Thursday, 29 January 2015

Africa: I wish I knew all these when I decided to climb Kilimanjaro

Let’s be honest; climbing Kilimanjaro or just the thought of doing it makes you feel instantly good, I would even go as far as to say that the whole idea seems even romantic; to stand on the roof of Africa, the feeling of being “one of them”, part of the small circle of human beings that have been there, done that. Possibly, you are the only one at work who has done it (unless the whole office have packed up their bags for a common charity goal) but let’s be honest, that doesn’t tend to be the case, therefore, back to the beginning; you feel special because you have done something that your neighbour hasn’t.

But, is it climbing Kilimanjaro such an idyllic experience as it seems to be? Answering that is up to each individual. There are no questions though that it is extremely special, mostly summiting Kilimanjaro unites people in a very common goal that is raising money for charity.

Why most of us decide to go on this adventure to raise money for charity? Because is a very achievable summit and if you are reading this from your sofa, you must know that you can do it as much as many other people has done it. There are not special skills required but just one important reason; you must want to succeed.

Now that I have motivate you enough to jump from your sofa and start packing, I’m sorry but I have to throw some reality into it. Remember that you don’t appear by magic at the feet of the mountain and start climbing, there is lots of stuff “in between” that must be considered.

 Don’t thank me that I suffered and struggled to avoid you doing the same, it was a pleasure. Now, if you are going to do it alone (the trip, the climbing, the hotel) like I did, it is also my pleasure to enlighten you with my not “so great” moments.

Truth to be told; today I would do a few things differently if I have to pack my bag for this adventure so read on and learn from my mistakes.

 Since I started backpacking I realised that, not matter how disorganized I was, at the end everything worked out by itself so I though it would be exactly the same with climbing Kilimanjaro.

Let me tell you this; NO.
There are things to consider and sometimes being less adventurous and  better organized pays off.

I wanted to do cheap (and who doesn’t?) and instead of flying to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and from there almost head straight to the mountain, I was happy to pay less and fly to Kenya. How easy could it be from there to Tanzania?

 Easy enough but if I would have checked better, I would have known that there are local buses cross the road from the airport main entrance (literally!) taking you to the neighbourly Tanzania starting to leave from 8am onwards. 

 I will just say that I landed at 1am to a very basic airport with no many facilities where I had to spent seven hours in a little bar outside in the street (closed) in a no very warm Kenyan night (note to yourself: is not always hot in Africa)

 Not only was I cold, alone, and trying to remember why the hell I chose to land at 1am in Kenya but to made it worse, I arranged transportation from London to take me to Tanzania only to find that my contact was taking me to the local bus cross the road, to which I paid about five times more to take me to the same place; me and thirty other locals. Conclusion: research BETTER than I did!

 Lesson learnt; never ever book transportation back home, you will be obviously scammed. Research is the key.

Whatever happened with my many backpacking trips prior Kili where I never purchased anything “private” because I knew better. Oh well….this time, I didn’t...grrrr

While waiting for the bus with other locals I was starting to feel concerned; I was on my way to climb Kilimanajaro only that I had no guide, no hotel, no sleeping bag…Basically I only knew that I was boarding a bus to Moshi. But just like anywhere else in the backpacking world, locals approach you and they start firing the usual questions. In Kenya or Tanzania with a backpacking bag and good mountain shoes there are no questions; you are there to climb Kilimanajaro and they know.

If you would choose/pre booked your climb with Zara, this big name among all the agencies that organize Kili Climbs, you would not be landing alone in Kenya without anyone waiting for you. But I didn't, I wanted adventure, spontaneity...Got that and yep, got that, too :)

 While waiting for the local bus to take me to Tanzania, a local man guessed rightly (and possibly he also saw the concern in my face that comes with the realization that you have just landed in Africa and have no plan A, B, or C) that I was there to climb.
He asked me and then I had to confess; I have nothing organized or book. Can you help me?

 Magic words; 5-6hrs later and in Tanzanian territory already, a man  (THE man) was waiting for me in an old bus station in Moshi.


He looked like he was some kind of big businessman in town; to this day I still think he owned half of the business in Moshi if not all of them, everyone we crossed seemed to work for him. Saving you the details, he organized my tour for the next day; I would leave to my climb with a guide and five porters (I felt quite embarrassed that I had this little army of men just for me) but you will find out that there is no other way, the Tanzanian government has established this organization and well, may you wish more details about why this little troop have to accompany you in your adventure, Google will enlighten you but remember, there is no way out of that.

I’m going to say that I went with this guy proposal because he was cheap, cheaper than anything I read on the Internet and I truly thought I was lucky but then again, Kilimanjaro is a great business for them and like any business in life, you get what you paid for. Mark my words, you get what you pay!!

Remember that Kilimanjaro is a mountain and everyday you walk, you will be closer to its 5.895 metres meaning… COLD, everyday will be colder, the nights getting extremely cold.
If you don't believe me, check out this pic below, I wore ALL my clothes and none of them were enough. I thought I would freeze to death...!

 I understood the first night that I should have paid much more when I did NOT sleep a single minute due to the intense cold I was feeling because both my tend and sleeping bag where as cheap as the price I paid; Immediate regret, fearing the nights ahead.

I can say loud and clear that this made my climb extremely hard. I did not sleep at all during the whole duration of the climb (up the mountain, down the mountain). I suffered intensely due to the extreme  cold weather due to the lack of proper basic materials for high mountain (I was provided with a normal sleeping bag!).

 I enjoyed thoroughly my daily climbs but I dreaded the nights.  The cold made my nights sleepless and this made my experience hard. It is not fun to get to summit night feeling like shit (but nothing could destroy my joy and I was the second person to reach the summit at 6.04am on a cold night of May). I just had to tell you, to this day I’m so proud, words cannot express the joy I felt.

Last but no least; the tips; it is mandatory to pay tips to each and every porter and most importantly, to your guide at the end of the climb, there is no way around it (is mandatory). Everyone on the team knows from the day one; sadly, sometimes this will drive them to do a lot or very little. Sad but their hard job (understandably) is all pretty much tip focused from their side.

Truth to be told, they get pay peanuts and God knows how hard their job (you will be in awe of how physical and hard it gets) but this would totally deserve a post on its own, it is crazy to observe, and seeing their hard work truly puts things into perspective for us.

Anyway, post summit and feeling on cloud nine, I decided to tip them all before ending the climb, half way down. I gave the money to each men individually, a generous tip of $30 to each porter and $50 to the guide (there are some guidelines for tipping in Internet but I suppose it greatly varies on the service received through the climb and your own budget).

I felt happy and all I wanted was to share my happiness  but shockingly some of the some porters started to verbally attack me because they wanted more money. Saving you the ugly details, this completely spoilt my summit happiness. For my own good, I decided to forgive them and put that ugly moment behind. It is now all forgotten.
It was, after all, an experience that made me “special”.

In the below pic, watching the sunset over the glacier at the summit.

 Tip for you; tip right at the end of the climb and give all the money to the guide to distribute. It will save going through a situation like mine that made me very upset.

I climbed Kilimanjaro in May 2014 and raised £1.000 for Parkinson’s UK. BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE