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New Friends and Borrowed Gear

New Friends and Borrowed Gear

I WOKE up at about 5:45 with the alarm. It was still dark outside, but I was determined to see the mountain illuminated by the sunrise. I quickly got dressed in the coldness of the morning and walked outside. It was almost 6:00 but there was no sign of light. I looked up. There were no stars. Drat. It was overcast. I walked around to the reception area and looked up the hilly slope towards where I gathered the mountain was. It was overcast in every direction. Looks like I’ll miss seeing the mountain this morning.

A security guard approached me and told me it was too early to see the sunrise, so I returned to my room and waited until breakfast, checking my washing, but most of it was still wet, so I hung it out over the railing on my little balcony. Despite the very damp foggy air, I hoped it would dry out today.

I returned to my room, and discovered some information about the history of the hotel:

The site was originally a coffee farm set up on land purchased from the Marangu tribe in 1907. The original farmhouse still serves as the main building where the reception is located.

The shop at Marangu Hotel
The shop at Marangu Hotel

Coffee prices around the world declined in the early 1930s, so the owners of the farm supplemented their income by taking in paying guests. By then they were familiar with the mountain so by accident they became one of the first outfitters for organised mountain climbs.

Another building was built and it housed another family, the Brice-Bennetts who had travelled by road from Nigeria. The two families built the Marangu Hotel business and its associated climbing operations.

The founders have since died, but their children Desmond and Seamus inherited the business which they continue to run to this day. The climbing business is a lot more competitive these days. They survive through to the commitment to the ongoing development of the Marangu area. In an area where the unemployment is around eighty percent, many of the locals here are employed as porters, guides, and hotel workers. Many people have worked here for decades and the most senior guides have been working the mountain for over forty years - since before I was born.

The hotel reminded me very much of a commune where I lived in the late 1980s. It had started as a large single storey farmhouse, but was expanded to have another house added to either end of it in the years before my family moved there. It was a large sprawled out house in a particularly scenic and mountainous part of New Zealand. The Marangu Hotel was set up in a very similar fashion.

I entered the dining hall at about eight o’clock. I showed my room key to the steward at the door who led me to a table which had my key number on it along with a couple of other key numbers. There was one guy already sitting at the table. I figured if they were sitting us together then perhaps we are going to be in the same group. I introduced myself, and he introduced himself as Gary or the diminutive Gaz as he preferred to call himself. He said he was from New Zealand.

Wow, another New Zealander! I mentioned that I was initially from New Zealand myself, but now live in Brisbane. He did too, though at the other end of the city. Sadly though he was living in a part of town where I tend to dare not venture due to its rough reputation. Gaz pointed out his wife who was talking with a couple who had just come down from the mountain yesterday. They had climbed to Gillman’s Point, at the edge of the crater, but because it was snowing, they decided not onto go to the summit. The trek had been extremely tough for them.

Bird of paradise
Bird of paradise

His wife Dawn came over and introduced herself. They mentioned they were from Matamata – the location of Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings movies. They were both very tall and lean by any standards - certainly far too tall to be hobbits so I thought. I instantly got a great rapport with Gary and Dawn. They had arrived here from Australia yesterday to climb the mountain. They had flown the same route as me from Brisbane to Dubai to Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, but without the extra day's stopover I had in Dubai and several days in Kenya. Once the climb is finished, they will return to Brisbane to pack up and move down to Melbourne to start afresh.

Once breakfast was finished we returned to our rooms together. They were staying in the room across the path from me, and had heard my arrival last night. I thought I had arrived quietly last night, but obviously not unnoticed.

We sat down on their balcony talking about the upcoming trip, and about our lives back home. Dawn was half Maori and spoke with an obvious Maori accent. They were both very funny. Today they wanted to walk up to a local waterfall, and I was keen to join them. We all needed our climbing equipment inspected though, so we decided to wait until after the inspection before leaving.

I returned to my room, and noticed the power had gone out. Obviously the generator had overloaded or maybe they were saving diesel. Electricity is apparently quite a rarity here, only available by diesel generators for upmarket places like this, but even here it is only available when absolutely necessary.

When I had booked this trip earlier in the year, the trip notes said our gear would be checked upon our arrival at the hotel, and we would be provided with any equipment we didn’t have free of charge. Now mountain trekking equipment is quite bulky, so knowing that equipment would be provided meant I could deliberately leave some things at home.

Now there was some equipment that I had to bring. Things like my day pack, gloves, gaiters, woollen hat, walking pole, etc. These were personal items that definitely fitted me. Other things such as a sleeping bag and wind proof jacket weren’t that personal, so I opted to leave some of that stuff at home knowing they would be supplied here.

Pretty flowers
Pretty flowers

The inspection lady finally arrived. Ruth was a small woman aged in her sixties with very deeply weathered wrinkled skin and a very stern expression on her face. Despite her stern appearance, she had a very soft voice and a nice manner. Ruth was carrying a clipboard with a list, and started to look at the equipment I had put out on my bed. We went through the list, ticking off each item as she inspected it and quietly nodded. She asked me in rather broken English about the things she couldn’t see. Of all the equipment I had, she seemed very happy with every item. By the end of the inspection she had a small list of things for me to borrow.

Ruth beckoned me to follow her. We walked outside passing through the reception courtyard to a dark obscure storage room behind the huge kitchen. Large old wooden shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling full of all sorts of climbing equipment. How did they manage to accumulate all this stuff? Lost property? Donations from climbers who didn't want to lug their excess clothing around the world now they no longer needed it?

We collected a large sack to store the stuff I was leaving behind, a sleeping bag, an anorak, a sunhat and a small water bottle. My three litre camel back was good, but she explained that any water in it will freeze during the final ascent to the summit. The small water bottle will be for wearing against the chest when I climb into sub-zero temperature conditions to prevent from freezing.

I signed out all the equipment I needed and returned to my room with the borrowed gear to start packing it all into my backpack.

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13 August 2011


Mount Kilimanjaro



1100m ASL


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