First off, the car was definitely a 7 person car. Of course, we are so used to being crammed into vehicles that it wasn’t even a hindrance. We packed our bags on top and climbed in. Second, the windows didn’t have handles, not a problem again, we had some wrenches. We set out to Shoprite to get some snacks and pay our final amount to the tour guide. Then, we officially began our journey to Ol Doinyo. It was about two hours of smooth pavement and then we stopped for a quick lunch. Then we learned another fun fact about our car: the back doors didn’t shut all the way and the vents in the back had no filter/casing from the outside. Dust got EVERYWHERE once we hit rough dirt road onward! Over time, the entire car became a puff of dust on the inside, coating each and every one of us in unbelievable amounts (see pictures below). Even though it was hard to breath, it was so funny that nobody could even be in a bad mood about it! As we got nearer to Ol Doinyo, we saw some zebra, giraffes, ostriches, and wildebeests which were pretty darn cool to see in the middle of nowhere. The initial sighting of the volcano was a little cloudy and gray so we didn’t get a good look until we got much closer. We eventually got to the campsite around 6 p.m., so it was quite the long drive. Arriving was hilarious as we piled out of our car looking like we’d been in the desert for a month without showering. There were Italian wazungus everywhere looking nice and clean so we certainly set that off balance upon arrival. Then it was time to make some food (aka peanut butter and banana sandwiches) for the climb and eat whatever we packed for dinner. It started raining a bit so we were glad to have three tents to hide and rest in. At 11 p.m. we were ready to go with our guides and headed to the volcano for a midnight climb!
The first two hours of our journey involved regular old climbing on steep ground. After that, things got interesting! The angle got so steep that we were literally climbing on all fours off and on the rest of the time. Luckily, we picked the perfect weekend to go- a full moon filled the sky with light as we headed up so we didn’t even need flashlights. Also, it was good that it was dark or I think I would have been much more scared at being able to fully realize how dangerous some of the areas were to climb! There were countless times where we’d grab onto a rock for leverage to only find it dissolved right in our hands. Around 5 a.m. I could finally see I was close to the top, and I could also see that it was the steepest yet.
By 6 our entire group reached a flatter area right before the top to rest and wait for the sun to rise- it was soooo cold! Once the sun rose, it was such a beautiful view. Even though the thought of having to climb down alive was quite terrifying, it was worth the effort! Unfortunately our guide poked the ground with his stick towards the highest peak and it was hollow, so we couldn’t climb to the very top without a good chance of falling through. Abdullah decided to defy the odds and go for it so he was the only one who officially made it to the highest point. After hanging out at the top for a while and enjoying the view we headed back down in two separate groups so that if anyone loosened any rocks they had less chance of hitting somebody else. The way back down was surprisingly better than expected because I could actually see where I was climbing! I decided for the first 2 hours down to use the sliding on your butt technique so I wouldn’t keep slipping in the thick ash. After that, somehow our legs kicked in to be able to jog/run the rest of the slope once the ash wasn’t so thick! My legs were shaking like crazy and I knew I’d be feeling sore for many days to come. We all learned quickly that usually the climb is done with more hiking gear-like ropes or at least a walking stick which we had neither! The climb itself lasted from 12:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. where I'd only been able to sleep for one hour that night- I was pretty impressed all of us made it up and down with no complications!
The drive back was another adventure as well. Fifteen minutes into the ride back, the exhaust pipe fell off. Once we got going again, as you can imagine, the car got pretty loud. A few hours later almost off the dirt road we hit a cow crossing the road and kept driving! This of course is the time that I always think “Only in Tanzania.” Then the guide and driver made us stop at a town to get the exhaust pipe welded back on which took forever so we finally arrived back in Arusha at 10:00 p.m.- quite the long weekend adventure. Again, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I wouldn’t do it again!!!