London cabbies climb Mount Kilimanjaro for fitness, charity

Each weighed over 100 kilograms before the first epic challenge

TUESDAY February 15, 2022

A section of London taxi drivers climb Mount Kilimanjaro for the first time in October 2019. PHOTO | CDK

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Spending an average of 42 hours a week on the driving seat over the years impairs the health, fitness and weight of a London taxi driver.

In an attempt to avoid the risks that come with the occupation, Mount Kilimanjaro came into the picture of three taxi drivers of one of the world’s global cities.

They coined the name Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro (CDK) and set the organisation’s goal of losing 30 kilograms each and raising about $20,000 for charity.

Daren Parr, John Dillane and Brian Heffernan weighed over 100 kilograms each when the idea of scaling the Africa’s highest mountain crept into their minds.

Five and a half days of ascending plus one and a half days of descending the 5,895-metre high mountain was a tall order for the then obese taxi drivers.

Ms Stella Wood, the oldest member of the London taxi drivers team, says Mount Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar have been in her to do list for quite a long time. Of about 25,000 taxi drivers operating in the city, 500 are female. PHOTO | CDK

The taxi drivers did not underestimate the six to seven-hour hike a day through strong winds, altitude sickness, testing terrain and killing a night in a tent either.

Daren, John, Brian and others who joined the team had to surrender themselves to the Be Military Fit, a private company which runs outdoor group fitness classes across the United Kingdom, for about one year before they embarked on the grueling ascent to shake off the excessive weight and to raise funds for charity.

The dream came true in October 2019 at last when they stood on the pinnacle of the free-standing mountain.

“It was the toughest thing I have ever done in my life,” Daren admits. The final 45 minutes of the climb were the hardest on them. “We were exhausted, only thinking about our aching legs, but we never gave up because it was for charity,” he explained.

Upon descending the Mount Kilimanjaro summit, the London taxi drivers sampled tourists’ attractions in Serengeti, Arusha and Tarangire national parks as well as in Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Zanzibar.

Mr Daren Parr, one of the founders of the Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro (CDK). PHOTO | CDK

The Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro mission successfully raised $19,963 for military veterans back home.

To thousands, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a singular adventure of a life time, but it just awakens the curiosity of the London taxi drivers.

“It is an unforgettable experience, I feel like I left part of myself on the peak,” said Daren, chanting: “Come to Tanzania, it’s the Africa’s well-kept secret.”

Early this month they came back to scale the 4,565-metre high Meru sister mountain in addition to Kilimanjaro, as they vow to return every year until they grow too old to attempt the epic challenge.

They roped in over 30 fellow London taxi drivers who were to accompany them, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for interrupting the plan, as only eight of them made it.

The London cabbies pose for a souvenir picture at Mweka Gate immediately after descending from the Mount Kilimanjaro Summit over the weekend. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

“London taxi drivers were severely hit by the pandemic, the city was like a ghost town with no one earning any money just as was the case with the tourism industry here,” John said.

He said Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro was a well-known story in the UK after the first climb. “Much as the world is opening up now, hundreds, if not thousands, of people will be interested in jumping into the bandwagon,” he said.

Daren said the charity organisation will carry on promoting Mount Kilimanjaro and other Tanzania’s endowments in the UK with only one string attached: Big Expeditions and Safaris should be the sole tour operator to host them.

Cabbies Do Meru and Kilimanjaro 2022 this time expects to raise over $8,000 for disabled and under privileged children in London and over $2,700 for a Tanzanian orphanage yet to be identified.

“The reason why we come back is because the Big Expeditions and Safaris have treated us so well. They catered for everything we needed,” he said.

Porters and other staff of the Big Expeditions and Safaris, a tour operating firm, play a raffle at Mweka Gate after the descend to give away various items donated by the London taxi drivers. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

Ms Angela Minja, the Big Expeditions and Safaris Managing Director, assured the London cabbies that the firm would continue offering them and other tourists finest services.

The London Cabbies also called on authorities not to consider adding or taking away anything from Kilimanjaro Mountain.

The call comes when the Tanzania government is mulling over approving a cable car project to give physically and age challenged tourists room to also experience the thrill of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at least up to Shira Summit.

The Big Expeditions and Safaris staff receives the descending London taxi drivers at Mweka Gate. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

Mr William Mwakilema, the TANAPA Conservation Commissioner, extended the conservation agency’s gratitude to the London cabbies for selling the Tanzania destination back home and Europe at large.

“We will do all it takes to live up to the Arusha Manifesto,” he said. Borrowed from a speech of the Tanzania founding president Julius Nyerere at the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Symposium in 1961, the manifesto has been guiding conservation activities in the country since.

Assistant Conservation Commissioner responsible for Business, Ms Beatrice Kessy was optimistic tourists’ arrivals from UK and Europe would more than double, given the influence the London taxi drivers command in the region.

Dating back to over 1 million years ago when volcanic movements formed it, Kilimanjaro National Park is endowed with a diverse variety of attractions ranging from terrestrial wilderness to permanent glaciers on the mountain peak.

The country’s leading tourist destination, according to Ms Kessy, currently attracts about 50,000 mountain hikers from across the world each year.

MORE INFORMATION: Arusha Manifesto

The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and wellbeing. In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife, we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower, and money and we look to other nations to co-operate with us in this important task – the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well,” Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

How snow exists a stone’s throw away from equator, one wonders just as it was difficult to believe Johan Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Reman, the first Europeans to spot the scenic view then.

The park actually is the custodian of the Africa’s highest roof and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain with two dominant volcanoes.

In addition to Kibo (Uhuru Peak) situated at 5,895 metres above sea level and Mawenzi at 5,149 metres above sea level, Shira is a cone with extinct volcano lying at 3,962 metres above sea level.

A wide band of montane forest encircling the foothills between 1,800 and 2,800 metres above sea level are home to jumbos, leopards and buffalos.

As a tourist scales the mountain sees moorlands followed by an alpine desert before he is greeted by the ice and snow at the Uhuru Summit.

UNESCO declared the 1,712-square-kilometre park a World Heritage Site in 1987 and a Natural Wonder of Africa in 2013.

Mount Kilimanjaro is but only an eye opener to safaris and wildlife-related adventures Tanzania has in store for tourists in over 20 other national parks, including SerengetiΩ

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