September 25, 2007
Mweka Hut to Mweka Gate
Total Distance: 4 Miles
Total Ascent: 5,100 ft.
Ending Altitude: 4,900 ft.
When I awoke the next morning the porters were feverishly tackling their appointed tasks. The familiar chatter of the porters and guides shouting directions and orders across the camp seemed to have extra fervor as they prepared to get underway. It was evident that they were eager to complete their journey, receive their pay, and return to their families. We too were eager to complete the trip and get back to the hotel to rest.
During breakfast the sound of singing drifted through the trees from other camps. After this, our last meal on the trail, we packed up our gear and hurried to get ready to leave. Once camp was struck, all of the porters and guides gathered in a group. Some of them said a few words, which Godfrey translated. They indicated that they were very glad we had all made it without any problems and expressed appreciation that we were a good group. We all expressed our appreciation to them for all of their hard work and for the help they had given us. Then, as is the tradition, they sang Jambo Bwana, the song we had heard coming from the other camps. This is a tradition of the climb, and they performed a rousing rendition. Godfrey led the singing and the whole group joined in enthusiastically clapping, dancing and singing with the summit bright in the morning sun as a back drop.
After the festivities we said our goodbyes and started out for our final day of hiking. Our group was a collection of sore feet and knees, but we made steady progress towards the end. Bill and I passed the time learning from Godfrey the Swahili names of the animals we were likely to see on Safari. He would teach us a name, then he would say the names of the animals in English and we would translate into Swahili. As we walked down through the rain forest the trail became less rocky, but it still had stretches of steep declines. This was difficult on those with sore knees and we made slow time.
At one point we descended a part of the trail that had been strategically groomed to take advantage the exposed roots of trees as stairs. Off to the right was what looked like an old ditch filled with muddy water. Godfrey explained that we were looking at the old trail, and that’s what it had been like before it has been fixed. I felt fortunate that we were on the new one. Near here we saw a family of colobus monkeys high in the trees. From a distance they looked much like skunks in the trees.
As we walked we came upon three children that were collecting forage for their cattle. The little girl asked something in Swahili that I didn’t understand. I asked Godfrey to translate for me, and he told me she asked if we had any candy. I still had a chocolate bar I had been given for summit day, so I got it out of my pack and gave it to her. I told her through Godfrey to share it with her brothers.
Later as we were stopped for a rest, they passed us carrying bundles of plants on their heads. When we caught back up with them, they had stopped to swing on some vines. Bill and Godfrey joined them, but it wasn’t quite with the grace of Tarzan. I decided not to tempt fate, and decided to leave the vine-swinging to the others.
The trail here was generally more smooth and getting wider. It soon became wide enough for a vehicle fit. By this time Bill and I knew the names of about 20 animals. We walked and talked and finally, came around a corner and saw the red roofs of Mweka gate. As we filed into the clearing Kambona ushered us to the ranger station for our final sign-in. I purchased a patch and sat down in the bowery for a minute. It felt great to be off my feet! With mixed emotions we exchanged hugs and expressed gratitude to Godfrey and Mahamood for all that they had done. Then we boarded the bus waved to them and began looking forward to a good meal at the hotel.
Since summit day my thoughts had been consistently with my wife. She was flying alone to meet me in Arusha. This was a big stretch for her and I had been relieved to learn from Kambona that she had made it safely to the motel.
We arrived at the Dik-dik to the same big smile of the same young man who had greeted us our first night there. Although he had undoubtedly seen hundreds of people return from the mountain, his interest and smile made us feel like he was joining in our success and he was truly happy for us. After sitting for so long during the bus ride, my feet were no longer numb and were noticeably more tender. I gingerly walked to my room and knocked on the door. Linda opened the door blinking in the sunlight. I had awakened her from a nap. As stinky and disgusting as I was, she gave me an enormous hug. It was such a relief to be together again. For the next several hours we traded stories of my experience on the mountain and her experience getting to Tanzania on her own.