Day 4: Tuesday 1st October 2019
2:30pm – Shira Cave Camp @ 3,750m. (From now on there will be lots of reference to how many metres above sea level we are).
We arrived at Machame Gate at 9:30am ish yesterday. The Gate (entrance to the National Park) is at 1,900m, which is higher than Ben Nevis. The heights are on a completely different level (literally) to anything in the UK.
We checked in with our passport numbers, enjoyed the last sit down flush toilet and set off about 11am. Before we left we were called into a shelter and handed a cardboard box containing lunch. I am the only vegetarian but they are clearly used to catering for different diets. Lunch was a large mango salad sandwich (the others had chicken), a snickers bar, a plain bun, a small sweet banana and something wrapped in cling film. At first I thought it was a cooked carrot but in fact it was a cooked sweet potato – different, may try it at home.
The walk to Machame Camp was 11Km all uphill (no surprise there). Initially it was on a tarmacked road then a wide well used path. The whole of the walk was within a rainforest. It was very pleasant weather and was like walking up Win Hill on a hot summer’s day. Under the shade of the trees the temperature was about 22C.
I have never used walking poles before and Lee showed us how to use them (elbows at right angles, shorter going uphill, longer going downhill). Jimmy the head guide taught us the phrases we would get used to. Jimmy is a very charming and charismatic man in his mid thirties who has been climbing the mountain for 17 years.
The key phrases are “Pole Pole” (pronounced “Poley Poley”) – “slowly slowly”; “Hakuna Matata” – “no problem” ; “mambo” – “hi” (to which you respond “poa”); “jambo” – “hello”.
We were also taught the motivation chants: “Oggy Oggy Oggy” – respond “Oi, Oi, Oi”; “More Fire” – respond “More Water” (or the other way round).
The first day was like nothing I had experienced before. The “porters” as they are called are the strongest, toughest, fittest and hardest men (and some women), you will ever see in your life. Not only do they carry our rucksacks (15 to 20kg) each, they also carry all the tents, the food, the water, kitchen equipment – everything. They have a huge pack on their back and then balance a massive pack or basket on their head or shoulders. Whilst this is impressive enough on a steep path, they even scramble over rocks with all this stuff!
The youngest ages limit to be a porter is 15. Some carry speakers and have music playing as they walk. They don’t bother with walking poles and many don’t even have hiking boots – I saw plenty in canvas shoes and jeans. You can tell a lot of their clothes have been donated as they wear brands like Quechua, North Ridge, North Face etc. The job of portering is for the “less educated” – I was told, but all guides start off as porters. They probably don’t get paid a great deal and we have been told not to give individual tips as this can skew things for them. At the end of the trip we will all give an amount to Jimmy and he will distribute this fairly.
There are 12 of us supported by a team of 35 porters, guides, the doctor and a chef. When the porters are not working on the mountain they often have jobs on safari tours – it is all part of the tourist industry on which Tanzania relies heavily.
Back to the two main issues which occupied the majority of our time and thoughts – not altitude or the exertion of the trek but rather toiletting (no.1) and food (no.2).
On day one we had our first experience of “long drop” or “deep drop” toilets. These are basically holes in the ground within a tiled toilet building. The first one didn’t even have a door that closed. There are quite a few of these toilets en route and they are the permanent toilets at the campsites. There is no running water and it is a case of squatting, doing your business and getting out as quickly as possible. We have all brought plenty of wet wipes and alcohol gel.
Indeed in arrival at Machame camp the first thing Jimmy said was to use alcohol gel as soon as you come out of the toilet as hygiene is so important. On the camps, the porters – in their usual efficient way – have a porta potti set up in a tent with toilet roll which is a positive luxury. One of the toilets between Machame and Shira camps was so disgusting I took a photo to show my (extremely clean) sister!
So on to the subject of food (again) well, what can I say. I’ll probably have put on a stone by the time I leave Tanzania. We arrived at Machame camp mid afternoon yesterday, our tents were set up and allocated to us (I’m number 5, and I have a 5 written on my rucksack). After an initial talk and brief wash (they supply a tub with warm water and bowls so we can wash in our tents) we were called for “tea and popcorn”. A table was set up in the big mess tent with a tablecloth and a big bowl of popcorn and biscuits. There was tea, coffee, and a hot chocolate drink called “Mylo”. I actually like the tea with two teaspoons of milk powder, it is much better than I thought it would be.
After another hour or so of sorting things out in the tent (it as about 35C so pretty hot) we were called in for dinner. The starter was a delicious pumpkin soups and bread, followed by spaghetti and sauce. The chef had cooked me a vegetarian bolognaise which was absolutely gorgeous. I had second helpings as I couldn’t see it go to waste. Dessert was slices of oranges.
We were given a speech which was repeated constantly about altitude: eat lots, drink lots, keep warm and tell us if you start to feel ill. The only member of the Ahsante Tours team who stayed with us at every mealtime was “Doc” whose name is “Innocent”. He is a very sweet and young looking doctor whose day job is as an all rounder in Kilimanjaro hospital. Most of his work is in A&E, it seems patching up RTA victims (not surprising seeing how they drive – 3 to a motorbike with no helmets). The Doc watches what we are eating all the time and encourages us to eat more (and more).
When walking in the day Jimmy or one of his 4 assistant guides will periodically shout “sippy sippy” i.e. have some water. It is all about keeping hydrated. Yesterday I drank 3 litres of water as it was a lot hotter; I haven’t got through so much today.
Last night, we were told to go to bed at 8:15pm which we were glad of as it was a 6am start. However, we were called back quite quickly for a “meeting”. In fact this was to present Jess – whose birthday it was – with a Happy Birthday pizza. The chef had written ‘Happy Birthday’ on a pizza in sauce and we sang Happy Birthday a number of times. There was a Swahili version which went on for quite a while!
So bed was about 9pm. It started getting cold when the sun went down. I didn’t sleep too well and all the “sippy sippy” made for a few visits to ladies room aka the great outdoors (preferable to the other options).
It was cold but I know it will get colder. I didn’t think I had slept much but I woke up from a dream at 5:45am, so I must have had some sleep. It was a very nice surprise to be woken up and presented with a cup of tea – room (tent) service!
We set off for Shira Cave Camp at 7:15am. Breakfast was porridge which was okay and a very nice omelette. As I was the last to get ready I was questioned by Jimmy whether I had had a proper breakfast. There is no getting away with not eating here.
We were handed snacks of a snickers bar, a drink, a bun and a banana. I thought I couldn’t possible eat any more but after a couple of hours I ate the lot.
Today’s walk was only 7Km but it was quite rocky in places. The guides are always on hand to tell us where to put our feet, hold our walking poles etc.
We were told that there would be a “hot lunch” at Shira Cave Camp. On the way there we saw a number of white stripe ravens which are large black ravens with a white stripe in the backs of their necks. They are scavengers, hanging round the camps to pick up any leftovers.
On arrival at Shira Cave Camp the tents were set up with our rucksacks inside. We were given a briefing about tomorrow. It will be a tougher day – about ten hours, as opposed to today’s five hours and we will go up 4,800m to the Lava Tower Camp and then come back down to Barranco camp at 3,950m.
We were told that this afternoon’s activity would be to rest, that tea and popcorn would served at 4:30pm and dinner at 6:30pm. Lunch was chicken, chips and salad and for me a huge tortilla (Spanish potato omelette) with salad. I ate it all as it was delicious and Doc was surveying to make sure we ate.
One of our group was ill yesterday and is not better today. The Doc and his assistant spent all their time with him, encouraging him up the mountain. The Doc was also able to prescribe stronger medication. Doc made clear that he could not go to rest until he had finished his cup of tea. It is so reassuring to have a medical person here.
On the way up we got some beautiful views of the peak. Even though we have done two days walking, it hardly feels like we have started. It is much colder now and raining – like a typical camping trip in the UK. Tomorrow is likely to be colder still and there will be a lot of scrambling involved – can’t wait!
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