Animals. So many animals. Beautiful scenery. So much color.
Bouncing around in a car on Tanzanian roads does not mix well with a hangover. Maybe we should have thought twice before downing that Dodoman “wine.”
Stairs. Steep trail. Trees. Monkeys. More stairs.
To prevent incredible acts of stupidity Arusha National Park requires all visitors to be escorted by an armed ranger. Cape Buffalo roam the slopes of Mount Meru and leopards are rumored to inhabit the trees.
Zebra. Warthogs. No giraffes 🙁
Our group consisted of the French (a couple around our age), Nick, Chris (let’s just call him that at least), and yours truly, accompanied by our guides and ranger. The French and we had porters. Not only did these amazing men carry their own gear, our gear, food, and fuel, they did it with such speed that we never saw them on the trail. As lightweight backpackers, we only required a team of 8.
The trail led us through rainforest, right past a troop of baboons, and through the clouds. We walked through a fig tree, broke for lunch by a waterfall, and arrived at Miriakamba Huts. Here we had the pleasure of meeting our cook, John, who was wearing a “God made grass, man made booze, who do you trust?” shirt. We also met Rashidi, our shy and friendly waiter.
Exhausted from the previous night of partying we did our best to down the overabundance of food and retired to our room early. Though the huts were not busy and we were both able to sleep in bottom bunks, this was not an easy task. Our key refused to work and we struggled to get into our room. Getting out was no easier.
On the second day we reached saddle huts. The day was hotter and steeper. After reaching Saddle Huts and taking a break we climbed a couple hundred meters to visit Little Meru Peak.
After a few hours of broken sleep, some porridge, and ginger tea we got an alpine start. Leaving the hut around 12:45 we started our 5 hour climb. The trail was rocky, steep, and tricky in the dark. Sharon found the trek uncomfortable and dreadful and wished she had been left at the huts. Her fingers froze. She had trouble finding her footing and the thin air was hard to breathe. She wanted to desert the mission but Saumu would have none of it. Saumu demanded to carry her pack and refused to let her stop. Saumu even lied to keep spirits “high”; for 2 hours we were only 3 minutes away from the summit. But eventually, the Sharon-sicle reached Socialist Peak.
The minutes right before dawn are always the coldest and we were unable to spend much time at the top. Taking a few pictures we began our descent just as the sun started rising providing breathtaking views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Refusing to apply sunscreen, Sharon disguised herself as a desert marauder and we made short work of the knee grinding trek back to Saddle Huts.
A bit of rest. Knee grinding. Faster. Faster. Down. Down. Down.
While keeping good pace on the way up, the ranger raced us down as if he was late for an important date. The French, who climbed quickly to the peak, were struggling to keep up on the way down. We stopped for water maybe 2 times. The descent trail was steeper and more exposed and the day was hotter than the previous two, but after a few hours we were back at the bottom and Sharon was overcome with illness.
After leaving the park the strangest thing happened. OK, maybe not THE strangest, but strange indeed. Our van pulled over on the side of a road and two of our porters jumped out with large trash bags, tossing them into a huge, smoking crater. This, as we were told, was a pit dug to dispose of the garbage generated in the park. In it, the trash was burned; food scraps, aluminum, plastic, and all. The toxic cloud of smoke drifting toward the adjacent farm.
Meru was meant as a warm-up to Kilimanjaro. A much shorter hike with the luxury of huts every night. We had already formed a bond with our guide and cook and we were ready to face our next challenge.