2013: Oh, The Places I Stayed At

bar, Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, architecture, Olympus

OK, ending with a preposition is not proper but to make it sound Dr. Seuss-ish I hardly could have made it “Oh, the places at which I stayed.”

In any case, I shared my year in food and beverages in an earlier post.  But 2013 was also a good year in terms of exploring places to stay.  Here are the highlights of my year in accommodations!

Moshi, Tanzania

While in Moshi working with the Kili Centre orphanage, we stayed at two different hotels:  one before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and one after.  Each is special for different reasons.

The Honey Badger Lodge had a great feel in the grounds and other public areas (bar and pool area) as well as spacious rooms / cabanas.  The owners and staff were incredible.  It was amazing to be greeted by the friendly wait staff by name every day!

Honey Badger Lodge,Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

Notice the monkey out for a walk in the beautiful gardens of the Honey Badger Lodge

After coming down from the mountain, we went to the Springlands Hotel.  This place was special because it is where we got to celebrate our success in climbing the mountain (100% of our group of 16 summitted!).

Springlands Hotel, Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

The ground of the Springlands Hotel

Mt. Kilimanjaro

One of the biggest pulls on me to consider doing Kili again are some of the great views afforded by some of the camps in which we stayed.  Shira Camp on day 2 and Karanga Camp on day 4 were just stunning for me.  Tell me what you think!

Shira Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Shira Camp with the summit and a nice set of clouds behind it

Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Looking at the top of Kili from Karanga Camp

Washington, D.C.

I stayed at a few different hotels over my two years of constant travel up there for work.  The Mayflower definitely was my number one choice though some of that is because it was the closest one to work.

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

The newly renovated lobby and new restaurant bar: Edgar. A place I enjoyed hanging out at

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

Elegant main corridor by the ballrooms

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

Rooms were spacious and with the right amount of furnishings – not overdone

The Sofitel D.C. was not usually in range of my approved budget but even if I did not get to stay there, I loved trying the specialty cocktails of Le Bar.  I got to check out the W Hotel, right near The White House.  Though the room’s window did not close properly and it took a while to resolve the situation, the hotel was gracious in making it up to me.  It was a nice touch.  I love the modernity of the rooms (as with any Ws) and the great view from the room I finally got settled into!

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

View towards the Dept of Treasury (right) looking towards the south lawn of The White House

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

Great lines and furnishings in the room. And the translucent shower wall.

Other mainstays of my time there were the Renaissance on 9th St NW, near Chinatown, and the Renaissance in New Hampshire.  Of the former, I really liked the lobby, a space where I would happily sit for happy hour or a Friday night out with friends.  It also had the nicest executive lounge in the U.S. properties of hotels affiliated with Marriott.  Of the latter, I loved its location: closer to Georgetown, right by residential areas, walking distance from the Kennedy Center, and easy access to running trails without having to deal with too many street crossings and heavy traffic.  Also, very close to Dupont Circle which was nice in terms of having a broad range of dining options – and watching the unique character of the area!

Jordan

In Jordan we stayed all over the country and in many different types of accommodations.  I wrote specifically about all these different type of accommodations experienced here so I will not duplicate here what I have already shared (but do check that post out!).  However, I will share here more about the Six Senses Spa where we stayed two nights because I don’t feel I shared how unique a place this is, in the middle of nowhere (it feels), nestled in a narrow canyon that hosts the hot springs the place is known for.

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

The lower hot springs are behind the building on the picture (taken from the hotel)

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

Looking at the hotel from the entrance to the area

While management’s attention to the guest needed a little bit of polishing, the staff itself made every effort possible to deliver a great experience.  The rooms’ use of wood panels instead of curtains on the balconies’ doors was very unique and provided a warmth to the room that I really liked.  But take a look at the spa area from behind the falls!

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

The public hot springs

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

From behind the waterfall in the public hot springs

Manila, The Philippines

In my short trip to Manila, I stayed at two hotels, The Bayleaf Hotel and The Manila Marriott.  I wrote previously about how the former provided the best location to explore the Intramuros district of Manila whereas the latter was a paradise of relaxation. While The Bayleaf had less glamour than the Manila Marriott, its convenience to learn about Manila’s history was great.  Both shone because of the incredible attention to service and the customer by their staffs.

Minneapolis

While visiting Minneapolis, I stayed at The Hotel Minneapolis, from Marriott’s Autograph Collection.  It was my first time trying a property from the Autograph Collection so I was curious how it would be.   I really liked its spacious lobby and its location, close to the river, the theater district, and the business district. I walked everywhere downtown from the hotel.  The rooms, though not huge, were well-enough sized.  The building dates from the earlier 20th century when it was built as a bank.  I was really impressed by how cleverly the time and function of the building were tapped and applied to create great public spaces in the hotel.  If I were there on a business trip, I would definitely enjoy lounging in the lobby spaces after working hours.  The friendliness of the staff topped off what was a great stay.

Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, Olympus

The lobby is a comfortable space to lounge around after work or during a weekend stay

bank vault, Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, Olympus

Some original details of the bank, like this vault, are preserved

bar, Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, architecture, Olympus

Bar design takes advantage of the original architectural details

Minneapolis Hotel,architecture,  Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, Olympus

High ceilings and marble columns add a lot of character to the lobby spaces

Hope everyone has a great holidays and I wish you the best in 2014!

I was hosted at the Jordan, Minneapolis and Manila hotels.  All opinions are my own based on my experiences and observations.

Honey Badger Anyone?

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Moshi, Honey Badger Lodge, children, special, vista

If you are a regular visitor of this blog, you know I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this past February.  It was a fantastic experience that I am glad I was dared to do.  Before we embarked on that hike, we spent a few days in the town of Moshi visiting and working with a local orphanage, Kili Centre.  A great couple of days to set us off for our hike.  But those couple of days allowed me to meet the honey badger of that viral video.  The reason the topic the video came up was not just because we were in Tanzania where likely there are honey badgers.  It came up because we stayed at the awesome Honey Badger Lodge outside of Moshi!

We arrived around 2AM at the lodge due to a flight delay leaving Amsterdam.  Obviously, everything was pretty dark and quiet when we got there and we were eager to get to our rooms and bed.  We were all sharing rooms with other trekkers but my roommate was arriving the next night so I appreciated having the room to myself that first night.  My room was in a standalone cabin whereas some other rooms were adjoining rooms in small buildings.  My cabin was super spacious with two queen beds (with mosquito nets).  No fan though…  Oh, and it had separate shower area from the rest of the bathroom.

cabin, honey badger, lodge, moshi, tanzania, olympus, lodging, accommodation, hotel, tourism

Half of my cabin!

The hotel grounds had a lot of nice vegetation and monkeys too.  There was a nice sized pool with a great area around it to sit and a few steps down from it was the dining area full of picnic-like tables and the bar.  It all felt very close and convenient yet I felt there was a lot of space and openness.

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommodation,

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommocation Olympus

Monkey Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania lodgiing accommodation

Notice the monkey?

One night, there was a show with local music and dancing that was quite enjoyable; I think this is done often for the benefit of the guests.  The lodge can also arrange any number of activities for the visitor including climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro – even if you don’t use them for that, I highly recommend staying there before and after!

But the good news about the Honey Badger Lodge don’t end there.  The lodge makes a serious effort to to contribute to the local community.  A portion of the profit goes to support local education and other projects and they strive to train staff and give them a good situation for employment (read more in their website).  The current owners, Joseph and Jenny, do this but this started when the owner (and founder of the lodge) -the mother of the current owner- decided her business could be more than just to make a living for her and her family.

I enjoyed my stay there because of the nice layout and the knowledge that our giving them our business would have more of an impact.  But, as a final word, I will say that I enjoyed my stay there because the staff was very friendly and made an effort to call us by our name.  I was impressed.  Clearly management knows what it’s doing and I like that in every which way!

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Moshi, Honey Badger Lodge, children, special, vista

Neighbors of the lodge and the roof of Africa behind them

Of Kids, Water, a Fence, and Chicks – the Kili Centre Orphanage

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Going to Tanzania was not just about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro though that consumed most of my energy pre-trip (and, heck DURING the trip!).  I had done a hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last summer with Trekking for Kids (TFK)  and I was so impressed, not only with the excellent logistics planning for the hike, but also with the great care with which the orphanage had been selected and the projects chosen.  So going to Kilimanjaro was also about having another opportunity to help improve the lives of orphaned children via TFK.  Tanzania is far and doing this trek was a not-trivial use of my time and money (though TFK is much cheaper than many outfits who organize Kili hikes).  But I understood that my efforts would really make a difference on these kids’ lives and that my hike would be safe and well-planned.

I have written a few posts about the planning of my trip and the hike itself (see links at the end of this post).  So I wanted to focus this post on the orphanage we worked with in Moshi:  the Kili Centre.

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Kili Centre welcomes its visitors!

The Kili Centre orphanage

I posted in LinkedIn that I was going to hike Kili and work with this orphanage as part of the fundraising all trekkers commit to do (raise a minimum of $1,000).  One of my connections replied that she had been there and that the Centre’s leader, Michael, was doing a great job with the orphanage and the kids.  Though I know TFK does a thorough job vetting orphanages, it was still good to hear this.  After finally meeting and spending time with Michael in Moshi, I have to agree with the assessment my connection had made.  He had a great vision for the orphanage and the projects he had proposed were very well thought through in terms of sustainability, impact to the children and the future of the orphanage, and ability to demonstrate to the donors their money had been well spent.

The projects funded at the Kili Centre

The future site of the Kili Centre

The Kili Centre rents its current location but it is not adequate anymore for the needs of the orphanage or meeting its future plans to accept more children.  Some of the changes that would make it more adequate may not be acceptable to the landlord so the Kili Centre needed to find, not only a new location, but a place where it can be owner of its domain, so to speak.

New Kili Centre location in Moshi, Tanzania

New Kili Centre location with Kilimanjaro covered by clouds (showing the new fence)

What’s in a fence?

So Michael was able to raise funds to buy a new lot (with a GREAT view of Kilimanjaro!!  though maybe this is not hard in the area given its proximity to the mountain and the height of the mountain).  But this lot sat empty and ran the risk of being taken over by others.  In many places in Africa, having title to land is not enough.  If people squat on it, or neighboring folks start farming it, at some point one runs the risk of losing it.  In addition, I heard there are rules that a purchased lot has to have something built on it in a certain amount of or, otherwise, the government can take it back.  So here came an opportunity for the first and main project funded by the trekkers’ fundraising and their generous donors:  building a perimeter fence around the lot.

New fence on the Kili Centre's future home

TFK Executive Director Cindy Steuart and trekker Dave Hughart at the fence on our first visit

Guardhouse at the site of the new Kili Centre

Progress while we were there! The finished guardhouse (shown without a roof in the prior pic)

H20 – Water – A basic necessity we take for granted

Though not an immediate impact to the kids’ lives, it will clearly help the children eventually have a new place that will better serve their needs.  For example the current location of the orphanage does not have running water.  So water must be trucked in (at great expense due to the cost of the vehicle and gas).  In the new location, not only did the project build the perimeter fence (and the gate/guardhouse) but it also connected the lot to the town’s water system!!

I was very excited to see the running water during my visit of the new site.  Water is fundamental to progress in less developed locations as it is essential for good health.  Without good health, the education of the children suffers.  So having running water in their new location will be a real improvement in the quality of life at the Kili Centre.

Running water at the Kili Centre

One of the faucets installed connected to the water system – water, the stuff of life!

Clearly, just having a fence and running water will not be enough to give the Kili Centre its new home.  However, the evidence that other donors saw the Kili Centre’s plan as solid will help it in fundraising to have the wherewithal to build the different structures that will be needed.

Chicks (not for free, contrary to what Dire Straits may say)

One of the Centre’s activities that provide both a food source and income is its chicken coop.  However, the Centre had been forced to sell its chickens in order to pay for the schooling of the children.  The chickens had been towards the end of their productive years so the decision to sell them for meat was a good one however, it set the chicken coop back.  So, some of the budget TFK had for projects went to buy chicks to “replenish” the chicken coop and assure some income and food for the Centre.

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the Kili Centre

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the KC

The kids well-being

Another item on the project list was repairing the furniture in the kids’ rooms and getting them new mattresses with new mattress covers (to make them last longer) along with new blankets.  Their rooms looked great!

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets at the Kili Centre

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets

Focus on education

As alluded to, the Centre is focused on the children getting a good education.  (I wonder if the children of the Centre are more “lucky” than the children outside the orphanage given the attention paid to their studies by the Centre’s staff.)  The Centre had a computer lab with learning software but the PCs were ancient and they no longer were going to be good for supporting new/additional software.  TFK’s funds supported the wholesale replacement of the computer lab!

Computer lab being set up at the Kili Centre

Computers being set up!

The focus on education does not stop at school and academics.  The Centre had identified developing a sewing “program” to teach a potential income-earning skill to the girls at the orphanage.  Once kids leave an orphanage, it is important to have given them education and skills to make it in life in terms of livelihood.  So the Centre had proposed TFK fund a sewing room:  from setting up the power outlets to the scissors and materials, and everything in between.  With the funds provided, used sewing machines were acquired, brought up to par and installed in the new sewing room!

New sewing room at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

New sewing room

While these are not all the projects, I hope you can see why I was so pleased that my efforts to fundraise and my “investment” of my own time and money were well worth it.  But enough about the projects and on to the great kids of the Kili Centre!!!

The children

The first time we got to the Kili Centre, the children were right there waiting for us.  They surrounded our bus as we arrived for the first of 4 days we would spend with them (2 before and 2 after climbing Kilimanjaro).

Welcoming the visitors at the Kili Centre

Cheerful welcome!

That day, they had prepared a dance show for us.  You could tell they loved dancing and putting on a show and, in us, they had an audience wanting to see all they had prepared.  The kids who danced were definitely high energy and not shy!

Children dancing at the Kili Centre

Part of the welcome show put on for us!

Kili Centre kids show us traditional Masai dance at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids doing traditional Masai dance

Our time at the Centre was mostly spent with the kids.  We had brought gifts for them (they are kids after all!) and it was a lot of fun giving each of them a backpack full of goodies and also distributing items like soccer balls, frisbees, and volleyballs.  Of course, we then got to use many of those things in an afternoon of just “being.”  I worked along with two kids and another trekker on a challenging jigsaw puzzle that, to this day, I hate not having had time to finishing!

Kids of the Kili Centre in Moshi,. Tanzania

One night, we ate at the orphanage during a party where again the children danced and neighbors of the orphanage were invited to come.  I was so proud watching the kids’ manners.  They lined up by section to go get the food, took everything back when they were done, etc.  Just like I noticed in Romania, the children of this orphanage were very well taught by their staff.  The staff was very much engaged with the kids and I do not recall any instance of the staff just bossing the kids around.  All the engagement I noticed was warm and, at times, playful.  It made me feel good this was the right orphanage to have invested myself in.

Trekking for Kids trekkers, Kili Centre staff and kids in Moshi, Tanzania

TFK photo of the entire group: Kili Centre kids and staff along with the trekkers!

One of the hardest moments in these trips is saying goodbye.  You have developed, usually, a connection with some of the kids and you hate to leave.  Unfortunately, the fourth day of being with the orphanage, I was bedridden with a nasty cold/infection that hit me once we came down from Kilimanjaro.  I had forced myself on the third day to come along with the group but on the fourth day, I just slept all day.  So I missed saying my goodbyes and I am saddened by that.  However, I know the children now have a better home and are set up for an even better one in the future thanks to having been part of this trek.

To Michael and the staff at the Kili Centre:  thank you for the great job you do with the kids and the Centre.

To TFK:  thanks for another great opportunity to push myself (up a mountain) and to make a clear difference in childrens’ lives.

To my donors and supporters:  thank you for your financial generosity and moral support to make this happen for the kids!

To the Kili Centre kids:  keep studying hard, be good and stay cool!

Kili Centre children in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids showing off their new backpacks and sunglasses!

——————————————————————————————————-

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike (starting the climb!)

–  Day 2 of the hike (getting to Shira Camp)

–  Day 3 of the hike (the Lava Tower and hail)

–  Day 4 of the hike (Barranco Wall)

–  Day 5 of the hike (getting to summit base camp, Barafu)

–  Day 6 of the hike (the ascent to the summit – Uhuru Peak)

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

 

Safari on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park

Tanzania Map Serengeti Lake Manyara

After our climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, some of the group had signed up for a safari in Tanzania taking advantage of having spent the time and money to travel so far from home already.  I had been to the Serengeti six years before on a day trip in from the west side since I had been working in Mwanza and only had one day off.  I remember how neat it had been but also how rushed it had been.  I only got to see a lion perched atop a large rock.  I had also done a one day trip into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve close to Pretoria, South Africa after attending a work conference in Johannesburg.

I had been left wanting a proper safari.  However, as I had at least been to these places, a proper safari was not at the top of my bucket list.  The opportunity to return to Tanzania for the Kili climb set up my chance to do a safari proper.

Our safari began with our departure from our hotel in Moshi, Tanzania (just east of Arusha) with all our belongings since we would not return to that town prior to our departure back home days later.  And the first target for our safari was the Lake Manyara National Park in the Great Rift Valley area of Tanzania.

Getting to Lake Manyara NP

As you can see in the first map below, it neighbors the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the southeast.  You can also see how much smaller it is than those two, making it quite doable in a short afternoon.  I cannot recall exactly how long it took us from Moshi but I want to say about 3 hours.

Tanzania Map Serengeti Lake Manyara

Map showing Lake Manyara in relation to the rest of the country (Source: www.globalsojourns.com)

As you can see on the next map, the park mainly sits on the western side of Lake Manyara.  We entered from the north and traveled along the main road until we exited to head to the town of Karatu where we were going to stay for the night before heading into the Serengeti.  The road to Lake Manyara NP is mostly paved or in the process of being paved.  The latter made for a dusty ride but mercifully it was only in certain places.  And, hopefully, it will be completely paved in the near future.  Good job, Tanzania, on investing in the infrastructure that will support your tourism industry!

Map of Lake Manyara Tanzania in relation to Ngorongoro

Detail of the Lake Manyara National Park (Source: www.safarilands.org)

Baboon welcome to Lake Manyara NP

Lake Manyara felt very different to what I remembered of the Serengeti.  Of course, entering the Serengeti the next day confirmed for me that it was not just a matter of me forgetting how the Serengeti had looked on my visit 6 years before.  The Lake Manyara NP, which occupies about 127 sq miles (330 sq km) of which 60% is the lake itself, is very lush with trees providing a different setting for the animals than the Serengeti.  It is compact yet offers a microcosm of what the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro area will later offer us.  The lake seemed to be on the dry side when we were there.  In the following picture, you can barely even see the lake from a slightly higher vantage point on the road out of the park.

Lake Manyara in Tanzania

Baboons quickly makes themselves the first animals we see.

Baboons in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

They are everywhere eating grasses, picking lice or something off each other, and mainly looking at us quizzically but unperturbed.  You can’t help but stare at them and notice their hairless behind.  I respected their privacy and minded their feelings by not taking a picture of said-behinds 🙂

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

And the rest of the wildlife…

…  No, no, not the people in my vehicle!  Moving from the road towards the lake offers different animals to view.  However, I do not know if visitors are taken on vehicle towards the lake – at least we did not.   Regardless here are some of the other local denizens who allowed us into their space.

Dwarf kingfisher bird

Colorful dwarf kingfisher

One of many giraffes we encountered

One of many giraffes we encountered

Zebras under a dark sky in Lake Manyara

A good dark sky is always a good backdrop!

Young and adult zebra in Lake Manyara

A young and an adult zebra wondering who we are

OK, I will NOT take this as a welcome gesture…

We also saw some elephants on this first day…

Elephant in Lake Manyara

The elephant was walking away. We thought that was the end of the show…

… This one in particular seemed to be preparing something for us…  and I use the least graphic of the picture series 🙂

Elephant pooping in Lake Manyara

… but it had something in store for us… a welcome gift? We declined…

Lake Manyara is definitely a small piece of what Tanzania offers its visitors for animal-watching.  But it is a unique ecosystem worth the drive through.  My advice:  see it before the Serengeti or Ngorongoro or, else, it could underwhelm you!

For more info on Tanzania’s many national parks, check their well-designed website at http://www.tanzaniaparks.com/.

%d bloggers like this: