About 8am, Mchami wakes us with a meal - I'm not sure what to call it but it's chapati, chicken soup, and watermelon. I am hungry, but Chris is not. Again, Mchami insists that we finish everything so Chris reluctantly puts a few small bowls of soup down the hatch. After we eat, we pack up and depart Barafu. The wind is still screaming down the mountain, but we've become so desensitized to it and almost stopped caring. We both have headaches, but are pretty sure they will go away as we drink more water and descend.
Our last clear view of the summit, at a rest stop at Millennium Camp (3800m).
After we lose enough elevation to reduce the wind to a slight breeze, Godlisten pipes up with a suggestion. When he applied for our permit at Londrossi Gate, he only put 6 nights on the paper instead of our planned 7 nights. He told us this up front and explained that it would protect us from trying to collect refunds from the park, in case one of us got sick and had to descend early (and, if things went as planned, he would just pay for the extra night at the end of the trip). So, if we want to, we could descend all the way to Mweka Gate (1600m) today, get a Good Earth driver to pick us up and go to Planet Lodge tonight, and then have a whole extra day available to go on a short safari, perhaps to nearby Arusha National Park or Ngorongoro Crater. The trip length reduction would give us a Good Earth refund of $220 (and a reduction in our crew's tips), but we would have to pay $70 for an extra night in the hotel, plus the cost of the 1-day safari.
Chris hiking down to Mweka Camp.
I'm a little thrown at this suggestion and my reaction isn't wholly rational, probably because of the 7hrs of hiking we did before breakfast. I don't even try to do the math - I am slightly hurt by the whole suggestion of dissolving our climb and crew earlier than planned. Do they not like us? Are we being typical (aka bad) Americans? Have we not been strong like buffalo? Everyone is quiet on the descent and this only lets my thoughts of inadequacy stew longer in my mind. Aren't we friends anymore? Were we friends in the first place? These negative thoughts are also compounded by my emotions surrounding our summit, which are a combination of pride at reaching the top, sadness at summiting before sunrise, and loneliness for leaving the mountain already. To say the least, I am one girly headcase in the hours between Barafu and Mweka Camp. I'm not crying, but I'm not talking either.
Near the entrance to Mweka Camp, the vegetation is growing!
Thankfully, the trail here is incredibly technical and that helps distract my mind from increasingly depressing thoughts. My legs are very fatigued so I have to rely on my trekking poles a lot to take their burden, which requires full-body coordination. The temperature is also increasing so it feels like I'm actually working out, although I try not to sweat too much in case we decide to stay on the mountain tonight. The change in vegetation is fascinating - another good distraction. We have left the rocky slopes and have gradually seen the plants grow in height and soon we are walking in shrubby trees over our heads. The valley to the east (our left) is lovely, and I try to catch glances of it whenever possible.
Main area of Mweka Camp. Our tents were in a little grove to the right.
After a few hours, we arrive in Mweka Camp (I think about 1.00p?) and sign in. Chris and I had chatted on the descent and delayed our 6-day vs. 7-day decision to our arrival in camp. We take stock of our legs and decide to stay the night in Mweka Camp, per our original plan. We are both physically tired, plus too mentally drained to try and set up a fun adventure for tomorrow in lieu of the planned hike. We tell Godlisten our decision and he rolls with it - maybe we are still friends - and soon we are having a lunch of pasta with bean sauce. After lunch, I sit outside to write, and enjoy the camp. It's filled with trees, the temperature is comfortable, and just is a generally nice place.
Chris hears a plane outside our tent in Mweka Camp.
Chris wakes up from a nap, we decide to tackle the whole tipping situation since Godlisten suggested we do it after tonight's dinner (instead of the usual after-last-breakfast timing). Before the trip, we had put cash (USD per Good Earth's recommendation) in envelopes for each position. Now that we have gotten to know everyone, we add some extra for people we felt gave exceptional service - Godlisten, Mchami, Peter, Kitao, and Richard. Chris also brought some souvenirs from New York for a few people, and I contribute the last unopened tube of nuun for Godlisten, since he loves it so much. I'm nervous about the whole tipping situation because I don't have much of a reference point to work from - will our tips seem cheap? Or will they show my appreciation for the whole crew for taking such good care of us? In the end, our total tips add up to about 20% of the price we each paid for the 7-day Lemosho Route. So I just cross my fingers that 20% means as much "job well done" in Tanzania as it does in America, and seal the envelopes. The other tricky component to tipping is the tip sheet - we have to record each person's tip and have them sign for receipt. This isn't middle school where the teacher hides your classmate's scores - everyone will see everyone else's tip. Then we keep the signed tip sheet and turn it in ourselves to the Good Earth office. All of this is done to prevent tip hoarding/hijacking. I appreciate the concern but for me it just adds to the awkwardness to the whole situation.
Sunlight filtering in through the trees in Mweka Camp.
So we have our last mountain dinner, and it's a delicious meal of chapati, butternut squash soup, rice, and vegetable sauce. After dinner, Chris goes to the camp hut and buys a souvenir Kilimanjaro map for each of us. Then, Godlisten calls the entire crew over to our tent and we have a little tipping ceremony - we shake hands with everyone one-by-one, hand them their tip envelope, and have them sign the tip sheet. Godlisten suggested that we write down the minimum amount on the tip sheet, and then put our real amount in the envelope. I'm not sure why but we do this too. Maybe there are some sort of taxes for porters?
I'm relieved that the tipping is over, and Godlisten invites us to try Tanzanian food, which is what the crew eats after Peter is done cooking for us. He brings over a bowl of ugali and stewed greens. The ugali reminds me of thick polenta and the greens have an unusual spice to them, almost bitter, but I'm happy they wanted to share with us. After this post-dinner snack, Mchami comes over with a problem - one of the (USD) bills we gave him as a tip is dated pre-2000, which evidently is worthless in Tanzania. Thankfully, I have an extra bill to replace it, problem solved. Godlisten has the same problem, however his issue is with a Benjamin and we don't have enough USD cash between us to replace it. He decides we will go into Moshi on the way home and sort things out. Problem solved, for now.
After descending 1600m, completing the nerve-wracking tipping ceremony, and eating 1.5 dinners, I am ready for bed. I curl up in my sleeping bag for one last night on the mountain. I'm mentally and physically tired from the last 24 hours (not quite as exhausted as a 24hr AR, but close), but I know I will be sad to see Mweka Gate tomorrow.