The flight to Kilimanjaro was an eventful one. On the first flight to Nairobi, Lauren, Dan and I may have consumed a little bit too much alcohol. I won't go into details but it involved sleepwalk mugging of a fellow passenger, six sick bags and a nose bleed. On arrival in Nairobi, feeling a little worse for wear, we were informed that our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro was cancelled, leaving us to explore the delights of Jomo Kenyatta international airport for 9 hours. An experience I don't wish to repeat in a hurry. The connecting flight was by turbo prop and took us over the border from Kenya to Tanzania. looking out of the window we gazed in awe at the vast weather systems the mountain was creating, we were aiming to climb at the end of a short rainy season which meant that the weather was due to be somewhat unpredictable. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the peak from the air but on this occasion it wasn't to be.
After landing and paying a fee to immigration (fees to enter, fees to leave, naturally), we were met by Joseph, a young representative of Ultimate Kilimanjaro, the American trekking company we were using. Joseph had been waiting all day for our arrival but cheerfully got us into the van and transferred to our hotel. As we drove along the southern mountain plain, the mountain remained shrouded leaving us time to slowly take in our surroundings. After an hour or so we arrived at the Stella Maris Lodge. The hotel is a non-profit organisation which uses all of it's earnings to support a school for orphans next door. If only more hotels operated on such a charitable basis. The staff were incredibly welcoming and showed us to our basic but clean rooms and gave us time to freshen up and prepare our kit for departure the following morning.
After a couple of hours we met with our guides. Meshack was the lead guide, a tall, gentle character, only 27 but with over 70 ascents under his belt and Evance, 39, Meshacks right hand man and assistant guide, silently observing the briefing. We were informed of safety and travelling times and what to expect from our first day of trekking. These two men in particular would become the most important, caring people we could ever hope to meet and ultimately we were dependant on their knowledge to keep us alive (Dramatic much?).
After the meeting, I saw the clouds had cleared from the mountain for the first time. We ran back up to the room and onto the balcony. It was breathtaking. In twilight the glacier capped mountain was revealed. I cannot put into words the vastness of it but it we couldn't believe our eyes. It was beautiful moment if for no other reason than to see the look of excitement and anticipation on Lauren and Dans' silly faces. After dinner we took to a real bed for the last time in over a week. From here on out, we would be sleeping in bags under canvas.
As if we needed a reminder of the fact we were in Africa, we woke to the beautiful sound of the kids chanting and clapping in the schoolyard, it was a lovely noise and humbling reminder of the privileged position we were in. We quickly dressed and headed for breakfast before meeting with Meshack and Evance for our first health check. It was a routine we would quickly become used to and happened every morning and evening. (Apologies for the following boring, scientific bit). This involved clipping a pulse oximeter to our finger to monitor how our bodies would adjust to the effects of altitude. It is a nifty little instrument that a) measures pulse and b) uses light to measure oxygen saturation levels in your blood. A normal person at sea level should have a oxygen level between 95 and 99 percent. We were told that if it ever fell below a level of 75-80 percent we would not be allowed to climb.
We boarded the bus. She was an old girl from the 70's and made you feel all Indiana Jones, Awesome. Our kit was strapped onto the roof under heavy tarpaulin and we got on to meet our crew who greeted us with a chorus of Jambo! The Swahili word for hello. There were fifteen people excluding us in our expedition, these included porters guides and a cook. We started on a 2 hour journey to the Kilimanjaro national park headquarters whilst the driver put on a brilliant dvd of the biggest, current African popstars, an unexpected cultural delight that had us laughing and winding in our seats. We drove through the various villages and towns and watched African life unfold. An hour or so in we stopped at village for the porters to get some supplies. We took a look around and watched a butcher at work on a cow in a shack, he'd left the pile of legs on the floor that were quite the tripping hazard and I was reminded of the sterile, strict, health and safety environment we live in. You'd never trip over a pile of hooves in the Co-op.
Back on the bus and we drove through beautiful scenery, trundling slowly through pot holed, red earthed, dirt tracks, past little Masai children tending their goat herds and onwards to the National Park headquarters. Here we stopped to register the crew and our names and details. We would use this check in process at every camp we arrived at, so the rangers could keep track of our progress and make sure everyone involved arrived to the next camp safely. They weighed all of our kit including tents and food and this would happen ever day to ensure nothing was left in the park. What we took in, we had to take out. We then made our way to the Lemosho gate, the starting point of our trek, with a brief 45 minute delay to wait for an enormous lorry that had broken down on a single track road on the side of a pretty deep gorge to be pushed out of the way by 30 plus men. Honestly, you couldn't write it.
In my next blog the monkeys and our first night on the mountain as the trek begins. In the meantime please visit