Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kilimanjaro Trip Report: Arriving in Arusha, Tanzania

I arrive with KLM at 8:30 pm on Dec 29, 2008 at Kilimanjaro International Airport. Stepping out of the plane onto the stairs and into the night, a strong warm breeze blows and moves the flags in front of the terminal building. We wait in a long line outside for our visa. The building must have been constructed in the late 60s / early 70s and never been modernized. Eventually the line moves further inside. The waxed hardwood floor creaks. Two immigration officers sit in booths selling visas. They add the necessary stamp to my passport and I collect my luggage. The driver is already there, but we have to wait for other clients to share the one hour ride to Arusha. Smalltalk. Eventually we are on our way, with the other passengers missing some luggage. I sit in the front seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser, tired from the flights. This would be non-exciting, except that Tanzanians drive on the left. So, whenever I wake up from my nap - Tanzanian roads and drivers provide reasons for waking up from naps - I find myself sitting in the left front seat, looking out of the windshield into the fast moving road lit by the low beams. I wonder whether I should advise the driver to use the high beams when no other traffic was present but decide against it.

In Arusha, the driver makes a right turn from the paved road into a bumpy road. This stretch is poor and somewhat dirty - people prepare food with small stoves in the street - and even though I know that Tanzania is a developing country it shocks me since I have never seen poverty this close. The driver uses the horn and people move to the side as our Land Cruiser leaves a cloud of dust in their street. The Toyota climbs up the hill toward the lodge; this remaining, longer section of the road looks green. I check into the lodge, a nice, large building behind a guarded gate. My room is in one of the round cottages behind the pool. Without asking, staff members grab my luggage and carry it into my room, so now I'm obliged to tip them. The most interesting sight on this first evening are the beds, with mosquito nets preinstalled. If you are not scared about getting Malaria yet you are sure a bit worried now that you see how much effort people spend to avoid mosquito bites.

The next morning, I decide to hike up the road from the lodge to explore the area a bit, and perhaps get a view of Mount Meru. As I'm walking up the road, people greet friendly. Of course they know instantly that I am a tourist: I'm the only white guy around and I'm wearing a fancy Gore-Tex hat and a camera around my neck that costs about three times the annual Tanzania GDP per person. I feel safe though. Eventually I get to see Meru, the 14,980 ft volcano that towers behind Arusha.

Back at the lodge after this little adventure, my next move is to visit the downtown area. The friendly receptionist offers to call a cab, but I decide to walk instead. She photocopies me a map which covers the downtown area itself and indicates roughly from which direction on the map I'd be coming if I start by walking down the street. The walk is pleasant, and it feels nice to share the road with so many other pedestrians.

Eventually I get to a point where the map becomes useful, and find my way to downtown. It feels a little bit messy and dirty but also very diverse and certainly alive.

I hike back to the lodge since Stefan is arriving from the airport. Here is a picture on my way up the road toward the lodge. Undoubtedly the most memorable part of the road is the electrician (not in the picture); this little shop has a huge loudspeaker that blasts music into the street.

Later in the day, Stefan and I travel to downtown again, this time in a cab. We checkout a few stores, including the Shoprite, which is a grocery store. While Stefan checks out the internet cafe I observe Tanzanian soccer from a distance, with multiple balls in play.

Tomorrow, we have a walking safari in Arusha National Park.

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