Africa: The Dark Continent. It is a place that has often lived in a shroud of mystery and wonder. Growing up I had friends go there for two reasons mainly: Mission trips to dig wells and build schools and expensive family safaris. I had no real place in Africa. My sister saw it differently. She devoted two years of her life working in rural towns using her nursing skills to better their lives. I still knew very little about the continent as a whole. When I found out that a friend from work was having a wedding in South Africa, I started talking with Ali and Mit about heading down for a week and checking it out. I knew Ali could go to Tanzania and Zimbabwe, so I started looking there.
In my quest to hit wonders of the world, Victoria Falls was a must see: this I knew. I was torn about Tanzania though. Should we go to Zanzibar, a land with an exotic name, or to Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain? We opted to head to Moshi in order to see Kilimanjaro. From there, we came across many logistical nightmares with flights. Most of these African airports only had 1 or 2 flights out each day. Certain airlines only flew on Mondays or Wednesdays, etc. We decided our final route and booked everything. From there all that was left was to prepare.
With most countries, preparation means researching guide companies, maybe getting a new pair of shoes, and checking for electronics cables. But with a lot of African countries, it also means immunizations and vaccines. I had to go through 2 weeks’ worth of shots and pills leading up to the flight. Be sure to check several websites (a lot of them have old information) regarding Yellow Fever and Malaria. The night before we were supposed to leave, I found myself double checking all the reservations, and I came to find out that the Protea Machame Aishi in Tanzania was dropped off the Marriott website completely. I called them to verify that they were even still open. It turns out that some of these hotels are still very old-school. Protea would only run the generators while guests are in the room, there is no air conditioning, and Wi-Fi is spotty to say the least. After a minor freak out, we were ready to head down.
I guess part of me has always feared Africa for no real good reason except listening to media sources. Growing up, you hear about civil wars, unrest, genocides, and other horrors. But how can we just write off whole tribes and cities over rumour and speculation? Yes, there are some bad people, but there are bad people everywhere. We have had our perception distorted by Hollywood, and this keeps many of us from ever going to Africa.
We started our journey on Qatar Airways. Luckily we hit the ATM in Doha to get some $USD, because most all visa fees only accept major world currencies (USD, Euro, Pound). On the airplane, I finally brought myself to watch Blood Diamond. This probably wasn’t the best idea, but it gave me the catchphrase “TIA.” In the movie, Leonardo talks about how that red soil gets into your blood. I was actually ready to experience this.
Ali and I landed in Kilimanjaro Airport, and the plane turned around on the same runway, then we got out… all on the same runway. Turns out the visa process is a breeze. Honestly, one of the simplest and smoothest processes I have experienced. We had arranged transfer to the hotel with Afrishare Trekking and Safari. While I am not a fan of big tour groups, I do like making sure all transfers and transit is taken care of before I take off. You never know how cabs and transportation works in new places. The village we were staying in was a little way away from the main cities of the area. Most people stay in either Arusha or Moshi, but we stayed in Machame. The scenes on the way were straight out of those sad commercials with Sara Mclachlan. But it felt real. I was quickly identified as a Mzungu (person of European descent), and I was somewhat offended at first. But I came to learn that the term is used in a somewhat complimentary way most of the time. I embraced it.
As our guide pulled up to the hotel, we were blown away with the nature and greenery. In my mind, Africa was more of a desert wasteland. I really should have done more research. Our hotel was surrounded by rolling hills and lush growth. There were banana trees and mango trees, exotic flowers out of Jurassic Park, and unique wildlife. After checking in, we were told the power would be on in a couple minutes. So we went to have some fresh mango. As Ali and I tasted the best fruit I have ever had, the monkeys decided to start throwing their mango pits at us. It was a perfect welcome.
Once we had unpacked and had some fresh fruit, we did not really know what else to do. Ali and I decided we should explore Moshi. Luckily, our driver was still close, and, for a minimal fee, he would take us exploring the town. Sometimes when you travel to new places, they don’t live up to your expectations. Moshi did. It was how I pictured Africa. After a quick bite and tour, we headed back to relax in nature.
The next day brought our hike up Kilimanjaro. I am not in the best shape of my life, so I was dreading this, but I knew I had to at least give it a shot. We strapped on our gear and filled our water bottles. As we neared Kilimanjaro National Park, that dread grew in me. This thing was huge. I was not prepared for this task at all. Meanwhile, Ali and Kijaji (our guide) were bounding up the mountain with seemingly no effort. I, on the other hand, was lagging behind just praying for an airlift. The journey up to the first check point nearly crushed everything about me. As I sat and ate lunch on the mountain, I could help but be filled with wonder and amazement at both the people who can just climb this beast, but also at nature itself. This mountain has stood for millennia. It has weathered storms and famines and everything else.
The hike back down was much more entertaining. Kijaji taught us about the Maasai and the other local tribes. We learned about farming in Tanzania and culture. It turns out that most of us pronounce Tanzania incorrectly. We say “Tan-zuh-knee-uh” but it should be “Tan-zon-ee-uh.” Weird, right? Once we returned, we headed out to pick up a couple souvenirs and of course, get our hair done like the locals.
On our drive to the airport the next day, I came to find out that Ibrahim, the guy who set the whole tour up, was actually friends with some people in Memphis that go to the church I used to attend. The world really is a small place.
Seeing Mount Kilimanjaro and climbing on it was truly a worthwhile adventure. I am very glad that we didn’t let our fear get the best of us. It was fun to learn that “asante sana” and “hakuna matata” are actual phrases that are used. It was quite an experience to share a scene from Lion King with the front desk staff at the Protea.