To Moshi, Tanzania via Amsterdam, The Netherlands; June 23-26, 2010

Except for Morocco and the Seychelles, Africa is a continent that's largely eluded our family travels. For years we've been planning to visit the heart of Africa once the kids were old enough to safely try climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Finally, here we are!

The most convenient flights to Tanzania are on KLM Airlines through Amsterdam. Since Holland also has eluded our family travels, we decided to stay for two nights en route. All photos in this travelog are from Amsterdam, courtesy of Tim.

One aspect of our stopover yielded almost as much anticipation as Africa: Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra is often considered the best in the world, and on the very night we were coming to Amsterdam, the orchestra was performing Mahler's 5th Symphony, considered by some (especially brass players and percussionists) to be one of the best pieces in the world. It was fate! We were not deterred that the concert had been sold out for months: Jennifer's administrative assistant's nephew (got that?) happens to work part-time for the Concertgebouw and was able to snag two tickets for us. We lucked into two more that were returned at the last minute, most likely due to Holland's World Cup game the same evening. Every seat was filled, and the concert more than met our expectations.

On past trips, the kids (Emily in particular) have read voraciously. No matter how many books we bring it never seems to be enough -- we've tracked down English-language books in all corners of the globe. This time would be different: We bought an Amazon Kindle, the one e-reader whose battery could last through our treks, and loaded it up with 17 books Emily was dying to read. Well... no sooner did we land in Amsterdam than the Kindle went on the fritz and, after an hour with Amazon's customer service (thank goodness for internet phone), it was declared unrevivable. Good thing it happened in Amsterdam and not on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro -- Amsterdam has some excellent bookstores. So much for technology.

Aside from the concert and the bookstores, we hit Amsterdam's main tourist highlights: museums, canals, parks, squares, markets, and, to the kid's embarrassment, the infamous red light district. Then it was on to Africa.

Our stay in Tanzania divides neatly into three parts.
After one day settling into our home-base town of Moshi, we'll begin with a four-day hike up Mt. Meru, a 14,900' volcano reputed to have abundant wildlife on its lower slopes and, higher up, a wonderful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the African plains. We'll stay in established mountain huts, while beginning the acclimatization process for 19,300' Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We'll spend a night in Moshi between the two climbs, then set off for the nine-day Kilimanjaro trek, this time staying in tents. Although Mt. Kilimanjaro is indeed very high, its summit can be reached by regular hiking trails. The major challenge, by far, is altitude. Only 40% of hikers successfully reach the summit, but a large fraction of those who fail are trying the far too quick five-day Marangu Route. (Most of those are budget travelers who can barely scrape together the hefty per-day permit costs even for the shortest route.) Our much longer Lemosho Route has a much higher success rate, and our Mt. Meru warm-up increases our chances even further. Nevertheless, we certainly don't take it for granted we'll reach the summit. If we do, and are feeling good, we have one dose of unusual adventure planned: a night in the crater itself, camped by the fabled and dwindling Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Regardless of how slowly one ascends Mt. Kilimanjaro, everyone comes down the same way: a 15,000' steep descent to the closest trailhead in just 1½ days. How our legs and knees will feel after that is hard to fathom, but we won't need them much: After a good shower and another overnight in Moshi, we'll finish up with a five-day safari, hitting the major highlights of Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti plain. Guess who will be in photo heaven?

With the frequent power outages in Tanzania and short changeovers between major activities, it's hard to know when our next travelog will be posted, but we'll do our best to keep in touch.


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