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The Village and the Waterfall

The Village and the Waterfall
 
 

AFTER packing my backpack ready for tomorrow's climb of Kilimanjaro I met Gary and Dawn outside our rooms for a short walk to one of the local waterfalls. I had been testing the big lens out photographing some tiny birds that were pecking at the short bright green grass for tiny insects. They had reddish brown bodies and bright blue beaks.

When Dawn appeared the birds fluttered off. She and Gary needed to go and withdraw money from the local bank. Thomas the taxi driver who brought me here from the airport last night had told me that if I wanted to leave the hotel compound, I really should take a guide with me. He said there are guides approved by the hotel, and other guides who say they are approved by the hotel, but are not. The guides that are approved by the hotel will charge about five dollars. Goodness knows what the others would charge recalling my recent experiences in souvenir shops in Kenya.

Stream running through Marangu
Stream running through Marangu

By now I had learnt not to trust locals here. The entire concept of fair trading was non-existent in this part of the world, so as we approached the gate I became very suspicious. Now I decided that three of us walking together were going to be a big enough crowd to prevent any problems. I was carrying both my cameras, expecting to see a few strange birds potentially necessitating the use of the telephoto lens.

No sooner did we reach the sidewalk than Gary began to befriend one of the guides outside. The guide was well presented with an off-white shirt and dark cream trousers and a fairly new pair of boots. I wanted to warn Gaz, but couldn’t work out a way of doing it discreetly. I walked behind them with Dawn walking beside me up the road towards the slope of the mountain which still eluded us.

Aleck the guide introduced himself. We walked past the houses of some of the relatively wealthy people who lived up here. These houses were quite impressive. They were well hidden though behind huge security gates and fences cutting their owners off from the real world out here so it seemed. We noticed a jackfruit tree. This was by far the largest I had ever seen before. Dawn and I were talking about our lives back home, and what we did. By now Gary was quite friendly with our guide Aleck, so I decided to go with the flow accepting we will be hit quite hard financially again at the end of the short walk up to the bank.

Ruins of an old house
Ruins of an old house

We finally reached the bank. Two armed guards were standing outside. They started to approach us, but Aleck reassured them. Dawn went to the ATM machine, but couldn’t get money out, so they both went into the bank leaving me outside with Aleck and the guards armed with their AK-47s and me equally armed with my cameras.

Aleck told me he was one of the many porters who worked on the mountain. He would go up about twice a month. Most fit men living here similarly worked as porters. For most this was their only source of income. There was otherwise very little work here. During his time off, Aleck would keep himself going by conducting the small village tours as he was doing now. The porter work on the mountain was very sought after for the local Chugga people. Unemployment around this part of Tanzania was around eighty percent. No wonder they had armed guards at the bank.

Finally Gaz and Dawn returned having successfully withdrawn the shillings they needed. I was relieved having done the multiple bank thing in the grim darkness of Moshe last night. At least they had daylight, two armed guards and a guide. I on the other hand only had a taxi driver and the total darkness of night in an alley. Now I’ve just found out that on top of that it was a dark alley in the middle of a large town with an eighty percent unemployment rate.

We left the bank and continued walking up the road. I asked Gary what we were doing, and he said Aleck was taking us through the village to the waterfall he wanted to see. Gosh, there’s more money gone I thought. This was potentially turning out to be a very expensive walk.

We diverted up a dirt road running steeply uphill through a small shanty market area. The market quickly gave way to forest sheltering the tiny homes of the local porters. This reminded me of some of the rural villages I had seen in Central Vietnam. We followed a forest road around the hill until reaching a school. A couple of vans full of children passed us entering the school grounds. The kids were singing and yahooing as if they had won Lotto. They were certainly a lot noisier and happy than the children in the schools in any other country I had been to. Sadly it seems there is happiness in poverty.

Crops
Crops

We continued further up the hill, passing a large outdoor seated area set up as a church. No one was there yet, but it was obvious some sort of a service will be starting soon, or perhaps it has already happened.

The terrain continued to roughen as we continued walking through the village. I already felt like I was on the mountain. In fact I was. This was about fourteen hundred metres up the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the southern extreme of where part of the rift valley has torn apart letting a huge amount of magma through to the surface over the past couple of million years. At this stage I had no appreciation of just how big the mountain was yet. After all the summit hadn’t revealed itself to me since I had flown past it yesterday.

The houses nestled here were real shanties with rusting corrugated iron roofing over mud brick houses. Every house had its own yard with bananas and vegetables aplenty enough to sustain the families that lived in them.

We finally reached a wooden small hut at the edge of a deep gully. One man was sitting in the tiny hut sharpening a small machete. The hut marked the entrance to the waterfall. Our guide approached him and quite gleefully announced that we needed to pay five dollars each to go to the waterfall. Dawn and I exchanged glances – Africa - the land of the unconscionable upsell.

Anyway the machete looked very sharp so we paid up without protest. The guard quickly counted the money and with the sharp end of his machete he pointed us in the direction of the track, a small overgrown entrance through the thick undergrowth. We turned left and followed the slightly overgrown narrow trail steeply down the gully. Soon we reached a hairpin bend with some big steps before heading upstream now that we could hear the stream below. We were now entering thick undergrowth typical of a damp gully microclimate. Here the view was mostly concealed, but when we did see through the foliage, I could see a moss covered cliff on the other side.

I was falling a little behind both Gary and Dawn. They were both very fit thanks to their work back in Brisbane as arborists. Such an occupation required a high level of fitness. Aleck was obviously very fit as well. On the other hand my fitness wasn’t the best. I had put my back out a little a few weeks ago forcing me to stop training for a while. Additionally the weight of my cameras was slowing me down. For a few brief moments I started to wonder whether I would be able to cope with climbing the mountain. If I was struggling here on a small track down to the waterfall, then how would I cope with the mountain?

Gorge
Gorge

We continued following the steep damp trail for a few more minutes before suddenly reaching the small river. To our right stood a derelict hut nestled in amongst the thick forest. To our left the crystal clear stream bubbled over the grey boulders. The hut was clad only in well-spaced small branches, and it had a fairly fresh thatched roof of dried out banana leaves.

We followed a trail through the grassy bank for a few metres before seeing the magnificent waterfall. It was one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

The water plunged some thirty metres down an almost vertical rock face which would have perhaps been the end of an ancient lava flow. The water cascaded into a large pool at the bottom, where to the left a smaller stream tumbled into it without any waterfall. Combined the streams came out of the pool and gently cascaded down the steep gully. The waterfall and gully were covered in a mixture of broadleaf climbing vegetation and ferns. There were quite a few ferns growing in between the boulders on the flat. No doubt they would cling for dear life when the stream floods. The pool itself was a little turbid but otherwise perfectly inviting apart from a small dead tree with no leaves that had no doubt been washed over the waterfall during a flood a few years ago.

Our guide looking for fish
Our guide looking for fish
With the guide at the waterfall
With the guide at the waterfall

The sound of the water tumbling down the waterfall was very serene, mingling in well with the calls of the strange birds in the trees unseen. It made for an extremely peaceful setting, the sort of place you would want to come for a few days’ silent retreat.
In front of the pool was a large flat boulder, where we took turns getting out photos taken. I gave Dawn a quick lesson on using my camera, and framing a good shot. She actually did a very good job especially considering they only had a credit card camera between them.

Waterfall plunging into pool
Waterfall plunging into pool
Returning down the gorge
Returning down the gorge

I posed with Aleck, still looking very slick with my brand new boots which I had bought only a few weeks ago. They looked new now having only been worn on this trip, but I wondered what state they will be after I have worn them for the next five days up the mountain. I know from past experience that volcanoes wreak havoc on boots, and they always seem to come out second best after hiking through the extremely rough gritty young rocks typical of volcanic terrain.

Side stream running into pool opposite the waterfall
Side stream running into pool opposite the waterfall

Aleck used his walking pole to turn over a couple of rocks, looking for fish beneath them. Fish tend to go upstream, he said, but the waterfall prevents them from going any further, so there should be a concentration of small fish here. We saw a couple of very small ones, but nothing too interesting.

We left the waterfall and started the trek up the steep track. Although I was weighed down with my two camera bags, I easily managed to keep up this time. Thankfully I won’t be too much of a hindrance in the uphill sections of the climb.

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13 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

3°18'S
37°31'E
1100 - 1200m ASL

 

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