Under the gloss - facts on Kilimanjaro

Things in Africa don’t happen at the same pace or with the same thoroughness as at home, so please don’t expect things to always work!  You may even be appalled at the conditions. Try and look below the surface though, and you will find very friendly people who are keen to help but hampered by the realities of living in a developing country.
Some people will beg from you and occasionally a porter may pester you for tips or gifts, which you should do your best to avoid complying with; it only perpetuates a damaging practise. Much as we really try to prevent excessive overtures for tips by paying good salaries and treating people well, it is very much part of a mentality that exists among workers on the mountain after years of exploitation. Tips are customary, but should be given to Castro at the gate on the last day for distribution. This is much better than giving individuals money privately or secretly, which some people do because they think they're doing it 'right', but this is never the case and it always causes problems long after you have left. We have a system in the company which the staff understand and recognise and like, and Castro is a good and honest boss who will not exploit the staff.

You’re on a mountain for seven days, living in a tent with another person and sharing time and space with a group of like-minded people to summit a high mountain. It’s a fantastic experience in team dynamics and finding out a little about yourself but it can also be frustrating. The smallest things can assume the biggest proportions! Generally people possess social skills to manage it all very well, but occasionally not. In a very few cases one person can really dominate a group to its detriment. Diplomacy and tact are necessary tools on a mountain trip! 

There are no showers on the mountain sadly, but you can wash in hot water from a bowl. You will feel rather dirty after just a few days, the dust is everywhere and you may also get a bit sunburned and wind burnt. Make-up is not a option, and nor are hair dryers, and even shaving is rather fraught with difficulty. Thank heavens for the joy of standing on the summit because by the time you come back down there will be only thought on your mind – visiting a shower.

There is no getting away from the fact that the toilets are basic. ‘Long drops’ describes it adequately, but does not do justice to the smell and the occasional ‘surprise’ waiting for you, courtesy of the last person who missed. That and having to balance over a small hole in a state of undress, holding a loo roll and keeping a keen ear for a sudden unwanted visitor (did I mention there’s no door?).

We’re very proud of our staff and you will find them very attentive and courteous, but occasionally they may not understand you or make a mistake. Do be patient with them. English is not their first language and they sometimes find it hard to pick up on our western idiosyncrasies and habits. It is very unlikely that the mistake will have been deliberate.

Culturally they are a conservative people who are embarrassed by confrontation. If you do have an issue then please remain calm and take your matter up with Castro back in Moshi.

It goes without saying that for many people climbing Kilimanjaro is the biggest challenge they will have tackled, and thankfully the summit provides ample reward for the effort. But it is hard. Summit night is unrelenting in terms of cold, loose scree, mental pressure, emotional stress and physical effort. Some people revel in it, some people have to dig deep. For everyone it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, made all the more poignant because you climb through the night. Dawn will not come too soon, and with it comes a lifting of the spirit. There is no point in saying it’s an easy stroll but when you do get to the top all that hardship seems to dissipate and for the 30 minutes you are on the summit of Africa, the world is right and you could be on top of a hundred Everests.

Coming down is as hard as going up. On the one hand it is easier to descend than to ascend, but the knees are now ready to go home and just rest quietly on a cushion by the fire for about a day, so it seems unfair to remind you that the summit is only halfway! And after the sheer unadulterated atavistic joy at summiting, coming down seems like a chore. Hang in there though; the shower and ceramic toilet is now only 24 hours away.

Should you be unhappy with some aspect of your trip to Kilimanjaro then please take your point up directly with Castro Kapela, rather than waiting until you get home when there is nothing that can be done. AA Tanzania is equally as responsible for your welfare as AA UK, and Castro is well experienced and qualified to assist with most issues and enquiries.

Some people feel embarrassed about ‘complaining to the locals’ but it is the only way they can learn and improve. There are significant cultural ‘gaps’ that exist between a paying Western client and a Tanzanian tour operator or local guide, and we do work hard to ensure that these gaps are accepted as part of the holiday, and treated with equanimity and respect. This is within reason, since we have high standards ourselves, and there can be no compromise for safety when on a high mountain. Sometimes the guides find it hard to understand people, and we do ask that you are patient.

We would also like to ask for your feedback after the trip, which is a standard procedure for tour companies, and this will also give you a chance to give us your thoughts about the trip.