Our propeller plane landed at the Arusha airport on mid-day Sunday under a bright direct Sun. This was the first airport I’d ever seen where the passengers waited for the plane while sitting in an open-air sun shelter. The luggage just flopped out of the plane’s underbelly and we collected it from the tarmac. Stepping into the sun and grass-scented air on the tarmac was the first time I saw Tanzania from outside an airplane window. I had flown four consecutive flights to get from Saigon, Bangkok, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, and then finally to Arusha.
My first impression of Tanzania was, “This is Wakanda”. All the people, professionals, and pedestrians are African. Walking along the streets were African men and women in casual clothing, in lawyerly suits, engineering uniforms, in police uniforms, and in every shop and driving every car. It is beyond at obvious to say this but, Tanzania is a place where everyone, from every station, is African.
One of the first notable African behaviors I noticed was that most people were carrying heavy things on their heads as they are going about their daily business. Not just women carrying baskets, but even line of men were carrying long heavy wooden planks on their heads single file – like a procession of Chinese dragon dancers.
I also noticed that many of the men were wearing suits and business casual clothing. They were rather well dressed for the dusty town around them. The streets of Arusha had, like India, many mini-colorful vans and minivans with all sorts of decorations and aggressive and emotional decals on them. They had young man leaning out the windows calling out the names of the upcoming bus stops – just like the microbuses I crammed myself into in Kathmandu.
Caption: for God knows what reason Donald Trump was on the back of a bus.
Our drivers took us to a stern concrete strip mall was a hotel in the center. There we divided into two rooms, myself and Joakim in one and Jonas and Mikyung in the other. We gathered around wooden furniture in the dining room to go over the map, the route, and some advice with our guide Faza. Faza seemed a bit perplexed that we had come without all the right equipment, however, he eyeballed us for size made a few calls to rent the equipment for us. I had forgotten to bring hiking boots and Jonas basically forgot to bring anything at all. Actually, most of his possessions were still clearing the port customs in Dar es Salaam. SIAD had transported his stuff from Bangkok to Dar es Salaam by tanker and his stuff had been held up in ports all over the middle east. Ironically, his stuff would arrive in Dar Es Salaam after the climb. In the meantime, he would rent almost everything he needed for the climb.
We spent one night at this bare-bones hotel where we paused, paid and prepared for the hike the following morning. In our shared hotel room, I got to know Joakim, Jonas’s younger brother, and my tentmate for the rest of the trip. That first night, I discovered that Africans regularly eat French fries as a staple food. That first night, I had an upset stomach from sampling the Tanzanian beers (Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, and Safari). At 1AM, I quivered on the fragile toilet baffled to be in Africa and baffled to be struggling with painful diarrhea.