Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gate to Mandara Hut

Our bags were weighed and they let us get on the van for the ride to the Marangu Gate. It is a nice sunny morning as we arrive at the gate of the Kilimanjaro National park. Everywhere there are people milling about of all nationalities. Our guide leaves us near the office and goes to deal with various issues which seem to take forever. Really it a case of mass chaos and somehow the guides and park staff make order out of it. The gate staff have a huge ledger in which it records details about every visitor in quadruplicate. Then we have to sign it in about 12 places. I never thought I would actually know my passport number offhand but by the time I left Kilimanjaro I could recite it from memory. Once the paperwork is done the porters have to be sorted out. When you consider that about 100 climbers start at Marangu each day, and that there are three guides/assistant/porters/cooks for each climber you can imagine the chaos. Most of 'our' gear is in nylon duffle bags. The porters tents, our food and cook stuff seem to be mostly in orange plastic garbage bags. How they know where anything is, is beyond me. We haven't actually seen our own bags since we arrived in the van and we are beginning to wonder if we ever will again. Somehow, Sam, our guide wades through all the red tape and organizes our porters, and we all set off. It is now 11:40 AM.

It is a sunny day as we enter the forest. The first day is spent entirely in the forest. It is lush and moist with many small stream and little waterfalls and pools. The trees are tall and covered in vines and ferns of many varieties. There are tree ferns 15 ft tall. The trail is good as thousands of hikers use it every year. The first hour we are all gung ho and really not that aware of our surroundings. Then it starts to rain. For the next hour we trudge along in the rain and the mud. We have gore-tex and all sorts of other fabrics. The porters that we see are wearing sandals and have no raingear other than the odd plastic poncho. Sam suggests that we bypass the lunch stop as we would be eating lunch in the open in the rain, so a little farther down the trail we stop under a tree, and eat our lunch standing in the rain. Lunch was some fried chicken, a banana, cookies and a soda pop. At this point everything was tasting good, rain or no rain. After lunch, we resumed our climb. The trail was soggy but it wasn't really muddy, as it is made of a sort of cinder gravel. The roots of the trees were slick. during the climb we heard a lot of bird song but the dense growth made it hard to see much birdlife. We also saw and heard the odd troop of green monkeys. Gradually we climbed out of the forest and out of the rain. As we reached the moorlands we saw Mandara huts, and the rain ceased. We registered at the huts, again a big ledger and passport number, etc. We found our cabin and changed into dry clothes and by the time we came out again the sun was out. For a while we watched groups of porters attempt to set up their sleeping tents. It seemed that none of them knew how to set up the tent, as after an hour or so it still wasn't up. Here there were a lot of White-necked ravens flying about. There were a few other birds around as well but since my bird book weighed about 10 pounds I had chosen to leave it at the Springland hotel. Apparently there are about 170 highland species found on the mountain although really only a few to be seen once you leave the forest zone.

At about that point Sam came around and offered us the opportunity of a short hike "to see a cinder cone". We decided that we would take a pass on his offer as we had all seen cinder cones before, but I kicked myself later. It turns out that one of the things that people who did take the short hike, saw, were Black and White Colubus monkeys. Apparently, this was the only opportunity we would have to see these monkeys. They are a fairly spectacular looking animal. So the moral of the story is to take these opportunities as they come along. I never did see a Colubus.
I might also have taken the opportunity at the Mandara hut to go back down the trail after dark with light to see if you could see Galagos. Galagos,also known as bushbabies are primitive nocturnal primates. They have very large eyes and might well be found by shining a light around in the forest and watching for eyes. Galagos are present in the forest around Kilimanjaro, and this might be a spot you could see them. Of course, you might see other types of eyes as well, such as leopards, snakes, owls, etc. I am not sure whether you could talk your guide into it, as we didn't try. If I ever went back I would definitely try. I don't think I would try walking into the forest at night without my guide.
That evening in the dark we could hear many "jungle noises" including monkey like sounds. I have no real idea what they were although they didn't sound like "crying babies" so I don't think they were Galagos.
Each half of the huts have four bunks so tonight we will be sharing with our half with Anne. She is from England and is the organizer of a group of 39 climbing in support of an Ovarian cancer group. She is the first to admit she has no experience on Kilimanjaro or mountains in general. We wish her well. We are at approximately 9000 ft of elevation and so far we are feeling no efects of altitude. The gate was at 6400 ft so we climbed 2600 ft today.

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