Here at last! I arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport at 9:00 and a nice man named John was waiting at the gate holding a sign that said "Sally Gibson." I was so happy to be here finally that I gave him a huge hug. The most magnificent thing I've seen so far was the icy top of Kilimanjaro as we flew past--just even with the plane. I haven’t caught a second glimpse of the peak yet from the ground, but high above the cloud line, it was perfectly clear and beautiful. John and I had an hour or so drive to the Marangu Hotel at the base of Kilimanjaro so I got to find out a lot about the local environment and the chagga people. He stopped to show me a gigantic baobab tree [adansonia digitata] that is thousands of years old, and also to point out that the smaller mountains surrounding Kilimanjaro are being massively exploited by the local people for their light but durable volcanic rock. Everywhere we looked, he pointed out that the houses were made from such bricks, and indeed, in some cases a whole third of the mountain was sliced up and eroding. It was a sad sight but the poverty in the area is equally devastating.
When I got to the Marangu Hotel, Kerry Scott (W&L 77') and owner of the Narrow Gate trekking company was waiting for me. I checked into my safari-style room, took a luxurious and indulgent bath (first in four days, yuck!) and met him outside in the garden for a drink. The rest of the group from W&L who are hiking Kilimanjaro with us will arrive tonight and we leave first thing in the morning. Kerry and I decided to hike up to the town to search for internet and see a bit of the area. Because we were unfamiliar with the town and the landscape, Abdul, a young man who will also be one of the guides on the hike, came with us. My decision to wear flip-flops began to haunt me a couple kilometers up the dusty, rocky road. And as luck would have it, the town's power went out right as we reached the shop with internet, so we decided to hike to the waterfalls and chagga village instead.
The falls were absolutely gorgeous! They are fed by the melting snow and glacier from the top of Kilimanjaro. Abdul and I hopped out on the rocks to the middle of the pool under the falls and felt the icy spray from the pounding water mist over us. There's an ancient chagga legend about a women who had a pre-marital affair with a young man. When she found out she was pregnant, she threw herself off the top of the falls rather than face certain death for her actions. A stone statue of the woman stands rigid against the rushing water at the top of the ledge.
Afterward, we trekked through a banana grove on a smooth mud trail to the village. Abdul explained that there are 4 kinds of banana trees here--ones for eating, ones for making beer, ones for cooking, and ones for drying and grinding into flour. [I’m actually sitting in an internet cafe in Moshi right now next to a farmer who has been telling me all the ways in which the plant is used. He just told me there are 36 species of banana!] We also saw pineapples, avocados, mango trees, maize, lime trees, wild Kilimanjaro coffee plants, and papaya trees--it is such rich and fertile land. Abdul's mother picks, dries, and roasts the wild Kili coffee and he is going to sell me a kilo of her coffee tomorrow. We collected a small following of children as we walked. I have a natural (and sometimes untimely) urge to pick small children up when I see them, and they were so adorable that I had to fight it fiercely! Luckily, I had my camcorder with me and got lots of footage of jambo [hello] exchanges with the children.
We hiked back to the hotel, ordered lunch and Kilimanjaro beer, and talked about Africa's history. Kerry did several tours of duty in Africa--Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Liberia, so he told many interesting stories. Now we're off back to the airport to pick the others up. Tonight we get briefed by our guides on the safety and dangers of the mountain, and tomorrow we leave on our 8-day trek up Kilimanjaro!