July 14, 2012: Day 1
9 am and there is a horde of people outside our hostel. The company we signed up with, Great Masai Adventures, brought about 500 porters. Ok, maybe more like 30. But it’s almost a 3:1 ratio out there. What do they expect to be carrying up the mountain?
Packed and ready to go, our team gave our finally good bye to Jocelyn (who we had said goodbye to a week earlier, and was still here due to some unforeseen circumstances) but it was nice to have a familiar and experienced face see us off. In we all piled to a large dala dala-bus hybrid and we were on our way!
Our hostel and the whole city of Arusha lie within the shadow of Mt. Meru. Each morning, we awake to see it peeking through the overcast sky. Thus, it did not take long for us to enter Arusha National Park, the beginning point of our adventure. We were quickly introduced to Elias, our guide, Eric, our cook, and Frederick, who was a park ranger and would be escorting us to the summit, rifle in hand. Driving along through the park, someone shouted to look to the right and a herd of zebra were seen grazing in the distance. That was all it took to raise the excitement level in our group. Eyes peeled and cameras ready, we scanned the view for any other animal sightings. One of the porters suddenly pointed ahead of us, and what do we see, but a troupe (what do you call a group of baboons anyways) crossing the road. Literally about 10-15 of them. Crossing the road in front of us. If that isn’t a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, I don’t know what it is.
Disembarking from the bus, we were unsure as to whether or not we’d be having a lunch, so we all began to unpack snacks while waiting for our porters to get organized. However, Eric shortly appeared carrying a number of small black bags: a lunch for each of us containing cooked chicken, a boiled egg, a bun, cookies, a muffin, orange, juice and a chocolate wafer bar. Wow. In total shock. How can we go wrong if this is how good we’re going to be eating throughout the trip!?
Fed and geared up, we filed into the park behind Frederick. Even upon entering, you had the sense you had just been transported to a lost island, Jurassic Park or something else completely unworldly. In front of us stretched a green plain, with a narrow river winding through it. Ahead, luscious green rocks began to rise sharply, til the cliffs were hidden behind low hanging clouds. Above them, the rocky peak of Mt. Meru emerged and hid again. Turning to your right, the plain was filled with a vast herd of grazing water buffalo. On your right, wart hogs could be spotted in the distance. And, turning completely behind you, the rising slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro formed a shadow on the horizon. Breathtaking.
Initially, our path remained fairly flat but we soon began to rise. We’d be climbing to an elevation of about 2500 m in about 3 km so the slope remained fairly steep and linear. Cindy and I, hoping to see a giraffe, held our breathe whenever we emerged into a clearing, just waiting for one of the graceful animals to raise its neck behind the next tree. Sadly, we were only able to see one, in the far off distance.
After about 4 hours of climbing through the jungle, we found ourselves at Camp 1: Miriakamba Hut at 2500 m. Now, knowing we’d be staying in “huts” before hand, I was totally unprepared for the well-developed camp in front of us. A number of cabins were nestled into the hill next to one another, along with full functioning toilets, a mess hall and a number of viewing platforms to scope out Kili in the distance and Mt. Meru growing ever larger in front of us. The cabins contained rows of rows, each with 2 sets of bunk beds. Despite being rather damp, this was again, luxury I had no expected on a mountain climbing expedition.
And then we had dinner. WOW. We were presented with dishes of warm cucumber soup, followed by pots of warm stew, vegetable salad, rice and fresh fruit for dessert. The food was all delicious. We all thought it was some of the best local food we had since arriving in Tanzania, and it was found here, a couple kilometers up the edge of Mt. Meru. We spent the rest of the evening meeting some of the other groups of climbers (including a group of biomedical engineers we had already run into at Nkoaranga and in Arusha) and taking pictures on the raised platforms. Even though this was only the first stop, it had already started getting chilly. Buddling up, we drew straws for which girl would have to sleep with the snoring group of boys (Cindy sadly lost) and we snuggled to rest for the day ahead.