Kilimanjaro - Part One
Updated: Jul 26
We arrived in Tanzania tired and confused after crossing eight time zones. None of us had ever been to Africa before. When we left the States, we wore parkas. In Tanzania, when we landed, it was 75 degrees at night.
In this photo my brother Andy is standing looking stunned. The shirt he is wearing he would later lend to me and I would wear it for seven days straight. I am in the background, applying mosquito repellant and worrying about malaria.
Among the crowd, we saw a friendly face, our driver.
We were so happy Tom and Andy posed for a picture with him. Never before have I been surrounded by so many black people. I grew up in New Hampshire, not exactly a hotbed of African-American culture. At UNH the African-American literature class is taught by a white guy.
Our driver wore a shirt that read "Endangered Feces" and had cartoons of feces on it. If you click on the photo, you can see some of them more clearly. At the time I thought this was an unusual shirt to wear while greeting American tourists, a shirt I couldn't imagine even the tackiest of Americans wearing.
I didn't realize until later how Tanzanians mostly wear the discarded clothes of America. Goodwill operates a huge pipeline to Africa - when you donate your clothes, this is its final destination. It's a strange thing to see a Tanzanian goat shepherd wearing an Oakland A's hat and an Arusha street kid wearing a Georgia Tech t-shirt but we saw this more often than traditional African clothing.
On the drive to Arusha, our driver acted as if the road were a two-lane highway, which it wasn't. Traffic laws are optional in Tanzania and drivers push their rickety vehicles as if they were sports cars. I read a stat that said there were 66 fatalities for every 10,000 motor vehicles in Tanzania. In comparison, the UK had 1.4. The most dangerous moments of this trip were the times we were being driven somewhere.
We went to our hotel rooms in the Jacaranda hotel. In the photo you can see the mosquito nets which are essential in a continent plagued by malaria and yellow fever. I got five shots and two prescriptions before coming here. The nurse at the travel clinic gave me so many health pamphlets it made me think this trip was the equivalent of parachuting into a war zone.
I screwed up the netting on the first night and fought mosquitos all night long. Terrified, I hid under the sheets convinced every mosquito carried a deadly virus. The next morning, we relaxed and laughed at my cowardice.
In this photo, I am reading a tourist guidebook of Kilimanjaro. Previous to this, I had read nothing about the mountain outside of glancing at the "Kilimanjaro" entry in Wikipedia on my way to the airport. That night before we left for the mountain, I thought to myself, "Good Lord, what have I got myself into?"
A photo of Tom and I relaxing in the Jacaranda hotel waiting to meet our tour organizer Menghe, a terrific and funny man, of Good Earth Tours.
I would recommend Good Earth Tours to anyone climbing Kilimanjaro. This tour costs around $3,000 when you go with a big American group like KE Travel. In comparison, Good Earth cost around $1,400. It's also part Tanzanian-owned, so your dollars go more directly into the local economy.
The average Tanzanian makes $264 a year. Try to imagine what it would be like if a pair of Nikes cost half your annual salary. I tipped everyone along the way as much as I could afford.
After lunch we left the hotel to check out the local city, Arusha. In the photo above, you can get an idea of the chaos of these streets, this picture doesn't do it proper justice though.
The roads of Tanzania support anything that has two wheels, whether it is a bike, ox-pulled wagon, tractor trailer, or a Land Rover. There are two lanes operating here but, with optional traffic laws, that can be expanded to a full three at any time.
Just to add to the hilarity, traffic travels in the left-hand lane. I didn't realize how deeply ingrained my habits of crossing the street were until I almost got hit by a car coming from my right, after I had checked on my left.
If you click on the photo above you can see a man hauling a cart loaded to full capacity. He's hauling it in 90 degree heat. Tools are lacking in this country and just about everything is done manually, which means everyone is fit, strong, and tremendously resourceful. Any kind of tool or vehicle is at a premium so everyone makes the most of everything they have.
Being white and walking on the streets of downtown Arusha is the equivalent of standing up and screaming "HELLO, I AM A RICH TOURIST LOOKING TO BUY CHEAP KNICK-KNACKS AND T-SHIRTS." We were swarmed by new "friends" downtown, all of them striking up conversation and offering to sell us t-shirts, posters, flags, and books. It was similar to the scene in Night of the Living Dead where the heroes are mobbed by zombies. Everywhere we turned, we had zombie salesmen in our faces. You think I'm exaggerating.
Being a minority for once in my life demonstrated one point - it sucks to be so conspicuous. Even though I desperately wanted to, I couldn't blend in with the crowd. Getting constant stares and feeling instant assumptions being made about you on the basis of the color of your skin is tiring and annoying.
Nothing encapsulates the chaos of Arusha streets quite as perfectly as the taxi service. The way it works - a group gathers at a taxi stand and when the van pulls up, everyone piles in to the point that people are spilling out of the windows. Here we can see the process in action.
I originally scoffed at the idea of going to an internet cafe, so I stayed in the hotel while Andy and Tom went. I later realized internet cafes were the best way to keep in touch with people back home, the cost is a dollar per half hour. Andy sent an email to my wife on my behalf on our last day there while I was suffering from food poisoning. I'll write more about that later.