I successfully made it to Africa, bags and all. The food on my KLM (Dutch airline) flight was gross. I never got a window seat and it was dark anytime we were somewhere interesting, so I saw basically nothing the entire time except the little interactive tv screen in front of me. I dominated the multiplayer trivia game - in your face, seats 29A and 34G! It was dark when we got into Amsterdam and I slept through the first half of my flight to Nairobi, so I missed all of Europe and the Sahara. Not that I was close enough to a window to see it anyway.
The only real excitement on the trip was on the 4th and final flight when the aircraft entered a holding pattern and the pilot, through heavily accented English, told us that we were in a holding pattern because, "The runway lights are out at Kilimanjaro. The electrical engineer is working on it, but if they don't fix it in the next 20 minutes, we will have no choice but to go back to Nairobi." While this was amusing to many passengers, I did not want to go back to Nairobi. Luckily, the runway lights got fixed, and as we started the descent, the pilot said that the lights were back on "and we are going to attempt our landing now." Attempt? That got a laugh. We made it. Amber and our guide for the second half of our safari, Dennis, were there waiting for me after I cleared customs like a veteran.
Adjusting to time zones wasn't a problem since I only really napped on the airplanes. I spent most of the morning birdwatching in the garden of the hotel Amber has been staying in for the past 4 weeks. There's an interesting blend of the modern - cell phones, wireless internet - and the rustic - very primitive showers that trickle water and have no shower curtains (geckos included at no extra charge). There are some really terrific flowering trees all over, particularly one with bright purple flowers. Just from where I'm sitting I can see yellow, red, and pink also standing above banana trees and other plants you'd typically only see in a botanical garden. Speaking of bananas, I had a delicious one with breakfast. I assume that it, like the chicken I ate for lunch, were grown locally.
Amber took me down the street to their favorite lunch spot. It pays not to be in a hurry. Lunch was delicious, though. We had samosas, chicken and rice with "special sauce" that was something like a tomato-curry sauce, ugali (cornmeal mush), and chapati (rolled, fried bread). I sampled two local beers, Tusker and Castle lagers. Both were weak in my book, but I tend to like ales, and you can't complain when you get a half-liter bottle for about $1.25.
After lunch, we went to the "Mount Meru Curio and Crafts Market," which was a small marketplace with little stalls where the vendors sold their wares. It was oddly reminiscent of our trip to Chichen Itza, where there were 100 vendors that all sold the same sort of things. The merchants all have small stalls, which allows more vendors to work in the market. The size of the stalls also makes it easy for them to pin you in their shop just by standing in the door. They're good at jumping out in front of you and saying, "Karibu! (Welcome!)" to get you to step into their shop. Once you're ensnared, they'll stand in the door and make it hard for you to leave. It's your job as the buyer to look slightly disinterested in everything and to offer an impossibly lowball price for anything. "How much do you want for this elephant carving? Ohhhhh. How about 1/3 that price?" Amber thought I did an OK job haggling, but I think she helped a lot. Only one vendor let us walk away after our offer of 5,000 shillings was refused twice. She would have let it go for 6,000, "Please, please," but no sale. I ended up with some ebony animal carvings and some coasters. I always seem to think I need coasters.
Environmentally, I have not found it to be a dangerous place, except for the threat of getting run over. The cars, by the way, do not use catalytic converters, so the exhaust is pretty unbearable and hard on the eyes and lungs. People are friendly and welcoming, especially when you see them on the back streets. They usually greet you with a smile and a "Jambo!" The only people who did not were the newspaper vendors. It was interesting to see what languages they thought I'd like to buy a newspaper in. German was a popular guess. I don't know why the one guy asked about Spanish, but he was actually closer to the mark.
It's taken a while to type my post here because I keep getting distracted by birds. No surprise there, right? So far today, I've identified most of the birds I've seen. Only a couple little ones have not been in my book, but I'm assuming they're a type of sunbird, which is a lot like a honeycreeper. My day started off in spectacular fashion with a silvery-cheeked hornbill, probably one of the most interesting birds I've ever seen as far as the way it moved while it foraged. The pied crow is very common in town, often circling around overhead and making a lot of noise. I have seen several Reichenow's weavers both in the palm tree here at the lodge and also down the street. Garden bulbuls and a ring-necked dove live around the pool area of the lodge we are staying in tonight. A black kite lives nearby and circles around frequently. I also found a female red-billed firefinch hopping along by the plants by the pool. I have seen no mammals of note yet, but I haven't left town.
I can see the top of Mount Meru sticking up above the trees to the north. It's obviously huge, but it's hard to really appreciate its true size because I don't know how far away I am. We start our Kilimanjaro trek in the morning, and won't be back for 7 days according to our itinerary. I can't even fully imagine what we're in for. Dennis, who picked me up at the airport, last said, "Have fun scratching your legs on Kilimanjaro!" He was talking about the sharp, volcanic rock.
The sun is setting, and that means it's getting dark quickly. And the battery's starting to run out. So I guess I'll leave my notes there for now. Next stop, Kilimanjaro!