Having dropped the first group off at the airport last night without a hitch, other than the fact that they were griping about having to wait for the ticket counter to open, and getting back to the Temba’s home in Arusha, mostly exhausted after a day of shuttling everyone, I had to do it all over again. The new team would be arriving into Kilimanjaro International Airport first thing in the morning at 7:35 am, which meant that I would have leave around 6 am to get there in time and just in case they arrived earlier than scheduled. The drive was surprisingly pleasant as it was early on a Sunday morning meaning that the traffic was sparse and the number of trucks on the road was far less than normal. The issue with the trucks here is two-fold – first, the roads were never really graded properly meaning that there are steeper inclines than there should be and, second, the trucks here are typically heavily loaded, ginormous, and have the acceleration of a particularly slow snail. It is not at all uncommon for several trucks in a row to be driving 10 or 20 kph up a long hill with a tremendous line of vehicles behind that are unable to pass safely. Add to that the many buses, both large and small, who will attempt to pass regardless of whether it’s safe or not so as to remain on schedule and, hence, the many, many accidents that occur here on the highways day or night. Driving here is not only challenging, but is downright dangerous.
I drove to the soothing sounds of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing through the speakers I had specifically installed for this reason and the stereo head unit that allows us to play our iPhones through it. Typically, I don’t have the luxury of controlling what is being played when the residents are along as they have their own music, which is fine both from the standpoint that I can tolerate their music as well as the fact that I’m completely deaf in my left ear and, when driving a right-hand drive vehicle, it’s the one that’s facing into the car. Vivaldi lasted just the right amount of time for my drive and pulling up in the parking lot, I was able to watch as the Qatar Airways jet carrying the new team had just landed and was taxiing to the terminal. KIA, or Kilimanjaro International Airport is a tiny airport that twice each day is inundated with arriving passengers who had traveled here either with Qatar Airways or KLM, which are the only two airlines traveling here from off the continent.
I received a text from Taha that they were in the immigration line waiting to get their passports stamped with their business visas that would allow them to “work” at FAME for the next three weeks. It is always a mob scene outside the arrivals side of the terminal as there are dozens and dozens of guides waiting to pick up their clients, all holding up signs with their names on them, and the passengers exiting out into the bright sunlight, scanning the crowd of safari guides looking for the one holding a sign with their name and, when they do, greeting the person who they will be spending the next weeks with. There seemed to be an inordinate number of visitors with backpacks and climbing shoes who were clearly planning to climb Kilimanjaro over the next week which, in addition to the Serengeti, is one of the main reasons that people travel here.
I had done this back in 2015 with a group of five of us – Danielle Becker, Lindsay Ferrero, my brother, Jeff, and his son, Nick. We had hiked the Lemosho route which we did over seven days – 5 ½ up and 1 ½ down – as it has one of the very best success rates of summiting, though the main issue we had wasn’t the altitude, but rather the rare blizzard that occurred the night we reached the top. Having to wipe the snow from the sign confirming our success, it certainly spoke to the added challenge and significance of our achievement, though it did not make our descent any easier considering the slippery ice and snow that covered the entire top of the mountain. It was an achievement that none of us would never forget.
Watching what seemed like at least ¾ of the passengers having already exited and met with their guides, I began to worry a bit about the residents and whether they had run into a snag somewhere along the way, either in immigration or customs. They finally surfaced, telling me they had just picked the wrong line to stand in, though Ankita did comment that she was asked a number of questions about what she was planning to do here when going through immigration, always a bit of stressful time as we are visitors here and they are typically expecting tourists rather than volunteers. They all had their luggage, which is always a very good sign, and we proceeded to load everything into Turtle, a bit of déjà vu as I had just done this yesterday with the previous group’s bags. Once loaded, we began our journey back to the Temba’s home as Pendo was preparing a nice breakfast for everyone.
The boys were unfortunately already heading back to Nairobi for school, but their two younger children, Gabrielle and Gabriel, were both home to greet the residents. Having been flying for over a day, the residents were pretty exhausted, but despite this, managed to play with the children and keep them busy. Pendo had prepared another amazing breakfast for everyone – fresh beet/watermelon juice, tea masala, chicken and vegetables, omelettes, toast, pancakes, sweet potatoes, mangos, pineapple, and watermelon. Oh yes, and fresh brewed coffee. After breakfast, I did have an errand to run as Leonard and I have been working on a project together rebuilding an older Land Rover and I would be seeing it at the shop for the very first time. It would very difficult for me to truly convey my love affair with the Land Rover, and specifically here in East Africa, but leave it to say that from my early childhood, I have dreamed of being here, in this exact place, doing exactly what I am doing, and in a Land Rover. The progress on our vehicle has been impressive and it should be ready for the road sometime soon and hopefully before I head home in three weeks, but if it isn’t, I’ll see it in the spring.
We heard back from Prosper who, by now had made his way to Arusha by bus, and would be meeting us very close by at the Njiro Cinema where we could then jump on the bypass and be on the road to Karatu. Everyone was incredibly tired at the start of the drive so it didn’t take very long for everyone to begin to doze given the circumstances. I think Ankita may have slept all the way to Mto wa Mbu with Sara and Taha dozing more intermittently along the way. We spotted a small group of baboons as we passed by the entrance to Manyara National Park and then began our climb up the escarpment with Lake Manyara stretching out for miles in front of us. I made the compulsory stop at the overlook so that everyone could get out of the car and take photos and we then made our way to the African Galleria for some cold drinks before the final leg of our drive to Karatu.
We arrived before sunset and everyone was introduced to the Raynes House. With only three residents, each of them would have their own room for the next three weeks and I allowed them to choose which room they would take going forward. Ankita was somehow placed into Alex’s old room which was unfortunate for her as both Moira and Alana had apparently stripped and made the beds in each of their own rooms, but not only had Alex not done this, he had also left his bathroom in rather poor shape, much to Ankita’s chagrin, though she braved the dirty shower as she was pretty desperate, and dirty, considering all the flights and the long dusty drive. She will just have to find a way to pay back Alex in the future. We had decided to just have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner as everyone was far too tired to go back out. Tomorrow morning would be their orientation to FAME and the EMR here and we’d get started with clinic before lunch. I knew that everyone was very excited to begin their work here, but for now it would be a good night’s sleep and perhaps a Malarone dream or two.