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Looking down into the crater of an ancient volcano, vast enough to hold a small town, brings a sense of euphoric freedom. My feet perched on the crater rim, it felt as if I could take off like a bird whenever my heart desired. The thin air on Mount Kilimanjaro makes one feel light headed, and near Uhuru peak the ecstasy of summiting can be   almost tipsy. Thank God I am a teetotaller. The cold in the early morning climb can make one crave a little brandy- I might have attempted to fly in that case.

In 1991, I was 18 years old and knew my mind pretty firmly. Volcanoes were my calling. Nothing inspired me more than pictures of red flaming lava spilling into the air, nothing made me live like the touch of rocks- all textures, colours and shapes; nothing intrigued me as much as stories of earthquakes and eruptions from history. I would give my right arm to study geology and volcanoes- yet that was not enough.

Two university places came my way- one in exploration geophysics, the other in medical college. My parents holding the purse strings had the final say. Medical college it was- albeit kicking and screaming.

Geophysics was no career for a woman with soft feet and small hands according to my parents. They laughed themselves silly to think of me trying to complete field tasks in the wild. My father’s stock phrase of sarcasm for years to come would be ‘My daughter’s going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!’

Years passed and teenage anger mellowed into adult resignation and perhaps a little pity at my parents’ safe and cloistered views on life. Medical college gave me my wonderful husband and a daughter to die for- no mean thing but somewhere during my night shifts or a busy clinic, a chain rankled, the volcano called.

Fast forward to 2013. I would turn 40 that year. I decided to choose a gift for myself- a trek to Uhuru Peak. When I told my parents, they thought I was joking. When I mentioned dates and tour organizers, the message sunk in. My father’s voice held a touchingly helpless plea when he said, ‘You are really going? You mean to say you are really going?’

It was me and an adventurous friend. We trekked up the Rongai route soaking up every minute, every sight, the changing topography and vegetation with every step. On the fourth day we reached the camp at Kibo Hut. The summit rose powerful, steep and challenging before us- snow crowning the peak like a sparkling tiara.

We started in darkness, the next morning. The trail lit up ahead of us by a series of head torches, undulating up the volcanic slope, like a giant glow worm. We saw dawn break and the sky turn rosy. Two hours into our hike and we could see ahead, a group of fellow travellers who had started an hour or two before us, starting to flag. Mount Kili was throwing out its most challenging day.

My friend had started to slow down. Our guide took a tough decision and sent me ahead with the assistant guide while he stayed on with my friend, helping her to continue at her own pace. We ploughed ahead.

Suddenly the crater rim loomed temptingly close. A gap in the rock wall showed a beckoning glimpse of glaciers and frozen waterfalls. We were almost there.

Cheers erupted from enthusiastic, joyful co-travellers as we scrambled on to Gilman’s point. A few energy bars and it was onto Uhuru Peak, its flag fluttering at the top of Africa.

I sat on the rim of the crater, my dusty walking shoes dangling over the edge, the crater floor hundreds of feet below. I had summited Mt Kili. I had seen a volcano in sombre glory. I had touched a crater rim. It was time to put the simmering anger to rest, once and for all. A time to break the chains. It was time to make peace and unburden the soul to stretch like a soaring eagle.

One day my daughter will bring my ashes up here and scatter them to the winds over the crater. I will fly over the crater like a bird. Till then I will let my heart soar above Kilimanjaro, unfettered at last.

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After 12 hours in the air, the plane finally kissed the ground. One bounce, then back in the air, as if deciding whether to stay or keep carrying her weary passengers to farther lands. I prayed in my heart she would stay ground-bound. Tanzania was far enough for me.

Tanzania would surprise me almost every day over the following two months, but I can distinctly recall my first surprise came as I gazed out the foggy plane window. The people were…normal. Nothing thrilling, exotic, disturbing or enchanting. I don’t know what I expected, but normal wasn’t on the list. These people looked just like normal humans! Homosapien sapien, with two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth. Maybe I expected them to break out into an African chant, or carry spears with lion head dresses, but unlike Alice’s rabbit hole, this new world did not launch immediate wonder at my blindfolded mind. How funny that my initial disappointing discovery on the arriving plane would transform into my most cherished treasure by the time I boarded the plane home.

I came to Africa with a mindset not unlike many foreignors: Let’s go save the poor, wretched forgotten people. Let’s hold little babies and our magic touch will cure them of all misfortune. Let’s share our talents,skills, smarts, magic minds and dollar bills to civilize the primitives.

Of course, I didn’t know I thought this way. That would be purely pompous. No, I only dared whisper it to my superhero complexes hiding deep inside my well-disguised ego.  I told myself I wanted to help people, to give back a bit of the good fortune I’d so easily acquired, to CHANGE THE WORLD, and I truly did want all of those. I had two months to fill my world-changing quota and check it off the list, and I had too many ideas to know what to do with.

While my initial findings originally left me disappointed, I quickly realized that the common humanity I shared with the people of Tanzania was actually what made this place so dazzling and remarkable. Through the medium of our human-ness, the people of Tanzania introduced me to an entirely new experiential reality. We travelled by foot, exchanging salutations with new faces, tossing smiles and peaceful words between one another. Walking gave us the time to see one another, to speak of things other than the next task at hand, to let our hearts beat to the rhythm of footsteps. We crammed into small vans, sitting on laps and sweating with unknown elbows and knees filling every empty space. We hugged hello and kissed goodbye, and as I watched two grown men walk hand in hand, I realized that Africans did not fear touch or new friendship as I had been taught to do. In Africa, strangers are simply friends you haven’t met.

Humans dance. Humans sing. Humans cry and eat and savor sweet memories, and in Tanzania, the people embrace the simplicity of raw living. They know their own hands like a memorized story, as their hands build their own fires, break their own rocks, knead their own dough and construct their own homes. They sing on command, hold hands, and only perceive poverty when they compare their lives with American Tv.

I came to Tanzania to make a difference and fix what I believed was broken. I came to Tanzania to bravely face the wild dangers that fill storybooks and outsider expectations, to change the minds of the natives and tell them what they needed. Yet, in the exhaustion of trying to mold a fluid sculpture, I began to recognize that Tanzania and her people will only change through the touch of the original artist. The heart of this culture lives and breathes and stands alone as a relic of humanity. In the end, the people I so eagerly sought to teach showed me how to open my hands, my eyes and my heart to the terrifying concept that my little box could not contain the richness of our shared humanity.

My most terrifying journey occurred within myself, but it was Tanzania’s sun-soaked hands that reached inside and opened the door to the tiny compartment that contained my heart. On the other side of the world, I rebuilt my box, but this time without walls, because sometimes the bravest thing we can do is admit that what we thought we knew was wrong.

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I came to wander almost every city street in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Africa because the hotel receptionist said to me, “A map? You don’t need a map, getting lost is half the fun.” She was right. And there was no map anyway.

Calling the narrow passages that were also unofficial obstacles courses ‘streets’ might have been an overstatement. Think of walking down the smallest alleyway in your own neighborhood and having to step over randomly discarded toilets, stray cats, sticks, bicycle tires, garbage, potted plants and that accurately describes the streets of Stone Town. Sometimes they were big enough for small cars and sometimes they were not. As long as your day ended without having collided with a bicycle, you’ve had a successful walking day in Stone Town. man on bike and boy

Yet in that jumbled mess lays a UNESCO World Heritage Area. The architecture is stunning and evidence of Stone Town dates back to the 8th century. In the 19th century it was one of the most important trading routes in the Indian Ocean region.


Many early European explorers also used the island of Zanzibar as an important base. David Livingstone was probably the most famous European explorer to do so. He had many expeditions over his lifetime throughout Africa. He was gone for several years and little was heard of his existence to the outside world. On November 10, 1871 he finally met with journalist Henry Stanley and the famous quote, “Dr Livingstone I presume?” came into existence.


Stone Town gets its name from the ornate houses built with stone by Arab traders during the 19th century. The Old Fort is now used as a cultural center with shops, workshops and has daily dance or music performances.


For a small donation, we took a wander around the old fort.


One of the biggest attractions for visitors is to simply wander the streets. No matter which way you go exploring, it won’t be that long until one ends up along the seafront or Creek Road as a reference point. If you do feel completely lost, locals are friendly and more than willing to point you in the right direction back to your lodging. If all else fails, you can just grab a taxi and tell them the name of your hotel and they will bring you back.

carved door in stone town

Part of the allure of walking around town is finding and viewing some of the 500 brass studded, wooden doors on many of the buildings.

6 degree wine

For food, you can get as local or as fancy as you want. We decided to go out for a nice dinner one night at a restaurant called Six Degrees South. It was big, modern, snazzy, had a roof top bar and the food was excellent. The service was great and they were well set up for big groups or solo travelers.


After you have explored Stone Town, head up the coast. There are plenty of nice places to choose from. We stayed at Sunset Bungalows Kendra. Our room was a short walk from the beach which provided endless strolling. The water was bath temperature and we could have sat in there all day.

white  wall

From a cultural and photographic view point, we found Stone Town to be interesting, worthwhile and a photographic gem. Other travelers we talked to did not enjoy Stone Town because of the pollution, litter, crumbling buildings and disarray. All of those things exist and they were not my favorite part either. It seems Stone Town would only be helping themselves to clean up the city and even just the tiniest bit would make a drastic improvement. I’m sure it’s easier said than done when the community is still facing so many poverty issues. However underneath all the mess is world class architecture and beauty. To me, a visit to  Stone Town allows the visitor to see what they want to see. I went there wanting to see it’s beauty, architecture and cultural differences, and for that reason I was not disappointed.

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If you go:

You have to buy water while on Zanzibar. Make sure you get to a shop and buy bigger gallons of water. Not only will this save you money, but plastic pollution is a major problem and eye sore in Zanzibar, so do what you can to minimize your impact.

We stayed at Safari Lodge. Some rooms were more unique than others, i.e., aesthetically appealing stone archways as you enter the shower, while other rooms were window-less. The lodge was clean, the staff was nice and some of their architecture made it a neat place to stay while in Stone Town.

 Six Degrees South is within easy walking distance of most hotels in Stone Town, was good value for money and we would recommend eating there.

Further up the beach, we stayed at Sunset Bungalows Kendra. We found the rooms to be be very nice, clean and comfortable. The beach is a short walk down a hill and the location is lovely. You can walk almost as long as you want either right or left and the water was so warm! There are plenty of restaurants around the area. Unfortunately, a few of us did get a touch of food poisoning we believe from some crab soup at their restaurant.  Aside from that, our stay was very nice there and we would recommend.

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The Bleached-Sea in Tanzania

They hadn’t told us much about the place, just that it was a safe haven. I suppose that made things worse, because it moved my expectations even further away from the truth.

I have always been a “rainer-complainer”. Grotty weather irritates me. Despite the lack of rain, I had already spent a lot of my time in Tanzania complaining about the weather; about the stifling heat from the relentless African sun, the thick, oppressive, muggy air of dry-season, and the oily film of sweat and sun-cream I was constantly coated in. Complaining about the freak, torrential showers under which we would suddenly become drenched, but somehow not refreshed. Just even more clammy and humid than before.

It was cold that day, and the sky scowled down at us as we stepped off the dala dala. Strange as it sounds, something did hang in the air. Something unpleasant.

I remember us actually chatting as we approached the gate, perhaps at that point unaware of the sky, or the air. As the gates opened for us, a bell rang, and it was then that the waves came.
From three separate entry points along the grubby, crumbling building, they spilled out and headed straight towards us. Every last one of them. We were pulling them, like the moon guides the tide. Time seemed to jar, or perhaps my mind had simply developed some momentary power to stall it, and the bleached-sea was gliding towards us, closing in.

As the waves crept closer, some transformative threshold must have been crossed, for in a moment the bleach-sea had begun to separate into individual droplets, and the droplets then transformed into people. Horrifyingly strange people. They all wore the most bizarre combinations of tatty, ill-fitting clothing, and the closer they came the more the details began to appear. Their faces were a sore combination of stark white and red-raw; sun-marked, drying and painfully scabbed over. They were partially concealed under the peaks of various large, grubby sunhats.

The orphans drifted towards us in ominous silence, but before I had acclimatised to the sight before me, they had reached us, and one of them rushed at me, his arms outstretched. The single strangest feeling I have ever had was that split-second of repulsion in which I recoiled, horrified, before looking into the little Tanzanian boy’s milky-blue eyes and realising that this was just a child. More than that. They were orphans.

Albinism is far more widespread in Africa than anywhere else in the world, one study putting the Tanzanian ratio at one in 4,000 people – a reality to which I had been completely ignorant. Believed by many tribes to bring luck and prosperity, albinos are hunted and murdered across the country. Their legs, genitals, eyes, hair, and even skin, are highly coveted. This orphanage, we believed, would be a relative safe haven for these young, parentless children to live out their inevitably short lives. Albinos, we were told, rarely live past the age of 30. Cancer is their greatest killer.

After being found or finding themselves this protective sanctuary, the albinos stay here for the remainder of their days, removed from the dangerous threats of the outside world but also, sadly, from life itself. And though a safe haven, perhaps, this place was the furthest thing from a haven imaginable. The orphans sleep three to a single bunk, the mattresses are a thin, rotting sponge and there is no bedding to speak of. The floors of the buildings are cold, wet and grimy and the food looked revolting. The entire place is infected with a sweet, putrid smell which hangs in the air and catches at the back of the throat.

From that day on, far from being the “rainer-complainer”, every time it rained in Shinyanga all I could think of was what the orphans would be doing at that moment in time; their feet wet and blue with cold, their tiny, shivering bodies underdressed and crammed onto a bare single mattress.

As we passed back out of the same gates through which we had entered, the insane juxtaposition of the life awaiting me, and the one they had to live out, confined to this side of the gate, was almost impossible to comprehend. I did go back and visit again, but I didn’t stay. I have been moving about the world, meeting people, interacting, experiencing life ever since. The orphans I met will all still be there now, in that miniscule “safe haven” of living hell. That is, those that are still living.

Nothing could push someone more towards seizing, exploring, and confronting things head-on, because they can’t, and they won’t. But I can, so I will.

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Looking around the table, listening to the stories of Borneo, gorillas in Rwanda and other exotic spots, I felt a bit out of place.  This was ironic.  While I grew up in California, I work in International Development which had taken me to Peshwar, Jalalabad, Bogota, Banda Aceh, Tegucigalpa….just to name a few distant outposts.  However, this trip was different…my dad and I were sitting in an elegant tent in the middle of the Serengeti as the wildebeest migration wandered through camp.


It all started when my dad mentioned his retirement dream of seeing the migration and going on safari.  My mom, a more artistic than adventurous soul, said she’d rather not go, and my dad generously asked if I’d like to join him.  This sparked a year-long research project of finding the right safari….did we want to stay in tents?  Five star hotels?  Did we want our own guide?  What country, what animals, what cultures?   We finally narrowed it down to the Serengeti in Tanzania, with a multiple-day stay in a camp following the migration.


Arriving from two continents, me from Italy and dad from California, we stayed one night in Arusha before meeting our gregarious and knowledgeable guide, Cornelius.   Our trusty Land Cruiser was packed the next morning with luggage and treats, and off we went.  The drive quickly went from hot, noisy, dusty Arusha to the wide-open spaces of the rift valley.


Our first stop not on the printed itinerary as we were quick to learn was the “way of Cornelius” was a lone Baobab tree.  Here Cornelius hopped out, jumped a fence of thorns and begin our education on the amazing array of birds living in the micro-habitat around the Balboa.  Birds with long tails, yellow coloring, delicate features opened a new world of African safaris was opened to us as we stood looking up.  We would learn that the  “big five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) were only a fraction of the life on in the Tanzanian savannah.


As we arrived at our next destination, Lake Manyara National Park, dad and I were like kids in a candy store.  As our first true “safari” spot, it lived up to our dreams, with a baboon family welcoming us at the gate, rhino rib trees displaying spectacular lines and angles, and our first glimpse of a cheetah.  Next was Gibbs Farm, one of the first guest houses in Tanzania, sitting on acres of organic coffee and produce. More than 70 percent of the items on the menu are products of the farm. Our first night’s meal, cooked by a professional chef included a peanut and eggplant soup and fresh herb soufflé…not items I had anticipated eating on safari!


The next day brought elephants chasing away lions, thousands of pink flamingos, a rare black rhino sighting, and frolicking baby zebras on our drive into and through the Ngorongoro Crater.  Driving down the other side of the crater, we entered the hot, dusty backside of the conservation area.  Umbrella trees went from a rarity to the predominant life-form on the landscape.  From green to brown the landscape changed as we lazily neared camp.  As we neared, a storm descended upon us, sloshing the Land Cruiser about, giving Cornelius the chance to demonstrate his talent at taming the “Land Cruiser in mud beast.”  Watching other Land Cruisers in the distance not move with us, we appreciated Cornelius’ driving skills more than at any other point along the trip.

Upon arrival, we joined the small group of other hardy storm survivors who had reached our intimate camp on this vast plain.  Sitting at dinner that night, I realized how special the moment was in this place … sounds of wildebeest grunting in the background, stories of travels far and wide circling the table, and my dad sitting at my side, smiling and laughing as he fulfilled his retirement dream.

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How I found the freedom to be myself
Sometimes in life people change, sometimes life changes people, and sometimes life is there when people change. Before I went to on my trip to Zanzibar I was in a place of transition to say the least, and I can’t say whether it was the place or whether it was me, or whether it was really a bit of both. This is what I learned in Zanzibar.
Life is beautiful, and life is colorful and so are the people in it, and when things become dark or difficult, the best thing that you can do is throw colour on it. When I first arrive at the Zanzibar airport my senses were overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the airport or the lack of an airport to say the least. In my time I have been fortunate to travel to many places and as a result many airports, but for me this was a first. The building was old and bare, there was sand on the floor, and things moved at their own place, but the locals didn’t seem to mind this minimalistic approach. This place was naked, and so was I as I decided to leave the excess of western culture behind me, and walked in embracing the idea of simplicity.

This thought however was quickly put to rest when I entered the streets of stone town, the hub of Zanzibar, there is a colorfulness in this town, in the markets, your senses find that the clean over-the-top structures of Western power are absent; instead you find a culmination of old Arabic courtyard architecture, and African culture, intermingled with beautiful bright colors, exotic fragrances, these aspects are what give this town a completely unique feel.

The streets are narrow and inter leading, as an outsider you can easily get lost in the maze of stores and buildings, with the smell of fruit and spices, never far away.

From its tumultuous history of violence and revolution to its awakening as a beautiful place of colour and peace, Zanzibar is the epitome of new life: the light that radiates from the people, from the jolly larger-than-life captain of our dhow boat; Babo, to the children playing in the street, laughing as they run through the vibrant curtains of shaded cloths that contrast the stony road surface below or to the life of the Zanzibar born musician Freddie mercury. These people show no signs of unhappiness or unrest, and as I sat and watched them in their daily movements, the ease and gratitude with which they handled life, even when they had very little of their own, opened my heart, to let go of the resentments which plagued me, and inspire me.
As I stared at them through my camera lens I did not realized that those moments, and those people would follow me home, as I traded a camera for canvas, and capture those images by picking up the paint brush that I had long since forgotten about. I took my experienced in Zanzibar and translated it onto the canvas that now hangs on my wall as a constant reminder of how small things and small moments can change you.
And this is what freedom means to me: freedom and independence stems from the freedom to express one ’s self, and find that thing that inspires creation.

About the Author: Liesl Schroeder I am a writer, with a degree in philosophy.

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Tanzania picThe blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned woman walking through the market in Arusha stands out from the crowds of spiral haired, brown eyed, chocolate skinned locals. She wanders through the tight rows of food stalls, all stacked to the sky with their rainbow produce, weaving between the hawkers selling their wares.
That blonde woman is me. My fair complexion, cautious approach, and eyes wide with wonder identify me as a foreigner; yet I have never felt so at home as I do in Tanzania.

I call Sydney, Australia home. My childhood home looks out to the towering skyscrapers of the city on one side, and the golden beaches and sparkling sea on the other. I live a privileged life – a kitchen full of food, a wardrobe full of clothes, and a life full of opportunities to study, travel, and shape my future.
The men, women and children of the villages of northern Tanzania live a much simpler life. Often whole extended families live in one mud and thatch hut the size of a single car garage, set back from the dusty corrugated road. There is little space, or money, for lavish personal items or non-essential food, and many villagers have never travelled beyond the next village. Yet their joyful smiles and inner peace express a contented acceptance of life.

Having no regrets is all about acceptance; acceptance of your circumstances and acceptance of your choices. Coming from the hustle and bustle of the city to the natural flow of life in northern Tanzania provides new perspective. Here people live in the moment and accept life for what it offers, making the most of the haves rather than wanting the have nots.

In Tanzania time beats at the perfect pace, and the people work with the natural flow of time. There is no racing from place to place, no wishing the weekend would arrive, or begging the clock to slow down before a deadline. Africa is the only place in the world that impassions me to get up when the sun rises and enjoy the day as nature intends it to unfold.

For me, the days spent journeying through the natural surroundings of northern Tanzania are the most fulfilling. Each national park welcomes its guests into a different environment, from the luscious leafy canopy of Lake Manyara Park to the endless dusty plains of the Serengeti. Sitting in a vehicle mere metres away from a pride of lionesses gentling tending their cubs, or halting the car as a herd of elephants wander trunk to tail across the path, are some of life’s most heart-warming experiences.

Every moment in this setting is a gift. The serenity of the landscape and its inhabitants affords the realisation that each of us is just one small dot in the big picture of life. It inspires me to care more about the environment and to return to my home committed to being a better global citizen.

Flying out of northern Tanzania after ten incredible days, I leave this region full of love for this country and joy for what I have experienced. More importantly, I take away an unexpected sense of calm and belonging; full of inspiration, a renewed perspective on life, and absolutely no regrets. I promise myself that I will return, and am silently excited that one day I will again be the blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned woman in the local marketplace.

About the Author: Danielle Fryday is a 30 year old Learning and Development professional from Sydney, Australia. I have been brought up travelling with my parents, and have recently married the love of my life who also shares a passion for travel. Our honeymoon to Africa has inspired me to explore travel writing opportunities to share our adventures with others.

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tassia lodge walkingWalking safaris in Africa are good for the soul, it’s a fact – getting back to basics with a private safari guide, exploring some of Africa’s most unique and game rich areas, all on foot. It feels natural and authentic and never will you get a better view of the bush than when on foot. If you really want to get away from the crowds and explore areas which others haven’t, then on foot is the only way to do it. Walking safaris are the preferred safari option for most guides which means the walking safari operations often attract a much higher quality of safari guide whose knowledge of the bush will be unrivalled.

robin pope walkingWalking safaris take place all over Africa and some of our favourites are those that walk out from a luxury lodge and meet a lantern lit fly camp for the night, before walking back. This means you don’t have to commit to days spent walking and roughing it, but can enjoy the feeling of complete remoteness before heading back to your luxury camp, which in itself will be in a remote and magical location. Sand Rivers in the Selous offer fantastic walking safaris across hills and through savannah where vehicles cannot go. Chada Katavi in Western Tanzania also offer magical fly camping, in an area which is bigger than most counties and only has one luxury camp – it doesn’t get anymore wild.

motswiri walking botswanaZambia is also famous for walking safaris and all of the properties there offer walks from the camps, or walking with a mobile camp which is moved by your private staff during the day while you are walking. You get to take in the smaller things, which make the ecosystem around you survive, and often have peaceful and quiet experiences with wildlife, which are humbling and life changing.

lewa walkingLuxury camps and lodges can no longer simply offer game drives, it is the freedom to explore the bush which is really appealing to people and this is shown by the number of camps which now offer walking. Sometimes you will come around the corner to find a fully laid out bush breakfast, delicious after a hard walk. Or a sundowner spot laid with lanterns and a cold beer or coca cola. Walking is so peaceful and the game reacts calmly and naturally to your presence. Walking with the expert guides is fantastic and in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia there is the chance to walk with ancient tribespeople whose knowledge of tracking and the bush is mesmerising.

About the AuthorRose Hipwood lived, loved and worked in Africa for 7 years before founding The Luxury Safari Company four years ago. Specialising in off the beaten track luxury safaris you can rest assured that you will always have access to Africa’s most exclusive properties, the best safari guides and unrivalled first hand knowledge of Africa.

Kilimanjaro Overlooking Mawenzi PeakHours after a dim light from an East African moon graced the barren landscape, our ever smiling guides began their all too familiar task of rousing weary trekkers from their slumber. Illumination from headlamps began to fill the cramped sleeping quarters that defined Kibo Huts. The would be mountaineers layered themselves in an impressive spectrum of adventure gear as the patient and practiced guides began to assemble an equally impressive offering; fuel for the frigid, slow walk to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

We were obediently herded into the single file existence we had become accustomed to since crossing the threshold into Kilimanjaro National Park. As our ocular senses began to shed the burden of the previous hours slumber the struggle we would soon face unfurled in front of us. Hundreds of feet above isolated strings of headlamps appeared to float towards the summit under the power of their indiscernible hosts. Progress was slow as our guides attempted to impart the importance of traversing the switchbacks slowly through the countless recitations of the mantra “pole pole!” “Slowly” one foot replaced the other like treads on a tank at the mercy of a scree slope. The sun’s heated rays began to peek over the horizon, illuminating smiles among the group. One final scramble led us over the crest of Gilman’s Point only to reveal Uhuru Peak situated across the crater rim. After making the final leg of the journey, congratulations spread like wildfire. Digital snap shots of time were seized by all in an effort to eternalize their respective struggle(s) to the summit of the tallest feature in Africa. As the air of excitement was interrupted by piercing wind we began our expedited return to Kibo Huts.

Descending, gravity assisted what is best described as a controlled sprint down the scree field arduously surmounted hours earlier. The clear day offered an unobstructed view of Mawenzi Peak. The group was dispersed on the descent so I seized the opportunity to slow my pace. I found solitude amongst the plethora of geological specimens littering the slope. Relaxing into the mountain afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon various facets of my life. Fortunately the wind masked the sound of stumbling fellow travelers and their excited dialog. The white noise provided a sense of isolation, a catalyst for unbiased and emotionally detached thoughts. Beginning with the obvious topic of sitting on Mount Kilimanjaro, I reflected on the decision to attempt as well as the ultimate success of such a feat. My thoughts redirected to fifteen months earlier as I held my son in my arms for the first time. How I desired to complete this trek again with him as my companion was at the forefront of my thoughts. As contemplations of the future developed thoughts of a pending deployment to Afghanistan inevitably began to metastasize. I quickly shrugged away thoughts of conflict, and refocused on my family. Strangely enough, the summiting of Mt. Kilimanjaro was overshadowed by the solitude discovered amidst the scree strewn slope.

While Uhuru Peak provided me a photograph, the serenity of the surrounding landscape volunteered a way of thought and understanding. Understanding that amongst all the white noise of our existence, one must regularly seek out a place of solitude to reflect. Such a location may present itself in the strangest form. For me it was a nondescript scree field in Tanzania. Wisely, I have since found solitude spending time with my family; amidst crowded subway trains beneath the city that never sleeps; and navigating the harsh terrain, culture and political climate of Afghanistan. Without reflection one would wonder, what defines our existence? Is it dutifully checking life’s boxes or rather succumbing to its intoxicating effects? Either way it’s unlikely to experience the intoxication of life while sobered by white noise and regret.

About the Author: John Milicevich is a twenty-five year old Infantry Officer in the United States Army who, at the time of writing, is deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan. When the opportunity presents itself he loves to seek out life’s adventures with friends and family.

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kiliI walked out the gate for the last time, carefully closing it behind me. I walked slowly, unwilling to move fast. Tears were building up in my eyes. Mama V walked along me in silence. I tried not to look back, I tried to move forward but I couldn’t fight it anymore. I stopped and turned around. Beyond the horizon, above the clouds, floated Kilimanjaro’s snowy peak.

The whole time I tried really hard not to think about saying goodbye and leaving. It was denial but I didn’t want to acknowledge that there will be a moment when I will need to say goodbye and walk away. Mama V stood beside me. She reached out and touched my hand, gently squeezing it.

“Will you come back?” asked Mama V.

“I hope so.” I paused. “God willing.”

She nodded. “God willing. I will pray for your return.”

“Thank you. I hope I can come back. I will miss you all too much not to come back.”

“The kids will miss you too. We all will.”

“Thank you.”

“They do really like you. You should remember that.”

All I could do was nod.

Two months ago on my first day volunteering at this orphanage in Tanzania, the children and I collected pebbles. I counted in English, children counted in Swahili. We all learned. The same would happen when I chopped veggies for lunch stews. I said in English, they said in Swahili. They laughed when I said it completely wrong. They were way better at mimicking me than I was at repeating after them. It happened so fast I didn’t even realise what was happening, but very soon I was living for that moment in the morning when I would walk through the gate and be greeted with the children running towards me screaming “Teacher Katie!”. It was the hours spent with kids that mattered the most from there on. Every moment with them was a precious gift. Soon I started to regret how attached I was getting to the children, and to those views of Kilimanjaro on my daily walk and from the orphanage’s yard.

In my second week there, one of the girls grabbed my hand and simply said, come. But where, I protested. Instead of answering she just pulled me by hand. I gave in and followed. We walked to the other side of the small brick building that housed the storage rooms and Mamas’ quarters. As we rounded the corner, she pointed to the horizon. Kilimanjaro, she said. Yes, it is, I said. On the top there is snow, she said. Yes, the white top is the snow. She nodded. We stood there for a moment staring at the horizon. I looked over at her, she looked more serious and in thought than I would ever expect a six year old to look. But then her stare broke, she smiled. Can I have some chalk, she asked. I smiled back, maybe later.

As I stood there with Mama V, looking at the peak, I tried to memorise where the snow lines were. Someone told me the snow was melting, maybe to be gone in our lifetime. For now, it glistened in the late afternoon light. Children’s laughter and squeals echoed from the yard.

I regretted getting attached but looking up at the mountain again, I forgot about that regret. All I remembered was love and hope I found in this corner of the world. The snows of Kilimanjaro will melt, the kids will grow up, the time will move on, but before all those things happen, there is a lot of life still to be lived.

About author: I am Katie Chakhova. I loathe the question “where are you from?”, there is no simple answer. Travel and writing have both been part of my life since childhood, forever linked and integral parts of my life. I am passionate about this amazing world we call home and stories we tell about it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.