Ol Doinyo Lengai – The Mountain of God

March 24, 2013 in Africa, Tanzania

We left the Maasai village and drove back to Mto wa Mbo to get some supplies for the dinner that we would eat in the tent camp at Lake Natron where we would be sleeping the coming night.

One of the best things in Africa, in my own opinion, is the daily fresh vegetable markets. It always serves the best food available and fresh as well. Not like the vegetables we find here in Europe which are mostly imported or sprayed with pesticides to keep it growing. This is genuine, organic and healthy grown vegetables, good food that has not been modified.  The market in Mto wa Mbo was no exception.

vegetables market in mto wa mbu tanzania lake natron

All fresh.. and flavourful

When we use the word poor our minds automatically connects the word poor with the economics of a nation or a person. But I think Europe is poor. Poor in the sense of real food. Something I discovered and thought more of since my encounter and discussions with our host in Arusha.

We decided that we wanted to eat some vegetable stew and we all went separate ways to look what kind of vegetables and fruit we could find. I bought a pineapple of course and the others gathered bananas, potatoes, onions, zucchini and other things.

Mostly I walked around and watched all the amazingly looking food that was right in front of our eyes. This is unfortunately not something you can see here in Czech Republic where I live. Fresh and good-looking vegetables.

Fresh black-eyed peas at market in mto wa mbu tanzania

Some black-eye peas ready to be cooked

We loaded up the car, fueled it, checked the tire pressure, bought water and set off on dirt roads to get closer to the Kenyan border and visit Lake Natron. The sun was frying us as we were sitting in the thin can with wheels with no air conditioning, yes I guess we westerners are spoiled with that, crossing the Tanzanian country following the East African Rift.

The rift is a narrow zone in which the African Plate is in the process of splitting into two new tectonic plates, called the Somali Plate and the Nubian Plate, something that probably won´t happen in our lifetime however yet impressive to see. Along this rift are a number of dead and active volcanos including The Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano which is the only active volcano in Tanzania.

The east african rift in Tanzanai

Following the East African Rift

We were driving for hours passing through tiny and larger villages which appeared in the middle of nowhere just to disappear in the rear view mirror just as quick. All around us was sand and hardly any vegetation. The landscape changed dramatically from green and lush to arid and dry where the only living thing were dust devils. We could see large dust devils in the distance as well as a few were born right by the side of the car as we drove to chase us for a few meters and then just die as quickly as they were born. The larger ones were more hypnotic to watch as they danced across the fields with their swaying motion caused by the wind that was keeping them alive.

We passed through three gates where the village had to charge vehicles, especially those carrying tourists, to pass through and use the road on the way to Lake Natron. This was imposed by the government as they wanted money from tourists that were gonna see either the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano or to visit Lake Natron but didn’t take the route through the Ngorongoro park and pay the park fee of 200 USD for a car. Instead the fee was between 10-20 USD per gate.

At every gate some Maasai women were sitting and started running towards the car to try to sell their homemade jewelry or charge for a photo taken of them. Once again you had several hands stuck into the window with simple words uttered as “- Wanna buy?” or “- Look mister”. When they finally realized that we were not gonna buy anything from them they all started the chant of  “- Photo?” or “- Mister, Photo?”. I was the heaviest targeted one as I was sitting in the front seat where I just smiled and said “-No” and “-No thank you, not interested” and so on.

Dust devils in Tanzania

Four dust devils roaming the land

The old woman who was hanging and peering in through my window while chanting “Photo?” gasped when I took out my ear plug to show them my stretched ear lobes. She reached out a wrinkly, boney old finger to touch it while she just said “Maasai…”.
This fascinated them all and suddenly I had several women in all ages standing by my door watching my ears while chatting besides them all. I managed to have them thrown off their track for a few minutes before they came back to their senses and started their chants again “Mister, photo?” while making gestures of a camera taking pictures.

Fortunately Rasta had managed to find the gate-keeper and pay the fee so we could pass through and continue our journey through the deserted lands. We had been on the road for about 2½ hours when Rasta decided that it was time to stop and eat our lunch. We were all pretty happy to get out of the frying tin can and get out in some fresh air. Rasta drove off the main dirt road and headed up to a place he knew. It was a place called The hole of God by the Maasai people as it was a major collapsed volcano. As we got closer we saw some colored dots sitting under a tree and realized that it was Maasai people just hanging out and probably were sitting and waiting for tourists to stop by so that they could try to sell their jewelry. We all jumped out as Rasta parked under one tree to get some shade and asked the Maasai people to let us be while we were eating. They respected the request interesting enough.

I grabbed my camera and decided that I would try to reach the top of the crater to get a good photo of the area. After some 20 minutes walking I was still not closed to the top of the crater but high enough to get a good picture of the area trying to get the size of the hole of God in perspective.

The hole of god in Tanzania by Lake Natron

The great Hole of God with our car zoomed in

I walked down again with the sun licking off all the sun screen I had applied once again and had my packed lunch box. It was the same kind of lunch that we have had the day before in Ngorongoro park but I didn’t mind as it was tasty. As the others finished their lunch and started to walk up the crater where I had been the kids of the Maasai that were sitting nearby were starting to come to the truck to look at us. By looking I mean trying to beg us to give them some food from our lunch box. I passed my package of coconut flavoured cookies to the kid that was standing by my door of the car. The kid quickly hid it in some pocket underneath their traditional cloak while looking around to see if any of the other kids had noticed it. I guess the rivalry between the kids for food or treats are common.

As we were going to leave the Maasai once again filled the sides of the car trying to sell the same jewelry as everyone else before. It is quite sad actually to see this as they all hope to make some money from tourists. Where does all the money that they earn from visits to the village go?

Right beside The hole of God or actually a couple of kilometers away but due to the size it feels like right beside, is Ol Doinyo Lengai which in Maasai language means The Mountain of God. The only active volcano in Tanzania. A definite target for my next visit to Tanzania. You can hike up the volcano but the last part of the hike is steep climbing. It should however be worth it as you would be standing on the rim of the crater and see the activity going on. Last eruption was in 2008 which Rasta told us about. How a few tourists got trapped on the volcano when it erupted but all got down safe later on. The company that had guided them up is no longer in any real kind of business after ignoring the other companies warnings not to climb that night.

The active volcano  Ol Doinyo Lengai in Lake Natron Tanzania

Ol Doinyo Lengai is sleeping

We would be having the volcano in our sight for the next hour of driving which was what was left off the hot journey to Lake Manyara.On the remaining road we would also see what the volcano had managed to create of the landscape as we had to pass several dried out lava streams and minor fields of ashes when the Mountian of God had “spoken” in 2008. Interesting enough a lot of people believe that all volcanos are the same which would be saying that all dogs are the same. They are not. They are as different as dog species are. Ol Doinyo Lengai was nothing like the volcanic remains that I had seen when I was in Iceland back in 2009.

Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano on Earth that erupts with a carbonatite where other volcanoes produces silica-rich basalts. The lave is rich in the rare sodium and potassium carbonates, nyerereite and gregoryite minerals which makes the  lava erupt at low temperatures of approximately 500-600 degrees celsius which is about half the temperature of the other volcanoes.

Since the temperature is so low the lava from Ol Doinyo Lengai appears black in sunlight instead of having the distinct red glow that we usually see on pictures from eruptions of other volcanos. This results in a volcanic landscape that is different from any other in the world.

The active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in Lake Natron Tanzania

Lava from Ol Doinyo Lengai.. the volcano to the left

We were all happy when we passed the final gate and arrived at the Lake Natron tent camp where we would stay the coming night. Rasta was just gonna go into the village and pick up our guide and we would be going to the nearby waterfalls for a swim, an idea we all loved very much after a 3½ hour journey under the sun.

Ol Doinyo Lengai – The Mountain of God, was watching us closely.