The lead up involved getting all the gear that one would need. Sleeping bags and assorted mats, liners, etc., were obvious items but it was walking boots, which were the critical element. These were bought at Schuster in Munich during my “nozze di Figaro” rehearsals. Only a month to work them in, I managed to wear them every day, walking to and from the Staatsoper trying to beak them in for all of two weeks. But determination and excellent socks made the process work just fine.
Getting the boys ready was a bit more challenging since their schedules were as complex as mine. However, we managed to get everything, particularly the cold weather layering system, and the Camelbak drinking water system, a sort of bag with a tube to suck, hands free (!), which was essential preparation. Throughout the advance literature, dehydration was continually mentioned as the contributing factor in Acute Mountain Sickness. However, in one of the guide books, it stated that “attitude sickness, rather than Altitude Sickness is a main reason for unsuccessful summitting”.
Our flight arrived in the cool 15° morning in Nairobi, and the connecting flight would be a couple of hours later. Waiting in the corridors of the terminal was a first real taste of the hustle and bustle of Africa, and we noted the duty free shops where all was priced in dollars. Our flight to Kilimanjaro airport was short, but we did have a great view of the main mountain as we flew. The immensity rising above the clouds made me think immediately: “Are we crazy to do this?” This feeling began to permeate much of the next few hours as we landed, were greeted by “do you have your Yellow Fever certificate?”(no!), immigration (finger prints!) then the drive with “Sabas” from Zara Tours. The culture shock was profound, with animals being herded across the road; Masai garbed in blankets, maize crops lining the road ready for harvest, and a general vastness to the landscape. There was a cloud layer so we could not see the mountain at all, but its presence was undoubtedly felt. Roadside mini-markets and continuous offerings of vegetables in stalls reinforced the basic lifestyle most people were living. We trundled into Moshi, a thriving, busy and bustling town, with motorcycles and vans all vying on the road. We briefly followed the paved road and then encountered a dusty wide road, which was to take us to the Springlands Hotel, the base for Zara Tours, for safaris and mountain climbing. It was a gated hotel along this dusty road, very contained with high walls. As we passed through the gates, people of various cultural descriptions helped us to settle us in.
We then met our guide Filex, after signing our life away to the risks involved in climbing high mountain! Filex explained that bags could weigh no more than 15 kgs for the porters to carry so that was a priority to sort. After a session of organizing our things, including chocolates and sun cream, and a bit more snoozing til dinner, we still felt exhausted and ready to sleep, in preparation for the first day of the trip. Some other hotel guests kept the noise up, as they celebrated the end of their climbing event, but even they seemed exhausted and were to bed early. Even so, it was nigh on 11 when I finally got to bed. The words of the Alaskan guide “Tom” we had met at dinner began to beat rhythmically in my head “Drink 4 litres of water per day. PERIOD!”
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