This is the third post of my narration concerning my trip last year (August 2016) to Tanzania to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro Mountain. In the last post, I was at the end of July having prepared physically for the hike, and now I was left with less than two weeks to start for Tanzania. Actually, it is highly recommended that you should rest your body at least two weeks before the hike, and that is just what I did. It may appear counterintuitive but you really need to give your body a chance to recuperate from the hardships of extreme exercise regime. Then when you get to hike, you are as fresh as a daisy.
I had taken time off from the office, bought my air ticket, confirmed my hotel reservation, and then entered into read-only hiking mode. In this mode, nothing can alter the intentions. There is no going back, there is no second-guessing, and there is no doubt. There is no what-if? I am not saying that is what everyone does. This is simply my approach whenever I am faced with a daunting task with a possibility of a catastrophic failure. I just reject any negative feedback and proceed with the mission.
On Friday, 5 August 2016, my family saw me off at the airport in Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi. I kissed them goodbye and promised to see them in less than 10 days. Soon I was in the air heading to Nairobi, Kenya before connecting with a smaller flight to Tanzania. On the way to Tanzania, just above the clouds we were introduced to Kilimanjaro on the right and Mount Meru on the left. They were like twin islands in the sky. They looked so picturesque but it did not register yet in my mind that I would be on one of them in the next few days. At Kilimanjaro International Airport just outside Moshi, the tourist city from which the tours are launched, I was met by Ulomi the Managing Director of Professional Kilimanjaro Adventure. He came in person even though he had arranged for a shuttle service to the hotel. I immediately knew that I was in safe hands.
That day there was a thick cloud cover despite being the beginning of summer. And each time there was a little break in the cloud, and I had spotted parts of a mountain, I would promptly ask if that was Kilimanjaro. And the answer each time was not affirmative. Then somewhere along the way, the clouds gave up on their hide-and-seek, albeit very briefly. The heavens parted, and lo, the mountain was exposed. I had the car stopped, stepped out and proceeded to point somewhere just above my eye’s horizontal view when my head is at normal upright position, and asked, “Is that Kili?” – Kili is short for Kilimanjaro. No, came back the answer. “It’s there.” I followed his finger and saw him pointing into the sky. I refocused, and suddenly realized there was a blue dome just above the clouds! What had looked like an island from the window of the plane was some huge monster floating above the clouds. I had never seen anything like it, and that is when it dawned on me the scale of effort that was waiting for me. At that point, I knew I did well not to dwell on any negative thoughts. I knew this was it. It had to be done.
After checking in at the Crane Hotel in Moshi, I had supper and settled in for the night. The following day, we went into Moshi to get provisions. We then settled down for “nyama choma” for lunch, which is open-fire grilled goat meat. It is so soft with spices that tantalise your palette. It is served with grilled banana. After feasting, we jumped into public transport for cultural tourism and headed for Machame Gate, the entrance into Kilimanjaro Park. This was to fulfill two purposes: one, to orient me with the lovely life of the mountain people and to acclimatize my body before the hike. The latter is important in adjusting your body to high altitude. Kelvin, David and Hillary later joined us. Kelvin, as I said in my first post of this series, is a cousin to Ulomi. David is a cousin to Kelvin. And Hillary is the younger brother to Ulomi. These would be my companions to attempt reaching Uhuru Peak together.
When we returned to Moshi that evening, I went for more Tanzanian cuisine. I was introduced to local cuisine with strong oriental influence, and some exotic drinks made from non-traditional ingredients. One was made from sugarcane. The other carrot. And so on. The tourist in me woke up and enjoyed every moment. This was relaxing time, and I made the most of it. The following day, which was a Sunday, I located a church and went for a church service. My faith was pumped up, I would have walked on air that day. That afternoon, we got out of town to some hot springs for foot massage. The pools have clear fresh water with fish that has learnt to adjust to the hot water, and when you dip your feet in the water, the schools of fish will surround them and gently nibble at you. It is an awesome sensation, one I could not bear beyond few minutes at a time. It was as if the fish was giving us the last pampering before embarking on the tough hike. When we returned to Moshi that evening, it was feasting time one more time.
Next day, which was a Monday, I walk up sober. Not sober as in recovering from a drinking night. But sober as in being sober-minded, knowing that this was the beginning of a tough yet exciting assignment. In just few hours, we would be starting our hike. I said my prayers. I had a modest breakfast at the hotel, and waited for Ulomi to come and fetch me. Soon we were on the road to Kilimanjaro Park, where we were joined by my hiking partners, Kelvin, David and Hillary. What was awaiting us? How would Kili greet us? Well, join me in the next post as I embark on the first day of the hike.