No Ordinary Journey (Part 3 – Crater Highlands Trek)


Continued on from No Ordinary Journey Part 2

We finished our Safari with a lunch at the Ngorongoro park gate where Mosses filled out some paperwork before we headed off to Nainoknoka, which is where I would start my hike with Justin. I found I just couldn’t get into eating the safari lunches, perhaps my appetite was still playing up. Either way I couldn’t finish my lunch. Turns out this unfinished lunch would haunt Kellie at the next stop, as a full grown male Baboon decided to join her in the vehicle to get a hold of this unfinished bevy of food. I wasn’t there to see it but it sounded like it gave Kellie quite the shock. They said it was a good idea to look your vehicles with Baboons around and now I can understand why.

Kellie and Mosses after our day in the Ngorongoro Crater
Kellie and Mosses after our day in the Ngorongoro Crater

On the way to Nainokanoka I started to feel the excitement building for the next adventure, a 50km trek through the Crater Highlands, covering Olmoti, Empakia and Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano. About 6 weeks prior to the trip I marked June 17 to be the toughest day of my trip with a 25km hike. With my health/appetite not quite there Mosses our safari guide had his doubts about me completing the trek. This only served to fuel my determination, I knew it would be tough but now I had someone to prove wrong.

We arrived at Nainokanoka and Mosses was quick to communicate with the group of Maasai and our ranger awaiting our arrival. Mosses and Kellie had to make it back to the Ngorongoro gate before a 24hr cutoff time. I was left with Peter, a Maasai guide and Loada our ranger for the trek. The setup had 3 tents, 2 singles for myself and Justin and one for the cook and guide I assumed. I spoke with Peter briefly and luckily he was quite competent in english and Loada had a smattering of english as well. They both allowed me 15 minutes to get settled into my one man tent before we headed for a 3km hike up Olmoti Crater.

On the way up Olmoti Peter and Loada attempted to teach me a few things about the local Flora and Fauna, the one thing that stood out the most was the stinging nettles they pointed out and not to touch those, it wouldn’t be long before I discovered why they are called stinging nettles.

Olmoti Crater
Olmoti Crater

We reached the top of Olmoti and what an amazing view. A world on it’s own survives in this crater. Peter tells me for the predators in this crater it is always best to hunt at night as there is not alot of cover during the day. Simply amazing. Peter showed me the view to the east and the village he was born and raised and offered me the opportunity to go take a look when we head down.

We were back down in no time and Peter took me to his village for a very cultural experience. The Maasai put on a show of ceremonies they partake in and I was blown away. Soon after Peter took me through a hut to explain how they live and how they cook their food.

 

Back at camp after visiting the Maasai cultural boma and our cook for the trek Hamisi arrives after a long journey and 2 flat tyres and gets straight to work on cooking dinner. Justin soon arrives with our guide Shibani and we look over the map of our trek for the next few days and had our first meal from Hamisi. My appetite was still not there but I managed a little bit.

At Nainokanoka the facilities were minimumal, a toilet (hole in the ground at best) was all that was available. The next two camps we were told had no facilities, so it dawned on me even more so at that point how much of an adventure we were about to embark on. Later that evening I had to use the “facilities” and found some nice leaves to wipe my hands on afterwards only to quickly and painfully discover that the leaves were stinging nettles. OUCH! That stung for a good hour.

Day 1 – 25km

We woke the next morning to a cold crisp and cloud covered day and managed to down some light breakfast before heading off for the first day of hiking. A 25km trek that took us up to Empakaai Crater. I applied my blister guards and Justin, Shibani, Loada and myself headed out. The cook Hamisi and two Maasai assistants would follow soon after with the donkeys carrying our gear.

The first section of our hike was through flat grasslands, which then lead to a road we followed for about 4km. Soon we were heading into a very strong headwind and a steady incline which seemed to last forever. My backpack weighed about 7kg with my camera gear and snacks and with every uphill step against the headwind it just seemed to get heavier and heavier. We soon reached the 17km mark and were about to take a rest before getting into some steep climbing when I felt the awful feeling of one of my quad muscles twinge followed by a sharp pain running down the side of my left leg. I couldn’t put any weight on it and just plonked myself on the ground. As we took a break Loada took a look at my leg and Justin had some magic deep heat to rub on my muscles. It seemed to do the trick but as we got up to continue on Loada grabbed at my backpack and volunteered to carry it. It wasn’t really a fair trade as all he was carrying was a sleeping bag that was almost lighter than air. I had also noticed the inevitable sting of a blister forming on my left heal. I had placed the blister guard in slightly the wrong place.

Walking across the grasslands

Walking across the grasslandsWalking across the grasslands

We moved on from the 17km mark and headed up a steep section. The rub down of deep heat on my leg had done the trick and soon we sat down for some lunch and our cook Hamisi passed us with the donkeys carrying our gear.

We reached the end of the steeps and that was a huge relief as that meant that hardest part was over for the day. We were only 4km from the next camp and it was mostly small hills from there. Essentially we were at the top of Empakaai crater but did not have the view yet. Soon the view came in and it was truly amazing.

The view from the top of Empakaai Crater
The view from the top of Empakaai Crater

After admiring the amazing view of Empakaai crater we moved on to the camp grounds and what a relief. I knew my blister had grown and my sore quad had had enough. I removed my boots and drained my blister and made sure I took care of it so as not to be a problem for the rest of the trek. Hamisi cooked an amazing dinner, which consisted of an awesome cucumber soup and spaghetti bolognese.

Day 2 – 15km

As I opened my eyes and woke on the second day of our hike I felt my muscles crying out in soreness. I rubbed my legs down with deep heat and prepared for the next lot of hiking.

After our toast and coffee we made our way back around the edge of Empakaai crater with Loada in the lead. We arrived at an opening in the thick forest, which led us down a narrow path heading into the crater. It was a long decent and I was quite worried about the ascent back and my sore quad. The trek down into the crater was simply breathtaking, with black monkeys swinging through the trees as we arrived at the bottom. The forest opened out into a clearing at the bottom with a gorgeous lake populated by sparse groups of flamingo. I sat down with Justin and we ruffled for our cameras. The view of the lake was amazing and we found a fresh flamingo kill from the night before with fresh hyena tracks.

Empakaai Crater and Lake Empakaai
Empakaai Crater and Lake Empakaai

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Justin at Lake Empakaai

We didn’t spend long at the lake as it was a steep climb out and then a 12km hike across to the Acacia camp. WE made our way up and eventually reached the top of the crater once again. We met Shibani our guide for the rest of the days hike and wished Loada farewell as he had to head back to Nainokanoka.

Justin, Shibani and myself headed up the road along the rim of the crater. The road was dusty and Shibani had warned us to expect it to get worse, and it sure did. As we headed down the backside of the crater the dust was rampant, and at one point I was almost up to my knees. We met some Maasai kids collecting firewood and they followed us for 2km.

Being followed by some Maasai kids carrying firewood on our way to Acacia camp
Being followed by some Maasai kids carrying firewood on our way to Acacia camp

We approached the Nairobi village and the dust started to settle a bit. Shibani walked into the village to pay the park fees and Justin and I waited just outside the village for him to return. A bunch of Maasai gathered around us and laid out their merchandise for us to buy but our only goal at that time was to reach Acacia. Shibani returned and we headed off, with Maasai kids in tow. By the time we reached our camp the kids had been following us for 3km. We settled in and the kids decided to set up stalls to hang their jewels so we could view and purchase. We rewarded their persistence with a few sales.

The Maasai kids followed us for 3km and we rewarded their persistence

The Maasai kids followed us for 3km and we rewarded their persistence
The Maasai kids followed us for 3km and we rewarded their persistence

Day 3 – 12km

The thought of the last day of hiking was exciting. It had been an amazing trek and the scenery and people were amazing. But I had the end in mind. Each day had had it’s challenge and I wondered what the days challenge would be.

We moved off from camp for our last day of hiking and headed towards Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and onto Lake Natron. The scene had changed once again and we walked through a dry river bed surrounded by Acacias.

Soon we reached an old abandoned village used prior to Ol Doinyo Lengai erupting 2 years earlier. We moved on and headed up over the ranges that run past the western face of Ol Doinyo Lengai. The landscape reminded me of the moon. Covered in a grey dust/ash like substance, and to walk in was not pleasant as it was like walking in sand for 12km. Two years prior it was green and lush, but now everything is dead.

As we moved across the ranges we came across a Maasai family migrating back to Nairobi where the prospects of food and farming would be much better.

The landscape was simply amazing
The landscape was simply amazing

Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano
Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano

We could see Lake Natron in the distance and the point where we were to be picked up, so the end was near.

As we approached our pickup point I felt a large sense of relief and we were greeted enthusiastically by Mosses (the safari guide from last week) which was fantastic to see as he had doubted that I would make the distance. I was happy to see him to be able to prove him wrong but also because he is such an amazing character.

Just prior to arriving at the pickup pointJust prior to arriving at the pickup point

Mosses drove us to the Lake Natron campsite where they had facilities like flushing toilets and showers. Justin and I cleaned up for the first time in 3 days, and we were a right mess might I add. Afterwards we headed back out with Mosses and a Maasai guide for a short trek to a local waterfall. This is the most natural and beautiful waterfall I have ever seen and we lapped up the fresh cool water our bodies had been craving for 3 days.

Our due reward for completing the hike
Our due reward for completing the hike

When we headed back to the camp we knew the campsite had a bar, which we did not hesitate in heading to quench our thirst. Beer never tasted so good after that trek. We bought a round of drinks for everybody back at the camp in celebration for completing the trek and soon settled in and camped for the last night before heading off to Lake Manyara in the morning.

Enjoying the taste of a Kilimanjaro beer after our trek
Enjoying the taste of a Kilimanjaro beer after our trek

 

TO BE CONTINUED – Lake Manyara, E’Unoto and Zanzibar


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