Becoming Fluent in Swahili, Serenades on the Slopes and a Whole Lot of ‘Pole Pole’ – A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro

Day Two

Monday, 9th July 2012

From: Machame Camp (2850m) to Shira Camp (3840m)

Altitude: From 2850m (or anywhere up to 3015m – we’re still undecided!) to 3840m

Habitat: Moorland/Heath

Hiking Time: 5 – 6 hours

Distance: 6km’s

I awoke with the realisation I had just slept on the slopes of Kilimanjaro ~ a smile spread across my face and I was excited to start our second day on the mountain. We were officially woken at 6am with “knock” on our tent and a choice of tea, coffee or milo offered to us by our guides. Dickson, our lead guide, had the biggest, whitest smile and it was a beautiful way to welcome the new day.  You would be forgiven for thinking we were in a five star hotel but truth is we were in a tent, it was cold and we were wrapped in so many clothes to keep us warm despite it only been our first night on the mountain and our hot, steaming bath for the day was a small bowl of warm water left outside our tent.

Dickson and Moses, with the biggest smiles at 6am, delivering a nice hot cup of tea/coffee or milo to our tent to wake us up.

Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro early in the morning before the sun had risen.

Our morning was filled the busyness of getting freshened up, getting dressed (you do this as quickly as you can as it’s cold and it was only to get colder as we went higher), packing our bags and getting our water and day packs ready for the day ahead and finally having breakfast.

A beautiful busyness filled the campsite as we began our day. Photo by Anthony Lloyd

Simon getting ready for the day ahead. Note the two yellow bowls outside the tent, that was how our warm water was delivered to us each day. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Barry enjoy some early morning sunshine before heading out. Photo by Judi Kurgan

No wellington boots required for entry! Our very own, clean porta-loo ~ Happiness is… Photo compliments of Judi

Our mess tent, where our waiter, Hillary, always laid everything out so nicely for us each day.

Dawson, our cook, preparing our first breakfast on the mountain. Photo by Donna McTaggart

At breakfast we enjoyed hot tea and coffee and hot, steaming porridge for starters. Then came the eggs and sausage and toast to fill our tummies. Our pulse and blood oxygen levels were tested again, this time I gave myself a stern talking to under my breath in an attempt to stop my heart from once again acting like it had just run a marathon. I sighed another sigh of relief when Thomas moved on to the next team member. I was good to go as was the rest of the team. Sean was suffering from a cold and wasn’t feeling the greatest, but with a doctor on board she quickly sorted him out with some antibiotics that would hopefully have him feeling better in no time.

Simon getting his pulse and oxygen levels tested (note the little contraption on his finger) while the rest of us were about to tuck into breakfast.

Our pulse and blood oxygen levels good ~ we were all good to go!

Simon and his improvised insulation for his hydration pack ~ these pictures make me laugh every time I see them, as did his hydration pack every time I saw it!

Good thing he was “in the mood” ~ there was no turning back now! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Some early morning dancing and chanting in Swahili. Photo by Donna McTaggart

It was Day Two and we were upbeat…!
From Left to Right: Donna, Me, Thomas, Barry, Judi,
Anthony and Sean with Simon upfront.

Still confused as to exactly what altitude we were at, we added them all ~ We were definitely upbeat no matter how high we were! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Ready to head out, there was only one way to go ~ up!

Donna and I at 3000masl ~ ready to climb higher.

We were in no rush, taking things ‘pole pole’ ~ It was a beautiful blue sky, sun-shiny day and before long we were stripping off our outer layers and walking in our t-shirts, soaking up the hot African sun.

As we walked the landscape began changing rapidly, the rain forest behind us, the trees thinned out and the landscape became more barren as we ascended the path, ever upwards.  As we walked the changing landscape that had suddenly opened up before us offered stunning views all around and as we walked glimpses of Kibo (the summit) would catch my eye, looming larger as we climbed above the surrounding foothills.  We walked among skeletal trees, some with fern like moss hanging on the trees apparently known as ‘old man’s beard’.

Moss like stuff growing from the branches as we left the rain forest and the vegetation began to change as we made up way higher.

The landscape began to open up and the vegetation became more sparse with skeletal trees with moss hanging from the branches, known as ‘Old man’s beard’.

Our guides, Dickson and Milton, slowly led us up and across the valley, often reminding us, “pole, pole”.  Our Swahili was coming along nicely too and as porters passed us carrying ridiculous loads of gear up the mountain, ten times faster than any of us were walking, friendly sounds of “porter” from our team mates would indicate porters were coming up behind us and as they passed an enthusiastic “Jambo Mambo” “Poa” could always be heard.

These are a few Swahili words and phrases we were learning and often we had fun testing them out on the porters, who thoroughly enjoyed it!

Jambo! – Hello!

Mambo – How are you?

Poa – Well/Good/Cool

Kichaa – Crazy

Mzungu – White person

Kitchaa mzungu – Crazy white person (the porters loved this!)

Karibu! – Welcome

Pole Pole – Slowly slowly

Asante – Thank you

Asante sana – Thank you very much

Swaheri – Bye

Hakuna matata – No worries

Haraka – Quickly

Hapana – No

Hapana asante – No thank you (this came in very handy once off the mountain when guys on the street would haggle you constantly).

Poa ‘kachezi’ kama ndizi – Cool like a banana

Poa ‘kachezi’ kama kitcha mzungu – Cool like a crazy white person

Poa ‘kachezi’ kama tor tor – Cool like a tortoise

Tafadhali – Please

Nzuri – Beautiful

Nzuri sana – Very beautiful

Chai – tea

Lala salama! – Sleep well! Good night!

It was on day two while walking, for the first time, I heard the loudest, most excited voice shout out “Barrrrcceloooooonaaaa” I turned back to see Judi shouting it out to the porters who were wearing ‘other’ football t-shirts.  This was to become the daily norm, we laughed at the banter as we continued to move up the mountain and I wondered where Judi got all the extra air to shout that out so enthusiastically every now and again!

Two of our awesome guides, Dickson on the left and Milton on the right. Photo of Dickson by Thomas Schrick

A self timer picture on the left ~ having to manoeuvre over rocks while running to get in position didn’t always have us in position by the time the camera clicked! The pic on right, well there was always something to take a photo of!

Some of the flora on Kilimanjaro.

The vegetation was changing rapidly the higher we went up the mountain.

The higher we went, the stranger the plant life got.

Onwards and upwards, we were still all smiles. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Walking above the clouds!

The rain forest enveloped in clouds below us, and the path where we had just come up on clearly visible.

Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro to our right ~ much like sunrise and sunset, no matter how many times I looked, it was just never enough!

I love this pic ~ Showing Donna, Simon, myself, Judi and Anthony walking up to where the rest of the group was resting. Photo by Thomas Schrick

Barry and Dickson taking a break. Photo by Simon Bates

The girls and our lead guide, Dickson. Photo by Thomas Schrick

It was while on this short break that Thomas did a spot interview with all of us. Thanks to my team members for allowing me to use the footage on my blog and thanks to Thomas for taking the videos. I’ve had to resize them so it has lost a little bit of the viewing quality but you can still see us and hear what we had to say.

The first video is of Simon, Donna, Judi and me .

The second video is of Anthony, Barry, Sean and Milton.

On our break we climbed some rocks, which gave us incredible views all around. Love this pic with the summit visible behind us.

Another moment caught in time ~ Not sure what the other two were looking at but I looked over my shoulder and caught another glimpse of our final destination ~ the summit! Thanks Judi for capturing another precious moment in time!

Donna and I standing above the clouds!

After a short break, we continued to follow the path up along the steep ascent over the ridge, passing through heather and open moorlands that would eventually lead us to Shira Plateau where we would be spending the night.

Another porter making his way up the mountain.

The odd looking Senecio trees.

Ambling our way up the mountain to our next camp.

Day two was such a beautiful day, the group continued to bond and there was always so much clowning around, taking crazy photos and slowly ambling our way up the mountain. We had no cares in the world, which literally lay at our feet.

Placing my stone on the cairn as we headed up to Shira camp. Hikers use cairns as a form of navigation by placing loose stones in small piles and adding as time goes. It was strange adding my stone to this pile as before when hiking the Otter Trail and Fish River Canyon as I laid stones on various cairns I thought of my brother who had walked these very same routes before me. This time, my brother hadn’t been here before and I missed knowing that he hadn’t almost ‘lead’ the way for me.

Making our way up and over the ridge. Photo by Simon Bates

Some might say altitude was beginning to take effect ~ I laugh and say this was just the beginning…! Photo from Judi Kurgan

Beautiful photos taken by Simon ~ All I know is I want a camera like his but then again it may just be the photographer!

Looking the part! Photo by Donna McTaggart

I don’t think there was anything at this point that could wipe those smiles off our faces.

Lack of oxygen, no ways man!!

After hiking for a number of hours we came over the top of a ridge and down below us we could see the front-runners of our group and our lunch spot! To celebrate, Simon whipped out his bright green flute and like the Pied Piper he led us down into the valley where lunch awaited us. The sun was shining and we were hungry!

Lunch was in sight and Simon, playing his bright green flute, lead the way. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Simon, doing what he does best, making music!

Some solar panel charging at lunch time.

Lunch was served & we were hungry! Photo by Donna McTaggart

The lunch table, once again beautifully laid out by our waiter, Hillary, was out in the open under the hot African sky. A light breeze blew, Kibo was on display for viewing whenever we chose to glance over and the food as always was delicious and filling. We started off as usual with soup for starters and had the yummiest toasted sandwiches, oranges, peanuts, boiled eggs and plenty more to fill us up for the rest of the journey to Shira camp.

Hillary dishing up some of that delicious soup for us.

Lunch on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Photo by Judi Kurgan

It was while at lunch, I managed to find a spot that gave me some signal on my phone to send my “Dispatch from the slopes of Kilimanjaro” to Natalie so she could post it on facebook and let everyone back home know how we were doing.

9/7/2012 13:48

Day 2 Dispatch from the slopes of Kilimanjaro – “we were woken with a choice of tea/coffee or hot chocolate delivered to us in our bed in our tent! It was a good start after a very cold night. We are currently at 3693m having lunch. It’s warm and sunny and we are spoilt with snow-capped views of the summit. It’s so beautiful! After lunch we have about a 2 hour trek to camp where we will have tea then do an acclimatization climb. Climb higher, sleep low. Steep climbing today. Pole pole all the way. We are all smiles and feeling good… this is Day Two!! :)”

After a nice relaxing lunch and a short rest we continued our ascent up a rocky ridge leading us out onto the Shira Plateau. The weather was still clear and we got beautiful views of the Western Breach with its awesome glaciers.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon I remember walking, my mind far off in a dream world and, Milton, one of our guides was walking just a step behind me to my left started singing, bringing me back to reality as I listened to the tune he sang.


Jambo Bwana!

Habari gani

Mzuri sana




Hakuna Matata…..


Jambo, Jambo Bwana (Hello, Hello Sir)
Habari gani (How are you?)
Mzuri sana  (Very fine)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Foreigners, you’re welcome)
Kilimanjaro yetu (to Kilimanjaro)
Hakuna Matata (There is no problem)

He sang it again and then again, each time pulling me more in as I listened. I smiled as we walked listening to Milton singing this tune.  It was one I came to hear often as we climbed up the mountain. It was the Kilimanjaro “Jambo Bwana” song. It was catchy and I was hooked. I remember this moment with such fondness. We were walking to camp, I had been lost in my thoughts and when I was pulled back into the moment of where I was, I found myself walking on the slopes of Kilimanjaro!

We arrived at Shira camp in the late afternoon. The camp, on the Shira plateau high up in the moorlands, which is an open grassland, heath and moor, offered some of the most beautiful views all around.

Heading into Shira Camp, Judi and Milton deep in conversation. Judy has since said this has become her favourite photo and she smiles as she remembers the conversation she had with Milton.

Our camp for the night, Shira Camps at 3840m.

Dons and I walking into camp. Photo by Judi Kurgan

The three peaks of Kilimanjaro! Lol

Another day down and a little bit closer to our goal ~ the summit.

After organizing our lives in our tents and cleaning up a bit, we wandered around near camp.  Shira camp had some great opportunities for photographs of Kibo and Mt Meru in the late day sun.

In camp it was time out ~ Thomas half in his tent and Barry, both flat on their backs, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

The surrounding mountains splashed in different shades of blue.

Kibo lighting up as the sun sets off to the side. Such a pretty sight.

Sunset from the slopes of Kilimanjaro ~ perfect every time!

But our day wasn’t over yet. As our cook started to prepare dinner, we were about to do our first acclimatization hike up to see the Shira caves and finally up to Shira Hut. At Shira caves there really was not much to see expect a big open cave.  The interesting part was that just a few years back this is where all the porters would sleep.  It was open and icy cold and I shuddered to think of those poor porters who worked so hard having to sleep in that cave.  Nowadays, the porters sleep in tents set up in camp along with the team members.  With the sun setting and a cold wind blowing the temperatures had dropped fast and it had suddenly become cold. Dressed for the occasion we were ready to set out into the cold night to acclimatize.

The sun had just gone down, their was an icy wind blowing and it was time to do an acclimatization walk. Dressed the part, Donna and I were ready to hit the trail!

I don’t have any pics of us walking as it was dark and really there was nothing to see expect the headlights of my team in front of me and behind me. The windy was icy cold and we kept a steady pace up to Shira hut where we stopped for a short while to take these pics before heading back to camp for some dinner.

Me at the freezing cold “high” point of our acclimatization walk.

In the pitch blackness and icy cold wind that blew, we all assembled our cameras on the rocks below, set the self-timers on our cameras to get a group shot. After a few tries and not getting it right, we all took off our headlamps and placed them strategically on the rocks below to act as spot lights, shining up to us on our perch where we were to run, sit and smile!

Our headlamps made perfect spotlights to get our group shot in the dark!

After several self-timer attempts we finally got the perfect picture with Simon’s funky camera! Acclimatization and night hiking at it’s best, despite the icy cold conditions! Photo by Simon Bates

Finally, we got the perfect shot!

Cold and ready to get moving again, we grabbed our camera and put our headlamps back on and headed back down to camp where we were looking forward to a hot meal and then bed.

One shot we did manage to get on our night walk was this plant life ~ One again Simon’s camera got the best shot! Photo by Simon Bates

Back at camp, our dinner table was set and we eagerly awaited a nice, hot meal. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Ant and Judi ready for a hot meal to warm them up from the inside out! Photo by Simon Bates

After dinner and last cups of tea to keep us warm, we said our good nights and headed to our tents. It was bitterly cold and I wrapped myself in numerous layers to keep warm throughout the night. Thermals, ski pants, fleece and then a jacket, scarf and beanie.

I was starting to look like the Michelin man and I think this is where my troubles started.

You see it proved troublesome getting into your sleeping bag and zipping it back up again. I found myself thrashing around in my sleeping bag, like a fish out of water, trying to get in completely, finally zipping my sleeping bag up all the way. I lay there gasping for air, the air was thinning out and the signs were beginning to show. It was only night two. Another thing I noticed was that I could no longer breathe through my nose. It was as if my nostrils were no longer big enough to take in all the air my lungs needed. I had started to breathe through my mouth, something I had noticed as we did the night walk earlier. Another thing I had noticed while doing the night walk to acclimatize was that if I pulled my scarf tight and my buff right up over my mouth and my nose and my hood over my head buttoned up right under my chin, I would feel panic creeping in. I am not claustrophobic but having so much around my neck and mouth left me feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I would have to loosen everything again, allowing the cold wind to creep in.

The signs of altitude were starting to take effect on my body.

My blood pumping harder to get more oxygen.

My lungs breathing more deeply.

Despite this, I felt good.

It had been a great day!

Man, I was on top of the world.

Well, almost.

This was Day Two.

~ All Photos by Me and My Friends ~

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stefanie Fritz
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 15:50:07

    i would like day 3 done by tomorrow please :)


  2. Judi
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 20:32:39



  3. Trackback: Finally, the end of the story! ~ A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro | Walking4Air

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