Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Start: Millenium High Camp 3950m (12,960 ft.)
Stop: Stella Maris, Moshi via Mweka Gate 1645m (5,400 ft.)
Distance: 12.2 km (7.6 miles)
Loss: 2304m (7,560 ft.)
I awake with nearly half of my air mattress running itself up the tent wall. The steep incline made for a less than restful night. As we sit in the mess tent for breakfast, a helicopter flies right overhead and lands just above our camp. The goal is to start earlier than usual in an effort to beat the masses to the Mweka Gate. And we’re off to the races, marching along and skipping down rocks as fast as our sore and tired legs will carry us. Down, down and more down. Don’t forget the 4,000 ft. up and 6,400 ft. down from yesterday so the muscles are a tad on the weary side. But I’m just grateful that we’ve abandoned the pole pole and are moving at a quick pace. As we descend, helicopters fly up past us to Millenium Camp at least six different times. We eventually drop back into the dripping rain forest and the hiking path becomes less rocky. We stop for a moment and get a rear window view of Kilimanjaro’s summit through the trees. I follow Ignas and the feet move quickly to avoid slipping on the slick Kili mud. Just after 10:30am we arrive at a Kilimanjaro National Park road which puts us about 45 minutes from the Mweka Gate. As I’m crouched down stretching my tight thigh muscles, a one wheeled stretcher comes flying down the trail into the roadway. The effort of the six porters was surely immense to get this person down off the mountain. I think it’s the person from yesterday that broke their leg. It can’t feel very good to come bumping down the mountain that way. Soon we’re booking it down the road when we suddenly have to jump into the ditch and out of the way of the ambulance that’s tearing up the road.
We roll into Mweka Gate about 11:20am and after a few celebratory pictures, we get into line to sign out from Kilimanjaro National Park. The line doesn’t seem too long so it shouldn’t be too bad. As I wait, I’m repeatedly asked if I want my boots cleaned (for a fee of course). I politely decline stating that the mud is my souvenir. We watch Caspar get his boots washed while they are still on his feet. The length of the line is deceiving because some people are sitting along side the line and then the lady in front of us is literally signing out like 14 people. They appear out of nowhere to sign one by one. And then some others are trying to push in so I can sense that me and Jun Kyu are starting to get a bit defensive of our group’s place in line. The closer we get the more aggressive we have to be to stand our ground. Our guides are there too, pushing their way into the register when we are next in line. In total, we wait about an hour before we all have signed out. We head back to our bus and drop out packs inside. A few porters remain with all the gear that will get loaded onto another bus that has yet to arrive. Our angel porters have even cleaned all the mud off our trekking poles during our time in line.
We’re driven down the mountain through coffee and banana farms, eventually making our way to a lunch spot in Moshi. As we park, Caspar informs us that we have 5-10 minutes for lunch. It feels so hot out and I long for the coolness of Kilimanjaro. We wait maybe a half hour for our food to arrive and we’re all slightly terrified that we’re not meeting Caspar’s schedule. They start bringing out pizzas and I’m so excited. But then I don’t get one. They bring me a chicken sandwich and I can’t hide my disappointment. Oh right, my food restrictions list no tomatoes. I didn’t even think to tell them that things like pizza and light pasta sauce are ok. Mamba Simba is so sweet and gives me two of her slices. I pick off the onions and enjoy.
Back at Stella Maris, we’re greeted by Papa Simba and Teddy, the hotel manager. It’s hugs all around and it’s so great to see Ed. Papa Simba has been adventuring in and around Tanzania all week while waiting for his return flight home. We’re given our room keys and then we retrieve our luggage from the storage room. We have to dig out our tip money and return to the conference room. We’re given our summit completion certificates and then we all start throwing our tip money into the pot. Jun Kyu takes on the challenge of organizing all our money and making sure we’re giving the right amount. Then Caspar and crew has to count it. And when our totals don’t match they count it again. After what seems like a really long time, we arrive at matching totals and people are free to leave. Folks disappear for showers while Jun Kyu, Katelyn and me hang out in the lobby. It’s time for a celebratory Kilimanjaro beer! After sitting in the lobby for a while I go out and say goodbye to Joseph, Ignas, Future, Emmanuel, and our driver. Caspar isn’t around so I go back to the lobby. He eventually emerges with a large plate of food and heads outside with his crew. I hate to bother him while he’s eating but I’m getting a bit desperate to take a shower. So I go out and say goodbye and thank you for everything, and in return he gives me a big hug.
It takes a while to fine tune the shower to the perfect warmth but soon all is right in the world. Feeling refreshed, I go back to the lobby to use the WiFi so I can let my Mom know that I made it to Kilimanjaro’s summit. Just before 6pm dinner, Katelyn comes down to the lobby and asks to use my lotion. As we head back upstairs I catch my flip flop on a step and go down hard. With cell phone in one hand and empty beer bottle in the other, I have no free hands to break my fall. I pop back up embarrassed to have taken a tumble and assure everyone that I’m totally fine. But my right knee is hurting so bad that not only can I barely walk, but I can’t really think straight. We get to my room and I hand Katelyn the lotion. All I can do is sit on the bed as I struggle to have a conversation. I look down and the screen of my phone is cracked. After she leaves I check my knee and find it split open at the very top of my shin and just below my knee cap. It’s a smaller wound but it’s damn deep. The irony is thick. How the fuck did I hike up and down Kilimanjaro without incident only to injure myself on the hotel stairs? I throw a band-aid on it, pop 4 vitamin I’s and head down for dinner because now I’m late. I’m still in shock from the injury and it’s hard to focus. I sit with Mama and Toto Simba and have a great conversation with them during dinner. About half way through dinner the pain in my knee starts to lessen and I feel the focus of my world sharpen. I chat with Papa Simba briefly before saying goodbye to everyone because I’m up early tomorrow morning to leave on Ngorongoro safari. Back in my room, I need to repack my gear but I’m too tired and in too much pain. I’ll hope for the best in the morning and get up early to tackle the repack.