Last night I changed planes at Doha airport, and as I approached the gate, I saw them: a herd of sweetly earnest, crunchy-granola types swathed in fleeces, wearing their hiking boots, and carrying their daypacks as their carry-on luggage. Ladies and gentlemen: the Kilimanjaro trekker. Quite frankly, I almost changed my mind about the whole thing right then and there. I mean it, there was a final call for the flight to Paris and I had a serious moment of "I wanna flee back to the land of rude (but chic) city people, I don't know how to do this outdoorsy thing with these outdoorsy folk." But I went. And here I am.
And so far, so good. If you're going to do this whole crazy thing, I recommend flying into Kilimanjaro Airport - it's pretty much idiot-proof, which is exactly what I needed. You go in, the visa forms are on the counter, you get in the line with the huge, bright yellow, hard-to-miss sign saying "I NEED A VISA" (as opposed to the other line, which says "I HAVE A VISA" - you'd really think that would make it idiot-proof, but no, people still somehow manage to get into the wrong line. I despair sometimes.). Anyway, you fork over your cash to the nice man at the window and then he sends you to another nice man at another window and you get your completely unflattering and unrecognizable photo taken and the visa slapped into your passport. One belt for luggage retrieval and you're outta there. I had booked an airport pick-up and bless him, there he was with the sign AND my eleven-letter last name spelled correctly.
This isn't my first trip to Africa - I took a pretty good trip around Cape Town and surrounding area a few years ago, and I've been to both Morocco and Egypt (although they're both so much more like the Middle East that it's hard to think of them as African). But this is my first time in AFRICA Africa and even the drive from the airport had me mesmerized. It starts off pretty much as you'd expect - beige and dry and pancake-flat, but the closer you get to Moshi, the greener and hillier it gets. One of the many (many) things I dislike about living in Saudi Arabia is the lack of colour. Beige dust, beige sand, beige buildings, white thobes on the men, black abayas on the women. Here? Colour EVERYWHERE. We passed the Masai market, which was swarming in long, lean men mostly wearing their traditional crimson, but I saw a few of them sporting my favourite shade of purple and there was one dapper gentleman swathed in a jazzy little patterned number which I deeply coveted for my own wardrobe. Sadly, it seems as though they were only selling goats and sheep (I considered a sheep, but it would be quite hard to pack), so we moved right along. Did I mention the greenery? Green is a big deal when you live in a desert, and Moshi is very green. Trees and lush plant life everywhere, along with patches of scarlet and magenta flowers and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. I wasn't expecting it to be so pretty.
And the signs. The signs might be my favourite thing. I saw one for "Medium School". So is this the school between Large and Small? Or a training academy for psychics? Sign on a gasoline truck: In God We Trust. Well, I'd personally like to trust in your driving skill, sir, since you're transporting about a bajillion gallons of flammable liquid, but that's just me.
Anyway - I'm staying at the Keys Hotel just outside of town, which of course necessitated Adventures in Taxi Procurement in order to get into town to buy some snacks and internet time (yes, people, I did this for you - the bottle of wine in my bag is just a bonus.). The hotel is...well...let's just call it rustic and leave it at that. I have the occasional success with wifi out there for messaging, but I think a blog post from my phone would have been beyond both my patience and the wifi. But it's clean and the bed is comfortable and I'm pretty sure it's going to look like heaven when I come down from the mountain (wow, it's all so biblical - maybe I'll find some stone tablets up there while I'm at it.) after sleeping on the ground for a week.
Well, I'd better go - I have a delightful evening ahead of me: unpacking my suitcase and re-packing my Kilimanjaro stuff into my North Face duffel bag. Yes, that's right - I am now a person who owns North Face things. I am now a person who owns polar fleece. I am now a person who owns a headlamp. Oh god - am I actually becoming one of those crunchy-granola types? I am now a person who needs a drink! And if you've read this far and enjoyed any of it, please consider donating a few dollars/pounds/euros/whatever to Doctors Without Borders (my Just Giving button at top right). Come on, if I'm going to go all sweetly earnest, I might as well be all good-deed-doing, too. Ugh.