We left Dar es Salaam reasonably early and stopped in at a shopping centre on our way out to get some supplies and all off a sudden it was midday! We had a slow crawl out of the city but were eventually on the main road leading to the Arusha/Kilimanjaro area and eventually the Kenya border. Once we were on the main route north we still didn’t pick up much time because there are towns every 5 or so kilometres which have a 50kph speed limit and virtually all towns had a police road block. Now not all vehicles are pulled up but when the police see my foreign vehicle they can’t resist pulling me over mainly for a chat and to find out where we’ve been and where we’re going. At one such police check point I was told that in the previous town I had been speeding and would have to pay a 30,000 shilling fine. So I asked to see the proof and he produced a photo on his phone showing my vehicle doing 57 kph and in the background a mere 20 metres in front of the Landcruiser was the sign going back to 100kph! Yes I was speeding but what a sneaky place to put a speed camera, so the policeman went to print a ticket off what looks like an eftpos machine but discovered he was out of paper so he then had to send someone back to the station to pick up another paper roll. We had to wait another 15 minutes all the time thinking about how late we were already! Anyway all this made us very late which as you know we try very hard not to drive after dark but on this occasion we had no choice. What followed was a crazy drive up into the mountains to the town of Lushoto, it was pitch black, incredibly windy and there were people all over the road making it a very slow trip up. This drive was only around 20 kilometres but it took us over an hour to cover and I was very happy not to have the Karavan on the back. Not having our own accommodation anymore we stayed at a nice little hotel called the Lawns Hotel in a double room for the exorbitant price of the $38 dollars per night which included breakfast and I must say it was a great place to stay. We went straight in to the dining room for dinner because it was already 8.30pm and the kitchen closed at 9pm! The next morning after a great sleep we woke to unbelievable views of the mountains and the town below us. It was quite cool and we needed to hunt out our jumpers because we hadn’t used them for quite some time! hThe Usambaras Mountains are in the North East of Tanzania, are approximately 90 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide and reach a height of around 1500 metres. It is a tropical and very rich farming area and quite densely populated due to this. The first day we decided to go on a 13.5 kilometre walk out through several villages and lots of farms to the Irente View Point which looks out over the plains far below and then back to the hotel via a different route. It was a fantastic walk and we stopped and spoke to locals along the way.
Our guide was great pointing out many things we just didn’t see like the West Usambaras Two Horned Chameleon which is endemic to these mountains.
We stopped for lunch at the Irente Farm Lodge before returning to Lushoto where there was one of the two weekly markets in progress. It was a huge market selling virtually anything you could possibly need from live farm animals to clothes, shoes, pots and pans and all types of food grown in the area. In one section of the market were some tailors who would make what ever you needed on the spot. People walk into Lushoto for the market from many kilometres out and then return at the end of the day. Those who can afford it take the back seat of one of the many motorcycles lined up out the front of the market to get home. The next day with tired legs we decided to have a lazy day and sat out on the deck of the hotel writing blogs and researching the next leg of our journey while soaking in the ever changing views of the mountains, a lovely day.
On the day we left the sky was clear so we were looking forward to seeing the view while driving down the mountain which we missed out on coming up in the dark and it didn’t let us down. We also noticed that they were using a lot of eucalyptus and Grevillea trees along the road side to stabilise the ground where there were steep drops.
This is truely a beautiful part of Tanzania and when I think that the last three days have cost us next to nothing compared to the one day in the Selous National Park. Back on the main road our destination today was Moshi which is one of the main towns used as a jump off point for Mt Kilimanjaro. It was a really nice drive and we passed many Sisal farms along the way but I couldn’t find any home made ropes to buy which disappointed me.
On reaching Moshi we found the Rafiki Backpackers Lodge and booked into a double room with ensuite for $40 and it was very nice although again we had no hot water in the showers. I told the manager and in typical “That’s Africa Baby” manner he suggested that it would be fixed tomorrow but didn’t think to organise something for us now! We went next door to a bar and bought a couple of Kilimanjaro beers and then returned to the roof top of the backpackers in the hope that we might see Kili’s peak peak out from under its blanket of cloud and we were rewarded with a fleeting glimpse! At Rafiki Backpackers we started talking to three young women from the USA who had spent two years Peace Corp volunteering in Lesotho in the health field and it was really interesting listening to their stories. They had finished their time and were taking a holiday before going home. Back in Lushoto we had talked about how good it would be to circumnavigate Mount Kilimanjaro and so this morning we set off early to do just that. The slopes of the mountain are made up of a very rich fertile red soil which grows the most amazing bananas, potatoes, maize and all manner of other fruit and vegetables.
It was a Sunday and the road was full of men, women and children dressed up in their best Sunday dress on their way to church. Religion is a big part of African life and just about every denomination is represented in every town so there seems to be more churches than shops. A church can be quite a grand building in the village or it can be just four walls and a roof with nothing inside.
As we got further around to the northern side of the mountain the farms were replaced by huge pine and eucalyptus plantations but the locals still needing too plant crops had utilised any available space to put their crops in, again they utilise every little space.
Once we rounded the Western side we came back into more farming land but this was not as lush as on the eastern side and was predominantly made up of bigger farms.
We had a couple of days before sent an email off to a lodge enquiring if we would be able to stay overnight but had heard nothing back from them. Now we could have just dropped in and checked with them when we went past but being annoyed at their lack of response we decided to continue on the extra hours drive to Moshi so doing the circumnavigation in one day. It was a long day but one of the most enjoyable drives we had done because there was so little traffic and so much scenery. Back in Moshi we made the decision to try a different place to stay and ended up at the Mountain Bikes Lodge which was run by three young men and was made up of two rooms sharing a bathroom inside the house and then they had four new Eco Rooms outside. We had one of the Eco Rooms for the great price of $30 and it was really nice but still with a cold shower something we are getting used to now. That night we had opted to have dinner cooked for us and this consisted of some delicious African food shared with not only the guests but also all the staff who sat down and had dinner with us which made for a great fun night. Tonight we met some great travellers, two of whom were a mother and her 18 year old son from Darwin in Australia who the next morning were setting out to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. The other was a a young man from Canada who was also volunteering with the Peace Corp as a teacher in a village half an hour out of Moshi. He was later that night meeting a friend at the airport and was to have a short break with her. We have met so many incredible people on this trip and I’ve said it before but we just love listening to other peoples stories.
We had changed our route plans after deciding not to go to either the Serengeti National Park or the Ngorongoro Conservation Area due to the ridiculous fees placed on tourists from overseas and especially the fees charged on foreign vehicles. After all we have seen all the African animals already and will see lots more in Kenya for sure. So the next morning we would be covering the same route around the Eastern side of Kilimanjaro and head to the border post of Tarakea where we would be crossing for the first time into Kenya, my birth country.
All went well but by the time we reached the border post we were busting for a wee because the road so far had been so densely populated there was just no where to stop for a piddle. The border post staff thought it was quite funny that the first thing we did was to run straight past them and over the road to the toilet block. All went well at the border because it is not a very busy crossing and the Immigration officer was in a very jovial mood and stamped us through in record time. Things bogged down a bit once we got through to Customs though as we had to first go through the border to a Cyber Cafe in Kenya to organise our Foreign Vehicle Road Tax before returning to get our carnet stamped but then we discovered that they had stamped and signed the Landcruiser out of the country and not into the country. A quick alteration fixed this but I still made them write a note saying that it was their mistake!
We stopped at the first ATM in Kenya and picked up some Kenyan Shillings because we would be entering the Amboseli National Park and would not have access to cash for a few days. We had been driving for no more than a few kilometres after stopping at the ATM when we came up to our first Kenyan Police roadblock and this consisted of a row of nasty looking steel spikes lined across the road so it was best to stop!! The police were very friendly and they pulled back the spikes and we were on our way when we heard a shout from behind us and a man came running up asking for our passports. Once again I was in a situation where here was this man asking for our passports but he had no uniform or ID displayed on him so I asked him who he was and his reply was that he was an Immigration officer. We had only just passed through Immigration on the border so I thought that was a bit odd and promptly asked him for his ID which he showed me so I handed over our passports. He looked them over and asked why we only had a Visa for four days? Apparently the very jovial Immigration officer at the border had made a mistake so our new friend gave us a 1 month Visa and sent us on our way to the Amboseli National Park that both Pauline and I had been looking forward to. We had also had our first good look at Mt Kilimanjaro when we had stopped for our morning coffee break.