Climbing the tallest mountain in Africa is no small undertaking. It requires diligent physical preparation as well as the right hiking gear. But there's more to Kilimanjaro planning than just workout schedules and shopping trips. The Tanzanian culture is vastly different than western cultures and it's something you need to be prepared for. Arriving with a knowledge of their customs and an open mind will help you have an amazing experience during your stay. Here are 6 things you need to know before your Kilimanjaro trip:
Tanzanians are laid back, friendly, genuinely happy people. The guides are always smiling and singing on the trail, even when the going gets tough. But with the laid back attitude also comes a lack of urgency. In town, lunch takes a LONG time at restaurants, so plan well in advance and don't wait until you're hungry to find a place to eat. On the mountain, the guides have sort of a "we get there when we get there" attitude if you ask them how much farther it is till the next camp. It's best to just not ask, just enjoy the beautiful scenery and put one foot in front of the other!
If the guides say that we're planning to leave camp at 8 am that's all it is: A PLAN. 99.9% of the time we won't leave on time (reference point #1), but we all still need to be on time! If we leave 30 minutes later than said time, it's FINE and normal, the guides know this and they factor it in (along with other information we don't have like weather and the schedule of the other groups on the mountain). So, when the guides say to be packed and ready at 7:30 am you need to heed that schedule and BE ON TIME.
Tanzania is a conservative country. Public displays of affection and inappropriate dress are frowned upon.
In Tanzania, the men are not involved with women's affairs: childbirth, monthly periods, etc. So discussing sex/orgasms, periods, underwear, boobs is awkward and embarrassing for them. It's not prohibited to discuss them, but out of respect we should be mindful of how loud and/or vulgar our conversations get. Underwear is a particularly private issue. Lodges that offer laundry service will not launder intimates if they wash by hand but those with washing machines usually will, so be sure to ask ahead of time. It's recommended that you bring enough clean underwear on the mountain to avoid having to wash any, but if the situation arises then please wash them out in private and hang them to dry inside your tent. Also, if you're bringing a menstrual cup then take a bottle of water into the private toilet tents to rinse it out, as opposed to doing it out in the open.
Comments about one's appearance happen frequently by Tanzanians, especially by the guides who spend a lot of time with you on the mountain. Take everything they say at face value, there are no implied insults to what they are saying, no need to read between the lines! If you complain about the trail being hard and they say "It would be easier if you weighed less" then they're not saying you SHOULD weigh less, they're simply stating the trail would be easier if you weighed less. Period. It can be hard not to take the comments to heart and you may need to remind yourself many times that you're in another country and what they are saying is not meant to be malicious or an insult, it's just different from our culture, that's all.
The guides will watch everyone's pace the first day on the trail and adjust our schedules based on that. So if a guide approaches you that evening and recommends that you leave earlier than the rest DON'T take it as an insult or assume that they feel you won't make it to the summit (I'm saying this from personal experience)! The guides want every single one of us to succeed so they are simply trying to adjust our schedules to accommodate our pace. They would rather you leave an hour early and stick to the pace that's right for YOU, than have you try to keep up with the rest of the group only to get frustrated and give up.
It's much easier said than done but try to let go of your expectations for Tanzania and just let the country and its culture unfold around you. You will have a deeper, more meaningful experience if you just go with the flow, respect their customs and stay flexible!