Leaving the Mountain on a High Note

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Welcome to the final chapter in the story about how Mount Kilimanjaro was conquered on New Year’s Eve by Team Cantrailia. I won’t say it will be the final blog post on Africa, as I will likely write a little post about the final departure as well as some final impressions on the trip, the destinations, and the people I shared the journey with. However, for this post, I owe you all the tale of Day 6 of the Rongai Route. A pretty average day for all intents and purposes, but still one which had quite and effect on my, and stirred up a few emotions here and there. Before I get into all those little details though, I will invite you once again to look at the map of the hike for the day, as well as the set of pictures that are on flickr. I really hope some of you actually look at those damn maps, because I do spend some time on them :-). Anyway, after that, come on back here and read the rest of the post.

Although this was our final day on the mountain, it certainly wasn’t the shortest day by some measures. Having a look at the stats from my map, you’ll see we actually trekked over 20km that day, and descended from 3,700m at Horombo Camp all the way to 1,880m at the finish gate. That’s a long hike after you’ve already spent 5 days hiking, and are coming off the longest day of trekking. However, since the route was all downhill, we definitely made some quick progress when we actually got underway. Before that though, there is the matter of rising and shining!

And rise and shine we did! When we awoke at the tender hour of 6am, the sun hadn’t yet risen, but it certainly looked like we might be blessed with a bit of the radiation and Vitamin D that we were so lacking for much of our hiking πŸ™‚ The decision had been made the night before that we’d leave camp as early as possible, in order to try and avoid the crowds at the bottom. The problem with paperwork and many hikers is that if you are late getting to the gate, you have to wait in the back of a big crowd of people for your turn to sign out and get all the procedures done. In the interest of helping our loyal porters get home to their families on New Year’s Day as early as possible, we indicted we’d be willing to leave early. As a result, we ate our breakfast and found ourselves putting one foot in front of the other before 7am had even rolled over.

I suppose in a way it was good to leave quickly, so that we wouldn’t dwell too much on the journey we’d taken to get there. This way, we were each left to our own devices for the rest of the hike out, free to think about our own journeys and experiences we’d been part of. Admittedly though, I was pretty willing to make some serious tracks if need be. Perhaps I was even a bit too hasty, but I felt strong and full of energy this morning, and my pace reflected that. Although we generally started off together, we were soon split into different groups. At the front once again was myself, Jody and Deb leading the pace. We made a bare minimum of stops along the way, finally pausing more substantially at the next camp down the mountain, which we arrived at after about 3.5 hours, having traveled 11.7km.

At this point, we stopped to enjoy our ‘lunches’. I say lunch, but it was actually only 9:30 in the morning, so lunch seemed a bit premature. However, there was little else to do as we waited there in the sunlight, so I at my final boxed lunch of the trip, which was once again a lovely ‘butter sandwich’, some eggs, juice, cookies, and that’s pretty much it πŸ™‚ The thing I remember most about this stop is how blazing hot it seemed as we sat there in the grass. I think it was partly because we were much lower, so there may have been more humidity and oxygen contributing to the feeling. We were now also crossing back into rainforest. As we sat there resting, another couple groups arrived that were on their way down. Others had apparently also planned to try and get out early. My competitive spirit was awoken, and I wanted to keep them from ‘winning’ πŸ™‚

Interestingly, the day before, Mike had told us he would only hike out to this point, then hike somewhere to get a drive to the gate, on account of his condition the day before. However, once he learned he’d be waiting for us at the finish, rather than able to do anything else, he decided to just hike out. Instead, it was Sarah who opted to cut short here and take the transport. As a result, Mike was now walking solo, and he decided to hike up front with Jody and I. So once again, we had an Australian companion, as Deb had dropped back just a little bit and was just hiking on her own at her own pace for the day. Again, we rarely stopped, only pausing for a few photos along the way. I don’t feel I was really cheating myself out of anything though. After all, we were now just hiking through dense forest, and the sky was pretty foreboding. Our guide was pretty sure we’d get rained on before the exit gate.

Luckily, he was wrong, and with one final push we found ourselves emerging from the trail at the final gate, where a ranger was stationed. We popped out at about 11:15am, so a cool 4 hours and 15 minutes or so to make this journey. The end of the trail was just a little anti-climactic, as we basically just stood around waiting for the rest of Cantrailia to get there before we could do our sign-out and receive our Certificates! Yup, that’s right, this time I got the full certificate! No consolation prizes. Not sure what I’ll actually do with it, but I’m glad I got it πŸ™‚ The rest of our crew emerged less than 15 minutes later, all smiles. We’d done it! Here we were, on New Year’s day, ready to celebrate finally. Our plan was to save up our partying until we got back to our base hotel and were re-packed. After all, we’d be leaving the next day to go straight to the airport!

Before returning to the hotel though, there was the matter of the porter ceremony, and getting out stuff back. This is where having all the tips in envelopes paid off big time. After all, I had to give a little speech, then hand out 28 different tips. Different people got different amounts, and I had them all labeled individually so as not to screw up. As I gave the first round of tips out (to the ‘normal’ porters and helper porters), the entire crew broke out in song and dance! You can see that in two videos (one and two) that have been posted. This would be one of those emotional moments for most of us. I was holding the camera, trying to capture the moment, but it was pretty difficult, as so many emotions were swelling up inside me. I was fighting back a big lump in my throat and tears as well. Why? So many reasons. It was the end of the trek. The end of conquering Kili. The end of hanging out as Cantrailia. The end of a decade. All of these things made this entire journey bigger than any long day of hiking could. It was also just really pure to see these porters, who have so little, yet were so joyous in all that they did for us. They never complained. They were away from their families and carrying our stuff in the rain to our camps. Yet they sang and smiled and thanked us for the opportunity (which in turn provides them with opportunities such as schooling). It really was a sad and special moment.

As soon as the feelings came though, they were sort of put in the back of my mind again, as we had to now pick out our gear and pile back into the Range Rovers for the drive back to Arusha. Deb, Jody and I climbed into one truck (with our head guide Naiman and ‘waiter’ David), Dylan, John, Mike and Sarah climbed into the other. I asked our driver to make a pit stop at the grocery store on the way back as well, so that we could pick up some celebratory drinks. Before I knew it, we were driving back along dusty roads and saying farewell to Kili at our backs.

At the grocery store, we picked up some bottles of wine, as well as some sparkling wine to do a proper celebration. I couldn’t really wait that long though, so I also picked up an ice cold Kili beer for the ride. Man oh man did that one taste sweet after nearly a week without a beer πŸ™‚ If I didn’t know better, I’d say that it hit me right away! The plan for our return to the hotel was pretty simple. Unpack and unwind for a bit, then meet up for drinks and dinner later on. We were quite looking forward to ordering from a menu again, and I went back to my favourite, the Jaeger Schnitzel. However, more important was the round of toasts with the bubbly, and the distribution of everyone’s certificates. We took up our ‘normal’ table outside on a balcony in front of the hotel where we could take in the sounds of all the locals. It was a really nice final group meal. As it had over the entire trip, conversation was easy, with lots of joking and smiles from everyone. Jody also was really well organized and actually copied out an email list for everyone in the group with everyone else’s contact information, so that we could keep in touch.

Once the food was all consumed, we focused on finishing off the remaining bottles of wine that we had. John had picked up a nice bottle for the group as well, which we were all enjoying. Eventually, the sandman started going to work on some of the crew, and people started drifting off. I’ll give you all two guesses who wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost yet. Okay, of course you picked me. Now who else? Yup, that’s right, Aussie rules once again. Deb was happy to help finish off some more wine with me. Eventually, we made our way to the bar at the other end of the resort, where the Internet room was located. Once there, we joined back up with Dylan, who decided he wasn’t so tired that he couldn’t celebrate a bit more with us. Essentially, we closed the bar out. In fact, they only stayed open to keep selling us more beer and wine! Finally, when the last bartender wanted to close up, she came outside to where we were and offered to get us one more round before locking up. What can I say, old habits die hard πŸ™‚

Into the wee hours we sat around talking about everything under the sun (technically I guess it was under the moon). I had gone back to my room briefly to pick up my iPod touch, and was attempting to do some entertaining by playing music out of its’ tiny speaker. It wasn’t quite a dance party, but it was as close as we could seem to get in that little alcove with the couches outside. There was brief talk of trying to make it out to a ‘local bar’, but we decided that was probably not the best idea. Whatever else that final evening / early morning was, I will say it was certainly memorable. It would be nice if we could all hang out again as a group, but I suppose that’s unlikely to happen.

Well, it appears that once again I’ve attempted a record at blog-post lengths here, so I suppose I had best sign off for the evening. My thought of the day this time will relate back to that emotional moment with the porters. Happiness will never come from what you wish you had; If you can’t be happy with what you have, you’ll never truly be happy. So look at what you have in life, and just be happy! No matter where things take you, look at the good things. Sleep tight friends.

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