The rewards and challenges of being a porter on Mt Kilimanjaro

We interviewed the wonderful Cathbert Cosmas who has been a porter on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for the past eight years.  Porters do the most incredible job of ferrying climbers’ food and equipment up the mountain while expertly guiding the group,  helping set up camp each night, and cooking hearty meals to boost you up the next part of the climb.    Often, a porter’s job can be incredibly tough and you will come across porters up the mountain wearing just flip flops, surviving on very little food and water, and with a distinct lack of decent clothing or sleeping equipment often working for very little or no money at all.  In order to combat these difficult working conditions, KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project) are working hard to improve conditions for the porters and we are very proud to be working alongside KPAP ensuring that the porters we use enjoy fair working conditions, pay and treatment.
Read on to find out more about this physically taxing yet hugely rewarding job as well as hearing more about the wonders of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – maybe it’ll even inspire you to include a trip to Kili on your next trip to Africa!

Cathbert Cosmas

How did you start out as a porter?
Actually there is no any training involved for a person to become a porter. I actually found it as a job and started as a porter without any training.
What are your favourite parts of your job?
My favourite part is to see animals in the wild but also interacting with other co-workers sharing some experiences and to do the best of my job as a porter. Also mixing up with different people with different stories.

Climbers at the summit

What sort of wildlife do you normally see during a Kili climb?
Blue monkey – Primate concentration are highest in the clouded forest at the base of the mountain.
Colobus Monkey – These beautiful monkey have a distinctive black and white colouring with a long bushy tail.
Birdlife – Malachite Sunbird,  these stunningly beautiful birds have a distinctive bright metallic green colouring and small scarlet patch on their chest and can often been seen hooking their long beaks into giant lobelias to extract the nector. Mountain Buzzards, Crowned Eagles and rare Lamergeyer Giant Vulture.
Honey Badgers.
Large Mammals – this include Buffaloes
Four-striped Grass Mouse.
NOTE: The further up the mountain you go,  the less wildlife there is.
Have you had any close calls with wildlife?
No. I had never come across with such situation on the mountain. But sometimes i actually hear stories from some of my co-workers.

Colobus Monkey

What are the challenges of your job?
This depend on your experience but the main challenge will be the altitude and lack of oxygen and how you personally adapt to these changes. The most challenges of my job include the following:
Lack of sleep in sometimes in different camps,  experience rain,  huge wind,  cold all in one week,  extreme altitude above 5500m/18044 feet, high UV level from the sun.
Which is your favourite mountain to climb and why?
Mt. Kilimanjaro is my favourite mountain to climb. This is because it’s situated in my home country of which I like to promote tourism in my country. Secondly it possesses good environmental attraction together with unique species found only in such mountain.

View across to Mt Kilimanjaro

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I do enjoy making interaction with some of my neighbours and friends changing ideas and some experience of life from each other,  also reading novels  and having some body exercise at home.
How do you ensure responsible tourism for your Kili climbs?
> Through making optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development.
> Through maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
> Also through respecting  socio-cultural authenticity of host communities,  conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. Because tourism is the socio interaction of different people and communities.
With huge thanks for Cathbert Cosmas for taking the time to give us an insight into his working life.