Thursday, September 30, 2010


[Horombo Hut --> Mawenzi Peak --> Horombo Hut]

We take our time emerging from our sleeping bags and huts this morning, where we have struggled all night to preserve warmth. I am pleasantly surprised at the unadulterated sunshine at this altitude and how effective it is at dispelling illusions of cold, inertia and lethargy. The view is stupefying: a layer of cloud the thickness and depth of an ocean. We are above the clouds—an implacable ocean, an infinity of whiteness—and I am just dumbfounded by the abyss of earth that lies below this cover, and the prickles of life I can see—mountains, porters, Senesia trees, the wind. Hardly prickles when you are up here, living, feeding and breathing by the sun.

Today is our acclimatization day, so we’re staying at the same camp tonight and spending the daytime walking to Mawenzi Peak and back. It’s a secondary peak on the mountain, craggy and rocky and dangerous, you have to be a trained (rock) climber to ascend it, so it’s off limits to the throngs of generic, amateur climbers who scale Mt. Kilimanjaro every year. The trek is long and arduous, we clamber over rocks and my hamstrings are sore by the end of the day. The beauty of Nature, especially at this scale and magnitude, is that conquering a mountain or completing a day’s climb only humbles you, as you are deeper immersed into the intensity of the wild. There is no urgency here; Nature is not perturbed that you are visiting. The view of the clouds framed by the uneven rocks of Mawenzi will still be there an hour from now. Basking in the sun, wincing in the wind—a clash of the elements I notice without clouds getting in the way—I eat and digest my lunch slowly (which includes cracking my hard boiled egg on the rock I'm sitting on, how badass) before succumbing to photos. Where did the red color of this rock come from, I wonder. How does Nature create and distribute color? How does she turn straight lines of horizon into cloudy blurs of curved planet?

Mountain walls beckon for echoes. We shout our names, greetings, and Mawenzi yells back, mambo! Back down toward the clouds, beyond which is Horombo Hut, I shout freedom! which sinks into the cotton-like carpet that floats steadily 4,000 meters above sea level. Hemmingway wrote about the Snows of Kilimanjaro; did he mean the snow-like spread of cloud and the white patches trickling down Mawenzi, too?

The sky is a vast expanse of depth—a blue so rich I can feel it pulse and move, containing other colors, serving as intangible contrast to the solidness of rock and hill jutting into it. It stretches out into silence, one that I try to return. Katana says: I keep thinking I am getting closer to the clouds, but they still seem so far away! I figure, the clouds mark some sort of boundary—a ceiling, a milestone en route to a glacier, something. It’s an altitude sans urgency, cadence, ambition: we are temporarily a part of the landscape, exploring phenomena like tree lines, alpine deserts, foothills, the sticky mist of cloud cover and a night sky more frenzied than the New York skyline. They brush past my face, tickle my nose, yet are out of reach. If I was a pilot, I’d pause my plane above this canopy to meditate.

Infinity is perplexing.

We slip and slide and stride our way down to Zebra Rock, where mineral deposits on a wall of rock have created a black-and-white striped appearance akin to a zebra. Our journey down to camp is laughably short, compared to our scramble up. We arrive at camp just as the clouds begin to mist my sunglasses, kiss our huts and aggravate my face, that I just realize is horribly sunburned. For the first time in my life. Ouch!

I clean up with a tub of hot water and half a tub of Vaseline and befriend 2 Colorado natives on a 3-week vacation in Africa. The Jews have left and these 2 friendly men have taken their places in our hut.

Evening reels the sun in. It burned above us during the day—I repeat, ouch—and now the remnants of the sunset settle softly above the cloud canopy, a summary of red, orange, green, violet, from what I gather was a spectacular sunset down below.

I must 2 noteworthy things about dinner: 1) Today, Hamsa is “incandescently happy.” 2) They serve pumpkin soup and I dedicate this moment to my sister Anusha.

Bedtime is dedicated to New York City’s subways: there’s a rat in our hut furiously nibbling at plastic bags, chips packets and other eatables. It takes all 5 of us getting out of bed—Katana, Hamsa, the Coloradans, me—in turn to chase the little guy out, but he’s resilient and keeps coming back!

1 comment:

  1. beautifully written. I had no idea you had such a passion !! R u the same delicate little girl i knew in Bahrain ? God bless you !

    Bharati Aunty.