Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Not many of you are aware of this but my trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro was part of a very deep ongoing journey. When me and the homie Lewis Henry were basically Airdropped into Africa, we had one evening’s rest the day before we were scheduled to be picked up and taken to climb the largest free standing mountain on Earth. So, obviously we went out that night to see the town, eat some food, drink a beer and soak up the local atmosphere. I don’t think either of us knew what kind of emotional and physical tests awaited us.
The very next day we were shuttled off to the gate of Kilimanjaro to begin our climb. To begin with, I remember being shocked at the amount of Porters, Guides & Cooks which were assigned to each group which consisted of literally several odd climbers. I personally remember feeling the need to to carry my own large ruck sack and was surprised to see the organisation weighing up and distributing the weight of all our bags to each porter. I mean, not only did they carry 20+ kilos on their heads each containing our possessions, they also carried all the camping equipment including tents, food and entire kitchen and living space. Something I hadn't even thought about until seeing for the first time.
The first day was an amazing sunny one as we began trecking through beautiful jungle and getting to know our fellow climbers. We were luckily enough to be teamed up with a wonderful family who had some previous climbing experience and so we began to introduce ourselves and get to know each other.
I remember the breeze of the forestry and the partial shade of the foliage making me think ‘I don’t need suncream’ which was the dumbest thought to have as the African Sun proceeded to burn my lips and ears off giving us tan lines around our t-shirt sleeves which still haven't faded months later.
The first night camping in the jungle was a trip. We had our first meal together and received our first brief about the week ahead where Tino (our leader) explained that he himself and the Team were there to help us achieve our dreams. He gave us the lowdown on our water intake, the best times to be taking our malaria and altitude sickness drugs and how to keep our energy conserved in the 6-8 hours walking we’ll be doing every day over the next several days. I also clearly remember being told to zip all our shoes and poles etc inside the tents and not to leave them in the porch at night as the monkeys were extremely cheeky and would happily rob us of our possessions. I also noticed the pigeons looking like they've been to gym three days a week!
That night was the worst night sleep for me as I got used to how much fluid I shouldn’t be drinking before bedtime and broke out my head lamp for the first time to navigate my way to the cesspit of a toilet. I remember squatting over the dump hole, unable to pass anything because of the monkey fights going down on the rooftop I mean, they were probably just playing but it sounded like they were tearing each other to shreds!
The next day we practiced washing our entire bodies in a bowl of warm water while the porters packed up all the tents and kitchen etc. We proceeded again through the jungle, gradually testing our camping purchases which included dry wash, protein bars and sun cream.
It was only on the second or third day after passing through most of the jungle terrain where we caught our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro in all her glory. I remember her being so far away and thinking wow, its going to take another 5 days to even reach her. Our next camp was out in the clearing where we experienced the first bite of the cold from the mountain. It was here where we met Gabusa who was one of the porters in our group. I remember our first conversation, specifically when he innocently asked me ‘why I am here’. Doesn’t sound like an abnormal question it was only that I hadn’t actually heard it out loud before, let alone thought about it so deeply and so I began to explain. I told him I was here with my friend Lewis and that we were trying to raise money for our chosen charities. I remember his eyes lighting up as he explained how he himself was heavily involved in charity work and we began to have that familiar conversation about how charities on a corporate level seem to be more concerned with profits as we pondered, sceptically over the amount of aid and money actually trickled down to those who need it most.
I explained how difficult it was for myself to chose a charity to sponsor and support for those exact reasons. Funny how a couple of Londoners found common ground with a local man in the middle of this African terrain over charitable organisations.
Gradually over the coming week as we edged our way closer and closer to basecamp, we began to get to know our entire Team a lot more personally. Our main guide ‘Tino' who’s unique passion for the mountain which he described as his ‘office’ became more of a guru than a guide. ’Jonathan’ nicknamed the ‘Massai Warrior’ who took our medical readings every morning and evening to make sure we were all in good health, Manuel who shared his vast knowledge and experience of the terrain with us daily. Freddy who cooked us delicious food three times a day and kept us sustained. Hassan, Constantine, Goodchance and all of the porters who cooked and cleaned for us and literally carried us along this mental trip. And of course Gabusa, who we learned was training to become a guide himself so he could help the charity he and his friends Denis, Richard & Teddy; a group of teachers and nurses who had essentially set up a school back home to help take care of children with no families. As we spent more time talking and hanging out we bonded like a real family and the more time we spent talking with Gabusa, the more we learned about the incredible work he and his associated were involved in.
The days leading up to our final ascent from basecamp were truly life-changing and mind blowing. In particular waking on day 5 and seeing the Barranco wall, which was literally a 85-90 degree incline climb up the face of a rocky wall. We made full use of our hands and fingers as we scaled it for 3- 4 hours trying our best not to look down its 257 metre drop as we passed through the clouds to reach the top. I remember feeling astonished how easily the Tanzanians were managing to do all of this with 20+ kilos o they're heads an backs as we puffed and gasped for air.
Next was Karanga valley as we made our way around all four faces of Kilimanjaro and came closer and closer to basecamp. Karanga valley was literally like being on another planet. Almost fluorescent in colour in comparisons to the rocky, desert terrains we’d spent the previous days marching through. The plants looked like hybrids of cacti and palm trees cross pollinated and there was an alien type mist to it all.
The more time we spent talking with Gabusa, the more I realised how deep his involvement with the work in his community was. He began to explain how he himself along with some likeminded individuals (who we would later meet) began by setting up a nursery school for orphans and children from poor families providing them with basic needs like education, food and medication. he began to reiterate from our first conversation about how very little help and aid they received from certain charities were trickling down to those in need which prompted him to set up their own non government organisation which relies solely on donations and the help of the community. The more we listened, the stronger a feeling began to grow about the work he was doing.
We spent the night before the final walk up the mountain talking in depth about life in Africa, the government, society, inner city issues, the universe, vibration and I probably even banged on about my passion for music, martial arts and kung fu. We all laughed hysterically about how crazy life can be and yet somehow agreed how much potential love and power we collectively possess as humans. It was that night before the final climb up Kilimanjaro, Gabusa invited Lewis and I to visit the orphanage he and his team had built once we had climbed down from the mountain, to which we agreed.
On the day of the climb, we woke up at midnight and pretty much marched stop for 7 hours in pitch black darkness, stopping for merely 60 odd seconds every 6 minute odd minutes. The only visual anchor was a long line of head torches which was all you could see for thousands of metres up. Every time the lights disappeared, we were teased into thinking that we were nearing the top until you reached that plateaux and realised you had an exhausting amount of hours left to climb.
It was so cold the tissues we were blowing our noses on had turned into a glassy ice and I had to wriggle my toes constantly for the last 3 hours in fear of them dropping off. As the sun came up and all sorts of life’s questions started running through my mind I think I had my first out of body experience as in, I didn't feel like I was part of my own body. I have recordings of myself on my camera talking all sorts of gibberish as the altitude sickness began to take a hold of my me and my mind. As we saw Stella Point, we had a visual target for the very first time and subconsciously we began to expend all our reserves to get there. I remember thinking ‘finally, this was the top’ as we got up there and saw the crater and looked around at what they so perfectly named ‘the roof of Africa’.It was then we realised we had another 1 kilometer trek to Uhuru Point which is essentially the highest point 5895m (19,341 feet). To say I was holding back my tears is an understatement. The altitude sickness had made me drunk, high and dizzy and I was an emotional wreck. My insides were bursting to come out and the AMS felt like my eyeballs were about to explode with every heart beat.
After taking our picture in front of the sign, I began zigzagging off when Fanuel noticed I wasn't quite alright. He grabbed my arm and we began to skate down the side of the mountain back to basecamp, making full use of my top of the range climbing boots. In fact, we skated down that mountain in an hour and a half and with each skid the pressure elevated and I began to regain my senses.
I remember collapsing in my tent and managing to sleep for an hour until Lewis and the rest of the gang made it back down. We made a few non verbal ‘wow what the f*ck was that’ looks and were both in a state of disbelief as to what we’d just experienced and witnessed.
Full of adrenaline, instead of resting on the mountain one more night, we decided to fully climb back down the entire way to the gate and spend one extra night in the hotel so we could meet Gabusa and visit the orphanage fresh faced. To the delight of Gabusa, he was assigned as our porter and so we all marched home. It was at this moment we realised why Tino kept calling it our ‘dream’ as we tried to put the experience into words. It was as if we’d been to space for real.
The next day we met Gabusa’s team and founding members of Jubilant. Denis the teacher at the school they had built, Richard the community worker, Teddy the nurse and the 30+ children who were being taught lessons that day. They invited us in with smiles and served us some of the most amazing food we’d tasted since we’d arrived. We met a young lady, a sister of one of the younger orphans who was being taught by the organisation how to look after herself and her younger brother as she had recently lost her parents and was now the head of the family. We sat with Gabusa & Denis as they explained how they accommodate kids who have been literally saved from the road side and that they’d built accommodation for them to have the basic needs every child should have. Lewis and I were then invited to see the accommodation they’ve built which as amazing as it was, still wouldn't meet much standards of the west. They are need of support.
In 2006, the government authorities recognised Jubilant and registered them as a non government organisation. They have since rescued and rehabilitated over 150 street kids and they have plans to expand their work. They have managed to support some of these children through secondary school and college and they’re dream is to build a school where 60% are students from more privileged families and the other 40% orphans. It’s a fully sustainable idea and Lewis and I are setting up this crowd funder to help raise the monies to see this dream come true.
They will be needing equipment and materials too, so we will be setting up a place for those who cannot offer money but can donate clothes, toys, books and any other sort of equipment etc which would be much appreciated and greatly received.
Until then, please dig deep, give generously and help us to help Gabusa, Denis, Richard, Teddy and all the fantastic people at Jubilant working so hard to help provide a future for children who otherwise wouldn't have one.
Dabbz & Lewis.