Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Everybody in our group made it to the summit which was unbelievable as we passed many people having to descend through Altitude sickness. Although it seems like a bit feat to have climbed the World’s highest free-standing mountain, we only had to talk to the guides and porters to put things into perspective. One of our guides completed his 840th summit attempt and was heading up again in another few days. The porters are required to carry so much equipment and when they sprint past you instantly stop complaining… They really are the unsung heroes of Kilimanjaro. Their praises should be sung as loudly as they themselves sang on the mountain.

As a farewell, the 55 strong team of guides and porters gathered to sing us traditional mountain songs and we all ended up dancing and singing with them. The last morning was slightly emotional as the past six days had been unbelievable yet one of the toughest things we had ever done. The amount of work that the porters and guides put in over the course of the six days is outstanding and often provide a better service than anywhere 5895m nearer sea level.

As we trudged back down through the rainforest I experienced my first fall of the trip which left me with a more than impressive bruise on my bum. The group could essentially go at our own pace but the porters were absolutely racing down the mountain. The walk was  relatively quick due to good company (alas, I had no idea you could have a 15 minute conversation about one salad) and the fact every step down from the summit was easier, well except on the old knees.

Upon arrival at the Mweka Gate there was a group of porters and guides singing and dancing to congratulate us on reaching the top.After signing out for the last time and grabbing some souveniers we headed down to our bus. Rather than being at the gate, the bus was parked at the village down from the gate and this gave any hassling salesmen the chance to hawk us down, but by now most of us were getting pretty savvy at haggling. At this point we had to say goodbye to two of our guides; Msechu and Pasco but we invited them round to the hotel in the evening.

The drive back was a bizarre sensation as we experienced motion that wasn't self-propelled for the first time in days. Back at the hotel we were all desperate for a shower but there was only time for one person to shower before we had to be ready for lunch. As the seldom clean people started to appear we realised the extend of how disgusting the rest of us were, but nothing could prepare us for the colour the shower-water would be.

The evening was spent on the balcony with everyone enjoying some beers and the feeling of being clean but as for me, I spent the evening thinking I had Lyme disease due to a rash I'd picked up on my ankle. Everyone thought I was being ridiculous as usual and convinced me so. On return to the UK I got to rub it in their faces by being right all along as I was diagnosed with it and treated. Yes, I am a ridiculous human being and excellent hypochondriac.

 Later that evening some of the guides came round the hotel with our certificates from the Park offices to celebrate reaching the top. It was lovely to see them again so soon and a nice round off to a wonderful experience.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summit Day

Barafu Camp (4673m) - Uhuru Peak (5985m) (and back down to Mweka Camp 3100m)

The Morning of Summit Day
I woke up thanking my lucky stars that out of sheer exhaustion I fell asleep with 4 layers and a down jacket on as the tent door broke as Kyra and Emma were heading to bed. The freezing temperatures and pitch darkness was somewhat disorientating as we headed to our mess tent for breakfast. Morale was pretty low at breakfast but I tried my best to keep everyone going and Dan's Lindt chocolate brightened up  our faces and our porridge. After breakfast we said a prayer under the starts in respect of the guides and tradition and by 1am we were plodding along at summit pace.

Sunrise on Kibo
Doing the final ascent in the dark had it's advantages, as you couldn't see quite how far-and how high- you had left to go. It also showed how impressive the guides were as they were able to navigate the footpaths in the dark. The actual walking was pretty monotonus other than the obvious steep gradient, much steeper than previous days. Breaks were becoming much more regular and the guides came round with an ominous white powder and told us to take it, thankfully it was nothing more than glucose powder. A few members of our group had to slow down and wait behind as altitude started to hit and we also passed several people having to descend due to altitude sickness. Thankfully for me I wasn't experiencing anything more than breathlessness of every other day but combined with general exhaustion didn't leave me feeling exactly on top of the world, yet. Kyra and I tried to rectify the mutual feeling of fatigue by singing but low levels of oxygen didn't make that an easy task!

I promise you this is frozen Berrocca, not pee. 
Stella Point was the first major rest point the guides had told us about, but the walk seemed never ending. Stella Point is at 5745m, over 1000m from Barafu Camp which was our starting point that evening. You could see the light from the head-torches of climbers dotting the sky like stars, reminding us how far there still was left to go. The temperature was also dropping to below freezing and our platypus' were starting to freeze The ascent to Stella Point was the worst we all had felt, but just as we were given up, the sun broke through the horizon and managed to warm our cold fingers and dampened spirits.

Stella Point
When we finally reached Stella Point the sun had risen high above but was still producing a cacophony of colour as the clouds started to dance around Barafu camp but left the view of Kibo crater unspoilt. You could see the summit and fellow climbers around the sign celebrating and if the sun didn't boost your morale then that did. The walk to the peak was only about 200m away but because we had to go "pole-pole"  it was going to take us and hour and a half. For the first time during the climb I plugged into my ipod which was also cheering me on as I had "I will survive" in my ear as I reached the summit. As we walked up climbers on their way down were spurring you on and when the sign was in sight any aches and pains banished as Msechu (one of the guides) and me were dancing and singing our way to the top. Msechu was great for keeping spirits high throughout the climb which was important as I think having a positive attitude was a very large part of what got me up to the top.

Many people say that reaching the summit is like a drunken night out – you need photos to piece everything together. You remember seeing the sign and hugging everyone but details are blurred. Never-the-less, we had such a huge sense of relief and satisfaction that we had finally made it that any tiredness was banished by complete euphoria and relief. There was only time for a few photos as we had to head back down again after about five minutes. Everything felt so easy and you forgot you were still over 5000m asl. This time you were doing the cheering on to those heading up and when we bumped into the girls we had lost on the way up everyone was over-joyed as it meant every single one of us had made it to the top!
At the Summit!

On the way back to Stella Point I even managed to get signal on my phone and phoned home, forgetting it was actually 5am back home and my parents were actually in Spain so woke up my poor aunt who was dog-sitting. Thankfully she is the type who appreciated a call from the top of the world regardless of the hour. Our walk back to camp, well I say walk but we were essentially dry skiing down Kilimanjaro, took two hours even though it took us 8 hours on the way up . However by now my knees were ready to fall off and so a welcome rest at the bottom was just what I needed. Unfortunately we were only allowed a two hour nap before the turnover of brave climbers at Barafu Camp sent us packing all the way down to Mweka Camp at a mere 3100m.
View From Stella Point

Our body clocks had skipped several time zones over the past few days and so any sleep was better than none. Twelve hours after heading out to the summit, we were heading out on the road again and we all thought we would be fitter since we had got to the top but even a trip to the bathroom resulted in a minor aneurysm. After a brief lunch we headed along  several stony ridges and before we knew it we were surrounded by the same foliage as day one. We all headed down at our own pace which was nice but we passed several more people who had severe altitude sickness, some even had to get a piggy-back back down again. 

Heading back down again.
Mweka camp is the first camp on the Mweka route but also the last camp for most routes. Compared to the rest of the camps this one seemed like a hotel. For the first time there were toilets with a seat and there was even a sink, alas minus running water. I had arrived before Kyra and Emma and so I made sure that last nights freezer experience wasn't going to happen again but scouting out one of the remaining tents that had a working zip. Our dinner that evening felt like the best we had had yet, however that might have had something to do with the fact that we had descended 2000m and our appetites had come back with a vengeance. Our heads hit the pillow for a well deserved rest after conquering our Goliath and prepared us for leaving the mountain behind.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Barranco (3972m) -> Barafu (4673m)

Getting up at 5am was almost becoming routine and bundling out onto the road for seven was barely a struggle compared to day one. Today we were heading up the Barranco wall which was quite a daunting scramble but also a nice change to the monotonous plod we were used to from every other day. The search for a suitable foot-hole on the side of a mountain took your mind off the fact your legs didn't really enjoy moving at all. At the top of the wall there were fantastic views of the valleys on one side and the peak on the other. We took a short break for some fantastic photo opportunities and a sugar boost.

A sought after item on our own mini black market.
Onwards and upwards we went into a kind of lunar dustbowl with the sun bearing down as we weaved up and around the peak to Karanga Camp for lunch. We had to earn our dinner though as we had to another chance to test out our bouldering abilities. The breathless scramble was worth it thought as we were given our best lunch yet, I know I seem to say that everyday but today we got homemade chips, coldslaw and chicken which demanded seconds even on our dwindling appetites.

Porters en-route to Barafu
We continued on at "summit pace" to Barafu camp(4673m), which I was thankful for as I was really getting quite breathless now. The walk took us through a landscape and temperatures that the Mars Rover would be more accustomed to! Plus, the lack of oxygen meant that a simple walk to the toilet 50m away required a rest stop. Kibo Peak had always been visible in our sights like our own personal Goliath staring down and intimidating us everywhere except at this camp. It was probably for the best as morale was at an all-time low and my appetite had completely disappeared. We headed to bed at 9pm only to wake up a mere four hours later to tackle the worlds highest free-standing mountain.
The view from our tent at Barafu Camp

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shira Camp (3749m) - Barranco Camp (3972m)

Dawn at Shira

Shira Hut Weather Station
It was still pitch dark when my alarm started singing “Brass fever” at 5am and the stars were still shining brightly. By the time I had dressed myself to head out to the toilet the sun was breaking from behind Kibo peak and there was a wonderfully clear dawn sky with Mr Blue Sky and Mr Night fighting for space. With every sleep deprived morning I was constantly surprised at how alert and cheery I’ve was feeling and I want to hope that it was because I was genuinely having such a good time and I couldn’t wait for the next day to start.

The air was a lot colder this morning as there was no clouds to shroud us and even with the sun bearing down strongly we were lined top-to-toe in fleece and down for the first time. We headed to Shira Hut at 7:30am which is a permanently manned hut in case of emergencies and even has its own weather station due to the growing concerns of climate change. Heading onwards and upwards, I could feel the effects of the thinner air as I was starting to get breathless easier and I had to make an effort to take deep breaths every so often, but none of us felt ill as such.

The Lava Tower
We stopped for lunch just before the Lava Tower which was to be out highest  point of the day at 4637m. Not only was I starting to acclimatise to altitude, I was also definitely starting to acclimatise to the toilets as although the long drops weren’t so long anymore, we stopped caring so much. After lunch the weather had turned blisteringly cold, no thanks to the winds that had also developed, and I needed 3 layers for the first time of the trip. When we reached the Lava Tower we weren’t able to climb up the tower itself due to the fact we were now walking inside a very windy cloud which would make climbing along a small ridge somewhat 

The Machame route takes you on a spiral around Kibo crater and Uhuru Peak meaning that the summit is constantly in your sights, like our own personal Goliath looking down at us and laughing.  The walk continued through all forms of tundra landscapes such as ice, snow and scree and the home stretch to camp was a stunning valley lined with indigenous Senecio kilimanjari which were like hairy palm trees that adopted animal like forms.

Is it a Llama? Is it a tree?
The valley took us down to Barranco Camp which was at a mere 3976m, compared to the Lava Tower, but it sits beneath the intimidating Barranco wall which we were to tackle the next morning. After arriving at the camp it was very blissful; from the newly built toilets to the fact it was warm enough to sunbathe (for some). After card games we all gathered for dinner for another great meal before finishing up for the night. No matter how many times I went out of the tent, I still couldn’t get over the nights sky here; the stars were almost bright enough to light up the mountain itself. I can’t imagine how nice it is with a full moon!

Sunbathing at 3976m!

Machame Camp (2834m) - Shira Camp (3749m)

Getting my sun-glare on
Although others had been up well before 6:30am, much to Kyra’s distaste, we refused to get up a minute earlier but we soon realised how unorganised we were as it was after 8:30am before we were ready to set off.

The climb was instantly very steep and involved a lot more scrambling than yesterday and we were surrounded by cloud for the majority of the beginning. Morale was kept high by speaking to one of our guides called Msechu who was very encouraging to my attempts to learn Swahilli by teaching me words and phrases. Most noticeably he taught us the word “Babkubwa!” which is a slang term that essentially means something similar to awesome as it means something huge and epic in size as well as an experience. When the chef walked past I made haste to tell him “chakula ni babkubwa!”; the food is awesome!

Chicken noodle soup AND cheesy french toast!

At our first stop we were emerging above the cloud line and we could see both great views of the valley and Kibo peak. It was also the first time I felt the sun during our climb and the need for my factor 50+ sun-cream. Onwards from there we walked through more shrub-land and along to the Shira Plateau where, ironically we had our first hands on climbing experience to earn our lunch. Lunch was most definitely worth it as the chefs had not just toast accompanying our soup but they had French toast filled with cheese, how do they do this up the mountain? Although the food was getting better and better the toilets were apparently getting worse and worse, or at least people’s aim was getting worse…

My Rock at Shira Camp
Following lunch the walk was along a rugged rock face which had some nice bouldering opportunities as well as wonderful views over the Machame route.  Shortly after our highest point of today’s walk we reached the Shira Plateau which was home to Shira Camp(3837m) set in a volcanic crater encased by jagged mountains to the West and to the East Kibo peak popping it's head through the clouds. I was quick to scout out a massive rock to go sit on to catch up with my journal, ignoring the fact it was next to; yet thankfully upwind, of a long drop, it had a nice little view of Kibo and the rest of the camp. Since the rest of the camp 
Ridiculously atmospheric long-drop
was napping two of the porters came over to talk to me called Apia and Daniel who seemed very nice and innocent to start with until Apia started asking if I had a boyfriend and where we were staying in Moshi. I was now regretting being a terrible wife and losing my fake wedding ring after two days of putting it on as it could have bypassed many awkward questions.

Makeshift Helipad
After a short rest we were all going a little wander to get to an even higher point for the day to acclimatise at a place called Shira Needle and Shira Cathedral which was a cluster of volcanic rock that spiked out of the crater and named so due to their “likeness” to a needle and cathedral respectively. The walk up took us past several other features such as the Shira Cave, a helipad made from a stone circle and another camp with a toilet with one of the best views in the world. When we reached the needle and Cathedral it wasn’t long before we were all climbing all over it, as an altitude acclimatisation walk this was definitely working. After some silhouette photos our stomachs started to talk and we wandered back down to camp to be greeted with more cucumber soup and some spicy veg and chicken curry. After dinner it had become very dark and we got our first taste of rain on the mountain and it came down with vengeance but secured an early night for us all, especially as the starts were getting earlier and earlier…
This photo never fails to crack me up so I thought I'd share...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kili? Come at me Bro!

This morning went on like any other, except it wasn’t; we were heading out to start our attempt at the world’s highest free-standing mountain. We filled up our little bus with rucksacks and then moulded ourselves in afterwards. There was a last minute stop at a supermarket to get some energy snacks, little did we know how vital they would be for morale purposes, before heading to our start point at Machame Gate, which had a 456m step-up on Ben Nevis already. The drive to our starting line involved going through lush rainforest and rural towns where the locals look at you thinking you are insane, and lets face it they are right.

At the gate, the climate was noticeably colder but we were still surrounded by lush forests, we were rushed through the gate as there were a number of wannabe porters and vendors that rushed in every-time they opened the gate in the hope that they’d get lumped with one of our rucksacks in return for a tip. Those who didn’t make it through had to sit and wait for the next bus full of “Wazangu” to roll up and hope their trek up that day wasn’t going to be fruitless. On the otherside of the gate there were numerous white climbers signing in at the bottom and about triple the amount of porters and guides. There is meant to be a-sixty-climbers-per-day limit on the mountain but looking at the numbers at this gate alone and the 4 members of staff per person climbing, I don’t think that is a very strict rule. After handing our rucksacks over we got our first glimpse of the ridiculous amount the porters have to carry and you couldn’t help feeling sorry for them and that there was something horribly “master-servant” about it. You had to try and think of this as one of the few ways they can make a decent amount of money and from day one they had definitely secured themselves a good tip from me. 

The first phase of the climb was through a pretty wide mud track used by 4x4’s but this slowly dwindled into a footpath but all the time we were surrounded by dense forest. I got chatting to my first guide of the trip called William (I am pretty sure this was an Anglosized name) who like to sing and seemed to develop an early soft spot for me as, although he was the guide for the other group he would seek me out whenever the groups crossed paths over the next few days. For the first day the walk was pretty challenging but that was probably why, because if was our first day of walking a solid six hours or so, plus the weather was pretty humid and there was no wind whatsoever so when we got breaks they were very much appreciated!

Our dinner was a very pleasant surprise to see as our porters had raced ahead and set up a long table(with a table cloth), chairs and all appropriate crockery as well as cooking us a fantastic meal. We thought this was all rather lavish for the mountain and we would have been happy to just eat off our laps, but we appreciated their tremendous effort all the same! The food was excellent with cucumber soup, vegetable sandwiches and some mango all prepared by two chefs that were part of the team and little did we know this was only a glimpse at the culinary delights they had in store for us. We also saw our first encounter of African wildlife with what can only be described as Kilimanjaro’s answer to a seagull only it’s black and has a ridiculously strong beak...

We set off again with quite a fast pace and were still trudging through rainforest until just below 3000m when the trees suddenly got a lot shorter. Our slowest walker was put to the front so the pace was very “pole pole” (Swahilli for slowly)  for the home straight, compared to before where Marc was essentially sprinting up the mountain.  This new speed gave us the chance to just get chatting away to each other and get to know the people who were going to see you at your absolute worst in the coming days. People were instantly fascinated about Orkney and managed to get a few more with the old “smoke signals” joke before teaching them some basic words and phrases. I sang Orkney’s praises further by feeding hungry mouths with some Orkney Fudge and I think there is a niche is the market if Argos were interested in broadening their sales…  We reached the Machame Hut Camp(3033m) at about 5pm which was about six hours after we’d set off from the gate. We all had a well-earned sit at the camp as we waited to sign in, though in the end I don’t think anyone signed in as themselves…

After sign in we headed down to our camp where the porters had already put up our tents and came around with basins of warm water and soap so we could wash some of the grub off ourselves. The amount of work the porters do up the mountain would never stop amazing us and their uplifting spirits wouldn’t stop cheering us up when we dared complain.

It was quickly getting dark and after the excitement of our lunch it was time to be bowled(no pun intended) over by our impressive dinner portions. The chefs had cooked up exceptional amounts of soup, toast, spaghetti, potatoes and a vegetable curry to fill us up, even Dan stuggled by the end. The food up the mountain was already miles better than the food we had got in our hotel and I don’t even think that was because we were starving and tired! On a toilet run I sneaked out I looked up into the sky and saw that there was the most impressive display of stars I had ever seen, so after our group de-brief we all headed out and stared up at the stars. It sounds cheesy now but it got worse when someone put on Hoppipola by Sigor Ros and we had a complete teen drama moment going on as we lay on the ground stargazing. People kept trying to get pictures of the stars but turning on the flash and their head torches wasn’t going to get them anywhere so I decided to put my camera down early on and used my built in camera to remember the scene instead. 

After star gazing we headed to bed at around 10pm as a combination of the long day and dark sky made us tired but no amount or tiredness could overcome the side effects of Diamox meaning I had to run out to the toilet several times in the night as well as walking up with all over pins and needles.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lotima Primary School

We woke up suitably shattered this morning but it made little difference as today we were heading off to visit one of the schools we as a group had raised £40,000 for. At the hotel we were met by Charles and Helena from Childreach International, Helena was based in the UK whereas Charles was a representative in Tanzania. Charles told us in detail a number of the many projects Childreach were involved in such as a project to teach farming in schools with small vegetable patches, another giving pupils and teachers basic medical and hygiene training and a great scheme linking children in british schools and Tanzanian schools (I think that was more an important lesson to British kids than Tanzanian kids).

 In the school we were heading to, Lotima Primary School, they had built 14 squat toilets with separate buildings for the boys and the girls, 4 classrooms and a kitchen with a functioning wood stove. These small changes had had an effect on the schools attendance rate as one third of pupils were passing their secondary entrance exam, rather than 6%.

The drive from the hotel to the school took just over an hour and took us through some parts of real Tanzania, and although you were winding along dirt tracks between slums it was hard not to notice how much life and colour is here compared to back home.

The School Kitchen Before...
Emerging through trees we were greeted by all 400 pupils from the school chanting songs in Swahilli and they chased after the bus giving us a really bizarre feeling like we were royalty or something. Although the welcome was amazing it was so unusual for us and we couldn’t help feeling it was too much, but we were privileged to have such a welcome and even though we just felt like low life students you forget we have made quite a difference to these kids day-to-day life.

The School Kitchen Afterwards
After our generous welcome we were given a kind-of assembly with traditional dancing and song as they kids showed off their bundles of natural rhythm. Although we were dying to just be let loose in the playground we first went on a tour of the facilities Childreach had built. The toilets, which were still something british kids would turn their nose up at, were a vast improvement on the shared-unisex hole in the floor the kids had before; now there were separate rooms for males and females and a more hygienic squat toilet system. Next we went to visit the kitchen, which I was most excited about, before they just had an open shelter with practically a woodfire to cook their food. Now they had not only a separate room for the kitchen, they also had a massive stove that was just like a Aga in principle only a bit more rustic, you could say. The stove ran on firewood the kids brought in once a week, this was a vast improvement on everyday, which was the case before the new stove. The school’s chef was actually off sick that day and so wasn’t at the school which meant I don’t think the kids were going to get any food that day, which I felt terrible about! I wanted nothing more than to cook them something, even if it was just porridge but I was assured they would get something anyway. Following that was the classrooms that were built from concrete and painted with colourful diagrams and murals by Childreach's “futurebuilder” volunteers which is another scheme Childreach run. I particularly enjoyed the anatomical diagrams of the heart with Swahilli labels and the Swahilli map symbols. It was even interesting looking at textbooks and the kids work or the work on the board as it was still all so different to that back home.
After our tour of the school it was the time we had all been waiting for; when we were allowed to go and join in with the fun and games. In response to their impressive traditional songs and dancing we thought we’d give them something back, but out rendition of the hoakey-coaky wasn’t one of our best musical  numbers of the trip. The school kids out-shone us again as they showed us a game where you go into a large circle and shout “Joha popa?!” and get the reply “Popo!” which is your que to so some kind of dance move while singing “You can do this!”, however when I tried my moonwalk the overall reaction was they couldn’t do that. Afterwards we just split off and were surrounded by children who seemed more fascinated by our cameras than why there were strange white people in yellow T-shirts in the playground trying to play drums and sing. I spoke to several kids and I saw this as a great opportunity to test out some of my survival Swahilli and after my first, yet brief, exchange of,
One of Lotima's Classrooms
I felt like a pro. The younger kids were much more open to my attempts than the cooler older kids who laughed at most of my tries but at least they corrected me! I ended up speaking to so many of the kids and they were all the most all-round gorgeous and adorable children I have met, I have never been around young children much but these ones made all kids back home looked like spoilt brats in comparison. Notably was a girl called Zora who was 6 (all of which I found out by asking in Swahilli by the way…)who loved being in front of the camera and absolutely belonged there; there was also a girl called Lisa who was 10 who followed me around after I spoke to her in Swahilli and kept asking me the same questions which was sweet and there was also a blind boy who was called Rose, or at least something that sounded similar and that was an instant bond.

 A lot of the older kids tested out their English on us and you could tell they get taught the same bizarre topics as we do in our language classes in school as they asked us the name of each of our family members and what we studied at school, even still their English was miles better than our Swahilli. One of the teachers then took out a volley ball and there was a bit of a riot and we tried a 20v20 game of volleyball which had little avail so when the teacher took out a netball a group of us headed over to the netball court. Playing netball in a school in Tanzania has a few more added factors than back in the UK, principally the shrubs throughout the court and the thorns jabbed into the netball waiting to prey on your own palms. Even still we did have some kind of netball match going on before we were told we had to leave the school and get back to our hotel, but everyone was so apprehensive to go that it took at least another 15 minutes before we all got near the bus. It sounds so “gap yah” but the kids were just so charming and it was inspiring how much joy they saw in everything even considering how little they had, something children back in the UK could learn a lot from.

Although most of us could have stayed there forever we were forced back on the bus but we could at least see that the money we had raised was going towards something really worthwhile and having seen it first-hand made it even better.

Some of the kids
TripAdvisor described this place as a "Seedy dive",
 looking at no.13 yo understand why.
When we headed back to Moshi we went to change some dollars and get some food and I was excited to try some local cusine but the place we ended up in only seemed to sell burgers and chips and everyone eating in there came from the UK. All I wanted to do was run off and try some dodgy local food but someone did point out that it lowers the possiblilty of food poisoning the day before we head up the mountain and we have the whole of the independent travel section to try local specialities.

After lunch we were absolutely attacked by “flycatchers” trying to sell us T-shirts, bracelets and anything else they had on them and considering we were all in our yellow Childreach T-shirts we weren’t doing ourselves any favours to blend in. For some reason the touts never actually approached me, it might be because I didn’t really react when they came over but they didn’t really annoy me that much anyway and I almost admired their persistence on the rest of the group.

Product Placement

When we got back to the hotel we all had a nice relaxing time on our balcony nursing some Kilimanjaro beers (we couldn’t not?) before we had the daunting challenge of packing out bags for our climb. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nairobi (Kenya) To Moshi (Tanzania)

Out of the five of us who had a phone with an alarm, only one woke us up in time, although being woken up to Bootylicious by Destiny's Child lost it’s charm after three weeks. The rest had all reset to completely random times ranging from 6pm to 3am. We all agreed we could do with more sleep but it was better than none at all, which was on yesterday's menu.

Breakfast was some variant of egg along with some fresh toast, which little did we know would become quite the luxury. The whole group was ready and packed up to leave at the scheduled time of 7:30am but we were getting out first taste of "African time" where you use the given time as an approximate time, but if you are not ready by then that's okay, things can wait! I think I could slip far too easily into this way of timing as there is nothing worse than a good old British rush to get somewhere on time.

African Traffic Jam
An hour later we bundled into our combvee and I made the mistake of sitting at the back, but I had made the unwittingly clever choice of choosing  a sports bra that morning. The drive to the border took us through Kenya to the border town of Namanga where we stopped at a Kenyan service station which was different but charming and probably better than some in the UK. Border control was quite simple now as forms and fingerprint scans were becoming second nature. Tanzania instantly looked like any child’s image of Africa, thanks to the Lion King, but there was also a fair share of areas that looked like the adults view of Africa.

Roadside Tanzania

Our First Glimpse of Kilimanjaro
About 7 hours into our drive at the end of the longest celebrity association game ever, we had our first sighting of the snow covered peak of Kilimanjaro itself and considering most of us thought it was a cloud, it’s needless to say the height was daunting. After compulsory group photos we finished the final hour journey to Moshi which was our base for our time in Tanzania, more specifically Midlands Lodge. The rooms were split up rather bizarrely with most people in twos but another two singles and a triplet. Emma, Kyra and I went in the triplet and we had really hit the jackpot as we were given a huge room with our own balcony and about an hour after settling in the clouds had cleared and we saw a wonderful view of Kilimanjaro just sitting there teasing us.

Being a tourist on our balcony
We had our first dinner at the hotel which consisted of more meat and rice but the watermelon and Kilimanjaro branded water spiced things up a bit. The hotel owner came over during dinner and told us any stories he knew relating to the UK, including the Queen’s stay in Kenya where she arrived a princess and left about to be sworn in as Queen and the time when Will and Kate came to Tanzania they had Tusker beer and the beer’s popularity spiked so much bars started refilling Tusker bottles and replacing stickers with Tusker in order to sell more beer, entrepreneurship at it’s best. Back in our room we stayed up until 2am just being hyper and then crashing to sombre deep chats, which probably wasn’t the best plan considering our amount of sleep was going to drop dramatically over the next few days.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

London to Nairobi

It was 11pm on a Friday night and as everyone was heading out for a night on the town, I was trudging through South East London with my ill-fitting rucksack about to head off to start this year’s adventure of blood, sweat and tears. Along with a group of 16 others I was heading to Tanzania to climb up Kilimanjaro for the charity Childreach International followed by some independent travel around the country. 

We were booked on the first flight out of Terminal One bound for Zurich at 6am and since I was in London I had the luxury heading out as late as possible, but most of the group had flown down earlier that day and had set up camp in Costa. Alas, it took me and my friend Dan a good half hour to realise this as we checked every other corner of Terminal One. The whole group managed to stay awake as we were running high on adrenaline and a lot of fear which got us through to check-in at 4am. Tiredness hit us hard in the departure lounge when we were all far, far too excited about the prospect of WHSmith and Boots being open at that time in the morning.

The flight to Zurich was spent sleeping for most people but I was quite glad I was awake, at least for the free Swiss chocolate. On approach to Zurich we had to sit in a traffic queue but this meant we got a nice aerial tour of Zurich but meaning we arrived in 10 minutes late to our already tight transfer window. We were rushed through Zurich but even after several close calls with shuttle train doors we got to our plane only to be greeted by disgruntled looks from our fellow passengers for holding up their flight.

Crazy Mountains In Albania

For the 6 hour flight I was sitting next to Jill, 
a girl I had met before through hockey and she 
had seen me through hockey initiations so I had no worries about her seeing me at my worst halfway up the mountain. She was a great plane companion too as she preferred the aisle seat meaning that I got to stare out the window for a very scenic journey that took us over some fantastic mountains in Albania, Greek Islands, the Sahara desert and if that got boring there was always the TV in front of me loaded 
with films. I would highly recommend Swiss Air, even if just for the sheer amount of food 
they gave out in our flight including our main meal of chicken stroganoff, cake, bread, pretzels, a pizza stick, some luxurious Movenpick ice cream and of course more Swiss chocolate.

Our Food Selection

How Dark 7:39 is here!

It was around 6pm when we landed in Nairobi and it wasn’t as busy or as hectic as we were expecting; as we left arrivals but there was nobody but the odd taxi driver. We did mark ourselves as terribly obnoxious tourists as we, (what can only be described as), "mobbed" our way past the Prayer Room on the way to Visa control. Only to look back and realise we were those British tourists you scowl at as they shout everything in English only this time with added hand gestures. The sun had already set when we bundled out though the bamboozling fingerprint scanners at Visa control at 7:30pm. This was very alien to me coming from almost 24 hour daylight to half that- it also didn’t help our already messed up body clocks. 

Wilderbeest Camp

Our ride for our time in Africa was a Wild Thornberries- style comvee with fold down seats in the aisles, which were great for stretching out on. Our camp for the night was down a very horror-film-style dirt roads, including wooden signs with “Butchery” painted in red. Despite its surroundings, the Wilderbeest Camp was actually a lovely little eco-lodge with a number of permanent tents with comfy, beds, for those lucky enough to be given these tents. Our first meal was quintessential of the trip: impressive in size with a number of mystery meat stews and curries. I do not envy any vegetarians in Africa, let alone vegans. The Lodge was owned by an Australian couple along with their two kids, two dogs and cat. It was strange giving dogs that second look for rabies rather than instantly running over and getting all lost in their fur. The camp had a pool table, tv and a bunch of other western luxuries we had prepared not to see for another three weeks. The hot shower and flushing toilet including toilet paper were the main culprits. After a communal shower in the mixed cubicles as a starter bonding experience, we tried to sleep but even in our deprived state, we couldn’t overcome the adrenaline spike at the beginning of an epic adventure.

 Wilderbeest Camp: