Rain. We were woken up by Wilson knocking on our door around 6:30am and I remember hearing rain. I thought, “Nooooooooo…it can’t be raining. It CAN’T rain on Day 1, because what does that mean for the rest of the days?”. I stumbled to the door to assure Wilson that we were in fact awake, then Anne and I got in gear. Literally, we got in gear. We got into pants and rain pants and fleeces and promptly both realized we were lacking rain coats. We both brought ski coats, but weren’t sure how waterproof they would be in the rain in an actual rainforest. I felt upset and it must have been clear to Anne, because she gave me a hug and said something along the lines of “keep it together, what choices do you have?”. Good old Anne, always grounding, always realistic, always keeping me focused on the right thing when I focus on the wrong thing. She was right, what choices did I have? I could figure it out and go and maybe get a bit wet, or not go. Well, there was no way I wasn’t going.
We gathered our stuff and headed to breakfast, where we were told to drink water. I think a lot of people felt a bit grumbly about the weather, as we had all figured the first day of hiking would be hot and sticky, that we would be wearing shorts and sweating. Breakfast was served, and while people chatted, offers of extra raincoats were offered to Anne and I. This was the first of many, many instances of sharing gear, first aid supplies, snacks etc that would occur, and I feel really gelled our team into what became a fantastic group.
The team headed down the slippery hill and piled into Land Cruisers. Small children in flip flops and t-shirts smiled and waved, saying “Jambo!”, a greeting that would become second nature to us on the mountain. We were off.
The drive from the farm to the starting point, Machame Gate, took about 2 hours. We drove through towns and villages, our first real view of that part of Tanzania. The rain stopped and started, giving us small nuggets of hope to grasp onto that perhaps we wouldn’t be hiking in the rain.
We stopped for a brief bathroom break, since we’d all been instructed to drink lots of water, and I got to experience,……pause for effect…. my first “Squatty Potty” ever!!!
The guys bought some ginger snaps, and the general mood in our car was lifting. I had a borrowed rain coat, the sun was almost out, and we had cookies. Things were looking up.
We arrived at Machame Gate, the most popular kick-off point for climbing Kilimanjaro. I knew there would be a lot of people, but wasn’t in the right ballpark. The number of busses, land cruisers, vans, hikers, and porters was astounding. It felt a bit like being on the floor of the stock market, but in a rainforest and surrounded by African men with amazing loads on their backs, shoulders and heads.
Our guide, Felix, found a place for us under a roof and instructed us to wait. My best guess is he was organizing our group of porters, cooks etc along with all our stuff. We were in charge of a day pack (water, snacks, spare clothes for the day), but the rest of our stuff was being hauled up the mountain by porters. So we sat under the roof, found the “tourist restrooms”, listened to other groups talking in a huge collection of languages, and soon a case of 1.5L water bottles was placed in front of us and we were instructed to drink. Umm,…ok. So we drank. Then soon, lunch showed up!
Soon after we ate, Felix arrived and it was time to sign in and head up. We logged into a book with name, passport number, age etc, then trudged through the parking lot. We were starting. Finally! As we walked through the large, green, metal gate, I realized the rain had stopped. Ok, ok, maybe this would work.
We hiked through the rainforest. Everything was green, but the shades of green and textures differentiated between plants. Mosses and vines seemed to cover everything, even other plants. Plants were growing on plants were growing on plants. It was lush and green, but not heavy feeling or oppressive since it wasn’t hot.
Now, I’m not sure I have been stressing how much water we had been drinking. Water water water, seemed that all anyone could talk about was how much water we should be drinking. What happens when you drink a lot of water? You have to ummm…”release the pressure”. And that’s just what we did. We had been instructed, by Wilson back at the farm, that if we had to go #1, to shout out “TIRE PRESSURE!” or “SHORT CALL!” and the guides would stop for us. For #2, you shout out (or quietly whisper) “LONG CALL”. As we went through the forest, soon we all had to go to the bathroom, so we pulled over. Ladies on one side of the trail, men on the other. No big deal, right? Well, think about how many people are on that mountain, on THAT trail, on any given day. Well, you duck off the trail, and it’s pretty clear you aren’t the first girl to squat behind that tree. So we learned to step carefully, and that sometimes you just go in plain view of other hikers, because sometimes the options are slippery slopes, or minefields of #2, or this…..
There were permanent outhouses here and there on the trail. Part of me got excited to see this, until I looked inside. The floor was rotted away completely. Yeah. NOT using that. SO I slipped and slided down the hill a bit, holding onto vines along the way and praying they weren’t a)poisonous or b) a snake. Ok, no snakes, it’s too cold on the mountain, but the thought still crossed my mind. This part of the blog is to try and get across the points that we had to go to the bathroom a LOT, and after day one, any shyness was exorcised out of us by sheer necessity.
Soon we arrived at Machame Hut, our first camping spot. We had gone from about 6000′ to about 9800′, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. It felt good to walk into camp, it felt civilized, there were so many tents! Our tents and tents of others, in all colors, EVERYWHERE. We went to the hut to enter ourselves into the logbook.
Our campsite was a sight to see. We had 5 small tents (4 2-person and a single), a large dome dining tent, two toilet tents, plus the kitchen and porter’s tents. It really is a travelling city in a way. We all dove into our tents to change shoes and bask in the thought of sleeping in a nice, dry, warm sleeping bag that night. As I tried to sort and organize, I felt completely unorganized. Having packed and repacked my gear here in CO multiple times, then again at the farm, I felt like I had no idea where anything was which was quite frustrating. This feeling seemed to span the length of the hike, with me constantly digging through pockets and pouches and bags looking for this or that.
As I took my boots off, I saw a blister. It’s the same blister I had had 3 weeks prior, and naturally it came back. It was the size of a quarter, right on the back of my right heel. Darnit! Day 1, and I have a blister soon to be the size of the mountain I was climbing. I let it air out, and figured I’d dress it the next day as best I could.
Hot tea and popcorn awaited us in the dining tent in the late afternoon, which was divine. Dinner was rice, green beans and mushrooms, peanut & chicken stew, and fruit for dessert. Goddy (one of the guides) served our plates and made sure we ate enough. It was regular that if you didn’t clear your plate, you got a look from Goddy, or Godson, or even our head guide Felix, as they were making sure we ate enough calories to keep us going. Oh, and drank enough water. Water, yep. At dinner our vitals were taken again (O2, heart rate, breathing rate, how we felt, how much water we drank that day).
It was a great day in the end, even though I was a bit grumpy at the start, and even though I could smell myself as I wrote in my journal that night. I was feeling good. Strong. It was refreshing to have nothing to do but walk the next day. My brain was slowly letting go of the things that keep us busy and stressed and distracted. I was letting go of grocery lists, of birthday parties to buy a gift for, of email accounts to clean junk from, of house projects that never end. My brain was clearing, making room for other things that at least in MY day to day life, I don’t get to think about much.
My brain was also thinking about something Wilson had told me. He said that many people feel climbing Kilimanjaro is harder than childbirth. Now, childbirth has a HUGE range in terms of difficulty. Labor time, size of baby, other complications….I posed the question to Anne that night in our tent. It was only Day 1, so we couldn’t agree or disagree with his statement, but Anne said that “right now it’s a lot like labor, in that it’s best not to know what is coming.”
And with that, we turned off our headlamps and slept…..until we had to pee.
Blog post by: The Heskin Family