– Update from the team –
Mt Meru – Miriakamba Camp
Mt Meru was all that we thought it would be and more. It was beautiful, green and diverse in it’s scenery from sheer rock faces to green and lush (almost rain forestesque) flora and some incredible wildlife namely the flying trapeze monkey that looked more like a skunk, the dik dik and the bush wak! With all its beauty, Mt Meru also provided us with a hell of a challenge. Most of us had preempted that Meru would be our hardest and this proved to be right. She gave us everything she had and then some!
We met with the guides, porters and some students from St Jude’s for the start of Mt Meru and were treated with a small game drive and some rehearsal of what happens when the gun wielding Ranger shouts ‘Cini’ (as in Fettu ‘cini’). Some confusion ensued as many of us began to discuss food and what we could have now if we could have anything instead of remembering that ‘Cini’ means drop to the ground in the case of a buffalo stampede. We were reminded numerous times that it would NOT suffice to grab a guide, porter or most importantly the Ranger as he was the one with the gun and would therefore be rendered useless. Thankfully his gun was used only for whacking back the stinging nettle and we were able to continue day dreaming about food for many of the ‘dry run Cini’ calls that we invented. Mmmmm, Fettuccini!
We were able to spend some time walking and chatting with our student guides from St Jude’s until we were left again on our own after lunch to tackle the ‘business end’ of the climb. We made it to Miriakamba Camp around 4pm and settled into our huts – yes, can you believe it!! We were all spoilt with an AMAZING view of Kili from our mess hall – WOAH!
Dinner conversation ossilated from the sublime to the ridiculous. Namely who could come up with the ‘craziest careers to write in the visitors books’ to ‘if you could hook up with any cartoon character, who would it be?” – Many if not all of the responses were disturbing as a little imagination would suggest. Needless to say we were all in great spirits and really looking forward to day 2 of the Mt Meru Challenge.
Miriakama Camp – Saddle Hut (Little Meru)
Up early for day 2. Had an incredible breakfast with a gorgeous view of Kili in the background. Simba outdid himself to ensure a special place in many of the hearts of the 2010 group particularly Boo, Jeanne, Tracie and Harvey when he proudly presented the team with some French pressed plunger coffee! – Karibu!!!
With the excitement of ‘real’ coffee and a great feed, we began the 1000 vertical metre ascent to Saddle Hut. The walk provided us the opportunity to chat, see some crazy animals, talk about our fears of animals, what animals we like to eat (with the obvious exception of Jeanne and Heather – and in some parts Rachael) and then more on to food and again, if you could any food right now what would it be. The American’s led the charge on this with lots of talk of Guacamole, Tex Mex and the likes and all the different ways you can cook cous cous (The Aussies found it more hilarious to giggle at all the different ways you can say cous cous).
All this talk of food was a great distraction to the countless steps that we tackled. The team (and the local wildlife) were kept entertained (and somewhat scared) by the sing-a-longs along the walk. Boo had her awesome playlist on the go and the rest of us managed to howl along with her great singing. When this became too much many were entertained by the Robbie Williams renditions of Jess and Harvey who were later outdone by a whole team effort of almost all and every song ever performed on stage. Think Sound of Music, Les Mis and particularly for Sheridan (or Shelidan as she is now known), Jeanne and Sarah – Rent.
We arrived at Saddle Hut and quickly made ourselves at home before those in the team who felt that they yet hadn’t walked enough began their ascent of Little Meru – the Challenge can now be renamed to 4 peaks in 3 weeks – Yer! A mixture of outfits began the ascent to a mixture of responses. Sarah choose to be the fashionista and ascent in Skins and a local shopping bag with the brand name SIMBA skirt in honor of our fearless ‘Chief coordinator’. Jess, Sarah and Harvey opted for a more ‘casual’ look in joggers and all of us took the opportunity to carry on with our model dreams and stripped down to take some sponsorship photos for Skins, Craghoppers and of our amazing Clik goggles. It was embarrassing and ridiculous to say the least – more so for the guides who weren’t quite sure what was going on or where they should look. Sheridan, Tracie and Amy really shone in their model poses and Jeanne forever the professional took what we all hope are some amazing photos – not for lack of skill on her part mind.
Dinner on the second night came early and we were run though briefly what to expect for the early morning summit – a 1 am.
The team were stoked at our culinary options of Ginger and carrot soup followed by rice and butter chicken. Again, their was an uproar of ‘wow Simba, amazing Simba, Oh simba, you’ve outdone yourself again’ and many other words of praise. Discussions continued throughout Summit of the meal as it’s affects were continuing on some in the team.
We trotted off to our huts roughly around 730 to prepare ourselves for the next day and bed. We went to sleep quickly but more so for the terse knocks that we received from the ‘next door neighbors’ for being too loud – and at such a late hour!
Saddle Hut – Summit – Miriakamba Camp
For the good grace of Niamh we were awoken at 1:15am. It appears that Simba does sleep and perhaps had either forgotten us that morning or had slept in – Some of us are still gutted that we missed out on ‘bed tea’!
We did arrive in the mess room to an array of food options and surprisingly despite the hour we were all happily eating toast, biscuits and tea and coffee before we stepped out at 2am for the final assault – that being from Meru not from us.
The beginning of the ascent led us to some false confidence and mild concerns we may have actually been on the wrong track. Not to worry however as our ‘confidence’ was quickly dashed when we were told by our guides that from here in it is imperative that we watch our step and remain alert as loose gravel and incredible narrow paths at times were going to be prevalent. NB: When I say ‘path’, think more of a one plank bridge with no hand rails over the top of loose gravel and 45 degree angled slopes. Most of us were thankful that this section was done in the darkness as upon our return (and the second time for that day) the path was a hell of a lot scarier – especially for those amongst us with fears of heights (Amy and Rachel).
The walk was long and arduous with 13 false summits – these we knew of, and much to our dismay we also had 13 lying guides with us! – the guides in their attempts to be helpful and ‘motivating’ continued to give us false hope after false hope. Statements such as ‘the Summit is half an hour away’ or ‘there it is just there’ began to grow old and mutiny was almost certain.
Avoided narrowly by our lack of energy and large amounts of concentration required for all the grappling and rock climbing most of us reverted into ourselves (into our ‘safe space’) and walked with little will to live. We were ‘assured’ once more that the summit was ‘just ahead’ and whilst many of us brushed this off to be Tanzanian Guide Humor, we were reinvigorated when Amy did in fact see the flag and it was in fact ‘just there’.
The entire team was able to be on Summit together again and this time we summited with an incredible view of Kili in the background and some absolutely breathtaking views around.
The descent was fast! Many of us acknowledged the hell that it was to get up so accepted that the best way to end this was to near on run down. Thankfully our guide, Godson, was in a rush also and set a cracking pace. Almost the entire team was reunited at Rhino Point a little while after and we were able to return to camp together to the dulcet tunes of Jeanne and Shelidan singing ‘We are the champions’ and to the open arms of Simba! – AMAZING lunch and a little afternoon rest before we descended back to Miriakamba camp.
All in all we ascended 1000m and descended 2000m. We were shattered (though still managed to eat well) and were in bed around 8am.
Miriakamba Camp – Return to Base – School of St Jude’s
Bed tea, a great breakfast and a beautiful walk back to the waiting arms of Laura – who greeted us with amazing homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and Champagne – with REAL champagne glasses!! We quickly relayed to her all of our stories and adventures – some true and some not and after a quick debrief and catch up headed off to St Jude’s.
Just before the St Jude’s stuff though, we all got to see up close and personal some grazing Masaai Giraffes. Literally walking across the tracks and standing patiently for photos – with a backdrop of Kili. We began to think that it had some how been orchestrated! A special treat for Boo on the way out of Meru also was our first sighting of the much talked up Sausage Tree. A must see for all Mt Meru visitors and none of us were left disappointed. Boo has declared a new career in the cultivation of said plant.
Right, back to St Jude’s. To write about our experience here will never be able to summate what we saw and how we felt. Bizarre and surreal are probably the 2 best words to describe it but these should be alongside inspirational, amazing and awe inspiring. We were met at the campus by Felix – our tour guide from our previous visit who showed us around the junior campus. The school is incredible! It is beautiful and clearly a place that everyone there is proud to be a part of. The library was amazing and the size of the operation just jaw dropping. We were invited to eat lunch with the students who looked at us with curiosity and bemusement – we put it down to the fact that we were yet to shower or change after Mt Meru.
We were distracted with a tour of the boarding facilities and each of assigned a student guide. The girls took us through their rooms, their study areas and living space as well as the bathrooms and the general area. There was no one who was not impressed by the cleanliness of their homes or their incredible level of organization and self regulation.
We were led out of the boarding house into what was a pre-assembled assembly – very overwhelming. Each of us were invited to walk down the aisle amongst all the students and onto the stage as the ‘guest of honor’ for the assembly. We had the opportunity to introduce ourselves (with no time to prep for this – argh) and tell the students a little something.
It is impossible to express the experience other then to say it was overwhelming. A group of students came out to the most amazing drumming and clapping and dressed each of us with a traditional African cloth, presented us with a book, St Jude’s hat and …….wait for it…..a live chicken! – hmmm? Yes!! Very random and for Shelidan, a little too much. Rachel stepped up and accepted both hers and Shelidan’s chicken and we all stood on stage for a while not really knowing what to do but finding the way in which Heather had been dressed to be incredibly hilarious.
The chickens are a considered to be a symbol of life and as such we were told that no matter if the chicken is alive or dead it will always be held in our hearts. It was overheard after we had given our chickens back that they would soon enough be dead – and in fact would be dinner tonight for those staff and students who participated so beautifully in today’s celebration. In our hearts they will remain in that case.
We’ve now returned to our hotel, Ilboru Safari Lodge, and will shower, scrub and probably shower again before dinner and a much longed for early night – with a sleep in. We will all miss our bed tea tomorrow though.