After all the planning and preparation, it was time to head off for Africa to make my Kilimanjaro dreams a reality.
My good friend Beeping sent me off to the airport. I checked in my big duffel bag which had most of my trekking gear and equipment, while I hand carried some of my important gear.
The thought of traveling to Africa on my own and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro made me very anxious. I have done solo backpacking many times in Southeast Asia but this is my biggest adventure yet.
I boarded a Boeing777-300 for my 7hrs and 35mins travel from Singapore to Doha. It was a night flight but I can’t really sleep. There were too many things going through my mind.
The plane landed in Doha International Airport just before midnight local time. We had to take a bus and go to the Transfer and Departure terminal. It was the longest airport terminal transfer ride I had ever experienced. Good thing I had two hours and twenty five minutes of layover as there was another security check as soon as we entered the terminal. The airport was quite packed with a lot of transiting and waiting passengers. The airport had a free Wifi and I was able to update my family that I had reach Doha safely.
Doha to Kilimanjaro was another 7hrs 30 mins of travel. There was a one hour stop over in Dar Es Salaam International Airport before continuing to Kilimanjaro Airport as a few passengers disembarked while some new passengers boarded the plane.
The plane landed in Kilimanjaro Airport around 9:30am local time after 17 hours of travel. Before I can even enter inside the airport terminal, an airport personnel requested for my Yellow Fever certificate which wasn’t a problem as it was just inside my sling bag.
I filled out the immigration card and queued for the Visa-On-Arrival counter. There were three counters I had to go through.
Counter 1 – Paid for the visa which costs USD50
Counter 2 – They took a photo of me then attached the visa on my passport which is valid upto 90 days.
Counter 3 – An immigration officer asked me some questions like which airline/country I came from, how long I’m staying in Tanzania and which hotel I’m staying. They took my fingerprints and finally handed back my passport with the Tanzania visa attached.
After clearing the immigrations, I rushed towards the baggage claim area and was relieved to know that my baggage was there. One of my worries was having my checked baggage lost or delayed. A friend of mine who took a Qatar Airways flight from Bangkok to Kilimanjaro had their checked baggage delayed for a day but luckily they weren’t climbing the next day after arriving.
I got out of the airport 45 minutes after the plane landed, after fulfilling all immigration and customs requirements. Melchior from Kilimanjaro Travel Services (KTS), which is the trekking outfitter partner of Pac-West in Tanzania, was waiting for me outside the arrival gate holding a paper with my name on it. Together with him was Joshua, a mountain guide. After all the introductory formalities, we set off for Moshi where I’ll be spending the next few days before the Kili trek.
The journey from Kilimanjaro Airport to Moshi took about 45 minutes. Being in Africa for the very first time, my eyes were glued at the scenery outside the window. We passed by many open fields and I also noticed a few police checkpoints along the way. My first impression of Africa is that it’s colorful just like what I see in Nat Geo and other travel documentaries. Somehow I still can’t believe that I’m finally in Africa!
As I didn’t had any local currency, I asked Melchior if we can drop by a money changer so I can change to Tanzanian Shillings (Tsh) before checking in at my hotel. They brought me to Trast Bureau de Change in Chagga St, Moshi.
Trast Bureau de Change only accepts a few currencies which I had already expected. Before arriving in Kilimanjaro, I had already changed my money to USD as it’s the most convenient currency to use in Tanzania.
August 12, 2013 Exchange Rate:
USD1=Tsh1,612 (USD50&100 notes)
USD1=Tsh1,595 (For lower denomination notes)
After changing money, they drove me to Buffalo Hotel, my home in Moshi before and after the trek. As the trekking package that I paid with Pac-West already included my accommodations in Moshi, Melchior settled the hotel checkin for me.
Before heading to my room, I discussed with Melchior my itinerary for the Kili trek at the reception area. Initially, the plan was to start the trek after 2 nights rest in Moshi however, Melchior told me that a couple is climbing Kili a day after my scheduled start and that I can join them if I’m okay to delay the climb for one day. I told Melchior to ask the couple first if they are okay for me to join them and then we can discuss the following day the final plans whether to start the climb on the 14th or 15th. Although it wasn’t necessary for me to join a group because the package that I paid was good to go even with one person, I thought that going with a small group will make me feel much safer. I was also thinking if I can save a bit of money for the crew tips if I share with a few people.
Buffalo Hotel is a budget hotel (USD20/day) so I already expected the room to be quite basic but that’s not a problem for me. The single room has a ceiling fan, a small television set with cable TV, en suite bathroom with hot shower and a mosquito net. It also includes free breakfast. I guess what I didn’t expect was a dirty room. The bed sheets were new and clean however, the floor was messy like it wasn’t cleaned at all. Same for the bathroom as well. The room they assigned to me on the 3rd floor (Room 311) was also not convenient as they were carrying out tile and renovation works on the stairs and corridor leading to my room.
I was too tired to go out and eat lunch so I took a nap to catch some needed sleep after the long journey. After getting more than an hour of sleep I was getting hungry and thirsty so I decided to go out and surveyed the streets nearby for places to eat.
Near Mawenzi Rd I found a couple of mini grocery stores. One is called Kilimanjaro Supermarket and and the other is called Rafiki Mini Supermarket. As most of the items sold are imported (like chocolates, biscuits, juice), it’s not exactly cheap. I bought 1.5L of bottled drinking water which costs 1,000Tsh (US$0.62) in Kilimanjaro Supermarket.
Just across Buffalo Hotel is IndoItaliano Restaurant which serves Indian and Italian food. They also serve various brands of East African beer like Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and Tusker. I ordered bacon pizza which costs 10,000Tsh (US$6.20) and Coke for 1,000Tsh (US$0.62). The pizza was too big for me to finish so I take away the left over for my dinner.
It seemed that I was still having a jet lag as I slept as early as 7pm Tanzania time which is 12midnight in Singapore/Philippines and woke up as early as 1:43am local time (6:43am SG/PH). I adjusted my watch to reflect Tanzania time so I will be reminded to follow the new timezone.
I couldn’t sleep back and there were a lot of things going through my mind like whether to start the climb as initially planned or delay for another day and join the couple. I listed the pros and cons. I have to admit that one of the reasons why I was hesitant to delay for another day was because I was getting paranoid with the mosquitoes in Moshi. While I was waiting for my pizza the previous day, my left middle finger got bitten by a mosquito and the affected area was so itchy and it turned a bit black when I woke up. Although I was taking antimalarials I still couldn’t help worry. I was eager to start the climb instead of staying in Moshi.
As promised, Melchior came to see me after he picked up the British couple from the airport an hour before noontime. He told me that he already asked the couple and they are okay that I join them. I told Melchior about my concerns and that I wanna start the trek as initially planned as I didn’t wanna stay too long in Moshi but it seems that it has already been decided that I was going to climb together with the couple.
Melchior offered to provide me a guide to go hiking to a waterfall tomorrow. He said it will be good for acclimatization. He also assured me that I will still have my own guide and porters but I will share the cook for the climb. I will also be having my own tent. In the end I agreed to delay the trek for another day without knowledge that we actually have different itineraries for the last 2 days as they booked 6D5N while I booked 7D6N. I only learned about this the next day when I talked to my mountain guide prior to the climb as Melchior never explained this to me.
After the discussion with Melchior I walked around Moshi to explore the place as I had nothing else to do and I was getting bored staying inside my hotel room. While I was walking, a young man came to me and asked for my name, where I came from and if I have already done the Kili trek. As I didn’t want to be rude I answered him then he started to tell me about an art gallery where his paintings are being displayed and gave me a name card. He asked me to visit the art gallery and offered to bring me there. I politely declined but he was very persistent and followed me. He asked me where I’m going as maybe he can help me. I felt uncomfortable so I just continued walking. I walked to a shop selling SIM cards. He met another friend who asked me if I wanna buy a SIM card and insisted that I go to another shop. I got irritated so I walked away and went inside Trast Bureau de Change which was just adjacent so I can just get away from the touts but as soon as I got out of the door they were outside waiting for me. The boy kept asking me to visit the art gallery and “flash my eyes”. I declined but he still kept following me. I went inside the Kilimanjaro Supermarket and bought bottled drinking water but when I got out he was still outside waiting for me. He said the art gallery is just across the street and pleaded that I visit and have a look. In the end I finally agreed. The other guy who was pushing me to buy a SIM Card from another shop was now pushing me to buy the painting. I told him I don’t wanna buy then he told me in an angry voice that in Africa if the first customer refuses it’s going to be bad luck for the shop. I apologized and hurriedly walked away. As soon as I reached the corner of Buffalo Hotel I saw that he was still following me. I hurriedly went inside the hotel and felt relieved to have gotten away from the touts.
I would have wanted to explore Moshi more but after that experience I was hesitant to go out so I ended up staying inside my hotel room and watched cable TV instead. I decided to have my late lunch in IndoItaliano again as it’s just across my hotel and the food was okay. I ordered lemon chicken with rice from the Indian menu instead of having pizza again. It turned out it’s cooked in curry style which I’m not really a fan of. The white rice looks a bit different as the grain is longer. The taste is also different from what I’m used to in Asia.
After 2 days in Moshi I was looking forward for a day hike in Marangu Falls the next day and the much awaited Kili trek.