Luxury travel with a twist: conquering Kili

The term ‘luxury travel’ connotes various images and stereotypes, perhaps of lazy days spent lounging by the pool or sipping cocktails on a sun terrace overlooking a pristine beach. In reality though, luxury can be an entirely subjective standard and if we consider it as a value inherent of high quality service and conducive towards a pleasurable experience then it is easy to see why the term is so slippery. What may be one person’s idea of luxury could be perceived by the next as mundane or commonplace.

Can for example, luxury travel be challenging and at times difficult? Well in my opinion, yes, certainly it can be. In fact few experiences in life can elicit the kind of pleasure that overcoming a major physical or psychological barrier does. These moments, epochal as they are, function as the map pins that chart the courses of our lives; those pivotal events that punctuate the everyday and ordinary and shine in our minds like celestial beacons.

For me, when it comes to travel in Africa, one such defining act involves overcoming the continent’s greatest geographical phenomena; climbing to the roof of the world, standing aloft the colossal Mt Kilimanjaro and for those fleeting minutes, feeling the most pure and undiluted sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Kilimanjaro is both the tallest peak in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world (not being part of distinct range) and offers the trip of a lifetime for anyone who considers the task of taming it. Nestled in the north-east corner of Tanzania, just off from the Kenyan border, the extinct volcano rises up from the African plains with a dramatic solitude and resoluteness that is observable from hundreds of miles away. Despite it being falsely promoted as a, ‘celebrity climb’ and an easy ascent for anyone and everyone who acknowledges the whim to leg themselves up to the summit, Kilimanjaro is indeed a hostile environment and should be approached as such. Taking this into consideration though, it should also be noted that many people with a reasonable level of fitness and a steely determination to boot should at the very least be able to attempt the climb. Travellers from around the world have journeyed to Tanzania to take on the task of conquering ‘Kili’ from 7 year old Los Angeles resident Keats Boyd to retired Buckinghamshire professor George Solt who made the climb last summer aged 82.

Although some fitness and resistance training is recommended to prepare your body for the exertions it will face,  the main reason climbers do not manage to reach the summit, known as Uhuru, is not fatigue but altitude sickness. This condition is caused by persistent exposure to low levels of oxygen in the air which is a feature of higher altitudes. The non specific symptoms are manifested in a general feeling of grogginess similar to having the flu or a hangover. ‘Pole Pole’ is the unofficial motto climbers who have experience of Kilimanjaro use, which in Swahili is translated to ‘slowly slowly’. Prospective mountaineers should, whether vastly experienced or complete novices, keep in mind that an ascent of Kilimanjaro is a marathon and not a race. Moving up the slopes slowly and carefully offers the best chance of reaching the top and in any case a more calculated trek will afford travellers more time to appreciate the spectacular scenery that unfolds before them.

For a luxury travel encounter with a difference, taking on Mt. Kilimanjaro has to be acknowledged as one of the most spectacular and life affirming experiences on Earth.

Greg Fox is a Director at luxury travel specialists Mahlatini.

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