Leisurely, long-necked giraffes on the backdrop of a vast mountain, rising steeply from the flat steppe up and into the very clouds, not content to stop there, but re-emerging well above the clouds with its snowy-clad top; the East-African postcard of Mount Kilimanjaro was all we had in mind when we set out from home.
This was my first trip abroad, disregarding, that is, Sweden, something every self-respecting Norwegian will disregard. I one of a trio that aside of myself consisted of my friend Ove, a newly minted glacier-guide and budding mountaineer, his cousin Trond, a likable fellow whose only known failing was his tendency towards subjecting himself to gainless physical exertion. Narrow bike seats, running uphill, that sort of thing. Both of them were disgustingly fit, whereas I had been admitted on the strength of my willingness rather than my ability.
We were, you see, as ill-prepared travel companions as ever set foot on African soil. Our preparations consisted in their entirety of one fax that had been acknowledge by the most economical of “OKs” by its recipient, and another one that had gone unanswered altogether. That, and the spoken assurance of a man Ove had once met in the mountains, who had told him where to send the fax, and that “it’d be OK”.
A passage to Africa
Arriving late one summer’s night at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, we were, for the first time in our lives, greeted by a massive wall of enthusiastic touts. Several of these assured us that through them, and them alone, could our safe conveyance from the airport be assured. Choosing anyone else from the throng of humanity surrounding us would be dangerous, nay, fatal. We could not let such an opportunity slip away from us, and used this fortuitous circumstance to make our first ill-advised decision; opting for a pirate taxi.
Military checkpoints not being in vouge in Norway at the time, the thought did occur to us, fleetingly, that the man with the machine gun that appeared, as the driver pulled to a stop and wound down the window, somehow could be connected with unpleasant experiences in our immediate future.
Still, owing to our good fortune rather than our wits, the driver abstained from bringing us to a remote location and demand a princely sum to take us where we wanted to go. Instead, he simply drove us straight to were we wanted to go–and then demanded a princely sum.
Where we wanted to go was the venerable Norfolk Hotel Nairobi, a remnant from colonial times, associated with the likes of Karen Blixen and Ernest Hemingway, people of whose fame we were vaguely aware. It was there, on the next morning, that we would meet our local guide, fixer and fax correspondent, Mr Athanas Minja.
While the next morning came, Mr Minja did not. Nor did we have any means to communicate with him. Yet, for reasons that cannot possibly have been well thought through, we decided to brave the journey from Kenya to Tanzania unaided. Having strengthened our resolve by means of a sumptuous breakfast at the Lord Delamere Terrace, we managed to make our way to the bus station where we were shepherded into a bus that looked much like one would expect a bus to look, only smaller.
Our itinerary did not appear to be a novel one, for a seemingly endless stream of people kept pouring into the bus until the desire for commerce had to give way to the laws of physics. By this time there was a passenger to seat ratio of 1.2. That number, judging by the dyspeptic-looking conductor, was nowhere near satisfactory.
Among their passengers this morning, they had an anomaly, or, to be precise, three anomalies: two relatively large and one absolutely large foreigner. Such a ghastly scenario had at no point in time been part of the business plan of the bus company.
Despite loud protests from all passengers, the conductor insisted on demonstrating the feasibility of taking on more passengers by forcing himself into the seat between myself and one of my companions. At this point, we were sitting so closely packed that I could feel the pulse of the guy two seats over as distinctive from that of my own and that of my immediate neighbor.
This wasn’t promising, exactly, but when in Africa… Maybe this was how it was done here,
And then the ride begun.
After about half an hour, the conductor, now on the point of fainting, having been wedged between mine and Ove’s elbows to the point that his blood no longer circulated freely throughout his body, thought better of his experiment. A curt exchange between him and the driver resulted in an extra-schedular stop where a couple of passengers, selected seemingly at random, were told unceremoniously to remove themselves, and then we sped off again.
Speed limits being what they were in Kenya at the time–mostly unobserved–we made good progress, though the bus didn’t enjoy the journey much, and complained audibly whenever gears were changed, pedals were stepped on or the steering wheel turned.
Speed traps in East-Africa were simple. A spike strip was placed across the road just after a hilltop or curve that would prevent drivers from seeing it. The police figured that if anyone was speeding, they would not be able to stop in time, and thus run over the spike strips. That this constituted an equally great danger as the speed itself, didn’t seem to occur to anyone. Much the same way it didn’t seem to occur to our bus driver that there might be speed traps between him and bed time.
After a nerve-wrecking eight hours we arrived in Moshi. Densely packed as we were, we became acquainted with some of our fellow travelers, among them a British girl, who called Moshi home, having grown up there with her missionary parents. In parting from her, Trond, whom up to this point in his life never had given voice to any thoughts of a spiritual nature, to our surprise, and possibly his own, revealed that he had always dreamed of being a missionaries’ son. Polite as we were, politeness being a particular virtue of ours, we withheld from commenting upon this outrageous claim, until the girl was nearly out of earshot.
Our terminus for the day lay one hour beyond Moshi, but Moshi was as far as the bus was going. It was, as we were about to disembark and consider our next “move”, that we first became acquainted with our elusive guide, Mr Minja.
He said that he had forgotten to adjust his watch, and that he had failed to consult his papers that in any case had some misprint, and that he by some singular misfortune was going by the previous year’s calendar, or some such thing. We were all too ready to believe him, if only he could take us to our destination, which for some reason he could not.
The bus driver, having by this time shed the ill-tempered conductor, learned of our predicament and catching the scent of supplementary income, offered to drive us the final hour to our hotel for a modest sum.
And thus, in the afternoon of our first day in Africa, we arrived in the village of Marangu, at the foot of the mountain Kilimanjaro.
A village under the mountain
Marangu was the most popular entry point for people visiting Kilimanjaro National Park. We planned to stay here for one night before embarking on our walk the next morning.
Our hotel, the Babylon Lodge, was an economic operation and had a permanent staff of one; the manager. A part-time cook, specialized in chicken, appeared just before mealtimes. The hotel had a fixed main course consisting of chicken. Always chicken. Since the chicken was implicit, it had been omitted from the menu, leaving only the choice of rice or potatoes.
Having installed ourselves in our room we now wanted to take a walk, partly to acclimatize ourselves to Africa, partly to see if our extremities were still in working order. Having landed late the night before in Kenya, and having spent all day on the uncomfortable bus, this would be the first that we got to experience of Africa.
As the manager didn’t have any other guests to cater for, and didn’t eye any business on his immediate horizon, he offered to show us the local attraction. For a reasonable fee, a purely nominal fee, he added. Specifically, he wanted to show us “the Great Waterfalls”.
One of us, I cannot recollect whom, insisted that we shouldn’t accept this offer out of hand, as it was sure to be a scam. What I do recollect is that all three of us wholeheartedly agreed that this was an excellent precaution that did us merit. We politely turned him down–as politely, that is, as one may turn down a hotel manager who offers to close his hotel to take you for a walk–and parted on friendly terms.
Less than hundred meters from the door step of the Babylon Lodge, caution was thrown to the wind. We felt at peace with all man kind and the equals of every African explorer before us, to whose number we had generously added ourselves. Accordingly, we fell into step with two talkative and outgoing locals who introduced themselves as John and Moses.
The Great Waterfalls, it turned out, was a source of considerable pride among the locals. Therefore, Moses and John, too, soon offered to take us there. Only they would take us there for free. Congratulating ourselves at having avoided the greedy and self-interested swindle attempted by our hotel manager, we graciously accepted the offer.
The Great Waterfalls turned out to be a narrow string of water dropping some 20 meters off the lip of a rock. While not at all unpleasant to the eye, the waterfall in itself wasn’t awe-inspiring seen through Norwegian eyes. Nonetheless, we accepted it as being rather charming for its setting, surrounded by jungle as it was. Jungle was more unusual in our native land than was waterfalls.
A characteristic of the tropics, that all sane travelers are aware of, but that we who dwelt in blessed ignorance near the polar circle had not thought of, is the rapid transition from bright day to dark night in a matter of minutes.
Therefore, no alarm bells sounded in our minds when Moses and John, our benevolent friends, offered to show us a short-cut back to the hotel, through the jungle. Not even the fact that the short-cut headed in the opposite direction of the hotel made the least bit of impression upon us. Lambs for the slaughter, they say.
Within minutes of having entered the jungle, night was upon us. Moses and John did however not stray from the path, but led us steadily on. Soon, complete darkness enveloped us and none of us had the faintest idea where we were. A fresh suspicion found fertile soil in our anxious minds. Could it be that, against all evidence to the contrary, these two biblically named gentlemen, Moses and John, harbored motives beyond the pride of showing us the best that their village had to offer.
The suspicion was soon replaced by certainty when our nocturnal walk came to a halt and a proposition was put forth that our conveyance back to the hotel could be greatly facilitated through the donation of a named and not inconsiderable sum.
Arguing was of course pointless and just as we had resigned ourselves to surrender the funds in question, out of the dark came an unexpected but most welcome voice. It was the hotel manager. Our good, kind, well-meaning hotel manager, of clear mind, generous disposition and pure heart. Having nothing better to do he had closed the hotel and gone to look for us when we had not returned before dark. Now, he poured out a great deal of eloquent vernacular, targeted at Moses and John, who eventually made themselves scarce.
Having gotten rid of these two tumors on the local tourist economy, and having his righteous anger stemmed by the fact that we were his only guests, the hotel manager now proceeded to berate us rather more softly than we deserved. He informed us of the dos and don’ts of Africa, and how much better it would have been, all things considered, if we had only listened to him in the first place.
Uphill and downhill
The next day we set out in pursuit of our climbers’ permits. Kilimanjaro isn’t so much a climb as it is a walk, but permits being a matter of business, and business being a matter of importance, and climbing sounding better than walking, climbers’ permits they nonetheless were.
These documents were only to be had at the Marangu Gate, the most common starting point for Kilimanjaro walks. Mr Minja, our forgetful but quickly forgiven guide, had by this time organized transport and had a Land Cruiser of some considerable antiquity waiting for us outside the Babylon Lodge, ready to convey us up the steep road to the permit office
Knowing but little of cars, I couldn’t say anything about the Land Rover in front me but that it was as ancient as it was poorly maintained. Still, the car managed the climb up to the Marangu Gate surprisingly well, leaving in its wake nothing worse than a thick cloud of black smoke, a few metal items that did not seem to have any bearing on the operation of the vehicle, as well as a number of pedestrians with permanent damage to their hearing.
Having arrived at the relatively level parking lot outside the national park headquarters, our driver jumped from his seat, nimbly as a deer, to wedge a couple of rocks under the wheels, lest the car roll away. We didn’t take much note of this at the time, but wrote it off as a mere eccentricity on his part.
Our permits in hand we now had to make our way back down to Moshi and then onwards to a place called Umbwe, to the west of Marangu, the starting point of our chosen ascent route.
Going uphill, had shown us what the engine was capable of, going downhill would demonstrate what strength remained, if any, in the gearbox and brakes of our ageing automobile. That there was but little left in either, soon became apparent as we we started our steep descent back down to Marangu.
Absent brakes, the driver used the gear box to control speed. However, having accidentally shifted into the brisk canter of second gear rather than the safer trot of the first, he now found himself accelerating rather faster than was his desire.
To mitigate matters, he tried to wrench the car from second gear into first, something which would have been a good deal easier had the clutch been in working order. Presently, finding ourselves with the gearbox in neutral, the rate of our acceleration increased further, and we were rapidly approaching a sharp curve, beyond which lay a vertical drop of some 50 meters, which would be sufficient to resolve any outstanding questions we might have about the after-life.
Just at that moment a singularly unlucky small, blue, Fiat pickup came puffing up the hill towards us, at peace with the world and minding its own business. Seeming as this was the only obstacle that could possibly do anything to prevent our imminent death, our driver opted for a head-on collision with the unsuspecting little Fiat.
Gravity ceased for some time, and the chronology of events until the car eventually came to a stop, resting on its roof, not at all far from the fearful drop that would have been the end of us, became vague and unimportant.
In our party, the butcher’s bill was limited. I had a long, bleeding cut in my head but the others had miraculously escaped unscathed. The Fiat driver was badly hurt, though. His car had been thrown back a good few meters from the point of impact and the collision had flung him out the side window. His face was a bloody mess and I would be surprised if he was able to see with both eyes again following that morning’s incident.
My wound was worrying my companions – it would have worried me too, but thankfully I couldn’t see it. Men do not travel with mirrors, and the Land Cruiser, if ever it had any, had lost any remnant there might have been in the crash. It was quickly decided that my wound warranted further examination at the Marangu Hospital before we could consider turning to the mountain again.
Being cautious of what tourists meant to Marangu, the doctors were eager to treat me before attending to the Fiat driver – him being a local and therefore of but modest economic interest. I politely turned down this offer which we found rather cynical. The refusal was met by a dumb disapproving look by the hospital staff.
In time, however, I was brought before the doctors–there were quite a few of them–and they laughed at my hair that was different from how hair ought to be to their sensibilities. They decided I needed stitching, and thus had to have my hair shaved off. To my despair, and my companions’ unbridled glee, this was exactly what they proceeded to do.
The doctors insisted that our ascent must be postponed by at least two days so that they could check that my wound was healing. This gave us the opportunity to consume 9 more grilled chickens at the Babylon Lodge. It also gave the shameless Moses and John the opportunity to come around to claim the money they felt they were owed for the previous night’s rudely interrupted guiding service.
Exploring Marangu revealed much that was new and exciting to us. Marangu didn’t offer large shopping centers, but was abundant in small kiosks, about double the size of a phone booth. Where their sizes were modest, their names were ambitious. One was called the “World Trade Center”.
Mr Minja was surprisingly spruce and far from defeated by the car crash – he was calm to the point that we suspected this of being less uncommon than we might have hoped for.
Second Attempt – the Umbwe Corridor
After two lazy days in Marangu, the local doctors read their verdict over my lacerated scalp. They assured me that there was a considerable chance I might yet have several good years left in me. Thus, on our fourth day in Africa, we set off once more, in a different Land Rover of similar antiquity is its late cousin. This time however, we did not have to take on any steep hills but merely to traverse flat dirt roads along the foot of the mountain. To ensure that the driver had to work for his money, Mr Minja had chosen a car with a different defect this time; 45 degrees of steering play.
We now set off in the direction of Umbwe, stopping at the market in Moshi to stock up on supplies for our little expedition.
To me, Umbwe sounded like just as good a starting point for Kilimanjaro as the next one. I didn’t learn, until we started walking, that the Umbwe route, though scenic, was the most strenuous of the major ascent routes. It was at this point in time that I started to ponder whether it was really such a good idea to come here with two over-healthy people such as Ove and Trond.
We had hired a rather remarkable number of porters to facilitate our climb, three for each us in addition to two guides. As we started walking though, it became evident that the porters were inclined to carry little or nothing else than the camp gear and their own possessions. They did however set off as if ten thousand devils were on their scent.
For the first day we followed a winding trail up the forested foothills of the mountain, surrounded by a layer of mist that ascended from the steppe below in the mid-morning. Some time late in the afternoon we caught up with our porters who had made camp by the Umbwe Caves. They greeted us with freshly boiled tea – and popcorn, a wonderful and strange combo that we quickly became accustomed to and came to expect.
As we sat down to drink our tea we had noticed something that bore ill tidings for the oncoming night. Something vaguely resembling a tent, only smaller, had been erected close to the cave. From the porters’ gestures it became apparent to us that they expected all three of us not only to fit in there, but also to sleep comfortably. Although, miraculously, we did manage to squeeze in, comfortable sleep was out of the question.
Traveling at the equator, I thought it a bit too much to bring my warm sleeping-bag. Instead I brought my sleeping-bag specially designed for particularly warm summer nights indoors – which I thought to be considerably more in tune with the local climate. Wrong again, as the night temperature dropped below zero!
On to the Barranco Hut
Making my frozen joints cooperate the next morning required considerable amounts of scolding hot tea, which was supplied by our friendly porters, before they once again sped off not to be seen till late in the afternoon.
About an hour into the hike we broke out of the forest and into the heather, which on the slopes of Kilimanjaro easily reaches three meters or more in height. At the far end of a long ridge with deep gorges on both sides we could see the snow-clad cap of Kilimanjaro towering above us. The shear dimension and beauty of the mountain in front of me left me speechless, which my companions found a great relieve until I started talking again.
We spent the better part of the day, climbing the ridge, arriving at the foot of the Kilimanjaro rock in the moorlands surrounding Barranco Hut. It was at about this moment that we started questioning whether the semi-cooked meat we had tasted from our porters on the previous night had really been such a good idea after all.
A visit to the porcelain temple is supposed to be a relaxing experience that gives room for reflection and afterthought, however, this requires sitting down. On the slopes of Kilimanjaro, a hole in the ground was the only remedy against the oncoming diarrhoea experienced not only by us, but seemingly by every other non-African on the mountain as well.
A little bit of indigestion didn’t put a dampening spirit on us though, we had come to Africa to experience something new – and now we did.
The Karanga Valley
The next day of the hike was an acclimatisation day, or so I was told. We walked up and down along a curving ridge called the Barranco Wall until four hours later, we reached a small valley, called the Karanga Valley. This was to be our next camp.
At this point I was starting to get aware of the altitude being a factor working against me. Luckily we had anticipated and prepared for this eventuality. More specifically, we had bought black-market heart medicine, blood-thinner! Stocked up on a few of these non-prescribed pills we were good to go once again.
The Barafu Hut – only one night to go!
Leaving the Karanga Valley, the next day offered a short, although in places steep, walk. On this day, the Umbwe route merges with the Mweka route about midway to the Barafu Hut, the last of the four camp sites on our ascent.
By now I had become a tea-banana-and-popcorn addict and thought of little else as I stumbled on, the final hour towards that afternoon’s camp.
The location was truly spectacular, we were no longer in the misty clouds, we were far above, enjoying our evening meal to the view of the sun going down on an unbroken blanket of white clouds.
At this point, another proof of our ignorance made itself evident. The final leg of the hike goes through a rather steep, sandy and rocky ridge, extending from the Barafu hut to Stella Point on the rim of the Kilimanjaro crater. At night the sand freezes and is easier to walk on, for this reason we were supposed to start walking at about two o’clock in the morning. A torch would have come handy here, needless to say we didn’t bring one.
The Americans in the tent next to ours however, compensated for our lack of planning by a similar amount of over-planning. I didn’t sleep early that night but was listening to the Americans going over, in considerable detail, every single move they were going to make the next day – discussing whether 8 rolls, with 36 exposures each, would be sufficient film for their cameras and so on. By the time I fell asleep it was already time to get up
After several hours of feeling our way between the rocks in the darkness, the moon appeared over Mawenzi, Kibo’s craggy sibling. Amidst my cursing, at the deplorable state of my physical condition and the effect of the thin air, I became aware of the astounding beauty of the scene. This was definitively worth it all.
A vague blue started to appear on the horizon, gradually becoming more intense until finally exploding into orange, red and yellow just before sunrise. At this point we were high up on the ridge, with some 200 meters of altitude left to scale before we reached Stella Point.
Now, Ove started exhibiting the tell-tale signs of altitude-sickness. After checking that his lips and fingernails were starting to take on a rather unhealthy shade of blue, a decisive symptom of upcoming high altitude pulmonary oedema, he was urged to turn around and and make his way down to the Horombo hut to wait for Trond and me. One of our guides followed him, the other one leading the way for me and Trond, not noticing, or caring, about a steadily growing gap between me and them.
As a consequence, I was the last one to reach Stella Point from Barafu that day, meeting plenty of people on their way back down just as I reached the rim. By now I, too, was really feeling the altitude. My head felt like I had been drinking ten beers, which wasn’t such an unattractive feeling. I stumbled after Trond and our guide in the direction of Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the crater rim.
I made it as far as to the top of a rather steep rocky “step”, leaving only about 3-400 horizontal meters or so between me and the top. Then, at 5800-and-something meters, I decided that it probably wasn’t a good idea to continue any further. For the first time in my life I turned around. And it didn’t matter to me. I had made a snowball, I had thrown that snowball at Ove, and another at Trond, I had done so on a mountain in Africa, on the Equator. I had, been on Kilimanjaro.
Going down was a good bit quicker than going up and here gravity worked in my favour. I was halfway down to the Kibo Hut by the time Trond and our guide caught up with me.
At the sight me, the Kilimanjaro Mountain Rescue-team was upon us, making sure that we were able to walk by ourselves. They were scouting for business and would be exceedingly happy if they could only be commissioned to carry us. I made a mental note, that I would have charged a rather large amount of money to carry someone my size (and weight) several kilometres on a stretcher, and declined.
The descent followed the Marangu route, a gently sloping path gradually transitioning from high-altitude desert-landscape to moss, heather, shrubs and eventually forest before arriving at Marangu Gate.
We caught up with Ove at the Horombo Hut where he had arrived some hours earlier. This was the last evening of our hike and if the porters were to make some extra money, this was their final chance. First they put forward a demand that we should give them more money or they would leave our stuff right there. Seeming as they didn’t really carry any of our stuff that threat fell somewhat flat. Next, they insisted that we were to sick and weak to complete the hike and needed to be “rescued”. Once that proposition too had been declined, a quiet discontent settled upon the porters and we went to bed.
Walking uphill with diarrhoea is uncomfortable at the best of times, walking downhill is never less than terrible. The Marangu route was much better equipped for “those in need” with plenty of shelters, around holes in the ground, conveniently spaced along the path. I visited them all.
Back down at the Mandara hut, the first one on the Marangu route, there was even a porcelain-hole-in-the-ground, complete with markings where to put the feet.
Never has so little pleased so few so much.
Sitting in the courtyard of the Babylon Lodge upon our return to Marangu, we were filled with a profound sense of accomplishment — and chicken with rice or potatoes.
Beach and safari
Our motivation for coming to Africa was split three-ways: Kilimanjaro, safari and beach. The car accident had however cost us so much time that we had to cut down on our ambitions and skip the beach at Mombasa from our schedule. Instead we decided to go on safari out of Arusha.
Upon hearing that his three only guests were leaving, the hotel manager offered to drive us to Arusha. After all, there was no money to be made from an empty hotel. He produced a slightly more credible looking mini-van than the antique Land Rovers we had experienced up till then, and we were off to Arusha. The hotel manager didn’t drive himself but had commissioned a helper who drove like if he had made his peace with Allah and was in no great fear for his life. A sticker on the wind screen reading: “Hussein saved Islam”, didn’t offer us much in terms of comfort.
We hadn’t really considered arriving in Arusha alive so when we stepped out of the minivan uninjured we were somewhat at a loss for what to do next. We checked into a hotel and sat in our room contemplating that very question when we were interrupted by a loud knock on the door, quickly followed by the arrival of a small woman who violently demonstrated, with the use of brochures and a variation of the English language, why it would be a good idea for us to come with her on safari.
Odds were against her being a serious actor in the Arusha safari market, and so we made another original decision of following her. Therefore the next morning we found ourselves, once more, on the road in the direction of Lake Manyara National Park in the Great Rift Valley.
A small stop on a snake farm taught us that there are three different types of snakes referred to as “house snakes” in Tanzania. That made the idea of sleeping in a tent less attractive than it had ever been before.
Lake Manyara National Park
Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was a great experience and immediately brought out my inner-Japanese: I was taking photos like if my life was depending upon it. However, with a 66 mm lens, a lion looks much like any other dot on the horizon when photographed from a safe distance.
Lake Manyara, in addition to big game, has hot springs. One into which Trond was fooled to put his hand by our driver. That would have been a tip-gainer with Ove and me, had we had any money to spare, which we didn’t – but he couldn’t know that.
Something which never protrudes when watching wild-life documentaries on TV, is the foul stench of the hippopotamus. It smells much like stale sewage in the summer heat and would greatly discourage toy-producers from ever again making hippo-shaped toys for children.
We spent the night at a campsite close to the entrance to the park. Also on this trip we had two people on our list of employees: a driver and a cook. Whereas the drivers role was clear to us, the responsibilities of the cook were more limited. It seemed to us his main function was to gulp down as much fizzy drink as he could take from a large case he had insisted that we needed.
When we examined the remnants of our supply of beverages we found something odd called “Crest” which we hadn’t encountered before back home. Eager to experiment and gain new knowledge of African gastronomy we popped open a few bottles and drank. Never before had such a foul taste been felt by any of us and we instinctively dropped the bottles and backed several steps away.
The effect of the mountain hike hadn’t left me and I was still feeling nauseous and suffered from diarrhea. The cook however wasn’t aware of this and when he on the first night, with great pride, presented us with dinner, it can’t be denied that he got a both startled and hurt look on his face when I had to run away to avoid reproducing the previous meal there and then.
The next morning we woke to the sound of arguing voices. Some careless people, who clearly hadn’t done enough research before choosing whom to go on safari with, had been abandoned by their driver and left with nothing. The idea of keeping our valuables close at all times came to us at that moment and was probably a good one.
The Ngorongoro Crater
The next day was reserved for a visit to the difficult-to-pronounce Ngorongoro crater where we hopefully would see rhinos. We did see rhinos, we thought they were great but they merely thought we were very, very irritating – which was a good thing though – them being wild animals.
A group of monkeys with fascinatingly big, bright blue testicles took great interest in us and kept coming into the car in search of treats and spoils.
Lunch time offered the funniest sight of the whole trip, when Trond was tricked out of his lunch by a large sinister-looking marabou stork and his friends. The storks had apparently learned how to work together in groups, circling the targeted tourist, scaring him to the extent that he would be giving up his food.
We had been looking forward to that nights camp, a place called Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. According to Norwegian logic that would have to be either on the rim of or in the crater itself. In Africa however, things weren’t that simple. The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was a dusty parking lot with some wooden huts about 5 km away from the crater – on the outside.
Back in Arusha our driver and cook clearly expected a major tip. We even felt that a tip would have been in place but we simply didn’t have money to spare. A temporary awkwardness descended upon the crowd and for some time we just watched each other until they with a look of incomprehension got back in their car and drove away, without waving at us.
Out of Africa
Traveling back to Nairobi from Arusha meant crossing the border between Tanzania and Kenya again.
On the border post, when entering Tanzania some two weeks ago, we had been halted by an immigration officer who asked us how many days we were going to spend in the country. We answered him truthfully, saying that we were weren’t really sure but somewhere between eight and twelve days. “Fine”, he said. “I will put you down for eight, it doesn’t really matter “.
When coming back, the same immigration officer insisted that our temporary visas (issued upon entry into the country) were long expired. He said that we had few options but to go back to Arusha and plead our case in front of a judge, or as a special service, because he was our friend and wished us well, he would allow us to slip him a named amount of money and he would forget the whole incident.
I had 1000 NOK sown into the lining of my pants, they were cut out, exchanged and used to bribe our way into Kenya again. Whereas I make this sound as a cold and calculated action on our part, I can assure you that this was as far from the truth as you can get. We were panicking.
The bus driver didn’t take kindly to the delay and decided that passengers would have to be passengers and took of. Only by running like #¤%&%¤”#! did we manage to catch up with the bus on the Kenyan side of the border post.
Upon arriving back in Nairobi we were in a state of paranoia. Everybody were after our money which, with the exception of Trond’s Visa, were no longer. We spent his entire credit limit on a ridiculously expensive at the Hotel Norfolk.
This was our first encounter as guests at a luxury hotel. My two companions who after the flip of a coin had to share the double bed called for room service in order to find out how to operate the enormous bed spread. They ended up being tucked in and having their pillows fluffed by hotel staff. Picking heads in stead of tails I luckily ended up in the extra bed, all alone.
On the next morning we had managed to negotiate some cash from the hotel by making them charge extra to Trond’s credit card. We needed the money for transport to the airport and for paying an airport tax that was required to leave the country.
Well aboard the plane it took us about three attempts of take-off before the plane taxed back to the mechanics pit and stopped. An hour later a clearly happy voice announced that there was no worries “it was only the fuel system”.
Eight hours later Trond, Ove and I shared a big milkshake at McDonalds at Heathrow, bought for some French Francs that Ove found in his shirt pocket from a trip two years ago. A testament both to his extensive travel experience and the frequency with which he did his laundry.
We drank in silence.
Content with being home we could look back at an adventurous trip with many, many new experiences. We had been riding a pirate taxi in Nairobi, traveled into Tanzania on our own accord, found ourselves lost in the jungle after tropical nightfall, been in a car accident, had bananas, popcorn and tea, been on Kilimanjaro, been on safari, been swindled by a Tanzanian official and having stayed at the famous Hotel Norfolk.
Thus are durable memories made.