Kilimanjaro Trip Description and Travelogue-
My KLM flight departed from San Francisco and landed in Amsterdam at Schipol airport on time. I have traveled all over the world and I can safely say that Schipol is the finest airport that I have ever been to! Passing through immigration took less than 1 minute. By the time I reached the luggage carousel, my bags were waiting there for me. Schipol has plenty of free luggage carts, so I loaded up my bags and went through Customs. This consisted of a single question (what is your business in Amsterdam), and I simply told them I was overnighting on my way to climb Kilimanjaro. I was wished good luck, and sent through. There were no swarms of people in the arrival area, and directional signs were clear. In fact, the airport was more like a luxury shopping mall complete with restaurants, stores, hotels, a train station in the terminal…and a Casino. I rolled the cart directly into the Sheraton without leaving the airport, got my room keys, and, using the same cart, rolled it into my hotel room. The entire process from plane to room took less than 15 minutes.
Since I had the remainder of the day free (my connecting flight to Kilimanjaro wasn’t until the next morning), I caught a few hours of sleep and then took the train directly from the airport terminal to Amsterdam Central Station. Trains leave every 15 minutes or so, and the train ride is about 20 minutes long. The roundtrip fair is just a few dollars.
The next morning, I rolled my luggage cart out of the hotel and directly to the baggage check-in station. Immigration, customs, checking, etc. took about 20 minutes in total. There are no special airport taxes that need to be paid prior to departure. The flight to Kilimanjaro was on KLM and relatively comfortable. The majority of the passengers were Americans. Most were older and planning to go on safari.
We landed at Kilimanjaro airport on time. The airport uses the rollup stairs and all the passengers file into a rather small reception area. You can exchange currency and purchase a visa in this area if necessary. The passengers must then pass through a health-inspection station. Basically, the agent just checks to see that you have your yellow international vaccine card and that it has been properly endorsed to show you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. You then take about 5 steps forward and pass through a more orderly line through immigration where they check your visa and stamp you passport. A few steps more and you pickup your luggage, which the airport personnel have placed into neat rows. Free luggage carts are available for all passengers and there are lots of airport personnel, many dressed in colorful uniforms, available to assist you. After luggage is in hand, it’s 10 more steps through a doorway into the "terminal" (a small room). Here the safari companies and hotels have their representatives standing in line with sign cards waiting for their guests. I immediately located the representative from the Keys hotel, who was waiting there with a sign-card with my name. She was also waiting for another party, which ended up not showing up, so we were the last to leave (about 15 minutes after the others). The hotel uses Toyota Land Rovers. Since it was late at night, the airport security personnel was concerned that we would be driving alone along the road at night, so they sent 4 police officers to accompany us for the first portion of the drive. It was a balmy night, and the roads were empty.
We arrived at the hotel about an hour later. Stepping into the Keys hotel is like stepping back in time. Simple and old world. Everybody who worked at the hotel seemed to know the guests by name. In fact I was greeted by name (as the only arriving guest that evening) as I entered the hotel. The hotel consists of about 40 rooms and some cottages. There is a bar area with a billiard table and TV, a dining room, a pool (the water looked a little green), and a small convenience store. There were no problems at check-in (I paid the balance by travelers check) and I was told that my guide would be waiting for me at 7:30 the next morning, or later, if I would like. The desk clerk told me that they thought I might be hungry after my long flight, so they had the entire kitchen staff stay and wait for me in case I wanted something to eat. The room was simple, but comfortable. It consisted of two twin beds, a table and chair, desk, night table, TV (with two stations to choose from), air conditioning (this is important!), small refrigerator, and private bathroom. Considering where I was (in the middle of Africa), a definite 4-star hotel. I stopped at the dining room and sampled some of the food (not bad…pasta, chicken, vegetables, etc.). The only thing you pay for is your drinks. Here is a trick to survive your Africa trip. Drink bottled water!!! They sold both Key’s brand bottled water and Kilimanjaro brand water. Both were fine and sold for about $2 for a very large bottle. Use it to drink and brush your teeth. Don’t drink out of the faucet!
I spent the remainder of the evening sorting my gear. I would be taking a small daypack which would contain my critical supplies (money, water purifier, 1st aid kit, GPS (which I didn’t need), etc.) and a large duffel which would contain the remainder of my personal gear for the climb. I took my other belongings and checked the bag at the desk for my return.
In the morning I went to the lobby and was greeted, by name, by the front desk clerk and Lucy, who coordinates the climbs. She introduced me to my guide and told me that we’d be ready to go whenever I’m ready. I put my passport, ˝ my money, and one credit card into the hotel safe (they don’t use individual safety deposit boxes, so I wanted to make sure I had a backup plan in case something happened).
One aspect of the trip that I liked was the fact that the hotel puts together private groups. Since I was alone, I wouldn’t have to share a tent with strangers. My expedition team (and make no mistake…they thought of this, and equipped this, as an expedition) consisted of a guide, two porters, and a cook. All of these people were there to support me, and only me. For larger groups they add more support people. Each would be carrying about 50 pounds of supplies. The best part is that your porter carries your gear. So other than a day pack, I was traveling light!
Loading up the Landrover with a few hundred pounds of supplies. From left to right...my personal porter, my guide, and myself.
I was given a boxed lunch, which consisted of a hardboiled egg, roll, jam, orange juice, banana, and a small tuna sandwich. We departed early in two land rovers filled with gear (they supply all group gear including tents, stoves, food, etc.). I brought my own tent, but this wasn’t necessary since the quality of their tents was fairly good. It was about an hour drive, through banana and coffee plantations and small villages, that brought us into the park and to the trailhead of the Machame route.
Passing through the banana and coffee plantations enoute to the trailhead
Porters sorting gear and trying for work
It took about 45 minutes to go through the formalities and obtain the climbing permit. This is all handled by the guide. I simply needed to fill-out the visitors register with my name, nationality, and passport number (you don’t need to bring your passport to the climb…just the number). The guide then arranges and sorts out the gear for the porters. The Keys hotel uses their own porters. Other expeditions contract with porters at the trailhead. It’s an interesting scene with lots of people trying to get the work for the day. Everyone is respectful of the climbers…in fact they won’t approach you or talk to you unless you initiate a conversation. Most speak a little English. Most guides speak English rather well.
Signpost at the Machame Trailhead
My porter with his load (he's also carrying a backback containing his own supplies
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