Africa

July 5, 2009

Here’s a quick summary of our last few weeks in Africa.

After four flights over two days, we made it back to Arusha, a town in Northern Tanzania, which was the base for our next two weeks. We met our friends from Canada who came to join us on vacation (Werner, Henny, Kevin, Dave, Cliff, Adam, and James) at the Kilimanjaro International Airport, with a sign reading Black Chicken Climbing Team (derived from the name of our cycling club) in a safari vehicle complete with a cooler full of beer. We spent the next six days on an amazing safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater. Some of you may know one of our friends, who by now are back in Canada, in which case you’ve already heard more than we can write here.

Some highlights were:

  • the first morning when we were awoken by a lion roaring inside our campsite
  • the annual wildebeest and zebra migration (did you know that the wildebeest and the gnu are the same animal?)
  • watching two female lions stalking a herd of zebra
  • an early morning safari where the roads were so slippery and flooded that keeping the vehicles upright was a challenge
  • seeing a pride of lions sitting on a raised outcropping of rocks looking out over the savannah (just like in the movie ‘The Lion King’)
  • amazing sunsets
  • the Masai people, with their traditional villages, livestock, and clothing
  • watching a dust tornado on the savannah
  • experiencing the amazing wildlife, including ‘the big five’
  • our group’s lion and wildebeest vocal impressions
  • the night that we almost ran into an elephant on the way to the toilet!

After a day of rest in Arusha, our group started a seven day climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. At over 19,000 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. We attempted the Machame route and were fortunate to have very good weather.

At midnight on the fifth day we left our high camp to head for the summit. We climbed for six hours through the night, arriving at the top just before sunrise on June 11th, which was Patrick’s Mom Doreen’s birthday.

Everyone made it to the top successfully, experiencing only the usual symptoms of high altitude (headache, nausea, and in Patrick’s case vomiting near the summit – tales of which have no doubt been exaggerated by those who’ve already returned to Canada). Highlights included:

  • the amazing views from Shira campsite
  • climbing the Baranko wall, called ‘your cold breakfast’ by our guide Dismas (not sure about the spelling)
  • toasted sandwiches for lunch on the day of our summit attempt, and french fries the day before
  • seeing the porters carry huge loads
  • special treatment for married couples (our gear was always placed in our tents, but the single guys had to get their own)
  • our head guide Brendan singing as we climbed through the night
  • the ‘queen cakes’ in our packed lunches, which should only be eaten with butter and a gallon of water
  • warm soup with every dinner!

We spent then next few days relaxing on the island of Zanzibar, the famous ‘spice islands’ off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Despite some rain, we had a good time. We went on a terrific snorkeling trip, even though the number of people on the boat and the weather at the start initially indicated that it might be otherwise. Cliff couldn’t get over the fact that huge beers were under $3 Canadian. The seafood was terrific, as were daily happy hours (2-for-1) at Che’s. We spent our last two nights on Zanzibar in Stone Town, an amazing historical city. Here we saw our friends off to the airport and then flew back to Nairobi where we spent our last two days in Africa with Diane’s Aunt Norma and her family, and Diane’s other Aunt Beulah who was also visiting from Canada.

Our last four months in Africa have been incredible. We visited nine countries, if you don’t count Egypt (which felt more like the Middle East). The sights and activities were amazing, but it is the people that we met along the way that we’ll remember the most. We also want to say a special word of thanks to our Canadian friends that came to join us for a few weeks in Tanzania and to Norma and Wayne (Diane’s Aunt and Uncle in Nairobi) for hosting us during our time in Kenya.

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Zimbabwe, Continued.

May 20, 2009

We entered into Zimbabwe by walking across the bridge over the Zambezi River just downstream of Victoria Falls. We walked into the town of Victoria Falls, which seemed deserted relative to the bustle of activity on the Zambian side of the falls in Livingstone. All of the gas stations and many of the shops were closed. What remained open was a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, several tour booking agents, and some curio shops. Everything that remained open was there to serve the few remaining tourists, which were sparse. The guest house we stayed at, once a happening place for overland trucks and backpackers had only six guests including us. Most of the other hotels were either closed, or had a similar occupancy rate.

Despite this, the people were friendly, and we felt safe walking the streets. It was possible to see that this was once a thriving tourist town, and before that, a jewel in the prosperous British colony run by Cecil Rhodes (the ‘Rhodes’ in ‘Rhodes Scholar’), leader of the British South Africa Company.

We saw the rest of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side. It was similarly spectacular, with water levels so high that it was difficult to see through the spray and mist.

We visited the Victoria Falls Hotel, once an opulent destination for wealthy Britains and royals. It is somehow still being maintained in its colonial splendour, despite the lack of tourists.


In Victoria Falls, Diane and I also went for a walk with the local lions.

Yes, they’re real lions, with fangs and claws intact. But no, they’re not wild. They are part of a program to breed and reintroduce lions to many parts of Africa. Walking with the lions is part of Stage 1 of a four stage process that, over many years, will be able to develop prides of truly wild lions that can successfully hunt, breed, and survive in the wild with other lions and predators. Having tourists interact with select lions brings in an essential source of money to fund the program, and is done in a respectful and humane way.

We walked with two lions, a brother and sister, aged 19 months. Although they’re only teenagers, they seemed pretty darn big to us. The whole event seemed very mellow, until they gave us the safety talk, and asked us to sign the waiver. They told us that lions were very inquisitive, and might be fascinated with anything that dangled from us, like camera bag. At this point, Diane took off her earrings and put her hair up.

We were told to walk in single file, and not fall behind. We were instructed to walk behind the lions, and not to touch them in front of the shoulder. If they rolled over, we were to step away. We were each given a small stick, completely inadequate to defend against a lion. If a lion came directly at us, we were to raise the stick, and firmly say “No cub”. They didn’t look like cubs to us.

We walked with the lions for one hour, and had the opportunity to stroll beside them, and touch them as they paced and as they rested. For the record, lions look relaxed, but they walk quickly. They were just like Doobie and Skyler, but one hundred times bigger and infinitely more dangerous.

Before we went to Zimbabwe, Diane was very nervous. Her thoughts now? Victoria Falls is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It was like an old west ghost town. You could tell that it once was a thriving community, but it’s lost its luster. It is still alive, and things are improving. Not only are more tourists required, but money and time will be necessary to restore it to its former glory.