We walk through the jungle, the coolness welcome as the African sun is hot on our pasty flesh. The terrain starts gentle, though soon the boulders return. My toes are like a magnet for rock and I stub my toes repeatedly.
We take photos though I’m directing John to take specific shots while I stick to putting one foot in front of the other. For the first time since leaving the Summit I contemplate returning and taking photos of this section. Every shade of green is represented and house plants at home that struggle to survive display showy flowers here. There are waterfalls, bridges and beauty at every turn. I suspect there are birds and monkeys too but we keep the pace.
We begin to see other people fresh and on their way to the summit. They ask how we did and we tell them we made it to Uhuru. They seem puzzled about our lack of joy, but they don’t inquire. I look at them with their shiny packs and sparkling eyes and know they have no clue what lies ahead. It’s better that way I decide as my toes on one foot are now numb and I’ve lost feeling in one finger
John’s watch says we have been walking four hours since Mandera as we arrive at a desk set up in the jungle. Godwin obtains paper from the woman seated behind the desk. He writes down his email address and asks me to please send our pictures from the summit to him, I promise we will.
Moments later we walk out of the jungle and into civilization, complete with a gift shop. The shop has few items to sell. I peruse the shelves of knickknacks, disinterested. The experience will not be contained in a trinket. I am overjoyed to see Pringles and Ginger pop though, and purchase these items. We sign the official ledger, use the tourist toilets, lingering and enjoying both the porcelain toilets and running water.
We wait for the arrival of our bus that will take us back to the hotel. We sit in luxury under a shelter with proper tables and benches. We begin to process the experience. We have climbed up one side of Kilimanjaro and down the other for a total of 91km. We have walked through five different terrains, Bushland, Rainforest, Heath, Alpine Desert and Arctic. We have summited a mountain that we read about as children. We ate simple food and relished in simple joys. The mountain reminded us that it’s easier to see and feel without the clutter of daily life. We were unplugged and spent time talking to each other, building relationships, and relating. We found strength in ourselves, each other and have witnessed this strength in our friends who we have come to know so much better in the last few days than the entire year previous. It is certain the mountain changed all of us in some way though whether we would remain changed or exactly what had changed would be decided individually.
The bus arrives and we amble to the parking lot where we are accosted by hawkers selling their wares. It’s over whelming. I trade John’s water bottle for a bracelet feeling I have no option, except a transaction. I look over and John is also making a purchase. We walk as briskly as possible to the bus and escape the make shift marketplace. There are enough seats for our group and we are very happy to sit. The Porters and Guides fill the remaining spaces and the gear piled high deals with the remaining cracks. We are now stuffed like sardines in our metal enclosure At home, we are so protected against any mishap with rules and laws that govern everything. Here we are learning to live with some risk and are sharper and more aware.
The driver navigates the bus through the gauntlet of merchants trying to get our attention. There seems to be a quiet desperation as they run alongside the bus trying to make a sale. We drive to the hotel and see Mount Kilimanjaro rising majestically from the plains. It’s so large and I can’t believe we climbed to the top. I squint and see the top thinking just a few days ago John and I stood there together. The sense of accomplishment would continue to arrive as waves of realization and remembrance, rather than quick elation. The mountain would require more than seconds of excitement for the feat and demands reflection. I dog ear my journal and set this aside for now. I’m content to be in the moment and not think about what comes next or what came before.