22nd Sept: The Final Ritual
Symbolisms play a large part in most societies and we were no exception. The fairy tale ending should have been to finish reading peace messages together in the crater on the 21st Sept, with the Peace Flame lighting the way, but the toil of the long day and the journey saw many of us overcome by exhaustion. The only person who seemed keen to keep going was Uncle Nicholas, who despite having a lack of outdoor experience was still raring to go. However, our guides, porters and most of us were looking weary and thus would head to bed early. The colder night and the thin air affected all within the camp. Uncle Nicholas was in and out of sleep due to feeling cold in his "company" provided sleeping bag that was rated down to -15 degrees Celcius. (Personally I find these ratings must have been made by a polar bear and would recommend bringing an extra lighter sleeping bag or an Antarctic bag). However even though he must have been tired he was full of positive energy in the morning.
After feeling so good yesterday, over night my body and mind returned to day 3. As we rested, my thumping heart echoed in my head and I had to slow my breathing down to deep breaths. On the day we had started our Kilimanjaro journey, a man had died from AMS after reaching the summit. Had I fooled myself? A long night and a couple of urgent "fresh air/toilet" breaks followed. By morning I had another "bad ass" headache but was not alone and managed to move quickly behind a rock to throw up a concoction of hot chocolate and bile. Other team members and porters were also feeling heavy headed and appeared rough.
As I had problems trying to pull up the zip of one of my gaiters, I tried to enlist the help of one of our porters/guides. They were unusally sluggish. With a bad night's sleep, and the cold seeping into our bodies, they too appeared less coordinated. After a short struggle, Felix finally sorted out my zip issue.
No one in the camp wanted to read any more peace messages, preferring to depart the crater as soon as possible. However, now was not the time to think of ourselves, for Amani had carried the thoughts of thousands onto the mountain, packed in two cannisters Uncle Pete had bought for the job. In a quiet short ceremony, we buried the cannisters as a symbol of bringing peace to Africa, and perhaps for a future generation to rediscover or for you, dear reader, to leave your message of peace should you discover the cannisters on the mountain.
Queues to the summit
To Millenium Camp
As we left, Amani sang a song of peace as he skidded along on the scree. Coming out of the crater, we could see hundreds of people snaking up to the summit and were thankful of the decision not to leave at midnight as most groups do. For we had enjoyed a deserted summit and the tranquility of a mountain top.
Looking down to where we had to go was a trail of loose scree. It was time to take Amani for a run. Hate scree going up, love scree going down! Part way down was a strange looking sculpture on the slopes. On approaching, it was Andrew (our assistant cook and waiter) crumpled in a heap, with his cooking gear around him and his carrying poles stuck into the ground. He looked drained and said he had a headache (mine was nearly gone). So I gave him my nagalene water bottle (from the New York marathon) and an energy bar and continued gliding down the slope. After about 20 minutes, Andrew came bolting past me with his heavy load. Must find out the brand of energy bar I gave him!
Heading towards Barafu Camp
Feeling a little nauseous, I gave Amani to Uncle Nicholas to look after and soon found myself at the back of the team once again, with Felix opting to stay behind me. This must have been a plan by Amani, for some distance before Barafu Camp, another porter was struggling with an ITB strain and having walking difficulties. Additionally he had some of the gear that Sakimba carried part way up. I took the backpack he had and another porter from another team kindly helped him with his basket down a treacherous rocky slope until Barafu Camp. At an almost vertical slope, Felix took the spare back pack from me for the rest of the way to Millenium Camp. Barafu Camp is an ugly, busy, crowded camp and so glad we spent very little time there. The Northern Circuit is definitely the route to take to be able to appreciate the mountain without the crowds.
Andrew and his cooking pot
The route down was certainly not easy and our thoughts were with the other half of the team, as they would have had to make their way down the same path during the night. Some of the porters who returned with them, had no headlamps. Amazingly there were no injuries. We would later find out that they arrived at Millenium Camp about 22:00.
As we entered Millenium Camp, a beautiful campsite within the forest, we were greeted joyfully by the rest of the porters, and found the other half of the team had decided to continue on out of the park with a couple of guides and porters. Andrew had already prepared our lunch of hot soup and fried bread! He was feeling much better. I must definitely find out that energy bar brand!
To Mweka Camp (3100m)
With food in our belly and air to breathe, we were feeling stronger and continued onwards towards camp Mweka. Amani was returned to me to finish off the descent for the day.
Heading towards Mweka
The constantly changing scenery, first from barren landscapes, to low grasslands to now wooded forests alive with twittering birds, kept our senses amused.
Mweka campsite was another crowded campsite, but at least being nestled in the woodlands, helped to create sections, providing some privacy to the different teams.
Tonight, our last night, porters, guides and clients came together once more for peace and songs.
23rd Sept: Back to Earth Life
Our final day on the mountain, and Amani called to Uncle Pete who had been struggling on the final ascent up the mountain peak. Uncle Pete hitched Amani on and flew off into the forests. With peace, comes joy and Uncle Pete was joyful to feel alive once again.
As we headed towards Mweka gate, young children were ascending to tout their wares to tourist. Many were inadequately equipted to climb the mountain and kids continually bartered with me to have my last bottle of water in return for chocolate and bracelets. Feeling sorry for them, I finally gave them my bottle that had journeyed to the North Pole, hoping that it would be well used by the children. James (guide) later told me that they will probably be mugged by an adult for the nagalene bottle which I was sad to hear. Close to the gate, village kids appeared asking us for money. We offered them peace.
The bus was first overloaded with people, but with Mary's wise insistence, the porters exited the bus to wait for a second bus. Mary's foresight probably saved us, as the bus slid along a muddy track, headed into a ditch and nearly cartwheeled over.
At the gate, it was with joy we were reunited with the rest of the team sadly without younger Nick who was violently ill the whole night. After tipping our team of porters and guides, it was time to head back to Arusha.
Mary dragged her trolley bag to the village
We abandoned the bus and walked down to the next village to take a local bus. It was a really excellent walk as we could enjoy a "cultural" walk through a village, that most tourists would have just passed by in a bus or coach.
We celebrated the end of the journey with lunch with the guides and said our goodbyes to Mary, Jacob and Gideon who were continuing their African trip with a cousin. The rest of us headed back to Arusha town.
24th Sept: Leaving on a Jet Plane
Uncle Nicholas left during the night back to England. We would later find out his journey took 3 days due to airplane incidences! Aunty Tess, Uncle Pete, Ann and Jackie headed off to Kenya for a retreat in a 5 star house, leaving Jess and I the last to leave Arusha. Our flight was not due to leave until 6am on 25th Sept.
As we prepared our kit, Jess' phone sounded off the whole day with messages from guides and porters wanting to meet her! That day, I became a chaperon, meeting and greeting love struck porters and guides. Thankfully we had the excuse of needing to go to bed early. However that night the Mexican haunted me as Jess' phone told me he had left a message.....but not only from him, also from the love struck ones wanting her to stay in Tanzania!
The next time we go on a trip together, I am killing her phone!
Amani and Opendu/Peace and Love to you all.
Next story is of the Gatliff Marathon - I got lost!!!