Kilimanjaro 1, by Roman
Trip Start Jun 07, 2011
203Trip End Jun 13, 2012
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'A hundred and nineteen thousand! Isn't that a lot?' I ask, 'I mean, we are already paying a thousand two hundred for the climb, it’s crazy to pay more.’
‘We don’t really have a choice,’ answers Tristan, counting the notes, ‘generally speaking, it’s five thousand per porter per day.’ His left brow cuts close to his eye as he adds, ‘This is ridiculous. I’ve never paid so bad for a tip.’
‘Yeah, well, they also have a fixed salary, don’t they?’ I state, detailing the numbers with a paper and pen.
My brother lets out a short but poignant, ‘Ha!’ before adding, ‘Why don’t we pay you the same, and we’ll see what you think.’
‘Tristan…’ I hesitate, ‘It’s not the same. A thousand here is worth more to them here, then to us back home.’
‘Have you finished counting?’ interrupts my brother, weary of the whole business.
‘Yeah, okay, so… it makes a hundred and nineteen thousand for the guide, seventy grand for the assistant guide and the cook, and thirty five per porter… let’s reckon there will be what, five porters? So, a hundred and seventy five thousand. In total, four hundred and ten thousand.’
The money stretches itself on the table in reds, purples and blues. ‘But how much in US?’ demands Tristan.
‘Uh… three hundred? About that, I think.’
Tristan sighs, tightening his lips. All things considered, the numbers add up, and we can’t say it’s cheap. Nonetheless, as it seems, nothing is on the mountain difficult to climb (direct translation of Kilimanjaro). To often did I underestimate this name.
8:30: Our driver is late. Already, I have the eerie feeling that all this isn’t very serious. Boots tied, we are anxious to start; and finally, the warm clothes, scarves, tuques and gloves, lingeringly stashed at the bottom of our bags, are freed to fresh air, and have decided to join us to the rooftop of Africa.
I am ready to go. I only regret that the long matatu ride to Kili left us in the hands of a guide that I don’t find very fit. ‘Pole, pole,’ is all he seems to repeat, huffing and puffing, as we climb the trail, his belly bulging through his shirt. Aloys is forty seven years old, and has four children. Though he argues that the mountain is destroying his body, the salary prevents him from stopping his climb to the summit every year. Looking back at the kitchen table covered with our hundreds of three and four zero notes, I joke that he should change the name of the mountain from, hard to climb, to, that rakes in the money.
‘How would you say that in Swahili?’ I ask him.
‘Kilima…’ I’ve forgotten the rest. I am dubious of our guide, Jelly Belly; and the few old people that we march past during our ascent make it hard for me to believe in the the ‘jaro’ of the mountain (the, difficult to climb).
Soon, we encounter the first mountaineers descending the path, baptised the Coca Cola (because the Marangu Route is frequented by 56 000 people per year, only hairs away from becoming a national highway!)
‘So?’ enquires Tristan with a big grin as our fellow speedway sharers pass us, ‘How was it?’
Pale faced, the first of the group grunts; the second bitterly retorts, ‘Horrible, and cold,’ before escaping behind us; and the last of the crew, in a sombre mumble, wishes us the ever too common ‘Good Luck’ that we will untimely hear throughout our ascent. Regardless of their negativity, I obdurately have trouble believing their remarks, along with all the others my brother cross-examines during our trek: in total, a hefty thirty on the first day, and only on Austrian hiker lifts our moral with an almost stereotypical, Wunderbar. Coming from the mouth an elite of the race of mountain and all-sport achievers, I am uncertain weather or not his remark is reliable. Bogus, I don’t believe any of them, and four days from the summit, I am already preparing my phrase for the triumphing return.
‘When people ask us, we should surprise them with a chant that goes like this: Dun Dun DUN… it was like having high-altitude sex, a Toblerone in the mouth!’ I laugh, but my brothers are less convinced. Already, Tristan seems to be panicking a bit.
‘We are the only ones to have not taken Dymox! (A drug that helps deepen the breath to relieve the effects of altitude sickness)’ exclaims Tristan at 2700 metres: Mandara, our first camp.
‘Shut up and play your cards,’ briskly answers Fabyan while aligning his properties. For the moment, he is ruining us at Monopoly Deal with his sixteen million Board Walk, but in my hand I hold the famous card, DEAL BREAKER! Uncertain if any of my opponents bear any spoiling cards, I nibble on the popcorn in front of me, tinkering with my cup of hot coco. Only later did I wonder what it must of looked like, seeing us munch on teatime popcorn at 4700 metres (Kibo Hut), but for the moment, I was too absorbed in my hand.
‘Oh, yeah! Monopoly Deal, I know that game.’ Announces a charming voice (the perfect accent of a young woman from Toronto. I was often told in England that I don’t really have a Canadian accent, but now I understand that what they were looking for was east-coast.) Jennifer, is a newly graduated student in engineering of Chinese roots, presently living off of U.I. To Tristan’s embarrassing remark, as he will later tell the story to his girlfriend, she doesn’t have an Asian accent: ‘I swear, most Asians living in Canada speak English as their second language, so they have accents. It’s normal. But her, it was weird, if you closed your eyes you would have though she was a perfect Caucasian.’
Next to her, Cassandra completes the team of the two Cantonese Toronto girls that we met at the entrance of the park; they too are climbing the mountain in five days.
Supped, and too awake to hit the sac immediately, we return to our game of Monopoly. Outside darkness has cast its shadow, but thanks to the solar panels, the mess hall is lit.
‘You want to play?’ I ask.
‘Sure, but I don’t know how to.... This is not a normal Monopoly!’ grins Cassandra. If the first only had the slightest glimpse that could trace her back to her eastern roots, Cassandra didn’t have any.
Fabyan redistributes the cards, ‘Lets make four teams. You two together, Roman and Alphonse (said: a: fon.si:, our waiter, who intrigued has come to join us in our card game) and Tristan and I on our own. This way, you’ll pick it up faster.’
‘You too are on Dymox,’ observes Tristan resentfully, ‘we’re the only idiots on the mountain not taking any!’
The sky is pure, and the creamy stars of our Milky Way spill across the sky. The air has cooled, so we cocoon ourselves in our sleeping bags. But our whispers persist, and we try to muffle our laughs as we thump the wall behind which dwell the two twenty-two year old Canadians, before peacefully falling asleep.
‘It’s already 7:30,’ grumbles Tristan.
‘No Hurry in Africa’ I add, another morning again loving the idiomatic phrase of East Africa. A half hour ago, we should have eaten; and presently, we’ve missed our departure by a few minutes. I watch, slightly disappointed in the discipline of our guide, as the other companies, strapped and geared, disappear in the thick morning fog. A minute anguish encloses me, like the sleepy haze that surrounds us; and what if Jelly Belly can’t make it to the top? I saw him yesterday, wheezing at every step, and we have but begun. I shut the atrocious thought deep in the pantry, and I wait. There is nothing else I can do, but wait, and see.
I did not mistake our guide’s age; however, I was wrong about his diligence. The first morning, we left with a forty-minute delay, but this never reoccurred. For every concern we noted, he promptly found a way to correct it. Along with the fried bread, a sog-bomb, we had for lunch. Our walk brought us out of the clouds. Perched on a boulder, my brothers soar over the vast African nebula, defying the laws of gravity. Where are their wings? I ask myself while photographing them. This is where we stop for lunch. Pre-made by our cook, Wilson, whom we have never met (and won’t meet until seconds before being rocketed off of Kilimanjaro in a matatu: the Formula 1 race cars of the road… regardless of their minibus appearance and three cylinder engines!) we pull out our lunch bags. One egg, a juice, half an orange, a drumstick (chicken’s leg that is, and fried in a paste that I found tasted like fish), a Snickers bar, a butter muffin, and the famous sog-bomb… we remain stunned, sitting around this strange disfiguration contained from contaminating its environment in a cellophane wrap.
‘That thing… weird,’ is all Tristan is able to formulate as he cautiously pokes the plastic.
‘I dunno. Might as well try it,’ I shrug, warily lifting the deformed triangle, blemished by burning oils, and smouldered in the pan.
‘Ah! Gross!’ cries out Fabyan, ‘did you see all the grease seep out of that!’
‘Yeah! All over your teeth bro, that thing is disgusting,’ laughs Tristan, sickened. With a jolt, I spit my mouth full back in it’s wrapper and jam the whole thing in a plastic bag. I baptize the latter: Garbage! ...see next entry