Travel. It is a word that had defined my personal path ever since I dreamed of visiting far away places as a youngster. Flipping through issues of National Geographic and leaning about cultures in my Social Sciences courses in high school, were just a few early glimpses into a world that beckoned to be explored. I have made a living as a mountain guide for the past 15 years, and really feel that I have only scraped the surface when it comes to understanding the landscape, culture and activities that bind us all together.
My most recent foray was to the continent of Africa. This had been on my radar for quite some time, but since my personal travel ambitions tend to coincide with my guiding trips, this had been placed on the back burner. Until a long time friend and client of mine, Jim Walkley, proposed the idea of heading to Tanzania to attempt Mount Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro is the highest point on the African Continent and is also the highest free standing mountain in the world. Jim is a rather seasoned mountaineer and has climbed 4 of the 7 highest points on the Earth (Denali, Aconcagua, Vinson and Elbrus). Kilimanjaro would be his 5th with only Carstenz Pyramid in Indonesia and Mount Everest on the boarder of Nepal and Tibet(China) remaining to be climbed.
Kilimanjaro is technically one of the easiest of the famed “Seven Summits” and most people that are working through this tick list usually climb this one first, but the reason why Jim had waited until now to climb it was simple: it coincided with the 2010 World Cup.
So a dream of seeing the World Cup spurred us to put together the trip of a lifetime. Since Jim works a full time corporate job that warrants 2-3 weeks a year that he can allocate towards adventure travel trips, we needed to be very precise in our trip planning. The World Cup sets its schedule often a decade or so in advance. Therefore, Jim had set this as our potential Kilimanjaro trip time over four years ago.
The first step in this process was establishing our trip date to climb Kilimanjaro and go on safari post climb. With this set, we were able to work on the front end of our trip. The Kilimanjaro trip was being run through the trip provider, International Mountain Guides, I was the lead guide of our nine member team, we also had a Chaga staff of 32 members. This consisted of 3 guides, 2 cooks, 2 servers, 2 tent porters and 23 porters. This crew was subcontracted through the Tanzanian trekking company called Keys Adventures. Keys Adventures had a long time relationship with IMG and they were also the owners of the hotel that we stayed at in Moshi, Tanzania before and after the climb. The other local company that IMG contracted with was Wildersun Safari’s and Tours. Wildersun had over 30 years of experience with running safari’s in the Serengeti.
As the lead guide of this trip, I did not have to do any of the initial ground work with setting all of these details up with Keys and Wildersun. IMG runs about 6-8 trips to Kilimanjaro a year and most of these were established under the IMG owners and Africa Program Directors, Eric Simonson and Phil Ershler over 23 years of running trips to Mount Kilimanjaro. Long term relationships between symbiotic companies is often the case when it comes to running successful trips in quantity. My job as the lead guide was to orchestrate the overall tempo of the trip, quality of service of the subcontracted companies and make sure the overall expectations of the clients were being met on a daily if not hourly basis.
The IMG office handles the application process for the climbers and answers any relevent questions in a timely manner. The job of the guide is usually to meet the clients at the airport upon their arrival, assist with their transfer to the hotel and debrief the group during an opening welcome dinner.
So as not to get into too much detail, I would like to create a trip planning outline that we used prior to our arrival into Cape Town, South Africa. I will then reflect on the details of our trip that we created along the way. Finally, I will debrief the pros/cons of the trip, essentially what worked and what could have been done more efficiently.
Trip preparations done Stateside.
Airfare: With this we actually used a travel agent. I have a long relationship with CTT Destinations. Pirjo DeHart has been my travel agent of choice. Both Jim and I found this useful since we were arriving on different dates and we were working with different budgets. Jim went with KLM as a carrier of choice and paid in the ballpark of $3500 for airfare which included multiple destinations DIA-JFK-Amsterdam-Cape Town-Johannesburg-Nairobi-JRO.
Since IMG covers my airfare, I was given a budget of $3200 for a flight that would get me from Seattle-JRO(Kilimanjaro Airport)-Seattle. For me to dove tail my Cape Town trip onto my Tanzanian trip, I would need to get my overall airfare under or comparable to my airfare stipend. Pirjo was able to find me a flight on Ethiopian Airlines. This had me traveling from Seattle-IAD on United, then flying Ethiopian from Dulles to Addis Ababa (with a fueling stopover in Rome, Italy), then from Addis to Johannesburg, and Jo’burg to Cape Town.
This involved close to 30+ hours of travel. My connecting flight had me traveling with Jim from Cape Town to Jo’burg, Joburg to Nairobi, and Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport (JRO). This option of flying with a less expensive operator got me in under $3000 for the entire airfare. This saved IMG $200 and it allowed me to fly to Cape Town, South Africa for no extra cost to me. My travel itinerary had me arrive into Cape Town 3 days and two nights before Jim.
Accommodations: Since I was arriving two days before Jim, I needed to find a place to stay. I am a surfer, Jim isn’t , so I wanted occupy my early arrival with surfing. I was able to locate viable surfing locations via Magicseaweed, then tracked down a guest house that was a close location to the break. I booked the accommodation through an online hotel booking website. For the remainder of our stay, we had already booked a room that was at the Loloho Lodge, this was a guest house in the Sea Point area of Cape Town. It was walking distance and a short taxi ride to just about anywhere in Cape Town. This guest house was run by a nice gentlemen from the UK. The guesthouse was nice, but since prices for accommodations in the Cape Town area were super pricey due to the World Cup, the value vs. the quality was a bit skewed. This considered, we were happy with the room: the owners were super helpful and accommodating and it was nice to have a place that was walking distance to the Green Point Stadium, the sight of the Semi Final match we were attending.
World Cup Tickets: This was the biggest crux, since FIFA only sells tickets via their website online and through a lottery system. Even if you purchase tickets and then want to sell them 9/10 you would need to sell them back to FIFA. FIFA does this in order to lessen ticket scalping. We were trying to purchase the tickets for the Semi Final match being held in Cape Town via the website, but were having difficulties making the cut with the lottery purchases due to the timing of the releases. What really helped us out was actually getting some inside information on the ticket sales from a local, this being the owner of the guest house we were staying at in Cape Town. He actually heard of limited release of tickets via the FIFA site and gave us the heads up. He also said it was better to call the ticket site instead of doing it online. We did this and secured 2 Category 1 Semi Final tickets for the World Cup.
Shark Dive: This was another activity that was easy to plan via the internet. We did some research into this and actually found the operator, Apex Shark Expeditions, that the BBC used while filming the Planet Earth Series, it is also the operator of choice used by the Discovery Channel in their Shark Week programming. Their are a lot of operators and finding one that has a humane and ethically run program is key for me. After spending my day with Apex, I concluded that they have a strong connection to the preservation and habitat of the Great White Sharks.
Surfing: I was able to figure out that Big Bay was the surfing location of choice for a novice/intermediate surfer such as myself. I was able to locate a surf shop in Big Bay and was able to sign up with a guide to take me out to a nice left breaking point break (I am a goofy foot). The surf shop was called surfzone.co.za and my guide was Gigs Celliars, owner, and super cool guy. I originally tried to book with a different company that was recommended through Magic Seaweed, but they were booked and recommended Gigs. I was happy with the outcome.
Rock Climbing: I was able to exchange emails with a friend who had just returned from a wedding he had attended in Cape Town. While there he was able to do some rock climbing at Table Mountain. He gave me a tick list of some climbs he recommended and answered some questions regarding transportation options from Cape Town to the climbing at Table Mountain. I was able to do some research via http://www.summitpost.org and get some information regarding Table Mountain as well. I was still pretty uncertain about how this was all going to come together, but planned on filling in the blanks once I arrived in Cape Town.
Trip planning/Spontaneous Adventures done along the way.
1. Surfing near my accommodations in Sunset Beach I explored Big Bay, Sunset beach was more of a Kite surfing destination. I spent the day with my guide Gigs, we got along great and he actually offered to let me stay at his house for a lot less then what I was renting my room for at the guest house. This was the theme of traveling in Cape Town, people just would open their lives to you and try to help you out in any way they could.
2. Rock Climbing: Cape Town offers some superb sand stone rock climbing. Upon getting in I was able to meet up with my good friend Ronnie Muhl. Ronnie is a climber and was able to drive Jim and I up to the base of Table Mountain and give us some beta on the approach and descent options. We were able to figure out that we could actually taxi to the base of the mountain, hike up to the base of the route, climb it, and then take the Cable Car back down to the base and taxi back to our guest house. Ronnie also put us in touch with a friend of his who just put out a new guide book for Table Mountain called “The Ledge”, and told us of a place we could purchase it in Cape Town.
3. World Cup Fan Parks: We discovered that we could watch other World Cup Semi Final match in a Fan Park that is open to the public and is free. These often involve amphitheater style seating with a huge jumbo tron screen. One of the highlights of the trip. We also found out about the fan walk, this was a designated path that fans could walk, party, and have fun en route to the Green Point Stadium on the day of our Semi Final Match. Long Street was where all the pubs were, every night this place was going off with people celebrating, singing songs and drums.
4. Wine tour and tasting in the Stellenbosch wine region. Everyone I would converse with during this trip would tell me that if we had the time we should do a wine tour of the Stellenbosch wine region. I was able to get online and search the Stellenbosch Chamber of Commerce for a couple of tour operators that came highly recommended. After calling we found out they were all full, but one of them game me a referral to was Cape Wine & Leisure Tours. They were able to accommodate on the short notice and gave us a good price for the two of us. It was our only rainy day during our visit and what better way then to spend it drinking wine in small wineries in front of a fire place.
5. Driving the coastal highway to Cape Point. This was a huge unknown for us since we were having a difficult time finding a tour operator and we did not want to spend the time renting a car and driving on the other side of the road. Jim and I were heading into town to take care of our VAT tax refund and we approached a random taxi on the the street in the Sand Point area we were staying in. The taxi driver offered to give us a ride but had to pull the meter out of his trunk and install it prior to driving us. In transit we began telling him that we were interested in having someone drive us to Cape Point and we wanted to set foot on the southern most point of the African Continent. We agreed on a price and after dealing with the VAT stuff, we were off.
During our drive we actually found out that our driver, named Crew, had actually inherited the taxi business from his father who had recently passed. He was just taking the taxi our for a random drive was not planning to be on hire. He also grew up in Cape Town and knew the entire area like the back of his hand. He drove us all over the place through all of these off the beaten path roads from the days of his youth. The destinations included surf breaks, seaside towns, high-end communities, low-end shanties, a large stretch of the coastal hwy that rivaled anything that I have every seen, and it was a topped off at one of his favorite seafood restaurants (where we happily bought him dinner).
Crew was a total character, and in his 45 years, he had been married to a pro surfer, been a pediatrician, received his MBA, fluent in 5 languages, a father to 3 children (from two different woman), and the list went on. You couldn’t plan or script this encounter, but it was one of the highlights of the trip.
Pros and Cons of the trip
1. Packing: Due to my budget air travel plans (multiple carriers), I was constantly being challenged with synchronizing my luggage weights between the multiple carries. This had me utilizing my carry on luggage in a way that compromised myself and the airlines representatives. My packing for a multifaceted trip such as this had me maxed out prior to my departure. With 20/20 hindsight I would had packed way differently and more efficiently. What put be against the wall was that I ended up purchasing souvenirs and mementos from my traveling and the 6 bottles of wine that I brought back just about compromised my travel weight situation even more. My overall packing that I did prior to my departure could have been more streamlined if I didn’t pack my wetsuit and booties, pared down my rock climbing rack from doubles into a single rack and I should have brought just one climbing rope. What helped me mitigate my weight situation was that I gave a couple items to the Chaga guide and porter staff that worked with us on our Kilimanjaro trip. Next time I would just bring all gear that I know I don’t use anymore, use it on the Kilimanjaro climb, and then give it all away. It was a good feeling to help those guys out.
2. Safari Clothes: Their is a reason why people that go on safari where those funny looking clothes. The tan colored clothing, hats w/ neck protection is ideal to keep deadly malaria carrying mosquitoes at bay as well in warding off the pesky Tsetse flies that carry sleeping sickness. I found out upon my arrival that blue and black are colors that actually attract Tsetse flies and was lucky I had some cloths to substitute out. Wearing anything red is also a big mistake, red actually scares off most lions, which is not good when you have paid all of this money to go on safari. Next time I would plan this more wisely.
3. Vaccinations: I was current on all of my vaccinations, but was lacking my Yellow Fever vaccination. I was having a very difficult time getting a straight answer about whether Yellow Fever was required for entrance into Tanzania. The guide books and most online publications all reported a big YES, the CDC.gov site was moderate in their recommendation, but after visiting with my travel doctor, his response that their hadn’t been a documented case of Yellow Fever in the last 50 years, so his response was to save the money and not get it. I ended up not getting the vaccination, but overall I was a bit stressed on whether I had made the right decision or not. More factual information would have been great in my preparation and ease of mind.
This Trip Report gives you a great idea of how good planning very specific constraints can give you the opportunity to have the adventure of a lifetime. The keys to any successful trip are planning and managing the cruxes of your trip, so that you can embrace the spontaneity and adventure when you’re on your trip. Even though I have been a guide for 15 years, I’m still learning and honing my abilities to plan and manage trips easier, but this should give you quite a bit to chew on as you plan your upcoming adventures.