Trekking Mt. Meru 6/18, 19, 20/2014

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.

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Gearing up.

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The verdant countryside.

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The Arch.

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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.

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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.

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The first set of huts, day 1. 2500 Meters is 1.55 miles high.

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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!

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Me in the morning light.

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The path is well maitained, though the big buffallo trample them.

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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.

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Ascending Mt Meru.

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Ascending Mt Meru.

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Ascending Mt Meru.

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The peak.

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.

6/17/2014 How to make a cup of coffee

Here’s how you make a cup of coffee African style. First, hike to an African waterfall to get really good water.

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Woman cutting food for livestock.

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Stop at a “bar” along the way to fortify yourself with some banana barley beer.

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Tasty Stuff. You pass around the wooden cup.

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Getting close

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There, that looks like good water for coffee.

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Gather some water in an orange bowl.

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Woman carrying bananas. She is also the barkeep.

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Then you pick some coffee beans. They are actually coffee fruit. They taste sweet like fruit. The “beans” are the seeds of the fruit.

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Use this hand cranked machine to separate the beans from the fruit.

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Put the beans into a wooden pestle and pound with a mortar until the hard shell on the coffee beans is loose.

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Put in a shallow basket to winnow, separating the beans form the chaff.

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Start a fire and roast the beans in a clay pot, turning constantly with a large wooden spatula.

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They start out looking like this.

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And end up looking like this after being roasted.

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Roasted beans cooling.

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Next, pour the beans back into the mortar and pound with the pestle until ground.

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Once they are ground, sift and return the larger bits to the mortar for more pounding. In the meantime, have some water heating on the fire.

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Check on your rabbits.

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Enjoy your coffee. For a treat, mix equal parts coffee and sugar. Lick from the palm of your hand. Yummy. Ok, now you know what to do tomorrow when you wake up!

6/15/2014 The Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro crater is actually a caldera. It is the worlds largest unfilled collapsed volcanic cone, 2000 feet deep with an area of about 100 sq. miles. It was not formed by a meteorite. Some of the earliest human remains date from this area and the Oldovai Gorge, not far from here.

Sometime, millions of years ago, mankind stood up and walked out from this place.

We wake up at 5:30 to eat and pack all the gear. We descend into the caldera as the sun is rising.

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The clouds pouring over the rim of the crater at sunrise from our camp on the rim.

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Sage, Shawn, Lisa and Anna.

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David and Charles

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Flamingo on the lake.

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These Zebra do not migrate, very few animals enter or leave the caldera.

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Zebra family.

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Wildebeest close ups. I was told a story once about how after the creator made all the animals he made the Wildebeest out of the leftover parts

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Hippos basking.

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Jackal

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When an animal is spotted, the Land Rovers converge.

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The Warthog. This was the only animal that seemed shy of the vehicles.

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Ditch Lion

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This male Lion was resting in a ditch right beside the road.

Around 1:00 we left the crater and were driven back to our hotels. This safari was a remarkable experience, and I feel very privileged to have done this.

It is remarkable to me that these animals are here today, given the poverty that surrounds the park areas. For example, the Manyara crater has many teak and other hardwood trees- quite valuable.

It was not always comfortable, don’t expect a luxury experience if you do it on a budget like I did. Do expect to get really close to large animals in their natural habitat, and to see them doing all the things that animals do.

6/14/2014 Early morning drive in the Serengeti

Today we wake up at 5:30 so we can eat, pack, and load the Land Rover for an early morning game drive. Charles was up much earlier preparing our breakfast and packing picnic lunchboxes for us.

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We saw many Giraffe. They are so extroardinary. They can only lower their heads for a moment to drink. They have an enormous heart to pump the blood up their necks, and a complex system of valves to keep from rupturing a blood vessel when they lower their heads.

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A little DikDik.

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The male Zebra’s have clearer stripes. They are not ridden because their backs are not strong like horses.

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Down the road in the Range Rover. Zebra crossing ahead.

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The Zebra migration. Often the Zebra and Wildebeest are mixed together.

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Zebra’s planning their next move. They are just leaving the road. Notice they aren’t even looking at the Range Rover.

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It’s impossible to capture in a photo, but Wildebeest and Zebra fill the landscape like chocolate chips as far as one can see.

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Female lion on the prowl. Lots of good hunting for her.

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A Jackal sniffs for a lions kill. Wildebeest fill the landscape, we are parked in their migration path.

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Your’s truely and elephants.

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Another view from the Range Rover.

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Hippo on a trek. They leave their pond at night to graze. They can run at 40
KMH, which must be an amazing sight with those short legs.

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A well fed lion family sleeping on the road. They killed a Zebra last night.

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Momma lion, 50 feet away, glancing in our direction.

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Yes, I was there and took this photo. Amazing.

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Giraffe support group.

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We leave the Serengeti in the afternoon and drive to the edge of the Ngorongoro crater to camp. This was a very busy campground, with people from all over the world pitching tents and eating dinner. The cooks kitchen was jammed with cooks and food. The dining room was filled. I sat next to Julie from Arizona, a precocious 16 year old. We talked about philosophy and personal growth, solved Africa’s problems, and agreed on almost everything. Wonderful!

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The restroom facilites for 60? people. The area was wet, the floor covered with tracked in mud. The cook in the picture is filling his bucket with water for the kitchen.

6/13/2014 Going on Safari- The Serengeti

The Serengeti is a place I have wanted to visit since childhood. It is a vast plain and hosts the largest animal migrations in the world- and we were right in the middle of it.

In the Serengeti a migration is not something like a geese migration. It is more a shifting of grazing grounds as conditions change. So it is not a fast directed race, but a leisurely snacking stroll.

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Overlooking the Ngorongoro crater on the way to the Serengeti.

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Breathtaking scenery along the way.

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And let’s not overlook the dazzling variety of birds.

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And reptiles.

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Elephants roaming free in their natural habitat.

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Leopard climbing down a tree- A telephoto lens would help! Bring a really good camera with a zoom lens. You will be able to bring in animals from a long ways away, and get amazing close ups on others.

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Hippo’s in a pool. They splash themselves with their tails, and roll over to keep their skin moist. They are really large animals.

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Gazelle.

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Mom and her baby. Elephants have a matriarchal society. The big bulls live outside the family group. Most elephants die of starvation after their 6th set of teeth wear out.

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This big mom was breaking down and chewing the bark off an Acacia tree. She was doing it to create bile in her digestive tract so she could digest her normal food more easily. Her clan was following her example. Herbal medicine!

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More of the family. We were 50 feet away.

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Pulling down a tree.

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Unloading the Range Rover preparing to camp.

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David our driver set up our tent the first night. Sleeping bags, a sleeping mat, and pillows are provided. It’s fine, but if you can afford it, go for a lodge! Making midnight treks to the bathroom may not suit you.

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There was a great cooking facility in this camp which Charles had almost to himself! Others were crowded with cooks.

6/12/2014 Going on Safari, Lake Manyara.

Does the word Safari conjure up images of bwana’s with guns accompanyied by scads of African porters heading off into the bush to kill large animals? Yeah, me too. Actually this is sorta like that, except we take cameras and drive in Land Rovers on dirt roads. It’s a Girrafic Park!

Each Land Rover has a driver and a cook. Depending on your budget, you either stay in lodges or camp. The drivers communicate with each other using radio, and when a large animal is spotted, the Land Rovers converge. The camping facilities vary, but are not up to western park standards. In other words, they may be built but may not work properly, anything from doors not staying shut to there being no toilet paper.

Ours was a four day Safari shared with two other gals, making four of us in the Land Rover sharing the costs. I feel this is a good number, as six people would have been tight. The cost was $700 each and is inclusive of park fees, pickup and drop off at your hotel, food and transportation. Tipping the guide and cook are expected at the end and can add another $60 to the cost.

If you don’t want to experience too much developing world conditions, fly into Kilimajaro international airport. If you fly into Dar Es Saalam, you will need to take an eight hour bus to Moshi. You will still need to stay in Moshi, and could find it challenging.

We went with African Scenic Safaris and had David as our guide and Charles as our cook. David was polite, very knoweledagble, and spoke english well. He handled disputes between Sage with courtesy. Charles our cook was wonderful and we had plenty to eat.

The roads are dirt, often deeply rutted and wasboarded. Do not expect a smooth ride. You will get shaken around a lot despite the skills of the drivers.

We started in Lake Manyara. I am using my new cheap camera on Safari, but at least I have one!

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Our Land Rover with a popped roof.

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Right after entering the park area we saw our first elephant- a baby, right by the side of the road.

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The feeling in some places was of deep jungle.

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There were lots of baboons.

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Zebra’s were common.

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Inside the Range Rover with the popped top.

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Baboon by the roadside. It was fascinating how acclimated the animals are to the Land Rovers. They don’t even look at them. They don’t blink or run or do anything- just go right on with what they were doing. This was one of the most fascinating parts- You can have a dozen Range Rovers with clicking cameras 50 feet from an elephant, and the elephant doesn’t even look. The trick is to stay in the Range Rover- if they see a human walking, their behaviour changes completely.

6/11/2014 Moshi

Sage and I find a great hotel in Moshi. It has a balcony, light from two sides, a western toilet and Oooh yes, hot running water. It is $18 a night.

Moshi is not pretty. The roads are filled with no-pollution-control vehicles and except for the main roads are rutted dirt, the occasional sidewalk gives way to broom swept mud then desolves into chaos. The city is active and bustling and as always, teeming with people. So many people living so close together. Knowing the ngood hearted nature of most of the people I feel safe, but I keep alert anyway.

My laptop has started working again. I’d like to take credit for it but can’t. I think it was electricity that was at the wrong frequency at the other hotel.

My camera is still not working- thrashed and dusty from rough riding- so I head to the bus station to replace it. I find a vendor who has cameras. He names his price for a Coolpix- 140,000 Tsh. I have only brought 100,000, intentionally. I counter and show him the money. He says no. I offer to let him stay with me when he comes to visit Florida and give him my email address. Still no. I turn my pants pockets inside out. Half a dozen people are watching and they laugh. He is hesitating. I discover a crumpled bill in my shirt pocket and produse it with a great flourish. Much laughter. He hesitiates. I feel a coin in my other pocket and clink it on top, and turn my shirt pockets inside out and rest my elbows on the counter and stare at him. Laughter. He concedes, and I have a new camera.

We need to find a guide to climb Mt.Meru, and the hotel manager calls his son who is drunk. He then calls Paul, a polite articulate young man. We set a date for climbing Mt Meru when we return from Safari.

He goes with us to Arusha. Sage and I have decided to return home early. Why? Our reasons differ, but I feel like I have seen Tanzania. The architecture and lifestyle does not change from place to place, just the density of people. The architecture in the developing world is monotonous, dirty, in need of repair, lacking beauty, noisy. It has been the same everywhere I have been. I am a bit homesick amd miss Leslie.

6/07 and 6/08 2014 Lushoka

My good Olympus camera has stopped working. All the bumpy rutted roads might have done it in.

The morning brings a steep long descent into a valley. We get very hot riding today. The descent helps, as I have arrythmia again. The road levels and my arrythmia leaves.

The day gets late and directions to the next town that might have a guest house vary greatly. At last we decide to ask a family permission to camp on their land. They suggest we camp in their backyard.

Most of the small village- about 20 people- gather to watch us set up the tent and to offer a hand. The young man brings us a bucket of water to bath with in their outhouse- which has a squat toilet and is clean. After bathing we sit on the foundation of the house and hang out as the kids scramble to get close to us.

Later we are invited in to eat. The house is a good house, concrete block with a metal roof and no windows. The wind whistles through the open eaves. We eat by a 5 candlepower LED light that is charged with a solar panel. Dinner is rice from the family farm. I share a plate with one of the men as there are not enough for the four of us.

The girls sit in the shadows and watch, serving us.

Dinner is served with soured milk from a soda pop bottle, which I enjoy, followed by a wonderful Papaya and a coconut. We are given their best, and are very appreciative.

At night in the tent I listen to the sheep and goats 20 feet away fart and sneeze. The watchdog is tied up 10 feet from the tent and goes on a barking jag everytime Sage and I say a word. The wind howls and buffets the tent and I feel fine red sand landing on my face. At last sleep comes.

6/08/2014

We ride in the land of the Baobob trees and the Masai’s; those tall slender cryptic silent people dressed in bright red robes and always carrying a stick and a machette.

The road is so rutted and stony that I ride in my low gears all day, thrashing along. Sage hopes for warm water, a western toilet and an AC in the evening. We settle for a bucket of water and an electric bulb. There are not a lot of choices!

6/06/2014 Melindi to Mtae

6/06/2014 Melindi to Mtae

“Papa Mose” opened his business on the date of his fathers death. He is the best businessman I have met. His interests include is guests houses, his farm and cattle. He is western educated and his three children are in college.

The ride was through verdant mountains today. Again, small villages and homes interrupt the sweep of verdant vegetation. The steep hills are sometimes terraced, and seem to reard the subsistence farmers in abundance.

Everywhere people are friendly, children are awestruck. When I stop they approach, cautiously, some smiling, some fearful. I kneel down and shake hands all around, play with Lisa, and kick around their soccer balls made of plastic bags bound with twine.

Then the adults approach, and I treat all with respect. Once we are all comfortable, I show them my rap star handshake, which makes everyone laugh.

The town of Mtae straddles the ridge of a mountain. The lodge has lights but not electricity, baths but no running water. Opening the wooden shutters on the paneless window reveals a 200 mile view. The sounds of children, cattle, chickens, and Swahili waft in.

The market is about a 20×20 foot area on the roadside where colorfully dressed women squat in front of plastic sheets bearing small heaps of local produce.

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Papa Mose let wasps live on the ceiling of his dining room. When the doors are opened in the morning the wasps fly out and there are birds waiting there to eat them.

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Sage riding ahead.

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An attractive communal home.

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Another African cottage for Leslie.

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Mud and sticks construction detail. The clay soil makes this possible. This would be a lot harder with Florida sands!

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Beautiful rock formations on the descent from Mtae.

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A lone store on the road. Sage was shot with a slingshot close to here. She threw her bike down and chased the kid.

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Good riding.

Lusoka to Melindi

6/05/2014 Lusoka to Melindi

First, my laptop has stopped working. I am posting this ten days late. I make notes on paper. I am writing this sitting in a guest lodge in Melindi that actually has a flush toilet.

Such a nice ride today. It started out in the rain, and there was some very long climbs over rutted muddy dirt roads with scooters and busses to dodge. The landscape is super green and sprinkled with typical African homes, mud/wattle, adobe brick and metal roofs. The road is lined with subsistence farms, ramshackle stores, and people, always people.

I enjoy singing when I am riding, it keeps my spirits up and entertains the locals. One of the reasons I travel is to work on my adaptability. In this case, adapting to a working relationship is giving me more of a challenge than Africa!

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It’s a wet muddy climb- with busses to dodge!

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So Lisa and I stopped by for a trim…

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Leslie’s African cottage. This is a very typical African home. No power or running water, mud brick walls, metal roof.

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Subsistence farming in Africa. They are way ahead of us in the back-to-the-land movement. How can we keep our level of education and comfort in a carbon footprint this green? That is what I keep asking myself.

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Villages and farms.