Headed to Tanzania at the end of last month with Sarah my partner. We’d signed up for a Kilimanjaro trip a while ago, but rather than just ‘fly in and fly out’ – the basis on which most of these trips operate – we wanted to try and see just a little bit more of this East African country and to visit Zanzibar. Before the trek convened, we explored markets, sneaked a visit to a primary school, took local buses and managed to see an animal or two.
As it turned out, we never quite made the summit of ‘Kili’ (though we managed one of the subsidiary peaks on route) as Sarah got the dreaded altitude sickness at 4500 meters, higher up than almost anything in Europe. There are various pills you can take to alleviate its effects, but the best (and safest) strategy is to descend, though this is sometimes easier said than done as we had to trek for another day, before we could be escorted down.
Disappointing not to have stood on the top of Africa? Of course, but it was still a great adventure and the scenery was superb. In many other respects however, it was good to get away from the mountain, after 4 nights of (below) freezing camping at sites which were overcrowded and without any real facilities – the portable toilets provided by our tour company being slightly less unpleasant than the official ones.
Climbing Kili is also rather formulaic. Part of a long line of people on a predefined route, our party of 15 was accompanied by another 50 or so guides, porters and cooks. These are local people, employed by the tour operators on a trip by trip basis. Watching the porters hurry past carrying three times more than us, as well as their own equipment (for just over $5 a day – a good gig by Tanzanian standards – as tour companies, facing intense competition and rising taxes, seek to cut costs) provides another perspective.
So, we headed to Zanzibar a bit earlier than planned and spent time exploring the twisting streets, the wonderful beaches, snorkelling from boats and islands and watching the dhows drift past the hotel. Zanzibar is very different to the main land – they merged into a combined Republic in 1964 – has a strong Arabic and Islamic influence and was once the hub for an appalling slave trade.