It seems to be taking FOREVER to start hiking! From our base in Uswaa village, all our gear was loaded on two buses for the long ride to the trailhead. Mind you, we did no work - the tents were taken down, packed, and loaded by our guide team. All we had to do was get our little day packs ready and sit on a bus. And, this was all after a huge breakfast cooked, served, and cleaned up by others!
Our ride up the mountain was often like a rickety, wooden roller coaster ride, and our bus even had a mechanical problem. Just a leaking radiator hose, but enough to be interesting. We leisurely climbed in our air-conditioned bus from the dry African plains through fertile forest land where hundreds of workers harvested carrots and potatoes all day in the heat. I should say that "heat" is relative - many of them wore stocking hats and sweaters.
We eventually reached the Londorossi Gate to the Kilimanjaro National Park where we registered and our tour operator paid all the fees. And, the hiking and camping fees are big! It cost around $140/day for each person in our party. I don't know what that revenue is used for, but I saw no sign of trail maintenance on our trek.
After a very nice lunch, and watching all the porters get their loads officially weighed, we piled back in the buses for the last leg to our trailhead. Besides the 22 people in our big group, we are being supported by a lead guide, assistant guides, cooks, and porters. All this is a total of around 90 support people - or 110 people all together. It's an invasion!
Yes, we're finally hiking! Scrambling out of the bus, trying to avoid the porters throwing packs off the top, we all tumbled in a mass to the trailhead while adjusting hiking poles, fidgeting with pack straps, and smearing on sunscreen and/or bug repellent, depending on personal concerns. I saw no mosquitoes the entire trip, and this first day was all through rain forest so no sunscreen either.
Have you ever seen a freight train start moving? The engine pulls, the couplings clank together, and the whole thing slowly lurches along, slowly gaining speed. Our group was similar, except we never got to the "gaining speed" part. The day was a very casual hike on a very worn path through a beautiful forest of exotic trees. It's just as well since it was still quite warm and humid this low. We did gain 1400 feet over 5 miles, but it came from only a very few short, steep climbs. Monkeys occasionally appeared in the trees, but they were the only wildlife - what would you expect with hundreds of people walking past? Ours was not the only group using this trail.
We arrived at Mki Mkubwa camp at 9200 feet as the day wore down. This was a very busy camp and our tents were packed together. I found the tent my wife and I would share for this trek already set up on a nice, flat spot. This would be the norm through the week, our support crew doing an excellent job of racing ahead to the next campsite early to hold the best spots.
Soon after we arrived, we were each given a bowl of hot water to wash with, then gathered in the large dome tent which would be our meal tent for the next week. I dubbed it the Thunder Dome, but it didn't really catch on. The dinner routine developed quickly - coffee, tea, or cocoa at your leisure, followed by soup, then the main meal. All this prepared in the kitchen tent and served with flourish in the Thunder Dome. Folding chairs, tables with table cloths, real plates, cups, and utensils were all carried from camp to camp for us!
After dinner, our lead guide laid out the next day's plan to finish off this day. Brush teeth, use the carried in portable toilet, put in ear plugs, and off to bed. Bed was a very cozy sleeping bag on a soft mat, both rented from the outfitter for a few dollars, along with hiking poles, so we didn't have to transport them on the plane. This night, as would happen every night, I slept very well and hardly remembered having my head hit my rolled up down jacket pillow.
We hiked from 7800ft up to 9200ft over a distance of about 4 miles, all of it through rain forest.
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