Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marangu aka As Close as I will ever come to Mt. Kilimanjaro

Moving right along on what was really the Road from Zanzibar, we continued on to the small town of Marangu.  From best I could gather, there is only one reason people come here.  They are either coming from or going on a climbing expedition that ideally results in their reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Seeing as I would prefer smuggling a nest of angry cobras in my underwear to climbing Africa's highest peak, thankfully, this is not why we were camping there.

To be honest, I'm not totally sure why exactly this is one of the stops.  I imagine it has something to do with the logistics of getting us closer to the Serengeti but since that does make for a very sellable itinerary, we were also treated to another orphanage stop and village walk.
The orphanage, this time one for street children, was en route to the campsite, thus pretty unavoidable, and from the general attitude of the kids, was a pretty common item on the overlander agenda.  Case in point, one of the kids asked where we were headed next but sitting in the midday heat, I blanked on the name.  He politely helped me out with "It's probably Marangu.  All the white people that come here go to Marangu." Again, I see the value in this type of visit, but I personally have a hard time with the forced awkward interaction that sometimes ensues when the kids are made to "perform" in exchange for donations.  That said, watching the kids trounce the more athletic members of our group on the soccer field was pretty entertaining.

I took no pictures at the orphanage but did manage to photograph a plantain truck on the way.

But the highlight of this particular destination, one which we were apparently very lucky to have, was waking up to a crisp clear day at the foot of the mountains.  The Marangu Hotel and the area surrounding it is better known for rain, fog, mist...all things that serve to obstruct anything resembling a good view.  Yet, our morning was very literally picture perfect.

Fun with shadows...
Of in the very near distance, we could even see the peak, that peak, the one all those people hoped to reach/ had just reached.  For me, the view itself was more than enough to check off the "see Mt. Kilimanjaro" box and continue contently on my way.

There was still another scheduled village walk to do, but by the time camp had been torn down and breakfast consumed, the sky had begun to darken to its more usual menacing hue.  The prospect of walking up a muddy hill for who knows how long to see yet another batch of schoolchildren was becoming increasingly real, as was my inclination to bail on the whole boondoggle that awaited. An additional circumstance that is not exactly weather related but that also factored heavily into my decision making: I was almost out of pants. Of the four pair I had brought, two had unceremoniously ripped in the crotch and had since been discarded, one was a pair of jeans that were basically unwearable in the daytime heat and the last (and sole functioning) pair were not up for another two weeks worth of wear.

With all of that in mind, I left Neema, the group and the local guide to explore Kilimanjaro and its villages while I joined our tour leader and cook on a shopping expedition to Arusha, the nearest big city.

Getting there was one of those adventures that was interesting due mainly to its novelty.  Realistically speaking, if I had to rely on dala-dalas, perennially overcrowded buses driven by horn-happy, speed-crazed madmen, on a regular basis, I suspect the charm would wear off quickly.  But these were the only ones I took in Tanzania, so I was enthused even when the forced closeness caused a young guy to fall asleep with his head resting directly on my shoulder.  By the time, three hours and two dala-dalas later, that we had arrived in Arusha and hopped on a trio of motorcycles to get us to the 'mall', I was positively giddy.  I was sure the group was having a nice time, but I was within striking distance of new pants and that trumped all.

We were dropped off at would pass for a nice suburban strip mall anywhere in the world.  It was gated and clearly aimed at tourists and well-to-do Tanzanians but I was feeling particularly local following my mastery of the dala-dalas (which to be honest consisted mainly of me following Patrick, our Kenyan cook, around) and opted to go to the more chaotic local market across the street.

It did not take long for me to begin re-thinking the wisdom of this plan.  Located essentially in a big soggy field, walking in the market more than made up for the muddy village trek I was avoiding in Kilimanjaro.  Then I made the rookie mistake of mentioning to one person that I was looking for pants, somehow immediately sending this information out to anyone within a 5 mile radius.  Suddenly, people were coming out of the woodworks offering me pants, all of them filthy and used.  Here I was dreaming of a new pair of clean khakis and I was beset by Levi's that had apparently been rolled around in the dirt, possibly with the previous owner still in them.  In the midst of all this, a middle aged man, perhaps trying to ascertain what types of fabrics I preferred, blatantly and without remorse, grabbed my ass.

It was time to return to the strip mall.  Just then, a frightening and unforeseen thing happened.  The corn truck arrived.  Every single man, woman and child in that market lost their ever-loving mind at the sight of the corn truck.  It was a stalk-inspired frenzy the likes of which I have never seen and I was precariously situated between the mob and the maize.  I shrieked and set land records in my return to the  strip mall.

This picture, taken 20 minutes later, from the relative quiet of the strip mall, does not begin to capture the madness of the corn-hungry mayhem.
Once there, it was like a different world. I was able to calmly check email, enjoy cool refreshing gelatto, buy gifts undisturbed and yes, get two perfect pair of Ali Baba hippie pants. I generally prefer doing the local thing (ie. seeing the mountain-side village) and as a rule, loathe shopping but on this particular day and this particular time, this was exactly what I needed.

 Eventually Neema and her cargo arrived to join me, all of the group admirably no worse for wear. All together again, we were given time to dash through the supermarket, grabbing beer and snacks for our next campsite, the only one that would not have a bar on property- the reason being it was in the motherf'ing Serengeti!!!

Just one of the cars that was parked in the strip mall.

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