We went with a company called Action Challenge, they were really good in the lead up sending us fact sheets and reminders at appropriate times about visas, jabs etc. We also went on one of their training weekends to Snowdonia. So we were confident in them when we left.
We met our leader Rob and the doctor Nik at the airport, they were both organised and friendly but not too over involved at this point. Being usually very independent travellers I was a little unsure how going on a big group trip would be for us. It was fine though we all got checked in then were left to make our own way to the flight and while there were obviously a few points where we all got together for briefings, food etc before we left for the mountain it was actually very relaxed.
Once we left they were brilliant, when on day 2 I suddenly got altitude sickness not far from the camp doctor Nik carried my backpack then when we got to camp gave me meds to sort out my sickness. He was very reassuring that I'd be OK (I got it day 2 and was worried that I would just feel this rubbish all the time) as people who get it early tend to get over it sooner, which was right!
The local team were amazing, Action Challenge work with a company called Summit Africa in Tanzania for guides and porters. The head guide Charles was hilarious (not sure if intentionally or not) and kept us motivated. All the guides were fantastic, 2 of them carried my bag for me - without being asked they just saw I was struggling and took it off me. Gasper carried it on day 2, he was also working serving us food at mealtimes as well as being a guide. On summit night he came to the summit with us then served us lunch and dinner afterwards, on day 2 he carried my bag up to lava tower then served us lunch (I felt better after this and carried it myself!). On summit night Raymond carried my bag (I can't really remember when from I know I started out with it but by the summit didn't have it any more) plus kept an eye on me and Tom, helping us up rocky parts and practically holding my hand up most of it! Each break he got out my snacks and water for me, and made sure I had enough to eat. I kept offering him stuff but I think he found my vegetarian sweets a bit weird and preferred Tom's jaffa cakes!
These guys climb the mountain 2 or 3 times a month, they seemed to have OK kit and a lot of it had been donated by previous trips, we left a lot of stuff for them and Tom gave Raymond his poles. I felt like the recommended £150 tip per person just wasn't enough (especially once it had been divided between the 95 people in the team!), we gave more and a lot from our group did too.
The porters are another story. These guys carried our holdalls, all the camp stuff (including the toilets) as well as food and water and their own kit up the mountain and back. They also went much quicker than us, we would get to camp and it was all set up. They are paid less than the guides, but the company we went with did seem to look after them (they get a fair wage and also education and the chance to progress to being a guide etc). We did see porters and guides from other groups with less than adequate kit, Tom saw one guide in dress/office shoes on summit night and we saw many in sandals through the trip. If you're going make sure you go with a reputable company who looks after the porters and guides, they really are the hardest working people you will ever meet.
Our group is talking about organising something to raise some money or get some kit donated for our porters and guides to say thank you.
This kind of sums up our team really, everyone described it as our 'mountain family'...on day 1 at the hotel we were all awkwardly chatting and getting to know each other. By the last night we all decided to stay at the hotel bar rather than go out as we all wanted to stay together. The psychology of it is probably something to do with a shared hardship, common goal and lack of technology and distractions causing us to bond really quickly....but I just think it's because we had an awesome team!
I really identify myself as an introvert, I have a small group of very close friends rather than a large circle of acquaintances. I rarely ask for help preferring to do things myself, I struggle in group situations. I prefer to write on here, or Facebook, or just not say it at all, I rarely express my feelings even to Tom or my family. I hate being centre of attention and am very quiet usually until I get to know someone. Well on Kili that all went out the window! After day 2 I felt like I'd known some people in the group for so much longer, I have never cried so much in the space of 5 days, and I talked to some people about things my best friends have probably never heard about! Seriously I am almost crying writing this, I've had some kind of nervous breakdown I swear!
Not wanting to sound like some kind of motivational speaker, or a soppy old git, but the people are what made the trip for me. I had thought the evenings would be me and Tom playing cards in the tent, maybe chatting to some other people. Little did I know there would be charades, headlamp raves, very rude stories involving 3 legged unicorns, laughter, singing, football chants, crying over birthday cakes, crying over wet tents, crying at the summit, crying at the tipping ceremony (must be the altitude, I am not usually a crier!), crying leaving the hotel...no excuse there I was just an emotional wreck.
Some things I won't forget from our trip:
On summit night Rob said he was going to split us into a faster group and slower group, as some people were struggling to keep up, and Scott just simply said why don't we just all walk slower and go together?
Looking out onto the view from Barafu camp on a clear night, stars above and the lights of Moshi below....all quiet and glorious until someone pipes up from the toilet tent 'There's a window! This is the best poo I've ever had'.
It's not too late to sponsor me!