The next morning, we rummaged through the equipment we would rent and then got into a bus with 14 porters, cooks and guides. Following the Tanzania law, we would climb the mountain with a little army dedicated to our success and comfort.
The bus bumped along the good roads, and grooved to loud reggae and Tanzanian pop, around we traveled three hours to Moshi town and then the Gate of the Lemosho route of Kilimanjaro. The bus ride and it seems most places in Tanzania was playing reggae music on the radio. Before leaving town Joakim and I got SIM cards and we bought stomach meds, sunscreen, and mosquito spray. As the bus bumped along down the well-maintained roads, we got acquainted with Faza, our lead guide. Faza was a friendly guy with a round appearance. He answered my endless curiosities and told us a few things about the sun-dried would outside the window.
We came across a Chinese road development project with Chinese men working on the construction of the road themselves. Since we passed during the midday heat, there were Chinese and African men resting alongside the road. Ingeniously, to avoid the midday sun I saw two African men laying on the road under their truck. I’d never seen people do this and I thought it was an ingenious way to look ridiculous.
On the bus ride, I sat next to a talkative young Kenyan man – Albert. Albert was the porter in charge of our tents. I was floored by how much he knew about the current US and global politics. He dove in depth about the US/Russia nuclear missile agreement and the crisis in Venezuela. When the topic turned to work, he mentioned that during his tourist low season, he can’t always eat three meals a day. However, during the high season, there are days that he descends the mountain finishing with one group in the morning and begins climbing the mountain with another group during the same evening. I was impressed by how much detail he had soaked up from the news and how fanatically he was consuming the news. Albert likely makes less than $5 a day for his work and still has interest to dive into current, and irrelevant, events that happened worlds away.
As we passed through the land surrounding Kilimanjaro, I noticed some unique things about the Tanzanian land. The people were farming with hand tools. There were basically no machines working on the fields. This was a shock. A guide would later explain to me that although Tanzanians owned the land they didn’t have the money to buy any farming machinery. They then left the land underutilized. Foreigner millionaires could buy the land from the Tanzanians, hire laborers, import machinery, and quickly use the land to harvest export crops – like tea and arabica coffee. As if the shadow of colonialism wasn’t over, the guy mentioned that most of the profitable farms, those that supply Starbucks, are owned by Germans. The Germans legally bought the land from the hard-up Tanzanians.
Outside the window, I saw the driest dustiest red clay soil lift into whoops of dust whenever a gust of wind passed. Visible through the dusty roads that lead through the hillsides near Kilimanjaro, were groups of men and women picking carrots and potatoes by hand, placing them into baskets, and carrying the baskets on their heads. I thought about how the dry season is a devastating feature of African agriculture since the dawn of time.
Eventually, we reached the starting gate for the trail, and we tourist bought sun hats from an entrepreneur lurking around the parking lot where we ate a boxed lunch of muffins, bananas, and white bread sandwiches. From the starting point, our porters carried 20 kg of our supplies on their heads all the way up to our first camp at 2,800m above sea level.
The first three hours of the hike was up and through a jungle path. Kilimanjaro has many different climate zones. The first zone was the dusty low lands we drove through, and the climb began in the rainforest region of Kilimanjaro with lush green vines, trees, and flowers. This three-hour uphill trek sure got me sweaty. It was exciting to set out for the first of seven days of hiking.
The trees accommodated a few long-haired white and black monkeys. The magical monkeys ignored us like they were the hot girls in a high school. I admired the rainforests flora and fauna – Yes, Flora and Fauna the name of the shop where we bought Beanie Babies in the 1990s. I’ve been in many jungles so apart from the monkey is my eyes could not really tell what was different between this one and the jungles in Southeast Asia.
On this part of the hike, I focused on learning to hike. Particularly pacing my steps with the walking poles in my hands. Walking poles makes walking feel sporty and less well… pedestrian. I had watched a number of YouTube videos about hiking and the pacing the poles was a good skill for me to focus my absent mind on.
Covered in a torrential sweat, we arrived at the camp and settled into the dining tent. The porters had already erected our tents for us. We settled into what would be a routine of convening and commencing our daily hikes from the dining tent. Each campsite had well water and when put water purification tablets into the water and waited for 30 minutes before drinking the water. We didn’t purify boiled water, Mr. Boil did that.
That night Faza told us all sorts of information about the industrious nature of his tribe the Chaga, his lazy ex-wife from Tanga, the mystical Masai shepherds, and his career path – going to safari and hiking college and then leading groups in English and in French. He also mentioned how much he dislikes taking Chinese groups because even on the mountain, where no one spends any money, they were still too price sensitive. It was fascinating to hear about all of these things. we had a large meal of sauce, a salty and spicy curry with potatoes. After eating, we checked our blood oxygen levels with a finger scanner. Then I crawled into my sleeping bag and dreamt of my childhood friends and me, both purposefully and ultimately aimlessly, walking around our New Jersey suburb.