So, having steak and chips at 9pm probably wasn’t the best idea.
I woke up at around 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I passed the time by going through the email that my phone had downloaded while connected to the Internet earlier. Nothing remarkable apart from a bit of a gaffe from the new Chorus Chair, which made me chuckle when I read it – I’m glad that sort of thing isn’t my problem any more! Around 4am I decided I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so put on some clothes and went over to the cafe to make use of their Wi-Fi some more. Cafe Mambo is all open-air, so it didn’t matter that it was closed. I could wander in, grab a sofa and fire up my phone. It was relatively mild – we are in equatorial Africa, after all! – and I got to listen to the early morning sounds of Tanzania (in this case, a cockerel waking up, a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and the dawn chorus of birds.)
After exhausting Facebook’s distractions, I headed back to bed to see about some sleep and – sure enough – I got to sleep just in time for the alarm to wake me up again!
Some of the reviews I’d read of the hotel had mentioned limited hot water, but that didn’t seem to be a problem in our room as we both managed a good hot shower before breakfast. Food was served in Cafe Mambo again; they had sliced fruit, hot coffee and a toaster, plus a chef to concoct the omelette of your choice and serve it along with some hot-dog-like sausage. We ate quite well and then sat back to wait on our guide arriving.
We’d been told by Ahmed last night that he’d be here at 07:30 but in the end he didn’t arrive until 8am; African time, as Lee called it. When he did arrive, along with a small bus full of porters, Samuel (the guide) wasn’t aware of any of the equipment we’d booked to hire from the company. Not an auspicious start, but we got that sorted easily enough; I showed him the confirmation email I’d had and he phoned in to the office and it was agreed the equipment would be delivered to us at one of the places we’d stop en route to the National Park Gate.
It also transpired that Samuel hadn’t been told that we were on a different flight to our original itinerary, despite me sending a text message to both UK and Tanzanian contacts with Team Kilimanjaro after we arrived at Schiphol! As a result he’d spent several fruitless hours at the airport yesterday morning waiting for us to come through after the flight landed.
The porters got our luggage loaded onto the top of the bus, we hopped in and set off. The weather was overcast this morning, so we didn’t get to see much of Kilimanjaro itself, just a few glimpses through the clouds. We made a couple of stops on our way to the mountain. The first one to wait for the hired gear we’d booked (we’d all needed down mittens for the summit, Huw and I had booked a down jacket and walking poles too.) We were also given disclaimer forms to sign. The form basically said that we accepted the roads were bumpy and if we were unfit then that was our problem and Team Kilimanjaro couldn’t be held responsible. Reading through it, I could only wonder how many litigious Americans they’ve encountered…
The sun broke through the clouds around 10am and cheered me up though!
The second stop was a bit of a comfort break at a cafe/general store on the road. It looked like it was a regular place with Kili expeditions as a couple of other groups came and went while we were there. Chris picked up some whisky and decanted it into my small water bottle for the summit. I picked up a SIM card for my phone and about $10 worth of credit. I couldn’t seem to get it to connect to the mobile data network though and was the source of much amusement for the other guys as I kept swapping SIMs, keying in codes and generally cursing my luck/lack of time.
The next stop was at Marangu Gate, the Headquarters of the Kilimanjaro National Park and the place where we had to register our trek with the local authorities. From there, we drove around the perimeter of the national park to the Rongai Gate on the north side of the mountain, where we finally got to start the trek.
And the trek started with lunch.
We disembarked the bus and headed up to a “Climbers’ Refuge” which was a large gazebo affair, with benches around the inner perimeter, where climbers gathered to eat before setting off. As we arrived there was a large group of Australians there being fed slices of cheese and bread by their group leader. In amongst all this, our porters set up a camp table and four chairs and laid out lunch for us, consisting of soup, avocado, salad, cake and banana. It was all quite fancy and just a little bit embarrassing in front of all these folk with their packed lunches!
Once lunch was over, the four of us set out with one of our Assistant Guides, Noel. Initially, it felt just like Scotland as we were trekking through pine forest in relatively mild temperatures. The pace Noel set was infuriatingly slow, but not wholly unexpected; all of the guide books and reviews mention the ‘po-le, po-le’ (Slowly, slowly) mantra of the mountain, designed to get you used to the slow pace which becomes more necessary as you get higher and the air thins.
As we walked the clouds came in again and we had some light rain. I’m not sure if we technically changed climate zones, but as time went on, the trees gave way to tall bushes and vegetation and we eventually found a campsite hidden in a group of clearings.
As life under canvas goes, our camp was actually quite luxurious; between the four of us there were two three-man tents (so plenty of space there) and a mess tent (about the size of a small family tent) where the table and chairs are set up. Our chef had prepared popcorn and hot water (for our choice of tea/coffee/chocolate) ready for our arrival. Shortly thereafter we were served dinner; a thin soup, battered fish and fried potatoes, followed by slices of mango.
After dinner we played cards for a while by candlelight. I’d eventually given up on trying to get a mobile data service on my phone, so had decided instead to send updates to Brett back home via text message and get him to tweet them for me. It seemed the best way of making use of the credit I’d bought – particularly since SMS messages back to the UK only seemed to be about 20p each – so once we were done with cards I sent him an update and went to get ready for bed.
We hadn’t been able to get a view of Kilimanjaro itself during the trek because of the low cloud. After dark however the clouds cleared away and we were presented with a magnificent view by moonlight – the moon is nearly full tonight. I rapidly reached for my camera!
Alongside the sleeping, mess and porters’ tents, there is also a toilet tent for our use. I recall that having a portable toilet was one of the things that set Team Kilimanjaro apart. The reality is actually just a wooden box/seat over a bucket – but it does have some chemicals in it and didn’t smell at all. I pity the guy who has to empty it.
I had some trouble getting to sleep. Partly excitement, I think, and partly the thinner air as we are at about 2,600m tonight. There was also an occasional ripple of sound through the bush around us as Colobus monkeys called to each other in the night. It sounded more like a chorus of frogs singing a round, but Noel had pointed out the call of individual monkeys on our trek through the forest, so I was confident it was really them.
Around about 1am I had to get up to use the toilet and was amazed by the stars. Even with bright moonlight, the number of stars visible was huge – and mostly foreign. I spent several minutes just staring up into the sky before the chill of the night air drove me back inside.
Eventually I slept.