Kilimanjaro

On break from the big ride, I had a chance to climb Kili. It is about a year since I climbed this mountain. Apart from the challenge to climb this volcanic mountain, with all the side stories and observation, is the chance to travel back in time. Herein lies the story of life transformation. Everyone has certain memories. My memories of Kili have certain profoundness, from being such a young boy taking on extreme work, carrying a basket full of produce sometimes twice my weight; counting my footsteps from one minute to five hours; leaking sweat; hoping that I would finally reach the point when I could throw the basket away and run back down to the village to scavenge in the markets.

Here also is where my log time observation of environmental degradation is taking place, I have seen huge changers which make me felt that i’m not another ‘Doomsday Prophet’. Long team unsustainable human activities have impaired  ecosystem leading to loose of natural resource to sustain growing population. More over this have been result of slow shrinking glaciers and rising temperature, there is lot of uncertainty but quiescence of all might be very expensive.

The transition from boyhood to manhood happened here and leaves behind notions of age or numbers; wisdom was learned here.It was a deep lesson of discipline, overcoming intimidation which was still dominating our culture. Together with several other aspects, I had the chance to get to know man of a different color; learning that he wasn’t more or less valuable than me (or at least I convinced myself that thought).

Many changes have taken place between then and now. II still climb mountains occasionally, managing the crew or leading the trek because I still enjoy this adventure, and would like to inspire more to experience this, to add spice to their lives. Today it seemed like time had never passed at all. I’m seeing the same things I had seen ten years ago. Yes, even some porters I worked with back then – they are still here! Now they are senior porters – unfortunately this doesn’t mean anything more for them: no harsh treatment from the guides, maybe, but instead a strong and harsh treatment of younger porters. Unlike my days as a child porter, today the porter loads their own weight. However, as with most cases of new systems, these things require time. This change requires a mental change rather than following a specific improvement, and therefore some porters will bribe corrupted park rangers to allow overweight loads to be taken, with the poor porter also bribed to get this pitiless work. Knowing the consequences of these actions, I still find it hard to understand people who take these positions. If this is human nature, I’m yet to understand it. The amusing part is that this kind of situation will become tenser as the environment intensifies. Arguments come through every task and hash treatment will be the norm until the last night before heading back to town. Apparently, however, these porters are very good friends in normal life!

It is interesting observing the appearance of the hikers and their crews. Porters are strong, except for a few who are still new – their faces speak out very strongly. They know or imagine what is lying beyond those green, tall trees. Their clothes, which have changed in the period of time through a soaking in sweat, are washed in the mud or alkaline water. Their shoes speak of the turbulence of supporting such weight, through the mud, clay, rocks, rains, ice; through loose gravel when they have to move with their rhythm only. Most of their bodies have burned away all the fat, leaving a good proportion of meat and muscles.

Language and culture is a big bridge between a crew and their clients. This is very obvious, as you will see ‘Tourists’ Toilet’ often in good condition compared to the ‘Porters’ Toilet’; occasionally leaning to one side, almost resigned to give service. Tourists are equipped: these guys do special shopping for the occasion, often equipped from top to bottom with gadgets and equipment which make the crew think they will hike the rocks without having to eat! Yet this is not what experience has taught the experienced crew members. Adding more oddity in the scenario, tourists will stretch, test out their gear and hike up and down (often because they feel unsettled) but appear very confident indeed!

After all is sorted out in an endless amount of time, the journey begins. If tourists are lucky, they will be introduced to their crew. ‘Hellos’ will be exchanged with big smiles, then porters will set off with their bundles on their head and their bitten-up backpacks hanging on their backs.

This is the beginning of the journey to the roof of Africa. Most parts of this journey are a personal story but much will be tested here. For me, here is where Mother Nature resides: she reveals herself in many ways. Mountain Kilimanjaro is unique place, composing several distinctive habitats. From the Savannah plane, it gives rise to the green farming belt perched with corrugated iron roofs and broken by villages. The villages will give way to painted forests and rainforests with amazing biodiversity. The vast names of the flora and fauna (especially flora) prove that they are only known to gods so far. The moorland vegetation will give rise to alpine desert before you start to encounter ice and glaciers and find out you’re in weather you would never imagine to find, just three degrees south of the equator.

There is no day which can optimize another, all come with striking natural bounty. From a sea of green rainforest with a single long path, the sounds are repeated before all fall into the rhythm and feel almost like they do not exist. The next day will be you on top of clouds, with expansive vistas which make you breathe deeply, like you’re trying to absorb the whole of it. In the morning, while the mighty sun is trying to creep through those deep clouds, it blends vast colors. Challenge come along this beauty, to allow you to appreciate every single day. By the third, fourth, fifth day, tourists will reveal what is lying down in their hearts while the crew try to swallow more deeply and continue their journey against this irony.

The services vary up here at the expense of money and man-power: you’re likely to have different meal every day, more or less beyond your expectation.

The summit day is long, as it has been long awaited.It is tough when you have to let others drop the ball whilst a majority takes on the final challenge.

The way down is a conflict of the mental and physical: you have an argument in your mind to go down fast to a lower elevation, but battle the legs, which have been climbing for most of five days.  It becomes tricky.

The last night is supposed to be restful night, yet the crew will be up from five in the morning – they are ready to get it over with, and are full of eagerness about how much they will make. This is different to the tourists, who are still endowed with feelings of achievement. Tips are such an important element for the crew, since they might be more than their wages. Some tourists, out of need, sympathy, pity or kindness will give away their expensive gear and other sort of gifts.

I have seen this journey change lot of people’s life perspective in different ways. Likewise for the crew, this will bring opportunities; add value and quality to their life and their extended lives.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 10, 2013 at 5:56 am by gregor | Permalink

    Dear Mr Porter (I didnt get your name)
    I climbed Kilimanjaro as a young and somewhat naive young man in 1993-twenty years ago. However what my friends and I agreed was that we would carry our own bags. Twenty years later I still carry my own bag and equipment up mountains including in Chile this year and Mulanje here in Malawi. Porters lots obviously havent improved-you should check out the Sherpa initiative in Nepal but even there it has a way to go. The other thing is the huge numbers of tourist on these trips now, apart from the path erosion and environmental impact on kilimanjaro (my certificate suggested I was the 4602th tourist at that time) think also of the CO2 that contiributed to the loss of the glaciar that was there in 1993.

    • Posted April 10, 2013 at 6:30 am by Elvis | Permalink

      Hi Gregory,
      Thank you for sharing your experience and thought. I worked as porter soon after you climb Kili, porters situation is improving day to day. As i said in the post it not only naive tourist who influence this inhuman situation but as well as local authority and individual as well. As you mention the environmental is real increasing, in Kilimanajaro it increase in the shocking pace. The number of tourists and support crew is put lots of strain in the natural environment. The country is enjoying flow of foreign money to fill the vacuum of unequal importation as well as job production.

      Solutions for this challenge are a=not ease but I hope for the starting if individual will start thinking of their footprint and effect of their activity in the local social economy we’ll slowly start improving things as in the north hemisphere. Since this was plan of big organs now they have to review their plan and come up with rather sustainable plan.

      My name is Elvis (Lelo) Munis, naturalist and activist.

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