Slow exhale. We arrive at the Machame gate the start of our route up the mountain after approximately an hour’s drive from our hotel. I remember the guides Dickson and Isaya teasing our liaison Noru at the beginning of the drive for only climbing the mountain once compared to their multiple climbs. Noru did not climb with us but remained at the hotel. I also remember one of the other climbers, an oriental guy stopping the driver so he could urinate. He did not go too far from the transit at all… a couple of yards if that and I thought to myself, ‘signs of things to come really, just pee anywhere!’
We climbed today for about 6 hours to get to the first camp base. We’re at the gate for a long time waiting whilst Dickson does whatever it is the guides do. We were impatient with the wait and wanted to get on with it but what I didn’t know then (heard from the guides and porters) was that our guide was actually one of the most senior guides and had to organise various other guides and porters who called him Captain. At first we thought it would just be the three of us climbing at that time. However, there were many climbers of various nationalities and seeming climbing experience to start the same time us.
We go through several environmental climate zones as we climb Kilimanjaro to get to the summit. Our first day of climbing was through the forest climate. Great trees, gorges and green foliage which Dickson identifies as this and that. But it was quiet, so so quiet. There is a distinct lack of animal noises in this part which I have heard in other forests; birds singing, other animals sounds. Dickson said previous South African climbers thought that this meant that this part of the forest was sacred. I tend to believe that. There was a sense of peace in this climate during this first day of climbing. One or two of the porters climbed with music. I generally preferred the quiet to further human intrusion of the forest.
As we climbed that first day we were curious about our guide and his background. However, the curiosity went both ways. He was very curious about where I came from, England, St.Lucia, what brought me to Tanzania, why did a black sister want to climb? What did I do? My family? LOL How long have I been a rasta?
Dickson gave me several tips and pearls of wisdom for the mountain but I guess these are also applicable to life really. He spoke about endurance and what is needed to complete on this mountain. The one thing we heard over and over from everyone, guides and porters was ‘pole pole’ meaning slowly. Dickson said ‘it is not a race’. You can’t go fast on this mountain otherwise it may affect you later and you may not reach the summit. You get there when you get there. Keep a steady pace. It is better to keep on going slowly slowly than fast then stop, fast then stop. Strong like simba, slow like a chameleon. He said when you watch a chameloean, it does not look like it is moving at all. But it moves and makes time. Think about your breathing. Drink water! As you get higher your breathing may change as there is less oxygen (did I learn that in the days to follow!) Think about how much you carry with you. What is light now will be really heavy after climbing for several hours. Keep it to the essentials. The mountain will test you. It affects different people in different ways. Be aware of your goal which is to reach the summit but do not let it consume you. You have to enjoy the walking, the journey. Take time to enjoy your surroundings. Dickson at times spoke about the mountain as a living breathing entity with an unpredictable personality of its own. It is similar to how I have heard sailors talk about the sea. He is a master of this mountain who has been doing this for over 15 years and has at least 250 climbs under his belt. I am listening to everything he says.
As we climb, I hear ‘jambo, mambo rasta’ from the porters and other guides and I talk to quite a few of them. Let’s talk about these amazing super humans of the mountain. Their task is to carry all our equipment such as sleeping bags and the rest of our clothes us weaklings couldn’t carry to camp before we get there. They also carried food, tents, chairs, tables, gas for cooking, portable toilets and other things I can’t think of. On their backs. On their heads. And that stuff is not light. And it was not ‘pole pole’ for them! Oh no. They took up the mountain like a lion was about to dig its claws in their rear ends. We just move to the side to give them room to pass. And admittedly as the days wore on, to sneak in a cheeky break. Most were men but there were one or two lady porters as well. Dickson as well as some who stopped to talk to me explained that you get stronger each time you go up. As well, being a porter is a better paid job than other jobs they could get in the nearest city or surrounding areas.
The porters and other guides would say ‘jambo, rasta’ where are you from? England? No where are you really from? Where is St. Lucia? Are you climbing alone? Pole pole rasta. You will make it to the top you are a strong rasta. You are of the mother land. You will make it. LOL. The hair seemed to attract a lot of attention and I am not sure most knew about faux locks. I was told in school in Tanzania, the girls weren’t allowed to have long hair. And when older most women just kept it that way out of preference or for financial reasons. Those I did tell that it wasn’t mine were shocked. So due to the locks and the fact that I was the only black woman climbing the route at that time, I was fairly visible. I was just known as ‘ Rasta’. Most porters and guides seemed to have a vested interest in me making it to the top. As I learned later, it was not just about the hair.
As we catch up with Kelly, Andrew and a new found friend Rosie and her guide Isaya, Andrew has the first signs of headaches. Dickson felt that this was not a good sign to have headaches on the first day.
We make it to the first camp (Machame Camp) at 3000m and we sign in. I hear ‘jambo rasta’. We are shown to our tent for the night. Lorien our waiter (although I like to think of him as our assistant guide) shows us to our eating tent. Lorien is amazing. He is a super bright 21 year old who wishes to be a guide in the future. His tell tale ‘yeeeeeeaaaahhhhh’ always lets us know that he is around. There are three chairs, a table and even a little flower vase. Whilst I am amazed and happily surprised by this on the mountain as I was expecting to go to a mess hall to get food or for us to just get food in our sleeping tent, I have to admit, I never really shook the uncomfortable feeling of this part. To me it was almost reminiscent of the big game white hunters ages gone by in their cream coloured clothing who insisted on the British silver service in the middle of the jungle.
We eat. The food is amazing but very heavy on the carbs. We need all the energy we can get for the days ahead. Dickson comes to the tent and we have a review of the day. Andrew lets Dickson know of his mild headaches. Dickson reiterates the necessity of going slowly. We eat and get into the tent to sleep. Typically I do not sleep very well at all. My family and very close friends know that I suffer from a bit of insomnia. But on that mountain (maybe because of exhaustion), it was the best sleep I have had in a long long time. I think I kept the others up with my snoring!! Day one over. The bathroom situation? I’ll talk about later.