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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tanzania: Kilimanjaro Climb Gear Rental and Briefing Day

We had a good night's sleep last night but still adjusting to the time change of 8 hours (9 for the Albertans) so we had an early start. We went down to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast which included juice, fresh fruit (bananas, papayas and oranges),eggs (any style so we each had a Spanish omelette) with grilled tomatoes, sausages (we didn't have those because they were wieners) toast, jam, butter, peanut butter and Kilimanjaro coffee with hot whole milk (yummy!). I loooove hot milk and if I could manage it, I prefer whole milk but I only have it as a treat and not as a regular part of my diet.
We checked out the hotel's pool which looked fabulous but we didn't use it today because we'd have to take wet bathing suits with us up the mountain and if it doesn't dry, it will be mouldy wet bathing suits. The hotel also has lovely gardens with some very interesting flora.


We had our briefing with Nadir and our Lead Guide Godfrey and Assistant Guide Honest. We speculated about whether we heard incorrectly and it was Ernest, but it was really Honest. Godfrey told us what to expect tomorrow at the start of our climb. It's getting more real as each hour passes.

We walked over to Mauly Tours and rented what additional gear we needed. Then we took a short walk around some of the streets in Moshi including the double road (the major road in Moshi).

 Then it was a short rest, dinner and bed. Tomorrow we are supposed to leave at 10:00am for the Marangu Gate to purchase the permit to climb. I'd say to wish us luck but at this stage, we don't need luck. We need stamina.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tanzania: Departure and Arrival Days

The day has finally arrived and we are on our way to Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Sunita and I agreed to meet at the Tim Horton's at Toronto's Terminal 1 at 1:00pm yesterday. I waited at the Tim's and when she didn't arrive like she was supposed to, I went to check the arrivals board but her flight was not listed. I checked with an Air Canada agent and she said there were no flights arriving from Edmonton till 2:00pm. I then realised that she was arriving at Terminal 3 with WestJet. She figured out at the same time (while waiting at an unfamiliar Tim's in Terminal 3) that we were at different terminals so we texted each other and I went to T3 to meet her.
Shortly after that, Abbi arrived from Calgary followed by Sabena who overnighted in Toronto. We were a bit anxious because Donna F and Donna L were not there. We went through security and started boarding still without Donna and Donna. As we got closer to the gate, they arrived having been slower through security because of a long line up. We greeted each other (this is the first time I was meeting Donna F although I felt like I already knew her from conversations over the years with Sabena).
We boarded a very full flight to Amsterdam and were scattered around the plane with Sunita and I in the same 3-person row with one person in between us. We both prefer aisle seats so when we were offered to sit next to each other, we declined.
We arrived in Amsterdam about 7:00 am - a bit tired but feeling excited. We found a baby change washroom and used that to freshen up by give ourselves a sponge bath and a change of clothes and brushing our teeth. It felt really good after a night in the plane.
We bought some coffee and a croissant and boarded our 10:05 flight to Kilimanjaro.
L to R: Abbi, Sandra, Sunita, Donna L, Sabena, Donna F

We arrived in Kilimanjaro at about 8:00 pm and after clearing Customs and Immigration, we were met by Hilda from Shades of Green Safaris. I bought her a bottle of Canadian maple syrup as a small gift for working through our itinerary with us. And then we were off to Moshi for the first of our two nights stay at the Parkview Inn before the climb.
By the time we got there, it was after 9:30 and the restaurant on site was closed so Nadir from Mauly Tours who is the subcontractor for the climb part of the itinerary offered to drive us to a local restaurant that was still open at 10:00 pm (this is unusual) and we got some samosas and tea.
We went back to the hotel for a good night's sleep but not before I took a cold shower because we couldn't figure out how to switch on the hot water tank in the room (and then needed to wait for 20 minutes for the water to heat up). I was too tired to wait and the cold shower wasn't that bad. We hit the bed about 11:45pm. After two long days of travelling, the bed felt good.
Tomorrow is gear rental and final preparations for the big start on Saturday.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tanzania: Less than 24 hours till departure

The first leg of our 26 hour journey to get from Winnipeg/Calgary/Edmonton to Kilimanjaro has started.
Sabena is on her way to Toronto today. Sunita leaves Edmonton tomorrow morning at 7am. Abbi leaves Calgary tomorrow at 8am. I leave Winnipeg tomorrow at 9am. Donna and Donna leave Calgary tomorrow at 9:30am. We individually arrive in Toronto from 12:30pm to 3:15pm and we meet at the departure gate for our Kili flight.
My suitcase is just at 50 pounds but my backpack hardly has anything in it.  I think I am so well prepared that today is a bit of an anticlimax.

I checked in for my Winnipeg/Toronto flight and me Toronto/Kilimanjaro flight.



Sunday, October 06, 2013

Tanzania: 2 more sleeps till we leave

I was scheduled to go on my last long (14 km) hike today but I got up this morning with so many things to do, that I decided against the hike. It would have been about 8 hours (3 hr. travel time to and from the trailhead, a 3.5-4 hour hike and then a community supper).
Instead I spent the time packing, weighing, unpacking, weighing, sorting, weighing, alternating different clothes, weighing .... well, you get the idea. I finally settled on not taking a sleeping bag. I'll rent one when I get to Moshi. I have a duffel bag on wheels that I will take my stuff in and another duffel bag (inside the big one) to take my clothes up the mountain. I've sorted my backpack that I will take on the plane with me and laid out my travel clothes plus one set of extra clothes in case my luggage is delayed (that's not going to happen though).  
My bag weighs about 46 pounds in total but the gear that I'll be taking up the mountain weighs about 25 pounds. I will still have to add my sleeping bag and mat but I hope that doesn't weigh more than 8 pounds.
I am almost ready except for the regular things to do at the end. I'm calling it a day and going to bed early - for a change.