My travel companion and long-time friend, Mark Wyrick and I learned that our trek up Kilimanjaro would start tomorrow- a little later than anticipated. It felt like perfect timing, given the combination of jet-lag, packing restructuring and curiosity of our surroundings - the city of Arusha.
We were picked up from the Kilimanjaro airport last evening by a driver (also named Mark) who drove us through the blanketed darkness for nearly 45 minutes to the city of Arusha where we are to spend the next two nights at the Palace Hotel prior to our climb.
The van plowed through both pedestrian and automotive traffic with the windows rolled down and the crisp, cool air blowing in our faces. The air smelled smoky, much like my beloved Cambodia, but there was an ancient energy to everything. I couldn't make out much of the scenery but what little I did see - makeshift houses, roadside markets, and well-worn, tin roof businesses appeared as precise replicas of the surrounding parts of Siem Reap.
Whoever invented those miniature stackable plastic red chairs would be proud to see their brain-child scattered throughout every third world country.
With little sleep from the long flight, we both fell asleep quickly yet kept waking up periodically before day break. Got up, laid back down, attempted to get up, laid back down again until we forced ourselves out of bed by 10:30 AM Arusha time.
After a late breakfast, we walked and attracted a crowd of vendors who wished to sell us everything we didn't need.
Two brothers, Jackson and Serra, continued to 'voluntarily' explain the city, describing what we were seeing in exceptional English. It felt futile to try and dodge them so we relented and they became our tour guide for the next couple of hours around the cities center of commerce. With an onslaught of sights and smells, we navigated through the central market, the soccer stadium, an abandoned cemetery, the freedom monument, the Rwanda tribunal building and more.
We were suckered into paying far too much for a couple of paintings that both brothers had rendered - the kind of repetitive artwork you see in tourist road stands - but, you have to hand it to them for looking outside the box for additional ways to earn cash in the off season.
People watching out a cafe window for most of the afternoon followed and then at 5:30 we had a debriefing of our hike from the management of the company we had signed with. "Pule, pule" (Swahili for slow and steady, slow and steady) was the bottom line instruction that was drilled into us. No fast-paced going with this hike or the body will be unable to acclimatize to the shifts in altitude.
It's now late and there is an early pick up in the morning to take us to base camp. I doubt I'll have the ability to write from this venue via internet for the seven day experience but rest assured I'll take extensive notes and fill it in later.
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. ~ Edmund Hillary