Sunday, June 14, 2015
Within sight of Kilimanjaro
It was a total travel time of about 24 hours to get from Indianapolis international airport to Kilimanjaro airport in Moshi, Tanzania. We had a four hour layover in Amsterdam arriving at about 6am. We couldn't pick our seats for our KLM flight to Kilimanjaro and were randomly assigned seats that were 8 aisles apart. We managed to get seats together thanks to the nice KLM gate reps but then something rare happened.
Once settled in our seats in steerage, a KLM angel appeared at our side right before takeoff and asked if we would like to move back to an area reserved for babies that had tons of extra legroom. Clearly, she was taking pity on poor John, who at 6' 3", was crammed in the seat with his knees up to his chin. It pays to be married to someone tall! When someone asks if you want extra legroom, you say YES!! As a result we actually managed to get some sleep on the flight, and didn't even watch a single movie. We forgive them for the really bad dinner. I'd rather have legroom and be able to sleep than good food any day.
Upon arrival at Kilimanjaro airport we breezed past the "Ebola inspection desk" and got in the "I need a visa" line. After ponying up the $100 in cash each just to enter the country we then stood in two more lines to get through visa stamping and immigration. Then it was the moment I always dread: waiting and hoping as bag after bag goes by on the baggage carousel. This time however the luggage gods smiled upon us and all three of our bags had already been set aside, waiting for us.
It took three checked pieces of luggage because of the sleeping bags and myriad of other gear we needed for the climb.
Gabriel was waiting for us outside the airport with a sign that read "Keys Hotel" and we were off in a van headed for our hotel which was about an hours' drive away. Now at home it would have been half that time, but these roads were really rough and he had to take it kind of slowly. We so take our system of roads and highways for granted in America!
All along the way we could see side dirt roads leading off to little dusty villages. And on the main road, we could see ram shackled buildings; some restaurants and others shops of some kind, that had dingy minimal lighting. In fact, there were very few lights of any kind along the way, save for the bright stars overhead which John pointed out were likely different ones than we are used to seeing at home.
The Keys Hotel had sounded interesting from the literature, but was, in fact, pretty modest. We had hoped to have one,of the huts on the property but instead had a second floor room in the main building. The first thing I noticed were the twin beds, then the mosquito netting tied up above it. The TV was an old LG analog with a 13 inch screen and we could find exactly ONE channel which was all in Swahilli. The bathroom was minimalistic too with the only towels being 2 bath towels and 2 empty boxes where there was supposed to be soap.
We went back downstairs to get the internet password and the woman at the desk showed us to an area behind the hotel where we could, hopefully, get a signal. So we spent a half hour or so on the "internet stoop" along with a bunch of young English-speaking fellow travelers checking email and posting to Facebook before heading to a long overdue shower and bed. All the while, we could hear in the distance first, children singing somewhere, followed by what sounded like a very long Muslim call to prayer that went on forever.
John was out like a light while I was in the shower and I climbed in my little twin and dozed off only to be awakened by the buzz of a mosquito at my ear. I swatted and hunkered under the covers but when he came back for a second fly-over, I hopped up and covered John with the mosquito netting before covering myself and trying to get to sleep. It was in vain. I have trouble sleeping sometimes anyway, but a combination of jet lag, extra adrenaline because of the climb and the sound of loud cars driving by on the road right outside our room prevented me from getting much at all.
In the morning, we awakened, got ready and went down for a breakfast of omelets (or so they were described), toast, cereal, juice and surprisingly good coffee. That was followed by our pre-climb briefing with our guides Anold and who will be with us every step of the way. Merely writing those words is making my stomach flip over in anticipation of our days ahead.
As I write this, I can hear the strains of Kenny Rogers' "Through the Years" wafting from somewhere. Here we sit in Tanzania at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and we're not far from our own culture that is so pervasive around the world. I find it both comforting and melancholy because that song is one that always makes me cry. The words ring of truth for me because of how I feel about John and here we are embarking on yet another adventure together. One that I would only take with him by my side.