| May 4, 2016 |
During my two-week stay in Tanzania, the EduTours Africa group organized many excursions as part of our volunteer/cultural experience package. Unlike my previous trips, I did not play a role in planning/coordinating the details of these adventures, but they’re all worth exploring when visiting Tanzania (specifically the Arusha/Manyara region). We spent a few days in Arusha, Tanzania, for our volunteer missions and explored the city in our free time. This is the first installment of attractions near Arusha!
Today’s Highlight: Mt. Meru Waterfall Hike
Coming Up Next: IBUKA DANCE Foundation, Cultural Heritage Center, Clock Tower, Mt. Kilimanjaro viewing, Maasai village visit, Maasai market, Shanga Shangaa, Kimemo Holdings Ltd.
Mt. Meru Waterfall Hike
Not going to lie, this is an “intermediate” hike, and not for the faint-hearted. Our expectations were low, and we were unprepared for the 12-mile journey. Our trusted organizer failed to do his research for the hike (if you’re reading this – don’t worry, you’re beyond forgiven!), and belittled the hike to a “three-hour” trail to a waterfall. No big deal, eh? Honestly, I was pretty disappointed at first. We were in Tanzania – the country housing the magnificent Mt. Kilimanjaro – and we were doing a lame hike to some rinky-dink waterfall. Well, oh boy, I WAS WRONG! I packed my GoPro, LowerPro all-water bag, sunscreen, and tightened my Merrell hiking boots without knowing what lay ahead. We began the trek on a road in Arusha, walking on a gradual incline through the bustling Sunday morning streets past churches with priests preaching and choirs singing.
We were told to walk on the left-hand side of the road, which is contrary to my previous knowledge. I have always been taught to walk facing oncoming traffic and, in Tanzania, there is a left hand traffic system (driving on the left side). Thus, walking on the right would be more plausible. However, motorcyclists pay no mind to pedestrians whatsoever; so if we were walking into oncoming traffic, maybe it wouldn’t give us enough time to react? I digress.
We gathered hiking sticks from our guide in preparation of the unexpectedly rough terrain (you may want to grab one of these if you have the option. I opted out, and did NOT regret it as I embraced the challenge… but you might find it helpful!):
Once we passed the streets of Arusha, we marched into a lush landscape near the base of Mt. Meru. Unfortunately, the visibility was poor on our hiking day, and Mt. Meru did not make a stellar appearance, but this did not damper the charm of the entire climb. We traversed rolling hills, Maasai village homes, plantations, and skyscraper trees with children from neighboring villages greeting us along our walk. Most children were friendly, greeting us with “Mambo” or “Shikamo,” but others tried ‘scaring’ us by throwing corn, or asking us for money. One even yelled out: TAKE A PICTURE, and then sprinted away from us. I would not recommend too many photos, as it’s not an acceptable gesture. Just enjoy the journey!
Once we escaped the encapsulating, tall, otherworldly trees, the trail opened to beautiful rolling hills and more villages:
We trekked past cows and farmers, tasted some raspberries from along the trail, and breathed in the lush landscape surrounding us. Eventually (after >3 hours of hiking), we were faced with our next challenge: a muddy, narrow downslope trail.
Fortunately, the weather held out for us (and actually resulted in multiple awkward sunburn lines), so the trail was not insanely muddy… but it was slippery enough to result in countless falls. I decided to straddle the trail, walking in the brush bordering the slick mud. Our single-file group successfully negotiated the steep inclines with the assistance of young Tanzanian boys offering handheld assistance through the terrain. Apparently, these Maasai boys travel to the trail head to assist tourists in their trek (WARNING – THEY ASK FOR A TIP!). The downslope ended at a rushing stream surrounded by a rainforest-esque, botanical landscape:
Some of us dared to remove our hiking shoes to prevent soaking them, sacrificing the comfort of our feet by walking across the rocky stream’s bed barefoot. I was one of these sacrificial souls, and certainly regretted it (eventually, I put my hiking boots back on because I have sensitive little feet!).
I walked alongside a dear friend with a sprained ankle, and we took our time negotiating the rushing water. We passed a few smaller waterfalls before – alas! – we made it to the GRAND finale. I could hear the proximity of the waterfall, like a windy vortex behind a wall of rocks. I donned my rain jacket (and put the all-weather casing on my Lower Pro to protect my camera), and took a deep breath before rounding the corner to face the powerful falls:
I was forced to inhale deeply, as if I had been holding my breath underwater for two minutes, because of the inconceivable beauty of the waterfall. Even from greater than 25 feet away, I felt the magnitude of its force, and was immediately soaked from head to toe. I altered from eyes closed to eyes open, revering its beauty. I could feel it, see it, and hear it all at once. I could think nothing but: WOW, Mother Nature is unfathomably beautiful. The water smashing into surrounding rocks created a full sensory experience – chilling, rumbling, and body tingling. It seemed as if the waterfall was alive. I could almost feel its heartbeat and found refuge in its infinite wonder. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in Love Leter to the Earth:
When we look at our planet, we know that the Earth is the most beautiful bodhisattva of all. She is the mother of many great beings. How could mere matter do all the wonderful things the Earth does? Don’t search for bodhisattva in your imagination. The bodhisattva ou are looking for is right at your feet. Mother Earth is not an abstract or vague idea. Mother Earth is real – she is a living reality that you can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see.
There, at the base of the waterfall, I felt Gaia in all her humbling power. I felt respect, gratitude, and love. The rest of the world seemed to fade away, and I turned to head back on the path with a renewed soul.
- Go on this hike! 🙂
- Bring snacks – it’s quite the journey
- Bring a change of shoes (i.e. river shoes, flip flops) if you don’t want to get your hiking shoes wet
- Pack water!
- Wear a rain jacket and make sure your gear is well-protected
- If you have a drone to video record, please bring it, and share your footage with me. I wish my collaborator/friend Talia was with me so she could’ve shot some sweet videos… next time!