The evening before we had something that they called 'briefing'. It sounds quite professional but it was far from that. We got a list of equipment we should have with us, list which we also received by e-mail and we got a few pieces of information, some contradictory to eachother. Frankly, we could have done just as well without them. There was one interesting info though. Although our group would not consist of any other members, they planned to have a 7 (!!!... Yes... Seven) people support team for us: a guide, an assistant guide, a cook and four porters. It felt like there are too many people but we were actually expecting this since there are a lot of people which live off only from the tips provided by the tourist after the trip.
I could hardly sleep that night. I had a feeling of anticipation similar to the one I sometimes have before an important exam or a big event. We already had our bags prepared, leaving behind the items that we would not need on the mountain and renting a few things we were missing. All in all, we easily fitted within the 15kgs limit that our bags had to have. Any bigger than that, and they surely would have added a new porter to the team.
We were ready with the bags and just waiting for the car to pick us up from the hotel when we notice a medium height guy looking attentively at us. He was Josephat, our guide. Not much of a first impression, I must say, as he was dressed with a shirt and suit pants and had a pair of sandals on his feet. With a guide equipped like this, I was starting to worry about our chances of reching the top.
The car finally comes and we depart for Machame gate (1800m asml).
I hoped we will meet our team here but it was not the case. They rushed us off to the registration office while some guys quickly took the bags and made off with them. There were many people in the waiting area of the registration office (registration was just a 5 minutes bureaucracy) so we got to see some of the people we were to climb alongside for the next few days. I remember one lady in her early 50s calmly waiting for her guide to pick her up and I also remember a group of three British people, two guys and one girl, all around their mid 20s to mid 30s. I remember being annoyed by the girls accent but more than that I remember her jumping around. She was excited, no doubt, but I though to myself that she is either in such a good shape that she can just waste energy on such childish behaviour or... She is as stupid as her accent.
Taking advantage of these few minutes of relaxation before the start, we made the final preparations: gaiters, soft shell and sun glasses.
Josephat show up asking us if we are ready to go. He says we will meet the team at the first camp and I did not like that. I heard stories of how they take some porters and show them to you as being part f the team just to they can get more tips from you at the end. Anyway, we were off and the first thing I noticed was that even he easy slopes were a little bit more difficult than any machine in the gym (unlike Georgi, my (Alex) preparation took place mostly in they gym) but even like this the adrenaline keeps you going.
The second thing I noticed was that our guide did not change clothes and we constantly left him behind. He was not changing his pace. Much rather he was simply not taking any breaks and he was catching up with us when we stopped to take pictures making sure to tell us to go 'Pole, pole!' which means to take it slowly.
Enter The Jungle
Refusing to listen, we reached the third important thing to notice: all of our final preparations were useless. We were climbing through a clearly marked path (I bet you could easily go by motorcycle there) through a tropical forest. It was cloudy to there was no need for sunglasses. Even if there were no clouds, the trees were so dense that we still would not have needed the glasses. It was hot and there was no wind in the forest so the soft shells were just making us sweat more. The same applies for the gaiters. Gaiters are synthetic and they do not allow the air to go in and out so there is no reason whatsoever to wear them in a tropical forest unless you are facing a rainstorm that makes you wet to the bone. It was not the case so all the gaiters managed to do was to make me sweat even more and make the socks wet, which is especially 'good' when you are climbing as it creates all the conditions needed for blisters to appear. Blisters did not hesitate to appear so at the end of the first day I already had medical issues to attend to.
Towards the end of the trek the tropical forest made way for some kind of smaller trees about 2-3 meters high. We were at about 3000m asml. All in all the vegetation felt a little bit strange given that in our countries, once you go above 2300m asml, all you can find is some small bushes and grass. But who cares about that? It was 3pm and after four hours of trek we reached the camp. We were surprised given that we were told it will take minimum 6 hours or more depending on our fitness level but I could not care less, I was happy to have reached the camp. Especially since for the last hour or so I refused to take over any person on the way. I decided to just follow the zombie-like pace of a porter I found on the way. He was probably carrying more than 25kg while my pack had no more than 12. He had sandals and I had hiking boots but he was setting the pace for me to follow... Yes... Office life is not a good preparation for the mountain.
The first thing we did that the camp was to register. I guess they need to make sure that no one is lost on the mountain. What was surprising was that we were actually the second and third person to reach the camp that day (sure... i mean tourist as most of the porters were already getting bored by the time we got there). But still... given that we only left at around 11am (which means about 90 minutes later than initially scheduled), it was something! I kept thinking that we should take it slower next day as there is no sense in arriving earlier. Conserving the energy was by far more important.
Machame gate was conquered! Five more days to go until the top!