The Day Before - Shuttle Bus from Nairobi to Arusha
Having stayed overnight in the Ambassadeur Hotel in Nairobi we awake at 7am for breakfast. We are collected at 7:30am for the shuttle bus to Arusha. The shuttle goes direct for about 12 dollars (if I'm not mistaken). The bus seems awfully cramped and of course the only seats left when myself and Charles board are at the back with no hope of any leg room for two long strings of misery! We meet two girls from England and decide to pass the time with some ridiculous travel games - one being a primitive version of guess who where we use our fingers to represent the pictures (we get bored of this quickly); the other being a word association game. Unfortunately every time a remotely suggestive word comes up, poor Graham gets ridiculed about his encounter with 'Sally', a Nairobi girl who, as she said herself "I love Graham, but not because he buy me beer!" Sure Sally, whatever!
We endure 2 hours of cramped travel to the border at which point we disembark to sort out our visas. Alas, Charles and I only have travellers cheques but all too late we find out to our dismay that there is nowhere trustworthy to cash them at the border. Everyone is having to pay US$50 to get in so we are getting just a tad apprehensive. Even more stressful than that, I can't find the 50 dollar bill I had put away for this trip. (It later turned up in the secret pocket of my combat pants when I arrived home. Some secret!) Just when things appear to be going pear shaped, an official asks us if we are Irish. We reply that we are and he just says "Hakuna noma" (no problem) and stamps our passports! Apparently the Irish don't need to pay for a visa, unlike Graham who doesn't look terribly satisfied with our recent good fortune having handed over even more money that he couldn't really afford... lucky he doesn't know (at the time) that he paid over US$150 more than myself and Charlie for the trip up Kilimanjaro!
Once in Tanzania we begin to approach a large mountain. Graham begins to think he is a tour operator and proudly bets his left foot that the mountain to our left is Mount Meru. A lady on the bus corrects him as Meru is as yet miles away. Now Graham has no chance of climbing Kilimanjaro as Charles and I cash in his bet and pawn his foot to one of the other passengers for 20,000 Tanzanian shillings. We arrive at the Novotel in Arusha where we meet Lazarus, from Hartebeest Safaris, our tour company for this part of the trip. He books us in to the Annex hotel for bed and breakfast. We take a quick stroll into town. Unfortunately, in this neck of the woods the touts are even more intolerable than in Nairobi and we end up thronged by touts all offering safaris and not seeming satisfied by our patient refusals. We face a persistent barrage of questions as to where we are from, where we are going, who we have booked with. Eventually we just learn to say "No, we're fine" and ignore all questions and eventually we are left alone. The only person who doesn't try to sell us anything is Lazarus' brother John who just keeps saying "Remember me?" Sadly we can't quite remember, thinking it is a ruse to get us talking about yet another 'good price' and so we ignore him (much to our embarrassment when we eventually figure out who he is when we meet him with Lazarus).
We pay a visit to the Arusha International Conference Centre venue for the Rwanda International Crimes tribunal and also visited a local history museum. At around 6pm the clouds begin to clear and we get our first glimpse of the top of Mount Meru. This giant stands at 4566 metres and my heart suddenly sinks as the realization of what was about to happen in the coming week sank in. I had never seen anything so big in my life! I remember thinking "Oh my God! We have to climb higher than that? What the hell was I thinking?" We still can't see Kilimanjaro off to the east, which on one hand was frustrating, but on the other hand, it's probably just as well...