Sprinklings of Brown, Yellow, and White over Tanzania

All my travels prior to Tanzania have been more spontaneous than planned; a rough itinerary of "must-do and must-see," a few photocopies of Lonely Planet maps, and a pocket dictionary of useful phrases in the local language were pretty much all I needed to feel ready to take on any country.

Backpacking adventures through the Middle East? The only tools necessary to enjoy Arabian nights in a Bedouin tent, camel riding bareback, and 3 am wake-up calls from the village mosques are practiced patience, the willingness to drink bottomless cups of chai, and occasional proclamations of "Insha Allah," "Bismidlah," and "Masha Allah."

The chaos that India exudes from every pore? Combated with an early acceptance that I would be a permanent shade browner (read: filthier) for 6 months, an insatiable curiosity to try every curry, puri, paratha, and kofta sold in a street cart, an adopted dexterity for staring back when stared at, and the confidence to battle nightly with bedbugs.

Peruvian treks in spite of a swine flu epidemic and a warning by the CDC to avoid South America? Easily overcome with the itch to practice my rusty Spanish, an embrace of avocados, churros, and empanadas, a quick willingness to convince myself that underwear and a non-white bra can always be a substitute for a swimsuit when I stumble on thermal hot springs in the middle of the Andes, and the thriftiness of rotating 2 shirts over 5 weeks.

It would only be common sense to assume that my trip to Tanzania would be approached - dove into - with the same spontaneity and zest of prior adventures. Wrong.
Complete, 180* deviation from the "Minimal Planning = Maximum Fun" style. Three months prior to Tanzania, the mastermind of the group, Karthik B., sent our entire 11-person troupe of travelers an Excel spreadsheet that laid out in painstaking detail when, where, and how each segment of the trip would be spent.
The hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro was planned to a tee - what route we would take, an entire list of necessary (and often superfluous) gear to bring to ensure a successful summit, and even how much we should budget for tips.
Our transportation from airport to hotel, and from Arusha to Machame, was prearranged. My expectation of having to fight for a seat on an overcrowded bus was never met: Karthik B. and the tour agency made sure that a van or safari jeep shuttled us 11 Americans to our pre-determined locations.
It still boggles me - the difference in service that 3 months advance planning, and a couple of thousand dollars, can afford you. I have to admit, as much as I thrive off of spontaneous decisions to hitchhike 30 km west to visit a Jain temple or to hop on the roof of a bus so that I can make the red-eye train to Calcutta, having a 2-week itinerary laid out, and not worrying about where I'm going to sleep each night, made the trip...easy. Breathable. Organized.
Especially when traveling in a group of 11 diverse experiences, expectations, and energies, having a Karthik B. among the group to organize the logistics made for smooth sailing to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and through the Serengeti.

Not to say the rest of us didn't add any dynamic to the group, though. The whole crew formally met the night before we started on the 6-day Machame route to 5895 meters on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and over the course of a too-short 12-day vacation, bonded over discussions of how many times we peed each night at high altitude and indigestion problems, debates over whether Milo or Cadbury's made better hot cocoa, and sleepless nights huddled in damp sleeping bags.
  • Karthik B - Kudos for bringing together a hodgepodge of South Indians, a duet of Asian giggles, and some white m'gunzus for an unforgettable (and stinky) whirlwind of Tanzanian peaks, ugali, wildlife, and culture.
  • Sue - Way to kick corporate in the booty and good luck with taking San Francisco by the horns.
  • K2 - I'm still disappointed that I didn't capture a picture of the rat/mouse/rodent for you.
  • Amrit - It still cracks me up when I picture your 20-second spurt post-Stella Point, overtaking Megan, then plopping firmly down on a rock.
  • Nick - Your 2 Ibuprofen tablets saved me from those high-altitude sun headaches.
  • Megan - It's just the beginning, baby. Rainier in July, Aconcagua in December.
  • Lizzy - Cheers to a traveling first-aid kit.
  • Elle - Who else could make running spandex with hiking boots look sexy on the Machame trail? Oh yeah, and Hakuna Matata is from the Lion King. And Sound of Music was not filmed in San Francisco.
  • Vijay - Our hero. Strolling into base camp after 15 hours of hiking, then being carried down on a stretcher-turned-wheelbarrow; anyone who overcomes dehydration and summits Kili will henceforth be known as "pulling a Vijay."
  • Phebe - Na Ku Penda, Pacha.
Thanks, Kili crew, for an epic Tanzanian experience. It's ALWAYS Kili time.

If you prefer pictures over words, click here to view my Tanzania album.

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