On Top of the roof of Africa
|View onto Kilimanjaro from Moshi town!|
I had heard local people saying, “Why do Western people want to climb this mountain? We prefer just looking at it :)” Looking back I can say, I didn’t really understand that comment.
As I had to wait at least two more weeks (it was End of June) I had decided to do the Kilimanjaro Trek first, instead of at the end of my trip. Well my journey started in Mzuzu/Malawi, where I was based for over 3 months for my research project for the summer. I decided to cross the boarder to Tanzania by bus. I had arranged to meet David in Arusha, another Master student who was as mad as me and decided to trek Kilimanjaro ;)
Travelling overland from Northern Malawi to Arusha/Tanzania
So my journey started on the 1st of July early in the morning, when I walked with my Nepali backpack into town. I stopped at the local bakery and reached the Mzuzu Bus depot by 8am. Luckily I found one mini bus going towards the boarder, but only four people on the bus so far. Well, it meant in the end to wait until 10am to leave Mzuzu. They had squeezed 19 people in a 8-10 seater minibus. However the toughest thing was that the seats were just made out of metal, covered with some empty maize bags. My bum was sore after a 4-hour drive. At Korongo I had to change busses to get to the boarder. That took another hour and finally at 4pm I had reached the boarder. Young African guys tried to persuade me to exchange some money. I declined but they followed me all the way to the immigration office on the Tanzanian side! It was one of the easiest boarder crossings I have done so far I have to say!
|Tanzania - Boarder Crossing from Malawi|
It took me not even 5 minutes to get my stamp in my passport, to pay $50 fee and immigration officer even advised me where I can exchange some money in a safe way :) Then it was another 10-15min to the next bus stop, where I took another bus to Mbeya. I was very lucky, as there was just one bus standing there ready to leave! So I got on, nobody tried to overcharge me, and what a comfortable bus it was! I was impressed and 3.5 hours later we reached Mbeya. By that time it was pitch-black outside. We were let off at a new bus station in the middle of nowhere. From there I had to take another 3 Mini-busses to finally end up at the big bus depot in town! I would have not been able to get there if Mosos, a guy I had met on the bus would have helped me. He was so genuine! He even walked with me to some bus company to arrange a bus ticket for me the next morning to continue my journey to Arusha! Moses even asked a local guy where I could find a guesthouse and we found a reasonable priced one really close to the bus stop. I was so relieved. Finally I had a bed to sleep in at least for a few hours until I had to catch the next bus at 5am.
Have you ever been sitting on a bus for 22 hours straight? 3 breaks – 10min each! Yes, that was an experience indeed! It reminded me about the 26 hours train ride in India.
|Bus from Mbeya to Arusha|
We arrived in Arusha at 3.30am! Yeah, great time to arrive in a place where you have never been, where there are no obvious guesthouses close to the bus stop and all the local motorbike drivers just want to make a fortune ;) A local woman, who had been with me on the bus, was waiting for her colleague to pick her up. She offered me that they will help me to find a guesthouse. We ended up driving around Arusha on the motorbike trying to find a place to stay for me for the night. One guesthouse opened the door and the guy offered me to sleep on the sofa in the reception area as all rooms were fully booked. By that time I really didn’t care anymore!
The next morning I was able to get a private room and I met up with David! It was so good to see a familiar face. We walked a little bit around Arusha trying to find some trekking companies to book our trip. We met a guy by chance on the street through another local guy and he told us his office would be in Moshi and he would return there this afternoon and we could come with him. He called his trekking guide and we had a chat over lunch. It sounded all ok and so David and myself decided to leave Arusha and to drive with them to Moshi. While on the way to Moshi, David checked the Internet to read any reviews published about this company. OMG, I can only say thank you to David!!! Not one positive review about these people. Now what should we do. We decided to confront them with the reviews online and the boss tried to calm us down and found lots of excuses. Anyhow, we arrived in Moshi, and I have to say I straightaway felt much more comfortable in this town. Arusha was not nice at all and I would not recommend anybody to stop there. Moshi is just so much nicer :) We went with the guys to their company and we checked the customer reviews they had there and listened to their stories and offer for the trek. We told them that we would go for a coffee and think about what we would do. Both happy to sit in peace in a nice coffee place outside and glad we escaped that total scam!!!!
After talking to a lot of different tour operators we decided to sleep one night over it and then we would make a decision what to do. We stayed in the Backpackers in Moshi, which was a really nice room with wooden floorboards and very clean. We met Kerry in the evening, she is another Master student from our program who was based in Moshi! It was great to catch up with her, sharing experiences and just hanging out!
|Kerry & David|
The next morning David and myself decided to go for “Zara”, which got really good reviews, made us a great offer, however was a way over budget as what we had planned to spend. Anyway, we decided to rent some gear from one of the shops in town, bought lots of chocolate bars to start the next day with a group of 6 people in total!
We met the other trekkers that evening and we were a lovely mixed bunch of nationalities: English, South African, Irish, Danish & German. David and myself decided to spoil ourselves with another tasty Italian pizza in town before heading off! The Football World Cup was on and as you can imagine me as a Football Fan, I was always trying to glimpse at any TV to see the latest scores! Anyhow, I was able to watch the German victory in the Quarter Final. However I would be up at Kilimanjaro when we would play Brazil in the Semi-Final!!!!
Kilimanjaro Trek – Machame Route
With a summit at 5895m or 19341ft above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro, situated in north-eastern Tanzania in central East Africa, is the world's highest free-standing mountain and the fourth most prominent mountain in the world. Well we will give it a go so ;)
Day 1 – 05.07.14 Machame Gate – Machame Hug (1900 – 3000m)
We started off at 8.30am with a comfortable bus from our Trekking company ZARA towards Machame Gate.
|Leaving ZARA with our comfy bus!|
When we reached the gate it was raining! What a start ;)
|Machame Gate - Kilimanjaro National Park|
|Here we go - let's get started!|
|Way to go!|
|From left to right: Kenneth, Dee, Rose, Linda, Kerstin, David|
We walked with our trekking guide through an amazing rainforest.
The rain had stopped by then and it was pretty muddy on the trail. Yes, Annette & John, thoughts crossed my mind about Fansipan! The pace was great and it seemed like there were much more porters and guides around then actually trekkers.
We got on really well as a group and hiked together, had some snack breaks and arrived at our base for the night at 4.15pm.
|Break for snacks :)|
|Our green ZARA tents!|
The weather seemed to clear up and around 7pm it got dark. A beautiful sky, millions of stars and we even were able to have a glimpse onto Kili!!!
The porters even put candle on our dinner table :) We were spoiled! Cucumber/Potato soup was served with fish, carrots, peppers and cabbage. Such a tasty dinner and dessert didn’t disappoint either – “Ladyfingers” (little baby bananas).
Day 2 – 06.07.14 Machame Hut – Shira Camp (3000 – 3840m)
I was glad when it got bright, as I couldn’t manage to get any proper sleep last night. I turned so many times, but couldn’t really fall asleep. Getting out of the tent at 6.30am was rewarded with a stunning view onto Kili!
|Before the sandstorm!|
I finally slept until 2am and thank god the wind had eased off. I had to get out of my cosy sleeping bag to go the toilet. Thank got the toilet tent was still standing up strong :) Good news! I could feel the higher altitude for the first time that night. Very strange feeling once again and lots of Nepali memories came up.
Day 3 – 07.07.14 Shira Camp – Lawa Tower – Barango Hut
(3840m – 4600m - 3940m)
The wind was gone when I stepped out of the tent :) We had clear skies and we were able to look down onto the clouds.
We got served a delicious breakfast: pancakes, omelettes and fresh mangos!
|Our breakfast table!|
Today was our acclimatisation day. The walk was pretty much full of rocks and gravel and the vegetation got less and less.
It was very sunny and we started off trekking in T-Shirts. However the wind picked up again and we all put on some layers and gloves!!! It was a nasty wind but we kept going.
It took us 4.5 hours to reach our lunch place, which was “Lawa Tower”.
Our team had put up tents and they also had prepared food for us. Hot soup was served and some toasted sandwiches. We got spoiled but it was needed :)
After a slight ascent it was time to descent. I didn’t look forward to this. People who have trekked with me before know what I’m talking about. Some parts were pretty steep and lots of gravel. But the vegetation came back and we saw giant Lobelia plants – they looked beautiful!
|Giant Lobelia plant!|
Unfortunately lots of clouds came in and it got a bit chilly. But our trekking guide Bryson led us perfectly to our campsite and we got some popcorn & nuts. On top of it all look at that view!!!!
|Kilimanjaro - very close|
Day 4 – 08.07.14 Barango Hut – Karanga Valley - Barafu Camp (3940 – 4670m)
This was actually a really enjoyable day. We climbed up Barango wall in the morning from Barango Hut, which was exciting, a little bit challenging, but mostly fun. After at least 500 height meters we found out that we had to descent again, followed by another ascent! Oh well, that's trekking ;) We all had known that the camp we will reach this afternoon will be our base for the summit night!
|One step closer!|
|Where we came from...|
|...where we are heading to|
|Kili in the back...|
|David completely exhausted!!!|
Day 5 – 09.07.14 Barafu Camp – Stella Point – Uhuru Peak – Mweka Camp
(4670m – 5745m - 5895m – 3100m)
Today was an exciting day – D-Day! We were all trying to summit Kilimanjaro!!! That meant to get up at 11pm (yes, you read correct – 11pm!) and after some tea and cookies we started to ascent. The whole group started off together with 2 guides and one assistant guide. It was pit black as you can imagine as we left our camp at midnight and we were all wearing our headlamps.
It was a steep ascent and lots of people hiked up at the same time. The idea was to reach the summit at sunrise. After maybe 1 or 1.5 hours the first person slowed down a bit and the guides decided to split up. So then we were 5 trekkers and 2 trekking guides. Only another half an hour later David slowed down a bit and therefore it was decided that he would stay a bit behind with the Assistant Trekking guide. So now we were four trekkers and one guide and we still had at least four hours to go! It was difficult to hike up the mountain in the dark. I didn’t really fancy it at all as the only thing you saw were the hiking boots from the trekker in front of you! My legs felt good, my breath was ok – very glad for that. On top of all that Germany was playing Brazil at this moment in time in the Semi-Final and I was desperate to know what the score was. Then we passed some other guides and they told me Germany is leading 5:0 against Brazil! I didn’t believe a word and thought people are taking the mick! We checked the clock at 2am, then 4am and I was desperate for a warm cup of tea and the sunrise! But second would only happen at 6am – two more hours to go in the dark! Hot tea we found out wouldn’t happen at all, as the Assistance guide had the tea in his backpack and he was trekking with David! The four of us and our guide continued to hike up the steep ascent. We met another guide from ZARA and he had a big Coke bottle with him, which he kindly shared with us. That felt good! Nevertheless some people got tired and that made it more difficult for the others to find a rhythm or stay in it. One person got altitude sick and vomited a few times. I found it difficult to stop and wait as it was so freezing cold, but I also felt for the person who was sick. I anyway had lost the sensation in my fingers & toes already! We were apparently close to “Stella point” (5745m), and therefore our guide approved that Kenneth and myself could hike up ourselves and he would stay with the two South African women a little bit behind, as they both didn’t feel well. After another 30 minutes or so we saw the Stella point sign! I couldn’t believe we had made it. It was freezing cold; the wind was blowing like mad. It wasn’t pleasant at all! The only good thing was that the sun finally came up and we could actually watch a beautiful sunset.
|Picture taken by Rose - Beautiful sunrise!|
There was a group of around 20 people there. Everybody wanted to take a picture with the sign of the summit of Kilimanjaro. So we were waiting at -23oC for twenty people in front of us to take pictures. The worst part was that people started to argue with each other about who can take a picture first! Imagine, you are up at 5895m with a freezing temperature of -23oC and people have the energy to argue?! Madness! I said to Kenneth: “Let’s just walk back down. I don’t care if I have a picture of the summit or not. That’s not enjoyable.” But Kenneth was adamant that we should wait. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I had in my life. It was so freezing cold!
Suddenly Linda, Rose and our guide Bryson showed up! I was very happy about that, now at least we can take a group shot.
|5895m - Kilimanjaro Summit with Kenneth, Linda, Bryson, Rose, Kerstin (right to left)|
After the picture was taken Linda and myself decided to head straight down as Linda was really altitude sick and I was frozen. On our way back to Stella point we saw David with the other guide hiking up. He looked pretty pale but I was delighted for him that he made it up! First I thought it would be nice to turn around and to come with him to the summit, but I was so frozen and on top Linda was altitude sick and had to go down.
|View onto the glacier and the clouds|
So all four of our group and our guide met at Stella point again where there was some shelter from the icy wind. One quick picture taken and Bryson did send us down. The wind was so strong, that it blew the sand into our eyes. So we stopped again, got our sunglasses out and descended fast. Linda was running down the mountain, she was out of control due to her altitude sickness. It was a long way down and the sand was so deep, that it reminded me of skiing through deep snow. Then we caught up with some other trekkers. It turned out that one guy was from South Africa and he spoke fluently German. We chatted along the whole way down to our camp. It felt so good after this mad experience up the top! I reached our campsite at 9.15am.
|Kerstin's Hiking boots - Original colour: Dark Blue!|
Chombo, our leading guide was there to greet me and everybody congratulated me. To be honest, I was just glad to be back down at 4600m in one piece and that I was able to feel my hands, fingers and toes again. I do hate the freezing cold! Dee, the girl from the UK who lives in Australia was in our tea tent. She didn’t reach Stella point as she had decided to listen to her body and that one was exhausted. So fair play that she didn’t force herself! I had every respect! I think it is shocking how many people were altitude sick at Stella point (5745m) or the summit! People are losing their marbles until they finally reach a much lower altitude.
As some of you can imagine, I was comparing my experience with Nepal. I felt that Nepali trekking guides do take altitude sickness much more serious and do turn around if they feel it is too dangerous health wise to carry on. That said there are people dying of altitude sickness in Nepal. However I did a quick research about Kilimanjaro and I found the following:
“40.000 trekkers attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year, but only half of them succeed! Is it really worthwhile risking your life if you feel you are affected by altitude sickness? Apparently ‘only’ 10 people die per year. Well, I would argue that is 10 people to many!”
However the feeling I got and what I had experienced here on Kilimanjaro is, that everybody is pushing people to summit or at least to reach the Stella point. We as a group were even wondering if agencies or trekking companies get a reward or guides get an incentive if people summit. That said, I was not trekking in any big group with guides in Nepal, so maybe it isn’t fair to compare it that way. Nevertheless while trekking for 26 days through the Everest Region I had met many groups and chatted to lots of different trekkers. The impression I got is that the guides are very careful with signs of altitude sickness and do advice to bring people down to lower altitudes rather sooner than later. I guess it is generally a bit easier in Nepal as you stay in teahouses. Here on Kilimanjaro the majority of people is camping and there is a whole team of porters and cooks with you. So that causes maybe more difficulties. Looking back at the summit day – it was a mad experience and I wouldn’t do it again! Not even if people would pay me to trek up there again!!!! However, no regrets – at least I got to know the difference. As you might have already guessed, I would always go back to Nepal to do another trek :) Anyway, I have summited the highest peak in a Africa! People ask me all the time if I’m proud and my only answer is: “Not really! I had more enjoyable experiences in my life ;)”
Nevertheless, our trekking company called ZARA was very good and I’m very glad we went with them! They were really looking after us towards food, preparing our tents as well as our toilet tent every night. Fred was always bringing me extra hot water before I went to bed, so I could fill one water bottle with hot water and put it in my sleeping bag. At least I was then not completely frozen every morning and able to catch some kind of sleep now and again!
Looking back I’m wondering what the National Park Agency does with all the park entrance fees collected from every trekker. The fee is US$630/person!!!! And the vast amount of people who go up Kilimanjaro every day is massive! So what are they doing with all that money? The whole trek is lacking signs I have to say and the only workers, which were employed by the park itself, were in the area of the rainforest. They had tents there to sleep in and they prepared the rain drainage and cleared the path we walked on. Other than that, all the toilets we came across on the trek were disgusting and not cleaned at all!!!! We were lucky that our trekking company had provided us with our own toilet tent every evening/morning :) It contained a small bucket with a plastic seat & I was really grateful for that!!! It did make a difference; nevertheless during the day you had no other choice than using the open! The whole Kilimanjaro experience is very commercialised and therefore it lost it’s charme! I had been afraid of that when I trekked Everest Base Camp but compare to Kilimanjaro that was nothing!!!! I personally think that the people in Tanzania who are involved in any Kilimanjaro Trekking have to change their approach if they want people returning or even recommend the experience! The last bit I would like to add is about tips. I really don’t mind to give a tip if I had a good experience or received good customer service. However what is expected apparently for Kilimanjaro Treks went just over my head! It did leave a very bad taste with me. A tip shouldn’t be mandatory or expected. A tip should come from your heart as appreciation for the service you have received. However, the people from our trekking company expected seriously 15-20% of the price we already had paid for the tour! The trip was not cheap whatsoever! Anyhow, moving on from this :)
|Lovely flower up on Kilimanjaro!|
Day 6 – 10.07.14 Mweka Camp – Gato and back to Moshi
(3100 - 1800m)
|Our whole crew|
Our entire ZARA team came together and sang a song for us :) It was beautiful and I enjoyed every second of it!
It was our last descent and it wasn’t bad at all. We walked down through the rainforest, chatted and enjoyed the monkeys who entertained us on the way ;)
Finally back down at 1800m again our bus was already waiting for us to drive back to Moshi! The first thing I did when we arrived at the guesthouse was to take a shower! Best moment ever since the last 7 days! Then I realized the only clean shirt I had left was my German Soccer top! Well, as we just had bet Brazil I thought it would be a good opportunity to wear it.
|Back in Moshi|
Lots of people commented about the upcoming final and it seemed like people in Tanzania were much more into football than back in Malawi! We decided to spend the afternoon and evening in town, dropped back our rental equipment and had a lovely cup of coffee and a cake!
In the evening all six of us went out for a well-deserved Italian dinner!
|Back in Moshi and soon some lovely dinner|
One day off in Moshi
I had been looking forward to that day so much! It felt like it was my day off :) Time for strolling in and around Moshi, to buy some souvenirs for back home, to drink some tasty coffee and eat some cake! I had finally been able to buy some postcards here in Moshi, as there are non available or even existing in Mzuzu! The post office reminded me about Danang, just a little smaller. The guy working there was very nice and so helpful. So in no time all my written postcards had stamps on them and landed in the postbox :) I bought some scarves and I met a lovely Indian lady who grew up in Moshi. She is running a big business in Moshi with her husband and is also employing disabled people. She was so nice, and even invited me to visit the factory! I would have loved to but my bus back to Malawi was already leaving the next morning and it was too late for today. She told me about her 2nd shop in town and so I went. I bought some nice T-Shirts and we were chatting along about life. She was so impressed that I had just summited Kili, so she was so kind to give me a small Kilimanjaro key ring as a gift! It was so kind from her and actually brought it back to Dublin :) I got different Tanzanian coffee as presents and the last mission was to get some ‘skirts’ for my translator and myself, which we could wear while doing our survey! That wasn’t as easy as it sounded like, but after some attempts I found a nice woman, which had a beautiful fabric hanging outside, with giraffes on it in purple colour! That’s it ;) I negotiated the price; the woman cut it in two pieces and sewed it around the edges! Job done :) What a lovely day it was! I really enjoyed being in Moshi! It was just no comparison with Mzuzu. Moshi felt so safe even at night time, there was life on the streets even in the evening, some food stalls were open and people were chatty and the whole atmosphere reminded me more about Vietnam. Less people of course, but very nice ;)
My road trip back to Mzuzu
Another bus trip of 20 hours straight with 3 breaks of 10min each! No other Westerner was on the bus – surprise! Seems like nobody is as mad or adventurous as I am ;)
This time I sat almost in the front row of the bus and therefore I could enjoy the scenery much more! I was also able to sleep a bit, it must have been all the lack of sleep accumulated up on Kilimanjaro ;) We drove through a National Park as the highway went straight through it!
Yeah, I know – I also almost couldn’t believe it, but yes that is true! Nevertheless we saw Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants and monkeys! Amazing that all the animals were so close to the road, I guess they must have gotten used to the cars & trucks!
The people on the bus were all very friendly. I sat next to a guy who was actually the 2nd driver from the Sumry Bus company. The bus ride went pretty smooth until the bus decided to break down one hour before Mbeya! We had been so good in time and it was only midnight. Well, now we were waiting for a motorbike. First I thought we had run out of petrol, but it turned out there was a different problem related to air in a pipe. No idea how, but some local guy was able to fix it and after more than an hour we were able to continue our journey. Finally, at around 2.30am we reached Mbeya! Great time to reach a town, where the next busses only leave at around 6am ;) I walked to the same guesthouse called “KS” where I had been staying previously. But everything was locked. I knocked on the gate but nobody opened. Then I remembered that the woman had slept just behind the reception. Therefore I knocked on the little window hoping that somebody would hear me. Finally, the woman heard me and opened the gate for me. She remembered me! Unfortunately all rooms were fully booked, but she was so kind and offered me to stay on the leather sofa in the reception area! She even brought me some bed sheets! She looked my backpack behind the reception so it is safe and fell asleep on the sofa completely exhausted. I got up at 5am, paid 3US$ to the lady for letting me sleep on the sofa and got on the next bus at 5.40am! Today was Sunday, 13th of July and the World Cup Final was on this evening! I had to be home in Mzuzu by then to support Germany! Finally at 3pm I reached the house in Chimaliro in Mzuzu after an exhausting journey! The only thing I was looking forward to was a shower and clean clothes! I put my key in the back door, turned it but it didn’t open. First I thought I must be very tired, not even being able to open the back door ;) Well, unfortunately the girls had left the key in the door from the inside! I could hardly believe what had happened. Well, I rang both girls; left voice messages, send text messages, but no reply! Then my lovely neighbour came out and waved at me – Sindosie! I was so happy to see her :) We sat down at the porch of the back door and started chatting! She couldn’t believe that the girls had left the key from the inside in the door and also tried to make contact with them. No success! Sindosie gave me a bucket with water so at least I was able to wash my trekking boots! Then I went back to her house to wait until somebody would come home. After over 3 hours when it had already gotten dark, the neighbour’s son said: “ Kerstin, look over there – there is light on in your house!” I couldn’t believe his words, but yes, there was light! Ok, I walked over there and yes, one of the girls was back home. After confronting her why she hadn’t responded to my phone calls, she just said: “ I thought you were in Ilala Lodge (a hotel in the neighbourhood).” I was speechless. After been in Tanzania for two weeks, that’s the warm welcome you receive. No apologies, no questions asked and half of my food from the fridge was gone! Isn’t it nice to live with mindful people?!! Anyhow, I finally had my well-deserved shower, and then I made my way into town to watch the World Cup Final! The day had at least a well-deserved ending, as I was delighted that Germany won the cup!!!!
Give me a few more weeks to write the next chapter of my last six weeks in Malawi ;) There is more to come!!!!