I sleep in until about 7.30a at Planet Lodge and soon it's time for breakfast. On a table with a table cloth. Sitting on a chair. It's the PL Special of fried egg, toast, a donut, tomato, sausage, bacon, fruit plate, and coffee. Chris and I both check in with our respective social media networks before returning to the room to finish packing. We check out and wait for Richard who picks us up at 11a. We have some time to kill before our flight leaves JRO at 9.40p, so we ask him to take us into town for some shopping and a lunch.
I fit, with room to spare, in a 150L duffel.
Dining room at Planet Lodge. Far cry from a Massai ground cloth.
Our first stop is Naura Springs Hotel. It is a tourist hotel. There is a gift shop inside the gated property. Richard drives the LandCruiser right up to the door and says we will find lots of nice things inside. Well, there are lots, and lots, and lots of things, but honestly the shop looks like an overcrowded Pier One. Carvings of every animal/person combination, made from every sort of wood imaginable, plus colorful batiks and kanga and t-shirts and magnets and coffee beans. Everything just screams "tourist!" instead of "authentic Tanzanian market" so despite the best efforts of the shop's host (who follows us around and describes each item we look at), we don't buy anything. There is a guy selling tanzanite here too, but he isn't Tanzanian and the prices are too high.
We tell Richard we want to go to the Central Market, but he insists that it's too dangerous for us to walk around in. We try to tell him that we walked around last week with no issues, but he says he will drive us through it instead. And that's what he does - drives the enormous LandCruiser through a tiny dirt alley of the Central Market, forcing people to move their goods so the vehicle can fit through. We stare out of the backseat and feel helpless, and extremely white. The tour doesn't take hardly 20 minutes so after we emerge on the other side, we drive to ShopRite to pick up a few favorite African groceries - AfriCafe, African honey, Conyagi, and some chocolate snacks for the plane ride. I also pop into the local BdC and change my last $20.
After the "tour" of the Central Market, it's time for lunch, so Richard takes us to a Tanzanian spot called 7-Up Restaurant. The weather is nice enough to sit outside, so we grab a table on the shady sidewalk and sit down. A waiter soon comes out and asks what we want. There's no menu, but the waiter gives us our options: rice or ugali, with meat or chicken or fish or bean sauce. Richard orders ugali and fish, and then orders 1 rice, 1 ugali, 2 chickens, 1 bean sauce, and an order of chapati for Chris and me. The food comes out super fast and Richard gives us each a lesson in how to eat ugali properly - take a small chunk of it in your right hand, roll it into a ball, press an indentation in the middle, and then use it to scoop up some of the meat/veg on your other plate. Everything's really good, and we take our time eating because learning to eat with hands takes practice.
With full bellies, we pile back into the LandCruiser for our next destination. I'm not really sure where Richard is taking us, but I just gaze out the window and try to enjoy our last day in Tanzania. As we drive along, Chris starts hitting my leg to point out a crazy-looking building on the other side of the road. It's all sorts of coppery-orangey-shiny and doesn't look anything like the rest of Arusha. We start slowing down...and it becomes apparent that Richard is taking us to the crazy building! The sign in front reads "Cultural Heritage Center" and it looks like Disney set up shop on the outskirts of town. There are statues everywhere, an artificial stream/moat, fountains, and of course a huge gift shop. Richard drops us off and says to meet him in the parking lot when we are done. Disappointed, we decide to be polite and wander through the gift shop, which is even bigger than the one from before lunch and even more packed with STUFF. We are also the only people here. It's a little weird.
After obligingly checking out the gift shop, we start to leave when one of the employees tells us about an art gallery that is part of the Heritage Center. It's free, in the next building, and we still have several hours to kill so we go explore. The gallery is a smaller recreation of the Guggenheim in New York with the interior spiral staircase serving as the main circulation space. Both the spiral's walls and the adjacent rooms are PACKED with artwork. It's clear every artist is not African, but all of the subjects are. We are the only two people in the building but the hush is nice and we spend at least an hour roaming around, trying to take in every painting, sculpture, and mask that is displayed. After we are thoroughly saturated with art, we go back to the gift shop via a different pathway, and encounter at least five other minor gift shops. This is indeed a Disney-inspired development, meant for tourists only! We purchase a few quick things (stickers and a rosewood buffalo) at the main shop and then head out to the parking lot where Richard is waiting.
Back in the LandCruiser, we head towards town and Chris asks again if we can walk through the Central Market. Again, we are told "no" and Richard says he will take us somewhere interesting. I soon see what he means when he pulls up beside a blue sparkly building with signs advertising "The Tanzanite Experience" outside. Finally Chris and I can't take the tourist gig anymore and just tell him to take us to the airport. We're a little early, sure, but it's better than wasting gas driving around Arusha to places we don't want to see. So Richard drives polepole and we take our sweet time soaking in the Tanzanian landscape. The airport has big-time security to even enter the parking lot, but we pass through and unload all of our stuff onto one of the airport luggage carts. We say our goodbyes to Richard and go into the terminal, where we have to show a passport just to even enter!
The terminal building is a cool combination between Africa and the western world. There is an open-air courtyard with trees in the middle of the building, giving us access to the warm Tanzanian breeze. There are modern-looking ticket counters and security equipment, next to a few crowded shops selling snacks, bottled water, and even more souvenirs. One of the shops sells tanzanite and despite my earlier disinterest, I decide to go check out their prices to pass the time. The prices turn out to be fairly competitive, and the sales guy is from Arusha (not Egypt like the two previous shops). So I hem and haw and eventually decide to purchase two little, matching stones that I will mount as earrings in the States. Happy birthday to me!
Tanzanite - not actual size.
More and more tourists fill the terminal as our flight time nears. About 7pm, the ticket counters open up and we stand in a long line to check our bags. Then it's through security where we have to scan all 10 fingers before proceeding. I spend my last Tanzanian schillings on a sticker in the duty-free shop (gotta put something on the Nalg) and then we wait in the holding tank. The KLM flight finally lands, does its three-point turn on the runway, and returns to the terminal building to unload a new set of tourists. I can't help but envy those that are carrying backpacks (and therefore probably going on a Kili climb), thinking that I was one of them just a few days ago. We are allowed to proceed onto the tarmac and again, haphazardly guided in the general direction of the plane's stairs. We board and get settled for the short flight to Dar Es Salaam, where we will get a refueling and crew change before completing the journey back to Amsterdam.
Our plane for JRO-DAR-AMS.
I won't go into much detail about the flights because they were mostly boring. The KLM flight to Dar and Amsterdam, which I thought would feel like forever, goes by in a few seconds. In the Amsterdam airport, I buy a salad even though it's 6am because I am craving fresh veggies. The Delta flight into JFK takes ages, and the length is magnified by the lack of video entertainment (the sound system is broken). We make it through US customs without incident (the agent wishes me a happy birthday instead of the normal "welcome back"), and both of our bags arrive unscathed. Chris' mom picks us up and we spend the rest of the evening catching up with her and Casey about the trip over delicious homemade lasagna and chocolate-zucchini cake. The next day, Friday, I fly back to St. Louis and start the long process of integrating myself back into my own life.
So...that's it from the day-by-day account of my Kilimanjaro trip. I have a few more posts in mind with some general reflections, a review of gear, and some lessons learned, which will be posted as I write them! Hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing - it's been a great way to "wind down" from the experience of a lifetime and I'm glad it's documented in a share-able way. Karibu!