Saturday, January 7, 2012

Countdown T minus 4 days....

There is a pile of things on the floor in my bedroom. Correction, there are many piles of most of my things taking up all the floor space in my bedroom, but only one of the piles is ear-marked to get shoved into a back pack and taken to East Africa for a 5 week trip around Tanzania and Zanzibar, departing on 11th January. I am, once again, starting to get a bit nervous while simultaneously the excitement is building about my latest adventure. I have no idea what to expect when I get there.

OK, that's not 100% true. I have read several guide books and talked at length with a friend who is working out there at the moment and who has been giving me lots of advice, tips and reassurance, not to mention a promise of meeting me at the airport to ease my transition into this most mysterious of continents, so I have a theoretical idea at least. There have been lots of warnings (from the guide books) to keep a watchful eye over my belongings, warnings about not going here or there after dark/alone/carrying anything of value in case of muggings, warnings about bugs and parasites that will be queuing up to infest me if I give them even half a chance. But there have also been lots of positive things to look forward to, courtesy of my friend Kara, who can't stop raving about the friendly people, the amazing scenery, the food, the culture. I think she is more excited about my introduction to Africa than I am! I know which camp I am pitching my tent in.

Preparation for the trip has been on several levels. I got all my inoculations from South America updated (only about 4 extra jabs this time), collected my malaria pills and re-stocked my medical kit. I read a book (The Zanzibar Chest by Aiden Hartley) which, though fascinating and inspirational, was also horrifying and disturbing as it was both a biography of his father's life pioneering irrigation and agriculture in remote parts of Tanzania, as well as an autobiography of his own experiences as a front line reporter in the midst of the atrocities that were carried out in Uganda, Rwanda and Somalia. Eye opening might be more accurate. Read it.

Despite packing for the hottest time of the year, I have also had to plan for the extreme cold that will be at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 5895m, and the first big challenge of the trip (after getting out of the airport with all my belongings, obviously). Reading a couple of aid project websites the other day also gave me the idea of packing as much spare children's clothing as I can fit in, which I will be able to donate to any projects I encounter on the way. Once the Kilii trek is done (by no means a guaranteed success by the way - only 40-50% of people manage to get to the top) and the subsequent 3 day safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park is in the bag, I will spend a few days in Arusha where I hope to stay in local villages with local people, to get a taste of local life. It's here that I have contacted an organisation that runs volunteer projects throughout the country, and where I hope to deliver the clothes.

I have also prepared by trying to learn a little Kiswahili. Knowing the basic pleases and thank yous goes without saying, but I felt I got so much more from my time in South America because I made an effort to speak Spanish, which the locals clearly appreciated, so I wanted to try and get beyond the stock tourist phrases in Tanzania. I'm not sure how well I'm doing - there are virtually no familiar lingual references so everything has to be committed to memory - but I tried taking some Skype lessons with a chap in Kenya (the connection proved too unreliable to make this successful) and have taken out a "teach yourself Kiswahili" kit from the library (yeah, I know, who'd of thought they'd have one of those, right?) which is not as easy to use as I'd hoped. Still, we shall see, and it'll give me an ice breaker with the locals on the buses anyway.

The final, questionable preparation I have done is to try and acclimatize myself to the altitude of Kili by paying through the nose to take a 3 week course which consists of sitting with a breathing apparatus providing a nitrogen rich (and therefore oxygen poor) mix of air that is the equivalent of being at 7000m. The idea is that 4 x 7 minute cylces over 40 minutes , 5 days a week for 3 weeks will stimulate my body to produce extra red blood cells that will allow me to transport the thin air at the top of Kili more efficiently through my muscles. Could all be a lot of hokum, but if I'm going all that way, why not give myself the best chance? What I haven't been doing as much as I intended, and probably should have (and might have been more useful than some dodgy scientific theories), is exercising and improving my fitness. Oops. Too late now. I haven't been totally sedentary, I've just not been out hiking as much as I'd intended. Still, the mantra is apparently "go up like an old man, come down like a teenager", so I should be able to manage at least one of those....

So now, in the last few days before I leave, I'm dashing about trying to make sure I haven't forgotten some vital bit of kit/clothing/doobydad, trying to decide if I should take my diving fins or not, and making sure all the various rechargeable batteries are recharged. This entry has been your starter for 10. I hope to find reliable enough internet cafes about the place or, failing that, kind enough fellow travelers with laptops who will let me throw some thoughts, impressions and stories up as I move about. Photos will be added to the flickr link (I hope!). Once again, you're welcome to come along for the ride, just no fighting in the back seat, or I'll smack your knees. Tally ho.

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