Friday, October 10, 2008

Day Six, Day One Trek

I load up on stale cornflakes and whole milk for breakfast and we’re off.

Two hours later, we stop to register at the Marangu Gate and sign in. This is not where we’ll start the hike, but where we will end it – seven days from today. I’m taking notes on the other folks who’ve signed themselves up to do this. I notice a group of older (40-ish) men and I can’t help but thinking “mid-life crisis hike.” According to our guide, this is a very common demographic on Kilimanjaro.

I take note of some of the directions at the trailhead. "Do not push yourself." Got it. Check.

Before I have time to make any more sociological observations we pile back into the van for the trailhead of the Rongai Route.

Such a model. Always has to pose. Even in her "active-wear." From Nordstrom.

Teri is snapping away along the way.

I’ve already mentioned that the driving can be a bit aggressive. Our tour bus doesn’t seem to stop for anything – people, animals, speed bumps.

We are speeding through a town and there are several locals waving, emphatically, for the van to stop. We don’t. In fact, we come damn close to running over the folks who seem to want us to stop. Then, they raise a rope and the van finally stops. Within moments, we hear the sounds of dynamite, just ahead. My first thought was gunshots and that of course scared the crap out of me. Dynamite for road construction, ah, now that’s better. Good thing we stopped.

Among my more erudite reading material, I also snuck in Vogue. I share it with our guide on the drive to the mountain and it’s a big hit. He points to a picture of a very scantily clad woman and asks if she would dress like that in the street. I have to pause before I answer “Probably not.” I leave the Vogue with the folks who will stay on the bus, though the guide does offer to bring it up the mountain.

We get to the base of the Rongai Route and are asked to sign a log that includes our occupation. I scan the register for other folks leaving around the same time we are. “Family Therapist” makes me laugh. Teri and I are doing OK but it’s good to know we’ll have support should our arguments escalate.

It’s busy at the trailhead. The porters are lined up to have their packs weighed. It’s amazing how many porters accompany hikers. Teri and I have 11 other people in the crew. One guide, assistant guide, cook and eight porters. This is not us being ridiculous, really, it is how it is done. Ridiculous is the folks who hire extra porters to carry portable toilets.

And there’s the mid-life crisis-ers. I talk to them and learn that they’re all “chaps from University.” And one of them makes a mid life crisis joke. Bingo! I called it.

And so, we’re off. It’s kind of surreal that after over a year of planning and days of travel here we are on the trail. We’re walking, we’re walking. Our guide teaches us a word that I will learn to love and hate. The word is “Po-le” and it’s Swahili for slow. Teri and I are both pumped after so many days and hours in the car so we’re moving – Teri especially.

The thing that makes Kilimanjaro so tough is the altitude. For that reason you do need to ascend very slowly, “climb high and sleep low” so that you are acclimatized. In fact, we learned that sometimes the less physically fit people have improved odds of making it up simply because they go slower naturally. I almost wonder if this gives me an edge over my Olympian sister. How funny would it be if I made the summit and she didn’t? That’s not how the bets have been placed, however.

In about two hours we reach our first camp. It’s littered with tents and it feels like an obstacle course trying to walk around without tripping on tent stakes and poles. Midlife crisis group arrives about an hour later and we chat with them for a bit until their guide calls the group into their tent for tea and they vanish.

And then we are called in for tea. We’re using a UK tour group, Team Kilimanjaro for our trek so I guess we’re going to be having more “tea time” than usual. We are served tea, popcorn and Nilla Wafers and are encouraged to eat. “Eat” – that is a word that we will hear often and will grow to resent.

In a most unusual turn of events I’ve totally lost my appetite. Also, I’m kind of accustomed to grazing instead of having three big meals.

After tea (I’m counting the tent as “inside”) we head outside again and I see something that totally rivals "Heels" in terms of being funny. It’s a guy wearing jean shorts, a tank top, the little hair he does have is very unruly and silver and the tags are still on his frame pack. For all the pictures we took, we didn’t get a snap of this guy. Damn.

Dinner follows shortly after tea and it’s served by a man named “Charles-Moto.” I think he ended up being my favorite member of the crew. In addition to his delightful name (you can’t say it without thinking about the “Hello Moto” cell phones) he had a delightful, gracious personality.

Charles serves us soup. Then bread. Then dinner. Then dessert. Then more tea. This is exhausting. We’re not hungry but the food keeps coming. After being told “Eat” a few more times we make it to the tent. With the help of some Ambien and a few glances of “home” I fall asleep.

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