We were halfway down the mountain when we heard the low, warm sound of the marimba reverberating between the jungle-topped peaks. It sounded like rain.
Our guide thought the music was coming from a small grass house nestled between the trees and asked us to wait while he went to talk to the musician. I am a musician too, he said, as he climbed down the hill. We sat down on a rock and listened to the marimba raindrops fall onto the banana tree – pineapple plant – mint leaf- jackfruit forest.
We had arrived in Morogoro on Friday night after a four-hour bus ride from Dar and had difficulty finding a place to stay. At 10:30 pm we decided we had no choice but to spend the night in a faded hotel owned by a rude foreigner and completely overrun by five dirty white dogs. We fell asleep to the sound of the dogs fighting amongst each other and woke up to the sound of the hotel owner yelling at her staff.
As the hike was 12 hours long, we had to start at 7 am to make it back down the mountain by sunset. This left us without any time to get a good breakfast or to pack a lunch, and we stuffed my backpack full of bananas, which felt heavier and heavier as the day wore on.
On our way up, we trekked through a small village, encountered monkeys flying up above us in the trees, and crossed a waterfall. The climb was steep and we had to scramble and manoeuvre ourselves across rocks and fallen trees. By 9 am the sun was everywhere and there was no shade left underneath the palm trees or the banana trees. The cool 16 degree temperatures when we finally reached 2,000 feet were a reward.
As we climbed up, our guide repeatedly asked me for the time, telling us that the climb down was much worse than the climb up and letting us know that we had to turn around by 1 pm or we risked having to negotiate the last part of the steep descent in the dark. We turned around shortly before reaching the peak, after we ran out of water. We climbed steadily downhill until we reached the merimba musician.
Having located the musician, our guide rejoined us. He explained that the musician had refused to speak with him. “He’s mad”, he said. “I greeted him and asked him about his instrument and he ignored me. Maybe some people prefer the solitude of the mountains and the music, but I don’t understand it.” I thought to myself that maybe I was the one who was mad, for attempting a 12 hour climb with little food and not enough water under the blazing Tanzanian sun.
The climb down was much worse than the climb up. The incline seemed steeper and at times I was scrambling on all fours, falling backwards, and grabbing onto trees for support. To distract us from the pain, our guide asked about our favourite hip hop artists and named Michael Bolton and Elton John as his favourite R and B artists.
We made it to the base of the mountain shortly before sundown, drank two litres of water, and asked for directions to the closest restaurant. We were told that Cha Cha’s makes the best chipsie na kuku (chicken and chips) in Morogoro. To the surprise and delight of the waiter, we each ate two orders, which amounts to a whole chicken each.
As we ate, a marching band crammed into the back of the pick up truck rode around the block, belting out song after song into the stillness of the night.