I’m lucky enough to have many friends that love to travel as much as I do. Some of these friends I have met on my travels and some through other friends who love to travel. But I still have friends I’ve never traveled with. One of these friends will be celebrating a big birthday next year (I won’t say what it is, but it rhymes with shmorty). She’s my former boss from my lifeguarding days and current hiking/skiing/mountain climbing buddy. Like me, she has the mindset of not wanting to do it, but wanting to have done it. At least when it comes to climbing mountains. But for that special birthday of hers next year, we’ve decided to celebrate in a way we’re both very much looking forward to. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

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Yikes! I can’t think of too many more difficult ways to spend a birthday! Kilimanjaro is one of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountain in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. And it will be one trip neither of us will forget. On top of the mountain climbing, we plan to go on a few safaris, volunteer with the locals either building schools or working at hospitals, or whatever we find that works with our schedule/budget, and possibly a few days on the beaches of Zanzibar. You could do a lot worse.

After much research, we’ve chosen to do the Lemosho route to the top. It’s less traveled but just as scenic (if not more so) as the very popular Machame (Whiskey) route. It does take an extra day and therefore cost more, but that means another day to acclimatize, so it’s worth it. Plus it has one of the best success rates of all the routes on the mountain. The hike travels through 5 climate zones, from dense jungle to moorlands to alpine desert and more. You summit at sunrise on the 6th day, followed by a quick day and a half descent. Several years ago, Comic Relief in the UK sent 9 celebrities to climb this route for charity and I figured if they could do it, so can I! The documentary can be found on YouTube under Big Red Nose Climb, in seven parts. I haven’t been able to find it all in one piece.

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I’m also really excited about going on a safari or 3. Both the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are located near Kilimanjaro, as is Lake Manyara where you can see the flamingos! January through July is the great migration in the Serengeti so we’re hoping to catch the tail end of it before we start our climb. Elephants are my favorite animal and nothing would give me greater joy than the opportunity to see them in the wild.

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The last part of this trip, though probably the first thing we’ll do, is volunteering. Tanzania is a beautiful country with so much to offer, but they are very poor. Tourism from people wanting to climb Kilimanjaro has injected the country with much needed cash flow, but it still has a long way to go. We haven’t settled on which program we want to go with but we have many options. The two front runners as of right now are a 16 day program in Zanzibar building schools and Cradle of Love. The safaris, trips around the island and beach/dive time are included in the time and cost of the Zanzibar program, but Cradle of Love allows you to work directly with the children. We’ll also be asking our friends and families if they want to donate any school supplies, climbing gear or sports equipment that we could take over and give to the kids and porters.

This trip is still a year away, but the planning and saving has already begun. It’s definitely going to be the most expensive trip I’ve ever taken, but I think it will also be one of the most fulfilling.

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