Day 1 of Kili Climb: from Marangu Gate (1800 meters) to Mandara Huts (2700 meters)
Today we woke up, had breakfast, and boarded a bus at 8:30 to begin the trek up Kilimanjaro. There are a few different routes up the mountain, and we are taking the “Marangu” trail, which is one of the least technical – but don’t let that fool you.
On the bus with us are two girls from the Netherlands and a guy from London named Andy. Andy is on the same “tour” as us, which we all booked through Dragoman Tours. (However – and here’s the funny thing – almost every tour group subcontracts their Kili treks to a tour company here in Moshi called Zara. So if you’re ever interested in climbing the mountain, contact Zara directly as it will probably be cheaper and they seem to have a sort of monopoly on Kili treks anyway). So we stopped by the Zara office to hire some gear: rain jackets, rain pants, walking sticks, and gaiters – which go over one’s boots so the rocks don’t get in during the descent from the summit down the scree slope. There, we met our guide whose name is Omari. We also stopped by a grocery store to pick up food, candy bars, and water.
After about 40 km, we reached the Marangu Gate. Here we picked up a few more porters who Omari hand-picked. So there is one guide, one assistant guide, and two porters per person – a total of 8 people for our group of 3!
At the gate, I hired a head torch (a flashlight for one’s head) for the bargain price of $10 (ouch!). We also had to register our names, nationality, ages, and etc for Kilimanjaro statistics. Walking up the stairs to the registration office had all three of us out breath, and we joked that maybe the climb was just to run up and down the stairs a few times.
Here we are at the beginning of Marangu Trail
Then we were off. We started with our assistant guide – Nicholas – as Omari had to register the porters and would meet us shortly. The key to trekking up Kili is that you have to go “Pole! Pole!”, which is Swahili for “Slowly! Slowly!” and is pronounced “poalie, poalie”. So we Pole! Pole! made our way up the mountain to the Mandara Huts. The trail was entirely through rain forest, and the trail itself is quite nice. The park service here maintains it very well. The trail is wide enough for two people, and has an irrigation system of ditches and rock-barriers for the warm season when Kili melts a great deal.
Some kids who were on the mountain saw us and followed us up for about 1/2 hour asking for chocolate and pens, but then they suddenly ran away. We wondered why they suddenly left so we turned and saw that Omari had shown up, and you really don’t mess with Omari.
At around 1:00, we stopped for some lunch which was basically leftovers from our dinner the night before. (The Springlands Hotel and Zara are run by the same people). At this point, Nicholas the assistant guide left to ascend with the porters and Jon, Andy, and I continued up with Omari.
Omari is quite impressed with my limited Swahili. At one point, the sun came out of the clouds and I said “Leo joto kali!” which means “Today is very sunny!” and Omari practically tripped over. So he’s begun to teach me a few other words to pass the time. Here they are:
Swahili English Twenday! Let’s go! Moja One (1) Mbilay Two (2) Tatu Three (3) Nay Four (4) Tanoe Five (5) Qualhairy Goodbye Qualhairy Badai See you later
Jon also requested the Swahili phrase “Mazungu Kitcha”, which means “crazy white person”. I’m sure he’ll get a lot of mileage out of that one.
Omari – the Guide – and the team
Omari has been a Kili Guide for 3 years and speaks English quite well. The general career path for a Kili Guide is this: porter for a few years, assistant guide for a few years, then guide. Omari has been to the summit about 70 times, and generally goes up the mountain about twice a month. He chooses the porters based on his knowledge of their abilities and their honesty. (They are carrying our backpacks and gear and ascend at different times). He says that he doesn’t think that he’ll do this for more than 3 more years.
The porters themselves basically run up the mountain balancing backpacks, groceries, stoves, you-name-it on their heads, shoulders, and backs. Their bodies are well acclimated to the altitude so there’s no reason for them to go Pole! Pole! as we do. They arrive at the destinations hours before we do.
At around 3:00 we reached the Mandara Huts, which are at 2700 meters. All our porters were there, and we were thrilled to be able to relax for the evening. Today is our shortest day, so it’s amazing how exhausted the three of us are. One of the porters brought us some hot water, and we felt much better after washing our hands and faces.
Jon went to shower and Andy and I went to the small dining hut to have tea, biscuits, and popcorn which the porters put out for us. Andy is a very bright and well-read 21-year old from London. (He’s also very cute but don’t tell Jon). He’s on summer break, and is about to begin his final year at Exeter University where he is studying politics. So we had an interesting discussion about the Middle East crisis and it was quite enlightening to get his perspective on current events. I’d forgotten how college life opens your mind to so many different views. Unfortunately, he has only one good “American” joke which is a bit disappointing for a Brit, but here it is: “What’s the difference between an American and yogurt?…. Yogurt is cultured within a week. Americans have had two hundred years and they still have no culture”. Very fitting for the fourth of July.
Jon came back from his shower saying it was very cold but refreshing. Seeing as how this would be the last shower I would have for days, I went ahead and followed suit. BIG MISTAKE. The water was freezing, rivaling the shower at Ngorongoro, and the air had dropped 10 degrees since the sun had begun to set. By the end of the shower, I was completely shivering and my toes were numb. So I advised Andy to skip the shower and stay warm instead. It took me a good two hours to thaw.
Dinner was served by the porters, which is so odd as none of us are accustomed to being served and waited on hand and foot like this. But it was good – fried chicken and pasta. Afterwards, Omari came and sat with us to go over our “schedule” for tomorrow. He’s instructed us to drink 3-4 liters of water per day, which we have definitely been doing today.
We were in bed by 7:30 because we were so exhausted and the air was so cold. The hut we’re in sleeps four and has mattresses and pillows so the three of us are quite comfortable. Before we went to sleep, Andy wished us a happy “Fourth of July” and Jon and I considered that we should have celebrated by setting fire to a Brit. Andy agreed and commented that this WAS the tradition. We laughed and then fell asleep shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, we weren’t asleep for long because we woke up again at 8:30 to go to the toilet because we’d drank so much water. Then we got back into our sleeping bags and went back to sleep.