Osman, Solomon and Sarah were the three friendly faces I saw when I emerged from the Terminal at Kilimanjaro International. There were only 11 people on my flight, and 8 of them carried onto Mombasa after dropping us off. We had to share one pen to full our customs card (one that I brought, since the customs officer told the lady in front of me in the line, "this one is mine" while holding his pen up next to his face, unwilling to share the implement necessary to carry out the simple task). My new friend Osman drove while Sarah and I chatted about my journey; a 26hr haul through Frankfurt, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, and finally, this small city in Northwest Tanzania. Solomon rode shotgun in the Safari Landcruiser, devoid of seatbelts. I arrived at Kilimanjaro's Honey Badger Lodge at 4:15am, showered, brushed my teeth, plugged in my phone and camera, set up my mosquito net and fell asleep.
Morning came quick, and at 7:40 I was up and ready for breakfast. We had coffee, Hibiscus flower Pomegranate juice, eggs, toast, sausage, beans tomato, banana and watermelon.
A short meeting with our guides and we packed our gear into the van, hopped aboard and took off for Kilimanjaro national park. We ate a lunch of cold chicken and bread, mango juice and banana at the park gates, literally fighting off monkeys and giant crows, who felt entitled to our meal. A monkey showed me his teeth and hissed in my face. What an attitude!
I chose to carry all of my gear today, about 20Kg of gear, in my new MEC Eos 70L backpack. I've got warm clothes, two parkas, rain gear, sleeping bag, snack food, 3L of water, a book and some random miscellany. Alex, our guide warned me that it would be hard, and encouraged me to take a small day pack and allow the porters to take my bag instead. I kindly requested the chance to carry my own gear, explained that I'm athletic and know my limits, enjoy the challenge and that I would be very honest on day two with regards to how much I can handle. Alex hesitantly allowed me to pack out my own stuff today. I get the feeling that I will be closely monitored in my pursuit.
The motto on Kilimanjaro is "Pole, Pole", which means "Slow Down" (it's also written on the school crossing signs on the roads). Our hiking guides, Patrick and Praygod encouraged us to go as slowly as we can, it's how we cheer eachother on, it's become our team mantra. This will be my first athletic pursuit where my goal is to travel as slowly as possible. I know I need the acclimatisation time, I have little experience with altitude, and my goal is to summit - not summit tomorrow.
The first day's scenery was characterised by a deeply mossed rainforesty jungle. There were monkeys and birds of all kinds, an incredible waterfall, ferns and a beautifully diverse canopy. It rained most of the way, but the canopy allowed only a trickle through onto us, and the occasional massive blob of cold water onto the back of my neck. It was warm enough for a t-shirt so I didn't bother with the heavy raingear. I'll save it for the cold rain or wet snow, in the case that it graces us (that's not an invitation).
The MEC rain cover for my pack kept my stuff dry, but my t-shirt was soaked (50-50 sweat/rain). My feet stayed dry, thanks to my Gore-Tex Asics Gel-trail Lahar hiking shoes, and the Asics knee-high compression socks kept my otherwise bare legs feeling fresh. I'm going to carry my own pack again tomorrow. The Eos performed well, spreading the weight evenly between my hips, shoulders and back.
Our team is 7 strong; RTP supporters from a variety of walks of life... Jaime is our Right to Play person, Danielle works for a bank and is an avid scuba diver, Kevin works for Imax and is the only person to have attempted Kilimanjaro before, Joanne is an entrepreneur who does lots of philanthropic work in Haiti, James is the man with the plan behind this trip and our top fundraiser, finally Jason, lives in Texas and runs "Lug" a stylin' luggage company. After a steep 10km, a little over 4hours through the jungle we emerged into a more alpine like area, with no canopy, some more coniferous style trees, more shrubbery and a soft moss hanging from almost every tree. After only 600m we found our camp and signed in. Our guides had set up our tents, and had dinner on the go for us.
We climbed over 2000m in elevation today, and I certainly started to feel some light effects of the thinner air. Just a little head ache, and a constant urge to pee.
After we set up camp our guides had cocoa and popcorn ready for us, and Mange-mange (our chef, are you feeling sorry for us yet?) cooked an incredible dinner of zucchini soup, avocado salad, fried fish, boiled potatoes and a hearty vegetable sauce... In like an hour from scratch on one gas element, he's the camp champion. Mange's tee shirt reads "me say Mambo", and he has the biggest smile in Africa. He personally carried his cooking gear and food up this afternoon, leaving 30minutes after us with a cigarette dangling from that smile, and catching up to us before we made camp.
Tomorrow is a big day, with almost 10km of hiking all at over 3500metres of elevation. We rise at 6am and pack up the camp, eat breakfast and hit the trail before 8am. I can hear the rushing river from my tent. If there's time in the morning, I'd like to make it down there to wash up before we set off.
I should turn in for the night, my tent mate Kevin is already out cold, and it's not even 9pm.
La la salama (sleep well).