In this journal:
- the peak of Africa;
- 2 porters having a dandy ol’time;
- a “mountain ambulance”.
The crowded shuttle bus came to a halt in the muddy town of Arusha. Most of the locals had already got off, and most of the foreigners were travelling to the more touristy town of Moshi. Yin and I got off with our bags, and were greeted by the local operator. We were shuttled to our hotel, a bleak building on the corner of a relatively central street. The tour agency we were associated to was at the bottom floor of this hotel, and we quickly figured out our itinerary. Yin was gonna continue with even more safari, while I switch my gears and would climb Mountain Kilimanjaro. We met up, AGAIN, with Ausarine and Joao, and they were more than excited to see us as well! Well, we could not just get rid of them huh? We decided to go for some pizza in the local expat restaurant called Blue Heron, and it was simply OUT OF THIS WORLD.
The restaurant had a great garden, awesome staff, and a chic outdoor seating area. We could not care less as we were all starving, and munched down entire pizzas with no issue. We then returned to the hotel preparing the next parts of the trips by ourselves. We met again downstairs for our dinner, and we decided to go lazy and just eat in the slightly overpriced, okay, quite overpriced, in-hotel restaurant. We had a great dinner, with all kinds of random local food, and of course, the famous Kilimanjaro beer! Now that is some reward I gave myself before I finished climbing that mountain, and it is called preward! (which never worked)
Day 1 : tropical drylands —> alpine rainforest
elevation gain: 550m/1800ft
Upon morning, I had to bid farewell to Yin, Ausarine, and Juao. They would continue to Serengeti, while I head west for the highest point in Africa. I met with my guide Frank, and he was slightly weathered, with a lot of wrinkles on the side of his eyes. He bore an expedition hat, and some long boots. The fact that he seemed very calm made me suspect he had done this business for many years. We hopped onto the transport along with my gears, and I was beyond excited for who would be joining me in the climb of lifetime. What if I make a best friend out of this experience?
I WAS WRONG. I WAS SO GODDAMN WRONG.
My porters got onto the van a few minutes later, and then my chef, and then their gears, and then the stove, the food, the tent, the trekking pole, and we were on our way, riding off on the Tanzanian highway. “Are we expecting anyone else?” I asked. Frank replied with a smirk:”No, it is just you.”
Of course, the best experience in my life always just consist of me, myself and I. I went for the cheapest option out there for a Kilimanjaro climb, and normal logic goes that the cheaper it is, the more people they will try to cram into one group. Heck, even all the other expensive groups were more than 5 people usually. Maybe it was because I am just too ugly or had such a bad attitude, people went out of their ways to avoid being in the same group with me, how do I know! Anyways, this was gonna be an extremely lonely journey as well, just like all of my previous experiences with life, which did not forbode well. (much lonely, very complain, wow) The minivan carrying my expedition team made a stop for breakfast, and I quickly bought some energy food for the climb. I met some other groups doing other routes, and they had at least a team of 3, and some of them even had to drive a bus to carry everyone! Then we continued west, instead of everyone else’s north, because I wanted to take a different route for the summit, which I will talk about later. We traded the highway for a narrow road, and then for a dirt one, and then for a dirt one that has more crators than the moon. Everything was tossed around in the vehicle, until one of our tires busted.
It took us some good twenty minutes to fix up the tire with the backup one, during which I familiarized myself with some local children in the sunflower fields. I was still excited, don’t get me wrong, but I was just a bit dejected for being so lonely. This time it would be on a mountain above clouds, for a solid week. We then slowly made our way to the Kilimanjaro National Park, since the backup tire could not take too much pressure. We arrived fashionably late at the Londorosi Gate, which was absolutely a mess during this hour. People were finishing up lunch, and the porters were busy weighing their bags, since park regulation restricts the weight each person can carry to 20kg. The guides were busy filling up the forms for park entry, and drivers were busy loading/offloading goods and gears.
We stayed for about an hour there since it was faster for smaller groups, and we were able to get back to the van around 1 pm. This was not the gate we were heading out for, but used for all the formalities. After about half an hour, we were at Lemosho Gate, where my route, Lemosho Route, officially began the climb. This gate was much quieter, since Lemosho was the longest route and most scenic, all people here were hardcore climbers, as others prefer shorter routes.
Before I actually start detailing the journey to the top of Africa, I think I shall entertain you with some background information. The Kilimanjaro mountain is sitting at 5895m/19300ft in northern Tanzania. It is a volcano but is long dead. It is the closest place to equator to have permanent snow. It is also the tallest free standing mountain, meaning that it has the biggest prominence of any mountain. The climate ranges from tropical in the bottom to polar at the peak, which makes climbing itself a trip around the world as well. To reach to the top, one has to hire a guide and porters. Usually, every two to three people need a guide, and each person needs at least 4 porters to carry the food, the pots and utensils, the tent, the gas tank and other utilities. This results in a huge number of staff travelling with a group, sometimes a bus full of porters and guides just for a group of 5: remember, the porters and guides need their food and tents as well. Thus, in most of the time, you just see porters going fast and passing you, with very few climbers on the way. They usually go very fast ahead of the climbers, so they could reach the camp to set up the tent and cook for them. The porters used to be able to carry 50kg+, until some ugly accidents prompted the park to limit the weight to 20kg. One porter also functions as a waiter for the group, serving the climbers their food, water and warm water for washing. Another one is the chef, who has to prepare meals which can be tricky, since some affected by altitude sickness may lose their appetite.
Climbing the roof of Africa is not cheap. The normal price ranges from $2000 to $3000, and on top of it, tip for every porter involved in your group. The standard is $10 per porter per day, so it can add up significantly if you have a bus full of them. Other than that, it is all inclusive, as the guide fee, the food, transportation, park entrance, and tent are all included. Gears are up to you, though. Some high end tour agencies, usually charging over $5000 per person, will have extra porters carrying toilets, and communal dining tents for the group. I, of course, went for the cheapest I could find on the longest route, which ended up as about $1500. The climb is mostly just flat walking, and depend on the route, some harder sections. No advance techniques are required. There are more than 5 routes, and the most popular route is Machame, which can be done in 6 days even by my grandma. I chose Lemosho because it is supposed to be the longest but most beautiful, and I can say it was a great decision.
Since a lot of the days will be spent above 3500m/11000ft, the prevention of altitude sickness is crucial. Drink lots of water, avoid physically streneous activities, and most importantly, do not rush. In the Kili dictionary, it is Pole Pole, which means slow in the local tongues. This was almost regarded as the golden rule on this mountain. If you rush, you will found yourself out of breath, with severe headache that prevents you from sleeping, loss of appetite, and even fainting as you gasp for the thin air.
Now let’s get back to the adventure! The first day is mostly damp temporal rainforest, as the gate was already sitting at 2100m/6900ft. The walk was very pleasant, just moderate ups and downs, and the mud trail was not especially slippery. Frank walked especially slow, as he was implementing the Pole Pole policy from day 1.
The 3 hour trek felt almost like a walk in the park. There were monkeys howling in the distance, and traces of holes dug by boars could be seen everywhere. Different kinds of flowers and orchids were competing for my attention, and the thick fog signified that I was walking in the depth of the clouds.
Before the clock stroke 4, I walked into a cleared piece of land, and I realized we were at the first camp! The name is Mti Mkumbwa, and it means giant trees, as they surround the campsite like a fortress wall. I had to register at the ranger post, and my tent was being set up. It was very chilly in the soggy mist, and I had absolutely nothing to do, since we arrived 1 hour earlier than Frank predicted.
I stood around, shivering in the wet cold, trying to look for someone to talk with. But as usual, all other climbers were absolutely not interested in talking to me. Come on, what can knowing an ugly Asian dude do any good? It was not the most comfortable afternoon in my life. I eventually walked into the tent that Frank and all other porters shared. It was WARM LIKE FALLING IN LOVE. A stove was going on, with my dinner-some chicken and fried fish-bubbling on it, and everyone sat on the bags and on the ground. The porters and guides sleep, eat, and cook in it. One of them, the waiter, told me he would bring me my food to my tent, so I cralwed back into my cold tent. After shivering for another while, I was served a great soup, and then a hearty meal with potatoes and fish. Oh boy that was so great… I wiped the plate clean, and asked for some more. I passed out quickly after, since the sky got quite dark and there was nothing to do. I left all unnecessary items back in Arusha. No books to read, no internet (no phone signal and no electricity), no tentmate to talk to, and no girlfriend to cuddle with, ok I am joking I already got very used to the last one. I shuddered myself into a night of slumber.
Day 2: alpine rainforest —> highland moorland
elevation gain: 1200m/4000ft
I was awoken by the commotion in the camp before dawn. Frank had told me that I would have to wake up earlier than others, because I am just awesome, or because I could enjoy the trail without disturbance. Well I will leave it up for you to decide. Only the tent of my group of porters was bustling at that time, as everyone was still either waking up or dead asleep. I quickly had my breakfast, which consisted of some pancakes and other stews, and packed my things. I could leave my tent behind as the porters were in charge of assembling and taking it apart, so I could get under way as the first person leaving the camp. Interestingly, I did not have to sign out of the ranger station, so I was walking on the trail with Frank just after sunrise. The fog/cloud had retreated to lower altitude already, so I could see very far. Monkeys scurried away as we moved past their territory, and the pristine forest was filled with bird chirps, tiny streams tingling with water, and butterflies.
The first hour went by as a very easy uphill walk, until we walked out of the tree line. The trees slowly gave ways to a special kind of bush land, and the views became much wider. I could see all the way downhill to the towns.
Then the climb became very gruesome. The altitude kicked in, and the slope became significantly steeper for the next good two hours. By ten o’clock, we were in the middle of a huge valley which itself had some unique habitats. We had to climb down the valley and climb up the other way. By 11 a.m., I was exhausted already, but it looked like it was still a long way to the lunch stop. “Just 15 more minutes!” Frank said. Well, he lied.
It took me a good 1 hour of walking to get to Shira I camp. Quite a handful of porters had already taken over us despite our headstart. However, they ran like crazy, and their actual destination for the day was this camp, while our goal was to skip this camp so we could speed up the climb. By noon, I arrived in the Shira I camp. The other climbers I met yesterday were all heading this way, and their porters were busy building their tents, while I was just this good that it became my lunch spot.
We had an awesome hot lunch at Shira I, and after a good hour of break, I was ready to continue. By that time, some of the climbers also had reached the camp, but that was their end of ascent that day, while I was barely half way. I continued climbing, and before too long I even overtook a few people who had departed Shira I camp this morning! The bush quickly disappeared as this side of the mountain has much harsher winds and less precipitation. I had reached some kind of grasslands which is absolutely stunning. I turned on my phone with some Imagine Dragon songs, and the climb became really pleasant. The climb was very gentle, but I had some large distances to cover.
The climb continued for a good 4 hours, and the last stretch suddenly became very steep. Big bushes gave way to small bushes, and small bushes gave way to tiny bushes, and quickly there were only tiny blobs of grass left. Since Shira II had no water, I had to get some water for myself on my way up the hills. I filled up my bottle with fresh snow water, just like the early explorers did, and I eventually reached the camp, which was located on top of a ridge.
The view was pleasant initially, but there were clouds covering the peak of the mountain. I talked with a few other trekkers who turned out to also be Canadians, and their daughter was also studying in USA. They were on a luxury trek, which included a public tent for all their members of the team. Well, and look at me, just a small tent with incalculable amount of solitude. They eventually had to leave me be as they had to eat dinner, and I found out that the clouds cleared out. The view of the peak was simply breathtaking.
After watching a glorious sunset from my tent, it became really cold so that I had to retreat into my sleeping bag. I had a great night of sleep, and I dreamt not being alone on this climb, and that made me smile in my slumber.
Day 3: highland moorland —> alpine tundra
elevation gain: 750m/2450ft
I had an early morning as well, since Frank wanted to rush me through the climb. I had my breakfast, and set out as the sun was beginning to rise. The climb was very pleasant in the beginning, but quickly got quite steep. Putting some drop of oxygen on top of it, that became one of the hardest workouts even though I had no symptoms of altitude sickness.
After an hour, we reached a strange stone pile. Upon walking around it, we found out that it was actually a grave. Ian McKeever apparently gave his life to this sacred mountain. We paid our respect by putting another pebble on top of the pile, as all climbers around the world do for people who devoted their lives to getting ever higher.
As we continued, I could not help but think: is it worth it, to lose one’s life climbing mountains? I think so. I think the best way to do something is to do something with all your best efforts. If you do something you like, something you LOVE, then there is nothing too much to feel sorry for, even if it means dying for it. And for me, I think I do love challenging myself, including climbing tall mountains. It is not about climbing a mountain; it is about becoming a better self, and I am willing to devote my life to it.
We continued to climb, and quickly even the grass disappeared. Just the sun, rocks, and me. We continued to climb, and after two hours of excruciatingly hard climb, I reached the Lava Tower before noon. The climb was absolutely insane, as I gained a lot of altitude in just a morning, but that was great for acclimatization.
We had lunch there, and then descended down back to join the main trail. The lunch, though boxed, was still fantastic. Fried fish, banana, juice box, sandwiches, it must had been my birthday! (okay joking, in reality my birthdays usually have worse food than this.) The lava tower is a rock tower made of lava-cooled granite rocks. (duh) Erosion took away most of the other softer rocks and left this giant piece of rock standing there, which was great for a camp to be set up.
I hate descending. Climbing up is slow and fun. You get to see new things, and you get to take breaks if you want. However, going downhill is fast and dangerous. If you make a mistake, you are more than likely to fall. Frank seemed to know that, and sprinted his way down back to the main trail like he was attempting murder. Lava Tower Camp sits at 4600m/15100ft, and we had to descend a solid 600m/2000ft before we could rejoin the trail. It was not particularly steep, but it was absolutely traumatizing with that kind of speed. I felt like my leg bones were clashing with each other in my joints, and my shoes sustained significant abrasion from simply skipping over so many rocks. It must be some kind of miracle that I did not sprained my ankle. Within 2 hours, grass returned, and bushes returned, but this time the kind of plants seemed to be really strange.
By 3 pm, I finally reached the Baranco Camp, which was my destination for the day. I signed in and put down the wrong date, since I copied the person before me but it turned out I was the first one on that day! It was nuts, I went to a different camp and came back down, literally walking an extra 5 km and climbing an extra 600m, and I was still faster than all others!?
Since I was super early, I had a great location for my tent. The tent faces the cloud covered horizon, while having its back against the peak of the mountain. I did almost nothing for the rest of the time. There was no phone signal, no radio signal, no electricity, no internet, no books since I need to minimize the weight, nobody to play with, nobody to talk with, no animals to play with, no food to eat, no drinks to drink, no tissue to cry with, and no comfy bed to sleep with. It was one of the times that I realized I REALLY had nothing to do, and I absolutely hate that. I always try to maximize my efficiency with things, especially time, but this is almost the exact opposite of that. I just sat against the rock, stared into the cloudy distance, for hours, and hours…
As the sun slowly started to set, the clouds surrounding the peak cleared again, showing its orange glow from the mighty dusk rays. The snow cover and the crimson rocks made it a great sight to behold. I tried to talk to a few other trekkers who arrived later, but all of them seemed to be too tired to hold onto a conversation, or simply just not interested in talking to me. How am I supposed to know, as if I am some kind of friendship expert? I enjoyed some sunset, but it was extremely early since I was now at the eastern side of the mountain, which had the sun being covered by a ridge around 5 pm.
I had a great dinner by myself, and I sat outside after darkness, my old friend, set in. I got really bored, so I decided to stay in Frank and the porters’ camp for a bit, even though a lot of other people do not like to engage with porters. I got really curious of what they were making for dinner. And it turns out that they are making a kind of local food that they eat for a lot of energy. What it looked like was some kind of corn powder mixed with water and cooked by stirring, along with a very salty stew of vegetables and little fish. It looked like it had okra, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and onion. I wanted to have some too, so of course they served me a bit. However, I tried to mix the sticky corn powder first. It was so hard. I almost broke my hand mixing a pot of virtually what I would call glue.
And it turned out okay, as the saltiness of the stew complements the tasteless glue very well. A little bit bitterness also helped me from getting nauseated from this kind of texture. 9/10 would try again.
Since I was so high (haha), and there was minimal light as the cloud was beneath me, covering up the light coming from the ground, the stars were responsible to light up the cold nights up here. I could clearly see some constellations, and the milky way was visible after some time of adjustment. I stared into the night sky, as a shooting star flied by. I contemplated about how, why and what I was doing here. I felt really lucky, as some people will never be able to see such beautiful night skies like this, and definitely fewer people get to do what I was doing, not to mention at the age of just 21. However, I could not help but to feel jealous for those who were able to find a company, no matter how their circumstances are. I once heard someone say that he would rather just live a normal life with great company than living a fantastic life with none. Is he wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Does seeing and doing something extraordinary all by myself inferior than doing the same thing with someone you really care about? Definitely. But trade a lifetime of good company for a lifetime of amazing experiences? Now that is a difficult bargain. I don’t know what I prefer, but I know I can get by with what I have. The night drew darker, and I had to retreat back to my tent as the glacial wind was blowing downhill with heart-piercing coldness.
Day 4: alpine tundra —> polar desert
elevation gain: 700m/2300ft
Again, I woke up earlier than most of the other trekkers, as I had to skip another camp this day. The sun just rose over the other side of the ridge, so the camp was in the shadows as I departed. The first part of this day’s trek is a little bit of easy rock climbing over the Baranco Wall. However, add another 4000m height on top of this, it was not an easy feat. The fact that the nearest medical attention would be two days away from here also did not help either. The first good hour and half was just spent criss-crossing on the rock wall right next to the camp, so by the time I reached the top, I could see the camp down there finally getting ready to move out. On top of the rock cliff, the views were simply stunning. Clouds had been covering the entire area ever since I started, so the mountain did not feel as tall as I felt like I was walking on an island above the ocean of clouds.
After a short break at the top of the Baranco Wall, it only got harder. First it was gentle hills along the side of the mountain, but after an hour, it quickly turned into an extremely steep valley. Sometimes I had to reverse my body to face the cliff in order to climb down. It was clearly a valley cut by glacial river of snow melted from the peak. After filling up my water bottle at the bottom, it turned into a slow grind back up the other side of the valley. After a solid hour, I finally reached the Karanga Camp on top of it. The camp is completely exposed to the elements, with just even more mountain behind it. It does have a great view though, since it is on the tip of a ridge.
After a little break, I was ready to head out to continue the trek. A lot of people would finish here today but I was just too good for this 😉 . The incline was moderate after this, and we slowly made our way up, and up, and up. Grass slowly gave way to tiny flower bushes, and bushes quickly disappeared for good. It was just rocks, pebbles, rocks, boulders, and more rocks.
I reached a pile of rocks that I really like, and I suggested we have lunch there. I opened up my boxed lunch, and it was again full of goodies that I desperately wanted. Interestingly, I still had a great appetite despite I was really high up already. Altitude sickness ain’t got shit on me! Quickly a few friends joined me for lunch, and I gladly fed them some chicken bones and bread crumbs.
The climb continued for another 3 hours. It was just really, really long, and I was going really, really slowly. Finally, around 4 p.m., I reached the last camp, Barafu Camp. This camp is MASSIVE. One side of the campsite to the other takes 20 minutes of walk. All 5 routes converge somewhere before this, and every group has to camp here before summiting and after that. However, there is no water around here, so I had to carry some more natural snow water with myself for the next two days.
Then I was settled in my tent, and quickly had a meal before taking a nap. Why so early you ask? Well, you silly little egg benedict, I need to wake up at midnight to go for summitting! I had an awesome pasta meal, and I slept for a solid 5 hours.
Day 5, summit day: polar desert —> ???
elevation gain: 1200m/4000ft
By midnight, my waiter-porter opened my tent to offer me some water and tea. I got ready, put on all my gears, and set off with Frank. A lot of people had already left, leaving a trail of headlamps above me. The night was very cold, and under so many layers of professional climbing jackets, I still felt incredibly chilly. Stars were all shining bright, but only to be out-competed by the full moon. This last leg is the most brutal, as the camp is almost 1200 meters below the peak, and that means I had to gain that much altitude in a short time span of 5 hours in order to witness the sunrise on top of Africa. Just as a comparison, in the first four days, I did not have anything close to this kind of elevation gain, and the higher up, the more dangerous it is. Acute altitude syndrome can easily kill you in a painful way. I do not have any pictures to show as it was just me walking slowly under the moonlight with Frank.
I was relatively quick in the climb, and I played some music just to keep myself from falling down since I was quite tired, very out of breath like everyone 5000m above sea level, and extremely cold. When we started out, it must had felt like -15°C/5°F, but as time slowly progressed into the wee hours, it went as low as -30°C/-20°F with wind chill. My feet froze even under a think pair of boots and the thickest socks I could find. My nose were running like a broken facet, my breath’s moisture froze on my parka, and I could not feel my hands even though I was wearing a thick pair of gloves. It was the coldest I had felt in my life.
The climb was very steep, and it seemed to be never ending. For the first four hours, Frank and I just meandered our way up this steep slope, passing many larger groups who were resting or helping each other warm up. There was a group of ladies in their forties who appeared to be in significantly acute altitude sickness were sitting on the side of the trail, breathing heavily. One was feeding another water only to realize that all the water they had had frozen. I eventually saw a group coming down, and apparently two of the members of that group were unable to carry on, and their guide escorted them back down to the camp. It was never a good idea to push yourself too much on this kind of elevation. Simply put, if you play tough, you die.
I continued with Frank, passing more and more people, until about 4 hours in the climb. The coldness at 4 a.m. was absolutely devastating. I could not move my hands even if I put them in my pockets while wearing gloves. I completely lost connection with my legs and I was just dragging them with my thighs. My shoes had a thick layer of dust and frost on it, and my bag was frozen rigid. My phone died quickly after as extreme coldness completely shut down the battery by gapping the electric potential difference, making anything with lithium batteries unusable. It must be one of the times in my life that I realized how precious life is, and how fragile it can be…
At around 5 a.m., I finally finished the last stretch of my steep climb. This part is so steep because it is the “cone” of the volcano, and now I had reached the edge of the crater. This point was called Stellar Point, and oh boy the stars! I could see hundreds, if not thousands, of stars shining all around me. No clouds, no light pollution, no annoying disco balls spinning with brain-shattering beats. It was just me, on top of a huge mountain, surrounded by the milky way stretching from on side of the horizon to the other. It felt like some kind of celestial heaven, as there were stars all around me, even below me. This must be what our ancestors saw, and this must be what inspired them to create, to inquire, to admire, and to revel. This is the kind of thing that makes you humble, very, very humble.
The climb was not over, though, as I needed to continue and reach for the absolute top of Africa: Uhuru Peak. The climb was very gentle, but after 5 hours of steep climbing with no break at all, I was simply not myself anymore. I walked like a machine slowly up the slope. Slowly the sandy ground started to have ice, and then before I realized, I was walking on ice altogether! Who would have thought I got to touch snow for the 6th summer in a row, and this time it is in Africa?
Another 50 minutes passed, and I finally saw the thing I was coming for. The famous sign indicating that I had reached the roof of the continent, and… basically that is it. Yeah… not the most exciting place to be, but hey, it is the journey up there that matters!
Two groups of people had already reached there, but the sun was still not up. The white light gleaming from the east was just enough to shun all the stars in the sky, and that indicates the sun should be coming up quite soon. I looked around, congratulated with Frank, and waited for the sun to rise.
In about 2o minutes, as I was barely enough to hold myself against all the coldness, the sky started turning orange. Quickly, the bright warm color spread through the horizon like wildfire. The entire sky was lit up in a fire of glory, hope, and warmth. Before too long, the sun poked its head out, and waved a good morning to everyone strong enough to reach the peak before its advent.
Needless to say, this must be the best sunrise I had seen in my short life. It was not about the sheer beauty that put everyone speechless, but about the fact after so many days of hard climbing and coldness, I was able to felt that I finally accomplished something. It was that kind of warm fuzzy feeling you feel inside when you realize you worked just so hard for so long, that you finally achieved the moment you had dreamt and imagined so many times in your head. For some, it is like first time confessing to a girl he really likes. You practice so many times against the mirror and in the shower, just for that one moment. For me, it is more like finally finishing a full bucket of KFC family meal. Ah, the sweet taste of victory…
We quickly started our descent after the sunrise. I needed sleep and food and warmth, and I knew I had to go all the way down back to my tent for some comfort. The walk back to Stellar Point was pointless (haha), and the steep descent down really killed my boots. It was probably one of the hardest I had done. Basically you have to slide with the pebbles that completely took over the descent route. It felt more like skiing on top of rocks instead of actual walking, since it was too steep and slippery to actually walk down. This continued for a solid hour, which made me realize my knees were too hurt that it could not express how painful it was anymore. I got back to my tent, got my certificate, and crashed into my sleeping bag. Ah, that is what burnt out feels like.
I woke up around 1 pm, to have my lunch/breakfast/dinner. The food was not that great this time as the chef had started running out of materials to work with, and because I was so exhausted that I had no appetite. After the meal, I started working my way down the return route. The walk was significantly easier with gentle slopes downwards. However, within one hour of walking, I found some bizarre metal things lying by the side of the road.
I asked Frank what the hell this was, and why the fuck it was doing in the middle of nowhere. He told me that it was for those who were injured or with severe altitude sickness. Four porters will hold each side of this “mountain ambulance”, and they will run down the trail with this glorified unicycle as fast as they can to seek medical attention. Frank said it would be quite common to see one, but I doubted it. However, another ten minutes of walk brought me to this even weirder thing.
“This is for dead people.” Frank said.
“this is FOR WHAT!?” I was taken aback.
“People die on this mountain all the time. Some people just like to push themselves. So we use this to carry their bodies and wait for a helicopter to pick it up.”
“Yeah, in my 30 years I have seen a lot of dead people on this mountain. When I was a ranger, it happened almost every week.” Frank casually explained.
“Well, FUCK.” I apparently ran out of words.
We continued the pleasant walk for another two hours before we reached Millennium Camp. It was the primary descent route camp, so it was quite large as well. However, as I was ready to sign into the ranger station, I heard some commotion on the other side of the camp. I ran there with Frank and the ranger to see what happened.
Well, apparently Frank was right. All four porters greeted Frank like he was their father. 30 years on the mountain surely gets you something amongst the people. He examined this older white dude on the mountain ambulance, and apparently he got snow blindness. It is a very dangerous phenomenon that happens to some people when you look at way too much bright white things, and can easily faint you when coupled with altitude. He was given permission to keep going down to Mweka camp and even more until he reach a park maintenance road so that he could be transported to a hospital. Quickly the commotion calmed down, and I settled into my tent.
I found a neighboring group and they were a group of nice people who climbed the mountain as a charity. A few crazy Aussies and a local Tanzanian, along with an OZ businessman Nathan who was in charge of the charity-based tourism agency made quite a rare sight. They invited me to eat with them, so I had to move my dinner finally to a table they had in their dining tent! It was a great experience actually eating on a table, who would know! We talked for almost forever, and then two girls showed me how they stripped naked (oh yeah, naked. did I mention this blog is not for kids?) on top of the mountain. Man, those Aussies are hella weird. We had a great time there, and I surely felt not-so-lonely once for such a long time. Thanks guys for such great experience!
I went and paid the porters and Frank their tips. It was costly, but I believed we were a great team working together, so I tipped them a lot. They all became quite elated, and started a song. It started with my motivation to climb the mountain, and how beautiful this holy volcano is, and my detailed itinerary, my “heroic” summitting experience, and my generosity. The song echoed around the bushes and cliffs, slowly disappeared in the cloud forest far away. It was a great night, and I was so happy that I made my dream come true. I always loved climbing mountains, because that is challenging myself to reach literally new heights. Thus I wanted to do 7 summits, which is detailed in my bucket list. This marked my first of the seven summits, and I will do everything I can to achieve my dreams. Without dreams to pursue, what is the difference between living and dying?
I woke up for an early morning, and departed from Millennium Camp after bidding farewell to Nathan and his fellas. The walk was very nice, as grass gave way to bushes, and bushes gave way to trees. I reached Mweka Camp around 9 am, and by that time there were only some porters washing and cleaning. I continued down into the dense forest. As I slowly walked downhill, I got closer and closer to the clouds, and eventually, after so many days, I finally re-immersed myself within the clouds. The cloudiness turned into gloominess, and before too long I was walking in a drizzle. Not your normal chocolate drizzle, real tropical forest drizzle. I descended more than 1000m in two hours after that, and the muddy condition made it incredibly slippery and dangerous. The view was stunning, though, as I was back in the lush green forest along with a lot of wildlife.
I finally reached the maintainance road around 10:30 am. And I saw the “mountain ambulance” abandoned by the side of the road. Hope that guy was alright. Then I walked along the road for another half an hour, and I reached the gate of the Mweka route. I did it! I made to the top of Africa and back! I finished a route that usually takes more than 8 days in 6 days, and with relative ease and no altitude sickness. I also could not wait to be part of civilization again.
I passed by the town Moshi before heading back to where I came from. On the way, the porters were dropped off around the town, and I bid farewell to them as well. They now got their paycheck and my tip, and could enjoy some quality time with their families. I was glad that everything went smoothly like a good cup of Talenti gelato, and I found myself driving back with just Frank after the local lunch.
I made it all the way back to Arusha. Frank and I walked into the agency, and we shook hands as he handed me my summit certificate. It was great to know such a nice guy who was so experienced that almost everyone knows him on the mountain. Porters call him Frank, rangers call him Frankie, and other guides call him F. Despite he had conquered this mountain 300+ times, he said I was the fastest on this route. Thanks, Frank, you are flattering me. I realized that I was so lucky to spend so much time with him, and I truly, truly learned a lot from him, and this mountain. I learned how to scale a rock wall, how to check water quality, how to acclimatize better and faster, how to deal with bugs and baboons, and how to set up my own camp. However, I also learned more important things. I got to learn the love of nature, and now I love it so much, I fear it. I admired its stars, I reveled at its snow and ice, I was humbled by its clouds and bushes, and I dreaded its sheer cold. It was probably one of the best weeks I have had in my uninteresting life, and that made me a better human being. Mission accomplished, I would say, would you?
I thanked Frank again, bidding him farewell. His wish was to have a good shower, so I guess I would have to let him go. I took a good shower as well, and found myself just sitting there, feeling lost. Since I finished climbing 2 days too early, I had 2 days free in Arusha. I had a meal at hotel’s overpriced restaurant, and I felt asleep.
I woke up to organize my stuffs for the whole day. I had to do laundry, reorganize my bags, and plan future travels. Same thing happened for the next day as I prepared to continue my long journey. Notably, I visited the most reveled local restaurant called Khan’s BBQ. It was very interesting. The store is an auto repair shop in the day, and by night, it turns into this delicious barbecue meat house complete with a side dish buffet, all by the street. The workers wear shirts that have “Khan’s Repair Shop” in the front, and by night, they simply switch to the other side which says “Khan’s BBQ”. The food was absolutely delicious, and the side dishes feature a large variety of vegetables and pickled dishes. It was incredibly cheap as well, costing about 13000 Shillings/6 dollars for a full blown meal. Oh boy I wish I have one of these around my corner!
Another interesting yet annoying thing is about the local mosques. Please do not hate me on this, but I found them extremely annoying. Just as a disclaimer, I accept all religion, and I believe no religion can be based upon hatred or violence, so please read this part before lynching me on a McDonald’s sign. In Arusha, there are at least 5 mosques spread across the area. The hotel happened to be beside one of them, like right across the street. However, as instructed by Qu’ran, all Muslims have to pray several times a day. Usually they do in silence, as I have seen and experienced on some flights, in some places, etc. However, in the case of Arusha, it is kinda the opposite. For some weird reason that I suspect that may be competing mosques or with other religions, they broadcast their praying with motherfucking loudspeakers. Not your normal Africa type of loudspeakers mounted on Toyota Hilux, the extra huge ones mounted on their towers. Ever seen a loudspeaker used to broadcast air sirens? Yeah, that kind. If this happens around noon or so, that would be fine, but the earliest prayer is fucking 5 am! 5.A.M!!! WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!!! And it is not just one mosque beside me, all of them! ALL.OF.THEM! And the prayer is not just something short, it lasts well over 20 minutes! 20 M.I.N.U.T.E.S!!! And it is not continuing talking. It is like a short prayer, then 1 minute of silence, and then another short prayer, and repeat! It was almost a torture every day in the morning! The last one is around 9 pm, which can potentially annoy some early sleepers. Before you guys staple me to the fucking wall, I need to clarify that I am all up for prayers and practices of religions, but when it severely disrupts others’ daily life, then I am sorry. I hated these mosques to guts, given that I had 4 mornings contemplating my life and my failures to even get a girlfriend FUCKING 5 AM IN THE MORNING WITH JUST 3 OR 4 HOURS OF SLEEP. Allah fucking damn it.
At night of the second day back in Arusha, I took an arranged taxi to the Kilimanjaro airport, which is about 1 hour away from the city. I cleared the immigration to board a Fastjet flight to Dar Es Salaam. The capital of Tanzania has almost nothing to offer, just like Nairobi, and a lot of other African capitals. The airline is a budget airline, which is really interesting since normally people only associate budget airlines with developed countries. Though the airport was small, but it was actually quite busy. I boarded my 1 hour flight and nothing too much happened.
Dar Es Salaam
I was picked up by another pre-arranged ride, and I was in my hostel around midnight. I had 3 days here in this city. I woke up late on the next day, and arranged a ride from the remote hostel into the city by a motorized tricycle. I was dropped off at the Seacliff Hotel and Resort slash shopping mall as well as a casino. It is a private property by the ocean, and to be honest, it is nothing to brag about but a small (not even big by African standards!) complex of food and supermarket for foreigners. I had a lovely yet costly Lebanese food, and carried on.
I took another motorbike to another shopping center, Slipway shopping center. Seriously, that is the only thing you can do here. It was much better. It had a lovely bookstore, some great bars, and a good shopping complex with European pricing. I loved the restaurant by the ocean, so I decided to bleed out a bit and had a seat by the waves. I deserved it after so much emotional turmoil on the mountain. Yeah, it is turmoil-ish okay?
I then proceeded to read in the bookstore. I always loved books, I had a huge bookshelf since I was very young. The store was run by a lovely Dutch couple, and I spent a good 4 hours in this small place. As I re-emerged from the store, the sun was already setting, so I decided to walk to a nearby famous restaurant called Cape Town Fish Market. It was also lovely and expensive, but I had only been to places for foreigners since people all strongly advised me against trying anything local. I had an amazing meal with the sunset, and that ended my day and made me a happy pickle.
As I got out of the heavily guarded restaurant, I decided to try something local, and I walked around the neighborhood. There were a lot of good mansions but also some shaggy structures, and it was quite a nice mix. I took a motorized tricycle and got back to hostel before too late.
I woke up the next day to still find myself alone. The hostel was a new one, and I had been the only guest for the past two days. Good thing is that, they have a little cat to play with, and the owner, another Taiwanese, was very very nice.
I ended up spending the day packing and reorganizing, since really there is not much to do out there, and there was a lot of catching up I needed to do after so many days of absence. At night, I again went to the airport, and boarded a Fastjet flight to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
Next stop: Zambia!
Looking back, Tanzania was probably holding one of my proudest moments by climbing on top of Africa. I always wanted to do something extraordinary so that I could remind myself how much I could do. This place was the place that can fulfill your dreams. It was a lonely 10 days, I know, but it was okay since I got so much time to reflect and think, and I think it was a good way to explore a foreign country as well. Next time I should take a look of Zanzibar as well since there are simply way too much to explore in this country other than the Northern side. What a great place it is!
My plane was almost empty, and I had a whole row. So when the plane slowly landed at Lusaka Airport at 1 am, I was woken up from my sleep. It was pitch black out there, and I knew it will be another one of my dreams coming true: Victoria Falls, the wonder that used to belong to heaven, here I come.