Kilimanjaro diary - day two
I'd slept badly, of course. You don't suddenly get used to rocks sticking in your back and the clammy embrace of the sleeping bag. One advantage of having HIV is that I'm already used to being medicated to the hilt. So I went forearmed with altitude-sickness pills, diarrhoea pills and sleeping pills. Finding that one temazepam had no effect whatsoever, I zonked myself out with two - and felt fresh and bright the next morning.
The way ahead took us up a steep ridge through increasingly stunted heather trees, with huge drops on either side overlooking the forest we'd walked through the previous day. We walked along with these two gorgeous English boys - can't even remember their names now - who were 'doing Kili' before a safari. I assumed they were public school idlers, and then found they'd been teaching in a village in Uganda for six months. That's one of themé sitting on a rock. I never did the gap year thing - too scared at that age. Hence my love for travel now.
The ridge ended at a steep escarpment, above which was the Shira plateau, the huge volcanic swelling at about 14,000 feet which forms a flat base to the peak of Kibo. We traversed it diagonally along the most beautiful path which wound in and out of ravines and gullies and picked its way through moorland which, from a distance, appeared white with frost. The 'frost' was in fact millions of bushes of white Helichrysum flowersé. These are the papery 'everlasting flowers' you sometimes see in florists, and they cover the whole of this altitude zone.
Up at the top of the plateau was the next camp, on a desolate, rocky shelf overlooking the spires of Shira. This hadn't been a full day's walk so we went for a toddle up to a ridge above the campsite to see a (rather unspectacular) cave there.
'Toddle' is the word, because by now, at 14,000 feet, we were starting to feel the effects of altitude, and anything more than a very gentle walk had your pulse pounding like your arteries would pop.
At Shira Camp I started to realise the damage tourism has done. From a distance you could see that the campsite formed a bare, circular scar among the fragile moorland bushes. Closer to, and you could see the litter left behind. Much of the wildlife has been scared away from Kili - the monkeys and Leopards still found on nearby Mount Meru have gone. The only wildlife we saw at the campsites were scavenging species that thrive on man. There were huge ravens with white heads whose croaking woke you up every morning, and pretty little yellow-striped mice burrowing among the rubbish piles. 2003 was a quiet year for tourism due to Al-Qaeda, and Isaac our guide said sometimes a hundred or more people might be camped up there. Nothing I could do now I was up there, except pick up every bit of rubbish and be conscious that in my hunger to see a unique and vanishing environment, I was part of what was making it vanish.
About 4.30 every evening it was dinner time. Early? No, because bedtime was 7pm. Nothing to do after lights out!
We had out dinner and breakfast every day in what the guides called, grandly, the Mess Tent. There's Roger sitting in it. The first night the youngest guide, a tall, comically solemn 16-year old who never took off his woolly hat, approached us. "I am Benson," he intoned. "I am your waiter for the journey." Benson - who turned out to be Isaac's nephew - served us every night with the same Admirable-Crichton ceremoniousness, and we'd amuse ourselves on boring bits of the walk by imitating the way he'd announce 'Rich Vegetable Soup!' in sepulchral tones while dishing out rehydrated gunk from a steel bowl.
After suppertime there was always time for a quick evening stroll to see Kibo do its sunset unveiling and to 'walk high, sleep low '. This time I got thisè extraordinary shot; over-exposing on the dazzling snow of Kibo makes it look as if hordes of angels are descending there. It still looked dauntingly far away, but not so dauntingly far up.