Traveling to Tanzania

The final Los Angeles Geographical Society (LAGS) lecture for the 2014-15 year was about the famous (ok, he is to us geographers) world traveler Matt Ebiner’s trip to Tanzania.  His lecture was titled “Tanzania–from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar”.

He started off by saying how Tanzania has a lot of dramatic nature.  His list included the following:

1. Lake Tanganyika – Second largest/deepest in the world

2. Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest

3. Wildlife – Serengeti Plain

4. Mt. Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest peak

5. Zanzibar Island – One of the most beautiful islands in the world

He discussed Tanzania’s landscape as one comprised of plateau and rift valleys (formed by extension – pulling apart of land), which includes Lake Malawi, part of the rift valley lakes.  Tanzania also has some impressive volcanoes, such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro Crater.  The latter is 12 miles across, long extinct and last erupted 2-3 million years ago.   The land is good for large mammals with its grasses that help provide protection.  Some of the animals migrate and the most abundant are the wildebeests.

Tanzania’s environment consists of a savanna climate with scattered trees and shrubs, such as the Acacia and Baobab trees.  The people who live in the savanna include the Maasai tribe, who can be found in two countries, Tanzania and Kenya.  They can let their cattle graze in Ngorongoro Park but they cannot live there because the park is a conservation site.

Some Maasai people.  Image from

Some Maasai people. Image from

Because there is lots of wildlife, not all people live a traditional lifestyle. Mainly cattle herders can be found doing this by doing things such as drinking milk and blood (only ceremonial) and using dung for construction of homes along with sticks and mud.  They are nomadic but less so now.  Some have settled permanently and some even use cellphones as they are best for communication since there are not many land lines set up.

Another tribe is the Hadzabe tribe, who are hunters/gathers (some purely this).  They make the time to flush out bees from hives to get honey while using a bow and arrow to get mongoose.

The Hadzabe people.  Image from

The Hadzabe people. Image from

Tanzania savanna wildlife includes many national parks starting with the Serengeti National Park.  This one has lots of cheetahs and it is best to see the animals during the dry season when the grass is not so high.  Wildebeest are always on move to find fresh grass.  Most of the land there is about 4,000 feet above sea level.  There is also the Tarangire National Park but it is not as busy or well-known.  Finally there is the Kilimanjaro National Park, which is near Arusha (has an interesting variety of religions – Christians 1/3, Muslim 1/3 and traditional beliefs 1/3).

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro is 25 miles across and has three volcanoes (Shira and Mawenzi – extinct and Kibo – highest/dormant).  Kibo has an ash pit in the crater along with fumes and the potential to erupt someday.  There are four attitudinal zones: 19,340 – 17,000 arctic zone, 17,000 – 13,000 alpine zone, 13,000 – 10,000 heath zone and 10,000 – 6,000 Montane (not sure of the spelling) cloud forest.

There are many routes up and everyone has to go with a guide because the government doesn’t want any accidents.  Ebiner’s climb up the mountain took six days and 40 miles along the Machame Route.  He stated that the full climb of 25 miles to the summit can cost $2,000 because of entrance fees, camp fees, guide fees and so on.  Ebiner’s crew consisted of one guide, one cook and six porters.  There were restrictions on how much they could carry. They had to have their gear weighed with no more than 44 lbs carried on the head.  They had to itemize all things, especially food.  At the end they had to check in all the trash (no one’s allowed to leave trash on the mountain) and plastic water bottles are banned.  Hikers get water from streams and then purify it with pumps.

Day 1 – They traveled seven miles from 6,000 – 10,000 ft into the Montane (??) cloud forest.  The porters earn $10/day and are very strong.  They work for tips of $5/day.  The cloud forest is very misty hence its name.  They reached Camp #1 at 10,000 ft.  They had popcorn, hot water for cleaning and hot water for tea or cocoa.

Day 2 – They traveled three miles, 10,000 – 12,600 ft.  The slow pace is to help with altitude sickness.  At this altitude the group saw bearded lichen on the trees and no clouds.  The trail also became rocky from the volcanic rock there (Andesite and Stratovolcano).  Camp 2 was at Shira, 12,600 ft.

Day 3 – The group traveled up then down (12,600-15,230-13,000) and saw nothing growing except grasses.  Later they saw giant Groundsels Lobelia, which closes up at night and opens in the day.

Groundsels Lobelia.  Image from

Groundsels Lobelia. Image from

Day 4 – They hiked six miles, 13,000-15,000 ft.  At this point, many people are affected by altitude sickness.  Part of the many fees is the rescue fee.  People who are sick are carted down in one wheel carts.  At this point, they came upon Mt. Mawenzi (16,900 ft), which has been extinct for 500 years  and is quite eroded.  Camp 4 was Barafu camp and is 4,000 ft below the summit.  The thin air there makes it hard to sleep and everyone has to start early – at midnight – to complete the hike on time.

Day 5 – They traveled the most this day, 11 miles both up and down, 15,350-19,341-10,000 ft.  For this part they are hiking in the dark so they can see the glaciers later.  They climbed for about 3-4 hours and the porters bring an oxygen tank in case someone gets sick.  At the top one can see glaciers in the crater.  The glaciers have been shrinking since the last century with an 85% reduction since 1912.  The ice is sublimating – going straight to vapor, not water.  The glaciers are shaped by wind and sun.  The summit is at 19,431 ft and Kilimanjaro means mountain of greatness.

Furtwangler Glacier at Mt. Kilimanjaro.   Image from

Furtwangler Glacier at Mt. Kilimanjaro. Image from

Day 6 – This was the last day and they traveled six miles to reach the summit.  Ebiner even tried to go higher by jumping in the air to get a few more feet for fun.


Ebiner’s other stop in Tanzania was the island of Zanzibar.  This is a small island off of the coast and is great for relaxing with beautiful beaches.  The monsoon winds that flow through here allowed for the creation of trade routes.   The island used to be called the “Spice Island”.  Part of their trade past includes the East African slave trade to the Middle East, which ended in the late 1800s.  The Dhow is a traditional sailing boat still used today and the sail can be moved in any direction.

The people here showcase a large amount of diversity with African, Arab and more.  There is a huge Islamic influence with 99% of the population.  There is also the famous Stone Town (Zanzibar’s old town), known for its intricately carved wooden doors.

The beach landscape generates tourism especially due to the white sand, which comes from the limestone coral found offshore.  The sand is so densely packed that people can ride bikes on it.  There are also spice farms (nutmeg, though most farmers grow cloves).  Spice farming has gone down and there is now more aquaculture (farming seaweed).  This is done by tying strings on sticks in shallow water, which grow to about 10 meters long.  The seaweed is used for cosmetics, food and beer (as a preservative).  It also has many forests, such as the Jozani Forest is where one can find the Red Colobus monkey, which only inhabits this island and the population is about 3,000.


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