I’m using this post to pay homage to my Kilimanjaro trek support team: camp chef James and my 5 porters. These guys are vital to the success of any trek but I don’t think that, as a group, this category of support team gets the respect and recognition that they deserve.
The porters are those guys that bring everything their clients need for their trek up the mountain on their backs, heads, necks or shoulders, then bring it all down the mountain again.
Generally, they group their burdens into sacks, so that when they put on their backpacks they then stack the sack on top, balancing it on the backpack and their neck or shoulders. Depending on the configuration of the sack, a porter may also carry his load on his head. Each porter’s sack is weighed at the gate, as there are legal restrictions on how heavy their sacks can be. I believe the current weight limit is 15 kg; that’s 33 pounds! When was the last time you carried 33 pounds of anything further than 3 steps? Except for the last leg from base camp to summit, the porters walk the same distance every day that climbers do, carrying these heavy weights.
The porters carry any and everything that is required for the trek. This include clients’ personal items which they don’t carry in their day packs, such as additional clothes, shoes (like my trainers, which I wore around camp), toiletries, sleeping bag and mat, and any personal effects they may want to have on the mountain. The porters’ burdens also includes tents, cooking implements, food, first aid supplies and sundry other items of which I have no clue. In the spirit of great customer service, my team also brought extra toilet paper (hallelujah! I went through 3 rolls in 8 days, what with all the peeing), soap and a basin for my daily bush wash up. On top of that, although they drank water that they got from streams along the way, they always purified my water, assuming that although I wasn’t ‘mzungu’ (Swahili for ‘white foreigner’), I had a mzungu stomach. I appreciated that. A lot. These guys took care of my every need.
Kilimanjaro porters aren’t only strong, they are also fast. My team generally got to the next camp in one-third the time I took to get there. Elly and I would hike out of camp in the mornings, leaving all 6 guys behind packing up our tents and removing all traces of our being there, and within 45 minutes they were passing us, one by one. The last to pass would usually be Aron, who was in charge of collecting any garbage that we had produced, properly packing it up (which may include distribution among the other porters for those same weight limit reasons), and ensuring that every scrap of it went back down the mountain with us. They would then get to the next camp, set up our tents and do the mysterious things they did to get ready for our arrival and still have time to walk back out to meet us when we were getting close to camp.
Generally speaking, I would say that porters deserve every penny of the tips that they receive. They earn it. They are tough and strong and fast and solicitous and without them, those of us who have trekked would absolutely not make it even halfway up the mountain. On the last day of my trek, I learned that a group of 3 clients (I won’t say the nationality, though I know) refused to tip their porters because they believed that they should be satisfied with the pay they would receive from the trekking company. To me, this was not only ignorant and mean, it was downright cruel. I really hope that this doesn’t happen often; it shouldn’t happen at all.
Then there is the camp cook. I only ate James’ cooking so I don’t know whether he is typical, but I would eat anything that man puts in front of me without hesitation. He can cook! I went on this trek expecting basic fare. What I got at every breakfast and dinner time (and those lunch times when we were in camp) was a nicely laid out picnic blanket in my tent with hot beverage choices, sauces (which I never used because James’ cooking never needed it), proper utensils and simply delicious, hearty food.
My meals were carb-heavy. A typical breakfast was:
- Hot drink (unsweetened, weak Milo was my beverage of choice)
- Orange, pineapple or mango slices
- Porridge – I started out having Focus give me 2 scoops, though he tried to insist on 3. After the first day, he started ratting me out to Elly, who would then share me up another scoop while saying, “Do you know where you are going? I know where you are going. Eat.” By day 4, I would just have Focus give me the 3 scoops since I would have to eat it anyway.
- Scrambled eggs
- Tomato and cucumber
- Chapati – like roti except a little drier
If lunch was on the trail, it would consist of:
- A piece of fried chicken
- A boiled egg
- Jam sandwich or vegetable patty – not the flaky crust we are used to in Jamaica, a more bready crust
- Juice box
Then there was always the 4 o’ clock snack of Milo and popcorn.
Dinner was always something to look forward to, as James would usually make a delicious stew of some kind:
- Vegetable soup – like carrot or zucchini or cucumber soup. It was my first time having any of those types of soup and James never let me down. Again with the 3 scoops; I tried to get away with 2 at first but I quickly gave it up and allowed Focus to give me 3 since I would have to end up having to eat that amount anyway.
- Pasta or rice (a heaping mound) or bread
- Vegetable or meat stew
- Hot beverage options
It was simple fare (after all, we were in the wilderness so fancy wasn’t on the menu) but it was wholesome, filling and delicious. The only hardship I had in eating was that I always felt so full because I had to eat so much more than I was used to.
At the end of this experience, I can say with no reservations that I would not have had a successful trek without these guys. Every single one of them ensured that I made it to the summit and back safely and as comfortably as possible. They were solicitous, protective and encouraging.
I miss every one of them.