Kilimanjaro, Day 7
Mweka Camp (3100m) - Mweka Gate (1640m) - Moshi (890m) -
Dar Es Salaam (basically sea level)
Eight, wonderful hours of blissful sleep. If the tents weren't so close together and I didn't hear the porters moving about at 6 a.m., it could have been even longer. The double sleeping bag was an ingenious idea, which I'm sure contributed to the uninterrupted night. I am looking forward to sleeping in a real bed tonight though.
Getting ready in temperatures that are only mildly freezing, instead of bloody freezing, is a pleasant change. I don't have to dress in a dozen layers, or shiver while I wait for breakfast to arrive. This morning I am treated to pancakes with peanut butter, three types of potato (I only eat one - the Irish potato, as they call it) and cooked vegetables. Afterwards, I pack up my gear for the final time and commence the 10km trek to the finish line.
Danny update: last night he made it to a service road about 8km away in a little over three hours, which was a great time given his condition (I had predicted four to five hours). From there he was driven to the Altitude Clinic but there was no doctor on site, so he was dropped off at the hotel to wait for the on-call doctor. No one has been in contact with Danny since then. More anxious waiting.
Leaving Mweka Camp we walk along a slippery dirt path, the white, rocky stairs of yesterday nowhere in sight. It's not long before we are back in the same forest we hiked through on day one, full of tall, moss-covered trees. Everything is quiet and still, and besides our footsteps all I can hear are the occasional bird or drips of condensation from the trees. I'm loving the fast pace we can sustain at the lower altitude, although the patches of mud, loose gravel and precipitous slopes containing steps cut into the soil slow us down slightly. The vibrant, green foliage is a complete contrast to the shades of brown, grey and white that has dominated the landscape for the last few days. A thick fog hangs in the air, resulting in a picturesque scene that is reminiscent of England or parts of Europe. The chilly conditions add to this feeling. Most of my warm layers are in my backpack, as I presume the weather will become warmer as I descend. It doesn't.
The fog starts to lift (or do we descend under it?) so now it is just overcast. I can hear flowing water, but I can't see a river or waterfall nearby. Similarly, there's the sound of monkeys swinging through the branches, but there are no animals in sight. Long vines hang down from the trees - FC calls it the Tarzan forest. He does a bad impersonation of Tarzan, and I wonder if poor dubbing in Swahili is the cause of the mediocre impression.
Around the halfway point FC receives word about Danny. The doctor visited last night and decided he was well enough to stay at the hotel. With all going well, the tour company will pick him and have him meet me at the end of my trek. My pace instantly increases with the prospect of seeing Danny soon.
The dirt steps end at a wide access road, from where it's a straightforward half hour walk down to the gate. It would be a fantastic trail to run along. Through the trees we finally spot the blue monkeys we've been hearing for the past hour. They sit on branches on either side of the road, going about their morning routine. The only other wildlife are thick lines of fire ants crossing the road, thousands of them all working together for an unknown common objective.
At one point I see an elderly woman and three teenage boys walking towards us, all carrying various cuttings and wielding machetes. FC says they live just outside the national park, but are allowed in to cut firewood and useful plants for the park caretaker. Before we reach them they disappear into the forest, pushing their way through the leaves along non-existent paths.
A little over two hours since starting out, I reach the final gate. I'm pushed into a quick photo with the "Congratulations" sign and then it hits me: it's all over. I have conquered Mt Kilimanjaro.
I don't have long to reflect on the journey, as I see Danny across the car park and bolt over to him. He sounds a little better but still looks completely exhausted. The doctor confirmed he has pulmonary oedema, and has given him medication. We start walking but he can only take a few steps at a time. At least he can breathe slightly easier and has started eating again.
Our crew come over to congratulate me, placing a red and white plastic wreath around my neck. Several people take photos of us. But instead of feeling proud, I feel awful that Danny didn't get to achieve his goal and has to stand by me watching this spectacle. I do my best to divert the attention onto other topics.
A large, contemporary building stands at the gate, which is where we are served lunch. I'm immediately mesmerised by the modern luxuries. Clean, western toilets! Running water! WiFi! Couches! So many creature comforts that I have survived without but I am glad to have back in my life. We swap stories of the last two days, me trying to keep the conversation on Danny, or on minor anecdotes, so he doesn't feel like he has missed out on an amazing adventure.
After lunch we are driven back to the hotel in Moshi, driving past small villages and coffee plantations. It's still a cold, grey day, and once again there are no views of Kili from down here. At the hotel we say our thank yous and goodbyes, truly appreciative of all their hard work and for looking after Danny.
Back in the room I take the longest shower I've had in years, but I'm not convinced that I've scrubbed away a week's worth of dirt and sweat. Afterwards we sit by the pool, as I enjoy a couple of celebratory drinks. It strikes me then that I don't have to walk anymore, I'm warm, I'm clean and I'm back in the land of modernity. The simple life is far behind me now.
At 5.30 p.m. our ride arrives to take us to the airport. After being dropped off we walk into an almost deserted terminal building, check in then go in search of security and immigration control. All we encounter are darkened hallways. They aren't open yet, but they graciously turn on the lights and machines for us. It's only we've passed through the x-ray screen that we realise we've turned up two hours early for our domestic flight, when only one hour is recommended. Poor maths on our behalf.
Only a couple of souvenir stores are open, which we casually browse through but not much interests us. We sit at the one eatery, order drinks and popcorn (we can never have too much popcorn) and wait for our flight.
Our plane is the tiny propeller type, which is irritatingly loud but does the job. We arrive in Dar Es Salaam, where we will spend the next day or so. For me, part three of my holiday is about to commence, but for Danny it's time to head home. It's a gloomy farewell, both of us leading solo lives for the next two weeks - me here in Tanzania, Danny in Hong Kong in isolation. The only saving grace is that now he has time to recover without having to worry about keeping up with itineraries or tour guides. Pushing the events of Kilimanjaro from my mind, I set my focus on the next adventure: a safari through Tanzania's southern circuit.