Hakuna matata: 7 days on Kilimanjaro

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Song of Kilimanjaro (Lyrics at the end)

As I discussed in my previous blooper post, Kilimanjaro was not my first backpacking trip. But it also was very very different from my first backpacking trip. This time, we were looking to summit the rooftop of Africa!

I was, however, very focused on climbing, and therefore don’t have as many wonderful photos. There is also far too much that happened over 7 days to really write in a post. I think I’ll save summit day for another!

I just wanted to say, although they probably won’t see it, a huge thank you to the team above who helped us up that mountain. There is no way any of us would have made it up there without them. If and when I receive the contact info for the team I’ll post it here! You won’t find a more helpful team there.


Kilimanjaro is dust. Really, really dusty. I guess that was the overall trend of Tanzania, safari, etc. Dust! We slept in dust, rolled in dust, and sent dust flying as we stomped our way up that mountain.

We took the Rongai route for a 7 day climb, as we wanted the necessary amount of time to properly acclimatize. The Rongai route is a camping route – and is one of the easier routes to climb up (along with the Marangu – a.k.a Coca-Cola route). Our sleeping camps: Simba – 2671m, Second Cave – 3450m, Mawenzi – 4315m (2 nights), Kibo Hut –  4703m (a.k.a base camp and basically a 4 hour nap), Horombo Hut – 3720m.

What is exciting is that besides the awesome view of getting closer and closer to Uhuru Peak, there are few key types of vegetation areas on Kilimanjaro: 1) rainforest; 2) heather moorland; and 3) alpine desert before getting to the summit. The mountain treated us to different views at every turn.


On the first day, as we trekked through the rainforest, we saw some run down huts along the path. There were little kids running after us asking for chocolate. “Chocolate? chocolate”? The conditions of the huts were terrible. It seemed to come right out of all the pictures we research for Model UN. We kept our heads down and kept moving. Meanwhile, our army of porters stormed past us at a pace we could only look at in wonder, carrying bags and gear about 8-10x the weight of our day packs.

The first night was also a precursor of how frigid the nights would be. I don’t think I managed to sleep very much that night. Everything that could possibly transform into liquid also does, pretty quickly. I slept with my ski jacket hood covering my face, and the next morning, it had become freezing cold water.

fullsizerender-7 Every meal we had on Kilimanjaro was served in the mess tent – our guides were fantastic, planning our treks each day so we could leave after breakfast, and sit down in the large mess tent for a hot lunch, and have tea time & hot dinner as well. Philip, our very fantastic cook, kept us very well fed. I don’t think I have ever consumed so much food in one week – sometimes up to 2 full plates of carbs for dinner!

For breakfast, we had hot porridge, bread, chapati (total love), sausage, and egg. At lunch, we would have hot stew / carbs of some sort. And dinner, we’d sit in the mess tent with a cute candle lighting the small space, with hot soup (cucumber, leek, carrot, etc), carbs, and protein. Philip would pop in with his very clean chef’s hat, bat his eyelashes at us, and joke he wouldn’t see us for another 2-3 meals. I think he was secretly thrilled when we demolished his food (such as when my friend C ate like 3 plates of curry with rice!)

Team dab in salute to Uhuru Peak!

Every night, the clear skies were amazing. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it is to be able to see the entire Milky Way in that kind of detail. The altitude, combined with the clear skies, adding on the complete utter lack of light pollution. These will definitely be setting really high standards for dates in the future: Dinner above the clouds by the candlelight and insane views of the Milky Way. Good luck topping that!

Everyone is extraordinarily friendly on the mountain – with the minor exception of a cranky old Norwegian lady who told me off for walking up the mountain too quickly. “You’re breathing really heavily, you know that?”. Well madam, seeing as we are up 4000m and I really need to go to the bathroom in the alpine desert without rocks to hide behind, I really need to get to base camp!

As there was typically a lot of foot traffic along the trail, it was wonderful to smile and greet everyone. Jambo is the easiest greeting of all – but there are quite a few to pick up over the 7 days. Even with their heavy loads, most of the porters will respond, some with greetings, with fist bumps, with high fives. It was a very jovial atmosphere, and everyone is super encouraging.

Some of the most common phrases on Kilimanjaro:
Jambo – Hello
Karibu – Welcome / You’re welcome
Habari Gani: How are you?
Mambo Poa: I’m cool!
Mzuri Sana: Fine
Hakuna Matata: No problem
Asante Sana: Thank you
Pole pole: Slowly slowly
Haraka: Quickly!


Some of the struggles: altitude sickness is terrible. I only had a mild headache here and there, but some of the other people in my group had a rough time. We brought out a lot of our Chinese lymphatic massage knowledge, such as gua sha, combined with painkillers to get through it. We also checked our oxygen levels and heart rates like addicts. Honestly, the only way to get through it is to drink copious amounts of liquids.

After the first day, they stop serving coffee at meals and tea time. For caffeine addicts, it might be a bit of a struggle. The caffeine in coffee speeds up heart rates too much, and could be dangerous. Instead, everyone had to learn to drink Kilimanjaro black tea. As we learned from our super fit assistant guide Aziz – gotta add 2 scoops of sugar into the tea. In fact, he drank some bizarre concoction of Nido (cream powder?), sugar, and tea. Sometimes with some cocoa powder mixed in. Whatever it is, the guy had 95%+ oxygen and a heart rate of around 60 the whole time, while we were frequently beating at 120!

The dust. So much dust. Twice a day we had hot water to wipe down our faces and clean our hands, but otherwise we were covered in dust from head to toe. At one point, I was faced with either letting my skin burn or putting on sunblock with my completely brown hands. I went with the healthy choice, and smeared the combination of dust and sunblock all over my face. For 7 days. I still can’t believe my friends let me walk around like that… Needless to say, I looked like a whole new person after a nice face scrub =)

Song of Kilimanjaro

Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Wageni, mwakaribishwa!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!

Tembea pole pole. Hakuna matata!
Utafika salama. Hakuna matata!
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna matata!

Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.

Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.

Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka!
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzunguka.

Wanizunguka, wanizunguka
Wanizunguka wataka kunila nyama


Hello! Hello sir!
How are you? Very well!
Guests, you are welcome!
Kilimanjaro? No trouble!

Walk slowly, slowly. No trouble!
You’ll get there safe. No trouble!
Drink plenty of water. No trouble!

Kilimanjaro! Kilimanjaro!
Kilimanjaro, such a high mountain.

Also Mawenzi, also Mawenzi!
Also Mawenzi such a high mountain.

Like a snake, like a snake!
Like a snake you wrap around me

You wrap around me, you wrap around me
Trying to eat me like a piece of meat

Source of translation


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