Travel and Escape : Guided
Friday, March 21, 2008
Travel Time:
January-February 2008

Peripheral Information:
It was a strange journey to Kilimanjaro as I flew into Nairobi and expected to take the 6 hour bus ride to Moshi. However, the political situation in Kenya was rocky and though it best to get out of dodge without driving through the countryside on a bus. I took the Precision Air flight (rather scary planes) which take about 45 min.

This was the end of one of the fairly good hiking seasons. Weather was humid but once on the mountain it was cool/dry/sunny...much like Colorado. Day off the mountain (Feb 6th) it POURED and quite a bit of new snow on the mountain. Rainy season means SNOW, lots of it, on the mountain as well as muddy trails.

I'd been on the road for about 4 weeks before starting Kilimanjaro....two weeks in Argentina and Chile leading a Dragon's Path hike with 14 great folks from Breckenrige, then back to the US for 10 hours and connect to Capetown for my Inernational Organization Systems Development program..then a couple of days with my foreign exchange sister in Cape Town.

When I finally arrived in Moshi I was a bit ready for a break...which wasn't going to happen!
Reviewer Background:
I've never been too interested in climbing Kilimanjaro...not too into ascents. I'd rather do point to point, long distance trips with interesting cultural features. However, I was going to Africa and thought I needed to try it. It was sort of a big birthday and needed a physical challenge.
Review:
I'd been in Africa (South Africa) for about 10 days before my arrival in Nairobi. All actually went well there but the political situation was very much effecting not only tourists but all associated businesses. Flights were canceled and their was a feeling of anxiety in the air. I ended up spending a night a the small lodging of a great Spurwing Tours and then the following day visiting an orphanage near, the Giraffe Center and then the Norbie Game Park. My flight left relatively on time but the airport, wait and long long day left me exhausted.

The tour didn't start out well. I obtained my visa at the airport ($100) and need to show my yellow fever proof of vaccination...(which I had decided to get though I was told it was not mandatory) in Denver during my few hours home. Thank God and they would have given me the shot at the airport. After picking up my trekking bag I exited to find no sign with my name (always dreading that) and then the only person there with a "Zara" t-shirt (the company I thought I was traveling with) told me I was not with Zara though he did know Robin, owner of Adventures Within Reach, a friend from Boulder who I booked the tour with. I then learned that Robin wasno longer working with Zara.

Fortunately I guy I met on the plane was going to the Keys Hotel (the name of my hotel..so I thought) and he offered to let me ride with his transfer taxi the hour to Moshi. All was good!! Until I arrived at the hotel and realized there were two keys hotels and i was at the wrong one (the Keys II was the one I had been dropped at and looked much nicer than the one I ended up at.
Finally got dropped at the Keys...which I must say is quite a depressing set up but don't have time to go into that other than to say I would not stay there again.

Eco Tours (Phillip-Owner) ended up being at the hotel to meet me and tell my of course someone was at the airport (no, they were not...empty...) and that his company would be running my tour.

On to the Trek: I ended up doing the trek Solo...well, me, three porters, a good, assistant cook, guide and me...7 of us...for 5 nights 6 days. That is a lot of time.

The Rongai route was good. I would definitely recommend it. However it is easy...my days up until the summit were basically 1.5 to 2.5 hours of walking...tried to do extra in the afternoon but nothing like the 6-8 hours I was expecting. I'm a fast walker but really could have trail run the first four days in about 3-4 hours. I know...acclimatize!!

The best was that it was quiet..only 2-4 others at the same camp each night vs 200+ on many of the other routes. The weather was great...sunny, dry, hot during the day (like summer in Colorado mts) then cold at night...generally clear.

So here is the itinerary:
DAY 1: To Simba Camp (First Cave)

1950m to 2880m
6400ft to 9450ft
About 2 hours / 4 miles
Transfer by Land Rover (about ROUGH!!!! 4-5 hours) to the attractive wooden village of Nale Muru. After signing in and preparing the porters, you will begin the hike on a wide path that winds through fields of maize and potatoes before entering pine forest. The track then starts to climb consistently, but gently through attractive forest that shelters a variety of wildlife. The forest begins to thin out and the first camp is at the edge of the moorland zone with extensive views over the Kenyan plains. (2 hours)...there is a lodge near the start ...can't find it but I would rather drive, get there, spend the night, and do the first two days from there in one day....we didn't start until 3pm or so.

DAY 2: To Second Cave

2880m to 3450m
9450ft to 11,320ft
About 1.5 hours / 4 miles
Temperatures: low 40's to high 60's F
The morning walk is a steady ascent up to the Second Cave with superb views of Kibo and the Eastern ice fields on the crater rim.

DAY 3 To Third Cave

3450m to 3870m
11,319ft to 12,700ft
About 2 hours

DAY 4 To Kibo Camp

3870m to 4750m
12,713ft to 15,600ft
About 2.5 hours

Hike to Kibo campsite at the bottom of the Kibo crater wall. The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent before a very early night!
This is the first place I saw the masses of hikers. I asked to camp away from them and had a quite camp close to the lower rocks. In hindsite it might have been good to actually go up the mountain mid day rather than at night. Weather changes and you don't get sunrise but if you get cold...well.

Day 5: Asscent: I left camp at 1:00 am and began the long hike slowly in the darkness on a switchback trail through loose volcanic scree to reach the crater rim at Gillman’s Point (5685m,18,650ft).Though I started an hour later than most I still made it to Gillman’s far too early and very cold. Not what I needed to be told to slow down in order to make the summit for sunrise at Uhuru Peak. At that point I could have cared less about the sunrise and just wanted to hit the point and go back down. However, I slowed down, froze further if that is possible, and arrived at the peak at 6:20am. The sunrise is incredible and definitely the highlight of the hike. The glaciers of course make it all worthwhile. Less than two weeks earlier I had been viewing the Patagonian Ice-field Glaciers and now here I was in Africa.

The route back to Gillman’s allows for photo time and ideally to let the sun start to warm you. The descent, about 2 solid hours surfing scree, seemed endless. Back to camp for 45 min then a 6 miles walk to Horombo that seems pleasant at the start and then unending two hour later.

Day 6: one of my favorite walks...through rain forest. A steady descent takes us down through moorland to Mandara Hut (2700m / 8858 ft), the first stopping place at the Marangu route. Great path to the National Park gate at Marangu. At lower elevations, it can be wet and muddy.

A vehicle meets us at Marangu village to drive you back to your hotel in Moshi ...POURING RAIN all the way back ...about an hour or so drive.

Full day in Moshi which I could definitely do without.
Read
Best Time to Travel:
December, January, July, August, September
Operators:
Adventures Within Reach (US booking agent/Tour Operator)
Eco-Tours: Moshi based company
Finally...:
Great experience, not sure if I would do it again but glad I did. Only downside other than the hotel really was that I ended up working/consulting for free most of the the trip training the staff and owner of EcoTours on how to run a better trip. I generally don't mind helping folks out but this is what I do for a living and I was paying for the trip. I was somewhat disappointed that they really didn't have a lot of experience how to create trips targeting the type of guests (boomer and beyond, North Americans) I take. The guide and cook were more than happy to take all my suggestions and everyone seem thrilled that I was helping them create better trips that they felt could differentiate themselves from the 100's of tour operators. Yeah, seems like everyone runs pretty much the same or similar operation.

Compared to Peru and Nepal these operators have a lot to learn

View the Gallery Photos!
Reviewed by Kathy Dragon

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Monday, December 19, 2005
Review:
As a frequent guest on my tours once said, before you travel anywhere else you always have to ask yourself, "why not Italy". With incredible diversity of scenery, terrain, food, wines, and SHOPPING take a look at some of our favorites when planning your next visit.

A few places we recommend.. In Florence: Great small B&B/family residence with beautiful rooms in the heart of Florence (no elevator so light on the luggage) Locanda de Ciompi For more of a hotel experience, we recommend the Hotel Silla, excellent service, rooms, terrace and good location. Good restaurants in the area for a local experience: Osteria dei Benci, Osteria del Bricco.

Off to the Hills! Great hill villages in Tuscany away from the crowds: Montefollonico: very small but with 2-3 EXCELLENT restaurants, wine bars and shops. Our good friends property outside of Montalpulciano, you can walk to Montalpulciano for lunch (about 2 hours), come back for a nap, have an aperitif on the deck and enjoy some of the best food we have tasted in Italy. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Website: Locanda la Costa Manager: Paolo & Paola Masini For a bit more action, try the home of Brunello Wines: Vino Brunello di Montalcino! In Montalcino: more Italians vacation here than americans so it is a lively, delightful hill village. Great restaurants, wine bars, shops, a castle (with Burnello tastings offered) and great access to all the more popular tourist villages (Sienna, Montalpulciano, Pienza etc) We enjoy.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

And finally, for a fascinating unique stay visit the town of Bagno Vignoni (old Roman Spa town with the water-filled square) here we recommend Locanda del Loggiato Very small B&B with 6 wonderful rooms. Owned by two sisters. At night enjoy their wine bar across the street.
Send us you personal favorites: Tour companies, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, places you would tell your (good) friends about...

Best Time to Travel:
May/June
September/October
Anytime!!

Reviewed by Kathy Dragon

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Sunday, October 23, 2005
Travel Time:
Winter 2005

Review:
My friend Leslie Ross, founder of Babes in the Backcountry, traveled to Peru with me on The Dragon's Path Women's Inca Trail Trek last fall. This winter she invited me to join her on a women's hut trip to Francie’s Cabin, located in the Crystal Lakes Basin, 4 miles south of Breckenridge, CO. Francie’s was the second cabin built in the Summit Huts System. The other two huts are Janet’s Cabin, near Copper Mt. and the Section House, located on top of Boreas Pass Road. Amenities at Francie’s Cabin include a wood stove for heat, solar powered lights, indoor composting toilet, completely furnished kitchen with pots, pans and dishes, a wood burning sauna (clothing optional) and twin size sleeping pads and pillows.

I was a bit hesitant as I had never "skinned" up or "tele" skied down a snow covered trail, being an avid alpine skier. I agreed to join as long as I could resort to snow shoes if needed. I met my fellow ski babes for Backcountry Skills Day, a well planned out introduction to backcountry travel including a slide show on avalanche awareness, beacon & probe uses, and an assortment of new techie things that I love. Our afternoon was spent outside covering travel techniques including a skills tour/skinning, hiking, route finding along with "find the beacon in the snow" games.

Our departure the following morning was under one of those cloudless blue skies that only those who live in mountain communities above 9000 ft can understand. My pack was full of gear (I'm a gear fanatic, did I tell you this?) and to my delight we were able to test all the new Patagonia gal pieces (layers, fabrics and colors...oh my!).
Add to that: Sturdy overnight backpack · Sleeping bag · Head Lamp · Backcountry skis with metal edges or sturdy snowshoes · Heavy-duty boots (i.e. telemark, alpine touring boots or sturdy waterproof hiking boots with gaiters) · Climbing skins, split board or snowshoes · Adjustable poles, ski poles or touring poles · Warm outdoor clothes (layers)-parka and ski pants · 2 pair of ski socks (no cotton) · 2 pair of thermals (no cotton) · Ski hat and baseball type of hat · Goggles and sunglasses · Heavy gloves and light weight gloves · Hut slippers (or shoes for the hut) · Comfortable clothes for the hut · Towel for the sauna (clothing optional) · Water for the trail (water bottle and water hydration system) · Favorite snacks and favorite evening beverages · Sunscreen, Personal items, Repair kit/first aid kit · Avalanche transceiver, Shovel, Probe pole, Slope meter, Compass

and my pack was full...OH WAIT, the FOOD! No worries as all the food (and vino!) was brought in by snowmobile and sleds and all catered by a wonderful chef Nancy Hallett of A Chef's Touch.com. Also incorporated into the weekend were introductions to Acupuncture, Naturopathic Medicine, Massage Therapy, and Integrative Kinesiology all facilitated by practitioners from Sacred Tree an institute for the healing arts in Breckenridge.

Back to the skiing, the "Skins" (they are sticky sort of rugs that go on the bottom of the skis to enable you to climb uphill) worked great, we arrived at the hut in no time, well, in time for lunch! The afternoon ski allowed us to test out some telemark (tele) turns on very gradual slopes so we felt like Rock Stars (well, not exactly). Pre dinner was spent enjoying the wood burning Sauna, reading, chopping wood (for those with too much energy) and napping (I choose the latter). After a fantastic happy hour and dinner we enjoyed a full moon ski before heading to our comfortable bunks oh, and the girls especially appreciated the indoor bathrooms. Day 2 was more of the same, skiing, eating, and relaxing on the sun filled deck before heading back to Breckenridge for mid-afternoon departure to reality. It was the perfect learning/fun/girl escape.

I loved the experience thanks Leslie!

Operators:
Babes in the Backcountry

Reviewed by Kathy Dragon

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Friday, October 21, 2005
Travel Time:
May 2005

Peripheral Information:
Wonderful spring weather in Winter Park. At an altitude of over 9000ft the weather can be iffy at this time of year in the mountains.
Reviewer Background:
I used to live in Winter Park and spent many hours running and mt. biking on the trails. I LOVE the trail system in Winter Park and the Fraser Valley, CO!
Review:
Just back from a wonderful Women's Quest Performance Running Retreat in Winter Park, CO (my old playground!). From Wednesday-Sunday women from all over the country stayed at the Woodspur Lodge and trained with the likes of Colleen Cannon (world class triathlete and owner of Women's Quest), Lorraine Moller (Olympic Medal Winner in the Women's Marathon, Barcelona 1992), and Syl (professional runner and triathlete).

Sure, Winter Park and the Fraser Valley offers over 500 miles of mapped trails and is a mt. biker and trail runners heaven, but the running retreat, co-sponsored by Brooks, offered much more than daily runs.

Each day began with Gyro Yoga followed by 1.5 hour trail runs, running drills, indoor sessions on nutrition, running techniques and proper shoe fit, mental awareness and "Hero’s Quest" sessions, pyramid training, pilates, Ropes Confidence Course, mountain biking, swimming and of course great food and fun.
On Sunday the group heads down to Boulder to prepare for the annual Bolder Boulder 10 Km race held on Memorial Day. With over 46,000 runners expected we’ll catch up with the gals post race.

Best Time to Travel:
Summer for running and biking. Winter for skiing and snowshoeing

Reviewed by Kathy Dragon

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Monday, October 17, 2005
Travel Time:
July 2005

Review:
The village of Trakai, the medieval Capital of Grand Lithuanian Dukedom situated among lakes, is one of the most popular attractions in Lithuania. Our small group enjoyed the evening outdoor opera that takes place within the castle during summer evenings.

The castles of Trakai are the best known works of defensive architecture in Lithuania. The old town of Trakai, which includes the Island and the Peninsula Castles, surrounded by lakes, is one of the most impressive and picturesque locations in Europe. Here still reside small national minority of Karaites, who were brought from the Crimea by the Grand Lithuanian Duke Vytautas. Vytautas the Great is considered the national hero in Lithuania mainly due to his victorious commandment of Grunwald battle (Zalgiris) in 1410.

After visiting Trakai Island Castle, which contains the Museum of History and exposition of Applied Arts, we walked to Uztrakis Park on the bank of the lake and joined locals for a swim. Our walk continued along the banks of the lake Galve to the Uztrakis Park where we hitched a ride from a restored medieval vessel Kurenas waiting for us and sailed around the castle and islands.

Our afternoon adventure included an trip by airboat to the bog and then a VERY muddy bog exploration...well, that will have to be another entry as the Bog Adventure now goes down in history as one of the strangest events I have ever taken part in grin



Best Time to Travel:
Summer, ideally during the season of the song festivals

Reviewed by Kathy Dragon

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