Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Day AFTER The Longest Day...

Surprisingly enough, we all awoke early. It was Monday January 12th, the last day of the expedition. I had assumed we would all sleep like the dead, however our anticipation of returning to the 'real world' and also the gentle suggestions from the guides, that 8am would be a good time to start the (long) final day's hike, had us stirring at a pre-dawn 6am. With the traditional fare of fruit and (chocolate) porridge, eggs and bacon and copious quantities of Chai tea, consumed with our customary gusto, we set off on the first leg of our 27Km day. The plan was to hike down to the Mandara Camp and have a hot lunch (which the Marangu Hotel was going to send up.) After lunch and a short break we would hike out from Mandara, to the park gate.
We made good time - the memories of our accomplishments (and the down-hill grade...) giving lift to our weary feet. The changing vegetation afforded lots of new photo opportunities and less than 4 hours after leaving Horrombo, we crossed the bridge (literal - not figurative) that marks the start of the rainforest - just outside Mandara Camp.
As promised, the hot lunch was waiting for us in the dining cabin at Mandara, however, to be truthful, we did look with some envy at other groups that were tucking in to lunch-boxes whilst sitting in the cool grass under the shade of vine-encrusted trees.
Lunch over; descending the final portion of the Marangu Trail, we passed from one sunlight jewelled tunnel to another. Like rabbit holes through the dense vegetation, we were indeed returning from our own 'wonderland'.
Cheers and photos and hugs all around and there we were, through the gate and filling out forms and questionnaires, taking part in the 'administrative shuffle' that Tanzania takes so seriously. We all left comments requesting improved education for tourist and porter alike. Kilimanjaro, though vast, is fragile, and tens of thousands of litter-touting users are having a tremendous impact, which if not managed with ecology and sustainability in mind, will reduce this African Jewel to just another exhausted resource. “The highest free-standing rubbish pile in Africa” doesn't have quite the same allure!
The trip back to the Marangu hotel passed quickly, the cooling wind swirling around us in the back of the open truck, a welcome respite from the now unaccustomed heat.
We checked back in to the same rooms we had left a mere 6 days, but a seeming lifetime, before.
Alas, rest & relaxation were not the 'order of the day'. The most important part of the whole trip (for the porters & guides) was about to transpire. It was tip-time!
We all had speed-showers, to wash off the worst of the trail-dust, and then reconvened in the hotel grounds, 9 porters & guides and the 4 of us.
With a round of drinks in hand, the (surprisingly formal) ceremony began. Sosta and Simon filled out our names on our “diplomas” (certificates of achievement.) Sosta then gave a short speech, congratulating us and handed each of us our certificates.
It was my turn then, and I stood to give a very brief speech, conveying our heart-felt gratitude for their hard work and dedication which had enabled us to have an unforgettable experience.
Much more than words though, the tip speaks the language of gratitude, and we 'spoke well'. The smiles on their faces indicated clear comprehension in this language of currency and the closing song was delivered with great gusto.
And then they were gone, and the evening was ours. The stillness descended like a blanket and wrapped us in its quiet folds, while inside each of us the memories ebbed and flowed. The experience was over, but our understanding was only just beginning.

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