Climbing Kilimanjaro Day 7 (Hiking home)

Mweka Camp (3,100 meters) to Mweka Gate (1,640 meters)

Distance: ~9km / 5.5 miles

Trekking time: 3-5 hours

Zone: Rainforest

Today is our goodbye to the mountain. I woke up with a smile as I remembered today is the day I get to have a shower. No ‘bed tea’ is on offer this morning, either they have finally run out of Milo or feel our easy stroll downhill doesn’t deserve it. I pack up for last time and wait for the others is the mess tent. Whilst eating our last meal on the mountain we calculate the tips. We agree to all put in the minimum with the option to individually give a bonus to whoever we feel deservers it. The total is $250 per hiker, double what I had miss-calculated. It’s a blow and at first I panic about how I am going to afford this. I put things in perspective, my month of eating baked beans is really no hardship. The team deserve it all, 10 times over. They have all been patient, kind and committed to making sure we enjoyed the trip.

The hike down through the rain forest is a breeze, it doesn’t even rain. I put my headphones in and listened to music to allow myself headspace to contemplate the fact that I was just hours away to completing something I had been dreaming of for years. It was enjoyable wasn’t the challenge I wanted it to be. The guides made it so easy, not just the cooking and carrying but the navigation and guidance on how to deal with altitude. It is 5-star hiking and I am used to the hostel standard. I am so pleased that went on the trip but feel ready for something more technical. Mount Elbrus fits that bill, researching it back in London will pacify post trip blues.

Gasper stops up ahead and points out a beautiful colobus monkey high up in a tree next to the trail. He is black all over apart from around his face and strip of long white hair along his back. He munches, happily, on leaves whilst watching us. Showing less than half the interest we are showing him. Hikers are the most common species on this mountain by far.

An hour later the trail widens considerably and before long it gives way to tarmac, marking the end of the adventure. We make our way to the building beyond the gate to the park to be handed our certificates proving we did indeed make to the roof of Africa.

The guides have some admin to sort out so Iain buys us a round of beers. Having not drunk for a week and the last effects of the high altitude mean we are all drunk after just one. We pile into a minibus, giggling away, and get dropped off at the most beautiful gift shop I have ever seen. It is huge, with double story windows and is full with Kilimanjaro themed souvenirs. The pictures I took will do fine as my souvenirs so I just browse. I noticed there were toilets off to the side, I popped off to make use of them. Inside I found a sink, only surprising when you have been without one for a week. The colour of the water from washing my hands was an impressively dark grey. I wondered if it would be appropriate for me to wash my face too. I decided I could, and should, wait until I got back to the hotel.

Despite my love of living out of a backpack that doesn’t actually mean I like being ‘off the grid’. I love being connected to the people I want to talk to, by phone sometimes more than in person. My family have embraced WatsApp as our main line of communication but none more than my brother in law. As we are pulling into the hotel grounds I connect to the wifi and wait as my phone struggles to download the hundreds of WatsApps and emails from the last 7 days. I skim the messages to see that my family are all well and nothing has really changed back home.

Next is a shower. Showers are life giving, I feel refreshed, happy and starving. I go and see if the hotel will order pizzas for us. They arrive 2 hours later, folded in a carrier bag, I am so hungry I wouldn’t have cared if they had arrived strapped to the back of a donkey. Once we all feel full again we watch the sun go down whilst drinking beers. It is the perfect goodbye for this section of my trip. Tomorrow I am off to meet my family and boyfriend in Zanzibar, I cannot wait to see them.

Until my next adventure, good bye.

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Day 6 (Summit day!)

Barafu Camp (4,680 meters) to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) and then Mweka Camp (3,100 meters)

~4.5km / 3 miles ascent and then 11km / 7 mile descent

6 hours to the summit, 2 hours down to Barafu camp and then 6 hours to Mweka camp

Glacial zone and the all preceding zones

At midnight the last minute faffing began. The PCT and Army have successfully beaten out of me the need to faff. I already know where everything is, i have packed my bag in same logical way everyday. I wait by laying back on a bolder just outside the mess tent. The stars are bright and beautiful, I can’t wait to be at the top. Venance can’t really cope with my relaxed behaviour and calls me back inside the tent insisting that I will get cold. Finally we were off and moral was high. We are well in the alpine desert zone which means lots of loose rocks and dust so you have to concentrate a bit not to slide back with each step. We all walked in a line behind Venance followed up by Casper, Orlouf and Snowy, one of the porters who came to help out if one of us had to taken back down before the top.

Each of us had a head torch except for the guides, who when I commented on this said they ‘didn’t need a torch to see their office’. Fair enough, I thought.

The temperature was hovering above freezing at camp with a wind chill of -5 and only going to get colder as we climbed. I had on;

Thermal trousers

Ski trousers over the top

Two pairs of socks

Hiking boots

Gaiters

Thermal vest

Thermal top

Fleece

Thin down jacket

Thick down jacket

Buff pulled over my face

Hat

Two pairs of gloves

I looked like the Michelin man. I was taking no chances.

2 hours after leaving camp the wind picked up and was now strong enough to unbalance you if you weren’t paying attention. It was also cold enough now that it froze the tubes of everyone’s camelbacks. This has happened to me on mountains before so I brought some hot water in a flask as back up. The lack of sleep, the dark, the wind and the altitude effected all of us in different ways, for what seemed like hours I was sure I was going to be sick and or faint, I was closing my eyes every other step and leaning onto my poles. The back of my neck and shoulders were aching badly. Eventually I got a grip and forced myself to straighten up and take lots of deep breaths of the cold air which did the trick. At the next break I ate as much food as I could, some water and paracetamol, this perked me up enough to carry on with out incident. Gillian got extremely cold hands, so badly that she couldn’t move them. Luckily she spoke up and the guides put some of Kirsten’s spare hand warmers in her gloves, took her poles away so she could put her hands in her pockets. Kirsten seen to have no drama apart from needed help over some of the rocks. The boys only said later how hard they had found it. Whilst we were going up we saw 4 people being rushed down most for bad reactions to the altitude and one because she had fallen and hit her head.

The wind chill must have been -10 an hour from the top. I pulled my buff back up over my nose and mouth. It had frozen where my breath had dampened it. It was still better than nothing. After 6 hours we reached Stellar point and the sun started to appear and created a stunning sunrise. I have no idea why seeing a sunrise that you have had to work for so alway 100 times more beautiful than any other but it is. The sun had a great, life giving effect on all of us to push on for the summit. It was now just 1k away.

100 meters away from the summit and I could see the sign congratulating everyone that had reached it. It was surreal, I had seen hundreds of photos on Instagram of people posing in front of it and now here it is. The sign is stood upon the same gravelly surface which we had been climbing up the whole way but to the left are huge glaciers and to the right a crater filled with snow. It was beautiful being above the blanket of cloud that stretched on forever, only broken by the tip of Mount Meru in the distance.

We all took plenty of photos with freezing hands which got shoved back into gloves as soon as possible. It was great that all of my group had made it and all together. As always, the excitement of reaching the top fades quickly and suddenly all you can think about is the tent waiting for you and the chance to lay down.

After just 20 minutes at the top it was time to go back down, immediatly after turning round to head down I felt renewed energy. I approached Orlouf (the most relaxed guide out of all them) and asked him if we could run down, he chuckled until he saw I was serious. He shrugged and turned down the slope, setting a brilliantly fast pace. Running isn’t really possible on the loose scree but sliding, in a way that looks a little like skiing, is. Iain, also keen to get down fast, joined Orlouf and I. The 3 of us made it down in a fraction of the time. We stopped only twice, once for Iain and I to strip off down to t-shirts and the other for Orlouf to point out all the stretchers at the side of path waiting for the unfortunate.

Back at camp I tried to nap but the wind and the sun were attacking the tent once again. An hour later the rest of the group made it down. We all rested for another hour before it was time to head to the next camp down in the afternoon. A very long but satisfying day.

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Day 5 (Boxing Day)

Karanga Camp (3,960 meters) to Barafu Camp (4,680m)

Distance: ~6km / 4 miles

Trekking time: 3 hours

Zone: High alpine zone

I had the best night sleep last night, got a full 8 hours due to a winning combo of eye mask and earplugs. I woke briefly a few times and noticed Iain holding his head. His headache clearly hadn’t eased off at night. My headache is yet to reappear, I am sure it will on summit day.

The last couple of days we have been moving east and now all there is to do is go up. It’s another clear morning and the sun is glinting off the upper slopes.

My oxygen level is showing as 95 on the oxymeter, interestingly it’s higher than yesterday when I felt sick.

Today’s hike starts with a long slow slog up a rocky slope. Ali gives us a riddle to keep us entertained which I am the first to get right! Gillian and I chat about anything and everything along the way which makes the hike to the next camp wizz by. We are in the alpine desert section now meaning there is very little to look at and zero shelter from the wind that stings our already wind burnt faces. I pull my hat down low to meet my sunglasses and pull my buff up to cover the rest of my face. This is a great plan for about 5 minutes until you need to drink and breath etc.

There are definitely things I could have brought to make things a little more comfortable like a change of base layers and some hand warmers but the best thing I did for myself is that I am probably the most fit I ever been. My muscle haven’t complained once yet, all I have to worry about is the altitude sickness.

Tonight I handed my phone round to the group to collect their emails addresses as we are going to share our photos with each other. Gillian and Ali also have a great contact in Nepal which might be handy if I ever do the Everest basecamp trek.

This last camp before summit is definitely the lest comfortable, the ground is covered in sliding slate and the wind actually howls. It’s a mission in its self to get over to the long drop toilets. Kristen actually paid to have a chemical toilet brought to each camp by a porter which she very kindly offers for Gillian and I to use on this last night. Having not sat down on a loo seat for 5 days Gillian and I jump and the chance.

We get to the camp at 12am have lunch and then try and catch a couple of hours sleep, the tents are boiling so this isn’t really possible. Dinner is at 5pm then it’s off to bed again at 6pm to nap some more before being woken at 10:30pm. This is when we get dressed for the summit climb, given some porridge and off we go. It’s a 6 hour climb so we should be there in time for sunrise.

Climbing Kilimanjaro- Day 4 (Christmas Day)

Barranco Camp (3,900 meters) to Karanga Camp (3,960 meters

Distance: ~7km / 5 miles

Trekking time: 7 hours

Zone: High alpine zone

I got up early to enjoy my hand delivered hot chocolate outside the tent. Jeremiah is also up and as chatty as always, I really don’t want to use my word quoter up this early so just nod and wander off to enjoy the spectacular views in peace.

This is the first Christmas that I have spent in company of people other than my family. I miss them hugely. I feel selfish that I have chosen to be here and even more so that I can’t promise this will be the only Christmas I miss. I feel guilty for all the worry I cause them during these solo trips. It’s 6am here so 3am at home. I think happily of them all fast asleep and safe.

Although feeling great for the first hour of the day, as soon as I am presented with a bowl of hot porridge I suddenly feel like I am going to be sick. Luckily 20mins later the feeling fades but I don’t manage to eat any breakfast. Apparently this is just a symptom of the high altitude. Venance is watching us all like a hawk for these types of symptoms. He doesn’t say anything to me at time but later in the day asks me if I am feeling better.

Turns out the mountain has the best Christmas present ever lined up for me in the form of a 257 meter high cliff face. I have read about this part of route and have been looking forward to it. It’s 2 hours of bouldering but with nice wide ledges in most places so very little risk of falling to the bottom. We scrambled up each boulder one at a time and have lots of breaks to catch our breath in the thin air. The weather is gloriously sunny and clear.

Poor Kristen absolutely hates it and is sobbing before we are even halfway. The guides are awesome with her, extremely patient. We all cheer her on.

After a break we climb down and then up the sides of the Karanga valley. I suggest to Gasper they build a bridge across for next year. A side effect to the altitude sickness tablets is that they make you want to pee almost constantly. As we are all taking them now we have regular breaks as everyone disappears to find their own secluded bolder. I fail completely to find good enough cover one time so give the porters behind us something to talk about.

The stream at the bottom of the valley is the last running water point here until the summit meaning the porters (aka Hero’s) have to drag up buckets of water for us to wash with and drink for the next 2 days.

In Kenya I bought a Christmas cake to surprise everyone with today. I cracked it out at dinner and shared it with everyone, including our guides. It was nice to acknowledge Christmas and to do something my family were probably doing at about the same time at home.

The stars were incredible tonight. The bright moon we have been seeing for the last few nights has calmed down allowing the stars to shine. We could also see down to the town of Moshi below us. Ian and I climb into our tent and get comfortable for another cold night. One of the best things about Ian is we can organise ourselves efficiently in the tent saying only about 4 words each. Bliss.

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Day 3 (Christmas Eve)

Shira Camp (3,850 meters) to Lava Tower (4,600 meters) and then Barranco Camp (3,900 meters)

Distance: ~11km / 7 miles

Trekking time: 7 hours

Zone: Low alpine zone / High alpine zone

The mornings were my favourite part of the day, ‘bed tea’ warms you from the inside out, making it easy to get out of the sleeping bag. After a trip to the loos I dragged all my kit from the tent to start my morning routine whilst watching the sunrise. The clouds that engulfed our camp lowered to below our altitude leaving incredible views of the summit. From there we could also see the summit of mount Meru in Arusha national park.

Once breakfast was finished our army of porters, guides, waiter and cook all gather together to sing and dance for us. It is unexpected but brilliant, we all clap along. Once finished they introduced themselves, it gave us an opportunity to properly thank them for all they have done so far.

Day 3 is for acclimatisation and to position ourselves further east on the mountain. We hike up to Laver tower (4600meters) have lunch and then down to Brannco camp (3900meters) my headache was my constant companion by then. I still didn’t take ibuprofen as the ache served as a vital reminder to drink water. We were encouraged to drink 3 litres a day. I find it hard to drink even 2. Even so, the Diamox made me need to pee every single hour. At least I will have incredible thighs from all the squatting.

The rise to Laver tower was a steady incline and the time passed fairly quick. The pace was still infuriatingly slow and at times, I had to break away from our little hiker train and set my own path up the side. Hours of watching the boots of the person in front of you is mind numbing. At least on my own path I have to think about where to put my feet.

As we are having dinner my face is burning hot. Gillian confirms it, I am badly wind burnt. The silver lining to this is that now I look like a true mountain climber.

Climbing Kilimanjaro- Day two

Day 2 – Machame Camp (2,835 meters) to Shira Camp 2 (3,850 meters)

Distance: ~5km / 3 miles

Trekking time: 4-6 hours

Zone: Rainforest / Low Alpine Zone

I woke up only twice in the night, once, as I was too hot (that has never happened to me camping before) I stripped off to pants and t-shirt.

The other was at 5:30am as I was bursting for a pee. As I was coming back from the delightful long drop camp toilets I saw Jeramire harassing our cook for the time. Our cook, Godfrey, who had probably been up since 5 cooking our breakfast.

At 6am we were woken up by our lead guide, Venance, and given a wonderful thing called ‘bed tea’. Basically a hot drink of your choice to drink whilst still in your sleeping bag. I think this is the best thing ever and plan to suggest to the army that they roll out something similar as soon as I am back.

By 7am the sun had hit our camp, the porters had laid out our wet items over the bushes the surround camp. Within minutes steam rose from the damp items. I managed to get away with no wet kit due to wearing it all the evening before to let my body heat dry it.

The porters can’t do enough for you, that morning my bowl of hot water that you are given to wash with was too hot to put my hands in. One of our porters noticed me tentatively dipping my fingers in and ran to get me some cold water to add it. I was more than happy to just wait for it to cool.

It was an easy day, just a 5 hour walk to the next camp. Will were there in time for a hot lunch of spaghetti, one of my favourites. The walk was far more interesting than day one, it involved hopping up big rocks which I love. At times it was a bit of a scramble across a huge boulder which could be a bit slippery if you didn’t watch were you placed your feet. Turns out Kristen is terrified of a lot of things, one of which is slipping on rocks so at one point resorts to climbing on her hands a knees. Ian and I avoid eye contact. Ian is like me, impatient and lacking sympathy. At one point I did feel bad so I bound ahead so I was ready to give her a hand up the next bit. After this, the guides realised she needs more attention and they helped her up all the tougher bits.

As we neared the camp, we hit a part of the trail that required a proper scramble but the guides made it easy by helping each of us across, Kristen was almost in tears with fear and I wondered why the hell you would climb a mountain of you are scared of heights. In a way it is commendable to confront your fears but on a trip like this it sort just gives the guides the problem.

By the time we get to camp a slight headache has set in, Venance sees me rub my head and asks how I am. He told me a headache is totally normal at this stage but encouraged me to take altitude sickness pills, Diamox, I think they work by making you breathe at a slightly faster rate. I am not a huge fan of unessessary medication but I relent. If I didn’t make it to the top due to not taking them I would kick myself big time.

After lunch we rested for an hour and then hiked a couple of kilometres up some small cliffs as a small acclimatisation trip. When we got to the top Venance talked to us about Tanzania history, I ask him a ton of questions about how things compare to Kenya. He talked about how Arusha has become the centre for East Africa alliance and how the tribes here managed to live in relative peace.

Every morning and evening Venance comes in to brief us all about the next day followed by the pulse and oxygen saturation check. My score in the same as yesterday so all good.

That night we all make the same mistake by sleeping in t-shirts. I woke freezing at 1am. Now it feels like real camping.

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Day one

I ascended via the Machame route, popular due to the views and plenty of opportunity to acclimatize. 

Machame Gate (1,640 meters) to Machame Camp (2,835 meters)

Distance: 11km / 7 miles

Trekking time: 6 hours

Zone: Rainforest

We are told to be ready for 8 but didn’t get picked up until 9:30. I had been up since 5am due to excitment so spent the morning sitting by the pool and then chatting to the rest of my group.
I had a brush with African wildlife during the night in the form of a huge cockroach type thing sitting on the bathroom sink. I delt with it by forgoing washing my hands and shutting the bathroom door firmly behind me. Luckily by the morning it had gone, problem solved. 
At 9:30 we all excitedly piled into a mini van with all our kit and set off to the Machame gate to Kilimanjaro national park. It’s was a 45 minute drive with a elevation gain of 700meters. Along the way the sky was clear enough for us to see the top of kili poking through the clouds. 
At the sight of the huge mountain I am about to atempt to climb I get this feeling, it’s starts in my stomach and swells to my chest and it’s feels like I might burst and I do, into a massive grin. It’s the feeling of excitement and freedom made intense by a small dose of fear. I have felt it before, looking out over the huge forests in California and again sitting on the slopes of Mount toubkal in the dark. I know I will spend my life chasing this feeling.
Once at the gate there was a flurry of activity as our bags were weighed and distributed among the porters. We got an early lunch whilst this happened. I start to really get to know my fellow trekkers. I liked Gillian  and Ian immediately and talking to them more only concretes this feeling. They are both genuine, relaxed and hilarious. Ian and I end up bonding over the frustratingly slow pace of the climb but more on that later. The American pair seem nice, Kristen offers to give me tips for San Francisco after I explain that I might be spending a fair bit of time there next year. 
We set off at mid day, a lot later than we were all expecting, and started the 6 hour climb of day one. It’s only 7miles and we have a few breaks so you can see just how slow the pace was. On the PCT I walked 4 miles per hour comfortably. The pace is key to giving your body time to acclimatise but I still find it infuriating. 
The terrain for the first day was a sort of gravel path through beautiful rain forest. Being a rain forest though means that of course it rains. Light at first and then to heavy, it went on for hours. As told, we all had our wet weather gear to hand in day packs so stopped briefly to put it on. We all plodded on with heads down and grim expressions. 
Our guides are great, Gasper, Venance and Orloff. Gasper was at the front so set the pace and reminded us to drink constantly. There are mixed reviews on wether drinking extra water helps with high altitude sickness or not but as Gasper has been a guid on Kilimanjaro for 10 years I took his advice. 
As we neared the camp the vegetation changed almost immediately, tall moss covered trees gave way to much shorter and lighter coloured ones. As if by magic, the rain also stoped! We were suddenly above the cloud line. Camp was a 20 meter squared clearing which was already teeming with activity, the porters had set up our tents and started to cook dinner for us. The porters are incredible, they carry 4 times the weight we do and walk twice as fast. 
I peered inside each tent until I find my bag, it was there which is good but so was Ian’s. There were only 3 tents so we, despite only meeting yesterday, had to share. Luckily I have no issue with this as had already decided that Ian is a good guy and have to sleep next to men in the army all the time. However I was annoyed this wasn’t made clear before booking. It is wrong to expect all women to be comfortable with this arrangement and having it sprung on them when you get to camp means there is very little they can do about it. Gillian listened to me complain and offers to swaps so the boys share and her and I instead. I declined her very kind offer and assured her that it will be fine. And it is, Ian is most likely also annoyed by the lack of space but we just make the best of it and he didn’t snore once!
Dinner was served at 8 in a little blue mess tent. Inside was a table with a red table cloth surrounded by six little camping chairs. We played cards as we waited for dinner.  Our waiter, Godfrey, was a lovely quiet man who smiles warmly as we all cheered at sight of the huge tub of delicious soup that he brings in. Soup was followed by a plate of chicken, vegetables and rice. Kirsten is vegan so Godfrey took her plate and disappears to get her meal. The food was plentiful and delicious.
Venance came in once we have finished dinner to attach a little blue device to my index finger. It reads pulse rate and your blood oxygen saturation rate. Mine was 67/ 95. Venance looked pleased, recorded it on a piece of paper and moved on to the next hiker.
That night we crawl, tired, into our tents and in our fluffy sleeping bags. 

Traveling from Kenya to Tanzania by bus

Last Friday I checked out of the hotel at 7am to make sure I get to where the bus is leaving from in plenty of time. Although an Uber would be cheap and my back pack is the same size of me, I decide to walk.

The walk is like all my have been walks here; plenty dodging traffic, spotting small monkeys walking along the power lines and passing signs advocating good diet decisions. Diabetes is working it’s way up the long list of diseases in Africa.

Thankfully the bus is bigger than the one that took me to Naivasha, it almost looks road worthy. I decided months ago to journey across the boarder by bus rather than plane as, at the time, I wanted to see more of Kenya. Having just spent a week in Kenya I actually feel like I have seen enough by now and an hour-long plane journey sounds great.

So the plan is bus gets to Moshi, via Arusha, for 3pm ($35 for the 8 hour trip). Taxi from Moshi to lodge takes 15 minutes leaving plenty of time to be there for the 5pm briefing where I get to meet the guides and other hikers and most importantly I can get taken to hire the kit I don’t have – Down Jacket, sleeping bag which can cope with -10, Ski pants and trekking poles. Life doesn’t always go to plan.

All is going well at first. We get to the boarder in good time, we have to all get off and retrieve our luggage from the top of the bus to take it through customs. I get in there and mill about in the middle of the big airport style room trying to work out which queue I should be in. A lovely young Kenyan women from my bus came to my aid and told me that I have to be in all queues, starting with the one checking my yellow fever vaccination. We went through the long process together, she waited for me after every queue. We sat together on the bus for the last leg and shared my picnic. She is going to Tanzania to see her sister who works there as a lawyer.

There was a noticeable difference once the bus passes into Tanzania, there are road markings and not only is there a speed limit, it’s being observed. Which is good because I like to avoid traffic accidents but also bad because we slowed right down and an hour later it was clear that I was not going to make it to Moshi by 3, but maybe by 5 so should just about be ok. At Arusha most of the passengers depart, I and 4 others remain, patiently waiting to be taken on to Moshi. 2 minutes later I notice my luggage is in fact on the ground next to the bus… not ideal. I get off to retrieve it and get told by the driver that he is not going to continue to Moshi but another bus is coming to take us. I ask how long it is going to be and he brushes me off with “soon, soon”.

20 minutes later and I strop over to someone official looking and they say the next bus is at least an hour. Not only am I not going to make it to the lodge for the briefing and kit hire I am going to get to Moshi and have to find a taxi in the dark. I have taken a few calculated risks here but traveling in the dark has not been one of them.

The obvious thing to do is call my Kilimanjaro tour company, Monkey Adventures, and let them know the situation but not only is my Kenyan sim not working here, I didn’t write down the number so can’t even ask someone else to call. Just as I am kicking myself for this bad planning I overhear two of the other passengers (American mother and son) planning to call a taxi. I interrupt then and ask if I could join them, I would pay my 3rd of course. They kindly agree. They are going only halfway to Moshi so I just pay for the rest of the way which ends up being a painful $50. The taxi driver turns out to be a lovely man which is confirmed by the fact that there is a Chelsea football club sticker stuck to his dashboard. I take a picture to send to dad. I asked him about the children that are grazing goats and cows by the side of the road. The run-off water from the road courses the grass to grow better therefore when they run out of grazing they heard their livestock to the road. The children are working as they are on school holidays but when they return to school the adults will take over. Some of the children look as young as eight and are seemingly unsupervised. The strict speed limit makes more sense now.

I make it to the lodge at 5:10pm, unfortunately our guide to be had already started the briefing. I apologised for being late and told them to carry on. Here I got the first glimpse of my fellow hikers. We are group of 6 with 3 porters each, 3 guides a cook and waiter between us. Not for the first time I worry about what there will actually be to do all day other than hike, walk and sleep. This is going to be completely different from the PCT.

The briefing consisted of an over view of the route, what to expect, what to wear and what to have to hand in your day sack. The porters carry your main bag to each camp for you so you don’t have access to it during the day. Important to have a rain jacket and fleece in the day sack as well as water and snacks.

Our guide came to our rooms after the briefing to check the quality of our kit and to advise us on what to hire. A taxi picked us up to take us all to the hire place. We all gathered what we needed and got back to lodge in time to have dinner together. Our group consisted of two Americans who I later discovered are work colleagues and not a couple (Jeremiah and Christan). An Irish girl and Scottish guy who live together in Singapore (Gillian and Ali) and a Scottish guy called Iain.

Hippos and Boats

After breakfast, which is served in a building across the garden from the house, I walk back to my room past the pool and realise that I have been on holiday since Thursday and have yet to do any sunbathing. By 9am its 25 degrees so I set about rectifying this. A white, old, overweight man and his young attractive black girlfriend are already by the pool taking up 2 of the 3 sun beds which wouldn’t be a problem if the one they had left empty hadn’t been the middle one. I decided to not be deterred so stripped off down to my bikini and plonked my-self down between them (the beds are wooden and not on wheels). Myself and the girlfriend converse briefly about the weather whilst her manfriend talks loudly on the phone. I set a timer for 15 mins of sun each side before putting the factor 30 on, the sun is incredibly strong here.

My room in The guest house

A bit later I go over to the pool and dip my toe in, bloody freezing! I am so hot though that its either get in or get in the shade so I jump and come up gasping from the cold. Luckily the couple have already left but I have another audience, Oscar, a big German Shepherd. He is one of two on the property, they are beautiful but aren’t really up for cuddles. They are guard dogs and pretty serious about their role here. He sees that I am not drowning and continues his patrol of the perimeter.

Am very tempted to stay in the sun and skip the plan to find a boat trip on the lake. I decide not to be lazy and head out to the town to start the negotiating circus with the locals. I did actually try and be a bit smarter and ask some tourists at the guest house if they had been and who they went with. Two women, also working for NGO’s, gave me the number of a man called Ken. I gave Ken a call but he was busy all day at the smaller lake north of Naivasha. I stride down the bank again to withdraw more cash, a man selling postcards mistakes me for an ATM (a common mistake here) and shoves post cards in my hands whilst demanding a ridiculous sum of money. I try to give them back but of course he won’t take them, after a few more seconds of polite refusal to hand over money I pull his half open shirt and tuck the post cards quickly down the front. I shuffle off, not quite breaking into a jog, he follows for 20 meters before giving up. During that whole exchange, two police officers with rifles sit behind us watching with relaxed expressions. I didn’t at any point feel like I needed them to step in but the fact that they had rifles made me glad they hadn’t.

I can’t find a taxi anywhere, just busses going too far off towns and men on motorbikes. I get on the one with the safest looking spare helmet and ask him to take me to Crescent Island National Park as I don’t know where else boats go from. On the way, my experience from yesterday causes me to shout at him that he has gone too far. I am absolutely convinced that he is confused and taking me to Hells Gate National park again. He tries to tell me that it is just up the road but I know this game so when I see a blue sign saying hippos pointing towards the lake I shout to him to take me down there instead. (I check later and he was completely right, Crescent Island was just down the road) He definitely thinks I am nuts by now but takes me there anyway. The blue sign leads us down a dirt track with huge pot holes, I hang on as he slowly picks his way. The track leads to a clearing opening out to the lake, I get off and give him what we agreed. I hope the thank you and smile made up for all the shouting in his ear.

I turn around to face the water and wonder what I have got myself into now, there are four 10 seater motor boats moored in the muddy bank. A few random men stand off to the side smoking, totally ignoring my arrival. Just as I wishing the motorbike man would come back, a women comes up and welcomes me to her boating business, she directs me to her car which she calls her office and I tentatively ask how much it would be to be taken out in the boat. I think it will be a lot as I am on my own so effectively it is a private tour, she can charge me she likes as where else am I going to go at this point. She pitches a reasonable $30 which I accept. She next introduces me to my ‘Captain’, Victor. He is old and quiet, he just nods at me and hands me a life jacket, I like him already. As directed by Victor, more hand gestures, I climb over the other boats to the get to the one furthest away. He back out of the jetty made of mud and starts the motor, the boat is tipped to one side and it take me a minute to realise its because we are sat on the same side I switch over and keep watch for hippos. Just like the bears in the California, its more fun seeing some things on the TV. I know I am being dramatic but a Chinese tourist did get killed by on this lake a couple of months ago. However, Victor is far too sensible to get eaten so stays a good distance away when do encounter a family of 7 all standing on a huge submerged rock. One slides off the rock whilst looking at us and goes underwater, Victor wisely retreats before I have time to ask him to. After the sixth sightings of hippos I relax and trust Victor to read the warning signs. I do love their little ears, so out of place on their huge heads. Some periodically flick their ears before yawning. I feel like am in a David Attenborough documentary. Victor takes me off to some dead trees standing in the water with all sorts of birds on them, he points and calls out each of their names, I nod knowing I will have forgotten all of them by the time we get to shore. We did see a pair of African Fish Eagles (thanks Google) which were amazing. See pic below.

I flag down another motorcyclist who take me back to town. He drops me off, at my request, right outside a bus about to depart to Nairobi. Perfect, I climb on after being charged only $2.20. The trip back is very much like the trip there – periods of me drifting off to fast passed African music interrupted with events that leave me totally confused about what was going on. We make it back in one piece and I jump in an Uber back to my lovely, work approved, posh hotel. I am to spend the next 4 days working from The Fred Hollows Foundation Kenya office. I look forward to meeting my Kenyan colleagues.

Cycling alone through Hells Gate National Park

During my visit to Naivasha I have the top room in a large guest house with great views of the lake, no curtains though so I wake up with the sunrise. After a breakfast of boiled eggs and toast I wander out to the town center to find a bank. According to Gmaps there are plenty in Naivasha however they all refuse to acknowledge that Revolut online banking is a thing so I resort to using my Halifax debit card and swallow the fees. The town center is not quite as crazy as Nairobi but close. The high-street is a strip of pothole ridden concrete with drainage ditches either side with paving slabs lain across at intervals so pedestrians can move from the street to the shop fronts. People park, drive and walk wherever they want but it seems to work. It’s hard to know what each shops sells, it seems to be a bit of everything. They are all painted different colours, the next seeming to try and be brighter than its neighbor. Just like Nairobi I am the only white person around and people stare but smile and wave when I say hello. A little girl in a bright pink coat, she couldn’t have been much more than two, ran to me on wobbly little legs. I crouched down and took her outstretched hand meaning to shake it as I said hello, instead she gazed at my hand whilst rubbing my skin then giggled.

Once I have the extra cash I need I go in search of a taxi to take me to Hells Gate National Park which is 30km south from Naivasha. A friendly looking guy takes my hand and ask me if I need a taxi, magic! The friendly man takes me to a much less friendly man who askes where I want to go, I reply Elsa park gate, he wants 2000Ksh ($20) for this 30min journey I get him down to 1500Ksh (I am still over paying double what it should be).

Halfway through the journey the unfriendly driver tells me I have to have a guide to enter Hells Gate, I know for a fact that this is not true, and that he will be my guide for $40. I specifically wanted to go to this national park as it is one of the few where you can (a) cycle through it and (b) do so without a guide. I don’t want to call him a liar so I just say no thank you and that I am going to cycle. He remains silent and pulls up to a bike rental place (a strip of verge with some bikes on it) still 2km from Elsa gate. I ask him to drive on to the gate as agreed he tells me this is the only place to rent bikes, another lie. I’m angry by his blatant lies but haven’t really come across this sort of thing before so I just pay him and get out in a huff.

The guys renting the bikes seem lovely but my anger only builds so as soon as he mentions the word ‘guide’ I cut him dead. “Rent me a bike but I want to test it first” I say in my best authoritative voice. The mountain bikes all look as knackered as each other so I grab one, squeeze the tires and ride it up and down the road testing the breaks, seems ok. I hand over cash and pedal off up the road to the park entrance.

I pass through the gate, paying my $26 fee, without incident and see that the bikes being rented here are only a dollar cheaper. I stock up with some more water and re apply factor 30 and off I go into a scene from Jurassic park. To the left the open plains stretch on to the horizon and to the right, 3km off, are huge jagged cliffs. The park is also know as a great location for rock climbers, apparently you can rent some gear nearby. Sadly, I know I am not nearly good enough to climb by myself and I cant find a (qualified) guide to take me. I cycle down the dirt road towards the cliffs and take a deep sigh of a relief as I leave haggling, taxi drivers and being stared at behind.

Cycling to work will never be the same after this. Although I have lived in London for 6 years, I have only been commuting to work by bike for about 8 months. I had been resisting due to the horrific cyclists deaths statistics on London roads, however the lure of huge savings on travel costs got me. I asked my brother in law to borrow his bike and have since grown to love it. Now every day starts and ends with a rush of adrenaline as I escape death by motorist. I cycle like I think everyone is out to kill me, which is actually how it feels. In one week, I had 3 cars try and turn left through the cycle lane and therefore through me, a tourist step out in front of me and an Uber driver reverse into me for reasons completely unknown to even himself. I narrowly avoid being squished by either rapid acceleration or use of good breaks whilst always shouting a string of expletives. I wouldn’t blame them if it weren’t for the fact that I dress in fluorescent yellow and lit up like a Christmas tree.

More annoying than the man- slaughtering motorists are other cyclists. To be specific it’s the middle-aged men dressed head to toe in expensive Rapha cycling gear. They all feel the need to park themselves in front of me when stopped at traffic lights. Every time, I am passed them and 20 meters up the road whilst they are still trying to clip their little shoes into their pedals. Rapha must not sell thighs of a 28-year-old runner. There is no cyclist code, we can be, and usually are, totally awful to each other. I believe this is largely due to all imagining we are competing in the Tour De France, maybe that’s just me. Quite often I arrive at work or home feeling irritated and restless but will continue to choose this over the feeling like i have been herded to work on packed trains.

Rant over, back to Africa. The first animal I see is a warthog! I actually say Pumbaa out loud, it runs off. Clearly not a fan of the joke. Next its three Zebra wandering through the grass about 80 meters from the road, I would love to go closer but was once told that the reason people don’t ride horses but not Zebra is that horses will kick you until you go away, Zebra will kick you until you are dead. I stay on the road.

The road winds up a small hill, I give a little oomph the pedals to make it up and as I do my bike chain falls off. I’m 7km from the gate at this point so I lay it down and begin reattaching the bloody thing. After 10 minutes, I have done it, I wipe most of the bike grease on the grass and the rest on my trousers. Drawback of doing stuff alone, everything is your problem to sort out.

3km on and I see a family standing outside their Land Rover and looking out into the bush, I follow their gaze and spot 3 giraffes. I take a seat on the verge and watch them munch at the trees.

I am nearly back at the gate when I see this 50ft tall spire of rock jutting out of the ground. Tourists are filling the picnic benches surrounding the rock so I take a seat of the grass and graze on some salted peanuts. The rustle of the peanut packet causes four Hydrax (African rat) to come bounding out from the base of the rock towards me. All four stop a meter from me, they look like overgrown guinea pigs. A brave one walks towards me. I flick my hand at and hiss but in Africa, this gesture must mean come and sit in my lap, not piss off. I have to actually stand up to get it off me, persistent little bugger. People must feed them.

After I exit the park and return the bike I find myself on the side of the road without a means of getting back to my accommodation, I ask the bike renter for help and he waves over a guy on a moped. He hands me a helmet and hi vis vest, I get on the back knowing this is a bad idea but try and mitigate the risk by asking the driver to go slowly which he does! (probably more due to the 50cc motor than my plea) I tell him the name of the guest house but he doesn’t say anything so I say near the police station, he nods and off we go. Turns out he has no idea where the police station is, I tell him we are going in the wrong direction so he pulls over, I had him my phone with gmaps up proving that I am right he looks blankly at the phone and calls over to people to ask them, they wave up the road. I tell him this is not right but he ignores me and we drive further away from my accommodation. We reach A guest house, not MY guest house. I get off and he looks pleased with himself. “this is not the right guest house” I tell him. “I will go in and check” he says. At this I very nearly lose my shit. But instead I just assure him it is not the right one and give him a few dollars and say “I will walk from here”. He asks “are you sure?” and follows up with “are you comfortable?” my anger dissipates as he actually seems concerned now. I manage a smile and say “I like to walk”. I head off in the direction we have just come. It begins to rain. It’s a 20min walk back, I am soaked but know a hot shower is possible so I don’t let it ruin my day.

Lots of lessons in assertiveness doled out to me today.