Off we go!
I managed to get a reasonable nights sleep considering we were in a strange country and about to take on the toughest challenge of our lives. The rain was hammering it down when we were woken by the hotel early alarm call. I can’t remember exactly what Audra and I said to each other but I’m pretty sure it involved the word SHIT or FUCK!
We got ourselves sorted and went down to meet everyone for breakfast, knowing full well that we should tuck in to what could possibly be our last half decent meal. Actually it wasn’t even half decent as the hotel food was pretty damn bland! We all took our bags down to reception, everyone discussing how much their bags weighed like our lives actually depended on it. The one person that stood out on this front was Scotty who somehow managed to have 3 kilos less kit than everyone else, I don’t think we ever did discover why! It was quite hilarious to see that between Donna, Karen and Paula L they had taken 5 carrier bags of stuff out of their kit bags to leave at the hotel…god alone knows what was in them but knowing Donna and Karen it was probably bottles of Laurent Perrier!!
Another 2 hour bus journey round to the Rongai gate followed and more sights of the real Tanzania battered our senses along the way. We looked so touristy sat in our buses taking photos out of the windows; women walking along the road carrying huge bunches of bananas on their heads; children walking god knows how many miles to school; market stalls selling home grown vegetables; men making bricks by the side of the road; donkeys pulling carts; men pulling carts; cows wandering around aimlessly. The poverty was striking but even more so was the dignity and pride of the people we were gauping at. I felt uncomfortable being on the inside looking out and wondered what they were thinking about us as they looked in.
We eventually arrived at the park gate and briefly met the guides and porters that were to become our heroes over the coming days. A new toilet block had recently been built and all us ladies rushed off for the last wee on a proper toilet…oh the luxury!
The hotel had given us all a packed lunch and we were told to eat it here before we set off so that the lunch boxes could be returned. Everyone was feeling nervous but also excited that everything we had been working towards over the last year was finally about to start. Jenny completed all the paperwork at the gate, every one had to be signed on to the mountain and then eventually signed off it too.
We set off, everyone chatting to who ever was close by, there was plenty of laughter and everyone seemed happy to finally be under way. We weren’t long into the 4 hour trek when we came across a clearing with some shacks and a few children came rushing over. Their little faces, covered in dirt, wearing clothes that had clearly seen much better days many years ago, a little hand held out in anticipation and the word chocolate quietly escaping from their lips. My heart melted and I felt terrible that I had eaten mine from my lunch box only an hour earlier. Thankfully Annemarie was behind me and she still had hers. She handed it over and you would have thought she had given them gold.
Certain people in the group were beginning to make an impression on me and Scotty in particular struck me as a young man who was much more of a deep thinker than he liked to let on. He won my heart with his reasons for taking on the trek and I absolutely insisted that I was going to be his Kili mum, a title that I had to battle several of the other old biddies to keep!! I just want to put it on the record that I am very proud of you my Kili son. Xx
At some point during these few hours I had my first ever wee outdoors, well as an adult that is! I couldn’t have been more proud!!
Getting into the first camp was very exciting and we were told to choose a tent for the night. Audra and I headed for the one next to the toilet tent, with the idea that we wouldn’t have to go far should we be caught short in the night. Oh my goodness, what a mistake to make!
After unpacking our kit bags, inflating our thermarests and getting our sleeping bags out we tried to find a spot within the tent that didn’t have a rock under. In the end Audra and I decided that we would have to sleep side ways in the tent and have the rocks between us in the middle and we had to giggle when I discovered that I was longer than the tent was wide!
We headed off to the mess tent for our first experience of mountain cooking and ended up sitting with Julie and Louise, two ladies that I hadn’t had a chance to speak as yet. They quickly became known as Thelma & Louise and we all had a good laugh at our end of the table. There were large plates of popcorn and flasks of ginger tea and plain boiled water. Milo (the drink of future champions!) and hot chocolate were available too. We couldn’t believe our eyes when pots of roast potatoes and plates of fish arrived and we eagerly all tucked in amazed that such food could be cooked in these conditions. From down the other end of the table we could hear that there was some discussion going on about the fish but it didn’t become obvious until the following morning that indeed it was the very serious issue of ‘the fishgate scandal!’.
Back in our tent and being virgin campers we hadn’t even considered that if we needed to go to the toilet then every other bugger in the camp would too and what with hearing every single wee that happened that night and the herd of elephants stampeding through the tent next door (or was that Ronnie snoring?!!) Audra and I managed very little sleep at all. I began to feel really nauseous through the night and my heart was racing. I got up at 4.30am and decided that a trip to the ‘tent of hell’ was the only option. I was feeling quite disorientated and very nearly went flying, practically taking the toilet tent out with me! The stars were majestical though and I sight I will never forget.