Footloose in East Africa Part II
On 27th July, 2011 I left for Arusha in the morning bus. It was a 14-hour drag but it remained mostly pleasant. It was broad daylight affording me an opportunity to view the landscape of open plains dotted with thousands of baobab trees. On the roadside, I could see tribal homes and villages, their tin shacks, their colored laundry hung along the fences. I had a good laugh on reading some funny names of the shops like “Born Again Grocery” and “Miami Pub and Grub”. Finally, a plump Tanzanian lady, sitting next to me, was bumping into me every now and then due to potholes, breakers and bad patches.
The bus backtracked towards Dodoma as it was bypassing Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conversation Area. I have not been to these places but could imagine of vast landscapes dotted with millions of wildebeest, gazelles, lions and even the elusive rhino.
The bus passed by Songwa which had gained reputation due to a Tanzanian Pastor having a ‘miracle cure’. Though all witch-doctors have been outlawed, many could not be touched as they are miraculously healing thousands of sicks just for five cents of concoction made from herbs and water.
By midday, the bus stopped at Singida for lunch break. From here, it went up north leaving the tarmac road. It appeared that instead of reconstructing road in stages, the entire highway was being dug in bits and pieces. The sudden diversion to the secondary roads was bone rattling. Further, it was perturbing to see people living in absolute poverty. Their abodes were made of mud, their land was dry and their settlements were devoid of any modernity like TV antenna or dish, electric power poles and mobile phone towers.
On way to Arusha
At long last, the bus reached Arusha and was surrounded by usual crowd of touts, taxi-drivers and guides. Incidentally, this bus terminal was a battleground in the past week as drivers and touts, armed with rocks and sticks stoned police and their vehicles against the newly introduced parking system. I hurriedly came out of the terminal and got a room in the first available place, Hotel Aquiline, following the golden rule ‘any port in a storm'.
The Arusha City
The hotel was nice but due to load shedding its lift remained in-operative during day time. However, it served a sumptuous breakfast which partly compensated for the power problems. The room rent was US$ 28 per night.
Arusha has a total population of 1.5 million. It is centre for a number of tourist attractions like Mount Meru, Great Rift Valley and Arusha National Park. It is a multicultural city with a majority African population, large Arab and Indian minorities, and many European and American ex-pats, engaged in diplomatic affairs or business specially in tourism.
The climate was rather cool as the city is at an elevation of 1,400 m on the slope of Mount Meru. Arusha has some modern buildings specially some banks and hotels.There is UN building as well. It housed a tribunal for investigating war crimes in Rwanda. In the city, except for few paved road, most roads are unkempt dirt road lined with small shops.
The traffic on the highways is controlled by speed-breakers at seemingly odd places. This is for the safety of people walking along the road sides. Some of the women walking had large bundles on their heads and it's a wonder they could see the traffic at all.
In the afternoon, Gerald Msanya came to me and we had a round of the surrounding area. He persuaded me to have a sim for mobile phone which hardly cost half a dollar without any formalities. Gerald is a teacher by profession and we are email friends for the past one year.
Last day in Arusha
Next morning, we went to Snake Park, about 25 km west of Arusha. There were a few snakes like Black and Green Mamba, Egyptian Cobra and Puff Adder. Also, there was a crocodile farm and Massai Cultural Museum. I saw the traditional huts with women sitting at the doors doing jewellery beadwork or traditional medicine men using savanna plants.
However, its ticket of US$ 12 was exorbitant.
On our way back, we went through a well-stocked art and craft shop besides enjoying a painting exhibition.
On my last day, I moved alone and saw a Sikh Temple. The care taker, Dharm Singh, became very friendly and asked me to come on next Sunday for a community lunch. He also directed me towards shopping complex and a Sikh Eatry, Dhaba, just at the end of the city.
Annual Migeration of wildebeest
On 30th July 2011, I left for Moshi about 85 km. Half between, the van passed by Kilimanjaro Airport. This is the second, albeit small, international airport of Tanzania (the first is Julius Nyerere International Airport).
Moshi town is beautifully set on the slope of the rising Mount Kilimanjaro. Though small, it has a charming atmosphere, fresh air and a great place to spend a few days. It reminded me of a Chinese Town Yangshou, also known as backpacker paradise. There was a difference, however. The bulk of tourists in Moshi were well-to-do, able to afford expensive tours with a minimum of US$ 2,500.
Moshi has a population of about 150,000 people. Compared to other towns, it was clean. It was well planed with straight roads and streets. There were many places of worship all around including a Sikh and Hindu Temples.
Due to close proximity to Mt. Kilimanjaro, it serves as the base for many expeditions with many climbers staying in nearby hotels and employing locals as guides, porters and cooks. Besides, it is centre of the coffee industry in Tanzania.
I only stayed overnight at Hotel Buffalo paying US$12.5 as my time for Tanzania was running out.
While I was going to Marangu in a minivan, a young man started talking with me and later introduced himself as a guide. On reaching Marangu, he helped me get a room in a hotel having a funny name, Hotel Gentleman Palace. Initially, I thought that it was meant for men only but soon found out a lot ladies staying there. I got a room which a grand view of the rainforest for only US$ 15. The guide, Bariki Lyimo, left me and committed to come for the next 2 days for ten dollars per day. It suited me as he belonged to the local Chagga Tribe and would be able to take me well inside his house and the village.
In the afternoon, I walked around the town and its market area. I marveled at the beautiful scenery of farmland, the savannah and the rain forest. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and I could not see the majestic mountain.
Bariki came next morning and together we moved in the region enjoying rushing waterfalls fed by the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
He also took me to his village, Materuni, and introduced me to his parents. The Chagga Tribe is said to be "most educated" among of the tribes in Tanzania. Their houses were cone-shaped, with a roof thatched with dried grass or banana leaves. Many were built with cement walls and corrugated metal roofs but were of the same design. Mostly, the people were farmers engaged in the cultivation of yam, sugarcane, maize, bean and their main crop, coffee. He explained the process of coffee plantation, coffee packing and roasting and finally treated me with freshly brewed coffee in a fine mug. It was quite delicious.
Also we went to a blacksmith workshop besides exploring some caves in the area. We went at the top of a hill where a Church was located. It reminded me of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
Second day in Marangu was reserved for a trip to the base of Kilimanjaro. It was hardly five km away and was hemming with activities. Lot of porters and guides were moving around to fetch some business. Many assured me that people older than me have done it successfully and persuaded me to hire them. I was neither interested not rich enough to go for it and told them that I was yet considering.
The mountain is featureless. It is part of the East African plateau on the Tazanian side along with the smaller Mount Meru. Both are extinct volcanoes.
It is the highest peak in the entire Africa. It has a height of 19,336 feet (5,895 meters) and remains snowed-capped all the time. It is said to be the world tallest walk-able mountain which takes one through five different climatic zones. Of course, it is a hard climb which takes 7 to 10 days. Some estimate that as many as 40% people do not reach the top because of sickness or injury.
A treck could cost from $2,500 per person with camping, food, guide and park fees.
On the last day, I ventured alone and covered another area known as Mamba. It turned to be a paradise for bird-watchers and nature lovers. Also there were scenic waterfalls, flowers and fruit nurseries. The entire area was lush-green with hidden waterfalls. On return, I got lost. I was in a jungle with tall trees. I wanted to go to some heights to look for a training school perched in a hill to ascertain my position and to make strategy for the safe return. However, the path started climbing and became steeper and steeper. Like an old ox-wagon, I went up creaking, jerking and tilting. High trees shaded the path. On both sides, a green walls of plants, trees, bushes, willows and weeds formed a corridor. The walk became a little frightening. All senses were on the alert, hearing, sight and smell. Eyes darted perpetually from point to point sizing up everything that stirred. At long last, I was on the top able to see the school and returned back safely.
Farewell to the land of Big-Five
By 3rd August 2011, I decided to move to Kenya. A nearby border-post, Holili, could take me into Kenya via Taveta. I asked Bariki to accompany me to facilitate in border-crossing. That was a tactical mistake. The immigration officers do not want guides or agents to witness their dealings with the travelers which may involve bribes. So the immigration officer at that post, at Kenyan side, got infuriated over the agent role and asked me that since I had no prior visa, I could not enter Kenya. Also, this was a small post, barely consisting 3 officers with apparently no computer or figure-printing equipment. Perhaps, they only clear those who did not require visa or had prior visa. That means, no new visa could be issued from that post. After a lot of hassle and intervention by some fellows, I was advised to try Namanga - the major border crossing. For this , I had to go back to Moshi, book a Nairobi-bound bus for the next day and try my luck. The bus fare was $15 on Akamba Bus Service. I stayed overnight at the same place, Hotel Buffalo.
On 4th August, 2011 I boarded a bus which would take 8 hours to reach Nairobi. Except eight (including me), the passengers were either Tanzanian nationals or permanent residents. The bus was half empty. I sat by an Indian monk of Ananda Marga wearing saffron turban and monk's robes. Also, a Sikh had taken a front seat. We three mingled well in no time and had good gossip.
The bus reached Namanga at about 10 pm and all were asked to leave for passport checking and border-control. While I was going towards the immigration office, I was stopped by two persons who asked me to take necessary visa stamps of $50. They blocked my way and in confusion or pressure I had to yield as it was pitch dark and I was standing in the middle of the road having large trailers on the both sides. After paying $50, I went to an immigration officer who, of course, was happy to see that I had no prior visa and for another $50, in addition to official fee of $50, not only granted me one but also filled the application-form on my behalf. I had just to sign on the dotted line.
When I came back from the immigration office, I could not spot the bus and became worried. In the meantime, a tout and a taxi driver started following me and hunt for the bus begun. Meanwhile, all but me got into the bus. I am grateful to a fellow-passenger, a Sikh, who asked the conductor to go and look for me. The conductor traced me and led me to the bus. Both the Indians made a fun of me which I did not mind as I had lawfully entered Kenya after sustaining a loss of only $100.
The rest would be covered in another hub.