Our flight wasn’t until 10:05, so getting an alarm call at 04:45, telling us that the coach to the airport was leaving in fifteen minutes, was a most unwelcome surprise! After a mad rush in the dimly-lit room, I arrived in the lobby with the other guys to be ushered onto a coach – which then didn’t leave for another twenty minutes! There was no mention of the promised breakfast…
At the airport, the chaos continued as we followed signs to the security checkpoint which led us right the way around the airport in a circle – until we realised that the signs were actually changing as we went! Apparently they were opening a second checkpoint and some of the signs rotated to direct you to the nearest one – which changed as we followed them.
Because of the obscenely early transfer, we had four hours to kill at the airport. We used the vouchers we’d been given last night to buy a bacon & egg roll and a coffee which we ate rocking to the sound of 80’s Power Ballads, courtesy of the airport’s piped-music playlist. Not expecting to be hanging around in Europe, I hadn’t brought any travel adapters so Chris suggested finding a computer with a USB port and stealing some power to recharge my phone.
There followed a fair amount of listless hanging around waiting for our call to the gate which we concluded by finding a more substantial second breakfast. A cheese and ham omelette AND Greek yoghurt and fruit salad filled the gap nicely and we headed to the gate.
The flight from Schiphol direct to Kilimanjaro left bang on time. We had roughly eight hours flying time, so dived into the in-flight entertainment. I ended up watching Gladiator again, plus assorted comedy and National-Geographic-type TV shows. The in-flight catering was quite reasonable. We were seated in middle seats so didn’t get to see much outside the aircraft. The one time I did go and have a peer out of the door port we were south of Khartoum and the land below us was all neatly divided up into regular plots; it looked oddly like we were flying over a solar panel.
We arrived into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) roughly on time and deplaned promptly. The KLM 777 looked quite out of place on the apron of this tiny airport; a big, hulking bird looming over the small terminal buildings and few local aircraft. Lee knelt and touched the ground. I just looked around and gloried in being somewhere new!
Every silver-lining has a cloud; the delay because of the London rain meant that we had lost-out on a day in Arusha when we could have met with our trek guide to check our equipment, re-organise the luggage, etc. On the positive side though, we had a hotel bed (briefly) instead of an aircraft seat overnight and we flew direct from Amsterdam, without the layover in Kenya. Despite fears about the luggage arriving, I was more certain it would all have made it than if we’d arrived via Nairobi and sure enough, although it took a while, all of our bags eventually appeared on the carousel.
The arrivals hall was mobbed with drivers meeting passengers but it wasn’t long before Lee spotted a card with my name on and we found our driver, Ahmed. I was quite anxious to get sorted with a Tanzanian SIM card for my phone as I’d promised to tweet the expedition as we went. The only booth in the airport didn’t have any SIMs though, so we pressed on to the hotel.
While Tanzanian driving is much less structured than in Europe, it isn’t the worst I’ve experienced (that ‘accolade’ goes to Sri Lanka.) Here while it doesn’t appear particularly organised, there is a certain relaxed attitude to the whole affair. There are tooting horns galore, but they seem to be more about encouragement than aggression. Indicators are only occasionally used to say “I am turning” or “I am overtaking”. They are more likely to be used to tell other drivers that they should or shouldn’t overtake you at this time. The main roads also have periodic sets of four ripples – minor speed-humps, if you like – raised up from the tarmac. They would be quite vicious if taken at speed, so the drivers naturally slow right down for them. Consequently there were very few times when we got up any serious velocity.
As it was night-time, it was hard to see much and so I couldn’t form much of an impression of the country as we passed through it. What I did see seemed in keeping with images of a relatively poor African country; the road was lined with single-storey, improvised-looking buildings, mostly open to the elements, lots of people on foot carrying stuff, lots of people just sitting around on their own, or hanging around in groups. There was no street lighting or road markings and the urban centre of Arusha didn’t actually seem that much denser than the continual sprawl along the main roads. I’m quite keen to get out and see if it feels the same when we’re on foot after the trek.
We reached the hotel, the Outpost Lodge, around 9pm, found our rooms and got together in Cafe Mambo, the hotel’s restaurant/bar, for a late dinner and beer. The pepper steak and chips was filling enough. The bar has free Wi-Fi too, so I was able to update Twitter and Facebook before turning-in for the night.
The adventure begins in earnest tomorrow!