Tanzania: My 7th Continent, A Mountain to Climb

This is a story of an old legal pad, a mountain in Africa, and a distant dream of shooting an honest game of golf under 90.

Tucked deep inside a cardboard box in Prague, Czech Republic, there’s a half-torn crumpled piece of yellow legal pad paper that reads somewhere in the middle, scribbled in blue ballpoint: “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.”

Those words date back to December 31, 1999. Audrey had been visiting me in San Francisco on a break from her Peace Corps stint in Estonia. As some people frantically stacked cans of beans in their cellars in anticipation of a Y2K meltdown, Audrey and I sipped coffees and each scrawled out “25 Things” – 25 things we’d hoped to do before we died. (If I were writing more formally, I’d call it an “exercise” and make it sound like something from an expensive self-help personal growth program you’d find in Skymall.)

On my legal pad I wrote, “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.” (Just under that, I incidentally also wrote, “Shoot an honest game of golf under 90.” Please, I’ve already been given a lot of grief about how uninspired that particular entry is.)

When our exercise concluded, Audrey and I compared lists. And wouldn’t you know it, she had “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro” on hers, too. Alignment. Nice.

But all these years living, traveling, and thinking about the world, Audrey and I somehow always missed our Africa landing. (In fairness, Audrey spent time in Africa growing up.)

No longer.

This Sunday, we fly to Tanzania to begin a tour with G Adventures (Tanzania Encompassed) that takes us to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to game parks like Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara to witness the migration of the wildebeests and catch a look at some of the Big 5 (elephants, leopard, lion, buffalo and rhino), and finally to Stonetown on the island of Zanzibar.

Why Tanzania?

Three things.

I want to see the real-live Wild Kingdom (Or, as some of you may remember from watching it as a kid “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”). Marlin Perkins’ voice would rise only slightly – the pounce! A poor zebra or gazelle sipping at the water’s edge was another animal’s lunch. Aerial shots of great movements of wildebeest running across the veldt spoke to lifecycles and the vastness of our small Earth.

Then, looking eastward to the Indian Ocean, there is Zanzibar. Spice markets, beaches, and thoughts of pirates (a friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania had taught me to say “Zanzibar!” with a pirate’s accent.) Arrrgh.

Finally, there’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain peak whose upper reaches are within our reach. A place where you can just put one foot in front the other and end up on the highest point on the African continent — that is if the altitude doesn’t get you.

While I know I have time to hone my golf game, all reports are that climate change is taking its toll on Kilimanjaro and its glaciers are retreating to the point that perhaps in my lifetime, they will be gone. I’d like to see them before they go.

Africa, My Final Continent

This trip to Africa also marks my seventh and final continent. Before I took my first trip abroad when I was 26, it never really occurred to me that I’d see them all.

From my first travels abroad, it will have taken me almost fourteen years.

My first steps were in Scranton, Pennsylvania in North America. In 1997, Hong Kong offered me a first glimpse of Asia while Sydney was my first touch down under. The following year in Europe, my first taste was an unlikely Tallinn, Estonia in the grayest of winters. Eleven years later, the crisp, blue skies of Quito, Ecuador welcomed me to South America, a long continent whose southern tip was the launch point for a frosty welcome to Hanusse Bay, Antarctica.

In a few days Moshi, Tanzania at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro will be my first taste of Africa.

Now, I feel this is all a bit unfair to Audrey whose life travels began 22 years before mine. But for her, one continent remains: Australia.

We need to do something about that.

Where Else in Africa?

Traveling to Tanzania and saying “I’ve been to Africa” strikes me as a bit unfair to the continent. It’s akin to saying, “I had a piece of that pie” when in fact you’d only eaten a fragment of crust just rubbed with filling. You think you know what the whole thing is like, but you really don’t — and you won’t be certain until you’ve tasted more.

So a taste of East Africa I’ll have. But there’s much more to East Africa than Tanzania. Add to that North Africa and the Sahara, West Africa and southern Africa and you’ve got yourself another lifetime of travel. This is just one of the ways in which Africa overwhelms me when I think about it.

But for now, Tanzania. I’d like to think of this journey as planting a seed of something bigger, much as our first trip to Asia together in 2004 planted the seed of our current travels.

And yes, I know. I still need to get that honest game of golf under 90.

But until then, I’ve got a mountain to climb.

—-

Follow our journey to Tanzania with us. We’ll be posting photos of our travels in Tanzania via Twitter (#dna2tanzania) and Facebook and in our photo gallery.

After this trip, we are going to be still for several months. I know, I know. We’ve been saying this for months, but barring an offer we absolutely cannot refuse, we actually mean it this time. The location, still to be finalized, points again to Berlin. Stay tuned.

Disclosure: Our tour to Tanzania is in cooperation with Gap Adventures as Wanderers in Residence. The opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Comments

  1. says

    Climbing the Kilimanjaro has been a long dream of me as well, especially now the ice is slowely disappearing I shouldn’t wait to long before I actually go there. Hope it goes well :)

  2. says

    @Tijmen: Big thanks, especially for the wishes that it all goes well. Although we’ve hiked Annapurna (450-500 meters short of Kili), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit concerned about the relatively quick ascent and the ability of my lungs and head to keep up. Ah, altitude sickness.

    Good point about Kilimanjaro’s ice. Don’t wait too long. Always good advice in life. Cheers to pursuing your dream!

  3. says

    Oh wow – Kilimanjaro! Am so jealous. I can’t wait to read all about your experiences. How wonderful that your partnership with Gap is allowing you to strike this item (and continent!) off your list.

    And yes, you must soon rectify Audrey’s having never been to Australia! Berlin might be funky but Sydney is sunny ;D

  4. says

    @Megan: Definitely looking forward to this experience and hoping it’s the first of many on the continent.

    As for Audrey, we must get her to Australia. There’s great irony here, actually. It was Audrey — only a weeks after we’d first met — who convinced me as I was planning my first trip abroad, that after India, I head to Australia instead of Indonesia. So I have her to thank.

    I’m still laughing, re: Berlin is funky, Sydney is sunny. Sounds like a mantra!

  5. says

    Yay for Africa stories! I have been dreaming about when I’ll get to that continent so I’m eager to read your stories…and that hike is on my 25 too. Will you be staying at all in the country after the GAP part or straight to settle in somewhere in Europe? :)

  6. says

    @Shannon: You’ve got a 25 with Kili on it? Great minds :)

    As for how long we’re staying in Tanzania/Africa, we are still sorting that out. Our trajectory is to head where we can work productively for a spell somewhere in Europe. We’ve been working on putting together a much longer trip to East Africa. So a return to Africa (multiple returns in fact) is in order.

  7. says

    Wow, it’s so exciting to read about Tanzania as I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in March of next year!! I’ll keep an eye on your experience to see how it goes and have a taste of what I’ll experience! :)

  8. Melanie@TravelsWithTwo says

    You guys, I’m so excited you’re finally getting to Tanzania — and with such a great company, no less! You’re going to have an amazing time…You simply can’t get your head around the scale of everything until you’re there. And really? You’ll get back to Africa, and so will we. It’s laughable to see the distances between things, the epic nature of the country, and then pull back on a map to see how little you’ve seen! Gotta start somewhere, though, and Tanzania is a VERY good place to start. :)

  9. says

    Just went to Tanzania in 2009. It was……..AMAZING! The Ngorongoro crater was everything I could have hoped for and more. Manyara and Stonetown did not disappoint either. Congrats on achieving a dream and have a BLAST!!! can’t wait to see your pics from the crater.

  10. says

    @Norbert: That’s terrific! It’s great to hear so many people trying to tackle Kili. We are in good company. I hope we have a little more inspiration to offer before your trip.

    @Melanie: Thanks for all your words of support and encouragement. I’m glad I’m not the only one overwhelmed by a map of Africa. The map of the world just doesn’t do the continent justice.

    @Claire: Thanks. I should be careful not to get TOO excited here. I have to admit that my mind is currently fogged with the concept of getting to the top of Kilimanjaro since it’s the first bit on our itinerary. The good thing is that it’s all downhill from there.

    Looking forward to swapping stories and photos.

  11. says

    I know two people who have climbed Kili and it sounds amazing. The best to you both, and I look forward to joining the club! Good luck on summit day!

    And I’ve been to Morocco and feel the same about Africa – I fell in love there and only want to see more. There’s so much.

  12. says

    @Nicole: Thank you and thanks for the well wishes. I know summit day in particular is going to be especially challenging.. We’re hoping we make it into the Kili club and we look forward to you joining us!

    Big continent, that Africa. To be appreciated slowly.

  13. says

    East Africa is amazing. If you’re anything like me, you will find the landscapes, the animals and the people so inspiring. Zanzibar is beautiful too. It is very tidal though, so if swimming is a priority head to Kendwa!

  14. says

    Exciting! Your last continent and Kili! We had a great time climbing Kili last year, remember to take it slow in the beginning- its more physically demanding than the first day will make you think and it’s better to have a well rested body!

  15. says

    Super stoked for you guys. Currently catching up on a backlog of your posts. I already know your photos are going to be s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g!

    May be headed to East Africa (still tentative) next month too!

    Safe travels. Move to Berlin. I want to come visit ;P

  16. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    You must be an Tanzania by now!! Good luck and God speed – climbing Kilimanjaro. Take some time to rest as well, this will be strenous. I know you and Audrey will take stunning pictures..I am still blowed away by your photos. As I’ve said before yours is one of the best travel websites I’ve seen and a source of a lot of fun for me just browsing.

  17. says

    @Jillian: Take it slow — the best of all Kili tips, it seems. I need to hear that over and over. And the tricks it plays with your mind on the first day, good to know that. I could see myself blazing up the trail on Day 1 only to lose steam later.

    @Lola: Thanks! Let’s hope we can pull out a few photos to do Tanzania a little justice. As for Berlin, seems like we’re working on hanging there for a couple of months. Stay tuned.

    @Sutapa: Thanks for your wonderful note. We fly to Tanzania tonight. Am glad to hear that you are enjoying our photos and the site. We’re humbled by your comments.

  18. says

    @Steph: Yes. Looking forward to being up to the challenge. We are just tying up some loose ends and will be flying in a few hours, and on the mountain Monday. Thanks for the well wishes!

  19. says

    I am old enough to remember Marlin Perkins! It was definitely the animal kingdom of Africa that resonated with me.

    I can’t help remembering Globetrooper’s thoughts on climbing Kili, it effectively changed their ideas on travel and that’s how they started Globetrooper.

    Look forward to your updates and what it’s like to finally live out one of your #25. :)

  20. says

    Ah the bucket list! Its funny that you two put climb the same mountain and wow 14 years of travels just amazing. I can truly say I have yet to really begin traveling but this is inspiring.

  21. Vaniah says

    Really??!!! After all this time travelling you haven’t made it to Africa or Australia? Though I guess you spend quality time in each place you go and there are only so many days… Still, I look forward to hearing more about your travels in both these continents. I’d especially like to know where a good place to do a safari would be… Enjoy Berlin, let us know if you’d like some visitors or if you’d like to pop over to Stockholm, we have a lovely guest room…

  22. says

    Dan and Audrey, you are such an inspiration as always! The travel, the adventure, new cultures and new friends-makes my feet are itchy just thinking about it! Keep it up, and enjoy Berlin. Hope to meet up with you guys again somewhere, someday. And PS-my brother is in Berlin now, hope he gets to meet you too!

  23. says

    @Nomadic Chick: Yay, another member of the “I remember Marlin Perkins” club.

    For me, Kilimanjaro wasn’t so much life changing as it was life affirming. This is the first of the details of living out one of our top 25:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2011/06/climbing-kilimanjaro-life-lessons/

    @Shannon: Based on our experience in Tanzania so far — and depending on what you are looking for — we can recommend a visit. Our trip offered a diverse set of experiences. We’ve really enjoyed it.

    @Kirk: Sometimes, things just line up (as in our shared interest in climbing Kili). And always, it takes time to get there. Enjoy the journey.

    @Vaniah: I know, I know. I almost feel guilty. Almost. But we’ve met people who began traveling in places like India and China years ago and never left because of their unexpected interest to travel deeply. Africa and Australia both hold promise (as do all those other places we’ve yet to visit), but if I had to do it all over again, I’d choose to travel just as deeply as we have. It means that we’ve gotten “stuck” in places and everything has taken more time, but I also believe it has allowed us to learn more about the places we’ve been, our experiences in them…and ourselves.

    As for a safari, in the words of one of our safari mates (in Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro crater), “This is way better than Kruger.” We don’t have firsthand experience in South African safaris, but our safari experience in Tanzania was terrific. We were spoiled by what we were able to see.

    Depending on what sort of flat we settle in, we’ll send a shout out if we have room in Berlin. Finally, a big thanks for the invitation to Stockholm. We might just take you up on it!

    @Jenn: Thanks for the words of support. If there’s one word we aim for, it’s inspiration. We really appreciate it and we’ll look forward to crossing paths. The world’s a small place. Speaking of which, I’m hoping we still have time to catch your brother in Berlin.

  24. says

    I love your pie metaphor. I spent four months in Arusha, Tanzania back in 2008 (marking my 5th continent. I’d love to get to 7!), and we’re headed to Ethiopia and Tanzania just next week. We’re filming a documentary in hopes of bringing back home some new stories and images that depart from the usual stories we see from Africa (poverty, war, disease). We’ll only be bringing back slivers, both even those small pieces are important, especially if you’re aware of the fact that there is an entire pie out there waiting to be eaten..er, traveled?

  25. says

    @Briana: The pie metaphor for Africa seemed suitable. It’s a big one. (Though so is the world for that matter.) Anyhow, sometimes the small slices are the best, particularly if they show us the light in a different way (e.g., departure from the Africa is war, poverty, and disease narrative). Have fun and good luck!

  26. says

    On behalf of Tumaini cottage Arusha,i would like to Congratulate you for reaching the peak of Africa,We are so glad you are shinning light to our beautiful country of Tanzania,i enjoyed reading this story keep it up.

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