I knew I would be shattered by the time we reached Nairobi but once there we all regrouped and found ourselves a lovely spot on the floor for the four hours we had to wait for our connecting flight to Tanzania. Scotty and Paul D went off on a scouting expedition and eventually came back to excitedly report that they had found a café with seats and everything! Believe me that was very appealing in the oppressive hell-hole that is Nairobi airport but unfortunately coffees were already in hand and the group decided to stay put in fear of losing the one available seating area to be had (the floor!). There were rumours going around that Ronnie had managed to get himself, Gemma and Paula into the first class lounge and we all jealously wished we were there too.
Eventually we boarded the flight to Kilimanjaro, a dual prop plane that wasn’t powered by elastic bands…a vast improvement on what I had been expecting! The 50 minute flight took us over the top of Mt Kilimanjaro to the left and Mt Meru to the right. Meru was imposing its way through the clouds and I was grateful not to be sat on the left hand side of the plane because I really didn’t want to see what we were about to climb.
A big sigh of relief came from various members of the gang once we had landed and we all excitedly had photos taken outside with the ‘Kilimanjaro Airport’ sign in the background. The kit bags were unceremoniously thrown on top of two rickety old buses and we were loaded on board for the 2 ½ hour transfer to the hotel. The journey was quite some introduction to Africa and it became quite clear what a culture shock we were in for. The roads in themselves were a challenge, mostly just dirt tracks, and even though they officially drive on the left hand side the driver pretty much drove wherever he could to avoid the potholes in the road. On several occasions it seemed as though there would be a head on collision but these guys were obviously used to it and yet another near death experience didn’t seem to throw them at all.
Arriving at the Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort Hotel brought relief for everyone but I couldn’t believe my eyes when a very young girl insisted on carrying my kit bag up the three flights of stairs to our room…my first taste of being humbled by these lovely people.
Unpacking, packing, weighing, unpacking, packing, weighing took over the time before dinner and the team talk. At dinner our leader Jenny went over what to expect on the trek and for the first time we were all firmly brought back to reality when the first thing she asked for was our next of kin details.
I was already feeling very nervous about the health implications of altitude for myself in particular. The night before the trek I had received an email from the trek doctor informing me that the medication I was on would put me at greater risk of a DVT at altitude and that this should have been discussed with my oncologist. Needless to say that at this late stage no discussions had taken place and it completely threw me. I’d already put my family through so much over the last couple of years the thought of something so dangerous happening half way up a mountain was a little difficult to deal with. I decided to take aspirin with me to help thin my blood and Claire (the doc) explained what symptoms I should look out for. Not a good start. It really didn’t help that whilst checking out the hotel myself, Paul and Helen came across a woman sat by the pool who regaled us with her recent Kilimanjaro experience. This had involved getting HACE and HAPE at quite low altitude and being literally dragged back down the mountain by her guide only to fall into a coma for four days. The hospital had phoned her next of kin to inform them that she was unlikely to come home. When she came round she didn’t know who she was, who her partner was, what had happened and where she had been. Not funny. The three of us felt a bit shell shocked from that little chat but I think for me in particular I had begun the slippery slope of self doubt and worry that was to be a huge learning curve for me over the next few days.
After dinner we met in the bar. Everyone was beginning to relax around each other and we had a few laughs before returning to our rooms to make sure that our bags were packed correctly and weighed no more than the maximum 15 kgs – just in case we had got it wrong on the previous 10 occasions we had checked!!