We were all set to travel on 28th November from Bangalore to Kilimanjaro with a 3 hour layover at Doha. The last week went in a blur. As usual, I was overloaded with work and my husband, with both work and studies. His exams got over and his college closed for the term break on 26th November. Yet, he had to submit an assignment and wrap up his office work before we could start our vacation! We had planned it all to the T. He would reach home after the exams, I would have sorted out all the things needed for the trip, after a mid-day siesta he would pack our bags, do some reading for the assignment. And on Sunday, he would finish his 5000 word essay, submit it and complete the pending office work. Lo and behold, we are ready to go. Yipeee!!
Easy for you to guess, nothing went according to the plan. This is what actually happened. My husband came home, we had a sumptuous meal, the mid-day siesta turned to slumber, went for shopping and came back home only to sleep again. What a fruitful Saturday! Sunday morning we both woke up in panic. He started working on his 5000 word essay which was completed only by evening. Meanwhile, I ironed all the clothes, bought all the medicines and cleaned our aquarium. By the time my husband finished packing and we had our dinner, it was past 10.30pm already and we had to leave by 11pm. The last half an hour was literally a stunt scene from The Fast and The Furious. Took a hurried shower, packed all the necessary documents and currency and locked the house after saying goodbye to our greedy fishes.
My excitement was uncontrollable in the cab. Being the talented singer that I was (read tone deaf), I entertained our cab driver to a variety of my favorite Bollywood melodies. I still don’t know the reason as to why he did not look amused, kept on increasing the volume in the FM radio and drove the car faster to the airport. None of the great artists are appreciated during their lifetime, ahem!!
At the airport, we soon came to our favorite part – the emigration counter. I was rehearsing all the zip codes in my mind while standing in the queue and was also making up an answer for the most frequent question that I face being a married woman in India – “Why have you not changed your surname to that of your spouse?“. Mercifully, this particular emigration officer was not interested in our marital details. He was perplexed when I answered that my purpose of visit was tourism.
Surprised officer: “Who visits Tanzania for tourism?”
Sensible officer: “Tanzania has one of the largest lion populations in the world. Lots of people travel there for safari.”
The surprised officer lowered his staff and granted us safe passage. I mentally thanked the sensible officer.
The flight to Doha was relatively uneventful ignoring the fact that my excitement culminated in a mild fever and cold. I tried to sleep through the flight but was feeling very uncomfortable due to the fever. From Doha, we boarded the flight to Kilimanjaro. This international flight was equivalent to that of an Indian domestic flight with not even a personal entertainment set. The 6 hour entertainment-less flight helped me in catching a few winks. My fever increased further and I was really sick by the time we arrived at Kilimanjaro. While the flight was touching down, we looked around to see a glimpse of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. We craned our necks to all sides in the hope of at least a quick glance. Unfortunately, there was no Mount Kilimanjaro to welcome us to the namesake airport. The airport was very small compared to international standards but it was extremely clean and well-maintained. As we already had our visas stamped ahead of our travel, we quickly finished the immigration formalities. At the immigration desk, my husband encountered his first Swahili word “Karibu”. Seeing his clueless expression, the officer immediately shifted to English. “Welcome”, she said. The airport had just two conveyor belts and our bags arrived in a matter of minutes.
Having read about the delays that can be expected in Africa, we were mentally prepared for a long wait at the airport till someone from Good Earth came to pick us up. But stepping out of the airport we saw that Nashone had already arrived and was waiting for us with a pleasant smile on his face. Our accommodation was arranged at Planet Lodge in Arusha, a nearby city in the foothills of Mount Meru. The drive took over an hour where our questions about Tanzania were patiently answered by Nashone. To our great surprise, the roads were wide and well maintained without any potholes (way better than Indian standards, I must admit!). We had a very comfortable drive to Arusha which was 50 kms away from the airport. Still no sight of the majestic Kilimanjaro!
During our drive, we saw many parts that were arid and dry with only withered grass growing on the soil. As we travelled further, we could see fertile areas where banana, mango and paddy were cultivated thanks to the streams originating from Mount Meru. This reminded me of my hometown in Kerala which has a lush and green landscape. We also saw many a people waiting on their bikes by the roadside every few kilometers which my husband rightly guessed to be bike taxis. There were a lot of shops on the road sides which had “wakala” written on their display boards which Nashone explained that they were shops which could do instant money transfer via mobiles (“wakala” translates to agent in English).
Soon, we reached Planet Lodge where they gave us a very warm welcome. This time my husband was not surprised listening to Karibu as by then, Nashone had taught us to acknowledge Karibu with Asante, meaning thank you. The hotel was very picturesque with a wonderful garden with flowers in bloom and rooms designed like African huts. As we did not have our lunch yet and it was past 4 pm local time, we directly went to restaurant and ordered our lunch before proceeding to our room to freshen up. Before leaving, Nashone informed us to be ready by 9 am the next day for our safari and that our guide James would come to pick us up. My fever was acting up again and Arusha, contrary to my expectation of Africa, was having a cool and pleasant weather. I waited impatiently in the room for the lunch-cum-early dinner, even as the bed beckoned me. It took all my willpower to not fall into the bed and sleep peacefully.
We had our meal at 5 pm. I had a pumpkin soup and a Swahili meal, which include a fresh-water fish cooked with some carrots and beans along with Ugali (traditional African dry porridge) and my husband had a king fish steak with rice and vegetables(image above). I was so fatigued that the inner beast in me slaughtered the fish and popped bits and pieces into my mouth. I believe the head waiter was shocked to see the mess in my plate. After gobbling up that delicious meal, we took a small stroll within the premises of Planet Lodge. There was a view point near the pool from where we could see Mount Meru towering royally over Arusha. The lack of proper sleep due to the red-eye flight, a full tummy and my fever ensured that we went back to the room to hit the sack very quickly.
My first day in Africa had come to an end and the sun would soon rise the next day with the exciting promises of safari and wildlife.
Swahili words learnt:
- Karibu – welcome
- Karibu sana – warm welcome
- Wakala – Agent
- Asante Sana – Thank you very much
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