Mission Meru: Accomplished

This is our idea of fun? Up at 1:30 in the morning to scrape, claw and gasp our way up 3000 feet in the dark on less than 4 hours sleep? Honestly.

But it was fun under the high full moon. The silver lit forest, the silhouette of Kilimanjaro across the western horizon, the narrow rock bridge with steep drops on either side. Even the scrambling up and down rock faces was all high adventure good fun.

It’s a very good thing we sufferred the ascent in the dark because had we seen the terrain laid before us, each step would become that much heavier with discouragement. The not-fun part began once we hit the sandy slopes that marked the last 1000 feet. From here the trail got steeper and the rockier sections more frequent. Steps and breath got shorter and shorter and the urge to stop stronger and stronger. Pole, pole, as they say in Swahili. Slowly, slowly. This is the iron-man of walking meditation.

At 14,980 feet, Mt. Meru is 570 feet higher than Mt. Rainier but much more accessible since it is not a technical climb. Still, altitude does funny things to the mind and body (none of them fun). Ofer felt heavy nausea and in my speech the words came thick on the tongue. Others in our group got racing hearts and headaches. But our feet and hands were warm and the weather more than cooperative so we had only to stop for those extra breaths. Step by oxygen-deprived step we picked off the inches to the top.

Stay tuned for photos of the extra fun descent with phenomenal views. In the meantime, plenty of images of Mt. Meru and its ash cone on the web.

Made it to the top


Last night we went to bed around  7pm and got up at midnight to go up to the top of mt meru (4,566 m/ 14,980 ft). We started from saddle hut (3,570 m) and climbed during full moon for about six hours. The scenery during the night was magnificent and then when descending we had magnificent views of meru crater and ashcone (I encourage you to search for images online).

We both had some symptoms of altitude sickness, but we just went slowly and with the help and encouragememt of our guides made  it to the top.

On the day two we got to talk to some of the other hikers. Two japanese women from the japanese embassy in cairo, a group of medical workers from minnesota volunteering in arusha and an intern at the imternational court for the genocide in rwanda ( court is located in arusha)


Mariakamba Hut 2515m/8250 feet


Is this backpacking?  Arrived at first night campsite on four day climb up Mt Meru.  Spotless wood cabins with bunks for four, solar powered light, showers and toilets (also spotless), and our porter just handed us felt covered hot water bottles.  Now that’s a first.

Ok.  Aside from luxury camping at the Hilton Meru, we passed through canopies of moss draped Dr. Seuss trees and saw Colobus monkeys leaping around high up above as well as a girafe munching away.  Most extraordinary landscape today was Meru Crater  Looked like direct inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar.

Pictured here is a giant ficus.  So big a car can pass underneath.  I believe its actually two ficus grown together to create an underpass.



Habari..we’ve been in tanzania for a week now. we have been staying in N’datou a small village outside Arusha in north TZ.

We can see mt meru towering above the village. we start climb it tomorrow and be on the mountain for four days.

During our stay here we volunteered at a local nursery school. The kids are aged two and a half to six and spend three and a half hours there. it is a private school partially sponsored by our outfitter Duma Explorer. They study english, Swahili, math and bible. The local language is amehru but primary instruction is all in swahili. secondary imstruction im TZ is in english.

We taught the kids ‘the hokey pokey’ and ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and also worked with them during individual activities. They have very few resources but some kids have made great progress yet others that are stuggling. Even the latter will likely have an advantage over others once in public school.

The children are very sweet and well behaved.


The kids’porigi time.

We have been taken care by Julius who cooked for
us and has been helping us with our swahili.


The village has only one paved road leading to a missionary hospital. Most people grow corn, coffee and bananas as cash crops in addition to other work that they can find.


i am typing this on my phone, so excuse me for being lax on capitalization formatting and spelling. i have some audio files also waiting for posting, but have been struggling with technical difficulties. stay tuned.

tutaonano …. see you later

Just for Laughs

“Every successful business partnership depends on the right relationship.”

A billboard we saw on the way out of Capetown’s airport. I believe it was a bank advert. Two men are on a golf course, one golfer, one caddie. One black, one white. Now who do you think the caddie was, the black dude or the white?

The Soweto Dash

Oh, poo. We didn’t schedule enough time for Johannesburg. Not that we intended the 24-hour layover to suffice, but word to the wise – don’t skimp on Jo’burg. I already regret not having the time for a deeper visit.

We wanted to visit the Apartheid Museum and take a bike tour through Soweto, but the driving distance between the two was too long and the museum closed early. Since we had booked our room in Soweto, the bike tour won.

Soweto is the mecca of South African freedom history. Mandela lived here. Desmond Tutu was his neighbor, and it was here that thousands of high school students organized a demonstration to protest a government edict forcing Afrikaans as the language of instruction for all core coursework. (For comparison, it’s worth noting that the USA had similar forced language policies toward Native Americans, and that the goals of such programs were intended to subjugate native peoples by stripping them of their language and providing inferior education in English.) The students, some as young as 8, staged their protest on June 16, 1976. I was only 8 years old in June 1976 when so many Soweto school children were killed, but I remember being confused by the tv news. I was flipping channels looking for game shows. Did they just say the police killed all those kids?

We stayed at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, a hostel in the heart of Orlando West, one of Soweto’s more politically infamous “starter” townships. We scheduled one of their rides through town (which is some 3 million strong), and like Nathie in Langa, our tour guide was a sharp young man in his early 20s. He explained the origins of the township, its developing history, and treated us to some traditional beer made from sorghum. We had our drink at a shebeen (lots more to say about these but I’m too lazy), where all the Zulu elders hang out from the early morning sipping and chatting. The elders dressed us up in traditional hats and jewelry and walked us through the ritual of passing the kalabash. Like many other aspects of black life, the Apartheid government forbade black people to drink alcohol, so blacks hid their home brew in milk cartons. Today the industrial version is sold in white and red quart-sized milk cartons as “Joburg Beer.” Clever!

Onward we peddled down a narrow dirt lane puddled with runoff from the outdoor communal water taps and washwater. The otherwise tidy little homes had no plumbing of any kind so all of the dishwashing, laundry and toileting took place at the communal facilities outside. Along the way children shouted hello and held out their hands for a high-five, and if we stopped long enough (which was often because of zig-zag riding to avoid ruts and splashing gunk), the youngest children would rush our bikes to climb aboard. Tsepo said we’d likely get hijacked.

Of course, just like Langa, Soweto has its Beverly Hills and neighborhoods all along the spectrum. For all the trash and ramshhackle housing we passed, we saw equal amounts, if not more, new housing with clean streets and updated city services, such as street lamps, electricity and water.

Alas, the bike tour was the absolute bare minimum we could manage with the time we had. It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was plenty to remember we won’t shortchange Johannesburg on a future trip.

Arrived Arusha

We had a few days of hopping from city to city flying each morning and arriving mid day. A day in Soweto (Jennifer has a forthcoming post).  A day in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and then took a small plane to Arusha this morning. if you zoom into the photo you can see our first look to Kilimanjaro peeking through the clouds.


In Dar and Arusha, lots of people in the street, hawking , fixing stuff and making things like furniture. Across our hotel in Dar we saw construction workers on a four story building working barefoot with no machinery whatsoever let alone scaffolding or hardhats. In that respect, south africa is the “Royalty” of Africa – Much more developed despite it still having millions living in poverty.

Langa Township

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Langa, Capetown’s oldest township.  Our guide and Langa resident was Nathie, a young college grad with entrepreneurial spirit and a quick sense of humor about South African politicians. He picked us up in the morning and we took a short drive toward the airport.  Along the way, he explained various Xhosa rituals and rites of passage and how Langa got started back in 1923.  Today the community supports the tours as a way to create opportunity where little exists and to combat negative press townships often receive.  We were impressed when he told us the popularity of his company’s tours rank them the #3 thing to do in Capetown.

Township tours could appear rather gauche to the American tourist. The voyeurism is unsavory – a bunch of well-heeled foreigners placing a community’s poverty on display.  But I suspect American discomfort with poverty in general makes it difficult to see the larger picture. Today’s township is not a lot unlike the larger city environs. On its own terms, it has its elite, its middle and its lower bars.  It has cultural features residents wish to showcase and share, and unlike other tours, they offer a socio-political discussion tourists can’t get in gift shops, wineries or art galleries.  The township community is just as interested in taking advantage of tourist dollars as their more mainstream kin.

When we stepped out of the van, I could just as easily have landed in my own southeast Seattle neighborhood, except the Langa homes were brick and the streets cleaner (at least in this part). We began our walk through the neighborhood at the community’s visitor center, where else? Inside we met artists eager to sell (but not at all pushy), potters working on their designs and children who dangled from Nathie’s legs. Residents can participate in pottery classes or use the space to sell hand-made crafts and jewelry.

From the center we began our walk through the neighborhood with Nathie explaining how residents set up their own businesses with whatever resources they could find.  We saw barbershops and fruit stands run out of shipping containers, hair salons on the front porch and sheep barbecues in what appeared to be burn rubble.  We visited the home of one family whose matriarch ran a roosterbrood (small grill roasted bread, served plain or filled with meat or cheese) bakery out the back side of the house.  She rose every morning at 2 a.m. and closed some 400 breads later, usually around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon.  Her son designed a popular T-shirt sporting the Langa name across the chest.  Yes, I bought one.

Throughout our walk, Nathie pointed out the differences between the upper, middle and lower sections of the township, and he even took us through the Beverly Hills of Langa, as they like to call it.  To the American eye, the homes are all quite modest and tidily kept.  But as Nathie explained, even when a Langa resident “makes it big,” like many soccer and cricket players, they often choose to stay in the township because of the tight knit community.  (Plus, he joked that non-township neighbors wouldn’t take kindly to ritual slaughters of sheep.) Other families remain in cramped quarters because they can save more money to afford better schools for their children.

The entire tour start to finish took just under three hours and we ended with a quick peek at a youth group project that Nathie leads – Happy Feet. Happy Feet is a troupe of neighbourhood kids who learn gumboot dancing, a tradition begun and made popular by South African miners.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to insert pictures of the great time we had.  Hope to get those up as soon as possible.  Again, contrary to what we had read in the guide books, we felt completely safe.  Children ran freely in the streets and played in their yards and playgrounds.  Clearly their parents weren’t worried.  But we took a day tour, which is what most would do.  At one point we had considered one of the B&B  opportunities, but even Nathie explained that his company deliberately chooses not to offer night tours because of security worries.  Well, maybe on our next visit.