We got up early and left our hotel at 4am and trekked through dark and empty streets to get the first train out of town to Brussels. We were on our way to connect with the Amsterdam airport train; that early first train was the only way to get there on time. We were scheduled twenty minutes to change trains but for some reason ended up running late. As the appointed arrival time in Brussels approached, and passed, the train kept doing this annoying thing of slowing down as if it were approaching a station, then it would speed up and suddenly, we’d be on an overpass and obviously nowhere near a station. We did this for fifteen increasingly nerve-wracking minutes before finally pulling into Bruxelles Midi for good. We sprinted down the stairs and were relieved to find the train to Amsterdam was only two platforms away. Just about the time we fell into our seats, the train pulled out of the station.
A few minutes later, we crossed the border into The Netherlands. There wasn’t much in the way of tulips and windmills along our route. We went through the industrial part of Rotterdam and then through a flat, hazy landscape that was essentially featureless except for occasional groups of shamefully ugly ‘70s style concrete buildings. Occasionally, they would try to mitigate the ugliness by painting the buildings in clashing checkerboard patterns or some such thing. This, of course, had the effect of making it worse.
The Schiphol airport was nice, though. As soon as we arrived, we got seat assignments from KLM, saving us the non-revenue pass riders’ traditional period of nail-biting our way through wondering if we’d make it on our flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania.
The eight hour flight was monumentally uncomfortable. The seats on KLM are an inch or two closer together than Continental’s. The only way I could keep my legs out of my chest was to slouch far enough down that I submarined under the seat in front of me, which was occupied by a guy who put his seat all the way back three seconds after takeoff and left it there. If curses work, he’s getting cancer on that bald spot. The only saving grace was that booze is fee on international flights on KLM. I didn’t realize this until I saw Maryanne order a Bailey’s after it was too late, but I’ll remember it on the way back. It may make that awful seat marginally more comfortable.
We touched down well after dark and parked on the dimly lit ramp. Immediately, the small concrete terminal was overwhelmed with the crush of people lining up at the window for visas. It got a little competitive. It felt like trying to board the New York subway at rush hour. A group of irritating old French people managed to shove their way between Maryanne and me, not knowing we were together. They were visibly annoyed when Maryanne handed over both our passports and I was called ahead of them in the queue. Even tiny bits of justice feel good.
We met our driver, who was very nice, and boarded a giant Land Rover for the drive to our hotel. Driving in Tanzania at night is frightening. Electricity is scarce so the roads, even through towns, are very dark. At the most, every other building might have a dim fluorescent light shining. Drivers going the other way seem to have this curious habit of operating their high beams in a manner opposite from what I’ve learned. They drive with low beams until they spot somebody coming the other way, then the high beams come on until they pass. I was sitting in the other front seat and I have no idea how our driver saw the road during oncoming traffic. Then there are the vehicles with no lights. We passed several slow-moving trucks with no taillights at all and only one faint bulb to light the way. There was a moped going the other way with no lights of any kind. When someone would approach, he used his turn signal to be seen. Because of all this, I suppose, people rarely drove faster than 30mph, even on an empty straight-away.
The highlight of the drive was when our driver slowed down and pointed out Mt Kilimanjaro to our right. In the dim moonlight, we could just make out a bump in the clouds. Through them shot the peak of Kilimanjaro, floating 13,000 feet (3900M) above us as if in a dream.
We turned down a scary road of giant bumps and broken glass. At the other end, we landed with a thunk on the smooth parking lot of the impossibly nice Mountain Lodge.
Arusha Mountain Village Lodge