We all discovered that at night there is heavy frost. Which freezes the outside of your tent. When you gloop downhill and double joint your ankles against the side of your frozen tent, do you know what happens? Your toes freeze too. And in your semi-insomniac state, you figure your feet are cold, so you wriggle uphill again, try get your head against the top of the tent (bearing in mind, at almost 6 foot, I only have a couple of inches clearance at either end) and then you try to sleep again. With the rock in your left butt cheek. Oh my. Did I mention, I don’t camp? We’d been told, we had to drink 6 litres of water a day to try prevent altitude sickness. You know what happens when you drink 6 litres? You pee about 26 litres. So, you are lying there, and you hear an internal tent zip, zip. Then the tent’s external zip, zip. The happy camper gets out, zips the internal zip closed, zips the external zip, zip. Walks to the highly welcome and much appreciated “Wi-Fi” tents, otherwise known as chemical loo tents, which were in camp every night, avoiding night time trips to find a rock. This happy camper zips open the zip, zips close the zip. Seconds / minutes later, they open the “Wi-Fi” zip. Close the zip. Stomp to tent. Open the external zip, zip. Open the internal zip, zip. Close the external zip, zip. Close the internal zip, zip. Chat to tent mate. Then, the tent mates goes, zip, open the internal zip…. And so it goes. 22 people. 6 litres each. The record was 7 Wi-Fi trips in a night. Guess how many zips, zipped? (There is a prize). Did I mention that I don’t do camping?
Now, I’m trying to tell you how tough camping is… At 5.45am, you hear Jambo, Jambo, wake up, and there are two guys shivering in their thin sweat shirts outside your (zipped) doors, with a flask of hot water, a pot of coffee, box of tea bags and tin of milo – what would you like for your tent drink? I mean really – us tough Bear Grylls impersonators getting waiter service for our coffee-in-bed morning wake up calls. (Bet Bear Grylls gets it too…) Great guys, those two, can I take one with me? You roll up your sleeping bags, (how do they get those big fluffy sleeping bags into those tiny little holder bags?) pack you kit bag, leave for breakfast (3 courses again), stumble out to clean your teeth, and camp has been dismantled around you. Doesn’t exist anymore (except that welcome Wi-Fi tent). Your water bottles are checked, someone pats you on the head as your bumble to the path, wind up the clockwork toy, start to plod. Within an hour, your porters have jogged past, yelling Jambo on the way, leaving you in the dust as they carry 24kg of tourist kit bags as well as their own kit, the mess tents, the Wi-Fi tents, the sleeping tents, the food, the entire camp. And we – Plod. (I have to admit, on day two it was still driving me a little insane, I had not found patience yet. Come on Zen, hurry up already, we need to get this done).
Now, I have left out something very special. There were 19 of us on the challenge. Plus Alex from Macmillan, Dr Kate and Ben from the UK company who was babysitting us all. So 22 of us foreigners. To get the 22 of us up there, took 70 Tanzanians. Almost 100 people on the mountain, plus hotel staff, office staff, drivers, camp rangers etc, so that 19 of us could tick Kili off our list, and remember, celebrate and dreadfully miss special people who inspired the whole trip. And these 70 exceptional mountain people love and are very proud of their mountain. As Rama said, this was his 141st time, and he loved his mountain, not from the top of his heart, but from the very bottom, and all of his heart. It’s in their blood, it feeds them, employs them, dominates their life and the skyline. So, when going up their mountain, they celebrate – a few times before dinner, they would start to sing and dance, normally starting with the song saying Jambo, Jambo, welcome to Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata, listing the camps we would be going to and how the mountain was special, pole pole (slowly slowly) like a chameleon, stay cool like a banana in the freezer, grabbing tourist hands, getting everyone dancing, smiling, laughing, all really rather magical. Or maybe it was just the lack of oxygen. I rather prefer to think it was the magic. And I swear, as well as in the toughest times, at those times of the laughing, singing, celebrating, there were very many more souls on the side of that little hill then the naked eye could see. Special times. (Or maybe it’s the two double whiskeys?)