Jan 13, 2014

Mambo Kilimanjaro

Mambo means "hello" or "whats up" in Swahili and is commonly responded with poa meaning "cool". Everyone and I mean EVERYONE says hello to you in Tanzania and especially on the mountain. It was nice to hear the small talk Swahili chatter amidst the hard work and gasps for air.

We were officially on the mountain and en route to the summit. The first couple of hours passed quickly with playful conversations as we continued to get to know the small group that would become our vital support system over the next week. 

As the hours went on I could feel the weight that was settling in on my back. 3 liters of waters gets heavy after a while. I hadn’t ever backpacked before, unless carrying my backpack with my computer to work every day somehow counts. I had no idea what it meant to carry 3-4 liters of water plus food and extra clothes on my back for 1 day let alone 7 days. 

My shoulders started getting tired and my neck stiffening on one side. I tried readjusting my pack while walking only to make matters worse. I left it alone hoping my body would eventually adjust to the added weight or go numb in the appropriate areas. I think a little of both happened in the days that followed.

We would be gaining 5000 feet of elevation today and camping at about 10,600 feet, our first step at acclimating to altitude. For some reason 10,600 feet didn’t seem intimidating to me. In my head I equated it to being in Tahoe and since I did the death ride (the hardest ride I’ve ever done) I should be able to handle 10,600 feet. As we gained elevation I noticed my breathing getting shallower and my mind questioning how I’m feeling and making me second-guess if I could actually breathe. The monkey mind was already getting riled up…

The mind is extremely interesting and clever. It has the ability to create feelings, emotions, and experiences that never existed. The mind creates fear and fear begets fear. However, when controlled the mind also creates power and power begets power. My goal was the latter.

A couple hours into the hike and we entered the rain forest with no signs of rain… at first. Soon enough I felt sprinkles on my body and before I could finish my thought “it’s starting to rain” we were caught in a complete downpour. This was my first real meeting with the elements on a trail in the middle of the rain forest there’s no place to escape the elements, you have to embrace them and move on.

We grabbed our ponchos (an absolute must) and threw them on as quickly as possible, covering our head, body, and pack. The only thing worse than hiking in the rain with elevation is doing it in the dark. The day quickly turned to night as we approached Macheme Camp. Excited voices filled the air, we had survived day 1 of the climb. It was time to rest.

Our tents were next to trees, mud and the outhouse – a lovely aromatic combination as you can imagine. Jenny and I kicked off our shoes and crawled into the tent to settle in for our first night. I’ve gone camping only once and have never shared a tent with anyone, the idea of two people in a small-enclosed space was not appealing but in this case I appreciated the extra body generating heat in the small space.

Soon after we got into the tent the waiter (yes there was a waiter) came by announcing he had brought a hot water bath. The bath became a ritual I looked forward to daily. It consisted of a small bowl with hot water used for “bathing”. I first washed my face, the warmth of the water soothing my tired skin and slowly bringing me back to life. Then I soaked a bath wipe (imagine a wet napkin with soap on it) and wiped my arms, neck, and legs with it. Finally it was foot soak time (jenny’s fabulous idea) I took of my socks and placed my tired feet into the hot water, it was heavenly! I laughed at our rudimentary ritual, so simple yet so soothing.

Bathed, changed, and dry we headed out for dinner and by heading out I mean crawling out of our tent and placing our feet back into our dirty hiking boots and walking a few feet to the food tent.

Before getting on the trail the guide asked about any allergies. I wanted to say “I’m paleo” but I didn’t think it would fly so instead I said I’m allergic gluten and can manage as long as there is meat and veggies provided.  

Africa is big on bread, I learned this on the climb and on safari. The first couple of days I avoided the bread and ate the soup, meat, rice and veggies that were served. Eventually I broke down from depleted calories and hunger and had the bread and pasta that were being served but it wasn’t without consequences of night time heart burn and belly bloat… thankfully I had Pepcid. 

All in all the meals far exceeded my expectations of dehydrated food and protein bars. We had a cook that prepared all the meals and a waiter that served us with a big smile. Given how exhausted we were daily, the food was a delicious gift.  It was time to hit the sleeping bag and rest up for another long day. 

Right when I was cozy in my bag fully clothed complete with socks, jacket and beanie… nature called. I tried to ignore my bladders request for relief to avoid leaving my nylon shelter. Eventually my bladder was screaming at me and I gave in to the urge and crawled out of my tent and into my shoes with my headlamp on. I walked behind a tree and squatted down holding on to a tree branch for balance and at inspecting my surroundings for any critters, lucky for me there were none. 

I glanced up and was mesmerized by the blanket of stars that twinkled above. I felt small very small on this gigantic mountain.