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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

February 8th: Mount Meru in Northern Tanzania

On February 8th 1980 I was walking with a friend up the slopes of Mount Meru, the volcano which dominates the city of Arusha in northern Tanzania.

After a couple of days in Arusha I had worked out a couple of things: firstly, there wasn't much to do and there were hardly any other cheap travellers around, and secondly there was no point in even thinking about going on any organised tours to get into the wildlife parks.  So, I thought, let's just walk towards the mountain and see what happens - this was my first walk in Africa.

Getting through the suburbs in the late afternoon immediately felt better, then I reached the Nairobi - Moshi road, and there was a turning to the left at the village of Sekei and after a moment's hesitation I took it because it felt right first time.  I went up through the straggly village with bars and shops and crowds of people going home.  The country got better, up in the coffee fields, bananas, maize, cabbages.  Huts became simpler and simpler, rounder and more thatched, the women with less city clothes.  There were plenty of Maasai walking.  There was a field with church and mission bell, and a white woman in a Rover.  I gained a schoolboy companion and on the way back down we stopped at his house in the dying light for tea and looked at his photos of foreigner friends.  It was good to be among the fields with the stars above.  I was shown to the main road in the darkness, and went into a bar with others for pombe, millet beer.

The next morning I met Audrey, American and a few years older than me, and within seconds we were talking about how we could go further up towards the mountain, starting the next day.  So on this day we left at daybreak, poking around in Sekei, looking for a chai but it was still too early.  I was carrying an outsize avocado to eat for breakfast, which we took under the shade of a tree down a little lane.  We were happy and optimistic enjoying the "Jambo!"s  and "Where are you going?", but knowing we were not going to get very far up the mountain.  The next village had a wonderful large fig tree with a double trunk and hanging roots.  In the last village there were no corrugated iron roofs but all around mud and wattle huts, often with a second little one in the compound and with maize and banana fields and sometimes pastures cut for cattle.

Then we were in a spruce and pine forest, dark with a stream running through it and the first little orchids, pinkish.  We came to a clearing around a giant fallen mahogany tree where we sat for a while in the sunshine looking at the green forest trees around us and the hornbills.  As we walked on we had a fine view westwards towards a green hill that must have been beside the road north to Kenya.  Further up the ridge was steep but easy, very beautiful and jungly with more orchids, colourful birds calling in all directions, and the noise of colobus monkeys moving through trees.  At some point we crossed from the ridge to the mountain itself.  The forest was full of drum-shaped hives and the trails leading to them.  The trails were bigger where the bamboo cutters had been in; some places were quite dark, some places were swampy with by-passes; we saw a pair of colobus monkeys at one point among calabash trees and bright red flowers, the first wild animals I'd seen while walking in Africa. 

On The Edge of Mount Meru:  My picture
Finally we reached a clearing where we could see the clouds above us across a river and a steep precipice but we could not make out the top of the forest and could not find a trail.  After walking all day we had done enough and we had only food and water for the one night.  So we listened to a wood cutter on the other side of the river, and his cow, and then came down.  We found quite a large trail and, as the sunlight was fading, a nice camping spot.  We enjoyed the final rays of the sun beside a tiny blue orchid, collected firewood, ate our beans hot and our carrots and settled down to try to sleep in what was a cold night.  The stars and the moon and the hornbills rowdily roosting were fine but I was pleased when the sun got up in the morning.

The down trail was really easy, but as is usual not so interesting.  We found bamboo cutters pulling their loads down the trail.  We had frequent rests to admire scenery, the trees and the birds, to warm up, to eat mangoes, and eventually to find running water.  We cut back to where we had been the day before near the pine forest and found a closed valley for a couple of hours, lazing, watching black and white colobus monkeys in the jungle on the escarpment, there were maybe 15 or 20 of them, nearly always in view.  We saw groups of boys with cattle.  The way back was wearisome, but we were well greeted by Maasai and others as we sat under the double fig tree.  Eventually we were taken to the pombe shop for much needed refreshment.

Mount Meru:  My picture

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