By park, I mean Kilimanjaro National Park. And by walk, I mean seven-day trek. And by in, I mean to the tippity-top of. So, what I really intend to write about, is:
A seven-day trek to the tippity-top of Kilimanjaro National Park
Which also happens to be the tippity-top of Africa, in case that was unclear. Turns out it’s a freakin tall mountain.
My dad, my brother, and I decided to do a crazy family thing over Christmas this year and trek up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet (5895 meters for those of you doing the normal metric thing). We booked our trip with Kandoo Adventures, because out of all the outfitters I researched they had some of the highest ratings and are known to treat their porters well. And for future reference, Kandoo definitely lived up to the hype, I’d highly recommend them if you’re planning a trek of your own (for the record, I’m also not affiliated with them in any way).
Here are some (semi-random but chronological) highlights from our trip, split into two separate posts because there’s too many fun things to write about.
Day 0: Arrival in Tanzania
My dad and I met up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the final leg of the super-freakin-long flight to Tanzania, which was a two-hour hop to the Kilimanjaro airport. We learned that when you land in Tanzania, where you’re coming from is super important, in this case because Ethiopia has yellow fever but Tanzania doesn’t. We deboarded the plane directly onto the runway and walked over to the tiny little airport, but before letting us into the airport, airport officials had to check every single passenger’s vaccination card for yellow fever. This mostly involved impatient people clumping up and waving yellow cards at harried officials who gave the card a cursory glance before nodding people through. Not a super useful exercise. At least we weren’t checked for ebola with a laser gun to the head like some of my fellow trekkers who flew through Nairobi (not kidding).
We slept overnight at a hotel with our five fellow trekkers (making a total group size of 8) in a town called Moshi, which is not known for 24-hour power.
Day 1: Turtling along to Machame Camp
The first day of trekking started with a shitton of paperwork (yes, that’s the technical term). We all had to sign in at the departure gate (in this case the Machame gate) with a bunch of personal info including our passport numbers and nationality and occupation. In fact, you have to sign a log book at every single camp while you’re trekking, and they ask for your occupation every single time. You’d think they’d streamline that a bit. My dad started changing his occupation when signing in just to see if they’d notice. Nope. At least, not yet.
After lunch, we started walking the 5 hours to the first camp, 11 km up the trail. It’s always disheartening to see a distance that I could run in an hour take five times as long to hike, but particularly so when the pace is excruciatingly slow. And by excruciatingly slow, I mean so painful we all kinda looked at each other in disbelief when we started. We legit thought the guide was playing a joke on us, turtling up easy terrain when we all had so much energy. I know they do it for a reason, to conserve energy for the following days and whatnot, but man it’s slow. And I promise that wasn’t just my personal opinion.
Day 2: Learning Swahili on the way to Shira Camp
The national language of Tanzania is Swahili, which also happens to be the language of the Disney film The Lion King (i.e. “simba” means lion, “rafiki” means friend, “hakuna matata” actually means no worries, etc.). The Tanzanians also use the phrase “hakuna matata” all the time, unironically, and it made me so happy every time. It’s similar to replying “no worries” when someone says “thank you.” But their version of “no worries” is much more fun and has its own song.
Day 3: Babu treks to Barranco Camp (via Lava Tower)
This was one of my favorite days for a few different reasons.
Firstly, we spent a solid twenty minutes explaining the following joke to our Tanzanian guides: “Have you heard about using the bathroom on Kilimanjaro? It’s in tents!” Which purposefully sounds like “intense.” But somehow that didn’t translate well and we spent a lot of time giggling at attempted explanations before our guides finally understood the joke. The next morning during our daily health check, the lead guide asked how I slept and I replied, “It was in tents!” Turns out a lot of things are intense on Kilimanjaro.
This was also the day where our waiter got outed by a fellow trekker. She is French but currently lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and has taken some Swahili classes. During meals, our waiter (who was one of the porters) would address the females as “dada” (“sister”), the males as “caca” (“brother”), and my dad as “babu.” We didn’t know what that meant until our fellow trekker, unable to hold back giggles, finally revealed that it means “grandfather.” I mean, my father is dad-with-out-of-college-kids-aged for sure, but by no means old. And also not currently a grandfather. Maybe the extra stubble from not being able to shave for the week somehow aged him ten years? In any case, it was pretty entertaining, especially because the waiter himself (a 22-year-old guy) was in the tent when he was called out.
Day 4: Up the Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp
The Barranco Wall is arguably the most technical part of the trek and requires actually using your hands to scramble up some rocks, but it’s still pretty chill for anyone who’s spent any amount of time hiking and scrambling in the past. Probably my favorite part of the hike for that reason, besides the whole being-on-top-of-Africa thing which doesn’t happen until day six.
This was also the day that we (the trekkers) got to officially meet all of the porters, which was super fun. We’d interacted with a few of them already (the cook, the waiter, the tent guy, etc.) but there were a total of 24 porters for our group and it was nice to get introduced to all of them. In return they sang the Kilimanjaro song for us, which is impressively good at getting into all the cracks and crevices in your brain and never, ever leaving. At least it’s fun and upbeat!