This is Africa.
Meet Katherine, a Canadian lass I met in Croatia this June. Katherine told me a story about her friend wanting to climb Mount kilimanjaro and that when she too suggested that she would be up for the challenge, her friend promptly laughed. Not being one to be doubted, Katherine booked herself on a trip to Tanzania, summited Kilimanjaro and flew home with another story to tell. Her friend? Still hasn’t stepped foot on the mountain. I meet people all the time with this attitude when on tour, truly independent people who have little doubt in their ability and won’t let anyone stand in their way. When surrounded by these kind of people it becomes self sustaining, providing motivation and momentum for further adventure. Arriving in Moshi, looking up at Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at 5,895m, it was finally my turn to take on the roof of Africa. And lets face it, if a Canadian can get to the top then surely I can!
I was genuinely worried about this trip. I was concerned that my usual blasé approach to travel was going to catch up with me and I had finally bitten off more than I could chew by deciding to climb a mountain, at significant altitude, with no extra training beyond my thirty minutes on an exercise bike three times a week. Some of the guys on the trip hadn’t drank alcohol for three months beforehand. I had smashed back two large bottles of East Africa’s finest beer, Tusker, within two hours of arriving at the hotel on the evening before beginning the hike. Before my arrival, a few months earlier, a disastrous appointment at a Boots chemist meant I was none the wiser on which vaccinations I needed boosters for and whether or not I needed antimalarials. With time against me I simply didn’t bother (I will go to a proper travel clinic another time) and so, I decided to take some 40% Deet and avoid rabid dogs. There was then the matter of a visa for Tanzania. Everything I had researched suggested I could get one on arrival. Instead of being wise and getting one at the London embassy or even phoning to check if I could get one on arrival, I just chanced it. And finally, bags. Luckily I had allowance for two items of hold luggage which meant I could easily pack all my stuff for the trek and anything else I wanted to take back to work with me afterwards. Problem is we were warned that bags often got lost on the way to Kilimanjaro airport. Do two bags increase the risk or, decrease it? I spread my hiking gear across two bags just in case. Plus, these bags were new. My old bag had never failed to turn up, was my luck about to change!? With all this in mind, I boarded the plane at Heathrow rather anxiously.
I’ve never flown with Ethiopian Airways before but, as soon as I stepped on the plane it was like I had already landed in Africa as I was met with chilled out traditional music and a multitude of colour splashed everywhere. I took my seat in economy to discover a heap of leg room and soon came to realise I had the whole row to myself. Suddenly things didn’t feel so bad! My second flight from Addis Abba down to Kilimanjaro wasn’t so bad either as I took my seat in an emergency exit row in the front of economy. Besides the legroom, there was one huge advantage to this. I could get off the plane first, fill out the visa form and miss the queues. This was exactly what I did. Second in line at the visa counter with my landing card in hand it soon became apparent that they didn’t require me to fill out a visa request form that I could see in the window. The landing card and $50 would be just fine. I then made my way to the immigration counter where two officials completed my entry while discussing the Premier League with me. Passport stamped I walked twenty paces to the luggage carousel, picked up my two bags, changed some money, grabbed a taxi, and headed off to town. Window down and sunnies on, I cruised down the main road with the hugest grin on my face! What had I been worried about? This is Africa! I was back and, nothing had changed after nine years since last being in the East of the continent. The warmth, the smell, the people, the ultra chilled out craziness of everything around me. It was all there and boy had I missed it. The taxi driver stopped for fuel, ten minutes later he stopped again and offered to get me a bottle of water while some locals came to the window to try and flog me peanuts. After all there was no rush, there never is in this part of the world.
The worse part of group travel is the welcome meeting. The first night where everyone is trying to work everyone else out and, try to remember names, nationalities and professions. During this process is the welcome meeting with the tour guide. I have largely forgotten everything that was discussed apart from one thing. That one thing was being told that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and, the largest freestanding mountain in the world was all about mind over matter. This only meant one thing to me. Stubbornness will once again win the day! I had read that there is only a sixty-five percent success rate reaching the summit and the demographic for the largest proportion of failed attempts was healthy, fit, men in their twenties and thirties. This was because they attack the mountain on full throttle. This is usually how I apply myself to such challenges and so I knew if I was to succeed I had to do one thing, go slow and do as I was told by the guides. Armed with this knowledge and with the stubbornness dial cranked up to maximum I allowed the feeling of excitement to replace that of fear and headed off to bed for an early night.