The first day after the trek was very slow. We’d all made it to the top in good condition, allowing for the effects of altitude, but coming down so far so quickly seemed to have taken its toll in blisters and aching limbs. I’d also managed to sunburn my bottom lip.
The first day was mostly spent sorting ourselves out and chilling in the open-air Cafe Mambo Bar at the hotel. I started writing-up my notes into blog posts, Lee got on his iPad to research things to do in Arusha and Huw and Chris mostly just chilled, waiting for their transfer to the airport.
We ran into Ian, the Canadian, again over lunch. He was also staying at the Outpost Lodge with Team Kilimanjaro, waiting on his transfer to the airport. He was flying back to Canada to start a college course. My guess is that he’ll have the most interesting story when he and his new classmates chat about what they did last weekend! We had already exchanged email addresses so we can link each other to the photos we took on our respective treks.
Bizarrely, a guy turned up in the early evening to brief us for the safari we were supposed to be starting tomorrow – the one that we had cancelled about two months previously. It was another example of some pretty poor internal communication within Team Kilimanjaro. I wonder how much of this is ‘business as usual’ in Africa – it’s not an efficient way to run a business, but Africa isn’t equipped like a first world country; the infrastructure is often fragile and sometimes stuff doesn’t get through.
We’d hoped to catch a ride into town with Huw & Chris’ transfer taxi, but where we wanted to go was in the opposite direction. Nevertheless the Team Kili guy said he’d phone a friend and get us a taxi organised. Some while later a taxi did indeed show up – along with another TK rep – offering to take us into town for 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings. Lee’s research had led him to believe that you shouldn’t pay more than TS8,000 to go anywhere in Arusha – and we weren’t going especially far!
The taxi driver was unwilling to negotiate down less than TS9,000, so we walked away. When we queried with reception we were told the going rate was about TS5,000 – and they organised us a cab at that rate. We took his mobile number and used him every time we wanted to go into town after that.
The locals either walk or take one of the crowded mini-vans known as Dala Dala’s. These seemed to serve as a local buses – although without any regulation or obviously-marked bus-stops! Painted with the owner’s choice of livery (Jesus and Chelsea FC seemed popular choices!) these little vans, invariably packed full of people and with a conductor hangins out of the window, dart around through the traffic between a fixed series of destinations (which are painted in tiny letters on the sides for reference). All for the equivalent of a few pence.
On the whole, there’s not a lot happening in Arusha other than Safaris and Kilimanjaro Climbs. We went into town a couple of times in search of something called the Masai Market. What we’d read lead us to believe it was a regular town market, but when we pinned it down, it was a compound of high-density stalls, all selling identical tourist tat. As advertised, there were around 200 of them, but it was nothing except ethnic souvenirs – which we weren’t particularly interested in buying.
The times that we were walking around town, you could be sure that you would pick up one (or more!) friendly guy who wanted to know about who you were and where you were from, but without exception they all ended up wanting to sell us their artworks (which they carried in rolls under their arms and all looked like what was for sale at the Masai Market) or they wanted to sell us a safari. Even after we had braced ourselves for it, it was quite unrelenting and depressing. I wondered at how the economics of it worked; Arusha is not so heavy with tourists that these guys could make many sales in a month – and yet there were plenty trying it on. The commission or profit on a sale must be substantial compared to the cost of living to make it worth their while.
The one time we randomly encountered a local who I felt had our interests at heart was when we popped into a beauty store called Sparkle to buy some sun lotion. The shopkeeper there was a woman with good English who chatted to us pleasantly for a while after making the sale. It was a relief to feel that you could let your guard down for a little while.
On a couple of occasions we retired to a western-style coffee shop to avoid the hustling on the street. We found a couple of these and they tweaked my sense of order too; they seemed to cater to tourists, ex-pats and a few more affluent locals, but the street hawkers stayed well clear. I wondered about the class/ethnic structure here and the distribution of wealth. I think I’d need to spend some time living here to properly understand how the society works.
On one occasion while we were sipping our coffee, a couple of blonde teenage/early-twenties girls stopped by a sunglasses vendor just outside the window. Nobody in Arusha wears sunglasses apart from the tourists and given that the vendor had his wares on a pallet-sized display he carried around on his shoulders, I was pretty confident these would not be genuine Prada and Gucci and would likely only cost a dollar or two each. Anyway, the girls spent a good fifteen or twenty minutes trying on different pairs, swapping between themselves, comparing glasses side-by-side before making a choice. Lee commented that they were probably professional thieves who’d so confused the vendors with their swapping around that they each had a couple of pairs in their pockets by the time they left!
As well as exploring the centre of town, we also checked out the Njiro Centre, which had come up in Lee’s research as a place worth visiting. It was a three-story, u-shaped mall which looked to be focussed on ex-pat trade; there was a large supermarket filled with imported brands, a number of restaurants whose clientele seemed mostly to be white or Indian, upstairs there was a smart new gym, along with a couple more shops and night clubs.
Lee came back to the gym a couple of times – and even persuaded me along too – and we had lunch in the food court a couple of times. That was an uncommon experience. As soon as you sat down at a table, the waiters from each restaurant would hand you their establishment’s menu and you could pick and choose from among them. The second time we went, we ended up with three bills between the two of us for one meal!
On our last day here, I also took a walk out from the hotel and down some of the roads which branched off the nearby roundabout, just to capture some of the local flavour with my camera. It is an undeniably fascinating place, but quite a bit different from the UK. For now, I’m glad we’re only here for a few days.
Other than that, we’ve spent our time relaxing in the hotel bar; the hotel itself is fairly small and basic – there are clearly many more luxurious options, one of which we visited to check out the gym and at $260 per night, it really was top-notch! Ours is, as I say, basic but it’s mostly functional and certainly adequate to our needs. The beds are comfortable, the rooms clean and free of bugs and the shower works. There’s also the cafe/bar where they serve food and drink. The breakfast menu is always the same, which is getting a bit tedious – particularly since they serve the same frankfurters and style of omelette as we had on the trek – but the last couple of days, I’ve augmented it with supplies we picked up from the Njiro Supermarket.
For the rest of the day, it’s just sitting on the sofas or at the tables in the roofed, but otherwise open-air, areas by the small pool. When we first arrived, the pool looked pretty uninviting, full of debris and with green water. Since then they’ve had a guy working on the plumbing and, while it now looks clean and inviting, there’s a sign up saying No Swimming Today, presumably because they’re doing something chemical with the water.
The whole maintenance of the hotel has a pretty relaxed pace to it, actually. The first day we were here, a guy was sweeping the corrugated-tin roof of one section of the bar. He was up there for three hours, sweeping tree litter off an area that probably only measures 3×6 metres. The next day he spent a similar time on a smaller adjacent section. One guy spent an entire day painting the railings on the stair up to our rooms and every day that we’ve been here, there’s been a guy applying fake bricks to the concrete render on our block (which I gather is relatively new.)
It seems to be a place where people come to stay before, after or between other things; it’s not a place people really come to for itself – although I’ve found it quite agreeable to sit and write here. We’ve seen plenty of other groups come and go to and from a Kili hike or a safari.
There was one particular group of four Brits who could have been us, just a few days earlier; they’d come back from a TK Rongai Route hike up Kili. They’d also spent a night in the crater and they’d felt the descent much the same as we had. Listening to them chat in the bar, it was exactly what we had said when we had arrived; “Going up was fine – it was going down that killed us.” Ironically, they were off on safari the next day and, when the guide arrived to brief them, he was expecting five in the party, rather than four. They’d cancelled the fifth months ago.
The whole similarity of it made me think of Shirley Valentine a little though; how each tourist comes here, has his or her Adventure Of A Lifetime and then goes away again – to be replaced by an essentially identical person coming for their own special trip. I wonder how we look to the locals, what they think of us.
On another trip, I’d make efforts to find out, but right here and now, I don’t want my special adventure of a lifetime to be spoiled by too much contact with reality.
We set ourselves a goal, a challenge, to climb the highest mountain in Africa. We achieved that goal and did so in good order, I’d say! I am proud of what we did here; proud of reaching the summit, proud of how we supported each other as a team along the way. I’d like to come back as more of a cultural tourist perhaps one day, but for now, this is enough.