J.D. Baldwin's Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 8

Day 8 (Monday, 7 March 2011), time not noted

Wow, did I ever sleep. Not that that was unexpected. I was zonked out before it was dark and woke just before Joffrey brought me tea and a wash basin at 6 am.
Packing was quite simple this morning. We only expect a 2-3 hour hike down, and it was relatively warm in the morning (around 60 deg. F and a bit muggy). I'm packing a couple of snack bars, just two liters of water in my Camelbak, and no extra bottles.
I separate out some of the things I won't use today that I am giving away to specific porters. Vincent (the guy who's been carrying my stuff) gets my old-but-still-servicable Nike Frees (I'll replace them when I get home) and three good pairs of Under Armour socks. The porters probably can't get enough decent socks -- I couldn't believe some of the footwear we saw those guys wearing on the way up the mountain. Joffrey, the porter/waiter, gets some socks and a couple of other small things I can't recall, but that I think he'll find useful. I have four extra snack bars that I hand out to whatever porters happen to be standing nearby.
Simon says we should get an early start so we can get to Mweka Gate (the check-out point) before the other groups. That way we won't have to wait in line to sign our names and details in the park register and we also get first dibs on the bus back to the hotel. This sounds good to all of us, so we are ready to roll at 7:30 am, while other campers (except one group that's gone ahead) are still packing up. James, the assistant guide, approaches me and suggests the two of us get going "haraka" (quickly), to which I agree.  (If you're wondering whether I am flattered by this, I am.) Gloria and Anne overhear and say they want to go "haraka" too, so the three of us are off and running.  The rest leave only a few minutes later and most of them catch up to us after a while.
It's an easy trail, but still brisk and steep downhill walking, so it takes a toll on the quads and knees, particularly considering that they haven't recovered from the previous day's abuse. The topography has changed from forest back to tropical rain forest, and there is hope of seeing blue monkeys and more black-and-white colobus monkeys. We definitely saw no black-and-whites, but I think I may have seen two blue monkeys back in the woods. Whatever they were, they scampered away before I could get my camera out.

JD, Gloria and Gareth on a fairly typical trail section
Myself, Gloria and Gareth, negotiating a fairly typical section of trail from Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate.
Photo by Anne.

JD in rainforest
In the tropical rainforest, on the way to Mweka Gate.
Photo by Gloria.

After a bit under three hours, we saw vehicles and a sizable crowd of people, and knew we'd made it to the gate.

First glimpse of Mweka Gate
Our first glimpse of the Mweka Gate area.
Photo by Anne.

Simon took me to the park ranger to sign the register for everyone (a duty that had somehow devolved onto me since day 2), we all had Coca-Colas and waited for the porters to load our gear onto the buses. After about half an hour wait, while we were pestered to buy commemorative "I climbed Kili" patches, T-shirts and other African craft items, we boarded for the 45-minute ride to Springlands.

The "bus" for the porters
Our bus was a little larger and more comfortable than the one the porters took back.
Photo by Claire.

We agreed in advance that, at the hotel, we'd wash up quickly (though we all desperately wanted long showers) to meet in the garden bar at the hotel so we would work out the tips we would give to our support crew. All the guide information you will find about Kili (and similar treks in Tanzania) tells you to figure your tips collectively and chip in together. Donations of used gear are always welcome, as well.
While tossing back a few Kilimanjaro beers (until they ran out of cold Kili and we had to switch to Serengeti), Gloria and I worked out the tips with occasional input from the others. Gloria was in charge of tips as such because she works in finance, and I did the spreadsheet because I had my computer at hand. For the seven of us, we came up with a figure of USD $320 apiece -- the resulting $2,240 was divided unevenly (in each case, slightly more than the upper end of the "suggested" ranges in the guide) among the guides, assistant guide, and 19 of the 22 porters. We singled out three porters -- Joffrey, who doubled as waiter at mealtimes, Ema who acted as an extra guide on summit day, and the poor guy whose name I cannot recall who had to port the chemical toilet -- for a little extra. I gave my old but still quite servicable Smith sunglasses with the interchangable lenses to guide Robert, whom I did not see wearing sunglasses, and a pair of glove liners that were just a little too small for me to James. We all collectively put a bunch of other stuff into a big plastic bag for Simon to distribute as he saw fit.
A note about tips:  one thing I had read and heard about Zara (the tour operator who subcontracts to Ultimate Kilimanjaro, the US-based company through which we all booked) is that they absolutely forbid their staff from "grubbing" for tips while on the mountain. Other operators either do not have this rule or it is not observed. I find that kind of thing extremely unpleasant. I am pleased to report that the Zara staff did not in fact even mention tips on the mountain, nor did anyone ask me for anything at all. Anything I gave away, including sharing of food on the trail with porters and guides, was gratefully accepted, but it would be a huge mistake to give anyone a cash tip for some service performed on the trail. (I have heard stories where this kind of thing led to bad feelings later. If you go on a trek like this, just don't do that.)
Gloria collected the cash and the tip form -- the form is so that all the porters can see just what part of the money was to be left to them, to avoid any questions of impropriety when the money is distributed by the head guide (a pretty good system) -- and we broke up to go get cleaned up. I took a good but quick shower and then hit the pool for a 15-minute swim. The pool at Springlands is the only swimming pool I've used in Tanzania that isn't as warm as bath water. (And many times the ocean is even warmer!) It was quite refreshing. After that, another quick shower, then a little unpacking and repacking, then it was time for my massage appointment. ("Hit the quads hard," I told the masseuse, and did she ever.  Ow.)  After that, yet another shower. (I don't like wasting water in Africa, and these weren't long, luxurious showers, but I had been "saving water" for a full week and I felt it wouldn't hurt anything to get a little extra clean this one day.)
We all met up again for drinks before dinner, then moved over to dinner, then when they kicked us out of the dining area, back to the garden bar for more beer. Around 9:30 pm, people started fading and excusing themselves for bed. I didn't linger, myself. I flopped down on my bed, fired up my computer to watch "RED" (which I'd bought on the street in Dar for a little over two U.S. dollars) and was asleep even before Bruce Willis kicked the first ass.

Stats for Day 8:

Starting elevation (Mweka camp)
10,065' (3,070 m)
Ending elevation (Mweka gate)
 5,380' (1,640 m)
Resting heart rate (evening)

Post hike wrap-up

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