I have a new gadget!

I have been known to buy the odd gizmo and gadget in my time. From Swiss Army knives with more blades than the entire Swiss Army could use, to kitchen gadgets which do everything but turn the cooker on for you, I have had plenty. They never really get used of course, but maybe that’s part of the appeal!

Take the journey to Kilimanjaro for example. I use an iPhone in ‘normal’ life, but of course the battery life is next to useless even when you have daily access to electricity. I knew that there was no way it would last me a week or more on a mountain, even if it was to be turned off for 99% of the time. So when I went there I took with me my old Blackberry, and before I went I bought me a nice gadget called a Powermonkey, which is a solar charger for your phone. Looked great, £60, sold! I took it with me and it basically never got used, but it was nice to have as insurance, and didn’t weigh me down too much.

I also seem to have started a new trend of collecting watches. I bought me a cheapie Timex one for Kili, as I had heard that it is not advisable to walk around in Tanzania sporting a fancy watch (I wear an Omega Seamaster normally) for fear of getting it ripped off your arm by a mugger (they were probably right – Arusha was a pretty intimidating place at times I found). I then ‘retired’ my Kili watch as I wanted to keep it for posterity after I nearly lost it in a bike crash that I had (see my ‘Alain Jourdain’ post for that little story). I then bought another Timex with stopwatch stuff and the like on it for my bike ride. That one is still going strong :).

So this week I combined my trend for gizmos and watches and got me an altimeter! Yes well I needed one badly, obviously:) I did a bit of research, and looked at various options. Lots of them are ugly, all of them are pretty big, and they vary as what you get with them (e.g you can combine heart rate monitor functionality etc).

I plumped in the end for a Suunto. Suunto are a Finnish company who make compass products, diving watches, heart rate monitors etc., and seem to have a pretty good name. They are also known for their ‘Vector’ altimeter watch, which has been around for years apparently. What tipped it in the end was when I looked at Alan Arnette’s Everest blog ( http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/category/7-summit/everest-2011/ ) and saw in his kit list that he wore one too. That was good enough for me!

I looked at a multitude of different Suunto products and in the end plumped for the ‘Core All Black’, just because to me it looked the best and seemed to have the best balance of functionality (i.e. I hope to use the altimeter function in the Himalayas and take a photograph of it showing +6,000m when at Island Peak etc:)) and style. Well you don’t want something too silly on your wrist do you? 🙂 Here is a link to the watch (oh yes it even tells the time too):


I bought it from an internet retailer I hadn’t come across before, called Facewest. They do all sorts of outdoorsy stuff, including climbing and hiking gear, so I will use them again, as their customer service (having spoken to them on the phone too for a couple of things) was exemplary. I also was a bit worried that it would look a bit big, and quite frankly silly, on my wrist.

So having had a bit of a play with it, I think I have sort of figured out how to use it. It has all sorts of logs and the like for the altimeter, meaning that you can record journies and it will tell you what your descent and ascent was for the last ten trips, assuming you remember to set it etc., which it seems you have to remember to do manually.

So here is a picture of it on my wrist:

Stylin'' huh?

Is it massive? Yep. Does it look a bit silly? Probably. Will I use it? Who knows! I do like it though, so it is coming with me next week to Switzerland for starters, and we will see what it tells me in the Alps. I wonder if it has a button to show you how scared you are? Now there’s a great gizmo to have……

Back to Civilisation, sort of…

Back to Civilisation – well Moshi Town and Arusha anyway

From the Marangu Gate we joined the remaining porters who were not staying on the mountain and joined the bus:

Still needed to fit 44 of us in here, and it didn’t smell quite as sweet as it did a week ago…

I had been looking forward to hearing the Kilimanjaro song since I first heard about it since several months ago, and Deo had told me on the way down that it would be sung on the bus. And it was – I do not currently have the ability to embed videos here apparently, but as soon as I fix this it will appear here in all its glory – I loved it – you may not, it was a kind of “you had to be there” sort of thing:)

On the way back to Arusha we stopped at Moshi town and had lunch at a great little restaurant  called Edwins I think.

There we were presented our certificates, and here is me getting mine from Deo:

This was a fantastically proud moment for me.

Deo put our ‘Swahili’ names on the certificates too, which was a nice touch.  I will be forever Bao bab – “the old tree” – that makes me rather proud and happy that. It is a beautiful and timeless memory, and as I look at my certificate in years to come (it will be framed and take pride of place somewhere) I will always see that name.

It is strange eating lunch in a restaurant (albeit a rather basic one in Moshi Town) when you have been in a tent for a week.  It is strange also just how quickly you get used to different conditions.  It was furthermore difficult to choose what to eat when you have eaten ferociously whatever was put in front of you for the last seven days. I chose a beefburger in the end, as it was at least ‘normal’ to me, although it did come served with a fried egg on top:)

Oh yes, and they had beer:) Which one to have??? Well Kilimanjaro of course!!!, At least for the first one, and then I tried some Tusker to follow., but just stuck to the two. It was just lunchtime after all, and there would be several more coming my way later that day for sure.  I think we will all also remember the restaurant for what Samuel, one of our assistant guides ate – a cows tongue, yep a whole one.   Looked like it had just been ripped out by the root, and there it sat on a huge board.  Heather installed as she called it a “modesty screen” of menus around him so she didn’t have to look at it. As Kamal was fond of saying ‘TIA’ (this is Africa) – gotta love it.

On the way back we to Arusha we got so many great views of the mountain – it was even more transfixing and compelling now than ever. Here are a couple I took from the window of the bus – it never looks the same on a photograph does it?

Didn't want to leave it behind......

Impossible to truly appreciate the scale until you have driven around the base of it for four hours....

We finally reached our hotel, the Outpost (Heather, Caroline, Ronan and I) at about 5pm, having dropped off Kamal, Tamara and Tayma at their place just beforehand.  The others went straight for that much needed shower, but I went to the garden, ordered me a beer (surprise surprise) and reflected on all that went before me.  I wish I could bottle that moment and have it forever.  Come to think of it, I believe I will have it forever.

Oh and talking about forever, that is how long I could have showered for.  My hair, what there is of it these days, which likes to be washed pretty much every day, or at worst every other day, didn’t seem to like the first half bottle of shampoo that I put on it.  Although I (and I believe all of us), had been pretty diligent with the wet wipes whilst away (oh and anyone reading this, thinking of doing Kili, needs to put wet wipes as way way up their list of essential items), there is no substitute for a good hot shower. I could have stayed under that water for half an hour, actually come to think of it, I think I did.

In the evening we were joined by Freddy for dinner, and also Alicia, one of Caroline’s friends who had just arrived at the hotel and was going off on Safari with her and Heather the following morning.  Kamal, Tamara and Tayma were supposed to join us, but they had to sort their luggage out for their own safari – they had not seen their luggage at all since arriving in Africa, and that made me realise how lucky I was.

After dinner it was very strange to sleep in a proper bed with a bathroom, which meant if you wanted to pee in the middle of the night you didn’t have to don three layers of clothes, hiking boots and a head torch in order to do so. What luxury. It again is strange how you very much get used to different conditions of sleeping in a tent and not having your creature comforts around you, and then as to just how luxuriously appointed the Outpost Lodge was now, when a week ago I was not really wanting to walk on the floor of my room without putting my shoes on.

I slept fantastically well. Tomorrow would be my last in Africa, and I had an invitation to go and see (the assistant guide) Raymond’s house nearby, which I really looked forward to. It would a great experience, and a very fitting way to spend my final day…………..

Arusha – 22/02/10

And so endeth my first ever day in Africa. It was a culture shock for me, big style.

The drive here was through seemingly endless tin huts at the side of the road, selling all manner of merchandise. There are endless bars and banana sellers, car washers and shoe shiners. The latter seems somewhat ridiculous, given where we are, and also that we are in the middle of the mother of all rainstorms. There are also dogs, cows, goats, chickens everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They litter the sides of the road and even the road itself.

Main Street, Tanzania style

The drivers are of course totally insane. If you try to overtake a tractor or truck full of cows a second too early, some idiot will screech inside you and undertake you as you do it. Others overtake you as you overtake someone else. There are as many speedbumps as there are cars, and they are brutal.

I also feel conspicuously like the only white person in the country. That doesn’t freak me out in the slightest, but it is just a feeling. It is so very very different to anything I have ever seen. It is incredibly ‘third world’, with seemingly the only females that you see carrying impossibly high baskets of stuff on their heads.

I got here to the Outpost Lodge at around 10am local time and just had to crash out. Thankfully my room was ready for me to do so.

My temporary home in Arusha, the Outpost Lodge

Normally when I get to a new place I have to go and explore my surroundings first, but after no sleep last night I needed to just sleep. I had a good two hours and felt much energised, and so went and had myself some breakfast, pictured below

Don't worry, be happy......

Following the beer (well three actually, I am on my holidays too here) and the most garlic infused baked potato the world must have ever seen, I went on that exploratory trip of Arusha. It’s not a great place it has to be said.

As I got to the end of the road I was met by a guy called ‘John’ and he started asking me about what I was doing here and giving all of the jambo, beans, and hakuna matata stuff. He seems genuinely friendly. I realised quickly that there would be a catch somewhere, and so my guard was up at maximum security levels.

I decided that I could handle it though (I’ve made a few timeshare salesmen cry in my time), but in the end I was wrong. These people have no scruples at all, and I was being fed a story before long how he needed money as he had fled from Rwanda and his Daddy had died from ‘sugar diabetes’. I was sympathetic to all this, and it is probably true, but it was the way he tried to get the money from me that was the galling part. I couldnt really get rid of him, and so I let him walk with me, an all the time there are a thousand questions, him probing, me being as vague as possible.

At first he walked me through this really dark backstreet Market, where I knew I was being followed, and so I just tightened my grip on everything. My wallet (actually it is a fetching red Buzz Lightyear thing) became as impregnable as a camel’s bum in a sandstorm.

Then when I had managed to bat various urchins off me, a ‘friend’ of John’s appeared and asked if I “liked coffee”. The place we were in now was a covered Market, and so small narrow and dark that almost anything could have happened in there. I imagined for a moment that I may never be seen again. I was also carrying about $500 in cash on me, and if they had known that then I would definitely not be writing about this in the way I am right now.

The ‘coffee’ guy wanted me to go into this basement place to ‘see his coffee’, and then all of a sudden another guy I on my other shoulder and putting his arm around me. I recoiled, and told them I didn’t want any coffee in a voice which attempted to be stern but friendly at the same time. They backed off and just sort of disappeared into the melée.

So John then made a sort of “sheesh, those guys!” type gesture, which was a bit stupid, as I knew that it was arranged that way. He eventually started walking me back to my hotel (or following me) and I am all the while figuring how to stop him getting back to my room itself. I then thought he probably knows what is in there already. Do I sound cynical here?

When we got half way back he made a phone call and explained afterwards that his brother was having problems with his landlord. I sort of pretended to be half interested. Upon getting to the end of my road I knew I has to get rid of him, and so stopped and thanked him and pulled out a $5 bill to say thank you for the tour.

At this point, instead of accepting it, his ‘brother’ (they looked so radically different I cannot imagine it to be close to being true, but who cares) appears, and pulls out a roll of paintings. He half asks/half tells me “you buy?”, and I say, as firmly as I could without aggression “no “.  And so he tells me that the prints (which are somewhat rudimentary to say the least) are only $65 dollars each or he will do me ‘two for $95’. I try to tell him I am not interested, and there is pawing and arms and legs all over the place. They are trying clearly to pickpocket me. I push them off, and manage to get away.

I am lucky (I think) that I am on the corner of a public road and lots of people are watching. I get back to the hotel and decide not to venture out again, and so go and chill by the bar, suspiciously eyeing anyone who comes within 10 yards of me, and imagining that my room is being ransacked by John and his brother.

After a fairly interesting and rather undercooked pizza, I unwind with three or four more Kilinanjaro Premium Lagers. It is not the most exciting beer ever, but it hits the spot.

Before I know it, with blog duly updated, it is 9pm and I am ready to crawl under my mosquito net (pictured below):

Room K2, the Outpost

My room appears to be intact and I duly try to read, but fail as I am so tired. A seemingly friendly (but pretty ugly it has to be said) lizard crawls around my bedpost – I decide to call him Toby. He can hopefully eat some of the bugs that made under the net with me. Sleep comes very very easily.

Hi Ho, It’s off to Heathrow I go – 21/02/10

So this is day one of the trip. Hard to believe actually after all that I have gone through that it is effectively all just starting today.

I think that packing bags was hard. It is very very difficult to ultimately know what to take and what not to take. How many pairs of underpants am I going to be able to realistically change into when it is -30 degrees up the mountain?

I have plumped for three bags. One is my main repository for things that go up the mountain with me. It is a duffel type tube bag thing, capacity about 80 litres. It contains my sleeping bag, thermarest, hats, gloves, camp shoes, my layers of thermal underwear etc etc. The bag also contains a bunch of medical supplies, and things to munch on along the way.

Heathrow, all set....

It will all have to be unpacked when I get to Tanzania, as I will have to carry the things that I might need (suntan lotion, fleece, waterproofs, snacks etc) in my backpack on a daily basis. The duffel bag itself will leave me every morning and be carried by the Porters, and so I will not see it from morning until the evening. On the other hand I will have to pack it myself every day still. I wonder how hard it will be to roll up my sleeping bag when I am at altitude. It was a complete git to do rolled out on the carpet in my house on Oxfordshire, an so it will no doubt be bloody hard work.

My next bag is my daily lifeblood, quite literally. It is my backpack, a 30 litre Camelback thingymajig. It will carry my 3 litre camelback bladder and the day supplies as mentioned above. It also has sunglasses, camera, and the like, and my money etc.

Lastly I have packed a bag for the hotel. I will be in Arusha for three days and nights altogether, two before I go and on after I come back. The temperature there at the moment is around 35 degrees C. I pack T shirts and shorts and flip flops accordingly.

Each bag is fitted with a padlock, which I hate doing. I am advised however that there are unscrupulous people in Africa, and so I take the advice. I think it is sad, and I know that I will lose the keys as I am so rubbish at keeping hold of small objects.

And so it is off to Heathrow. I am filled with trepidation. A new continent altogether for me, let alone a new country and then Kilimanjaro. And on my own. It is only the second trip I have taken on my own in my life. The first one was four months ago to Lanzarote. I don’t enjoy being on my own, although this I know is way different.

At the airport I basically feel just overwhelmed. I want to be there, but I feel all of a sudden so tired, and then I spend probably 20 of the next 30 minutes going to the toilet. Please excuse the information overload here, but this is how it was for me.

Before I know it, and after several telephoned goodbyes, I am on Kenyan Airways flight 101 to Nairobi. I fly overnight (I am on the plane as I write this) and will land in Nairobi at 6.20 tomorrow morning. From there it will be a short layover and then a 20 seater plane to Kili – I cannot imagine the plane will get as high as the mountain is – we will see in the morning I suppose. I hope that I will get to see my first glimpse of it from the air – I am back in the zone again.

I eat some strange tasting Kenyan Airways macadamia nuts, and ask for a gin and tonic. I am told there is no tonic, and so just take the gin. I eat what I believe to be some sort of curried gazelle (if it was chicken then I am a leprechaun), and then try to get my head down. I can normally sleep on planes, especially after a few beers, wines and gins, but not tonight. I have a feeling that this is going to be the first of many nights where the anticipation of what lies ahead of me prevents me from getting some proper rest.

Bring on Africa – I am ready for you, I hope………