Volcanic mountains

Exploring Tanzania’s volcanic landscapes, from Ngorongoro to God’s Mountain – New Telegraph

“People used to hear the shaking sound coming from inside,” Maasai guide Alex Sabaya said, pointing to the volcanic cone in the distance, “and they thought God was in there. Oldonyo Lengai means, in Maasai, the “Mountain of God.” They believed that God lived in the mountain.

This Mountain of God – Lengai Volcano, Tanzania’s third highest peak – was our destination, a beacon on the horizon moving in and out of sight during our days of trekking, guiding us. “It’s still an active volcano, the only one in Tanzania,” Alex told me. “Two weeks ago, we heard the sound of thunder from the mountain, like crashing rocks.”

Fortunately, the volcano remained silent throughout our hike. In fact, everything about this area was calm and peaceful, an area with volcanic mountains, green hills, remote rural villages and wide open spaces that were notably absent from any other traveler. “Not many tourists come to this part of the park,” admitted hiking guide Joseph Kumbau. “They are all in Ngorongoro Crater, hoping to see a lion eat a buffalo.”

The Ngorongoro Crater had also been my first stop, as I traveled to the Highlands region, a new lodge located in the heart of the conservation area. Located at an altitude of 2,650 meters, it makes a good base for exploring Ngorongoro and the lesser known craters of Olmoti and Empakai. We left the lodge and descended into the vast remains of the Ngorongoro Volcano early on my first full morning in the country.

Extinct for 2.5 million years, scientists believe Ngorongoro could have been taller than Kilimanjaro. The 600m deep caldera covers nearly 260 square kilometres, the grassy plains, forests, swamps, rivers and lakes within are home to one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, including the Big Five.

There, I spent time photographing zebras and wildebeest galloping across the dusty grasslands. Later I saw two lionesses open a warthog and call their cubs to ‘lunch’. From the top of Engitati Hill, we watched a lone elephant trample a swamp, and later one of Tanzania’s endangered black rhinos wander through sage brush. “The Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti are the only places in Tanzania where you can see black rhinos,” said guide Goodluck Silas, visibly excited. “Sightings are rare.”

We parked near Lake Magadi, the shallow waters occupied by floating lesser flamingos. Goodluck guessed there were up to 8,000 on the water, but the lake gets busier at times. Ngorongoro’s wildlife is fantastic to see and photograph, which is why the crater floor can sometimes seem very busy with safari vans. There was no one around at all, however, the next morning at Empakai. The view from the 2,740 meter high rim was blocked by clouds, but after a quick and steep descent through the forest, we quickly saw the shape of the crater walls and the salt-crusted edges of Lake Empakai. .

We saw blacksmith lapwings joining small groups of flamingos along the shore of the lake. “Out of about 100 people who see Ngorongoro, maybe five people go to Em-pakai and Olmoti,” Goodluck said, as we stood beside the still lake. In the afternoon we headed to Olmoti, climbing nearly 3,000 meters and looking out over a river valley. A scream echoed through the golden grasslands, most likely the sound of hyenas with another kill.

“They caught something,” said Maasai warrior Peter Mwasini. “They call the others to tell them to come and eat.” As we headed deeper into the caldera, we detoured around thick trees to avoid disturbing any buffaloes or lions that might have been sleeping. Our group – me, Peter, Goodluck and ranger Saitus Kipalazia, armed with a semi-automatic rifle – talked loudly as we walked, giving advance warning to any large beasts in the tall grass of our presence. Zebras and wildebeest were grazing in the distance as we hiked. “Something is coming our way,” Goodluck warned, pointing to the swaying grass. A hyena? A lion?

A black nose stood out, then the friendly, ginger face of Police, the faithful ranger station dog who had followed us here. “They call him ‘Police’ because he likes to follow the rangers on patrol,” laughed Peter. In the morning, I returned to Empakai to meet guides Joseph and Alex and begin our two-day trek to God’s Mountain. The road we spent the first half of the day walking on offered views across green, fertile countryside to the extinct volcano Kerimasi and the 3,200m high Lengai cone. The last eruption was in 2008, but the volcano is never truly dormant.

In the past, the local Maasai sacrificed sheep or goats on the volcano, Alex told me, spilling blood and performing dances to bring rain or cure disease. We descended to the village of Naiyobi, the cowbells ringing as the women drove their animals through the hills, then to Lerai, where a comfortable temporary camp had been set up for the night in a forest of fever trees. yellow.

However, the day was not over. In the evening we climbed to the top of a hill for aperitifs, a bottle of South African Pinotage accompanying a fine view of Lengai, which had white streams of recent ash emissions on the slopes. The next morning, we dismantle camp and leave early to make the most of the fresh air. The spectacular landscapes we traveled through were created during the geological upheaval that formed the Great Rift Valley. “About 1.8 million years ago, the oceanic and continental plates collided and pushed upward, and this created what we call the Great Rift Valley,” Joseph informed me.

“When they collided, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Ngorongoro and Mount Lengai all formed.” The ground warmed up rapidly during the morning. We hiked to a chunky point, known as Pembe Ya Swala (Antelope Horn), and descended into sunny grasslands, past curious zebras standing on the slopes of Lengai. With heat levels on the sweltering side, we followed a flow of ancient lava flow through herds of Maasai cows. Tired and thirsty, I was happy to arrive at Lake Natron Camp, a secluded place surrounded by zebras, wildebeests, giraffes and, oddly enough, camels. I had considered climbing Lengai to watch the sunset, but the verdict from the guides was that the mist and thick clouds overnight would obscure all views and there would be no sunrise. visible – a meager reward for a steep and difficult climb.

Instead, I got a good night’s sleep and walked down to the lakeside early the next morning in the dark. The sky was pink around the edges as I waded through rivers and walked barefoot through glistening muddy mud which, considering the number of birds and animals that use this lake, must have contained other ingredients that should not be not think. The sun rose, illuminating hundreds, if not thousands, of flamingos. Many birds would have come from Lake Manyara or, like me, from the Ngorongoro crater.

Later, during the breeding season (September and October), the surface of the whole lake would be pink with up to two million flamingos. I stood and photographed the elegant birds for a while, small clusters hovering in the glowing sky, others flying in lines across the sun. It was an incredibly peaceful scene, not least because, behind me, there wasn’t even the slightest rumble of thunder from Lengai to break the perfect silence. *Eliminated; Selamta, Ethiopian Airlines’ in-flight magazine; Graeme Green, is a photographer and journalist for an international publication.

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