Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Guides of Kilimanjaro

Battling through freezing temperatures, bouts of violent vomiting, and efforts to tempt us off course with canned meats, your correspondents made it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. We took a pretty leisurely route - a full seven days on the mountain when some do it in five - and the walking was pretty easy. Only the actual summit day was really strenuous, unless you count the strain of puking up cream of carrot soup and M&M's, which your correspondent did a couple days before summiting.

Not unlike Machu Picchu, while the actual climb was not that grueling, the humbling part is watching the porters zip by you, carrying forty pounds of gear in a canvas bag balanced on their heads. Of course the Peruvians did it while wearing handmade sandals -- at least these guys mostly had shoes or boots that they had inherited from previous climbers, many of whom apparently cast off much of their hiking gear at the end of the trek. (I wouldn't be surprised if these clothing donors were people not unlike the guy I met at the very beginning of the climb, decked out in new North Face gear and fancy gaiters, who struck up a conversation by asking me if I had ever climbed a mountain before - as this was his first.)

In our group, we were joined by five Aussies, some of whom were likewise new to walking up mountains. I'm not sure how one picks Kilimanjaro as their first hill to go up, but they all made it to the top, aided by Red Bull and the premium ("heaps better than Spam") canned ham that they brought along for sustenance on top of what the tour company provided.

The amount of food that the tour company provided was ridiculous, and the very friendly guys who served us each meal were maternal in their efforts to convince us all to have a second (or third) helping of that night's meal. We had an excellent cook, who also cut a striking sartorial image with a plush stuffed snake toy worn as a scarf at all times. He was only the most flashy of a group of at least twenty guides, porters, and other helpers who accompanied the seven paying customers up the mountain. It's not generally the way I would prefer my hiking trips to work, but in our current situation, there was no way we were going to do the legwork to figure out the logistics of doing Kilimanjaro with less assistance. I find it a bit embarrassing to pay some other guy to carry my tent up the mountain for me, but then again talking with the guides, the competition to get those jobs as porters is pretty fierce - so I'm guessing that none of them as worried about the vaguely colonialist optics of hiring porters while on a trek as I was. Or at least they hid it well.

One last picture - Lucas fetching us hot water to wash up after hiking. It was a tough life:

Tomorrow: More from Kilimanjaro!

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