Trekking in Patagonia: The Torres del Paine

Trekking in Patagonia is an experience you’ll never forget. There are many options available to you in this “Alaska of the Southern Hemisphere,” but the two absolutely classic walks that all adventurers aspire to are in Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine: the “W” and the full circuit.

Trekking in Patagonia to Monte Fitz Roy.The national park is truly a wonderland of mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, glaciers and wildlife. It covers some 600,000 acres, with the centerpiece being the massive and iconic “torres” (towers) themselves, soaring more than 8,000 feet above sea level. There are other clusters of magnificent peaks in the park, each looming over lush, green valleys accessed by hiking trails. This is the magic of trekking in Patagonia.

Of course, many people know about and want to visit this area, so the routes are well-established and easy to follow. However, it is mandatory – especially during the high season of November through March – to reserve campsites or refuges ahead of time. If you decide to camp, you can either bring your own gear or rent it there. If you’re traveling with an outfitter, they will handle reservations and group gear for you.

trekking in Patagonia
via livefortheoutdoors.com

The W (named for its shape on a map, going in and out of three major valleys) is probably the best-known trek. It truly showcases all the best parts of the park in what is typically a five- or six-day trip that people in good physical condition can handle. The number of days you take to trek the W really depends on how fast you want to go, or maybe how much relaxing you want to do. Fit and inspired folks can do it in four days and three nights, but you can also take up to six days and five nights to complete the roughly 60-mile (100 km) route. One of the beautiful things about this trek is this flexibility.

Simply, the route is to come in by bus from the town of Puerto Natales, take a catamaran across a vast glacial lake, and do a round-trip 18-mile hike to a rifugio and campsite on Lago Grey. (As an example of schedule flexibility, this can be done in a day, or you can spend the night at Lago Grey). Next it’s a 15-mile section through the scenic French Valley, with views of a massive glacier and more granite peaks than you can count, winding up at another rifugio/campsite. A 12-mile section then takes you along another glacial lake to a campsite at the base of the Torres themselves. The final day you rise early to see the sunrise on the towers, then hike out of the park to catch a bus back to civilization.

patagonia trekking photosThe full circuit around the Torres is essentially the W with the top connected – a route which must be done counter-clockwise and is limited to 80 people starting per day. Again, planning or going with an outfitter is essential! Starting at the right side of the W (where you would finish using the route above) you do a long, beautiful loop of around 35 miles, typically in 4-5 pretty easy days, winding up back at Lago Grey to start the W. One difference between this and the W is that the full circuit can’t be done while staying on ly rifugios; you’ll need to camp to do this part. Still, this is wild, windswept country of high passes and amazing views, visited by fewer people than the W, so you can feel proud and grateful for adding another level to your adventure.

Go trekking in Patagonia with Embark adventures!

 

What are the Best Areas for Trekking in Nepal?

If most hikers were to rank the world’s destinations, it’s hard to think that any place other than Nepal would be at the top.

annapurna_circuitIf you want jungles, remote villages, ancient religious sites, traditional people, forests, a huge network of paths, and of course the biggest mountains in the world, Nepal is where you want to go.

But where in Nepal? With all the options available, what are the classic areas where a hiker, trekker or even climber can experience the true essence of this amazing country?

We have chosen three places to highlight — Annapurna, Khumbu, and Langtang — and offer you a brief introduction to each.

Annapurna Conservation Area

dsc_0156At nearly 3,000 square miles, this is Nepal’s largest protected area. But even that doesn’t begin to describe it. Consider: Within Annapurna you will find several of the world’s tallest mountains and the world’s deepest gorge.

In this range, from 2,590 feet to 26,545 feet above sea level, one finds an incredible diversity of ecosystems and conditions. For example, the southern (lower) end gets 120 inches of annual rain; at the high northern end, 75 miles away, gets 20 inches. Along the way you would pass through habitats from subtropical forest through 22 other forest types and eventually into the world of rock, ice, and perpetual snow. There are also more than 1,200 plant species, 30 mammals (Including the snow leopard and Tibetan fox) and 450 birds. Even the humans are diverse; Annapurna’s 100,000 residents fall into 10 ethnic groups.

Annapurna is the most popular trekking area in Nepal, with some 40,000 annual visitors coming during the peak times of spring and autumn. Of the many options, almost all starting from the town of Pokhara, we most love the Annapurna Base Camp trek and the Annapurna Circuit.

Annapurna Base Camp

07This 12-day excursion is one of the best treks in all of Nepal, in part because it is the least disturbed by road construction and other forms of modernization. It’s usually a 14-day trip out of Pokhara, with stupendous views throughout. The most famous is at sunrise from Poon Hill, at just over 9,000 feet. Here you will see all of the Annapurna Range as well as the massive Dualaghiri, the world’s seventh highest peak.

Continuing on towards base camp, after 5 to 7 Days you pass through a narrow gorge and into the magical Annapurna Sanctuary, where the greatest peaks of the Annapurna (several of them above 21,000 feet) surround align in a 10-mile circle bone a plateau at 12,000 feet elevation. It was not even penetrated by outsiders until 1956! If you believe in mountain gods, then this must surely be their throne room.

Annapurna Circuit

dsc_3246On this walk, typically of about 15 days, you will experience the full range of Annapurna’s diversity. Commencing in the a river gorge filled with countless streams, we eventually emerge into high desert country at Manang (3597 m.). A long, steady climb (good for acclimatization) brings you to the world-famous pass of Thorang-La (5416 m.). From there, we descend to Muktinath in the lower Mustang region (neighboring Tibet), one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Buddhist and Hindu people in Nepal.

Heading out now, we pass through arid lands to the historical fortress town of Kagbeni, then follow the Kali Gandaki River, through the world’s deepes gorge, to Jomsom. We can fly out from here or walk back out the way of that view at Poon Hilll, saying goodbye for now to a massive range of peaks we have now walked around.

Khumbu and Everest Base Camp

Upper Khumbu near Gorak ShepCertainly the most famous trek in Nepal, and probably the world, a trip to Everest Base Camp is the ultimate “bucket list” for lovers of a mountain walk. But the destination here is not even what the whole area is about.

Again, there is a tremendous variety of habitats, from Forests of silver fir, birch and rhododendron with spectacular blooms in spring. At the top, of course, is the literal roof of the world at SOMETHING feet, and in between you might spot Himalayan black bears and red pandas.

The Sherpa people call this area home, and their lives are richly connected to renowned Buddhist monasteries such as Tengboche and others.

All of this, of course, adds up to the most popular trekking area in Nepal. However, there are many routes to the same place, each with its own charms, and we are most fond of the one from Namche to Tengboche.

Trekking to Everest Base Camp

Pumori with Kala PattharMost of this trek’s 40,000 annual visitors start by flying from Kathmandu to the airstrip at Lukla, which gets you very quickly to nearly 10,000 feet elevation. From here, it’s two days of steady climbing to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, for a day of rest and acclimatization. Two more days gets you a visit to the famous monastery at Tyengboche, and after another day of rest an additional two days on trail lands you at Gorakshep, an ancient lake bed just under 17,000 feet elevation and within Sagarmatha National Park.

From here, Everest looms over all — though, ironically, it can’t actually be seen from the climbers’ base camp. Instead, the next morning you will rise early and climb Kala Patthar, which at just over 18,000 feet is the highest one can go without a climbing permit and offers the best view of Everest you can imagine. Being here at sunrise will give you an image that will linger in your mind as you walk back down what the Dalai Lama has called “the stairs to heaven.”

Langtang

What sets Langtang apart from these other areas is that it isn’t among the high peaks of the Himalayas, though it certainly offers views of them. Instead, it is a region with fascinating cultural and religious sites, as well as Langtang National Park, Npeal’s fourth largest. This park also links with a nature reserve in Tibet, which borders Langtang, meaning the area is rich in many ways — but not visited by nearly as many people as Khumbu or Annapurna.

Langtang to Gosaikunda Lakes

The destination here is a set of alpine lakes around 14,000 feet in elevation, which are considered sacred by Hindus all over the world. It is said to have been created by Lord Shiva, when he thrust his sword into the mountain for a drink of water. Every August, thousands of Hindus from Nepal and India make pilgrimage here for ancient festivals.

The trek to Gosaikunda follows the Langtang Valley through forests filled with pandas and monkeys and bears. There are spectacular mountain views, but what makes trekking here unique is that not many people do it. This adds a certain romance and adventure to the experience, and speaking of romance, Langtang is one of the leading areas for sightings of the mythical yeti. Truly it’s a place to experience the real, traditional Nepal and be surprised all the time.

Check out Embark’s options for trekking in Nepal.

The Majesty
of the Serengeti

Simply to utter the word Serengeti evokes majesty and mystery. One envisions vast green spaces teeming with grazing animals; hordes of beasts crossing muddy rivers, stalked by lions and crocodiles; immense flocks of birds rising as one into the evening sky.

safari10In fact, the Serengeti is all of these things, and more. The word itself comes from the Maasai language and means “endless plains,” but even that doesn’t cover what this place is, for the 12,000 square miles of this natural wonder include not just plains but also rivers, forests, swamps, grasslands, and savannas.

It is this diversity of habitats, spread across northern Tanzania and southwestern Kenya, that supports the staggering diversity and number of animals on the Serengeti: 70 large mammal and 500 bird species are found there. Blue wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, and buffalos are some of the commonly found large mammals in the region.

safari3But the picture you may have in your head should not be static, for the diversity of habitat constantly interacts with changes in weather, meaning these vast herds are often on the move, seeking better grazing — and they are stalked by predators who bring not just death but also their own majesty and beauty.

The Serengeti, which contains the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and several game reserves, is home to the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world. It is also one of the best places in the world to see prides of lions. And each year this entire show moves in a great circular migration: some 260,000 zebras, 1.7 million wildebeest, 470,000 gazelles, and hundreds of thousand of others.

safari12Driven by their search for food, and for a safe place to nurture calves, this horde starts in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of the southern Serengeti in Tanzania. They are here from January to March, and in February the wildebeests alone give birth to some 500,000 calves in just a few weeks.

In May, when the rains end, the animals move northwest and in July cross the Grumeti and Mara Rivers — a popular safari moment because it is here that the crocodiles are waiting. They stay in Kenya essentially the rest of the year, then head south when the rains begin; thus the circle completes itself. During this journey, some 250,000 wildebeest will perish.

The question of when to go and see this is tied to what you want to see. January and February are best for the calving (and predators), June and July for the river crossings, August and September for general viewing when the vegetation is thinner and the animals gather around rivers and watering holes.

safari2The best weather, with little to no rain, is from June to October, the worst is the rainy season from March to May. Outside of those months, rain is generally short and in the afternoon, not something that will interfere with your trip at all. From June to August, it’s recommended to bring warm clothing for early morning game drives.

A good outfitter makes all the difference, as will deciding which level of comfort you want, such as a lodge or tents. Whatever other choices you make, the decision to visit the Serenegeti is one that will change your life by showing you life on a scale you currently can only imagine.

Embark Adventures offers two safaris in Tanzania: an Adventure Wildlife Safari and a Culture and Wildlife Safari.

Baggage, Gear,
Weight Limits,
and Packing for Kilimanjaro

By Jim Ronning, Embark Trip Leader

Hello, Travelers! We are back with our series of informational messages to help you prepare as you draw closer to your date of departure.

Other topics include:

This post concerns the matter of equipment — plus its close cousin, packing it all — while staying within various applicable weight restrictions.

On the Plane

Ideally, you will each depart your home city with all your gear packed into a single, large-size, water-proof duffel bag. North Face makes a good one, and they are readily available at REI. You will also have a small backpack as carry-on luggage, to be used for over-night necessities during travel lay-overs, as well as your day-pack during the trek.

For international flights, you will be allowed one checked bag, of 50 pounds or less. Additional bags, or bags that are over 50 lbs. in weight, may result in additional baggage fees. For internal flights (such as to Zanzibar), a one bag, 20 kilogram/44 lbs. limit will apply, with an additional 5kg/11lbs. allowed as carry-on.

Considerable baggage weight can be saved by wearing your heavier items, such as boots, fleeces, and coats. They can then be shed during the flight, but remember to bring a comfortable pair of shoes in your carry-on backpack to change into during the flight. Essential or irreplaceable items, such as medicines, a change of clothes, and electronics, should also be in your carry-on, just in case your checked bag is delayed or lost.

On the Mountain

During the climb, your duffel will be limited to 18 kg, or about 39.6 pounds. Porters generally carry the baggage of only one climber, so their load is limited to under 40 lbs. This may seem like a pretty low weight limit for all this gear, but with efficient packing it can be done.

Large compressible items, such as sleeping bags, down jackets and pillows, should be carried in compressor stuff sacks (readily available at REI in various sizes) to save space and consolidate weight. Clothing should be packed into zip-lock freezer bags, grouped by type of clothing — i.e. sock, shirts, underwear, cold weather clothes, warm weather clothes, etc. — in order to organize and compress them, and to keep them dry.

Left in Town

Any un-needed or extra gear not needed on the mountain may be stored without charge at your hotel in Moshi. I have always found it handy to bring an extra canvas duffel bag along for containment of those items while in storage, or to bring home any items you may purchase during your visit to Africa. As an alternative, you will find it a simple matter to buy such a bag in Moshi, at very little cost.

Waterproofing and Security

Regardless of what brand of duffle bag you decide to use, it is always a good idea to further waterproof the gear inside it by lining the duffle with large plastic garbage or yard debris bags. Rain is always a possibility on the mountain, and because of the way our bags are carried, our porters cannot effectively wrap them in tarps or otherwise protect them from rain. Hard-sided luggage, wheeled bags, and suit cases should not be used because they do not pack well for our porters.

I don’t usually put padlocks on the zippers of my duffel during flights. The TSA often opens them anyway, but they don’t always lock them afterward, so they fall off and are lost in flight. I do, however, use them in my hotel and if they are left in storage, on the theory that even a little protection may deter an essentially honest housekeeper from succumbing to the temptation of an unlocked bag.

Gear to Bring

You will not be doing any technical climbing during this trip, so items such as helmets, harnesses, crampons, and ice axes will not be needed. The trails are stony, steep, and strenuous, however, so boots should be sturdy, mid-height to provide ankle stability, and well broken in. They do not necessarily need to be crampon compatible, although most boots of that class are. Light hikers, cross-trainers, or sport shoes are not suitable, and their use will invite injury or discomfort.

Embark has (or will) provide you with a very comprehensive list of recommended clothing and equipment. Here is a synopsis of the list, and more information is available in your Climb Preparation document.

Recommended Gear:

  • Sturdy hiking boots – comfortable and broken in. Do not try to break-in new boots during the trek. Spare bootlaces are a good idea.
  • sleeping bag (10F rated)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Trekking poles – strongly advised
  • Sandals or other comfortable footwear – for city and camp use
  • Wind and water-proof shell jacket, with hood
  • Synthetic T-shirts, long and short-sleeved, for layering (no cotton)
  • Synthetic under garments, long and short-legged, for layering (no cotton)
  • A warmer, fleece-type jacket
  • Down puffy jacket, with hood
  • Hiking Shorts
  • Synthetic Hiking Pants – zip off legs kill two birds with one stone
  • Light and heavy socks, several pair
  • Rain gear or poncho
  • Water bottles, x3 (Nalgene-style) or hydration pack
  • Headlamp, with spare batteries
  • Multi-tool (carry as checked baggage on all flights, it will not be allowed as carry-on, and will be confiscated)
  • Warm hat, with ear covering, or balaclava
  • Gloves – light poly liners; medium wind-proof gloves; water-proof over-mittens
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun lotion, SPF 30, minimum
  • Personal medical supplies (medications, spare eye glasses, contacts and solution, personal 1st Aid supplies, blister kit, etc.)
  • Small Towel, bar of soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Handy wipes or equivalent
  • Purel or equivalent hand sanitizer
  • Day pack (for your daily needs)
  • duffel bag for all other gear and clothing, to be carried by a porter
  • Large garbage or contractor bags to line the duffel bag

Discretionary Gear:

(The following items are probably not crucial to the success of your experience on Kilimanjaro, but depending on your personal preferences, may contribute to your enjoyment. As always, you will know best, but this list may help jog your memory.)

  • Plastic bags of different sizes (to protect clothes and organize small or related items)
  • Backpacker pillow (a rolled up shirt or fleece also works well)
  • Cotton T-shirt (for sleeping – synthetics are cold to sleep in)
  • 750-fill Down jacket – we may encounter night temperatures in the teens, or less likely, single-digit or below. Use your own judgement about this bulky but potentially life-saving garment
  • Waterproof notebook and pen for journaling
  • Emergency survival gear, i.e., space blanket, at your discretion
  • Small first aid kit
  • Blister kit
  • Electrical converter and adapter: 230v, type C, D, or M (Google it to be sure)
  • Electronics, with charging cables, i.e., GPS, I-Phone or I-Pad, sat phone
  • Water filtration pump or UV purifier (Steri-Pen)
  • Camera – standard AA batteries are easiest. Charging can be a problem in remote areas. Bring the necessary cables
  • binoculars
  • Duct tape – wrapped on the handle of a trekking pole saves space
  • Passport wallet or money belt
  • Snacks or energy bars; hydration tablets

Again, these lists are merely advisory. I may have missed some items that you feel are crucial. You know best what works for you, but in the end, weight becomes the determining factor between necessity and convenience.

Tipping and Currency Issues
on Kilimanjaro
and in Tanzania

By Jim Ronning, Embark Trip Leader

Hello, Travelers! We are back with our series of informational messages to help you prepare as you draw closer to your date of departure.

Other topics include:

This post is all about the ever-popular topic of tipping.

Tipping is a way of life in the guiding community of Kilimanjaro, and the porter or guide’s personal income from that source often comprises as much as 50% of his regular pay. Everyone worries excessively about how much to tip and how to present it. Tipping need not be a stressful activity, though it usually turns out to be a subject of considerable discussion during the climb, so let’s get rid of it now so we can all relax and enjoy the view(s).

How To Do It

There are many ways to approach tipping, but I have found that everyone enjoys a little ceremony at the end of the trip, usually on the last day you will spend together with your guides, porters and camp staff. It is always accompanied by ceremony, singing and dancing…after all, this is East Africa.

With large groups like yours, a method that I have found that works well is for you, as a group, to select one or two group members to organize the process the night before, and then present a “group tip” to each of the support staff, based on the mysterious and arcane hierarchy of Kilimanjaro workers.

Who Gets What?

Guides earn the most, so their tip is the largest; not surprisingly, cooks make almost as much — after all, a happy group travels on happy stomachs. Next come the porters, based on seniority; cook helpers are next, and then camp helpers.

A pretty reliable tipping guideline, regardless of the recipient’s job, is the equivalent of one extra day’s pay for every seven days worked, or roughly 15%. This is the rate generally recommended by The Lonely Planet as well as several other sources. Although no one pins it down very precisely, I have used that formula numerous times and have always been greeted by broad smiles and vigorous handshakes, so I think it must be pretty close.

On the last night, at Mwerko camp, the tip organizer will collect from all participants the anticipated pro-rated share of the group tip. Your Head Guide will bring small manila envelopes for each tip, upon which the tip organizer will write each recipient’s name, working from a personnel manifest the Head Guide will provide. The guys seem to enjoy receiving US dollars, so each tip is calculated based on the daily earnings for each job category, and sealed in the envelope. Two people, working in the mess tent after dinner, can accomplish this task in about an hour.

The Ceremony

The next day, at Mwerko Gate, you will all gather for lunch. At some point, the guys will gather for songs of thanks and of good-bye, and dancing is liable to break out. Short speeches of thanks and gratitude may follow, and as circumstances allow, the tip organizer, usually assisted by the head guide, will begin to present the tip envelopes to each man. Each recipient will then likely circle the group, greeting and thanking everyone. Expect hugs and beware of tears.

Above and Beyond

The above will take care of the group obligation. However, during these trips you will get acquainted with these guys. They will teach you some words in their language and take delight in your efforts to repeat them and use them in conversation. They will do you favors, and help you along the way. You will develop favorites, and trust me, by the end of the trip you will want to express your personal thanks to some of them.

It is perfectly acceptable to express your thanks with an individual tip to those you have come to appreciate especially, and immediately after presentation of the group tip is a good time to do it. It can be done openly and directly, with your own personal thanks in the form of a handshake or a hug.

It is also common to gift the crew with items of clothing or equipment that you no longer need or don’t wish to carry home. Depending on the item, they may keep it and use it, or you may see it on E-Bay the next day. Don’t take offense if that happens…either way, they benefit, and that is the whole point of the exercise.

Adding It All Up

For a group of your size, you will have a head guide and several assistant guides. The guide will speak English, the assistants may speak some English, the porters are not likely to speak much English at all. There will be a cook, one or more assistant cooks, and kitchen helpers and servers. There will be porters to carry your duffle bags, and porters to carry all the camp and kitchen gear. It is not unusual for a large group to move up the mountain with as many as 60 – 70 support staff.

It should be anticipated, therefore, that each participant’s share of the group tip will be about $400 to $450. Plan accordingly to have that amount available in US dollars, in relatively small bills (more 10’s and 20’s, fewer 50’s or 100’s,) which will simplify the tip organizer’s task of making up the individual tips. Additional individual tips or gifts, if any, will be entirely at your discretion.

Getting Cash

Do you need to carry all that cash from home? No. There are ATM’s readily available in Moshi, Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar, and you will receive the best exchange rate through a bank machine — but it will be dispensed in Tanzanian Shillings. Fees will be incurred for the use of the ATM, and fees are charged for the exchange of shillings to dollars or vice-versa.

Another option for acquiring cash or making exchanges without incurring fees may be to use a credit card that charges no foreign currency fees, such as Capital One Visa or some of the American Express cards, but these transactions must necessarily be done at a traditional bank, many of which are to be found in Moshi. Street exchanges deal only in cash.

(TZS) currently (October 2016) valued at about TZS .00046 /USD1.00, so:

  • $1.00 = TZS 2182
  • $10.00 = TZS 21,821
  • $100.00 = TZS 218,211

This website will give you the up-to-date conversion rate.

Carrying huge wads of TZS notes can be burdensome, but fortunately, US currency is readily accepted in most places. Change, however, will be given in TZS, and the exchange rate may not be as favorable as in ATM’s or at banks. It is therefore a good idea to carry both currencies, using USD for larger purchases, and TZS for smaller items or tips. ATM’s are not readily found in rural areas, or anywhere on Kilimanjaro itself, nor are credit cards readily accepted outside of the larger towns.

Carrying Cash

A careful traveler always considers common sense and security while carrying cash in unfamiliar surroundings. Consider carrying your money in a cloth belt around your waist, or in a passport wallet hung around your neck beneath your clothes. Be mindful of your surroundings when extracting cash in public, and be discreet about doing it. Most of the places you will visit on this trip are generally safe, but security risks can be encountered anywhere. Travel in pairs whenever possible, and avoid isolated areas after dark.

I hope this brief description of an often stressful subject will help to de-mystify a topic that sometimes occupies more of our attention than is necessarily warranted. The process of fairly and adequately compensating those that help us do what we love to do is actually satisfying, and should be approached with pleasant anticipation rather than trepidation.

The singing and dancing that typically accompany the disbanding of a group like this is a joy to experience. Keep your smart phone video handy, and enjoy the show.

Sanitation and Personal Hygiene in Tanzania

By Jim Ronning, Embark Trip Leader

Hello, Travelers! We are back with our series of informational messages to help you prepare as you draw closer to your date of departure.

Other topics include:

This post is all about the sometimes awkward subject of Sanitation and Personal Hygiene.

Whenever you travel in the developing world, especially in rural or remote areas, Purel and Handy Wipes are your friends. Bring plenty of both, and use them frequently.

Water

Surface water and tap water in Tanzania can never be considered safe for a western traveler to drink. Water should always be boiled, or purchased, in new, branded, and sealed bottles. As an alternative, filtering devices or UV sterilizers, such as SteriPen can be used, but bear in mind, if your sterilizing device requires batteries or recharging, or if your filter requires frequent replacement, necessary charging facilities or replacements can be difficult to find in remote areas. While climbing Kilimanjaro, the support staff will provide you with sufficient daily water, either bottled where that is allowed, or otherwise safely treated.

Meals

While climbing Kilimanjaro, all meals will be cooked and provided by your guide staff. Meals are taken communally, in a spacious and comfortable mess tent, with tables and chairs. Food is simple and western in style, but hardy, and designed to provide you with the calories and nutrition you will need to meet this challenge. Eggs, chicken, beef, bread, pasta and rice are regularly featured on the menu, as well as oatmeal, cereal and all necessary condiments. Coffee, tea, milk and juice are provided. Vegetarian or specialty diets can also be accommodated. Some of this food, while healthy, may still be a little surprising to a western stomach. I like to take probiotics while I’m there, on the theory that it can’t hurt, and it might help.

Every traveler must be careful about eating fresh or un-cooked food. Just forget about green salads until you get back home. Ice cubes in your coke…not even! Brushing your teeth? Use bottled water. And if you forget, and rinse your toothbrush with tap water…get a new one.

Street food may be tempting, but its quality cannot be guaranteed. Fresh fruit and vegetables may sound refreshing, but even if they can be thoroughly peeled (by you, and just before you eat them), it may still be suspect because your own hands may be contaminated as well. (Remember Purel? Use it.) Unpeeled bananas and oranges can usually be trusted (if you have used your Purel before you handle them). Commercially packaged dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and packaged cheese are usually safe.

Be cautious, but try to enjoy what looks safe and tasty. It is, after all, part of the travel experience to enjoy local cuisine.

Restrooms

In your hotel, bathroom facilities will be western in style. On Kilimanjaro, the support staff will set up canvas latrines equipped with portable toilets, bathroom tissue and sanitizing gel. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to bring a modest supply of your own. You can buy back-packer sized rolls at REI, or make your own by re-rolling it without the tube. It is a great idea to make up a bathroom kit, with Purel, Handy Wipes, plastic bags, and TP all in a single bag, and keep it with you at all times. Throw in some Imodium or Pepto-Bismol tablets just in case things go wrong despite your vigilance…but bring them from home as they can be difficult to find locally.

Showers will not be available during the eight days you will be on the mountain, so full-body bathing will not be possible. Handy Wipes make a quick, handy, and efficient alternative. Just sayin’.

So, relax…enjoy the exotic new culture you are experiencing…use Purel frequently…and stay healthy. It can be done!

 

Passports and Visas
for Tanzania

By Jim Ronning, Embark Trip Leader

Today we continue our series of informational messages to help you prepare as you draw closer to your date of departure.

Other topics include:

This post is all about passports and visas for Tanzania

Getting into and out of Tanzania is pretty easy, but it may take some advance preparation.

All a US citizen needs to enter Tanzania is 100 bucks, an extra passport photo, and a valid US passport, with an expiration date at least 6 months after your intended departure from Tanzania. Therefore, if you are close to renewal time on your current passport you may need to renew it before you leave on this trip.

Do that by visiting the US State Department website and following the instructions you find there. If you are simply renewing a standard passport book, you will need to print and fill out Form DS-82, attach two standard passport photos, and pay a fee of $110. Send the form, the fee, and your old passport to the address indicated on the site, and in 4-6 weeks you should receive by mail a new passport, and the old one with holes punched in it.

You can, if necessary, get this process expedited by paying an additional fee of $60, but if you start early enough, you should have plenty of time to get it done in the usual way. If this will be your first passport, however, or if you have changed your name since the previous passport was issued, you may not qualify to use form DS-82, and may need to apply in person at a designated consular office.

Standard passport photos can be easily obtained at most Walgreens (or similar) stores. For about $10 or so you get two. Get four (4), as you will need another for your Kilimanjaro National Park entry permit.

Visas

Visitor entry visas can be easily obtained at the airport upon our arrival in Tanzania, or in advance by mail. In either case, visit any of several websites to download the required application form. Here is one. Complete it prior to arrival to save time. Forms are also available in the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) terminal.

The Visa fee is $100 USD or Euros (no credit cards or local currency is accepted, so have cash).

You can expect that most of the passengers on your plane will be visitors, and they will all need visas. A line will form at the Visa kiosk, but it moves quickly. After your passport is examined and the fee is paid, you will move to a second window where your photograph will be taken. A visa stamp with your photo will then be printed and placed in your passport. You will then officially enter the country and join the queue to collect your baggage. You and your baggage will be met by your transfer driver just outside the terminal entrance, who will drive you the 39 km or so to your hotel in Moshi Town. The drive will take about 45 minutes.

Currency

A final note related to currency: There are ATM’s readily available in Moshi, Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar, and you will receive the best exchange rate through a bank machine. It will, however, be dispensed in Tanzanian Shillings. Fees will be incurred for the use of the ATM, and fees are charged for the exchange of shillings to dollars or vice-versa.

Another option for acquiring cash or making exchanges without incurring fees may be to use a credit card that charges no foreign currency fees, such as Capital One Visa or some of the American Express cards, but these transactions must necessarily be done at a traditional bank, many of which are to be found in Moshi. Street exchanges deal only in cash.

(TZS) currently (October 2016) valued at about TZS .00046 /USD1.00, so:

  • $1.00 = TZS 2182
  • $10.00 = TZS 21,821
  • $100.00 = TZS 218,211

This website will give you the up-to-date conversion rate.

Carrying huge wads of TZS notes can be burdensome, but fortunately, US currency is readily accepted in most places. Change, however, will be given in TZS, and the exchange rate may not be as favorable as in ATM’s or at banks. It is therefore a good idea to carry both currencies, using USD for larger purchases, and TZS for smaller items or tips. ATM’s are not readily found in rural areas, or anywhere on Kilimanjaro itself, nor are credit cards readily accepted outside of the larger towns.

Shots, Vaccinations,
and Medications
for Tanzania

By Jim Ronning, Embark Trip Leader

Hello, Travelers! This will be the first in a short series of informational messages to help you prepare as you draw closer to your date of departure.

Other topics include:

This post is all about the fascinating subject of Shots and Vaccinations.

If you haven’t been to East Africa in, say, the last decade, it is possible your vaccinations may need a little upgrading.

Depending on how long you may stay and what you may be doing there, the Center For Disease Control (CDC) currently thinks travelers going to Tanzania may need the following vaccinations, depending on their activities while there:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Rabies

I think it is also a good idea to have the following vaccinations up-to-date:

  • Polio/diphtheria booster
  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
  • Tetanus
  • Flu

The CDC also informs us that Malaria is a risk while visiting Tanzania and Zanzibar:

Talk to your doctor about how to prevent malaria while traveling. You may need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip to prevent malaria, especially if you are visiting low-altitude areas.

See more detailed information about malaria in Tanzania.

Regarding the risk of encountering the Zika virus while in Tanzania, the CDC says this:

Zika is endemic in Tanzania, and we believe the risk to travelers is low. Because of the risk of birth defects in babies born to women who were infected with Zika while pregnant, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their doctor and, if they decide to travel to Tanzania, strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.

For more information, see Q&A: Zika Risk in Countries with Previous Zika.

Last, Tanzania does not require a Yellow Fever card for entry unless you are entering from a country that does require it (the U.S. does not require it). If that applies to you, check out the link on their website.

Of these vaccinations, most can be administered at the same time, fairly close to the time of departure. Only one, Hepatitis A, requires a series of two injections for full protection, about six months apart. Start by checking with your doctor on what vaccinations you may need based on your itinerary and planned activity (hiking in primarily rural areas).

It is possible that your health insurer will cover much of the cost of these vaccinations, and may offer a Travel Advice Clinic or hotline to provide advice. If not, try any of the major retail pharmacy chains, many of which offer sound medical advice to customers anticipating travel, at a moderate cost.

I think it is a good idea to always travel with your vaccination record, just in case a doctor somewhere needs to know what vaccinations you’ve had. Keep a photocopy of it in your passport folder, along with First Aid certifications, American Red Cross blood- type card, and any other special medical advisories you would want a care provider to know about in the event of illness or injury.

Other medications that I find useful to have with me, and which your doctor will cheerfully prescribe for you if you explain why you want them, include:

  • For Upper respiratory infections: Azithromycin (5-day doses called Z-Paks)
  • For Travelers Diarrhea: Imodium or Pepto-Bismol tablets (surprisingly, these are sometimes difficult to find in the pharmacies of developing nations)
  • For Altitude related symptoms: Diamox (Acetazolamide 250mg)
  • For a happy gut: Probiotics
  • For mild pain: Aspirin/Tylenol/Ibuprofin/Aleve
  • For hydration: Powdered Electrolytes
  • For a clean and wide-open nose: Saline solution
  • For small cuts or blisters: Neosporin
  • For, well, you know what this is for: Gas-ex

Other useful supplies may include:

  • Blister kit (bandages/moleskin/duct tape or surgical tape/scissors)
  • Small 1st Aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Ear plugs
  • Hard candies (Jolly Rancher, Root Beer Barrels, Ricola)

You probably will not need all these items, and many of them can be purchased locally if needed. There may be other medications you will want to have with you, depending on your personal medical needs.

And finally:

You should always consult with your own doctor about the efficacy or suitability of any medication before taking it.

A New Embark Website is on its Way

If you’ve noticed a distinct lack of activity here at EmbarkAdventures.com, there are two reasons for this. One is we’ve been helping people get out on adventures, like trekking to Everest Base Camp and Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

But the other reason is that we’ve been working with the amazing and talented people at Murmur Creative in Portland on a new website for our company. The new Embark site should launch later this summer, and we will certainly let you know when it happens.

Meanwhile, you can follow us and our traveling friends on our Facebook page. And we will hope to see you soon!

April, 2016: Walking the Cotswold Way in England

Embark’s partnership with hiking author Paul Gerald has another chapter available: Paul is leading a walk of the entire Cotswold Way in England in April of 2014.

Cotswold Way England
View along the Cotswold Way.

The Way is a 104-mile path through uber-charming English countryside, and this trip will let you see every foot of it, while being supported by a bus and spending the night in comfortable three-star hotels.

In fact, one of our hotels is in a historic spa town — imagine coming back after a nice walk and soaking in hot water while waiting for dinner! It might not be “adventure,” but it’s sure to be sweet.

Cotswold Way England
Cleeve Hill, highest point on the Cotswold Way.

Among the highlights of this trip will be Roman ruins, old market towns, forests, flower-filled meadows, castles, gardens and palaces.

The Way ends in Bath, an ancient spa city with baths from Roman times and roots well beyond that. We will spend two nights there, enjoying a guided walking tour of the city, before bringing an end to our English walking adventure.

Maze at Blenheim Palace, one of our stops along the Way.
Maze at Blenheim Palace, one of our stops along the Way.

The dates for our Cotswold Way trip are April 11 to 21, 2016. For pricing and other detailed information, see the trip page on our site.

For a detailed itinerary, or just to ask any questions you might have, contact us, and our leader, Paul, will get right back to you. You can also find out more about Paul on his website.

Meanwhile, feel free to dream of walking through the English countryside of your dreams, then get ready to make it happen!