„Lada, take a taxi and go and chew them out! This really begins to be weird.“
„No, let’s give them another quarter of an hour.“
„We gave them more than half an hour. Damn it!“
We are nervously kicking our heels at the doorstep of Buffalo Hotel. The agreed departure time is long gone and the awful quietness of this dusty street just adds to our anxiety. We paid $ 2 700 ... we have a maximum of five days to try to climb up Kilimanjaro, no money left... and our agency nowhere. 45-min delay, one-hour delay …
A Land Rover arrives after half past nine. Siranji Saíd comes to us - confident and with a large smile. The mountain guide whose services we rejected yesterday. We embarrassingly stare at each other but Saíd is visibly amused.
„Kennedy is my brother!“
There’s nothing you can say to this! Neither the name nor appearance support this but is there anything we can do at the moment? Nothing. Another Tanzanian cheat. We board the jeep and drive to the agency to leave there a part of our gear. As we drive along other people are jumping on...To the Machame gate (1800m), where we have to deal with some formalities, we are already at ten!
We drive through the fertile southern slopes of Kilimanjaro. Maintained tarmac road makes its way through the banana and coffee plantations with tidy houses scattered around in the lush vegetation. At the gate dozens of guys are hanging around, ready to immediately accept a job of carrier, helper, cook and the like. Eager sellers of useless souvenirs of all kinds and hundreds of tourists impatiently waiting to pass through the entry formalities..
Said does the registration of our group and pays the fees to the National Park Administration - - $ 1,895 in total. Meanwhile, the carriers fled in all directions. Our delay is growing yet bigger. It's half past ten and we are still some 10-15 km from the Umbwe Gate! We think that behind all this is the intention to make it today only to the half of the Umbwe Route – to the so called Forest Cave Camp (3000 m). But this only confirms our decision to make it up to the Barranco Hut (3900 m), even at the cost of marching in the dark..
The last part of the journey by car to the Umbwe Gate is by unpaved shortcuts through the fields. Unfortunately, the driver doesn’t know the route perfectly…but the locals give some advice. At 11:00 we are there. Umbwe Gate (1700 m)..
We sign in the guest book. Today we are the only clients. Saíd finally presents our guide to us. Until now we thought he would go with us but it was just one of all those misunderstandings. So, it will be Eugene, older (55 years) nice guy, slightly limping. Another important person is a young man called Jomo – Eugene’s right hand. And then three other carriers will support us.
We put aside some stuff we will not need at the moment. We would appreciate if the carriers brought it at least to the Arrow Glacier Camp (4 900 m). Our tent is the heaviest of it. Overall, something like 12 kg. We get lunch and so called start kit - biscuits, chicken, sandwich, juice, ... a pleasant surprise. But suddenly, there’s a lot of noise around the packing. Saíd is on the phone, everybody is waiting what will come out of this.
„What's going on? We were supposed to be on the way already long ago.“
„We don’t have enough carriers. We have to call in a couple of others.“
„Nonsense”, I burst.
We immediately jump into the stuff the carriers are trying to pack. No wonder they didn’t know how to take all the useless stuff. There are two giant cabbages, a bag of potatoes, pineapple, melon, ...That's it. Mr. Kennedy really did not understand. We throw away a good deal of it, reducing the weight drastically. Now it will surely go without additional carriers.
At 11:30 we are fed up with watching the preparations and slightly irritated we set off on our own. Eugene follows. We have to wait for him twice, since two forks appeared and we didn’t want to risk taking bad direction. From the chat with Eugene it turned out that Mr. Kennedy did not brief him at all about our plan. So, for the first time he hears that today we go straight up to the Barranco Hut. He is puzzled at hearing that we want to sleep in the crater. He is deeply shocked!
We press ahead like madmen. In three hours we are in the camp at the Forest caves (3000 m), about two hours earlier than guidebooks say. Around, it’s nothing but wild dark jungle. Uninviting environment. On the slopes of Kilimanjaro sit heavy clouds, gloom and damp. There’s no sign of our guide and carriers.
Above the campsite the trail gets steeper. Here and there we overcome steep rocky grades. The rock is unpleasantly wet and slippery. Occasionally there are hooks for securing tourists. We continue on a thin rocky ridge in deep greyish fog.
At 3 400 meters, the landscape suddenly changes. “Hairy bush” absorbing moisture from the air is replaced by the lobelia. We’ve been carrying on in barely transparent milk for some good five hours without a chance of getting a glimpse of the snowy peak of Kilimanjaro. We can’t be sure that the carriers just don’t blow us off and stay at the caves. What would we do then? Waiting the whole day until they catch up with us at Barranco camp? Where and how would we sleep? We keep marching on, everybody on his own with his own thoughts. Never-ending monotonous slog. Lada in the front, I go last and lagging more and more behind, my leg hurts...
„Come here, man, quickly. This is spectacular!“
It’s Lada calling me. Out of the blue, I’ve got half of my body above the clouds and for the first time can see the magnificent Kilimanjaro. All the fatigue is gone. This moment is one of those you never forget. It will be getting dark in an hour and the landscape above the infinite ocean of clouds boasts with colours. 250 altitude metres remain to reach the Barranco campsite.
Apart from Kilimanjaro, only the 70-km distant peak of Mt. Meru (4 566 m) is above the clouds.
It’s already dark when after seven hours we finally reach the metal sheds of Barranco Hut (3940 m). The cold begins to bite. What now?
I shyly peek inside one of the “cans”.
„Hello. Our carriers have a slight delay and we have no place to hide. Can we take a shelter for a while?“
„Sure. Come in.“
In a shed equipped with two bunk beds, fireplace and a small table in the middle there’s ranger leader Fred with his colleagues David and Adolf. All of them young guys. They go through piles of papers, which they have to read and sign by morning. It's about checking permits of all groups that reached the camp today.
„So what do you have? We are making some ginger tea. You want?“
More than an hour after us arrives our guide Eugene. Jomo follows shortly. Both got chilled and are exhausted. Jomo has tea and goes back with a flashlight to look for the other three carriers. In the meantime, dinner is being served. Everyone ceremoniously washed his right hand. We sit around a tiny table crammed next to each other. The dish is called ugali. Everything has to be done only by right hand. First we tear away a tiny bit from a large chunk of thick corn porridge, then clumsily making a ball of it and making a little dip in the middle to fill it with sauce from fish or potatoes. It’s all fun. Pavel enjoys the greatest admiration for his today’s performance. When they learn of his age, he is immediately nicknamed Papa Simba. While waiting for the rest of our carriers (arrived at 10 p.m.) we enjoy another tea and help the rangers with their paperwork.
Then quickly pitching our tent in the cold and we sleep like a log...