After all the shenanigans with Ethiopian Airlines and the general hostilities I felt in Addis Ababa, I was eager to hurry and get to Tanzania. I wasn’t sure what to expect though….
As we flew into TZ, the pilot announced that to our left, we could see Mount Kilimanjaro from the window. Being the clever traveler that I am, I already knew that we’d see Kili from the left side of the plane which is PRECISELY why I asked for a window seat on the port side of the plane! YAH! Even though I knew it was a tall mountain, I was still shocked by how large it looked even from a jet! Kili was mostly shrouded in clouds but still, I felt a little emotional when I first spied it from the window! The German couple that sat next to me asked if they could lean over and look out and we all marveled at Kili’s majesty! As we passed by, I turned around and caught my first glimpse of the snow on top. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture.
JRO is a tiny little airport! We landed, and just like in Ethiopia, we disembarked on the tarmac and walked to the terminal. I kinda like this! It feels very 1970’s. As we, the passengers, strolled up to the terminal we were greeted by officials who immediately wanted to see our immunizations cards (not our passports). Those who had Yellow Fever shots were allowed into the terminals. Those without were taken somewhere else. I can only assume they were made to get the vaccine or asked to leave. So thankful I decided to get the vaccination before I arrived.
The airport was a ghost town. Obviously there isn’t a lot of traffic in and out of JRO so after filling out my customs card, I walked up to the customs/passport agent and presented my passport. My encounter with the agents was my first taste of Tanzanian hospitality and humor. These guys were hilarious! Unlike American (or other countries) border/customs agents who are serious and intimidating, the Tanzanian agents joked and smiled. When the agent realized I’d not paid for my visa yet, he instructed me to go to the visa agent’s window. I apologized for my mistake and for taking up his time but he just grinned and said, “Hakuna Matata”! Immediately I knew I was going to love Tanzania!
Once I cleared passport control, I headed over to baggage claim and prayed for a miracle with regards to my checked bags. I saw my large bag that I checked at the counter but no sight of my little bag with the post it note. 😦 As I heaved the large bag onto the luggage carrier, an American man said, “Hey, where’d you get the RedOxx bag?”. I told him I ordered it online and he said he was friends with the guy who makes them. Small world. I told him I hoped to find a second RedOxx bag but feared it would be MIA. The guy said, “Oh no, it’s here. I saw it just a minute ago!” Just as he said that, I finally saw it! Waves of relief washed through me! It made it! It made it! Somehow the post it note managed to stay on the bag and my boots and drugs had arrived! Life was immediately good again and the universe in order!
With a big smile on my face and excitement in my heart, I headed towards the front door and saw a throng of men standing with signs. These were all of the tour operators who had arrived to pick up passengers and take them into town. For a moment I wondered how I’d ever find my ride but as soon as the automatic door opened, I saw a small man holding a sign with the “Climb Kili” logo and at the bottom I saw my name. Yes! I was ready to go. I walked up and in my best Swahili exclaimed, “Jambo!” (hello) and shook the man’s hand. I introduced myself and he said his name was Emanuel. We walked to the van and took off to Arusha!
As we drove Emanuel talked passionately about his attempts to start an organization that would help orphans and while I was very interested in what he had to say, I was in sensory overload! I was looking out the windows trying to absorb all of the sights while also listening to him. We talked a lot about the plight of orphaned children and even just high risk children living in poor households. Emanuel obviously cared very deeply about these children and wanted desperately to make a difference. He gave me a brochure that explained his budget and plans for sending the children to school etc. Emanuel was so friendly and laughed so easily and I found him incredibly endearing! We talked non-stop to Arusha and along the way, he also explained different things to me (like the herds of cows who grazed on the side of the road).
I asked Emanuel if he could take me to a Bureau de Change so that I could switch my US Dollars to TZ Shillings. We went to one near the clock tower in Arusha and God bless Emanuel because he took me to one that had a much better exchange rate than many others. I was blown away by the large wad of Shillings I received in exchange for my dollars. I was also a little nervous about having such a bulky wad of money. I tried my best to hide it and kept some out as a tip for Emanuel.
As we made our way to my hotel, Emanuel showed me points of interest like the UN building and the building in which they tried Rwandan war criminals. Finally, we arrived at the African Tulip, my home away from home for the next two weeks. It was gorgeous! When we walked in I was greeted with a smile and a glass of passionfruit juice. If you’ve never had passionfruit juice, you’re missing out! Best of all, they also gave Emanuel a glass. I thought that was a very sweet thing to do! After ensuring I was able to check in with no problems, Emanuel told me that Climb Kili reps would meet me the following day at 3 to brief me on the climb. We said our goodbyes and I tipped him before heading to my room.
My first room at the African Tulip was #16. It was a lovely, large room that had a deep tub and shower as well as a window seat. It overlooked a small garden. I quickly made a mess of the room as I unpacked but soon realized I forgot to bring an electrical adaptor. OH NO! How would I charge things? I ran downstairs and asked if they had a spare one. They didn’t but they did bring up a surge strip which was configured to take American style plugs. I was able to use it so long as all the electronic items I charged were dual voltage. Luckily, everything was. Thank goodness!
After settling in I decided to treat myself to a bubble bath and a nap. I fell asleep in the sunny window while relaxing in the window seat. I woke up to the muslim call to prayer. At the equator the days are equal in length to the night so at 6:30 it was dark. Quite a difference from the 9PM twilight we have in Roanoke. I wasn’t very hungry so I skipped dinner and instead, munched on snacks I brought. I went to sleep that night, my first night in Africa, full of excitement! So far Tanzania was NOT a disappointment!