Day 1 – Overnight at Mandara Hut, 2720m/8856 feet above sea level
“Even though I may feel like I am in the dark whilst walking through the forest, I need to remember back to my early days of healing when the light did eventually start shining through.”
The day had arrived, after months of planning we were on our way. We left our hotel at 9am and made our way to the Kilimanjaro National park. Registration was extremely slow as approximately a hundred climbers registered for the climb. It did cross my mind if many of these fellow climbers also had a purpose and what that may be. Surprisingly, the cleanliness of the reception area to the Kilimanjaro National park was excellent. We were excited on the one hand to get going but like all challenges that you face in life, patience was something we would learn by the end of our trip.
After some negotiations and unavoidable problems we finally left Marangu gate at midday, the pace was very slow as we walked on a pathway, through the tall trees of the rain forest. The atmosphere was damp with lots of fern and moss and at times the forest was so thick the sun rays could barely breakthrough. It reminded me of a time in my recovery when I thought I would never see the sun again, that I would never feel the warmth of happiness again – how wrong I was.
The path was mostly uphill and we quickly realised that the porters were our unsung heroes, as they carried our food, water, provisions and part of our gear. These men reminded me of the unconditional love I was so lucky to have found in the people that surrounded me – my loved ones who put up with my mood swings, my controlling behaviour and my constant need to protect them. They like these men persevered and stood by me by never giving up on me. Samson our guide gained our total trust, he is an amazing human being, he listens, he shares his thoughts, and is interested in you as a person. It is not an easy thing for a victim of abuse to trust again, to accept that people do not always have an alternative reason for being kind.
We stopped for lunch at 3.30pm – previously received as a packed lunch, the sandwiches were squashed and resembled very little
of their original form, the juice was warm but it was our sustenance. As we made our way through the forest we crossed four bridges, it was here that I revealed my first flag – “Evict the perpetrator!” It felt very liberating as I held the flag and Traci took the photograph.
The path was well maintained with lots of yellowwood trees and the formations on the trees sometimes appeared like sculptures. After lunch the taller trees started thinning out and sunlight started peeping through. We arrived at our first campsite, Mandara Hut at around 6.30pm.Today we walked for six hours, a distance of 12 kms and increased our altitude by over 1000m. Through our months of training we had never got to this height before but we were all still coping well and in good spirits. Due to our late arrival at the site we were accommodated in one of the older dormitories on top bunks.
Dinner amazed us – our cook and porters managed to make such appetising food with very meagre facilities. The leek soup was probably the best I had ever tasted. It made me think that even in the worst of circumstances goods things could be found. However, the ablution facilities were almost non-existent, consisting of a vile smelling long drop toilet which is basically just a hole in the floor. There is no running water and personal hygiene was maintained by the use of wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
I got into bed at 8.30pm and only slept about 50% of the time. I felt uncomfortable, not only because of the hard mattress and confining sleeping bag but also because of the unfamiliar surrounds and strangers sharing the same facility. As I tried to fall asleep my last thoughts for the day were that I would never have coped with these “shared sleeping circumstances” a year ago – oh yes I had come a long way.