Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pugu Hills

Monday, June 20, 2005

On Sunday we went for a hike in the Pugu Hills not too far outside Dar es Salaam. It's a green area that used to stretch for hundreds of miles but now, due to deforestation, has been reduced considerably. I'm not sure how expansive it is now but it was big enough for us to get lost.

Our small group of four headed out for the hike early enough in the day so as to finish by midday when it gets really hot. We didn't take a guide (my friends Peter and Soyeon wife had been here before) though a guy did approach us offering up his services as our bodyguard. Such an offer is sometimes cause for concern. Either it means it's usually a dangerous area or our refusal will cause him to go get his friends to come back and rob us. Sometimes it's safer just to pony up a couple of dollars and take the guy with you just as insurance. Nonetheless, we said no and sent him on his way. Since the brief chat was in Swahili, I didn't know what the discussion was about until I inquired after we were well on our way. Due to my new-found capacity for travel fear, I might have tried to pursuade the conversation to go in a different direction. I also wasn't sure how much confidence I had in Peter's guiding skills.

It wasn't too long before my lack of confidence was determined to be well-founded. Within probably a mile we had no idea where we were and no idea where we had come from. The brush was pretty dense so it all began to look pretty much the same. We were counting on the sun to keep us heading in what we thought was the right direction. To make a long story short, we stumbled (literally) on a guy who was illegally cutting wood. We startled each other and, after both parties realized that neither was in danger, we asked him if he knew where the lake was (our destination). He motioned for us to follow him and off we went. You just have to assume that he's leading you where you need to go instead of some grisly alternative. We zigzagged through all kinds of vegetation, bizarre looking bugs, monkeys, spiders (and poisonous snakes we found out later), etc., following the guy's impressive knowledge of the deep brush. I took a shot of him from behind (see photo). Given the illegal nature of his work, I don't think he would have appreciated my camera. When we finally came to our destination, we thanked the guy and paid him almost a week's wages for this area (about 2 bucks). He then returned to his deforestation tasks, happy to have encountered a group of dumbass Americans.

After a short picnic, the trail back was easy to spot and relatively easy to follow. The trailhead was at a fairly nice resort-ish place where we had lunch and a couple of cold and very enjoyable beers. Another couple, Germans I think, recounted to us their adventures in the woods in which their guide had a brush with a deadly snake. I decided I was happier with the getting lost thing. It is comforting, however, to do stuff like this with an MD, even if they get you a little lost.

In any case, the view was pretty nice and we were in no hurry to leave. It's funny, I keep doing stuff like this and I always stop to think how cool it is - how lucky I am to have the chance to do all this exploring and adventure. I hope I never take it for granted. I've been doing this sort of thing for a long time and I don't think I will.


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