My apologies but this is going to have to be a catch-up blog entry that covers three days. We have been very busy of late. This may appear out of order as well. Several earlier blog entries have been written but I haven’t been able to access them due to lack of internet access. We had access in Moshi, but I’m afraid other things took priority.
The last day of cycling into Moshi. Not a long long day – 58 km as I recall – and not a much elevation gain. Unfortunately it was a pretty rough day for some of us — notably me. My third day without being able to eat much and I was not riding well to say the least. Fortunately Valerie powered the tandem in to Moshi and we made. It was also fortunate that we got an early start today in order to beat the heat and make the transition to trekking. That worked well. We started shortly after seven and got in before noon.
Two tasks consumed the rest of the day and didn’t leave much time celebrate the completion of cycling or resting. We needed to pack up our bikes and biking gear and prepare for either Kili or Safari. All in all a good cycling trip but tough. I think we were all very challenged but rewarded with magnificent scenery. No major injuries but certainly a lot of scraped knee. Only Paddy and Carole came through unscathed; kudos to them. Kudos also to the Friends of Usambara who provided such excellent support. We had two great guides every day, they came up with van support when the saw how badly we needed it, and they provided excellent meals. Mostly they and the other people of the Usambara were so warm an friendly.
The trek begins. The friends of Usambara arranged to have our trekking and safari handled by a company the work with frequently – Bush to City. They also seem to be excellent. Started by a couple of young entrepreneurs that meet at a local university studying tourism. Jackson (one of the owners), Mo (our head cook), Keddy (our lead guide) and a few others picked us up at 8:30 to take us first to Moshi to do some last minute shopping and then to Machame gate. We said good-bye to Ross and Dawn as planned. We also said good-bye to Dan and Robin. A friend had advised them to bring trail runners rather than hiking boot. Our guides were pretty insistent that that we have to have safe gear (and even inspected our gear before departure) particularly with inclement weather predicted for the first two days.
Once at the Machame gate it was mostly waiting and lunch for us. For our guides it was a major logistical feat. 8 hikers (us), 4 guides, 2 cooks, and 26 porters. For our route, park regulation require at least 3 porters per hiker and prohibits them from carrying more than 20 kilos. All bags had to be weighted in distributed to the porters. It took a bit of time but all went smoothly and we were on the trail by about 1:00.
It was a big day of hiking today, but fortunately at relatively low elevation. We started at 1800 meters and climbed to 3000 meters. The fun part started around 2300 meter. The inclement weather arrived. This was no west coast drizzle. This was probably the heaviest rain I’ve ever hiked in. It finally cleared before we reached camp but the damage was done – we were soaking wet. The tents were all set up for us and snacks were waiting for us in the mess tent – very welcome.
Attempts (mostly futile) to dry our soaking gear. Than an excellent dinner and off to bed. I much appreciated the great dinner since I’m eating again. Unfortunately others are now taking their turn. We are glad that we have two nurses in our group.
It was a mixed night for the group. Some slept well, some much less well. All were affected by the size and close quarters of the camp. Probably only Valerie (who has trekked in Nepal) were prepared for the size and closeness of the came. People are very considerate, but while we are still in the trees the camp is quite tight. The staff is up around 5:00 to start making breakfast for us. I got up around 6:00 and the others started filtering out of their tents shortly after. Warm wash water is brought to each tent at 7:15, breakfast at 7:30 and hit the trail shortly after 8:00. It is a real luxury to leave the tent standing and expect it to be standing again to great you at the next camp.
The trail today is quite vertical. A fair amount of scrambling where poles just get in the way. The guides are very helpful and the porters are absolutely amazing. They are carrying 20 kilos (often partially on their heads and going as fast or faster than we are on very difficult terrain. The porters (and all the staff) work very hard. I am very pleased to see that they are doing better. When I was here 11 years ago the porters were often in rags and almost always had poor footwear – often flip flops. They now seem to all have good solid footwear and warm clothes. It is good to see the tourism industry having such positive affects.
We were obviously very worried about the rain today after yesterday’s adventure. I was determined to protect my last pair of dry pants. And stepping into those soaking wet boots was no treat either. But we were lucky today, and we pushed it pretty hard to beat the afternoon rain. A few sprinkles and we made it into camp just in time to dive into our tents before the rain started. Thank you tent crew. Fortunately the rain didn’t last too long and the sun came out. We even got a few thing dried out (a bit).
Time to close and get ready for diner.