We stopped in Bangkok before heading onto a midnight flight to Tanzania, with one layover in Ethiopia. If I ever shat on Laguardia or LAX before, I take it alllll back. The Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia is, by far, the worst. I could’ve implemented a better operations management system for a class project in college. The screens would tell you to approach the gate for your flight but, once you tried to, they would hold you back right before security. Apparently, a bunch of flights’ passengers were told to “Go to Gate” because a good hundred of us were sardined together by the security entrance. Then the airport officials started freaking out once they realized some of these flights were due to depart soon. So, they began to shout out random flight locations and let those people go through first but, it was still a whole crowd of us and security check became bottlenecked. I mean, doesn’t all this just involve common sense? I thought maybe this was a one-off thing but, I unfortunately had the pleasure of coming back here on the way to Cape Town and going through it all over again. Except, that time, when they announced “Shanghai,” a white guy next to me asked if I was going. I flatly replied, “I’m not Chinese and I’m going to Cape Town.”
Right before landing, the pilot announced that we’d be seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro shortly on the left side of the plane. We were sitting at the window seats on the right. The Chinese lady next to me, however, did not give a shit. She jammed her camera-toting arm right in front my face and started clicking away at blue sky. Lady, the mountain is on the opposite side. And, you’re taking horrible flash photos of light reflecting off the window. I looked at the left side, though, and the Asians have gone wild.
Anyway, we were lucky to be one of the first passengers off the plane at the Kilimanjaro International Airport. Once off, we rushed off to immigration, quickly filled out the customs forms, then ran off to be first at the visa desk. We were able to get visas on arrival and, after going through Addis Ababa, the Kili airport was a breath of technologically advanced air. At desk 1, we paid the fee (multi-entry was only available for U.S. passports). Desk 2, we got our photos taken and a visa sticker printed out with our photo then attached to a passport page. Desk 3, we were fingerprinted. Efficiency.
Travel tip: We had our yellow fever cards checked before entering the terminal, so have those ready. Also, we pre-booked a taxi through our hostel for $40 to get into Moshi. Otherwise, you’d probably have to haggle with a taxi driver at the airport or take a short taxi ride to a bus stop that looked unreliable.
On the road to Moshi (maybe almost an hour ride), we were stopped at one of the many police checks. Our driver, who looked 19, began explaining something in Swahili to an officer with an AK47, then repeated “Sorry” a few times before the cop eventually let us go. At a second stop, the driver then told us that he needed to go out and apologize to another officer. Apparently, this one had taken away his driver’s license at his second speeding infraction. When he got back to the car, though, he told us that this particular officer was actually the twin of the one he needed to apologize to. Um, what are the chances? At the third stop, the driver seemed to know the officer there. It turns out that the second cop was the actual cop and not the twin. I knew it. It was almost too coincidental.
Our G group for Kili included 11 people in total – Carla, Floyd, Marilyn, Darcy, Catherine, Tom, Allie, Daniel, Jeffrey, Hayden and me. Canada, England, Germany, Macau, NZ and the U.S. Then we had our main G CEO, Gerald, leading the G Fighters (the awesome group of porters).
H joked that I should take one of those photos where people arrange their gear artistically and post it onto Instagram. I scoffed. Then, I saw him do it, and immediately did the same. (And, yes, 8 days of no showering requires a packet of baby wipes.)
We left the hotel by 9am and stopped at a mini mart to grab trekking snacks (aka Snickers, Bounty bars and digestives). We then picked up the G Fighters and ate boxed lunches at the park’s ticket office. We drove past pine trees that, for whatever reason, made me feel weird. The stem portion was completely bare and the pine up top was too soft-looking that it reminded me of Tom Selleck’s mustache, copy/pasted a gazillion times.
By 1pm, we were off! We were already at an elevation of 2,100m (6,890 ft). Vegetation zone: Montane forest.
We hiked about 3-4 hours to our first camp, MTI Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp, just 7km of gradual inclines at a pole pole (pronounced po-leh po-leh) pace. It was almost too slow…though I would not be thinking that on day 7.
We encountered some black-and-white colobus monkeys (aka skunk monkeys) en route. Can you even point him out in the trees? Start from the bottom middle of the photo, then work your way up. Stop a little before the tree ends. Actually, it’s probably just better if you Google imaged it. Or just literally pictured skunk monkeys.
Because the porters are badass, they had our tents already setup by the time we got there and a wash wash ready as soon as we got in. Same badass service as on the Inca Trail. The outhouses were quite horrible, though, and I was very thankful that there was no lighting inside them.
Elevation: 2,650m (8,694 ft); Vegetation zone: Montane forest.
Our routine became a 6:30am wakeup, 7am wash wash (has to be said twice), 7:30am breakfast and an 8am start. Day 2 was a 6-7 hr day and described as “some up, some down, some flat.” (Hm, where have I heard that before?) A majority of it was up as we trekked up and over the Shira ridge at 3,500m (11,483 ft), though very moderate compared to the Himalayas. We completed the hard part before we stopped to have our boxed lunches. Gerald (and the co-CEO’s) called this the “training paths.”
Other than trekking at a gradual pace, water (and lots of it) helps with the effects of altitude. “Water for life” became such a common saying (in addition to “pole pole”) that I eventually got annoyed into drinking water. Whatever works, right?
Shira I Camp – Elevation: 3,610m (11,844 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. This campsite was a vast land sprinkled with soft grasses and shrubbery. The higher we went, the dustier it became and no matter how short I cut my nails or how often I washed my hands, dirt found its way underneath them.
The clouds finally cleared around 6pm and revealed the very mountain we were going to summit in 5 days. Then came popcorn, hot chocolate/tea/coffee and a very hearty dinner. It still amazes me how these porters carry, cook and clean everything so effortlessly.
Once the sun set, the warmth was completely gone and frost formed on the outside of our tents. This day’s night sky may have been the best one all week. The Milky Way was so bright and the stars were so overwhelming that it was difficult to point out the Southern Cross. It was still dark enough for me to get lost on the way back from the bathroom, so I yelled out “H! H?” until I finally got a response. That was actually a little scary given how many tents there were. Most of us stopped drinking liquids around 6pm to avoid having to pee in the middle of the night. Otherwise, we would hold it in until it began to hurt, then go through a whole process of unzipping the sleeping bag, putting on an extra layer of pants/jacket and a head torch, unzipping the inner layer of the tent, unzipping the outer layer of the tent, then zipping up both, walking to the bathroom in the freezing darkness, then coming back to unzip both layers of the tent, zipping both layers back up, taking off the outer layers of clothing, then zipping back into the sleeping bag. If that was annoying to read, you can imagine how it felt to actually go through it.
Sunrise. It was still frosty at 7:30am but, by 8am, it was almost as if the frost never existed.
Day 3 was an easy day, mostly flat with gradual inclines and only 4 hr of hiking. We also passed an emergency road that Carla decided to take. Because food poisoning. At least a car was able to pick her up. It would’ve been great to have that in the Himalayas. (Whomp whomp.)
Elevation: above the clouds.
Shira II Camp – Elevation: 3,850m (12,631 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. To acclimatize, we hiked an extra 100m up in altitude and back down, an hour roundtrip.
Fun fact: Mt. Kilimanjaro is actually made up of 3 volcanic cones – Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo (in ascending size order).
Back at the camp, the G Fighters introduced themselves one by one and then broke out into song and dance led by Saddam, the guy in the middle. Each one of them was so enthusiastic to be there and with each other that their excitement became contagious. This is going to sound cheesy but, they really made you happy to be alive and on that mountain. I’ll never forget that feeling. (Photo credit: H)
Sunsets and sunrises are always beautiful but, the ones in Africa are on another level. The mountain glowed orange as the sun sunk beneath the horizon of clouds. After dinner, Gerald and the co-CEO’s went into the history of the Maasai people, from the plaided red that the men wear down to their tradition of circumcision and polygamy. A young boy is forbidden to cry during circumcision (done sans anesthesia) or it would bring shame and make it difficult for him to find a wife. The boy would’ve also had to kill a lion beforehand, but this is no longer a common practice. Young women also had to go through circumcision but, this thankfully was made illegal in the country. And, a man’s wealth was and still is measured in cattle. The more a man has, the more respected he is. But, despite how all this sounds, they are a very friendly people and are more than willing to show you their villages and everyday life.
The first 5 hrs were all about the inclines toward the Lava Tower at 4,600m (15,092 ft) elevation. Vegetation zone: Alpine desert, meaning bare open spaces with not much to hide behind for a wild wee. By the time we found seating on a large boulder littered with egg shells of hikers past, we were so famished that we ate in complete silence then took brief naps in the sunlight.
Then, sweet relief, it was mostly downhill for 2-3 hr.
We eventually passed through palm trees and heard running water and a waterfall a short while later, an oasis in the alpine desert.
Hello. And, bye bye birdie.
We’ve encountered a lot of cool birds along the way, one of which I labeled the “delightful pigeon” because they are prettier and a lot less likely to carry disease than the urban kind.
Barranco Camp – Elevation: 3,900m (12,795 ft); Vegetation zone: Moorland. From this camp, we were able to see a view of the Western Breach, the surrounding Breach Wall, and Moshi town below (well, once the clouds cleared the way).
July 22 – 31, 2016: Mt. Kilimanjaro Group Trek – Lemosho Route
Travel tip: We chose the Lemosho route because we felt that 8 days gave us sufficient time to acclimatize. We’ve heard that the shorter routes had a much lower success rate of summiting.