Those who have climbed Kilimanjaro know the mantra of our mountain guides: pole pole (po-lay, po-lay), which means slowly. Walking slowly up the mountain and keeping your heart rate low is the tonic that helps your body acclimate better and reach the summit. Pole pole is also the way of life in Tanzania (“no hurry in Africa!”) as people understand the value of taking life slowly, savoring the moment, the people, and the place where you are here and now.
Westerners are only beginning to adopt this “slow” mentality in some areas of our life in order to combat the 24/7 non-stop wired and electronically tethered world that drives us crazy but we can’t seem to get away from. Yes, we are deeply connected, but that connection is filtered through a device to a virtual community. Slow connectedness is to those people, places, and events in the immediate world that surround you – connected to the “here and now.”
One recent development that is starting to gain traction within the overall “slow movement” is Slow Travel (or, as we like to say, Pole Pole Travel!).
What is Slow Travel?
Slow Travel is all about taking time to explore, discover, connect, and learn. A key element of Slow Travel is engaging with a place and its people – becoming a part of it rather than just passing through (in a vehicle!).
Where you are and what you see are not museum pieces to be looked at, but a place and people to get to know personally. You take a true journey, or odyssey. If you are moving, it is done at a human pace – ideally on foot, or perhaps bicycle. Slow Travel also includes staying put – in fact some Slow Travel advocates suggest that one must stay in a place for at least a week to really explore deeply the local. As you engage it changes you and you change it. You bring back in your heart a bit of that place, and leave a little bit of yourself there as well.
On all our adventures – not just Kilimanjaro climbs – we at SENE advocate slowing down and taking more time. Sure, you may see and do fewer things, but you experience each one more, live more, and develop a deeper connection to those people and places. You will find that you come back from your holiday more refreshed, more relaxed, and with a greater sense of fulfillment.
Simon Does Slow Travel (even before there was “slow travel”)
For years Simon has advocated slowing down on all SENE adventures. Our 9-day Lemosho Crater climb, the longest standard route on the mountain, is definitely slow travel. And now our new Northern Circuit route extends the definition of a slow ascent by taking 10 days.
Time on the mountain not only allows your body to adjust to the altitude and steep uphills, but it allows you the time to connect with the mountain. For Simon, the purpose of climbing Kilimanjaro, or any SENE adventure, is not to check off your bucket list, take photos for your Facebook page, see how fast you can reach a goal, or establish bragging rights for friends back home, but to engage in a holistic experience. The latter does not prevent you from accomplishing any of the former, but most assuredly the former should not preclude the latter.
For those who have been there, you know that the Mbahe Village Farm Cottages, in a remote farming village 15 minutes’ walk from the nearest 4WD dirt track, is quintessentially slow travel. On the front end of a safari or climb you may get a couple days at Mbahe, but committed slow travelers always return for a slow extended stay in that mountain paradise.
We have been working hard to develop Kilimanjaro foothills walks as another Slow Travel adventure – one that allows you to move slowly through the bucolic mountain villages where Tanzanians live and work, letting the experience unfold unscripted and serendipitously along the path. Similarly, one may take a running or bicycling adventure, which we have developed in small batches over the years. Even the Kilimanjaro Stage Run – running 260 kilometers in 8 days around the base of Kilimanjaro – is about slowing down. It is not a race. Simon insists that runners stay in small groups and move thorough the environment together. The pace is slow – lots of stopping and walking is included – so that participants take the time to enjoy the journey and really see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste all of Kilimanjaro.
Slow Travel may not be as easy as traditional travel, as accommodations tend not to be as luxurious, it may require some physical effort, and it can take you out of your comfort zone, but these conditions enable you to connect to a place and people and reap the rich rewards of Slow Travel.