At 5,895 meters, Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and is a very special place to say the least. The surrounding area including the mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The night before our hike we camped on the lawn of a small property just outside of Moshi. There were other hikers and guides there as well. In the evening, at the bar, hikers and guides told their stories of their ascent. It was here I learned it was illegal to go up without hiring a porter. I had some strong feelings about this. I argued with some people: “Why do we have to have someone carry our stuff? Shouldn’t each climber be required to carry their own things? If you can’t carry your own supplies, you shouldn’t be climbing.” They responded back: “This work hires a significant portion of the local economy. This is the only legal work available for young men.” I understood the point, but it still stank of servitude which I have strong feelings against. I left the group and let them to their Tusker Beer drinking conversation.
I laid on the lawn outside of my tent and looked up at the stars. There were so many. It was dark enough to see some satellites cruise overhead. I thought about our climb, the amazing things we’ve seen, and our trip ahead.
The Coca Cola Route
In the morning at the gate of the compound where we slept, our guide Julius hired a porter for our group. We were not going all the way to the top, so we did not need a fully accompaniment. There were at least 40 young men calling and trying to get Julius’s attention for the job. He selected Eric, who wasn’t as young as the others. The other people vying for the job snorted and guffawed with indignation that they were not selected. Julius told our group, that we could trust Eric, and that there is more to going up the Mountain than carrying things.
There were many routes to take, but we took the Marangu route. It is called the Coca Cola Route because it is the oldest, easiest, and most gradual slope up the mountain. In other words, perfect for coca cola guzzling tourists. Our group started up through the forest. We all walked at different speeds through the the lush jungle. We saw birds and monkeys. We watched a blue monkey walk through a thicket and eat a mango and leave – not caring much about us. We also saw some chameleons (my first time seeing them).
All the while I saw a steady stream of porters with giant boxes on their shoulders speeding up or down the trail at almost a jog. One porter carried a chair, another a table, and yet another a Coleman cooking stove. While some porters came up with equipment, others came down carrying the sames types of odds and ends. When the trail started to have switchbacks, they went straight up. I had a liter water flask, most of the porters carried a single half liter plastic bottle in their pocket.
Occasionally we passed another group of tourists coming down with a light day pack and walking sticks. We also saw speeding down the mountain four porters carrying a stretcher with someone on it.
At this time Eric, the porter who our group hired was near me at the time. I tried my discussion again with him. “Doesn’t it seem unfair that many of the the people hiking the mountain carry relatively little, and their porters are climbing the mountain, and doing most of the work?” Eric smiled. “Yes, money can buy a lighter load.” He stopped and took a small sip from his half liter bottle. “Many climbers are not prepared. They are unfit. Many of us can run up and down this. Some can do the six day trek in as few as two days. Many visitors get sick at the higher levels.” A porter sped by carrying wooden chairs. I pointed. Eric said: “Some tour companies offer a deluxe experience.” It still didn’t seem right to me. But I guess my privilege allowed me the luxury of picking and choosing my indignation.
After several hours of hiking up and seeing some splendid forest vistas, the trail opened to a large grassy area and the first Hut: Mandara Hut at 2720 meters.
At the hut there were quite a few other travelers, some on their way up and some on their way down. We looked back from whence we came and realized we were where the tree line ended. The air was cooler, and now that we were outside of the treeline, we felt the breeze. It had been about an eight kilometer hike over 900 meters of gain. In other words, not a very strenuous climb.
There were other hikers setting up tents, on their way down, or groups of porters around a stove cooking up some grub. Eric said a lot of people come this way. Porters exchange information about the trail ahead and about the people they work for.
“The mountain is changing. I used to hike up here when I started. Just up the trail there you can see the mountain very well. There was a lot of snow. Now there is little. There was less people coming up then. The mountain is strong. It provides much income for many families now.”
We headed back down the trail to our truck and to dinner. It would be a very long 10-12 hour drive to Dar es Salaam tomorrow the guide warned us.