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Home > Treks > Kilimanjaro > Day 1 > 1.1
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Purple Mountain above the Clouds

Purple Mountain above the Clouds
 
 

THE CHECK-IN at Nairobi Airport was quite unlike any other airport I had ever seen, and by now I thought I had seen them all. Each airline had its own entry with its own branding across the top of the doorway. There were all sorts – Kenya Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, and many others. The one I needed was the one I couldn’t see - Precision Airways.

After walking up and down the rows of what seemed to be two different international terminals (how confusing!), I finally figured out I needed to go into terminal 2 – the one with Kenya Airlines. I returned there and saw the people lined up at the door waiting to go through security. Two people were at the door looking at the tickets as people passed through.

I lined up and when I got to the two ticket inspectors, I asked them where Precision Airways was. They just said to come into this building and line up at any Kenya Airways line. Okay, so Precision Airways was a subsidiary of Kenya Airways, like Qantaslink and Jetstar are subsidiaries of Qantas – Qantaslink to deal with the small regional centres and Jetstar to take care of the bogans so the corporates and public servants could fly economy without having to associate with them. I figured Precision was more the regional type airline. I was impressed Mount Kilimanjaro was so popular that it had its own international airport, but surely it wouldn’t be big though.

When I reach the checkout, I usually I ask for a window seat only to be told the plane is full and here’s an aisle seat instead. So you can imagine how taken aback I was when the nice man at the counter asked me which seat I wanted. I asked for a window seat, forgetting which side I would need to be to see the mountain. Oh well at least I had a window seat near the front of the plane.

I passed through immigration, getting fingerprinted for the first time in my life. So if any law enforcement types ever need to match my fingerprints left on a piece of evidence, all they need to do is get in touch with the Kenyan authorities.

At least going through immigration was straight forward. Just two desks in parallel, quick passport check, quick check of the paper form I’d just filled in yet again, fingerprints of the fingers of the right hand, then the right thumb, then the left fingers, then the left thumb, then I was through.

Nairobi Airport
Nairobi Airport

I rode the escalator up to the departure lounge. I recalled from my arrival from Dubai two days ago the hideously coloured dull yellow circular corridor with the tiny duty free shops on the inside, and the single row of seating on the outside. I sat down on one of the many ugly blue plastic uncomfortable seats in the departure lounge for about an hour for a while before getting bored and deciding to walk from one end of the terminal to the other.

To my surprise there was quite a bit more to the terminal. There were a lot more duty free stores, some selling souvenirs, and finally ending in a small food court. Of course this was nothing compared to Changi or Dubai, but it was still quite impressive for what I thought an African backwater like Nairobi International would be.

I hoped as part of the renovations they would cheer the place up with a happier colour scheme than poo yellow. Perhaps the happy colour scheme had been their intention when they painted the terminal yellow, but in such high volumes, it was quite a depressing yellow that made the terminal quite claustrophobic.

Finally the boarding gate opened. I once more went through security taking off my daypack and camera bag, and removing the netbook. I got a yellow ticket for Kilimanjaro. Others were getting a green ticket for some other obscure destination. Once through I found a seat in the crowded departure lounge and once more pulled out the laptop. I was busy writing a blog when a lady came through the other side of the seating and muttered something in rather unintelligible broken English. I did pick up the word Kilimanjaro though, and hurriedly put away my computer as about half the crowd shuffled out of their seats and followed the corridor. I followed with them, walking to the exit where the lady was collecting all the yellow tickets.

The plane at Nairobi
The plane at Nairobi

I walked out onto the open air gangway and followed everyone else down the ramp directly onto the tarmac. I saw the plane, it was a small turboprop. I think it was the same make of plane that flies the Christchurch to Invercargill route in New Zealand. It was strange to be doing an international flight on such a small plane.

I climbed the stairs to the rear of the plane and climbed on board behind a young lady commenting that this was an awfully small plane. She was okay on large planes, but obviously not on small ones. I waited behind her momentarily as the flight attendant reassured her that this plane was perfectly safe.

Reassurances over, I shuffled down the aisle and found my seat in front of a rather rowdy Chinese family with two parents and two children trying to organize themselves. I sat in the seat looking out the tiny porthole to see the propeller only just behind me. This was one of those typical turboprops blocking the view.

The propellers started spinning and the plane began to move along the taxiway towards the end of the runway. The propellers were humming loudly outside the window. Suddenly it felt like I was in Nelson, New Zealand, where I fly on the same model aircraft to Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch on transit to or from Brisbane. The plane took off leaving Nairobi behind. I will once more be here having hopefully successfully reached the summit of Kilimanjaro in a week’s time, then in another week and a half after that after travelling through Uganda.

Above the clouds flying towards Tanzania
Above the clouds flying towards Tanzania

The plane took off and for a few minutes I had views of the outlying areas of Nairobi where I had come through earlier this afternoon. It was not long though before we ploughed into the thin layer of cloud and came out into the bright blue sunshine above. The pilot announced that we were going to be cruising at about six thousand one hundred metres above sea level, just two hundred metres higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. He said that we will be able to see the peak out the left hand side window. Drat I was on the wrong side of the plane, but fortunately there weren’t very many passengers at all on this plane so I should easily be able to swap over.

We flew about a kilometre above the alto stratus cloud, and I got quite a few good shots out the window. We were served a small drink and a packet of nuts. I quickly ate them before heading across the aisle to see if the mountain was in view above the thick layer of cloud below.

My goal - the top of Kilimanjaro
My goal - the top of Kilimanjaro

It was. The mountain stood enormous as we passed it. There was a thin layer of altostratus cloud at around four and a half thousand metres above sea level surrounding the north side of the mountain, a small patch about five hundred metres directly below the summit and a little bit covering part of Mawenzi Peak to the left of the main summit, but apart from that the sky was quite clear. There was a wide ring of forest draped around the mountain. Level to the altitude of the plane, the huge surprisingly flat crater at the top had several small glaciers, but the mountain was otherwise clear of ice and snow. It was overwhelming seeing this giant mountain at our cruising altitude, and even more overwhelming to think that I will be attempting to climb to the summit over the next few days taking me far higher than I have ever climbed.

The mountain itself stood a dull purple colour crisply enhanced by the sleepy late afternoon sun.

I took a few photos of the mountain before returning to my seat. I was thankful it was clear especially after all the stormy weather I had experienced in Masai Mara over the past couple of days. The sun was now setting, and I could see the bluish grey silhouette of Mount Meru to the right. Although it seemed tiny in comparison to Kilimanjaro, at 4,564 metres high it was 227 metres higher than I had ever climbed before. We commenced our descent towards the plains of Tanzania.

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Date:

 

Location: Country:

 

Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

12 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

2°S
37°E
700 - 6000m ASL

 

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