Machame Gate (1790 m) – Machame Camp (3010 m), 11 km, 4 hrs 10 min. Total trip distance 11 km, total elevation 1220 m, total time 4 hrs 10 min.
We met up with our guides in the morning and informed them of Emily’s condition. At this time Emily described herself as feeling very sick, not a good thing. It was agreed that we would give Emily a two-day “trial” and then evaluate how she was doing. One of the options was that if Emily was unable to continue they would bring her down and arrange for accommodations for her and the rest of us would continue on. Laura and I discussed this and quickly it was decided that this was never going to be an option. At this point in the trip we really could only take it one day at a time and hope that Emily could persevere and recover quickly.
It was a two-hour bus ride to Machame Gate, our starting point. We picked up many of our porters along the way. When we arrived at Machame Gate the scene was chaotic.
All groups have to check in. Laura went with our head guide August to register and I stayed with our equipment. Even once we had registered we had to wait until all the porters could pass through their own checkpoint. One of the priorities at the porters’ checkpoint was weighing their packs to ensure they were not over a certain weight, I think it was 50 lbs. In the past the porters had been taken advantage of and required to carry high weights, which would reduce the number of porters and therefore the overall costs. There were many groups starting their hikes and, since we were one of the last to arrive at Machame Gate, our porters would be among the last through their checkpoint.
We had to wait about 2 hours before we had the opportunity to to start our hike. We ate our lunch while waiting. The waiting time was not completely uneventful as a monkey stole Siobhan’s banana and bun, and Laura got herself locked in a washroom.
We finally got the go-ahead to start hiking at 1:35 pm.
We heard a lot about the hiking on Kilimanjaro and kept hearing the words “pole pole”, pronounced polay-polay, a Swahili term meaning “slowly, slowly”. The idea is that success on Kilimanjaro is best found by setting a slow and steady pace. Our first day was not very pole pole. We kept up a steady pace with only a few breaks. We came upon several large groups, one of over 20 hikers; they were very courteous and let us pass.
The vegetation changed noticeably as we hiked. It was becoming scrubbier, not as thick, less lichen and more moss. We had been hiking in the rain forest zone of the mountain. In the rain forest zone the tree branches overlap and form a canopy overhead and ferns and lichens dominate below producing a thick scenery of vegetation. Just before arriving at Machame camp we entered a different zone called the Heath Zone. The Heath Zone occupies the landscape between 2800 m and 3350 m, only a difference of 550 m. In contrast, the Rainforest Zone existed in an altitude range from 1800 m to 2800 m. The amount of rainfall and temperatures decrease with altitude. The scrubbier vegetation we had been seeing was the transition from the Rainforest Zone to the Heath Zone. The Heath Zone does have less rainfall but due to the altitude is frequently covered by cloud. We would see this tomorrow as we climbed beyond the Heath Zone and above the clouds.
The trail flattened out and we arrived at Machame Camp at 5:40pm, locating our campsite at 5:45 pm, 4 hrs and 10 minutes after we had started. The target for this day was 5 hours so despite the crowds and Emily not feeling well we had set a strong pace.
When we arrived the porters were just finishing putting up our tents. There were a lot of people in the camp. We figured about 400 people were moving with us from camp to camp. Despite the large number of people we were separated by the trees so the camp was reasonably private. We relaxed in the sunshine for a few minutes. We were then presented with hot water for washing up. Just a bit of hot water to remove the sweat and dust goes a long way to make you feel fresher.
We had a separate dining tent. It had a low table and chairs but was cozy for us to enjoy our meals with one of the guides, usually August. After washing up, we had tea and popcorn. Dinner was cucumber soup, potatoes and tilapia. Our meals were prepared by the cook, Paul. Paul was a favourite of the girls. All of our meals were amazing. Emily nicknamed Paul the “stomach doctor” because it was important for her to eat and she did not really feel like it, but the food was so good she forced herself to eat some.
All the toilets on the hike were pit toilets of vastly varying quality. This first camp had a rather rough toilet. It was a very rickety wooden structure with no door and some boards placed over the hole.
We headed for the tents around 7:30 pm. Being near the equator, just 3 degrees south, there is virtually equal day and night. The transition between day and night appeared to happen very quickly, just one of the little things we had to get used to. I did go out in the evening and take some night-time shots and headed to bed at about 9:00 pm.