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Mandara – The Huts in the Forest

Mandara – The Huts in the Forest
 
 

THE MARANGU Route was the only trail up the mountain that had huts. All of the other routes only had campsites. I figured we were pretty close to the first of these huts.

Arriving at Mandara
Arriving at Mandara

Suddenly the forest cleared ahead of us. The trees by now were pretty short and the undergrowth was mostly broadleaf climbers and the occasional fern. About a minute passed before I could see A-framed buildings in the clearing. The pace quickened as we took the final steps towards our first destination.

A rectangular concrete block had a plaque on it saying “Welcome to Mandara Huts 2720 MALT”. We were there – first leg conquered!

Some sandstone tiled steps led straight up to one of the many A-framed huts where a man sat signing everyone in. Jaseri led us there and we all signed in, to say we had successfully completed the first leg of the trek.

Jaseri signing in
Jaseri signing in

Once signed in, we walked past an even larger A-framed hut to some much smaller ones just beyond it in front of the forest. The large hut was the communal dining hall. Two of the small huts were going to be our accommodation. Jaseri gave us two sets of keys. I went with the two Indian guys to one hut, and the others went in a closer hut next door.

The hut had four beds. There was one either side of the door in the entrance. Then there was a bunk of two beds at the back. One of the beds was at ground level at the same low height of the other two beds, and the other a little over a metre above. Jono wanted the top bunk, so we let him have it. Mark wanted the bunk beside the door, and I decided to have the bunk behind the door where there would be the most privacy.

Grotty toilets
Grotty toilets

Once settled, I needed to use the loo. There was a toilet block behind the dining area, so I went there. It was a conventional shaped building with derelict greyed wooden walls all around. The front door was for women and the men’s entrance was half way to the back. I entered the men’s and found it was rather grubby in there. All the toilets were squat bowls, and they were all very dirty.

Once settled, we went to the dining hall where we had the first table inside the door. There were four large tables, each made of wood. There were two on either side of the room with long pews like seats on either side. They must have taken a massive effort to lug all the way up here even just from the service road.

Ancient tree
Ancient tree

We were served a big plate of popcorn and another of muffins. There was tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. They produced four aqua coloured thermos flasks. Two had water and two had dilute milk powder, all boiling hot. We had a well-deserved afternoon tea.

Once finished afternoon tea, we set off along the track beyond the huts. The forest of gnarly trees quickly closed in, leaving the huts in the eerie distance.

Jono and I stayed a little behind the group to photograph the forest. Jono was spitting quite a lot still. I thought perhaps that may be a really bad habit that he has but I didn’t mention anything.

Cloud forest above the hut
Cloud forest above the hut

The trees were amazing. They were obviously many hundreds of years old and contorted in all sorts of directions. They were like the giant cloud forest trees I had seen in sheltered gullies in different parts of New Zealand and on Mount Kinabalu. Epiphytes hung from the branch junctions and Spanish moss draped over the branches accentuating their antiquity. The ground was covered with thick layers of climbing broadleaf plants to about one or two metres thick making it impenetrable once off the track.

The track itself was a fine gravel of very rough jasper coloured scoria. There were monkeys in the trees, but too distant to see clearly or photograph.

Within five minutes we were above the forest, and surrounded by scrubby subalpine heath bush scattered and standing three or four metres high. Fortunately my legs weren’t stiff any more.

Sign at the junction
Sign at the junction

We reached a junction. The main track had signs pointing to Mandara, and Horombo – the next hut. A side track had the sign pointing to Maundi Crater, just three hundred and twenty metres away. This was the direction we took.

The scrub thinned as we walked through the grassy heath. A couple of minutes later we reached the crater around a fairly large depression. This was a crater, very similar in appearance to the ones in Auckland, New Zealand, but not as deep.

Maundi Crater
Maundi Crater

Jaseri explained this was one of the side craters of the mountain. People who come on day walks up the mountain only go this far. The crater had grass in the bottom and scrub around the ridge. It was probably grass down the bottom because a lot of water accumulates here during the rainy season.

The sky was overcast with medium level cloud perhaps two kilometres above us. The terrain was surprisingly dull, with a gentle slope heading up towards a huge domed hill beyond us. No doubt we will be heading up towards there tomorrow. Below us the mountain divided into numerous bluffs and ridges, but again it wasn’t particularly interesting. It wasn’t like the steep sided volcanoes of New Zealand.

Walking around Maundi Crater
Walking around Maundi Crater

We followed a track running anticlockwise around the top of Maundi Crater, stopping to photograph the withered scrub covered in Spanish moss. There were some interesting subalpine flowers in amongst the grass.

We were on the far side of the crater when we turned and followed the track descending straight down the side into the bowl bottom. The bottom appeared to be swampy, but it had fortunately dried out. We posed in the middle before starting the climb to the top back where we first saw the crater.

In the middle of the crater
In the middle of the crater

Drizzle started falling as we reached the top of the crater, so we walked back fairly quickly along the track. The drizzle had stopped falling by the time we returned to the forest. A couple of minutes later I saw the welcome sight of the A-framed huts again.

Upon our return from Maundi Crater, I arrived at our hut. The door was open. After a little detective work we realised that Jono, who was last to leave the room, had left the door unlocked. Fortunately there was nothing missing.

Mandara Huts
Mandara Huts

Once back at the huts, we dropped our bags off in our rooms and returned to the dining hut and sat around our table with the multi coloured table cloth. We chatted for a while as the porters prepared our dinner. Finally they came in bringing plates – ceramic plates – with tomato soup and fresh bread. All the other treks I had done in the past had plastic or aluminium plates. I was very impressed with eating from ceramic plates up here on the mountain.

Then they brought in large metal platters of roasted potatoes and another one of vegetables. Then there was another plate containing roasted chicken. The food was very nice. We thanked them with a new Swahili phrase Jaseri had just taught us – Asante sana – thank you very much.

Flower at Maundy Crater
Flower at Maundy Crater

Everyone else was complaining of a tingling feeling in their fingers. Vicky mentioned this was one of the side effects of Diamox, which everyone else was on. I had no side effects at all being on the Gingko Biloba. The natural remedies were working to my advantage.

The sky grew dark as we ate. There was plastic tubing for wires and light bulb sockets, but no lights. Obviously any power system that had been set up here was no longer working.

With no light apart from our head lamps, there was little to do, so we all went off to bed.
The air outside was very cold now, perhaps about ten degrees. We hurried into our huts and crawled into our sleeping bags after brushing teeth outside hearing monkeys foraging unseen nearby in the trees. Fortunately the mattress on the floor was quite comfortable, so I was happy to be settled in. My legs were now very stiff still from yesterday’s hike to the waterfall. Hopefully they won’t be too stiff tomorrow as we have a thousand metres of climbing to do.

A well deserved dinner
A well deserved dinner

This was now the first time that I had a decent chance to talk with Mark and Jono. Mark mentioned he has a software sales company and obviously doing very well. He had arrived in Canada as a young man and started off getting a commission-only job and had done very well with that as he loved meeting people. He had built that into a very successful business.

We talked about some of the trips we have done in the past, and interestingly we had all done the Inca trail. They had done it about seven years ago when Jono was quite young. He couldn’t remember much, but his dad had remembered Jono hadn’t moaned at all during the hike. His daughter had been quite a handful though, and it seemed to be a good thing that she hadn’t come on this trip pulling out at the very last moment.

Mark was obviously one of those people who couldn’t stop talking. We then talked about science fiction, continuing on with a discussion that we had at dinner. He mentioned the Dune series, and that I should read the original ones. I made a mental note of that although I don’t read much these days. Dune is apparently about the world in sixty thousand years’ time, and how things are very different then, and how humans have evolved. It sounded very interesting. No wonder he was so good with sales.

Finally we stopped talking and went to sleep.

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14 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

3°11'S
37°30'E
2100 - 2900m ASL

 

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