African travels

My nephew Michah is traveling in Africa. He is such a talented writer, painting a truly vivid picture in words. I thought I would share his most recent e-mail with you:

"To all,

So I'm back in Nairobi now, where I started out. I left Mombasa on the 11th and took a matatu west to a little town called Wundanyi nestled high in the Taita Hills, a major scenic attraction in southeastern Kenya. It was one of the more dramatic changes in ecosystems that I've seen, transforming in a manner of minutes from arid, Tsavo-like scrubland with topsoil red enough to threaten one's vision to lush green jungle, misty valleys and titanic leaves. I'm not sure what the elevation of Wundanyi is, but it was a heck of a drive getting up there, winding our way up a road that could rival the entrance to the General Sherman Forest, for those of you've been there and know the reference. The town itself was easily my favorite community so far. It's a good way out of the tourist's circuit, and thus the occasional white face is able to step out of the matatu without getting bombarded with people trying to sell him everything from tours to directions to the nearest ATM machine. It seemed much healthier, too, than most of the places I've seen, and more self-sufficient, as opposed to other villages that seem to rely exclusively on the influx of dollars from abroad. I spent the whole afternoon and evening wandering through the village, exchanging "jambo"'s with the people I met, working my way higher and higher into the hills and deeper and deeper into the farmland. In fact, so wrapped up was I in the misty verdancy and the feeling of pseudo-acceptance that I didn't even notice it was
getting dark until the evening closed down on me, at which point it was about an hour's walk back down the mountain to the hotel I was staying at. Since there aren't a whole lot of street lights to speak of in Kenya, it was fairly nearly pitch dark by the time I got back. I was a little on edge to say the least, but people kept on greeting me and making me feel welcome right up until the time I entered my room. It was an experience I'm glad to have had, to be sure.
The next day, I headed further west until I reached Taveta on the Tanzanian border. I crossed into Tanzania and took a bus to Arusha, passing spectacular
vistas of the Big Kili on the way (although, as luck would have it, I was sitting on the wrong side of the vehicle and couldn't take any pictures. Dang it.) I stayed the night in Arusha (which I wasn't particularly fond of) and headed out the following morning to the base of Mt. Meru, which I spent the next three days climbing, coming down yesterday afternoon. At 4556 meters (14,978 feet) Mt. Meru is
the fifth tallest mountain in Africa, and, based on everything I've heard, the most scenic. As I started out at 5000 feet and the climb was broken into 3000 foot installments per day, it needn't have been all that difficult, but I'm badly out of shape these days and I was feeling a little under the weather to boot and betwixt the two it was a somewhat excrutiating ordeal, the like of which I haven't had since I can't remember when. To further weaken the exeperience, I was forced to travel in the company of a ranger (a low blow to a hiker who's never had to have anyone guide
him anywhere in his life), guests had to sleep in huts, and to top it all off, it was completely socked in at the summit with about 30 feet of visibility, ergo not much to see of one of Africa's most famous views.
I'm glad I did the climb, though. On day one, right as evening was descending, I had my closest animal encounter yet, landing about fifteen feet shy of a foraging giraffe (and by the way, I'm not kidding when I give these distances. We were really that close. For the record, they smell like horses.)
The other outstanding experience happened the morning of the third day, at the beginning of the summit bid. Guides recommend that you leave your hut at 2:00 A.M. so that you have ample time to reach the summit and then climb all the way back to the base at a reasonable hour. For me, the benefits of this approach were two-pronged. One, since we were traveling by flashlight, I couldn't see how far I had to climb and thus avoided passing out en route in spite of my body's frequent ultimatums. Two, for the first hour of the climb, prior to the arrival of the
clouds, I had all the stars of the southern hemisphere shining in sinful brightness as far as the eye could see. For a die-hard, lifelong stargazer, it was a
beautiful gift. (I still could have gone for the view, though. Next time, I guess.)
Now I'm back in Nairobi with an unexpected day-and-a-half to kill. My flight leaves tomorrow night, and I'm not sure quite what to do in the limited time between now and then, but I'm sure I'll come up with something. Hope these letters have been
fun for y'all, and sorry again for being unable to write anything more personal. When I'm in Ireland, I'll have more time to spare!
Talk to you again soon.


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