A mountain of issues but no baggage


HOLIDAY DISASTERS:A well-planned trip to Mount Kilimanjaro turns sour when my luggage fails to arrive in Nairobi, writes MEADHBH MCHUGH

I AM NOT usually an organised packer. In fact, I’m ridiculously disorganised, usually packing with mere hours to departure. I ignore the advice of experts to forward-plan, although I have taken their tip on “rolling” clothes, which is far easier than folding.

However, for a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010, I discover a new side to my packing psyche. Faced with the size of the task, I suddenly embody organisation. I am a walking to-do list, an Excel document of items checked once and twice again; I am a dozen photocopies of my passport.

I decide that I will never make it to Uhuru Peak unless everything is perfect. Weeks of planning ensue; I look so far forward I could give Psychic Wayne a run for his money.

I purchase various pairs of specialist socks with a range of aerodynamic features that will allow my feet to be perfectly aired, heated, protected and padded at every stage of the trek, from jungle to snowy peak. I then arrange the socks in order of temperature so that there will be no confusion on the mountain. I cannot risk accidentally wearing my below-freezing, tough-terrain socks on day one in the humid rainforest.

Sweets are also a major consideration. My sugar levels are crucial to summiting success. I awake from nightmares of a scene where – hours from the top – I run out of Mars bars. On the day of departure, my friend Georgie, our group leader, is in Dublin Airport sorting out visas and missing passports. I am in a supermarket furiously texting her about the sweets. What type? How many? I empty the shop of Mars bars.

We arrive in Nairobi airport. Spirits are high. We get through immigration. Then we head to baggage pick-up, a small area with a creaky conveyor belt. I don’t know if it actually creaked, but in this memory it does. It goes round. And round. It goes round again. It’s been 10 minutes since the last rucksack bulged on to the belt. Mine’s not there.

It transpires that my bag, along with two others, is still in London. My carefully selected layers of mountain gear are neatly rolled in the UK. My extensive selection of plasters is hanging out in Heathrow.

I barely suppress the rising panic. We have to leave on the eight-hour bus journey to Moshi, Tanzania, to arrive before dark. I try to express the urgency of getting the bags back, miming trekking moves to amused officials.

The next day we are visiting the local area. I pester the poor rep about my bag. It is supposed to follow the route we took the previous day, arriving the night before we commence. That night someone drives to the bus station to collect the missing bags. They return empty-handed.

Kilimanjaro figuratively crumbles in my mind. My dreams are dashed before me. I imagine a mob of disapprovers as I return home a failure: I didn’t do it.

They say I can borrow or rent stuff. They can give me an old jacket and woolly hat. What about the socks? They can’t possibly have the right socks. I cleaned out my Communion account for those socks. And do they have a platypus hydration kit, tried and tested walking the fields of Galway? Theirs might leak. Without phone or internet, I am powerless.

It’s no good, I’ll never make it now, I think, despairing. In a sock-induced-delirium, I throw the only tantrum I’ve had since age two.

I take myself off privately to the bathroom and kick the bath (I apologise to the guesthouse in Moshi, if reading). Then it dawns on me: the only person who can help me now, the old failsafe when everything goes wrong: my mother. In tears, I use a borrowed phone to call home, babbling incoherently down the fuzzy line. A frightening phone bill later – calling Kenya from Ireland is even more expensive than calling Psychic Wayne – it is arranged for my bag to fly to Moshi airport the next morning. I daren’t believe it until I see it.

We three bag-less head off early the next morning via the airport, and there in the morning sunlight, three rucksacks appear on a creak-less conveyor belt with less than half an hour left on the clock. The boys are relatively pleased to have theirs back. I am ecstatic. My sub-zero, but still breathable sleeping bag is attached. I’m ready for the mountain.

And then we do it, and I reach Uhuru. And not a single blister blights my path. In reality, of course, the borrowed woolly hat would have been absolutely fine; but thankfully I’ve packed one too.

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