I woke up with the usual routine- Babu bringing tea and water for washing. But today felt different than all the other days. Today I felt really excited to walk through Mweka Gate victorious! I felt excited to finally take a shower or bath and I felt excited to finally have something other than camp food. Yet, I also felt incredibly sad. Today would be the last day I’d ever see the porters and guides. Worse still, today would mark the day when I’d part ways with “Dada Watatu”, “The Fellowship of the Diamox”….my dear, sweet, funny friends Adrienne and Arlette. It’s amazing how easy it is to become attached to people in such a short period of time. I think it’s similar to how bonded soldiers become during wars. Experiencing a difficult situation together welds people together. Eight days ago we were strangers but we were all now great friends! On that mountain, they were my sisters! I didn’t like the thought of saying goodbye to them and I also didn’t like the idea of going on safari without them. How could it be as fun without them?
Earlier, around 4AM I woke up feeling incredibly well rested so I decided to work out how much we should tip everyone and wrote it all down. During breakfast I brought my notes and money and after we ate we started the task of figuring it all out. It was incredibly difficult to calculate since we had both TZ Shillings and US Dollars. After we finally figured it all out we started filling small envelopes for each porter and guide. Once we filled each envelope we took any leftover funds and put them in the envelopes of guys we felt went above and beyond. Obviously Babu got a TON of money. I don’t think we every recounted but I suspect by the time it was all said and done, we gave him as much or more than the guides. Doesn’t matter – he deserved it! The man was our guardian angel! Overall, I felt happy with the tips we gave but let me give some advice to future climbers: Take more than you think you want to tip because once you’re on the mountain you will realize those men earn every cent and when it comes time to tipping, you will realize no amount of money is enough. These men keep you alive on the mountain!
It took us a long time to sort out all the tips and we could hear the guys getting restless outside the tent. We even heard them warming up for the singing. When we were finally ready, we called to them and exited the tents. We grabbed our cameras and what happened next was amazing! Our entire crew lined up and started singing. The night before we heard other groups singing and going through their ceremonies. However, to see and hear your own guys dancing and singing for you is an experience I cannot describe. Luckily I have video!
Amazing, eh? Fido Dido explained why they sang each particular song. Here are the words to the first song Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro:
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.
Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka,
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzungukaa.
Wanizunguka – Wataka Kunila Nyama
Kunila Nyama Kunila Nyama
Kunila Nyama – Mbona Wanizunguka
Kilimanjaro, long mountain journey.
And Mawenzi, and Mawenzi,
And Mawenzi, long mountain journey.
As a snake, as a snake,
As a snake, it winds all around me.
It wants to eat my meat”
Fido Dido explained that the trail winds around like a snake and every day it’s so hard and difficult and they view it as if it was a snake trying to kill them. For the porters, who risk everything under such harsh conditions, I suppose the trail is very much like that. If you’ve climbed Kili (or will soon) you will know that this is a fair assessment. I think it’s beautiful and I love that the song mentions Mawenzi, that beautiful peak we saw in the dark as we trudged up Kibo. Great song!
The next song ; Jambo, bwana. That’s a popular song in Swahili. It means Hello, Mister. Here are the lyrics and translation:
Jambo, Jambo Bwana (Hello, Hello Sir)
Habari gani (How are you?)
Mzuri sana (Very fine)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Foreigners, you’re welcome)
Kilimanjaro yetu (to Kilimanjaro)
Hakuna Matata (There is no problem)
I still sing this song sometimes when I’m driving or just walking around. I love it. I think I will teach it to my students when school starts. To me this is the ultimate feel-good song! Nothing makes my heart smile like it. It’s also a great way to teach yourself some Swahili. As for the last song in the video, I don’t remember what they were singing. I’ll put my TZ friends on the case and hopefully figure it out another time.
After the singing and dancing it was time for us to present the tips and we decided we’d call them each up and shake their hands. Adrienne and I both said a few words and we both got choked up and teary eyed when we spoke. I don’t really remember what I said. I’m sure it was something along the lines of letting them know we couldn’t have done it without them. Actually, I do remember saying that the money we were giving them wasn’t enough to adequately express how we felt about them. Calling them up, one by one, was great! I think it’s so much better to do that than to do as some tour operates suggest and give it all to the head guide to dole out. I trusted Fido Dido and knew he would be fair but I just think it’s important, after 8 days, to shake the hands of each man responsible for getting you safely up and down the mountain. I wanted them all to know that we knew their names, knew their faces, and we appreciated them. After the tipping ceremony we took a group photo (thanks to some hikers we stopped as they passed by). I’d post it but I think the altitude was doing something to me because I look like a puffer fish in it. Horrible, horrible photo of me! haha
Shortly thereafter we took off down the muddy trail. Once again the guides allowed us to lead the way. It was a beautiful walk through lush rain forest. It was particularly foggy that morning too. Stupid me, I’d picked up rocks at Barafu Camp (for gifts and mementos) and I didn’t take them out of my backpack. Not only did the stupid things rattle for the next four hours but they were HEAVY! As we walked the three of us discussed a million different topics all the while doing our best to avoid the particularly muddy spots on the trail. Our pace was fast and we didn’t stop nearly as often now that we were no longer taking Diamox. Unfortunately, the one time we did stop, poor Adrienne found herself in a bad situation. Turns out she really did follow the caca trail and right into a pile of poop. Oh no! We did our best to assure her it would come off in the mud. I hope we were right! 🙂
Maybe it was because the rocks in my pack were heavy, maybe it was because I was just anxious to see the Mweka Gate but it seemed like the trail was REALLY long that day. It was, obviously, downhill the whole way and my knees were just so tired from the day before. I kept shifting my pack around to give my shoulders relief too. It didn’t help.
Eventually the trail turned into a road and as we headed down, a truck passed us going up the mountain. I think Chichi said it was heading to a research camp. I knew the road meant we were getting much closer to the gate. In fact, I remembered from Youtube videos that I watched about Kilimanjaro that the road goes straight to the gate. This section of the road/trail was incredibly muddy and I looked down at my pants and boots and they were splattered with lots of reddish-brown mud. Arlette and Adrienne had the same problem. I guess I should have worn my gaiters but the truth is, it wasn’t that bad and once it dried it all flaked right off. In the distance I heard noise – human voices and cars. I looked up and there it was: the end of the trail. Mweka Gate.
As we walked the last hundred feet or so of trail/road, I saw that the gate was nothing more than a few buildings. But the place was very busy! Porters were walking everywhere and as we turned to walk to the ranger’s station, I saw vendors selling various items. We walked over to sign in and sat down on a bench. A South African guy was signing in and we exchanged a few words with him. Then, for the very last time, we signed into the log book at the ranger’s station and with a pen stroke, signed out of Kilimanjaro National Park. We waited here for sometime. Chichi then told us that the road was too muddy for the truck to pick us up so if we didn’t mind, we’d walk down the road and have lunch near the truck. Part of me thought, “Ugh…walk more?” but honestly, I wasn’t ready for it all to end just yet so I didn’t mind. It turns out I’d be so happy we did.
We grabbed our packs and headed towards the road but stopped when I noticed some vendors selling t-shirts. We stopped and bought some shirts and other items. While we made our transactions we chatted up a few more South Africans. They told us they were from Cape Town. I told them I was jealous they didn’t have to cross an ocean to get to Kilimanjaro. They were nice guys and seemed to be delighted to have completed the journey.
Purchases secured we headed down the muddy road towards our truck. It was GORGEOUS! We walked past beautiful banana fields, so green and lush, as well as small houses (Americans would call them shacks or shanties) where people lived. On some of the porches we saw little babies and in some houses we saw meat hanging in the windows. It was so different from anything we knew as Americans yet to me, it was incredibly beautiful. During the beginning of our walk many men approached us attempting to sell souvenirs and trinkets. We kindly smiled, said no, and thanked them. Most were all very gracious about it and seemed humble. I always feel so badly when I don’t buy things from vendors in places like this. I am highly cognizant that the $2.00 trinket they are selling might be the difference between their children having full bellies that night or going to bed hungry. It’s also why, as I mentioned in another post, I don’t generally try to haggle a hard bargain. I’d rather spend a few extra bucks and have the enjoyment of knowing someone is going to feed their family than boast about the great deal I got on something that will end up in a drawer five years from now anyway. Speaking of vendors, one particular salesman was determined to make a deal. I can’t remember what he was selling but I remember his dreadlocks and his soft voice and more importantly, I remember the deal he tried to make. I smiled and gave my usual “hapana, asante sana bwana” (translated: no, thank you very much sir). But he said, “I make you a good deal dada. I give you good price and if you have no money, don’t worry dada…we work something out”. HAHAHAHA. Really? REALLY? Did he really think I’d be willing to exchange sex for the banana leaf art he was trying to hock? Oh that one made me giggle. Naturally, I smiled and said,” hapana, asante sana bwana”. I always use my manners! 🙂
It wasn’t long before children came running out of the banana fields towards us. They waved and yelled, “Jambo!” followed by another word that I didn’t recognize. After the second or third time this happened I realized what they were saying and exclaimed, “Chocolate! They are yelling “jambo, chocolate”. They want chocolate! They’re shaking us down for candy” Hahahaha! This delighted me and made me laugh and smile. Kids, no matter their color, religion, nationality, or socio-economic background all want one thing: CANDY! I had read about this and packed two packs of Milky Ways in my luggage. Unfortunately, I ate them all when I was in the hotel. Sorry kids. However, Adrienne said she had some granola bars in her bag so we stopped while she pulled them out. Upon seeing this, the children swarmed Adrienne and were jumping around with their tiny hands held out. There were easily 8-10 children jockying for position around her but Adrienne was smart thinking and just turned to Chichi, threw him the bars and said, “Chichi- you handle this”. Chichi called the children over, spoke to them in Swahili, then gave the bars to the oldest kid. We assume that Chichi gave it to the oldest and it was up to him to divvy it out to the others. I hope he was an honest boy. Not only because I’d hate to see the younger, smaller ones shafted but also for his own sake as I think the other ones would rip his heart out if he didn’t share.
After seeing all of this, I started to laugh and told Adrienne she reminded me of Angelina Jolie (who is always going to some refugee camp or impoverished place)because she showed up, in her awesome sunglasses, with food and after causing a ruckus, she turned to her bodyguard/hired help (in this case, Chichi) and said, “You deal with it” and then walked away. HAHAHAHA For the next hour or so I kept calling her Angelina instead of Adrienne. Watching her getting swarmed by those cute kids was truly one of the funniest moments on the trip! A few moments later we started to laugh even more when Adrienne pointed out the childrens’ disappointment when they cracked into the bars thinking it was going to be delicious and candy like only to discover Angelina/Adrienne had given them the most tasteless, healthy things she could find from Whole Foods. Oh poor children! hahahaha
As we got closer to the village of Mweka we started to see more and more people, mostly school children walking home in their uniforms. Then we started to see a few buildings and finally, I spotted our Climb Kili van and our porters. I was confused because I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do but we were directed towards a small building which is a restaurant and there we had the best meal of the trip! It was buffet style and the selection was pretty big. They also had a Coke, a Fanta, and a Sprite as well as Kilimanjaro Beer to choose from. Naturally, I chose the Coke. Adrienne and Arlette took the Fanta and the Sprite. Later Mugambo seemed perplexed that we didn’t choose the beer. Ha! Below is a video of our walk into Mweka village.
Before we ate, we asked about giving away gear. As you are probably aware, the porters make very little money and cannot afford to properly outfit themselves as they should. It’s not uncommon to see them wearing flip flops and/or have no coats. I came knowing I’d give away some gear. We were told many of the porters would be leaving soon so we needed to hurry and do it before they left. I asked Chichi to help me determine who could use the gear we were giving away. Before I even started a very portly woman wandered over, tapped me on the arm and held out her hand as if she wanted me to give her something. I offered her some of the snacks I had left. She shook her head no. She wanted gear. In English I said, “Sorry, I’m giving my gear to the men who helped me up and down the mountain.” I know she didn’t understand me. Instead, she planted herself in the ground and stood there the whole time watching.
I ended up giving my gaiters to Emanuel who happened to be the newest porter. Chichi said he had no gear since this was only his 5th time up the mountain. I gave Babu Sistusi my bag liner. It broke my heart on those mornings when he told me he had been a little cold. I explained that the liner would keep him very warm. He seemed happy. I gave away my nice, $300 North Face coat that I wore
to the summit to Baba Edwadi. Chichi said he didn’t have a coat so I was very happy to give it to him and he was extremely appreciative of it. I also gave away my nalgenes, and other various items including my mittens. Then I pulled out my red Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket. This was the jacket that, when coming down from the summit, Chichi remarked that it was a “nice sweater”. I had told myself that I’d give it to him but then I wondered if he’d want it since it was a female jacket (not that it looked like a female jacket, mind you. Totally unisex). I pulled it out of my bag and said, “Chichi, do you know anyone who wants this?” and he answered, “Yeah…me.” HaHa! It was the cutest thing in the world the way he said it and he quickly grabbed it and then helped me distribute other things. I was so happy that he took it because I had felt certain he wanted it! I did one last scan in my bag for gear I knew I could give away and saw my beloved hiking hat. It’s nothing special. Just one of those hats that if you pin to the side you end up looking as if you’re an Australian. Haha. I love that hat but suddenly something came over me and I grabbed it and said, “Who wants a hat?”. Junior said, “me!” and I threw it to him. He immediately put it on. Arlette and Adrienne also gave away items but I can’t remember what they were. When we finished, we headed over to the restaurant to eat and as I looked behind me, my heart swelled. I saw all of the porters wearing the items we had given them. Baba Edwadi was wearing the North Face coat, Chichi was wearing the red jacket, and Junior was wearing the hat. The money I spent on those items was repaid in the joy I felt.
We sat down and ate and enjoyed our drinks. Slowly our guides along with Babu and Mugambo trickled in, grabbed some food and sat down. Sadly they didn’t sit with us. I don’t know if this was out of courtesy, out of TZ custom, or if it’s just a rule of the tour operator. We were disappointed because we loved those guys and wanted to spend our last minutes with them. Still, it was a good time nonetheless. To our surprise they brought in entertainment! The tall man you see walking across the road in the video was the music man. He played guitar and sang for us while we ate and best of all, Junior jumped in and danced. That guy is awesome! I will never forget him. I wish I could have known him better. If you remember back to my earlier posts, he was the guy who beat two rocks together to fix my tent and called it “African tools”. I’m telling you, Tanzanians have the best sense of humor and such a joie de vivre! The festivities had drawn a small crowd from the village. The begging woman was standing there in the door way along with a few other people. The one that I noticed was a young man, maybe 20 years old or so who had Down’s Syndrome. He was smiling and drinking a Coke.
After the song and dancing ended, Fido Dido presented us with our certificates. If you reach the summit of Uhuru, Kilimanjaro National Park issues a certificate. Pretty awesome! We took pictures, received our certificates and listened to our friends and even the strangers in the doorway clap and cheer for us. Then it was time for us to leave. We gathered our things and as I walked out of the restaurant, I noticed the young man with Down’s was shaking everyone’s hand. I pulled out 5,000 Shillings and when I shook his hand, I put the note in his hand. He looked at the money and gave me the best smile I’d seen in months! Money well spent. Then I walked over to the vehicles, climbed into the van along with a few of our crew (Mugambo, Babu, Chichi, etc.) and started the long drive back to Arusha. The drive was beautiful and I am glad it was long because we got to see a lot of different scenery. We passed lots of coffee plantations and farms. We also passed some really huge houses behind gates and we joked with Chichi and Fido Dido that those were their Summer homes.
The miles passed and we chatted about many different things and suddenly, somewhere between Moshi and Arusha, Arlette said, “Ya know, I’d probably come back and do the Machame route in a few years.” I looked over at her and said, “I think I would too.” And there it was…the thing that I suspect happens to many climbers of Kilimanjaro. The morning after summit climbers swear they’d never do it again due to the brutality. We ourselves said we were glad we did it but we’d never climb Kilimanjaro again; yet, as the van took us farther and farther away, we longed to be with her again. That’s the power of Mount Kilimanjaro. She stays with you forever. She haunts you and makes you yearn to come back for more.
When we got closer to Arusha I started to recognize where we were and when we made the left turn off the main road, my heart sank a little. In less than a mile I knew we’d turn into the Impala Hotel and I’d have to say goodbye to my friends. I didn’t want that. What I really wanted was to drop them off, go take showers then meet up again and go on safari together. Sadly, that was not how the story was written. We pulled into the Impala and we all jumped out. I walked into the open air lobby with Adrienne and Arlette so that we could take photos. The woman behind the counter glared at us because of the mud trail we left across the lobby. What could we do though? i also noticed some young men looking at us in horror. I don’t know if they were future climbers or in Arusha for something else but I could tell that our, muddy, worn out appearance unsettled them. I wanted to explain to them that we were Kili climbers, not vagrants but I didn’t. Instead, Arlette, Adrienne and I took some photos of our muddy pants and boots and then a group shot. We hugged, promised to email and send photos, to stay in touch, and said our last goodbyes. I walked back to the van, hopped in, and we drove around the corner to the African Tulip where I stayed. I got out and shook hands with Mugambo and gave Chichi and Babu a hug goodbye. I hated to say goodbye to them because unlike Adrienne and Arlette, who I knew I’d stay in touch with, I knew I’d never see them again. That broke my heart. 😦
Fido Dido walked me inside, made sure I checked in okay and then we hugged and said goodbye. I watched my fearless guide, my protector on the mountain, my Kilimanjaro “mume” walk out the door and with that, my Kilimanjaro adventure ended.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Kilimanjaro. To say that Kilimanjaro is a life changing experience is an understatement. Kilimanjaro is an analogy for life. Five years ago I focused on a dream to climb the highest mountain in Africa and here I am five years on, writing a blog about my experiences on the greatest adventure of my life: reaching the rooftop of Africa. But as any climber will tell you, it’s not about the summit. It’s about the time you spend on the mountain that changes you. There was no life altering epiphany when I stood at Uhuru. But every day, with every step over every rock I learned new things about myself. I learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined, I have more faith than I ever believed, and I discovered that strangers often turn out to be the greatest friends you will ever have. You see, on Kilimanjaro, just as it is in life, it’s not the accomplishments that matter. It’s the people who were by your side along the way. For the rest of my life I will carry with me, in my heart, the names of those who accompanied me along the way. I will never forget them and I hope they never forget me. Asante Sana.
*Next posts will be about my safari adventure*