Seven Days Worth of Dirt, Squeals of Delight With Outbursts of Dance and Playing In The Mud ~ A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro

Day Seven

Saturday, 14th July 2012

From: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

Altitude: 3100m asl to 1640m

Habitat: Rain Forest

Hiking Time: 3 hours

Distance:15km

As our last day on the mountain dawned, the joy of summiting Kilimanjaro was enveloped with a touch of sadness.  For the last six days we had journeyed up this mountain, sharing our lives, laughter, fears, dreams and even tears with our team mates. There is really no way to describe what happens on a mountain like this, but your lives become entwined with each other and you are forever bonded.

The morning started like all the other mornings, we were awoken early with a choice of steaming hot tea, coffee or hot chocolate by our amazing guides knocking on our tent. Then a bowl of water is placed outside your tent for your morning “bath”. I was going to miss all these rituals. In the tent across the way, Judi and Simon could be heard with their morning banter and laughter. This is what life of the mountain was all about. The roughing it, the camaraderie and the highs and the lows ~ all rolled into one. This might not be for everyone but for me there is something magical about going out into the wilderness. You come back more than you ever were before, having gained so much!

For the first time in days, arriving at breakfast I was feeling slightly hungry and couldn’t wait for Hilary to serve our breakfast. Although still tired, we were all happy and the chatter around the breakfast table was filled with our personal stories of our summit the night/morning before.

As we waited for breakfast, Thomas took out his camera and turned it onto video mode.  Too tired to do the post-summit interviews last night, it was time to capture our thoughts about our summit experience the day before. The raw emotions of the post-summit feelings coming through, and as I spoke I had a lump in my throat and the thought of what I had achieved and the thought of Emma had the tears ready to spill over again…. The paranoia that lack of oxygen brings and what it makes you think, some tips for future climbers and the sheer will just to get to the top! This is our post-summit interview.

As we finished with our interviews, Hilary was ready to serve our breakfast for the last time.

Me and Hilary, our amazing waiter who looked after us at each meal time.

Me and Hilary, our amazing waiter who looked after us at each meal time.

Enjoying our last breakfast together on the mountain after successfully summiting earlier that morning.

Enjoying our last breakfast together on the mountain after successfully summiting earlier that morning.

As we ate, we continued to talk about our journey to the summit. We shared what we remembered, we shared the pain, the frustration and the agony that is summiting a mountain like this, and then we talked about the joy of standing on the summit. Nothing could take the smiles off our faces as we sat in the mess tent for the last time chatting. Every now and again, like Judi had mentioned in her interview, a wave of sadness would wash over me. I was going to miss these guys. In the past six days we had shared so much and it was strange to think that by tomorrow we would be saying goodbye each other.

After breakfast we packed up our bags one final time and laid out our water “bladders” to be filled up by our porters for our journey down. Once we were all ready, we were called over to an opening next to our camp site where all our porters and guides had gathered.  It was time to say farewell.  First Thomas spoke to all the porters with Milton translating into Swahili so that they could all understand, letting them know what their tips from us for this trip would be. As they were each told what they would be getting, squeals of delight escaped their lips, the joy undeniable ~ they were beyond happy and all their hard work was being rewarded ~ it was a beautiful moment to witness. Suddenly they started clapping enthusiastically and then they broke out into song and dance and one by one they pulled us in and before long we were all dancing with them, celebrating!

On hearing what tips they were getting, applause sounded and then dancing and singing ensued!

On hearing what tips they were getting, applause sounded and then dancing and singing ensued!

On hearing what tips they would be given our porters and guides broke out into song and dance.

The porters & guides dancing, singing and celebrating!

Our porters and guides sharing their joy with us.

Our porters and guides sharing their joy with us.

When they finished, Thomas  said they don’t normally do that just yet but that is an indication of how happy and grateful they are! Next Thomas thanked our guides and porters for carrying our heavy loads, for cooking our food, for setting up our tents and camp site every day and for always having a smile on their faces. Thomas was right when he said none of us would have made it without all of them. These guys work so tirelessly to ensure we have a good trip and do all they can to ensure we summit. I personally owe so much to them!

Captured on the video below you can see the porters and guides breaking out into song and dance after hearing what they would be getting, pulling us in to join them and then Thomas speaking to them on our behalf and thanking them for everything they had done. In this video too they sing my favourite Kilimanjaro song ~ Jambo Bwana, the one Milton sang to me as we walked on the early days on the mountain and again in the cold, darkness of summit night. A song I will never forget and in fact now have the Swahili words mounted on a piece of wood in my study.

JAMBO BWANA SONG

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)

When the farewells were said and the thanks given, the porters and guides weren’t done yet. With one final song and dance, we celebrated a little more.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. Asante sana (thank you very much) reverberated around our camp site, hugs and more hugs. Although there was so much joy around, you couldn’t help feel that tinge of sadness again that all of this was almost over.

Our amazing Porters, Guides and Team ~ Kilimanjaro, July 2012 ~ We were there!

Our amazing Porters, Guides and Team ~ Kilimanjaro, July 2012 ~ We were there!

The farewell with our group done, the only thing left to do before leaving camp was to pick up our backpacks and take our last self-timer team photo of course. This is Day 7!

Our amazing team had survived 7 Days on the mountain and now the time had come to head homeward bound.

Our amazing team had survived 7 Days on the mountain and now the time had come to leave the mountain that had been so good to us.

Our last walk on the mountain was at a leisurely pace, the pressure mounting up the summit was over and the pace was relaxed. Not much different to any other day except as we walked lower the air was clear and crisp and the lungs enjoyed the intake of extra air as we walked lower and lower.

The trail winded through the beautiful rain forest and our relaxed pace gave us time to chat to each other and even though we had already spent seven days together and had grown close as team, it was so wonderful to have this time to talk about the climb and about all our plans for the future and dreams too. We talked dreams and what would do if… I felt like I had just conquered the world, anything and everything felt possible!

Walking back through the beautiful rain forest was the perfect way to end our journey. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Walking back through the beautiful rain forest was the perfect way to end our journey. Photo by Donna McTaggart

A bridge in the rain forest.

A bridge in the rain forest.

Donna and Anthony chatting as they walked together up front. Photo by Simon Bates

Donna and Anthony chatting as they walked together up front. Photo by Simon Bates

The beauty of the rain forest. Photo by Simon Bates

The beauty of the rain forest. Photo by Simon Bates

Making our way down through the rain forest.

Anthony, Donna and Simon making their way down through the rain forest.

In no rush to leave the mountain, we enjoyed the photo opportunities that unfolded before us.

In no rush to leave the mountain, we enjoyed the photo opportunities that unfolded before us.

One of our last glimpses of the summit before leaving the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Standing there you couldn't help but smile knowing you had reached her peak!

One of our last glimpses of the summit before leaving the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Standing there you couldn’t help but smile knowing you had reached her peak! Photo by Simon Bates

Taking one last look at the summit of Kilimanjaro behind us. Photo by Simon Bates

Taking one last look at the summit of Kilimanjaro behind us. Photo by Simon Bates

The sun was shining above the forest and we would have a dry walk all the way back down to the gate, or so we thought! As we walked we talked of the first hot shower we were looking forward to when we arrived back at the hotel, our first in seven days. We sighed at the though of a soft warm bed we could sleep in later tonight. I for one, couldn’t wait to be warm again as I slept as I had really had enough of cold nights in that pathetic excuse for a sleeping bag I was using!  By this time, Judi and Thomas had walked off ahead, leaving the four of us walking together at our leisurely pace.We laughed, we played and we took photos.

And then we hit mud!

Out of nowhere our hard, dust-covered path down through the rain forest turned into mud. Sloshy, gooey, slippery mud! It was a mess and so would we be by the time we reached the gate! Suddenly our leisurely pace became even slower as we struggled to stay upright in the mess of the mud. I was grateful once again for my trekking poles which helped steady me as we inched our way down. Suddenly without warning someone’s foot would slip out from under them and our conversation would halt as we all tried to steady ourselves. The porters on the other hand, were maniacs in the mud! They races passed, not walking but literally running through the mud. It must have been quite a sight to see us side step ‘carefully’ as quickly as we could as the porters came flying up behind carrying their heavy loads. Milton who was highly amused watching the four of tread so carefully so as not slip in the mud decided to show us how it’s done. He explained that it is actually so much easier to run through the mud than to slowly walk through it. He gave us a demonstration and before we knew it he came flying past us to about 30 steps ahead in a matter of seconds, without slipping or sliding once. It was definitely a porter thing. I wasn’t going to even attempt that because I knew I would come off worse for wear!

Without warning our path turned into a mud bath! Heading down, you can imagine the fun we had trying to stay upright!

Without warning our path turned into a mud bath! Heading down, you can imagine the fun we had trying to stay upright! It was even through places as muddy as in this photo that the porters ran past us. Those guys deserve a medal!

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Carefully making our way down the path of mud. One wrong step and we would have been flat on our faces! Photo by Simon Bates

No where to go but straight through the mud! Photo by Donna McTaggart

No where to go but straight through the mud! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Our hiking boots caked in mud. We hadn't showered in 7 days and now it looked the part too!

Our hiking boots caked in mud. We hadn’t showered in 7 days and now we looked the part too!

Up front, Judi, who had walked ahead of the four of us with Thomas, was having her own adventures in the mud.

Judi, up ahead of us was having her own adventures in the mud ~ up close and personal!

Judi, up ahead of us was having her own adventures in the mud ~ up close and personal! One wrong step and it’s “hello mud!”

Judi's boots caked in mud, just like ours were! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Judi’s boots caked in mud, just like ours were! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Team South Africa has come, conquered and even rolled in the mud! We were here! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Team South Africa has come, conquered and even rolled in the mud thanks to Judi! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Along the mud path, we came across this a man sitting on what is notoriously known as The Kilimanjaro Ambulance. You do not want to ride on this ambulance, for if you are, it means you are really sick and need to be rushed off the mountain as quickly as possible. On a high altitude mountain like this one, the risk of falling ill with HACE or HAPE is reality and one that could cost you your life. The man told us he waiting for someone who was sick and they were busy coming down the mountain. There are no helicopter rescues on Kilimanjaro, it is just not an option so you have to be walked or carried off the mountain by the guides. It was an awful feeling to know that someone wasn’t doing well and that the ’ambulance’ was waiting to run them off the mountain to safety. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had made it to the summit or not. There is no mattress on the stretcher and as they literally run you down the mountain, the ride would be muddy and extremely bumpy.

The Kilimanjaro Ambulance we came across on the muddy path, waiting for a patient to be brought down the mountain.

The Kilimanjaro Ambulance we came across on the muddy path, waiting for a patient to be brought down the mountain. For this guy, it was just another day in the office.

As we carefully continued on our way, we finally saw the end of the muddy pathway and Judi and Thomas waiting where the gravel road joined up with the path.  Seeing the end of the trail was greeted with a mixture of relief and sadness knowing that the trip was now really nearly over and soon we would be back to the hustle and bustle of ‘day-to-day’ life.

The four of us appearing at the top of the last muddy section before hitting the gravel road and the last stretch to the gate.

The four of us appearing at the top of the last muddy section before hitting the gravel road and the last stretch to the gate. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Muddy and dirty but still full of smiles ~ who cared what we looked like we just summited Kilimanjaro! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Muddy and dirty but still full of smiles ~ who cared what we looked like we just summited Kilimanjaro! Photo by Judi Kurgan

The last section of the trail was a gravel road, slightly wet and muddy but no where near as bad as the trail we had just come off. It was sad to know that the journey was almost over and I would have done anything to hold on to it for a little bit longer.  Porters rushed down the last of the trail, eager to get back to their homes and families.  All too soon the noise of Mweka Gate replaced the sounds of birds and life in the forest, thrusting us back into the real world for the first time in seven days. Traders hustled for our business, offering t-shirts and carvings and ice-cold cooldrinks.

Leaving the muddy trail where the gravel road met up with it we found the real ambulance waiting for the patient to be brought down the mountain.

Leaving the muddy trail where the gravel road met up with it we found the real ambulance waiting for the patient to be brought down the mountain.

Walking the last stretch of gravel road before reaching the gate. Sad for it to end, I would have done almost anything to make it last a little longer.

Walking the last stretch of gravel road before reaching the gate. Sad for it to end, I would have done almost anything to make it last a little longer.

# 7 on my Living To Do List ~ I had done it, I had summited Kilimanjaro! Tick.

Taking a moment to acknowledge # 7 on my Living To Do List (Bucket List) ~ I had done it, I had summited Kilimanjaro! Tick.

Reaching the gate

It was time to sign out.

Our Kilimanjaro climb was over.

I was sad to know that it was over but at the same time thrilled to bits that I had just experience such an incredible adventure.  All that left to do now was to board our bus back to Moshe where we would enjoy hot showers, a hot meal and a celebration!

Reaching the gate it was time to sign out for the last time in the big black book. I came. I saw. I summited. Another dream realised!

Reaching the gate it was time to sign out for the last time in the big black book. I came. I saw. I summited. Another dream realised!

The big black book ~ officially we were all safely signed out.

The big black book ~ officially we were all safely signed out.

At the gate at the bottom of the mountain, we gather one more time for one last group pic before we made our way to the bus that waited to take us back to the hotel in Moshe.

At the gate at the bottom of the mountain, we gather one more time for one last group pic before we made our way to the bus that waited to take us back to the hotel in Moshe.

What would our group pic be without one last sign! Photo by Donna McTaggart

What would our group pic be without one last sign! Photo by Donna McTaggart

One of the best part about arriving back at the hotel was undoubtedly being greeted by Sean and Barry as we stepped off the bus. It was so good to see them again and to see that Sean was doing so much better than when we last saw him the morning we were leaving for Base Camp and he was going back down.  The second best thing about arriving back at the hotel was a hot shower, clean hair and putting on clean, crisp clothes and I think the ice-cold Kilimanjaro beer definitely comes in somewhere in between!

At around 3 that afternoon we all gathered in the garden of the hotel where we had a little ceremony in which everyone received certificates saying they had climbed Kilimanjaro. On our summit certificate it states that you climbed to 5895m amsl with the date and the time you reached the summit. It was a proud moment  knowing we had done it. As Thomas called out each one’s name to receive their certificate, Thomas would say a little something about that person. What he had to say about me had the tears welling up again. He said that he would never forget the journey that I was on and what I did it for and for the amazing R20,000 I managed to raise for Cystic Fibrosis. Truth be told, I would never have climbed this mountain without all the amazing support from our porters and guides, my incredible team mates and for all the support and encouragement back home and from around the world that I had received. In some small way you all climbed this mountain with me. A proud and humbling moment, this is a journey that has undoubtedly changed my life.

Receiving my two certificates from our lead guide, Dixon. The certificates state I've successfully summited Kilimanjaro. Photo by Simon Bates

Receiving my two certificates from our lead guide, Dixon. The certificates state I’ve successfully summited Kilimanjaro. Photo by Simon Bates

Barry's South African flag that he got everyone to sign. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Barry’s South African flag that he got everyone to sign. Photo by Donna McTaggart

The team all back together again along with our guides. An adventure of a lifetime and one I will never forget.

The team all back together again along with our guides. An adventure of a lifetime and one I will never forget.

That afternoon we sat around chatting while drinking Kilimanjaro beer. Some found the energy to go into town to do some last-minute shopping and some slept.

That night we enjoyed a delicious meal together, my appetite slowly coming back. Later that night a few of us headed in Moshe to a local night spot called Alberte to celebrate.

Tomorrow, very early in the morning we would be getting up to say goodbye to Thomas, Judi, Sean and Barry as they all headed back home. The goodbyes are always the hard part! Donna and I ended up spending another night with Anthony and Simon in Moshe before they headed off to Zanzibar and Donna and I ventured out into Africa. Although our epic adventure to the top of Kilimanjaro was over, our holiday was really just beginning for the two of us as we still had adventures in a hot air balloon, a trip to the Serengeti, exploring the Ngorongoro Crater, traveling to Arusha, Dar es Salaam and finally ending our holiday off in Zanzibar.

This has been a journey of a lifetime, shared with the most amazing people who all started out as strangers and we all ended up becoming friends. We went through every emotion together, we were able to laugh through the tough times and cry together at the top. Kilimanjaro tests your ability.  Not only do you have to be physically prepared, but your mental fitness is what really gets you to the top.  An incredibly inspiring journey that I would recommend to everyone! It is a journey that reminds me why I strive to live my dreams. No matter what your dreams are, I hope somewhere in my sharing this journey something has inspired you to reach for your dreams too.

I thought this would be the last post in the story that is “A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro” but as I come to the end of our journey, I realise I have one more post to go…. but that’s a post for Monday, so I hope you’ll join me for the final, final epilogue.

~All Photos By Me and My Incredible Team Mates ~

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