My alarm blared in the wee hours of the morning. It was 6 am and the gloomy clouds brought some light drizzle with a drop in temperature down to 3 °C. To our surprise, we didn’t need to layer up the whole night as it was warm inside the tent. We woke up to our habitual routine up in the mountain; waking up at ungodly hours, brushing our teeth at a nearby bush, changing our attire, and packing our backpacks before scurrying into the main tent for breakfast. We had French toast, eggs, pancakes and hot drinks, all prepared by Eric, our cook. Hard to believe that mouth-watering meals were served all the way up at 2,500 metres above sea level, but were exactly what we needed for our ascent to the next camp site, Shira.
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
We packed and were ready to leave for the six kilometres challenging ascent to Shira Camp. Today, we were to climb steep rocky ridges of almost 1,000 metre elevation gain in the cold September rain. The entire trek took us over six hours and the incessant rain made the rocks slippery which in turn, slowed us down. The higher we went, the harder our hearts pumped to compensate for the drop in oxygen saturation. The steep incline and the rain didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon.
“How long more to go?” I asked Hudson, our guide. “We are almost there. From here onward, it is flat and downhill,” assured Hudson. We weren’t too sure if he was understating the distance just to make us feel better. We had been climbing up for almost four hours with no sight of flat ground. Fatigue was slowly kicking in. Thankfully, the intermittent sliver of sunlight warmed our bodies, and we were able to soldier on with some degree of ease. Not to mention, the stunning view of the misty mountain was a constant reminder of why we signed up for this.
From Mist To Marmalade At Shira
The rain had stopped and clouds began to envelope the plateau that overlooked Mount Meru (the fifth-highest mountain in Africa). We were at 3,750 metres above sea level and all I could see was mist. Our porters had arrived ahead of us to set up camp and prepare our delicious meals. At 4 pm, we had all arrived and checked in at the Shiraz registration booth before resting in our designated tents.
I had climbed mountains of all sorts, each with its own stellar moments, and so when I peered out of my tent, I dashed out to capture one of my personal favourites; sunset. ‘Picture yourself on a boat, in a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.’ Well not quite like the ‘Beatles’ song as we were above the clouds but the seemingly relentless mist soon gave way to a dazzling marmalade sky. Before this, I could only dream of watching the sunset in Africa, let alone from its highest peak. And here I was, taking my time to photograph some of the best scenery of Africa.
The Mountain Song!
Jambo! Jambo bwana, Habari Gani? Mzuri Sana, Wageni, Mwakaribishwa! Kilimanjaro? Hakuna Matata! At first it sounded alien, a tune that echoed throughout the campsite like a domino-effect. In a matter of days, I knew every word to this Swahili song. It was the mountain’s own theme song sung by local guides and climbers from all walks of life. There was no way to resist humming or singing this catchy tune, plus you wouldn’t be able to say you climbed Kilimanjaro without knowing it.
It was that sense of calm that we all desperately seek. Here I was, watching the sun go down with its magical colours, and as I strolled around the campsite, there was an incandescent glow on the faces of the mountain porters and guides. Put aside the strenuous load and tireless days up in the mountains away from their families, they were contented with the simplicity around them. That, to me, was a breath of fresh air from the norms of my routine.
Starry Sky At Shira
“It is time for dinner!” exclaimed Baraka, our cook’s assistant. I rushed back to the tent for our eagerly awaited meal; fried rice, fried chicken, grilled vegetables, corn soup and pasta. Talk about ‘luxury’ food up in the mountains! As usual, we huddled around each other for a light banter and short briefing before retiring to our tents. It was 7 pm now, and the scene had transformed into one of the cosmos. Think ‘Space Odyssey‘ and the scenery would be a close reflection of it. There was hardly any light pollution at 3,700 metres. The night sky was decked out with brilliant twinkling stars and even though it was colder now, it was certainly a view to die for! I could only imagine what I would see as we go higher and higher…