The challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro attracts many a mere mortal as well as adventure enthusiasts. It’s the biggest freestanding mountain in the world, rising over nineteen thousand feet! For those that train, it is doable endeavor, unlike the monster Everest, but, I didn’t visit the area with that in mind. Nonetheless, I wanted to see the famed peak.
Visibility is typically difficult from the Moshi area, the location of my Discovery Corps Homebase. Most days the mountain hides behind clouds, only occasionally playing peek-a-boo. But, Day Eight of my Tanzania itinerary called for a visit to the mountain.
My group boarded a bus and headed out past the dry, dusty surrounding. As soon as the incline rose even a little, we encountered vibrant greenery. We continued climbing higher in the hills where lush vegetation abounds. Huge banana trees towered overhead shading the ground under their palms. We stopped in a touristy little town that sits at about five thousand feet. It rests in a humid rain forest, and mist was swirling around us. Alas, the visibility was even worse on this day. But, we picked up our official guides, those rugged and hearty sorts that head pilgrimages up the peak.
The plan was for my group was to trek to a few waterfalls that lie just below the National Park boundaries. We began on a gravel path that soon became narrow and as slippery and wet as a fish right off the line. I was happy I wore my Gore-Tex jacket because the air was chilly, a first on this trip. I had to plant carefully my footing, especially on the downhills. As on the Maasai trek, I was torn between taking in the scenic beauty, snapping photos and not slowing down those behind me. And, in this case, definitely not falling off the inclined path.
The first waterfall we came upon shone brightly through the spray, and we stopped for photos. Then, we proceeded onward, the path becoming more perilous and steep. The tricky part was that dampness making traction difficult. Thankfully Richard and a few other men from the Discover Corps staff lent a stabilizing hand.
We passed by a few houses partially hidden in the lush overgrowth and around small, terraced farms. Like the dancers, the farmers in this region are Chagga people, and they grow mainly bananas, and some corn, beans and coffee.
We trudged on, carefully balancing and traversing rocks over a shallow but flowing waterway. Nearby, we rested at another wondrous waterfall with water cascading down multiple falls. Flowering plants like impatiens peeked out of the nooks and crannies.
To proceed onward, we had to ascend one very steep, treacherous incline. Whew! We were then above the waterfalls and could stroll on through grassy fields and pass more small homes. It’s peaceful up there, far from the sounds of the city.
Eventually, we returned near our starting point and enjoyed a picnic style lunch. Mama D had sent boxed lunches. Fried chicken, hard boiled eggs, a cheese sandwich, an apple and a piece of sweet banana bread. Yum.
The group had been asking about Banana Beer or mbege, a homebrew that we are anxious to try. One of our guides thought he could get some nearby. He returned, however, with a banana drink. We gingerly took sips, and all agreed, it tasted horrid. Later we asked Mama Simba about the banana drink and her comment was, “people drink that and go crazy.”
Instead, we discovered the local bottled beer, Kilimanjaro, and it was quite tasty.
I decided to skip a portion of the afternoon hike, not wanting to press my luck. Instead, I ventured on to the Visitors Center to learn all about the mountain. I also dropped into the gift shop where I bought a tee shirt emblazoned with a drawing of a Kilimanjaro beer bottle “If you can’t climb it… Drink it!” it said. Exactly my sentiments.
Eventually, I caught back with the group as they were making the climb to the Marangu Gate, one of the official starting points into Kilimanjaro National Park.
Our guide explained that most hikers take four days for the ascent and another two to come down. He said he wakes the climbers around midnight the night before they reach the summit. I asked if that was so they can watch the sunrise from the top. “No,” he said, “it’s so they don’t see the trail. Once they are on top, they have to come back down.” Hmmm. Mountain climbing has never been my thing. Need I say more?