We were up early to pack our backpacks for our climb to the first base camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mandara Hut. There are many ways to climb, but we went up through the Marangu Gate. We rented sleeping bags and brought several layers with us, including down jackets, scarves and gloves, not really knowing how cold it would be at that altitude. Our guide Milton, led the way, slow and steady. He never changed his pace and never missed a step. At first we thought he was going way too slowly, but as we climbed higher, we realized that he set a slower pace for a reason; it was going to get harder, which it did.
The rain forest at the bottom was beautiful. All of the trees were covered with moss, vines were hanging everywhere and it was lush and green. The higher we went, the rockier the path became. Because it was muddy and wet and the rocks were covered with moss, we had to be careful not to slip. We climbed for 2 hours and then stopped for lunch. After a 15 minute rest, we started climbing again. The higher we went, the more we could see the rain forest changing. The trees were much shorter and the landscape looked different, largely because it became much colder. We arrived at the base camp 3.5 hours after we started and were greeted by the porters and waiters who brought our sleeping bags, coats and all of the food and cooking supplies we would need for dinner and breakfast the next day. We freshened up and were given a snack of popcorn, hot peanuts and hot tea. Our waiter, Emmanuel, was so sweet and laid out our cups and utensils like we were in a restaurant.
There were around 6-8 huts, which looked like little triangle cabins, and accommodated 4 people in each. They were pretty tiny, and had foam pads for mattresses and of course, no heat. Our roommate was a sweet 23-year-old girl named Julia from The Netherlands who had been volunteering in Tanzania. She was climbing to the summit with no one but her Tanzanian guide. In fact, all of the people at base camp that night, around 12-15 people, were climbing to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro but us.
Before dinner, we hiked a half hour further up the mountain to Maundi Crater Rim so that we could see the different peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Because it was overcast, we couldn’t see them, but we did see incredible views inside the crater (formed when Mt. Kilimanjaro erupted many years ago).
Dinner was actually incredible! Every group had their own cook and therefore, everyone had a different menu. We had a beautiful meal of rice, veggie stew, cabbage (a staple at every meal), tomatoes and fruit. We went to bed early because there were no lights and nothing we could do! We bundled up in the clothes that we wore all day, our down coats, scarves and gloves and zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags. It was cold; I’m guessing 30 degrees. We slept pretty well, all things considered! In the morning, we had tea and hiked back up to the Maundi Crater Rim, and this time we could see the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro – incredible, breathtaking views. After an amazing breakfast of eggs, porridge, bread and fruit, we packed up and headed down the mountain. If the hike up was slow and measured, the hike down was fast, intense and treacherous. The downhill momentum was strong and we had to focus on the ground and the rocks in order not to fall.
Once at the bottom, our guide took us outside the gates to a local restaurant for lunch. It was a really cute place and the food was wonderful! Lunch was similar to dinner actually; rice, some kind of veggie sauce, beans, cabbage, French fries, fruit and a pineapple juice box.
The hour long drive back to our hotel reminded me of India in many ways. We passed through villages where the buildings were rundown, the shacks along the road were rusted, people were sitting outside talking and passing the time, women walked with children and balanced huge baskets and sacks on their heads. I wish I could have captured some of what we saw, but it was impossible to do from the van we were in. You see poverty everywhere, but not as dire as what we saw in India or even Uganda for that matter. As poor as they were, these villages we passed were busy and alive.
The hot showers we took that afternoon were amazing. After relaxing in the afternoon and catching up with Wi-fi, we packed up and prepared to be picked up at 5 am for our flight to the Serengeti and a 3-day safari. Camera charged and ready…