Kilimanjaro National Park: December 19-20, 2010

While approaching massive Mount Kilimanjaro, which was obscured by clouds on an otherwise sunny day, we decided on staying in the town of Marangu for the night, before continuing on to Arusha National Park the following day. The Marangu Route up Kilimanjaro is also known as the Coca-Cola Route, and the town, despite its green and deliciously cool setting, has an unpleasant edge to it as guides quickly swarm newly arrived foreigners. In fact, on our way towards the entrance gate of the park, our car had its first breakdown of the trip, a busted u-bolt that supports the suspension, and within minutes we were being hassled by people offering their guiding services up the mountain.

Fortunately, we finally encountered a man who was willing to fix our car, a roadside repair that turned out to be relatively simple. Our confidence weakened though, we retreated to the Marangu Hotel for the evening, whose gorgeous grounds offered a highly civilized setting for our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro, which surfaced spectacularly at sunset. Instead of driving out to the national park early the following morning, which is devoid of game and greatly deforested in parts, we decided to enjoy the lavish gardens of the hotel, which were filled with birds, including the flashy Bronze, Amethyst, and Variable Sunbirds. My favorite sighting was of a striking male Red-Headed Weaver preening for a few minutes before going to work weaving his nest.

Climbing Kilimanjaro (5895 meters) itself is an impressive undertaking, as it requires at least five days, with an extra rest day recommended to aid acclimatization. The going rate, which includes porters, park fees, food, transport, and accommodation in the climbing huts, is $200 per person per day. With confirmed plans to climb it in May, I felt little pull to explore the lower-elevation regions of the park on this vacation, especially considering that the unique avifauna is really only found in the high moorlands towards the summit, where the lovely Scarlet-Tufted Malachite Sunbird and the striking Lammergeier are sometimes seen. Our next destination, Arusha National Park, would offer the same montane forest habitat in a much better state of conservation.

Notable birds seen: Laughing Dove, Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill, Brown-Breasted Barbet, White-Browed Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, Yellow-Breasted Apalis, White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Bronze Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, Grosbeak Weaver, Red-Headed Weaver, Black-and-White Manakin.

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