April 7th, 2016 – At approximately 9:00 am local time, 14 hours after leaving Uganda, we felt our comfy Modern Coast coach bus come to a sudden halt. In chaotic fashion we scrambled to awaken from our slumber, grab our belongings and get off of the bus into the bright scorching streets of Nairobi, Kenya.
We were right in the heart of a disastrous maze of taxis, buses, and local foot traffic. We got our bags and found our bearings, all while being hassled by numerous touts trying to convince us to take their taxi, stay at their hotel, eat at their restaurant, etc. We politely turned them away, keeping a close eye on all of our belongings. Nairobi, sometimes known as “Nai-Robbery’, has notoriously high robbery rates. Because of this, we wanted to get out of the bustling metropolis, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
Our next destination was the city of Moshi, nestled at the base of Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania. We had learned from research before leaving Uganda that almost ALL of the reputable bus lines left Nairobi at 8 am. Yeah, you can look back up at the top of this entry at our time of arrival…. we had missed our window.
Not wanting to wander the dangerous and insanely packed streets of downtown Nairobi, we looked around nearby for any recognizable bus companies or travel offices, but without any luck. Just as panic was about to set in, Allie and I spotted this dilapidated piece of junk green bus, with the words ‘Perfect Bus’ painted above the front windshield. In elementary bubble letters, there was also the words Nairobi-Arusha-Moshi on the side. What luck! We ran up to an older gentleman smoking a cigarette that appeared to be the bus driver. We began asking him if they were headed to Tanzania, only to find that his English was very limited. After a few minutes of struggling to communicate with our language barrier, we were able to gather that he and his men were driving to Arusha. Since Arusha was less than 2 hours from Moshi, we decided this was our best option (under the circumstances) to at least get us into Tanzania. After some bartering, we managed to secure two seats for $22 USD.
The driver then informed us that the bus was scheduled to leave in half an hour. That’s when Allie and I suddenly remembered our midnight border crossing. We unexpectedly had to break our crisp $100 USD bill in order to pay for a transit visa while entering Kenya earlier that morning, and we were going to need to replace the bill in order to get our Tanzania visas! Stricken with trepidation, I dropped my bag beside Allie, left her with the ‘Perfect Bus’ driver and some locals, and began sprinting through the crowded dusty streets in search of a bank.
Like something out of a movie, I ran up and down winding side streets dodging buses, taxis, and motorcycle traffic; weaving around donkeys and live animals, and was the recipient of tons of stares the entire way as I was the only white person for miles. Eventually, I came across an odd building that appeared to be a modern, secure, multi floor bank. I waited my turn to use an ATM, to realize it only dispensed Kenyan Shillings. I walked inside and was directed from this counter, to that counter, to the 3rd floor where I had to take a number and wait. Once called, I handed over my credit card and waited some more. Another 5 minutes later, they called me up and gave me back my credit card and a fresh $100 USD bill. The teller looked at me like I was crazy, as I took the money and darted for the door.
I busted back out onto the dirty and psychotic roadway, trying to retrace my steps and once again navigate through the horde. As the green ‘Perfect Bus’ came into view, I finally caught a glimpse of Allie standing right where I left her, guarding our bags with a concerned look on her face. Phew! What a relief!
As I came into her line of sight, I saw the same relief rush over her. Our anxiety filled 30 minutes in downtown Nairobi had us on edge, but we managed to secure onward travel and had everything we needed to continue on to Tanzania… High fives!
We boarded the sketchy bus which was now mostly full of local passengers, and STUFFED inside and out with burlap sacks, plastic containers, and all sorts of packages. They even had a mound (nearly 5 feet tall) of materials and parcels strapped onto the roof! We managed to get some seats to ourselves, exhaled a sigh of relief, and laughed off another crazy morning in Africa.
I pulled out my phone and was able to look up directions on our maps app to determine that the drive from Nairobi to Arusha was approximately 4 and 1/2 hours, not including the time we would have to spend at the Tanzania border crossing. I walked up to the driver one last time and asked him if the bus was direct to Arusha, and he concurred.
SIX HOURS LATER, we were only at the Kenyan/Tanzanian border… The bus had stopped dozens of times to pick up/drop off materials or passengers, and was a stinky hot toaster at this point. We climbed off the bus and were informed that the guards were going to have to search and inspect the entire thing, and that it could take some time. We were directed through a series of lines where our passports were stamped for leaving Kenya, and pointed towards the Tanzanian side of the border.
It was truly confusing, as there was a large barb wired fence that seemingly split the road in two, but you could walk right around it… almost everything was always ‘under construction’ in Eastern Africa, and their work ethic and concern for time was minimal, at best. We wandered back and forth trying to figure out which way we were supposed to go, as there were no signs, and no one to follow or direct us.
There was a small wooden hut about halfway between the Kenya and Tanzania border patrol buildings, and it was manned by a group of men. They waved us over and started explaining to us what we needed to cross into Tanzania. After a few minutes of going over a list of items, they informed us that our $100 USD was to be exchanged with them for Tanzanian Shillings in order to pay for the visas. Allie had done research ahead of time which indicated otherwise, so it seemed suspicious… But I handed them the bill anyways, and they gave me back a handful of shillings. Before turning away, I quickly pulled my phone out and converted the amount they had given us back into USD. It was only $20! I quickly snapped back at the men and asked them for either more shillings or my $100 cash back. They said, “No, no, no, this is how you pay for the visa to cross into Tanzania”. We weren’t buying it and I got slightly aggressive demanding my money back. Eventually they obliged, and Allie and I stormed off towards a Tanzanian guard in the distance. We asked him where we needed to go to get our tourist visa, and he pointed us to a brick building a few hundred yards away. I asked him about the wooden hut, which was now completely vacated, and he just shook his head. Crooks.
We found the Tanzania entryway and got all of our papers filled out, and were required to hand over the crisp $100 USD bill (thank God we we got it back…). Our passports were stamped and we were approved entry into the country that is home to Kilimanjaro. We walked back out into the sun excited for the journey ahead!
I hope you enjoyed that extremely thorough account of crossing into Tanzania, because this is where Paul finished writing haha… I’ll take over from here, in hopes that we actually get around to completing this blog someday!
We were informed by a bus crew member that the vehicle was still being inspected by border guards, and that we would have to wait a while longer… Paul and I found some shade from the scorching sun and killed time chatting with some of the other passengers, while sharing peanuts we had bought from a stand.
The border officials had to go through every single bag and parcel inside and on the roof of the bus. It took forever. Eventually, we were allowed back on board to continue the drive.
It was after 7:30 pm when we finally arrived in Arusha – 10 hours after leaving Nairobi, and 24 hours after leaving Kampala in Uganda! It was dark outside, and we still had to find our way to Moshi. We had no Tanzanian shillings, only a handful of US dollars. After asking around, and turning down some locals who offered to drive us for $150 USD… We finally met a helpful man who couldn’t speak much English, but seemed to know where we could catch a bus. He lead us without saying a word through the crazy streets, for what seemed like an extremely long time.
Eventually, we came to a sketchy looking bus park and he directed us to one of the local buses. We handed him $2 USD for helping us, and negotiated with the driver to let us on board the already PACKED bus for a few more USD. He agreed and we squished into two of the last open seats.
The drive between Arusha and Moshi is only supposed to take an hour and forty five minutes, but because we were in Africa… we didn’t arrive in Moshi for another two and half hours. It was almost 11:00 pm when we were dropped off in yet another questionable bus park.
The first cab driver that approached us said he knew where our AirBnB address was located, and he agreed to accept USD, so we hopped in. Then we proceeded to drive all over Moshi looking for the AirBnb for over an hour…
Besides the peanuts, and a couple of bananas some locals shared with us on the Perfect Bus, Paul and I had not eaten since 6:00 pm the night before in Kampala! We were ravenous, exhausted, and extremely frustrated. Eventually, we gave up and told the driver to just bring us to a hotel that was cheaper. He brought us to ‘Golden View Hotel’, which was on budget at 40 000 TZS/night ($25 CAD).
It was a decent room with a double bed, attached bathroom, and fan. Nothing special, but completely adequate! We went upstairs to the hotel restaurant, which was in the process of closing up. We ordered two beers, and asked them if they could cook us anything at this ungodly hour. They said they could make us some fried chicken and french fries, which we wolfed down within minutes of it being served.
The next morning, we checked out and walked a couple kilometres to ‘Parkview Inn’, the hotel Mar Tours & Safari had arranged for us to stay in before our Kilimanjaro trek. What an upgrade! The hotel was beautiful, with one of the most luxurious rooms we stayed in on our entire trip. There was even an outdoor pool, but the weather was too rainy to make use of it 😦
Shortly after checking in, the driver for Mar Tours arrived to take us to their office to finalize our trek details. We still hadn’t gone to a bank to get the remainder of the money we owed, which the owner from Mar Tours had assured us we would have NO problem pulling out in Moshi…
The driver detoured and took us to the biggest bank in town, Barclays. We filled out some forms, and after waiting a half hour, we were informed that the cash advance had failed. No one there wanted to help us, and we were given no other explanation as to why it didn’t go through.
Not wanting to hold up the driver anymore, we told him we would find our own way to the office once we figured out where to get the money. We then spent the next two hours trying every bank in town. It seemed the only way to get cash was to use the ATM, which had a maximum withdrawal limit of less than $200 USD (no where near how much we needed). Pulling out multiple times would not only cost us a fortune in fees, it would exceed our cards daily transaction limit. We decided our only other option was to do a Western Union transfer, which meant someone from home would have to help us out.
We walked to the Mar Tours office to inform them of our predicament, explaining that we would need to pay the remainder of our balance in the morning, before we left for our trek.
We rented some necessary gear we were missing (winter coats, gloves, etc.) for a price so steep we could have purchased them brand new. Then they informed us that our team would include a total of 8 porters, plus a cook, AND an assistant & lead guide… for just the two of us! This was more people than we expected (or felt necessary), but apparently, it was “the minimum number of people”. A giant lump formed in our throat, as we realized we would be responsible for tipping every single one of them on our own…
We left and went for lunch at ‘Pasua Café’, which became an instant favourite. It had a great laid-back Rasta atmosphere and amazing pulled pork sandwiches.
Once it was morning time in Calgary, we returned to our hotel to Skype with Paul’s Mom, Nettsie. The connection was terrible, but we managed to communicate that we would be email transferring her money, which we needed her to send back to us through a Western Union transfer for us to withdraw the following morning. While we were sleeping that night, she sent the money. We are extremely grateful she was there to help us! If she hadn’t, we couldn’t have started our trek the next day, which would have cost us even MORE financially.
Early the next morning, we set out on a mission to collect our Western Union money. Of course, that didn’t go smoothly either! We ran around visiting multiple banks, only to be told the “network was down” or the “amount was too high”. Time was ticking, as we were supposed to be at the Mar Tours office in half an hour to leave for our trek! We eventually found a bank that would process the transfer. After waiting for what seemed like forever, Paul was handed a HUGE wad of cash in front of over a dozen curious locals… We quickly stuffed the money into our bag and ran to Mar Tours. We were over an hour late. Luckily, it was just the two of us trekking, so we weren’t holding anyone else up.
We paid the remainder of our tour fee, collected our rental gear, and hopped in the van with the rest of our crew. We were introduced to our guide, Manase, and assistant guide, Dennis.
The lack of food, lack of sleep, and constant adrenaline over the previous days had left us both emotionally and physically exhausted, but we were both too amped up to relax. We sat there wide awake for the entire 2.5 hour drive to the starting point of the trek, anxiously awaiting the adventure we were embarking on.
We stopped part way to register and pay our park permit fees (with credit card – thank God!) at the Kilimanjaro National Park Limits, and then continued on to the Rongai Gate.
Originally, we had hoped to climb the Machame route, as it is well-known and treks are typically cheaper. Because we had extended our travels in previous countries, we had unintentionally pushed our trekking dates into the rainy season… Research informed us that the Rongai route on the North side of the mountain typically gets less rain, so we changed our plans a couple weeks prior.
“The Rongai route ascends Kilimanjaro from the north-eastern side of the mountain, along the border between Tanzania and Kenya. This route retains a sense of unspoilt wilderness and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro by approaching it from the north. The topography of the route does not allow for the application of the climb high and sleep low principle and hikers generally suffer more from altitude sickness on the Rongai route compared to other routes”
We signed in at the Rongai gate (1990 m), ate our bagged lunch the tour company had packed for us, and set off on our first day trekking!
We started in farm villages filled with fields of maize, but the scenery quickly transitioned to pine forest that looked oddly similar to Canada. We spotted a couple of black-and-white colobus monkeys in distant trees, which quickly reminded us that we were nowhere near home!
Dennis, our Assistant Guide, started to teach us some Swahili. Most importantly “Pole, pole” (“Slowly, slowly”), which we heard constantly from our guides over the coming days, instructing us to go slow; an important principle for trekking at high altitudes.
We only hiked for about 3 hours (6.7 km) before we reached Simba Camp (2,671 m).
Our camp was already set up by the porters, and it wasn’t long before dinner was fully prepared. We scarfed down the tasty meal of fish & chip from the comfort of our dining tent! Shortly after, we hit the hay. We both desperately needed to catch up on some sleep, especially me, as I was starting to develop a head cold.
We had began taking Diamox (Acetazolamide) a couple of days earlier, which is used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. It can also be prescribed as a diuretic, which meant we both couldn’t make it through that night (or any night after) without having to dart out of the tent to relieve ourselves in the bushes or nearby squatter shack. Although these pee breaks were bitterly cold and extremely inconvenient, they provided us with some of our best star gazing opportunities! Each night the sky became increasingly spectacular, until eventually, every gap of darkness was filled with more stars than either of us had seen in our entire life.
The next morning, we ate breakfast (bread, hard boiled eggs, bananas, & African porridge), and started trekking by 8:00 am.
We spent the next 6 ish hours (16 kms) hiking through a new climate zone: heathland. The temperature had dropped some, and bushes had replaced trees, which opened up our view of Kibo peak!
Wildlife was less common now, but we did find a chameleon! Paul almost stepped on it, but miraculous spotted it before doing so. This was the highlight of my day! The adorable little reptile let us hold him for a bit to take pictures, before we released him back onto a shrub, away from the trekking path.
When we arrived at Kikelewa Camp (3,600 m), it was all set up. The weather was starting to get chillier, and the winds had picked up, but we had still escaped rain up until this point.
We explored the area for a bit before dinner (beef stew with rice), killed some time reading, and then visited the dining tent once more for our nightly tea and popcorn snack before heading to bed. Then we bundled up in our sleeping bags and fell asleep early. Because I had been cold the night before, I convinced Paul to zip our sleeping bags together to share body heat. Turns out the zipper on his side was broken and kept slipping open, so he didn’t have the best sleep. I on the other hand, slept much better cozied up to him 😉
Our third day was our shortest day of hiking, so we got started a bit later in the morning. We could tell we were already getting quite high in elevation. The vegetation became entirely short shrubbery, and besides the occasional white necked raven or four-striped grass mouse, all the wildlife had vanished. We had also reached the clouds, so a damp fog clung to the hillsides. It drizzled on us for most of the day, which definitely wasn’t the best conditions for my head cold. I was starting to feel terrible. Luckily, it only took us two and half hours (3.7 km) to get to Mawenzi Tarn camp (4,303 m).
This was the biggest camp we stayed at, situated right below the towering jagged peaks of Mawenzi (the second highest peak on Kilimanjaro, Kibo being the highest). There was even a row of squatter toilets at the camp, although only 1 of the 3 was in usable condition. There are pictures online from high season where this camp is littered with tents, but at this point in our trek, we had yet to see another soul outside of our crew.
It was extremely windy when we arrived, to the point our tents were barely holding on. We ate lunch sitting in the corners of the dining tent, pinning it down with our chairs to stop it from blowing away. After lunch, I took a nap while Paul read a bit. A couple hours later, the wind had died down, and Manase and Dennis were collecting us to go for an acclimatization hike.
Our guides lead us very slowly up a nearby peak. This was the first I started to feel the affects of the altitude. It was difficult to catch my breath and the one hour hike (with maybe 300 m of elevation gain), felt more difficult than it should have. I also couldn’t breathe properly out of my stuffed up nose, so I am sure that didn’t help! The amazing view of Kibo peak was worth every puff! The main purpose of the climb was not the view though, but rather to aid with acclimatization. It is very beneficial to climb high during the day, and then sleep lower overnight. At this point, we had about 50% less oxygen available to us (compared to sea level). We were high enough to be at risk of developing altitude sickness (and still going higher), so this hike was crucial to our success on the mountain.
For dinner that night we ate pasta with “chicken sauce”. Our appetites were diminishing with the increase in altitude, and the quality of the meals was also dwindling, so it was becoming difficult to get food down.
I woke up the next morning feeling a bit better! We left camp at 8:00 am to start our fourth day of hiking.
All vegetation had vanished, as we now walked through the climate zone known as the alpine desert. We crossed over the barren saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo, stopping to check out the wreckage from a passenger plane crash that killed five people in 2008.
We reached Kibo hut (4,720 m) based right below the daunting peak we would be climbing later that night. The (9 km) day took 4.25 hours. There was still some sun, so we tried to hang our clothes to dry that were damp from the previous day’s rain and sweat. This was the first time we saw other people, as there were a few other small groups of trekkers staying at the camp and planning to summit the same night as us.
I could definitely feel the altitude at this point. The squatter shacks were located down a tiny hill (if you could even call it that), and a trip there and back had me gasping for air.
For dinner, we forced down some spaghetti with mushroom sauce, and then climbed into our sleeping bags by 6:30 pm to try and get some sleep before our midnight summit attempt.
We were woken up at 11:00 pm by our guides. After dressing in layers (2 pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, and twice as many top layers), we went to the dining tent to wake ourselves up with some tea and biscuits. Manase took our blood oxygen reading (as he had done every evening, for the last couple of nights) and confirmed we would be okay to ascend. We began our climb just before midnight.
Climb is an exaggeration I suppose… Because we were so high, moving too fast could induce altitude sickness in minutes, so we were limited to a sluggish shuffle. This way A-OK with me, as I physically couldn’t have handled anything more! We moved along in a line, Manase leading the way, me following him, Paul behind me, and Dennis bringing up the rear. The porters all stayed behind at the camp, awaiting our return.
Pitch black surrounded us, with only our headlamps to guide us, but we could tell we were weaving our way up a very steep hill covered with fine stone scree. Further up the mountain we could see the headlamps of another group of trekkers. They seemed to be moving quite quickly. A while later (we had lost all perception of time), we passed them, as a lady in the group was violently throwing up… This is one of the many symptoms of altitude sickness. We never saw them again, so I am not sure if they ended up making it to top.
At this point I was starting to feel an increase in altitude related symptoms myself. My body was extremely heavy and sore, especially where my camelbak straps were resting on my shoulders. I was a little nauseous when I bent over, and I constantly felt like I was on the verge of passing out. It’s a good thing Paul was walking behind me, because he frequently had to steady me as I stumbled to catch my balance. I continued to push forwards though, focusing on each small step.
Paul felt pretty much fine at this point, besides a shortness of breath. Any time either of us would take a sip of water, it took minutes to be able to catch our breath again. Eventually our camelbak hoses froze, and we had to drink water from the canisters that our guides carried up for us instead. The cold also zapped all the battery in my iPod, which I was trying to use to listen to audiobooks. It didn’t matter though, because I couldn’t pay attention to it anyways.
We continued to climb up to Gilman’s point (5,681 m), located on the crater rim. Both of us didn’t doubt for a second that we were going to make it to the top, so we didn’t stay for long. It was cold and we wanted to make it to the real summit in time for sunrise.
The next section was very steep and snowy, so it required a lot of physical and mental effort. This is when Paul really started to feel the altitude as well. He couldn’t believe that this was what I was dealing with the majority of the climb!
Finally, we reached Uhuru Peak (5,895 m), the highest point in Africa! Just as we did, the sun started to peek up behind us, gradually lighting the snow and glaciers surrounding us. The sky was the prettiest gradient of baby blue and cotton candy pink. It was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined!
We had made it to the top in about six and half hours, summit time just before 6:30 am. We were the only and very first ones up there, so it was completely silent. I had never experienced such quietness. It felt like we were in outer space.
A wave of awe washed over me, and next thing you know, I was sobbing frozen tears haha! Partially from exhaustion, but mostly because of how overjoyed I was with what I had just accomplished. I had checked something off my bucket list that I wanted to do ever since my parents took me to the IMAX movie of Kilimanjaro when I was only 11 years old 🙂 it was an incredible feeling (minus the freezing cold and light headed part)!
We watched as the sun fully rose, and took some obligatory pictures with the famous sign; although my face was too cold and exhausted to smile properly, haha.
Paul, Manase, and Dennis all had some celebratory swigs of whiskey from a bottle we had carried up. I opted out, still too drained to join in. It must have went straight to their heads, because immediately they were singing and dancing around!
It was about -20°C and our toes felt like they were going to fall off, even with the two pairs of thick hiking socks, so we left pretty quickly after that. I think we were up top for about 20 minutes; like I said, we had lost all concept of time.
As we were leaving, we started to encounter other climbers reaching the summit. It felt pretty good to know that we had been the first ones from both basecamps to reach the top that morning!
We continued back down to Gillman’s Point, where we had another celebratory shot of whiskey (me feeling well enough to partake this time), and then we practically skied straight down the mountainside, using our heels and poles to slide in the soft volcanic ash. As we descended, the temperature rose, and we had to continuously peel off layers of clothing.
The whole trip (approx. 11 km) took us a total of 8 hours and 40 mins. Once back at Basecamp, we were welcomed by cheers and hoorahs from our porters, congratulating us for accomplishing the treacherous feat.
We ate some watermelon, rested for an hour, and then packed up all of our stuff. We continued down the mountainside to another camp at a lower elevation.
Ascending for the summit, we were forced to walk the pace of a 90 year old man with a walker, but it doesn’t matter what pace you descend at. For our trek down, we could go as fast as we wanted and finally set our own pace!
This time we were taking the Marangu Route down (instead of returning the way we came up). We hiked downhill over steep dried up stone river beds. Our body was exhausted and already starting to ache. It was a long long day, but we were both too ecstatic with what we had accomplished to feel any negativity!
2.5 hours (10 km) later, we reached Horombo Hut (3705 m) where we ate lunch and relaxed for the afternoon. After a hodgepodge dinner of all the leftover food, we crawled into our tent very early, utterly exhausted.
We woke up at 6 am the next morning to a foggy, but beautiful, sunrise. After breakfast, we packed our stuff up one last time, and left our porters to finish taking down camp. We barely stopped or took any breaks. Our knees were killing us, but we both were in a rush to get off the mountain and into a shower and comfy bed!
It was much different scenery on this side of the mountain, and we were able to see some of the unique plants that are native to the mountain, such as the strange giant groundsels, or the delicate Impatiens kilimanjari flower (which can only be found on Kilimanjaro – nowhere else in the world). As we entered the rainforest climate zone, we also spotted Blue Monkeys, more White Colobus monkeys, and a Tree Hyrax.
We got to the Marangu Gate in less than 5 hours (20 km), where we signed out from the registration book and filled in our summit details. We were given the gold certificate for our successful climb, which Manase presented to us.
After gobbling down our final bagged lunch, we met our whole crew at the fully loaded van. We handed out our tips to our guides, cook, and porters. Everyone gave us big smiles and a hug, or a cool indicate African handshake, and then they all performed a song and dance for us. It was pretty heartwarming, and we were sad to know we would soon be parting ways with the group that had been like family for the last week.
We all piled into the van and drove back to Moshi. They dropped us off at the luxurious Parkview Inn again, where Mar Tours had arranged another night’s stay for us.
After checking in, we took ridiculously long steaming hot showers, ordered ourselves beer from the hotel restaurant, and sprawled out on the king-sized bed. We could already feel the muscles ceasing in our legs.
Once it was morning time in Canada, we connected online to update our family and friends on our safe return, and skype Claire & Verena (my Nieces) to wish them a happy 6th and 1st birthday!
After a couple more celebratory beers, we mustered up the motivation to leave our room and find dinner. It was pouring rain at this point, so we ended up just returning to Pasua Café for some more of their yummy pulled pork.
While there, we met a nice young couple from the UK, Hannah and Millen. Turns out they had summited Kilimanjaro the exact same morning as us, from the Machame route (the route we had intended to take)! It had dumped rained on them the entire time, so we were relieved to hear we made the right decision by switching routes!
They also told us that the tour they had booked locally was supposed to “included tips” for their guides and porters, but in the end, they found out that the crew never got anything extra. They didn’t have any money and had to leave them with nothing extra after 6 days of hard work and very little pay… We couldn’t imagine how terrible that would have felt!
We said goodbye after a few more drinks, making plans to meet up again in Zanzibar, which also happened to be their next destination.
In the morning, we had to check out of our expensive hotel and check back into something we could afford. We decided to head back to Golden View Hotel (the hotel our taxi driver had took us to the first night).
We spent the day walking all around Moshi, with very sore legs, trying to find somewhere to drop off our copious amount of laundry, and arrange bus tickets to Dar Es Salaam for following morning. It didn’t stop raining the entire day.
For dinner that night, we went to a place called ‘Mimosa’. It was off the main streets, situated in a random park. I had a salad with tender minute beef, apple, and blue cheese (oh how I missed salad!), and Paul had a burger, which he said was maybe the best burger he had on the entire trip… I am pretty sure he said this at least five times on our trip though, so I am not sure how much merit that statement holds LOL, but the food truly was excellent!
The next morning, we got up early and walked to the Dar Express Bus Station (which was really just a shack on the side of the road), where we had booked bus tickets the previous day for $20 CAD each. For over an hour we sat nervously with a few other passengers, wondering if we had gotten duped out of our money… But eventually the bus showed up.
11 hours later, we arrived in Dar Es Salaam. Our hotel had a van waiting for us at the bus station, which we were appreciative of, as the area appeared very rundown and unsafe. We arrived at the brand-new accommodation, ‘Silver Paradise Hotel’, that I had found online for a steal of a deal – $25 USD/night for a beautiful room, with free buffet breakfast. It was in a terrible neighbourhood, but we didn’t care, as we were only staying the one night before heading to the airport early the next morning.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was the most expensive thing we did on our trip – almost $2,000 CAD/each (including the park fees of $950 CAD/each, and our fancy hotel before and after the trek), but NOT including all our tour fees, gear rental, and tips for our crew. We could have saved big money by booking a random tour in person when we arrived in Moshi (especially if we joined one with other trekkers), but we felt it was worth spending a bit more to go with a reputable company we could research beforehand. We knew we could trust them (based off reviews) and that they treat their porters ethically (many budget operators severely underpay and overload their porters). Mar Tours & Safari was still one of the cheapest operators we could find online, and in the end, we were pleased with the service they provided.
We also could have paid A LOT more money to go with an American based luxury tour operator, so that we could sleep in a fancy tent with cot beds, and have a portable toilet carried for us… But that was the opposite of the experience we wanted! It was also very important to us that our money went into the pockets of a locally owned business, and not some adventure company based out of elsewhere in the world.
Climbing Kilimanjaro in the rainy season was a questionable decision. We got extremely lucky with weather on the mountain (because we changed our route), but the nights were still freezing cold (especially the summit night!), and we got soaked while staying in Moshi before and after our trek. But in the end, climbing during off season turned out to have way more positives than negatives. I have read horror stories about people lining up at the summit to have their 15 seconds in front of the famed sign, before they return to a crowd of people so big “you would think you were at the top of the Eiffel Tower”. Because other trekkers never held us back, Paul and I were able to get to the summit early enough to watch the sunrise from the top (normally done from Gillman’s Point), and have twenty solid minutes of uninterrupted peace on the roof of Africa, which is practically unheard of. Almost every camp we stayed at we had all to ourselves, which is partially because we were climbing a less popular route – one more reason we are thankful we decided to climb when we did. We never considered the Rongai route, but it ended up providing us with stellar scenery and serene trekking conditions. We really couldn’t have asked for things to gone better for us (minus the difficulties getting to Moshi, pulling out money, and catching a head cold haha…). We barely even got blisters from our hiking boots, which if you read our blog about our trek in Myanmar, you’ll know why that is a HUGE deal!
Climbing Kilimanjaro will forever be one of my favourite (and most rewarding) life experiences. I only hope that one day we can spark the desire in our future children to climb Kilimanjaro (like my parents did with the IMAX movie), so that I have an excuse to climb it a second time 😉
Love Paul & Allie
Demsky Duo Disembarked