When I left my hotel room in Tanzania on Saturday morning, I had 3 bags with me to bring downstairs to the lobby.
1. My rucksack full of all the kit and clothes I would need on the mountain for the next 6 days which had to weigh less than 12kg and was a devil to pack, which would be put into the back of a jeep.
2. My day sack which would stay with me, that contained the essentials I needed to carry myself (the capability to carry 3 litres of water, snacks, suntan lotion, hat, wet weather gear etc) and
3. The bag of things I didn’t need that would be put into the hotel storage – this bag contained my shampoo, conditioner and shower gel amongst other things!! 6 days without any real washing facilities was really going to add to the experience!
Leaving normal life behind as we piled into the 2 jeeps waiting to take us to the mountain, we only really had 5 things to worry about from this point onwards.
1. Consume as much food as possible. At altitude we would be burning an insane amount of calories.
2. Drink 5-6 litres of water per day. Staying hydrated would stand us in good stead against the effects of being at altitude.
3. Use antibacterial hand gel obsessively. There are no real washing facilities on the mountain, so illness could spread through the team rapidly. So for that reason we did not share ‘unwrapped food’ (think peanuts on a pub bar and all the nasties in them, then magnify by the effects of altitude and germ multiplication at high temperatures!)
4. Watch out for the signs of altitude sickness within ourselves and each other. (More about this later!!)
5. Watch out for mountain lions. This was one of Kirsty’s jokes….I think.
There was some admin to do at ‘the gate’ of the Rongai route, Kirsty had to check that the porters were not exceeding a weight limit in terms of what they were carrying and check the extensive first aid kit whilst the rest of us signed into the register. The local authorities keep a track of each group climbing the mountain – which was a sober reminder of the potential danger of climbing.
Seeing Kilimanjaro for the first time was incredible, stepping foot on it was emotional. I had a few tears in my eyes as we started walking.
I remember thinking in my head ‘…. are we seriously walking this slowly?!’ as our guide Gardi set the pace. It’s harder than you might think to walk at such a slow pace and became even more comical when our team of 30 porters start passing us, carrying tables on their heads, rucksack and all the other essentials for our camp ahead.
The standard conversation between us and the porters went like this:-
Them: ‘Jambo!’ (hello!)
Us: ‘Jambo’ initially before you learn to respond with ‘Mambo’ which is considered more polite and then prompts a response of ‘pou’ (cool!) normally followed by ‘poli poli’ which basically means slowly, slowly – tread carefully!
We were walking through vivid and luscious green rainforest at this stage, uphill of course. There were a few huts in the fields and there was much excitement at seeing some monkeys. There was lots of laughter and chat and the time passed quickly, although this 4 hour walk was certainly a gentle introduce to life on the mountain.
The rule was walk for an hour and then stop for 5-10 minutes, with all the water we were drinking regular toilet stops were required – and we needed time to refuel with snacks and take in the stunning views.
I promise I won’t continually go on about toilets, but to give you an idea, the toilet experience at this level of the mountain was a very small wooden shed with a muddy (I think it was mud anyway!) floor with a hole in the ground. They are called long drops and I am sure you can work out why. They are, of course, never cleaned out and so they are both messy and smelly. You are not allowed to leave any rubbish of any description on the mountain, which is why you are told to take nappy sacks and loo roll or babywipes with you wherever you go – and always have a bottle of antibacterial gel in your pocket.
When we arrived at Simba camp our tents had already been put up. Taking advantage of the daylight we got our bedding ready and started to get into the routine of camp life.
As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the headtorches and down jackets came out and we ate dinner in the comfort of the mess tent. From memory the menu that night was an amazing spiced butternut soup to start, deep-fried curried fish with rice and vegetables, followed by fruit.
The dinner table would also become the setting for our team talk and briefing from Kirsty, the team doctor.
Tomorrow we would have a 6.30am wake up call and after breakfast had an 8 hour walking day ahead of us with lunch mid way.
Climbing into bed it was hard not to smile, my first night sleeping on the mountain.