Monday, 29 December 2014

Kilimanjaro - The people

So I posted a description of what our trip entailed back here. However what I remember more than the altitude in metres, the length of the days or the temperatures is the atmosphere and the people.

We went with a company called Action Challenge, they were really good in the lead up sending us fact sheets and reminders at appropriate times about visas, jabs etc. We also went on one of their training weekends to Snowdonia. So we were confident in them when we left.

We met our leader Rob and the doctor Nik at the airport, they were both organised and friendly but not too over involved at this point. Being usually very independent travellers I was a little unsure how going on a big group trip would be for us. It was fine though we all got checked in then were left to make our own way to the flight and while there were obviously a few points where we all got together for briefings, food etc before we left for the mountain it was actually very relaxed.

Once we left they were brilliant, when on day 2 I suddenly got altitude sickness not far from the camp doctor Nik carried my backpack then when we got to camp gave me meds to sort out my sickness. He was very reassuring that I'd be OK (I got it day 2 and was worried that I would just feel this rubbish all the time) as people who get it early tend to get over it sooner, which was right!

The local team were amazing, Action Challenge work with a company called Summit Africa in Tanzania for guides and porters. The head guide Charles was hilarious (not sure if intentionally or not) and kept us motivated. All the guides were fantastic, 2 of them carried my bag for me - without being asked they just saw I was struggling and took it off me. Gasper carried it on day 2, he was also working serving us food at mealtimes as well as being a guide. On summit night he came to the summit with us then served us lunch and dinner afterwards, on day 2 he carried my bag up to lava tower then served us lunch (I felt better after this and carried it myself!). On summit night Raymond carried my bag (I can't really remember when from I know I started out with it but by the summit didn't have it any more) plus kept an eye on me and Tom, helping us up rocky parts and practically holding my hand up most of it! Each break he got out my snacks and water for me, and made sure I had enough to eat. I kept offering him stuff but I think he found my vegetarian sweets a bit weird and preferred Tom's jaffa cakes!

These guys climb the mountain 2 or 3 times a month, they seemed to have OK kit and a lot of it had been donated by previous trips, we left a lot of stuff for them and Tom gave Raymond his poles. I felt like the recommended £150 tip per person just wasn't enough (especially once it had been divided between the 95 people in the team!), we gave more and a lot from our group did too.

The porters are another story. These guys carried our holdalls, all the camp stuff (including the toilets) as well as food and water and their own kit up the mountain and back. They also went much quicker than us, we would get to camp and it was all set up. They are paid less than the guides, but the company we went with did seem to look after them (they get a fair wage and also education and the chance to progress to being a guide etc). We did see porters and guides from other groups with less than adequate kit, Tom saw one guide in dress/office shoes on summit night and we saw many in sandals through the trip. If you're going make sure you go with a reputable company who looks after the porters and guides, they really are the hardest working people you will ever meet.

Our group is talking about organising something to raise some money or get some kit donated for our porters and guides to say thank you.

This kind of sums up our team really, everyone described it as our 'mountain family'...on day 1 at the hotel we were all awkwardly chatting and getting to know each other. By the last night we all decided to stay at the hotel bar rather than go out as we all wanted to stay together. The psychology of it is probably something to do with a shared hardship, common goal and lack of technology and distractions causing us to bond really quickly....but I just think it's because we had an awesome team!

I really identify myself as an introvert, I have a small group of very close friends rather than a large circle of acquaintances. I rarely ask for help preferring to do things myself, I struggle in group situations. I prefer to write on here, or Facebook, or just not say it at all, I rarely express my feelings even to Tom or my family. I hate being centre of attention and am very quiet usually until I get to know someone. Well on Kili that all went out the window! After day 2 I felt like I'd known some people in the group for so much longer, I have never cried so much in the space of 5 days, and I talked to some people about things my best friends have probably never heard about! Seriously I am almost crying writing this, I've had some kind of nervous breakdown I swear!

I think having a strong group really helped, I felt like I'd be letting the side down if I didn't make it. We were singing and dancing and doing the hokey cokey at Mweka gate. We couldn't understand why everyone else was just waiting in the queue to sign out while we were having a party, but Rob and Nik said most people just have a quick cheers then get on the bus. Someone asked Nik what this 'A Team' was we were singing about, like we were some kind of sports team, and what he'd been giving us...

Not wanting to sound like some kind of motivational speaker, or a soppy old git, but the people are what made the trip for me. I had thought the evenings would be me and Tom playing cards in the tent, maybe chatting to some other people. Little did I know there would be charades, headlamp raves, very rude stories involving 3 legged unicorns, laughter, singing, football chants, crying over birthday cakes, crying over wet tents, crying at the summit, crying at the tipping ceremony (must be the altitude, I am not usually a crier!), crying leaving the excuse there I was just an emotional wreck.

Some things I won't forget from our trip:
On summit night Rob said he was going to split us into a faster group and slower group, as some people were struggling to keep up, and Scott just simply said why don't we just all walk slower and go together?
Sitting on a rock on summit night the last break we had before the sun came up and saying to someone (I think it was Scott again we must have gone a similar pace) that it wouldn't be long until the sun came up and then it would all be ok. We were going to make it. Then we had to stop talking as I couldn't breathe and talk and I was getting dizzy.
Georgie being upset because her tent was sodden and she was sleeping on her own anyway so had been cold. 2 other girls Sinead and Anya just got her to sleep in with them. No questions asked.
Everyone asking how people were doing who we knew were struggling (me being one of them for a few days) and offering support or snacks or just a well done when we made it to camp.
Sharing everything, snacks, hand warmers, kit, food, water, as naturally as if it was with my siblings. If someone needed something and you had it you gave it, nobody was keeping score of who gave and who took you just helped out.
Singing chants, and everyone's theme songs (everyone got a song on day 2, some stuck some didn't - the ones that stuck were the people who weren't doing so good and we would sing them whenever they got to camp or made it to a break point) and keeping morale up. It got as basic at one point as 'when I say team, you say morale'...when it was raining and cold and everyone's tents were wet, but it made us laugh.
Getting confused on summit night as we stopped for a break near another group and couldn't see anyone I recognised, and Georgie just reaching out and saying we're here (or something I don't actually remember the words), and being so relieved that we were still with the group. I think she was crying, I probably cried. Emotional wreck.
Looking out onto the view from Barafu camp on a clear night, stars above and the lights of Moshi below....all quiet and glorious until someone pipes up from the toilet tent 'There's a window! This is the best poo I've ever had'.
Dancing at the tipping ceremony, and singing ooooh Kilimanjaro and jumping around. So many other we saw just filmed the ceremony, and the dancing when they arrived to camp each day. Get involved, it's so much better!
If you are planning on going I can only hope you get a group like ours, if they aren't then sort it out. Start some singing, give yourself a team name and a chant ('We are the A Team we do what we want' became our mantra), play games in the mess tent, get to know everyone. It makes a long hard trek into an experience.

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