Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 1- Arusha, Tanzania

We flew from Dubai to JRO (Kilimanjaro Airport) via Nairobi (NBO- Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). Its transit terminal was long and narrow. I might be wrong but there's only one restaurant at the farthest end of the terminal and one deli counter selling cold sandwiches and drinks mid way. There were at least 20 duty free shops one after another in the terminal selling similar items of crafts and souvenirs. Whoever owns the restaurant definitely has the market monopoly. On our return flight, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant before our flight. It was packed to the brim at 8 pm and we waited an hour for a table. Service was quick enough that we got our food (salad, sandwich, burger with fries) and drinks in 30 minutes. Woofed them down in 15 minutes then ran to the gate to catch the flight.
Stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro from the plane as the pilot steered around the mountain top on the way from NBO to JRO. Always thought to myself that I might one day climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I guess I don't have to now.
Upon arrival at JRO, we were asked for yellow fever certificates which we had acquired before leaving the States. Without the certificates, we'd be required to be jabbed by the local health officials before entry is allowed which I personally would not risk doing. All visitors requiring visas were asked to fill out visa forms. The officials would not accept forms from their overseas Tanzania Consulates or Embassies. The queue was an hour long to pay for the visas (US$100 per person), get photographed, fingerprinted and passport stamped then released into the wild. Just kidding.

First stop of our trip was the town of Arusha. It was more run down than I had imagined, very much poverty stricken. Traffic was chaotic in the crowded streets.  Dala dalas (mini vans carrying at least 20 passengers inside) weaving in and out of traffic, and groups of people jaywalking on the streets made for a hectic drive through the town area. I think I only saw one traffic light in town. Very poor road conditions (potholes and improperly maintained roads) made for dusty driving experience. We told our driver we wanted to visit the Tanzanite Experience Museum, instead he took us to the Cultural Heritage Center. Browsed around a bit but did not buy anything even though the owner of the center has very good salesmanship skills. After making a few calls, our driver finally found the way to the Tanzanite Experience Museum- better quality tanzanites and we were shown how the stones were mined and processed for resale.

It was then off to our lodge for the night. After driving for half an hour on remote mountain roads thru local villages, we arrived at Ngarosero Mountain Lodge. It was originally a coffee plantation before the current owners turned it into a charming oasis with beautiful gardens, lake, fish pond and waterfall. Quiet ambiance except for bird calls. So different from its outside world. We were given 2 standard garden rooms. Nice, clean rooms with huge bathrooms. Comfortable beds and room was cool enough to sleep in without air conditioning. Food was delicious and JB, our server, was so nice, making sure we were fed well.  Lunch and dinner were 4 course meals. Vegetable soup, tomato and cucumber salad, two main dishes and banana pudding and cake for desserts. Breakfast was nice with toasts, pastries, eggs cooked to order, fruits, yogurts, jams, juices, milk, coffee and tea. I've to say these were one of the better meals we had on this safari trip. They also made very nice lunch boxes for us to take on the road.
 Beautiful heliconia in the gardens of the lodge.

Baby frog in the well kept gardens

Serene lake where birds chirp and monkeys roam.

Main building where breakfast and dinners were served. One can sit out on the porch and just enjoy the surroundings.
A very delicious chicken valentine- our first lunch in Tanzania. Little did we know then that we'll be having chicken for lunch daily, be it grilled, baked or deep fried.

  One of our rooms.

Our bedroom chamber- we were told the bed was hand made locally. Large bedroom with sitting room to one side and dressing area behind it. Wonderful place to relax for a day or two.

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