So I flew the 35 minute flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro International Airport.
It seemed a bit ridiculous going through the rigmarole of customs and passport control for a mere half hour flight; I was saying to the European girls on the tour last week how for New Zealanders, the concept of another country being so close is quite foreign (they couldn’t understand my excitement at being able to drive into another country; I said how for us, everything is “overseas” while for most of them, that term doesn’t need to apply for crossing country. Rather, they more use “abroad”). I had been a tad stressed on the baggage front; while all my other flights are 30 kg (Qatar) or 46kg (Ethiopian) spread over two bags, this one flight had a strict 23kg for one price check in.
The night before I extremely strategically packed, ridding myself of anything I didn’t really need. I used one of my oval packing cells and stuffed it with some clothes and my big yak wool blanket encircling two make up bags full of trinkets – smart you see, because if you hold it a certain way and make it look light everyone assumes it’s your travel pillow (this definitely wasn’t my first hurrah).
I need not have worried; check in, um, checked in at 21.8kg, so I quickly hustled the sweatshirt I had tied round my waist (seperate from the one I had on and jacket I was holding) into the bag too and went on my way.
As we nearer our destination, I looked out the window and saw the majestic Kilimanjaro below me. I had a little tear and whispered, “I hope to be on the top of you soon!” (it was after I realised how this sounded), then took a couple of photos as a keepsake.
It was then I noted everyone on the other side of the plane was taking pics of something out their windows. I peered across and saw a peak rising out of the clouds, the summit in line with the height of the flying plane.
Right. That’s Kilimanjaro. Take two.
We landed, I made my way through the quickest customs of my life (after being greeted at the entrance with hand sanitiser and a man in gloves asking to see my vaccination passport to ensure I had the Yellow Fever injection in me) and there was a lad there to pick me up and take me to my hotel lodgings.
Along the way he pointed out some crops; did I know what they were? From a distance with pretty shit eyes, I guessed the yellow to be corn; “No,” he said. “Sunflower.” I looked again and of course they were; rows and rows and rows.
About 45 minutes later we reached the Meru View Lodge, my home for the night. It was beautiful; up a gated driveway with little cottage-cabins dotted all about the lawn. After checking in I was informed I was to be in number seven, and a lovely lady took the Purple Monster (again, my bag) and lifted it atop her head to carry like it was weightless (though actually 22.2kg with the sweatshirt in too).
I had a swim, laid out my mountain gear for inspection on my bed, then went to my Karibo (welcome) meeting for the tour.
So, Kili; with the Uhuru peak, literally translating as the highest point, being 5895m it makes Kilimanjaro the highest free standing mountain in the world. It is made up of five zones; the cultivated bush land, the rainforest, the heath/moorlands, the alpine desert and the Arctic (joy). There are six options for routes up; the Lemosho, the Umbwe, the Londorosi, the Marangu, the Rongai and the Machame. The Machame – nicknamed the “Whiskey Route” – is deemed the hardest, being the steepest.
So of course I signed myself up for that one.
We had our first team meeting. I knew coming in there were only two of us booked in for the tour, and I found it was still the case – the other was a Czech man called Raddick, who was in his early 50s.
The man who took it (name has left me – let’s go with Elijah) is kind of like the logistics man for the company. He gave us a list of the crew that would be taking us (11 all up; head guide, assistant guide, porters, waiter, cook) and went over the itinerary. Then he inspected our gear to make sure we had the required and left us to our own devices.
I headed to dinner about 6.30, and soon after Raddick and a pair of German girls joined me. They were doing the Marungu route. We had some yarns as course after course after course of food came out (after the tomato soup I fobbed mine off to the others at the table as much as I could), then I had a FaceTime with The Pedaller to say goodbyes (off to a pedalling race my morning his night, I wouldn’t get a chance to speak to him again before I left) and went to bed.
When I reached my room I saw the housekeeper had come in and let down my mosquito net (always reminds me of a bridal veil) and turned back my cover for me. As I was in the midst of a beautifully hot shower, a knock came at the door; it was aforementioned housekeeper again with a hot water bottle for me.
I had a brilliant nights sleep.
Morning dawned; awaking super early as per, I lay in bed dozing for an hour before I actually got up. Finalising packing, breakfast in and a sign out of the lodgings (where I borrowed a book to take up the mountain – with nine out of 10 of the options in German, pickings were slim) then 9am hit with a departure in the van.
It was here we met Emanuel, who was to be the assistant guide. Having climbed Kili more than 100 times, he had gotten back from a hike up two days prior (what a getter).
We drove the hour to the Machame entrance gate and set about doing registration. We met Joshua, our head guide; more than 300 Kili summits, he was a veteran. And then after about an hour and the obligatory “before” photo, we were on our way.
So first day; about 12km with a increase from 1800 to 3100m. A good five hours or so of walking.
First thing that struck me was the difference from Everest Base Camp; while that was quite undulated, this was a steady incline from Go to camp. But even though it was a constant up with some bits a bit steeper, it wasn’t hard – mainly because Emanuel – leading – insisted on going “Pole Pole”. (Pronounced “poley poley”).
You see, when moving into altitude keeping it slow is key. It helps your body acclimatise and thus makes reaching the high point much more likely. The guide in front sets the pace, to which the group must follow. I must admit though; a couple of times it was a tad too “Pole Pole” for me. I had a few surges of frustration of wanting to take it up a notch – mainly when we were passed by a man and his 20-something daughter, then by a Swiss family. I’m like Papa Henio on the roads – I don’t take too kindly to being overtaken. (Competitive nature may have mellowed a touch, but it’s still pretty fierce). I had to have a moment to remind myself that slower the whole way means the summit being much more successful. I think Emanuel saw me wanting to speed up, because he said:
“Poppy, take it Pole Pole. Much better for your body and we are in no rush.”
That shall be my challenge the next few days (though let’s face it; when the path steepens and oxygen levels go down I’ll be heartily grateful for the Pole Pole for sure).
We reached the camp about 5pm, registered our arrival and went for a “wash” (me in my tent with some wet wipes). Then I went to the Mess Tent, where I found Raddick, a plate of popcorn and Milo. Winning!
We chatted for awhile and he showed me photos of mountains around Europe and his Tanzanian safari last year. Then we had dinner – cucumber soup, potatoes, spinach and Vege curry. After Joshua briefed us on the next day’s plan, and then we retired to our tents.
It is now 8.05pm and I am tucked up in my sleeping bag.
It’s pretty cold. Singlet, merino thermal, sweatshirt and therma jacket (with first two tops tucked into my undies of course – every time I’m in coldness I do so, and it always reminds me of Papa Henio making us to do it in winter when we were kids).
Feeling no signs of altitude sickness symptoms as yet, I’m pretty chuffed – first time I was at this height I was pretty spacey (altitude is considered above 2600m). At just over halfway in altitude to our destination, I’m hoping this headache-free-head continues. I have to say, I found today very easy.
I’m five litres of h20 in and have peed like 14 times; I’m hoping I’ve emptied myself out so I don’t have to do a middle-of-the-night fumble outside.
Tomorrow is shorter but significantly steeper. We move into the Moorlands, so much more open and out of the canopy of trees. If the sun is out it’ll be warm when walking, but for every 1000m climbed the temp drops about 6.5 degrees. I was aiming to hold out on wearing my Superdown jacket until summit night, but something tells me I may be hustled up in it by mid afternoon tomorrow.
Feeling good, feeling fresh (ish) and ready to kill it on Kili.
(Argh I have to pee).