This was it. It was a great nine days. The four of us had been to the Roof of Africa. This was going to be our last day on our mountain. After the rain, snow and fog of the first seven days the last three were bright and sunny. It was a refreshing morning. I packed my stuff as usual, but with a small difference. I bagged a bunch of my stuff which I had no need for back home in the US, stuff that I had more of and stuff that I would not ever use unless I planned another mountain in the future. And this was unlikely, what with my thighs feeling as if they had been neatly skewered and grilled to perfection, my right big toe with the large clot under the nail, promising to come off in the very near future. No, I did not need those things; expedition grade wool socks, the old Gore-Tex jacket and fleece combo, the gaiters, the old pair of sneakers, a pair of fleece pants. All stuff that I knew the porters treasured. They could do with some "new" gear. Hell, some of them were worn just a few days. And that brings me to the subject of personal hygiene. None of us had showered for the last 10 days, not since that last trickle of warm water dribbled down our bodies from the jungle shower at the Ndarakwai Ranch. I had with me a pack of Adventure Medical Kits Fresh Bath Wipes. They were the next best thing to a bath. I am not kidding. Each evening, on getting to the camp, I usually bathed with those towels and I swear I smelled like a "rose"!! I am not sure that's an accurate description, but it sure sounds good and I didn't smell bad either.
Well, we got breakfast done and slowly started making our way to Mweka Gate, a quick 3-hour walk, all down hill and a nice well-marked path, slick at places from all that moisture in the tropical rainforest, through which we were now making our way. We had passed through the rain forest on our way to Moram Gate, but that had been in the confines of the Land Rover and we never got to experience it. Now the music of the jungle was all around us. In moments of quiet respite, the sounds of the jungle emerged from its depths, the twitter of birds, the far away holler of the monkeys, a branch broken by an unseen hand, the playful jabber of the mountain stream as it made its way to the plains. All these and more we heard and then moved on, the silent ferns marking our passage with nary a nod. These were some of the largest ferns I had seen, some of them growing at least twelve feet or more. The rays of the morning sun competes with the canopy for a chance to bathe the undergrowth with a little brightness. The waning moon was still in the West reluctant to give up the night, Mt. Meru reaching up to meet it.
|Waning moon over Mt. Meru (Photo by Nora/Renee)|
The trail ends about two miles or so from the gate. There is now a dirt road where an ambulance might come to the trail head to transport an incapacitated climber or porter. Long before we got to the gate we could hear the bustle of the vehicles and the throngs. We round a bend and the vehicles came into view first followed by the buildings. There was a crowd there now. It looked like a Calcutta market place, with a "corporation" of vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs. And then there were the shoe washers. Our shoes were understandably dirty and a good clean wash was what was needed. There were a bunch of young 'uns who wanted to have a go at my shoes, but I gave that privilege to a wizened old lady who did a wonderful job with my shoes. Walking into the rest room was a shock. I hadn't looked into a mirror for the last 10 days and for a moment there I did not recognize the scruffy grey bearded man looking back at me. Once we were all freshened up, we signed-off the mountain in a massive ledger at the office and then got together with the rest of the team for a "champagne" lunch. It was time for the certificates. Bernarde gave a short speech and distributed the certificates with much joy all around. There was dancing and laughter. I then gave my little note of thanks … in Swahili. I had stayed up late for the last few nights and rummaged through the little phrase book and pieced together a few sentences. I then got my friend Prosper to correct it for me. Here's how it went:
"Shikamoo." (greetings) "Habari zena." (How are you) "Asanti sana" (Thank you very much)"
Turning to Bernade and Goody I say, "Asante kwa kwangazu safari nzuri sana" (Thank you for running a great safari)
Turning to the porters, " Asante kwa kubeba mizigo yetu" (Thanks for carrying our bags)
To Richard, the cook, "Chakula kitama sana." (The food was delicious)
"Napapenda hapa" (I like it here)
"Nasi kitika kidogo" (I am a little sad), "Lakhini nadhani nimeugua kwa sababu ya kimo" (But I think I am suffering from mountain sickness)
"Mia sita hamsini (600) katika 'in' bahasha" (There is $600 as tips in the envelopes)
"Nimefurahi kukfahamu" (It was great meeting you)
"Heri zotei" (God bless) and "Bahati njema" (Good luck)
Most of our team along with the hoard of vendors and hangers on found it amusing. That must have been one of the worst renditions of the Kiswahili language they had ever heard but I am quite sure that it was also one of the few "thank you" speeches that they understood fully. The tips were distributed, all were happy. It was sad to part, Nora, Renee and Ken had a safari to complete and I had lives to save! Naseebo helped me carry my bags to the Land Rover. He had been a good man. I liked him. I slipped him an extra twenty. He was happy too. I hate to think that we may never cross paths again but I hope some time in the future I get a chance to meet up with some of them. To my fellow climbers, Renee, Nora and Ken, I owe my thanks and gratitude for the memories, for the friendship and for the trust we placed in each other. May y'all climb to greater heights in life but always remember the snows of Kilimanjaro. (Sorry Papa)