The elephant in the room
Pole pole (pronounced polay polay, meaning slowly slowly in Swahili) best describes my 13th marathon in Moshi, Tanzania. Conquering my third continent, I completed the Kilimanjaro Marathon in February 2016 with my two running buddies, Bernadette and Barb. The race started at 6:30 a.m. at 70 degrees, and by the time we finished, it was a sweltering 91 degrees.
The first half of the race went relatively quickly as the locals were out cheering for us in their Sunday best. A young girl in a blue dress and flip flops and a group of little boys ran with us for short stretches. At mile 13, we began a five-mile climb as the heat also climbed. Leaving Moshi, we ran on country dirt roads and passed cows, goats, chickens and women carrying bananas and buckets of water on their heads. The landscape was lush and scenic as we climbed Banana Hill. We returned to Moshi to a challenging final mile, as we dodged cars, motorcycles, and people walking. After five+ hours, we achieved our goal of running a marathon in Africa to celebrate Barb’s 40th birthday.
Another highlight of our trip was a hike to Materuni Falls and lunch at a small coffee plantation at our guide’s grandmother’s house. Located in in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro (Kili, as the locals call it), we helped produce coffee by using a giant mortar and pestle to remove layers from the beans, while singing a Chagga chant (one of more than 120 tribes in Tanzania). After our guide roasted the beans over an open fire, we enjoyed the smooth, dark, delicious coffee with an exquisite aroma.
We ate a hearty stew called mtori, made of plantains, potatoes and beef. The colorful spread of luscious mango, avocado, green oranges and papaya rounded out our favorite meal in Africa. However, the best part of the day was meeting the warm and welcoming locals, especially Joseph, his brother and friends.
Instead of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, standing at 19,341 feet, we opted for a safari to Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. We saw elephants, impalas, dik-diks (tiny antelope about a foot high) and monkeys in the national park. The next day, we descended 610 meters down the crater in our Jeep and saw hundreds of zebra, wildebeeste, gazelle, and cape buffalo, as well as lions, rhinos, hyenas, warthogs and dozens of species of birds. In the Serengeti, we saw giraffes, cheetahs, hippos and leopards. We were amazed how close we got to these majestic creatures. Our exceptional safari guide and driver, George, scouted out hard-to-find animals and provided unique insight on the various wildlife as well as the Maasai culture.
We stayed at the luxurious Bougainevillea Safari Lodge for two nights and then at a more rustic campsite for three nights. The staff at both places delivered impeccable service, but we were impressed at the camp when our beds were turned down at night, and we received in-person wake up calls with hot Kilimanjaro coffee outside our large tent. We also dined al fresco by candlelight, under the stars with a spectacular view of the Milky Way. The sounds of lions and hyenas woke us, but our Maasai warrior guarded the camp all night with his spear, ensuring our safety.
editor’s note: Wow. OK. Glad that turned out well.
One morning, we took a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti at sunrise and discovered why Serengeti means endless plain. We flew high above the treetops and lower to the ground to catch glimpses of animals in their natural habitat. After we landed, a champagne toast and full English breakfast under acacia trees added the perfect touch to an already magnificent morning.
Asante sana (thank you so much), Tanzania for providing stunning scenery, beautiful people, and incredible memories. I hope to return to climb Kili and take my family on safari.
We booked our marathon and safari through Wild Frontiers. I highly recommend this company; the beauty is you don’t have to run the marathon to go on safari or climb Kili. A 5K fun run, 10 K wheelchair race and half marathon options are also available. Unless, you’re a Kenyan, I would not expect to go haraka haraka (quickly quickly).