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June 12th 2011
Published: June 26th 2011
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Kili on the left, Mawenzi on the right
I stood at the foot of the mountain preparing to ascend to its summit. Over the past two days - since I had left the western world behind - my shoulders had slowly been lifting as the weights of life began to fall away. And now here I was, on the gentle slopes of the highest mountain in Africa. I've read and dreamt about Kilimanjaro for many a moon - long before I began to think I might ever visit. And now I was on it.

I stood beside six smiling guides, impatiently leaning on my hiking stick while we all waited for the rest of the group to prepare themselves. Their confused scurrying and fretful preening brought to mind a troop of idle baboons. My mind wandered away from the people around me, away from the species to which I cannot but belong. Eight weeks ago, I had returned from the Himalaya feeling free and driven to be away again. Then daily capitalist life had taken over again to the point where only a few days ago I sat in my flat wondering whether wandering again was the right thing to do. Of course I did leave and, as

Black and white colobus monkey
soon as the bags were in the boot of the car, the weight on my shoulders began to lift. The weight of decisions made, the weight of decisions waiting to be made, the weight of wondering if decisions are worth taking. If you wait, if you sit and watch the cherry blossom fall, life happens anyway. Doesn't it?

So now I stand by these men who spend their lives on this mountain and I feel small. Not physically - these men tower over me - but I feel like a hollow shell that might be carrying something worthy deep within but isn't sure where it might be. We finally begin the day's hike - an easy four hour stroll to Simba camp (8,530ft) - our first night's target. The beaming face of Peter (my tent porter) comes over and introduces both its owner and my tent. Set out the bed for the night; blow up the self-inflating thermarest that has never, ever inflated itself without assistance from my lungs, unroll sleeping bag and liner, dig out a drybag to act as a pillow.

Short walk higher and back down for dinner and fairly swiftly on to bed.

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The plains of Kenya

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