Monday, March 15, 2010

Greetings from Moshi, Tanzania!!!

Beth and I made it safely to Moshi and, in about 13 hours will begin our ascent of Kilimanjaro! We spent most of Saturday touring around London and actually decided to "pump ourselves up" for the hike by catching We Will Rock you (a musical based on Queens' music). Both Beth & I were pleasantly surprised within how much we enjoyed it, especially since it kicked off with a sci-fi twist and was based in 2325. We both wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, but ended on our feet when Bohemian Rhapsody closed out the show. We rushed back to our hotel to catch the tube to LHR - only to be met with madness in the Virgin Airline check-in area. Numerous flights were departing and I was quite convinced our flight to Nairobi was going to be the trip to hell. We were pleasantly surprised when we boarded our plane to know pretty much everyone had seats/rows to themselves, which made the 9 hour flight a bit more enjoyable. The only complaint would have to be the couple that was directly behind me made out for the first 1.5 hours of the trip and then continued to do so as soon as they finished breakfast the following morning. Even the sound of a jet plane can't cover loud smoochers.

We made it through Kenyan customs with no issues, despite the warnings of corruption at the Visa desk and luggage handlers trying to swipe your bags. We caught a taxi to our hotel, which was in the Nairobi city centre and hit our only occurrences of "scamming" while there. We paid our taxi driver at the airport (via a government official) and upon arrival at the hotel, he attempted to receive payment again. Fortunately, Beth was on the top of her game and was able to "gently" reminder him that we already had done so. When we entered the hotel, we were a little baffled to see a metal detector at the entrance .. but even more so when we were able to push our luggage over the side without being scanned and to continue walking through even if the detector went off. Guess the pure presence could deter would-be thieves ...

We spent the day in Nairobi being tourists. Enjoyed the Nairobi Railway Museum and walked around, visiting City Hall, Parliament as well as the Memorial Gardens from when the US Embassy was bombed, killing over 250 Kenyans. As guide books suggested we head home before dusk, Beth & I decided to enjoy a dinner at the hotel - and a few grown-up cocktails as well. Between the Fulham/Man U game and then the Irish music that was playing afterwards, we called it a night relatively early in preparation for the big hike.

Riverside Shuttle picked up us up at the hotel at 7:30, which left us no time for breakfast before our departure. We picked up several other passengers on our way, including a group from the UK and Canada as well as several natives. While waiting at the second pick-up point, we considered grabbing a snack before we left - but never actually picked up anything as we were concerned the shuttle would leave us. Instead, we were able to entertain ourselves with the one British woman being continually hassled to purchase various goods ... and after saying repeatedly she had no cash, finally succumbed to have them leave. Occurred multiple times, by multiple street vendors - which kept the rest of the shuttle safe from hagglers.

We left a little after 8:15 and didn't stop until 1:00, which - in hindsight - was a good thing we didn't get any breakfast/liquids. We drove through several Kenyan villages and side-roads (detours off the SMOOTH highways ... and on dirt roads ... bumpy & dusty in open windows), arriving at the boarderound 1:30. The actual crossing of the border was very simple, especially since we had picked up the visas in the UK. Continued through the mountains of Tanzania, arriving in Arushi around 3:00 and Moshi around 4:30. I have lots of pictures to share, but since we're limited on the Internet time, just thought I'd provide the high-level details now. More to come, don't you fret!!!!

Check-in went smoothly, and we met with our guide (TOM) at 5:00 to debrief about the plan for this evening & tomorrow. Kate & I have already packed (6:45 PM here) and are killing some down-time before dinner at 7:30. Breakfast starts at 6:30 AM tomorrow and we need to be ready to leave by 8:00 (bus departure at 8:30). We still have a few things to rent from the equipment store but other than than that, we're re-hydrating, resting and getting excited for the 7-day climb that starts tomorrow. We'll be back with an update on Tuesday, March 22 - so until then, hold tight! Thanks again for everyone's support on this; it means the world to us!!!

Signing off from Tanzania,


Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm platinum biatch ...

Well, ladies and gentle-folk ... we're sitting here with a 45 minute iBAHN internet card and a sticky european keyboard. Hold on, wait a minute .... don't stop, 'til you get it, get it ...

Okay. Back to life, back to reality. We're giving you the DL from London ... and what a journey it has been. To start, Kate/Beth made to NYC on Tuesday evening and I followed soon after on Wednesday am (just to miss the underwear bomber). I (erika) met Kate (Beth) and the real Kate in Brooklyn (you guys don't know her - I didn't either) to kill some time. We spent 3 hours at the Strand, the greatest bookstore ever, and then spent the rest of our tenure in NYC wandering in a circle for passport pictures to get our Tanzanian visas. Don't worry - there's always "one on the corner" of broadway and canal).

We finally found the sketchiest vendor in all of NYC after walking from Brooklyn to Manhatten. As one co-author found out, the other co-author looked like a meth-head. Little did the meth-head know, you can't smile, wear glasses or earrings during picture time. (Note to all you followers: Ask to see her Tanzanian visa).

Reunited again, with nothing to do but catch a flight ... the authors decided to visit a zebra bar (BIG surprise!). We were brainstorming HOW we could get our hands on Rupleminz - to no avail (To date: We've tried 10 venues - no such luck). We pulled it together and boarded our flight (VS10). As we were ansty during our flight, we mingled around (like LAUREN!!) and went to first-class. Little did we know, we met our first celebrity of our trip - to be discussed later ....

Arrival in London was nothing to talk about; the Heathrow Express was broken ... no bodies on it --- but just wasn't working (welcome to the UK). We arrived, ate some Indian, took a nap ... and prepared for an evening in London. Ventured to Piccadilly and picked up half-price tickets for Billy Elliot. Headed east to Leicester Square, only to see our new boyfriend, Gerard Butler (see our PICS!!! If he looks tired, we know - but he looked like shit on the flight). Jennifer Aniston was jealous, but she got over it.

We had to leave them alone, as Billy was calling our names - as were a few glasses of wine. Brilliant show; Kate/Beth has now decided (again) that she's going to take up tap dancing. Anyone need a date??? Erika will continue on karoake (thanks, mom).

Erika took Kate/Beth down memory lane, only leaving her twice (in pure excitement) to catch the tube before it left. Had a drink at the Malt House. Unfortunately, Frannie was not there, but we enjoyed our drinks regardless.

Bright eyed and bushy-tailed is how Americans rise in Britain! Yeah. Not so much. We headed to the Tanzania house to turn in our mug shot (ask to see pictures) only to be told it'd be rushed (/not happening) for a 4 hour turn-around. Luckily, Kate looked really pretty in her passport show (see above), so he expedited our visas. That - plus some cash. This is Africa (TIA - that's for you, real Kate). In all honesty, we'd love to give a shout-out to the attendant at the Tanzania House. Thanks for processing our visas so quickly!

NOTE TO ANYONE GOING TO TANZANIA: Get your visa in advance.

In celebration of getting our visas, we ventured off to explore London. Portobello Market called; we saw great art, antiques and - of course - a watering hole or two. Sad to say, Erika did NOT purchase the art she's been pining after for four years - but there's always another time. As for Beth, she went to a "resting point (Kristi - you know this one)" - only to discover it's the London version of Stadium Bar & Grill.

You all thought the excitement stopped there, didn't you? NOPE! Headed to Reading, England, to see some of Erika's co-workers. Some things never change ... but you also learn new games. Pass the keyboard. Type a sentence. Repeat.

(Kristi: How were your messages??)

We started a new game on the way back. Erika knew her way around Reading/London ... and Kate/Beth decided she did too. Erika said "fine" ... you lead the way. Worked fine and dandy until Erika couldn't get into the tube (FYI: The 13th time she was denied today - again, we have pictures). Erika met "assistance" again, only to see the blind NOT leading the blind. After finding alternative routes (due to bodies on the track), the twinsies made it back to Kensington.

Ladies & Gentleman ... keep your eyes peeled, because things are starting to light up!!!!

Signing off at 1:30AM (your happy hour). Stalk you soon!


Monday, March 8, 2010

The countdown has begun ...

The countdown has begun … only three more days until the trip of a lifetime! Tons of progress has been made since the last post (clearly – that was months ago), but nothing seemed worthwhile of your reading … so here we are now! Kate/Beth & I are booked and ready to roll. Itinerary as of now:

-Wednesday, March 10: Depart Chicago/Cincinnati --- JFK. Depart JFK at 10:25
-Thursday, March 11: Arrive in London
-Friday, March 12: London
-Saturday, March 13: London. Depart for Nairobi at 9:20
-Sunday, March 14: Arrive in Nairobi. Day in Nairobi.
-Monday, March 15: Depart Nairobi to Moshi (Tanzania)
-Tuesday, March 16: Begin the ascent of Kili.
-Wednesday, March 17: Kili (2)
-Thursday, March 18: Kili (3)
-Friday, March 19: Kili (4)
-Saturday, March 20: Kili (5)
-Sunday, March 21: Kili (6)
-Monday, March 22: Kili (7). Return to Base Camp/Springland Hotels overnight.
-Tuesday, March 23: Lake Manyara National Park Safari
-Wednesday, March 24: Ngorongoro Crater tour
-Thursday, March 25: Jungle Walk/Lake Chalu; Depart for Nairobi via shuttle
-Friday, March 26: Depart Nairobi 12:50/Arrive London.
-Saturday, March 27: Depart London (9:00)/Arrive JFK/Cincinnati/Chicago

A few changes were made due to flight issues, so we’re actually bypassing Zanzibar this time … and spending more time in the Tanzanian countryside. If only we took more time off work (!) and spent a bit of time here, we’d really get to do everything we wanted. If I had to do it again – or if I take the trip again – I’d definitely fly directly to Kilimanjaro (JRO) to cut down on some of the travel time to/from Nairobi … which would allow a lot more flexibility in our schedule.
Planning for the trip? Exciting, tedious and overwhelming at best. Shots all around … and no, not the ones that you typically associate with me:

-Yellow Fever
-Hepatitis A

Medicines? Of course. I’ve got Diamox, which will hopefully prevent me from succumbing to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I’ve got diarrhea meds, both prescription and over the counter … but don’t worry, I’m supposed to bring a laxative too. Maybe that isn’t mud on the mountain after all …

Malaria meds? Check. Taking them from 2 days before the trip and 30 days after. Had the option of the meds that provoke hallucinations and bypassed them for the ones with a side effect of sun sensitivity. Hello? Have they seen me? I’m a redhead with freckles. Already got that one covered!

QT at Dick’s Sporting Goods
Has anyone spent a lengthy amount of time in the hiking section at Dick’s Sporting Goods? Let me tell you, while it seems like a fun time, I used the term “fun” loosely. I spent about 4 hours there last Saturday, which really allowed me to catch up on the Olympics (yep – still no cable at 120 Garfield Place) and then returned to Dick’s again this Saturday to pick up more of what I didn’t have. The bonus this time was that I didn’t have to spend 4 hours there since I already knew the layout of the land (cut it back to 1.5 this week). Fortunately, I was able to spend the rest of the afternoon scouring Walgreen’s for all the necessities for the trip. By the end of it, I had racked up a significant chunk of money and had 3 full bags of toiletries when I arrived home. I’m a walking pharmacy now … prepared for almost anything!

The Actual Climb!
We begin the actual climb on Tuesday, March 16 and are climbing with Zara Tours:

Beth had friends who have done this climb before and the individuals we have been in contact with seem extremely helpful and knowledgeable. The group has also gotten rave reviews in various Tanzania/Kili books – so we’re looking forward to our trek. Before and after our hike, we’ll be staying at the Springland Hotel in Moshi, which looks like a fantastic place to relax and recover after the grueling 7-day hike:

We'll spend Tuesday afternoon at the hotel for some R&R before leaving on our two day safari:

We’ll return from that and have a free morning on Thursday before departing for Nairobi and our return to the USA.

I’ll update the blog as time and connectivity permits in London, Nairobi and Moshi, but expect an update as soon as we arrive back to camp on the 22nd. I’m looking forward to a fantastic trip and am thankful for everyone’s support and well wishes as we embark. Talk to you all soon!