Mt. Meru I
The first wake-up call was at f'ing 4am with Allah Ackbahr singing. The second wake-up call was at 4:30 when a car alarm went off. The third wake-up call was 5:30 with Indian kids running up and down the hall making siren noises. Being kept awake periodically throughout the night in a very short mosquito-net covered bed was understandably unrestful, so Meike and Sam got up early to repack the car.
Breakfast was included and consisted of bread, butter, jam and a banana. When Shu tried taking a second banana the lady bluntly informed him: "only one!" Shu made himself some toast with butter and sugar (for lack of a better option) which appalled Greg; his mother would not approve.
From the Afri-Galaxy office in Moshi you all hopped in a van and were driven to Mt. Meru national park. The drive took almost two hours, one on road and the other on rainforest dirt road. Mt.Meru is large enough to affect local weather. Its size and shape collects moisture and enables dense forrest to grow in its surroundings. The transition between flat orange desert and green mountains is very sudden.
There was a long wait at base camp. A second group wanted to crash our party, but after an hour we left with Hendrick (our park ranger / guide) without them. The first thing we learnt from Hendrick was to stay behind him in case he needed to shoot something. Within two minutes we were standing in a wide open plane filled with buffalo, giraffes and baboons. Although relaxed, Hendrick kept his rifle at the ready, which was simultaneously reassuring and worrying. As we left the plane a family of baboons ran over the path behind us, one carrying a baby on its back.
We started out ascent slowly through the jungle of lichen laden trees. Our backpacks were heavy and painful to to carry. Shu asked Henrick if he liked rap music - the first of many awkward questions - while having a water break in view of Mt. Kili and posing for photos. We seemed to be the only group ascending Mt. Meru that day and so we felt very much alone and immersed in nature; the only sounds were bird calls and the occasional urgh heavy-bag moan. There were giraffes and antelopes in grazing along the trail, and at one point some monkeys. Buffalo tracks were all over the place. According to Hendrick the buffalo walked down the mountain to feed and back up to sleep. He explained his most frightening experience as a ranger was when a buffalo once charged at him, and he had to shoot in the air to scare it back.
Day one was four hours heavy hiking. By 4pm we arrived at the first camp which was a series of dorm buildings with rooms of double bunk beds, a shower block and a ranger building. Greg and Meike got to work preparing tea on the outdoor metal table, while Sam and Shu focused on photography. There were about twenty porters milling around the camp, most inside the kitchen taking advantage of the heat from cooking burners. Many black guys wondered at us whities making our funny white-people food. There were only two other white women in the camp on their way down the mountain. The were carrying basically nothing, but made such a hoo-haa how hard the hike had been.
The sun set behind Mt. Meru. It got cold. Hendrick joined for supper. Bed.
Mt. Meru II
The day started with an early alarm to announce the sunrise. We went over to the dining room to get to the viewing area, but the door was locked. Most black people running around were surprised the door was locked and no one seemed to know where to find a key. But, as is often the case in Africa, a little bit of waiting did the trick and just before sunrise someone managed to organise it. After that we had a quick breakfast with powdered milk that worked surprisingly well, and started hiking further up.
A million and two steps further up through the forrest we arrived at a bench where we had a brief break while Hendrik told us all about Tanzanian rangers and their tactics for killing Somalian poachers. Hendrick's face lit up as he explained his pincer attack on a group of Ivory poachers last year. I really love to use the machine gun - ratatatatata! he explained, while miming its shaky action. Seems to be an enjoyable part of his job! As we continued the path became less steep but the bags seemed to be getting heavier.
Meike's shoulder was ready to break off by the time we arrived at the hut. There were a few people hanging out there, luckily all of them going down. We had sandwiches with cucumber and corned beef before hiking up to the summit of Little Mt.Meru. Grég and Sam complained about headaches fearing it might be altitude sickness; for Grég this was most probably the case. We all enjoyed carrying only a light backpack with some water in it. On the top we did a couple of handstands causing Sam to smash his knee into a rock, but luckily he survived.
Went down, had dinner and went to bed while it was still light outside. We prepared for the early wake up the next day.
Mt. Meru III
At 1am our alarm rang and we sprang into action. We went to the mess-hall for some tea, and had chocolate for breakfast. Our muffin rations had disintegrated completely but were consumed regardless of taste or consistency. At 1.45am we left camp and met a sea of stars above. The trail up the mountain was barely visible, and everyones' headlamps combined did little to change that.
For the next five hours we followed Hendrick up the mountain. It isn't normally part of his job to climb the last part - rangers aren't needed since there are no animals, so just guides go. The path downgraded to a vague trail, and then to a rocky scramble marked out by dark green paint splotches. Understandably, we lost our way several times and had to climb to find it again. The temperature must have been well under 0°C because no one wanted to take their gloves off to have a drink. It was a poor calculation not to bring thick winter gear for this warm-up mountain adventure. Everyone resorted to raincoats for extra warmth. During breaks we huddled half-sheltered from the wind behind boulders. Temperature aside, staring at the milky way above visible to the naked eye was breathtaking. Coincidentally, so was the altitude.
We arrived at the rim of the summit before dawn. Hendrick suggested we wait below until sunrise since the top was significantly windier and colder. We waited, pressed up against big rocks in the windy darkness. Shu was suffering a little and was wondering why he was putting himself through it. After forty minuted we carefully climbed the last few meters to the top on wobbly legs and met the summit and sunrise one shortly after the other.
The sun rose from directly behind Mt.Kilimanjaro. As the sun came up the wind settled down and Shu's mood improved significantly. He grabbed his camera and started shooting with film! Greg on the other hand was an unhappy chappy, keeping quietly to himself tucked behind a rock.
From the summit we could see Arusha through the clouds to the south-west, and could look into the immense volcanic crater below to the east. Mt.Meru threw a long triangular shadow to the west over the valleys, where clouds had collected to look like lakes. The effort: worth it.
Three of us were in no rush to descend Mt.Meru. Hendrick and Greg, however, were almost jogging ahead; their knees obviously feeling far better than ours. The two got so far ahead that we could see them silhouetted on the horizon against Mt.Kili. Meike was getting hungry and telling us all about it, while Shu was having Shugasams over the amazing view.
Back at camp Greg was already in bed. He'd come to the sad realisation he was altitude sick and was trying to sleep it off. We all had a nap in the bunk beds with green sheets before continuing down.
The last thousand meters decent was nasty: heavy bags, sore knees and lots of uneven steps. There was not much conversation during this part.
Mt. Meru IV
Again the alarm went early enough to announce the sunrise, which was invisible thanks to thick fog. We got up anyway, ate as much of the left over food as we could and started the last 1000m descent.
The fog turned the forrest into a mystic wonderland and gave the area a completely different face, which caused Sam and Shu to take a lot of pictures. Hendrik proved his ranger qualities by pointing out hyena tracks in bufolo shit, and leopard vomit on the way – all of which had to be documented on pics; now we have shit and vomit photos!
Just before the end of the hike we turned off into a side track leading to a waterfall so inviting that Sam took off his pants to shower and Shu posed. Henrick seemed amused. He took the time to explain how to use crushed ferns to wash hands and neutralise stings.
When the pants were back on, we continued walking towards the gate past a few giraffes, an eagle and a few buffalo. The driver was already waiting for us at the gate. After receiving climbing certificates we were driven back to Moshi, where we made a quick shop for food for the next 1.5 days, and then drove back to Lake Chala.
At lake Chala we did a lot of washing. So much washing that our camping spot's trees became "laundtrees". Dinner was a sausage, pumpkin and vegetable stew that Shu dropped on the ground several times. Regardless of a few extra minerals, it was still tasty.
Lake Chala to Moshi
Sunday 26 Aug. 2012
We woke a few times during the night to stare out at the savannah by starlight. At 6am we all got up to see the sunrise but it was rather cloudy and there was nothing happening at the lake or towards the waterhole in the direction of Kenya. The only interesting thing was an odd-sounding bird who made calls like a snoring rhino.
The day was spent under the mostly ineffective shade of the camping spot tree. Our thick hiking socks were still not dry by lunchtime but the rest of out cloths were clean and ready for our next adventure. From our camp we watched some baboons raid the camp beside ours, where one stole a container of pancake mix. We let nature take its course and didn't try to prevent the baboons' sneaky feast. The baboon with the sloppy pancake mix container was unwilling to share and kept moving away as other monkeys, and even a dikdik, tried to have some. They all strolled off after him out of the camp along a dry elephant poo strewn track and disappeared into the tall yellow grass.
We went for a swim in lake Chala, where we bumped into some loud tourists and an Indian family wearing sahris and socks (utterly impractical for hot weather and rough terrain). There were monkeys hiding in the trees near the water and a crab in the rocks, which captured Shu's attention. Sam brushed up against a nettel on the way back up, but there were no ferns to remedie an ointment (thinking of Hendricks advice). The elephant herd was at the waterhole on the way back, so we passed them again keeping a minimum safe distance.
Back at camp Sam shaved at the shower block while lots of lizards watched from the walls. Meike paid our camping fees of 74,000 TSH at the bar, Shu and Greg packed the car, and we all drove off to Moshi. The ride to Moshi was the most insane traffic any of us have ever experienced (except maybe Meike in Indonesia). It was crazy-car-chaos Sunday it seemed. People were overtaking on the inside, on the outside, and in the middle of the pedestrian roadside dirt area, while huge lopsided lorries roared towards them from ahead, and random motorcycles manoeuvred between. All the while minibuses sardine-packed with passengers, some hanging halfway out the windows, were hooning along yelling "who wants a lift?", and stopping without warning blocking overtaking 4x4s. It was unclear if laughing or screaming was most appropriate.
Everyone made it to Moshi in one shaky piece. That evening we all had Indoitaliano food again and went to semi-adequate Buffalo Hotel bed.