Hitting the road – Mount Kilimanjaro

Picking up the vehicle took all morning. For a start we had said we would get to the vehicle place at 8am and actually got there at 9am. Coffee was needed before we departed and it always being quiet in the mornings (Africa very much wakes up) we had to walk a way to get a bajaj and then the hire company took some finding, it’s off a main road down a very rough dirt track and there are no signs on the gate so we had to ask around.

Being late meant there was 2 people in front of us. Not that there was any real paperwork to do, they didn’t even sight our drivers licences. Just gave us the paperwork for the vehicle and explained we had a problem. In Tanzania you have to carry the vehicle log book, when you cross a border you have to leave it there and then when you re-enter you get it back. However we are planning to exit to Rwanda and re-enter from Kenya. The company had checked with the Transport Authority and we could get a letter from them to carry instead so the log book could be left with the company. Until they went to get it the day before and were told the rules changed a week ago and now it’s not possible. We of course are exiting at a border far away so if someone has to go get the log book it’s a 3 day round trip. With no solution to the problem they told us to go do our trip the plan being to do our best to persuade them to let us keep the log book, but otherwise we’d all figure it out later.

Like all hire companies they give you a thorough briefing on the vehicle before you set off. Our windscreen had a decent chip in it and we were worried that with rough roads it’d crack. That would be both a hassle and also windscreens aren’t covered by the insurance so it would be our cost to replace. What we liked about the hire company we are using is they have mechanics to service the vehicles. So the guy in the office just got them to replace the windscreen for us while we waited.

It was lunchtime when we headed off. After doing the rough road we joined the main road. We’d been pleased to discover on the way there that it is 2 lanes as that makes it so much easier, and we were relieved it had got no busier when we re-joined. Helpfully all we had to do was turn left to join and we were on the road we wanted to go.

Land cruisers like we had got are one of the best overlanding vehicles there are, particularly in Africa – basic mechanics and so sturdy they are almost indestructible. The hire company is very straight up about their vehicles being older and perfect for the bush, but it turns out they are very basic inside too, no door pockets or places to put stuff. It was clearly going to take us a while to work out our system. It did come with a 60 litre water tank (not for drinking), a fridge, an axillary battery and an inverter with a multiplug board for charging stuff. It also came with dual fuel tanks that take 90 litres each, 2 spare tires and all the recovery gear we might need, like a hi-lift jack.

Given we needed to get used to the vehicle and sort out our camping set up ie where things live, we’d decided not to go too far on day 1 so it didn’t matter that we left so late.

We needed a good supermarket but no way were we venturing through the chaos of the city centre to the one we know and we didn’t pass any others as we left the city. We did pass one sometime later in a town. It was reasonable and we got enough to last us a couple of days.

It was a slow journey. The roads are tar sealed and good condition. Open road speeds are 80kph and towns/villages 50. The problem is you only go 3 minutes in an 80 until hitting the next settlement. They also have speed bumps and judder bars, like lots, in each town.

We’d decided to head to Mount Kilimanjaro, to see if we’d get lucky with a clear view) since it is winter there is often cloud on it). Only 2 hours away from Arusha it would give us a good run while also being to somewhere we wanted to go. As we hit the mountain we turned off and went down the west side of it. We got some great views of it, and of Mt Meru towering over Arusha, went through some really cool towns and villages (didn’t take any photos) and saw zebra and impala.

At 5,895m Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent (making it 1 of the big 7), the fourth most topographically prominent peak on Earth, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Most large mountains are part of a range where the tectonic plates collide, but Kilimanjaro is free standing because it is a dormant volcano. If it’s three volcanic cones Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, the highest, is dormant so could erupt again.

It was bloody hot though, around 30C, and by the time we’d turned back we’d had enough and were ready for camp. We found a restaurant on the outskirts on the main town of Moshi that has just started doing camping. It is a super cool place, huge and on stilts it is all hand made from recycled materials and build during covid. Bonus it meant for the first night we didn’t need to think about cooking.

We arrived knackered and dirty. We set the tent up and did precisely nothing else apart from head to the restaurant to get coffee. We didn’t move for the rest of the night, it was too good and the food was brilliant. We met a kiwi couple from Auckland that have been coming here for 3 months of the year for nearly 10 years, and the guy was generous in sharing his knowledge and suggestions for the best places to go. He also taught us that the police that man the check points are known as white hyenas (they wear white uniforms).

The temperature drops at night (well it is winter!) it was due to go down to 18C. We were asleep before the restaurant closed and slept well. The only people camping we had the restaurant behind together with a pile of rocks from the area in front that they are cultivating and a corn field to the side ringed by banana trees. The restaurant security guys quietly played music all night, which was nice to wake up to as it reminded us there was people around.

Both the roof tent and the sleeping bags the company had given us look new. The pillows are small and look cute but are as hard as a rock, we have our own pillows but by the time we discovered this we couldn’t be bothered to climb back down to get them out. They turned out to be surprisingly comfy and the zebra design matched the sheet they’d given us for the mattress.

The dogs going nuts barking at something in the banana plantation was what woke us properly. We were in no hurry to move though, making the most of being near tourist sites we weren’t leaving town without having a coffee and the cafe we’d clocked the day before didn’t open until 8am. We discovered we’d forgotten to check what setting the fridge was on. We’d frozen everything in it overnight. At least it works!


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