Mt Meru: Hakuna Matata

One thing people often forget to mention about the Tanzanian landscape are the radiant fields of sunflowers that decorate the country from one end to the other. I suppose when there are giraffes, buffalo, elephants, zebra, and other cast members of the Lion King it’s easy to forget the sunflowers, but in our bus journeys I enjoyed passing the seemingly endless fields.

The more details I saw of Tanzania the more impressed I was and happy to have visited. To be fair, though, we only managed two complete adventures in this country. The first was a visit to the island of Zanzibar, where the snorkeling, beach-walking, and the famous spice tour were the best things we did. The spice tour, in particular, I loved; only a week later from the valuable lessons from our guide, Abdul, I was able to correctly identified a ginger plant in the wilderness of Arusha National Park. Plus, there were many other interesting facts, like the fact that in Zanzibar vanilla is artificially grown, as the pods have to be hand pollinated by farmers every morning (“What do you do?” “I’m a vanilla pollinator”), or the fact that in cinnamon trees the root, bark, and leaves all have completely different smells and tastes: the roots smell like Vaporub! Or that all kinds of pepper corns (black, red, green, white) come from the same plant but are at different levels of maturity. If you do not find these facts interesting, perhaps you are the kind of person who doesn’t question the world around you, and perhaps you’re fine with that. I’m not judging you, or anything, but get off my blog.

The second adventure in Tanzania was climbing Mt. Meru. I know what you’re thinking; why not climb Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain of Africa and right in front of Mt. Meru. Frankly, it was first a matter of the cost of this particular tourist attraction, for which you’ll need $2000. The more we learned about the two mountains, however, the more convinced we were that Meru was the better choice. Guides and agents alike said that while Meru is a more challenging mountain to conquer, it is more rewarding and interesting than Kili. Plus, from Meru we got astounding views of the largest mountain of Africa.

One could easily spend a fortune climbing Mt. Meru, particularly if hiring one of the many adventure outfits that take groups of tourists on the four-day ascend. We opted to try to do it all independently, which was a bit stressful at first because we were told we needed all kinds of things and people and it was hard to discern which of those were actually required by Tanzanian law and which were add-ons to hike the price. The first clue was the ‘compulsory’ cook who had to come. Perhaps I’m just stubborn, but to me part of the fun of climbing a mountain is fending for yourself; eating becomes a matter of practicality. You do not go up a mountain to be served a gourmet meal, it’s unnatural. But clearly this is not a popular theory, and we were the only musungus who cooked our own modest meals, while everyone else sat waiting at the table, complete with ketchup, chilli sauce, and even a table cloth!

Instead of the armies of people other tourists had with them to carry, cook, guide, keep a lookout, heat water for washing their hands, etc, we ended up hiring two porters, Honest and Michael, and one ranger, Paul, who turned out to be lovely and helpful and sometimes at odds with our insistence of cooking for ourselves.

It was a lovely trek, even if my knees tend to disagree. In my experience, climbing mountains entails the following thought process: “This mountain is how high? Sounds great, let’s do it – I am on a mission, a test, and I will persevere – This is going well, I’m stronger than I give myself credit for, this is going to be a piece of cake! – Dude, I’m tired, I think that blister just popped inside my shoe… what!? Another rocky bit?!! This is bullshit! How can they expect me to do this?! – No, please, I don’t want to go up this stupid mountain anymore – I’m going to die, why the hell did I go on this suicide mission? – I’m done, seriously, if the top is not around this corner, I’m turning back – OMG!!!! I MADE IT! I’m awesome! This is the most beautiful place on the face of the Earth! – Down? I don’t know what you mean – Shit, suddenly I’m in a very high, very dangerous place, why am I here? – I hate going down, I hate going down, I hate going down… – Look! I made it! There AND back; I was on the top there, and now here I am! That was amazing! – Another mountain? Sure!

And so, the adventure in Tanzania ended with the prospects of the next challenge: Mount Kenya. Asante sana, Tanzania.

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