See that white bit on the top of the mountain? That’s the water. Obviously the clouds are, as well, but other than that there’s not a great deal of the stuff around.
This, for those who don’t recognise it, is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania/Kenya. To do the “Coca Cola” route takes 4 days to climb up the mountain, including a pre-dawn start on the last day, and 2 to go down. You go nice and slow, adjusting to the altitude as you climb and (hopefully) not succumbing to altitude sickness. My wife and I did this trip before we were married, largely because (a) she was in Zimbabwe doing her elective and thus could meet me out there pretty easily and (b) we’d seen someone do it on TV, watched them suffer horrendous altitude sickness and get carried back down off the mountain on a converted one-wheeled stretcher/carpet barrow and still thought “Yeah, we can do that.”
That holiday is memorable for ever so many reasons…
- “No, don’t buy any insect repellent. I’ve got plenty.” Famous words from my wife who did indeed have plenty of insect repellent. In Zimbabwe. It arrived in Tanzania, with her, several days after I did. I can confidently say that the antimalarial tablets I was taking work perfectly.
- The Yellow Fever injection. Don’t try and sit down for several hours afterwards.
- Visa applications. “Oooh,” said the lass in the post office in Orpington as she looked at the Embassy address on the envelope. “Where is Tan-zain-ee-ah?” (To rhyme with Tasmainia).
- The kebabs and chilli sauce at the hotel we stayed at in Dar es Salaam! I’d walk back for them!
- The seafront hotel we stayed at for a few days at the end of our climb. From the highest point in Africa to sea level in a couple of days. Luxury hotel, superb seafood and my first lobster dinner. We’d watched the chef buy the lobster off a local fisherman a few hours earlier. They split it in half, thermidor’d one side and grilled the other. Wow.
- The Indian Ocean. It’s warm! Who knew you could swim in the sea and not get hypothermia? And the wildlife along the shore – cuttlefish, conger eels, all manner of urchins. I wasn’t a diver then but when we go back…
- The climb itself. You go from scrubby African forest, through rain forest, cloud forest and out into the arid landscape you see in the picture above. We were with a great group of people from all over the UK, most of whom made it to the top. One of them told us of their airline’s vegetarian meal option: a foil tray of cooked peas.
- The final ascent. Cold, dark, your feet freezing on the frozen scree slope at your feet. You shuffle forward following a zig-zag path. All you can see are the head lamps of the other climbers above and below. It’s strangely beautiful and oh-so-bloody-cold. And then the sun comes up, rising over the lower of the twin peaks of KJ. Warmth and light enters the world and you almost surge up the slope with a new sense of hope and purpose. It’s one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever had the fortune to see. The other one was in Egypt, but that’s a story for another week.
An amazing holiday. But take insect repellent, even if your partner does have plenty.