I think as a general rule of thumb if a Tanzanian says “Let’s take a short cut” you shouldn’t get your hopes up that your journey is about to be cut short. I think instead you should strap yourself in for a toe-curling, eye-opening sensual feast into the backwaters of god knows where but it’s exciting
When traffic jammed on our 45 minute ride from Kilimanjaro airport, we hooked it down an alley barely wide enough to fit our mini bus and two hours later after bumping through the dirt poor, but wildly colourful back streets of the townships near Arusha we finally arrived – thirsty, stinking of airports and gritty-eyed after what felt like weeks of travel.
We met the rest of the team and sat down at a long table for dinner and 32 hours after I’d said goodbye to my kids I was with the people who would become my tribe for the next two weeks… some of them, perhaps, for a lifetime.
I didn’t see Kilimanjaro as we flew in, which many people do. She was shrouded modestly in clouds, not a single leg or shoulder poking out. In fact, I didn’t see her at all until I was standing right under her. That was probably for the best because she’s actually a bit of a beast.
We sat there, us 10 strangers, all laughter, and easy banter, beautifully ignorant of what the next week had in store for us. In only two sleeps we would embark on a journey that would push us to our very physical and emotional limits. Not to mention my public toileting limits.
By the time we checked into Machame Gate at the foot of Kili on the big day it was late-ish afternoon so our first day of the trek was done with the threat of darkness at our backs. It was a 14km hike and bugger me if it wasn’t all up bloody hill. I knew I would be climbing a mountain and shit but I really didn’t expect it to be quite so relentlessly up hill.
For so many hours.
This was the only walk where no one monitored out speed. For the coming days we would hear “pole pole” (pr: poly poly – slow slow) about a gazillion times a day but this day we all legged it at our own sweaty pace with humidity creating rivulets of perspiration down our backs creating little pools in our undies.
At the time I was all “gross, my arse is sticky and I can’t shower for a week” but it would only be less than 24 hours until I would be feeling the cold that would permeate my bones for the days to come.
We were excited as we walked, as then after the golden hours of the late afternoon has passed and we were sliding into the moody evening blues, there she was. Peeking through the looming trees, rising out of the blue was a white snow-capped peak. The summit. Or a summit at the very least. I think the actual summit was around the corner and down the way a bit.
It was pretty awe-inspiring because it was my first glimpse of the top, but also it looked really bloody far away. What the fuck was I thinking with this crazy epic walk??? Anyway, it was a bit bloody late for those thoughts for here I was dressed like a proper hiker with my proper hiking mates and they had no idea that I was a total fraudster in the trekking department.
Nor was I alone in this department me thinks.
Some of them had trekked Nepal, or Peru. Some of them were seasoned travelers. Some of them had not traveled much before, and others hadn’t even broken in their hiking boots.
All of us were here for the same reason, however. All of us were here in the name of Rafiki Mwema, and all of us were here for a big, fat adventure.
Finding ourselves, losing ourselves, getting intimate with our limits. Little did we know that we would dance on the very edge of our limits. Not all of us would make it to the top, but as the days passed we realised more and more that the journey was truly more important than the destination.
The hours of walking and sharing of our life stories, while we were submerged in this foreign landscape, served to bond us swiftly. Everyone was generous with their stories and generous with their belongings.
All you ever needed to say was ” does anyone have a….” and there would almost be a race to help out. Earplugs, painkillers, water purifiers, Valium, you name it… These were good people with big, easy going hearts.
I hadn’t anticipated having to share a tent. I thought I’d have my own little space to relax, fart and peacefully piss in a ziplock bag, but it was not the case. That said, my cosy little two (wo)man tent buddy was one of the most pleasant surprises of all.
A young Malaysian Kiwi-Aussie pharmacist from Perth named Krystal. She had recently married and we joked that this was her honeymoon; sharing a minuscule tent with me and my oversharing of body functions. Luckily, she was cut from my cloth.
Krystal had a million device-charging power banks because her hubby loaded her up with juice but forgot to give her any cables so I knew I would never run out of battery to shoot the film I had been commissioned to make.
Power was somewhat of a commodity up there. She and I had also accidently brought way to many US dollars due to an admin mistake we both made so it took us only hours to realise that we had all the power, all the money, and all the pharmaceuticals. We were practically Pablo Escobar.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t pee a single night. I decided not to take the altitude sickness meds (which are diuretics) and every morning I was waking like I’d quaffed litres of tequila and snorted lines of salt the night before so staying hydrated was a full-time job.
Oh, by the way, I have a bone to pick with you, Tanzania.
I imagined walking in shorts and tees for at least two days of balmy African sun, alas the first night gave me a taste of what was in store. It was farking cold immediately.
Freezing cold clouds would roll in with their strange musty, earthy scent filling our nostrils. These clouds accompanied us most days so we were enshrouded in mists like Dian Fossey’s gorillas. It was pretty eery especially in the land of the weepy moss covered trees.
They were like Dali paintings, all melting moss dripping down from branches like melting flesh. Add that to mist and it was like a horror movie just waiting to happen.
The terrain morphed as each day went by, sometimes it was hourly.
Although we walked up, up and up the first day and day two was like a Stairmaster 3000 for about six hours straight, my body felt good. I felt confident in the training I’d done. My legs felt strong. My lungs felt good. I was still cocky. We all were.
That would change.