The sun peaked in our window and through the tiny mesh holes of my mosquito net at precisely 6 a.m. That was my signal to stop tossing and turning and to finally lay eyes on Tanzania in daylight.
I memorized a few quick Swahili greetings and hit the road. Less than 100 yards – guess that’s “meters” here – up the hill from the hotel, the trees parted and the mountain, famous snows and all, stood before me.
While standing there, albeit a bit week-kneed, contemplating its vastness, and marveling at how love for a beautiful woman can convince you to do almost anything, a young Chagga man walking down the street stopped, pointed to the glaciers on Kili’s top, and, with a huge grin, said, in perfect English, “It’s very fresh!”
I looked at him with a quizzical expression and watched as he wrapped his arms around himself in the universal symbol of “I’m freezing my nether regions off” and repeated, “Very fresh.”
With a less than confident “Jambo, Habari Gani,” I quickly exhausted my limited repertoire of what-to-say-when-you-meet-someone-in-the-middle-of-the-street-in-Tanzania Swahili on the exuberant, budding weatherman. I just nodded as he fired back a salvo of his own. By his huge grin, I figured out that he wasn’t challenging me to a duel and, as he didn’t seem to be going anywhere, we walked a ways together, quietly looking at the mountain. At some point, I guess he grew bored and, after bidding farewell like we’d known each other for years, I headed back to the room to refill my Swahili.
The morning is perfect! Cool, the slightest breeze ruffling the myriad of tropical flowers surrounding the hotel, all topped off with an excellent view of the mountain. Roosters crow, doves call, and, in the distance, I can hear a number of women singing some prototypical African tune. Did some unseen director cue this as I stepped out of the room? I’m four minutes from a pot of fresh Tanzanian coffee, so I’m going to give up the pen and put my new found Swahili to work!
Tomorrow’s the day! Our first day on the mountain and our first opportunity to see if we’re up to the challenge. Walking around the beautiful hotel courtyard, drinking coffee and Tanzanian beer, doesn’t seem too tough, but I’m expecting things get harder from here. We’ll see.
Oh, in case you were wondering about the first Swahili phrase I committed to memory? Well, in the tradition of all in-the-know travelers, “Naomba bia mbili” of course! Two beers, please.