Chronicles of the Kilimanjaro Adventure: #4

This is the fourth post about my Kilimanjaro Adventure of August 2016. In my last post, I had just woken up at Crane Hotel in Moshi ready for the hike. It was my first attempt to reach Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa at  5,895 m. The day of the first hike was on Monday, 8 August. There was cloud cover in Moshi, and when we travelled to Machame Gate, we found the mountain shrouded in fog too. On this special day, I dedicated it to my grandma on my father’s side, being the only surviving grandparent. I wore a t-shirt that had been made in honour of her 85th birthday. Between her sharp memory and resilient spirit, I probably inherited a little bit of the latter, my memory being as good as a sponge on most days.

Inside Machame Gate.
Inside Machame Gate.

We quickly registered with the Government of Tanzania, and Ulomi our tour operator, assembled a team of two guides and I think about 8 porters. One of the guides, David Bunduki, was the chief guide, and Ronald Maro, was his assistant. We had a chef and a summit porter too. I was in the company of my Tanzanian friends, Kelvin, David and Hilary. These young men were fit, eager and a wonderful company. Kelvin was my official interpreter, and personal motivator. Hilary works for his brother Ulomi, and is an excellent PR expert. He made us all feel at home. David was the quiet one. He was the barometer of the group, keenly following the levels of pressure we would experience along the way.

Somehow, I had already figured out one thing I needed the most at this stage: calm. Calm was the key to tackling this big challenge. I was not nervous, and I did not entertain any negative thoughts. I had one thing on my mind only, the summit. Looking back, this attitude helped stabilise my thoughts and propelled me forward.

Then it was time to go. We said goodbye to Ulomi, the owner of the  Professional Kilimanjaro Adventure, and turned our attention to David, the guide. David introduced himself, in the most humble way and introduced the rest of the team to us. He shared the itinerary for the day, and made sure we had packed everything we needed for the hike. I was rather surprised at his physical stature. He was rather short, about my height, and slender. His voice was soft and unassuming. Yet he spoke with clear authority and seemed to possess admirable clarity on the tasks that needed to be tackled. We were told to follow in the footsteps of the guides as much as possible. And since this was the beginning of summer, it was not expected to rain. However, it was still advisable to have our raincoats handy.

 

 

The beginning of the trail is beautiful. It is behind a fenced Machame Gate, with controlled access. No one who has not registered officially can be found on this trail. Everything is well organised. The vegetation is dense with trees, climbers, and creepers reminiscent of the tropics. It is beautiful. The trees rise tall, reaching into the sky, and the dense foliage is full of birds, butterflies and beetles. Along the trail, we found the giant fern that grows a thick truck like a tree, and then at the top open up like an umbrella of the typical fern stalks we normally find in wet, and covered conditions. We were informed that these were from the dinosaur era, and had been around the earth for millions of years. We were peeping into history, way before man was created.

One thing that was disturbing was the pace. Our guides seemed not in a hurry. I was taken aback by the slow tempo. I had anticipated a much hurried approach, bearing in mind that we were embarking on a long hike that would take 6 days to complete. I expected that everything would be militant – the fast and furious of the jungle, so to speak. No, that was not the case. So before long, we walked past the guides, and we were eager to charge forward. That is when we were introduced to the famous Swahili phrase, “pole, pole!” This would be repeated to us for the reminder of the trip, much more often than any other phrase. It simply means, “go slow” or “take it easy”. Each time we would pass a group of porters, or when they would be passing us by, they would scream, “pole pole”. This was not clear on the first day. But its significance came much later in the hike.

Lunch hour found us still walking, and we stopped to enjoy our packed lunch. It had been packed hot, with love, with care. We took it down, surrounded by pleasant bush sounds. This was proving to be such an excellent outing. We soon resumed our hike. Our porters had already overtaken us to allow them to set up camp. Everything was well orchestrated.

Then suddenly, without warning it started to rain. We just had enough time to put on our raincoats and protect our electronics. It was a heavy rainfall. It took us all by surprise. I could see how weather on Kilimanjaro was unpredictable. By the time we reached our first camp we were cold. But before having a hot cup of Milo, we had to register with the officials at Machame Camp upon our arrival. The whole camp, which is at 2835 m, was dotted with tents. Somehow our team had arranged our tents on a prime spot, close to the park office.

Machame Camp next to my tent (the one on the left).
Machame Camp next to my tent (the one on the left).

Now it was time to figure out how to get into the tent without getting everything inside wet. I looked around and saw how the other hikers were getting into their tents and tried to follow suit. It was awkward to enter the tent with one’s back first and finishing off with the legs. The shoes would hang on the door, and get removed there. That way, there would be no mud inside the tent.

We had a special tent which was serving as the dining room. We all met inside and exchanged notes over a hot beverage, popcorn and some energy biscuits. Everyone was excited. We had just completed over 11 km, and knew that there was more remaining to be done. Kilimanjaro had given us a taste of what it was capable of delivering, and we wanted more.

The next post will take us on day two from Machame Camp to Shira Cave campsite.

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