Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kilimanjaro (Day 1 & 2)

Kilimanjaro (via Umbwe, aka The Whiskey Route): Day 1

First of all, I do have to say I am a little upset I did not see any monkeys today.


I woke up at 6:21 this morning to finish packing and get ready.  I then spent some time with the other volunteers and had breakfast.  I had way too much coffee.  It was only a cup and a half, but it was strong, and with my excitement, it left me jittery.  Before leaving, I gave hugs to the volunteers, my friends, who were leaving and I will probably never see again.

The taxi with my guide, 3 porters, and chef were supposed to pick me up at 8, but they were on TFT (Tanzanian Free Time) so it was closer to 8:20 when they arrived.  Only my guide and taxi driver really spoke English.  I felt bad for the 2 porters in the back, buried beneath bags and supplies. 

We drove first to the Machame Route to get our permits.  Machame and Marangu seem to be the headquarters, and have a “touristy” feel.  Umbwe (pronounced oo-mb-way), on the other hand, is in the middle of nowhere.  I know that because we turned around about 5 times (the normal road had been washed out last year).  I also found it interesting that my guide drank a beer on the way up.  I chose not to say anything- that’s really pretty normal around here.  Plus, all I really care about is if he gets me up the mountain.

We finally got to the start around 11:15.  The last sign in was 1/22/12.  I knew Umbwe was much less traveled than the other routes, I just didn’t realize how much less.  To my surprise, 20 minutes later another van showed up with an American, a triathlete from Alabama, now working as an engineer in Houston. 

Around 12, we finally started.  My title then became “Rachel, Queen of the Jungle” (soon to be mountain), as I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tarzan with the lush forest around us.  My guide, Dharhi (he will now be “D” for short),  also told me there were many different types of monkeys that live there (Ha!).  I found out that D is actually kind of famous!  He was on the history channel in 2008 for a reality version of “Livingston and Something (okay, I know they’re important, but I’ll have to look it up later and You Tube it).  After walking a half hour or so on a jeep trail, we stopped for lunch and then made are way onto the real trail, simply called the “Nature Trail”.  It is a beautiful, steep uphill trail and I loved it.  I was like a kid, full of wonder and awe.  The trail definitely wasn’t easy, but going “pole pole” (slowly slowly), I felt great.  However, I think I’m doing a bit better than some of my team (very much to their credit, they had just finished the Rongai Route the day before), especially the chef, who we passed and then yelled “F**K the mountain!” when he arrived at base camp (he knows some English).  The others porters asked as we “walked of flew” as they were just setting up when we got there (I think they are usually way ahead of the guide and client).  The other American also made it, I think tomorrow will morning will be the last time I see him.
Now (and this is crazy), I am being waited on hand and foot.  The porter/waiter just came by and reminded me there is tea and popcorn waiting for me, so I better at least go and drink the tea.  Plus, it is starting to get a bit chilly out and I want to put some warmer clothes.  Tonight will be eating, reading, and sleep.  The hardest day should be tomorrow, and I can’t wait!

Kilimanjaro: Day 2

Day 2 is over…actually, it has been over for quite some time now.  I’ve already browsed around, changed into a warmer layer, ate lunch, read a few chapters in my book, and had 1 ½ cups of tea.  Today was supposed to take 5 hrs, we did it in 3.

I was pretty groggy when I got up at 6 am this morning.  I had a hard time falling asleep, then woke up around 2:30 to stumble to the “bathroom”, and again had a hard time falling asleep.  I was feeling a bit sick with a sore throat.  Either me or my sleeping bag smelled really bad, strange animal noised were coming from outside the tent, and I couldn’t get comfortable in a slightly unlevel tent (I was sleeping with my legs higher).

Soon after I changed in my hiking clothes for the day, I got cold.  I refused to put on another layer, because 1) it was packed and 2) I was trying to acclimate to the cold, just as much as the air.  Any thick skin I had built up in the mild Ohio winter was gone, as I had spent 3 week in mid 80 degree temps.  So, I sat around reading in the cold as I waited for breakfast.  Really, I would have rather gotten it myself.  I am uncomfortable having porters wait on me, as well as I’m cheating on my hike up.  However, I eagerly awaited the hot water so I could make the famous African instant coffee, and then the natural peanut butter on toast (plus the mango, and a small bit of the egg as not to be rude to the chef).

After more standing around in the cold, , we were finally off around 8:30.  It was steep, beautiful, breathtaking… though that could have been from the air too.  The climb was its own analogy:  Life’s journey might be hard at times, but the view at the end makes everything worth it. 

For awhile, I felt like Buddy the Elf on his travels from the North Pole to New York, filled with wonder and joy with all the new sights I was taking in.  We had started in the jungle, to large shrubs, to a rocky and almost barren cloudy mist.  The trail was steeper than I imagined.  With my short legs,  my knee was often parallel with my should as I climbed up (once D offered me a hand, which, in my stubbornness, I politely refused). 

The porters continued to amaze me.  They climbed with gear on their head and heavy packs strapped to their backs, without the use of their hands.  My guide even hiked with his arms crossed (maybe because he felt like it, maybe because I told him how impressed I was with the porters).  I didn’t even pretend I could do it without my hands.

I started to worry a bit, as I was getting a bit light-headed, and my fitful night’s sleep had not helped either.  Before I could worry much more, D pointed out our camp for the night, and soon enough, I was signing in at the hut (with a slightly numb hand). 

So now, it is only 2:17 without much to do.  I’ll probably read and study some Swahili and wander around a bit more.  And I lied, the other American is somewhere at camp (lots of people are here now- I was the first non-porter).  Tomorrow is the day where we might skip a camp.  Hopefully I can figure something out where I can stay by the mountain, as I’ll then have a few extra days on my hands.  I’m not ready to go back to a busy and dusty Moshi!

So I just tried to walk around outside after a trip to the bathroom and we were engulfed in a cloud.  I nearly got lost trying to find my tent…I think I should’ve brought two books!  I am now wearing 4 layers.

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