Saturday, June 9, 2012

In Tanzania, surprises at dawn

IRINGA TOWN, Tanzania – I had an awful night. Mosquitoes kept buzzing in my ear and I kept turning on the light to hunt for them. I awoke for good at 3:30 a.m. to watch the Boston Celtics play miserably against the Miami Heat in a key playoff game; the Celtics lost badly. Still, I managed to pull myself out of a depressed haze to lace up my running shoes and explore this town in southwestern Tanzania at cold dawn.

The dirt road headed straight up and I labored trying to keep stride. Finally, it leveled off and I ran along a ridge road, passing scores of blue-uniformed primary school kids on their way to the classroom. About 10 minutes into the run, I passed by a gigantic boulder about a quarter mile above me. It was bald and majestic and formidable.

I saw a man ahead and stopped to ask how I could get to the boulder.

“You take that path just there,” he said, pointing to a trail behind him.

“Is it hard?”


With such surety, I thought what the hell and ran to the trailhead. I ran-walked and then scrambled over tree roots and rocks for 10 minutes before I reached the base of the boulder. I had no idea how I would climb the sheer walls of the rock, but when I reached the base it became obvious. A crack about 18 inches wide split the boulder in two and hefty rocks formed stepping stones for 20 yards up. I wedged through the crack and pulled myself up and out, and made my way to the summit.

What a view – and what a surprise: Already there were two young guys of Asian descent atop the boulder. They were sitting with their backs to me and I could hear the music coming out of their earbuds. I gave a small shout so as not to spook them and one turned to wave; the other ignored me. (I thought maybe it wasn’t his idea to get up for an early morning hike.) Not wanting to intrude on their space, and giving up any hope of a nirvana-like alone-with-the-world meditative experience, I took in a last view of the valley and hills that stretched for miles – the red sun rising on the east, the white moon full in the west – and made my way back down.

I heard chirping immediately and saw to my right what looked like a pissed-off rock hyrax.

Hyraxes resemble woodchucks or groundhogs, but its closest cousins (I know this obscure fact from a long-ago safari tour) are elephants and sea cows. Anyway, it continued chirping away at me while standing on its hind legs and I could see little hyraxes scoot around the rocks behind it.
Apparently I was intruding on the space of all kinds of living things at dawn in Iringa town, so I ambled off, running up and down hill paths for another half hour.  All around me, blue and green and yellow birds criss-crossed like mini-rockets, skimming the tassels of golden yellow high grass. The sun warmed my back. This felt like being in Africa. I had that moment, I had worked up a sweat, I was ready to face the day, mosquitoes, Celtics, and a hyrax hissy fit overcome.

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