Part two of a Bloody long walk.
The entry gate to the Kilimanjaro National Park is 1800m above sea level. Like all park entrances, we had to sign in. As we waited, a line of local people were read the riot act by a stony-faced man in army greens holding a rifle. These locals try to rent equipment to visitors to make money. Our group had already met our expedition leader and had all of our supplies and the porters who would be carrying our major backpacks. Apparently, the locals are strongly advised not to offer their wares on the inside of the National Park. Within about 60m into the fence line I heard a commotion up front. I was told that the expedition leader was swinging his walking stick above the head of a local and abusing him for not respecting the rules. Well, the local was back into the bush like a scrub turkey chasing a grasshopper!
The walking path up the mountain is not concrete or compacted gravel. It is created by hand by the locals. The path is very easy to follow, however, it has rocks and stones of varying sizes throughout making the walk treacherous if you don’t keep your wits about you. Lifting your feet and placing it in the right spot can be a challenge. You need to be fit, have flexibility in your ankles and have enough energy.
Occasionally you’ll find gutters crossing the path created to allow the rainwater to flow through and not to wash away the main path. These gutters are also manmade and are varying widths and depths everything from six inches to a foot and a half. Keep in mind, if you’re sighted you can judge how far to step. Blind, well, I felt with my white cane first then stepped across. This I very quickly got used to as stopping to feel out each gap would waste time. I also had to hold onto my guide, communicating about the terrain ahead. The trail is heavily forested near the entrance of the park with large trees and undergrowth.
The beginning of the track was smoother but became rougher the further we continued. Every day was certainly an experience on this walk! Walking the trail we could hear birds twittering, excited monkeys in the trees watching the trekkers go by while jumping from branch to branch and the porters talking to each other in their own language sometimes singing or chatting with other porters walking in the opposite direction with their team of travellers on their way out.
Our goal for the first day was to make it to the 2700m, or 9000 feet above sea level camp, the Mandara Huts. As we reached the huts in the afternoon we understood how important it was to get fit prior to undertaking this trek. If I were to do it again, however, I would prepare better for the stress on your ankles. Our legs ached and we found it beneficial to walk with slightly bended knees to help with cushioning and stability. Sighted you can make a quick judgement where to place your foot and adjust. Blind, we find out when we put our foot down. Judgements are made instantly whether to tense or relax and have as much of the boot surface on the ground as possible. Making a bad decision, breaking a bone or spraining an ankle, could mean turning around and leaving! That would be a disaster!
More next week.