Day 2: June 11th, 2009
As we exit the plane we are immediately shepherded into what looks like a dilapidated post office. Here we are instructed to complete some entry visas. I say 'instructed' but in reality we are simply following the person in front and hoping for the best. After passing through passport control (where actual money exchanges hands), we are reunited with our luggage as a customs official warns me that the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is very, very cold. The twinkle in his eye suggests that he's witnessed this sort of nonsense many times before.
And then it finally hits me - I'm in Africa. Who cares if I haven't slept. Who cares if it's a seven hour drive to the nearest bed and a shower. Who cares if my bag is overweight. I'm in bloody Africa!
And then I catch sight of our expedition leader, Karsten. He doesn't look well. In a thick German accent he suggests that it's probably just something he ate, and then he hands out our lunch boxes that contain a cheese sandwich, a slab of sponge cake, a bar of chocolate and a small sugar banana.
Our home for the next seven and a half hours is a small, cramped bus. It comes complete with air-conditioning (i.e. some windows) and the latest in shock absorption technology (i.e. some seats). With our kit bags strapped to the roof and our daysacks littering the aisles, we take off for a long and arduous journey from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania.
The landscape is utterly mesmerizing. It's everything I'd imagined it would be: cows, goats, the Maasai Mara, shanty towns - but the thick, stifling dust is a surprise. The "roads" vary in quality. One moment you are happily bouncing around on pot-holed tarmac, the next moment the road simply disappears and you are thrown into the most violent rollercoaster ride of your life or, as the locals charmingly refer to it, a spot of "African massage".
And then, just as I'm beginning to dose off to a rather pleasant TJ Hooker anecdote, the van erupts with excitement. In the far distance, almost completely obscured by clouds, is Kilimanjaro. By the time I reach for my camera the moment has passed and she's gone again. But for one thrilling moment she's there. And she's big. Really big. I try not to think about it.
We cross the Tanzanian border after lunch (oh look, more forms) and we arrive at our final destination, the Ilboru Lodge, just as the sun begins to set.
With just enough time for a quick wash and brush-up we head for the dining room where we are subjected to our first mission briefing. Karsten presents us all with a map that details our imminent trek in painstaking detail. On paper it looks so easy. All those measurements about altitude hardly mean anything at all. As the briefing concludes our thoughts quickly return to bag weight and for several hours everyone panics about the number of kilos they are currently packing in their kit bags. A set of scales are dispatched to our rooms and occasionally you can hear the sound of someone tearing their hair out as they realise they are still 3kg over the limit. Eventually, after many deals, compromises and prayers our bags are deemed safe and we head for dinner, which is delicious, even if the meat remains unidentifiable to this day.
That night, snuggled safely under my mosquito net, sleep remains elusive. My mind and my heart are both racing. I look at my watch and realise that tomorrow is already here.
At least Palma doesn't snore.
Altitude: 1254 meters, 4,117 feet