Lake Natron, 7/8 – 7/12

After saying see you later to the crater, we felt empowered to continue our DIY safari. With little information from Lonely Planet, we decided to get adventurous and head north to Lake Natron.

Unchartered travel (aka not renting the private car the book advised) meant taking the most interesting bus ride we have been on thus far. With Karimu’s help, we found the right bus to take us halfway there, to a small village called Engaruka. We found ourselves fighting for standing room only for about 2 hours shoulder to shoulder with authentic Maasai villagers…but if we overlooked the breastfeeding woman in the seat next to us, we were able to enjoy some fantastic views of the Rift Valley.

Our arrival was as expected, complete with a 16 year old kid, Buluka, anxious to be our new guide. Maybe luckily so, we were denied a room at the hospital (weird/creepy, right?), where a patient was actually not leaving, so instead we took an option to camp. We were introduced to the bar owner/campsite owner, a well respected big whig in the town according to Buluka, and we were able to talk with him directly to make our accommodation plans. With some miscommunication, we thought we had signed up to rent camping gear and a spot for 40,000 tazanian shillings ($25) and the camp owner thought we would pay 40 US dollars, but we didn’t figure that out until the next morning (playing dumb as our best bargaining technique from here on out? Because it worked!!).
Regardless, we got to stay in a tent at his personal home, and we were glad we did because the stars were amazing! It was somewhat of a sleepless night considering there were a lot of sounds we weren’t used to hearing from camping experiences past, but we made it til morning! Buluka met us to show us onto the bus to Engaresero….or so we thought!

The bus actually ended up being a big truck packed with 7 people in a very small cab, en route from Moshi to deliver furniture for a new lodge being built near Lake Natron. A few minor breakdowns and getting stuck in the volcanic sand later (to which the driver would laugh hysterically and just say “cool cool” in Swahili followed by a fist bump), we were walking the last km to Engaresero.

We found a place to stay for about $10 a night (plus the atrocity of Elizabeth being totally freaked out by the mouse in our room seeking Goldfish cracker crumbs), and our new guide. Samuel is an official Maasai guy, meaning he carries a knife/machete at all times, has cheek scars and wears a blanket and recycled tire shoes (which on a side note, its crazy to see 10 year olds carrying the same knives to school!)

We felt crazy enough to hike Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano, at midnight that night. We had seen it in the distance during the daytime, so we figured why not? It turned out to be a harder, more intense experience than Kilimajaro, or at least that’s what we have been telling ourselves considering it absolutely kicked our asses! STRAIGHT up and down is the only route…and did we mention it is incredibly steep? It wasn’t so bad when it was dark because we couldn’t really see what we were getting ourselves into (minus the cold, although snuggling with Elizabeth to stay warm during our hour rest before climbing to the summit was a real highlight). We reached the summit just before sunrise at 6:15, and it was amazing! We could hear crazy gurgling and weird burping noises as it let out steam from inside.

The descent down was the hardest hike we had ever been on…mostly because it was really THAT steep, and the rocks were crumbly so it was hard to get any good traction. The result was that Elizabeth was near tears until Samuel held her hand the rest of the way down, we both fell about 12,000 times (with the bruises and scrapes to prove it!), we both were terrified, our legs turned to jello…and in the end, we could not believe we had actually done all of that! Sore doesn’t begin to describe the next few days, but we decided it was all worth it because we felt like total badasses for accomplishing something so crazy!

After sleeping pretty much the whole day after, we were ready at 6 am to visit Lake Natron with Samuel. It was gorgeous! After yet another nap, hiking to the waterfall in the afternoon was amazing! It was fun to wade through the river, and I think it helped work out some of the kinks in our legs.

Buying bracelets from the Maasai women was a hilarious experience (we were literally swarmed by them!), and it was a great end to our time in Engaresero. The bus back to Mto Wa Mbu wasn’t nearly as eventful as our truck ride, but we were happy to be back to a familiar and mouse-free room.

Up at 5 the next morning to catch a bus to Lushoto for some more hiking….

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