Thursday, December 05, 2013

Boys Will Be Boys

After roughly 32 hours in airports and airplanes, Amanda, my parents and I walked into the warm night air outside Kilimanjaro International Airport. We cleared "customs" and met our driver from Tanzanian tour company Good Earth Tours. This company was great. More about them later.

For the record I think there is an inverse relationship between the low per capita income of a country and the number, size, and intricacy of the required passport stamp. If passport stamps could have epaulettes Tanzania would require them.

Our driver loaded all of our crap into the van. A random guy picked up one of the bags and handed it to our driver. He then turned to me for a tip. Pretty out of it, I turned to my Dad, who gave this guy a dollar. We'd been in the country all of 15 minutes and the expected tipping for "services" and all of the complications that come from that had begun.

As we drove off into the darkness (something Lonely Planet Tanzania strictly forbids), I looked out through a fog of jet lag and excitement and naivete and hoped a lion would cross our path.

After a sketchy shortcut down a rough dirt road and through a random village, we arrived at Planet Lodge, a very upscale if somewhat out of the way cluster of bungalows tourists going to or coming from the airport.
 There are tons of different kinds of bananas in Tanzania. Even small ones

The next morning Amanda and my mother headed out to begin their trip to Zanzibar, an island on the Indian Ocean. My brother, my dad and I were on a recommended rest day before beginning our attempt on Kilimanjaro. We decided to go into Arusha, a town of 1.2 Millionish people (Fun fact, less than 16% of Tanzanian births are officially recorded so no one really knows how many people live anywhere. Hakuna Matata).

After a quick self guided tour through Arusha we hired three dudes with motorcycle taxis called boda bodas and headed up a dusty ass road to investigate a waterfall. This was incredibly fun and super dirty. There was so much dust on the "road" that our drivers had to be very careful not to sink into the fine sand pits on both sides of the road. Incidentally no one stops for pedestrians. I often saw cars thoroughly dust down a group of school children waiting to cross the street. We saw a waterfall and a really cool Colobus Monkey and then returned to Planet Lodge in preparation for tomorrow's departure to Kilimanjaro.


Sometime in 2012, my brother started mentioning that he'd really like to climb Kilimanjaro next year. I murmured the sort of vague assent that I often make when I really want to say yes to something but know I probably won't be able to deliver. "Hmmm sounds really exciting," I said without really committing myself. I spent the next 8 or so months working, wedding planning, and then getting hitched and going on a honeymoon.

A few months ago, Walker said, "I'm seriously going to climb Kili in October. Dad's coming, you should come." Then my Dad started working on me. "I'm not getting any younger," he said. "How many epic trips do you really think I have left in me?" I said I thought he had a lot of time and that I couldn't afford to fly to Africa anyway.

My maternal grandparents are deceased but they were big travelers in their day. My parents once gave them a map of the world and some pins to place in the countries they'd seen. By the time my grandfather died, one couldn't see their map for all the pin heads. In short, my parents invited Amanda and I on a two-week all expenses paid trip to Tanzania! This trip would be a tribute to my mom's parents and their love for travel. The loosely conceived plan: My brother, my father, and I would attempt Kilimanjaro while my mother and Amanda would visit the beaches of Zanzibar. Then we'd all reconvene for a week-long safari through the Serengeti. Amanda and I said yes and my parents promptly purchased non refundable airfare.

Parts of the planning process made me want to kill myself and everyone else involved. It seemed that my mother wanted to see every village in Africa. Meanwhile my wife and I had major concerns about we as tourists recreating harmful colonial experiences, and other issues surrounding ethical travel. I was caught between wanting to avoid taking part in "native" performances put on for rich Mizungus while respecting my parents desire to have the trip of their lifetime. After all, they were paying for it.

In no particular order, the five of us researched tour companies, changed budgets and itineraries, and got drugs for Hep C, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Malaria, Altitude Sickness, and The Shits. I also loaded up on allergy meds because, as it turns out, I sometimes have really scary allergic reactions that require stabbing an epi pen into my thigh. Walker, the only one who had traveled in sub Saharan Africa before, wisely decided to remove himself from the planning process. Veteran move. At one point I had to take a stand as my mother was insisting on taking public transportation everywhere in Tanzania. (Here's why this is bad). I always worry before doing things I've never done before. I worried that I wouldn't make it up Kili. I worried that my Dad wouldn't make it either. I worried that I'd get sick over there. I even worried that the five of us would create National Lampoon's Safari Vacation or something much more tragic.

Eventually, worried or not, with everything booked it was time to go.