So during my leisure time I had the pleasure of visiting Croatia, which was my first time visiting the country. Since I got a really cheap ticket with SAS (really really cheap!) to Split, I decided that this would be my base camp. When I visit a country for the first time, I tend not to stay there for more than 3-5 days (depending on distance of course) because I consider it a look-see visit. Take a look and see if in the future I would like to stay for a longer time. More often than I get a good sense of the location this way.
I am happy to say however, that I only got to experience a very small part of Croatia which means that I have to plan a longer visit next year 😀
Split is one of the many islands that can be found in Croatia, many of them quaint and beautiful. During my visit, I only got the chance to visit Hvar island for the day, but based on the great people I met in Croatia and my experiences in Hvar, I definitely want to plan 7-10 days next week and stay a couple of days on different islands.
16 Years Later: A Reunion
So one of the highlights of my trip to Split was the opportunity to see a friend whom I haven’t seen in 16 years. We first met as students who participated in a summer exchange programme in France. Hilary, who is also from Boston, quickly became one of my favourite people during the trip. One of my best memories was when we were coming back from the France and due to huge delays and other travel issues, we had about 30 minutes to get our luggage and get from one part of JFK Airport (in New York) to the other end to catch a flight. Ever committed, we managed to jump across fences at the airport on the active taxiways for planes and cars and get to our flight. In a post-9/11 world I can’t ever imagine anyone being allowed to do that. 🙂 Anyway, we made our flight from NY to Boston and we managed to keep in touch into our college years. But of course, life gets in the way and we lost touch. Thanks to Facebook we got back in touch in again and as it so happens, she was travelling through Croatia with her family and was using Split as a transfer point. So after 16 years we finally managed to have a reunion. And what was years actually only felt like weeks or months. It was a good testament to the power of technology, globalisation, and a little good fortune, to enable people to stay connected.
And Random Pics (of course)
So now for some random pictures, in no particular order.
So today is my last day in Zanzibar and I have to say that I am sad to be leaving. When I first arrived I just assumed that I would be spending most of my days on the beach doing w hole lot of nothing. But as it turns out, I had a really packed vacation week with lots of see and do. And with everything that I have seen and done in Zanzibar, there are things still left to do. So for me, that means that a second visit is in order 🙂
So for my last day, I decided to slowly walk around the city and take it in one last time. I walked with no destination in mind. I only wanted to capture with my camera the beauty of a place where sands meets the sea.
After I walked around for a hour or so and looked around for some souvenirs, I found a little place for lunch that was just about the close. It had no name, but it was a really busy place and seemed like it would be a good place. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed. It was a great lunch! There were 3 courses for $20 and more food than I could eat. Whilst eating I started talking to two women from Germany who were hanging out with this really strange guy. A European guy, he said he lived on the island permanently and owned a mansion and wanted the 3 of us to come and party with him. He also had an interesting car with 2 different coloured eyes. Although the guy was intriguing and the cat cool, my spider-sense was tingling so I said that I had to leave to go and pack. I think the German women took my cue and left shortly after me 🙂
For dinner, I finally (after 2 tries) got a dinner reservation at Emerson Spice where they do a 5 course menu for $30. It quite simply was absolutely delicious! While at dinner, I got to talking with a newly married couple (an Irish guy and a Danish woman) who were also at dinner. Turns out that they were traveling around Africa for several months for their honeymoon. We ended up talking long after dinner was over and continued the conversation over drinks at the Freddy Mercury bar. We exchanged contact info which was fantastic because they are really cool and I would love to keep in touch with them the next time I find myself in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. For me, I slept for a hour after meeting them and then was woken up by the hotel to make sure my I made my 02.00 AM taxi in order to get to the airport and begin the 30 hour travel journey back to Sweden.
So overall, I have to thanks Zanzibar for an AWESOME week, which was just a bonus to the AMAZEBALLS adventure I had climbing up Mt Kili with Christina! The past 6 weeks have been such a transformative experience for me, in ways I am only now beginning to understand and with more reflection and time, will hopefully become even clearer.
Thanks awesome family and friends for following along! This won’t be the end of my blogging, that much is for sure 🙂
Today’s adventure was to participate in the Safari Blue experience. The concept is that you get to go out in Dhow Boats and look for dolphins, do some great snorkeling, and then go for lunch at their private beach. At $65 per head with food and soft drinks (and beer), equipment, and all other things included, it’s a great deal! The owner of Safari was pretty cool too! When I called her, I told her that I didn’t know how to get to the Safari Blue location, so she let me ride on the supply truck to the Safari Blue launch location (provided I got myself from Stone Town to the Chinese Embassy). Very nice of here and riding on the back of the supply truck I met up with another American and we made friends with the staff.
After getting to our dhow boat, I met up with a group of South Africans who I have to say were pretty welcoming and awesome to hang out with. They were staying along the beach at a resort up north. They couldn’t have been nicer people to hang out with 🙂
On our way to our first snorkeling site we saw dolphins! It turns out that they are remarkably hard to photograph on a rocking boat. So you have to keep an eye out for them. I was lucky enough to get a bit of picture!
After watching dolphins for a bit of time, we reached our snorkeling destination where we saw awesome fish and coral reef wildlife. We snorkeled off the coast of a sandbank that we swam towards and stopped for a few soft drinks and recovery. These little sandbanks are everywhere in the Zanzibar Archipelago and not only do they look fantastically inviting, but you swim in clear blue water against white sandy beaches! Simply amazing 🙂
After our short stop, we went further afield for more snorkeling and to a place called Pirates Cove. It was a really scenic location dotted by awesome little islands and trees and vegetation of all kinds. I didn’t get out of the dhow to take more pictures because of the coral reef bottom and the fact that I damaged my foot on the kili climb (didn’t wanna make it worse), but I took some cool pics anyway.
We then went to the Safari Blue Island where we had lunch, listed to a band playing traditional music, and just relaxed for a couple of hours before sailing back to our launch point. At the island was also some really old awesome climbable trees and I couldn’t resist the urge to go climbing a bit 🙂
It was a great day and I was wiped out again. And my foot I have to say is damaged enough that I won’t be able to do the dolphin safari that I had wanted to do. So instead I will have to figure out a new adventure for my final day in Zanzibar. Ah well, such is life 🙂
Today I went to visit the Prison Island in Zanzibar which was actually never used as a prison. It was intended to be used as a prison (those British and the ‘lock the miscreants away on an islan” approach), but instead was used as a quarantine location when certain diseases broke out in Zanzibar. But today it is home to a cool turtle population and really expensive bungalow hotels 🙂
Anyway, my tour began with looking at the turtles, some of which were 130 years old. The turtles were in mating season, but took time away from their frivolity to be social with us 🙂 I even got to hold a baby turtle which was very cute. And a couple of curious birds came by as well.
After visiting the turtles, I took a walk around the island and did some snorkeling off the coast of the Island. They fish weren’t very big, but they were really curious and didn’t hesitate to come close enough to touch. It’s moments like this when I wish I had bought an underwater camera or had found some way to make my camera waterproof if only for a few minutes 🙂 But anyway I got in some swimming and snorkeling, and we stopped our boat to talk to some fisherman who make their living getting fish for Darjani market. I learned that they often go our far into the sea, spend the night at sea, and come back the next day — in what basically amounts to a sailboat!
Overall it was a great day, but I was wiped for the day. It was about 4 hours for the whole experience and I didn’t start until 10.00 so there was no afternoon event. Instead I walked around the souvenir shops, settled down at Africa House for a few drinks, wrote some post cards, and then found a place for dinner and had an early night. There isn’t really a nightlife culture in Zanzibar like you find in other cities, so no late nights here! But that is part of the charm actually. I enjoyed my final sunlight moments on my private sundeck having a couple of more drinks 🙂
After a great Spice Tour visit I decided to get a little more cultural and learn some more about the history of Tanzania. So with a guide I visited the Anglican Church which used to be the site of the slave market in Zanzibar. More specifically, it was a slave market used by the Portuguese and the Arabs to sell slaves and then when the British came they closed the slave market and in it’s place put a church as a way to change the karma of the site. I had a really good guide who was happy to answer all of the questions I had. What struck me most was the following:
The extend to which Africans sold other Africans into slavery was much wider than I thought. Warring tribes would sell each other off to foreigners who were only too willing to receive them.
Red tiles around the altar which was placed where the tree was used to sell and/or hang slaves
The baptism bowl was located at the spot (in the back of the church which is atypical because it is usually in the front) where slave children used to be killed who weren’t strong enough to be sold for work
The tomb of the Bishop who drove for the closure of the market and construction of the Church.
The place where they kept up to 125 slaves in a place where you could only literally fit 40 people overall
The monument that was build to remember the old slave site.
After our trip to the church, we spent another hour walking around Stone Town, visiting the different markets, and learning more about the location and history. Stone Town – a world heritage site – has lots of beautiful doors which have Arabic and Indian influences. We also stopped by “Jaws Corner” which is named that way because it means that people stop there for conversation and talking. Finally we stopped by the location where Freddy Mercury (of Queen) was born. It was a really good way to spend 3 hours 🙂
So this morning I wanted to visit a spice farm. But I didn’t want to visit just any spice farm. I wanted to visit a spice farm that had a track record of re-investing in the community so that it wasn’t all about profits. Thankfully the hotel knew what I was looking for and we (I was joined by one of the hotel owner’s counsins) ended up finding a spice farm which benefited children orphaned who parents had died of HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately I didn’t get any opportunity to spend time with the children like I had hoped (they were currently in school session), but I said hi to as many as possible and they were nice enough to let me snap some photos.
We continued onto the spice tour where our guide Solomon showed us the different spices and we got the opportunity to sample many spices right from the plant. It was a bit embarrassing at times to not know what some of the spices I really like the most (e.g. nutmeg, etc, etc) look like. I considered this to be a great educational experience involving food as well. After learning about the different spices in Zanzibar (including something called Freddie Mercury Fruit which turns your lips red) we sat down for a traditional lunch using spices grown at the farm. The lunch was delicious and not at all hot (as was my assumption that all of the spices would be hot, but there was a delicious range). Also interesting here was watching the guys climb the trees without any forms of harness. And they do it barefoot. I don’t think that this would be allowed anywhere in the Western Hemisphere 🙂
Finally, now I update this blog post to include a link to the video I took of one of the tree climbing boys singing the Kilimanjaro song whilst climbing the tree tops 😀
So today I decided to get lost wandering around Stone Town’s markets. It was really an interesting experience to walk around Darajani Market (where everything from food to socks to sunglasses to mobile phones are sold. I have to say the spice markets smelled wonderful, but the meat and fish markets were an assault on the senses. And there were flies everywhere. It took some getting used to, but the immersion experience was fantastic. It was what I had been missing during my trip to Nigeria – a chance to interact with the local culture on my terms, without security, and haggling just like everyone else. I ended up not buying anything really, but it was really nice to look around. It turns out that most people are sensitive to having their pictures taken, so I didn’t take much in the way of photos of the market.
After spending time at Darajani Market, it was early evening so I headed in the opposite direction towards the Forodhani evening food market near the water. Interesting to note that there is fre wifi there 🙂 It’s in a really clean area of down by the sea. In terms of food, the food market was clean and delicious. I ate something that call “Zanzibar Pizza” which is more of a kind of pie cooked Halal-style with ingredients which have mostly been pre-pared and only need to be re-heated. But the pizzas were delicious. I ended up eating a chicken pizza and a beef pizza. And I washed it down with sugar cane juice, which is juice from sugar cane with lemon and ginger added. They run the three ingredients together through a kind of wheel press. I was skeptical at first but I have to say that it tasted great! I finally ended my eating experience with a chicken kebab which was yummy and then a cafe latte at a local restaurant. It was a really great food market and I will be making a return visit before I leave Zanzibar 🙂
I promise I will get around to posting pics and experiences later. For now I just wanted to write about my hotel experience.
So after 6 nights on Mt Kilimanjaro living in tents, I have to confess that it is nice to finally stay in a hotel in Zanzibar. The hotel I chose to stay at is the Zanzibar Palace Hotel in Stone Town. Granted it is far away from the popular beaches, but from a historical and architecture perspective, it is cool to stay around Stone Town.
So far so good in the hotel. I am staying in a suite call the Dunia Suite and I have to confess it is pretty nice! The only thing off-putting is that it is on the top floor and there is no lift, but after climbing to 5900 meters this should be a cake-walk, right? 😉
The coolest thing about my room besides the furniture is that the bathroom is essentially outside (yet tastefully concealed) and I have my own private sundeck. The AC works and the power is on 99,5% of the time. And the wifi is fast. And I got a great rate due to the fact that as of this week I am the last guest before they close for the low season, so I feel like I have the run of the place.
So this is what heaven feels like after putting myself through the trial-by-fire that was climbing Kili 🙂
And now for the pics! 🙂
These stairs lead to the second level of my hotel room
For the rest of the week, I have a lot of things I want to do, but not a lot of things planned (if you know what I mean). I am taking it pole pole all the way this week. I need the recovery to restore my sanity and get prepared for the craziness that will be my return to my normal life..
So no more map to begin with. We’ve done it! Today is the 1100m between us and modern life including hot showers! As great as it has been to have done this experience, getting back to electricity and other modern conveniences will be awesome!
Our day today begins with a song, which is performed by Ashard and his team for all of those who climb and summit. Even if you don’t summit you have to give this team a lot of respect because they do everything in their power to enable you to succeed.
They do this many times a year and make it look so easy. Most of their kit is donated so they work with what they have. They don’t use sports drinks, nutrition bars, etc, etc like most visitors. They do it naturally. It’s impressive.
We run into lot of people we have met on the mountain, including Ryan whom we finished the walk down to the gate with. A word here about Ryan. Not only did he let me borrow his spare Buff scarf/covering/all-around-awesome-invention when I lost mine, but he basically was the best trekker who was not Tanzanian. He could have summitted in four or five days if he really wanted to, but he chose to take his time. And to also take some cool pictures along the way.
Finally, after a few hours of trekking, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see the Mweka Gate. Hurt ankles and knees feel like nothing compared to the fact that we have formally crossed the finish line! 🙂 The trek is really over now. We go to sign ourselves in one last time and so some other formalities and then we are off back to the Springlands hotel \o/ Back to hot water! Back to internet connectivity! Back to hot water! And most importantly, back to hot water! 😀
Back at the hotel, we’re clearly exhausted, but we keep it together long enough to get our GOLD Uhuru Peak certificates from Ashard and Abraham in a small ceremony in the courtyard. I have to say that the proof in the hand (besides all of the pics and video) felt really good 🙂
So after our ceremony, it’s hard to believe that it is all over. I celebrate by taking the longest shower I have ever taken in life. It feels so nice to shower. Hot water feels fantastic! I must have taken 30-45 minutes at a minimum. And then we have lunch at the hotel and I have nap.
After being an object at motion for 7 days, it’s time to be an object at rest. Inertia(!) indeed 🙂
I don’t have wise or insightful things to say just now. I think those will come with time after I have had more time to think about what I have just been through. I am grateful to have had the experience. I am grateful to Christina for organising the adventure and for being my Kili Buddy and friend. I am grateful to Ashard and the staff for their help on the mountain. I am grateful for the people I met along the way. In some way, I am even grateful for the people who didn’t think I would make it to the summit because they gave me some of my energy.
“It’s only 139 meters up” I tell myself. I’ve made it to Stella Point by physical strength and with only 40 minutes of work, I rationalise to myself that I can get to Uhuru Peak on my own, just as I gotten to this point.
After all, Kilimanjaro might be an experience where you climb in groups or with friends, but like I said earlier, only you can get you up the mountain.
So with that frame of time, I leave Stella Point on the way to Uhuru Peak. Christina is progressing at a good clip and I have no doubt she’ll hit Uhuru Peak in under 40 minutes. I however, am I different story.
The journey starts off well, but after 20 minutes I am quite simply out of energy. After 30 minutes of walking I am covered only about half of the distance needed (whereas I should be at the end of my journey). I can see the sign for Uhuru Peak, but it starts to look too far away. All I know is that I must keep moving. Inertia! If I as an object rest then I know that is the end of my journey. I won’t have enough strength to make it to what seems the really short distance to the peak.
And then humbling moment #1 happens.
Ashard (our guide) took my hiking poles, had me hold on to the straps of his backpack, and litterally for about 200 meters pulled me along, forcing me to take bigger steps so that I would get to the summit sooner. I hadn’t asked for help, but it was clear that I needed it. And besides already carrying my backpack within his own backpack, he literally pulled me along until I could take big steps on my own.
And within 15 minutes I am back to my slow pace. The tank is empty. The peak is visible, but I really don’t know if I can make it. Rather, I think I can make it, but although the Peak is only a 10 minutes walk away, I figure I will need about 20-25 minutes since I am back to taking small steps as that is all of the energy I have.
And then humbling moment #2 happens.
Christina, seeing how I am struggling to keep a good pace, comes to me, puts my arm around her shower, says “come on Kili Buddy, we are almost there”, and helps me by walking with me until we are almost the peak area. Christina had her own issues (a sore ankle) and could have made it to the peak and been taking photos whilst I was still on the way there. But she decided to help a friend first.
It was then that the realisation came to me that the journey to the peak had never been in isolation. There were people on the trek with me who believed in me and wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted to.
And sometimes, when the goal seems far away, all you need is a little help from a friend. Whilst the most important event of the trip was to reach Uhuru Peak, the best moment of the trip for me is captured in the picture with Christina.
Eventually, I got to the Uhuru Peak! I feeling of relief and happiness washes over me.
Finally, I sit down and give inertia a much needed rest. After 5 minutes or so to collect myself, we take pictures of the amazing views and I even find the energy to post a new video.
What goes up must come down
So after a successful summit (!) which took around 8 hours, we must begin the descent down first to Barafu Camp for a short nap and quick lunch, and then continuing down to Mweka Camp. So basically we need to descend 2800m today.
Contrary to popular thoughts, going down a mountain is not as easy as it looks. It too takes energy. Energy which I had found as a result of reaching the summit. So I was on my way down and only lost focus for a moment when…
CRASH. I stumble and hit my knee against a pointy rock. It wasn’t bleeding and nothing seemed broken, but there was significant stiffness and swelling. It hurt to walk downwards as it applied pressure on my knee. Stupid idiot me! After being so very careful, to be so careless on the descent. The terrain we are descending down to reach Barafu Camp is steep in some places (good for knee), and rocky gravel and downward sloping in other places (very bad for knee). After a while it became apparent that my knee was agitated enough that I would have difficulty to get down the gravel parts. It wasn’t an emergency requiring evacuation or anything, but it certainly was inconvenient for the group. We should have been able to manage the descent to Barafu Camp in about 3-4 hours. But with my knee it took my 5-6 hours to hit Barafu Camp. At some points on the slippery gavel, Ashard and Frankie had to hold me up by my shoulders and we slid down the gravel. Hurt. Like. Hell. But it was necessary. We eventually made it back to Barafu Camp where I took a much needed nap and I could elevate my knee and apply a heat/pain patch to it. I also got some painkillers which worked wonders to reduce the inflammation and stiffness to help with the descent from Barafu to Mweka.
Christina’s sore ankle. My busted up knee, dry hacking cough due to the dust I had to eat, and tiredness were a small price to pay to make it to the summit.
We got to Mweke camp feeling excited and proud of ourselves (the journey down was scenic and we ran into Dino, Paul, and friends on the way down as they were doing the 6 day hike so we converged again). We had dinner, our evening briefing, and then literally we each went to our tents and passed out. It was sleep well earned.