Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rafiki

Never have I been as popular as the time I have spent here in East Africa.  Everywhere I go, I have friends.  I mean, why else would all these people yell "rafiki" (friend in swahili) every time they see me?  They can't possibly know that I have seen the Lion King a thousand times, can they?  Have they heard me singing in the shower?

Or do they just recognize my impeccable table etiquette? image by ~Blue-J23

Every African I meet wants to make my acquaintance, some going so far as to try and impress me into friendship by showing me their handmade paintings and carvings.  They obviously recognize my innate knowledge and impeccable taste when it comes to artwork, and the artists clearly hope that I will consider the them worthy enough to be brought into my circle of friends.  The painters show me their paintings, ahe hat sellers display their hats, and the newspaper salesmen fight each other for a chance to show me the day's headlines.   My favorite are the street kids dying to tell me all about the newest safari, because they can clearly tell that even though I am currently wearing office clothes and carrying a briefcase, I am always up for a spontaneous safari!

In this photo: running down a hyena on a spontaneous safari

Even though I walk the same route, past the same people, the same stalls, every single day, they still insist on greeting me and showing me their wares-- yet again.  I know what you're thinking, they are clearly desperate for my approval and friendship.  I totally understand.  I know that I am totally awesome, something that they clearly recognize as well.

Please make sure not to stare directly into the sheer awesomeness emanating from this photo.


As a westerner, they know that I am inwardly dying to buy every piece of art, sculpture, newspaper, map, pamphlet, or hat that I see on the street.  Even though I pass them every day, and never buy anything, they know that someday their yelling, gesticulating, or hissing, will break me down and I will befriend them, and possibly even grace them with my generosity, purchasing everything they have, and travel home laden with goods and souvenirs to remind me of my friends back on the dark continent.  I wish I knew the Swahili equivalent of "bitch please!," so I could truly impress on them of the chances of that actually happening.  I am on my way to work, and my office is in no need of re-decoration with cheap, mass-produced, trinkets and obviously printed, "hand-painted," works of art.

The other day, I had a newspaper seller follow me for half a kilometer to work showing me his newspapers. He was absolutely shocked that I didn't want to buy the newspaper he was trying to sell me, no matter that it was in dutch and over two weeks old.  He didn't believe me when I told him that I couldn't read the contents of that paper, because as every good East African newspaperman knows, all wazungu come from the same place, speak the same language, know each other, and are probably related.  He did make a pretty compelling argument, however, when he confidently stated that we all look the same.  I couldn't even argue, since at the time, there happened to be passing by a group of incredibly good looking, male-model-type, tourists, that were looking at souvenirs.  Clearly, this was a man who knew what he was talking about.  Checkmate.

He was pretty much the Buddha of East Africa.

The group that is the most desperate to befriend me, is the city's taxi drivers.  They are the ones that yell "rafiki" the loudest, the most often, and often go so far as to make use of their horns in trying to get my attention.  This morning, I was waiting on the street in front of my apartment, waiting for my friend to drive over and get me in his truck.  As soon as I hit the street, a cacophony of honking that would rival a Los Angeles rush-hour began. Confident, I tried my usual tactic: ignoring them.  You must understand, it gets so very hard sometimes having so many friends!  I cannot hope to befriend them all.

One taxi driver was not having it, really wanting to be my friend. Yelling "rafiiiiikiiiii" like we grew up together in the same village, and honking no less than fifteen times, he tried his very best to get me to come speak with him.  First, he let fly a couple of staccato honks.  Then, a honk every couple of seconds.  It was very kind of him to try so very hard.  I mean, I could have easily missed his first five honks, no matter that he was parked no more than 15 meters away from me.  Who knows?  I could have been deaf and in desperate need of his friendship and taxi services.  Realizing this, he started waving his arms, and even drove across the street and parked his car right next to where I was standing, giving me one last, pathetic honk, before giving up.  Alas, I already had so many friends on the road to work, that my social circle was totally full.  I was forced to ignore him and try my very best to forget how incredibly silly he looked.  I wouldn't want to laugh and make him feel worse than he already did, having suffered the worst possible tragedy: being shunned and rejected by me.

Pictured: An African I rejected.  Not really, he was crying out of sheer inability to comprehend how awesome I am.


Disconsolate, he must have phoned-ahead to his buddies, however, because later in the day, walking past a roundabout, the air was suddenly split with the sound of loud hissing.  They obviously knew I was coming, and were very prepared to befriend me.  In East Africa, the people know that whistling is useless, and that hissing is clearly superior  as an attention getter.  A good, sharp, hiss is the social equivalent of a "How do you do, old boy?  Fancy sharing a fag and discussing the most recent news from the NIKKEI and Wall Street markets? Or maybe a glass of brandy and a good rousing game of croquet?"  It is a very powerful thing, a hiss, and these men were doing their best to hiss me over to their taxis, shops, and sidewalk displays.  When that eventually failed, they fell back on the good-old "rafiki" routine.

You must understand by now how truly popular I truly am.  What is that you say?  They only want me for my money?  Ridiculous!  I am not an idiot, and I was NOT born yesterday!  Everyone knows that only base and vile women do that sort of thing, and I am shocked that you would even think the sort of these amiable, hard-working, folks, that clearly recognize me as a man to know and love.  Shame on you!

As long as I walk these streets, there will be people wanting to be my rafiki, my friend. It is a hard job, being as totally and incredibly awesome as I am. A truly solemn and trying task, that I do not take lightly, and would never wish upon anyone else. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Is Africa

T.I.A.

I know what you're thinking, Transient Ischemic Attack?  Obviously, that is what most people would first think of when seeing that acronym.  I did, it is nothing to be ashamed about.  But here in Africa, you hear that acronym spoken out loud quite often, and there is certainly not a deluge of stroke-like symptoms sweeping the region.

It stands for: THIS IS AFRICA, and it means that everything you know from your old life is up in the air, assuming you grew up in a rich and powerful first-world nation like I did.  Coming from the United States, I have grown to accept that every once in a while during summer-heatwave-air-conditioning-turning-on-frenzies, I might lose electricity for a while to a black-out, or brown-out (a term which has always reminded me of poo for some reason).  Otherwise, I can expect to run my air conditioner, PS3, plasma tv, white noise generator, refrigerator, deep freeze, surround sound, all while leaving the lights on in the middle of the day, without so much as a flicker in my electrical supply.  God bless America, am I right?!

FUCK YEAH!


So woe is me when I get the news that I can expect up to 14 hours of power cuts a day here in my particular region of Africa.  I can expect to hang out in my dark and cold apartment, eating spoiled food and drinking warm milk, while reading a book by candlelight, from 6 pm to 8 am.  Essentially, all the time I am home from work.  Hot showers are no longer an option, since my apartment has a shower-head water heater.

But it aint really that bad, right?  I mean, luke-warm milk is kind of nice, if I let it sit for a while I will have free yogurt.  I love yogurt!  Cold showers are invigorating! Hot water is for wussies and girly-men!


Pictured: A non-girly-man not giving a fuck about cold showers.

WRONG! I will tell you why, too.  The reason power cuts suck is because you never quite know when they will hit.  One second you are enjoying Big Cats on the NatGeo channel, and the next you are sitting in a dark room looking silly on the couch.  The energy company told us that cuts would start at 6 pm, but sometimes they hit at 5pm, and sometimes 8 pm. It is a guessing game, and I recently lost a gamble when I tried to cut my own hair using some electric clippers.

What my hair looked like before the cut (except I obviously pay more attention to my obliques then this here Ryan Reynolds fella).

Last weekend, late afternoon, the sun was starting to go down and the sky had a beautiful golden quality to it.  The air was crisp, cool,  and smelled like burnt trash, all together, a very pleasant evening.  Later on this particular night, I had plans to meet my boss for dinner.  My hair had recently grown slightly long and shaggy, and I was in need of some grooming, so I made my way to my colleague's house to make use of his hair clippers.  Lazily, I started buzzing my head with a trimming-guard on the clippers, cutting a little here, a little there, working my way around my scalp.  My hair was going to look great, perfectly accentuating my many wonderful facial features.  Everything was going great, right up until the power went out.  I was only half-finished with my head, with long patches of hair sticking out all over the place, and nothing was of an even length.

Bad/unfinished haircuts are only acceptable if you have legions of adoring fans.  My blog has a grand-total of 6 followers.  I couldn't expect to pull it off.


Shit.  What can I do now?  I gambled and lost, and there was no guarantee that I would have power again all weekend, let alone in time to finish my head before dinner.  I saw only one way out of this mess--the razor.  I had never taken a razor to my head before and I figured, what the hell?  I am in Africa and not trying to impress anybody, and it is the only way to get my hair to an even length at this point.  

There was still some light left, easily enough time to shave my head, I thought.  After all, it takes about 3 minutes for me to shave my face in the morning, why should it take much longer to shave my head?  Much to my chagrin, I soon found that shaving your head is a skill, and that if you are not careful, your razor quits working very quickly, and you will be left working at the same section repeatedly.  So there I am, scraping my head with a dull and clogged razor, racing against the clock and the night.  I soon lose, and was forced to continue in the darkness. Eventually, my friend found a handheld flashlight that greatly helped with the process.  I soon finished and admired my work via flashlight in the mirror.  

My scalp has not seen the sun since I was an infant, and my head is slightly peanut-shaped.  To top it off, I have a Gorbachev style birthmark that proceeds up from my hair line about two inches up my scalp.  Looking in the mirror, I got a glimpse of what I will look like as an old man---TOTALLY BADASS!

Lex Luthor for President, 2012!

Now, it has been 5 days since I shaved my head and my hair is growing back at an alarming rate.  I passed the Vin Diesel stage in about 2 days and will soon be back at Ryan Reynolds. I give it 2 months, tops.  Until today, it has been rainy and cloudy, ruining all my plans of getting a totally sweet head-tan.  I guess my scalp will just have to stay cancer-free for a while longer.  You got lucky this time, scalp!

So there you have it, T.I.A.  This is Africa, an things as seemingly simple as a haircut can turn totally ridiculous.

This time, the dark continent forced me to accept an even-more-badass-then-usual hairstyle.  Next time, it might force the eviction of strange and dangerous animals from our office.  But that is for another blog, on another day (probably tomorrow ya impatient bastards).  So stay tuned for more idiocy from Africa!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Visit to the Maasai in Kenya



In this photo: a jumping idiot and his Maasai friend.


Out into the bush.

This weekend I had the opportunity to get real down and dirty in the deep bush of Kenya.  I left work early on Friday and jumped a shuttle headed for Nairobi, Kenya, with the plan of jumping off halfway to the Kenyan capitol, at the Tanzania-Kenya border.  The shuttle left Arusha and quickly left civilization behind, driving through vast red-brown plains, rolling savannas, and dry scrubland. Visible out the window were large numbers of goats and cattle, tended by young Maasai with sticks.  Two hours after departing Arusha, my friend and I arrived at the Kenyan border.  After crossing, we wandered through a small border town called Namanga till we found my friend's Maasai friend.  In the past, my friend spent a couple of years with the Maasai, building pit latrines.  He worked long hours with the locals, laboring in the hot Kenya sun to build latrines that he jokingly admitted never get used, because according to the Maasai, "they smell like shit!" 

Smiling, my friend's Maasai friend approached us, welcoming us to Kenya.  Standing about 5 foot 5, he has skin black as pitch and decorative scars on his cheeks.  He wears the traditional shuka of the Maasai as well as a beaded, a braided headdress, and a long Maasai knife at his hip,hanging from a beaded belt. He has two wives, 8 kids, has killed a lion with nothing but his spear, and is a very respected member of his community.  He is Maasai to the core.  Forget 2011, he looked like he just walked out of 1811, right until the point he pulled out his cell phone, made a call, and walked us over to his Land Rover.  I am not completely sure of the details involved, but I know that he used to do business in Nairobi and somehow got connected with a Yoga troupe.  Over the years he became a yoga teacher, traveling around Kenya spreading yoga, even being flown out to a convention in Mexico once by the troupe.  As mentioned, he is very traditional, traveling to Mexico in full Maasai costume, only leaving his long knife and spear behind.  I would have given anything to see him go through airport security.  If I uploaded one video of that, I would become "YouTube famous," as my girlfriend likes to say.  Eventually, he purchased a motorcycle, and later traded for a 1960's land rover.  A fierce machine, built of solid steel, beaten and bruised by 50 years in the bush.  It can survive the harshest terrain imaginable, and can be fixed with nothing but a hammer, elbow grease, and copious amounts of swearing.  He is totally awesome and a nicer guy I haven't met.

We jumped into the bed of his vehicle and took off for his boma.  A boma is a collection of huts, encircled by a small hedge of acacia thorns and bushes for protection--security that one sorely needs in this land.  The Maasai do not regularly hunt animals, relying strictly upon their herds of cattle for milk, and their goats and sheep for meat.  Their entire lives revolve around their herds and usually only kill predators which threaten their stock, and thus, their livelihood.

Give a Maasai man a stick and he fears no beast.



Maasai public transport

We drove out of town into the bush on a rough dirt road.  Our Maasai friend learned to drive a couple of years ago in Nairobi and had honed his skills making runs for his community from the boma to the highway towns.  With no fear, he drove down the dusty road at speeds which would put a rally driver to shame.    When we left town there were only a few of us in the truck.  Over the course of the hour journey we picked up and dropped off a total of 11 people and a huge drum of gasoline meant for the construction of a bore-hole.  The Maasai have been increasingly abandoning the nomadic lifestyle and have started to dig deep wells for water.  It had not rained for 6 months while I was there, and there was a danger that the cattle would start dying.  Much longer and the Maasai would drive their cattle all the way to Nairobi for water, a five to seven day drive across open and dangerous territory.  Maasai make these drives whenever the drought gets real bad.  They can walk for a week without sleeping, always on the watch for predators and danger to their cattle.  The Maasai have a self-discipline that puts the rest of us to shame!  Risks don't always come in the form of hyenas and lions either, while I was among the Maasai, I saw a gorgeous Maasai bull struggling to walk back to the boma, literally on its last legs.  It had apparently lost a fight with an elephant and was in danger of dying, a huge blow to the community.

A female Ostrich spotted in the bush.

During the drive, we were surrounded on all sides by untouched land, and greeted by herds of gazelle, wild Ostrich, birds aplenty, and one fat cobra slithering across the road, dangerously close to a boma.  The sun was setting fast, and the stars were starting to appear over the savanna.

Home sweet home.

We arrived at the boma as the last light of day could be seen on the tip of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance, right before black night settled over the land.  Nothing is as unsettling as night in the bush, when every bush and tree starts rustling, and dangerous animals stalk the night.  We pitched our tent right inside of the acacia wall, duly thankful for its protection.  Donning our headlamps, we walked over to the biggest dung hut in the boma to meet with the elders.  We were welcomed by a newly installed solar lamp inside the dung hut, a thankful addition that drove away the dark night, and made visiting with the Maasai elders easier.  We sat on hand-carved stools and were introduced to the male members of the boma who were very glad at our arrival.  

Celebrating with the elders, and our introduction to the dangers of the bush

Maasai traditionally stretch their earlobes.

For four days, the men had been brewing honey beer for our arrival, a sweet and delicious concoction consisting of water, honey, sugar, and yeast provided by the inside of a sausage-tree gourd.  It was delicious and merriment was truly had by all.  At one point, a woman came in and alerted us to a group of hungry Hyenas right outside the boma, attracted to the scent of goats, cattle.  Two of the men calmly put down their cups, wrapped their shukas around them, and walked out of the hut.  Along the way, they each grabbed a stick, and confidently strode out into the dark. These men were going into battle with sticks, not spears or knives, against a group of hungry, powerful Hyenas, able to crush bone into powder with nothing but their powerful jaws.

A Superb Starling one of the men caught with his bare hands.

I witnessed the confrontation from inside the safety of the fence.  Granted, I never once saw the beasts, only heard them, cackling and hooting in the darkness, moving from place to place. At one point they could not have been more than ten meters away, threatening death with every laugh, yet absolutely invisible in the darkness.  The men walked straight at the Hyenas, scattering them back and forth, and eventually driving them back into the bush.  The Hyenas retreated further and further away into the bush until they were far enough away that they no longer posed a danger to us or the animals.  The men calmly strode back into the hut and started drinking again as if nothing had happened.  Maasai men begin protecting their herds from predators when they are mere children.  If you came home short a sheep or a cow, you got a severe beating, discipline is learned at an early age, and driving off Hyenas and other predators soon becomes the most natural thing in the world.  Maasai walk across the land at night, protected by nothing but their long-knives, fearing no leopard or lion. I am honestly surprised that they can even walk, because they must have balls the size of elephants underneath their shukas.

Men slaughtering a goat for our dinner.

By the end of the night I was exhausted and I returned to my tent, immediately falling into a deep slumber, only to be rudely awoken at dawn by a herd of cattle and goats trudging past the tent in the morning.  Daytime had returned.

Getting caught with your pants down, and hunting the hunters

We welcomed the morning sun with cups of hot, steaming chai, made from fresh tea leaves and milk straight from the cow.  I would not be lying if I told you that it was the best tea I had ever had.  After breakfast, I bathed in the boma's wash hut, being careful to not touch the wall, the floor, or anything else.  By bathing, I mean splashing warm water onto your body, slightly ineffective cleaning, but very welcome, nonetheless.  After washing, it was time to take care of the more delicate matters of the human body.  There are no latrines or toilets out there, and the only way to relieve yourself is by popping a squat in the bush.  I can not explain how unnerving it is to leave the safety of the boma to go to the bathroom in the wilderness.  Nothing makes you more weary then squatting next to a pair hyena tracks, or trees where leopard are known to hide.  In the bush there is a real danger of truly being caught with your pants down.  Personally, I limited my bathroom excursions, preferring to suffer uncomfort in safety instead.

Hiking though the bush.


After the morning rituals were completed safely, we went on a hike across country with the men.  Carrying his spear, our guide led us across dry riverbeds, game paths, and through forest and shrub land.  The men pointed out gazelle tracks, monkey tracks, snake tracks, and at one point, the tracks of an Oryx and the tracks of the poachers hunting it.  The men followed the tracks for a bit to see which way they had headed.  Oryx are very rare in southern Kenya, and I can only hope that the poor animal escaped the hunters. Hunting in Kenya is illegal, and If the Maasai come across poachers, it wouldn't surprise me if they doled out some personal bush justice, via a spear in the belly (which the poachers would absolutely deserve).

Blood soup, blood meat, and bowls of blood

Goat meat basted and boiled in blood.  Quite delicious.
Throw the goat's internal organs in a pot, along with the feet, head, blood, and fat.  Let simmer for a couple of hours and then strain before serving.  Blood soup.

After the hike, we went back to the boma and began with the day's celebration.  It was my 26th birthday on Sunday, so my friend purchased a goat for me, a truly unique birthday gift.  We sat and drank beer while the Maasai skillfully killed and butchered the animal, eating the kidneys and other organs straight and steaming out of the body.

Meat.  It's what for dinner.

They carefully cut off and separated every part of the animal, wasting nothing.  They placed the good cuts of meat in a tree, upon a pile of freshly cut green branches, roasting the meat piece by piece over a tiny fire.  An elder skewered a rack of ribs on a small stick and slow roasted it for about an hour over the open flames and then presented it to me.  I gladly made sure to respectfully clean the bones with my teeth and knife till their was absolutely nothing left.  Meat is treasured out in the bush, especially during times of drought, and to leave any behind would be disrespectful.  The ribs were the beginning of a feast that lasted till nightfall, consisting of every part of the animal.  Bowls of soup made from the goat's blood, its feet, and internal organs, were passed around.  The blood soup was followed by meat boiled in blood, and then my favorite, a bloody goat's face.  I was given the honor of cutting up pieces of the face for myself and for the elders.  My friend aptly commented that nothing truly says friendship like sharing a nice goat's face by the fire. 

Scraping the hair off the face in preparation to eat the head.

Maasai chants, songs, and names (and one Maasai penis)

When all the goat was gone and the sun had set we went back into the boma for another night of visiting with the elders.  Sitting in the dung hut, we drank some more honey beer, which had further fermented since the day before and was now fiercely strong.  The men started to rhythmically chant and sing in Maasai.  The singing continued for an hour or so with people leaving the hut to relieve themselves.  One of the men must have decided that he didn't want to get up, because he whipped out his Maasai manhood and urinated right on the floor of the dung hut.   My friend told me that they perform a special circumcision practice, cutting only the top of the foreskin off, while leaving a patch on the bottom of the penis to hang out, which they jokingly call a sweeper.   The elders then gave me a Maasai name, "Meoli," meaning "a person which brings people together."  Apparently, they thought I was good at networking or something, I should probably include that in my resume in the future.  They proceeded to bless the name, having me respond periodically with something like a grunt, sounding something like, "woooeeeiii."  It was another fun night and I once again slept like a baby.  I must have eaten too much goat face the day before, however, because I woke up feeling ill.  With an uneasy stomach, I shared some soured milk with the men for breakfast, stored in a gourd and allowed to sour for four days.  Chunky and very sour, I was only able to put down a mouthful or two before I had to water the soil with my vomit.

This Maasai kid is cute enough to make you vomit too.

The children helped gather the wood for the food preparation.

Weapons of war

Before I left, I was able to purchase our guide's own spear, and a knife from one of the other men.  It was incredibly kind of them to be willing to part with their very own weapons and sell them to me.  I made sure to overpay them enough that they would be able to purchase new spears and knives from the master Maasai spear maker, nicer than the ones they sold to me.  Our friend sounded very excited to be able to buy a new spear, his own being weathered and old.  He told me that the reason the tip of my spear was slightly bent, was because this spear has the dubious distinction of having been used by him in a lion hunt.  Some Maasai still hunt lions to prove their bravery during their warrior years, with a group of young warriors sometimes tracking a lion for days before being able to antagonize it enough that it turns and charges them.  A warrior only has one chance to kill their lion, and many Maasai have been terribly mauled and killed during these hunts.  I guess it wouldn't be called an act of bravery if it was safe and easy! In his hunt, our friend successfully speared his lion through the head when it charged, bending the spear and killing the lion.  I am now the proud owner of a truly authentic Maasai weapon.  Although I don't condone the hunting of big cats, I deeply respect the bravery it takes to do so with nothing but a spear.  This weapon is definitely going on my wall.

A Maasai spear with a shuka draped over it.

Returning to the modern world

Around noon, we packed our stuff into the truck and drove back to the border, to begin our journey back to Tanzania and home.

Makeshift protection from the Kenyan sun.

When we arrived in Arusha I ordered a pizza, very thankful for food that was properly cooked and was not basted with some sort of blood. The Maasai food was delicious, but not what I am used to!

I was truly blessed to have been welcomed into the homes of the Maasai and experienced their way of life for a time.  It is hard existence, one which I truly would not want.  They have been living in the same way as far back as anyone can remember, fighting against the modern world with all their heart and soul, and proudly holding on to their traditions and heritage.   I traveled back in time and truly experienced a lifestyle contrary to anything I had ever seen before.  It was fun.

Asante sana.

-Meoli

Climbing Mt. Meru


This last weekend, my friend and I drove into Arusha National Park and summited Mt. Meru.

Mt. Meru


Usually a 3-4 day trek, we completed the roundtrip in 28 hours.  However, we had to pay 3 days worth of fees to the park and "tip" the ranger to do it in less time.  That is how it works here.  Officially, you have to do the trip in at least 3 days but if you work the system, you can do it in less.  In hindsight, I understand why people do it in three days minimum, because doing the full round trip in that short of a time was incredibly difficult and hard on the body!


Giraffes on the mountain.

So we arrived at the park at about 8 am with all our gear in hand. We started hiking out from Momella Gate through flat lands at about 10:15 am, we saw wart hogs, baboons, and lots of cape buffalo in the fields on both our sides.  The cape buffalo are the second most dangerous animals in Africa, behind the hippo, and seeing herds of them at close quarters was a little freaky.  The weather was nice, around 80 degrees and failry humid down at the bottom, with the sun beating down on us.  After about ten minutes of walking on flat ground we came to the foot of the mountain, we began ascending and wouldn't stop for 8 hours.  There is a nice road that people usually hike up to get to the first hut, but we didn't have time to take that route, so we took a shortcut.  The shortcut was essentially a straight line up the side of the mountain.  We hike for 2.5 hours and gained about 3,000 feet of altitude walking on a stony, grassy path through increasingly more wooded areas.

The hill was never-ending.

At one point, we snuck up on some Giraffes who eyed us warily for about 2 minutes before they bounded into the bush.  Giraffes look so funny in the wild, they have the goofiest faces.  I was glad that we were able to see them up close.



After 2.5 hours we made it to the first hut, most people overnight here but we just ate some food and refilled our water and then left after a while.  At this point, we were pretty firmly in a cloud forest ecosystem, with huge trees dripping with moss and vines all around us.  Clouds and fog permeated the air and whenever you walked underneath a big tree you would get wet from rain.  The climb from the first to the second hut was the worst.  About 200 meters into the leg, wooden steps appear, and they don't stop till you reach the next hut, a three hour hike.  It was absolutely brutal.  We stopped a couple of times to eat food and drink water along the way and admire the scenery.  It was delightful.

Cloud forest.
These steps sucked big time. 
Hiking through thick forest.

We finally reached the second hut, I believe it was at 11,700 feet.  We were exhausted at this point and sat down for a nice meal of canned sardines, canned mussels, and trail mix, we decided to err on the side of cheap while shopping for food!  We laid down at about 8 pm but neither of us could really sleep. At 1 am, we woke up and got ready to depart.  At 2 am, we left the hut to set off for the summit.  We knew the sun was going to come up around 6 am so we wanted to reach the top in about 4 hours.  Pretty aggressive since it was nearly a 3,300 foot climb.  The first 1,000 feet after the hut the flora and fauna reminded me a lot of southern california.  This part of the mountain experienced less rainfall and plenty of sun, a mediterranean-like climate.  Granted, I didn't know this about the plants and scenery until the descent, because during the ascent it was pitch black and we were relying on our headlamps for light.



The stars in the sky were incredible, with the whole mily way visible.  The shrubbery and trees started to dwindle more and more as we climbed and eventually we were walking on bare rock, ash, and stones. 

It got rockier and rockier all the way up.

We walked mostly on a large ridge the whole way up.  In several sections we had to physically climb up or down large areas of boulders and rock, a really hairy situation in the dark.  The last part of the ascent was all bouldering, climbing up a steep slope, rock by rock.  We made it to the summit at about 6:15 am, just in time for sunrise.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is directly to the east of Mt. Meru so we watched the sun rise over the mountain.  We were high above the clouds and below us was a massive ash cone on the east slope of the volcano.  It was beautiful.  We stayed there for about 45 minutes all alone before we headed back down around 7 am.

The sun rising over Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.

The view of Mount Meru's ash cone from the top.

I renamed it Capitalist Peak in honor of the U. S. A.!

We started our descent, delighting in the fact that we could see where we were going, now.  It took us about 2 hours to reach the second hut, where we rested for about 45 minutes.  We then continued to the first hut, the damn stairs destroying our knees the whole way down.  At the first hut we rested again, and then continued.  The last stretch was brutal.  It took us as long to walk down it as it had to walk up, 2.5 hours.  At this point my knees couldn't have hurt any worse if some maffioso had taken a drill to them.  It was not very fun.  We finally finished at 2 pm, on our way out the mountain area we were greeted with cape buffalo, warthogs, white colobus monkeys, and another giraffe.  They all came out to see us off, or to eat, whatever.  

An idiot's outline.

We checked our GPS at the bottom.  It was only 6.7 miles as the crow flies from the base of the mountain to the peak, but the actual walking distance one-way was 24 miles (23.97).  Assuming the GPS is accurate, we had walked about 48 miles round trip up a 15,000 foot mountain and back down.  Total time passed was 28 hours.  I was never so glad to take off my pack and my hiking shoes.  Last night I slept for 11 hours and could still barely wake up, and today I can barely walk.  I also have copious amounts of blisters.

I always wanted to piss off the edge of the world.

Although not as high, Mt. Meru is considered by some a harder climb than Mt. Kilimanjaro because Meru has a more difficult summit leg.  I am going to be doing Kili in August in 6 days, with porters carrying our stuff and cooks cooking our food.  It should be a piece of cake compared to our sprint up Meru!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Welcome Idiots!

People have been requesting that I start a blog about my travels and adventures.  So this is it. The blog to end all blogs.

I am proud to present, AN IDIOT IN AFRICA!


Enjoy!