Foreward: Steve and I wisely decided that if we are serious about climbing Kilimanjaro next year, we should actually go hiking once in awhile. Yesterday, we hiked Margaret’s Way and up to Debbie’s Point where we watched the rain clouds move across the lowlands. According to the map, it should have been a 6.06 mile hike. According to our phones, we hiked 8.56 miles. Apparently, we took the long route…
We saw a lot of trees, and ferns, and more trees and more ferns…Here is a picture of the animal highlights from the hike:
Anyways, back to Steve’s story. If you missed the first two chapters, start with Chapter One.
Chapter Three: Magical Mystery Tour
February 15-16, 2011
When we last left off, our three intrepid explorers; Larry, Curly, and Moe…..I mean, Debbie, Steve and Adam, were about to embark on the most difficult and dangerous leg of their Journey so far: The bus ride to Moshi, Tanzania. A known fact; AIDS, Malaria, and traffic accidents are the top three killers in Kenya. We had prepared ourselves for malaria (or so we thought), had no intention of swapping any bodily fluids, so the only thing out of our control was “traffic accidents.” To make matters worse, everyone drove on the wrong side of the road. “Damn you, British Empire!”
Little did anyone realize that at the end of the day, “three,” we would no longer be.
Simon had promised that he would meet us early the next day and make sure we got on the bus safely. After that, our fate would be in God’s hands, and the occasional camel that was walking alongside the road. Anyway, it was either a phenomenal coincidence, or Simon really earned his tip this day. We stepped outside the Kenyan unComfort Hotel, expecting to cram ourselves and our bags into Simon’s car for the ride to the bus station. Instead, Simon led us across the street to where our bus was parked.
We said our good-byes to Simon. Then we handed our luggage to the porter standing on the roof of the bus, watched him cover the bags with a tarp before securing them, and then dutifully climbed aboard the Marangu Luxury Shuttle. It was an 11-passenger bus (not unlike those “special” school buses of home), not counting the driver and mechanic, who sat in the front. Once the bus was full of passengers, we were on our way.
For the next three hours, we suffered the normal “Trials and Tribulations” of bus rides in America: Dodging camels, driving the wrong way down one-way streets, deviating long distances from the main highway, enduring the shakes, rattles, and bumps of long drives down gravel roads and patiently waiting for herds of goats to cross the road. Sometimes the ride was so bad, when you got back on a “freeway,” you’d have to check to make sure you hadn’t lost a kidney. After three hours, we pulled into a rest-stop, souvenir stand. That was when we were first introduced to the Drop Toilet. More about those later.
Thirty Minutes later, we were back on the bus for another two hour ride to the border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. Having never crossed the border between two third world countries before, we weren’t sure what to expect. What we didn’t expect though, was to have to fill out forms and get our passports stamped again, just to leave the country. Once done, we walked outside and discovered our bus had disappeared. Someone pointed down the road, and said that we had to walk across the border into Tanzania. Looking out at the 100 yards of territory we would have to cross to get to the safety of our bus, we weren’t sure that we would all survive the Gauntlet of souvenir salesmen that that were blocking our path. It was during this walk-a-thon that we learned one of the street peddler’s most effective tactics. If they could get you to hold or touch what they were selling, they would instantly release the item and pull their hands away. No matter how hard one would try, it was practically impossible to give the item back. The logic being, if you couldn’t give it back, then you would have to pay for it. It was an effective tactic.
Once across no-man’s land, we dutifully paid our visa fees and got our passports stamped several more times. I swear it was a contest between the two countries as to who could fill up your passport the most with stamps. Welcome to Tanzania.
Back aboard our bus, it was another two hours to our next stop, Arusha, Tanzania. While we were waiting at the Arusha Bus Station, several vendors were trying to talk to us about contracting to climb Kilimanjaro. We just sunk down lower in our seats to avoid detection. One of the passengers, a young Korean woman, was taking down as much information as she could. This created a bigger swell of agents trying to get her to commit to their agency.
When it was time to depart for our destination Moshi, our bus driver figured out that if he could cram our ¾ full bus of passengers into another ¾ full bus of passengers, then he could go home for the night. So, that’s what we did. After moving our bags from the roof of one bus and securing them to the roof of another, we all crammed into our new Marangu Luxury Shuttle, for the sweaty, hot, dusty, less than a luxury ride (2 hours) to Moshi.
Pulling into the Moshi Bus Station (a gravel parking lot with no discernable buildings nearby), we hoped that our contact would be there to meet us. If not, then we would have to battle the local venders, who were hell-bent on separating us from our money, find a taxi, and then choose a hotel. Up to this point, we didn’t have a clue where we would be spending the night, much less what our options were.
Suddenly, standing tall in the crowd was a man, working his way toward us. With a big smile, he said those words we were dying to hear; “Jambo, I am Msechu, Anya’s friend, and I will take care of you for the next two days.” With his driver in tow, we quickly transferred the bags to his waiting SUV, loaded into the back of the vehicle. The Korean girl was being inundated with offers, so we grabbed her and stuffed her into the back of the vehicle with us and sped off towards town. Now we were four.
“Jambo” means “hello” in Kiswahili. If we said it once, we said it ten thousand times in the course of our journey. Once said, it would generally elicit a smile and the response, “jambo.”
Msechu is the guide who took Anya to the top of Kilimanjaro last year. After spending seven days on the mountain, you develop a certain bond with your guide. Were it not for the fact that Anya was going to climb the mountain again, four days after the start of our climb, Msechu would have been our guide.
On Msechu’s recommendation, we decided to stay at the Keys Hotel. It fit all of our requirements: hot and cold running water, a bed, and cold beer. As it turned out, the hotel was great. In addition to the rooms in the main building, there were huts in the back. At $35.00 per person, the price was right.
Over beers in the bar (Tusker & Kilimanjaro) and dinner on the veranda (pizza baked in a wood fired-pizza oven), we mapped out our strategy for conquering the Mountain. There are several routes to the top of the Mountain. The easiest and most popular route was the Marangu (coca-cola) Route. It had sleeping huts, meal huts, running water, electricity, helicopter pads, and cold beer at the camp sites along the way. It would also require a much smaller support (porters) group along the way. Except for the cold beer, we weren’t interested in the “coca-cola” route.
A much tougher and longer (45 km) route was the Rongai Route; but the rewards would be greater. Better views, natural trails, and over-nighting in tent-only camp sites. Although the climb could be accomplished in as little as four days, we had decided to take our time and accomplish it in six. Acclimatization was the name of the game, since the oxygen content at the summit was 50% less than the bottom. The more time we spent on the mountain, the better our bodies would adjust to the altitude for the final assent to the top. Statistically, only one in three who try, make it to the summit. We wanted to bust those odds.
The next morning, Msechu walked us to the outfitting company office where we signed the necessary contracts and waivers. For $1,650.00 each, we would be provided with a Guide, Assistant Guide, Cook, and 14 porters, to carry all the necessary gear to the top. The trip would take six days to summit and two days to descend. All meals and sterilized water would be provided along with the hotel accommodations the night before the start of the climb, at the trailhead (Snowcap Lodge).
Mirae left to check the other outfitters for a better deal, while the three of us walked to the ATM to withdraw some local shillings to pay for our deposit. Although the mighty “Greenback” was king in Tanzania, in dealing with money, two things had caught us by surprise: Dieter, (remember him?) and the fact that no one in the country would accept any US Dollar dated before 2007! Even the slightest tear on a bill would be cause for rejection. We returned to the Keys Hotel to pack our bags and wait for the van to take us to the Snowcap Lodge. Climbing aboard the van, we met our guide, Iddi, assistant guide, Makesh, and the cook, Joe. Just before shutting the door, Mirae jumped aboard. Apparently, after checking around town, she discovered that we had contracted with the best outfitter, with the best price (thanks again, Anya). Once again, we were four.
Two hours later, we arrived at the Snowcap Lodge. A beautiful lodge, we were the only customers and had the run-of-the-place for our stay. With some daylight left, we explored a small village nearby. As you can see, the children and locals were quite friendly, and loved posing for pictures.
Before turning in for the night, we woke up the owner, opened the bar, and had a few last glasses of wine. Sitting in front of the fireplace, we discussed our totally cluelessness about what lay ahead for us. It was my 59th birthday.