With Eid (celebration of the end of Ramadan) coming, a few of us decided we'd take off to the hills for a break. Priya and I needed to do some more hiking in preparation for our trek up Kilimanjaro next week. It's not tough hiking but it's better than being at sea level.
What started as a small group turned out to be pretty large. I wasn't even in the group that initiated the weekend. I'd been talking with Afriroots about organizing a trek in the Uluguru Mtns. similar to what I did last year. When I learned that others were headed to Lushoto, I figured what the heck. We can do our hiking there.
I figured it would be nice to rent our own transport. With a group of 10 or so, it seemed logical that it would be less expensive and a lot more convenient. It turned out to be convenient but that's about it. Not only was it more expensive, it was uncomfortable as hell. I was told it would be more comfortable than a daladala - the beat-up vans that are the core of local transport in Dar es Salaam. As it turned out, it was basically a daladala. It may have been slightly cleaner and a bit more reliable but it was more or less the same rock hard, narrow seats with no leg room. People were nice since it wasn't entirely my fault but I did feel a bit responsible for the pain in the ass (literally) mode of transportation.
The drive there was longer than expected. The driver was prudent, which was nice, but pretty slow. I guess with the number of deaths from car accidents in this country, I shouldn't complain. It's just that with low blood sugar and an uncomfortable van, I was surprised everyone was in as good a mood as they were. In addition, we stopped in Segera (near the turnoff to Tanga) for lunch. It took about an hour and a half, the portions were small and it was crappy food. I'm not normally a whiner but I guess I'm developing less of a tolerance for unnecessary stuff.
The weather was mostly cloudy and even rainy at times. As you hit the turnoff in Mombo to climb towards Lushoto, the drive gets considerably prettier. You wind up the hill following along a stream. The area had had three days of non-stop rains so the stream was swollen and presented a few very nice, brownish falls. The road is single lane part of the way and a bit sketchy in places. I'm guessing, given how people drive here, it gets its share of casualties.
We'd booked rooms at the convent that we stayed in last year, St. Eugene's. It's such a cool place. Very clean. The sisters are great. The food's good. The grounds are beautiful. The cooler climate is much more to my liking. I probably should have made more trips to Lushoto during my time in Dar so far but oh well.
After settling in to our rooms, we decided to go for a walk and shake some of the drive out of our bodies. It's about 3 kms. to town, just about the right distance for what we had time to do given the amount of time before dark. We walked around town, took some photos, all the while accumulating an entourage of children. It's pretty funny really. There's no shortage of wazungu (foreigner) visitors to Lushoto it seems but I guess it breaks up the monotony of their day. I'm sure they get handouts sometimes as well. We offered them the ability to see themselves on our digital cameras but that's about it. As easy as it would be to give the kids small amounts of money, I shudder at the thought that kids are developing the image that that's what wazungu are - walking money machines. Also, once word gets out that you're giving, watch out. It could spoil the rest of your walk. I plan to cover the topic of giving in another blog but for now, suffice to say that the need here is daunting. You can’t give every time you see need. It’s impossible. You need to be strategic and give in a way that is thought through, provides the greatest benefit possible and serves whatever it is that you feel strongly about.
The next day we had our breakfast in the convent and headed out for our hike. We followed more or less the same route as last year and we hooked up with Kibwana, the same guide we had. He’s a good guy and he seems to be doing well. Priya had mailed him photos after the trip last year. One of Priya with the kids from his village made its way to the glass case on the front of the convent. She was recognized by the nuns and they remarked how happy they were to receive the photos. People often say they’ll send photos or emails when they encounter each other traveling but they never do. It’s pretty cool that she does.
The hike was similar to the one last year. There were chameleon sightings, lots of children, nice views, etc. One thing we didn’t see last time were the colobus monkeys. We saw several this time. They’re the cool black and white ones that look a bit crazed with the black face and the long hair.
We returned to Kibwana’s village in the hills above Lushoto. They seemed happy to see us. Kibwana and his wife had a baby since we were here – pretty damn cute. He has also mostly completed his house and is building another one in Lushoto. Good to see that his tour guide thing is going well.
We worked our way to Irente Farms where we had lunch, the same place as last year. It’s such a cool thing they do. They lay out a spread of food from the area – bananas, oranges, passion fruit, cheese, cucumbers, homemade bread, jam, juice, carrots, etc. We had our fill and carried on towards the Irente viewpoint. It’s a pretty spectacular lookout point, basically a cliff, facing south to southwest with the road to Arusha passing in the valley below. It was a bit hazy but it was still nice.
We stopped briefly at the horrendously ugly Irente View Cliff Resort to decide our plan of action. The hotel is a new-ish monstrosity owned by the previous president Mkapa. He appropriated himself some pretty select land and proceeded to build one tacky structure. The makuti (thatch) roof is good but everything underneath is pure cheese: fake brick, florescent tube lighting, aluminum doors, clocks with cigarette logos, and so forth. Not sure what the theme was but I would have gone with something a bit more Tanzanian.
The van met us part way on the descent back to Lushoto and just took us back to the convent. We toyed with the idea of going to see a falls but the majority had had enough at that point. It was good to get back to the convent, have some dinner and relax.
The next day we headed back to Dar. Nothing eventful on the way home. That’s usually a good thing. Kilimanjaro next week…