We have arrived!!! After two days of flying from the USA we arrived in the dark at Kilimanjaro airport in northeast Tanzania. We walked down the jetway into the warmth and humidity of Africa and into a sea of hiking boots, climbing bags and khaki cargo pants. The majority of people who fly into this small airport are here for safaris or to climb the mountain. After a 1 1/2 hour drive we arrive at Kilimanjaro Mountain Lodge in the forest at about 5000’ of elevation. The sooner we get high the better! Well, you know what I mean! The mountain air was cool though the humidity could be detected and we collapsed into bed, finally able to stretch out and sleep peacefully.
Our pre climb day arrived soon enough and we forced ourselves out of bed in an heroic effort to minimize jet lag. After a hearty breakfast, we set out for the morning on an acclimatizing hike. Ridlon and I are lucky to already live at this elevation but the rest of our team lives at sea level so this is a critical start to the climb at 5000’. Our first stop is just 100 feet from the hotel at a small hut and local one room museum dedicated to the Chagga people who inhabit this region of the country. Edward is the enthusiastic curator of the postage stamp sized room of relics. What a great way to start the day with hiking AND a bit of a culture lesson.
Our trek today took us along the path that winds through villages and climbs about 1000’. We stopped for a short visit to the local school where the first grade children welcomed us into their world. Amazingly, their first gesture was a simultaneous adjustment of their shirt collars followed by a song in Swahili. Then they smiled and broke into song in English. Many of the children followed us for several miles along our route, teasing us with their few English words and then running away up the path and shyly hiding just out of reach.
For the next couple of hours we pass by small homes and large gardens where corn grows tall shading been plants beneath. We pass large mango trees and mile after mile of banana trees, used for everything from feeding cattle to making banana beer. Right about lunch time we reach our destination for the day. Not a campsite but the home of our head guide, Honest Minja who has prepared a fantastic meal of leek soup, followed by beef, rice and vegetables topped off with fruit salad and an introduction to Kilimanjaro beer. We are certain now that we will be well fed on the mountain (excluding the beer!).
Honest explained that this afternoon is the time to repack our gear. Our porters will be carrying our duffel bags which contain our sleeping bags and any clothes and items we don’t need during the day. We will carry day packs of about 20lbs with water and energy drinks (everything from Gatorade to Rev packets!) clothing for ever changing weather, hats, sunglasses, camera gear and any other treats we want. We won’t see our big bags until the end of each day as our 28 (!) porters will be taking all the gear for us and the group to the next campsite each day. According to Honest, they will go “like cheetahs” up the mountain. We will follow “pole pole” which in Swahili means slowly slowly so we can properly acclimatize to the high elevation.
After lunch we head out, this time by land rover over nominal roads back to the hotel with a couple of stops. First, we visit a trail head where one of the other six routes leads up the top of the mountain. It’s a bit cloudy today so our views of Kilimanjaro are spotty but it’s fun to see where one of the trail begins. Then we make a stop at a local market to see the colorfully clad African ladies selling the gorgeous vegetables that grow so well here on the volcanic slopes of the mountain.
Finally, we return to the hotel to pack and rest as the “real” climbing begins tomorrow!
To Your Adventures!