The answer is: it has lots of trees and even more rain! Today we walked for four hours in the pouring rain. It feels so surreal to be writing about our first day of walking on Kilimanjaro.
It makes the most sense to start at the beginning of the day and going from there really, so I’ll go back to 6 a.m. I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke before the alarm and double checked all of our bags to make sure that we had everything we needed for the next seven days. We had done some washing last night but our clothes were still wet so I packed them into a dry sack (one of the most useful things I brought with me) and put them in the top of my backpack.
We went for breakfast and I had to force myself to eat, I was so nervous and excited. We were all packed and ready to go by 8 a.m. but, unlike the safari, our guide was a little late and we didn’t get going until 8.30 a.m. We hopped into the Land Rover to see two familiar faces – Fitael was driving and Juma was in the back. Fitael was just driving us to Machame Gate but Juma would be our cook for the whole climb. Also inside the Land Rover was Matthew, our guide, Elia, our assistant guide and an additional three porters. Matthew told us that he would be picking up the rest of our porters at Machame Gate as we would need eight or nine in total.
The drive to Machame Gate was only an hour and a half and the nerves changed to excitement and anticipation. The poor weather meant the we weren’t able to see Kilimanjaro, even now, after being in Tanzania for seven days we still haven’t seen the mountain (I can’t decide whether that’s a blessing in disguise or not). We stopped along the way to pick up some supplies and Sean invested in a wonderful Kili sun hat!
By the time we reached the Machame Gate the weather was fairly bad – it was very foggy and the rain was really quite heavy. The car park area at the Gate can only be described as organised chaos, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how organised it actually was! We said our goodbyes to Fitael and Matthew led us down to the main gate where we had to sign in. We were then left in some kind of holding pen with lots of other wet, nervous looking tourists whilst our bags were weighed and our porters selected.
Matthew brought our duffel bags down to us along with the items that we hired and we had to fight for a good 20 minutes to try and cram our sleeping bags and parka jackets into our already full bags. In the end, the sleeping bags went inside our bags and the coats were strapped to the top of the bags and covered with the waterproof covers we had brought with us (another item I would highly recommend taking with you).
Everyone in the holding pen was just waiting with uncertain expectancy with no real guidance as to how long things might take or when they might be setting off on their amazing adventure. We were given lunch boxes which we took to mean that we were going to be here for some time so we sat down and tucked in to our lunches (we later found out that we weren’t meant to have eaten them and that we should have saved it for later!)
After about an hour of waiting Elia came to meet us and said that we would be leaving soon. Matthew came to join us and explained that he would be setting a very slow pace which we were to keep to and after that, we were on our way! We walked through the car park, past the baggage weighing area and through the main gate. And that was it, we were finally climbing Kilimanjaro!
The incline was fairly steep but nothing too drastic or difficult. We worked our way through the rainforest in the pouring rain for hours and hours. A steady stream of porters passed us, all carrying huge amounts of bags, food, chairs, tables etc. I was finding it difficult enough just carrying my day pack – I have so much admiration for the porters and all of the hard work that they do.
The path continued much the same all the way up to the first camp, Machame Hut. The forest was very lush and green (unfortunately, due to the rain, we didn’t take many photos). We stopped briefly for lunch, which is when we realised we shouldn’t have already eaten! Then we carried on walking up and up towards the camp. About an hour and a half before we reached the camp Sean said that his boots were leaking and his “waterproof” jacket wasn’t keeping the water out any more.
By the time we reached camp we were completely soaking wet and quite cold but we had made it! Day one of the Kilimanjaro climb was done! We had to sign in at the main hut (Matthew has told us that we have to sign in at each camp so that the rangers can keep track of who is where on the mountain)
The porters had arrived not long before us and had just finished putting up our tent as we left the main hut. The inside of the tent was soaking wet, as were all of our bags and the clothes inside. Looking around the camp and hearing the other people here, it was clear that absolutely nothing had made it to camp dry. We were both feeling quite frustrated at the situation but obviously, there’s nothing anyone can do about the weather. After a lot of difficulty and raised voices both Sean and myself had managed to peel our wet clothes off and put on the driest things we could find (Sean proved that trying to take off wet clothes in a tent when you’re over 6ft tall is very, very challenging. It is, however, hilarious to watch!) We did our best to arrange our bags etc. so that we had a place to sleep in the driest part of the tent and so that we could lay the wettest items of our clothes out on to our bags in an attempt to dry them. We hung our socks and smaller items up inside the tent in an attempt to dry them out too.
Before long, we were called into the “mess tent” where we were given hot drinks to warm up with. A few of the porters were huddled around the stove with Juma who was busy cooking our dinner. We had a nice chat with them although, due to a distinct lack of light in the tent, I have no idea who were we talking to. Matthew joined us and we had dinner of soup followed by Tilapia, potatoes and veg. Matthew insisted on serving my food for me to ensure that I was eating enough and the portion he gave me was huge and completely over-faced me. I was pressured into eating all of the food in front of me (at the time, I was quite unhappy about this however, one thing you will learn when climbing Kilimanjaro is to trust your guide 100% – there is no way that I would have made it anywhere near to the top without the guidance, assistance and encouragement from Matthew and Elia and I am so grateful to them).
After another round of hot drinks and some more chatting with Matthew and the porters we made a quick trip to the toilet.
Every blog I read about Kilimanjaro before we came here seemed to avoid talking about the toilet situation but I’m not going to do that. The toilets are a big part of the experience and need to be talked about so I apologise if you don’t enjoy the next couple of lines of this blog! The toilet was a single wooden shed with a hole in the floor. This one had a door however, some of the others didn’t. It absolutely stank once you were inside but you couldn’t smell it from the camp so that wasn’t an issue. It took some getting used to but after the second or third time of using a “squatty potty” it just felt normal.
We are now sat in our tent listening to the rain outside contemplating what tomorrow will bring for us. The camp is quietening down and it seems like most people are heading for bed now.