Moshi and Mt. Meru; June 27 - July 1, 2010

Our home-base of Moshi is reported to be one of Tanzania's most prosperous and educated towns, but everything is relative: Despite its political and social stability, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and therefore the world. In some ways, Moshi is similar to the many slightly touristy third-world towns we've passed through: a colorful market (photo 1), an exciting vibe in the streets, a few too many touts latching on to us hoping to sell us a tour or lead us to their favorite shop, some minor concerns about crime (if you consider "do not go out at night" minor), a few souvenir shops for the kids to make use of their travel allowance, and coffee shops (usually with internet) a magnet for the handful of Western tourists. But Moshi was our initiation to sub-Saharan Africa, which added quite a bit of novelty and interest.

After a day in Moshi, we set off on our 4-day hike up Mt. Meru. We organized both of our treks and the safari through Adventures Within Reach, an American company that partners with Eco Tours in Tanzania (with only a modest mark-up, unlike many American adventure travel outfits). The night before our trek we met Remmy Rutta, our guide for both Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro. (The link is a post-trip addition -- Emily made the website for Remmy after we returned home.) Remmy is very experienced and very cautious, excellent traits in a guide. He inspected our equipment, and he informed us he would be setting a slow pace and monitoring our water consumption, critical for acclimatization. Next most important is the cook. Moses delivered excellent meals on Mt. Meru, although the longer Kilimanjaro trek may pose greater culinary challenges. An embarrassing number of porters accompanied the expedition.

The final and most unusual member of our party was a mandatory ranger toting a rifle (photo 2, with the Mt. Meru peak in the background). The mountain and its surroundings are part of Arusha National Park
; apparently one can, on occasion, have a dangerous encounter with wildlife. During the drive to the trailhead and the first part of the hike, we saw (photos 3-5) -- though not dangerously -- zebra, giraffes, buffalo, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, hornbills, and crowned cranes, presumably giving us a small taste of what's to come in the Serengeti.

During the first two days of the hike -- making our way to the upper hut from which we would reach the summit -- the weather was disappointingly overcast. But luck was with us, and it cleared completely for our summit bid. Starting out at 1:30am for the traditional sunrise arrival at the summit, the moon was bright enough that we didn't even need headlamps. The first two days of hiking had been easy enough, but the summit hike was fairly challenging -- a combination of minimal sleep, steepness, rock-scrambling & scree-sliding, knife-edge ridges, and mostly the altitude (photo 6, taken at the 14,950' summit). But circling the rim of the ancient volcano as we descended (photos 7-9), and the views of the Great Rift Valley, were truly spectacular. Sunrise over Mt. Kilimanjaro (photo 10) was the icing on the cake.

The huts we stayed in had small but clean four-bunk rooms, perfect for our family. As usual, we enjoyed meeting an assortment of other hikers. Less usual was the group of 17-year-old students from an elite high school in Jordan, 48 strong, on their traditional school trip. They were polite and interesting to talk with, but rather loud. We didn't mind that they skipped the summit and headed down, leaving us with a peaceful third night before our own descent.

Next: Showers, repacking, and internet in Moshi, then on to Kilimanjaro


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