This weekend we decided it was time to get off our asses and do something exciting. Our friend Stella was in her last week in Tanzania before returning to London and was coming up to visit us. So I organised a trip to the Masai holy mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai – Mountain of God! This mountain is at the bottom of Lake Natron in the Rift Valley. It is an active carbonatite volcano – in fact the only one in the world that still spews lava. Gazing down into a pit of red bubbling lava was just too much to resist, and since our friend Stella was coming to visit before heading back to London, we figured a trip there was an absolute necessity.
On Wednesday night I sought out our friend David Mtui to see if he would be able to organise a trip there. He has a safari company called Nature’s Gift – at one point I suggested with that name he should offer naturist safaris to those who want to spend a day naked with lions and giraffes – and he has been harping on about why haven’t we sent any clients to him yet, so I thought I’d chuck some custom his way.
The next day he came back to me, and told me how excited he was about the trip, which would include a visit to Lake Natron, East Africa’s only breeding ground for flamingos.
Whenever I tried to ask him the price he changed the subject to how exciting the trip was. Eventually he relented, and told me – $900. Nine hundred! I exclaimed – that is ridiculous, you must be joking… Your average budget safari costs $90 a day per person. He was wanting to charge us $300 each for climbing a mountain outside a national park. Well, I was ready to drop the whole idea right there and then. Eventually he came down to $180 each, and this would involve some cutting corners – yeah right, like he was going to give us anything different for $900. I didn’t have time to research what a reasonable price actually was, so rather than settle for another weekend at home, I opted just to go for it. I am glad I did!
So Saturday came, and I felt pretty stressed out about the trip. Mtui’s attempt to charge our combined monthly salary for the trip hadn’t exactly endeared him to me, and now we were entrusting him with a climb up an active volcano and he was admitting that it would be done on the cheap. I put my fears aside and we boarded the Land Cruiser that turned up. Our driver Isaac quietly sped us to Mto wa Mbu – which he dubbed “Mosquito Creek”. At this stage we discovered that Mtui had only packed a couple of litres of water each for the trip, so we insisted we stop to get more – in a desert area like Natron a person needs at least 2 litres a day, and that is when sitting about, not hiking up mountains. We also bought a kilo of peanuts, which turned out to be raw – I tried to convince Yuki that this was what was in trail mix – it is isn’t it?