Kilimanjaro – day two (the shocker!), 25/02/10

Day two on the mountain was in some ways my favourite day of all, and in other ways it was the worst. It was a heck of a day, that is for sure. It had so much. We met and took a photograph with all of the the crew for the first time; we got absolutely stunning views of Kibo for the first time; it was our first full day walking on the mountain; and then later on I got to understand what AMS, albeit mild, felt like. So here we go:

So we were woken at about 6am, with tea in our tents – how civilised! We had to be ready to start trekking at 7.30, as we had 12k to walk today, and over 1000m of ascent, so it would be our first proper exertion really.

The views early on were stunning – here was my first proper view of the summit from our camp:

Kibo - so near and yet so far.......

And very shortly after breakfast at about 7am, we get a view of the other peak on Kilimanjaro, which is Mawenzi, at 5,100m. This time we have all of the crew to meet, porters, cooks, assistant guides you name it, they are here all twenty five or so of them:

Mawenzi Peak, and all of our crew.

We are soon walking, and the weather is totally cloudless, and before long we are greeted with outstanding views of the summit (Kibo), and here is a picture of all of us together:

Nice spot to stop for a picture, don't you think?

The summit at times looks tantalisingly close, and at others looks like it is perched in the sky about a million miles away. Either way, it is fixating, magnetic. It is all I can do to to stop myself taking a thousand photographs, but am conscious of the need to preserve batteries – I have three all together, but have no idea how many will last on summit night when the cold hits.

We stop for lunch at a place called Second Cave at about 3,500m. It is so hot and the sun is burning. Without sunblock (I had Factor 50) you would really fry here, as each of Kamal, Tamara and Tayma found out. We were also already above most of the clouds. Lunch was great, although I cannot remember what it was:)

We head off in the afternoon for Kikelewa Camp, at 3,700m, a further 6km or so away. Although not particularly strenuous, the walk is hard. I realise already that I am not drinking enough water. My Camelback has 3 litres in and I have a separate 1 litre bottle – but I drink probably less than half of this. It is not enough, with the sunshine, the walking and especially the altitude, which is already enough to affect you if you are not used to it.

On the way to camp, we are definitely two distinct groups at all times. Kamal, Tamara, Tayma and Ronan are at the front by some margin, but they are all in their twenties. We nickname them “the tweens’. Caroline and Heather take it easy, and I am glad of it. The motto for walking slowly in Swahili is “Pole, Pole” – as far as I am concerned you cannot go  slowly enough, so I ask Deo if we can go “Pole, pole, pole, pole, pole” – I am not sure he sees the joke, but we go even slower anyway, so that works for me.

On the way to camp, Caroline introduces Heather and I to the Shocker (not literally I hasten to add). I think I should just leave it right there, and so I will:). By the time we get to camp it has been a long day already. I am starting to feel a headache coming on. Kikelewa is not pretty, but we do have great views of Mawenzi and also Kibo (seen below) in the distance:

Kikelewa camp, approaching sunset

After getting to camp I feel pretty bad. My head pounds like I have been hit with a cricket bat, and I feel nauseous. The popcorn that I have been looking forward to sounds revolting, and I go and see Deo and tell him what is wrong. He says “take 500mg of Paracetamol”. Although I hate taking tablets of any kind, if he had said “take two kilogrammes of Paracetamol”, I would have done it. I just needed some relief. I went straight to my tent and slept instantly, like I hadn’t slept for a week. I was woken by someone for dinner, and ate it, feeling mildly less nauseous, but stilll headachy. It was all a bit of a blur really – I think we may have played cards (Yuker, which I learn afterwards is spelled “euchre” – thanks Caroline:)), and I think this may have been a picture of Heather after she had done some sort of barn door thing after winning or something:

Hmmmmm, not a card trick that I have seen before....

But I am ready to hit the hay and do so relatively early. I am grateful for a great and long day on the mountain, and hope that the night passes without incident…………..

Kilimanjaro – on the mountain, day one (24/02/2010)

The morning of 24th February 2010 – this is what it is all about. This is the culmination of everything that I have planned for over six months now, and it is finally here. It all feels slightly surreal however, like I am not really there. Maybe it is the altitude that I am not properly used to yet, or the heat, or the food, or whatever. It definitely feels like a dream though.

As we are waiting for the bus to arrive at about 7am, we are surprisingly greeted at the entrance to the hotel by none other than Henry Stedman himself! He has been on safari in Tanzania, is staying close by, and drops in to wish us luck, which was really nice of him. Henry if you are reading this – a thousand thank-yous! Here we are ready for the off, picture actually taken by Henry:

Are we ready - you bet!

So before we know it we are loaded onto one of the most rickety buses you will ever see – it is probably thirty years old for starters, and has about 14 seats and has us plus 27 porters on board. oh and it will only start if you bump start it in reverse:) Here are some of the sleepy guys who came with us:

A long way to go yet....

After a short while we met Tamara, Tayma and Kamal, our three remaining trekkers – all considerably younger (and fitter) than me, but we all got on really well from the get go. After about two hours we arrived at Marangu Gate, which was to be our finishing point for the mountain, but it was also necessary to register here too – and so this is our first picture together as a group:

Ready for action - Marangu Gate

From Marangu Gate we spent another two or so hours heading around Kilimanjaro to get to the Rongai Gate on the Northernmost (Kenyan, if not actually in Kenya) side of the mountain. The road is a dirt road and it just about passable in places – I have no idea how the bus made it at all.

When we arrive we are treated to a big lunch of soup (to become our staple diet), grilled cheese sandwiches, boiled eggs, fruit and the like – it was all great. Meanwhile the porters divide up between them all of the luggage, tents, food, camping and cooking equipment etc., and it is a huge operation – you realise then why it needs so many of them:

Glad I don't have to carry all this stuff too.....

And before we know it, we are off and away – we are trekking on Kilimanjaro! The first walk is a short one – up to the first campsite is just about 7km, and a three or so hour walk, principally through forest. It was also very very hot. This is how it looked, and it was hard at times to even reconcile the fact that we were on the mountain at all:

The path begins for Caroline and Heather, with assistant guide Raymond

Before long we get our first view of Kibo from the mountain itself – we had seen bits of it from bus, but now it was much more real. It is also strange as it looks so far away and so high as to be out of reach. It would of course take us five days to get up there from where we stood, so this was not surprising really. The walk was fairly straightforward, and almost before we know it we are at camp, at about 6.30pm. When we arrive our tents are already set up, the porters having long since gone past us, almost unnoticed as they would every single day. We had four tents between us, and so Tamara and Tayma shared one, Caroline and Heather another, I shared with Kamal, and Ronan got to be on his own, which I think he was happy with.

Camp on first night....2,700 metres

We soon got our first camp dinner – more soup, and seemingly endless supplies of stew etc. The cooks had their work cut out with us as we had one vegetarian, and two more non-red meat eaters amongst us, but they did fantastically well throughout.

After a great feast we get our nightly briefing for the following day. Deo would brief us on what time we would be woken up (with tea or coffee in bed every day!), then what time for the washing water, then what time for breakfast, and what time we would set out walking. He’d also advise on diamox, how much drinking water to take, how cold it might be, or whatever, and ask if we were all feeling OK. the whole thing was like a military operation.

For us the next day would start at 6am, as we had a long way to go, and it would take us to 3,700m already. We were all in tents by around 9pm, and I wondered if I would sleep. Deo had told us there may be animals around at this camp, possibly buffalo I think, although maybe I dreamed that. But I needn’t have worried – sleep came very easily, and other than a necessary pee break in the middle of the night, I slept like a baby – my first night sleeping on the mountain. What a place to be – the next morning would greet us with fantastic weather and breathtaking views…….

The final final countdown – 23/02/10

There have been so many final countdowns to this trip I have lost count, but this time it really really is it. I wake up in Africa for the first time, knowing that tomorrow the hard work really starts – it will be day one on the mountain.

I cannot decide what to do with myself today. After yesterday’s ‘ordeal’ in Arusha, I decide it is not exactly the place to spend a day being a tourist, and I ponder the virtues of my having arrived a whole day early, and actually wonder what to do with myself. After a decent breakfast in the hotel, I almost find myself logging to checking my work emails, but before I get the chance to do so, I am greeted by a girl saying “hello, are you climbing Kilimanjaro with Henry?”. I answer yes I am, and the girl introduces herself as Heather. She says that she is going tomorrow, and that she and her friend Caroline are really looking forward to it, but thought that there was just the two of them. I explain that I thought there were three of us, but that the other two on my trek were a “married couple from New Jersey”. This causes her to smile rather a lot, and says she will go get her friend.

Caroline and Heather, definitely not married.......

We all duly meet in the bar, then start to talk about our adventure. I ponder as to how they are connected, and whether they are a couple in fact, but decide not to ask. We will spend a week with each other, and I am just happy to meet them, it matters not one jot, and they both seem lovely people.

They tell me that they are going into Arusha to go and see the Rwanda War Trials Tribunal, which has been going on here for the last five years and is open to the public. They ask me if I would like to come along, and I say I would be glad to. We duly walk in, and I recount my tale of ‘John’ the previous day. It is not long before I get approached by about five more peddlers trying to sell me everything from newspapers to a Safari. I must be a magnet for the these people, and Caroline and Heather are amused as they do not get approached at all.

We lunch at a nice little place called “Via Via”, which is through the museum, and highly recommended if you are in Arusha. We then head off to the trials, which are fascinating, but having watched them for just an hour or so I can understand why they have been going on for five years already.

Here is a piccie of me taken outside the Tribunal, which has a mural of Kilimanjaro outside:

The Rwanda Tribunal building, Arusha

We get back to the hotel at around 3 or so, and we have our briefing at around 6pm. It seems that a beer is in order, as it is rather hot (that’s a good enough reason for today anyway, and this will be my last chance of a beer for a while too). Just then a big group of people arrive at the hotel, and they look suspiciously like they have just returned from a certain mountain that we all know rather well. They have indeed – they are from Belgium, and look like drowned rats.

They explain that they have done the 7 day Machame route, and that it rained every single day, except the summit night when it snowed. They say it was ‘brutal’, ‘ridiculously hard’, and they do not look like they enjoyed it at all. Apparently 12 of the 14 made it up though, which is great, and we congratulate them. They ask if we are taking Diamox, and Caroline and Heather answer yes, and I say no. He says “take it”, and I tell him that I do not have any, so he asks amongst the group and one of the guys comes up and gives me about 20 tablets – looks like I am going to take it after all – I am quite relieved.

At 6pm we get our briefing. Shortly before we start we meet another person who is joining us – we are not three after all, we are four! The guy introduces himself as Ronan, a 29 year old originally from Northern Ireland but now living in London. The briefing is done by a fairly serious guy called Deo, who will be our guide, and another guy called Samuel, one of the assistant guides. They go through a very comprehensive list of things we might need, and tell us we will need (amongst other things) poles and four layers of trousers for summit night. Ronan and I have no poles and certainly do not have four layers of trousers. It all seems quite daunting stuff – we are left in no doubt that this is no walk in the park and we need to take it all very seriously. Oh and during the briefing we learn that there are not going to to be four of us at all, but seven! There are apparently three more trekkers ‘from Lebanon’ staying in another hotel – we will meet them on the bus in the morning. Even more exciting!

Afterwards, Caroline, Heather and I go out to dinner at a place called ‘Stiggy’s’, which is a part Thai, part Italian (!) restaurant, and the food is great. We all munch on pizzas, but the evening is short and we are back by 9pm – we all need some sleep as tomorrow we will be picked up at 7am for a five hour bus journey to the Rongai gate – this is it!

I get back to my room and pack and unpack both my daypack and my duffle bag, trying to get things in the right places. I also repack my bag that will stay at the hotel – I decide to leave nothing valuable behind and carry everything with me in my daypack – I will worry about it a lot less if I can see it at least.

My alarm is set for 5.30am, so I can pack and fret some more – I sleep fitfully, and dream of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro – I hope I don’t let anyone down, including myself……………

Arusha – 22/02/10

And so endeth my first ever day in Africa. It was a culture shock for me, big style.

The drive here was through seemingly endless tin huts at the side of the road, selling all manner of merchandise. There are endless bars and banana sellers, car washers and shoe shiners. The latter seems somewhat ridiculous, given where we are, and also that we are in the middle of the mother of all rainstorms. There are also dogs, cows, goats, chickens everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They litter the sides of the road and even the road itself.

Main Street, Tanzania style

The drivers are of course totally insane. If you try to overtake a tractor or truck full of cows a second too early, some idiot will screech inside you and undertake you as you do it. Others overtake you as you overtake someone else. There are as many speedbumps as there are cars, and they are brutal.

I also feel conspicuously like the only white person in the country. That doesn’t freak me out in the slightest, but it is just a feeling. It is so very very different to anything I have ever seen. It is incredibly ‘third world’, with seemingly the only females that you see carrying impossibly high baskets of stuff on their heads.

I got here to the Outpost Lodge at around 10am local time and just had to crash out. Thankfully my room was ready for me to do so.

My temporary home in Arusha, the Outpost Lodge

Normally when I get to a new place I have to go and explore my surroundings first, but after no sleep last night I needed to just sleep. I had a good two hours and felt much energised, and so went and had myself some breakfast, pictured below

Don't worry, be happy......

Following the beer (well three actually, I am on my holidays too here) and the most garlic infused baked potato the world must have ever seen, I went on that exploratory trip of Arusha. It’s not a great place it has to be said.

As I got to the end of the road I was met by a guy called ‘John’ and he started asking me about what I was doing here and giving all of the jambo, beans, and hakuna matata stuff. He seems genuinely friendly. I realised quickly that there would be a catch somewhere, and so my guard was up at maximum security levels.

I decided that I could handle it though (I’ve made a few timeshare salesmen cry in my time), but in the end I was wrong. These people have no scruples at all, and I was being fed a story before long how he needed money as he had fled from Rwanda and his Daddy had died from ‘sugar diabetes’. I was sympathetic to all this, and it is probably true, but it was the way he tried to get the money from me that was the galling part. I couldnt really get rid of him, and so I let him walk with me, an all the time there are a thousand questions, him probing, me being as vague as possible.

At first he walked me through this really dark backstreet Market, where I knew I was being followed, and so I just tightened my grip on everything. My wallet (actually it is a fetching red Buzz Lightyear thing) became as impregnable as a camel’s bum in a sandstorm.

Then when I had managed to bat various urchins off me, a ‘friend’ of John’s appeared and asked if I “liked coffee”. The place we were in now was a covered Market, and so small narrow and dark that almost anything could have happened in there. I imagined for a moment that I may never be seen again. I was also carrying about $500 in cash on me, and if they had known that then I would definitely not be writing about this in the way I am right now.

The ‘coffee’ guy wanted me to go into this basement place to ‘see his coffee’, and then all of a sudden another guy I on my other shoulder and putting his arm around me. I recoiled, and told them I didn’t want any coffee in a voice which attempted to be stern but friendly at the same time. They backed off and just sort of disappeared into the melée.

So John then made a sort of “sheesh, those guys!” type gesture, which was a bit stupid, as I knew that it was arranged that way. He eventually started walking me back to my hotel (or following me) and I am all the while figuring how to stop him getting back to my room itself. I then thought he probably knows what is in there already. Do I sound cynical here?

When we got half way back he made a phone call and explained afterwards that his brother was having problems with his landlord. I sort of pretended to be half interested. Upon getting to the end of my road I knew I has to get rid of him, and so stopped and thanked him and pulled out a $5 bill to say thank you for the tour.

At this point, instead of accepting it, his ‘brother’ (they looked so radically different I cannot imagine it to be close to being true, but who cares) appears, and pulls out a roll of paintings. He half asks/half tells me “you buy?”, and I say, as firmly as I could without aggression “no “.  And so he tells me that the prints (which are somewhat rudimentary to say the least) are only $65 dollars each or he will do me ‘two for $95’. I try to tell him I am not interested, and there is pawing and arms and legs all over the place. They are trying clearly to pickpocket me. I push them off, and manage to get away.

I am lucky (I think) that I am on the corner of a public road and lots of people are watching. I get back to the hotel and decide not to venture out again, and so go and chill by the bar, suspiciously eyeing anyone who comes within 10 yards of me, and imagining that my room is being ransacked by John and his brother.

After a fairly interesting and rather undercooked pizza, I unwind with three or four more Kilinanjaro Premium Lagers. It is not the most exciting beer ever, but it hits the spot.

Before I know it, with blog duly updated, it is 9pm and I am ready to crawl under my mosquito net (pictured below):

Room K2, the Outpost

My room appears to be intact and I duly try to read, but fail as I am so tired. A seemingly friendly (but pretty ugly it has to be said) lizard crawls around my bedpost – I decide to call him Toby. He can hopefully eat some of the bugs that made under the net with me. Sleep comes very very easily.

I Arrive in Africa – 22/02/10

So after an 8 hour flight to Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, I land at 6am local time (3am for me), and am in Africa for the first time! I feel like doing a Pope thing and kissing the Tarmac as I walk down the steps of the plane, but there are people with guns and things (probably) and so I decide better of it.

So After being bussed back to the terminal, it is a short walk around to Gate 3, from where Precision Air Services flight 724 will be taking me to Kilimanjaro International Airport (which I imagine will be a bit of a shed) at 8am.

Nairobi - Waiting room for flight to Kili

The short wait in a none too salubrious waiting area passes ridiculously quickly however. I am of course excited beyond compare, despite not having slept for more than probably 20 or so minutes last night. And then, before I know it, I am boarding the small plane to Kili – damned if I know what sort it was, but here is a picture of it:

Precision Air flight to Tanzania

I have seat 1D, and wish that I had asked whether that will be the side of the plane to see Kili. It wasn’t. If you happen to do this subsequently then sit on the left hand side of the plane.

The flight is just 45 minutes long, and we are told that we will be flying at an altitude of 18,000 feet. I realise that this means that we will not be as high as Kilimanjaro – we will be looking up at it still from the plane! Sure enough after about 20 minutes in there is a clambering at the left hand side of the plane. Everyone grabs for their cameras including me, and this is about the best that I could do:

My first ever glimpse of Kilimanjaro!

The day is very cloudy, but there strutting well above the clouds, and a lot more steeply than I had imagined it to be, is Kilimanjaro, in the flesh for the first time. It is dark, brooding, menacing almost. It tells you it is boss right away. I feel a bit scared just looking at it. I look around and see the plains of the Serengeti, and to the right of me the quite majestic Mount Meru (the little sister to Kilimanjaro at 17,000 feet). I want to cry out with excitement.

Mount Meru from the plane

I wish I had someone to share this moment with. You really should not do this in your own. It is the ultimate Kodak moment – when you want to turn round to whoever you are with and just let the emotions out. You want to grab them and let them see what it means to you, and then take 100 photographs all of exactly the same thing at the same angle. It is exulting, exciting and exhausting all at the same time. I have been fortunate to see some great sights in my life, of which I would choose The Grand Canyon, the atolls of The Maldives, and The Matterhorn as being right up there with the best, but right here and now this tops them all.

My flight lands at 8.46am local time in Tanzania. Kilimanjaro International Airport is indeed little more than a shed, although I do not see any cows. The process of having your Yellow Fever certificate checked, to getting your visa ($50 over the counter, cheaper here than in London), is frustrating if not overly long. After about 30 minutes I am reaquainted on the other side with my luggage. I am surprised it made it. I am always pessimistic about luggage not arriving, but this time I was warned. The advice was to travel in walking boots and other kit such that if your luggage did not make it out of Kenya then at least you had a head start. I am not the only person by any means on this flight in walking boots either.

It's Kili Time!

As I get through to the arrivals hall/hut I am met by a driver. There is myself and two other guys who are on their way to The Outpost too, and on their way of course to do the same thing as me. They are older than me, which makes me feel slightly less daunted about what I am facing. The first one I talk to says “doesn’t it look incredibly steep at the top?” I hastily agree, and we both clearly ponder the ramifications of that.

The journey to Arusha is quite an eye opener. The next post will tell you why………….

Hi Ho, It’s off to Heathrow I go – 21/02/10

So this is day one of the trip. Hard to believe actually after all that I have gone through that it is effectively all just starting today.

I think that packing bags was hard. It is very very difficult to ultimately know what to take and what not to take. How many pairs of underpants am I going to be able to realistically change into when it is -30 degrees up the mountain?

I have plumped for three bags. One is my main repository for things that go up the mountain with me. It is a duffel type tube bag thing, capacity about 80 litres. It contains my sleeping bag, thermarest, hats, gloves, camp shoes, my layers of thermal underwear etc etc. The bag also contains a bunch of medical supplies, and things to munch on along the way.

Heathrow, all set....

It will all have to be unpacked when I get to Tanzania, as I will have to carry the things that I might need (suntan lotion, fleece, waterproofs, snacks etc) in my backpack on a daily basis. The duffel bag itself will leave me every morning and be carried by the Porters, and so I will not see it from morning until the evening. On the other hand I will have to pack it myself every day still. I wonder how hard it will be to roll up my sleeping bag when I am at altitude. It was a complete git to do rolled out on the carpet in my house on Oxfordshire, an so it will no doubt be bloody hard work.

My next bag is my daily lifeblood, quite literally. It is my backpack, a 30 litre Camelback thingymajig. It will carry my 3 litre camelback bladder and the day supplies as mentioned above. It also has sunglasses, camera, and the like, and my money etc.

Lastly I have packed a bag for the hotel. I will be in Arusha for three days and nights altogether, two before I go and on after I come back. The temperature there at the moment is around 35 degrees C. I pack T shirts and shorts and flip flops accordingly.

Each bag is fitted with a padlock, which I hate doing. I am advised however that there are unscrupulous people in Africa, and so I take the advice. I think it is sad, and I know that I will lose the keys as I am so rubbish at keeping hold of small objects.

And so it is off to Heathrow. I am filled with trepidation. A new continent altogether for me, let alone a new country and then Kilimanjaro. And on my own. It is only the second trip I have taken on my own in my life. The first one was four months ago to Lanzarote. I don’t enjoy being on my own, although this I know is way different.

At the airport I basically feel just overwhelmed. I want to be there, but I feel all of a sudden so tired, and then I spend probably 20 of the next 30 minutes going to the toilet. Please excuse the information overload here, but this is how it was for me.

Before I know it, and after several telephoned goodbyes, I am on Kenyan Airways flight 101 to Nairobi. I fly overnight (I am on the plane as I write this) and will land in Nairobi at 6.20 tomorrow morning. From there it will be a short layover and then a 20 seater plane to Kili – I cannot imagine the plane will get as high as the mountain is – we will see in the morning I suppose. I hope that I will get to see my first glimpse of it from the air – I am back in the zone again.

I eat some strange tasting Kenyan Airways macadamia nuts, and ask for a gin and tonic. I am told there is no tonic, and so just take the gin. I eat what I believe to be some sort of curried gazelle (if it was chicken then I am a leprechaun), and then try to get my head down. I can normally sleep on planes, especially after a few beers, wines and gins, but not tonight. I have a feeling that this is going to be the first of many nights where the anticipation of what lies ahead of me prevents me from getting some proper rest.

Bring on Africa – I am ready for you, I hope………

I Made It!

I will update more later, including a host of pictures and stuff, but just to let anyone know who has been following this blog that at 7.10am on 1st March 2010, myself and six fellow trekkers successfully made it to the top – here we are at Uhuru Peak:

Uhuru Peak, 1st March 2010. Caroline, Raymond, Me, Heather.