Africa's Other Mountains
Having climbed more mountains than I could possibly count, or even remember, I know that the environment changes as you go uphill. But in Africa, it changes from something different to something even more different, from tropical plantations to rain forest to bamboo forest, then to the realm of the giant groundsel and giant lobelias of the Afro-alpine moorland. The Dr. Seusslike plants make me feel like I am walking in a wonderland.
On the third day, we climb to the caldera rim and then trek across to Wagagi summit, one of several peaks that jut from the rim, each the result of a volcanic eruption. At the summit, altitude sickness strikes each of us, me with a slight headache, Dan with a headache and nausea, and Roxanne full-force, head-on. We beat a hasty retreat back to our campsite, where Milton announces that he has killed and cooked the chicken; would we like some? We spend most of the day resting, each of us wondering, if we feel like this at 14,000 feet, what is going to happen when we climb Kilimanjaro?
The next day, the headaches are gone, and our group splits up. Dan and I want to detour across the caldera to the hot springs. Roxanne is still feeling a little wobbly, and chooses to take the direct route with the porters. But there is a problem. We can hear Milton and Joseph arguing quietly, in English (because they are from two tribes and speak different native languages). Milton thinks Joseph and his gun should go with us, since we are going to cross the known poachers' route. But Joseph is in charge, and he thinks the poachers would be more interested in our gear than in our person. So Milton goes with us, and Joseph stays with Roxanne and the gear. When we reunite, we notice the porters are no longer laughing and joking as they were before. There are indeed poachers about, and although they stick to their ridge and we stick to ours, our mood is somber.
Camp that night is near a rock overhangyou can't really call it a cavewhere the guides and porters huddle. At previous campsites, they slept in little huts built by the Porters and Guides Association, but here there is no hut, and they have no tents. Since the weather thus far has been what the English call "unsettled," I ask Milton what they will do if it rains. "We just endure," he says.
All the way down the mountain, I thought of that. I thought of Milton offering us the chicken, and also ugali (the local staple, a maize-meal porridge), and how he suggested that we pool our resources: our peanut butter to make a sauce to pour over his wild greens (delicious). "On the mountain, we are a team," he said, offering his plate to us, and I wished I could reciprocate with more than freeze-dried beef stew and ramen noodles. A rain jacket. A warm sweater. A pair of shoes for Francis, although he probably wouldn't wear them. But we needed our gear for the other mountains, so instead, we gave good tips, although I knew they would use the money to buy food for their families, not gear (even if it was available, which it is not). The next time I go, I will arrive with a heavy pack and leave with a light one.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in Kampala