descriptions of places
  • Horror stories
  • Good history nuggets
  • Ideas for off-the-beaten-path places to visit.

Let’s go through these briefly…

Thought-provoking questions

While a book about travel, certainly part of travel is gaining an understanding of the local situation (at least for me).  The author helps the reader gain an understanding of the current state and what makes it difficult for Africa to break bad cycles.  For example, he points out how education in some of the countries suffers because those that have education and could be teachers are pulled by foreign NGOs for other activities (though I think he misses the point that often what those people go do is to try to help while also further developing capacity in these would-be teachers).  He also discusses with people he meets the issues introduced by corruption and mis-management without writing a dissertation about it.

One thing that was unfortunate is that the author seemed interested in putting down NGOs (“the agents of virtue in white Land-Rovers”) wherever he could which is unfortunate since many do very good work on behalf of those in need (even if not all are perfect; many have learned and evolved their approaches).  It is unfortunate in my opinion since it gives the impression that he has a chip on his shoulder and, as a reader, that diminishes my appreciation for his critical thinking (though it does not impact my appreciation of his writing effort).  Also, I would worry that readers unfamiliar with the questions and topics involved may just take his word for it.

Rich descriptions of places

The rich descriptions he captures of what he sees make you want to explore the places he visits.  For example, this is his description of Bayna l-Qasrayn, a street in Cairo:

“Perhaps the oldest inhabited street in the high-density city of Cairo, one thousand years of donkey droppings, hawkers’ wagons, barrow boys, veiled women, jostling camels, hand-holding men, and hubble-bubble smoker, among mosques and princes’ palaces, and a bazaar with shops selling trinket, brass pots and sack of beans…”

I also enjoyed relating to some of his observations, not dissimilar to my own.  For example, in many hotels in Egypt there are metal detectors.  I often wondered what were they really good for should someone just decide to park a truck full of explosives in front of a hotel.  He is much more eloquent than me as he shares his observations on security while in Aswan:

“There were metal detectors at the entrances to most buildings though they were seldom used and seemed more symbolic than practical… Certainly the electricity supply was unreliable and there seemed to be a labor shortage.  The armed men, with assault rifles slung at their sides, meant to reassure the tourists simply looked sinister and added to the atmosphere of menace.”

Horror stories

His description of travel through southern Ethiopia and Kenya to Nairobi is filled with frustrating anecdotes and mis-adventures.  Unhelpful government people, bad roads, vehicle breakdowns, touts and thieves, etc. all color this part of trip.  You suffer with him and then remember to be happy you are not him.  Good reading though!

Good history nuggets

The book also included great nuggets of history which certainly pleased this fan of history.  It informed me about Italy’s horrible choices when it came to Ethiopia since the late 19th century – a story I had never heard about.  In 1896, the Ethiopians trounced 20,000 invaders from the Italian army at Adwa (a place I had never heard of).  Those poor young men, sent there by crazy leadership ill-equipped, for no good reason, to die or otherwise suffer.  Unfortunately, all these created resentment that the Fascists in the 1930s wanted to act on.  So off they went (with poison gas and all) to invade Ethiopia whose fighters were still using the same weapons from the 1896 era…  (Don’t mean to pick on Italy, by the way… History is loaded with ugly decisions by many!)

Ideas for off-the-beaten places to visit

The book introduces a reader like me to places I had never ever heard of but that I may enjoy visiting.  For example, his inclusion of Lalibela in Ethiopia where there are twelfth century Coptic churches carved into the mountains adds to my already-existing desire to explore Ethiopia!

Favorite quote

One of the pieces of wisdom he heard in north Sudan during this safari struck me as universally true and is my favorite quote of the book:

“The criterion is how you treat the weak. The measure of civilized behavior is compassion.” – Sadig el Mahdi

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While the author can come across a little self-absorbed or sanctimonious, the story of his crossing Africa overland is gripping and well-written, sharing a lot more than just a narrative of adventures and mis-adventures.  I wish I could do that trip…  Maybe.

 

The Timeless Capitals: Rome, Athens, Cairo

I have traveled to a good bunch of countries and hope to add more over time.  Most of the time, that means I have visited their capital cities even if briefly.  Rare is the case where I have not visited a capital city of a country I have been to.  Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic come to mind.  Tanzania does too, now that I think about it, since Dodoma -not Dar es Salaam- is its capital.  I thought it would be cool to do a series of the capitals I have visited…  Let’s start with the timeless!

The timeless capital cities

One cannot argue that there are cities that are timeless.  Many are not capital cities.  But as the theme is capital cities, I will pick three that are timeless fully aware that I am stating the obvious given the choices:  Rome, Athens, and Cairo.

Just thinking about the “youngest” one of these goes back a couple of thousands of years.  Mind boggling.  )Of course, there are much younger capital cities that I could call timeless too.)  Going to any of these can be daunting with all the possibilities to explore the ancient, the old, and the recent (say, last 200 hundred years??).

Athenas – Atenas – Athina

Athens may be the easiest to navigate in terms of this but it still requires time to learn all about it.  It also merits exploring the “recent” not just the old or ancient.  In any of these cities, one can get stuck just on the archeology or history “touring” and miss the vibrant cities they are now, their history notwithstanding.

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The modern outskirts of Athens towards Piraeus

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A juxtaposition of modern Athens and old Athens

Rome – Roma

Rome has such depth that one could just focus on the Roman Empire period, or just the food, or just the Catholic, or just the modern life – and spend weeks on any of the topics.  A first visit to Rome can really consume one in the key sights to be seen – and that is OK, no reason to stress about it.  But either carve out time for, or plan to return for, diving in to the other experiences.  And don’t worry, Rome is eternal so it will all still be around for your next visit!

Pantheon, Rome, Italy, Panteon, Roma, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

The old: Pantheon

food, carbonara, Italian food, Rome, Italy,  food porn, Olympus

The food: Carbonara – my favorite dish to have in Rome!

Olympus, St. Peter's at night, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, architecture, night time

The Catholic: St. Peter’s Square at night

Tourist, Pantheon, Rome, Italy, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

The visitor: Is this a Roman look-alike soaking in the incredible Pantheon?

Cairo – El Cairo – La Caire – Al-Qaherah – القاهرة‎

About Cairo, what I can safely state is that it is one complex city!  For someone not used to large cities in countries where one doesn’t speak the language or one is not familiar with the culture, it can be overwhelming.  I felt that way on my first day there during my first visit.  And then you start walking around, sensing the vibe, having contact with the friendly locals, and the city opens up differently than expected.  Yes, there are key sights to be seen – the “musts,” but in Cairo, as in other places, the best part is the “experiencing,” not just the touring (I am not an anti-touring snob, just a proponent of experiencing!).  I believe it totally change what Cairo is in our minds to become more immersed (to the extent one can in a one week visit…).

Pyramids, Cheops, Giza, Cairo, Egypt, travel, architecture, ancient Egypt

The “musts”: The Giza pyramids

Cairo, Le Caire, Egypt, shisha pipe, hookah, chilling, experience, travel, photo

The “experiences”: At the Grand Bazaar

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These cities are timeless for their longevity and history yet they could also be grouped into other categories in this series.  I preferred placing them in the timeless group as they serve witness to the development of civilization, to the evolution of how we humans operate, and to the great achievements of the past while yet being alive in this modern world – not just being city-museums.  So go and explore these timeless capitals!

tourists, Italy, Canon EOS Rebel, baby carrier

Tourists enjoying a timeless capital: Rome!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these cities if you have visited – or how you envision them if you have not!

Top 14 Items to Bring When Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is quite the experience – an achievable one for most people with some training and mental readiness for the effort.  But climbing to the “roof of Africa” is also an operational endeavor!  Lots of planning for the clothing and other items that are needed, balancing need, cost, and weight.  The following picture sort of gives you a visual of the amount of stuff involved in the trek!gear, Kilimanjaro, clothing, Olympus, hiking, climbing

I have written before about what to bring as far as clothing if you are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro but I also want to share the other items that you ought to bring along.  In no particular order, here are the top 14 items that were important for me in my hike.

1.  Sleeping bag

Get a good one.  One that keeps you warm.  Remember that some of them work best when you wear the least amount of clothing.  I know.  It seems counter-intuitive.  But it is true.  Zero (Fahrenheit) -rated is recommended.  If not, get a liner with extra warmth.  But the best is just a good sleeping bag as the liner would be just one-more-thing to get into and out of…  The mummy style works best.  You want that tapered shape instead of a rectangular one – the rectangular one has more space for air inside that will need to be warmed and that heat comes from you body.  The tapered one is better in that regard.


2.  Wipies

Oh, wipies, thou art so versatile!   Whether it is cleaning yourself after a day of hiking or cleaning yourself after nature calls – or just to wipe your hands after eating, these little suckers are quite helpful.  Take some.  Take a good amount.

3.  Pee bottle

“Huh??,” you may say.  That’s what I said too.  But, stay open-minded.  Picture this:  middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, in a tent, with two pairs of zippers in your way to go outside, you with little clothing on, outside freezing cold, you needing to put on clothes, shoes too, stumbling to find the headlamp so you don’t stumble outside OR, middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, stumbling to find the bottle (i.e., the pee bottle), then trying to carefully point/aim.  Done.  Yea, I thought so.  Pee bottle.  A tip:  Get a wide mouth bottle (improves the odds of filling it not your tent).  Another tip:  Make sure it seals tight so, when it tips over as you move in your sleep, it will not fill your tent.  Final tip:   Make it big enough.  Do not underestimate how much pee comes out in one “go” plus you may go more than once per night.  Any questions?

4.  Headlamp (with plenty of batteries)

The headlamp will be key on summit night as you start the hike up to the summit at midnight.  You will need to watch your step even if you go with a full moon.  Additionally, at camp at night and in your tent, you will make use of the headlamp.  Make sure you bring extra batteries and save those for summit night.  An extra little light bulb may be good but if the one you have is new, you may not need it (I didn’t).

5.  Pain killer

While my personal preference is to deal with the pain without the need of meds, this approach is suspended when I am trying to climb a 19,340 ft mountain, you know?  I was not sure how my knees would perform nor what other pains may arise during this week long adventure.  I only used them on the descent (not at the start while going down the scree field but after leaving base camp).  It is EXTREMELY rocky in this part of the mountain and I could feel my knees were going to have issues.  I took 2 preventive Advils and repeated once later during the descent and then with dinner that night.  Whether because of my preventive measures or not, I had only very slight soreness on my knees.

6.  Ambien

I was leery of using Ambien at altitude not knowing what effects, if any, it could have on me (other than making me fall asleep).  I had them more for the flight and my first night in-country not for the hike.  But our lead guide said it was OK and maybe even a good idea to take half an Ambien to take the edge off and be able to fall asleep in the evenings since rest was so important during the hike.  So I did and it all worked great.

7.   Hiking poles (two of them!)

Yes, this hike will be a lot easier with two, not one, poles.  Poles give you impulse as you climb over a big step and also you can push off with them as you move forward.  However, they shine in the descent:  my knees would have been pulp (more than they were) if I had not had these poles to soften the impact when stepping down over rocks.  Can’t recommend using them enough (even if you are “tough” – everyone has them) – and if you can score the ones with shock absorbers, even better!

Do try them out somewhere as the grip will be important.  I liked the foam grip and cork handle as it would feel better if my hands got sweaty either way I held it.  I could unscrew the handle to use it as a camera mount (though I did not use that feature during this hike).  Also, make sure they are adjustable:  when you go up, you may want them shorter than when you are going down when you may want them longer!  There are hiking poles at every price point so just check them out in person, ask questions, and then pick!  Or even better, borrow them from someone you know 🙂


8.  Duct tape

You never know what you will need this for and therein the beauty of duct tape:  it fixes anything.  OK, I exaggerate.  Most anything.  I roll it on a pencil as taking the roll itself is bulky.  You can use it to fix a broken backpack or to nip a budding blister before it becomes a nightmare.  You choose the color!

9.  A camera!

OK, this may be obvious.  I was trying to keep the weight down in my “carry-on” during the hike but I clearly needed a camera.  How would I otherwise take magnificent pictures??  I did make a good decision to get a high quality pocket camera instead of my regular bulky camera.  Good call – I got plenty of great photos but without too much bulk/weight.  The views and the moments are worth the camera weight!

 10.  Quick dry towel

While you are not showering for the duration of the hike, you will be brushing your teeth and, likely, your porters will have warm water ready for you when arrive at camp to wash your hands, face, etc.  The quick dry part is likely self-explanatory (when you leave a camp, you don’t return to not a lot of time for the towel to dry out).

 11.  Pad for the sleeping bag

The ground you will be sleeping on is often hard and cold.  In fact, at a couple of places it was even rocky.  The little pad the hike organizers provide for you to lay your sleeping bag on is rather thin and will not do a good enough job to add cushion or protection from the soil.  I took with me an inflatable pad that made my sleep more comfortable – and that is priceless.  A fellow hiker was going to let me use her pump but I ended up having no problem blowing up the pad even at higher altitudes (good job, my lungs).  I got to practice my forced breathing by blowing up the pad so it was good all-around!  (I did HATE every morning deflating it and folding it up…)

12.  Notepad

You may want to bring something to write on as you will have a lot of time at camp after a day’s hike and you may have things from the day to jot down so you don’t forget.  I wrote down start/end times, hours walked, and even what I ate.  I also took notes on funny things or things I experienced – not quite a diary, just quick notes.  On the topic of a lot of time at night, you may want to bring anything else that may amuse you (cards, Sudoku sheets, etc.) but don’t add too much weight to your bag!

13.  Water purification method

Water is boiled at camp but that is only for cooking.  It takes too long to boil water at altitude and your porters will not be able to boil water for you to drink.  You will need to bring your own purification solution of which there are several options (purification tablets, ultraviolet radiation, etc.).  The tablets, such as iodine tablets, are lighter to carry but you have to wait before the water is ready to drink and the iodine causes an odd taste.  SteriPENs are a portable ultraviolet radiation option that is quick and easy.  I had brought the tablets but others had SteriPENs in the group and I quickly realized how much better the SteriPEN approach was.  They all offered the rest of the group their SteriPENs so I traded using one of the hiker’s SteriPEN for sterilizing her water bottles in return – a win win!  Just know they can be temperamental and be sure to bring enough batteries!

 

14.  But the most important item…

Hopefully, this list has been helpful so far – if you have any questions on the above items or any other, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you.  While the list is not all-inclusive, it is the list of the items I most appreciated having with me.  However, the most important item I brought along was… a photo of my family.  This photo went with me to the summit which meant they went up Kilimanjaro too, with me…

Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, hiking, climbing, Olympus

Want to read how the hike went?  Start on Day 1

The items recommended are recommended for their key features, not because I have an opinion on whether they are the best in their class! 

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