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March 2011 newsletter is out, Rich and I hope you enjoy!

Kilimanjaro –
We made it to the top!


The idea of climbing Kili had stuck in my mind ever since Rich and I first drove past it in 2007. It was the beauty of Tanzania and the unknown heights of Africa’s peak that drew me back here towards the end of February this year.

As you know, I managed to convince a small group of friends from all over the world to join me on the expedition. To use the term “expedition” may seem somewhat overkill, but with a team of 8 foreign climbers, 42 Tanzanian porters, a year of preparation, and one summit at 5895m, this felt as close to an expedition as I would ever get.

Touching down in Arusha (Tanzania) and beginning the 6 day trek we were immediately struck by the uniquely African feel of this area. Its one of the reasons this Mountain is such a special member of the worlds “Seven Summits”. One last comfy night sleep in a local lodge and then our group from Hawaii, Tennessee, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Switzerland, were on our merry way.

The first few days were relatively easy going as we slowly hiked along the contours of Kili’s lower slopes enjoying the views and scenery. We were incredibly lucky, the weather was perfect! It quickly became apparent that our choice of operator had been a good one. Yes we paid a bit extra, but having private toilet tent, and dining mess tent, were just a few of the worthwhile perks and comfort we gained by using a company with a very good reputation. Even with these little creature comforts (like hot tea/coffee brought to our tents in the morning) we soon knew we were in for the challenge of a lifetime!

The Rongai Route took us up the Kenyan (Northern) slopes of the great mountain. This route provided great views of the summit and also Mwenzi Peak. Our weather was fantastic, sunny days and clear skies. Perfect for photos. Mwenzi is a rugged peak that looks formidable until you reach the top of Kili and gaze down on it in amazement as if it is just a mere “pimple” in comparison. The Rongai route has one of the best success rates for reaching the summit and is also one of the most gentle in gradient, allowing for good acclimatization.

We had been told countless times that reaching the top is as much about your body’s reaction at extreme altitude as it is about fitness. It wasn’t long before we all started to realize just how true this is. The day before the attempt at the summit we camped at “Kibo”. This is at around 4200m and already members of the group were feeling the effects which are very basically a result of the lack of oxygen up there. Your lungs, muscles, and whole body start to crave oxygen and slow lumbering movements are just about all we could manage. Even rolling over in my sleeping bag was a huge effort in the night, taking a few minutes to get my breath back after every roll.

On summit night, at around 10:30pm we were woken and prepared to push for the top. Walking very slowly through the night we snaked our way upwards. The temperatures plummeted to minus 10 degrees Celsius and just before sunrise we reached what is known as Gilman’s Point (5681m). I wish I could say we were all celebrating and filled with joy as the suns rays broke the horizon of our mother Africa, but the truth is that by this point, all of us were concentrating more on our breathing and the task at hand. We still had another 214m to climb and most of the team were digging deep within themselves for the strength that would carry them the rest of the way to the summit. To climb this 214m we needed to cover about 2km, a distance that took us around 2 hours, testing our bodies to the very limit.

The feeling of reaching the very top of Africa is not easily described. It is however safe to say that all of us felt very emotional and each of us seemed to have achieved what we never thought possible. I was just so relieved that I didn’t have to go another step up.

5895m at Uhuru Peak is something that I will never forget! We cried and hugged and managed to take a few photos for posterity, and then we were told by our guide that we needed to head down and not waste any time in doing so. Being at this altitude is definitely a temporary thing. We simply can’t survive up there for too long and it was essential that we didn’t stay longer than necessary. 

We took a different route down the mountain (The Marangu Route) and as we descended our bodies began to feel a bit better and our strength slowly returned after a 20 hour day. We camped one more night on the way down, all of us relieved to have reached the summit and be back at a safe altitude.

The rest, as they say, is history. 8 tightly bonded friends (ranging in age from 18 – 62 years) all made it to the very top of Kilimanjaro. We all returned to our various corners of the globe. Back to friends and families who may never truly understand what we had achieved. For each of us this experience had meant something different and for each of us this had been an experience of a lifetime!
 

 

Walking with Gorillas


 
Let’s be honest! Gorilla trekking, is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. It’s rather expensive and oh so exclusive, but it’s also one of the most worthwhile and special African adventures there is. The privilege to track and observe wild gorillas is up there on many a bucket list. Here’s a bit of what a trip to see the gorillas entails.   

Gorillas are diurnal and on the move constantly within their home range. They find themselves at a different location each night, where they meticulously build their beds (nests) and sleep. The park rangers will meet a group of travellers, first thing in the morning and give instructions for the days trek. You are then split into groups of 8 and introduced to a trek leader. The rangers are very familiar with the various Gorilla families and know where they were the day before – so it’s all about going out to that spot and picking up their trail once again. Ideally a group will meet up with the Gorillas by mid-morning when they take a rest from feeding.
 
Visitors are required to maintain a distance of 20 feet from the Gorillas (although this is often up to the Gorilla), remain silent and move slowly. The trek through the highlands jungle can sometimes be challenging – depending where the Gorillas are hiding.
 
When getting close to the Gorillas leave all of your bags and other luggage and only carry cameras onwards to the family. This is to stop the Gorilla being spooked by bags and other extra equipment that has been shown to make them nervous. After dropping the bags a group will proceed slowly with your guide and then spend a wonderful hour (strictly monitored) with the gorillas. No flash photography is allowed, so cameras must be carefully checked to ensure the 'no flash' option is selected. After an hour, the descent is always a lot easier and quicker.

Both Uganda and Rwanda are very good for gorilla trekking with incredible scenery and great guiding. Both opportunities for viewing mountain gorillas are well run, and both come with rather a heavy price tag. A couple of differences are outlined below. 


UGANDA vs RWANDA


Uganda
  • there are +/- 340 Gorillas in Uganda
  • it is a full day drive from the city to the park
  • you can purchase your visa on arrival for $50
  • cost of the trekking permit is $500 (for just one hour)
  • forest scenery
  • trekking is more challenging than in Rwanda
  • fly into Kampala, stay in Entebbe
  • Other points of interest include: the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary, the Bwindi National Park & Queen Elizabeth National Park
Rwanda
  • +/- 460 Gorillas in Rwanda & the Congo
  • its about a 2hr drive from the city to the park
  • you have to apply for a visa online, and present your approval letter upon arrival to receive your visa - $60
  • cost of the trekking permit is $500 (just for one hour)
  • Volcanic scenery and Diane Fosse mystique
  • fly into Kigale, the capital of Rwanda
  • Other points of interest include: the Genocide memorial & the Volcano National Park

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Rovos Rail –
Stepping back in time


Stepping aboard Rovos Rail’s “Pride of Africa” we felt as if we had been teleported back in time and been transformed into royalty in the process!

The train, which has been lovingly restored to her former glory, is the life’s work and passion of South Africans, Rohan and Anthea Vos. For a few discerning travellers their dedication has seen a return to “the golden age of rail travel” onboard Africa’s most luxurious train.

We hopped on at Rovos Head Quarters; Pretoria’s historic Capital Park Station and before we knew it we were rolling through the open highveld on a three day journey down to Cape Town. The pace-of-life slows from the moment you step into Capital Park’s welcome lounge and Rohan, who makes a point of addressing all his guests, personally encourages you to turn off phones, pack away laptops, and forget about your ipods. 
   
The train offers unique safaris through the heart of Africa and mixes magnificent scenery with top cuisine and the very best South African hospitality. There is nothing like watching an ever-changing view of wine lands, mountains and endless Karoo horizons, while enjoying fine SA wines and silver service in the old Victorian dinning carriage.

We got to stop off in Kimberley and were treated to a private tour of the diamond mine which now boasts a newly renovated museum and viewing platform right over the edge of the Big-Hole. Another highlight was when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and we were offered the chance to stretch our legs and go for a walk (or a run in Susie’s case) ending up in the Victorian village Matjiesfontein. There, at the town’s small platform, the train waited for us to explore and then enjoy a scrumptious breakfast while the dedicated train crew washed the windows in preparation for our arrival in Cape Town.

After our morning stole through this starkly beautiful landscape we were shown a letter written by Matjiesfontein’s most well known resident, Olive Schreiner. In the late 1800’s she had written to a friend “Now I am going to put on a hat and go out for a walk over the Karoo. Such a sense of wild exhilaration comes over me when I walk over the Karoo…”  A reminder of a time when things were much simpler and nature’s beauty was more easily recognised without the clutter of modern living.

By the time we pulled into Cape Town station we were feeling sufficiently pampered. We had eaten enough fine food and drunk enough champagne and wine to last a lifetime. As we stepped off the Pride of Africa a typically strong Cape Town wind swept the hat off a gentleman’s head and lifted a few pretty skirts. A taxi honked its horn and man asked for some spare change…we were back to reality with a bump and all we wanted to do was get back on the train and continue riding it until the bank account ran dry.

The Rovos Rail continues to provide exceptionally high levels of service in a series of journeys lasting from 48 hours to 28 days, linking some of Africa’s great destinations from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam and Cairo. From scenic splendours as diverse as the game reserves of Mpumalanga to Victoria Falls, from the desert landscapes in Namibia to the lush cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal and the magnificent Gardern Route along the Cape south coast.

Check out the Rovos website 

www.rovos.com




Lion Sands and the Hippo Encounter


 
Tucked away in one of South Africa’s finest reserves we discovered Lion Sands. A name synonymous with luxury and adventure, this privately owned property is situated within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and borders the unfenced Kruger National Park.

Lion Sands now boasts a number of exclusive lodges that all provide unique and special touches. When we were last there we stayed at River Lodge which is, as the name suggests, sited along the Sabie River. Nearby is the very secluded Ivory Lodge and not far from that the private and fully exclusive 1933 Lodge designed to accommodate close friends and family.

Interesting additions to the Lion Sands portfolio are the Tinga Lodges within a concession of the Kruger National Park. These are rather special and different in that they are governed by the rules and regulations of the South African National Parks Board (SANParks) and although you can’t drive off road the area is still rich in game and very rewarding. The “buzz” at Lion Sands is all about the possibility of traversing across from Tinga into the Sabi Sands, thereby allowing drives in both the Kruger and the Sabi Sands. It will be interesting to see how this all develops over the coming year. We have no doubt that Tinga will benefit greatly from the experienced Lion Sands management team

I am however getting swept away in all this talk of lodges and concessions. What I really wanted to tell you about was breakfast at River Lodge. Although the food was fantastic, it wasn’t the perfectly ripe pawpaw, or the delicious fruit smoothie, that stuck in our mind on this occasion. It wasn’t even the great company of our new friends Tracy and Derek. What we will all remember is the battle that ensued in the river below us.

Two rival Hippos had decided that this is the day they have their showdown! What followed was a display of power, blood, pain, and in the end victory! In the process of deciding who would rule the pool, the one poor male got his tooth knocked out and was severely gouged by the more bulky and aggressive victor.  When it was all over the looser made a speedy retreat and we all went back to our breakfast under the trees as if this was just another day in Africa.

Check out the Lion Sands website, www.lionsands.com 



TCM visits Hlau Hlau



Through one of our clients, Ali Merifield, we were given the opportunity to take TCM (Turner Classic Movies) to Hlau Hlau primary school, where 250 children got to watch a big screen film while munching on popcorn and hotdogs.

This is a 'pop-up' cinema initiative, whos aim is to bring old movies to areas that have not been exposed to them. It was a fun day, full of smiles. An incredible memory was made for these young children. Thank you Ali & TCM.


Kirstenbosch gardens
 

 
When visiting Cape Town ... there is nothing like spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Set against the eastern slopes of Cape Towns Table Mountain. It is the perfect place to picnic and enjoy the outdoors while people-watching and getting to grips with a bit of ‘Capetonian’ culture. Whenever Rich and I visit the Cape we check if there is a Summer Concert on in the gardens.

Part of the charm lies in the warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere, with music-lovers picnicking on the soft grass banks that slope downward towards the stage. No better place to enjoy the cheese and wine you picked up in the wine lands the day before.

Most concerts start mid afternoon and end just after sunset. The open-air amphitheatre caters for couples, groups of friends and kids are very welcome. Music ranges from jazz, folk and rock with the emphasis being
on supporting South African talent – you can’t beat it – a stunning way to end any weekend.

Many travellers don’t get to experience this ... as they are always pressed for time. If however you find yourself in Cape Town on a Sunday, consider a visit! Tickets are affordable at R50 – R100 entrance and it is advisable to book in advance. 


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