Mount Kilimanjaro Trip Report from Bassel Fares Part 2

by Bassel Fares

Our six days and five nights on Mount Kilimanjaro were a major highlight. The overall experience exceeded my expectations. We reached the summit via the Machame route. It was glorious, the realization of my dream for the past 31 years. The glaciers at the summit, nearly 6,000 meters or 20,000 feet above sea level, seemed from other worlds, as breathtaking as anything I’ve ever seen or imagined, dazzling in their whiteness, vast size, unusual shapes, and intricate designs. I stared with unbelieving eyes and soaked it all in. We didn’t get sick from the high altitude or from anything else. Even though we were well prepared and well dressed, we were sometimes very tired and very cold. But we were very happy. We were blessed with ideal weather conditions. It didn’t rain. And we had only the lightest of winds, often times a perfect calm. Outside of the rain forest, which is perpetually shrouded in cloud and mist, we had clear skies and unlimited visibility most of the time. During some sunny days I layered down to just one tee shirt. During the coldest nights we layered up with up to five or six layers of clothing. We had ten, strong, excellent, good-humored men supporting only Niki and I, a guide, assistant guide, cook, waiter, and porters. Our lives and our success were in their hands. We got lots of personal attention since we were a group of just two clients. We ate consistently good food, including delicious soups served piping hot. We sipped from the bowls without using spoons to extract maximum warmth for our hands and stomachs. We marveled at the high quality of the food at every meal, carried, prepared, cooked, and served in the wilderness far from civilization.

Niki is a powerful swimmer and swims long distances in the ocean nearly everyday with her family. It’s their Lesbos Island lifestyle. So even though I’m a vintage motocross racer, current and active, Niki is in far better shape than I. The final ascent, the last few hours climbing the last few hundred meters approaching the summit, were done in super slow motion because that was the fastest we could go. We rose at midnight after a sleepless, restless half-night, and hiked in the narrow beam of our headlamp. The Moon was new and nearly invisible. The stars were exceptionally bright and the Milky Way was clearly visible. The slightest action, such as shifting our gaze, or speaking, required plenty of energy, will power, and determination. We made easy friends with fellow climbers, spontaneously hugging and bonding, overwhelmed by the beauty of nature.

We neglected to follow the advice we were given, to blow in the mouthpieces of our CamelBaks to clear the drinking hoses of water after taking a sip. We were simply too tired to take additional action. As a result, water froze in the lines until we descended to warmer temperatures a day later. We had to drink from small water bottles we carried, warmed by our bodies, removing and replacing the bottle cap after each sip. For heavily gloved, sleep-deprived hands, that was lots of work.

It’s not likely I will return to Mount Kilimanjaro. But if I ever attempt to climb the mountain again, here are some of the things I would do differently. I would not send money or book my climb with a company far away in England. For this climb, I paid and booked our climb with Zambezi Safari & Travel Company. We paid a high price; approximately double the price of a local Tanzanian company. It takes a lot of work and trouble to put a climbing expedition together on the ground, so companies are most interested in large groups, say 20 or 30 or even 40 clients, to maximize their profits on economies of scale. Companies are least interested in small groups of two, such as Niki and I. Zambezi Safari, an English company, sold our trip to Albatros Travel, a Danish company, who sold it to Nordic Travel, a Tanzanian company, who hired freelancers by the day and by the trip. Our trip was actually put together in four hours after we arrived on Kilimanjaro on the first day of our climb at Machame Gate. Despite an early wake up, we were the very last climbers on the trail. That’s actually an advantage, as it seemed we had the mountain to ourselves. I could have shown up at Kilimanjaro without any previous booking or payment and assembled my own team of freelancers on the spot. We probably would’ve had an earlier start. I was okay with paying a high price to a European company because I thought I would be engaging with higher paid, salaried, trained, well treated, staff members, not lower paid freelancers. In retrospect, that was a silly thought, that high-minded clients can lift the rates of pay and working conditions of an industry. Now I know better. The 10,000 guides, cooks, and porters that work on Kilimanjaro are entrepreneurial freelancers and there’s nothing I can do to change the terms of their employment.

If I ever attempt to summit Kilimanjaro again, I would sleep a full night in the crater, wake up at sunrise, and hike to Uhuru Peak in two hours of daylight for better sightseeing. I would hike, touch, and climb the glaciers.

The portion of our trip before Victoria Falls and Kilimanjaro was also a great success. We spent a day in Durban enjoying the people and the city environment. We rode a funicular skycar to the top of Moses Mabhida Stadium for a panoramic view of the city and coastline. We rented Segways for a smooth, effortless, gliding tour of the Durban waterfront, watching surfers catch waves. We rode a Harley-Davidson for four days to Swaziland and return on beautiful mountain roads, including riding through your city, Pietermaritzburg. We attended a school play at Waterford Academy high on a mountain in Mbabane. We had a wonderful visit at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, my second visit in 14 years.

I met a family from South Africa at The Kingdom who had just gone on a snow skiing vacation to Lesotho, including driving the Sani Pass and the Drakensburg Mountains. They had a great time and highly recommended it. From Durban, they suggested a minimum of three full days. I’m more encouraged than ever. It’s definitely on my horizons.

After Kilimanjaro, we had planned to spend a day with a friend in Nairobi but Kenya Airways canceled our flight and thus canceled our visitation plans. They wasted our precious time with a creeping delay that eventually became a cancellation with a night in Arusha instead of Nairobi. We eventually got to Nairobi but only for an hour or so, enough time to catch our flight to Doha, Qatar but not enough time to visit our friend.

We spent five days on the island of Crete attending a seminar. Now Niki is at work and home in Lesbos and I’m at work in Dubai.

Cheers, Bassel

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