Boston to Arusha, Tanzania; Thursday, November 8, 2012
Our plane from Amsterdam began the descent into Mt Kilimanjaro airport. In the dark, only scattered lights from small villages dotted the black beneath the wings. The small airport and runway appeared. The approach and landing was gentle. A little relief applause came from some nearby nervous passengers …….. I noticed the aroma of people too long on the road as I pulled our carry-on bags down from the overhead. These folks still had more travel time before they reached Dar es Salaam on the coast.
The disembarking passengers were mostly white and based on their dress destined for safari. Small groups of them excitedly talked and began the move down the plane aisle. Anticipation and ten hours in flight from Amsterdam had made them ready to exit. The Mt Kilimanjaro airport was a small one so passengers deplaned onto the tarmac and walked toward the one level terminal. Immediately the warm aroma of the country, “Aeroir”, presented itself; gentle dry desert, with a hint of a light rain shower gone past.
Meg and I, and Ann and Nancy had already obtained our visas so the passport control was swift and welcoming. Our bags, two small rolling duffels, were soon on the conveyor sporting a little tag indicating that they had been inspected. Our tour greeters were waiting for us in the arrival hall and out into the night we went to meet the rest of the group.
The tour was an Overseas Adventure Travel, OAT, a safari in Tanzania with Godliving Mkindi as our guide.. Lodging was to be in “luxury lodges” in cities and tent camps in the bush of Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks. Transport was in three Toyota Land Cruisers. OAT likes to say they are for travelers, not tourists. They include local visits and interactions. With only 16 travelers and three guides, there are more “learning and discovery” opportunities. This itinerary would include seven days of bush time for hunting and viewing of animals. Local villages and a school were to be included as well.
The group assembled and introduced, we packed our duffels and selves into the coach for the hour ride from the airport to Arusha. Points of light marked the tiny homes on the dark landscape. Single bulbs lit the dwellings and cast little light beyond the windows into the bush. Small clusters of homes formed scattered villages and then back into the dark of the bush. Few vehicles were on the road even at 9 PM. Homes grew closer together and small business appeared as we entered the outskirts of Arusha. In the city, not a lot of activity was visible; quiet in the evening. We turned off the main road into a working class neighborhood. A couple of kilometers of local paved road and then a narrow dirt road and then the gates of Olasiti Lodge opened. Warm lights of the buildings welcomed us.
Arusha; Friday, Nov 9th
Birds woke us at 6 AM. My body says it is time to GO to bed back in Boston. It is confused so we remain inside the mosquito netting around the bed until 7. Breakfast would help. Olasiti Lodge is a reservations only place, catering to safari folk. There are two OAT groups for the breakfast buffet and two separate European couples. Our group of 16 is made of five old friends from California, three couples (South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado), a solo man from the Midwest, and the four of us from Massachusetts. Ages range from the mid-fifties to eighty.
Beside our gated and walled lodge compound, an Evangelical Church compound sings and chants in the morning. Our neighborhood is gritty alive, colorful and vibrant. It looks nothing like anywhere else I’ve been. The road is paved and loaded with vehicles driving on the left side, weaving past unloading vans and trucks, horns, and people walking between the stopped traffic. Dirt strips, as wide as the road, separate the road from the small businesses. On these strips vendors set out their wares to sell, and provide services to the locals.
Vendors face into the businesses and pay no attention to the traffic on the paved road. The important traffic is on the dirt strip. Driveways leave the pavement and enter the dirt-strip market at intervals. Services and wares are organized by type; shoes here, shirts there, and up the way the bicycle repairs.
Friday was local; a handicap workshop, coffee plantation, local food lunch, art museum/gift emporium. Recover from the 24 yours of airline travel and get your senses into Africa. It was obvious early that there would be no internet communications. No internet cafes were seen near our lodge compound and I doubt that we would have been “allowed” to use one if we saw it. We would have had to exit the compound. I did have cell phone connection but so what? Who was I going to call? In the bush, there certainly would be no contact. As it was, charging cameras batteries had to be done in designated places, where there was a generator. The solar power stored in a battery at your tent was only for a couple of low watt bulbs.
At a hall on the corner of the road outside of the Olasiti compound there was a celebration for graduates from the local Journalism College.
Our driver’s daughter was one of them. Godliving asked if we would like a “Learning and Discovery” time. The graduates and their families welcomed us. We were a sign of good luck in their futures. The band played, tourists posed for pictures with graduates. The driver proudly posed with his beautiful daughter.
Then he kissed her and left to drive the OAT travelers on their scheduled rounds.