Day 1 - Rongai gate to Simba Camp 2,600m
Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
9Trip End Feb 25, 2008
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After breakfast, the bag weighing formalities commence. When they're satisfied all our bags are within the 15kg limit, we all pile into 3 x 4WDs for the transfer to Rongai gate, a pleasant 2 hour drive through lush green forest and small villages. It's Sunday, so all the local villagers are out in the streets, dressed in their brightly-coloured-best and on their way to church. The number of young children is unbelievable - clearly birth control is not widely used here...
Once we arrive Rongai gate there's a bit of milling around as we wait for the 3rd vehicle (which has broken down) to turn up. Hey this is Africa, and you've gotta expect at least one breakdown right? Charlotte and Emma are fascinated by the squat toilets and start taking lots of photos as they've never seen one before. Oh dear, I think they might be in for a bit of a shock on this trip...
Once the third vehicle arrives, all the kit for the trip is laid out on the ground and divvied up amongst the porters.
There's not only our personal luggage to carry, but everything we will use for the week - tents, chairs, cooking equipment, food, the lot. There is a team of around 20 porters and guides just to support our 12 person group! We only have to carry our daysack with essential gear like water, sunscreen and waterproofs.
We are introduced to our guide from African Walking Company, Gerard. He's been to the top of Kilimanjaro over a 100 times so we feel assured we are in experienced hands.
After a few group photos at the head of the trail, (on 12 cameras, each with its own nuances) we are finally on our way. It's a rather warm, sunny day, and in true British style, several members of the group walk sans-hat - one of the girls even rolling up her t-shirt to expose her stomach! Being an Aussie, and wiser to the ways of the sun, I wasn't going to make that mistake, and made sure I was sensibly lathered in sunscreen and wearing my hat at all times. Lets see who's still worshipping the sun tomorrow....
Gerard introduces us to the concept of 'pole-pole' (pronounced 'polay-polay' and which means 'slowly, slowly'). In order to allow our bodies to acclimatise properly, we need to walk at a slow and steady pace all the way. It feels a bit like walking in slow motion at first, but as the days go by, I'm sure we'll come to appreciate it.
The first part of the walk is through pine plantation, and at this level there are still a few farms and lots of kids and animals running around. After an hour or so, the pine plantation gives way to rainforest which is a relief as by now the sun is really beating down on us. We stop to eat our pre-packed lunches which consist of jam sandwiches (don't think I've eaten those since school...), chocolate, biscuits, an orange and mini banana. You don't want to be on the Atkins diet when you are climbing Kilimanjaro.
After lunch, the porters (who set out quite some time after us) start to overtake our group, each carrying their allocated loads on their heads. The fitness of these guys is incredible!
The walking for the rest of the day is fairly easy, although their are a few steeper uphill stretches as we approach the camp which get the heartrate going. We reach Simba Camp around 5pm and appear to be one of the last groups to arrive, and as such get last choice of camping spots - a nice steep section with lots of rocks! There's a surprisingly large number of people at the camp - at least 6 other groups, none of whom we've seen throughout the day. They must have set off at the crack of dawn.
Initially there's a bit of panic as a couple of the tents and some of the bags havent turned up, but after a hunt around the campsite, eventually the missing items are found, and we are all allocated our tents.
Our camp has a 'toilet tent' (also carried up), which in fact is just a bucket with a seat over it surrounded by a small tent to preserve one's modesty. No-one wants to be the first to use it, but eventually one of the girls gives it a go. Personally, I struggle to master the technique and end up using the (rather disgusting, but not as bad as I was imagining) long-drop toilet.
As the sun goes down, the temperature drops dramtically and I need to dig out my fleece. In the distance we can see Kili's snow-capped peak and it glows a luminous pinky-orange as the sun sets. I take the first of what will be hundreds of photos of Kili over the next week....
Soon we are summoned to the mess-tent for popcorn and tea. This is followed by soup with bread (it tastes stale already even though its only day 1), vegetable casserole with rice, and fresh mango for dessert. The food isn't bad, especially considering they've had to carry every ingredient and cooking utensil up the mountain with them.
After dinner we all sit around chatting for a while and are briefed on the next day's walking. The porters fill up all our water bottles with freshly boiled water. This serves as a great hot water bottle to keep us warm in our sleeping bags. At about 9pm, everyone heads to their tents as we're all knackered and there's not much else to do.
Given the steep, rocky pitch of our campsite, I spend the first hour or so trying to figure out how to stop sliding off my thermarest - the trick is to lie diagonally across the tent! Eventually I doze off but it turns out to be a rather sleepless night....
Where I stayed