It started when stepping onto Kenyan Airways at Heathrow Airport. The beautiful dark skinned air hostesses (male and female) who greeted with warm smiles, the lyrical accent and language which told of the exotic and unfamiliar to me. If I told you that my heart smiled you wouldn’t believe me. It did. This was the beginning of my journey. Long overdue, so very much anticipated.
The plane was hot! I have travelled many times and this is the first time I have ever encountered a hot plane! Usually you have to wrap the blankets around you to get some warmth but not this one! I had to remove layers! You should have seen how I looked initially. I was dressed like I was ready to attack that mountain as soon as I stepped off the plane on the other side; big hiking boots, pants and jacket, my hiking bag. Did I care? Not one iota. I was too excited. Looking at Kelly and Andrew’s luggage though, I did wonder briefly whether I was travelling too lightly.
Kelly, Andrew and I got off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport (had to change at Nairobi in Kenya) and I immediately felt an affinity for this place. It reminded me of St. Lucia in so many ways; the trees, the air, the people waiting around, I almost had a sense of déjà vu.
The Springlands Hotel which was to be our base for the trip was in the town Moshi about an hour away from Kilimanjaro airport. Whilst driving to the hotel, I had the opportunity to look around and to observe; the vast land with the hills and mountains in the distance, the young boys who took care of the cattle with sticks. I saw some men dressed in the traditional Massai clothing. Most women seemed to wear their hair really short (boy cut style) and that would explain everyone’s seeming fascination with my hair (will get to that later). There were a vast numbers of motorbikes on the road which our driver did not approve of. Millet was laid on the ground to dry in front of many houses to be used for various purposes. We pass by the local hustling and bustling market. I ask questions eager to drink in all I can about this new culture and its people. I know that a certain friend of mine would have absolutely loved this! Our hotel is at the side of a dusty road with huge gates! We get our rooms, get introduced to our tour liaison Noru.
We have dinner. The food is amazing. I will keep talking about the food. These people can cook! The green bananas, plantain, beef. Tanzanians love bananas. They have a saying ‘poa kichizi kama ndizi’ meaning ‘as cool as a banana’. It was explained to me by several guides and porters. I get it and I don’t get it. I personally wouldn’t consider a banana very cool. But when in Rome… I digress. The food seasoning is different to what I am familiar with. But everything is fresh. And good! And tasty! And it was the chef who would serve the buffet style to the guests which I found refreshing. I quickly pick up the phrase Asante Sana meaning ‘thank you very much’. I hear jambo ‘hello’ and mambo ‘what’s up’. I also hear Hakuna Matata and think to myself ‘ahhhhhh so this is where The Lion King gets it from!
Before our climb, we meet people who have just completed the climb and hear their stories. We meet a mother and son from Germany. This was the mum’s second attempt as she did not complete the first time round. She spoke about why she didn’t complete. She became unconscious at one point. She had to go back down the mountain as there was a fear for cerebral edema (an excess amount of fluid accumulates in the brain, dangerous and life threatening). This time round she was proud she had completed and made it to Uhuru peak. A 64 year old American woman is celebrated for her achievement of getting to the summit. We get loads of advice; listen to your guide, walk slowly, drink loads of water, eat a lot, any headaches let the guide and porters know quickly. Take warm warm clothes. Have to admit, I got a bit anxious then. The fluid in the brain business is serious. And I had not given a split second thought to the possibility of me not getting to the summit.
We were then introduced to our guide Dickson who has now become a significant individual in this part of my life story. I will mention him quite a bit and you will get to know him through me. But for now, this tall lanky guide meets with us, gives us a summary of what the six day climb will look like; the walking for hours, review of each day, the gear we need to carry with us personally as we climb (at the very least two litres of water to drink amongst other things), the gear we need to give to the porters to arrive at the camp site before us, how many layers of clothes we need for the summit. There is some equipment we have to hire as what we bought (sleeping bags for example) are completely unsuitable for the task to hand. He attempts to alleviate some of our anxiety. He leaves and we are left to our private thoughts of the challenge ahead.