We were to spend our first night in Arusha to recover from the long flight and begin our climb the following morning. On that first night I began to take Diamox, a drug meant to decrease or prevent the symptoms of altitude sickness. It intensifies kidney functions and causes the heart to beat faster than normal, hence allowing more oxygen intake by the blood cells.
Diamox Says Hi
A natural result of such effects is frequent urination. Now that is not good news for someone like me who suffers from FPO (Fear of Peeing Outdoors) syndrome who was embarking on a week expedition on a mountain.
I had also chosen not to take the Malaria pills since there’s normally no mosquitos to worry about at high altitude. So with my recently intensified cough, I spent the first night in the hotel coughing, spitting, and going to the bathroom. My mind decided to unleash itself and began to wander off with intensifying speed. “Why did I take a full tablet? Maybe I should have taken only half and another half in the morning.” “Did I fully spray myself with the mosquito repellent?” ”I can’t breath with that darn repellent so close to my nose!” “Is the mosquito net covering all of my bed?” “Wait a minute! What is that cold feeling in my leg? Is my leg out of the mosquito net??” “Perfect. Just perfect. Now I have a week of climbing to do and the only decent chance for rest is slipping away from me. Now I’m going up that mountain tired, sick, and with a constantly full bladder.”
I’m not sure if it was excitement or the little chances I had to dose off every couple of hours that made me feel so energized the next morning. I packed my things again and off we went to the mountain.
It was especially hard to see the mountain near the end of our two-hour drive to Machame Gate, which sat on 1800 m altitude and marked the beginning of the Machame route. The sky was overcast and the clouds were very low. I could not wait to get above them because I knew that the drier the weather got the better my cough would get.
Machame to the Rescue
Machame is one of the most popular routes up Kilimanjaro. It is one of the longest, and it allows for acclimatization of the body to the increasing altitude. Although it is normally classified as medium to difficult in terms of terrain intensity, it had a very welcoming start for us just past the gate. It was a nice stroll in the forest with flat ground and hardly any steepness. Compared to the terrain I’d previously had to endure in St. Katherine’s, the highest peak in Egypt with 2600 m altitude, Machame seemed to be a stroll in the park. The excitement made me take long strides and many times ignore what the guides were telling us about taking it slow. Pole pole.
Our first hike was bound to Machame Hut at 3000 m altitude. As 26 climbers, we ended up with more than 20 guides and around 80 porters. We were an army moving up the mountain, but the atmosphere was very welcoming. Everyone seemed to get along quite well with everyone else, and the guides introduced themselves to us one by one with warm smiles and kind eyes beaming with hospitality. Whenever the group would split because of a difference in pace there would always be at least one guide with each group. No one was left alone on the mountain. Ever. I was constantly treated into words of encouragement and support. “Find your pace and keep it,” they would say. “Are you drinking enough water?” And of course, “Pole pole!”
Almost each porter that would pass us by, whether or not he’s in our group, he would always greet us with the famous “Jambo!” of East Africa. Many times it was even followed with “Karibo Tanzania,” which I assumed meant “Welcome to Tanzania.”
Coming from ever so concrete Cairo, this hike was a delicious treat to my senses. My eyes were no longer looking at incoherent blocks of cement that always gave me a sense of claustrophobia. I was looking at endless fields of green, smelling the fresh mist that carried the scent of the trees, and listening to an overwhelming variety sounds of birds that were busy conversing along the way.
It must have been the relaxing atmosphere that allowed me to answer the call of nature with so much ease! I went with three of my co-climbers into the woods and found myself passing on to them all the instructions I got from my expert friend Nadia on how to avoid sprinkling as much as you can. I found the right spot for the job and I was even surprised at my own fluency in the act that I began to feel more optimistic about the coming week. When you gotta go you gotta go no matter where or how. So you end up dealing with it. And what would be better than to do it in the middle of a forest to the tune of singing birds?