NIGEL S. ROBERTS
Mt Kilimanjaro, 1959
It was early afternoon on Monday, 9 December 1985, when I arrived at the Mandara Huts on Mt Kilimanjaro. It was my second attempt to climb the mountain. I was hot, hungry and tired. I hadn't had any lunch, but a cup of extremely sweet black tea revived me. A Lutheran missionary from Germany and his wife came into the clearing, and sat down beside me. They were living in Tanzania and weren't setting out to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. They had walked up to Mandara for an overnight stay before heading back down to the plains (and work commitments) below.
The German missionary looked contentedly out across the rain forest, sighed, and said softly, "Ah, Kilimanjaro. This is a magic mountain."
I couldn't agree more. I have been fascinated by Africa's highest mountain for more than fifty years. I am not sure exactly when my interest in Mt Kilimanjaro began, or what the precise origins were of my awe at the majesty and the magic of the mountain. I do know, though, that it was in the first week of August 1959 that I decided to try to climb Mt Kilimanjaro — when I was 15 years old. I also know that the regard with which I hold Mt Kilimanjaro is far from unique. For example, the epilogue in a well-known book about Mt Everest began with the following words:
This is the story of my first attempt to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. (An account of my second — and ultimately successful — attempt to climb the mountain 26 years later is contained in a web-album that's available either here or via the Climbing page of my website.)
Hatching a hitching plan
John Woodley, a geography teacher who, like me, was new to the school in 1959, expanded my horizons. Together with "Herb" (as we inevitably nicknamed Mr Woodley after the Dagwood and Blondie comic-strip character), I was part of a group that established an International Club at St Stithians "during the second term of 1959 with the object of bringing its members in contact with as many people from as many walks of life as possible ... [in order to] give members a greater understanding of the outside world than they would be able to develop through their normal experience as schoolboys."
Ironically, it was a talk to the International Club by two St Stithians' schoolboys who were only a year older than me that was the source of my idea to go to Mt Kilimanjaro. However, although we obviously knew each other "through [our] normal experiences as schoolboys," what the two did was far from normal. During the July 1959 school holidays, Leigh Bradfield and Dallas Reed — two boys in Standard Nine (a class ahead of me) — hitchhiked from Johannesburg to Elisabethville in what was then the Belgian Congo. On their return journey, they called in to see the partially completed Kariba dam on the Zambezi River, which formed the boundary between Southern and Northern Rhodesia.
In August 1959, soon after the holidays had finished, Leigh Bradfield and Dallas Reed gave a talk to the International Club about their trip, which Leigh recalled as one "filled with fun and adventure", adding that it "certainly could not be repeated safely these days." In my mind's eye, I can still see the stunning black-and-white photograph that Dallas took of the Kariba Dam. What is more, listening to Dallas and Leigh in August 1959, I knew instantly that I too wanted to go on a hitchhiking trip, and I knew instantly where I wanted to go — Kilimanjaro.
Getting ready to go
I quickly discovered that other boys did not have parents who were as liberal or as trusting as mine. Not one child at St Stithians whom I approached as possible hitchhiking partners was allowed to come with me. For a brief moment, it appeared as though one of Cedric Brown's parents would let him hitchhike to Mt Kilimanjaro. He was a tough little lad with a lot of confidence, and I thought his parents would surely be able to see that he'd be okay. But no, at least one of his parents was apparently normal and put a forbidding foot down. My search was back to square one.
Amazingly, it was my parents who came to my rescue. Far from breathing a quiet sigh of relief that my madcap plan was about to wither on the vine, my father went out of his way to mention my plight to friends and colleagues, one of whom worked in the dispensary of the children's hospital in Johannesburg. She came to him one day and told him that she knew of a potential hitchhiking partner for me. It was someone I didn't know. His name was Garth Hoets, and he was also 15 years old. We met for the first time in late November 1959. We liked each other and we agreed to team-up together to hitchhike to East Africa.
In preparation for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, I decided I should get fit and during the last term of the school year — as I noted proudly at the time — "I ran over twenty cross-country runs" round the St Stithians' school grounds. What I didn't realise at the time was how pathetically inadequate twenty roughly 20-minute runs were as a training regime for climbing Africa's highest mountain. By 1985, however, I was literally both older and wiser in this regard.
In addition, I avidly consumed every book there was about Mt Kilimanjaro, but there weren't very many. I contacted people who had climbed the mountain for advice, and I studied maps of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyaysaland and of Tanganyika, trying to familiarise myself with the route I had to take. Garth and I had our smallpox and yellow-fever inoculations, and "last of all" — to quote myself again — "I swatted for the end of year exams." They finished on 7 December, and on 9 December the school broke up for six weeks' summer holidays. Garth and I spent the rest of that day and the day afterwards frantically preparing for our trip.
We bought "iron rations" — I got a piece of "biltong" (dried meat, roughly akin to what Americans call beef jerky) that cost a shilling; a packet of cut biltong that cost 4 shillings and 4 pence; a one-pound packet of raisons (1/11); a pound of dried fruit (4/7); and a couple of packets of cheese triangles. We also visited my father's bank manager, who — in what is now a wonderful commentary on an era that was far simpler and much more trusting than life is in the 21st century — gave us the following letter:
The day before we left Johannesburg, my father gave us a second brief letter. Typed on his own medical practice letter-head paper, it said:
My father was right. We certainly didn't have "very much money": it seems difficult to believe now, but my records show that I set out on the trip with little more than £11.0.0 in cash. We had neither traveller's cheques nor credit cards (the latter weren't even available in 1959). Garth came over to our house after dinner on Thursday evening, 10 December, and sometime after 10:00 pm "we went to bed with the happy thought that the great day was ... under two hours away."
From Johannesburg to Salisbury
The good news was that we got a ride immediately in an old Ford; my mother was able to see that we were on our way. The bad news was that the car had a puncture only ten minutes later! However, it was soon fixed, and the driver dropped us at Pienaar's River at 7 o'clock. Garth and I started walking. At 7:10 am, a Chevrolet stopped. Lady luck was really with us. Mr Blore of Greenside, Johannesburg, and his 10-year-old son, Peter, were going to Bulawayo. Looking back on our first long ride, I realise now that it was probably as much in Mr Blore's interests as ours to offer us a ride. Conversations with two 15-year-olds were possibly slightly more interesting than young Peter's chatter about centipedes and chameleons.
We proceeded to pass through the towns of the Northern Transvaal: Warmbaths at 7:30, Nylstroom at 7:48, and Naboomspruit at 8:15 am. At 8:40 we stopped to look at a roadside monument recalling the murder in 1854 of 33 voortrekkers (or white pioneers) by the African chief, Makapan. We reached Potgietersrust at 8:45 and Pietersburg at 9:20 am, where we stopped briefly to fill up with petrol. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and entered the tropics at ten past ten. Thirty-five minutes later we got to Louis Trichard (yet another town named after a leading voortrekker) and bought petrol again. At 11:10 am, shortly after we'd passed through Wylliespoort, I was delighted to see the first baobab tree of our trip. As I'd previously only seen baobabs during the South African winter, my first reaction was that the tree's green leaves made it look odd. In view of the fact that bare baobabs look as though their roots grow in the air rather than in soil, the fact is that my reaction, rather than the tree, was odd.
We reached the South African customs post on the southern side of Beit Bridge, which crosses Kipling's "great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees", precisely at noon. Both the South African and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland customs thought it somewhat odd that two 15-year-olds were hitchhiking through Africa. Neither was entirely happy with the letters my father and his bank manager had written. They let us proceed, but we were advised to get more explicit letters of permission from our parents before leaving the Federation, otherwise — we were warned — we might not be allowed to re-enter it on our way home.
At the border posts on both sides of the Limpopo, we inquired whether any cars could take us to Salisbury. Again, none could (or would), so we decided to continue on to Bulawayo with Mr Blore. We all had lunch in the grounds of the Tourino Motel (Mr Blore and his son sharing the chicken Garth and I had brought with us, and — in return — buying us sandwiches and soft-drinks). After buying petrol at Murphy's Garage, we finally headed north again at 1:45 pm.
At 2:10 Mr Blore stopped to pick up another hitchhiker, a young Afrikaans-speaking man who worked for Lewis Construction. Our attraction as conversationalists for Mr Blore had clearly diminished — indeed, both Garth and I were snoozing when we went through West Nicholson (although I, at least, was awake when we drove through Gwanda at 3:45 pm, and Balla Balla at 4:30 pm). Mr Blore dropped us in Bulawayo at 5:10 pm, at Thewalls Garage on the corner of Grey Street and Selbourne Avenue. I rang family friends, Dennis and Patricia Thompson, from the garage. Patricia told us to wait and that Dennis would collect us on his way home from work, which he did at 6:20 pm.
We had a wonderful meal with the Thompsons, after which I rang my mother and explained that we needed more explicit parental permission to satisfy the customs. She said she would arrange it. Garth and I were tired. Our first ever attempt to hitchhike had been both long and highly successful. After a very early start, we had covered 555 miles, so it was little wonder that after reading a few comics we found, we were both asleep by about 8:30 pm.
We woke at 7:15 on Saturday morning, 12 December. We dressed and re-packed our rucksacks, and again had a large breakfast — two eggs and a lot ("a span" in South African slang) of bacon, toast, bananas, coffee and a meringue. At ten to nine, we left the Thompsons' house, and Dennis drove us to the Salisbury Road. He dropped us at 9:05 am, and we started hitchhiking. Once again, lady luck was with us. We got our first ride after only five minutes. A man in a small, two-door Austin A40 station wagon picked us up and took us all the way to Salisbury!
We stopped at Glengarry's Garage for petrol almost immediately, but then drove via Insiza (10:15 am), Gwelo (an hour later), and the Kwe Kwe River (named as a result of the noise made by frogs in the river) to Que Que, which we reached at 12:05 pm. We stopped for 20 minutes for a soft-drink at the Le Chanticler restaurant, and then continued east to Gatooma (1:12 pm), where we filled up with petrol again. We passed through Hartley at 1:40 pm, and at 2:10 had to detour for 19 miles onto the old Salisbury strip-road.
Southern Rhodesia's "strip roads" were built during the Great Depression. In an attempt to counter the ills of unemployment, the colonial government decided to seal many of the country's sand (or metal) roads. As there was not enough bitumen for the project, two parallel strips of tar were laid down instead. I remembered them well from the first time I went to Rhodesia in 1953. Cars could drive with their wheels on both strips when they had long straight stretches of clear road. However, when cars or trucks came to the brow of a hill or faced oncoming traffic, they would have to pull over to the left, so that their left wheels would be in the sand while their right wheels were on the left-hand tar-strip. It made for difficult, tiring driving. It was also very tough on tyres, especially when the sides of the strips were rugged and sharp, and there was often a drop of several inches down to the metal road-bed.
Fifty years later, I can also recall the cloud formations I watched in endless fascination throughout the day. A series of football-field sized clouds, all at roughly the same height, stretched endlessly into a pale blue sky. I was almost mesmerised by the different shapes of the clouds and the patterns they formed. They were quintessentially African (or, at very least, tropical). Perhaps my focus on the clouds is why I never found out the name of the man who gave Garth and me our lift that day. He was certainly very kind. We reached the centre of Salisbury at 3:15 pm, and our driver then spent 35 minutes in a fruitless search for Garth's uncle's house, before he eventually dropped us near the home of family friends, Cyril and Joan Harris. They were out, so we wandered over to a café. Garth phoned his uncle, and he picked us up at the Greendale Garage at 4:10 pm.
Garth's uncle, Mr T. Mansell (I don't think I ever did find out what the "T" stood for), took us to his house at 8 Clarence Drive, Highlands, and gave us some tea. Telegrams came for Garth and for me, both with parental permission for us to go to East Africa.
That was quick work! We then had a drinks and dinner with Mr and Mrs Mansell, as well as with friends or relatives of theirs, Tom Newell and his fiancée, Eunice Muller. A bath and bed followed.
After all the mileage we'd covered during the previous two days, Sunday, 13 December, was a welcome rest day. I called round to see the Harris family in the morning, and in the afternoon Tom and Eunice took Garth and me sight-seeing. We went up the kopje (pronounced "koppie"), a low hill near the centre of Salisbury and took photographs looking down on the city. We then went on to see the Salisbury Snake Park, where I photographed a banded cobra, and Lake McIlwaine. Coming from conservative South Africa, Salisbury intrigued me. I noted in my diary with a slight sense of amazement that "cinemas, dances, pubs, etc. are all open" on a Sunday. Why, I noted, "even churches are open."
After dinner, Garth's mother rang. She told us that the telegrams giving us permission to hitchhike to East Africa could be insufficient and that we should stay in Salisbury until signed letters of permission arrived for us. "Dash it!!" was the remarkably polite phrase I recorded in my diary. It was certainly a set-back, because we had been planning on hitting the road again the following day. However, after a quick trip into town to photograph the city at night from the kopje, Garth and I talked to Peter, Mr Mansell's 29-year-old brother, who had worked as a fitter and turner on the Kariba dam project, about going to see the dam while we waiting for our letters of permission to arrive. Peter encouraged us to do so. He had friends there, the Williamsons, with whom he was sure we could stay, and he drew a map to help us find the Williamsons' house in the construction township perched on the hills on the southern side of the dam.
As a result, Garth and I got up at 6:40 am on Monday, 14 December, and after breakfast and re-packing our rucksacks, Tom Newell drove for about 15 minutes to take us out to the Kariba road (which was the main road from Salisbury north to Lusaka). Our first two days' hitchhiking had gone so smoothly, that although we walked and thumbed lifts for only 10 minutes before getting a ride, I noted in my diary that we had to walk "for some time"! In reality, luck was once again with us. A 1953 Chevrolet, driven by Mr Don Madden, stopped for us at 9:00 am and took us all the way to Kariba. We passed through Banket at 10:00 am and reached Sinoia at 10:15, where we stopped for a soft-drink. We reached Karoi (which I note I described in my diary at the time as the "last place of civilization") at 11:50, and Mr Madden and the friend who was with him in the car went into the Karoi Hotel for fifteen minutes for a drink. (Garth and I were far too young to accompany them, of course.) We filled up at Kent's Garage at 12:30 pm, and at 1:10 pm, about a mile south of Macuti, entered the Tetse Fly Control Area. As we were going into the tetse fly area, we weren't sprayed. Shortly afterwards we turned west, off the main road and onto the Macuti to Kariba road. It was 53 miles of twisting, undulating sand. Colourful place-names dotted the route. They included Razor Ridge, Puff Adder Ridge, Buffalo Nek, Rhino Nek, and Savory's Folly. We stopped at Rhino Nek to fill the car with water from the canvas water-bottles tied to the front of the car.
We first sighted Lake Kariba at 2:15 pm, and at 2:23 we reached the end of the Tetse Fly Control Area. The car had to stop inside a large tin shed, and was sprayed inside and out with insecticide (to ensure that we didn't carry any live tetse flies into the Kariba area). Mr Madden took us up to a suburb called Kariba Heights and dropped us at the home of a Mrs Williamson, who was — in fact — his neighbour. What a small world, we thought, but Mr Madden's neighbour turned out to be the wrong Mrs Williamson. That didn't stop the wrong Mrs Williamson from giving Garth and me some tea before taking us down to the Kariba Hotel, where her husband (the wrong Mr Williamson) gave us a ride to the right Williamsons' house on Camp Hill (one of the seven hills on which the Kariba township was situated). Mr and Mrs Williamson weren't there, but their children were, so we left our rucksacks at the house and some of the Williamson children took us to see the dam.
Garth and I were able to sneak into the construction zone, and I took a series of photos of the dam. It was a most impressive site. The dam wall towered 420 feet / 128 metres above the floor of Zambezi River, and massive chutes of water poured out of diversion spillways situated roughly half way up the dam wall. The dam was built by an Italian company, Impresit; and fourteen massive hydro-electric turbines were housed in huge underground caverns, six on the south bank and eight on the Northern Rhodesian side. (Garth Hoets and I did not see the turbines in December 1959, but I did see the Southern Rhodesian turbines seven months later when, together with Richard Darley, I hitchhiked there again.) The large, growing lake behind the dam wall was also impressive. It flooded the Zambezi valley, and the story of the removal to safety of wild animals stranded by the rising waters, commonly known as Operation Noah, had captured the attention of the world in the late-1950s. All in all, I found Kariba "terrifically interesting."
The next day, Tuesday, 15 December, I woke early and filled in my diary. After Mr and Mrs Williamson had left for work, Garth and I had breakfast with three of their four children, and we then set out, carrying our rucksacks, and walked down to the Kariba Garage. Garth stayed there with our rucksacks while I hitched a ride in an Impresit Land Rover up to the Kariba Hotel, where I bought some postcards for Garth and myself. I left the hotel just after 8:15 and hitched a ride in a 1955 Consul back down to the garage. The driver told me that he was going to Sinoia, so I asked him if could take us there. He could and would. He dropped me at the garage, went up to the Kariba observation point, and came back about ten minutes later.
Together with our driver, Mr Minchin, who worked for Barclays Bank in Fort Victoria (in the south-eastern corner of Southern Rhodesia) we left Kariba's Federal Power Board Area and the tarred roads of the township at 8:48 am. We entered the tetse fly area two minutes later (but were not, of course, sprayed). At 10:07 we reached Macuti and a few minutes later left the Tetse Fly Control Area after the car had been sprayed inside and out, and headed south. My diary notes that "we played 20 Questions on the journey to pass away the time." We went through Karoi at 11:15 am, and shortly before 12:30 pm Mr Minchin dropped us off outside the Sinoia Caves on the northern edge of the town. A Johannesburg dentist and climber whom I greatly admired, Dave Dodds, had helped to open up the caves and I was very keen to see them. The Sleeping Pool, known to be 315 feet / 96 metres deep, was especially attractive. Stalactites hung down above the deep blue water. I also thought the series of "smallish caves" known as the Dark Cave "terrifically nice."
We left the caves at about one o'clock and started hitching again. At 1:07 pm, a Land Rover driven by a farmer accompanied by his daughter picked us up and dropped us in Sinoia about 12 minutes later. After only sixty seconds Mr Minchin drove past, stopped and again gave us a lift. He'd been visiting friends in Sinoia, and this time he took us right to the outskirts of Salisbury. He dropped us off at 2:50 pm where the road to Fort Victoria turns off the main Lusaka to Salisbury highway. It was not the last I saw of Mr Minchin: seven months later — on Wednesday, 13 July 1960 — while Richard Darley and I were hitchhiking around Southern Rhodesia, he "rescued" us from the cells of the Fort Victoria police station and put us up for the night!
"After tidying ourselves up," we started thumbing again. At 3:00 pm a young lady in a Vanguard gave us a ride to Rhodes Avenue, and a few minutes later a man in a Morris Minor took us to the Highland's shops, and Garth and I then walked from them to the Mansells' house. Before dinner that evening, Tom Newell showed us ciné films of a trip he undertaken to East Africa, during which he'd climbed both Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. I wrote in my diary, "I found the Kilimanjaro films most encouraging. I am dying to leave on Thursday morning."
Because our parents' letters of permission had not arrived, Wednesday, 16 December, was another rest day. During the morning, Tom Newell took Garth and me to the Epworth Mission Station to see "the famous balancing rocks" (well, I guess they were famous from the perspective of a 15-year-old with an interest in climbing!). In the afternoon we played deck-quoits on the Mansells' veranda: "I lost hollow." After dinner, Peter Mansell told us about some of "the really wild days at Kariba" and we then watched some of his ciné films. They contained some fascinating historical footage — for example, of the building and blowing up the cofferdams, of the 1958 floods, and of bush-clearing and road-making.
Heading north again
Tom Newell took us in his car out to and a little way up the road to Lusaka. He dropped us off at 10:40 am, and after only ten minutes "thumbing", a Hillman Minx stopped for us. Mr Perry of Woodlands, Lusaka, already had his two children — Neil, aged 10, and Jacqueline, 5 — in his small car, so he had to do a considerable amount of repacking in order to fit us and our luggage in. My theory that Garth and I were a welcome respite for drivers accompanied by young children was clearly borne out by this lift. We were a useful distraction for Neil and Jacqueline, and we passed the time on the long drive — it was more than 300 miles and took nearly eight hours — talking to them and to Mr Perry.
We reached Sinoia at 12:10 pm and stopped at a tea room for an hour for lunch. During the afternoon we passed through Karoi at 2:15pm, and entered the Tetse Fly Control Area just south of Macuti at 3:18 pm (and because we were going into the tetse fly zone, we were not sprayed). Twenty minutes later we passed a sign marking the top of the Zambezi River escarpment, and began our descent to the river. Shortly before 4:15 pm, we reached the last tetse fly control gate in Southern Rhodesia and, because we were about to leave the country, the car was sprayed with insecticide. We then drove slowly over the Otto Beit Bridge (the Beit Bridge at the other end of the country — at the Southern Rhodesia / South Africa border — was named after Otto's older brother, the diamond-mine magnate, Alfred Beit). We entered Northern Rhodesia at 4:18 pm. Mr Perry stopped in the small border town of Chirundu to get some petrol, so Garth and I took Neil and Jacqueline back to have a closer look at both the Zambezi River and the bridge. The Otto Beit Bridge is quite famous. It was "the first modern suspension bridge outside America built with parallel wire cables"  and has a main span of 1,253 feet / 382 metres.
We left Chirundu at 4:40, and headed west for nearly 60 miles on the southern side of the Kafue River (a tributary of the Zambezi). After 17 minutes we reached the end of the Tetse Fly Control Area, so once again entered a spray-shed and were sprayed with insecticide. The scenery on the south bank of the Kafue River was "terrific" — wooded mountains were laced with mist. We crossed the Kafue River just before a quarter to six and "saw a hippo in the water which made up for the unimpressive bridge." At 6:18 pm we reached Lusaka and Mr Perry dropped us off five minutes later at the Northern Rhodesian Police Headquarters. In the absence of youth hostels and what we now call backpackers' hotels in Southern and Central Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was an understanding (if not an explicit rule) that the police would put hitchhikers up for the night. Garth and I went upstairs and tested the system for the first time. We were asked to wait in the reception room, because the police were busy questioning (as I noted in my diary) "some natives on their various crimes". After about 50 minutes, we left our rucksacks at the police headquarters and went to the nearby Rendezvous Café, where we had dinner (which consisted of a steak-and-egg roll, a toasted tomato sandwich, and a soft drink). When we got back to the police headquarters at 8:15pm, we were told that there wasn't a room we could sleep in, so a young police officer named Hyden drove us in his Police Land Rover to his house at a nearby police camp. As we were getting undressed and preparing to sleep on the sofa and on cushions on the floor, Hyden's flat-mate walked in. It was "most embarrassing", but we quickly told him who we were and why we were there. Garth fell asleep while I was "busy writing my diary" and "I finally went to bed at 9:25 pm."
I woke up at 5:45 am on Friday, 18 December. We had been on the road for a week and were keen to head north. Garth and I dressed and repacked, and went outside at half past six. A police constable called for us a few minutes later and took us in a Northern Rhodesia Government Land Rover to the Great North Road, where he dropped us off at 6:42 am. We walked for nearly a mile-and-a-half before we got our first lift at 7:21 in a DKW jeep. It lasted only nine minutes and was for only about six miles. Garth and I then walked on for a bit, before we stopped and stood "thumbing" at the side of the road. After an hour — and after we'd unsuccessfully tried to thumb a ride in a Rolls Royce! — a man whom I think was Greek driving a Volkswagen Kombi utility (or open-backed) van picked us up (at 9:07 am he picked a third hitchhiker as well) and deposited us on the northern side of Broken Hill at 10:19 am. We then had to wait half an hour before we got our third lift of the day. It was in a Vauxhall driven by a man who had played both cricket and rugby for Nyasaland. Just north of the small town of Kapiri Mposhi there's a major fork in the road. The left-hand fork bears west and goes to the Northern Rhodesian copper belt; the right-hand road heads north-east towards Tanganyika. We were dropped at the Tanganyika turnoff just after half past eleven and walked a few hundred yards along the road before stopping for "a rough lunch (orange, cheese, raisons, dried fruit and toffees).
We were in the middle of Africa — or at least it felt like it, and Garth and I realised that walking and hitching would be a fruitless and possibly dangerous thing to do, so we just "propped our rucksacks up on a stone" and sat and waited. Because most of the traffic in Northern Rhodesia was between Lusaka and the mines and the towns of the copperbelt, the road was far quieter than anything we'd experienced before. In a period of almost two-and-a-half hours, only three vehicles passed us. Finally, at 1:55 pm, we got our fourth and final lift of the day. Dan Good, who worked for Richard Costain Ltd., stopped and put us in the back of his "oldish Bedford truck." We called in at the Mkushi River Hotel at 2:30 pm for a coke, and just before 4 o'clock we stopped for about a quarter of an hour, so Mr Good could adjust the pipes his truck was carrying. He filled the truck with petrol from a drum kept on the truck, and we also picked and ate some wild fruit from trees at the side of the road. On this section of the trip we encountered our first muddy roads. The old Bedford "slipped and slid all over the place," and Mr Good often "had to drive on the wrong side of the road to escape mud and potholes." When the mud was especially thick, deep rutted tracks that resembled strip roads were worn down into it, because all cars and trucks tried to follow the same route through the mud. Even so, I noted that several cars "had skidded off the road and lay there helpless." We passed through Kanona at 4:40 pm, and stopped 70 minutes later to put a canvas tarpaulin over the back of the truck because heavy rain was imminent. The tarpaulin clearly didn't work very well, because "we had to stop many times to fix the canvas."
There's another significant fork in the road at Mpika. The left fork goes to Abercorn and Lake Tanganyika; the right fork — the Great North Road — heads towards Tunduma and the main Northern Rhodesia / Tanganyika customs post. After travelling 276 miles with Mr Good, we reached Mpika at 7:15 pm and stopped at the Crested Crane Hotel. However, "as bed-and-breakfast was £1.0.0 and supper 8 shillings", Mr Good said we could do what he was going to do — sleep in his truck. We made some soup and were getting ready to go to sleep when a policeman (whom I described angrily as an "old punk") told us to move on. We could not sleep in the hotel's car park. (This did not impress me. I noted huffily in my diary, "I must try not to go to the Crested Crane Hotel again.") We helped Mr Good change a flat tyre, moved the truck away from the hotel, and I then slept in the back of the truck. Garth made "the wiser choice" — he slept outside.
After an uncomfortable night, I woke up at about 4:45 am on Saturday, 19 December, and got dressed. I climbed out of the truck, and Garth and I repacked our rucksacks. After saying goodbye to Dan Good, we went and "cleaned ourselves up — a bit" in the hotel's bathroom. As I noted in my diary, "we were FILTHY. Our knees and legs were dirty, my neck was filthy, and my hair was full of dust." We also filled our water bottles, and at 5:45 walked down to the road and about 100 yards up it, where we stopped and "took up our [hitchhiking] position on the roadside." We had breakfast, such as it was (dried fruit, biltong, a little cheese, and water), and I updated my diary. Two Land Rovers passed us, but both indicated they were turning off somewhere up the road. "We were as hungry as horses." Nevertheless, at 8:20 am we decided to start walking up the road towards the Abercorn / Tunduma fork.
We didn't reach it, on foot at least. Shortly before nine o'clock, an African driving a Northern Rhodesia Government Land Rover stopped and gave us a lift north past the fork. The Land Rover was slow and clearly not going very far. Consequently, when a Morris Isis station wagon caught up with and began to overtake us, Garth and I "thumbed" it from the moving Land Rover. Amazing to tell, we were successful. The young men in the car saw us, stopped, and offered us a ride … all the way to Iringa in southern Tanganyika, more than 500 miles away. Needless to say, we accepted with alacrity and "with great joy." The two men who offered us the ride were Rob Davenport and Nev Hoy, students at the Gwebi College of Agriculture in Southern Rhodesia, who were going to Dar es Salaam for Christmas. They were very pleasant company. They immediately — "thank heavens" — offered us some bread to chew on while their small station wagon ate up the miles. The weather was good, the road was dry, and we made good progress. At 10:50 am we stopped at the Two Leopards Store to get some water; we reached Isoka at 12:20 pm, and went to the General Store, where we had a coke and changed our currency into East African money (according to my diary, "I changed all of mine, £10.10.0"). Rob and Nev filled up with petrol, which cost 4/6 a gallon. We arrived at Tunduma — the Tanganyika border — at 1:48 pm, South African and Rhodesian time, which was 2:48 pm Tanganyikan time
Both countries' customs were housed in the same building. "The Rhodesian ones were no trouble, but the Tanganyika ones were awful." The Tanganyikan official clearly did not like hitchhikers. "And have you been relying on other peoples' goodwill?" he asked accusingly. (As this account has shown, we certainly had been.) Far more worryingly, we were also told we would not be allowed to re-enter the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland if we did not have at least £25 apiece on our return (though, on reflection, how a Tanganyikan official could have made this claim is beyond me). The permission letters that had been sent to us in Salisbury were fine, but we were told that the letter from Barclays Bank and my father's letter about money were "no use." I noted in my diary, "we don't know what we are going to do … we think Garth's uncle Manie [who lived near Nairobi] might give Garth the money."
We finally left the Tunduma customs post at 3:25 pm (Tanganyikan time) — "phew" was my relieved reaction — and continued heading north. We passed through a small African township called Mbalizi at 4:52 pm, and reached both a tar-sealed road and the outer suburbs of Mbeya at 5:00 pm. We drove on into the town, and at about 5:10 stopped at the Mbeya Hotel in order to have afternoon tea (consisting of tea, scones, and sandwiches that cost "8/- for four people"). We also filled the car with petrol, bought some bread, jam, and butter, and hit the road again at 6:00 pm. We stopped twice before the sun set to take photos — first of the filthy car in front of local peaks, and then of a rain shower and rainbow crossing the Ruaha rift valley.
We pressed on through the night. Both Garth and I sat in the front of the car, while Nev and Rob took turns sleeping in the back, but the fact that the car had begun to leak oil meant we had to stop reasonably frequently. At 6:50 pm, we filled the car with both oil and water from supplies Nev and Rob carried; an hour or so later we called in at a garage to buy oil (as well as some Coca-Colas); at 9:00 pm we bought yet more oil (but this time switched to Fanta); and some time around 10:00 or 10:30 pm we had to stop after "Rob hit something very hard" and check whether a shock-absorber was broken. It wasn't. We reached Iringa, the largest town in southern Tanganyika, at twenty past twelve. As Nev and Rob were branching east and heading for the coast, they searched for, found, and dropped us — after our longest lift to date (and, as it turned out, the second-longest ride of my whole trip) — at the Iringa police station at 12:30 am. An African policeman agreed we could stay for the night, and Garth and I were put into the Records Room, which had finger print charts on the wall. We put our groundsheets and sleeping bags on the floor, and were asleep by about 1:00 am. Pestered by mosquitoes during the night, I shook a few drops of insect repellant onto the groundsheet near my head. In the light of the morning, I was horrified to see that my alcohol-based insect repellent had "burnt" holes in the rubber groundsheet. What it was doing to my body, I did not know, but I hoped it was at least as effective on mosquitoes as it was on my groundsheet!
We woke up at about 7:00 am on Sunday, 20 December. We washed under a tap and dressed. As I noted in my diary, "we had a rough breakfast (dried fruit and water)," and at 7:45 am we left the police station and walked through Iringa to the Great North Road. We stopped just past the turn-off to the White Horse Inn and started hitchhiking at 8:15 am. My dairy tells the story of the first half of the day quite graphically:
Lunch at 1:20 pm consisted of biltong, dried fruit and water. It started to rain at about 1:45 pm, "but still no cars stopped." Although the rain did stop, cars didn't. The afternoon dragged on … and on … and on. To mark "eight hours solid thumbing" we had a bite of cheese at 4:15 pm. We eventually gave up at 5:05 and walked back into Iringa. We were dreadfully dirty and desperately hungry. We needed a bath and a meal, and thus called in at the Iringa Hotel. We were told it would cost 7/-, but the hotel staff also thought that the White Horse Inn would be cheaper, so we walked back down to it. A bath and dinner there would have cost 8/- so we trudged back up to the Iringa Hotel "and had a nice, long, much-needed hot bath." While we were having our baths, our fortunes changed dramatically.
There was knock on the door. Mr Alan Clube, a teacher at Iringa's St Michael's and St George's School — which, at that stage, was apparently the only high school in the whole of Tanganyika — had been told we were at the hotel. He said he would put us up for the night at the school and would come back later to collect us when we'd finished our baths. As a result, we didn't have a meal at the hotel (if memory serves me correct, we paid 2/- for the baths). Instead, Mr Kit Martin-Doyle, a teacher from St John's College, Johannesburg, collected us and took us to the St Michael's and St George's School. Four boys who were also on their way to Mt Kilimanjaro were there. They were all from St John's College, which those of us who went to St Stithians regarded as a rival school (though, if the truth be told, it was certainly far better). The four boys were Peter Hamilton (Ham), 18, who had just finished a post-matriculation year as head prefect at St John's College; Ted Goodyer (sometimes known as Ego from a three-letter abbreviation of E. Goodyer), 17, who was about to start his post-matric year as St John's head prefect; Derek Suckling, who had turned 17 ten days earlier while hitching to Kilimanjaro; and Rod Mackenzie (Mac), who was 16 years old. Both Derek and Mac were about to start their matric year at St John's. The four boys had got to St Michael's and St George's in a variety of ways. Ham had driven with Mr and Mrs Martin-Doyle from Johannesburg to Iringa; Ted and Mac had hitchhiked together; and Derek arrived there by himself having hitchhiked and caught buses after his hitching partner, a young man with the surname Kalk, had turned round in Mbeya and returned to Johannesburg "because he was worried about being late for his military service" (he got back with two days to spare).
Derek and Ted had just got back from attending a Christmas carol service. Derek referred to our meeting in the following terms in his typed account of his trip:
I should add that if it's true I never turned a hair, it could well have been because the dust and the sweat in my hair meant that it was, in effect, usually plastered with mud!
We talked, played Monopoly, had dinner (spaghetti on toast, and rhubarb), and eventually went to bed — in the school's girls' dormitory (the girls had gone home for Christmas) — sometime after 11 pm. I ended the day with the following note in my dairy. "The day was the worst since the beginning of the trip, but the effect of meeting the St John's gents was terrific. My spirits soared from right down to almost maximum level."
The four boys from St John's College, Garth and I had all decided to press on to Mt Kilimanjaro the next day, so — after a very nice night between clean sheets — we got up at about 6:15 am on Monday, 21 December, washed and dressed. We were fed by Mrs Palmer, the girls' dorm matron, and then taken down to the Great North Road in the school's VW Kombi by Mr Clube. He dropped us off at 9:10 am, very near the spot where Garth and I had spent more than eight-and-a-half fruitless hours trying to hitchhike the previous day. We spun a coin to decide who would stand where when hitching. Ham and Ted won the right to be in first place (that is, nearest to town and thus eligible for the first ride on offer); Garth and I were second; Derek and Mac third. The other pairs were only about 200 yards away from us, so we could see what they were doing. At one stage during the morning, Ham and Ted were picked up, but instead of being taken north towards Dodoma, the car they were in turned round and took them back into town. On a couple of occasions Garth and I met Derek and Mac half-way, so to speak, and chatted to them. We wondered what had happened to Ham and Ted. Why had they gone in the wrong direction?
After four hours we had lunch (it was our standard fare — biltong, cheese, dried fruit, and water). A short while later the small Volkswagen that had picked up Ham and Ted and taken them back into Iringa reappeared. The driver told Derek and Mac, Garth and me what he'd told Ham and Ted: namely, that we were highly unlikely to get a ride on the Great North Road. Very little traffic went through to Dodoma. Almost all the traffic, especially the commercial vehicles, took the Iringa to Dar es Salaam road, because a lot of traffic went to the country's capital city. We were advised to head east on the Dar es Salaam road, and then to turn north at Morogoro on the Dar es Salaam to Korogwe road. We were assured that it would be a much more sensible way of getting to Moshi, the town nearest Mt Kilimanjaro. Not only did the VW driver give us this advice, but he also squeezed all four of us into his tiny car and took us back into Iringa. As a result, we went to the Iringa Hotel again — not for a bath, but to buy some Fanta. The four of us then walked through Iringa, hitchhiking while we did so, and — as luck would have it — quickly got a ride with an Indian man driving a Peugeot 404. He stopped when a Hindu funeral went by, and then took us down a small hill and dropped us on the Dar es Salaam road at about 3:10 pm. We walked a short way along the road to look for a good hitchhiking spot, and there were Ham and Ted. They'd been there since the morning, and hadn't had any luck on this route either. We sat outside Mr Magio's trucking depot and thumbed every vehicle that passed us; Ham and Ted even went into the depot to see whether one of the 90 Mercedes Benz trucks Mr Magio reputedly owned could give us a ride. All was to no avail, so we decided to boil some water and make some tea. Derek has described what happened next:
The African driver offered us — all six of us! — a ride to Kilosa, which we accepted with alacrity. It was 4:05 pm, and we were underway again. Initially, Ham and Mac rode in the truck's cab with the driver, while the rest of us were outside, perched on top of the bags of maize that the truck was carrying. We promised the driver, though, that we would hide if we saw any police, because he thought it was illegal to pick up hitchhikers. We did not see any police; we did see some game (baboons, dik-dik, and three female kudu) and some wonderful scenery. Shortly after 5:00 pm, we reached the edge of the Great Ruaha River valley. The road into the valley was only about five miles long, and it was also tarred. However, our driver went the whole way down the escarpment in first gear, and the descent took us about half an hour. At 6:25 pm, we stopped for just over 10 minutes at Mbuyuni, a small settlement on the banks of the Great Ruaha River, "and we all bought Fantas and a tin of condensed milk." What a diet! Garth and I took our turn in the cab: it was as hot as Hades and also smelly, because the driver had a parcel of "stinking meat" with him. We reached Ulaya at about 9:30 pm. It was one large truck-stop, and as our driver was planning to stop there, we thanked him for the ride and started to search for another ride. We found a truck going to Morogoro, but the driver told us he wanted 5/- apiece from us. We discussed what to do and reluctantly decided to pay the required sum. A truck-stop in the middle of nowhere wasn't where we wished to spend a long time. The ride was excruciating. "We were swindled," said Derek Suckling. There was very little room in the back of the truck (it was full of Coca-Cola bottles), and we were all pressed up tightly against the back of the truck. Dust swirled ceaselessly over us, and when we reached Morogoro shortly after midnight, it was with considerable relief that we left the truck. I also had a bad fright: my passport, money, and diary had fallen out of my jacket pocket and I only realised they were missing after I had left the truck. Luckily, the truck was still there when I discovered the loss and I was able to climb back into it and find them. I still shudder to think what would have happened — and what I would have had to have done — had I had lost all my valuables at that stage of the trip.
We tried to continue hitchhiking. One truck stopped but wanted 15/- per person to take us to Korogwe. Naturally, we did not accept the offer, and instead pulled out our sleeping bags and lay down to sleep in middle of a large traffic roundabout (Derek christened it the "Clarendon Circle of Morogoro"). To ensure that our rucksacks weren't stolen, we decided to keep hourly watches. Derek and Mac kept guard first, Garth and I were second, and Ham and Ted took the last watch. The first set of three watches went well, "but the second lot faded out." Thankfully nothing untoward happened. However, at about 2 o'clock in morning, we were all woken by a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from a nearby mosque (or that's what I was told he was doing, but it still seems an odd time to call anyone to prayer)!
All six of us were awake by about 5:45 am on Tuesday, 22 December. We thumbed passing traffic as we repacked our rucksacks, and at 6:00 am there was a mad scramble when a truck driven by a man we thought was Greek (or possibly Indian) "with huge hairy arms" offered us all a ride for about 25 miles. After about 14 or 15 miles, however, our driver concluded that the truck was not going very well:
We split up into our original twos. Garth and I were in the middle again, but this time Derek and Mac were first in line, while Ham and Ted were last. However, we did not have to wait very long before all six of us were offered a ride "in a most uncomfortable lorry," which Derek described as "a rattletrap, wheezing and steaming." We took turns to sit in the front of the truck, in the cab with the driver. Derek went first, I followed him. The engine was in the cab, between the driver and his passenger. As a result, the cab was full of exhaust fumes, extremely hot, and very noisy. Derek has also recalled that the cab had virtually no floor, "so that you put your feet up on the dashboard and stared down onto the dust of the road." Life in the back of the truck was far more pleasant and much more interesting. Fellow passengers included two GoGo warriors "painted red with long knives", and shortly after 10 o'clock our driver stopped to pick up an elderly African man wearing long, white Arab-style robes and carrying a large old muzzle-loader gun.
We reached Mziha at 10:30 am, stopped at a small cafe, "and we all bought cold drinks, Marie biscuits, and bananas." We spotted a lorry going to Arusha, which meant it had to go through Moshi, "so we begged the fat cowboy-looking native driver for a lift." As Derek noted, "we pleaded with him to take us and he revelled in the thought of white men pleading with him." At last he agreed to give us a lift, and we all climbed up onto the back of the open truck. Its cargo was in boxes — we thought the truck was carrying coffins or boxes of arms and ammunition — and the boxes were covered by a large canvas tarpaulin. The truck left Mziha at 10:55 am and headed north, leaving Tanganyika's Eastern Province and entering Tanga Province. The equatorial sun beat down mercilessly on us. "The heat was terrible." We lay down, trying to sleep, but could not do so. Every time we moved, sweat mingled with dust to form muddy patches on our bodies: "we all were filthy."
We got to the outskirts of Korogwe at 1:45 pm. As we turned right at a t-junction to go into the town in order to buy some diesel, "a slight incident happened which soon turned into quite an affair." A truck was parked very close to the corner on our driver's left. As a result, he did not see a car coming into town from the left. The car, with a couple of "fat Italians" in it, had to slow down slightly in order to avoid hitting us. The Italians were livid, they overtook our truck, flagged us down, and berated our driver. However, "our superior cowboy just drove off in the middle of the moaning." As he was filling the truck with diesel, an African policeman and the two irate Italians rolled up, and told our driver to follow them to the Korogwe police station. Our driver "was charged with driving with insufficient consideration for other users of the road." We then hung around the police station for four hours waiting for justice, Tanganyika-style, to take it course. We bought ice-cream and soft drinks from a café over the road, we argued with the fat "miserable Italian" (to use Derek's words), and — most significantly — Ted gave evidence on our driver's behalf. The case was dismissed, and our driver's attitude towards us changed immediately. He was thrilled to have been defended by a white man, and as we drove off into the dusk, he stopped several times at small villages along the way and had friends bring us fruit. We reached Mombo at 6:25 pm and stopped for quarter of an hour while we bought some bread, tinned butter, and soft drinks. We had the food when we were underway again, and afterwards "we sang songs ('Lloyd George' etc.) and then curled down to sleep." After the heat of the day, we now experienced the cold of the night. It was, as Derek noted, "bitterly cold" — so much so that some us took out our sleeping bags and climbed into them.
We were woken at about 11:30 pm. We were in Moshi, and "there were panic-stations" as we got out of our sleeping bags, stuffed them into our rucksacks, made sure we hadn't mislaid anything, and climbed down off the truck. We thanked our driver and set out to look for accommodation:
A short while later we tried the Piccadilly Hotel. The owner was very sorry he had no rooms available for us, but he said we could sleep in the dining room. We all had a much-needed bath, and at about 1:00 am settled down to sleep on cushions which we brought into the dining room from chairs on the hotel's veranda.
We were now very close to Mt Kilimanjaro. We were also a long way from South Africa in terms of both geography and race relations. As I noted in amazement in my diary, "there is no colour-bar up here, which is a very good thing, but when we [were on our late-night walk through the streets of Moshi and] saw a young white man (about 23 years old) walking with a young native girl (arms round each other, etc.) we were shocked"!
The noise of crockery clinking in the kitchen woke us at about 6:15 am on Wednesday, 23 December, so we rapidly got dressed and returned the cushions to their chairs on the veranda of the hotel. Breakfast was delicious (and a huge change from what we ate on the road): paw-paw, toasties, eggs and bacon. Breakfast also continued to expand the horizons of one young, middle-class, white South African schoolboy. Derek, Ham, Ted and Garth sat at one table; Rod and I sat with a dark man. I wasn't sure whether he was Italian, Greek or Indian, but — as I noted in my innocence in my diary — "the funny thing about him was that he worked on the railways, but was able to support his sons at university and at a school in Europe." All in all, we paid 5/- per person for bed and breakfast at the Piccadilly Hotel, which was real value for money, even in 1959.
After breakfast I had a major surprise. Garth borrowed 6 shillings and 80 cents from me (and, as I noted in my diary, never did pay me back) to phone his uncle who lived north of Nairobi. He then told me and the other four boys that he had never wanted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and announced that he was going to go on by himself and visit his uncle! I was flabbergasted, but I had no intention of accompanying him. Kilimanjaro had always been my goal, and Garth knew it. Garth kindly lent me some of his warm clothes (a polar-neck jersey, jeans, a windbreaker, and woolen socks), and then set off on his own (accidentally taking my first aid kit with him, including my anti-malaria pills). I did not see Garth again until we were both back in Johannesburg, but the four boys from St John's College met him on New Year's Eve at the St Michael's and St George's School in Iringa when they were all hitching south.
Derek, Ham, Mac, Ted, and I then spent a busy morning in Moshi. Ham and I went to Barclays Bank, I showed them the letters I had from my father and his bank manager and asked if I could take out £55 (£30 was for me, £25 for Ham). We were given the money without any hesitation whatsoever (thus proving the Tanganyikan customs officer at Tunduma completely wrong). We went to the post office, and I sent a postcard and telegram home:
The telegram not only exhibited a wonderfully naïve faith in the abilities of the Tanganyikan and South African post offices to deliver mail (especially postcards) promptly, but it also caused my parents heart palpitations. As you can see, I neglected to mention the fact that we'd been to the bank and withdrawn £55. (That was possibly because the telegram had cost a small fortune to send. I was charged 9/75 for the eleven-word message — nearly twice as much as we'd paid for bed and breakfast in the Piccadilly Hotel!) When my father's bank manager told him what I'd done, my parents were very worried. They had visions of their teenage son wandering round the middle of Africa with a small fortune stuffed into his pockets! Not that it was any consolation for them, but I reduced the amount I was carrying almost immediately by buying two pairs of thick cotton gloves (for 4/- a pair), a pair of army surplus winter trousers (for 12/-), and some snow goggles (which cost 8/-). In addition, Derek and Mac went shopping for food at the United Settlers' Stores and came back with more than 50 shillings' worth of supplies for our time on the mountain. We reassembled at the Piccadilly Hotel. Ted was the last to arrive after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve £10 his parents had sent to him care of a local building society.
The five of us then set off again. Our destination was the Kibo Hotel, near Marangu on the lower slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. A car stopped and offered us a ride for 25 shillings — "we told him where to go and fast." Soon afterwards, though, a timber truck gave us ride for 16 miles or so, to a spot two miles short of the Marangu turnoff, and dropped us off at about 2 o'clock. We walked to the turnoff. Almost as soon as we reached it, Derek and Ted got a lift in a Land Rover right to the Kibo Hotel. Their driver was, noted Derek, "the most intellectual native we ever talked to. He owned a coffee plantation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and was quite well off." Meanwhile, Ham, Mac and I waited for the local bus. It cost us only a shilling each, but it was painfully slow. We took three-quarters of an hour to cover the eight miles from the turn-off to the hotel. My diary records what happened when we arrived.
We were surprised to find that Derek and Ted had arranged everything. We were to leave on Christmas Eve (the next day, Thursday) and we would have a porter — 11/- a day — and an assistant guide who also carried about 40 lbs, but at 16/- a day. We were given a hut to sleep in at 2/50 a night (the same price as the huts on the mountain).
After we had put our belongings in the Prince of Wales Hut (so named because it was used by boys from the Prince of Wales School in Nairobi), we went for a short walk to see to try to see the mountain. It was covered with cloud, but a piccaninny showed us the Moonjo Falls instead (for which he was rewarded with a baksheesh of 10 cents!). We returned to the hotel for tea and cake, had baths, followed by a pre-dinner shandy — we "drank to the success of the trip" — and then dinner itself. Prior to going to bed, we divided the food into five four-pound loads, and put them into our rucksacks. The start of our Kilimanjaro climb, something that "I had looked forward to for five whole months, was now less than 12 hours away."
Chagga mythology tells the story of sleepy Kibo constantly being pestered for a light by young Mawenzi whenever the pipe that he smoked went out. One day, enraged at being woken yet again, Kibo produced a large club from behind his back, and clobbered Mawenzi. He never asked for a light again.
Early European explorers in East Africa had reported seeing a high mountain with snow on it. As the mountain was near the equator, their claims were either rubbished or subjected to alternative explanations (such as it must be salt near the top, not snow). The first expeditions to the mountain failed miserably. Fever and trouble with porters plagued mid-19th century explorers. In the late-1880s, however, Professor Hans Meyer, a Leipzig geographer, made three attempts to climb the mountain. In 1887, he got to about 17,000 feet / 5,000 metres before abandoning the attempt as a result of the fact that his companion had severe altitude sickness. Meyer's expedition the following year got caught in the crossfire of an anti-German revolt and had to be abandoned before he even reached the mountain. Nevertheless, Hans Meyer returned to East Africa in 1889 together with Ludwig Purtscheller, one of the foremost alpinists of his time. They reached the summit of Kibo at 10:30 am on 6 October. It was the highest point in the German empire, and Meyer named it Kaiser Wilhelm's Spitz (Kaiser Wilhelm's Peak).
We did not stop for lunch. As Derek noted, "the going got more and more difficult as we went on and at about 8,000 feet (2,400 metres) we were all feeling more than a little clapped out"! I was tired and "half-starved" when we got to Bismarck's Hut at 3:40 pm. It had taken us almost five-and-a-half hours to walk roughly 9 miles. We had climbed from about 4,500 feet / 1,372 metres above sea level to just short of 9,000 feet — to 8,947 feet / 2,727 metres to be precise. Bismarck's Hut was at the top of a clearing in the forest. The hut was a solid stone building with heavy wooden shutters. Although it looked out over a patch of open moorland, the large trees of the forest were only a few feet from the rear of the hut. Bismarck's Hut, said Derek, was "snuggling up against the jungle."
People who know me now will be surprised to learn that I used only one roll of 35mm colour transparency film during the two weeks it took me to get from Johannesburg to Bismarck's Hut. Nowadays I would probably use half-a-dozen rolls of film or more. One reason for the fact that I took so few photographs in December 1959 was that I didn't own a camera at the time. For my Kilimanjaro trip, I had borrowed my father's 35mm East German-made Lordomat camera. I wasn't very familiar with it, and this led to a minor disaster shortly after we got to Bismarck's Hut. I opened the camera after I thought I'd wound the completed film back into its cassette. To my horror, the film had not wound back and I'd exposed it to the light. When the film was eventually processed, two pictures of Salisbury and one of a banded cobra were the only slides out of a total of 36 that had survived the trauma. I do learn from my mistakes though: it was a something I never did again.
Friday, 25 December 1959, was the first time I spent Christmas Day on a mountain. The next time was 35 years later (on Argentina's Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America). It may just be an unhappy coincidence, but I was sick on both occasions! In 1959, the day started well, though. I got up to photograph the sunrise.
We then had breakfast and repacked. In his account of his trip, Derek wrote:
After a short, muddy climb through the rain forest, we reached the first heath fields at 8:20 am, and were rewarded with views of both Kibo and Mawenzi. The rain forest peters out at about 10,000 feet / 3,000 metres. Remnant-stands dot the moors for a while, but soon give way to high altitude heathland and chaparral in which "the habitat is characterised by shrubs with small leaves. In moister sites, these are mostly heathers … . Drier sites are characterised by shrubbier plants that are often aromatic."
At first, the walk was neither difficult nor steep. Inspired by our first views of the snows of Kilimanjaro, we made good progress. Although we had decided to have a five minute break every half-hour, we ignored the rule we'd set for ourselves. Derek records the fact that "soon we were walking for one-and-a-half hours, our legs working like machines." That was a mistake. As we began to go up and down through a series of gullies, I became more and more tired. Stupidly, once again we went without lunch. I "nearly died of hunger." Although we were now walking through the start of the Afro-alpine vegetation zone, with its unique giant groundsels, I wasn't really able to appreciate the fascinating flora. I had the sense and energy, though, to take a photo of the St John's boys and two porters when we stopped for a rest in one of the gullies — it turned out to be the best group photo I took.
A short while later, however, in another gully, I "collapsed with exhaustion and mountain sickness", according to Derek. In my trip notes, I wrote one word: "Sick." I was sitting down, but remember passing out. One of the problems with Mt Kilimanjaro is that it is both very high and easily accessible. People climb the mountain far too rapidly. In three-and-a-half days you effectively race up 15,000 feet / 4,500 metres. One of the best ways to climb any major mountain is to go slowly and obey the dictum "climb high and sleep low." Few people get an opportunity to do this on Mt Kilimanjaro. We didn't, and I was suffering accordingly.
Encouraged by Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted, I struggled on. Thankfully, the next hut, Peters Hut, was not too far away, and we reached it at 12:50 pm. We'd taken slightly less than five hours to walk the eight-and-three-quarter miles from Bismarck's Hut to Peters Hut, which is 12,340 feet / 3,780 metres above sea level. (It is just nine feet lower than New Zealand's highest mountain, Mt Cook, used to be before 40 feet fell off its summit in 1991.) Revived by some lunch and the warmth of the afternoon sun, I found I had enough energy to go on a walk across the moorlands in order to take some closer photos of Kibo.
In the evening four boys from my old school, Parktown Boys' High, arrived at the hut. They'd all got to the summit and were on their way down in good cheer. Ever practical, Derek noted, "we swapped our bottle of brandy for two tins of peas and a tin of sweetcorn." Before we went to sleep we saw the lights of Moshi twinkling in the darkness below us. It was evidence of the height we'd gained and the progress we'd made, and I was encouraged by it.
We wound our way slowly around the south-western slopes of Mawenzi. While Kibo's smooth, rounded, snow-capped summit is awe-inspiring, Mawenzi's jagged towers, by way of contrast, are simply stunning. The views we had of both peaks on Boxing Day 1959 are still one of the highlights of all my alpine experiences.
As we climbed up over one of Mawenzi's low shoulders, the vegetation became noticeably more sparse. We rounded a corner and there — stretched out below us — was the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo, with the great dome of Kibo rising magnificently above it. It was a thrill to see both the saddle and the mountain so clearly, and we stopped for a rest, glucose sweets, and photographs. When we got underway again, we had to drop down to the saddle. Derek noted that Ham was "somewhat annoyed because we were going down hill. (He had a complex about losing height.)"
The saddle is a flat, bleak plateau dotted with volcanic rocks. There is almost no vegetation whatsoever. It is an alpine desert. The saddle not only looks like a lunar landscape, but some years later American astronauts apparently went there to practice their moon-buggy driving skills. The saddle has a reputation for being blasted by cold winds. When we walked across it, though, there was no wind whatsoever. At one stage there was even a shimmering heat-haze! We didn't make the mistake we'd made on the previous two days. In the middle of the saddle, we stopped for a long lunch (of Bovril, cheese, and sardines on ryvita, plus a glucose sweet).
Almost certainly as a result of having had lunch, the final half-mile haul up to Kibo Hut was not too exhausting. We reached it at 1:40 pm. It had taken us just over five hours — including a couple of long stops — to cover a little more than eight miles. Situated at 15,520 feet / 4,730 metres above sea level, Kibo Hut is now a solid stone building. In 1959 it was a squalid series of four small tin huts.
Derek noted that
Derek recalls being "ravenous" and having a three-course meal at Kibo Hut. I do not recall that at all. What I do remember, though, is the awful stench of old burnt wood in the hut. It made me feel physically sick as I lay on my bunk trying — largely unsuccessfully — to sleep in the thin mountain air. Years later I smelt the same thing again. It was lapsong souchon tea. Again, the smell made me feel sick; it still does.
In their entirety, my scrawled notes for Sunday, 27 December, read as follows:
They are a pathetic reminder of my pathetic performance during the first part of the day. An alpine start is necessary in order to climb Kibo's scree slopes. In the cold night air, the ash, pebbles, and scoria are frozen. Even so, on the steep sides of the mountain — above about 17,000 feet / 5,000 metres or so — it is still often a case of two steps forward and one step back. As a result, we got up at 1:30 am and dressed in all the warm clothes we had. We left the hut at 2 o'clock.
Derek's account of the trip described what happened next utterly accurately:
Altitude, cold, exhaustion, and hunger conspired against me. Most all, though, I was defeated by a lack of will-power. I simply didn't have enough determination to carry on. Our assistant guide accompanied me back to the hut, where I collapsed into a deep, exhausted sleep. When I awoke, it was a bright sunny day. No-one was back yet, so I started to walk slowly back up the path I'd climbed so laboriously and poorly five hours or so beforehand. I enjoyed my little stroll in the sun, and took some photos of the lower section of the route I should have climbed but did not.
Derek, Ham, Mac and Ted all reached Gillman's Point, the spot on the crater rim that is sometimes called the "tourist summit." So too did Barry and Jean, after their guide had knotted his scarf and pulled them up one by one! Possibly because Barry and Jean were clearly in no fit condition to go on to the true summit, Kaiser Wilhelm's Spitz, and they were, after all, paying for the chief guide, Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted didn't go either. They came down from Gillman's Point very rapidly indeed. Derek noted that, "it took us half an hour to get down to the hut compared with five hours up to the top."
After Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted had a drink and after we'd all repacked, the five of us set off down the mountain. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we headed back across the saddle and we all walked rapidly across the barren landscape.
We slowed down climbing up off the saddle and around the lower slopes of Mawenzi, but we were back at Peters Hut by lunchtime. We ate there and then decided as we'd make such good time descending, we would not stay the night at Peters Hut, which was (and still is) the usual practice for parties going down the mountain. It was early and we all felt good — even I did. Indeed, partly because I'd not reached the very fine scree slopes high up on Kibo, I didn't have ash or sand in my boots and socks. As a result, I wasn't having any trouble with chafing and blisters. Several of the St John's boys did, but that didn't stop us deciding to descend in one day, and it didn't stop them descending. We rested at Bismarck's Hut, while the porters made garlands of everlasting flowers for Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted to put round their hats to show they'd successfully climbed Kilimanjaro. We then carried on down through the rain forest, where — surprise, surprise — it rained. We were all extremely tired when we finally trudged into the Kibo Hotel. By any standards, it had been a very long day. At the time, we thought we'd walked 33 miles after leaving Kibo Hut. Current references regarding Mt Kilimanjaro indicate that it may have been "only" 26 miles. Whatever the distance, we had good reason to enjoy a good bath, a good dinner, and a good night's sleep.
The Marangu turnoff is at the junction of three main roads. One goes east to Mombasa, one west to Moshi, and the third south to Korogwe. We had, of course, come to Kilimanjaro via Korogwe and Morogoro, and in his account of his trip Derek recalled our plans for going home:
We left the turnoff at 9:30 am and the five of us were dropped off in Moshi at about 10 o'clock. We then split up. The St John's four reverted to hitching in pairs, while I was on my own. I was distinctly nervous. As a small 15-year-old I had to go nearly 3,000 miles — through what was almost literally the middle of Africa — by myself. It was a daunting prospect. I didn't have long to wait for my first ride though. At 10:10 am, an Indian family stopped and squeezed me into their Zephyr and took me to Arusha. We chatted pleasantly during the 65 minute drive, and saw quite a lot of game: antelope, giraffe, and zebra. I walked through Arusha to the western outskirts of the town. While doing so, a car went past with Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted in it. They waved cheerily to me. A little later, the person who had been driving the St John's boys came back to collect me. Having dropped them off at the edge of the Serengeti National Park (near Arusha airport), he had decided to pick me up and take me there too. Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted weren't there when I was set down, and I began hitching again. Once more, I didn't have to wait long for a ride. After about only 15 minutes, an old Mercedes Benz van stopped and in I hopped. Initially, the driver took me as far as Makuyuni, a small village at the turnoff to the Ngorongoro crater. Makuyuni was the last significant settlement (if that's the right phrase for such a tiny place) the driver was going to go through. It was also the end of tarred road. As a result, I thought I should get out there, and duly did so. But then I thought a ride is a ride, why not continue with it? I got back into the van, and went on in it for another 35 miles. The driver was a very pleasant man. He gave me bananas, chocolates, and a sandwich while he drove. We also saw a lot ("spans") of wild life, including ostrich, Thompson's gazelle, and — most impressive of all — 17 elephants! I was eventually dropped off at 2:32 pm in the "middle of nowhere".
I was taking a real risk. In his account of his trip, Derek recorded what had happened to the four St John's boys when they were dropped off sometime later by a lorry in a similar spot not far away:
Thankfully it was still daylight. Even more thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long for a ride. At 3 o'clock, a man in a Hillman Minx stopped and took me about 10 miles further south, to a tiny spot — so small that it was not even on the map — called Magugu. Ten minutes later, I was offered another short ride when the local District Officer stopped his Land Rover and offered to take me to his headquarters in Babati, about 24 miles away. It was indeed a lucky ride. The District Officer, Mr G. C. Murdoch, told me that I would be highly unlikely to get any more rides — and especially lifts of any length — that day. As a result, he said he'd put me up for the night. We called in at his office, then he took me home for a bath and a meal. Using his radio after dinner, he learnt that I was now some way ahead of Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted. As a result, he sat down and wrote a statement for me on the back of a black-and-white postcard of a young Masai woman. Pictured below are both the postcard and what Mr Murcoch wrote.
I went to bed in Mr Murdoch's house that night feeling considerably more confident than I had when I started my solo hitchhiking trip that morning.
Mr Murdoch deposited me at the roadside after breakfast on Wednesday morning, 30 December, and I began hitching again. At 7:42 am, a Mercedes Benz 220 stopped and picked me up. Mr and Mrs Rickards (from the veterinary laboratory at Kabete) told me that they gave me the ride because I looked like a 12-year-old. This didn't thrill me, but I accepted both the point and the lift with good grace. After all, I was in no position to look a gift horse — in this case, a 168-mile ride to Dodoma — in the mouth! We stopped twice for a drink of Pepsi-cola, but other than that drove non-stop down the Great North Road to Dodoma, which we reached at 1:00 pm. We called in at a local hotel, and I had a drink with Mr and Mrs Rickards before saying goodbye to them. While at the hotel I also managed to find another ride. Mr Kerr, a man whom I'd guess was in his early 30s, worked for Williamsons Tea plantations in southern Tanganyika, and was heading back to work after the Christmas holidays. He said he could take me as far as Mbeya, so we left Dodoma in his 1953 Ford at roughly half past one in what turned out to be a twelve hour ride. The opportunity to have some company on a long drive had clearly worked in my favour. There are no towns of any consequence between Dodoma and Iringa, but in my trip-notes I recorded the fact that we reached Ntara — on the banks of the Great Ruaha River — at 3:45pm. Just under two hours later, we arrived in Iringa. We stopped at the Iringa Hotel for 20 minutes to have some tea. The manageress remembered me. "Where's your pack?" she asked. We still had more than 240 miles to go, so we filled up with petrol, and Mr Kerr drove on into the night. I do know what time it was when we arrived in Mbeya: 1.25 am. I also know that I had travelled 574 miles since leaving Babati nearly 18 hours earlier and had gone further in one day than at any other stage of the trip to date. What I do not know for sure, though, my rough trip notes are completely blank at this stage, was where I spent the night (or what was left of it) while I was in Mbeya. I vaguely recollect that I may possibly have dossed down on the porch of the Mbeya Hotel (where Garth and I had had afternoon tea with Nev Hoy and Rob Davenport eleven days before).
Thursday, 31 December 1959, was a complete contrast. I travelled a total of only 70 miles, less than an eighth of the distance I'd covered on the thirtieth. I had gone only about five miles, though, when I had my greatest fright of the whole trip. A man in a Hillman had given me a short lift out of Mbeya and down to the main road. He dropped me at about 9:15 am, and I found a good spot to stand and wait for cars to come by. After a while, an animal that looked a lot like a cheetah emerged from the undergrowth at the side of the road, about a hundred yards from where I stood. Initially, I was petrified with fear. I had read that cheetahs did not usually attack man, but for my part I didn't put much faith in that piece of knowledge. I thought wryly, "What if it hasn't read the same books as me?" I slowly retrieved my sheath-knife and gradually crouched down behind my rucksack. If it attacked me, I reasoned, the cheetah would have to jump over me, and I would lunge up with my knife in an attempt to stab it from below. The cheetah stood its ground and looked at me. I did the same. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or two, it wandered off back into the bush. I was shaking with fear.
About 15 or 20 minutes later, a man in a 1958 Consul drove by. He stopped and said he could take me to Tunduma, on the Tanganyika / Northern Rhodesia border. I accepted his ride with alacrity and overwhelming relief. As we drove south, I described my encounter with the cheetah. "Oh no," the Consul driver said to me, "that doesn't sound like a cheetah. It was probably a serval. You were lucky. They are far more aggressive than cheetahs." As I knew little or nothing about servals, the irony is that if I had known it wasn't a cheetah, I wouldn't have been nearly so frightened.
I was dropped at the border customs post at about noon. This time they were no problem whatsoever. Getting money from the bank in Moshi had done the trick. I clearly had enough cash with me to satisfy the immigration authorities that I could get through the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland without becoming a burden on the state. However, I was given a piece of paper stating that under the terms of the Immigration Act, 1954, I was "required to report to an immigration officer at Beit Bridge on 9th January 1960" and "to surrender this notice to an immigration officer immediately before [my] departure from the Federation." I didn't — and I still have the document amongst the papers and mementos I have from my trip. I wonder if the authorities are still looking for me?
I spent the entire afternoon sitting in the shade waiting for a vehicle to arrive that could give me a ride. None did. At the rate I was moving, I began to doubt that I would reach Beit Bridge by 9 January. The customs closed in the evening, and the staff went off to enjoy New Year's Eve. I obtained permission to sleep in a small thatched cottage on the eastern edge of the road. The "rondavel" had no lights, so as soon as it got dark, I got into my sleeping bag and went to sleep wondering what the New Year would bring in the way of luck and rides.
On New Year's Day 1960 I woke up at 6:40 am, East African time, 5:40 am Rhodesian time. A car came along at 6:00 am Rhodesian time, and I sprang up out of my sleeping bag and went to see if it could give me a ride. I needn't have hurried. Although the customs post should have been open, it wasn't (the immigration officers were undoubtedly sleeping in after a party), and for a while at least nobody was going anywhere. When I asked the occupants of the car — a Volkswagen beetle — if I could have a ride, I discovered the advantages of hitchhiking alone. Despite the fact that Sarel de Beer and Dirk Njetling had a small car and a large amount of luggage, they agreed to squeeze me in. I was in luck — buckets full of luck! Dirk and Sarel were students at a veterinary science college north of Pretoria, and they were heading for Potgietersrust in the Northern Transvaal, less than 200 miles from Johannesburg. What is more, they intended to get there the next evening! If all went well, I was going to reach Beit Bridge with a week to spare …
The border post opened at about 7:00 am. I had already completed customs formalities, of course, and it didn't take Dirk and Sarel long to do so too. We were in Northern Rhodesia and heading south at 7:20 am. We reached Isoka just before 8:30 and stopped for half an hour. We filled the car with petrol and had breakfast (biltong, bread and sandwich spread, and coffee). We arrived at Mpika at 11:50 am, and stopped briefly to buy petrol (which cost 4/10 a gallon) and soft drinks. The road was thick with mud, but the small Volkswagen successfully slithered its way south. Dirk and Sarel explained proudly how good VW beetles were at handling the sticky, slippery conditions, and pointed out to me how many VWs were able to get through the mud and how many other vehicles weren't. At 2:10 pm, we filled up again at Kanona (petrol there was 5/- a gallon), and we reached the Kapiri Mposhi turnoff at 4:54 pm. On my way south I was travelling at 50 miles an hour through the major junctions where Garth and I had waited for hours on our way north. It felt really good to be doing so.
Just before 5:00 pm we stopped in the Kapiri Mposhi township. In order to buy some Coca-Cola, I changed 10 East African shillings into Rhodesian currency, but got only nine Rhodesian shillings for it, which annoyed me. I also had some of Sarel de Beer's beer. Given that he was driving, it was a good thing he was Beer by name but not by nature! After buying more petrol, we hit the road again. We arrived in Broken Hill at 6 o'clock and stopped to drop off a letter that one of the customs officers at Tunduma had asked Dirk and Sarel to deliver to Daly's Garage. We then carried on to Lusaka, which we reached at 7:30 pm. We called in at a VW garage and then went to the Rendezvous Café, where Garth and I had eaten fifteen days earlier, and had dinner. (My trip notes record the fact that I had "ham and egg roll and Milo.") We left Lusaka a little under an hour after arriving there. I fell asleep in the back of the car. When we reached Chirundu on the banks of the Zambezi River at 10:00 pm, I "got into the front but fell asleep again." Dirk and Sarel had not seen the Kariba dam, so we turned east, off the main road, and headed for Kariba. We reached the township at 1:25 am, drove up to Observation Point, and slept in the car.
We had covered 805 miles since leaving Tunduma and were extremely tired. That didn't help us. We all had an exceptionally uncomfortable night trying to sleep in the small VW beetle. The whine of mosquitoes plagued us ceaselessly. We were up and ready for action — anything was preferable to trying to sleep — by 5:20 am on Saturday, 2 January. We took photographs of the dam and the lake behind it. I am especially pleased we did so, because none of the pictures I had taken when Garth and I visited Kariba on 14 and 15 December came out. All were ruined when I opened the camera wrongly at Bismarck's Hut.
We left Kariba at half past six, and reached Macuti at 7:45 am. A short while later we left the Tetse Fly Control Area, and I was sprayed with insecticide for the fifth and final time on the trip. Dirk and Sarel drove south with determination. We passed through Karoi at 8:47 am, Sinoia at 9.40, Banket at 9.55, and arrived in Salisbury at 10.45. After filling up with petrol and having something to eat, we left half an hour later. We were heading for Beit Bridge via Fort Victoria, and — after passing though Beatrice at noon and Featherstone at 12:37 pm (two small towns which, interestingly, do not appear to have changed their names) — at 12:45 pm went onto strip roads. We were on them for fully four hours. We reached Enkeldoorn at 1:05 pm, Umvuma at 1:45 pm, Fort Victoria an hour later, and the Lundi River and Rhino Hotel at 4:06 pm. We crossed the Nuanetsi River — and reached the end of the strip roads — at 4:45 pm. We got to Beit Bridge at 5:53, had no trouble with the Rhodesian customs, and were back in South Africa by 6:15 pm. We had no trouble with the customs there too, and left them at 6:42 pm. We passed through Messina at 7:23, and exactly an hour later reached Louis Trichard. At this juncture my trip notes record the fact that "after Louis Trichard I was asleep till Potgietersrust." This was Dirk and Sarel's destination. They were turning off the road to visit friends, and after I'd thanked them profusely, they dropped me in the centre of the town. It's 772 miles from Kariba to Potgietersrust, the second-longest single day's ride I've ever had. The longest was, of course, the 805 miles we'd covered the day before. In my two days with Dirk and Sarel, they'd given me a lift that was 1,577 miles long. It was the longest ride I had in all my hitchhiking career from 1959 to 1967. When I was back in Johannesburg, I wrote to the editors of the Guinness Book of Records to tell the about the lift. I never received even so much as an acknowledgement from them …
Keen to get home — I was, after all, so near but so far — I carried on hitchhiking for nearly an hour and a half. It was, on reflection, stupid to think that someone would stop for me in the middle of the night, but I'd had such luck on my return journey that it was at least worth a try. I gave up dejectedly at 11:35 pm, and began walking through pouring rain to look for the police station and ask for a bed for the night. An Italian man standing outside his house in the humid night air saw me and called out to me. Where was I going? Did I need somewhere to sleep? In another example of the kindness and generosity that people had displayed throughout the trip, the man and his Afrikaans wife invited me into their house and they fed me spaghetti, beans, brown bread and coffee. We talked until about 1:00 am, when I eventually went to sleep on a bed they made up for me in their lounge.
I woke up at about 6:20 am on Sunday, 3 January. I washed, dressed, repacked, and "filled my rough diary in." I left after saying goodbye, and at 7:37 am got my first lift of the day in an old Dodge. I was dropped off in Nylstroom, 59 miles south of Potgietersrust, at 9:15. Five minutes later I got my second ride. A man called Pretorius Bosman picked me up in his Volkswagen Kombi. We went through Warmbaths at 10:05 am, and he dropped me in Pretoria just over an hour later. Walking through Pretoria, something happened that was very similar to what had occurred the previous night in Potgietersrust. A couple, Mr and Mrs de Klerk, saw me walking along the street carrying my rucksack and immediately took pity on me. They stopped their Ford Zodiak, took me home for lunch, and then refused to let me continue hitchhiking. Getting out of a city as large as Pretoria would be difficult, if not dangerous, they told me. Instead, they drove me to the station, bought a ticket for me, and ensured that I caught the 1:50 pm train to Johannesburg. The train arrived in Johannesburg at 3:10 pm. I left the station and caught a bus to Parktown North. It was a nicely symmetrical act. The only other time I'd caught a bus had been to cover the last 8 miles to Marangu. Consequently, not only was the final section of my trip to Mt Kilimanjaro by public transport; but the final section of my trip home was too — except for the fact that I had to walk for roughly a mile to get home from the terminus. It's not called hitchhiking for nothing! All in all (as is shown in Appendix 3), in three-and-a-half weeks' hitchhiking, I'd covered 5,796 miles (i.e., 9,328 kilometres).
The aftermath of the adventure
Garth's experiences on his homeward journey also underlined the fact that it was sometimes considerably easier for one person to hitchhike than for two to do so together. After meeting the St John's boys in Iringa on their way home, Garth got a lift to Mbeya, where he came across a car going all the way to Johannesburg. Derek, Ham, Mac, and Ted had already been offered a ride in the car, but had been told that there was only room for one. They "refused it, not wanting to split up the pairs." Garth obviously did not have this quandary, and accepted the ride. It is thus almost certain that despite the detour Dirk Njetling, Sarel de Beer, and I made to see the Kariba dam, Garth's ride from Mbeya to Johannesburg would have been 150 miles or so longer than my epic two-day lift on 1 and 2 January 1960. Perhaps that's why the editors of the Guinness Book of Records never wrote back to me!
Ham and Ted arrived in Johannesburg on 7 January. Derek and Mac reached Pretoria late that evening, and the following morning Mac's mother collected them and took them home. All six of us were not only back safely, but we had also arrived in Johannesburg within five days of each other. That was worth celebrating. On Thursday evening, 14 January, Derek, Ham, Ted, and I met in the city centre for a meal and to go to a film. (Mac couldn't join us; he had gone on a brief holiday with his parents.) First, though, we discussed a story that had just appeared in The Star, Johannesburg's evening newspaper. It was about the lads from Parktown Boys' High that we'd met at Peters Hut, and their Kilimanjaro adventures. Hmmm, we thought, we've got a story to tell too, so off we went to The Star's rival, the Rand Daily Mail — the city's morning newspaper. The paper's staff agreed that we did have a story to tell and, after interviewing us, led us up onto the roof of the building and took a photograph of Derek, Ham, and Ted looking down on little me ("the youngest and shortest of the group — he stands 5 ft. 21/2 in."). The article and photograph appeared on the front page of the Rand Daily Mail the following morning.
The newspaper article had one unfortunate side effect. The woman who worked in the dispensary of the children's hospital and had told my father about Garth was so incensed by the fact that Garth was not mentioned in the article that she ended her friendship with Dad. Partly as a result, I saw Garth only once after our trip and quickly lost contact with him. However, I remained in touch with Derek, Mac, and Ted until I left South Africa in August 1962. In July 1961, for example, Mac and Ted had a holiday with my family and me at a pine farm in the mountains near Magoebaskloof in the Northern Transvaal. Although I lost touch with the Derek, Mac, and Ted for some years, I re-established contact with them after I'd finally climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in December 1985. I am still in touch with Derek and Ted, and saw both of them in 1998. Sadly, Mac was killed in a car accident in 1999.
My 1959-60 hitchhiking trip was the first of four major hitching trips I went on. In July 1960 Richard Darley — Robin and Jean's son, with whom I'd had dinner the night I got back to Johannesburg from Kilimanjaro — and I hitchhiked round Southern Rhodesia and a small part of Northern Rhodesia. Six months later, my brother, Stuart and I hitchhiked from Johannesburg through Kimberley to the Cape Province, and then returned home via the Garden Route. I still find it amazing — I have to pinch myself and ask if it was true — that Stuart was only 14 years old at the time. What wonderful, trusting parents we had! My last hitchhiking trip was in 1967. Heather and I were married by then and living in England. We hitchhiked from Surrey to Worms in Germany, where we took part in a work-camp. When it was over, we hitched back to England via Holland.
Six months later Heather and I bought our first car. My hitchhiking days were over. It was literally a case of thumbs down.
Appendix 1: 1959 names ... and their modern equivalents
Appendix 2: The equipment I took to Mt Kilimanjaro in 1959
Appendix 3: My 1959-60 hitchhiking logbook
Appendix 4: Recommended reading
Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willetts, and Peter Marshall, Journey Through Tanzania (London: The Bodley Head, 1984), pp. 166-192.
Robert Mads Anderson, 7 Summits Solo (Auckland: David Bateman, 1995), pp.14-37.
Steve Bell, ed., Seven Summits (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2000), pp. 86-95.
Gordon Boy and Iain Allen, Snowcaps on the Equator: The Fabled Mountains of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire (London: The Bodley Head, 1989), pp. 157-178.
Cameron Burns, Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1998).
Ed February, "Kilimanjaro", in Audrey Salkeld, ed., World Mountaineering (London: Mitchell Beazley, 1998), pp. 288-291.
John Reader, Kilimanjaro (London: Elm Tree Books, 1982).
 This account is based on a 50-page booklet I wrote in 2002 as a tribute to my parents on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary. Their encouragement and support for me (a mere 15 years old when I hitchhiked to Mt Kilimanjaro) was amazing; at the time — and still today — it was almost unbelievable. The trip was a turning point for me. It shaped the way I lived the rest of my life, and led directly to other adventures in later years.
 "International Club", St Stithians College Magazine: 1957-1961 (Johannesburg: Waltons Printers, 1961), p. 92.
 Leigh Bradfield, "Right guys at Kariba", 5 April 2000 email to Nigel Roberts.
 Unacknowledged quotes in this account of my 1959 trip to Mt Kilimanjaro are from the notes I made and the diaries I kept at the time. Distances are in miles: they are what all the maps of South, Central, and East Africa used in the 1950s. I am bilingual, though, when it comes to heights, and I have used both feet and metres for them. Many of the place names in Africa have changed since 1959. This account of my hitchhiking trip to and from Mt Kilimanjaro, as well as of my attempt to climb the mountain, refers to countries, cities and towns, and to the huts and peaks on Mt Kilimanjaro, by the names that were used at the time. However, in order to help 21st century readers, Appendix 1 of this account lists relevant old names and their post-independence replacements.
 Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories for Little Children (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 — though first published in 1902), p. 48.
 Derek Suckling, 16-page typed account of his 1959-60 Kilimanjaro trip, p. 4.
 Derek Suckling, p. 7.
 Derek Suckling, p. 8.
 Derek Suckling, p. 8.
 Derek Suckling, p. 9.
 John Reader calls it "Kaiser Wilhelm Spitze" in his book Kilimanjaro (London: Elm Tree Books, 1982), but for the purposes of this account, I have adopted the name and spelling used most frequently in the late 1950s (see, for example, The Snows of Kilimanjaro in Tanganyika's Unsurpassed Holiday Land, a tourist brochure produced by the Tanganyika Travel Committee in 1959).
 Iain Allen, "Mountain of Dreams: Kilimanjaro", in Gordon Boy and Iain Allen, Snowcaps on the Equator (London: The Bodley Head, 1989), p. 160.
 Truman Young, "The Ecology, Flora and Fauna of Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro", in Iain Allen, ed., Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro (Nairobi: Mountain Club of Kenya, 1991), pp. 37-38.
 Derek Suckling, p. 10.
 In 1959 we were told that the first day's walk was 12 miles, the second day's 11 miles, and the third day's 10 miles. According to the sources I have consulted since then, these were all overly generous estimates. Cameron Burns has estimated that the distance from what is now the Kilimanjaro National Park gate to what was Bismarck's Hut is 8 kilometres. The Kibo Hotel is about 6 kilometres from the gate, which makes a total of 14 kilometres (or 8.75 miles) in all. See Cameron Burns, Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1998), p. 79.
 Derek Suckling, pp. 10-11.
 Truman Young, "The Ecology, Flora and Fauna of Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro", pp. 41-42.
 Iain Allen, Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro, gives the distance as "14 km" (p. 209), while Cameron Burns, Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya, estimates the distance to be only "11 kilometres" (p. 79).
 Iain Allen, Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro, says the distance is "13 km or so" (p. 209); Cameron Burns, Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya, estimates it to be "11 kilometres" (p. 80).
 Derek Suckling, p. 11.
 Derek Suckling, p. 12.
 Derek Suckling, p. 13.
 Derek Suckling, p. 13.
 Derek Suckling, p. 13.
 For example, John R. Crossland and J. M. Parrish, eds., Wild Life Of Our World (London: Collins, n.d.), a book I'd had since I was seven (and, incidentally, still have), notes on page 50 that "no instance has ever been known of a [cheetah or] hunting-leopard becoming a man-eater."
 Derek Suckling, p. 15.