At the Base of Kilimanjaro
Kilimanajro is surrounded by people though you would never know it. This is a rural area. Imagine a belt, a few kilometres wide, running the entire circumference of the mountain between the rainforest belt and the plains below. On the southern slopes especially (the northern slopes are much drier) this belt is a patchwork quilt of tiny farmsteads. This is the home of the waChagga people. It is a heavily populated area although you don’t see that at ground level because of the prolific vegetation. You are never far, in this whole area, from the mountain’s many rivers and waterfalls and the myriad rural pathways linking the whole.
We encourage people to explore these areas. The amounts to have a guide show you around are very modest and thus we encourage guests to pay the local people involved directly. For example, the price of a day guide is about $10 for a few hours or a full day. That is per guide, not per guest. Thus for 4 guests it would be $10, not $40. Then there are custodians at the various features such as waterfalls. These people charge adult guests $5 each. Children are less or even free. If there are a few of them you can negotiate. The custodians of the various other features such as traditional huts, blacksmiths, cave shelters for children, women and livestock (from the days of Maasai raids) usually charge about $3 per visitor. So the price of the tour will vary with the kind and number of features visited and it is best for you to deal with it directly. We can introduce you to a reliable day guide and then they take it from there. Coffee is grown on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Meru. The day guides are knowledgeable about this and the other crops grown on the farmsteads. Coffee is not as important a cash crop to the local people as it once was but the day guides can talk to visitors about it and show them how it is grown, harvested and processed. They will probably offer to sell you some beans. Caveat Emptor!
Day trips to features further afield can easily be arranged from our hotel. Arusha National Park, on the slopes and surrounds of Mt Meru, is around 100 kms from the hotel and a day there is well worth while and quite doable.
Lake Chala is a spectacular (“hidden”-you don’t see it until you are right at the top of the cliffs overlooking it) crater lake about 35 kms from the hotel. Again, a trip there can be arranged easily on the spot. The lake straddles the TZ-Kenya border.
Tsavo West National Park, which is in Kenya (past Lake Chala), is very close. The nearest gate is about 50 kms from the hotel. A day trip to the extraordinary oasis of Mzima Springs, which supplies much of Mombasa’s fresh water, is feasible but there are additional expenses involved. A Kenya visa is required. This can be obtained at the border for $50 for most nationalities. Note that another visa to re-enter Tanzania would be required for the same price. If this trip is contemplated you should ask for multiple entry visas if available. It would also be necessary to obtain the services of a Kenyan Safari Operator. We recommend Brayogo Safaris, located at Voi, between West and East Tsavo Parks. The owner is named Okeno and has always been completely dependable. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
There are a number of Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Tanzania (formerly German East Africa) and Kenya from the First World War campaign. There is one in Moshi that may be of interest to some and another in Taveta on the Kenya side of the border that could easily be visited en route or back from Tsavo West.
Markets are always of interest and there is always a market at one location or another. On Tuesdays and Fridays there is a banana market at Mwika, some 20 kms from the hotel. The people here, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, are the biggest consumers of plantains as a staple in the world. The Mwika market sends many tons of bananas to other parts of the country. A visit here can be tied to a Chala visit.
No Roads Expeditions runs several treks up Mount Kilimanjaro including:
Cusco's Unknown Places
Nothing like getting advice from a local. They know all the little places, the stories and the vibe better than any guide book or travel blog (most written by travellers not locals). The following is from Mark Smith in Peru (really Cusco), the gateway to the Inca's and the Andes. Let's hear what he has to say about Cusco. Note : Read to the end for some very special Cusco tips.
In my opinion, most people rush Cusco. It is the kind of place that you will wish you had spent more time. Here are some ideas, on what you could do with an extra day or two here.
Relax - Life is busy. Too busy. When was the last time you did nothing? Cusco is the perfect place to spend a day doing not a lot. You will probably find it quite hard to do nothing though as it is such an exciting place. If you fancy some down time, literally doing nothing at all. Then how about a day or two in the Sacred Valley. Beautiful hotels, with beautiful grounds abound. All designed to help you slow down, relax and do nothing.
Wander- Cusco has some of the most fascinating streets in the world. Narrow passageways and cobbled hills lead to small plazas. Each with a bench or two and some small trees to give shade. Just sit and watch the world go by, then when you fancy, choose a direction and carry on wandering. The old streets abound with interesting architecture. From ornate wooden balconies and brightly coloured doors past intricate carvings and on down to the solid Inca stonework upon which the city still stands. There are not dull buildings.
People watch- retired Cusco professionals off to discuss the latest news in their favourite cafe. School kids bounding down old Inca steps in their haste to make the bell. Market porters, shuffling along under the weight of 80 kilo sacks of potatoes fresh from the ground. Children with folders full of artwork, negotiating shrewdly with tourists. Policemen, in white hat and deeply polished shoes, blowing happily on their whistle in a vague attempt to install order to the multitude of impatient car horns.
Visit the museums - Your Cusco tourist ticket, which depending on your tour may be included, allows access to a wealth of museums hidden in the centre of town. From ancient textiles, hand painted clay vessels and Inca gold through to intricate colonial paintings, there is much to see.
Watch the stars - Cusco has its own fascinating planetarium offering you the chance to spend a few hours above the city in a night sky filled with stars
Make your own chocolate - Taking seeds from the native cocoa plants you can spend a couple of hours processing them into your very own hand crafted chocolate bar. Ask us for more information about these tours at the Chocolate Museum
Fave resto - Cicciolina
Not exactly Peruvian food, more an Italian flavour, but this Australian/ Peruvian owned restaurant never fails to please. Constantly delicious with very professional staff there is a reason that you always need a reservation. It also does some great breakfasts.
Must do- The one regret many people have after a visit to Peru is that they did not spend more time in Cusco. It is easy when you are planning your annual holiday to want to cram as much as possible in. But Cusco really is a place to just sit, relax and spend some time wandering the streets. A free day is a valuable addition to any holiday.
Fave shop - For souvenirs it has to be the Kuna shops which you can find in the airport and around town. They offer the best quality alpaca products available and happen to be owned by one of our directors.
Did you know - the original town of Cusco is laid out in the shape of a Puma.
Did you know Dougie; one of team members; has a craft brewery in his house. Our Australian friend Zac set up Zenith Beer about two years ago and it is going from strength to strength. You can taste it in Nortons Bar on the Plaza de Armas and a whole host of other small bars.
What to drink in Peru
Imagine a holiday to France without wine. A visit to Dublin without Guinness. Cold Russian nights without a warming glass of Vodka. An impromptu Cuban street party without Rum. A visit to Machu Picchu without…. Without what exactly?
While not everyone likes alcohol, for many tasting the local tipple is an essential part of any holiday. Peru is not internationally renowned for any one drink, but here are what I recommend, to give you the essential taste of Peru.
Made from pressed grapes this is the quintessential Peruvian spirit, used in cocktails such as Pisco Sour, or drunk pure. A clear grape brandy not dissimilar to the Grappa of Italy and just as potent.
There are 8 varieties of grapes used in Pisco.
·4 non aromatic varieties - Quebranta, Mollar, Negra Criolla, Uvina
·4 aromatic varieties - Torontel, Moscatel, Italia, Albilla
·Pisco acholado is the name given to blended Piscos
Where can I try it?
Pisco tastings are available at a variety of restaurants and bars. We recommend the Pisco Museum in Cusco. A bar rather than an actual museum. The Head Sommelier Sergio will guide you through the various types available. We tried it last year and learnt more in half an hour about Pisco than we had in twenty five years combined living in Peru.
Those red plastic bags stuck on bamboo poles denote Chicha for sale. As soon as you step outside of the town of Cusco you will start to see them everywhere. Normally made from corn this homebrew gets stronger with age. It is very refreshing on a hot day and actually very tasty.
The pink version is made with wild strawberries. Served in Peru since long before the Incas, this used to be served in pottery cups called K’eros, but is now served in special pint sized glasses.
Where can I try it?
Your guide will be able to find you somewhere to try it in the Sacred Valley or along many of our treks. While it is served widely, not everywhere will be as hygienic as you like so best follow your guide’s advice.
Gassy bottled lager. That is what until recently was available for beer lovers in Peru. Pilsen, Cristal, Arequipeña and Cusqueña are the best known brands. In Lima and the north they will be served ice cold. In Cusco, however hot a day, you will have trouble getting a cold one outside of the main tourist bars and restaurants. The locals believe drinking cold beer is bad for you in a place where the temperature can change so quickly.
However in the last few years micro-breweries have started to flourish. The current best beer in Peru, according to brewers is Barbarian. Brewed in Lima by a couple of young Peruvian lads who learnt all about real ale whilst living in Germany, they make IPA, a red lager and a porter
Where can I try it?
Barbarian mainly sell in bottles in Lima restaurants , or draught at their bar in Barranco, named the Barranco Beer Company. You can also get bottles in a few Cusco restaurants.
In Cusco, you should try Zenith Beer. Sold on draught at Nortons on the Plaza de Armas, and very shortly to be available in bottles in a variety of bars and restaurants. This beer is brewed 200 metres from our office. They sell an IPA, porter, brown ale and a blonde beer. We shall also be offering bottles of Zenith Beer on our deluxe and VIP picnics.
Once upon a time, if you asked us where to get a decent wine in Peru, the answer would have been “ In Argentina or Chile”. But things have changed. Restaurants often have extensive wine lists, admittedly dominated by imported wines. But there is now good Peruvian wine available.
Wine has been produced in Peru ever since the Spanish conquest back in the 16th Century. Most of it was totally undrinkable, unless you like your wine very sweet. And very rough.
Help came in 2009 when the Santiago Queirolo estate, which had been producing wine since 1880 just south of Lima, released their Intipalka label. It was the culmination of a modernisation process that started in 2000. And it really is pretty good. They offer 10 varieties.
·Tannat ( most commonly found in Uruguay)
·Malbec ( Argentina’s most famous wine),
·Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
They also offer the slightly higher priced Intipalka Reservas
·Cabernet Sauvignon/ Syrah
·Malbec/Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon/ Petit Verdot.
Top of the range, released in 2013 is “ Intipalka N°1”, made from Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Tannat.
Where can I try it?
Ask your guides for recommendations of restaurants where you can try this. Or sign up for one of our deluxe or VIP picnics and try it in spectacular surroundings.
Want to go to Peru?
We have 3 trips to Peru at the moment. Please click on the links below to check out our great offerings.
Who Has The Best Coffee?
If you are a tea tottler, then stop reading now. The following will make no sense to you and will somehow seem excessively contreived. But for us coffee drinkers, the following will make a world of sense. In fact, the following is essential reading because we know as coffee drinkers, that there just isn't anything quite like a great coffee.
The question of Who Makes the Best Coffee is really a loaded question. It is one of taste so I guess the following may merely be a description of the various coffees from some of the places we trek and kayak through. I will of course at the end tell you what I most enjoy, you may even pick it up thoughout my writtings, but please do not be offended if I have not described your favourite coffee as well as you could.
Indonesia has become famous for its coffee in the last decade or so. The country has so many coffee regions that the flavours vary from one island to the next. What is clear is that Indonesia has some of the richest coffees on the planet. From the rich dark smooth flavour of the Sumatran Mandheling to the lighter Javanese coffee. On top of this is how the Indonesians make their coffee. Every variety is available, from the European Lattes to Kopi Tobruk or "mud coffee" which involves dissolving the ground coffee directly in a hot cup of water. Some of the best coffee anywhere can be had in Bali where western expats have imported their own love of coffee, so Bali must be up there with one of the world's great coffee locations.
Of course South America produces some of the best coffee on the planet. Though many jest that all the great coffee from South America is sent overseas as export and the continent is left with the dregs. This could be possible but Peru does produce some excellent coffee. Grown in the high Andes, I can tell you from personal experience that hand roasted and ground coffee from Peru is exceptional. The only downside is that the culture for coffee making is not so complex.
With 60% of its exports coming from coffee production, you could say that coffee is important to the Ethiopian economy. Ethiopia is where the arabica coffee comes from and they are Africa's largest coffee produces. 60% of Ethiopians consume coffee. Thats 50 million consumers and so one would be safe to say the Ethiopians know what they are doing. And they do. Hand roasting and grinding in small coffeee shops is common place (something I think we should do in Australia) and produces some of the best grades of coffee including the Sidamo which is more acidic in flavour than what we are used to in the West. Delicious!
Tanzania has two distinct regions for growing coffee. The most exotic are those grown on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru under the shade of banana trees. The flavours are a pleasant aroma with a sweet taste from the acidic soils they are grown in. The other region is in the Southern Highlands and the flavour is medium bodied with floral overtones. This is delicious coffee but it is hard to find an area that prepares it the way we like it back home. If you have a chance to try Tanzania coffee back home, do so as it is delicious
5. Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is perfect coffee growing country with much of the crops grown in the abundant multitude of high country. The main area is around the Mt Wilhelm region with coffees ranging from rich, chocolatey flavours to acidic sweeter tastes. Arabica is of course the prefered bean and the variety of flavours in PNG is amazing.
Of course the Italians are the greatest coffee makers in the world. With over 200,000 coffee outlets and the average age of Italian Baristas being 48 (it is a highly respected job), the Italians take their coffee seriously. While they produce little to no coffee themselves, there is no nation that has so embraced caffeine quite like the Italians. From Affogato to Cafe Zorro, from Cappuccino to Espresso, the Italians have done just about everything that can be done to Coffee. It is astonishing to know that one can walk from a bad coffee making nation such as France, over a mountain pass into Italy to the first Refugio and the coffee is fantastic. If it is actual coffee making, then Italy is hard to beat.
7. Timor Leste
Few people even know where Timor Leste is (also known as East Timor) let alone having a great coffee growing culture. But I assure you, when you taste Timor coffee you will remeber the place. With Portuguese heritage, the coffee prepared by the East Timorese is a mixed bag. However, there are few if any places we trek where the porters, instead of just opting for pre grounded coffee, bring the roasted beans with them on the trail and freshly grind them and prepare the coffee at each stop. Often they use a long cotton sock that produces a chocolatey flavour that is simply delicious. On treks in Timor Leste I have gone from consuming 2 cups a day to 6 easily because the coffee is that delicious.
Of course there are many other places we can experience the Arabic Wine (that is what coffee was originally called) but the above are some of my favourites. Melbourne also has some amazing coffee shops and apparently has more coffeee roasters per capita than anywhere else on the planet. Noone can go past Italy for a great coffee, but I can honestly say that the best coffee I have ever had is in the remote parts of Timor Leste. Sublime, transformative and simply delicious, the sock brew of Timor Leste wins my vote so far. Though now I come to think about it I do remember a delicious brew in Firenze, oh and that one I had in Cusco. You will just have to go and taste them for yourself.