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Locked in central differential for the next four hours we battle our way forward. Fortunately there is little wind otherwise vision would be non-existence. In the infernal growing days heat our frustrations grow. Williwaws suspension coil springs are working overtime. Fanny’s back, our backsides, our nerves, Florence tolerance of her parents. Every bit of my driving skills is tested to the limit. “Why the Fuck did you have to come this way”
From under a cloud of following dust a vehicle appears approaching us in the opposite direction. Its driver is just as shocked as we are to meet another. To the question as to how much more of this dust we must put up with we are informed that there are is no problem from bandits in the area as the police were about. How comforting.
Apparently unknown to us some Italians came a cropper a few weeks ago. They were held up by an AK47 and given their marching orders as their 4×4 disappeared into the shimmering shocking dust. “Another forty kilometres or so and you will come to a dry riverbed”. “After that its hunky dory”. On we press over one dry riverbed after another. Up rock cuts covered in thick layers of dust, which at times consumes Williwaw, blocking out all daylight. Remote is not the word. As we bounce over the millionth bump a glimmer of blue confirms water in the distance.
The dust changes to hard basil ash with stones strewn all over the joint. Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai the holy mountain of the Masai comes into view. Standing at 3231 meter it has being squirting since 1966 the source of our dust. Photo No —cd
Pitch No 105 is in a narrow canyon out of which clear fresh water flows. After such a day the water is a Champagne magnet. To the shirking protesting of the resident baboons its off with the gear and plunge in. Our campsite an enclosed wooden/ broken corral is run by a Maasai family. It consists of one of the few grassy patches in the area with a few trees.
To our surprise we are not the only visitors – Overlanders with their group leader. They have arrived from Mombasa in a hired jeep with the intention of climbing Mt Lengai but their jeep has run out of fuel (Petrol) and there is none to be had in them these parts.
The owner and driver of the Jeep is none pulsed by the problem, he is not in the least disturbed that they might have to wait a few days for fuel to arrive. His attitude LIKE MOST AFRICANS is that it is resolved when it is resolved so why not relax in the mean time. Isn’t the group leader white with a wallet of money? What is there to worry about? Longitude : 35° 90 E
Latitude : 2° 75 S
Altitude : 2898 m
After such a trying day we sleep late. By the time we surface the governor of all movement in Africa – the sun – is well in charge. Our fellow campers have long departed to climb Lengai, The Mountain of God which has to be considered somewhat of a mind-boggling feat in the heat of the day. We on the other hand set forth to explore the gorge. The smooth river rocks promise a deep pool somewhere. Following the crystal clear water once more to the protest of large male baboons we work our way up river. Progress is slow but at least it is in the shade. After twenty minutes a deep pool of exquisite beauty rewards us. Three vines of cascading water flow from a cave that leads finally to an impassable surge of water. If I ever had the money to build a swimming pool this would be it. Totally renewed in a cooling breeze that is funnelled up the gorge we return to camp.
A sorry sight awaits us the Mount Lengai task force is back in camp half dead. Apparently according to the local Maasai sign language it is quite often that a helicopter arrives to take a pounding fluttering heart away. The bedraggled bunch bum a lift on a passing truck promising to send a can of fuel back to the driver who seems rather relieved that they have gone.
Later that evening I arrange with Danny Maasai, spear and all for a night assault on the home of Eng’ai, (GOD) Ol Doinyo Langai 2.751° S – 35.902°E (pronounced ol doyn-yo len- guy).
After another day in the glorious water of our magnificent pool I get a kick through the tent. Danny in his red checkered robe is standing in the moonlight with the top of his spear gleaming. I awake a bleary eyed Fanny; pack a few high-energy bars and water. Slip on my Cat walking boots, a hat and some high PH suntan oil. With the spear sticking out the window Danny points the direction. On emerging from the camping site the Volcano comes into view almost immediately. The moon’s reflective light holds it in relief against the surrounding bare foothills. It looks tranquil enough not stirring, helpless and unmoving. All around is hushed into the depths of the night sky. Its presence gazes down on a world in sliver light while its blackness invites death without terror.
One hour later looking up towards the summit I realise that one of the greatest objects of life is sensation. I feel exceptionally alive. While Danny stands beside me shoeless I check with Fanny that she can make it back to pick us up in one-piece. There were a few dry riverbed crossings on the way that required some skilled driving. “No bother”
The Break lights of Williwaw disappear and reappear several times before I give up looking over my shoulder. Danny up ahead is setting that long endurance pace and rhythm of walking where he glides along without any bending of the knees effortlessly. It not long before we are climbing.
Langai does not require crampons or roping together. From a distance it might look like a toy volcano because of its candy white sugar-coating. In fact it is a demanding climb of some eight hours. (Top TIP: Not be tackled in blazing sunshine like mad dogs land English men.) A volcanologist dream it has being described as the perfect laboratory volcano. The only volcano too squirts natrocarbonatite lava in the world > highly fluid lava, far less hot than ordinary lava. Newly solidified lava is black with crystals that sparkle in the sun, while the moving lava looks like black olive oil or brown foaming mud that turns white on contact with moisture.
I soon find out that the solidified stuff that has been lying about for some time is so soft that my boots sink into it with great ease. There is no way I am going to make it too the top if I try to keep with Danny’s dangling balls that come in view every time I take a look upwards.
He doesn’t mind if I make it or not for him the summit is a place of pilgrimage where his people request their God for rain, more cattle, or for a barren wife to be blessed with a child > For me it all about pace.
After three hours he calls a halt. All communication is by sign language. An offer of a bit of high-energy bar gets a distant look of disdain. Water is also refused. A jab of the spear indicates the route up. We jump a dry lava channel some meters deep but less than a few feet wide. The going gets steeper and I get blacker. Apparently Langai lava breaks down so quickly you can tell its age by its colour. Black just out of the oven, muddy browns and greys a few hours old, frosty white a few days.
Seven hours later we arrive at the rim. It’s still dark. Frozen in silver escaping fizz ejects from one of the many active vents onto the caped floor.
In the airless gleam of a waning moon the stuff jingles like breaking glass. I have the energy of a semi-invalid. Even Danny is sweating heavily as we look down onto a land from outer space. My legs need to rest. We sit and rest and cool off. Danny sits crossed legged; slowly blinking with his unfathomable eyes he smiles. It’s a place for angels. They say that travel broadens the mind; this place blows your mind asunder.
The first peep of day scatters light over the weirdest place I have ever stood on dry land. Hypnotised by so much beauty and by the presence of the earth’s heart throbbing less than sixty meters away the erupting hornitos (Vent/steep hollow pinnacle) shoot orange lava skywards.
The whole scene amplified in the dark is immensely moving. It makes ones head spin. On each and every explosion, waves of illumination sweep out over the dust coloured floor of the crater. It’s like creating a Hubble penetrating vision of an alien planet.
The Japanese have a word Aware, for the feelings that arise from the beauty of an Ephemeral thing. Up here one can’t help but to be aware. It is one of those places where deep thoughts penetrate the mind.
Looking at Danny with his spear I wonder is the technological industrial collective machine trying to enchain the whole of nature – put the whole lot to work for the sake of human self-indulgence and human supremacy is not the decisive evil of our modern age.
The first rays of the new day drew back the curtain of surrounding darkness. A hot descent is promised.
Without or with shoes nothing would entice Danny down onto caped floor for a photo session. So my first step on to the crust is a faltering one. A meandering flow eight inches wide invites a dipping of the finger to see if it is hot. It might look cool but the sole of my boots feel sticky so I resist getting my first lava burn.
What a sensation walking towards a rumbling vent with activity all around formations change before your very eyes. Photo no -cd
Returning to Danny on the rim the view of the surrounding landscape is breath-taking. Not a building, road, to be seen as far as the horizon only barren ground parched of water. To our left a range of mountains bearing their geological birth marks run in the direction of where we should see Williwaw appearing from. Sure enough a distant dust trail marks Fanny progress. Danny spear jabs in her direction it time to descend. Within minutes Danny has disappeared. Like a skier he criss-cross his way down at speeds away beyond my capabilities. My technique is more to do with on the bum than standing.
It is obvious on catching up with him only because he has stopped to see me over the lava jump that he is highly pleased with himself. The jump back is not quite as easy as coming up. This time the jump platform is lower than the landing platform. It requires a two-stage leap. First onto a ridge, than follows a large step up on to a rock and lastly a leg over the top. The Lava below concentrates the mind.
Once over, Danny points with his spear in the direction of Williwaw. She is nowhere too be seen. We take a rest, still no sign. There could be on other dust trail approaching so where has she gone. Danny hits the deck some twenty minutes before I do. No Williwaw. No water left. Nothing for it Danny’s spear says walk. Seven kilometres from the base of the mountain we find Fanny with Williwaw stuck in the sand of a dry riverbed. I look a sight covered from top to toe in black dust, tongue hanging out like a panting dog. Water, water is all I can utter. A few rocks under the wheels and we say adieu to the Mountain of God.(Footnote it erupted lucky some years later)
Next morning taking a guide in the form of a fellow that wants a ride up-country we break camp. The way ahead is reported to be bandit land and therefore rumour has it that it is dangerous. Our route is Lake Natron and then up over the Gol mountains into the Serengeti. We arrive without much difficulty on the southern shore of Lake Natron one of East Africa largest breeding ground for Flamingos. During the breeding season one of the earth’s weirdest pompous looking birds converge here in their ten of thousands.
Daily they Hoover the whole lake for microscopic invertebrates and algae until they turn themselves and lake turn into a lighter shade of pink. Protected by Lake Natron’s unbearable heat, undrinkable water, and un-walkable mudflats they prance in flocks up to 100,000 thousand at a time eating tons with their upside down sieving bills. One of natures most photographed birds from the air; they form long queues to drink, enact mass takeoff when attacked and provide pictures of helpless isolation when an awaiting fish eagles swoops.
Our attempt to get a closer for a look by driving out on the baked mud fails when it starts shows signs of leakage. We settle for a distant sizzling view before climbing up from the lake floor on a rocky twisting track that put Williwaw tyres through the shredder. With our guide assuring us on several occasions that this is the way for the next three hours the anxieties of some of Williwaw efforts test us all. Many a section requires advance survey to avoid wheel spin, stones, tree stumps, and potholes > with some sections requiring a second and third attempt to make it up. On reaching the top of the climb our guide smells like the mud on the lakeshore – rotten eggs. God only knows what we smelt like.
“From here on in to Loliondo is a piece of cake – Boss.” Not to mention the bandits. Following from a high the lake western shore we arrive late afternoon. Loliondo could be one of those Australian outback settlements in the middle of nowhere. A few houses surrounded by a few fields, a large man- made trench containing mossy infected water, and a campsite. Pitch No 106 is under the watchful eye of the Maasai guard.
Our guide eventually gets the message that it time to scram and go on about his own business. Our Maasai guard is a handsome bloke, gentle, shy inquisitive and obliging muscle with classical Maasai ear lobes. We bucket shower, while he rustles up a three stone fire to cook the evening meal. Over the meal with a cold beer his smile is wonderful every time he finally understands what we are trying to explain. Like so many Africans they have no concept of Africa. Their world is there world. He demonstrates the throwing on of his single piece of cloth, which fell from one shoulder over his tall body. Standing with his long blade spear we are assured that no intruders shall disturb our sleep. This is Maasai land land. Tomorrow we cross into the land of cattle, wildebeest and the never-ending plains of the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara.
(To be continued)
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