Life in the Usambara Mountains, Tanzania 2012

lushotoTypical scene in Lushoto

My stay in the Usambara Mountains has been perfect. I wanted to fase out the noise pollution of modern life and in those days I couldn’t care less about what was happening in the world. We had a television in our room but it was never switched on, I actually loved the moments when there was an electrical blackout (which happens often in Lushoto) and would read by candlelight under the mosquito net. Sitting on the balcony at night watching the million stars and listening to the sometimes frightening noises from the animals in the thick rainforest.

View from room Morning view from our balcony in Lushoto. Half way up the hill is a blue building – that is the junior school.
Lushoto Mist floating across the hillside early in the morning.

In the mornings I would hear someone banging on a tin (the school bell) on the hillside and a short time later the laughter of children on their way to school. I was happy every morning I woke up in Lushoto watching exotic looking birds in the trees. Every morning I was excited about African coffee – a large glass of hot milk and a spoon of instant coffee. It was delicious. Instant coffee in Europe is awful but their coffee was so great I even bought some tins of it at the airport on the way home.  Breakfast was always the same, omelette, toast, watermelon and jam and as much coffee or tea as you could drink. If you are ever in Lushoto stay at the Tumaini – ask for room 118 as it really is the best room they have.

usambara from roadUsambara Mountains seen from the B1 highway


Lushoto, Tanzania October 2012

Lushoto was a place I instantly loved. Set in a valley surrounded on all  sides by steep hills covered in banana trees and rainforest and the vibe relaxed. As soon as we stepped off the bus some touts surrounded us trying to take us to the best hotels but as soon as we explained we were tired and hungry they left us alone…well, except one. The Rough Guide recommended Safari Inn for food but it was awful and no one spoke English so the tout took us to The Tumaini Hostel. Their restaurant was clean and presentable so we decided to eat there. While my boyfriend went off to smoke a cigarette I asked the girl behind the counter if she had any rooms vacant, I thought we may as well take a look at their rooms before heading to a lodge where we were planning on staying. She told me to go out the back door of the restaurant and cross the courtyard to the other building and ask there. I crossed the most amazing courtyard, it had palm trees and orchids and other exotic flowers. A boy was behind the desk and I asked him for the most beautiful room he had. I wasn’t going to settle for just okay while in Lushoto. He led me to room 118 and that was it, I was in love with Lushoto and instantly decided to stay the whole week. The room was amazing with its own balcony looking towards the hills, everything was perfect.

boy in red

Through the week I did see the other places to stay in Lushoto which were listed in the guidebook and none came anywhere near the perfection of Tumaini. It is also central while the other places seemed either run down or too far out of Lushoto.

lukoziChildren outside a house in a roadside village

So that was it, the start of the most amazing week we had in Africa surrounded by mountains and cool air. We hired a jeep as there was no way we were ever going to step inside an African bus again if we could help it. We were interested in two organizations who ran Cultural Tourism Programmes in the mountains. One was a posh organization with a glossy brochure and the other was a badly photocopied A4 bit of paper by an organization called Tayodea  – run by unemployed youths. Ofcourse we chose Tayodea, anything to help unemployed kids. Our guide was called Amani, a really nice soft spoken guy whose job it was to sit in the jeep and tell us which roads to take to the villages we wanted to see. The mountain people are the sweetest most polite people I have ever met, they seem shy. I’m very impressed with the people of Tanzania, they are proud of their country and want to show off it’s best features and they are aware that they all are ambassadors for their nation. I love the Usambara Mountains and the Shambaa peoples who live there.

Savannah to Rainforest, Kenya & Tanzania 2012

I had been too ambitious in my plans to cover vast swathes of eastern Africa with limited time. Nobody told me that travelling in Africa is exhausting. Firstly you have to be at bus stations at 6am which means waking up at 5am on travel days. For some reason intercity buses only leave at 6am or if your lucky 7am. So there you are lugging around a backpack in a scary bus station trying to find the right man to sell the bus ticket, don’t even think about trying to eat breakfast or even get a coffee. The freakiest place of all was in Arusha. A guy we met in Nairobi called Nelson arranged our travel back to Tanzania but it kind of felt as if we had been kidnapped.

town in tanzaniaTypical street scene in Tanzania

rickshaw tanzania

We were met from bus stations by men with our names printed out on A4 sheets of paper who would insist we got in unmarked cars where other men were sitting shouting to each other in Swahili. It was really confusing and I kept mentioning that they should at least invest in something as simple as a name badge with company logo as it was impossible to know who was who. Anyway, I didn’t like Arusha at all, there were too many touts and the place had quite a sinister rundown feel to it so we just spent the night there. I was too wrecked to try and find a place to stay but remembered the name Arusha Backpackers from my guide book so we told the kidnappers to take us there. The rooms were nothing special but the roof terrace we amazing and so was the food – I was in heaven talking to French people, the first westerners we saw since arriving in Africa. The men who had “kidnapped” us even went and arranged our onward journey to Lushoto, the 6am Fasaha V.I.P. Executive Travel.

African savannahThe savannah

I have to laugh now when I think of it. I imagined reclining chairs and maybe someone who brought around drinks and snacks on the bus. It was H-E-L-L. An old over crowded battered bus with narrow chairs and tiny windows which no one would be able to crawl out if anything happened. I realise things now about travel in Africa. There is a driver who smokes and chats on his phone while going way over the speed limit and he is surrounded by a gang of men who you could see as the mob. Once we are out in the middle of no where it’s as if they think they are gods. In the 8 hour bus journey from Arusha to Lushoto they only stopped once for 5 mins in some bushes where we were expected to go to the toilet. Every now and they they’ll let on a group of people who are selling snacks, the mob can take which ever snack they want for free as payment. Public transport is about money and speed.

eafrica maasai villahe

The bus was crammed, at times I had elbows in my face, it was horrible as i’m claustrophobic. Somewhere half way I could feel a panic attack coming on and all I could do was cry quietly to myself while looking out the window while we raced through bush fires, deserts and some of the most harrowing poverty you could ever imagine. Avoid Fasaha if you can. Another bus company called Chokito also leave for Lushoto from Arusha and their buses looked slightly better although not much. The lowest point of the bus trip and infact the lowest point of the whole trip to Africa was on that Fasaha bus in the middle of no where when I was sitting in tears as the middle aisle was crammed full of people and people were banging on the glass from outside trying to sell you things you would ever need. It was horrible – the heat and chaos – the thing that made me snap was someone getting on the bus with a double mattrass which was then passed along across the heads of everyone to the back of the bus.

tanga villageTypical rural Tanzania

I was fuming and I must say I hated Africa in that moment and never wanted to come back EVER!!!!!! Every now and then the police stopped the bus for over speeding but what is the point of traffic police when you can just get rid of them with a bribe?

kilimanjaroLast glimpse of Kilimanjaro

Then again I was in one of the world’s poorest countries so what was I expecting The Orient Express? I thought it was just us suffering but I noticed a woman getting off the bus in Soni who collapsed onto the ground in tears so it was hell for everyone. Once we got into the Usambara Mountains my spirits lifted, the driver put on music which I’m guessing was the music of the mountain peoples and everything got amazing. Gorgeous mountain villages with the women dressed in vibrantly coloured kangals, views that went on for miles, waterfalls, rainforests, monkeys, cooler climates, no dust. After the hell of being in Arusha and the hell of travelling across the Masai Steppe in a bone shaker it was like arriving in paradise!