My flight was 18 hours late. I just lost a day of my holidays and lying on Heathrow’s floor I wasn’t happy about that. Ethiopian Airlines did absolutely nothing for me. I was hungry, tired and fed up. I was also sending e-mails to my holiday agency in Tanzania updating them about my delay. Finally the next day we were taking off and taking a course to the south towards Africa. I was afraid that service in Ethiopia would be much worse than it was in London but it was perfect. There were a few problems here and there but you could see that people are trying to help you and make your journey as comfortable as possible.
We have spent some time in Ethiopian capital city, Addis Abeba. I have learnt that the beauty of Ethiopia is somewhere else but not in Addis Abeba. It is in the countryside and small towns. I have been told that nature is the true jewel for this country. This must be truth as I couldn’t find any beauty in this city. Sorry.
If I enjoyed something in Addis Abeba it was my time in the hotel. It was really nice and the food they served was delicious. My favourite dish was chicken bits in crispy coating. Ecstasy in the mouth. I stopped to say to the waiter about my impressions and decided that I have to praise the cook
-You have the best chicken I ever ate
-What’s that, sir?
-Chicken. This thing there – I pointed out – It is delicious. Yummy.
-It is fish, sir.
Oh well… It was still delicious.
Quick shower and I dived in the bed with a book. I love reading in the bed.
Morning was as normal. Refreshing shower, quick breakfast (eggs, delicious too) and after a while spent with a book I was called by reception to get to the transfer van. At the airport I decided to buy a newspaper with local alphabet for my friend at work, Emam but they had none nowhere or anyone. When I asked for some leftovers in the business lounge the beautiful ladies were defending them like independence. This was first airport I ever saw without local press. Sorry Emam.
Flight to Tanzania took about 2 hours and it was comfortable. Food was good too.
When we landed I had to go through medical check (ebola virus) and some other formalities. When finally I went outside I stood in front of a few dozen taxi drivers and every one of them had a card or poster with names of the persons they were waiting for. Ok, I was 2 days late but I was also updating my agency about all delays via e-mails. I checked all the cards and haven’t found my name on any. I did the second round and I was more careful and took more time. Nothing. Hmmm…. Last chance and failed again.
For next two hours I tried to contact my travel agency. Yes, all attempts failed. Meanwhile this busy place became deserted and now there were worryingly few people around. Parking was empty too. I decided then to do something and after long chat with a girl and taxi driver I went to the travel agency hunt to local city Moshi. Taxi driver took me there.
On our way there I could see how Africa really looked like. My impression is that life there is close and all along the roads. I could see houses, shops, pubs and all the rest. African style. Poor, maybe even primitive, but idyllic way of life. I also noticed sling dandling from a mirror in the taxi. Nice handwork. I asked my driver why he is keeping this thing in the car. ‘Sometimes for cows or other drivers’. He was proud and I felt a little like in the gunship. African style.
In Moshi we found right place very quickly. Spoonbill agency is right in the city centre on the first floor. Inside I met Mr Pius, the owner. I explained to him quickly what happened to me. When I said the word ‘dollars’ I saw huge smiles. When I heard these words ‘I just want to help you Karol’ I knew where I was. Next hour was tough, ruthless, cold-blooded and brutal negotiations. Not a lot of smiling was involved in the process. All I can tell is that Mr Pius is 101% businessman. Finally we signed a contract which was covering everything I needed for all my time in Tanzania. When I say everything I mean everything. A lot of cash was involved after. However I was happy and now all I had to do was climb the Kili and enjoy my time in Moshi.
When I left the office taxi driver took me to the hotel where I took the shower. For few hours I lived on adrenalin but now I felt hungry. Fresh and smiling I asked waiter in the hotel what could I eat.
-Pizza, hamburgers, sandwich…- he was carrying on.
-No, no, no my friend. All this I have at home. I want something local. What would you offer to your mother in law if she would be paying you a visit first time ever? – I asked
-Is it a poison?
-No, it is fish sir.
-All right. I give it a go then.
Earlier I noticed that the only entertainment in the restaurant was music channel in TV. African style. I took a table on the opposite end and red a book. 24 pages later my Coke bottle was dry and I was still hungry. Maybe they forgot about me? I looked around me and I hadn’t noticed even one guest. I asked the waiter for my fish.
-How is my fish mate?
-Yes, it is here now. Soon it will be done.
Something is telling me that when I made an order my fish was still happily swimming in some local stream or lake. But when my plate arrived I was in heaven. It was whole fish with delicious vegetable sauce and solid thick porridge. I took a knife & fork but the waiter stopped me and showed me how it supposed to be eaten. African style. A lot of hand work was involved and soon the only thing on the plate was fish’s head. Literally. Waiter told me to eat even the tail because it tastes like a crisp. It wasn’t but I couldn’t say no to him.
After diner I spent some time watching what was going on in front of the hotel. I could not see a lot because they have no street lights where I stayed so after a while I went to my room, red my book and felt a sleep.
When I woke up I went for a breakfast. I asked for scrambled eggs. It was not a big portion but I topped it up with some toast and jam normal style. I had no time for comfort because I had to be ready for 9am for my taxi. They supposed to take me to the national park gate where Kili climb starts. I prepared my deposit which I left in the hotel for next few days and sat ready for the adventure just outside the hotel.
Mr Pius arrived spot on at 9. We had a quick chat, laughed a little bit and I told him about ugali. He couldn’t believe that I left the fish’s head untouched. ‘Head is the best’ he said. Typical casual talk. Then he introduced me to my new taxi driver and he said ‘You will be with a Chinese lady’. Cool. I had to walk just a few meters to the car but still my imagination gave me a few scenarios with me and the exotic beauty on the wild mountain as main characters. Not a lot of words have been said in those quick fantasies. When I sat in the car and turned my head with the most charming smile God gave me I noticed a middle aged Japanese man on the back seat. Mr Pius, I know you are reading these words. You have a very brutal sense of humour.
Our trip took something like an hour. This was when I noticed that Tanzania might be a poor country but they have the best roads I have ever seen. I’m not joking! Flat like an ironing board and not even one bump.
Japanese man was going to climb Kili using other route than me. I was left on the parking and soon I met my team. Suddenly I was employer of five people.
Abuu – guide
Juma Shabani – cook
Alfa Mosha – porter
Selemani Issa – porter
Richard S. Tengeza – porter and waiter
Few words to make something clear. I’m not so lazy that I need three guys to carry my rucksack in the mountains and a cook to make me sandwiches. This is a local requirement which can’t be overcome. Anyone who wants to climb Kili MUST employ these people. Full stop.
Usually I like to climb mountains on my own. I know myself, I know my capabilities and I like to be focused on what is ahead of me. Tanzanian regulations make it impossible. With all my crew we were making a small convoy cruising through the desert. I don’t think I ever climbed anything in such luxury conditions. I really felt like I was on holiday but who said that every mountain must be extreme effort and a dreadful experience.
First day we were walking in the forest. Forest is like a forest just an African style. Somewhere in the middle of the distance we had a stop for lunch. I was given a box with some treats. As you can see in the photo there was quite a lot of it: pancake, chicken, pack of biscuits, banana, juice, muffin and already eaten thick sandwich with hamburger inside (missing on photo but present in the mouth). That’s truly an American portion for something like 3-4 hours walk in the forest but nobody said it will be easy.
When we got to the camp I had to sign in and… eat a bowl of popcorn. So be it. I had some time for myself later. I walked in the forest, tracked big and friendly but shy apes and seen something called a tree rat. Bloody thing is big, grey and moved so quickly that I could shoot it only with Minimi but not with my idiot’s digital camera. After 74 attempts I gave up and came back to my little palace in the middle of the jungle to read some more books.
Some time later I had a companion in my shelter it has been assigned to two young German guys – Marvin and Gavin. They are ok I am trying to remember some words my teachers have been trying to teach me for so many years at school. We had a good time and some laughs too.
I also met a couple from Australia travelling in Africa on their bikes. Tanya and Dean they made a stop to climb a mountain.
Late afternoon I went for acclimatization to the nearest crater which was just few hundred metres above. This walk took something between an hour or two but I had a good time and made some photos of cool me and Africa in the background. Cool too.
When I got back Richard was waiting for me with a dinner. I ate it on my own in the huge canteen in the complete darkness. Then I joined my German friends and we talked for a long time. One of them is a teacher in African primary school and other just visited him and decided to climb Kili. I like them.
I slept very long and woke up at 0330. This is because of heights. I just couldn’t sleep. For the next three hours I was just thinking about everything waiting for the morning. 0630 I had a breakfast, quick wash and went up the path again.
It is hot October is a really hot period in Tanzania. For first two hours I walked without my top on. This made other people laugh but I didn’t care because finally I feel fine. Local guides and porters shout at me ‘Simba!’ (lion in Suahili). Later my guide asked me to put my top on. I was trying to find out why. Is it because of sunburn or maybe to respect some local rules? I don’t know and he didn’t want to tell me so I decided to put it on. Just in case.
My cook was trying to kill me with amount of food he prepared in the lunch box for me again. I don’t waste food so I decided to hide some for later in my backpack. But do I have enough space to hide five more portions in there? It is only 35 litres big. Is it holidays or a murder attempt?
We get to the second camp called Horombo in something like 4 hours. That’s not bad. Because we left all the other people far behind and I had some time just for myself. I asked to be in the hut with my friends Marvin and Gavin again.
Late afternoon I go for another acclimatization walk to the zebra rocks. I’m wondering why are they called that? I must say that I really like local nature. African style.
In the evening I ate a quick dinner and had looong chat with my German friends again.
I slept only a few hours again. It is funny. At home I can’t stay in bed even half an hour when I can’t sleep and time is dragging. In Tanzania I can lay in the sleeping bag for hours just thinking and time flies.
Day starts with a quick chew and soon after we were leaving for Kibo. I supposed to spend all day there before the summit night. I want to get there as soon as I can because if I spend more time there I will be better acclimatized.
Speed walk is not a problem in my case and I even joke that next year I will apply for the porter job. My porters are visibly impressed and I feel proud of it. Seriously so far I felt alright and except of obvious weakening at this height I feel surprisingly good.
In Kibo I watch the locals I always do this. Us western people we do things western way even if it is very impractical. Most of my colleagues went straight to their rooms to find some warmth in their sleeping bags. At the same time I sat on the dark brown rocks with few dozens of locals and enjoyed the nicely warm sun. They were a very nice few hours. I had a long chat with the cleaner Kibo station Wilson who told me a lot about Africa, explained relations between the nations and gave me a English football history lesson. Finally I will have something to say when I will be back to work at home.
Just before end of the day I met two Canadian guys and we talked a lot. They were climbing mountains too so we had a lot to talk about. Their convoy is even more spectacular than mine. For two people they had a regiment of porters, few tents and even little portable shit tent. At the beginning I seriously thought it was something like a guard shelter until they revealed to me what was inside. Funny? Probably you never have been in Africa.
When the sun went down I went to the room where everyone was freezing. I met some new friends there. Fernando, Kris, Nicola, Simona, Anna Teresa (Tesa) and Florian. They are all speaking good English and I was the only one who didn’t speak German. Except of ja, nein and schaise perhaps. They are a really good bunch of guys. We are all in high spirit when we turned off the light to take a short kip before the summit attempt.
Everyone woke up at 2300. I went to the canteen with them. We were talking, eating and panicking. First time in few days I had smaller portion of food then I needed. Richard brought me a coffee and a few cookies. I had a chat with one of the guides (27 years on Kili). We shared our philosophy. At the end of the conversation we came to conclusion that the more you are thinking the more problems you have got. No thinking – no problems. Shit, it is really so simple!
Everyone left Kibo hut but I still was there. When we finally left we could see a line of head torches high above us moving very slowly towards the peak. I asked my guide to climb with lights off. Moon was shining bright and there was no reason for it. Our pace was very quick for these conditions. Those of you who walk in British mountains do know Jacobs ladder on Pen Y Fan. Now, imagine yourself 800m high and a few kilometres long Jacobs ladder. Still funny? What about the bottom of it being placed at something like 5000 metres above the sea level? Not so funny. Oh, I forgot to add that you don’t walk on the comfortable trail but on the volcanic sand so every step takes you back down all the time. When I got to the ridge of the crater I was the happiest man on the Kilimanjaro.
This is where problems had started for me. In 5 days I got from the British southern cost to the nearly 6000 metres. Last 1200 metres in just 4 hours. This is very fast too fast. I was walking like a zombie and our water level was dangerously low. My fast walk turned into a drag. We carried on our walk in darkness. Moon was shining very brightly dropping sharp shadows and I could see many details even at a long distance. We got to the top at approx 0400. We were the only people there at that time. It was very cold but I was on the mission. Next few minutes I was posing by the famous Uhuru peak sign. My guide took 20 or more photos of me with 9 Peaks Challenge logo and few more for magazines I wanted to attract more with my story after coming back to the UK. It didn’t take more than two minutes and I could not feel my fingers. My guide asked me
-Do you want to see the sun rise?
-Yeah, sure! How long do we have stay here? – I asked
-Eee… Who cares about some stupid sunrise
Then I decided to keep my jaws closed because I was shaking so badly that I could loose some teeth. That’s how I made a quick decision about going down to Kibo. I also felt worse and worse and I could feel that waiting is not a good idea. I took some time to watch a huge glacier in the darkness and we started to walk down.
My trip slowly turned into survival escape. I was tripping all the time and falling on the path every now and again. I felt like I was slowly loosing contact with reality. It is like when you don’t sleep yet but not awake any more. Everything is two dimensional and I care less and less. And I am very thirsty.
At the top of African style Jacobs ladder we met Nicola, Simona and their guide. One of the girls had an accident. She felt of the path and hit her head on the rock. There was some blood and pain at the back of her head. Slightly disorientated she wanted to continue. Her partner was confused, also the guide was against it and I was trying to convince her that to continue is a bad idea too. I spend a few moments with the girls and when I realized that my job was done I went further down. Later I found out that they continued and reached the Uhuru peak. I know I would do the same. Good job girls, well done.
From my way down to the Kibo this is all I remember. Maybe a little bit more before I reached the hut. When I got there I had enough strength to carry on further down to the Horombo hut. From this moment on it was easier. Despite fatigue and of a sleepless night I was doing better and better. Not only gravity was working for me now but also with every step I had more oxygen. I felt like I could touch the air.
When I walked I could feel that something wrong was going on with my toes. When I got to the Horombo I asked for medical assistance. My toes were twice bigger. I had blisters under the nails filled in with blood. Quick surgery with safety pin made me feel better. Then I took a really cold shower my first in four days it was hard job.
After dinner I dived in the sleeping bag I decided to check how my photos from the Kili looks like. It’s good I was lying down because I would faint if I would be standing. All 20 or 30 photos which my guide made for me were black. In fact I could not remember flash shooting when I was posing and at the time I didn’t even realise that something was wrong. On the best photos you can see some shadows and only one of them, which supposed to be send to the Trial magazine is showing my face and bit of famous Uhuru peaks sign in the background. What a disaster!
This night I was in the hut with two Spanish blokes. We didn’t talk too much.
As always I slept only few hours.
At the morning I met Marvin and Gavin. We talked about what they were ahead to. Just when I finished I met my Canadian friends. They gave me a little pin with Canadian flag. Thank you friends. These two guys makes a great job for their country. If Anna wins one day euromillions Canada will be first country on my list to visit.
I make a lot of photos with all these people I met. I arranged a meeting with Tanya and Dean in the spring next year when they will be travelling around the southern UK and I went down for the final walk down.
During our descent I keep joking with Richard about me joining them as a porter next season and how I could cope with the job. They are having good laugh at me so I just must try how is it like to carry my Bergen on the head. Porters told me to get at least to ‘that point there’ which is something like a kilometre. Head was fine, back was comfortable and I had no problem with carrying 20kg on the top of my head but… my hands were numb just few hundred metres later. I am not used to walk with my hand doing hard work holding even this kind of weight above my head. No way. On the gym I make everyday dozens of repetitions pressing 50-50kg bar above my head but this is different story. I gave up half way to the point they showed me. My crew was laughing and cheering. It was a moment to say something what was in my mind for last few days: ‘You are simbas guys. You are true lions!’.
Replacing boots with trainers didn’t help too much to my toes which were full of blood again. When I got to the gate I aksed for medical assistance again. I was welcomed by the doctor in the suit with little label on the sleeve ‘Marks & Spencer collection’. I knew I was at home now. He removed fluid from my toes and injected some antiseptic under my nails. Not the nicest procedure in the world. He also advised me to go to the hospital in Moshi to remove my toe nails. ‘It must be done’ he said. ‘No way’ I thought. I want to run 100 miler in just few days. Who cares about some dead tissue!?
After this treatment I was presented with certificate proving my achievement and it was time to say good bye to the crew. They are all great bunch of workers. They made my trip extremely cool experience and one of the best holidays I ever had. Getting to the roof of Afrika, Uhuru peak, was just a cherry on the cake. One person must be mention in dispatches. It is Richard my porter and waiter. In these five days he was not only working for me but also he became a friend. I always knew I can count on him, ask him the most stupid question and that he has all answers and solutions silly western tourist in Africa needs. Richard, you made my trip a wonderful experience. Thank you for that!
At the evening when I had a shower and changed my clothes it was finally a time to celebrate my success. I went to the roof in the hotel where simple map of Kili was painted and glacier on Uhuru peak was visible in the distance and enjoyed the double chicken burger (African style) with bottle of Kilimanjaro beer (normal style). No better way to celebrate it. I didn’t red the book just eating and enjoying the view of sun going down and peak disappearing in the darkness.
This was it. I spend next two days in Moshi. I could write a long story about it too but it is not a material for 9 Peaks Challenge web site. Making long story short it was very exotic for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Guys in the Hartebeet hotel did great job making my stay very nice and comfortable. I had plenty of a time to enjoy Africa and read. I talked a lot with waiters, hotel manager and his wife. They are wonderfully informal there. Thank you for wonderful moments and all help from you.
When I was getting on the board of aeroplane I knew I am leaving very special place. Tanzania is beautiful and people are great. It isn’t a place for ‘all inclusive’ holidays lovers but if you want to do something different go to Tanzania. Yeah, why not on your own?
Last but not least I want to thank Mr Pius from Spoonbill agency. Sir, you are tough businessman but brilliant organiser. Thank you for everything.
PS I used a lot of ‘African style’ phrase in my report. Those of you who were in African knows what I mean and those of you who never been and are still interested must go there and experience it.