***This post continues the series "Advice for First Time Kilimanjaro Climbers"
As I reflect on my Kilimanjaro climbs, it's hard to recall the hard. When people ask me what they most need to know when thinking about tackling Africa's highest mountain I'm all like "You'll do great!" and "It's so fun!" and "Just do it! Don't over think it!" In that way, I think climbing Kili is a little like college. You rarely, if ever, hear anyone say "well, here's the really awful part of college .." or "You know, given the chance, I'd never go back to that place where I experienced freedom and found myself for the first time." Sure there are difficult things about college - all night studying, the endless labs, the relentless homework, the constant fear of letting the GPA slip, the reoccurring chin zit that you swore you weren't going to squeeze this time but ALWAYS DID RIGHT BEFORE A DATE- but the further you get from the slog/sleeplessness/acne of college the less you remember the hard parts.
It's the same with Kilimanjaro. Once you've been away from the difficulty of it for, say, 6 or 7 hours, once you've had that first hot shower (which, unfortunately may take a while since Tanzania sorta randomly decides when you're going to have water) and once you've gulped down that first celebratory Kilimanjaro Beer you will have forgotten most of the really not great things about the mountain. Except for one.
Lesson number two (aptly named) : The Long Drop
First, watch this video.
Next get on the phone immediately with your tour operator and add a private potty to your gear list. (A private potty is a chemical toilet that a porter - lovingly called "toilet boy" - will carry up the mountain so you have a place to crap. It's basically a small Igloo cooler with a lid, don't get too excited. And if you ever need solid proof that you're American, or British, or simply not a porter, then this is it - That you will pay someone to literally carry your shit up that mountain. And you will justify it by saying "it's employment!" Which it is, you're right. And if you ever EVER need a lesson in how to not be such a douche-bag at your job, then watch the toilet boy happily set up your private potty and smile and be so grateful that you've hired him. That, my friends, will humble you. I don't care what you do for a living, after watching these men deal with your crap - figuratively and literally- for seven days, you will realize you could use an attitude adjustment.)
After you've arranged to have a private potty then take a deep breath and relax. But not completely, because - Guess what?
You still may have to use a long drop. (Cue "dum da dum dahhh" music.) Yep. There may be times when you have no choice but go in the longdrop or go in your pants. Go ahead. Sit with that for a while... rather, squat with it.
If you've only traveled in the US or Europe, you probably aren't familiar with long drop toilets. Or scurvy. I put those two things at about the same level of pleasantness. A long drop is basically an outdoor closet - with a hole in the floor and with a whole lotta poo ...both in the hole and (somewhat impressively) scattered around the hole. It's sort of like an old-timey outhouse, but with no place to sit. Which means you squat. You place one foot on each side of the poo hole and drop it like it's hot ... which, given the amount of chicken curry you ate, it just might be. Occasionally you can find a super nice long drop that has raised pieces of wood on either side of the hole to place your feet. But mostly it's just a hole. And if you have to Number Two this will be your number one job - don't fall over. That's right, it can happen. It's difficult to balance in a longdrop, and honey, if you haven't been doing squats to prepare for this trip you need to start. Now. Between trying to keep your pantcuffs from dropping into droppings and desperately bobbling around on your toes so you don't launch forward or topple backward and worrying about how stable the wood is upon which you are standing, well, you very quickly understand not just THAT a bear shits in the woods but WHY. Because it's way better than a longdrop. Them bears are smart.
But don't let it scare you away from the mountain. If you don't rent the private potty (or if you do and still find yourself in the longdrop - which you might for reasons we don't need to discuss here) here are some hints.
HINT 1- take your TP and some wet wipes with you. Not surprisingly, longdrops don't seem to be well stocked. And there is no cleaning schedule or way to alert the management if your longdrop has become a not-so-long drop. It's unpleasant all around. And your life will be better if you just accept it and move on. If at all possible, bring biodegradable paper and bag your wet wipe to be disposed of properly. I carried a ziplock with me that I could stuff my used wipes in - I know ... I KNOW - it's disgusting - I get it! But remember that toilet boy??? No complaining from you.
HINT 2- Roll your pantcuffs up before you squat down. Most hiking pants will roll and stay rolled. This is essential. There is a scant few inches where your pants can hover safely. And when you pull your pants down make sure they are well out of the way. In fact, if you are worried at ALL about this just take your pants off. Yes. I'm serious. You can either toss them over the wall of the longdrop or wrap them around your neck. If you are going to "be there for a while" then you'll be much more comfortably knowing your potential "shit pants" (which is how you will think of them forever more should the unthinkable happen) are well out of firing range.
HINT 3- The best position to use in a longdrop is fully squatted with feet flat on the floor. All the experts say this is the most comfortable and most effective method for - uh - success. If, like me, you haven't practiced this move since you were drinking from a sippy cup, you will probably find yourself doing a half-squat-elbows-on-the knees type thing. If this is your position, you need to realize your poo-hole and the longdrop poo-hole aren't going to line up. This will take some adjustment. I can't help you beyond this. In fact, I'm sorry I ever brought it up.
HINT 4- Don't be confused by the sign above some longdrops declaring it a "tourist's toilet". This is only to separate those toilets from the porters toilets. It is NOT a photo op.
HINT 5- This one goes out to the ladies. You know that plastic funnel you have in the kitchen drawer? Bring it. Or something like it. In fact go ahead and throw down the dollars for a nice Freshette. You won't regret it. What is it? It's the answer to your childhood dream - it's a contraption that allows you to pee STANDING UP! and it is a MUST on Kili. The first couple of days on the mountain you will have lots of cover. And if you need to pee - which you will since you are hydrating like a champ up there - it's no issue. After day 2, however, options for cover are limited. If you are equipped with a built in funnel this won't be a problem. If you naturally have an innie and not an outie, peeing discretely will be a challenge. What to do? Well, if you've prepared properly you just grab your pink plastic wee-wee, whip that puppy out and whiz right out there in front of - well, don't actually pee in front of people. Turns out that's considered rude. But you can simply turn your back, step behind a small rock and let 'er fly. Another benefit to using a stand-up pee device - if you live with a boy, you will finally understand the dribbles. For real. From what I can tell, shaking is completely ineffective.
HINT 6 - While we are on the topic of bodily functions let's just get this out of the way - You're gonna fart. A lot. It's a good thing. In fact, if you are farting well, you are faring well. That's science. And brother - chances are you will fare very well on Kilimanjaro. It's an altitude thing. So let er rip. The beautiful thing is your guides are used to it. When confronted with our gassiness, our sweet guides would say "Is okay! Is good for health!" or (my favorite) "Be free". It's good advice. Be free. No worries. Hakuna matata. Gotta honk? Simply step to the side (a courtesy to the hikers behind you) and rooty-toot-toot. Say "samahani" (excuse me) and get back in line. We're all adults here. Which, actually, will be hard to tell because it turns out farts are funny in ANY language.
Jenne Fromm is an adventurer and a story-teller. She works with leaders to help them overcome obstacles and become the best versions of themselves. She also writes a little. You can find out more about Jenne at her website JenneFromm.com