HIKE - DAY ONE
We hiked the Marangue route, partly because it was the cheapest option, partly because you get to sleep in cabins along the way, but mostly because the route allows you to get to the summit in 5 days instead of 6. The only real difference between it and the other route, Machame, is the amount of time you spend adjusting to the altitude. Because we were coming from Colorado, and had hiked a bunch of 14er’s in preparation for the trip, we had the altitude on our side. The Marague route used to be seen as the easiest, and thus was the most popular, however, it actually has the lowest summit success rate.
Anyway, the drive from our hotel to Kilimanjaro National Park, where we started our hike, was about 50 minutes. We tried our hardest to stay awake for most of it, but the time difference and the “African massage,” as our guide liked to call the bumpy road, lulled us to sleep. It took awhile once we got to the park before we started the actual hike – there is apparently quite a bit of paperwork to go through and because we weren’t the only group, nor the only tour company hiking, it took a bit of time. We definitely felt a little impatient, we were so excited to get started and see the country from a completely different perspective. But about an hour and a half after arriving, and about three potty breaks (it is tough when you know you aren’t going to get to use a real bathroom/ a bathroom with toilet paper for a few hours / days), we were on our way.
I am not quite sure what I was expecting from the first day of the hike or Kilimanjaro National Park, but it certainly wasn’t a lush rainforest. There was hanging moss, trees with roots reaching out of the ground, making snares across a damp, soft ground, and lots of animals. It was exactly what you would imagine if you were to think about what it would be like to walk through a rainforest. Just very green, lush, damp, misty … perfect. I am making it sound like we bushwhacked our way up the mountain, that was of course not the case – the path we walked was clear cut.
I love monkeys, always have. I was so excited when we got to see them swinging from the trees around us as we hiked. It was pretty much a dream come true. I wanted so badly for one to love me and become my best friend, but I had to settle for just watching them swing around me.
We stopped for lunch at a picnic area off the path a few hours into the hike. Our cook had prepared some chicken – jerky as I liked to call it, a few pieces of fresh fruit, mango juice (which I am still dreaming about), some chocolate biscuits, a small bag of peanuts, and a samosa. To be honest, lunch was never the best, but it is hard to complain when you are living out something you dreamed about – I would suggest just making sure you pack enough snacks to get you through.
Our first night stop was at the Mandara Hut – about five miles from our starting point in the park. It was absolutely gorgeous. Rustic, simple, not heated, and not by any stretch of the imagination luxury, the A-frame huts were perfect. They reminded me quite a bit of the huts you might see in a children’s story book.
The porters had beat us to the camp so our overnight gear was already waiting for us and our cooks had tea and popcorn set up for us. We quickly set up our beds – basically just putting our sleeping bags on a bunk, switched our shoes, and washed our hands and then headed to the dinner cabin for our snack.
After we finished our tea, our guides took us on an acclimation hike, which is basically where walk to a higher elevation than where you are sleeping. I honestly have no idea what this really does for you, but was up for it. Because we had been hiking in the jungle all day, we didn’t have a clear understanding of how far we had gone, or more importantly to us, how high we had climbed. It was about a 15 minute hike up to the Maundi Crater and it was well worth it – the vantage point overlooked the surrounding areas including Kenya.
Dinner came when we returned from our acclimation hike – soup, tea, pasta, a meat sauce, and fruit. Our guides joined us toward the end of the meal to make sure we had eaten enough – we never had – they always pressed us to eat more. The food was good and I was impressed that our porters were able to not only hike with the food but then have the energy to prepare it all. Pretty impressive men.
We were lucky enough to sit next to quite the characters at dinner. A man hiking alone, documenting his journey for his family was our dinner partner. I will never forget him. He was such a character, definitely completely his own person. Because he was traveling alone, his guide ate with him and he was extremely nice – he answered all our questions, which I am sure were nothing new. Although it was early when we made our way to bed, we were all ready for it.
One funny side story – at dinner, my guide convinced me to take the altitude pills we had brought with us. I insisted that I wasn’t having any trouble with the altitude, as a matter of fact, I had found the hike to be quite easy thus far. But they convinced me that I might feel differently in the morning. Let me tell you, those little suckers are diuretics – they make you pee, a lot. I think I peed more that night than ever before in my life. The outhouse might as well have had my sleeping bag outside of it – I think I visited it 8 times. I was so dizzy by the last trip I thought for sure I had no liquid left in my body. Anyways, you can bet that, that was the last time I even thought about taking the pills.
TIPS FROM THIS LEG OF THE JOURNEY
- The other option to take is the Machame route. If you go that route, you camp in tents instead of cabins and you spend one more day hiking than you do if you take teh Marangue route.
- Although I had problems with the altitude pills, I do not discourage taking them. I just happen to have some altitude training on my side.
- A warm sleeping bag is a must – I never got cold, luckily, but I was never exactly cozy either.
- Bring a comfort from home – fuzzy socks, a sweater, just simple things to wear around the camp and relax in.
- The guides love to play checkers – sneak in a travel size board and I bet they would be more than happy to beat you.