The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.



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Ule mlima

Sitting cross-legged on a table near the saddle hut on Mt. Meru, where we wll spend our second night, I can see The Mountain. The mountain that is the only one people think of if you say you went trekking in Tanzania, the one that everyone else up here with us seem to be training for, using Meru as a practice run. It and Meru are the only things above the endless stretches of soft clouds on every side.

I have, I’ve realized, absolutely no desire to climb The Mountain. I considered it, briefly, when my sitemates went a few months ago, but decided that being able to say I got to the top wasn’t worth the inevitable pain from cold and from hiking too much. I could have made it. I sim ply saw no reason to. Besides which, I’d heard Meru was prettier, and it’s certainly cheaper.

And Meru has been lovely. We climbed through beautiful forests on our way up–I kept stopping to look at flowers and radiantly-colored sunbirds. Unable to mantain my normal blithe speed on a longer hike I had to proceed at the recommened pace, but that gave me more time to look around. Starting off, at the lower altitudes, we saw giraffes, buffalo, zebras. We walk with a ranger who carries a gun to deter over-interested animals.

Tomorrow will be hard: we’ll wake up long before dawn so we can see the sunrise from the summit, then undo all of today’s weary work by returning to the camp where we slept last night. I’m much more apprehensive about the down than I ever was about the up. Descending, as I’ve learned from every Matema trip, is not my strong suit.

We woke up at midnight, started the ascent shortly before 1.30. As one of the women who climbed with us later said, in retrospect it seems likely that the early departure was motivated more by a desire for us not to see the terrain than for us to see the sunrise from the peak. If I’d been able to clearly see the jagged ridges and near-sheer rock faces we were crossing I don’t think I would have made it. By the time it was light out and we were on our way back I was too consumed by the need not to stress my injured knee and the desire to get back to camp and breakfast to spare much thought for the long drops below the rocks I was painstakingly pulling myself up.

For all that, though, I’m glad I did it. The volcanic landscape was overwhelming, jagged and alien. It looked like something that belonged at the bottom of the ocean, or on the moon. And sunrise over The Mountain was truly a sight to see, us and it the two islands in a sea of dappled grey clouds.

The best I can say about all that descending with an injured knee, though, is that it’s over.


Comment from Kit
Time August 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm

The landscape, from the pictures I saw, reminded me of the alien landscapes Bill Watterson used in Calvin & Hobbes. Which were, themselves, inspired by the American Southwest. All of these, not too dissimilar.

Comment from david Digges La Touche
Time August 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

As Kit and I flew from Dar to Nairobi on that early morning almost a year and a half ago, the top of the Mountain was glowing orange like a fire’s hot embers while all the rest of the land was dark. I hope we’ll see you soon.

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