It felt weird waking up today on January 2nd, 2016. Not only was I now officially in the New Year (the past couple of days just felt like one very long day) — the realization that I had completed one of my goals that I had set out to tackle two years ago was just dawning on me. I was too exhausted and tired from the summit hike to really think about it. It all felt bittersweet to me as I reminisced fondly of the days that we had spent on Kilimanjaro. I loved waking up seeing the snow-capped summit and today would be my last day on this beautiful mountain.
Waking up to our final view of the summit at Millennium Camp. It was nice to see green again too. After breakfast and sorting out the details concerning tips — we were privileged to a participate in a thank you ceremony with the porters and guides.
The descent back to an elevation where there were trees made for a great setting to enjoy our final breakfast of this trek. They were also a reminder that we were breathing much easier than before. We could move around without feeling shortness of breath — one might even notice that there was a hop and skip in between when everyone walked around now.
Breakfast was excellent as I had the opportunity to enjoy more chapati pancakes (I still have a craving for them). All of us hikers got to sorting out our tipping for the porters and guides and once that was settled with the chief mountain guide and everything was calculated out — we stepped out of the mess tent to meet with all of our porters and guides. Here, for full transparency — the dollar value of all the tips were announced based on the role that each person had on the team. I was happy to see that as the tips were being declared — all of the porters and guides were all smiles. I had read that much of the livelihood of the porters and their families are heavily dependent on tipping. It is unfortunate that this is the case and I hope that in the future — some sort of living wage or salary is simply built into the cost of a trek.
The tipping ceremony eventually lead to the overall farewell ceremony. Mweka camp would be the last time we would see all of the porters. They would descend the mountain faster than us and then take a separate van home.
The ceremony started with a number of the porters and guides singing local traditional songs and eventually lead to the famous Kilimanjaro Song. It wasn’t just our group so we’d hear voice and song across the camp. It was pretty amazing. Even after hearing the Kilimanjaro Song over and over again, I didn’t get sick of it. Search for it on Google and you’ll find plenty of YouTube videos.
Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!
Tembea pole pole. Hakuna matata!
Utafika salama. Hakuna matata!
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna matata!
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.
Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka!
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzunguka.
Wanizunguka wataka kunila nyama
After we said our farewells to each and every porter, we parted ways and set off on the last stretch of this journey.
As we make our way down Kilimanjaro, we begin to see and enjoy views of the tree canopy of the rain forest. Another look off to the side of the trail. The trail is quite steep along the way down is covered with loose rocks and gravel.
The descent was long and steep. Some parts of the trail were full of loose gravel and it made it very slippery at times. I would highly recommend that everyone make use of trekking poles on the descent. It saves your knees from all the impact, reduces the energy your legs consume to slow yourself down, and helps stabilize yourself on the way down — which is very important because after a very long descent, your ability to maintain stability and balance diminishes.
The important thing is not to feel rushed. I think members of my group felt like they had to keep up with the rest of the group but it is crucial to pace yourself. Descents often stress people out and many find it more challenging than climbing up (myself included) so moving faster doesn’t actually help. Besides, I really enjoyed the earlier areas of the descent when we were just reaching the alpine forest area. The trees and the greens seem to always have so much character.
Descending from the higher elevation alpine forest. Taking a break after hiking down countless steps.
The trekking poles really come in handy later into the descent. When we eventually make our way into the rain forest — the trail is actually quite nice, but unfortunately it is made up of countless number of steps. It is literally like walking down a never-ending staircase. At some point, I tried counting the number of steps but lost count because I eventually got bored. I also think at this point, most people just wanted to get back to the lodge and have a shower — something we haven’t had for the past 7 days!
After we make it to the end of the stairs — we arrive at the furthest point of the trail where supply trucks or ambulances can drive up to in the rain forest before everything has to be carried up or down by porters. Alas, we still had a ways to go.
We finally make it to the furthest point where an ambulance or truck can drive up into the rain forest area. Spotting a glimpse of civilization ahead. Finally arriving at the site of the Mweka Gate. This is it, we’re practically finished!
I think by the time we were just walking on a dirt road towards Mweka Gate — no one was really talking anymore. Everyone was tired. I guess it didn’t help that with the descent, we also were returning to a warmer and more humid climate which zapped a lot of energy out of many of us. Once we spotted the vans and buses carrying trekkers away though, it was as if everyone had a final burst of energy! We powered our way to the end.
Of course there needs to be some token photograph of signage at the end. This time, I definitely didn’t care enough to take a photograph with the sign so I simply just snapped a picture of it with everyone around. It was a busy place with everyone happily (but wearily) having their photograph taken.
Where our trail finally ends. Way too many people are trying to take photos so I just end up photographing them. Some groups preparing to leave while others just arriving to sign into the last ranger’s office. We sat down afterwards for a last lunch.
After taking care of that photograph, we made our way to the ranger’s station to leave our final signature. It was a long line up and my knees were aching from the descent. It was past noon and we had a long drive back to the lodge — but before we would depart, we’d have a last lunch with our guides. It was good to have a hot lunch in the sun. Some folks in the group ordered beer while others like myself just settled for a warm soda. It felt like it had been decades since I last had a soda.
A local joint we stopped at to taste test some mbege (banana beer).
On the way back to the lodge, our guides who had spoken with us about the local Chaga people and the local drink mbege, took us to a local bar or restaurant to celebrate our accomplishment with a drink. Mbege is referred to as banana beer because it is made from a type of banana and is often consumed in groups. Apparently, everyone would share a container full of mbege (imagine a large yogurt-sized container) and each person would drink from it and pass it on to the next. It was amusing to watch everyone’s faces as they drank it. Some people said that it was very sweet — I thought it tasted just like beer with a hint of banana to it. I definitely couldn’t consume much of it but I think even the hardiest of people in the group mentioned that it had gotten pretty quickly to their head a little.
It was a long drive back to the lodge and everyone carried smiles or a peaceful look on their face. I thought it was pretty awesome that we had all made it to the summit and even more fascinating to me — how we all came together from different parts of the world to tackle Kilimanjaro, for completely different reasons. I was happy to have accomplished what I had set out to do two years ago when I started hiking the Bruce Trail — and to have had the opportunity to do this with people who were complete strangers to me in the beginning, and all of whom I consider a friend at the end. Was it harder than I thought it’d be? Yes. Much of it was psychological. I’ll discuss this in another time.
Most importantly, this whole journey would not have been possible without the mountain guides and porters. I am forever grateful to them for their support. Simply put, their spirit inspires me.