Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Steps on Planning a Trip to Kilimanjaro & Recommendation on Local Guides

In my previous post, I shared some stories during my trip to Kilimanjaro this October. Here are a full set of steps which can help you plan a successful trip to this great mountain, and also, a recommendation on local guides.

Why Kilimanjaro?

The reason for climbing Kilimanjaro may differ from one to one. Many people whom I met on the mountain told me that it was their dream. If you need a reason, the following facts may help you:
  • Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, at 5,895 metres above sea level.
  • It is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Free-standing means it stands alone and is not part of a mountain range.
  • It is one of the world's largest volcanoes.
  • It has permanent glaciers covering the summit area, while it is only three degrees of latitude south to the Equator.

Can I Make It?
The first step is to check whether your are physically suitable for the climb. Although climbing Kilimanjaro is not technical, I still advise you to take a medical checkup before you decide to climb Kilimanjaro. Consult your doctor with your medical checkup report. Your doctor should be able to advise whether you can proceed and if you can, what should be noticed before and during the climb.

Time to Climb
To avoid the two rainy seasons, the good periods to climb Kilimanjaro are mid of December to end of February in the next year, and June to October. The former is a bit warmer than the latter in terms of temperature.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Dream Tour to Kilimanjaro

During my high school time, I read a short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story centers on the last memories of a writer who lies on the safari near Mount Kilimanjaro, awaiting his slow death caused by an infected wound. His memory is full of regret that he has not been doing what he should have as a writer. In a dream before he dies, a plane takes him to the top of Kilimanjaro. The story impressed me and forced me to think about the meaning of life. It sowed a seed in my heart to keep on my own way, to be the true myself, and be dare to fulfill my dreams without any regret. Before I graduated, I wrote a to-do-list for myself to celebrate the start of my real life. One item in the list is to climb up Kilimanjaro and view its snow cap on the Equator.

I marked this item in October this year, five years after I wrote it down in the to-do-list. The Seven-day Machame Route on Kilimanjaro was like a dream, interleaved by moments of excitement, pleasure, fantasy, achievement and thankfulness. What I would like to share here are the pieces of memories that I will never forget about.

Into the Forest
After Machame Gate, I stepped into the forest and shook my hand with Kilimanjaro. The mountain welcomed me with towering old trees and sporadic wild flowers. The trees blocked the afternoon sun light, as well as the snow cap high above. For the mountain, I was a child, excited by every single plant which I saw for the first time in my life, breathing the fresh air released by the aged lives. For the mountain, I was also a pilgrim, although uncertain about what would happen in the following days, still walking every step with faith.

Kilimanjaro Impatiens *

Above the Sea of Clouds
It was a bit foggy in the morning. I left the forest behind and climbed up a ridge of heath land. The route was steep and continuously heading up. Looking up to the top of the rocks, a bunch of everlasting flowers was smiling under the sunshine.

Soon after a while, the fog dissipated. I realized that I was already above the sea of clouds. The snow cap of Kibo was clearly showing her face. Taking a deep breath, the pleasant air flowed into my heart. I felt that I was at a higher level of the world, one step closer to the heaven.

A Torch Lily growing above the sea of clouds,
with Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tips & Tricks for Travelling (cheap) in French Polynesia

The biggest challenge of French Polynesia, FP (or usually called the Islands of Tahiti) for the average traveller is cost. This place is freaking expensive. The main reason as you could imagine is that it is in the middle of nowhere and there is hardly any livestock farming or consumer goods manufacturing.. this means most things are imported from their closest neighbours New Zealand, Australia or US - coupled with the cost of shipment, storage and low demand (there is less than 300,000 inhabitants!),  the most basic offerings can cost an arm and a leg.

For our own trip, here are some tips and tricks to save some cash and little stuff that will hopefully make small but meaningful difference in your trip..

It is all about the money, money..

1. Salon du Tourisme

Find friends in Tahiti.. if the concept of 6' of separation holds through.. you should know someone that knows someone in Tahiti.. or make new friends.. this is crucial as there are travel fairs that targets locals/residents of Tahiti to visit the other islands. Here is the link: http://www.salondutourisme.pf/

Unfortunately you need to be physically there to make find deals and bookings, hence the need for a local friend.. some packages might explicitly require you to be a resident of FP but lots of them don't.

The best deals are usually for expensive over-water bungalows in these luxurious resorts that goes from usually USD 1000/night upwards.. you can get something which is like a 50-70% savings which still doesn't make it cheap.. but at least it is within reach for a few nights of stay. There are of course also the regular accommodations and mixing them up will keep the cost under-control. With the special deal we had, we spent 3 glorious nights in Sofitel Moorea.

>> Watch for basic comforts
Word of caution though, if you are on a shoestring budget ask yourself what are the basic comforts that you need.. once out of the main islands, air conditioning, electric mosquito repellents and even hot water can be a luxury!! So do ask in advance and don't take it for granted that you will have it.

The sparsely populated islands are a treat.. there is more sea life, the beach is usually more pristine, life is more natural.. with less humans - there is just less disturbance to nature. However.. it is all about the money money.. the cost goes exponentially up with these island.. there would be no petrol station.. some small islands within the islands still uses a generator for electricity and everything is brought in by plane or ship weekly or even less frequently.. So you could be staying in something REAAAALLY basic for USD 200/night and something for luxurious doubles the price.. so do gauge what you think are minimum comforts that you need and if the cost doesn't correspond to that.. well, perhaps you need to skip it or do very minimum number of nights stay.. 

2. Air Tahiti multi-island tours

There is only one way to fly.. Air Tahiti is the only commercial airline doing local routes. There is a multi-island pass that will save you some money if you want to visit beyond Tahiti and Bora-Bora. See here:

This is very important.. you need to plan where you want to visit then check back to see if the connections are feasible.. many small island do not have daily flight so you need to be able to plan accordingly.. we took the Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass and visited Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa & Tikehau in 3 weeks. We wanted to visit Marquesas Islands, but alas, cost was a barrier..

3. Stay with the heard

So contrary to the 'normal' instinct to stay away from tourist areas - Tahiti, Bora Bora and Raiatea offers more cheap accommodations and cheap eats simply because there are more people there and enough for them to have supermarkets for example. I found Raiatea to be the cheapest in terms of what you can get for quality over money.. but I'd make another post on the islands that we visited and their 'characteristics' later. Rule of thumb.. more people, cheaper.. but with less people and no major hotels, these islands are far more rustic and fits into your image of:

In the world of FP, this:

is more expensive than this: