Alumnus Vicente Concha continues on his Tanzania journey and ventures up Mount Kilimanjaro
It’s a hot African evening and I’m on my way to watch the Champions League Quarter Finals, hoping that Manchester United will beat Bayern Munich and go through to the semifinals.
As I walk into the bar I meet the boys and they introduce me to another volunteer from Argentina called Cristopher.
This is a refreshing moment because for the first time in two months I’ll be able to speak in Spanish with someone else.
After ordering our drinks, Chris and I share our experiences and points of view as Latinos in Africa. One of the conclusions we come to, is that the media does not do a good job at informing and creating awareness throughout South America regarding current issues in Africa (or at least in Chile & Argentina it doesn’t).
I then mentioned my intentions of conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro while raising funds for an NGO in Tanzania and he said he was interested and would be willing to join me in the adventure. As the evening faded, Manchester United did not make it to semis, but a great idea was born.
Exactly 5 days later, breaking news from Nigeria: On April 14, 2014 the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, had kidnapped almost 300 school girls from their secondary school in the little farming town of Chibok.
I received a phone call from Cristopher and we decided that the hike would be done in order to create awareness for these girls.
I immediately started sending emails to several tourism companies that offered their services for Mt. Kilimanjaro and found one that would charge us a reasonable price for a 7-day hike on the mountain.
Wheels were now in motion.
Fast forward to May 21, it’s 5:30 AM, my bags are packed and I’m sitting quite uncomfortably on a bus with the town of Moshi as its final destination.
It’s a long, 14-hour ride from Iringa, but the beautiful landscape, spotting wild animals and the street vendors jumping on the bus every stop to offer snacks and refreshments, make the trip a lot more bearable.
Upon arrival I catch a cab to the Q-Wine Hotel and looking out the window I am both shocked and amused by the drastic change of infrastructure in the town. Streets are paved, it’s full of restaurants, cars, and rather fancy looking households and all that comes to my mind in that moment are four words: The importance of tourism.
Because it is obvious that the tourist attraction Mt. Kilimanjaro provides is a huge economic boost and is clearly reflected in Moshi’s infrastructure and standard of living. After all, the number of people climbing Kilimanjaro per year is an estimated 25,000.
Two days later we are geared up and ready to begin what will be a week of walking uphill, no showers, being unable to communicate with the rest of the world, sleeping in subzero temperatures and the best part: constantly being in touch with nature. Moreover, I had only met Chris twice before so I barely knew the person I’d be sharing a tent with for the next week.
Days went by and it was all great fun, the landscape changed every day, from the rainforest full of astonishing green life on the first day to an alpine desert with nothing but rocks (it’s what I imagine to walking on the moon must be like) and snow to look at on the last day, those have been some of the best days 2014 has yet to offer.
On day 6 we are at Barafu camp, the last one before the summit and after an early dinner and some sleep we are gearing up to finish what we started, at midnight we will begin to hike the last 1200 meters and 6 hours before reaching Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa situated at 5895 meters. As we begin to ascend I can see the flashlights of people that started 1 hour before us and my competitive instinct starts to kick in, as does Cristopher’s.
We pick up the pace, which isn’t always a good idea, you’ll often hear the guides saying “Pole pole, hamna haraka, hakuna matata” which means “Slowly, there’s no haste, there are no worries“. After 2 hours and at 5100 meters we’ve passed 4 groups, but my partner starts to feel dizzy, tired and nauseous, he decides it’s not safe for him to continue and starts his descent with one of the guides. Now it’s just me and Balak (the other guide) against the mountain. I take a small break to eat a snickers bar and drink some water, competitiveness is still running through my veins and there is one more group ahead of me.
From here on it’s non-stop – “pole pole” Balak and I keep gaining altitude and meters. I can feel the lack of oxygen, the -15 degrees and my tired legs almost getting the better of me. It’s now when the power of determination and motivation are most important and I’m constantly thinking “I have to finish this, do it for the girls!”.
After catching up with the first group I’m at 5600 meters, 30 minutes later I get to a big sign that says “Congratulations, you are now at Stella Point, Alt. 5739” and I’m really happy, but that didn’t last long because Balak tells me we still have another 150 meters to go.
Finally, at 5:00 AM I reach Uhuru Peak, I’m the first one there out of 22 people, it’s dark and cold but it doesn’t matter because I’m there.
From there I can spot the giant Rebmann and Ratzel glaciers on top of Kilimanjaro and the stars have never been that close, it’s an incredible feeling, you know.
To be on the rooftop of Africa. Balak quickly takes a few pictures and we start our descent because the cold is unbearable.
Now I’m back in the hotel, writing this and all I have to say is that even though it was tough, it was an amazing experience and I would definitely do it again, if you’re ever in Tanzania, don’t miss out on the chance of living such an awesome adventure.
But more importantly, I hope that through what you’ve just read and the pictures I’ve shown you, I can reach out to you and motivate you to spread awareness on whatever you feel like the world needs to know more about.
Thank you for reading!
For a detailed guide on climbing Kilimanjaro, read my “Kill the Kili”!