Kibo played hide and seek with us.
For all of its size, it was elusive. It ducked behind ridges. It hid in the sun.
The trail was equally playful, rising, falling, and twisting as we navigated the southern flank of the mountain. Only later would we learn that despite the expended effort the total elevation gain for the day was scarcely one-hundred feet.
Of course, the genius of the Lemosho route lay in its timing. The program wound us nearly halfway around the girth of mountain from the western side (Lava Tower) to the southeastern side (Barafu Camp). By spending these additional days dabbling at elevations of thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen thousand feet our bodies could (hopefully!) become accustomed to running lean and be able to respond when called upon to transition from "Very High Altitude" to "Extreme Altitude" (see previous blog on acclimatization here).
Karanga Camp set us up for that push and marked our last full night of sleep before the summit attempt.
We spotted the camp from the far side of the Karanga Valley in the early afternoon. Only this declivity stood between us and our goal.
As usual, the porters beat us across the gap and had the camp ready by the time we arrived. Robert informed us that we were running low on essentials (as expected) and that a resupply team was already climbing from the east side to meet us at Karanga. But Paul the Magic Chef was not yet done. As we unloaded from the trail he was preparing a traditional Tanzanian meal.
While he worked, our early arrival gave us time to wash and dry clothes, nap, and relax. We enjoyed a full view to Kibo's magnificent heights.
Tommy and I stretched out in the tent. All the flaps and windows were unzipped. At 13,100 feet, the breeze was cool, but when it quieted, the sun baked us. Everything at altitude is extreme. I couldn't decide if I was hot or cold.
I remember how Nico put it, "You don't really come here to relax, rejuvenate, or replenish. I'm sunburned, dried out, and worn down!"
In the evening we gathered in the mess. Paul's assistant brought in a plate of ugali. He described it as a traditional dish eaten in East Africa. He demonstrated the local technique. He pressed his thumb into the ball to create a spoon-like concavity, then dipped it into a stew of greens. So decorated, he popped the ball into his mouth and chewed. Ummmmm!
I watched, horrified. I had flashbacks to the experience of fufu in West Africa. His ugali looked the same. Fufu is also a thick starchy paste meant for dipping. I had eaten my share of it in Ghana but was never a fan. The source of fufu, the cassava (or yuca) root, must be fermented for human use. This is because (and I'm not kidding here) the tuber that is the source of fufu contains toxic levels of cyanide that are released in your gut if the root is not properly washed, boiled, fermented, and mashed. To say fufu has a an unusual odor and taste is an understatement. I won't forget it as long as I live. Or rather, I can't.
I sniffed the ugali in my fingers. To my surprise it lacked the pungency of the fufu. Was it my memory? Was it prepared differently? Had Kili's altitude somehow messed with my sniffer?
I rolled the dough it in my fingers. It had the look and feel of a stiff cream of wheat.
I dutifully dipped and pinched some spinach-like greens. I popped it in my mouth. Again to my surprise, it was nearly pleasant. I chewed and swallowed.
Later, I discovered that Paul made this ugali not from the fermented tuber-root of the cassava but from corn (maize)-meal flour. It was cheap starch, uncooked corn tortilla dough. I blessed Paul with my voice and those daring Portuguese sailors with my mind. Their introduction of New World cornmeal and potatoes may be among the most lasting contribution to East African cuisine.