Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

With its 26.2 million population (bigger than Australia), this wonderful island is a paradise for wildlife lovers. It’s mega diverse. It has been discovered relatively late (500AD) and thanks largely to being undisturbed by humans for so very long, it possesses a vast number of different species. Among its resident animals are more than half the world’s chameleons and dozens of species of lemur.

Unlike the film Madagascar, however, you won’t see any tigers, giraffes or hippo. It is also a bird watchers’ paradise.

Why did I choose this country as my travel destination?

The main reason was because of its dive sites. I found a liveaboard online and started reading about the rest of the country which made me curious. And I am so so happy I visited Madagascar! It’s a country where I will definitely go back to in future, especially because of the friendships I developed with people living there. (Vazah -a slang the people of Madagascar use for white foreigners- and Malagasy).

So let’s start the journey..7th December I arrived to Antananarivo airport around midnight. There was no point for me to book a hotel for the night as I was due to fly at 6am up north to Nosy Be, where my liveaboard was due to depart at 2pm in the afternoon. It wasn’t the first time I slept on the floor of an airport..and it brought back all the memories and fun as a backpacker in 2012. Around 1am I received an email from Tsaradia (local airline) that the flight is delayed with an hour..oh well not the end of the world. I got to Nosy Be, a taxi was waiting for me that took me to Ambatoloaka beach, starting point for all cruises. As I entered the dive shop, Erik, the owner with not much emotion on his face said that the trip was cancelled due to the arrival of a cyclone. I couldn’t believe what I heard…my whole trip was planned around this dive trip…they had known it for days, just forgot to notify the customers…That was the moment when I realised that it was time to take off my London hat and put on my travelling open minded head. Every diver who was meant to be on the boat arrived..and shocked and surprised just like me. So I decided to make the most of the situation, created a WhatsApp group called “Cyclone Divers’ and the fun began…

Me and Lisa (from Canada) found a lovely hotel (Nosy Lodge) a little bit further North from Ambatoloaka beach and shared room for the next 6 days.

 

Sadly I got sick very early on. First I thought it was the side effects of the Malaria tablets, but then I realised that it was the water. My stomach is not my strongest part of my body and a slight change affects it. I had fever, cramps and all the rest. Lisa and the rest of the Cyclone Divers did a few shore dives whilst I was reading and resting. To be fair, I needed the rest. November last year was a hell of a month, an emotional rollercoaster, averaging 4-5h sleep every night so my body had enough. Wanted peace and rest. Life on the beach is so simple and nice…Malagasy ladies came by every day selling beautiful ripe fruit .. It was also nice to learn how in Madagascar people polish the wooden tables and floors! Another amazing use of the coconut!

Whilst recovering I made a plan. I just about had time to do the dive trip that was scheduled a week later, sadly the other cyclone divers didn’t have time to stay, so we maximised our time together and one of the days when the cyclone hit the island we decided to make a trip to Millot Plantation in Ambanja (mainland of Madagascar). Ha-ha. Yet another fail..but it’s in the bag with the other 5* stories!

The journey to the plantation was already an adventure. We didn’t bring our passports with us so we ended up boarding an ‘illegal’ boat with the locals, after 30 mins of semi rough ride on the sea in rain we arrived to the other side, where we took a taxi and after another 40 minutes of bumpy ride on dirt road we arrived to the residence of Madame Mado who greeted us with such an attitude….!

To be fair she was right…we left our brains home and assumed that we could visit the plantation in the rain but she made a very clear point that it was a mistake 🙂 We asked her to at least show us the vanilla and ylang-ylang plantation but she said..either full tour or nothing! Wow…but I like people who say things out right! In Lonely Planet -my bible on the road- you also had the opportunity to have lunch but as she didn’t expect visitors all she could offer was a few pieces of home made chocolate with a coffee..

After this day adventure we had a lovely dinner in the best restaurant in Nosy Be, Baobab Kafe. We ate here a few times, the chef is French and the food is heavenly.

After a few days together with these awesome people, it was time to say goodbye. They all left one by one and I had a couple of more days. In Nosy Lodge I met Etienne who has been super nice to me and we hung out a lot. He was my local friend and guide.

I changed accommodation to be more ‘in the town’, as Nosy Lodge was a bit remote. So I moved to this stunning villa:

I had 2 and a half day left until the boat, so one day I had a trip to Nosy Iranja (the nicest island around Nosy Be) and Nosy Komba the other day.

Nosy Iranja was like paradise on Earth:

Boats depart early in the morning, the trip is an hour and 20 minutes on a speedboat. When you arrive you can get lost in the maze of local boutiques selling pareos, the famous Malagasy rum, jewellery, fridge magnet, souvenirs, wood carvings, honey and other typical local products. Etienne took me up to a viewpoint, and we ate mango from the tree. It was like a dream..

The other day I went to Nosy Komba, which is a bit closer to Nosy Be, and I saw the first lemur!!

So here we are on the 14th December…day of the dive liveaboard! Spending a morning doing nothing (or preparing properly for the trip) would have been too boring so I got up like 5am, went out in the hope of finding a scooter and ride around the island, found a man washing his motorbike on the street and I talked to him with my very basic French: ‘ Je voudrais un scooter ‘

He disappeared into a web of narrow streets of Nosy Be and in 10 minutes he rocked up with a scooter. I paid 30.000 Ariary (6 Pounds), agreed on nothing in terms of bringing back the bike, I was asked no documents like passport etc. This is freedom! That’s when I fell in love with Madagascar! 😀 I went up North, did a quick 2 hour tour on Nosy Sakatia, which i highly recommend to everyone to watch turtles, smell vanilla and ylang-ylang, get to know a truly remote African lifestyle.

It was time to head back to the dive centre..and this is the only part I am not missing from my 6 week trip! Oceane’s Dream dive centre has all 4 and 5 star reviews on Tripadvisor. Therefore I had full confidence in them. Sadly what I went through with them from the beginning (Not informing us about the cyclone, then the refund/exchange process and just the general difficult communication since arrival) makes me wonder how they managed to get all these good reviews.

I was told that Joseph, a Malagasy dive instructor will be our cruise director on the liveabord and that was the reason why i took the exchange option and didn’t ask for a refund because I already felt that the French lady called Maud has been very arrogant and kind of forgot that they are a service provider and can’t just talk to/deal with the tourists the way they do. Sadly upon arrival I saw a group of 5 French people sitting on the briefing along with Maud. She set me off pretty badly with this team by talking to them about me whilst i was packing my stuff and getting ready for departure. (even if you don’t speak a language, you know when people are talking about you, plus I studied a bit of French and I speak 2 latin based languages) Sadly this hasn’t improved. It was her first trip on this liveaboard, didn’t know the dive sites and spoke 80% of the time in French, along with the group. I felt very much excluded but since i was in paradise and there were some ok moments (just not when we were eating at the table) I tried to make the most of this trip. The scenery, sunsets, sunrises, dolphins, remote islands we visited along with the kids and the crew were unforgettable. The people were very much forgettable.

 

I decided not to finish the trip. One of the reasons was the fact that they refused to speak English but also because I wouldn’t have been able to dive on the last day as i was flying in the evening to Antananarivo (Tana abbreviated), so I made my way back to Nosy Be, went straight to the dive shop, gave feedback, and on the last day in Nosy Be I met Etienne, and spent the day with him. He helped me find a lady who did my nails in her home, and we had late lunch with Etienne’s family, then they dropped me to the airport and this is where the real fun started!

Judit, my Hungarian friend who lives in Malta arrived a few hours before me, Miary, our driver and guide was waiting for me at the airport, dropped me at the hotel in Tana, and early in the morning we set off to our 10 day adventure in Central and South Madagascar.

I can honestly say that i have not laughed this much in the past 5 years as I did during this trip. We gelled so well with Miary and Judit was a joy to travel with. We were blessed 🙂

Our first destination was the Avenue of Baobabs near Morondava but you are not able to do the whole trip in one day so we spent one night in Miandrivazo. Wow this place was hot, as it was in a valley..the rooms were very basic, Judit got a little tipsy as even i was tempted to have a nice glass of Malagasy rum after a whole day of driving…but in the end I stuck with water. An interesting fact of Madagascar’s food and drink industry…Coca Cola Zero or Diet Coke or Pepsi don’t exist in Madagascar. It’s a product that has no purpose as people there NEED sugar. They don’t have problems with obesity or type 2 Diabetes..therefore you can only get full sugar Coke.

In the middle of the night we had a bit of an adrenaline rush as Judit left her bag in the hotel restaurant (we just withdrew a decent amount of money so the bag was full of cash), she woke up, ran out in pyjamas and luckily our guardian angel Miary took her bag in with him. Of course she woke him up with the night guard at 2am to double check this.:) So in Madagascar you ALWAYS have to have cash on you. You can’t pay with card nearly anywhere, even hotels, and the maximum amount you can withdraw/day is 800.000 Ariary (in 2 transaction) which is £200. And there are some cities where there is no cash machine. Miary was amazing as he always prepared us when and where to withdraw.

In the morning we went on a river cruise by dugout (pirogue), Miary came with us, and it was a great start to our day. It is the Malagasy way of transport along the river. It’s calm and slow with a full scenery. The colour of the water was red/brown due to the high iron content.

We then headed to Morondava, where we had a little dip in the Mozambique channel and then for sunset we went to the most iconic place in Madagascar, the Avenue of Baobabs.

After this incredible sunset photoshoot we had the best seafood in Morondava with live music! These are the moments to live for!

The next morning we went back to the Avenue for sunrise, but the sunset was by far the best. Then another 10h drive was waiting for us. On the way we hung out with some locals, ate in a traditional Malagasy restaurant, and finally we arrived to Ambositra, where we listened to live music and met Leslie, a nice French girl who moved to Madagascar from France, works in the food industry and is going to run an Ultra Marathon in Tana this year! (hats off with the 1280m elevation!)

We went for a run with Leslie in the morning then started our 8h journey to Isalo Rock Lodge, where we spent Christmas! The scenery en route was stunning, Lychee tree, fresh fruit, smiles from the locals, zebus, truck accidents …so much going on! And I even got to drive Miary’s car! It was so much fun! The pictures don’t give back all the fun we had in the car…playing games, teaching Miary some appropriate and some non appropriate English words..:)

When we arrived to our paradise, we spent the evening on our balcony, getting lost in the scenery and of course the rum (me in my favourite soursop and other exotic fruit juice).

We also had a ‘cash’ problem, Miary did tell us how much money we needed but somehow we didn’t withdraw enough, which meant that we couldn’t pay our guide for the next day…we panicked. We drove 10h without enough cash….But in Madagascar with Miary you don’t need to panic..he lent us enough money and just smiled and said..:

“it’s funny how you Europeans panic when you don’t have enough cash for 2 days..I can go a week without having any..and when i say any, without having any in the bank either!’

That sentence really hit me..we really do take our life for granted…:(

Next day we went hiking in the Isalo National Park. We were more than impressed with the natural untouched beauty of this park. No pictures can convey the awe that one feels standing in the presense of these massive rocks formations. The natural pools are pristine and getting to see ring tailed lemurs up close with their babies was a perk. We also saw the world’s smallest chameleon called Pygmy Leaf Chameleon.

After lunch we hiked to another fabulous natural piscine.

We finished our adventure by around 3pm, then luckily in a town half an hour drive away there was a cash machine and we could withdraw. I was driving again, it was a lot of fun!

Once we returned, me and Judit had a nice relaxing Christmas massage and finally we started getting ready to our Christmas dinner! It was so nice, the hotel crew did an hour show for the guests singing and playing on the djembe.

On the 25th December we drove to Fianarantsoa and visited the Anja Reserve. After Isalo, it was our favourite hike. Stunning views..rock formations…on cloud 9…

Upon arrival to our hotel we did a stroll in town, and found my favourite game EVER. Table football, or how we call it in Hungary, Csocso! What was even better that I got to play with the locals!!!

In the evening we played lots of fun games with Miary and Judit…including Spin the bottle Truth or Dare..! ha-ha

Here are a few shots of Malagasy street life…

On the 26th we visited Ranomafana National Park, a true Madagascan rainforest. It is one of the most picturesque national parks in Madagascar. Covering a mountainous area of 415 kilometres, the park is set at altitudes that range between 800 and 1,200 metres in a vast tract, comprised mainly of dense rainforest. The rare golden bamboo lemur was discovered here in 1986 by Dr. Patricia Wright, which led to the area gaining National Park status. It now provides a protected environment for these endangered animals and is one of the island’s most accessible and appealing stops on any itinerary.

At night, we went for a night walk…and we saw the Pigmy Mouse Lemur, very small and nocturnal along with lots of chameleons.

Next day was the last full day, when we drove to Antsirabe and visited the Miniature Museum, Zebu and Wood factory, where we met fellow Hungarians, led by Eddy- the Hungarian speaking Malagasy guide. I couldn’t believe this!!! We heard about him first in Isalo National Park from our guide Xavier, and voila, he happened to be in the gem store!  Here is a picture of the Hungarian squad.

And we arrived to our last night in Madagascar…well it was somewhat unforgettable…the last story out of many..Judit locked me our of my room! It was obviously an accident (one too many rums) and the way I got in was hilarious….The hotel didn’t have a spare key to the room, therefore the night guard climbed through our tiny bathroom window, knocking Judit’s make up bag on the floor which made almost as much noise as my pervious shouting ‘ Judit, Judit let me in!!!!’ but she was fast asleep..with eye mask on, and earplugs in..

Here is a little memory of the event:

Next morning, we left at 5am to be back in Tana for our 1.35pm flight to Ethiopia. In the car we had the best time…we couldn’t believe that we will be soon separated..this trio worked so so well and we had so much fun. We are so grateful to Miary for showing us his country in such a fabulous way.

If you ever plan a trip to Madagascar, he is your man!

And the last surprise that Madagascar gave me as a goodbye gift was bumping into Oliver, my previous client from NB….I could not believe that he was there on the same flight as we were to Addis Ababa! There are no accidents in life!

It is only when you travel the world that you understand how big and diverse it really is. Our connections should be invested in real people, from our neighbourhood to the world. And this is what I brought home with me.

It’s been a long time since I did a trip like this…since my last post I have been to many places that deserved a post but sadly I didn’t get around to writing about all of them..it’s on the to do list though!

So..Tanzania…a beautiful East African country that has so much to offer..its motto is ‘Uhuru na Umoja’ in Swahili translated is Freedom and Unity. Over 100 different languages are spoken in the country making it the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa. Tanzania is mountainous and densely forested in the north-east, where Mount Kilimanjaro is located. This was the main purpose of our visit…to Kill the Kili!

Having done Mount Toubkal- North Africa’s highest point in 2015- I have always wanted to reach Africa’s highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro! And as I usually do these activities with groups I had not known before I decided to do this differently and find likeminded friends/clients who are up for an adventure! And boom, before I had known it I had 10 people ready to rock & roll!

Our company Sirikwa Travel was fantastic throughout the whole process of organising the trip, flexible, great communication.

The fun started on 22nd February with Kenya airways, all of us on the same flight to Nairobi and from here we took a smaller plane to Kilimanjaro airport. The first drama started here with 2 suitcases not arriving. But JV and Anna remained calm and collected..what is the worst that can happen? They climb the mountain in a T-shirt and trainers? They wouldn’t be the first ones…sadly some of our porters had very basic clothing for themselves.

We arrived at our hotel in Moshi, and had our first briefing. Met our guides, and went for a wonderful Indian meal.

Oinoth, CEO of Sirikwa did his best to pick up the suitcases next day and bring them close to the gate so that the content can be transferred to a duffel bag and we were all ready to start our adventure. The second drama- my own personal one- was spraying 100% DEET in my right eye on the morning of the climb. Having feared Malaria (we decided with Richard not to take any anti-malaria tablets) my only prevention was mosquito repellent but sadly my aim was not the best. So after washing it a million times and not having been able to open it for 2 hours it got better in the end but not the best start!

In terms of gear for Kilimanjaro this is the recommended list:

Technical gear:

1 – Waterproof Jacket, breathable with hood
1 – Insulated Jacket, synthetic or down
1 – Soft Jacket, fleece or soft-shell
2 – Long Sleeve Shirt, light-weight, moisture-wicking fabric
1 – Short Sleeve Shirt, light-weight, moisture-wicking fabric
1 – Waterproof Pants, breathable (side-zipper recommended)
2 – Hiking Pants (convertible to shorts recommended)
1 – Fleece Pants
1 – Shorts (optional)
1 – Long Underwear (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
3 – Underwear, briefs (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
2 – Sport Bra (women)
Equipment
1 – Sleeping Bag, warm, four seasons
1 – Sleeping Bag Liner, for added warmth (optional)
1 – Trekking Poles (recommended)
1 – Head lamp, with extra batteries
1 – Duffel bag, (waterproof recommended) for porters to carry your equipment

1 – Daypack, for you to carry your personal gear
Handwear
1 – Gloves, warm (waterproof recommended)
1 – Glove Liners, thin, synthetic, worn under gloves for added warmth (optional)
Footwear
1 – Hiking Boots, warm, waterproof, broken-in, with spare laces
1 – Gym Shoes, to wear at camp (optional)
3 – Socks, thick, wool or synthetic
3 – Sock Liners, tight, thin, synthetic, worn under socks to prevent blisters (optional)
1 – Gaiters, waterproof (optional)
Accessories
1 – Sunglasses or Goggles
1 – Backpack Cover, waterproof (optional)
1 – Poncho, during rainy season (optional)
1 – Water Bottle (Nalgene, 32 oz. recommended)
1 – Water Bladder, Camelbak type (recommended)
1 – Towel, lightweight, quick-dry (optional)
1 – Pee Bottle, to avoid leaving tent at night ( recommended)
Stuff Sacks or Plastic Bags, various sizes, to keep gear dry and separate
Headwear
1 – Brimmed Hat, for sun protection
1 – Knit Hat, for warmth
1 – Balaclava, for face coverage (optional)
1 – Bandana (optional)
Other

Toiletries
Prescriptions
Sunscreen
Lip Balm
Insect Repellent, containing DEET
First Aid Kit
Hand Sanitizer
Toilet Paper
Wet Wipes (recommended)
Snacks, light-weight, high calorie, high energy (optional)
Pencil and Notebook, miniature, for trip log (optional)
Camera, with extra batteries (optional)

There are several routes available to hike but I chose the one that has the highest % of success rate, the Lemosho route. The idea here is to spend a day or two extra between 3-4000m for proper acclimatisation.

The funny thing was that the Comic Relief Team started their trip one day before us so we were on the mountain at the same time as them  but on different routes.

DAY 1

After the registration process started our climb steadily through the forests of the Lemosho glades to reach BigTree camp where we spent the first night.
Distance covered: 7km / 4.3mi
Approx. time taken: 4 hours
By the time we arrived at the camp, our tents were up, our dinner was cooking, we learnt how to use the toilet, and started getting to know each other better. We always gathered in a big mess tent for our meals and the excitement in our eyes when the waiters appeared with the food was indescribable.

Start group

Group hike

DAY 2

Big Tree Camp (2780m) To Shira 2 Camp (3900m)
We trekked across a plateau of grassy moorland and heather scattered with
volcanic rock formations. Our destination for today was meant to be Shira 1 Camp but our guides decided to go to Shira 2 as our pace was good. We gained a reasonable
amount of altitude on this day and parts of the route were fairly steep. As the guides called it…the elephant. Very scenic beautiful walk. This was the first time when some of us got really overwhelmed and emotional with the difficulty of the hike. This was also the time when we first saw the summit. By now we really felt the mountain..the outside world was distant..we were in the bubble. We had a little rain on this day but where there is rain there is also a rainbow!
Distance covered: 15.5km / 9.6mi
Approx. time taken: 10 hours

elephantfirst view of Kiligroup first view of Kiliemotionalrainrainbow

DAY 3

Shira 2 Camp (3900m) to Barranco Camp (3960m)
Our trek started with an ascent with far-reaching panoramic views, walking in to the
climatic zone of the upland desert and on the lava ridges beneath the glaciers of the
Western Breach. We reached the distinct pinnacle of the Lava Tower (4640 m), our
high point for the day and a great place to enjoy our lunch. In the afternoon we made
a steep descent to our camp for the night, located in the base of the Great Barranco
Valley (3960 m), sheltered by towering cliffs but with extensive views of the plains
below. Our crew was waiting for us with cheerful songs and dance which immediately made us forget the difficulty of the day.
Distance covered: 10km / 6.2mi
Approx. time taken: 7 hrs

lawa towertowards lava towergroup-lavagiranivegetation

aliz hug

group

DAY 4:

Day 6: Barranco Camp (3960m) to Karanga Camp (3963m)

When I woke up this morning I felt sick. Sadly the altitude sickness kicked in and I know exactly why. I didn’t drink 3l water the previous day as we were told to do. I had a very bad sleep during the night, woke up with a headache and felt lightheaded. As we left the camp I started to feel better and I made sure that I drank enough going forward.
Our day started by descending into the start of the Great Barranco, a huge ravine. We
then exited steeply, up the Great Barranco Wall, which divided us from the southeastern
slopes of Kibo. It’s a climb over rock, not technical but long and tiring. Passing
underneath the Heim and Kersten glaciers, we headed towards the Karanga valley. From
here we had a steep climb up from Karanga valley to our night’s camp at Karanga
camp, set at 3963m.  Upon arrival we went for acclimatisation trek up to around 4200m before descending back to camp for the night.
Distance covered: 5.5km / 3.4mi
Approx. time taken: 5 hours

Baranco wallBaranco smile

kissBaranco jumpkaranga

Day 5: Karanga Camp (3963) to Barafu Camp (4640m)
After a good night’s rest and breakfast, we set off on our walk to Barafu camp at
4640m. The climb took us across desolate scree slopes with no vegetation around
us at all. It was a tough steep walk made more difficult by the altitude. Somehow I was more energised on this day than the previous ones.

On arriving at camp we ate and spent the afternoon resting as we prepared for a long night and day ahead. I wanted to sleep in the afternoon but we just ended up resting. We had an early dinner, briefing about the summit night and then rest again. The group was divided into 2, group one left at 11pm and group 2 at 1am. We had tea and biscuits before.
Distance covered: 3km / 1.9mi
Approx. time taken: 3 hours

TO BARAFUTO BARAFU 2TO BARABFU 3TO BARAFU 4BARAFUBASECAMPBRIEFING

DAY 6:

It was hard to put 6 layers on you because as soon as you moved you felt hot and bulky. We really looked like Michelin men. Before we set off we sang our motivational song:

HIP HIP, HOP HOP

NON STOP, TO THE TOP

ONE TEAM, ONE DREAM

ONE DREAM, ONE TEAM

RAAAAAAAAAAAAA

And here it started a painful 7hour – for some people 9- ascent first to Stella Point (5756m) then to Uhuru Peak (5895m). How could I describe this night…definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Endless line of torches going up…in pitch black, step by step- or in Swahili POLE POLE.

My water froze after 2 hours..my head was exploding…I was hot then cold, then hot, then cold..I was exhausted and I just couldn’t see how I can walk hours more in these conditions. I felt nauseous, just wanted to sit down and have a little rest but we couldn’t. If you spend too much time sitting, you will never get up due to the freezing temperatures. I was on the verge of giving up..several time. But my hero, our Chief Guide Mudi did not let me. He reminded me, as a leader of this group I needed to show example. There was no other option but to get up and go. After 4 hours we reached the first group, Richard and Karen were in that group and that’s when the emotional element came in. All of us in tears..desperate to reach the top..in the end we all made it. At Stella we got a new source of energy. Our guides and summit porters were literally our foundations..the rock solid pillars carrying our bags, carrying hot tea for us and keeping us alive on this gut-wrenching mission to get to the roof of Africa. When the sun came up….that was the moment of hope.

IMG_7167pull to summitDSC_6117summitsummit 2summit 3

Throughout the whole climb we were ‘chasing’ the Comic Relief group and we ended up summiting the same time as they did 🙂 BBC crew, Red Nose Day outfits…we all went through the same feelings at the same time. Having watched their programme after arriving home…it didn’t do the climb justice. 

The descent back to base-camp was not a relief, running down in shale was not fun for already tired legs. Incredible that we made it down in just under 2.5h back to Barafu camp. I felt exhausted. Even food could not get me excited. I skipped lunch, went to my tent and slept. But not for long as on the same day we had to leave the base camp and head to Mweka Camp for a long well-earned rest.
Distance covered: 16.4km / 9.6mi
Approx. time taken: 13hours – 15hours
IMG_7196

DAY 7:

A gentle trek took us down through the rainforest to Mweka Gate, where we
completed park formalities. We played some games along the way down, and really felt a sense of achievement (it only took us 24h to finally have this feeling!!!)
Distance covered: 9.1km / 7.5miles
Approx. time taken: 6 hours

IMG_7200IMG_7201IMG_7205IMG_7230IMG_7235

On the way to the hotel…at a random petrol station…3 cars pulled in….and there they were..THE CELEBRITIES! :)) And a selfie with my ultimate favourite Dani Dyer:)

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The climb for me was an incredible experience. It was so much harder than I expected due to a combination of continuous walking every day, lack of sleep, being cold and out in the wind and cold during the night in the tent along with the impact of the high altitude and lack of oxygen. It was wonderful to share the journey with our group and we became excellent friends throughout the week sharing jokes and conversations about topics we would never have raised at home.

As we finished the trek one day before planned we arranged a safari for the day after! Everyone was so enthusiastic and happy as some of us had never been on a safari before and this was a true bonus! So after the well deserved celebratory night at Masailand hotel in Arusha next day we got picked up at 5.30am and went on a fabulous day safari to Tarangiri National Park. We were super fortunate to see a pride of lions devouring a warthog and elephants eating from a tree.

Just a few picks of what we saw….

giraffelionscarelephant 2elephant 4elephant bestzebra family

In the afternoon we had a pool party in our hotel, and some drinks to celebrate our fantastic trip. Oinoth came and distributed our certificates, we said emotional goodbye to each other and some people flew home the next day, some of us went to Zanzibar and Pemba. So the next 6 days were very different, Richard and I stayed in this beautiful place, paradise on Earth called Manta resort. The journey here is worth to elaborate a little. Kilimanjaro airport- Zanzibar- normal plane, Zanzibar Pemba: a 12 seater little plane. My personal favourite..flies 4500m high and with a little wind could be the worst nightmare of your life….

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A few pictures on our paradise:

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We did some diving but sadly the Manta rays are avoiding Pemba as in the past the locals hunted them down…I’m still upset about this…hopefully an education programme is being prepared for this part of the world on protected sea life!

On this resort you really don’t need to worry about much, all- inclusive, spa treatments included, wonderful meals being served, top service with the local people’s charm. Our fundi was Lucas. We really bonded with him. Always smiling, always funny! Lucas is the BEST! We also met some wonderful people on this resort, an Italian couple who came here for their 25th Wedding Anniversary.

We also used an outdoor gym where the weights were made out of local products including concrete mass in sand buckets.

The real splurge of the trip was staying for one night in the resort’s underwater room. Wow. This was something special. 24h you live in a luxurious aquarium and can enjoy an underwater show! But the beauty was not just this…the sunset dinner, gazing stars at night from the sun deck,  watching the local fishermen’s everyday life. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have a trip like this. Take every chance you get in life, because some things only happen once.

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I am organising another trip to Kilimanjaro in 2020. For more information visit:

https://www.lizstyleliving.com/climb-kilimanjaro

 

I looked at my blog the other day and realised that the last post is from April last year! Gone are those days when I posted after every country I visited! But…better late than never.

Let me share with you my adventure last August in Morocco. First of all, this trip and update would not have been written without my dear friend Sasha, who had this amazing idea last January to do a challenge, namely a 4167m mountain, North Africa’s highest peak: Mount Toubkal.

I said without hesitation that I would like to do this with her! It was an  amazing idea, and it sounded like a mini travelling trip. Climbing a mountain with a backpack and a group!

She was surprised herself how many of her friends were interested in doing this summit with her, so we formed a little group of 9 people : Sasha and her friend Nuno, Amanda, Julia with her 18 year old son, Will, Joy with her 12 year old called Hugo, my friend Jodie and myself.

They arrived at Marrakech in the morning of the 27th August, me and Jodie arrived late afternoon. They all waited for us at the airport. As I came out of the plane that tropical heat hit me and I felt I was in paradise…

We got through immigration ok, got a nice stamp in the passport, found Sasha and the others, and drove in 2 cars to the starting point of the trek, Imlil. Imlil is a small Berber village, 1740m above sea level. The Film ‘Seven years in Tibet‘ was partly filmed in the village.

We were greeted with Berber tea in a mansion by one of our guides, Rachid. The architecture in Morocco is stunning!

We got the closest room downstairs with Jodie and Sasha and the others occupied the rest of the mansion..the real paradise opened up when I went up to the terrace at the top, and saw this:DSC_8170

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It was again the same pair as on my travels..the nature and I!!  Bright stars shining up there, light breeze and the smell of a new land, and soon dinner!

We had lovely first meal, lots of small dishes on the table, tagine, chicken, couscous, salads.

We spent the evening chatting to our guides and getting ready mentally for the challenge.

The next morning after breakfast we divided our belongings into 3 groups. One that we did not need for the 3 day trek, one that we did need but only when we arrive at the camp in the afternoon- this was carried by the mules- and the smallest pack was what we needed for the walk. Water, snacks, toilet paper etc.

Some people hired walking sticks. The tent was provided by Jamal’s company, I took my own sleeping bag which I specifically bought for this trip.

When I put on my walking boots I remembered all those miles that they walked on different terrains and lands…sweet memories!

So the first day was superb! Beautiful landscapes with some challenging parts. I think everyone can agree with me when I say that beyond the  scenery and the physical challenge, the ‘al fresco’ lunches and dinners were the  highlights! Absolutely beautiful presentation of food and incredible tastes…and what never missed from the table, the well deserved Moroccan fresh mint tea! The name of the place where we had lunch was Tizi Mizik at 2489m. On the way to Tamsoult refuge (2250m) there were loads of goats. Nuno connected with the goats and learnt their way of communication which still haunts us..that very specific sound effect…’BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’.

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Now the first night’s accommodation is something I will not forget for a while. I think it’s an understatement that we had adverse weather conditions. Strong stormy wind, rain and cold!

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It was Joy’s 50th Birthday so the guides prepared a lovely cake for her and we all sang and celebrated with her. It was a very special moment.

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Nuno, Sasha and Jodie decided to take the challenge that the weather has thrown in front of them and sleep in tents instead of the room that looked rather like a horse stall with some mats on the floor.

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In the morning we shared our stories during the night. I don’t think anyone slept more than 4 hours.

After breakfast we had a morning hike to the waterfalls

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But then we turned around and the guides delivered the bad news that we were unable to continue our way towards Toubkal because of the bad weather. Everyone was disappointed as we all wanted to experience altitude, but instead the guides decided on a more ‘cultural ‘ route.

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The plan was to head to another lodge for lunch.  On the way we passed little villages: Tizi Oussem at 2,350m and Eid Isa at 1700m and stopped for lunch.  Our guide then informed us that he got a call from another tour group that nobody could ascend that day due to bad weather.

This was a bit of a consolation for us and then we all cheered up and the group was very united and content.

By 4:30pm we were close to our next camping spot.  While some rested under the tree, Will, Joy, Hugo, Sasha and I climbed one of the surrounding mountains (2400m) for fun and took photos at the top surrounded by the rest of the atlas mountain range.  The rest of the group went to the camp-site at 2100m.

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Me and Rachid waited for the sun to settle then walked to the camp. The camp site was lovely and open, weather was great and as the sun set, a full moon appeared. It was the best night!

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Next morning..we woke up knowing that it was out last day in the mountains. We packed and started walking towards Imlil where we started the trek.

Going downhill was a lot easier and we played games along the way. As we descended one of our muleteers told us that another group lost a mule off the edge of a cliff due to high winds. This was the breaking news in the mountains! This is when we realised how nice it was being without television, iPad, phone etc. We truly connected with nature on this trip.

We stopped by a creek to have lunch and soak our feet in the stream and I think this made everyone realise how great it would be to have shower after 3 days in the wild! On our way back we stopped by an argan oil co-operative and watched women extract argan oil and various products made from it. I did a bit of shopping I have to admit:)

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Once the lodge was in sight, Amanda was the first to break from the group desperately wanting a shower.

We all then arrived one by one and got cleaned up and went through everyone’s photos to re-live the whole experience again.

Most of the people had their flights next day from Marrakech. Jodie and I  had our hotel booked there from next day as well but I was not ready to leave nature! I managed to convince Jodie to try to do the summit in 2 days, which would have still left us with 2 days in Marrakech. Unfortunately Rachid had another group waiting for him but Omar did take us up for £90 which was an excellent price for the extension.

Sasha left her boots with Jodie which was amazing because otherwise Jodie wouldn’t have had comfortable enough shoes to do the walk, and also like this at least the boots made it to the top even if Sasha couldn’t. We both hired walking sticks and next day we started the walk.

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It was a superb bonding walk for us..time flew as we chatted and we headed along the Mizane Valley, first towards the village of Aremd and then onto the shrine of Sidi Chamarouch.

Built on a moraine spur overlooking the valley floor, Aremd is the largest village in the valley and provides an interesting mix of traditional terraced farming, gites and streets that seem to be permanently gridlocked by goats and cattle. For generations the local Berber villagers have worked these lands, producing corn, potatoes and walnuts from the harsh landscape. Continuing east and crossing the flood plain our route took us along mule tracks and up into the high rocky cliffs above the valley. Crossing the river we eventually came to the pastoral shrine of Sidi Chamarouch, which attracts tourists and pilgrims alike (although only Muslims are allowed to cross the stone bridge to visit the marabout shrine itself). The village sits besides a small waterfall, a jumbled cluster of houses that seem to melt together into an anarchic mass. From here the trail continued to climb steadily, snaking and zigzagging its way up to the
snowline and the Toukbal Refuge (3206m), our stop for the night. Approx 5hrs walking.

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The night was fun! We had a shower which we did not expect at all after the first 3 days’ experience. We also had a very cosy dinner. Only our guide, our cook, Mohammed and a fellow climber, Jodie and I.

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We planned our big next day and set the starting time to 2am! Now this sounds scary but we both thought that getting there for sunrise is the way to go!

I will remember this walk forever! 4-5 different terrains and the only light you have is the moon light. We all decided not to use our little head torch because the moon light was perfectly enough and romantic. After 3 hours walking the altitude kicked in which made some parts difficult.

Finally around 6.15am we found ourselves on the plateau, from where it was a short walk to the summit and the vistas out across the surrounding landscape were quite breathtaking. From here there were unrestricted views in every direction, from the Marrakesh Plain to the High Atlas in the north and as far south as the Anti-Atlas and the Sahara. Pliny, the great Roman scholar, once described the High Atlas Mountains as “the most fabulous mountains in all of Africa” and from our vantage point high above the valley it is easy to understand why.

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It was freezing. Omar did not want to wait 30 minutes for the sunrise but Jodie and I did ..we were the only ones at the top which made the whole experience magical!

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Omar left us there and started making his way down. He waited for us at certain ‘stones’ to show us the way. The descent was hard, slippery and tiring. Once you saw the main attraction you just wanted to be easy on your knees and get down.

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After a few hours of ‘sliding down’ we reached the base camp, had some food, packed our bags and continued descending. We did not go back to Imlil – the transport came to pick us up at a different village. We said goodbye to Omar and Mohammed and made it safe but tired to Marrakech.

Marrakech was a big shock after spending 5 full days in the nature. Motorbikes, mopeds everywhere, the old town was rather a shock as it was not very developed but the hotel was very nice and people there were friendly. I cannot really say the same thing of people in Marrakech working in ‘tourism’ (that includes scammers). If you did not buy from them on the souks they would tell you to go back where you came from and similar nice things.

Of course we met lovely people as well – every country has good and bad people. The souks were amazing. I got lost with Jodie in the world of bargaining, Moroccan lamps, jewellery, tea pots, rugs and other traditional hand made (or made in China) items.

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We visited Yves Saint Lauren’s garden outside the old town which was beautiful.

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We also had a very traditional hammam experience..no pictures to show here:)

Overall the trip was amazing and I’d like to say massive thanks to my friend Sasha for organising it for us. I am very grateful for sharing this experience with all the lovely people in our group. Since the trip we had a catch up in Souk Medina in London and I hope we will keep in touch in future!