Hiking the active Volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God)

by Monicah Wangari
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Day 1: Arrival to Arusha 

We left Nairobi for Arusha on a Saturday. It was a chill ride alongside other passengers in a 22 seater Impala Shuttle van.

We had a few stopovers.


Namanga, which lies at the border of Tanzania and Kenya is about 4 hours away from Nairobi. The view from Yukos Kitengela to Namanga is mostly of vegetation with a few towns like Isinya, Kajiado and Bisil in the intermediary. We got there around midday and had our customs check-in. If you have all the required documents, the process is pretty simple and fast. I found the Tanzanian customs side more friendly compared to the Kenyan customs side on the return day. The required documents were Yellow Fever, Passport, and Covid Results generated within 72 hours before arrival. With the Covid Results, it is better to have the test taken just the day before your trip. 

 

From Namanga, Arusha is about 2.5 hours away. I generally enjoyed the whole ride. I am a sucker for road trips to new places because of the views. We got to Arusha at about 3 pm and checked into our hotel. From the hotel balcony, I could see Mt Meru. A sight to behold. Normal hike duration is 3 days. Adding this one to my bucket list.


After resting and settling in, we rode on motorbikes to Mwambao. The hotel receptionist had advised us that it’s the best place in Arusha to enjoy Swahili food.

I ordered Pilau fish and Ukwaju. The wali (cooked rice) was tasty while the fish was too dry. I liked the ukwaju. Lesson for Kenyans here; mchele is uncooked rice while wali is cooked rice.

The next few days were going to be quite eventful and engaging so I called it a night early.


 

Day 2: Road Trip to Lengai Village and Visit to Lengai Waterfall

 

I slept well the previous night despite waking up a few times due to the really loud music from the adjacent college. I was informed they had a party the previous night till 5 am. 

Freshened up, packed up, and had breakfast as we awaited our ride and host.


Throughout my time in Arusha and Lengai, everyone we dealt with kept time. A breath of fresh air.

 

Our host Isaac briefed us on what to expect in the following days. He is a storyteller. We knew we were going to have an amazing time.


 

A few minutes past 8 am, we left the Africana Grand Hotel for Lengai Village. Our driver George also had stories for days. His laugh was infectious. Whenever he spoke English, he sounded like a South African.

 

Isaac and George were the perfect combination of guides on a road trip. They worked together seamlessly.


 

The road to Lengai is tarmac up to Mto wa Mbu followed by a rough road to Lengai Village. This road is only used by 4*4 vehicles. Anything else is going to have you stall in the middle of nowhere in the heat and dust of Lengai. We found a school van broken down. The driver told us the steering wheel had jammed and that he’d called for help from Arusha but, given the distance, he would have to wait for about 4 hours before getting any help. We gave him some water as the heat was too much. It sometimes gets to 30 degrees Celsius.

 

At Mto wa Mbu, we had lunch at Sango Hotel. I removed my shoes and walked in the perfectly maintained grass. 


Around midday, we left Mto wa Mbu for Lengai Village.


The ride through the rough road took us about 4 hours. Having done a major stop to capture moments in front of Ol’ Doinyo Lengai, our reason for the trip.

The ride was dusty, bumpy, hot, and full of laughter and banter. From a distance, we thought it’s raining but on getting closer, we found dust floating and making tiny tornado-like structures. George’s 4*4 had a fridge at the back so we stored water and anything that could melt in it.

 


Getting to Masai Village felt like getting to an oasis in a desert. The same feeling I got at the Namanga river on that ol’ Donyo Orok hike.

 

In that region are many different hotels which host tourists from all over. All very well done.

Lengai Waterfall

After settling into our rooms, we changed for a swim at Lengai Waterfall. Our driver drove us close to it and we did a 25 mins walk to the waterfall. We walked on rocks, sand and had to often walk in the river. Open shoes, eg, the Maasai sandals which are locally known as Akala are advised for this experience. I wore my swimsuit and a flexible dress on top.


 

One ought to be careful while walking there especially where the rocks are wet. 

The waterfall is a sight to behold. Even non-swimmers can walk/swim in it as it’s not so deep. From where the water dropped down, standing below it felt like being slapped multiple times. It also served as a free massage on the neck and back.


After fun-filled water therapy, we went back to camp and had dinner around 7 pm. The plan being to be up and off to the base of the mountain at 11 pm. We rested for a few hours before then.

 

I hardly slept. Probably slept for an hour and I was up the rest of it.

 


 Day 3: Hike Ol Doinyo Lengai Day

By 11:10 pm we were in the car ready to be ferried to the base of the mountain. It would take us about 50 minutes with the not-so-well-marked road and poor visibility at night.

 

At 12:05 am, we began our hike. We had been advised to dress light as Lengai is a hot area. And true to those words, we hiked in t-shirts. One of us hiked bare-chested. 


The hike started with a polite ascent. Dusty and lots of dry shrubs around. We shared stories in the night. The animals that we expected on the hike were snakes. Thank God we didn’t encounter any. However, we had a little scare. We heard something in the bushes in the dead of the night. We stood still. And after a few seconds, we continued with our endeavor.

It got steeper the higher up we went. Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it got worse. I was now the one asking how far. The trickiest part of this mountain was the rocky part. We had to go up in all fours. My mind went crazy trying to piece together how it’s even remotely possible to go down such a steep mountain.

I would often make remarks like “call me a helicopter” “nini ilinileta huku”. I wanted to go back down at some point. It felt like my first hike ever. The way an unfit non-hiker would feel if presented Elephant Hill as their first challenge on a rainy day.

 


I hardly talk much but on this hike, I was the wordiest while trying to deal with the wonder of it all.

 

We had a Masai guide, Kevin. He often narrated to us how it is living as a Masai. He was patient to answer our many questions. I think if there’s an African tribe that fascinates people, it has to be the Masai. They occupy a huge part of Lengai. 

 


Throughout our drive through Lengai, we met kids as young as 6 taking care of cattle. We often wondered what the cattle were feeding on as the place seemed dry. The kids, on seeing a vehicle, would lay out their hands as a sign of borrowing something. We had sweets. Their little faces would brighten up.

 

Halfway into the hike, it began raining. Something none of us expected. It helped cool down the temperature. But eventually, it made us cold. Good thing we were all init so by default, the rain was not going to stop us.

We kept moving, a step at a time in the sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky ground. 


 

At 7 am, we got to the summit. Glorious feeling. Sulfur smelling and rising like smoke from inside the crater. The lava erupting from down below while making whooshing sounds. It was a sight to behold.

 


This is the reason why we climb mountains. Getting to the summit and enjoying whatever it has to offer. We stood there for a while taking it all in and capturing the moments. I hear people go around the crater but that was not in the books for any of us. Especially seeing how thin the edges of the crater are. One small mistake and you are toast. 

 

I commend the Masai in Lengai who dug steps on the trail to enable people to maneuver through tough spots.


 

The Descent;

The moment I dreaded had come. Everybody encouraged me. No helicopter was coming. We were gonna go down together one step at a time.

One of us threw a big stone downhill. It was dismantled into a few pieces before disappearing. That’s how risky tripping and falling would be. Death. Ol Doinyo Lengai is a dangerous affair. 


Before we began the descent. I sat down looking down for a moment. Thinking maybe this is how I die. Doing what I love. I made peace with it. And let the help I was offered through. 

A step at a time, Kevin held my hand as we slowly descended. Having him In front of me meant I did not see the serious descent and so that made it easier for my mind. 

I can say I enjoyed the descent. It was not as hard as I had imagined.


 

At 12:30 pm, we were done. I was tired. I was so proud of myself and the team. I had not seen myself finishing the trek down. But I did. I will forever Stan me for doing it. And stan my support team.

George was there waiting for us. He congratulated us. Then drove us back to camp. We freshened up, had lunch, and drove to Lake Natron ahead of our trip back to Arusha.


It was a 15 minutes drive from camp to Lake Natron. We then walked closer to where the flamingos were. On the way, we saw wildebeests. There were remains of dead pelicans due to consuming the salty lake’s fish.

We then left for Arusha. I was properly tired and blacked out in the vehicle on our way back. We got back to the hotel and bid our host and driver goodbye. Too tired to go out, I slept early.


 

The next day we were picked up at our hotel by Impala Shuttle. There were only six of us in the van as we came back. That for me spelled dependability. It was a breezy chill ride back home. We often reminisced on how the whole experience had been. Dreamy. Magnificent. An experience I would highly recommend to adventure seekers.

 

Thank you notes

Thank you Jackson for believing in Mona Trails and me to curate this experience for you and experience it alongside you. Your optimistic vibe was a much-needed light on such a trip.


 

Thank you Isaac for being a gracious host. You made sure to provide us with top-tier experiences throughout. From the accomodation to the tour van, to the personalized experiences and being patient to answer all our curious questions.

 

Thank you George for being a good driver and offering knowledge on what you know. Totally enjoyed your vibe. You vibed to the Kenyan music too. That was dope.


 

Thank you Kevin for holding my hand in every tricky place where I couldn’t walk it alone. I liked how you would answer our curious questions about your tribe’s culture.

 

Thank you Tanzania for holding such beautiful gems for us to explore. Keep protecting your natural resources. Beauty all around.


 

Thank you God for blessing me with all the above people who ensured I had a beautiful forever-engraved-on-my-mind experience. Thank you for giving me the strength to pursue what I love.

 

Recommendations

If you would like to hike any Mountains in Tanzania, I, Mona Trails, and Isack Kilimanjaro are your go-to. Look no further. Let’s make those memories that last forever.


 

https://themkare.com/mona_trails-upcoming-hikes/

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4 comments

Sam March 7, 2022 - 5:42 pm

Hello I am a new fan trying to follow your trail to where you have hiked before…….Keep up the good job!

Reply
Monicah Wangari March 10, 2022 - 11:15 am

Hey Sam,
Thank you and feel welcome here.

Reply
Sam March 14, 2022 - 12:06 pm

Asante, You seem to have summited all the hills I can think of. I have a target of doing 4 every year henceforth hope nitakufikia!

Reply
Monicah Wangari March 15, 2022 - 8:39 am

Slowly tick off your bucket list and in time you’ll conquer them.

Reply

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