The Longest Morning Before a Hike

Last night was another no sleeper… At this point I’m absolutely kicking myself for not trying a “sleeping aid”.  Awake at 10:30, again at midnight, and at 2:00 I grab the cell phone to play a game and when that does not work, listen to more Hemingway.  I think I doze from 3:30 till the Muslim Call to prayers at 5:15 am.  Well, as long as I’m up, I jump into the shower and start my final pack.

So now I have sorted my items into 4 groups:  1) my daypack that I’ll carry  2) my Tusker duffle with the hiking gear the porters will carry  3) my suitcase with all the leftover stuff and safari specifc clothing 4) my valuables, which you will not carry on the climb (passport, most of your money, any other ID, credit cards, phone).  TIP – make a few copies of your passport and driver’s license.  Put one copy in your suitcase and leave it there.  Put one copy in your daypack, you will need your passport number when you register on the way up and upon your completion.  Your guide/operator should keep your most valuable stuff in the Hotel or office safe during the climb.

Kerry is up and we have breakfast and then start bringing out our gear.  The suitcases are checked into a back room, the valuables are labeled and put into the safe, and then we weigh our bags.  The max is 30 lbs.  Mine weighs 38 pounds, Kerry’s weighs 46 lbs.  We had already gone over this scenario and previously agreed that rather than lose items we may want, we will hire an extra porter.  They are ridiculously cheap.  $150 for an extra porter for the entire trip.  Plus, our feeling is that we employ one more Tanzanian man for a month.  It is our contribution to the economy.  TIP – the only downside of being overweight is that your items are separated and put into separate bags – which meant we had 3 duffel bags in our already small tent.  We could have easily gotten down to 30 lbs had we really put our minds to it.  Between personal items I never used and trail bars I never ate, I could have lost at least 5 lbs.  

At 9:30 our gear is in the truck and we start off the road to the Ranger Gate.

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Starting out on the Hike

It is a 3 hour drive to the gate.  The trip is long, and the scenery starts out as a monotonous landscape of a flat plain covered with scrub grass.  This is a good place to mention that no matter where you go in the world, with few exceptions, you will find images somewhat similar to home.  Grasses look the same, goats look the same.  Kids look the same (and are exceptionally cute in their school uniforms).  People dress differently, some of the plants are different, but for the most part the landscape will remind you of someplace in the  US.  The dry plains reminded me of Kansas in the fall.  The difference was the abundance of skinny cattle (rather than fat cattle) being led by young men, usually of the Masai tribe.   And the Masai remind me a bit of the Amish – Imagea group of people that some how manage to maintain their lifestyles and beliefs despite all of the modern influence and pressure the outside world brings to their door.  Another big difference is the termite hills.  Big mounds of dirt almost 4 feet high, scattered along the plains, all filled with termites.  Ugh.

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Checking in at the Main Gate

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Our porters with their yellow Tusker Bags

The landscape changes from flat grass to slopes, to hills as we start to climb up the side of Kilimanjaro.  We start to pass more villages, banana trees, corn, coffee crops.  As we enter into the National Park, we start down a dirt road.  This is where we start bumping around.  We pass planted “forests” of cedar, pine, and even eucalyptus trees.  In the young pine tree crops, we see they are also planting potatoes or carrots.  Many of potato fields are being harvested by hand, big white bags of potatoes along the roads.  Then we arrive at the main gate.  Our check in means we register in a big lined book with our name, age, gender, home address, country, job, guide company and number of people in our party.  We will fill out the same information at each camp.  Then we watch the porters get all of out stuff weighed.  They regulate the amount of weight each porter can carry.  That means that for the 3 hikers in our group, we have 27 people supporting us on the hike.  That includes 2 guides, a medical evac porter, a cook, a waiter and a camp manager, and porters to carry tents, cooking gear, food, clothing and gear.    Once the gear has been weighed, and we are checked in, we climb back into the trucks (we in our land cruiser and the porters in their truck) for another 40 minute drive to the Lemosho gate.  It is by far the most bumpy, rutted, dusty ride I have ever been on.  At one point a cloud of pollen and dust pours into the truck as we scrap by a bush on the left to avoid a hole on the right. At another point, the truck in 4 wheel drive,  it feels like we are going to tip over to the right, to the left, to the right again.  And then we make it to the Lemosho gate.  We are here to have a box lunch prior to starting our hike.  What we are also doing is waiting for the porters.  Today is a short hike, and the porters need time to start ahead of us so they can make up camp.  This is one of the daily routines we will become so familiar with.  Every time you arrive at camp, your tent is up, your air mattress is in place, and your duffel bags are in the tent.  The mess tent is up, and Eric (our cook) is in the cooks tent starting to make lunch or dinner.  

While we wait to hike, we are introduced to the “Box Lunch”.  It is exactly what you think it would be, but strange.  Today the box lunch has 8 items.

  • A white cheese and tomato sandwich on white bread
  • A fried chicken thigh/leg
  • A hard boiled egg
  • Foil wrapped marinated vegetables (zucchini, peppers and onions)
  • A small banana
  • A small zucchini muffin
  • 2 small cookies
  • a box of Guava Juice
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Pole Pole

We pick at the odd items as the porters arrive and start carrying our stuff up the trail.  And we finally start to hike!  And here is where we learn the meaning of Pole Pole (pronounced Po-lay, Po-lay).  It means slowly slowly in Swahili, and it is the pace that the guides are setting for the entire hike.  It is here that in a lot of blogs you find frustrated hikers complaining about the incredibly slow pace.  it is anywhere from 1 to 1.5 miles per hour and is slower than most people walk their dog.  It is supposed to prepare us for summit day when the slow pace will be necessary, but I have a feeling it is so the porters can pass us and have time to set up camp.  The vegetation is lush, but familiar – flowers like impatiens and lilies. Also, ferns, penstemon, nettle, thistles and vines that are very similar to home.  Even though the trees are unfamiliar, we still feel like we have departed Africa and are on the side of a mountain in “anywhere”.   The hike is just about 3 hours and we have been distracted along the entire way by the plants and the sounds.  It is our first day together so we 3 girls are chatting a lot, and we are asking Urio a ton of questions about the plants, the trail and the camp.  About an hour prior to our arrival, it starts to rain.  TIP – always wear your gators:  they will protect you and your pants from getting scraped up and they will help keep the dust out.  TIP – always have your rain gear in your daypack.  It will rain on and off in the lower altitudes.

We continue hiking to camp.  There are at least 4 other groups in the camp along with us.  There are tents everywhere; Zara, Alpine Ascents, and another we do not recognize.  We change clothes and head to the mess tent for snacks.  This is where Kerry and I have a crash course in the lessons of camping.  

But more on that in a later post.  Until then, I’ll post a few more pictures.

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