Tanzania promised to be Africa at its best, with the Serengeti & Ngorongoro crater and the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro, and it sure was. But things started badly when my digital camera finally died on me, it has done me well and taken some batterings over the last year but it couldn't have failed at a worse moment, on the way to the Serengeti possibly the place I was most looking forward to, I was disappointed to say the least. But thanks for photos from others I met mainly Dave, Evan, Lulu & Tony, and Kim as well as a couple of kodak disposables I brought, I have something, but this update does not do Tanzania justice.
The serengeti was just the best, and in a way not having the camera let me experience it in a more complete way, without the distraction of trying to get the perfect shot. Camping in the middle of the serengeti was quality with hyenas and jackals scavenging around the campsite at night, and the roars of lions in the distance, great stuff. The Ngorongoro crater was just as special, a huge crater 20km across with the highest concentration of wildlife in the world contained inside, your just metres from the animals and can easily find yourself in the middle of a pride of lions, we saw it all.
As preparation for climbing Kilimanjaro I also did a few days trekking around the Ngorongoro highlands and this actually turned out to be a real highlight. Not many people come out this way, far away from the tourist traps that plague the safari routes, this is real Maasai land and we got a genuine insight into how they live, camping outside their settlements and it was fascinating to see. On the surface they seem to live a simple rural life centred around their cattle, but actually they live in a society with complex and interesting customs with incredible costume and decoration which is all symbolic of their age and status. I wish we could have got more photos of them but they are not keen of been photographed, which is fair enough, we wouldn't like random people photoing us back home. The trekking ends by descending down into the beautiful Empakaai crater lake.
So I was as ready as I ever be for climbing Kilimanjaro, one of the ultimate challenges in Africa. Its not a technically difficult climb so there's a real possibility of reaching the top, but at nearly 6000 metres high the altitude and harsh weather conditions are still a challenge for anyone. Learning from experiences last year I know to take the effects of altitude seriously so opted for an extra acclimatization day, and more gradual climb so it was going to be a 6 day trip, 4 1/2 up, 1 1/2 back down. The first few days were a breeze passing forest and moorland until on day 4 reaching 4700 metres at the base of the main peak. At this altitude your bodies really starting to work as the oxygen levels drop and by this stage a few people were already beaten. The final 1200 metres climb up the peak is the real challenge, starting at midnight in sub zero temperatures (-15!! and 2 frozen water bottles!) with the coldest most bitter winds ever as well as the effects of the altitude it was without doubt physically the hardest I had ever pushed my body. My guide was good though and once breaking away from the other groups I found it easier just keeping a slow but steady pace just step by step and we made it to Gillmans point on top of the rim for sunrise and one of the most stunning memories ever. But there was still 1 hour more climbing around the rim to the actual summit Uhuru peak at 5895m, and that was reached with no problem and I got my moment at the 'roof of Africa', but for me the sunrise at Gillmans will always be the moment, amazing.
So it was another day and a half down and one hell of a headache when the exhaustion finally caught up with me, I never felt so shattered in all my life, but it was an incredible experience and to push yourself physically & mentally (as will power was just as important) so far. Zanzibar the spice island, back down at sea level seemed a good choice for some relaxing, and after as few days getting lost around the maze that's Stonetown I hit the beach which are as perfect as your find anywhere.