The original journal entry:
Clouds part to reveal the majestic terror of Kibo. The stars. The Milky Way. *Censored bit*. Uh oh.
Farrow and Powell bickering. Thatcher vetoes. Talking to Ros about poo. Steep steps. Grandfather’s beard…on a porter = best hat. Saw the mountain first. AMAZING FERNS. And vines. And stuff. French service loos. Sunset. Lava Tower in mist. WOW. Banana trees. Silly games. Warm in my sleeping bag. Nausea. Brain swelling. Legs fine. Macheme camp. 3,000m. snowy Kibo. Squashed banana. No rain J. Good courgette soup. Should take more pics. 9pm. Wake at six. Want sleep. Tolkien first. Sinuses better. Porters spoil you. Spotted the mountain first. Too late for Tolkien. Blue monkey dinner. 3 inch mozzies! Dusty boots! African raspberries?
“There are six official trekking routesby which to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, namely: Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain, which can be done in six or seven days” (Wiki).
The scenery did not disappoint. (Nor did the gradient).
It was about a two hour dive to the base of the mountain, passing through much of the same scenery as the day before. We stopped off at ‘the supermarket’ on the road…the last chance to stock up on high energy snacks. And the first fairly questionable loos. This is the point at which the facial expressions of numerous girls in the group are an indication of struggles to come, and I smile quietly to myself. (Although perhaps I smirked too soon). This is where the Kili hats were purchased. I discovered that my sun lotion was, in fact, UV paint. *Scowls at a certain sod for stealing her good lotion…my leaving it in your car is soooo not justification!*. A few more men (guides and porters) hopped onto the already crowded bus and we drove the last short way packed in like sardines and fated to endure the Kilimanjaro quiz with Student Adventures’ ‘man on the ground’. There were some highly disgruntled faces with raised eyebrows and ‘seriously?’ looks. It was a little cringe. But seductively entertaining. For as long as I was getting the answers correct…
I spotted the vague impression of a shadow in the sky. But I had imagined seeing the mountain the day before (it was, in fact, a field in the distance…), so resolved to gaze suspiciously in the direction of what was probably a cloud and a trick of the light and not jump up and down ecstatically. Then “By the way guys, the mountain is just over there”. YES! I could not, and still cannot fathom the subdued nonchalance of my comrades at this point. Surely I am not the only one prone to jumping up and down like a six year old girl at Disney Land? Life is more fun when you jump up and down a lot. Although I imagine no amount of jumping up and down would make Disney Land fun. Humbug!
We turned off the main road and down a little side track with a wooden sign pointing left to ‘Macheme’. Given that it was completely overcast, we saw nothing but a very vague impression of the lower slope through the cloud, so without ever seeing the mountain we found ourselves winding up the lower slopes. This was the first lush and green area we’d really seen in Africa. Hurrah for volcanic fertility. What a perfect name for a terrible chick flick novella. There are a lot of small villages up here. The road is lined with banana plantations on either side, dotted with small café’s and schools. Kids in uniform are running up and down in their droves along the roadside, smiling and waving at the tourist vans heading up the trail. They are hunting chocolate!
Adam at Macheme Gate
The gate was a strange place. Just outside, there is a huge crowd. This is a mix of porters and guides hopping off their buses and arranging their kit, and locals hawking their wares. But the latter aren’t allowed within the gates, so they form a semi-circle around it, parting as the vehicles come through to then fill the gaps again instantly. When we disembark the van and head over to the office to register, we’re warned to keep our distance from the gate so as not to upset the locals selling on the road.
We seemed to spend an age at the gate while the guide team divvied up our bags, re-bagged and weighed them. We took many obligatory photos. Some of the boys seemed to get interviewed on camera for something. Curious. We were provided with our lunch, which necessitated the re-organising of almost everyone’s day sacks, and two litres of water to decant into our own containers. Farrow and I had purchased nuun tablets for the water. Should have taste tested these before putting them in the hydration bladder. Other activities at this point involved the adjusting of straps, plastering of sun lotion, pulling up of truly sexy socks (I don’t care what anyone says, they are things of beauty), tightening of boot laces, nervous glances up into the trees, perusal of warning signs, taking of pictures and enjoying of the last homely loos (sadly sans Hugo Weaving). Hiding things in the airflow system at the back of Ros’ rucksack is a fun game. My camera broke. I fixed it with gaffa tape. Wrapping stores of gaffa around all available items is my new favourite hiking thing.
After a long while we were on our way….Walking up the slope of the small car park we passed a woman in a hut with some scales, weighing all the hiking rucksacks, and joined the ranks of porters and other tourists through the gates on the far side of the tarmac and on to the harsh wilderness of Kilimanjaro!
This first stretch was a pretty wide and well kept dirt track, and very crowded! Day one on Macheme is through the rainforest and onto the moorland. We got lucky…no rain! The trails were fairly dry, which was nice as it minimised arse-over-tit situations. The trail started to climb but was fairly level for an hour or so. After walking for a short while, the crowds at the gate had thinned out and Evarest stopped us to introduce us to the rest of the guides. These are the guys who were going to get us up the mountain. Among them was Macho (Swahili for ‘eyes’), so called because his eyes were so good, and he knew the mountain so well, that he could see the plants growing. This is the man who would get me to the top, as I would begin to understand the next day.
Enjoying the rainforest
Bearded moss grew on everything in the rainforest. And cor….there were some good trees! There were huge tree ferns (this was another jumping up and down moment), Eucalyptus and Camphors. The Camphor trees are fairly ginormous. They have huge trunks, splitting down into massive roots, many with large arches and caves in them that you could easily fit people in. Like a good Kentish oak, but more fun on account of the attribute of being ‘exotic’, which is a distinct advantage. Apparently we had some walking to do though, so I couldn’t stay tree hugging all day.
Within a couple of hours the going got pretty steep. The mud track wound its way up through the rainforest and was interspersed with rudimentary steps cunning fashions from tree branches so as to function as steps and as drainage channels for the path. It is single or double file most of the way here and when the trees opened up for a time we could see down into the valleys on either side of the ridge we were walking. Somehow there was cloud beneath us already, although I for one cannot place a time when we walked through any. Sneaky clouds.
Farrow and I had our first opportunity to Shewee together. This was an important step in our relationship and took an awful lot of explaining. There were some inquisitive if uncertain enquiries from some of the other girls (if I remember rightly a couple had beaten us to it, the shame!), and most of the blokes were diligently ignoring the issue like good British gents.
Five minute stops were had about every hour…they never seemed to last long enough and were characterised by taking off one’s rucksack to be almost impressed at the quantity of
sweat dripping from one’s back. I was very pleasantly surprised at the holding up of joints. Given some of the steeply stepped areas on this day I was expecting my knees to have the paintbrushes poised over placards with Unison on speed dial. Naturally, my knee had caved on me two days before we flew out and spent a while strapped up…so I was bracing myself for some nastiness in that department. But they were almost suspiciously well behaved, for which I will be eternally grateful. Yay!
The mossy rainforest
The rainforest suddenly disappeared. One moment we were in a rainforest….and then in a dense moorland scrub. The edge of the moorland was pretty thick vegetation, but it was more bush-like, although still tall, and still covered in bearded moss. One of our guides disappeared into a bush and came back sporting a most excellent green, frilly beard.
One important thing to note about this trip. My wife…big leftie. Phil…Thatcher-lover. Both…stubborn. Goodness….the bickering. I have no doubt that I’ll get in trouble for calling it bickering. I am assured that it was in fact good-natured debating. Definitely bickering. However I think this kept them going. To be honest…I was quite enjoying listening. And staying very resolutely out of it (mostly). Among this and other entertainments on today’s walk was one of the most tenacious and lengthy games of I-Spy I have ever had the privilege to witness. ‘Calves’….good shout.
Macheme Camp Marker
Machame camp wasn’t far from the edge of the rainforest. We shortly came up on loads of clearings in the trees filled with tents. This is when we really started to experience dust. Almost as soon as we were out of the rainforest the hardened mud trails gave way to dust.
Shira cathedral from Macheme Camp
The registration hut (you sign in each day when you reach the camp, helps with the admin on the body count) was at the top end of the camp (more a collection of lots of little camps) and elevated up by a gap in the bushes, opening up into one of the most stunning views.
This camp is fractionally under 3,000m up – the point at which we’re warned that altitude sickness begins! It took around 6 hours – or so I’m told…time was already a concept lost on me by this point. When we got down to our tents we met our porters for the first time by the ingenious method of finding your hiking rucksack (mostly resting on tufts of grass to keep them out of the dust) and the man attached to it. My porter was a lovely young man called Gabrielle. (Not Gabriel). Out of all the porters…he had the best hat. Rosalind’s porter was a chap called Jaffar. They were both very lovely and grabbed out bags and carried them over to the tent. Then there was some guilt from us girls as they insisted on getting our roll matts out for us and inflating them. After a short while we were all delivered a bowl of warm water to wash with – a highly unexpected luxury!
While waiting for dinner we were treated with popcorn and tea in the mess tent. I will never be mean to popcorn again. I will…because I dislike popcorn….but daily popcorn was one of the things that got me up this mountain. And it was splendiferous. What…no autocorrect? Is that actually a word? Gosh. Who knew! Anyway.
Sunset from Macheme Camp
Before dinner we dived out of the tent to run up to the registration hut and watch the sunset. Unfortunately the pictures don’t quite speak for themselves. It was more phenomenal in truth. At the time I thought what we were looking out at was the lava tower (ha, not nearly high enough!) – we were actually looking out toward Shira, in the direction we would walk tomorrow.
Running up the few hundred yards to the hut was the first time Farrow felt the altitude – running was a struggle! We both had headaches coming on by this point, and I was already feeling nauseous.
Our first glimpse of Kibo peak
On the way back to dinner we were treated with something spectacular – our first view of Kibo. The cloud cleared and we stood, fairly dumbfounded, staring up at our doom. As dooms go, it was really rather pretty. We dragged everyone else out of the mess tent to come and get scared sh*tless with us. Despite the terror and inner monologue shouting “there is no way in hell I’m getting up that f*cker”, this was one of the most beautiful and moving sights I’ve so far seen. Terrifying, but amazing. It was one of the first moments where the realisation hit home of what we were about to attempt, and the first time I really believed that I might not be able to make it up there. Sorry…wet moment over.
Courgette soup is one of the enduring memories of this day. Mmmmmm. Then we got fed a huge main course with roast potatoes! These guys are up a mountain, at low altitude, catering for about 70 people, and we’re getting multiple courses and roast potatoes! We were all fairly amazed. Puts my camping cooking to shame (except when its fresh from the sea!). Evarest managed to convince Joe that the meat was blue monkey. Turns out it isn’t hard to convince Joe of much 😉
Unfortunately, this was the last meal I ate (well…half ate) thanks to the Impala Hotel (and the altitude, let’s be fair). Turns out, I’d got food poisoning (I believe from watered-down fruit juice) from the Hotel. And it was beginning to set in. Half way through dinner, feeling rather unwell, I bailed out to the highly sophisticated toilet facilities where I spent much of the sleepless night after a short but pleasant interlude writing my journal in a wonderfully snug sleeping bag.
When the night set in, the stars were phenomenal.