Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tanzania: Day 1 Kilimanjaro-Nalemuru to 1st Cave

Day 1: NALEMURU GATE (6,550 ft. / 2,000 m) to RONGAI 1 CAVES CAMP (9,285 ft./ 2,830 m);
Hiking time: 4 hr.
Approx. 7 kms

We started off the day with a great view of our final destination on top of Kili. From the top floor of the hotel on a clear day, you can see the mountain and it was a clear enough day that we could see it calling to us.
Last night we sorted what clothes we are going to take up the mountain and what we'll be leaving behind until our return. We also left a bag of dirty clothes which we'll leave with Nadir to be dry cleaned. Then it was off to breakfast - same as yesterday.

We hauled our two bags each and our backpacks to the top of the third floor stairs (no elevator and it is actually the 4th floor because the first level are offices and storage so they start numbering from the second floor).
According to the original itinerary, we were supposed to leave the hotel at 8:00am but we agreed yesterday to leave at 9:30am. That did not go as planned because we spent time filling our hydration systems and water bottles with the minimum 3 litres of water. Mine was a bit more interesting. I had inserted my hydration system in the backpack and thought I had attached the hose from which I would be drinking. Alas, I did not, so as fast as Nadir was pouring it into the top, it was running out the bottom - right into my backpack. Needless to say, I had quite a few wet things. By the time we got a towel to dry out the inside of the backpack, refilled my water and weighed the six pieces of luggage (none can exceed 15kg), we left closer to 10:30 for the 1 hour drive to the Manangu Gate.
The KINAPA (Kilimanjaro NAtional PArk) office for climb permits is located at the Marangu Gate so it doesn't matter which route you are climbing, you have to go there for the permit. On the way to the gate, we picked up some porters and with the guides, assistant guides, porters and driver, we had about 23 people in a 16-person vehicle. Apparently vehicular safety is not a factor as the seat belts either cannot be located, do not work are insufficient for the "Clown Van" we were travelling in (you know the kind I mean - when you go to the circus and emerging from an impossibly small car are many, many clowns.
While travelling, a woman darted across the road and the van had to do a wide swerve to avoid hitting her. About 3 minutes later, the load at the top of the vehicle had shifted so that we had flying debris from the vehicle. Not exactly debris. It was our rations for the mountain. So we had to stop and some of the porters ran back to pick up the things that fell of and a few others climbed to the top to re-anchor the load. I took this as a photo op so out I went and snapped a few. Donna L took this as a pee break because in less than an hour she drank over a litre of water because she misunderstood the initial instructions from the guide and thought she was supposed to drink 3 litres of water before she arrived at the gate instead of needing 3 litres of water for the entire day's walk.

We got the permits and read all the notices and 9 rules for using the park. I was okay with rules 1-5 but after reading rules 6-9, I wondered what possessed me to think I could do this.

We took some pictures at the gate – perhaps to prove that we were actually there or maybe to convince ourselves that we were ready and willing

Went off for another hour’s drive to Nalemuru which is where we start the climb. The Rongai route used to start in Rongai near the Kenyan border but because of safety reasons, it was moved to Nalemuru which is more internal into Tanzania. We had lunch there with lunch boxes that were provided by Mauly Tours. It was quite a generous lunch so that we could not finish most of it.

We watched the porters bagging our duffel bags and taking it to get weighed by the park officials. There are strict rules about the weight they can take up and bring down from the mountains. They can get seriously fined if they do not have sufficient weight when they come down because it will be assumed that garbage was left on the mountain.

We took a picture of our nice shiny and brightly coloured boots realizing that we totally looked like amateurs on a grand adventure.
We donned our gaiters, adjusted our walking poles, strapped our backpacks on and we were off! Starting at the Nalemuru Route elevation of 6,550 feet above sea level! I remember when this altitude used to give me migraine headaches and here I am doing something crazy.  

Godfrey our Lead Guide was pacing us and the message about “when on Kili, there is no such thing as too slow..” was totally true. We walked ve-rrrryyy sss-llll-oooo-www-llll—yyyy and with the weight of my backpack, boots and poles, I was glad for that. We walked through some forested areas and saw some of the villagers and their simple homes – some ingeniously divided into kitchen, bedroom and animal quarters (932, 933).

We stopped a lot along the way because one or the other of us had to take pictures, needed a snack, some water, a rest or simply to enjoy the scenery. Starting out at almost 2:15pm meant that we arrived in the camp as it was starting to get close to sunset. The porters who we left behind to weigh the bags had already passed us along the way and set up camp, and cooked dinner for us! Those men are like mountain goats. They are sure-footed, agile and very fast.
The porters had scouted out a nice semi private area and our mess tent which was quite large, was already set up with hot water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, popcorn and cookies. Our sleeping tents were also set up and so was the toilet tent. This is my first night ever to sleep in a sleeping bag in a tent. I think I should have tried this before coming here but it's too late now (Brent if you are reading this, you must be having a good laugh). I am sure a good visual is eluding you.

Elly the mess tent porter had "water for wash" - nice, warm water to clean up with. That was a bit awkward because he left one bowl each at the front of the tent and Sunita and I tried to clean up as best we could. Not very well I have to admit because by the time we were done, there was soggy mess of water at the entrance of our tent.  
I did some thinking and I think I've come up with a better plan for cleaning up. I'll present the idea to the rest of the group tonight at dinner. We were awfully dusty and my hair felt like it was caked with hard hair gel which was really dust and grime. I have not felt this dirty in a long time.
 We had a delicious dinner which was a good thing because high altitude can affect your appetite adversely and if the food is not good, you're less inclined to eat. We had soup, chicken, potatoes, vegetables and fruit for dessert - some very sour mangoes and oranges. That surprises me because I thought that most tropical fruits picked locally would be better than what we get in Canada. Not so.
After dinner, Godfrey, Honest, John (the other assistant guide) and Chinga the cook came in to the mess tent to ask how we enjoyed dinner. We all loved it and complimented Chinga (his real name is Augustin) on his expert cooking. I had already discussed my bathroom idea for cleaning up so I pitched it to Godfrey. I asked that when we set up camp tomorrow night, we would like the toilet tent cover to be placed in a location (minus the chemical toilet) so that we could each take our basin of water for washing up into the tent and wash up in there rather than at the entrance of our tent. After we were all done, the tent could be moved to a dry location and the toilet put back inside. At first he didn't understand what I was trying to say so I repeated with a few animations and he got it. I'm looking forward to a better sponge bath tomorrow but in the meantime, I am already planning how to use some of my "water for wash" water to wash my hair in the morning. Can't go without doing that for another 7 days.
We finished our dinner and went back to our tent to organize ourselves for sleeping. I hung up my solar powered flashlight at the top of the tent and put on my headlamps. The tent is quite generous. It's a 3-person tent that sleeps 2 and there are two zippered openings - with a protected vestibule between the two openings to leave our boots, poles and gaiters. That's pretty convenient because it makes for a bit more space and keeps the inside sleeping area clean, or at the very least, less dusty. I really can't believe the amount of dust. The ground on this route is quite parched but it's not that I am wanting rain anytime soon. To be wet and cold does not sound appealing so I'll stick with the dust as dressing for my hair and face. 
I dare not have taken any pictures of this, but changing into my sleep clothes was an exercise in acrobatics. First of all, Sunita and I are in a small space with 2 sleeping mats, 2 mattresses, 2 sleeping bags and 2 duffel bags full of clothes, trying to get them out without entirely emptying the whole bag to find the clothes and then to undress and get in to them with any sense of modesty. That's probably going out the tent by tomorrow, I'm sure. But for tonight, we are undressing and dressing with very little dignity and a lot of cold skin showing.
I don't know how I ended up with a sleeping bag made for a caterpillar but I am no caterpillar and I don't have a penchant for sleeping in a cocoon. The bag looks like a tube and zips down only half way so wiggling my way into it was a feat by itself. If I wasn't so frustrated with trying to get into it, I would have thought it was funny, but I am somewhat claustrophobic so a sleeping bag that does not allow me even to bend my knee in it and does not allow me to expose my toes is like being in a straight jacket. I truly felt like a prisoner so that I would not zip the bag to the top for fear that I would be trapped in a bag with broken zipper.  It has a comfort rating of  -15C; consequently, my feet were on fire while my upper body was an ice cube. If you think that's funny, try sleeping like that for 8 hours.
Needless to say, it was a very long night of getting in and out of the bag every hour to dress and go pee because the altitude does that to you. Makes you want to pee all the time - and with the amount of water we are expected to drink each day, I don't know if we'll ever make it up to the top with the amount of stops we'll have to make every few minutes to pee.
Tomorrow is a new day and I think I can use my Swiss Army knife to slit the sleeping bag from the bottom up. I'll just say I got it that way. First day's climb done. Only 7 more to go. Good night.

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