Kilimanjaro Day 1
I’m about to be picked up by the trekking company at my hotel. Feeling like a kid on their way to Disneyland, I'm eager to leave and enthusiastic for what lies ahead. However, as antsy as I was to leave, I made sure to enjoy my last hot shower for the next 7 days, as well as what could be my last western toilet.
Early that morning we were off on a 5-hour drive from Arusha to the town of Moshi to the gates of Kilimanjaro National Park. It’s a beautiful drive through the scenic villages. I especially love all of the colors of Tanzania. The streets appear painted by everyone's bright attire. Shades of fuchsia, lime green, and popsicle orange envelope the stunning African khanga fabric dresses and skirts worn by the women. Every square foot of dusty dirt and cement is filled with kids running around. You see people selling fish and exotic fruits roadside and the throngs of men on street corners, their arms hanging over their motorcycles waiting for customers looking for motorcycle taxi rides. The signs on the storefronts off the roads are hand painted with big, blazing, bold graphics. I think to myself, these signs would make great pieces of art.
I’m starting to get more excited as we approach the gates of the park. I can’t wait to take a picture of the sign that reads Kilimanjaro National Park. It’s almost a surreal experience. I can’t believe less than a year ago I said I would come back to hike Kilimanjaro and here I am. There were a few times while on the bus ride where tears started to stream down my face, at first I thought maybe I was PMSing, but turns out I was actually crying from the joy and excitement. Here I was a solo female Latina traveler in a new part of Tanzania, on the continent of Africa, in a bus full of 17 strangers, making my goal a reality!
Upon arrival, the first thing we need to do is get our bags weighed and register our passport. The amount of weight of your bags determines the amount of porters that you need to carry your stuff. The porters are the dedicated men and women whose job it is to help tourists carry their gear to the summit. They are hired alongside your team of guides. All hikers in Kilimanjaro National Park are required by law to be accompanied by a registered and licensed guide, usually booked through a tour operator. Turns out I needed 4 porters but would share one with one of the other people in my group.
With only my daypack on my back, I was ready to hit the trails of the Rongai route. The Rongai route is the route I chose to take. There are a number of different routes to the summit of Kilimanjaro but because I didn’t want to climb over a section called the Barranco Wall, I opted for this route. I was later told by others that the Barranco Wall was not too bad and totally doable and that in fact the Rongai route had a much more difficult and steeper climb on summit night. Had I known this before, I may have taken a different route!
Anyways, here I was. I had joined a group that included 2 other travelers from Malaysia but once we got to the park everyone went at their own pace and with their own guide. Thus, unless you go with a friend who can keep up with you, you are only walking with your personal guide. I only saw the 2 other hikers at meal times. The first day is not so bad, only about a 5-hour leisurely walk to our first camp. You start at what is known as Nalemoru Gate and we make our way to Simba Camp. The first 2 hours we are walking through a beautiful lush green rainforest. I hear the sounds of all kinds of birds, like the ones heard on Animal Planet while sitting on the couch with my dad. The weather is a bit hot and humid, so it’s important to hydrate. Although I have to say I was dreading my first experience of having to go to the bathroom outside in the middle of nowhere, so I didn’t want to overdo it with the water. After about 2 hours the forest opens up to a vast moorland terrain with my first glimpse of highest peak in Mount Kilimanjaro, otherwise known as the summit of Uhuru Peak. I take a million pictures and still in awe that I’m looking straight at the highest free-standing mountain on earth.
I spend the first 2 hours getting to know my guide, Joseph. I want to know where he is from, does he have kids, is he married, what kind of music he likes, tell me everything! Yes, I’m nosey and if I have to spend the next 7 days with you by my side, I want to learn about you. Turns out he has a 5 year-old daughter but because he is Christian and his girlfriend is Muslim, they were not allowed to get married. She ended up marrying someone else who was Muslim and now they co-parent. The struggle is indeed real my friends. His dream is to open up his own expedition tour company one day and he loves Jay-Z. I tell him, I used to work at Jay-Z’s record label as a PR assistant in the late 90’s and he gets really excited. We exchange stories about our favorite rappers, our favorite movies, etc. He likes Kevin Hart. I like the Rock. He wants to know why my husband is not traveling with me and I tell him he was busy with a work event and although he was very supportive of my goal, he had zero interest in climbing Kili. Then we run out of things to talk about.
It’s just Joseph and I and now I have to pee, so I tell him. He says he is going to walk a few steps ahead of me and that I should go by that rock to the east. I follow his instructions, proceed to squat, hoping nothing crawls up my rear and to my surprise it was actually not too bad.
The next few hours I take time to stop and appreciate all of the beauty around me, the pretty red flowers that pop out of random rocks, the chameleons crossing the trails, and my favorite, the giant clouds that seem to go on forever, taking over the entire sky like thick strokes of white paint. The weather starts to change. It's getting cold and now I need to put on a jacket. Make sure you keep a jacket in your daypack, as the weather on Kilimanjaro seems to change every hour, I’m not kidding!
We arrive at our first camp, aka Simba Camp. We are now at 8,612 feet elevation. The tents are all set. We are given a small plastic bowl with hot water, what they refer to as “washy, washy” for us to get cleaned up. I’m now extra glad I enjoyed my last shower. Winnie the only female on the staff of all males lets me know that it’s now dinner time. They serve carrot soup, rice, some kind of veggie fritter and popcorn. My husband loves popcorn and this reminds me of him. I wonder what he’s doing? I wonder if he’s thinking about me? With no wifi for the next 6 days, I will just have to keep wondering. We also get tea and fruit. This is actually a lot of food and although I’m walking it off, I have to keep in mind that due to my diabetes type 2, I need to regulate my sugar levels, so I can’t overdue the carbs especially at night. I remind the main guide, as I’m feeling like I’m being forced to overeat. He understands and says it’s OK.
I get ready for bed, zip myself in my sleeping bag, using my extra clothes to make a big fake pillow. 2 hours later, I wake up, toss and turn. I have to pee and it is now really, really cold. I hold it as long as I can and then I do something I have never done before, I decide to do what I said I wouldn’t do. I put on an emergency adult diaper that I brought. I totally did not want to do this but a few of my friends made the suggestion and I figured better to have and not need than to need and not have. As it turned out I needed it. Mind you, this is the first time I ever put one of these things on. I was making all kinds of noise in my tent and it’s now like 2am. I feel like everyone around can hear me. Well it’s either this, pee on myself or go outside, as I hear what sounds like a possible hyena in the background. Now how am I supposed to pee? Do I pretend to squat, do I lie down, the tent is too small to try to stand up and I don’t think I can pee standing up, so I decide to kneel on both knees and sort of squat. Anyways, I know this is TMI (warning there is more TMI) but I told myself I would be as honest as possible in writing this blog. I can’t stand seeing all of these perfect travel blog stories with smiling filtered face women in their Lululemon outfits telling us how perfect everything is! So go ahead and judge me! I start to pee and it feels like the pee is landing in the right place and before you know it, I feel a warm trickle down my right leg. It was awful. I had peed all over my legs outside of the diaper and I think even on a part of the tent. Apparently this adult diaper that said was for heavy overnight flow, could not handle all of this goddess flowetry. Now I have to change out of my clothes, clean myself with tons of wipes, and thank goodness for plastic zip lock bags. You are not allowed to bring plastic into the country but apparently plastic bags are still sold at the grocery store and I remembered to buy them to store my trash. Also, it is very common for women to get their period when they are at high altitudes and I thought if this happened I could wrap my items up and put them in a plastic bag. All trash must be taken down from the mountain, so every morning we would put our trash away to be carried off the mountain. My tent now smelled like the stinky part of the subway platform on 42nd St on a hot summer day. Thank goodness for my travel size can of Lysol! So there you have it, this was my first night!
Now let’s move on to how freaking cold it was. I ended up putting on the rest of my clothes for extra layers because the sleeping bag they provided sucked! I will never do a trip like this without bringing my own low temperature sleeping bag. I opted to use theirs because I didn’t want to carry the extra weight since I was heading to Kenya next. Anyways, never again! Investing in a quality sleeping bag is right up there with the quality of your hiking boots. Spend the extra money. I know it adds up, but trust me, somethings you can’t skimp on! I tried to go back to sleep, maybe slept another hour and being that I was up, yet again, I just decided that I was going to meditate. Are you there God, it’s me, Alma?