We left Arusha early on May 20th to catch an early bus to Lushoto which is not far from Tanga, Tanzania. We had arranged a taxi, but due to some confusion, it didn’t come. My first response was “Oh shit”, as I had no idea how we could get to the station for our 6am bus. Amazingly, Rena who we were staying with told the security guard and he walked to the gate whistled, and instantly a car stopped with a Masai driver and we were whisked off to the station. It was quite amazing! Anyway we got on our bus and the driver invited us to sit in the front seats which were much more comfortable and we had a better view. We had a 6 hour trip ahead of us. It was a great drive. We had a good view of Kilimanjaro which was fully visible. Usually it is shrouded in clouds. It is an amazing mountain with a huge presence. Luckily I am not inclined to climb it!
We arrived in Lushoto which is located in the West Usambara Mountains. It was a beautiful drive up to Lushoto with so many fields of crops patch-worked up the mountains. We found a place to stay and then set to finding a guide for our trek in the mountains. We finally came upon Amani who worked for an organization called Tayodea. It is a youth organization that runs treks to various locations in the Usambaras. One the things that they do is also run projects in the area which improve the life for people living in the mountains, like a carpentry training program. Some part of our money that we paid for the trek also goes to fund these projects. From the first moment we met Amani we felt comfortable him. His lovely personality and his excellent spoken English really stood out. We knew that we needed someone who would be patient as neither of us were in any kind of shape especially as in the last week we had walked very little. Our choice was a good one.
The first morning we headed off in the pouring rain, climbing upwards through the forest and then into the rain forest. Within 15 minutes of beginning our trek, Amani spotted the first of many chameleons. How he spotted them is a mystery as they blend in so well to their surroundings. It was sheer delight to see them and we had many opportunites on the trek to stop and experience them.
Chris with his new friend!
A Perfect Chameleon
Our guide had told us it was a 7 hour walk, but what he had not told us is that the first day was a 23 km walk and we climbed about 2000 feet. Also parts were downhill so we climbed even more than that.
View from the Mugambi Peak
By the time we got to Lukosi where we spent our first night it was dusk. We felt as though we were 90 years old at least. I had my doubts about the next day, but we did set off the next morning, with the possibility of picking up a bus is we got too tired. This day we mostly spent walking through the valleys through hillside farms often of cabbages and Irish potatoes which fetched a good price in Dar Es Salam. It was fun walking on the little paths meeting people along the way carrying all manor of things often on their heads.
Kids Work Hard!
Little kids could see us from what seemed miles away. We would here the familiar words “misungu” which means foreigner in Swahili. The next thing they would say is “take your pikcha”. When I would pull out my camera they would all run away. Soon I got smart and realized that they really didn’t want their photo taken. Although there were some brave ones who were delighted to see their photo on the screen of my camera. One of the sweetest moments of that day was when some kids invited me to take a photo of them and actually wanted it. Then one of the adults appeared and pulled out his cell phone and wanted to take our photo, including one with him and us. It felt like a perfect exchange. Later on in the walk we came through a village and by the end of the village I think every child in town was following us. It was delightful.
We drew quite a following!
We passed through many villages that day which I loved, seeing their houses and just witnessing their way of life. The Usambara mountains has four different tribes of people who are living there, and they have found a way to coexist together very peacefully.
That evening we arrived at a convent where we stayed the night. It was a welcome sight when we were coming into Rangwi. This was an easy days hike by Amani’s standards, only 18 kms!! The morning part of the trip was very steep as we climbed out of a valley, but most of the rest of the day was fairly flat, and included some wonderful views.
I will leave Chris to tell you more about the convent as he was very touched by the experience of being there. After a very restful night at the convent and breakfast we headed off to Mtae which was the end point of our trip. Mtae, is perched right on the edge of the Usambara mountains and overlooks the Kenyan plains, including on a clear day a view of Kilimanjaro. This was my very favourite day as we passed through villages all day and met loads of children along the way. It seemed to me that the further we got away from Lushoto the more friendly and less scared the kids were of us. I am including a photo of some girls who we met and who I really had fun with as I photographed them. They loved posing for their pictures and burst out in screams of laughter when I showed them their photo on my camera. Luckily I had bought 5 little toothbrushes in Lushoto, just in case I met any children along the way. They were delighted with them!
Along the way we met three men who were sitting on a bench beside the path and so we stopped to talk to them. They wanted Chris and Amani to sit with them and then take a photo. It was another one of those sweet moments.
Usambara Mens Gathering
As were reached Mtae which is beautifully perched on the mountain top there was a lot of mist and cloud and it was later in the afternoon, so it was magical. We were doused with rain just before arriving and really had our doubts about seeing much at the Mtae viewpoint. However we had some really beautiful views, though not of Kilimanjaro. There has to be something for next time!
Chris and Dana nearing Mtae
View as we approached Mtae
Our guest house was tucked into the mountainside and we had a very tiny room but it was enough.
Chris and Amani at the Mtae Guesthouse
Mtae Sunset View
Sadly the only way back to Lushoto was a bus that leaves at 4am in the morning so we had to leave earlier than we would have wished. The bus ride was very interesting as the bus just got fuller and fuller. As we were at the beginning point we got seats, but as things got fuller we had less and less space. One woman put her purse on our laps, and I didn’t find her till the end of the bus ride. Chris was enthusiastic to continue hiking for the day and so got off with Amani and they walked to a waterfall. I on the on the other hand I was wanting a day to cool out and just catch up with our blog and emails. Over the hike we had covered 60 kms in all. I was amazed that we had managed it and I suspect so was Amani, though he was very kind to us saying he really liked to hike slowly.
Amani at the Waterfall
Leaving Lushoto to get back to Nairobi we wanted to take one of the bigger fast buses as we wanted to get back to Nairobi in one day. It was very unclear about how we were going to do that so we just had to trust the Tayodea office in organizing it which involved phoning someone’s brother in Dar Es Salam to reserve tickets. We had been told the bus would pass through Mombo, on the main road at 10 or 11 am. Needless to say I was a bit doubtful, but what to do. Sure enough 11am comes along and the Dar Express bus pulls up and we get on and have seats. Luckily it was in the back of the bus so I was not able to witness the driving. These bus drivers drive by intimidation. They come up so fast from behind other cars and then honk, the other drivers have no option but to get out of the way fast! Vikki told when we returned to Nairobi that these buses are nicknamed ”flying coffins”. Actually, the truth was that it was fast but we didn’t see the driver doing anything too stupid which is more than we can say for some other drivers! Anyway, I want to stop here and let Chris write about other aspects of our Usambara adventure.
Until next time, Dana
Some additional words from Chris
Our last day in Arusha was relaxed as we recovered from our Serengeti safari and prepared for our departure for the Usambaras. We had hoped that Emma and Chris would be back from Nairobi complete with their visas for entry into Canada. Instead, they were still away and no-one had heard from them for a day or two, so we were all worried about what was happening. In the afternoon of that last day, we (Gladness, her friend, Lydia, Dana and I) went to the handicraft market where I bought a couple of carvings of the heads and upper torsos of a Maasai man and woman and Dana bought some small carvings of giraffe and some beaded baskets. We also spent a little time at the main market, but soon left as the young men there were kind of aggressive in their reaction to Dana’s taking photographs (most other people did not appear to be upset by photography being done) even though they were not in any of the photographs, so it made the experience unsettling and uncomfortable. That night, back at Emma’s house, we packed all our gear, wrapped up our assorted Tanzanian souvenirs which Emma and Chris had said they would try to take to Canada for us, wrote a note to Emma (we were still very concerned about him, wondering what might have befallen him, Chris and their friend, Nestory), and went to bed so that we could get up early the next morning to get to the bus station at about 6 a.m. A few moments after we had retired, Rena knocked at our door to say Emma was on the phone, so we were able to have a brief conversation with him. Apparently they were having difficulty in getting their visas. They intended to return to Arusha the next day, but would be back after we were due to arrive in Lushoto.
Dana has described the trip from Arusha to Lushoto. My only addition to what she has already said about it is to emphasize how amazing was the view of Kilimanjaro as we travelled the section of our journey between Arusha and Moshi. The bus stopped for thirty minutes in Moshi (from about 9 to 9:30 a.m.), and we noticed, as Dana was composing her images of the mountain, one or two small clouds appearing on its flanks – then, as the bus was leaving Moshi, saw Kilimanjaro was suddenly totally hidden by cloud!
And so to our three-day trek from Lushoto to Mtae. Again, Dana has described various aspects of the journey, so I’ll just add some of the parts that struck me so deeply that they are still very present in my memory.
The chameleons – we saw eight or so on our first day, a couple the next, five or so on the third day, and another five or six on the fourth day when I went with Amani to the Mzuki waterfall whilst Dana went back to Leshoto. It was great to see so many of these ancient-looking creatures again – they had always been a favourite creature of mine ever since when, as a child of 5 to 7 years old in Kenya, I tried to keep one from time to time as a “pet,” much to the detriment of the poor chameleon which almost never survived longer than a few days. We had quite the chameleon and injured-bird graveyard in part of the garden of the house we then lived in. These gentle, brightly coloured little animals brought deep joy to my heart whenever Amani pointed one out. I became determined to be the first to see one at some point on the trek – a resolve that completely failed to materialize!
A Baby Chameleon
Chameleon Close Up
We also saw Colobus monkeys on our first, very tiring day. Our best sighting was in the evening as we were climbing a never-ending hill. What a blessing it was to see them engrossed in eating some kind of fruit in the tree they were in – a blessing in part because they are such handsome animals, but equally (at that point in the day) because it gave us a reason to stop whilst Dana took a lot of photographs of them! A couple of earlier sightings had been fleeting as the monkeys seemed very shy and disappeared almost immediately we (read “Amani” for “we”) spotted them. I was to have another great view of Colobus monkeys on the fourth day of hiking on my way back from Mzuki Falls.
Neither our overnight accommodations nor our evening meals on the trek were particularly memorable with the notable exception of the convent in Rangwi, where the sisters of the Order of Our Lady of the Usambaras fed us delicious food that they had grown in their gardens and gave us a clean, comfortable room for the night. Their most beautiful singing in Kiswahili both in the evening after we arrived and in the following morning, which happened to be a Sunday, moved me to the depths of my soul, and, in both services, tears freely coursed their way down my cheeks. I could happily have spent days listening to them such was the magic of their voices and the sincerity of their worship.
The Convent Garden
Mtae was amazing, perched on cliff-top bluffs overlooking Maasai plains several thousand feet below. What a spectacular view! It could only have been more spectacular had Kilimanjaro revealed itself from behind its cloak of clouds.
By the end of the three days of trekking, I was starting to feel reasonably fit at last, so decided to add a 25-km walk starting in Mugambo village, going to the Mkuzi Falls and back, then descending to Leshoto. Amani and I did this pretty swiftly, but took time out to enjoy a great, reasonably priced breakfast at Muller’s Lodge. Also, when we arrived at the falls, I went for a swim in the deep and quite large pool at the foot of the falls. I was a bit dubious about doing this, being uncertain about the purity of the water because of all the habitations upstream ….. but I seem to have survived OK as far as I know.
Dana mentioned how we encountered several downpours as we were approaching Mtae. I elected to not wear my rain jacket – probably a mistake as now, some ten days later as I write this in the midday heat of the Kenya coast (Lamu) – I am coughing and sniffing vigorously, suffering from a well-installed chest cold (could this, alternatively, be somehow related to my swim at Mkuzi Falls?). But I enjoyed dancing in the rain! My brand new British passport got soaked, too, so now looks well aged – and some American 50- and 20-dollar bills also got wet so that, when I tried to change them the following evening, the woman money-changer held them up with utterly contemptuous suspicion, but luckily accepted them as otherwise we would have been in difficulty as we paid for our hotel, our bus-ride into Mombo, and our Dar Express ride from Mombo to Nairobi. Leshoto had only one ATM, and it was not set up to accept Visa-related cards, so I was hugely relieved when I discovered the money-changer in the same building as the hotel (the Tumaini, which I can thoroughly recommend) we stayed in for our last night.
So it was that the next day, Dana and I rose early and, accompanied by Musa, a most helpful young man who works with Tayodea, went down to Mombo. There, we had some breakfast, took leave of Musa, caught the Dar Express and arrived in Nairobi (River Road) at about 8:30 pm. We took a taxi from immediately across the road from where the Dar Express stopped, and were at Vikki and Calum’s house before 9 p.m., looking forward to a few recovery days.
Until Next Time, Chris