Kilimanjaro Day 7. Final Descent, Tipping, and Goodbyes.

1/6/20. Last Moments in the Tent:

It’s 6:45am. I savor my last moments in the tent. It’s so great to wake up with a clear nose. Pots and pans rattle outside. I’m warm in my sleeping bag liner.

Morning campsite. Drop your packed bags on the white canvas when you’re ready to go.

One of our porters came over to hand me my last mug of steaming hot ginger tea. I held onto it, chatting and laughing with Camille. How I miss those quiet mornings already. Did we really summit Uhuru Peak only twenty four hours ago?

We had an extra special singalong and dance with our porter crew after breakfast.

Spectacular view of Uhuru in the morning. Photo credit: Nick Picca.

Thank You’s and Cash Tips: Two Surprises

Surprise #1:

I’m not sure what the norm is, but I was not expecting to be asked to designate tips to our porters on an individual basis.

Last night, our head guide gave us a list of every porter – all seventy nine names – who joined us on the mountain and asked that we write the tip amount we’d like to give each person next to their name. I have never been in a position to determine anyone’s compensation, let alone make the decision with a group of eighteen others. It felt like acting in a case study as our group debated a framework to assign relative worth as fairly as possible.

In the end, we whittled the decision-making crew down to four of us and agreed on value-add criteria such as: carried toilet, summited, carried injured guy on stretcher, etc. We also accounted for our porters’ official “hierarchy” of roles based upon experience, such as: camp manager, head chef, head waiter, summit guide, etc. We decided against having individual hikers give arbitrary dollar amounts to their designated porters because different hikers had different abilities to give, i.e. some of us were students, some salaried with full-time work. We were also deciding pay in a $1/day world, where $10 USD made a massive difference in someone’s life.

Ultimately, the outcome was far from perfect: we could have reduced the dispersion between the highest and lowest paid members of the group, but we pooled together total cash tips that matched the highest end of the tip spectrum after running a quick search on Google and trusted our decision.

Surprise #2:

The next morning (earlier today), our head guide Saidi presented our tips to our porters to great fanfare: by announcing each individual’s pay publicly one by one – in front of both us and the porters.

We felt a little nervous as the head guide conveyed our thank you’s and proceeded to announce each porter’s pay publicly, name by name.

Thought Exercise A: Imagine if your compensation and bonus were broadcasted firm-wide… Would such transparency promote greater meritocracy or “socialism”?

I felt nervous, watching each individual react as the numbers were read out in Swahili. The porters seemed pleased with the results, or perhaps this public display was so commonplace as part of their reward system that they did not feel the discomfort that I did. If anything, it shifts the onus – and risk – of unfair pay from their boss to the customers themselves.

Thought Exercise B: imagine if every time you used a service, or bought something from Walmart, you submitted a proposal for what your service representative should be paid. Would this system reflect a world of compassion or coldness?

Goodbyes, My Least Favorite Part:

Friendship: There are so many emotions pictured. What I would give to do it all over again with this group.

After the announcements concluded with a big round of cheers, we shook hands with every single individual – firmly and passionately. Each of these pairs of hands played a role in helping us dig a little deeper, keeping us well-fed and sheltering us on our journey over the last seven days. It took a village, and these people were exceptional.

I gave Fusso, my porter, my SF Marathon race t-shirt as a small token of appreciation. It warmed my heart to know that one of his three children will wear it. I am so thankful for his presence. This is one human relationship I will not forget soon.

Fusso (left), my tent mate, her porter, and I share a last hurrah. I will remember their faces and voices for a long time to come.

The Final Trail:

Most of today’s descent resembled the last four hours of yesterday. Lush, green, and tangled with tree roots are how I would describe the trail leading down toward Maweka Gate.

The last mile was a red dirt road paved “just in time” by a bulldozer that flattened the track a couple hundred feet ahead of us as we walked down briskly.

From “sleeping” at Uhuru Peak thirty hours ago to powering down to the finish line, Anna’s energy was contagious!
Speeding down through the rainforest.

What To Expect at Maweka Gate:

At 12:29pm, we made it to Maweka Gate.

Five and a half days up, one and a half days down: I did it!

Feet back on the ground at Maweka Gate, I did it.

You will need to check out with your passport number, per usual, at this final stop. Medical students from a nearby university, who we met at Machame Gate on day one, handed us an optional questionnaire to complete the second half of a mountain sickness study here.

Two more tips:

1. You can get your hiking boots cleaned here for $2 USD per pair. It’s worth it, trust me. I wish I got the mud situation on my trekking poles sorted here too, instead of suffocating my muddy poles in trash bags inside my 90L backpack for an additional week. The sight and smell were not pretty when I unzipped this package back in the US.

2. This will be your first wifi stop after seven days of disconnect. Our friends who arrived later literally walked in on every pair of eyes glued to a mobile screen. Further evidence for the evolution of human beings…

What your first taste of wifi after a week off feels like.

Return to Arusha:

Views from the van during the two hour ride back to Arusha from Maweka Gate.

It felt strange to return to our hotel at Ilboru Safari Lodge, step into a clean shower (which was sporadically suspended when the hotel generator went down), and not need to wear a headlamp after dark.

One week was enough to condition me into an amateur camper, but that shower was something else.

My withdrawals for more rugged Type II fun came rushing in minutes before I passed out in a deep sleep.

My next post will celebrate the 50th post on my site! As a special, I will detail how I packed for Kilimanjaro.

See you soon!

Melissa

Dreams of tents and ginger tea.

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