Longido – Low Kili

View the complete set of Longido photos here

Even in Arusha Mount Kilimanjaro lurks just over the horizon, the highest mountain in Africa lurching from the flat plains that surround it.  Its image is emblazoned everywhere, from water bottles to the local beer and shop signs.  We were lucky not to be climbing it.  If Sarah had not succumbed to the high altitude of Mexico City we would have been making a very expensive attempt on Kili.  Thankfully we were spared from the ordeal of discovering Sarah’s inclination to very bad altitude sickness three quarters of the way up the mountain.  Sarah also hates being cold which is the other defining characteristic of climbing Kili.

Instead Sarah’s desire manifested as a burning need to get a good hard look at Kilimanjaro and preferably a photo with a large African mammal standing in front of it.  We were quoted exorbitant prices by the safari companies to drive in the area but we eventually stumbled across a community tourism venture based in Longido which offered a walking tour to the top of Mount Longido, 80 kilometres north of Arusha, which claimed good views of Kilimanjaro.  Ironically we got better views of the mountain from the bus when we eventually left Northern Tanzania, but the climb up Mount Longido was a great adventure in itself.

We caught a shared taxi up to Longido. The road to Longido is new.  As with much of Africa the road build is being supervised by Chinese workers.  The road is good because it continues up into Kenya and Nairobi so is one of the main road links north. Strictly speaking, a good road here is smooth single-lane tarmac and only one or two detours off into the dirt as they do maintenance. On the trip we met Alias, an elder of the Maasai in the area who had visited Canada as a representative of his people to a conference during a harsh Canadian winter.  He now has a guesthouse and a few cattle on a small bit of land.  Despite wearing Western clothes he sees himself as still firmly of the Maasai culture.  He takes the best from both worlds as he sees it.

Sarah visited a Maasai boma that afternoon, which is a traditional Maasai compound of mud houses, thorn bush fence, goat and cattle property and all.  The girls there grilled her (through her interpreting male guide) about being a Mzungu, the Swahili term for a white person.  The girls thought that mzungus carried babies for 10 months and that it didn’t hurt when they give birth because they have medicine.  It would definitely hurt a lot less that giving birth as a Maasai woman where (according to what was shared with Sarah) female circumcision is still practiced and girls are married as young as 10 or 11.  The men don’t get married until they have retired from being a warrior, some time in their thirties or forties.  The men are allowed multiple wives but it was revealed in the boma that the wives often have ‘friends’ which they see behind the husband’s back.  The girls asked Sarah if she had any friends and giggled like crazy when she said that she did.

We climbed Mount Longido the next day with our Maasai guide called Alisha.  While no doubt a lot easier to climb than Kilimanjaro, it’s a lot steeper.  You trade long drawn-out pain for short and intense pain.  At 2690 metres high you climb 1400 metres from the base and go through several climactic zones. Near the base the dirt is dry and rocky, studded with thorn bushes which kept trying to steal my hat. Alisha made us some walking sticks by chopping down a couple of acacia tree branches with his machete, scraping the thorns off and whittling the end to a spike.  This was our main defence if we stumbled across a startled animal such as bush pigs or buffaloes.  Giraffes and elephants are not unknown in this area either but more commonly in the dry season when they climb the slopes in search of food.  Alisha had a traditional Maasai spear as well which would give a buffalo something to think about at least.  We saw fresh bush pig poo and older poo from a young elephant, but no large animals.  On the way down the mountain Sarah was convinced that she saw a lion but Alisha was convinced it was a baboon.  Either way, we weren’t eaten.

The dry savannah gives way to sub-tropical forest once you have climbed up agonisingly steep paths. The route up the mountain just went straight up the steep side and kept going.  I was sweating like a bush pig in no time with a rasping breath to match.  I don’t think Alisha sweated at all which made his claim not to need any water seem more plausible.  He did have a mango juice at the top of the mountain but otherwise I guess he survives on the typical Maasai diet of tea as well as fresh cow blood.

Before we climb any further up the mountain I have to go into the bags.  Sarah has a bag fetish, not for expensive designer handbags, but for culturally interesting bags that will match or contrast with her clothes.  There is a cupboard back home stuffed with bags and new ones attach themselves to us as we travel.  So when Sarah said she needed to buy a backpack to walk up the mountain I was skeptical. “You don’t need another bag for just one day!”  We agreed that we would just use my backpack but when it came time to get walking we found that the bag was stuffed and we still had a couple of big bottles of water to carry.  Sarah carried them in her hands until we got into the forest then came up with the very African solution of strapping the bottles to her back with a kanga cloth as though they were African babies.  I like to pretend that the bag I was carrying was the reason I was sweating and panting so much more than our guide but I suspect that is delusional.

Whenever we came to a column of ants busily crossing the path the guide would tell us to carefully step over them lest they climb up our legs and make a nuisance of themselves.  At one point while crossing ants Alisha took off at a fast clip up the hill and told us to run.  Sarah misunderstood him and thought that he was saying that the ants were running.  He looked back in disbelief as Sarah bent down to take another look at the ants.  He yelled again “Run!”  I was beyond running by this stage but we got over the ants in a faster walk at least.  A little further on Sarah felt an ant in her pants.  In a thrilling moment for me she pulled her pants down and asked me to take a look.  I couldn’t see any ants but it perked me up a bit.

As we trudged up the steep, slippery muddy path the dense forest thinned in places to grassy plateaus which gave fantastic views of the flat plain below and Mount Meru piercing the clouds near Arusha, but our only glimpse of Kilimanjaro had been a shadowy presence in the early morning with the sun behind it.  Now it was too cloudy but the scenery on the mountain was ample replacement.  Longido is so named for all the flat rocks on it that are good for sharpening knives.  I scraped my knuckle instead.  It didn’t get sharper but I ripped the loose skin off with my teeth, Bear Grylls style, and carried on to the top oozing blood.  We got high enough to see the bare peak of Mount Longido which we would shortly scramble up to eat lunch as we watched the clouds literally crash into the mountain and whip over the top.  We could see into Kenya and over towards Ngorongoro Crater.  As far as the eye could see is Maasai territory.

We impressed the guide by getting up the mountain in four hours.  He seemed to be under the impression that it would take us two hours to get down but we disappointed him by taking the same time to get down, slipping over the leafy, muddy path in the forest and the loose stones lower down the slope.  Of course, when we got back to town, a nine hour hike wasn’t quite enough for Sarah for one day so she headed straight out to the weekly cattle market which was a damp squib.  Apparently all the cattle were sold along the road before the Maasai made it to the market, so when she got there it was just a few guys roasting goat and drinking beer.  As we’re not eating meat at the moment and Sarah isn’t drinking alcohol it wasn’t really her scene.

I had two servings of red beans and rice that night with chapati and we got a lift with the cultural program director back to Arusha the next morning in his light truck.  We were greeted back at the Arusha hotel by the leopard turtles.  You just can’t escape the wildlife in Africa.  We had lunch out in the garden surrounded by four turtles viciously munching on the grass.  We gave one of them a slice of lettuce.  It looked at the leaf suspiciously before extending its head and eating with great gusto until it got to the final bit which had been lying in the dirt.  It made a face at this point exactly as you or I would look if you got a mouthful of dirt.  He tried it again before abandoning this final morsel to wash its mouth out with some fresh grass.

View the complete set of Longido photos here

2 comments to Longido – Low Kili

  • Shelly

    Hello! I am so happy to have found your blog, as Alisha was my guide in 2001 and I have amazing memories of my treks in Longido. Do you know the name of the company you traveled with or have any contact information? I would love to take another tour with Alisha or at least say hello to him. Thank you!

    • rasher5_wp

      Sorry for the slow reply, I don’t check this blog very often! I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the company, but hope you managed to get over there and have a good trek.

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