My first view of Kilimanjaro was a honeymoon gift. It was not my honeymoon, of course. Nor was I initially aware that it was theirs.
As I learned much later, they were traveling from Scotland to Tanzania via Addis Ababa. The couple (early 30s, I'd guess) were already settled by the time I boarded, so I stuffed my backpack in the overhead compartment and slipped into the aisle seat. They cooed and patted each other tenderly as I pretended to doze. Then, as so often happens in real life, he fell asleep against the window with his mouth open. A snore crawled out. She looked over at me apologetically. I nodded as counselors so often do, welcoming her to the sublimity of marital bliss.
That was the extent of our (non-) conversation for most of flight. And then Mt Kenya appeared on the flight map. Mt Kenya is one of many volcanic peaks rising from the deformation of the eastern branch of the East African Rift (sometimes called the "Gregory Rift"). I had been reading about this continental collision for years and had even talked about it in the classroom. Needless to say, I was as excited as a rhubarb root.
He was still asleep. She was reading. I contorted in various ways trying to get a glimpse to Mt Kenya. Either because the the cloud cover was thick or my view was limited, the peak slipped by without revealing itself.
I relaxed, disappointed. Kilimanjaro was a short hop ahead. I was determined not to miss it.
As we drew near the Tanzanian border the plane banked to the left and began to descend. I was initially fearful that the peak might pass on the opposite side, but was relieved when the monitor suggested we should get a clear view. I was also relieved that the honeymooners were now awake and chatting due to the jolting and announcements that happen in preparation for landing.
It was now or never. I asked the fellow if he would mind shooting a few pictures of the mountain as we passed. He agreed. I handed him my camera.
While waiting, we made small talk and I discovered that they were from Aberdeen and were on honeymoon. They discovered that I was hoping to climb Kilimanjaro.
Then we saw it! It rose majestically through the clouds, looking less like a mountain and more like an island in a sea of cotton.
Click! He shot a picture and handed the camera back to me for examination. I nodded approvingly.
Then came the surprise.
"You are obviously much more excited about this than we are," said the perceptive lass. "Trade me seats so you can see better."
I didn't need a second invitation. Despite the seat belt warning I crawled over the arm-rest, and, after some awkward maneuvering, over her too. The Scotsman leaned back as I fired a hundred or so digital rounds over his chest and out the window. It would have made a Thompson gunner proud.
The plane circled and landed. As we rolled up to the tarmac at the Kilimanjaro International Airport, I sat between the lovers like the tuna in a sandwich. My camera was still smoking.
It was a honeymoon to remember.
I love Africa but my regular summer work is in Israel-Palestine.
If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.