Kilimanjaro

Sunday 12.10.2008 Nairobi, Kenya.

After a 9-hour flight from London we finally touched the Nairobi land. Someone equipped with a piece of paper signaling that he was waiting for us was supposed to be there. He wasn’t. Patiently waiting for the nearest transport, we entertained ourselves drinking hot tea with more than a few drops of Whisky. Monika was sending text messages, Rafal strolling far and wide along the airport, while Aga and Staszek were the only ones waiting cool as cucumbers sipping their first African tea – not to mention that it was tea with a kick. Having spent 2 hours waiting, somebody finally managed to come and pick us up.

It was a mini-bus sitting 25 people at most. Having heaved our backpacks and luggage onto its roof, we set off towards Arusha. The route was almost 270 kilometers long. In Europe covering such distance takes around 2-3 hours. If you travel by car in Africa, you’d better multiply this time by two. Riding this bus was like nothing we have experienced so far! It turned out that the asphalt road finished along with Nairobi, further on there was nothing – apart from our bottoms being bruised jumping up and down along the way. Each, even the most minuscule part of the vehicle played its own music. We feared that the bus would fall apart any minute. To do the journey picture justice you need to imagine the heat and swelter all around us. Dust and spray stopped us from opening the window. The air was literally still. Only us, complete nutters in a microwave on wheels, rushed towards the border with Tanzania.

After 5 hours of total crazy bonanza performed on our asses, we finally reached Pamoja Expeditions Lodge – our base camp. Even the warm and cordial welcome of Waldek – a fellow familiar to us from Tatra mountains, did not make us stop worrying about our way back…

Having unpacked our baggage, we decided that having a meal would be worthwhile after an over thirty-hour long journey. We obviously went to the local bar. Joy was printed all over our faces when, after 1,5h of hungry waiting, we saw a boy with a tray full of food. Unfortunately we all received different things that we had ordered in the first place and there was no way we could change the food with each other. But it wasn’t the right time for whining mainly due to the fact that the perspective of waiting another hour for a meal did not sound like fun.

The plan was simple. We climb Kilimanjaro, then we go to see some wildlife, getting as much emotions and experiences from both as possible! We were supposed to set off to Moshi, situated at the feet of Kilimanjaro, at 7 a.m. the next day.

Monday 13.10.2008 Arusha, Tanzania.

We began the day before 6 a.m. We finished packing our backpacks, we took the last shower and were introduced to the excursion team.

The rules and regulations of Kilimanjaro National Park forbid anyone to set off to the peak without a guide, cook and porters. Our group, enlarged in this way, has more stuff to take with them. As a result, it ends up as quite an excursion. Our 4-people group (Agnieszka, Rafal, Staszek and Monika) had 11 porters, a guide, assistant to the guide and a cook. The sight of such a great number of people who were supposed to climb the mountain with four whities was at least awkward to us. As it turned out later on, our team was one of the least numerous on the way.

After the introduction, we crammed into the tiny bus that could not look more alike our yesterday’s microwave on wheels. The trip from Ashura to Moshi took about 90 minutes. Unfortunately we did not ride to the very gate of the park – Machame Gate. As it was the rainy season, the road turned into mud. We got off when the altimeter pointed at 1600 meters above the sea level. Having dispatched our bundles among the porters, we set on the way to the official starting point, where we registered and ate the first lunch prepared by the cook. The bundles were weighted so as to make sure that they do not exceed the accepted weight. Finally, we could start climbing.

According to guide’s information we had to cover around 18 kilometers. We walked all day shadowed by crowns of the trees. Vegetation is abundant at feet of the mountain, making the landscapes very exotic. Despite the considerable distance the route was quite light and pleasant. Kilometer after kilometer, we went through the green African jungle passing various people on the way, greeting the porters in the newly-learnt local language – “mambo vipi kaka! – poa!” (what’s up brother! Cool! 🙂

We reached the first camp (Machame Camp) at around 6 p.m. The altimeter pointed to almost 3000 meters above the sea level. We have never been so high. As our guide Elias put it: “Every step is a new altitude record”. The camp was slightly buzzing internationally. We greeted the Swiss who were stealthily drinking Sznaps from a hip-flask. We made preparations for the night, had supper and went to sleep at last.

Tuesday 14.10.2008 Machame Camp 2980meters above the sea level.

6:45 one of the porters wakes us up shouting: “hot water”! I stick my head out of the tent and see a bowl with hot steaming water. The night was so cold that hoarfrost covered everything around us. We warm ourselves in rays of sun coming out from behind the summit. We repacked our backpacks taking everything that may come in useful that day with us. Rest of our stuff would be delivered to the next camp on porters’ heads. We had omelets and sandwiches for breakfast.

Today we have to cover 9 kilometers horizontally and slightly over 800meters vertically. At the beginning the route was jammed by tourists and porters who set out from the camp almost simultaneously. We ate today’s lunch in the company of an overgrown black crow that did not give a damn about the people near him. He was sitting in wait for a piece of food. Or rather he either waited or helped himself if someone happened to leave the food unguarded. We started to notice pulse acceleration when performing simple activities. It gets worst when we are in toilet, especially during number two…

Wednesday 15.10.2008 Shira Camp 3840 meters above the sea level.

As soon as Aga stuck her head out of the tent, she got a kiss from me and I wished her happy birthday, ehh another sixteenth birthday : Today was an acclimatization day, which means that we would rather walk on an even level around the mountain than climb up. Acclimatization was more effective in middle of the day so we climbed to 4630 (Lava Tower) just to immediately go down to 3950mnpm and start a camp – Barranco Camp. The weather was fantastic in the morning. It was a bit surprising as earlier on, the guides (Nixon and Elias) advised us to prepare ourselves for rain and wind. They were not mistaken. After a few hours we were entertained by both of the attractions accompanied by fog. Walking was awful. Wet, windy and unpleasantly _ and, to make it worse, we were walking higher and higher. During a snack break we tucked our food in with hands shaking with cold. There was no way we could indulge in making hot tea and that taken in thermos was drank by that time. On our way we passed a porter sitting on a stone and shaking with cold. You could tell that it was his first time. We gave him a snickers, energizing jelly and a good word. After nearly 10h (15km) in rain, wind and fog we reached the camp, dreaming of hot tea, dry clothes and warm sleeping bags. Contrary to the previous days we did not feel like chatting. Everyone went to their tents after supper. No wonder, it was an awful day.

Thursday – Friday 16.10.2008 Barranco Camp 3950 meters above the sea level.

Rain and fog come again. Our warm-up is offered by a 300 meter steep wall requiring a bit of clambering – in places a sort of climbing “III-”

The day that lasted day and a half. Having left Barranco Camp on Thursday morning, we reached Barafu Camp around 5 p.m. A quick supper and we are in our sleeping bags by 7 p.m., trying to fall asleep as we had to get up at 11 p.m. to get to the summit. It turned out that sleeping was out of question. I fell into sort of a semi-sleep around 8.30 p.m. Aga was snoring by that time. The average sleep time during those two days is 3 hours at most. Then we have to go on. We left the camp precisely at 00:15.

Friday 17.10.2008 Barafu Camp 4550 meters above the sea level – continuation.

The lead is in front of us. And we hear again “Pole, Pole” (slowly, slowly in Swahili). On our way we meet people we have made acquaintance with before, we all wish each other “Good Luck and see you up there!”

Everybody hurries on, I take my time. I take it so slowly that Aga starts complaining that she is getting cold. She goes a little higher, then she comes back to me again and gets warm in this way. My blood boils, it’s impossible for me to hurry up, my heart is racing and she needs to run a bit at 5 thousand!!! What a tactless behavior totally void of sympathy. I am glad to be the weakest link as I have never lacked obduracy and self-determination. I hate giving up! I rush on and let her run ;). It wasn’t bad in the beginning. However, later on I closed the rear. Everyone was ahead of me.

Aga is still running! I finally tell her – go ahead, don’t wait for me. She moved on, from time to time I could see light from the front look back at me, then I answered with my light showing that I was rushing on. I was encouraged by the sight of people coming down. Finally I somehow managed to hurry up so that I could walk along with Aga. Our system was simple: deep and fast breaths along with little steps. We decided in advance where to take break, by which stone, rock. We fought to get to the resting point every time – you have to deserve a rest! We overtook Monika. Finally, we meet Staszek. Damn, he’s already descending!!! We chatted for a while. With a stock of new energy, we go on.

Stella Point, from which you can see the summit at last! Elias has a surprise for us and pulls out a bottle of coca-cola, saying: “this is the “whisky route” but I’ve got coke for you”. I can see Nirvana in Aga’s eyes, she shouts: “Coke, oh I’ve missed something with bubbles so much!!” She drains it all to the very last drop. Finally we move on. Now we know we can make it. We move on in tiny steps. At last the summit plate, Aga takes photos. I am slowly drifting off, we are running out of water. Elias gives me his. He gets up, we take photos with the glacier in the background. We monkey around a little. Finally we start to descend. I start to feel worse and worse. Aga looks for snow and ice to melt it in Elias’ water. We meet Monika and Nixon at Stella Point. He gives me some of his water. I am still unstable, Aga undresses me so that I could refresh myself.

We reach the camp after 2-3 hours. I am shivering with cold cause I went down wearing only a fleece jacket. I am dead on my feet, just like Aga. We sleep for two hours and then we get up _ we descend to 3100 meters. We receive information that Staszek got to the bottom a long while ago. We set off. It’s cool at the beginning but our legs are numb after a few hours. We reach Mweka Camp at 11 p.m. We succeed in buying beer from the camp wardens. The beer is obviously called Kilimanjaro, we could also chose Safari… We seize Kilimanjaro, Safari is still ahead of us, we need to complete the taste of the mountain…

Saturday 18.10.2008 Uhuru Peak5895 meters above the sea level—>Mweka Camp3100 meters above the sea level –>Arusha.

We are woken up at 6.30 at our own wish. We want to get to the hotel as soon as possible for we set off to Safari tomorrow. We still have to pack ourselves and get clean after six showerless days and obviously celebrate at least a little. We thank the porters and guides for their care, tipping them. Thanking back, they sing us a traditional song clapping their hands and jumping along with the rhythm. We get mounting-Kilimanjaro certificates at the gate. Me and Aga get ourselves t-shirts with mountain on the back. We get on the bus and return to Ashura. Civilization welcomes us with a traffic jam. The Tanzanian president has just gone to the airport. Time drags on and we want to get to the hotel as soon as possible. Damn, a tortoise would go faster than us. Suddenly a bang and rasp combined with sudden jerk forward. A truck hit us from the back. The windshield lies in pieces on the street. Dammit, we were supposed to be at the hotel earlier! After a few dozens of minutes, police comes. The authority peers into the bus first. Seeing white men, they kindly say: Dzambo!, to which we answer dzambo! Greeting’s over. They went to the back, the talk, jot something down. It takes a while. The driver comes back and says: let’s go… to the police station… Our jaws drop. But order is an order. We walk outside when we get there. The driver disappears in the police station. We wait. After 20 minutes a new bus arrives. We get packed and off we go. We reach the hotel at 4 p.m. We order supper and in the meantime we take shower. The first one in six days!!! We eat steak and drink a pint. Finally we go to the swimming pool. Aga brings Whisky bought in the duty-free area in London. We empty the bottle… Staszek brings more from his stock – bought of course in the same place – Heathrow airport. We sit, reminisce, share views. Time flies and so does the alcohol. Finally we set off to beds. After all, another adventure awaits us in the morning_