Jan 7, 2014

Kilimanjaro - to Big Tree Camp (day 1)

A lot of time has passed since my last post, which is partly due to the fact that I was far from civilization for some time and partly because I was being lazy to write afterwards. So, the next 4-5 months should be devoted to the extraordinary adventure in Africa, which I experienced in the end of 2013. Now I'm gonna stop writing endless introductions, because somebody has to translate them in English afterwards (as I write them first in my native language), which is not my favorite part of my blog writing experience. Also, I will try to make the posts less texty due to the same reason. However, the travel photo book that I make after every major trip of mine will be very lengthy word-wise and will include all of my thoughts.

The last explanation about what I saw and what you can expect to see on my blog – the first part of my adventure was a one week ascent of Kilimanjaro together with three friends of mine, which was followed by a one month safari through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania with no acquaintances at all. Let the journey begin.

I land in the dark of night, very dark, 3:30 dark at the international Kilimanjaro airport. The first real African experience is awaiting me already – getting a visa. I go to desk №1, where I have to pay. I ask for a multiple entry visa as I will have another entry in Tanzania later on my travel, but the desk clerk tells me that I can't, and I should not try to be a wise guy. The last part is self-explanatory, as well as the fact that I'm going to pay $50 each time I enter the country and I am going to pay them like a dude or like white dude, mzungu. For the uniformed this is the name that the Africans use for white people, which comes from the name for wanderers with aimless/lost look, which the first European travelers to this part of the world had. I pay the money and go desk 2, where they take a photo of me and put the visa in my passport. On desk 3 – they make a photo of me again, as well as take my finger prints. Just in case, I ask the guy at desk 4, if I have to go to him as well, to which he looks at me lost in thought and takes my finger prints again. I refuse to ask anybody anything, take my luggage and head to the welcoming party. Unfortunately, I don't see a note with my name, but at least I find one with the name of the company that organizes the hiking trip, Tro-Peaks. Joseph is glad to see me (cause he doesn't have to wait anymore) when I go to him, as I am too. After an hour of driving we reach Moshi and the hotel. We wake some people, among which the security guy, the receptionist lady and lastly Ivan, who opens the door to our room being very sleepy and I go to bed with the hope that I will be able to get some sleep before our hiking start in 5 hours.

Surprisingly, I wake up rested and while I hurry to rearrange my luggage, I panic a little bit not to forget anything important for the climb. Then I go and have a fast breakfast and even faster shower trying not to be late for the departure, a notion, which is almost unknown around. Naturally, things are getting done slowly and we go an hour later. And I was worried that everybody is going to wait for me. The four of us get into a rather large van, as well as many locals, which will be our support crew. There should be an entourage of 14 people – a main guide, an assistant guide, a cook and porters, many porters, but we don't believe that all of them are here. We try to remember how many people we saw boarding the van and count them to a total of 17-18 people, including us, which means that the whole crew is on board. We take a selfie with the idea to count ourselves, but Sasho's large head covers at least 10 people.
Count yourself

We stop at 2-3 places for last provisions and I eagerly absorb my first daylight African landscapes.
On the road 1
On the road 2

Although there is some rubbish laying on the streets, I see many trees, which as if in contrast to the garbage and the poverty around are richly covered in purple flowers. There are almost no leaves to be seen, just flowers, it's unreal.
The unreal purple Jacaranda trees
The rather real misery
Hair salon, clothing store, motorcycle, rooster and a 4x4

As everything nice the asphalt road soon ends and the black and reddish African dirt road begins. We pass a couple of villages, whose buildings are powdered from the red dirt at least one meter high. All the taxis are motorbikes and almost all taxi drivers have put on thick warm jackets, although it's about 25 degrees C. Also all of the bikes are shining as if they are faster than the dirt, but we see that they rely on some "car washing places", which are either large barrels filled with water or are situated on some small river.

Soon we reach Londorossi gate (about 2,100-2,200 m/ 6,900-7,200 ft), where we have to register ourselves before staring the hike.
Registering in the large ledger
My smug face

After some time our guys give each of us one box, which turns out to be our lunch. We open the box and the horn of crazy combination of food starts flowing
The lunch
We haven't started laughing yet.

The box includes sandwich with grated carrot and something like dill; the whole combo is sweetish and diligently wrapped in plastic foil. Fried chicken leg, in foil. Boiled egg. Tapioca or something similar, in foil. Salt, in foil. Some of us try to make a sweet zinger with the egg and the sandwich. Warm pineapple juice in a pyramid box. Half an orange, in foil, which you have to put to your teeth like a boxing teeth protector and to suck the juice out, while the pulp sticks between your teeth. Muffin, in foil. Candy. A pack of biscuits. And a small impotent banana. We laugh our asses off at the lunch, while we eat it. The hike is starting greatly, there will be a lot of brain damage, I can feel it because of the orange pulp stuck in my teeth. We laugh so hard that almost all the people around, including some mzungus look at us interested.
Yellow weaver
At the gate
The rules
Another yellow weaver

All the luggage is weighted on a large old scale, because there is a limit of 15 kg per porter.
Weighted and familiarized with the rules

The luggage is rearranged, we get in the van and go the way we came, but after some time take another direction. After half an hour we enter a conifer forest, where we stop at a crossroad. Our crew starts bringing down the luggage. As it seems this is our starting point.
Our starting point

We start walking lead by Chewa, the assistant guide, or more like we are followed by him, because of our fast pace.
First steps in the red powder

The road is covered with nasty red powder, which in seconds colors everyone's boots and pants in red, as well as the low vegetation next the road. In the beginning we move through or along a conifer forest and along some arable lands sown with potatoes.
Fields, forests and a mountain in the clouds

The mountain is almost entirely covered in clouds and we cannot see our destination. We stop in the shade of some trees for a break as we are all wet from our walking tempo and the sun, which shines on us most of the time. Although they carry 15 kg of luggage each, some of the porters are already passing by us. They are machines.
Passed by the first porters

We are already in the tropical forest, which is the second habitat of a total of five to be seen on Kilimanjaro. The first one being the lowlands, which include mostly arable land.

We are walking on a clean and 1 to 2 meter wide path, which is maintained quite well. At some places, especially the steeper sections there are some steps made, the path is marked with tree sticks on the side and has ditches and bridges where it is needed.
The four mountaineers
These three guys are constantly in my shots
Or this one

After a total of 2 hours and 25 minutes hiking we get to today's pit stop, Mti Mkubwa or Big Tree Camp at about 2,700 m or 8,900 ft. It was supposed to take us 3-3.30 hours, but as we were almost running, now we have to wait for our crew to put the tents up and to make us something to eat.
Big Tree Camp

Thankfully, there are no mosquitoes, but we still find something to bite us. Without noticing we have been seating next to an ant-hill and its dwellers have decided to taste our sweaty Bulgarian bodies. We get some tea and popcorns, until it is time for dinner.
Maybe this is the Big tree, after which the camp is named
The four of us
The little view we have
Waiting for the dinner

Washington, the main guide, gathers us and presents us the team and the most important people on it, namely the cook, the waiter and the guy who will set our tents. I kind of miss this get to know everybody meeting and will think in the next few days that the waiter is also the cook. Also Washington or D.C. as we call him between the four of us, tells us that we've been walking too fast today (I told you so) and that we've been jumping like squirrels.

The dinner is ready and we go to the mess tent or the tent where we are going to eat, something like a dining car on a train. There is a table cloth, cutlery, some spices and sauces on the table. Everything looks very refined, having in mind that we are in a tent in the mountain at about 2,700 m/8,900 ft. We start with a cucumber potage, which is surprisingly good. Then there is plain pasta, boiled potatoes with coriander, which we don't like and barely touch, a pot with something like vegetable stew, which we put on the pasta, as well as some very tasty fish. We eat everything except the potatoes and when the waiter comes to take the empty utensils, including the almost untouched potatoes, we all say that we like all of the food. Everything, no exceptions (wink), he should draw a conclusion about the potatoes with coriander (they didn't cook any afterwards). For desert there is some of the nasty orange, which sticks in your teeth, but fortunately there are toothpicks. They bring us a big flask with hot water and we are introduced to Milo, a cocoa, which we like a lot.

It gets time for bed, so we go to our tents, I am with Ivan, and Stan and Sasho are in the other one. Earlier that afternoon, Ivan learns that they have forgotten to take sleeping bags for him and Stan, who at least has one, which is for warmer weather. So Ivan has to compensate the lack of sleeping bag with lots of clothes – he puts on two pants, two pairs of base layer, jackets, gloves. And I am feeling like a boss compared to him with my cozy sleeping bag and thermo liner. He dozes off and I stay up to write down today's events. From time to time I take a look at him to check if he still breathes, he looks kind of numb or at least what I can see of him from all the clothes. I wake up a couple of times during the night and the first time I can't get back to sleep because of the snoring of my tent mate. Soon somebody starts snoring from the tent next to me and now it's stereo. Even the earplugs don't help much. I push gently Ivan, then a little bit less gently and at the end I succeed waking him up in order to stop snoring. What an awful tent mate I am, but at least I get to sleep.

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