From Suite to Tent: What Made Accommodations Memorable in Jordan

sunset, Jordan, Dead Sea, birds, palm tree, golden, travel, photo, Olympus

Throughout all my travels, I have experienced different types of accommodations.  A rented apartment in Tuscany, Krakow, Paris and SofiaNo-frills basic hotels in Stone Town, Moshi, Aswan and Brasov.  Bed & breakfasts in Sonoma, the Dordogne, and Tavistock.  Middle-of-the-road hotels in Reston, Stellenbosch and Venice.  Top-of-the-line in Santiago de Chile, Mykonos, Boca Raton, and Washington D.C.  And a camping tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The type of place I stay at is not happenstance – though staying at a youth hostel in my very late 30s in Oslo was due to no hotels being available for my business trip…  quite the experience!   I select the type of place I stay at based on many factors, such as:

  • am I going solo or with others
  • nature of the trip (business or personal)
  • am I staying in one place for the most part or roaming
  • what I want to spend,
  • what am I looking to experience in this vacation (I may only need a bed or I may want to enjoy a royal experience in my lodging).

But seldom do I experience many types of lodging in one trip.  And that’s exactly what I did in my recent trip to Jordan.  My trip to Jordan confirmed for me that that special something is what makes accommodations truly enjoyable and memorable (which is just as important as enjoying them at the moment!) regardless of the type of accommodation.

Here are the places I stayed at and why they each became as memorable a part of my trip as the many of the sights and sites I got to see in awesome Jordan.

Standard nice hotel

I got to continue my Marriott stays quite accidentally (as I did not have a hand in choosing this time), in both Amman and Petra.  Marriotts give you that standard feel that provides continuity for the very frequent traveler who moves around towns and hotels.  I can count on standard amenities, service and comfort in these.

The Amman Marriott first surprises because it feels like it is in the middle of a neighborhood.  Then you have to go through security – and odd thing but one that I am sure they do to keep me safe and unconcerned.  I felt both.  The restaurant offers a great breakfast buffet.  The outdoor pool area is spacious enough but there is ALSO an indoor pool and and jacuzzi so something for everyone’s water preferences.  The hallways in the room floors feel very luxurious and the rooms are nicer than the regular Marriott I have experienced and I separate this from the room I actually got which was an upgrade due to my Platinum Elite status with the chain:  I got quite a nice suite!!!

Marriott Amman Jordan lobby photo Canon EOS Rebel

Amman Marriott: A great lobby to hang out and read your paper

The Petra Marriott is a smaller hotel than the one in Amman – but what it lacks in size (no executive lounge, for example) it makes up for in the view.  The hotel faces the mountains around Petra from a high vantage point which makes it a great place to watch sunset as well!  The breakfast buffet was also smaller when compared to the Amman one and the staff not as “going out of their way” but it was still a good breakfast.

Lobby of Petra Marriott in Jordan

Lobby area

Atrium in the Petra Marriott in Jordan Olympus

Atrium

Beautiful sunset looking towards the mountains by Petra

Sunset view towards Petra and the hotel’s pool area

Clearly the view from the Petra Marriott made it most memorable but that feeling of arriving at a “second home”-type of place was also pretty darn cool.

Roughing it in a camp

One night we actually “roughed” it at Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve where one can see nature at its best is this part of Jordan.  I put rough in quote because, though sleeping in a tent and using a common bathroom facility are not high-styling it, these tents beat the tent I slept in while climbing Kilimanjaro for sure.  The tents were spacious and they had mattresses on the ground.  There was a common bathroom facility (a hike away if you woke up in the middle of the night and “had to go”) with showers and also a dining area where we had our meals.  Closer to the sleeping tents, was a set of large tents to hang out after dinner before bedtime – true to the Bedouin way.

Inside of a tent in Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

A mattress and the basics

tents, Rummana camp, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve

The sleeping tent area of the Rummana camp

Dining area in Camp Rummana in Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

The dining area. No, he is not a giant.

Nothing like being so close to nature to make a place memorable and the Rummana Camp definitely connected me with the great setting.

An ecolodge

After the hike through the Dana-Feynan canyon, we arrived exhausted at the Feynan Ecolodge, right in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  It has been rated one of the world’s top 50 ecolodges by National Geographic’s Adventure magazine. A partnership between the Royal Conservation Society of Jordan and EcoHotels, this lodge seeks to fit in not only with the terrain but also by respecting the local traditions and culture and providing the opportunity for an economic livelihood for the locals of the area.  There is a LOT that is done right by this ecolodge, so remote from main roads and anything urban yet surrounded by some incredible landscapes and skies as well as by the welcoming Bedouins of the area.

Feynan ecolodge, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan, desert, lodge Olympus

The ecolodge as one approaches it – unassuming!

Feynan is an ecolodge which means little or no electricity available (you can re-charge your device on one of two power outlets in the lobby) which is tough but, at the same time, we are too connected some times so maybe this is a good break?  It also means it only offers vegetarian fare as meat would require refrigeration.  But the food was delicious and quite diverse much to my surprise!  The rooms are very nice; no frills but nice.  Each has its own bathroom.  Oh and water is free – straight from a mineral spring so it is safe to drink!  Now, if it is a hot time of the year, know that the rooms have no fans or A/C (of course) – but you are here for the adventure, right?  Finally, it also has a rooftop telescope – a great place to explore the skies at night.

Room at Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan's Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

Room at the ecolodge

Earthen jar or pitcher in the Feynan Ecolodge - mineral watier

Earthen pitcher of mineral water awaits in the room

The ability to get close to the locals without being taken to a “shop” definitely made the Feynan Ecolodge quite memorable to me as was the interesting sunset I got to watch.

A place with an experience

After exploring the Wadi Rum by pick-up truck well into the evening, we arrived at a Captain’s Desert Private Camp to spend the night.  But it was not just to have dinner and spend the night.  There was to be music and more of a soirée experience.  The tents were different than the Rummana Camp‘s but no worse, no better.  There was a nice area to have dinner and hang out, and, in fact, some folks opted to sleep there under the stars.  What was really cool about this place was that it was nested in canyon walls and it was beautiful in the morning.

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Tents in Captain’s Desert Camp

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Hanging out at the camp

The Bedouin experience and the setting made the Captain’s Desert Camp quite a memorable place to stay.  I wish I had been feeling 100% that night to enjoy it more!

A hideaway

We got to stay at this hideaway two times each for one night.  The Evason Ma’in Six Senses hotel may have some details to work out, mainly in its managerial/front office efforts, but the place is in an idyllic and very secluded setting.  Further, it provides great comfort in its rooms, offers great views, and is around hot springs that offer great relaxation.

Room at the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Room. Really like the wooden shutter doors and spacious comfort

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Lobby area

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Detail of the lobby area

The uniqueness of the setting and the proximity and relative isolation of the hot springs as well as the inviting rooms made this place a memorable part of my trip.

And the “living-it-up” resort

My last night in Jordan was by the Dead Sea, where great resorts are located.  I stayed at the Mövenpick, a 5-star resort with a great view, a great offering in terms of food and fun, and an interesting design whether in architectural details or in the concept itself.

Movepick resort Dead Sea Jordan luxury comfort

Incredible details in the decorations at the main entrance

The room was not as luxurious as I would have expected but it was comfortable and spacious for sure.

 

The hotel grounds had several pools including one only for adults (closest to the Dead Sea).

Pools Movenpick hotel resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

One of the all-ages pool overlooking the Dead Sea

The main hotel building had many different areas to lounge in with very nice decorations and details.  The restaurant was outstanding in the diversity and quality of the buffet it offered for dinner and breakfast.

Room at Movenpick resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

Room

Lounge Movenpick resort by the Dead Sea in Jordan Olympus

One of the many sitting areas

At night there was an area that offered music and belly dancing without the corniness typically associated with belly dancing in the U.S. (where there HAS to be audience participation); you could just really appreciate the art form here without worrying you were going to be called upon to make a fool of yourself…

Movenpick Dead Sea Jordan resort outdoor Olympus

Outdoor area for drinks and entertainment in the evening

What made this place the most memorable was the amazing sunset I got to live through and watch…

Sunset Dead Sea pool Movenpick resort Jordan amazing awesome infinity Olympus photo

The lowest of the pools, closest to the Dead Sea during a GREAT sunset

Glorious, eh?

Sunset Dead Sea birds tree Jordan Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Is this a sunset scene or what??!!

Nuff said!

 

During this trip, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

The Real Heroes of Kilimanjaro

Trekkers at Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak

Kilimanjaro, while not a technical hike, is still a very challenging climb.  Anyone who has climbed it should be quite proud of the accomplishment.  I am privileged to have had the chance to attempt it and lucky to have succeeded!  And so for the other 15 trekkers in our group who also climbed it.

Trekkers at Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak

The 16 trekkers and our lead guide, Luis

The average age of our group of 16 was 42 (with the median at 46, in case that tells you something!).  And we all made it thanks to many factors:  our training, our willpower, our support of each other, the collegiality of the group, etc.  But just as important were the leadership and support our guides provided.  Minding our safety first, they also bonded well with us at different times and in different ways.

With Said, who helped me during summit night and then sped me down the scree field!

With Said, who helped me during summit night and then sped me down the scree field!

With Buga, one of the liveliest of our guides - always smiling, singing and taking care of us

With Buga, one of the liveliest of our guides – always smiling, singing and taking care of us

The trekkers and the guides can certainly call their efforts heroic or near-heroic.  We had a trekker climb with a broken hand for 3 days unknown to anyone but herself.  Another had bronchitis.  And another had severe nausea during the ascent.  They ALL made it.  They -Liz, Laura, and Olivia- are definitely heroes to me.  The guides worked SO hard on behalf of us. Not only minding our safety but also helping us during summit night ANY way they could.  And, for a couple of us, also on the descent through the scree.  They certainly are heroes to those of us whom they helped achieve this fantastic feat!!

Local hike guides Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The local guides

However, all that said, the real heroes of Kilimanjaro are the folks who make everything happen seamlessly in the background so that trekkers like myself can have a wonderful trek, a comfortable camp experience, and good food and water to sustain us.  The real heroes of Kilimanjaro are the porters.

Many of those porters, we never got to meet.  They worked behind the scenes.  They didn’t hike along us.  They carried our main luggage, tents, and everything else needed at camp.  They brought water to camp.  They cooked our meals.  They set up and took down tents.  They set up and cleaned the portable toilets.  They hauled trash away so we would leave the mountain as unscathed as we found it.

As we walked up the mountain, porters from our group or other groups passed us along the paths carrying their loads.  They moved fast and many did not have the right gear.  These men work hard and do hard work to earn a living.  Many of them are just picked up at the start of the route by the local lead guide to be hired for the trek right before we get going.  Some become part regulars.  And some eventually become guides.

As porters passed us along the path, we always cleared the way so they could pass us and not be bogged down by us.  Partly this was, admittedly, self-serving as the earlier they got to camp, the more ready the camp would be when we arrived.  But when we started doing this, that was not what we were thinking about.  We were strictly thinking about making things easier for them in appreciation for all they do.

Porter carrying load up Kilimanjaro

Porter carrying a load up Kili

The evening after we came off the mountain, after we all cleaned up, we all met at our hotel to celebrate and thank our guides and porters for their great work.  The video clip below is of very amateurish quality but I think the joy these guys live with is self-evident.  We loved their singing during the hike and we enjoyed celebrating!

The porters of Kili are the real heroes for me.  To this anonymous group (we knew some of them but not most), I say ASANTE SANA!  Our Kili experience would not have been possible without you.  If you climb Kili, be sure to clear the way as they try to pass you!!

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Other posts about climbing Kilimanjaro:

–  Day 1 (getting started)

–  Day 2 (the moorlands and my favorite camp)

–  Day 3 (reaching the Lava Tower at 15,000 ft)

–  Day 4 (Barranco Wall and a big challenge)

–  Day 5 (getting to summit camp)

–  Day 6 (summit night)

–  Day 7 (the long descent)

–  The Machame Route

Camping and Dining under the Stars in the Wadi Rum

Shisha hookah pipe Bedouin "wadi rum" jordan desert

I wrote earlier about exploring the Wadi Rum and how much fun it was to ride around in the back of a pickup truck and admire the magnificence of the landscape of this unique desert.  What made that day even better was how it ended that evening.

We stayed at a Captain’s Desert Camp camp, I am not really sure where in the Wadi Rum, somewhere surrounded by the giant rock formations typical of the Wadi Rum, if that helps any…  The camp was mostly candle-lit at night and the night consisted of enjoying our dinner outdoors, listening to Bedouin music, some dancing, and a lot of star-gazing up above.  It was a wonderful experience.

The tents were spacious and just had the beds – nothing fancy.  The camp had bathroom and shower facilities that, though basic, were not too basic (says he who went a week without showering going up Kilimanjaro…).

In any case, it was the evening activities under the stars that made the night so memorable for me.  The night started with music and Bedouin bread-(“shrak“) making.

We got to sample the shrak right then as the food was still cooking…  In the meantime, we enjoyed listening to local music and shisha (hookah) pipes were also brought out for folks to enjoy.

Bedouin music guitar desert camp "Wadi Rum" Jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Bedouin music players (see short video below for a 20sec sample of the music)

Shisha hookah pipe Bedouin "wadi rum" jordan desert Canon EOS Rebel

One of the locals enjoying the shisha pipe

Then it came time to get the food out:  the meats and vegetables were cooked covered up and underground.

Bedouin "Wadi Rum" Jodan food cooking underground oven Canon EOS Rebel

1.  Beginning to uncover the underground “oven”

Bedouin food cooking Jordan "Wadi Rum" underground oven

2.  All the coverings removed, there is the hole…

Bedouin food Jordan "Wadi Rum" meats vegetables

3.  The goods being pulled out

Bedouin food chicken eggplant potato "Wadi Rum" Jordan desert camp

4.  The final delicious product: chicken, potatoes, eggplant, etc. – mmm!!!

"Wadi Rum" desert captain camp dining area food adventure outdoors Jordan

The seating area for dinner – comfy!

No pictures of dinner itself as this traveler was starving and eating -not my blogging- became the focus.  My apologies 🙂

I close with a picture from the next morning of the comfy area (with its great backdrop) where we had listened to the music by the campfire and had enjoyed our dinner under stars in the amazing Wadi Rum – an experience not to be missed during a trip to Jordan!

Bedouin desert camp captain Jordan "Wadi Rum" divan Olympus

The dining area turned sleeping area for outdoor lovers

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 6 – Reaching the Summit: Uhuru

Approach to Stella Point in Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way to Uhuru Peak sunrise roof Africa

Here we go, the BIG day.  Day 6.  The day we reach and pass Stella Point on the rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro and get to Uhuru Peak, the highest point of the mountain – the highest point in Africa!!!  I should say, the day we attempt to reach Stella Point and Uhuru Peak.  I will do my best to convey how this climb feels like on Day 6 but the physical and mental efforts are hard to put in words.

You will notice how the middle of this post is photo-less.  First, do not worry, there are pictures towards the last third of the post!  Secondly, that matches what happened for me in the ascent:  Much of what happened in the middle was not captured by a camera because I was too focused on going up and, for part of it, even my mind didn’t capture any images…

 Uhuru Peak in Kilimanjaro

The goal: Uhuru Peak

Day 6 consisted of four parts – it was to be a LONG day:

  1. From Barafu Camp to Stella Point (expected to be about 7 hours)
  2. From Stella Point to Uhuru Peak (expected to be 45 mins to 1 hour)
  3. Coming down from Uhuru to base camp (Barafu) for a brief rest and lunch (about 3 hours)
  4. Arriving to Mweka Camp where we were over-nighting (about 4.5 hours)

I will cover here only the ascent on Day 6 (#1 and 2 above) and not the descent that happened that day.  I will cover the descent on Day 6 (#3 and 4) with the final descent of Day 7…

Leaving Barafu Camp to hit Stella Point

Barafu Camp at 15,100 ft (4,600 m) was a hard camp to like.  But I could have stayed there a few more hours sleeping that night…  Four of our group left at 11 PM to have an extra hour to reach the summit.  The rest of us saw them leave camp and finished prepping and having a snack prior to heading out.  At midnight, we left the relative comfort of this camp to do what we came here to do:  tame Uhuru!

I was pumped even while wondering what would happen, how it would end 8 hrs later (ah, the fool… the end was NOT reaching the summit, but reaching our camp for the night).

What did I wear on the way to Uhuru Peak?

Though it was very cold at camp given the altitude and the time of day, we were instructed to dress such that we were slightly cold since we would warm up during the climb.  So, I wore my two tight woolen tops, then my Merino wool light jacket, and my hard shell jacket (protects against wind and water though, mercifully, we didn’t have precipitation).  The synthetic down jacket would wait until the breaks (when, since you are at rest, you don’t want to lose the heat your body has generated) or until it finally got too cold even while walking (which it did).  In terms of my legs, I wore my long wool underwear (all the wool layers by the skin helped wick moisture away from the skin) under my convertible hiking pants and then my hard shell pants.

The only place I felt really, really cold was my toes though I was wearing sock liners and the thickest wool socks REI had.  I think we had milder temperatures, if that’s possible up there, than normal as I had been told I would be exceedingly cold.  Whew!

Time is a funny thing

During the climb up to Stella Point, it is amazing how time flowed.  The hourly 5-10 minute breaks (a lot shorter than the breaks on prior days) provided respite from the effort and allowed for drinking some water (in one break they surprised us with hot tea! one of the happiest moments in those 7 hours!), eating a little something, and handling nature calls.  That last one was a little more of a pain than it had been before because it was dark.  But when nature calls, it calls.  And no pee bottle here.  In any case, I worked my way up by focusing on each hour’s walk.  I was not looking at my watch much but when the break came, I knew an hour had passed and that was an hour off the 7 hour count…

And who said it would be a piece of cake?  No one.  They were right.

After the first hour of the climb, my heart rate starting racing and I was out of breath a lot like on Day 4 after we had passed the Barranco Wall.  We had been climbing bigger rocks (requiring big steps) which was exactly what had caused my troubles on Day 4.

That was going to slow me down and, tonight, falling behind could mean being turned around.  The guides had been clear with the first subgroup that if we got to Stella Point at the same time as them, they would have to turn around at Stella Point.  It meant they would take a lot more than an hour reaching Uhuru and, having already been at that altitude an extra hour than us, it would have been too much time up there.  So, I knew that if I fell behind too much in my group, that I could miss getting to UhuruThat realization really hit me hard.

One of guides, Said, told me to give him my daypack.  My heart sank.  As soon as the path became less pronouncedly rocky, I told Said I could take my daypack back because I was back to “normal.”  He shook his head and said he would keep it.  At first, with pride stepping in, I said no, I could take it.  And then I realized that it may be the worst thing I could do.  I needed to save my energy for the big rocks ahead.  I resumed my climb, daypackless.  Boy, am I glad I did…

I believe I was the second or third person to lose their daypack.  I felt this would take away from the feat should I reach the summit.  I had nothing to fear.  Within a few hours, more than half (including the 4 guys in this subgroup) had lost their daypacks too, including our star athlete who had run across deserts and had been carrying a daypack every day of this climb loaded at 30-40 lbs.  I have to digress and mention that this guy, a dentist from northwestern Canada, would carry all  sorts of candy in his daypack and, all throughout the week’s hike, would pull out a DIFFERENT bag of candy (gummy bears, sour patches, etc.) to pass around at breaks.  Needless to say, Stan became everyone’s friend fast!

It is worth pointing out how carefully our guides were watching each one of us even after we surrendered our daypacks.  Clearly, ensuring no one exhibited dangerous signs of altitude sickness (the ones that represent life-threatening danger).  But they REALLY wanted us to make it to Uhuru as long as we were not exhibiting the serious symptoms and did everything they could to assist us.

The lights are not always at the end of the tunnel…

Though we had a full moon, we still needed to illuminate the path ahead by wearing headlamps.  I remember that I would look up ahead on the trail and see what was becoming a downer for me:  a long trail of headlamps zigzagging the slope of the mountain.  And then you didn’t see any.  That point would get closer and closer, and it felt good to know we were reaching a “milestone” of sorts.  But once we reached the milestone, I would look up and see, yet again, another LONG trail of headlamps going all the way up to a point far up the mountain.  After this, I decided not to look up anymore…

Sleep and memory loss – all in a Kili climber’s night!

Maybe halfway up to Stella Point, I was dozing off.  No, not during breaks.  This was as I moved my feet up that mountain and as my arms moved the hiking poles.  The lack of oxygen and being tired had everything to do with that.  And through chats post-facto, I learned others were also dozing off as they walked up.  It was insane.  I decided that I needed to occupy my mind but I was too tired to alphabetize countries or come up with some other mental activity.

Looking at the Southern Cross, which someone pointed out, gave me something think about (or try to look at without tripping).  Some folks had music in their portable devices but I had not brought mine.  I actually wanted to listen to the folks stepping on the mountain, focus on the quietness of the surroundings.  I like not feeling “trapped” within myself when it comes to sounds.

A “happy” place.  Say what?

Towards the end of the third hour, our lead guide, Luis, told us that we needed to be sure we were not spending our every last drop of energy in the remaining part of the climb.  I thought to myself  “huh?”.  He said that coming down would be very hard too so it was important we managed our exertion level.  I was not sure how we would do that but then I started thinking maybe he was trying to subtly tell some people to give up their daypack…

Then, he said, “guys, the next few hours are going to be very hard; find your happy place because you are going to need it”.  I remember thinking, in my tiredness, “my happy place?  my happy place?  what IS that??  a beach?  no.  wine?  no, wine is not a place.”  I had no energy to conjure a happy spot I didn’t have previously.  And then, all of a sudden, the faces of my sister’s, cousins’ and friends’ kids came to mind.  Their smiley, happy faces.  So I started calling roster on all of them seeing those smiley faces.  I had found my happy place.  And it kept me distracted easily for another hour.  I say “easily” because I think it is after an hour of that that my memory goes blank…

Yes, what happened in the last 2-3 hours prior to Stella Point are a big blank.  I have no idea what happened, when we stopped, what was I thinking, nothing, nada, nil.  Comparing notes with others later, I am not the only one to whom that happened.  We had been told the last bit before reaching Stella Point would be scree (small pebbles) so for every step forward, there would be a step back.  I have no recollection of scree, of steps forward, or steps back.

And then it happened… Steeeeeeeellllllaaaaa!

So I was in some zone when all of a sudden, to my right, I see a glimmer of light on the horizon.  Sunrise is beginning!  It was like an injection of adrenaline straight to my heart – and mind.  Watching the sun rise and trying to take good pictures became the priority as we continued walking up.  I was awake!

Sunrise from Kilimanjaro as we neared Stella Point

Glorious!

The sun finally broke through the horizon and we could see that Stella Point was just like 20 minutes away.  It was one of THE most incredible moments in my life.  You see, at that moment, I had no doubt I would make it (though how could I really tell how the higher altitude and serious lack of oxygen would hit me 20 mins later?).  It didn’t matter, I just knew I was A-OK!

We hit Stella Point and I couldn’t believe how quickly it came upon us (I don’t think I could see it from the final approach).  This was unbelievable.  I was at over 18,000 ft and would only have one more hour up to Uhuru Peak after a short break at Stella Point.  We laughed, hugged, and even teared up some.

Some of the trekkers and guides at Stella Point on Kilimanjaro

Some of the trekkers and guides at Stella Point (I am on the far left)

My eyes couldn’t believe the view outside of the mountain and INTO the mountain.  Remember the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is a crater from a long-extinct volcano.

Kilimanjaro crater

Looking around the top of Kili

Immediately the picture-taking began in front of the brand-spanking-new green sign with yellow letters (TERRIBLE design… you had to be RIGHT IN FRONT OF IT for the letters to show well in a photo).  In any case, pictures were taken and then we proceeded to get to Uhuru Peak…  Time was of the essence as, at that altitude, you do not want to linger despite the fact that we noticed tents in the crater.  In any case, we had to mosey to the peak and we couldn’t dilly daddle.  We had to move.

Uhuru Peak, here we come!

Mt. Kilimanjaro used to be covered in glaciers.  Today, the glaciers are there but they are not as dominant as they must have been.  They are expected to disappear completely in a few decades.  Still, seeing them from a distance was impressive with the African horizon behind them.

Glaciers atop Kilimanjaro

Glaciers atop Kilimanjaro

The hour walk (or maybe 45 mins?) up to Uhuru was much easier and less steep than the prior few hours though we still went up 660 feet (200 m) or so to reach it.

Trekker and guide walking up to Uhuru Peak in Kilimanjaro

Said and I headed to Uhuru Peak

Everyone was in great spirits and then…  we saw it – the big green sign marking Uhuru Peak!!!  WE WERE THERE!  Laughter, smiles, even some jumping-for-joy all around.  We caught up with the first group and it was so awesome to see all of us together at the peak – the probabilities were that they would be already on their way down when we got to Uhuru or (hopefully not) that they wouldn’t reach it.  So the fact that we all were there together, this group that had been together for about 10 days, was truly priceless.

At Uhuru Peak

One of the many celebratory photos taken: here with Liz and Len Stanmore

Immediately we got close to the sign to wait our turn to stand in front of it and capture the moment in a photo.  Phenomenal moment of joy for all of us.  And just as happy as we were, our guides were beaming that we had all make it – asante sana, guys!

And so reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro comes to an end

The story of the descent is for another post – and the descent was painful.  However, I will share one reflection here about having reached the summit…  Even if I had surrendered my daypack no one moved my legs forward and upward for me, as Luis our lead guide told us once at base camp.  Every step I took on that blessed mountain was my own.  That is the real achievement here for each trekker:  the strength of will and of body to push forward and upward when you think you don’t have it all together, when you feel the next big rock may be the one that tips the climb over for you and sends you back to camp, when you don’t know what is your “happy place”.  I will treasure what I learned that early morning the rest of my life.

At Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro

A very happy trekker at Uhuru Peak!

Back to Day 5

… On to the descent

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike (starting the climb!)

–  Day 2 of the hike (getting to Shira Camp)

–  Day 3 of the hike (the Lava Tower and hail)

–  Day 4 of the hike (Barranco Wall)

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 1 – Getting Going

Backpacks ready to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Writing about our hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro is no easy task.  What to share?  Clearly the “facts” of the route, camps, durations, weather, gear, the day-to-day routine, etc. are all important elements of the story.  But the more I thought about how to write about this experience, the more I realized I wanted to share how it felt first and foremost, covering some of the elements listed earlier as they fit into the overall story, instead of making those the focus.  As I mentioned in another post, preparing for Kili is more than training and gear.  As you will see over the series of writeups, the emotional element also applies to actually doing the climb.  Let’s get going with Day 1!

The route and the climb

Well, before getting into the hike itself, a quick word about the route and the climb.  We went up the Machame Route, known for its vistas and for not being as crowded as other routes.  Also, Machame is a route with a higher likelihood of success than the so-called “Coca-Cola” Route (the Marangu Route) since it offers better altitude adjustment (climb high, sleep low; 6 days of ascent; etc.).

The climb itself is to Uhuru Peak.  Mt. Kilimanjaro actually refers to the entire mountain, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.  Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the mountain and, therefore, in Africa!  Uhuru Peak is the goal and the entry point to the summit area on this route is called Stella Point.

Getting going on Day 1:  the Machame Gate and the wait

It starts on day 1 when, full of anticipation, the trekkers finish prepping the daypack they will carry on their backs and the other piece of luggage that will be taken from camp to camp by the porters accompanying our group.

Backpacks ready to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Daypacks waiting for their trekkers!

We got up at the crack of dawn to head from our hotel (the awesome Honey Badger Lodge) to the hotel from which the mountain trek would leave, the Springlands Hotel, home base of Zara Tours who Trekking for Kids had hired to do our trek.

The ride to the Machame Gate, entry point to the Machame Route, could not start quickly enough.  As with many things, one gets ready and then one waits.  After we finished leaving some of our non-trek stuff in storage at the Springlands, our bus arrived and the process of loading up our trek bags began.  Soon enough we were on our way to the Machame Gate.  It seemed to take forever but it couldn’t have been more than 1 hour or hour-and-a-half.  We were just so ready to get this climb going!

Once we arrived at the Machame Route, we proceeded to, you guessed it, sit and wait for about an hour.  The reason, though, was quite simple:  the permits had to be purchased by the lead guides.  This process takes time as we were not the only ones there (fancy that!).  This would be a reality throughout the trek:  others are there with you.  Not that we expected to be alone, mind you.  Just that one never stops to consider that until one gets to this first gate.  While it could have been chaotic, it really was not.  We proceeded to eat our boxed lunches while we waited and took a few pictures to commemorate the start of our climb!

At the Machame Gate at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

ilivetotravel doing the obligatory photo at the Machame Gate, looking ready and clean!

Another thing you can do while you wait is read the few signs posted with instructions and warnings for those starting to climb Kili!

Sign on Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro

We cheered when we saw our guide come over with paperwork – it meant we were ready to go.  The funny thing is that we saw other guides come out around the same moment with their papers.  You would think the first-come, first-serve approach would have led to guides coming out gradually and sequentially.  Nope.  It seems all permits were issued almost at the same time for all the groups waiting!  That meant, everyone got going at the same time creating a little bottleneck at the entrance gate.  We got to pass quickly through without waiting long so we were FINALLY on our way!!

The hike on Day 1

Day 1 was mainly going through a forest habitat starting at 6,000 ft (1,830 m) and ending at the Machame Camp at 10,200 ft (3,100 m).

Day 1 of the Machame Route of Kilimanjaro

Typical of the Day 1 Machame Route. Notice the porters on the trail.

It may have been the built-up anticipation but, for the most part, I didn’t feel the altitude wear on me as the day went on.   We were fortunate it did not rain that day so the gaiters were not really needed (those green things I am wearing on my legs in the earlier photo to help prevent mud or pebbles from getting into our boots).  This part of the trail is about the nicest one with some work done to create a good trail for part of the way.

We got to camp about 4:30 PM, five hours after we had started.  We were thrilled at having completed our first day of 6 to get to the summit!  While we knew we still had a lot of challenges ahead, it felt SO good to have one day under our belt!  At this point we did our first book signing to show we were there – a requirement if we wanted to be issued an official completion certificate at the end of the hike.

Register at camp in Kilimanjaro

The Machame Camp sits in an area with plenty of vegetation.  This means we had more smaller animal life than we would have higher up; read, mice.  Key here is to keep the tent zipped up when not coming and going!   The Machame Camp has a toilet building that is pretty new.  I heard it had both Western toilets and Turkish toilets, if those are the proper names for the fixture types.  We also had a pair of portable toilets-tents and I preferred those… (less smelly).

In any case, getting to camp means setting up the sleeping tents and the mess hall tent.  Normally the porters who carry these items and set them up get there ahead of the trekkers and the guides but on Day 1 we got there at the same time.  So this day we got to watch them at work.

Camp being set up in Kilimanjaro

Setting up camp

Once the tents were set up and before dinner was ready, I, like some of the other trekkers, got organized by washing up, taking out the items needed for the night (headlamp, etc.), and preparing the daypack for the next day.  Oh, and the getting drinking water and treating it (Steripen worked wonderfully!) – a staple of the every day life on the mountain!

Trekker at camp in Kilimanjaro

Yours truly getting ready for my first night camping ever!

We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset before heading to the mess hall tent for dinner and an early bedtime so we could be well-rested for Day 2.  Dinner included a hot soup, potatoes, fried fish, vegetables, and small bananas along with tea and hot chocolate.  On to my first night camping ever and Day 2!

Tents at Machame Camp during sunset in Kilimanjaro

Our tents with a beautiful backdrop courtesy of the African sunset

On to Day 2

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  Day 3 of the hike

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Day 5 of the hike

–  Day 6 of the hike (summit night)

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

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