With my Kilimanjaro summit dream dead and gone (for this trip at least) I was brought back to Moshi in a ramshackle, bouncy 4×4 truck, driven by a park ranger obsessed with two mobile phones. On the plus side we encountered a troop of baboons hurtling along the road ahead of the truck before they bounded into the jungle.
I learned that Tanzania drivers are hybrids – acting as postmen, bus and messenger service.
Mr Ranger spent a lot of time picking up stuff – boxes of banana’s and eggs, TV’s, people, all of which were crammed into the back of the flatbed part of the truck. It was 9 pm by the time we reached Moshi.
Fun Times at Hospital.
The private hospital was shut so I was escorted to a public hospital. I paid some money at reception, handed over my passport for ID and listened as Suley translated for me. The hospital was dark and dingy. Corridors, sans walls, allowed for a courtyard view of lush jungle.
Yep. Jungle in the middle of a hospital.
I was surprised too.
No windows or anything. Just sections of missing wall and thick foliage.
A dozen people sat in a cramped waiting room. I was embarrassed to be prodded to the front of the queue. I waited in a tiny antechamber for the doc to call me in.
Mommy! Look! A White Man!
It was at this time that a genuine smile graced my face for the fist time that day. I was joined by a mother and son. The kid was about 3 or 4 and after exchanging brief smiles I studied my phone for messages from my contact at 360 Expeditions.
The feeling of being watched crept over me. Glancing down I found the kid staring at me. I gave him a wink and went back to my phone.
Half a minute later his eyes were still fixed on me.
His mother offered an apologetic smile and angled his head away. I waited, sensing the kid would look again. Sure enough his eyes swiveled a moment before his head and his scrutiny of me began once more.
Another smile, slight grimace that time, as if she was annoyed and embarrassed at her son’s actions at the same time. I smiled back and waited. Aaaaand again, eyes and then head. The kid couldn’t stop staring at me, and I had no clue why.
After the 4th or 5th time it hit me. The kid was captivated at being up close with a white man. His eyes moved to take in my face, my arms, hands, every inch of me was something new and wonderous. I couldn’t help but smile at the kid’s innocent and unashamed fascination.
I held out my hand so he could see better.
With a slight glance at his mum, who gave him a resigned smile of agreement, he lifted his arm and compared it to mine. My skin is a few shades darker than Snow White’s. However, compared to the kid’s it looked almost luminescent. Once or twice we made eye contact, where I raised my eyebrows and smiled. The kid smiled back and continued with his study.
Though far from satisfied with the experiment, the kid had his arm lowered by mum and I was called to see the doc.
The guy was amazing. A bit grizzled and weary of face, but a good doctor. He checked me over, made some notes and told me to get rest, take pain killers, and drink a crap load of water.
Sippy Sippy. Pole-pole.
Side story: Several times during my hospital visit the power went out. All lights vanished. And when I looked out of the window I saw it was the entire town, leaving car headlights cruising along dark streets. No one seemed alarmed or concerned.
Later, Mussa explained that Moshi has frequent power outages and some places have backup generators, my hotel included. Made me thankful for our National Grid.
Sal salinero Hotel, again.
Back. Room. Shower. Meds. Water. Sleep.
I slept for a long time.
Next morning I still felt sick, with that jelly concrete sensation. I tried breakfast and managed some delightful scrambled egg and very tasty mini beef samosas from the buffet. Waiting staff were always smiling, helpful and happy to explain the food on offer, followed by a gracious karibu.
Being grateful my reply was santa sana. And for the hospitality alone, I was very thankful.
Time for some gratuitous photos of lushness.
That was the view from my breakfast table. Kinda tall trees, right?
And then we come to my mini hobby – Pool Watch.
Initially labelled as the Emerald Lake by my poetic mind, later swapped for Croc Swamp. I would have loved to dive and swim several times a day, but it was simply too green and I couldn’t see the bottom to be certain there was nothing big and toothy waiting to gnaw on me.
Regardless of the no swim option, it does look beautiful.
Okay, one more photo and then back to my story.
I don’t know what this spiky thing is but it looked cool so I snapped it.
Mussa and the Wait.
Our fundraising was organised through ZSEA – Zoological Society of East Anglia, who booked the Kilimanjaro trek through 360 Expeditions, who employ Pristine Trails in Moshi for their expertise in guides on Kili, porters, cooks and so on. Pristine also do safari tours. Good ones too.
So, Mussa, a top quality dude, at Pristine, said he’d show me around Moshi. I waited and lamented my bad luck. Sure, I felt sorry for myself. I’d missed out on a big deal. Sucks to be me, right? Boo-hoo. Self-pity gets old after a while.
I slouched around the hotel, a tiny bit annoyed Mussa hadn’t shown up or called.
Next day I had a message saying he’d come and we’d go out.
I was in contact with 360, my travel insurance company and family whom I informed of my health issues.
But no Mussa.
I was thinking of catching an early flight home. There seemed to be a battle of sorts, or perhaps miscommunication, between me and the travel insurance company. The longer they waited to reply to my claim and request for a flight home, the more it was costing to stay at the hotel.
So I was a little bummed out by then and fed up of walking the grounds, taking endless photos, reading, and waiting for something to happen. All the time wondering how the team were getting on up the mountain.
The bar staff were nice and cheery.
It’s funny how you sometimes miss details, isn’t it?
Only when stood on the path, lost in thought, did I notice how the bar was carved with an African theme.
Nice touch, right?
So, back to Mussa.
He arrived the next day and apologised for the wait. Hakuna Matata, matey. Turns out a Tanzanian “later” is a very long time. Longer than the relaxed Spanish “manana”.
My irritation dissolved when he explained how his truck had been broken into. Thieves stole his trek gear, one boot, a laptop, his insurance and medical paperwork, along with his ID card that showed Kili park gates he was a licenced guide.
I understand he had been a little stressed.
We were both puzzled why anyone would steal a laptop, and just the one boot.
Turns out there are assholes in Tanzania just like we get in England.
Mussa had to run some errands in order to be prepped to lead his own expedition up the mountain in 2 days time. We drive into Moshi where I learned that everyone knew Mussa. At every cafe and junction people waved and shouted greetings to him.
He explained he’d lead a pretty pronounced and energetic life in his younger days and was well-known. He said often people would start a conversation when he had no idea who they were. I suspect that he was a bit of a wild party boy. Also he used to be a race car driver. Not sure if sincere honesty or pulling my sausage. Either way he was very popular.
We ate lunch at the Union Cafe in Moshi.
Well, Mussa left me at a table outside for a while so he could run an errand.
So I sat there. Somewhat trepidatious. It was a strange but likeable town. Colourful. Noisy. Unfamiliar smells. And there was a soldier just outside the cafe with a really big gun. Though I didn’t dare try to openly take photos of him.
I concentrated on the model of the mountain.
The burger was very tasty. The bun, like a lot Moshi bread, was very sweet and doughy. I’m sure it was made from maize flour rather than wheat flour. Damn tasty all the same!
In The Sticks
Mussa said he had a bit of treat for me and we headed out of Moshi to the south of Kili.
I didn’t take many photos of Moshi town, but I caught this one on the drive out as it was really bright and colourful.
Before that we headed down a series of ragged roads away from the town centre. They became increasingly more ragged and bumpy as we went. Houses turned to unfinished shells of concrete block, and in turn they became wooden shacks.
When I thought it couldn’t get more rustic, the shacks grew more shacky, and young children, goats and chickens roamed free and barefoot. The children, not the goats or chickens. Though technically goats and chickens are barefoot all the time anyway.
We arrived at a big set of gates set in high thick walls topped with barbed wire. That last detail may have been my imagination taking once last stab at the fun side of life before the end came. The point is that despite feeling comfortable and safe in Mussa’s company, I suddenly questioned who he was.
I’d know him a total of…3 maybe 4 hours.
He worked for Pristine Trails.
But what else did he do?
Drug runner? Diamond smuggler? Organ harvester?
He’d summited Kilimanjaro many times, and stopped counting at the 250 mark.
“For a long time the mountain was my lady,” Mussa said at Union Cafe, a whimsical, faraway look in his eye.
Small comfort to someone who’s about to die.
Right then I saw a vivid possible future where I vanished. Never to be seen again. The international news would run every story imaginable. There’d be investigations, interviews, wild theories, international concerns and new policies governing tourist safety in Africa.
I knew my doom lay beyond those heavy-duty gates.
Turns out Mussa was just dropping off lunch for a pal.
Brown trousers avoided. We moved on.
Unlike the Londorosi park gate, which is accessible after driving through hot dusty desert for a few hours from Moshi, the route Mussa took me to was the Marangu gate, less than an hours drive away and through stunning scenery.
Marangu gate is south-east of the mountain. We drove through vast banana and coffee plantations. The air became cool and the roads narrowed as we wound up the side of the mountain.
One thing struck me a peculiar about the townships around Moshi, the type of shops, or rather the regular occurrence of the same type of shops gathered together.
- Drinks shop.
- Food shop.
- Barber shop.
- Gas shop.
- Bed/sofa shop.
- Coffin shop.
Yep. All in close proximity of one another.
Not only down below, but up high on the mountain you’ll likely find a small hut to buy a drink and some scoff, the neighbour offering you a haircut, and whilst you’re there you can pick up a sofa/bed and a quick coffin.
I took a lot of video on my phone, though I haven’t got around to processing any yet. I took a GoPro Hero 4 Silver with me. Didn’t use it. I found it too small, annoying, fiddly and oddly cumbersome considering its tiny size, likely due to the selfie-stick thing I’d attached it to.
Besides, my phone took better pictures and video.
It has prompted me to buy a proper camera well before my next adventure.
The GoPro is a great piece of tech, but it didn’t suit my purposes for that sort of trip.
I wondered if I should offer advice in these posts. Nope. There are plenty of sites offering all that stuff. But one tip I do have is long before you jet off, make sure you’re very comfortable with whatever photo/video device you plan on taking to capture your adventure.
I missed a trick by not finding the right bit of kit, and whilst my smart-phone photos are okay, kind of, they’re not as a good as I’d like.
The Marangu gate is an impressive site. When I asked Mussa why Londorosi looked like a shitty knocked together in one day type of place compared to the splendour of Marangu, he said it’s because Marangu was the first established gate to the park and as such had seen time and money spent making it look good.
Take a look at the sign of rules for climbing the mountain.
It’s a very beautiful place. Tranquil and cool.
I had the same light-headed, breathless feeling at Marangu as I’d had at Morum picnic place. Mussa told me to take my time and not to rush anywhere. Being in the car I hadn’t noticed the change in elevation.
Marangu gate is at 1,870 metres above sea level.
I bought some souvenirs from a tiny shack at the top on the right, just out of shot of the below photo.
That’s Mussa walking the steps to get a replacement guide/first aid certificate from the office on the left.
I didn’t reach Kibo summit with my team, but I did experience a different and unexpected side to Tanzania – untouristy Moshi, banana and coffee plantations, lush forests, lots of dusty roads, mini dust tornados, goats, sheep, cows and people, lots and lots of people.
And the cows. So many cows. We’d roll into a small township and the roads would be heaving with cows and goats. Noise and stink invading my brain. It was chaos, but spectacular and beautiful at the same time.
I was grateful to Mussa for asking me to accompany him. He didn’t have to do that, and aside from his kind nature (where he offered friendship to a fellow human) it was also an excellent example of good customer service. I’d say the best I’ve experienced.
Back in town Mussa was way more relaxed now he had his licence card again. We stopped by Pristine Trails office where I took a picture of their wall art. It’s pretty amazing.
Joel, on the right behind the desk, is also a genuinely nice guy. Very helpful and kind. Another shot of Mussa stood up.
I was privileged to listen to Mussa’s questionable taste in 80’s pop music too.
Home or Stay?
Back at the hotel, I had to make a choice – stay and wait for the team to return, but incur hotel costs, or fly home early?
The day after I was sat in my room, Expedia app open, waiting for the circle loading icon to stop spinning and confirm my return trip. The insurance company had taken too long in their reply, and had concluded it was now cheaper for me to stay at the hotel for the remainder of the stay than fly home.
However, on that particular day I’d had enough. I wanted to fly home, rest and figure out what I was going to tell people about my illness and not reaching the summit.
If the insurance paid for my hotel costs then I’d swallow the £450 return flight myself.
Whilst waiting for the spinning wheel I received a text.
For a moment I ignored the text.
I was thinking about the booking confirmation email, how I’d get to the airport, paying my hotel costs, leaving notes for the team, and so on.
I closed the app. I figured it needed to reload and then try the flight booking again.
The message was from 360.
Julie had been taken ill with a chest infection and was being evacuated off the mountain. She’d reached Karanga Camp after tackling the Barranco Wall, the very thing we had both been nervous about. That was it. I was staying. I made sure my flight transaction had been cancelled.
I knew Julie would be devastated and I wanted to make sure I was around if she needed to talk.
Jo had already spoken to us about donating kit we didn’t want/need after the trek, and not to give any direct to a specific person but rather we’d pool it together and it would handed out at a later stage.
I spoke to Mussa about this and the hardships some porters and guides face in trying to get work on the mountain. It can be a difficult place to find work, and keep regular work too, when you don’t have the right kit.
I had been prepared to donate at least something, but because of well I had been treated I donated a bunch of stuff direct to Mussa – my down jacket, water bladder, socks, water bottle, waterproof bags, gloves, a couple of tops and some toiletries.
The porters and guides do an amazing job and anything I could do to support them was worth it.
Taken from the Kili Porters Assistance Project website:
Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro know that the porters are the heart and soul of your trek. Without their hard work and strength we would not be able to fully experience the magnificence of Kili. But the truth is porters are often impoverished Tanzanians who depend on this labor-intensive employment in order to feed themselves and their families.
I couldn’t agree more.
When Julie and I finally got together she explained how her breathing had been so bad, and the rattling nasty crap in her chest had not got any worse, even with antibiotics on the mountain. I sympathised big time. I was gutted she had missed out on the summit, yet glad she was safe.
She told me all about the Barranco Wall. It sounded both gritty/scary/hard and challenging/exciting and worth the effort. At least that’s what I think she meant! I shared stories of my adventures with Mussa in Moshi and Marangu.
And then we hit the bar!
Not for booze, that shit’s okay for a celebration, we went for the good stuff.
Stoney Tangawizi – subtle and sweet ginger beer – like bathing your tongue in beauty.
Kilimanjaro Water – sourced from melting glaciers – cold, pure and gorgeous!
Fanta Passion – it’s like having a tropical fruit party in your mouth.
We played Uno, ate dinner and chatted about life, the mountain, Tanzania and everything in between.
The chicken burger was surprising. It wasn’t a lump of reconstituted chicken paste fried from frozen, but actual chunks of chicken freshly made in the kitchen. An interesting and very tasty approach.
The next morning I managed to snap a lizard!
A Different Kind Of Trek.
So far the trip had been very mixed, in every sense of the word. I’d seen things I never dreamed I would. I experienced thoughts and feelings I seldom touched on. My senses had been treated to a rich and stunning menu of delights.
I was still saddened at failing to reach the summit, yet I was grateful for the surprising sequence of events that followed as a result of my evacuation.
It sure is funny how things turn out. I could say I had regrets, but because I can always return for that challenge my life is now enriched because I didn’t get there this time.
I hadn’t counted on arriving back in the UK with an unexpected and different set of memories. Life sure is strange. And awesome. I am indeed in awe of what life can offer up when you least expect it.
My story isn’t over quite yet. Julie and I had to wait another day for the rest of the team to arrive at Mweka Gate.
And that, dear blog reader, is a story for another time.