“It’s Kili Time!” (That’s the slogan for the Kilimanjaro beer…but appropriate for my first day)
I spent most of the night before staring at the ceiling – wide awake! I slept a total of 4 hours. I finally began to drift back to sleep around 5ish but the call to prayer started up. Normally I find the call to prayer kind of soothing despite the fact I am not muslim; however, on this morning I was just annoyed. It didn’t help that the singing fired up all the dogs within a 3 mile radius. Ugh!
Our instructions the day before were to be ready to go at 8AM. This meant I needed to get up, shower, get ready, eat breakfast, do a final gear check, store some belongings with the hotel manager, and finally check out. At 6AM, exhausted but excited, I crawled out of bed and into the shower. I quickly got ready and checked everything before heading down to breakfast for my daily dose of corn flakes and passionfruit juice.
By 7:45AM I was ready to go so I sat in the lobby and waited….and waited….and waited. Eventually one of the doormen motioned that my ride was there. Fido Dido, the head guide, walked up and apologized for being late and explained they were operating on “African Time” not “American Time”. I just laughed it off and hopped in the truck. Hakuna Matata! That’s when I was introduced to many members of our support crew. I met Magambo the chef, Sistusi (Babu Sistusi later on) the waiter, Chicibaba the assistant guide, and many others. We chatted as we drove over to the Impala to pick up Dave, Arlette, and Adrienne. After securing their gear and loading everything up we left the Impala Hotel and began our hours long journey to Kilimanjaro.
Driving around in Tanzania is a delight to my senses! The air smells like fires burning, you can hear music pumping, and the scenery is a kaleidoscope of colors. The buildings are classic third world (which I love and don’t mean that as an insult) and everything about the landscape is appealing to me. Just driving down the highway was fun for me!
Along the way I spied a police checkpoint. Apparently these are pretty common in TZ and from what I understand they’re usually just an opportunity for the police to extort some money out of the driver. As we approached I saw the policeman signal for us to pull over but our driver, Peter, never slowed down. As we got closer and closer the policeman became more frantic and animated in his attempts to stop us. Eventually he started blowing a whistle and waving his arms but Peter, being totally gangsta’, just drove right through it! I remember looking over at David and we both gave each other a “Omg, that was awesome but crazy” look and the whole truck erupted into cheers for Peter!
Speaking of crazy, allow me to talk a bit about the death game Tanzanians call driving. I heard of a saying that goes like this: “In Tanzania, it’s not the lions or mambas that kill you…it’s the traffic.” This is no exaggeration! Driving is treacherous in TZ. Vehicles often pass with oncoming traffic bearing down and little motorcycles known as Piggy Piggy (or Boda Boda, depending on who you ask) weave in and out of traffic as if engaged in a life or death game of Frogger. I quickly discovered that if you’re not behind the wheel, it’s best not to look straight ahead because you will either A.) Die of a heart attack or B.) Soil your pants…and maybe even C.) Soil your pants while having a heart attack. I just looked off to the sides. The scenery was interesting and I didn’t have to stare death in the face.
Back to Kilimanjaro – Okay so after running police check points we continued our journey to a small town known as Boma which lies somewhere between Arusha and Moshi. We stopped at a store to stock up on water and use the bathroom. After what seemed like an unusually long time, our guides and porters returned to the Land Rover much happier and cheerier than they left and I thought I detected the faint smell of beer. Ha! I think they slipped off and had one last Kilimanjaro lager before trudging into the bush for 8 days. I can’t swear by it but even if they did, I didn’t mind. They were about to work very hard for the next 8 days and they certainly earned a “bon voyage brew” in my opinion. I desperately wanted a Coke at that point but was in “hydrating” mode so I stuck to water with Nuun. Not nearly as fun as a beer or a coke, frankly.
After hopping back in the Land Rover we took off. I tried to speak to Salim, one of the porters who was sitting next to me. I whipped out one of my best Swahili phrases (I asked if he could speak English) to which he replied, “hapana” (no) and with that simple three syllable word, our conversation concluded as quickly as it started. *sigh*
As our journey continued, we ventured further and further into the hinterlands. It was very rural and we saw people farming and digging for crops in the fields. In some cases they were digging potatoes. In other cases, they were harvesting beans. The best part of the drive was watching the children run out to the road to wave at us as we drove past. What a contrast to America where children would never know you drove past since they all stay inside these days, huddled around their Wii or X-Box. Along the way I saw all sorts of really interesting sights which made the respect I had for these people grow and grow. For example, I saw primitive “saw mills” set up in yards and women carrying large baskets of crops on their heads. Life outside of the Western world is NOT easy and as an American I am ashamed by how much I take for granted. If I want water, I turn on the faucet. It’s clean and I never give second thought to it. If I am hungry, I open the fridge. If it’s empty (and it never is…although it may be depleted of my favorite things) I simply go to the store or better yet, if I am lazy, I just drive to a restaurant. Nothing is hard in this country. Everything is within reach. On one hand I am extremely appreciative of this but on another, I resent it. I resent that convenience has made us a nation full of soft, dependent, skill-less complainers. I freely admit that I am not half the woman most Tanzanian women are. I respect the hard work that is required to live there. It’s humbling. I digress….
As we continued on, a van passed us and honked. It was packed to the brim with men who waved, made faces, and seemed to be having a really good time. I deduced that those were the rest of our porters. Fido Dido said we’d have approximately 18 all together. 18 men supporting 4 climbers. Wow! On one hand that seemed like a lot but later, once I saw the enormously difficult task they have of getting the supplies up the mountain, I wish we had more just so the loads would be lighter.
After many, many hours we arrived at a small shack on the side of a hill surrounded by forest. This was the spot in which our guides purchased our park permits. I got out of the Land Rover and chatted with Peter the driver for a bit. I also smiled and “Jambo”-ed some of the porters who were stretching their legs. The air was chilly and I was wearing only a short sleeve shirt. I didn’t dress more warmly because the day before Fido Dido said we could wear shorts as the weather would be warm. However, when I got in the Land Rover that morning he said, “Aren’t you going to be cold?” Um..hello? You told me to dress that way! haha. Speaking of weather, I should point out that despite being three degrees below the Equator, Tanzania is not hot during the month of June. June, July, and August are their Winter months and apparently June is particularly chilly. When I say chilly I mean 60’s and sometimes overcast. While all the Tanzanians were bundled up and shivering like it was January in Alaska, I thought the weather felt Fall-like. I did make the mental observation that the temperature felt similar to what the temperature was like in Iceland last summer. Crazy!
After securing the permits we took off again (as you can see, in Africa nothing is streamlined or efficient. It takes FOREVER to make things happen), this time headed for the Londorossi Gate to sign in and have everything weighed. When we arrived at the gate, there was a flurry of activity. Porters everywhere, climbers hanging out, and lots of people waiting just outside the gate. Those people, as it turns out, were wanna-be porters looking for work. Local men often wait by the gate hoping there is a need for additional porters and that they can be hired on. It broke my heart to see so many men standing there hoping for employment. Being a porter is hard, back-breaking work that pays around $3 a day. To know that conditions are so difficult that dozens of men are waiting around hoping to have a shot at it made me feel lousy about the complaints I’ve made about my own job. Once again, I stood humbled.
When it was time to sign in, I signed after David and just copied most of what he wrote. Unfortunately, I wrote M for sex. This caused a great laugh for everyone and for the rest of the climb whenever I signed in everyone reminded me that I am, after all, a woman. It was also at this gate when Fido Dido decided that he’d start referring to me as his wife. I am not sure why now…but it became another ongoing joke on the mountain which eventually expanded to include Arlette and Adrienne. I remember on summit night other guides referring to Fido Dido and his three wives – haha!
As we waited for all of our gear to be weighed (by law the porters can’t carry anything over 30ish pounds) Peter, the driver, told me that the next section of the road might be treacherous. He explained that it’s very rough and that we would be “driving on three wheels”. I thought he was just exaggerating but he wasn’t! When we finally got back in the Land Rover and took off, I saw what he meant. The road was an old logging trail and there were HUGE ruts in it. Several times the Land Rover leaned far onto it’s side and at one point, I actually made a mental contingency plan on how to escape if we rolled over. It was on this stretch when I noticed children playing in the middle of the road. I thought, “Why are those children playing in the road!? They need to get out of the way. It’s not safe! Children…move! Mo….huh?” The children were actually baboons! HA! I couldn’t believe it. Baboons! I was very excited about seeing them but no one else really shared my enthusiasm. *sigh*
We finally reached a point in which the Land Rover could go no further due to road conditions. Peter parked the Land Rover and we hopped out and had lunch while we waited for all the porters to arrive. Lunch was lovely. We sat at a table in the rain forest while Colobus Monkeys jumped around in the trees.
After eating lunch we loaded up our packs and we FINALLY began our climb! Initially I was shocked by how slowly Chichi was walking but in days to come, I’d be very thankful for the pace. As we walked I tried to take in as much of the scenery as possible. It was hard to believe that the lush rain forest we walked in was actually part of Kilimanjaro. As we hiked on I started to feel light-headed and out of breath. This shocked me because as a runner and a hiker, I felt I shouldn’t be so out of breath. Then I looked at my altimeter. We were nearly 8,000 feet up. I think the combination of the altitude and the Diamox made me feel strange. Also, for the first time I felt tingling in my feet (a side effect of Diamox). My comrades also reported tingling. Adrienne suffered from it the most, I believe. We hiked for 2 or three hours before finally arriving at Big Tree Camp, our home for the evening. We signed in with the ranger and made our way to our tents. Sistusi brought us tea and hot water for washing. After taking a short nap, I got up and took some photos and wandered around the camp. I also received my tutorial on how to use the chemical toilet.
After some time we were invited into the mess tent for “tea time” followed by dinner. Tea time, as was the case most days, consisted of popcorn and tea or coffee. Dinner was a much more impressive event. Every lunch and dinner menu had soup and for the first night we had pumpkin soup which was ridiculously delicious. We also had potato and beef stew.
During dinner the four of us talked and got to know one another more. Immediately we all clicked. It was obvious from the start that we would all get along well and that the dynamic was a good one. I was so thankful for that! I worried that I’d end up with people who were either annoying or unfriendly. Arlette, Adrienne, and Dave were the exact opposite! They were all very funny, entertaining, and friendly!
At the end of dinner Fido Dido and Chichi came into the tent to talk to us and brief us on tomorrow’s climb. They also checked our oxygen saturation and heart rate. My oxygen was 92 and my heart rate was 86 which was good for that elevation!
Before going to sleep I checked my altimeter and it said:
Altitude: 8862 feet
Temperature: 53.9 (in the tent)
I went to sleep very happy that night knowing that I was in the middle of living out one of my greatest dreams – to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!