Monday, November 07, 2005

African Adventure

The beginning...

Small communities of light flash up toward the plane as it dips in a sharp turn towards Kilimanjaro international airport. I did not know what to expect, but somehow it was comforting. Then I noticed that mixed in with the glow were the flashes of fire. Not everyone had electricity.

The air was warm, there was an unfamiliar scent mixed with the aroma of dirt, smoke and grasses. The passengers walked across the tarmac, some with a purpose, they were home. I was more hesitant but could not help but think about the fact that I made it, Africa ... what would it be like? I hoped our baggage made it. I was glad that I had worn my boots and packed essentials in my carry on. Sweat was starting to roll down the small of my back by the time we had been through customs and gathered our many bags. Strange that in the middle of the heat in my pack were winter clothes, as well as cotton shirts and linen skirts.

I am excited, we are met by a lovely young woman from our hotel, I get to try out my Swahili but get very shy and do not want to say the wrong thing. She is surprised and smiles at my attempts and kindly responds. She escorts us to a van, not a typical North American mini-van, but an African van, larger, with racks on top and the steering wheel on the right. I have to stop looking out the front window, I am so disoriented by the vehicles coming on the wrong side of the road I am stiff and tense and my fingers hurt from gripping the seat so tightly. Relax girl. On to Moshi town, twende! (Let's go).

The next two days were spent preparing for what is ahead of us...climbing almost six thousand metres in ten days. We met our Tusker Trail guides, absolutely fabulous people, experienced and professional Simon, the senior guide who has been up Kili over a hundred times, sweet Urio and hilarious Charles. Everything that we are taking has to be stuffed into a heavy-duty duffel bag, including our sleeping bag, gear, clothes, and anything else we feel is essential on the mountain. We carry our own daypack for our daily needs, such as water, snacks, and of course, toilet paper and a garbage bag. My duffel was stuffed and I had a very difficult time closing the zipper. Little did I know how much harder it was going to become.

Finally we start off, the eight of us, six women and two men (wonderful people and great new friends) pile into the two waiting landrovers. The porters are to follow. We are warned that the three hour drive is going to a bit rough. It starts out very smooth, but that is because we are on tarmac. I made sure that I had only one cup of coffee that morning. I am not sure of what to expect in the way of bathroom stops, or even if there will be one. However, Simon stops at a small village along the way, it is my first experience with a squat toilet. It is very clean and porcelain too.

The children in the village all gather round us to stare, but they do not say anything, just stand a few feet away and look at us. I try out a bit of Swahili but they only giggle. As we leave and get into the vehicles the children start shouting at us and holding out their hands. I ask Simon what they are saying ... they want a gift. I have none.
The rough part of the road is reached, thank goodness there is a cross bar to hang onto. It is a spine numbing, bone jarring two hours. However, we reach Londerossi gate, where we have to sign in. No one is allowed to climb the mountain without guides and the number of people allowed in is limited (somewhat). This is not just a walk in the park. Surrounding the gate is 'temporary' village. It is huge and goes on and on. Many men and children gather around the edges of the gate and road. We think the men are hoping to be hired as porters, but they do not come close to us, I do not think they are allowed. Our guide disappears for a while, we wait around for a long time, eat our packed lunch, and chat with groups of hikers from all over the world, Australia, England, Germany. Not many are taking our route, the Western Breach, but many routes share the same trail in the beginning.

Finally it is time to go again, back in for the last bumpy ride for ten days. The trail head is reached shortly and we pile out, eat the rest of our lunch, find a place to pee, and head up the path into the tropical rainforest of the Lemosho Glades. It is beautiful, lush and green. The trail starts out quite steep and the rest of the day is spent going slowly up and down the trail. Simon is at the front and sets the pace, he uses the 'resting step' which is very slow, but we learn to appreciate it before too long. After about fours hours of sweaty hiking we reach Big Tree camp, elevation about 2800 metres. No mosquitoes at this height.

The camp is full of trekkers, I am disappointed, I do not like the crowded feeling, it somehow feels like they shouldn't be there. Selfish of me, but I also worry about the ecology of Kilimanjaro, all these people, me included, must be damaging to the ecosystem.

We meet our 'waiter', Buiat, very shy but friendly, and our chef, who wants to know how we want our eggs done for the next morning. This is the beginning of many very delicious mealtimes. We ate very well on this trip, I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that we were never short of food, but the best part of every evening meal was the soup. Yeah Soup! It was always a delicious, brothy, salty concoction that satisfied as nothing else could. Yeah Soup! And I have to say the chapati were almost the best I had in Tanzania.

It gets dark quite suddenly in Tanzania and even more so on the mountain. We are close to the equator and the sun sets every day around 6 p.m. and rises every morning around 6 a.m., which took a little while to get used to, being from a country that is seasonal and the amount of daylight depends on the time of year.

Our accommodations are luxurious compared to the other trekkers, our tents are double-walled and roomy with a vestibule type entrance where we store our duffels, we are two to a tent. We also have a dining tent with table and chairs, and two toilet tents, truly we were spoiled.

I have a hard time falling asleep, I wonder how I will handle the altitude, I have decided to not take diamox until needed, and I hope I am physically up to the challenge. I am the youngest in our group and decide to relax and take it one day at a time and enjoy each new experience as it comes my way.

Tomorrow we head for the Shira Plateau ...


JB said...

Great use of specific details--I feel as though I'm there with you, and I love how you describe your inpressions, you worries, and your sense of excitement.

I can't wait for the next installment!

Michelle said...

wow - are you writing from memory or a journal - I just can't believe all the detail, it's marvelous!

note to self: if ever going to hike kili, bring presents for children on the way

also, i'm outta town this week but i'll get in touch when i get back.

Scarlett said...

Wow that sounds incredible! I can't wait to hear more about your trip!


Pen Ultimate said...

Karibu Tanzania!

If you're taking digital pictures while you're in East Africa, check out this cool way to share your photos with people around the world who are interested in Africa and Swahili: the Kamusi Project Photo Uploader.

Safari njema!

librarychik said...

Thanks JB,writing this way is a bit like being there again

Michelle, it is mostly from memory, but I do have journal to refer to.

Thanks Scarlett!

Asante Sana pen ultimate, I will check out the site.