Sunday, March 30, 2008

Setting Foot on African Soil

We saw ‘The Dawg’ at the Detroit Airport fully geared up with all the regalia to be worn during the actual climbing. With a water tube jutting out of his backpack and swirling around his neck to finally hang precariously near his nose, he looked more like a patient wheeled out of the ICU. I was quite shocked to see more of him that I had imagined. He was easily 30 pounds heavier now.

'Dude, are you wearing all your layers too?'

‘One website advised to load on carbohydrates before departure. They didn’t say from how many months before departure.’

‘Well, did the website say anything about training for this climb?’

I should have realized The Dawg has limited comprehension. Even when it comes to emails. In reply to my 300 words email, I would get an answer from him that would consist of three words that would bear no context to the mail itself. ‘I am Bored!’

Or maybe it did have a context.

We reached Nairobi after flying over America, Europe and Africa. The snow-covered Alps in Switzerland was a huge contrast to the vast dessert of Libya. We met a bunch of hikers in Nairobi who we would meet up again in Kilimanjaro. We learnt that Leela’s flight got cancelled from Dubai and she would try to get on the next flight. We felt so bad for her, but all that melted away when we learnt that she would be taking a private chartered plane from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro. Next thing we learn the chartered flight was full and she was going to take an armed vehicle. Finally she managed to get into a rickety bus and got to the destination just in time. Her journey to Arusha from Nairobi is probably going to become a best seller right away, so I will withhold from giving away too much of the plot. She was holed in a bus with a mad woman, a rapist, a thief and a lion wrestler.

At the Kilimanjaro airport, The Dawg was detained for not having taken Yellow Fever vaccination. He was hoping to slip through the cracks of the Tanzanian health department that was checking for the documents. Since he was overweight, they caught him and finally poked him. He came out simmering and was convinced that the whole world was out to get him. From then on, he stopped trusting. He complained that I had not told him about the vaccination. Pi had to hide my pocketknife quickly.

Warm air, starry night, gulmohar trees- Tanzania did feel a lot like South India. Outside the airport we were greeted by David, the computer guy from Good Earth Tours. He took us to our hotel in Arusha (the nearest town to the mountain). David spoke in his lovely African accent about the different tribes in Tanzania and how Christian missionaries helped them get to where they are. They are now Christians and have names like David. He seemed very proud about this. This topic has been debated to death between Pi and I (with Pi very skeptical about the intensions of missionaries). I wanted a pleasant ride and wanted David to do much of the talking. I started sending frantic signals to Pi not to began some heated discussion on this topic when the Dawg jumped up and went, “So David, don’t you think these missionaries are buying you in the name of charity?”

So you can just imagine what ensued. I just closed my eyes and prayed that our tour company wouldn’t
a) poison us while we are on the mountain
b) throw us off a cliff
c) take us the wrong way and leave us to fend for ourselves like Hansel and Grethel
d) do all of the above unless we all converted

After this awkward discussion, The Dawg tried to do damage control by asking David to give him a list of great Tanzianian music. Kuch kuch hota hai and Oops I did it again featured in the top 10.

At 2 am, David took leave after dropping us off at the New Arusha hotel where Bill Clinton had apparently stayed- probably when he was trying to hide from paparazzi. Actually speaking it wasn’t bad at all. One of the nicer hotels with a lovely courtyard garden, an uber rich desi owner and an inefficient front desk. A few towels missing, the mosquito screen fluttering away from the window shouldn’t be that much of a concern. It definitely confused the mosquitoes. And oh, we had to start using our headlamps in the hotel itself whenever there were power outages. Sometimes rudely in the middle of watching Aljazeera on TV. The hotel was still very welcome after the 24-hour flight from Pittsburgh. We went up to our rooms salivating for local fare and decided to order some ugali that David was talking about. From the choice of Burger, pasta and steak, pasta seemed as close to African food as it could get. Pi looked at the dessert menu and did a little jig when he noticed chocolate mousse. When the order arrived, we saw some guey pink mass. ‘Sir, that’s passion fruit mousse. We didn’t have chocolate mousse. It’s one and same.’ We got billed for it.

A little observation on passion fruit- it’s better inside a face cream than a fruit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

To the top and back

Unfortunately I haven’t even had a chance to thank you all for being so supportive and wishing us well. As you could tell from Lee’s post, WE MADE IT TO THE TOP OF KILIMANJARO!!! What an amazing experience. I can go on and on….but before all that I want say- Thank you! … for goading me on (I could have died, you freaks!!!). To whoever advised me to take the ipod, I want to kiss you! (Just as I figured that the guy is Smiley, I quickly withdraw that offer.)

Thank you also for all those who donated to my cause. I raised $3,500 from this fundraiser! It will all go towards constructing a fish farm in Mali.

Yes, Kilimanjaro was tougher than I had ever imagined. Much tougher than coming out of my mom’s stomach. (yes, babies have it tough too. They just can’t express themselves as eloquently as the moms).

It has been a month since I am back, but I can’t stop thinking about Tanzania. Someone take me back….just one more time. So unfortunately for some, I will attempt at recreating all the good times (as and when time permits). The bad times will be exaggerated so that some of you don’t jump up and say, ’Hmmm. I could have done that too!’ Even Edmund Hillary didn't climb Kilimanjaro!

[Also posted in my other hiding place]