I woke up early. Despite having no real plans, I had lots to do. I needed to eat breakfast, check out, stash my stuff with the front desk, and meet Clamian. I scurried around my room, getting ready, before heading down to breakfast one last time. My routine was the same…corn flakes, passion fruit juice, and tea with a dash of milk.
After eating I stored my things with the front desk, checked out, then waited for Clamian. He was surprisingly punctual. I expected African Time but he was obviously operating on American Time. Much to my chagrin, Nicholas was not with him. I was hoping to see him again but Clamian brought another driver instead. Unfortunately his name was a Maasai name and difficult to remember. It started with an L. I asked him 35 times to repeat it but still had trouble remembering/pronouncing it and I just couldn’t bring myself to ask a 36th time. He was a lovely young man – very soft spoken and polite.
Clamian took me back to the coffee shop where we first met and he bought me another cup of coffee. He also bought coffee for me to take home. I thought this was an incredible gesture but all his kindness made me feel awkward for being unable to return it in kind. We talked for a short time and he suggested I visit a place called Tanzanite One. It’s the largest tanzanite mining company and their office in Arusha has a small museum dedicated to “all things tanzanite”. The tour is free and afterwards, visitors can browse and purchase stones. However, there’s no obligation. I had nothing else planned for the day so it sounded like a good idea. My ride to the airport wasn’t due until 2pm so I had four hours to kill.
Clamian said he was in a hurry so we said our goodbyes and I hopped in the car with my new friend, L (that’s what I will call him from here on out) and we drove to Tanzanite One. We arrived a very nondescript building on a side street. It certainly didn’t look like a place where precious gems are housed.
We went climbed several flights of stairs and encountered a security guard who searched us before we passed through several locked doors into a small room. I felt like I was in a Bourne Identity movie…fancy locked doors, people with machine guns. Good fun on a Saturday! I was greeted by a short but handsome man who had a perfect American accent yet looked Indian/Black. Turns out he studied in the US and perfected the accent. Good on him. He took me on a small tour and explained the history of tanzanite, the mining process, etc. It was pretty interesting. According to geologists, there’s only 10 years worth of tanzanite left for extraction. After that, all deposits will be too deep in the earth to reach. The theory is that anyone in possession of tanzanite will have a great investment piece when that happens, especially since the gem is 1,000 times rarer than a diamond. Oh la la!
When the history/geology tour was over I watched a film about tanzanite which was mildly romantic in that Toto/Africa (I can’t get away from it) sort of way. I suppose the purpose of it was to jazz up potential customers into buying some stones because the moment the movie was over, I was escorted to an area full of jewelry cases where I was instructed to peruse the stones.
Dear reader(s) allow me to give you a lil’ background info on yours truly. I’m not like most women. I don’t really care about jewelry, especially expensive jewelry. Sometimes I wear it, but most of the time I don’t. Diamonds and the like just don’t excite me. In fact, I have joked that REI is my Tiffany’s. With that said, I have to admit I was sucked in by the tanzanite. But it wasn’t for the reasons one might thing. I didn’t care about the investment potential or anything like that. But the idea of taking home a real piece of Tanzania tugged at my romantic, traveling, heart. I was shown a case of stones which ranged up to $22,000. I laughed and asked what they had for $100 or less. Luckily for me they did have a few rocks in my range. After much hemming and hawing, I chose a round stone. Once I paid for it, the salesman took it out of the case and handed it to me, asking me to hide it away carefully in my purse. He then gave me some ominous instructions: “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you bought anything here.” I understood what he was saying. He knew that people probably watched the comings and goings of the building and when they saw mzungu, it probably meant money and stones – A perfect scenario for a thief.
Well I’m not an idiot and I didn’t say jack to anyone so it was never an issue. Once we got back in
the car, L asked me if I wanted to go meet some of his friends. Since I still had three hours to blow, I agreed. We drove a few blocks to a section of town where Maasai warriors hang out and sell rough tanzanite stones. According to L, the Maasai warriors acquire rough stones found out in the Maasai land and sell it to the mining companies. Not sure why they hang around the streets rather than just heading to the company. I think I asked but the answer was lost in translation. L was very excited for me to meet his friends. He went on and on about how kind Maasai are and that I would love his friends. He was right! We walked just a short distance before coming across a large group of young Maasai warriors. They looked so amazing in their blue and red blankets! As soon as I greeted them with “jambo” they all started smiling and giggling and crowding around me. I’d love to credit my charming personality but I think it was just because I was mzungu. It seemed they were as fascinated by me as I was of them. Via translation services from L, I talked to the Maasai guys about where I was from, that I had climbed Kili, and that I thought Maasai were awesome! We all laughed as they tried out their English on me. One young Maasai guy walked up and said, “Mzungu, I love you!” and the whole group erupted into laughter. I pulled out my iPhone and started taking pictures and suddenly more Maasai appeared. They loved looking at the pictures and I joked around with one really striking guy in a blue blanket that he didn’t smile when I took the pics and we’d have to do them all over again until he started smiling. Once again, they all went nuts with laughter. I started to realize that part of the reason I love the Maasai so much is that they thought I was hilarious! How can I not love anyone who thinks I’m a comedic genius?
I had such a great time hanging out with them and I also really enjoyed the odd looks I received from passersby who obviously wanted to know why some white American chick was standing around chillin’ with some Maasai warriors. Soon it was time for me to head back to my hotel so L and I said our goodbyes to my new Maasai homies and headed back to the vehicle. We chatted a lot on the way back and I have to say, he was such a sweet guy. I really enjoyed meeting him. Tanzanians are just fantastic, warm people! Interestingly, I feel like it’s easier for me to make friends in foreign countries than back home. Why is that? Is it just because the cultural difference gives people something to discuss? Maybe I’m just more myself when I travel….
L dropped me off at the hotel. I got my bags out of lock up and went to the “Zanzibar Lounge” and chilled out with some drinks, a bowl of chips, and my Kindle for the next two hours. I did a lot of reflecting during that time and waves of sadness came over me. I didn’t want to leave Africa. I was in love with with her! The two weeks I’d spent in Africa had been the most amazing two weeks of my life! Truly, the greatest adventure of my life. Not only did I climb the tallest free standing mountain in the world but I met so many wonderful people and witnessed amazing, once in a life time things. For two weeks I felt like Hemingway and Sir Edmund Hillary. I lived the life I had always dreamed of living. A life of high adventure, friendships, laughter, and excitement. A life of absolute discovery. How could I leave it all behind and return to the drudgery of my normal, American life?
I was engrossed in an episode of Breaking Bad on my Kindle when a familiar face arrived by my side. It was Emanuel! He was the guy who picked me up at the airport and now he had arrived to take me back. I wanted to be happy to see him but all I could think of was that my adventure was coming to it’s final conclusion. Emanuel is great and has an easy laugh. We giggled the entire time and talked a lot about the NGO he wants to start to help students. I told him I’d help him in anyway I could and gave him my contact info. We drove down the same familiar roads I’d grown to know in my short time around Arusha and when we slowed to make the turn onto the airport road, my heart sank. But then…like a gift from Africa herself, I glanced to my left…and there she was! Mighty Kilimanjaro! I started to scream excitedly and begged Emanuel to pull over. Despite spending 8 long days climbing her, I’d yet to see Kili from below. The clouds which usually surround her kept her hidden from view on ground level. I jumped out of the van and ran quickly to the edge of a sunflower field and took a craptastic pic with my phone. I regret that I didn’t have my SLR ready but it was packed away. 😦 Still, I will NEVER forget that moment or the sense of pride I felt in myself for making it to the top. Only those who’ve been there (Arlette, Adrienne, and my new friend Stephanie…you guys get it) can understand what that feels like. It’s not a gloating sort of pride…but a humble feeling of “omg, I did that? I climbed that?!”. Then as quickly as she revealed herself, she disappeared into the clouds. I walked back to the van full of more emotion that I could ever adequately describe in words.
We pulled up to Kilimanjaro International aka JRO and Emanuel carried my things to a cart. Once again, I was saying goodbye to someone else (and putting money in their hand). I wished him luck and walked into the airport. The airport was small but that suited me. I was tired and didn’t feel like traipsing across creation. I was “greeted” by a man who looked over my passport then stared at me long enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Do I look shady? Dunno…. I asked him where the VAT office was and he pointed toward the left. It was closed. Typical. “Oh I know…I’ll go get my tickets.” So I walked to the ticket counter. It was closed. *sigh* To beat it all, there was nothing to do while I waited because all the shops were beyond passport control and I couldn’t go through passport control without a ticket. It was like being on a giant, African airport hamster wheel.
I waited around, played some Candy Crush, then decided to give the VAT office another go. It was open! Yah! I walked in to find an American woman going to eff off about something. Two dudes were working and obviously annoyed with the raving woman. I showed them my receipt for the tanzanite. I was told I couldn’t get my tax back because I didn’t spend enough. Hakuna matata. Apparently the woman was ranting and raving for the same reasons. But instead of just rolling with it, she decided she’d scream. I wonder if that worked?
By the time I got out, the ticket counter was open so I hopped in line behind some French people. Watching them made me hate croissants and Joan of Arc. I really can’t explain what it is about the French but I hope that, in the event of an alien invasion in which the fate of the world depends on interaction with the human race, the aliens don’t decide to march into a Parisian cafe. Just sayin”….Where was I? Oh yes…when I got to the counter luckily everything was underweight so all I had to take on board was my purse. Traveling light and swift! Unfortunately for me they said the system was down and I’d have to check in after arriving in Addis Ababa to get my boarding pass for the second leg. Fudge.
I went through customs, found a seat next to a trendy British dude and continued crushing candy. Eventually some airline peeps came around with boarding passes. Apparently the system was up and all was right with the world. I got my boarding pass and shortly thereafter it was time to go. At JRO you have to walk across the tarmac to board the plane – 70’s style. Walking across the concrete, I breathed in deeply, taking in the smell of wood fires which greeted me two weeks earlier. I looked towards the horizon, desperate for one last look at the mountain that inspired a dream five years prior…but she was no where to be seen. So with a broken heart and a mind full of memories, I climbed the steps towards the hatch and promised myself that I’d return. I left my heart there just to be sure I do….