|AFRICA DAY 4 - MOSHI TO MT. KILIMANJARO|
Tuesday, June 28
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There's still no mountain visible when I get up - too many clouds - though I may have caught the slightest glimpse earlier when I looked out the window earlier that morning. It was just a slight orange glow hovering a good deal above the horizon - perhaps the sunrise reflecting off the glaciers. Mike later said he was able to see the glaciers early that same morning, so maybe that is what I saw.
We ate breakfast and then did some final packing before meeting the bus that would take us into Kilimanjaro National Park and the start of our trek. The bus actually arrived early so we were able to get on the road before 10:00 am. We learned on the way that we were stopping in town to give a couple other people a ride to the park, but no one was there. We ended up waiting 45 minutes (or longer) for the four extra people, fending off a stream of street vendors from within our van much of that time. The four additional people were from Dubai - parents and their two college-aged sons - and they had been shopping that morning for all of their hiking gear. It seemed that they really weren't prepared for the trip. We did eventually get going somewhere around 11:00 am.
The drive was expected to take a little over two hours. We headed out of town on "the highway" (there's really only one), stopping a few times to pick up some guides and to allow some people to get water. We drove for a while, passing small villages as we drove over the ever-present speed bumps.
We made the turn onto the road into the park, stopping at a busy location (again the street vendors came at us, but they were less aggressive here than at the last location). One of the tour company managers had arrived earlier to take care of all the necessary paperwork and payments so we were able to get going in no time. We continued on a newly paved road (Mike said the first time he did the trip it was entirely dirt - now it's 2/3 or more paved and in very good condition), winding our way around the mountain, destined for the other side. We still couldn't see it - too many clouds - though hints of a blue sky made me optimistic. Along the route we passed many small villages, seeing a lot of people carrying bunches of bananas to waiting trucks, destined eventually for European markets (the US gets most of its bananas from South America). We also saw a good number of school children walking and even a bustling market with hundreds of people in one of the villages. At almost 1:30 pm we made one last turn onto a dirt road, dodging oncoming traffic and large piles of rocks, pulling into the base area to start our trip.
It was very busy and filled with hundreds of people. We were taking the Rongai Route, which Mike had previously told us was not well used, but the throng of people seemed to indicate otherwise, at least for today. Apparently there was a large group of hikers from South Africa and/or Namibia on their way up the mountain and they were just getting started. We probably could have beat them to the base area had we not been held up for almost an hour waiting earlier in the day. While our guides worked with the porters and cooks getting everything in order, we basically sat around waiting for the other groups to clear out. We ate a nice lunch prepared by King, our cook for the trip, of barbeque chicken, avocado and vegetable salad, oranges and bananas, bread and rolls, juice and kit-kats. We signed in with the rangers after eating (you sign in at all the camps and starting/ending points so the rangers can track who's on the mountain), took a group photo of all of us ready to go, and headed out on the trail just after 3:00 pm.
We started in an evergreen forest, having abruptly entered that eco zone on the drive up from more rainforest-like areas. Later, we passed into the cornfields grown by the local people and gave the toys and candy we had to the kids - although there were only four or five of them. We were expecting a lot more, but the guide told us that many of the children had gone to stay with other relatives who lived elsewhere. Leaving the cornfields we entered the rainforest again, complete now with towering deciduous trees covered in mosses and vines. I did find myself moving a bit quickly (other than when I stopped to take pictures), and often had to stop or slow down. "Pole pole" (pronounced "pole-lay", meaning "slow") is the mantra on the mountain - to make sure you can make it to the top. Nearing the end of the forest our guide pointed out a handful of black and white colobus monkeys, up high in the trees, and we all took some time to take pictures and watch them in the treetops.
Around this time we also saw that same Dubai group that had traveled with us come along the trail. For our group of 10 hikers we had a crew of 50 or so (which is typical for this trek). For the Dubai group we counted only a handful, including a couple porters clearly carrying way more weight than they should have been. It really seemed that they simply weren't prepared (nor had planned) for the trek.
Continuing up the trail we crested a small ridge and finally saw Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time. It was still quite hazy and partially covered in clouds, but it was definitely there, towering over the horizon with a glistening cap (the sun reflecting off the glaciers). To be honest, it seemed a bit smaller than I was expecting, though maybe I had just built it up so much in my mind having not seen it since arriving on the continent. After a short while, we passed into the Heather zone, with more low lying plants and a steeper, rockier, and ashier trail. Shortly after, just as the sun was setting around 6:30 pm, we came into camp. Our tents were all set up with our bags ready for us.
Camp for the night was at Simba Camp at around 8500 feet of elevation. We had started around 6500, giving us an elevation gain of around 2000 feet so far.
We headed a little further up the trail to the ranger station to sign in, passing the horde of people and tents from the large South African contingent. Although there were certainly more people, their whole process looked really chaotic in comparison to ours - a tribute to our guides keeping everything in order. We signed in (the same way as when we left) and headed back down to our tents to drop off our stuff, get set up, and eat dinner. Warm water was shortly delivered which we used to wash off a bit from the hike.
We met in the food tent greeted by popcorn and hot water for tea and chocolate. I avoided the caffeine in the tea (wanting to sleep that night) and had some hot chocolate instead (less caffeine at least). We ended up waiting a while for the food; perhaps it took a while as the cooks and other staff also got a late start. Dinner did not disappoint - it was a stew with meat, potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, and green beans served in sauce with bread, and mango slices for dessert. Not too bad at all, especially considering it was made in a tent camp on one of the world's highest mountains.
After dinner we headed back to our tents to get everything organized and to get ready for the night. After changing clothes, I returned to the food tent to do some writing for a while (it's more comfortable sitting at a table with a chair than lying in a tent trying to write). I used the bathroom (we had portable toilets for the trek - think of a smallish port-a-potty with canvas walls and a plastic toilet) and headed to bed.
Today was a relatively easy hiking day - about 5 miles in distance and 2000 feet of elevation gain, and I never really felt challenged (which boosted my confidence a bit), even though we were moving rather slowly. Tomorrow will be much tougher - closer to 12 miles distance with over 4000 feet of elevation gain.
Hike Start: Rongai Gate at 2000m (6500 ft)
Hike End: Simba Camp at 2650m (8600 ft)
Hike Coverage: 8 km (5 miles) distance, 650m (2100 ft) elevation gain
Loading the Bus (Moshi)
Bananas Heading to Market (near Mt. Kilimanjaro)
African Market (near Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Porters and Gear (Rongai Gate, Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Our Group (Rongai Gate, Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Back Row: Yoko, Alan, Mike, Alex, Kim, Ryan
Front Row: Andy, Hilary, Nikki, Randy
Local Child (Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Colobus Monkey (Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Our First View of Mt. Kilimanjaro
More pictures from today:
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