On Sunday 28th August, Steven and I started our Kilimanjaro adventure. We were told to meet in the garden area with our bags at 8am. It took me a long time to realise – the whole trip in fact – but time is rarely kept to here, and we should use “African time”, which Silvano our guide noted is anywhere between the actual time and an hour late. We met up with Silvano for the first time, who introduced us to the other two people we would be trekking with: Taryn and her mother Lorena from Canada. Our big rucksacks got put into blue plastic bags and hauled on top of the minivan which would take us to the park gate. The porters carry these bags for you – on top of their heads, so all you need is a small day pack with your water, snacks and extra clothing layers.
We piled into the minivan as it creaked along to dirt track roads. The first stop was a tourist supermarket for any last minute snacks. The shop must make a killing on all the tourists stopping by – it sold entirely western produce all at absurd prices. We bought one packet of crisps, a pack of wine gums and cola bottle sweets for a ridiculous $16. After having been robbed, we travelled onwards to the gate. There are lots of Kilimanjaro park entrances depending on the route you take. We did the Machame route, so started at the Machame gate at 1738m. At all the major camp sites, including the entrance, you have to sign in so the park rangers can track where you are if there are any problems. This is also for regulation purposes as you can only go trekking with a certified guide who has a permit for the particular trip.
We finally got going at about 11am. Since we’d arrived with loads of others, we ended up walking with about 30 people and their guides. Porters kept passing us at speed, often balancing things on their heads without supporting hands. They usually got to the campsites before us and set everything up, including tents. Some porters made more than one trip up to fetch water, as some of the campsites didn’t have streams nearby. I was constantly amazed at how the porters managed such heavy loads, at such high speeds, and sometimes when we were much higher up, wearing unsuitable clothes for such cold weather.
The walk took about 6 hours, with a 30min lunch break. The path was a dirt track which had turned mostly into a yucky mud from the hundreds of people traipsing around, and the surroundings were thick jungle, with tall trees and densely covered floors of ferns and mosses. The jungle was warm, but not as humid as I thought it would be. The jungle surrounds Mount Kili, and generates its own cloud system which you go above once you reach the Machame camp at 3018m.
At 5pm we reached the campsite, and found our tents already set up with our bags inside. We also had a private tent for the four of us where we ate. On arrival we got given salted popcorn and tea. This was a daily routine – once we arrived at the campsites we’d always get popcorn and bowls of hot water to wash our faces and hands. The campsite was very dusty – in fact once you are out of the jungle, the whole mountain is very dusty. Mount Kili is a very dry place when it’s not the rainy season, and dust gets everywhere. Mini dust tornadoes are not uncommon, and after a while everything you own will turn a dusty brown colour.
The sun rises and sets at 6.30am/6.30pm respectively, and within a few minutes of dusk everything went very dark, and very cold. During the day the average temperature was between 15-20°, yet on the first night, after dinner at 8pm, we were told it was -2°. Dinner was always delicious – we’d get soup – either cucumber, leek or carrot followed by deep fried battered meat and rice/potatoes/noodles or a stew of some sort. Dessert was often pancakes, doughnuts and/or fruits. They always served far too much, and the four of us where not big eaters, so it looked like we hardly touched the stuff! After dinner Silvano and Abell would always enter our eating tent and tell us about our next day’s trekking. The bad news was that we would start everyday at 6am with a morning tea brought to our tents, hot water for washing at 6.30am and breakfast at 7am. We were supposed to leave at 8am, but being on African Time we usually left at 8.45am. After dinner we went straight to bed at 8.30pm – already exhausted from the days walk and freezing cold.