Saturday 18 August

Dawn at Millennium Camp

Wake a few times having slid down to the bottom of the tent. At one point there is the sound of rain drumming on the flysheet. I wake finally to a dim glow of dawn and porters’ voices. Bed tea arrives shortly, on the stroke of six. Milo but no milk. There seems to be a lot of activity around the camp and from the voices the porters seem to be excited.

(magnify) After the climb

I poke my head outside – there is ice on the tent, the sky is clear blue, and Kilimanjaro stands behind the campsite, glistening white with a few golden orange highlights. It is very odd to think that almost exactly twenty four hours ago we were right up there, just struggling onto Stella Point.

The normal morning routine, except that there is no porridge with breakfast. A beautiful golden light suffuses the campsite, contrasting with the dark green of the shadows and the blue of the sky. It is quite simply a gorgeous morning.

Before leaving we have the farewell ceremony with the staff. Tosha assembles everyone, and then Noel gives a vote of thanks. The tips are then distributed, starting with the “ordinary porters”, then the “helping porters”, up to the assistant guides, Liberate and Rambo, and finally our chief guide Tosha himself. We have calculated the tips according to a schedule given to us by ATR and we hope that it is on the generous side of just right. We certainly cannot fault the team for the way they have looked after us.

(magnify) Staff sing the Kilimanjaro Song

The ‘team’ sang the Kilimanjaro song mp3 – excellent tune, led very ably by Liberate. We then sang back ‘For they are jolly good fellows’, which the porters didn’t quite expect but I think appreciated.

The path from the campsite has been made slippery by the rain. Our descent takes us initially through giant heather, then other shrubs and flowers begin. In several places there are views of Kibo behind us and the mist-enshrouded canopy below.

The path continues unrelentingly downwards and is treacherously slippery in places. We pass the Mweka Camp. Other than the occasional porter who comes charging past, we seem to have the trail to ourselves. I had expected to see groups just starting out from the Mweka gate but there are none. We ask Liberate to teach us the words to the Jambo song, but I think our attempts to memorise it are less than impressive.

(magnify) Descending with Kibo behind us

Onwards and downwards, into the cloud forest zone, and then finally the rainforest. The path widens to a vehicle track and we see children and women gathering fodder for animals at the side of the road.

The further down we got the more vegetation. For a long time we were going through rainforest, which was ace – never been in anything like it. Very humid. Path was a very ‘proper’ path but exceptionally slippy and very steep in places. My poles came into their own!

It took ages to get down. In the latter part we kept passing groups of children begging for anything. One child, John, was especially persistant, walking alongside me for thirty minutes or so.

Rain in the rainforest

By eleven I am feeling pretty tired and it is with enormous relief that I emerge, with Alison and Nicky, at the Mweka Gate at around noon. The two Rachels are not very far behind, but Noel is really suffering and looks just about spent when he finally rolls in.

We sort out the certificates at the gate. Tosha mischievously tells RL that we now have another two hours of walking to the bus where lunch will be waiting. It is in fact just five minutes to a roadside café where the most delicious egg roll is waiting along with a vegetable samosa, cake, banana, and fruit juice. I tuck in ravenously.

(magnify) We made it!

There is just the obligatory feedback form to complete, then we depart. Some of the staff share a lift as far as Moshi.

Back at the Ilboru Lodge, RL needs some washing done so that she will have something decent to wear on the flight home on Monday, and we’ve decided that we can forgo our planned day in Moshi in exchange for a relaxed day in Arusha tomorrow.

(magnify) Survivors back at the lodge

That means that we will be taking RL to the airport on Monday afternoon and then returning to Arusha for one more night in order to avoid carting our luggage around all day. Although we are able to get Sunday night at the Ilboru Lodge on Monday it unfortunately is full, so we must seek an alternative. Since we’re staying, I too decide to get some laundry done.

We’ve arranged to have dinner at seven with Alison, Nicky and Noel. Sadly Tom, Orsi, and Ghislaine have ended up staying at ATR’s other base – the Moivaro Lodge – so we have missed the opportunity to say goodbye to them. We’re all very tired, and unfortunately the service is slow in the extreme.