Keeping fingers crossed that the photocopies of Luke’s passport photos would work for the visa, we walked into Kilimanjaro International Airport. This building, smaller than that in Nairobi, was almost completely empty at 11PM. We filled out our forms, scanned our fingerprints, smiled for the cameras, and our visas were stamped. Hey, what about the passport photos we needed? Turn out we didn’t. They take your picture right there.
In either case, we made it! Unfortunately, our bags shared the fate of many bags on our flight. They were still in Kenya. The claim process took an hour as the single Precision Air employee needed to fill out complicated forms for every passenger. Glad we were wearing our boots. Luckily, our tour company took care of our luggage from here and we received it the next morning.
Finally, we met our driver, Joseph, and drove the 45 minutes to Weruweru River Lodge in Moshi. Our base for the next few weeks.
The lodge, which for a multitude of reasons we shall refer to as “the compound”, was located several minutes outside of Moshitown. Complete with a gate, guards, and high fence it was a little island for tourists.
Located just South of the equator, the weather allows for open-air architecture. A main building housed the reception desk, restaurant, and an outdoor bar/lounge.
Surrounding the courtyard was a mixture of several buildings, each with 4 rooms, and banana trees. The rooms had a rustic-modern decor. The wooden doors were decorated with smaller doors (i.e. holes) through which mosquitoes could enter.
The compound was preparing for a wedding that night and we were invited. Something to look forward to.
Breakfast was a buffet. For the first time in 2 years Luke willingly ate animal products. Eggs. And butter. And milk. Sharon held out, eating only the fried potatoes, though by noon the next day she would have no choice. The breakfast foreshadowed the struggle between not eating animal products and not going hungry that would persist for the entire trip.
After, an agent from Ahsante Tours came to alleviate us of a thick roll of recently printed cash and introduce us to our guide, Saumu, one of the few (if not only) female guides on Kili. We were both ecstatic to have a women leading us. We were to be led up two mountains by a famous person (her interview was in our guide book).
After our delightful meeting, we decided to head to Moshitown. The driver dropped us off in front of God Hates Corruption – Join Him Executive Bureau de Change (a.k.a. the currency exchange); a tiny office guarded by a man with an AK-47 and crowded with Wazungu (white people).
The street outside was filled with people: many going to the open air market next door, others pushing carts overfilled with cargo, still others conducting business on the sidewalks or tending to their tiny shops. We crossed the street, weaving through the chaos of people, cars, and bicycles and entered Kilimanjaro Coffee Shop for food and some strong coffee. The cafe was mainly patronized by Westerners.
Finishing our veggie burgers, we walked outside and made the ultimate of tourist mistakes; we stopped and started looking at our map. Within seconds, 3 men, known locally as flycatchers, had surrounded us, pushing “their” crafts into our hands. One of them turned very unfriendly when we turned him down and we learned the full extent of his French vocabulary. With our heads down, shocked, and a bit scared we walked quickly away. The man followed us for a few blocks cursing until he gave up.
As Americans, we expected the whole scenario to end very differently: Minus a wallet, plus a black eye, and possibly a shiv between the ribs. Later we learned from our guide that flycatchers were ubiquitous in Moshitown and that “fuck you” already crossed a rare threshold. In fact, she was surprised that none of the local onlookers yelled at him.
Nonetheless we were so frightened by the hostility that we walked right past the market we wanted to explore, didn’t stop to take pictures, and walked until we reached another coffee shop. Like the previous one, Aroma was filled with Wazungu. We came to learn that the Westerners in Moshitown, tourists and volunteers alike, spent their days moving from cafe to restaurant to cafe, observing local life at arms length.
As we spent more time around town over the next few weeks we realized that this was not out of fear. Moshitown was not dangerous. We, as well as other Westerners, did stick out as non-locals for obvious reasons and the constant hounding by the flycatchers was just irritating. On their behalf, with the average monthly income in Tanzania being about 30USD a month, what seemed like a small amount of money to us made the difference between feeding their children and going hungry.
The gates of the compound brought to us a sigh of relief. A welcome bit of peace after a stressful day. We did not actually mustered enough courage to walk past the guarded gate until after Kilimanjaro. We took a stroll around a coffee plantation against the recommendations of the staff. You would have thought that everyone we ran into while walking down the unpaved road wouldn’t have been as pleasant and friendly as they were.
In preparation for the wedding, we changed from one set of hiking clothes into another and proceeded to the bar area. A couple of drinks, an hour or so of watching the celebration and we were going to call it an early night. After all, we needed our beauty sleep to look our best climbing a mountain the following day.
Enter the South Africans. “We, have a table, would you like to join us?” “Why, of course.”
And then we learned that the beer was free flowing and the fortified African wine was abundant. So much for an early night. We spent the next few hours getting to know the Wazungu from Capetown and taking in the wonders of a Tanzanian wedding.
The couple, whose hands we ceremonially shook, were obviously part of the affluent society of the town. The reception was quite similar to one in the States with a few notable differences: The wedding party was involved in a lot of dancing and most of the attendees were from East Africa.
Oh, and there was a goat. Presumably cooked but unskinned. Head, legs, and all other body parts still attached. This goat was propped up on a stand of some sort. A man cut it open and fed one piece to the bride and another to the groom. Everyone cheered. We were told that this was supposed to represent the buffet. We are still not sure exactly what THAT means.
Our first day in Tanzania, we were stressed, underfed, liquored up, and exhausted….just what the doctor ordered the day before a trek up the tenth highest mountain in Africa.