Descent

After about an hour of jaw dropping sights our guide came over and told us that this was not a place to linger too long – it was time to go back down. He urged us back to the crater wall. Despite my fear I really wanted to stay longer. I could have watched for hours. There is something about the unstoppable forces of nature that enchants me, perhaps luring me to my doom. I found myself desperately needing the toilet, so excused myself, and took a crap at a secluded edge of the mountain, looking down at the valley and depositing my own lava where the mountain’s has started to flow over the edge. Returning to the rest of the group we began our descent.

Here is Stella just near the top. Below her you can see a small portion of the amazing views we could see. Photos just don’t do justice to sights that surrounds you, filling your field of vision and everywhere you look. It was astounding to look down upon such features. In an aeroplane you are too high, and can’t look directly below, but when you can see something it is similar. But the tiny windows detract. From the mountain you can see so much. Sadly the clouds do gather, and the view deteriorates, and we had to return our attention to the steep and precarious descent. This proved to be more challenging than the ascent, exercising different muscles in our still exhausted legs. Once past the rockface we could speed up a little, but the sliding gravels made it dangerous. We saw some young white Kenyans running down, jumping from side to side as if skiing. Mtui and I thought it was worth a go. It was indeed a rapid way forward, but I kept slipping over and nearly dislocating something or falling into ravines. As I ran and jumped further I started to feel the strain in my knees and ankles and knew I would no longer have the strength in my legs to control my path. I slowed down and started walking again, watching Mtui disapear. Bastard – I said to myself. Yuki and Stella caught up with me having tried the same thing and decided it was a bit too tricky. Our legs had all started to seize up. As we descended the place where the vehicle was parked seemed to retreat faster than the summit ever had. My knees started to shake with fatigue, and I slowed to a snails pace, which must have puzzled our guide who stuck with us, unlike some others who had run off ahead of their groups. In the end it took us six hours to get back down – half an hour longer than getting up! I guess we need a bit more exercise so we can run down next time!

This mountain is truly amazing – I can’t wait to give it another go, especially since my legs stopped hurting. I doubt that there are many mountians where the view from the top and the top itself battle for your attention like Ol Doinyo Lengai. I think I would rather visit again than try for the top of Kili, highest mountain in Africa or not. When I get to the top I am going to ask – Where are the volcanoes? Where is the danger? The view alone just may not be enough.

Exploring the crater floor

Now the sun had risen we returned our attention to the crater floor. Over the years since the last eruption, Ol Doinyo Lengai’s crater has slowly been filling with lava. This does not mean that there is a big old pool of bubbling red and yellow firey rock liquid. The lava cools and forms a crust, as pictured here. I believe that in some places this crust might we quite thin, disguising a dangerously hot (520�C) core of molten lava. This can be rather dangerous. I was glad to have a stick to test the ground I was walking on. After reading the page linked to above, I wish I had some leather shoes!

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Facts

Looking south from the bed of the lake we can see the holy mountain and the rift valley escarpment.

The mountain is 9650 feet high (2895 metres). The base is about 4000 feet above sea level (1200 metres). Only a climb of about 1600 metres, but over a short distance, so very steep, as you can see from the picture.

The mountain is streaked with white that looks as if a giant bird has been circling and depositing its load onto the mountain. The streaks are in fact lava flows.

All around the mountain you find black rivers of rock from what must have been very spectacular eruptions and flows in the distant past. These flows are very difficult to cross by vehicle.

We saw that some local people were trying to create ramps to aid the passing of vehicles, though I fear these will be washed away every year when the rains come.

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God’s Crater

Just near the volcano is a large crater, about 200 ft deep, known as God’s Crater.

Apparently this appeared after an eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai – I can’t remember if this was from Isaac or from Stella’s Rough Guide. It was a pretty fantastic cliff to stand on the edge of, and it helped build our excitement about the trip to come.

Another half an hours drive took us to the campsite where we would be staying, right up next to the escarpment. Mtui suggested we take a walk to some waterfalls for a shower, but since we could now see how steep the mountain was we figured that we needed to save our energy for that. Instead we asked to be taken to Lake Natron to ogle at the flamingos.

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Canyon

Heading back towards Arusha from Mto wa Mbu we took a left onto a rough track – a sign post announced 111km to Ol Doinyo Lengai. The driver warned us that this was a pretty bad road, and it would take some time, but we would have some fun all the same.

We bounced along, past a quarry with a big Japanese flag outside – a Japanese road building company is very active sorting out a lot of the nasty roads in Tanzania at the moment. After this quarry the road did indeed turn pretty bad. We pootled along at a somewhat slower pace, and Isaac pointed out various different plants to us. We drove north, parallel to the west side of the Rift Valley escarpment – spectacular scenery.

As we reached the brow of a hill I decided we were paying well for this trip, so I would stop wherever I wanted to enjoy the view – stop! I shouted. I jumped out of the car and walked over the edge of a canyon and gazed down. The wind blew past my ears. Slowly I began to notice sounds – children playing. My eyes began to pick out figures on the other side of the canyon. Then suddenly a Masai village sprung out at me. I had imagined the place deserted, but in fact the whole area has quite a few people about.

Unlike the well touristed road to Mto wa Mbu the kids were herding cattle, rather than dolling themselves up in ostrich feathers in order to charge tourists for cute pictures. Well, they were herding cattle when they weren’t throwing stones at our speeding Land Cruiser.

Anyway, the view absolutely blew my mind, and I knew that from this point on we would have a pretty good weekend. We have been here for so long, but really not benefited from the stupendous landscapes that exist in Tanzania.

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