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  • Dave Greten

Kilimanjaro - Part Three

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Day Three - The day we get really, really dirty

The next morning we hit the trail and steadily gained elevation. As we went up, the underbrush was less lush and the trees got progressively smaller. We were no longer in the rainforest and had entered the second ecosystem - "heather." The air was noticeably cooler and drier. It felt like fall.

Andy didn't trust my photography skills and insisted that only Tom or himself take all photos. I'm happy to say that this photo of Andy and Tom was my idea and was taken by me.

Here Andy is standing in a grove of trees covered in bearded lichen. This was one of the best parts of the trip for me, the air reminded me of a cool New England fall.

We stopped for lunch just as we came to a lookout on the Shira plateau. In this photo, the plateau is in the background and I am doing my best to strike a heroic pose.

While we relaxed and ate our lunch, the porters came bounding by carrying all our equipment. Here's one climbing ahead of us while balancing my backpack on his head. While we sat, ate, and joked around, the porters raced ahead of us to set up our camp in advance of our arrival.

The porters never used the backpacks as they were designed. They preferred to stuff them in plastic sacks and balance them on their heads. Given that they soundly kicked our ass by starting out behind us and racing past us on the trail every single day of the trip, I cannot argue with their methods.

Here's a photo of me and our assistant guide Tumaine. For a country that is generally lacking medical services and dentistry, Tanzanians are blessed with very nice smiles. Tumaine's name translated to "Hope" and our head guide Amani's name meant "Peace." Yes, we really did travel with Hope and Peace.

This picture was taken as we got our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro. It stands obscured by clouds in the upper right corner of this photo. For such a massive mountain, Kilimanjaro is very difficult to sight. This might help explain why its existence wasn't confirmed by Europeans until 1861.

Reading the history of the explorers in this area is a case study in extremes in human suffering. I cite the case of Johann Rebmann, looking for Kilimanjaro in 1848:

"The party (Rebmann's) lost their way in thorn thickets, slept where tribal wars had been fought years before, heard the growling of lions and were detained for some days in the company of Maina, a regional chief of the Taita. The people Rebmann encountered were surprised that he carried only an umbrella where before caravans were obliged to retain the protection of 500 armed men."

And on his follow-up expedition:

"The expedition was not a success. The rainy season had just begun and, as Rebmann recounts, his solitary umbrella was not enough to protect the party from the downpours that engulfed it each night. Rivers were flooded, rhinoceroses were troublesome and when Rebman reached Machame he found King Mamkinga far less helpful than he had anticipated.

Afflicted by despair, fever, dysentery and the constant rain, Rebmann abandoned hope of proceeding to Uniamesi and returned to Rabbai. On leaving Machame the party was afforded the custom of being spat upon by their hosts to the accompaniment of the words 'Go in peace', but they were required to pay for this courtesy with their few remaining beads."

Both of these stories are from Kilimanjaro by John Reader.

Here's Tom and Andy at our second campsite, Shira One, and it is here that we got really, really dirty. The Shira plateau is a giant wind-swept plain and the ground is a fine volcanic ash. The slightest gust of wind covers your clothes, face, and hands in dirt. I gave up changing my clothes for the rest of the trip.

When we were wandering around the camp, I was so tired from insomnia that I said to Andy and Tom " you what was I saying again?" Tom and Andy still joke about this line.

Another campsite, another bathroom for Andy to visit. You can see the landscape had changed from hilly forest to cold desert plain ringed by mountains. Everything was rockier and the plants were bristly. The best word I can use to describe this land is tough. We had entered the "moorland" zone and were at around 11,000 feet.

We didn't realize how powerful the sun was at this elevation. I got a slight sunburn on my hand, the one place where I didn't think to put sunblock. Andy got a fairly bad burn on his face and head because he didn't bring a sunhat.

For the longest time I thought English people in Africa wore big sunhats just to look adventurous, like Indiana Jones. I didn't realize they actually have a purpose. I was grateful I brought one, even though it was originally just for the fashion.

While we waited for dinner, Andy and Tom both took naps and I wandered around the campsite alone. Walking around on an African plain while wearing a parka and sunhat at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, with the guides talking amongst themselves in Swahili, made me feel like Ernest Hemingway.

This was the realization of a fantasy I've had since I wrote a paper on "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in college. I didn't enjoy writing the paper very much. But I fell in love with the idea of Hemingway - the crazy adventurer/writer who seemed to tell stories through gritted teeth. He was my hero, along with Eugene O'Neil, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Bukowski. In college, I had a thing for hyper-masculine alcoholic writers.

After dinner and before nightfall, Andy contemplated another solitary night in the bivy sack. The temperature dropped quickly as soon as the sun went down. Andy gave up on the bivy after this night and shared a tent with me the rest of the way.

That night was very dark, without any moon whatsoever. When I went outside to go to the bathroom, with the wind and the stars and the big black sky all around me, I finally felt like I was really in Africa and not just watching myself on TV.

Next Installation: The clouds break and we get a great view of Kilimanjaro

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