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Kilimanjaro: Where art thou

MOUNT Kilimanjaro.

Travelogue:

MARGARET SAMULELA, Arusha, Tanzania
ARUSHA, the tourist capital of Tanzania is beautiful, but I am not here for the lush gardens surrounding the high storey recently constructed buildings: I am here for the mountains.

To be specific, I am here to conquer Africa’s highest mountain standing at 5896 metres high, Mount Kilimanjaro. But Arusha is confusing me.
It’s a city growing right on top of the old one. New upmarket buildings are being erected right next to the old ones, and so it is not uncommon to find a 15 storey hotel towering over old rundown houses in what was once the second class part of the city.
Arusha is also expensive, so am told by the Tanzanian residents who prefer to shop in Dar-es-Salaam. However, as a first time visitor it is easy to be confused. The US dollar trades at slightly over 2,000 shillings to one dollar, so it is easy to feel like a billionaire after changing a few hundred dollars. And here lay my mistake number one. Believing myself to be economically viable, with 3 hours to spare while the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) team I travelled with meet to discuss last minute logistics of the upcoming media workshop on Child Sensitive reporting, I take to the shops.
Just two blocks from the imposing Mc Ellys Hotel, home for the next 7 days, is a line of shops much like Zambia’s Kamwala area in Lusaka. Except they are filled with line upon line of strong Maasai slippers embroidered with tiny beads in colours so captivating I end up buying more than I need.
Fascinated by the creativity involved in designing the Maasai slippers I forget about Mount Kilimanjaro. Forgot the fact that the mountain is located 40 kilometres away and I will probably need to pay for transportation to go there. Forgot that the REPSII Psychosocial support forum programme that had been emailed to me prior to travelling did not include sighting seeing at any moment. Forget that my assignment is to attend a two-day media workshop on Child Sensitive reporting and cover the Pyschosocial Support forum under the theme Equity, Equality for all Girls, Boys and Youth.
My next mistake lays in forming a hilarious bond with 12 journalists from seven African countries who are also in the city to cover the forum at the invitation of REPSSI. Chaperoned by veteran Tanzanian journalists Edward Qorro and John Ngunge of the Guardian newspaper, we convince ourselves there will be time to see the mountain in the next couple of days and take to exploring the city’s entertainment spots instead.
But I cannot forget Mount Kilimanjaro, even if I really wanted to, everything in the city seems to be named after either mount Meru, which is the second highest mountain in the country or Mount Kilimanjaro. At the ‘Triple A’ night club, rumoured to be owned by a Maasai, we are entertained by the ‘Kilimanjaro’ band. Most of the journalists are served ‘Kilimanjaro’ beer. T-shirts, mugs, bags, pens and diaries are all marked ‘Kilimanjaro’. Other chill out spots we visit over the next few days include the Picnic Pub Stress Free zone and Milestone Night Part.
At the Mount Meru Hotel, arguably, the most upmarket hotel in the city, which is the venue for the delegates welcome reception, I am told on a good day, one is able to view the mountain from the topmost floor. But getting up there does not come cheap.
The next three days are spent at the Arusha International Conference Centre, filled with plenary sessions and breakaway discussions all aimed at finding the best way to address young people’s issues. On the second day, the Zambian team makes a presentation titled: From Promise to Practice: Scaling up comprehensive Sexuality Education in Zambia to resounding applause, making me one proud and patriotic Journalist. My country is making huge strides in ensuring the next generation has access to quality education.
Soon, the announcement is the made that we need to ensure our passports are in place for the early flight back home via Kilimanjaro Airport. And I realise I have not yet seen Mount Kilimanjaro. Luckily there is a spot just before the airport where the mountain can be viewed: and what an awesome sight it is. But not quite enough to write home about.
As I check-in at the airport, I wrap myself in the red checked Maasai blanket, which is the top selling Tanzanian product after the Maasai slippers. I would love to say I conquered Kilimanjaro, but instead, I will make a promise, to myself, that one day, just one day, I and that towering force of nature shall have a lunch date.
Here are interesting facts about Kilimanjaro you should know:
1. It is the highest mountain in Africa, standing 5895m high.
2. The first successful attempt to climb the mountain was made in 1889 by two Austrian mountaineers. They discovered that one of the ranges, Kibo, has a crater and they studied it as well.
3. The reason Kilimanjaro is the subject of various scientific studies is because it is an unusual case. It is actually a strato-volcano, which has been formed due to continuous lava flow. Out of its three volcanic cones, two of them are extinct. The third one is also no longer active and is the highest point of the mountain. This is known as the Kibo range and there are chances it could erupt again.
4. It takes about 5 to 6 days for an average climber to cover the summit. Previously, it used to take much longer.
5. Many climbers turn back each year due to altitude related problems on the summit. Almost 10 people die every year during their climbing journeys out of nearly 25,000 people who attempt to climb the summit each year. – compiled by Bushbuck Safaris.

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