We are standing at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro with our guide, Bakari. We’re all set for our day hike, or are we? He gives us a hiking pole and we start off. I’m wearing sneakers and low socks, which immediately sink down so blisters start to form. Luckily my friend Janice has packed extra, heavy socks, which I put on. I am not a hiker! But off we go, up and up. Bakari wears his iPod listening to Justin Timberlake and walking like this is just a spin around the block. Janice and I not so much! “Polepole,” (pronounced polay polay) Bakari reminds us, which means slowly slowly in Swahili. So we continue hiking bit-by-bit, so excited as we spot 2 blue monkeys who stare at us and follow up above from limb to limb wondering what strange creatures we are and why we’re so slow.
I revel in the quiet, and I’m sure it’s only partly because we’re too winded to talk. I smell the air, which is saturated with the scent of flowers and leaves and coffee. The coffee smell might just be my imagination though because although a lot of coffee is grown here, most people seem to drink tea and I am seriously dying for some dark roast. The look of the forest suddenly changes and the tall, dark green trees that surround us open suddenly to beautiful flowing silver-green grasses and bright flowers.
It takes us 4 hours to hike to the first base camp. I can’t even begin to imagine how people climb this whole mountain. Happy but so tired we sit and pull out our boxed lunches which turn out to be cold hamburgers with fried eggs on top and a piece of chicken. I’m so hungry that a seafood pasta dinner (my favorite) wouldn’t taste any better. A huge black bird soars down and takes a bite of my hamburger. Hey! As I move to defend my burger, the bird picks up my chicken and flies off with it. Isn’t that kind of like cannibalism. That’s just wrong!
We head back down the mountain to finish our 18 Kilometer hike. I’m freely using my walking pole to keep from sliding down any slippery parts. Bakari makes it clear that he is not promising to carry us out if we break an ankle. We’re kind of silly after our fortification of burger and egg. Janice stops to swing on a ropy, twisted vine as I take pictures. Our kind, funny and patient guide starts to become an annoyed parent trying to get silly toddlers to get a move on. “No more polepole!” he says. He doesn’t want us all stuck hiking in the dark. It takes us 2 1/2 hours to hike down with lots of, “No more polepole!” on the way.
We finally make it down. It may be getting a little tiny bit dark. Bakari is relieved. Janice and I are both so happy to have had this experience and both declare that we will never, ever do it again!