Oldonyo Lengai

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Six hours on the back of a motorcycle, most of it on sandy washboard roads through thorny acacia scrub and dry grassy planes with absurd pock-mark crater hills, every hour the environment seems to become more harsh and extreme. I think my fifth-grade science text book’s description of an Archaen landscape would match the surroundings on our way to Oldonyo Lengai. The brown and greys of the landscape are accented with dust devils spiraling up to the dark clouds like smoky skeletons of thunderbolts. Somewhere rain falls in sheets from a dark cloud making a gap in the horizon, but where we are the sun beats down relentlessly. Dinosaur-like Kori Bustards with their thick neck and long legs add to the prehistoric effect.  bird

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Oldonyo Lengai -the mountain of god – is visible hours before we reach it, a symmetrical cone against the rugged terrain. Around a bend in the road, the steep escarpment of the eastern branch of the East African Rift Valley appears behind the volcano, at its base, a pale flat mirror perfectly reflects the hills around it. No waves disturb Lake Natron’s surface even though the wind is making the long grasses ripple around us.

We drive into the local Maasai village for our classic chipsimayai lunch before finding our way to our campsite. Just minutes before arriving at the camp the air begins to get hazy around us, the sun is dimmed and Oldonyo Lengai, which just stood clearly before us against a blue sky seconds ago, is completely engulfed in a dust storm. Despite the dusky quality of the light, we see the green oasis of Maasai Giraffe Camp where the grass is irrigated and the acacia trees are green and full of weaver bird nests. It gets darker as rain clouds move over, then lighter as the raindrops capture the dust from the air. It is still hot out, so I find it refreshing to stand in the pelting rain which first makes muddy streaks on my arms, then washes them away.

The camp is run as a community inclusive eco-camp by a welcoming Belgian lady. Because we are the only guests and it is rainy, she offers us a small cabin instead of camping in a tent.

The next day we set up the volcano climb and do some sightseeing in the area. The village has a cultural center, where we arrange a guide for the mountain and pay the fees, there is also a small museum on the Maasai culture and local geography. Tourists are usually obliged to take a guide from the cultural center to visit the lakeside and a waterfall above the village, but we are given permission to find our own way. First stop is the lake – Ava drives us as far onto the mudflat as possible before the motorcycle tracks get too muddy. At a distance, we first see a huge flock of great white pelicans with their awkward bills. Driving closer we scare the pelicans and they take off single-file, each matching the movements of the one ahead of it, forming a pattern like a ribbon waving through the air. Eventually, they swirl into a kettle and rise into the sky in the distance. The bulky shapes and aviation show of the pelicans dwarf the slender lesser flamingos calmly grazing in the shallows with no care of our presence.
There are hundreds (thousands?) of the pink birds in flocks in front of us. Somehow the harsh environment of high temperatures and alkalinity that would kill nearly any other animal has become the preferred breeding ground for 75% of the world’s population of lesser flamingos.  2.5 million of them nest on the salt islands that form in the shallow lake during the dry season and feed on spirulina, a sort of algae that grows in the lake, coloring it red when it blooms. With an abundant supply of spirulina and the toxic water to protect them, the flamingos thrive here, oblivious of threats to their habitat by meteorological events inconsistent with the lake’s seasonal cycle or by the dilution of the mineral-rich water due to anthropogenic changes in the lake’s watershed.

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The sun sets very early on Lake Natron. The escarpment to the west of the lake cast its shadow on the valley shortly after 4:00pm, and we still have a waterfall to see!
So off we go to where a river has carved a canyon to make its way down from the plateau into the valley. the bottom of the canyon isn’t much wider than the river itself, so we are often hugging the cliffs or wading across the river to find the best way upstream. The shade of the canyon and the fresh cool water are a welcome contradiction to the heat, salt, and sun of the lakeside mudflats. Up the canyon’s twists and turns there is a waterfall of lush vegetation, small palm trees, mosses, and other water-loving plants forming a vertical oasis against the browns and grays of rock, dry grass, and acacias. The actual waterfall is a tributary tumbling down the side of the river canyon under the foliage for meters, before exposing itself to view. The stream must be rich in minerals, as it visibly deposits precipitates along its path, causing the rock to grow across the canyon and downwards like a stalactite.

 

The canyon is only as wide as the river at this point, and a steep cascade in the river would prevent us from continuing along the river, so we scramble up the cliff until we find a path the hugs the side of the canyon. More tributaries pour into the river in a similar fashion to the first waterfall. As we walk back along the high trail, a Maasai boy with his heard of goats comes behind us, singing a song and whistling.

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It is early to bed the night of the hike. It will be helpful to catch a few hours of sleep before setting off at midnight for the foot of the volcano. We meet our guide, Kelvin, a 22-year-old from the village with three years experience climbing the volcano. The drive takes 45 min, so we start hiking at 12:45.

Just minutes into the hike, Kelvin, stops us and points to a scorpion with his stick. It is the same color as the dry grass, with some black markings on its arched tail, we see a couple large centipedes as well and we are told of symptoms and the traditional cures that are used to alleviate their poison. Going gets steeper and the grasses by our side get shorter. At points the ground next to us seems to disappear, Kelvin says there is a lava flow path here, but our headlamps don’t shine bright enough to see the bottom.

Up up up. Feet traveling up the sandy path have created a trench in the rock in places, the cross-section shows layers of loose rocks and sheets of cooled lava. I can’t help but wonder how old the rock is just a meter under the surface. How many centuries and eruptions did it take to make Lengai grow a meter?

Soon I am using my hands on nearly every step lest I fall backward as sand and rocks slide out from under my feet. I can’t trust fixed rocks either though, what looks solid crumbles under little pressure.  The quality of the rock on Lengai can’t be found on any other volcano in the world. Most volcanoes produce lava high in silicon that cools in stable crystalline structures, less susceptible to weathering. The Natrocarbonatite lava of Lengai, on the other hand, is composed of sodium and potassium carbonate materials which can be erupted at relatively low temperatures (500-600 C) and are unstable when exposed to the moisture in the air. We hope to reach the crater in time to see the red lava boiling, unlike other lavas, that are so hot they glow even in daylight, Natrocarbonite will look black after sunrise.

Up up up. Sometimes we are walking on large loose rocks in a trench, then on sand, then on a sheet of lava that feels like concrete made too sandy. The rotten smell of brimstone wafts down in waves. As it gets cold and windy we take a short break in a crevice, then continue up the last stretch. Kelvin shows us a crack that opened during an eruption in 2006, it is just 20 cm wide where we step over it, but it still gives me a bit of a chill. We have left the grassy slope far behind and are now completely surrounded by rock, but here and there a few green plants with yellow flowers peek through the rocks. Brushing my hand near one I have to jump back and nearly lose my balance, I burnt my hand on steam coming out of a small hole in the rock, I reach out more carefully and I can feel a breeze coming from the hole, sometimes warm, then suddenly burning hot.

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We finally reach the top around 3:45am (well before sunrise), Kelvin tells us we are the fastest climb he has ever guided in his three years on the volcano. We walk along the rim of the crater trying to catch a glimpse of the lava, but the mist is too thick to see anything. We decide to go back down to our warm crevice for a nap, then climb to the crater again for sunrise.

By dawn, the clouds are still too thick to have a view, but at least we can see across the crater and down to the black and white lava boiling inside. There is just a golden moment when the sun peeks through the clouds, but then we are surrounded
by white again.

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The way down is more difficult than going up for me, I don’t trust the friction between my sneakers and the sandy rock on a 49% grade, so I’m crab-walking and zig-zagging and twisting my feet sideways to keep from falling. If I gain too much speed to remain stable, I just focus on making sure all my limbs are moving at the same speed in the same direction until I can catch myself.

Once we are back down on a <30% grade, going is easier, we let gravity have its way and pick up speed sliding with the sand under our feet or jumping from rock to rock. Relived to have passed the risk of a more dangerous fall, I pause on a sandy patch and find my feet slip out from under me, landing me square on my butt. I have to laugh.

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Down down down. Out of the cloud, I begin to enjoy the variety in texture and colors of the rocks around us, the view of the lava and water paths carving the slopes down into the plains below.  Rain comes down from the plateau and catches us at the trailhead, we continue walking on the road we drove up on for a few kilometers before our ride comes to drive us back to camp.

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A chipsimayai, a nap, and a swim later, we drive to the lakeside again for the evening rays.

The golden hour landscape over Lake Natron was painted using a White-throated Bee-eater as a palette. The bird sits in the crown of an acacia tree and hawks for insects, so gracefully as if it knows how beautiful it is. Its nape is the golden brown of dry grasses that cover the slopes of Oldonyo Lengai and the lake plane, fading into a brilliant green of new spring growth on acacia trees, its blue tail captures every color of the sky, while a pale blue band on its chest is the same light tone of the mirror-like surface of the lake; white and black markings on its head paint the clouds, rocks, dark volcanic sand and mud flats where flocks of lesser flamingos feed on algae.

Photo credit: Animalia

 

 

 

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All I like to eat is food

Breakfast:

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Chapati and chai for breakfast, that is my go to. Other local options are sweet potato, eggs, uji – a drinkable porridge made from corn and sour milk, mandazi – deep fried dough. Although I find them all delicious, sometimes it is nice to make some more familiar comfort foods like pancakes and cinnamon rolls.

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There are also a few places around Arusha that serve more varied (and western) breakfast options: Safari Bistro or Msumbi Cafe in the TFA complex for a real coffee and baked goods, or Fifi’s near clocktower for a complete breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, and freshly baked bread.

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Lunch:

Choose a starch: ugali, rice, chapati.

Choose a protein: beef, chicken, fish.

Choose two sides: beans, dark greens, cabbage salad.

Add some hot spice and wash down with a mango-passion fruit-avocado juice.

This is what I would usually have for lunch, available everywhere for TSH1,500 to 5,000. (USD 0.65-2.20)

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Or if you are in the mood for a splurge, the Tembo Club in Kisongo serves an excellent selection of grilled meats, Smiley’s in Sable Square makes a nice salad, and Fifi’s has great sandwiches on their own bread. Here you might spend TSH10,000-20,000 on a full meal. (USD 4.00-8.00)

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Supper:

Chipsimayai (french fry omelet) is always a good choice, especially after a long bike ride. I also like getting chipsi kavu (literally dry chips) with some mboga mboga (cooked greens). Mishkaki (beef skewers), kuku choma (grilled chicken), grilled corn on the cob, and chapati with beans are also common evening meals. My all time favorite is mtori (stewed green bananas).

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International dining options in Arusha include typical Indian restaurants such as Taj and Hot Plate, Indian barbecues that add a nice twist to kuku choma with different marinades and sauces.

You can also find pizza, hamburgers, pastas, and salads at many restaurants and lodges that cater to tourists and expats.

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At the foot of Kilimanjaro

At the foot of the roof of Africa, the town of Moshi sits quietly under a full moon. Someone points out the bus window as we pull into town and I have to tilt my head back to see it, much higher than I expected: the snowy cap of Kilimanjaro floating like an island in the dark sky.

Moshi, the capital of the Kilimanjaro Region, was established during German colonial rule as a stop along the northern line railroad, finding the climate on the volcanoes slopes favorable for its cultivation,  coffee estates were established for export to Europe. The local Chagga tribe prefers the cool moist climate for growing their staple: bananas. The precipitation captured by the mountain also provides water for irrigation of agriculture beyond the foothills, such as sugarcane estates. Today, tourism has replaced agriculture as the strongest sector of Moshi’s economy as thousands of tourists arrive in the town to summit the highest peak of Africa every year.

After work on Friday, Maarten, Bert and I have taken a bus for TSH3,000 ($1.30) the two-hour drive east from Arusha to Moshi. The transportation, a 30 passenger van, is typical of travel between cities in Tanzania, and much more comfortable than the urban dala-dalas. We make a couple stops along the way, letting passengers on and off. Most mind their own business, but some are on the bus to sell their wares or try to practice their English on us wazungu (white foreigners). In larger towns, there are vendors of grilled corn, snacks, and drinks that walk by the bus windows to offer products from boxes on their shoulders.

Once we arrive in town, we visit Milano’s, an all-vegetarian Indian restaurant with very good prices and a delicious chocolate naan bread. It is one of many restaurants and cafes that caters to the tourists staying in Moshi.

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After dinner we meet a few more friends, check into our hostel, and set off in search of Mbege – a traditional Chagga drink made from bananas and not to be found at your typical tourist trap. Nightlife is surprisingly lively for such a small city, modern East African music and international hits in English and Spanish are popular at local discos.

Besides climbing Kilimanjaro, there are many eco- and cultural- and agro-tourism attractions around town that make excellent day trips. While I decided not to climb the mountain itself because it is very expensive (min $1500) and the trek takes at least six days, waterfalls and a coffee tour would definitely be on my to-do list for a Moshi visit:

Materuni Waterfalls is just ten kilometers out of town. After a 45 min hike through lush forest, the branches arching over your head will open up to reveal a glacial stream dropping down 70 meters into a deep cool pool where you can take a dip to cool off. Entrance fee is TSH10,000 ($4.35) and you are required to take a local guide.

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Coffee tours are offered by a few different companies such as Kahawa Shambani which is a community run tour that takes you through the entire process – from picking cherries from the coffee plant, drying, sorting, roasting, grinding and finally brewing and sampling their excellent highland coffee.

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Unfortunately, it was cloudy during the day in Moshi, so my only glimpse of the peak was in the moonlight the night before, but this is a view that you can expect from Moshi town.

Work

 

It has been drawn to my attention that I write a lot about weekend fun and nature,
I should also tell you a bit about my co-op itself which is what this blog is supposed to be about, right? So, no, it isn’t just traveling, biking and chilling with elephants, the other five days of the week I sit behind a desk and on tap away on a keyboard like your typical co-op.

I like to be the first one in, so I get up early to bike 13km out of town to Sikubora’s office, arriving around 7:30 or 8:00. I greet the Maasai guard and his friendly dog, open the doors and put on the kettle for a ginger tea. The first couple hours can be my most productive, with no distractions I glue my nose to the screen and plow through some excel formulas on the company’s six-year financial model that we use to apply for funding and to make strategic decisions. Or I might be working on PHP code for a module of our Enterprise Resource Plan, such as a new tool to track the transfer of inventory between two offices or to keep track of items that have been refurbished or repossessed from a customer.

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As others start arriving, we greet each other with a za asubuhi? – salama. Sometimes I feel really rude because I don’t want to take my eyes off of a complicated formula that I am writing to shake someone’s hand.

There are about 17 of us in the office: Anna and Sporah sit in reception, constantly on the phone with new and existing customers, filling out credit applications and keeping track of payments (I have learned a lot of swahili, just listening to them). Then there are ten of us with desks in the main room; Abdul for HR and Legal, Alex and Vicky on Financial, Jeff, the Managing Partner, Bornlucky, the operations manager- who I often work closely with- sits directly across from me we often catch each other enjoying our music a bit too much and laugh a bit, then we alternate between raising our voices across the office and getting up to talk when we have something to discuss.  Pat Walsh, the other Northeastern co-op is at the desk next to me – we have the same job description so there isn’t a very strict division of work and we work together on a lot of projects and help each other out a lot. Brayson, Sales Manager and Julien, an intern from France, sit at the conference table and work on schemes to raise sales and make undercover visits to competitors stores. Then we have solar engineers: Iddy, Joseph and Regina, the senior staff, in charge of installations, service and inventory, respectively; and junior staff: Amina, Linus and Cosmas. When they are in the office they work on smart-boards and other product
development, but most of the time they are out making service and installation trips around rural Arusha. The environment is very light and relaxed, people get along well and communicate freely.  If I was a bit shy at first, now I get along well with everyone, from thumb wars with Cosmas, learning kisuajili and kimaasai from Alex, to getting advice from Sporah on the best places to get dresses made, or singing Taylor Swift songs in the car with the expansion strategy group… the Sikubora team has become more than just coworkers.

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As is typical in Tanzania, lunch is taken as a break from 1:00 to 2:00pm, we sit outside and usually get food from a small eatery next to our office. The mama makes amazing mango-passion-avocado juice and chicken in a tasty sauce.

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The work I do day to day alternates between:

– financial modeling for time-sensitive funding applications,
– small debugging or data corrections on inventory or customer accounts,
– working on projects for Bornlucky such as a 3D model of a battery cover or with the sales team on planning the expansion strategy to open new offices next year.
– longer term projects on updating or developing new modules in the ERP

Depending on my work load I might do eight hours and leave earlier than others, or if I’m on a role working on something, I’ll stay until I have to worry about biking home in the dark.  I like the flexibility, there is no pressure from management on schedules or deadlines, most work comes self or team motivated. If I am frustrated, it is just at myself for not meeting my own goals or for making silly mistakes (PHP can be sooo annoying when you spend an hour trouble shooting just because you missed a bracket), in general, I really enjoy the work I do, I have developed a strong sense of belonging to the company and I try my best to make a positive contribution. Sikubora has also given me experience and skills; I have learned a lot about business, sped up my coding and logical thinking, discovered a lot of new functions in excel, become a bit more confident in expressing my ideas, and less scared of speaking up and writing e-mails.

 

Swahili

Mambo – Poa
Habari – Nzuri
Vipi – Mzima
Shikamoo – Marahaba
Jambo – Sijambo
Wea wea
Salimie, salimie mzungu!

As a foreigner, you can’t walk down the street without being aggressively greeted by young men. They expect an answer and they will teach you the correct answer if you don’t know it, then continue to test you on the other five forms of greeting… By now I pass the test quite well and they just have to nod their head and let me go.

Although English is one of Tanzania’s official languages, Swahili is the preferred lingua franca here. Most people are fully fluent in their mother (tribal) tongue and Swahili, English is a weak third language used on tourists and in some professional settings.
Swahili originated as a trade language used between Arab, Portuguese and Indian traders on the East African Coast. Originally written in Arabic script, Swahili was primarily spoken by Muslims living in this region.  Though already used along trade routes, it wasn’t standardized across the inland region until the 1920s during colonial rule. Today it is spoken by around 140 Million people in Tanzania, Kenya, DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The structure and 75% of the vocabulary come from the Bantu language group. The use of prefixes on verbs to set tense, person, direct object, location, and mode follow Bantu structure, as well as the multiple noun classes that must be used with accordingly inflected adjectives. Around 20% of the vocabulary comes from Arabic including numbers and most technology. There are also loan words from Hindi,
German, English, and Portuguese. English loanwords are always spelled phonetically; soccer=soka, beer = bia, taxi = teksi.
I enjoy learning languages, so I have been very intentional about collecting vocabulary and finding grammar and syntax rules. Swahili is a relatively simple language, there aren’t many irregular verbs or complicated declensions and phonetic pronunciation is much easier than English, with each letter representing a single sound.

I always try to communicate in Swahili first, only using English as a last resort. Most people considerately speak a bit more slowly and teach me words that I don’t know. Learning the language, as well as a few greetings in tribal Kimaasai and Kichaga languages has made my experience in Tanzania that much more interesting.

Here are some useful phrases:

Asante – Thank you
Karibu – Welcome

Habari ya asubuhi / mchana / jioni? – News of the morning/afternoon/evening?
Salama – Safe
Nzuri – Good
Safi – Clean

Vipi – Informal greeting – literally ‘how?’
Shwari – Calm
Mzima – Completely

Shikamo – Literally “I hold your feet” greeting to elders
Marahaba – Answer to Shikamo

Pole! – Literally sorry – used whenever you see anyone inconvenienced by anything from a heavy bag to an injury. Often Pole za kazi – to show compassion with hard work.

Tuende – Let’s go

Pole pole – Slowly, Tanzania’s life motto.

Kwa heri! – Goodbye

Maasai Wedding

Alex, a coworker at Sikubora invites the office to his younger sister’s send-off.
A send-off is a celebration held in honor of the bride to be a couple days before the wedding. It is often a larger party than the wedding reception. We were told to come at 5:30, we plan to get there at 7:30, we get there at 8:30, and we are still on time (TIA!).

A large tent is set up with table to seat 400 guests, half for the bride’s family and friends, half for the groom’s.  The bride and her best friend (like a bridesmaid) stand in the front and are led by an announcer through courses of speeches,  presenting of gifts, live entertainment by professional dancers as well as by groups of guests. The bride’s sisters, aunts, and grandmothers are presented with kitenges, while her brothers, uncles, and grandfathers receive shukas. Special gifts of rugs, furniture, and blankets are also taken to the front by groups such as ourselves representing Sikubora. At one point nearly all the women present dance up to the front to present the bride with a plate, bowl, appliance or utensil for her new kitchen. Throughout the time soft drinks are passed around and packets of deliciously roasted beef wrapped in foil are set on each table, we take small chunks with our hands.

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Both bride and groom come from Maasai families that live in the urban area, it is clear there is a mix of cultures and traditions coming into play in the ceremony, with both a traditional roast goat cake and a western style wedding cake. Among the guests, you see anything from intricate Maasai headdresses and men wearing rubber tire sandals to shortcut factory made dresses, suits and ties. The bride is wearing traditional Maasai garments today but she will wear a white dress to be married in the church on Saturday.

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Our table is invited to dance to the front multiple times with the bride and her brothers after we present our gift, and because we are so entertaining, the announcer asks us to be some of the first to get food. It is quite a spread; stewed green bananas, rice, potatoes, chicken, beef, five types of salad, fresh fruit, and finally two plates with small pieces of each of the wedding cakes. During the meal there is more entertainment, with professional acrobatic dancers juggling fire, boys dressed up as men with painted on beards or as girls miming songs.

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The groom only shows up toward the end, receiving some kind words from his bride to be and her family.

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Longido

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On the way to and from Nairobi a few weeks ago, the road takes us by Longido; a comically shaped free-standing mountain. The rocky peak begs to be climbed.

The next weekend, Ava and I set off from Arusha on his motorcycle – it is a little too far to cycle, unfortunately. As we make our way down from the skirt of highlands between Mount Meru and Monduli, the Maasai steppe opens up before us. In strong contrast to the heavily cultivated landscape around Arusha, bald brown hills give slowly away into grey flats. Hundreds of goats and cows are scattered around grazing, but you might not notice them against the drab grass if it weren’t for their caretakers leaning against their polished sticks with their bright red, blue or green shukas flowing in the breeze.

Before reaching the plain below, we stop in Oldonyo Sambu, the biggest Maasai market in the region – and this isn’t the sort of Maasai market that you find in downtown Nairobi with colorful art and shoes for tourists – this is actually where people living in the area come to buy firewood, charcoal, shoes made from tires, shukas, etc, but most importantly – goats and cows. Ava has been here before, so he takes me to the back of the market and along an alley between wooden houses and butcher shops, some smoke or grill the meat, while in another window I see a boy shoo flies away by whipping a wet cloth around the carcasses hanging on hooks in the windows. (When you buy meat here, you don’t usually specify a certain cut or type – you tell him the weight you want and the butcher will just hack bits and pieces from every part of the goat so that every customer gets a fair mix of tenderloin, fat, and grizzle.) Through the alley, we come out above a pen where a large group of men stands, most with one or two goats or a cow held by a rope around its neck. A goat in good shape may go for TSH90,000 ($40), while a cow will get TSH350,000 ($150). Most Maasai store their wealth in livestock, some families having over a thousand head of cattle.

Up the hill from the trading grounds, there are a couple holding pens and then a slaughtering pen where we see goats being killed, hung up, and skinned. From there the meat goes to be sold directly, or smoked or roasted in the shops up the hill.  It is all quite a sight, the sort that makes people (especially those who are used to a nicely cut steak on a styrofoam tray wrapped and labeled,) think twice about their dietary choices.

(I didn’t take any photos in Oldonyo Sambu – I often find it disrespectful to take photos, especially when the sights are not meant as a touristic attraction)

Back in the main market – we buy a couple shukas and set off again, it is about 60km to Longido.

 

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When we arrive it is about time for lunch – at the place we stop for rice and beans, we happen to run into a man that works with the local ecotourism office that organizing guided hikes of the mountain. He helpfully shows us to their office and gets us a camping spot.

 

 

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That evening we go for a run up the foot of the mountain, as we pass by a girls boarding school we get a lot of company – maybe 20 girls chasing after us laughing, excited to be doing mazowezi (exercise) with the wazungu. After a steep elevation gain, only six are still with us and we sit a bit to catch our breath and chat about local geography (some girls come from quite far away and none of them have climbed to the top of Longido before) before running back down, jumping from rock to rock and dodging spiny acacia branches, to arrive at their school just short of their dinner bell. The town of Longido is dotted with Jacarandas, their soft purple anchors the pastel hues of the sunset sky. It is nice to spend an evening in the small town, it is much quieter than Arusha and people go about their business in a friendly manner.

The next day, we set off at around 6:30am to climb the mountain. A local guide points us to the trailhead and we continue alone, through the acacia thickets, then denser greenery, between boulders jutting out of the steep slope… It gets cooler as we climb, soon the overcast sky isn’t just above us, we are walking through the clouds that hug the forest, the trees here are covered in mosses and the ground with ferns. Spider’s webs glistening with dew span the trail, we try not to destroy them as we trudge up and up.

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Soon the sun shines through the canopy, we are above the clouds! When we reach a clearing, there is a view clear across the white to the two peaks of Mt Meru, floating like an island high on the horizon. Now we climb with the sun, and it works with the wind to lift the clouds and sweep them over the saddle of the mountain.

 

 

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The saddle is lush, with a few open patches of grazed grass, and rocky areas with hearty flowers, small bushes, mosses, and lichens. A rock hyrax peeks at us from a pile of boulders before hiding itself between them. I find a Picasso Bug (see pictured above) on a cactus flower, swifts fly above us, larks and sunbirds call from the ground as we climb the rocky knob to the highest point on the mountain.

 

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I am worn out; a 1,520-meter elevation gain in just a couple hours, but on we go to climb the other peak and see the views. Along the way we find elephant dung, see dik diks and a sort of large mountain antelope or deer (I’ll look it up and update this!).

Eventually, we start making our way back down; part running, part walking, part stopping to climb a boulder and watch the ten different species of butterfly float and flutter in the breeze, part slipping down the gravelly path, part getting my hair caught in acacia spines…

Longido was amazing 🙂

 

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