Climbing Kilimanjaro was out of the question for me. But there was an easier target, Mt. Meru. It is not a simple thing to climb a mountain in Tanzania, or probably anywhere. For starters, there are the stiff park entrance fees. And the extra fee for driving a car into the park. And the mandatory emergency rescue fees. And the mandatory fee for an armed ranger to accompany you. And the guide fee. And the costs of any porters you may need to schlep your gear and food up the steep slopes. And who will cook it for you? Your cook, of course! And what about tipping everyone- they depend on it. Plus the costs of gear rental, like down bags and warm gloves. Plus the hut rental fees. And the cost of buying your guides admission to the park. And his hut rental fees. And the porters, and the cooks, and transport to the park. On and on. You get the picture.
Still we economized by using the guide to portage some of our gear, and we did our own meal preparation. Paul our guide was wonderful, very attentive and able to carry far more than his slim frame would lead you to believe possible. We were assigned Sandy as our ranger when we arrived in the park. We had to wait a couple hours inside the park to be assigned Sandy, even though there were a dozen rangers standing around. Why? Because someone else might show up, and they would rather we go as a group. Tanzanians have a saying in Swahili, it goes
“Poli, poli.” It means “slowly, slowly.”
Poli, poli. Today I went to get a can of fuel for my stove. It burns methylated alcohol, a common paint thinner. The paint store I went to was out. Clerk 1 offered to take me to another paint store. As we walked the 5 blocks he explained that this alcohol was not for drinking, and warned of the side effects. When we arrived, clerk 1 form the first store explained what I wanted, but clerk 2 said his store had none on the shelfs. Clerk 1 was instructed, to go to the warehouse and pull one from inventory. Which actually meant 15 minutes spent rummaging through a bunch of random boxes until a bottle of spirits was found.
The price was three times what I had paid elsewhere in the world. I paid clerk 1, he paid clerk 2. Clerk 2 produced a bag, clerk 1 bagged it. I explained I didn’t want a bag. Clerk one unbagged it, and clerk 2 put the bag away. Not finished yet. Clerk 1 explained that he had done all this on my behalf and that I should buy him a Coke. I gave him 500 Tanzanian shillings for his trouble, worth .30 cents. He explained that this was not enough to buy a Coke. I upped it to 1000 Tanzanian shillings, .60 cents. He was satisfied. Walk 5 blocks back to store 1. Poli, poli. It’s the African way. But I digress:
Sandy, our official Park Ranger, was armed with a gun from 1919. It could fire once before needing to be reloaded, which hardly seemed adequate against the herds of large animals we had seen. His english was understandable, his knowledge of plants and animals deep. Like the other Tanzanians I have met, he was friendly and welcoming. Indeed, that is the common thread of all the people I have met. They are very warm, welcoming, caring, and pleased when you go out of your way to connect. That is the deepest impression I will leave Tanzania with, the warmth and gentleness of it’s people.
I’m leaving the restaurant this AM, after a breakfast of tomato soup and garlic nan. I push on a door that should be pulled and it makes a noise. I see from the corner of my eye three staff heads turn. I scratch my head and make a show out of reading the “pull” sign on the door. Very deliberately I reach, grab the handle, and pull the door open. I pantomime relief. All the clerks are laughing.
We are underway and begin the trek up to the first set of huts. The countryside is verdant, the trail steep. I have never climbed with a pack on my back, and my body has to figure out how to move effectively.
The verdant countryside.
This picture is for you, Mike. It’s ants, and they have formed living tunnels to shelter the workers carrying food to the nest. After a day of hiking, Paul points out to me a half dozen of the soldiers, bodies destroyed, mandibles still fanging my boots.
We take time to rest and adust to the higher altitudes frequently. Notice the nicely cut lawn. I was wondering how they got the mower up there. Paul explains to me about the big bulls living in the mountains, and how dangerous they are.
The first set of huts, day 1. 2500 Meters is 1.55 miles high.
The huts are comfortable, equipped with bunk beds and foam mattresses. The solar lights are dim but working. There is actually one working western style toilet that is flushed with a bucket. You may wonder why I bother to report that, but if you were here you would understand!
Me in the morning light.
The path is well maitained, though the big buffallo trample them.
This is the second hut, at 2.17 miles high. Climbing the last two days has kept my heart working hard. My breathing is much deeper to try and compensate for the thin air. At night I have a hard time sleeping. I doze off for a minute and forget to breath deeply. I have a few moments of crazy fragmented dreams, and awake with a gasp…. I breath deeply for 15 seconds, doze off and dream splinters again, only to wake with a gasp. I must get up and go pee every half hour as my body flushes out. This goes on all night. In the morning my heart is in arrythmia, and I cannot do the final days climb to the peak of Mt Meru. My traveling partner has a headache from the altitude but wants to try the climb. So I give my camera to our guide.
Ascending Mt Meru.
Ascending Mt Meru.
Ascending Mt Meru.
I am working in the dining hall when the ranger returns. He bursts in to inform me that my traveling partner is not well, and wants me to come. She is sick and needs to descend as quickly as possible. I rush to our room and pack all of our stuff. Their is no way to get her dwon short of a helicopter, so we must walk. We set off downhill.
She somehow makes the bottom set of huts at 1.17 miles high and collapses into bed as the last light fades. She cannot get warm, despite the two down sleeping bags and every jacket she has, cannot eat or drink and cannot stop shaking. After half an hour of supervision with no improvement, I consult with the rangers and we call for a rescue jeep. The jeep takes an hour and a half to climb the rough road to get here.
I wasn’t complaning about the rescue fees was I?
We load her into the jeep, and we bounce and thrash and slip down, scaring families of night feeding buffalo. She vomits dry heaves, trembles and shakes and moans. We finally reach the park gates, where a friend of the rangers with his own car has promised to meet us. He is not there. We sit there in the jeep, the motor running, as cell phones make calls into the night.
The car does show up, and we climb in. We have to stop frequently for dry heaves out the window. The plan is to drop the packs off at the hotel room, and then take her to the hospital. But the drop in elevation is working it’s medicine, and as the hours tick by she stops trembling, and finally sleeps in the seat besides me. By the time we reach the hotel, it is after midnight, and there is no need for the hospital.
In the morning she is hungry but fine.