Riding into Dar Es Salaam from Morogoro I had the wonderful company of Hussein, a local biker, who took me through Bagamoyo. Bagamoyo, translated as “Lay your heart down”, was the historic setting-off point for expeditions into the heart of Africa and a major slave trading port. We had lunch on the beach in front of decaying German ruins of a banister. When we walked back to our bikes they were surrounded by the hotel staff who asked for picture after picture.
At Dar Es Salaam I couchsurfed with Vishal, a very kind Indian architect who recently moved to the city. On Sunday we went to explore the city and took a ferry across the harbor to an extension of Dar Es Salaam called Kigamboni. As we walked unto the ferry I snapped a picture on my phone. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder and a stern policemen informed me that it was illegal to take pictures of the ferry (what are they hiding?). “Follow me” he said and led us through throngs of people, up the staircase, to the Captain’s control room. The Captain, after some fancy pushing of buttons and swiveling of chair, informed us that we needed to pay a fine of 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings (I will not convert this to dollars but imagine in budget-traveler terms that this equals a thousand million dollars). What do you in such a situation? Smile and laugh it off.
“No problem,” I joked “We will get off, go to an ATM and return to pay you the fine.”
“No, no, you must pay now.”
“Okay, Okay, ha ha…”
The ferry pulled into the dock and people began spilling out of the ferry. It felt touch-and-go for a second until I began inching towards the staircase and began walking down with a laugh and a wave. Phew! We got off the boat releasing a sigh of relief. On the way back we hid in a corner of the ship like stowaways.
I woke up this morning to the excitement of a laid-back morning with breakfast (!) for a change (porridge!), an amazing morning ride down the Lushoto Mountains and an arrival at the charming town of Moshi in the afternoon. And so it was. The road coming down from LUSHoto (see what I did there?), which I had driven up the previous day, was exquisite. Green, lush forestry surrounding me as the road curved along the mountainside, overlooking a steep valley. After 30 kilometers the road leveled out and continued, smooth and perfect, almost until Moshi. The roads have been surprisingly good here in Tanzania so far. The only downside is that almost every few kilometers there is another village, forcing you to slow down to 50 kph and tossing you in the air with countless bumps. I haven’t decided which type I hate most – the four thin, grouped together ones, affectionately dubbed by the Traffic Department “Rumble Patches”? The huge big humps shaped liked pine cones it seems? No, no. The worst must be the four spread-out evil strips of hate, causing my bike to buck and shake. Ah, well.
Another funny thing about the roads here are the traffic signs. From Malawi up it seems that there are only two – a round circle with the number 50 at the entrance to the villages, clearly directing you to slow down to kph. The at the exit to the village is a sign showing the number 50 crossed off. So at what speed can you go? I suppose as fast as you can.
Moshi is as nice and friendly as I remembered. As I drove down the main street three guys pounced on me and began directing me to a hotel. I can’t explain how it happens in these situations but it feels as though my mouth is unable to utter sounds, I black out and awaken after they have already dragged me to a hostel of their choice. The help is helpful sometimes – its just that I feel so helpless, so not in control. But surprisingly they didn’t ask me for any money, just wanted to sell me a trek of Kilimanjaro. Luckily, I already hiked up the mountain four years ago. I’d like to share that experience as it means a lot to me.
In the summer of 2012 I had just finished my first position as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. I commanded over 15 soldiers, who I felt were like my children. I had given my life and soul to the Branch – for a year I almost didn’t go back home, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. I loved my work and my soldiers – true, absolute, extreme love. In the two months leading up to my change of command I felt as though I was being pried away forcefully from this burning passion. I felt that the only way to overcome this heartsickness was to travel across the world. And climb a mountain.
Mountains have forever been a source of intrigue. Jews 2,000 years ago would climb up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Until today, the term “moving to Israel” in Hebrew can be literally translated as “moving up”. Hermits hide in mountainside caves. Mountain ranges have defined landscapes and histories. And of course, the Everest. So I was drawn to make my own voyage up a humble mountain, to achieve some calm and tranquility by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The climb to the base camp from which we would launch the final ascent lasted four days. The definition of a mountain is a land form on which different levels of habitats exist. The first day we walked through sweltering jungle. The second day we climbed up jagged rocks with low bushes and mountain streams. The third day took us through gray plateaus streaked with snow stains and thinning air. The fourth day we hobbled under blows of hail and finally, finally reached the base camp. Only a few hours later the cry came from outside my tent to get up, pack up and begin the midnight climb to Uhuru Peak. The view outside was magical. Nothing could be seen in the complete darkness except a trail of headlights slowly winding upward, golden dots leading towards the heavens.
After seven hours of slow, freezing trudging I too got my obligatory picture with the sign stating that I had made it to the highest point of Africa and almost immediately began the way down. My other comrades to the group had gotten altitude sickness so I was alone with my guide, Essiah. We slid down to the base camp and after a quick meal decided to carry on to the next camp, about halfway down the mountainside.
The first four hours of racing and stumbling my way down the steep ridge were alright. When we arrived at the mid-way camp Essiah suggested that instead of staying the night we would continue and finish the climb, returning to the hotel that same afternoon. Though I was exhausted, the temptation of a warm shower was more than I could bear so I agreed to carry on. The next few hours were some of the most difficult of my life. Every step I took it felt as though thousands of small pins were piercing my knee caps. Every time I put my foot down I could feel the blood oozing and wetting my socks. I tried to support myself with the walking sticks but my body was broken.
Finally, finally! I saw the trail turn into a wide asphalt road. I started to get excited, hoping that we were close to the finish line. I gathered up my courage and dared to ask Essiah how much longer. “One hour” came the answer. I was devastated. I collapsed on the ground. I felt as though there was no possible way I would manage to make it. In that pivotal moment I had to ask myself a question. Not “Do I want to quit?” but rather “Am I quitter?” Hell No!
When we finally got to the lodge that evening there was no hot water. But the satisfaction of knowing I had achieved my goal was equally rewarding.
As I walked around Moshi I ventured into a shop selling curio’s for tourists. After some sharp (not really) haggling I bought a beautiful Masai bracelet for half the original quoted price. Leopard (his real name is Leopold) then told me that his dream is to open up a branch of his shop in Israel. He showed me the adjacent room in which his business partner’s wife was sowing beautiful, colorful dresses. And really, why not? I have often thought that I would like to help, to do some good in the world by helping good people in developing countries build the economic relations that would allow them to make a better living. It seems like it much be a better solution to poverty than hand-me-outs. So, do I have a new business partner? Stay tuned Israel, Masai bracelets are coming your way!