Thankfully, Marissa and Andrea had checked their flights on Air Kenya the day before to notice that they had been moved up an hour. We had originally intended to depart at 8 AM, but given their new departure time, it made more sense to leave a bit earlier so as to make sure we had plenty of time. We had people flying out at various times during the day and given that it is about an hour to get to the airport at Kilimanjaro, I had planned to arrange a shuttle for the Marissa and Andrea who were leaving the earliest. Leah, Mike and myself actually had transport from Arusha as part of our package of travel to Gombe Stream National Park and our flight was leaving at 7:40, while Kyra was departing at 10 PM on Emirates to eventually head to Morocco by way of Dubai. I had asked if Kyra could just come along with us since that made the most sense, and heard back that she could ride with the three of us for no extra fee. And in the end, we didn’t need the shuttle for Marissa and Andrea, who were heading home, as Pendo had to drive to Moshi for a funeral at the same time and could drop them off at the airport which was far better than taking a shuttle, not only in cost, but also for reliability.
We left FAME at about 7 AM, with Phoebe getting up early to say goodbye to us. I know it was sad for everyone to leave, though it was time for them to get home to their family and their other lives. I’ll be back in six months and, besides, FAME has always been constantly on my mind and even more so these days given my new commitment as a board member. We drove through Karatu with all the early activity of the merchants and the buses being boarded for far reaches of the Tanzania – Arusha, Dar, Dadoma, Loliondo – all destinations for everyday travelers on their way for business or to rejoin families. I have never taken a long bus ride in this country, and though it might seem exciting and adventurous, it can also be very dangerous as there are bus accidents all the time here.
We drove down to Manyara and had planned to stop briefly at the African Galleria to say goodbye to Nish and several people had wanted to get a few last pieces of Tanzanian artwork. Though I had said 10 minutes, it turned into closer to 30, which wasn’t a crisis, but I knew that traffic in Arusha can be a problem at times. We eventually left and stopped briefly for gas in Makuyuni, before continuing on to Arusha. The drive was reasonably fast until we reached the outskirts of Arusha and the traffic became a problem. I took a few shortcuts, but even with these, we arrived around 10:30 rather than the 9:30 I had anticipated. Pendo, of course, had a full breakfast on the table waiting for us and we were all starving, given the lack of breakfast items in our house, so it was very much appreciated. After breakfast, Marissa and Andrea gathered their things, loaded them into Pendo’s van and they were off for the airport.
The remaining four of us were left at home with the Gabriella, Gabriel, and another young family member, but in very short order, we all fell asleep on the couches in their family room, sleeping quite soundly for well over an hour. When we awakened, I realized that we’d all need something to eat before going to the airport, so we drove over to the Cinema, which is a small upscale mall that has an outside food court where there are a number of restaurants that all vie for your business by putting about six menus on the table, each with different waiters to take your order. This is somewhat of a mzungu hangout as there are lots of expats and young travelers who come here to eat a meal without the fear of getting ill which can often happen at some of the local restaurants if you’re not careful. We each ordered from one of the menus and then had a delicious meal that we finished just in time to head back to the house where Leonard’s sister-in-law, Grace, was waiting to drive us to Impala Hotel nearby where we had planned to meet our ride to the airport. I think everyone commented on what a welcome change it was to finally be in something other than the squeaky and bouncy Land Rover after an entire month, but I took absolutely no offense as I had a bit of the same feeling, though was already missing Turtle.
At the airport, Leah, Mike and I checked in for our Air Tanzania flight to begin our journey to Gombe, while poor Kyra had about four hours to wait for her Emirates flight and they hadn’t even begun checking passengers in yet. She had a long trip to Morocco, but we received word later that she made it safely to meet her husband. Our flight to Dar was uneventful other than a stop in Zanzibar which we had been aware of beforehand. As it was already nighttime, we did not even get a good view of the island.
In Dar, we met our airport shuttle that took us to the Tanzanite Executive Suite, the long awaited highlight for Mike as he had been talking about this ever since we booked our trip months ago. It was obviously more of a joke, though at times he seemed quite genuinely serious about it. After all, it was an “executive suite.” We drove from the airport to what seemed to be the main area of town and the driver eventually delivered us at the hotel after driving through a number of very narrow and bumpy streets. Our bags were brought up to reception, one floor above the street and we were given our rooms on the 8th floor. Everything was extremely clean and we were greeted with a very cold and very fresh glass of mango juice. Since our flight was at 8 AM the following morning, we did ask if we could have breakfast to go (since breakfast was included but would not begin until 6:30), as we’d be leaving for the airport quite early. I think we were all asleep quite quickly despite the long naps we had taken earlier in the day. Tomorrow, we’d be flying to Kigoma and it would be off to Gombe Stream National Park after that.
There had been a tremendous amount of moving parts today given everyone’s different flight times, the travel from Karatu, and the distance to the airport, but all went incredibly well and, amazingly, everyone made it to their destinations as scheduled. Marissa and Andrea would be home tomorrow, while Kyra was on her adventure in Morocco with her husband. Leah, Mike and I were just beginning our expedition to the see the famous chimps of Gombe.