Out to Africa

Jul 10

The journey begins in earnest today. John and I are in Washington, DC at my friend Carla’s house. Our plan was to have breakfast this morning with my cousin before flying out in the afternoon. For some reason we’ve had in our heads that we are flying at 4 this afternoon. Fortunately John tries to go ahead and get boarding passes, which Ethiopian Air does not do online, and figures out that our flight is actually at NOON. Yikes. It is 8:30 when we realize this and we are supposed to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of time. Lucky for us Carla’s house is only 15 minutes from the airport. We wake her up to say goodbye and her husband Joe drives us out to the airport. We get there just ahead of a big line that forms behind us of people with these giant suitcases that look like they are taking all their worldly possessions to Africa.

Checkin went off without a hitch and we headed back to the gate where we connected with Nan and Doug, Sierra and Monique. Sierra and Monique just flew in from Seattle on the red-eye but Nan and Doug spent a few days in DC first. We boarded our brand new 777 and started our TV marathon watching movies during our 12 hour and 45 minute flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We walked down the stairs to a transfer bus that took us about 50 feet to another terminal for our connection. We had a brief layover there and then on to Kilimanjaro airport. The waiting area outside our transfer gate was crowded. Sierra and I were watching them load luggage on the plane we thought was ours. We did this for about 30 minutes and worried that we had not seen our bags. Then we realized that it wasn’t our plane we were watching! There was another group of German climbers who were planning to do the Marangu route. We talked to them a little bit but there was a bit of a communication gap as their English wasn’t that good.

Our flight to Arusha/Kili was on a much older 767 with ragged seats but it was a short flight. We landed and walked down the stairs to the Tarmac to the tiny airport building. Everyone from this giant plane was streaming in to one small area and it was a bit chaotic. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do but someone pointed us to a blue form that we needed to fill out and we got in line. At the immigration point they looked at our passports and paperwork and scanned our fingers. Monique had some trouble getting her fingers to scan but we made it through as did all our bags – 6 boundary bags, 6 duffels, 6 backpacks. This was a big relief for us all.

We walked out front and found out driver waiting with a sign. He took us out to the Safari truck and managed to squeeze all of our luggage and us into the truck. We got out and made a quick pit stop to the Loo before loading up again for the drive to the Arusha Hotel. We were pretty much exhausted and wanted a shower and some rest. The drive to the hotel took about an hour and a half because traffic was heavy. Driving here is not like America – two lane roads with people passing right into oncoming traffic. Its a bit unnerving at first. You have to learn not to look. The driver stopped by a shop before taking us to the hotel. We were all too tired to look and negotiate anything and we told them we might come back. We later learn that the drivers get commissions in the shops where they take tourists.

After checking in we meet one of our Alpine guides, Ben, in the lobby for a brief intro and then we head to the room. John was hungry so he got something to eat while I watched and then I went back to the room and took a sleeping pill at 4pm. I woke up at 2am and couldn’t go back to sleep and neither could John. We got up and took showers and rearranged our gear before going back to sleep for a couple of hours. At 6:15am I went down for the buffet breakfast with John still sleeping. Nan and Doug arrive at 7 and joined me. We had a nice time catching up and talking about the issues of the world. John rides the RAGBRAI every year with Nan and Doug but I had never met them before.

I went back to the room and found John ready for breakfast so we returned to the dining room. We met Mickey Babcock, on of our fellow travelers from Jackson Hole, WY. What a fire ball she is. She always has a smile on her face and its infectious! After breakfast we had a brief get together with our guides – Eric and Ben. Its much cooler in Arusha than I expected so I had to go back to the room and add a layer. Guides hooked us up with two “handlers” to take us on a tour of town. This is necessary to avoid a full on assault from the street vendors who see dollar signs on the heads of any tourists leaving the hotel. There really isn’t a lot to see in Arusha in the way you would think of touring a US town. It is the location of the UN/Rwanda genocide trials and they have a new compound that they built to handle these trials. There are nicer hotel buildings intermixed with shanty’s throughout the city. We see women dressed in the colorful Africa fabrics and children in school uniforms. We go to the central market to see how they shop. It is similar to what I saw in Peru but not as colorful. I love to see all the grains in the various bags – millet, faro, corn, quinoa, buckwheat,etc. We don’t venture in to purchasing anything because we haven’t changed our money yet. They take us to the change bureau on the way back to the hotel.

We decided to go out to lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant which was delicious. Monique and I shared a veggie dish with 2 spicey bean/potato dishes, cabbage, carrots and green beans. There is a lot of Indian influence in the foods of Africa – curries, etc. John ordered something that he thought was chicken but turned out to be a hard boiled egg in a curry sauce. I guess technically that’s chicken but not the way we think of it. They don’t typically use utensils to each. They pick up the food with injera, a sourdough flatbread. They do bring us utensils though but we try to just use the bread.

After lunch we sat around the pool while Monique interviewed John and Nan about PD and the upcoming climb. It was a nice time listening to their perspectives. Nan got a little bit emotional showing her encouragement banner and talking about her 93 year old mother who recently passed away. There were several pictures on the banner of her. Monique asked us all, “What happens if you don’t make the summit?” My answer was, ” The only failure is in not trying.” We are all trying something that not many people in the world try. Add to that – PD and MS and imagine how few people in that situation even try something half as difficult.

Today was Monique’s 48th birthday so I asked the kitchen for a cake for her. She was exhausted and wanted to go to bed but had to meet with the guides first. I was trying to rush the waiter to get the cake before she left for bed. They finally brought it out and I think she was surprised.

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