The home of the Usambara Mountains
To celebrate ‘Labour Day’ two friends and I decided to go for a day exploration to Lushoto a town north of Tanzania. Lushoto, known as Wilhelmstal during the German colonial rule, is one of the eight districts of Tanga Region in Tanzania.
It took a bus, a mini-bus and a taxi ride to get to our destination.
To begin with we boarded a bus heading to Lushoto from Moshi bus station right in the middle of town. Through out the 2 or 3 hour drive from Moshi to Mombo our sights were pleasured by the scenic view of the Usambara mountains. There is no direct bus to Lushoto from Moshi. You have to first get a bus heading to Tanga, Daressalaam or Mbeya and probably many other options but these are the ones I know of.Once at Mombo you have to get off and look for a bus heading to Lushoto. These are usually packed around the post office area at Mombo.
My companions and I boarded a mini van right outside the petrol station for TSH 2000 each (about $1.5 or less than 1 pound at current exchange rates). We went spiralling up a mountain standing in a vehicle packed with luggage and people. Looking outside the window I could see the car tyres just touching the outside edge of the road and below us the mountain base lined up with thick forests of trees and protruding giant rocks getting steeper as we accelerated.
‘Oh God please let me live to see another day’.
It was a terrifying climb. One of those things you just have to experience but only once. We arrived at the Lushoto bus station a little past 1800 hours. Safe! Thanks heaven. It was raining, the sun had set, and the air felt chilly. Our plan was to hike the 4.8km route to Swiss Cottage Lodge where we were to spend the night but we opted for a Taxi ride instead.
‘$5 bus fair + $1.50 Mini Bus fair + $10 taxi + $25 room for the night + $15 dinner = $56.50’ I had just spent $56 cash so that I can go to bed and wait for the morning adventure. Ridiculous! Not for the rest of the world but on these coordinates where $1 = 1600 Shillings (the local currency) spending that kind of money in a day for a budget trip equals starting off on the wrong foot.
The next morning we got up all excited for our adventure but first we needed to have a game plan for the next 8 hours or less. One of my companions suggested getting the service of a tour guide that she had been in contact with.
‘$25 each for the tour that’s our going rate’ the tour guide had just concluded the negotiations.We had been trying to persuade him to give us a better deal but after half an hour of talking we finally understood that his opening and closing price was fixed at $25 and he was not moving. I was not willing to spend any more money or time so I walked away leaving my two companions behind as they tried to reason with the unreasonable man, switched on my navigator and waited for the local area map to load on my device.
‘Why would I need a tour guide anyway?’
I was going to make the hike on my own and show him that the times have changed and there’s nothing I can’t do with good navigating software. Ha! On his face!
As an aspiring explorer I’m pretty confident of my navigational ability. I can get from my bed to the kitchen for a late night snack with my eyes closed (a necessary survival skill).I really enjoy the challenge of getting lost and finding my way back, discovering new places and learning new things. Alright, it’s not like I have ever found any dead man’s chest or sailed through stranger tides but I have found a little tiny shop selling a neat black lacy Gothic dress that would have looked cute on little Bo Beep, a basement café buried below the maddening traffic of the city concocting original mixes for tired strangers and beautiful sceneries safely hidden by nature from prying eyes. If I could some how escape from every day commitments I would spend my days roaming the earth with a sword tied around my waist and a scar on my face.
5 minutes and the map had loaded. I zoomed out but all I could see was the name of the town we were in. Snap! I had forgotten that we had gone further away from the town centre and were now in a remote location. I switched from the ‘Terrain view’ to ‘Satellite view’ but nothing. As I fidgeted with my technology gone wrong I see my two companions and the tour guide walking towards me. They had finally reached an agreement, $20 a head. I wasn’t doing a victory dance however I was here for an adventure so may be it was time to over look the money issues and enjoy the trip.
We had been hiking for about 500m making our way down hill through a narrow muddy road surrounded by shrubs and tress. The bottom half of my trousers were soaking wet from last night’s rain water. Tobias (the guide) and I were ahead of the other two trailing behind. While we waited for the others to catch up I began to talk to Tobias and discovered that he wasn’t as unreasonable as I thought in fact he was very friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the town.
‘When it rains we prefer to take this shortcut through the village rather than go along the main road. There are so many cars on the road waiting to take the villagers back to town and with all the water paddles it would have been a mess’ he explained as he motioned to me to watch out for the mud slide. ‘You know you have come in the wrong season. If you had come here in July when it is sunny I could have taken you to see the water falls on the other side of the mountain. We can’t go there today because we have to cross the forest and during rainy seasons it’s not safe,’ he added.
The whole team was now assembled we had just crossed over a wooden make-shift bridge, passed a swampy field and were approaching a large forest full of giant Eucalyptus trees that were about 100 years old. ‘These were brought in during colonial times they are not native to Lushoto. Just a little further and we’ll arrive at another forest. It is a little different from this one in that it is thicker, the air is much cooler, there are lots of birds and you’ll notice the scent of Christmas coming from the Cypress trees’. It was just as he had described it but more beautiful. There were melodious sounds of birds, soft crackling of branches and the whispering of the wind as it blew away. It was like natures own orchestra.
‘Since you are pressed for time I think it would be wiser to call a taxi to pick us from here to View Point then you may be able to squeeze a bit of time for lunch down at Irente farm’ Tobias suggested after we had hiked about 6 km up and down the mountains. We agreed. He reached for his mobile phone and called up a taxi. 30 minutes later the taxi met us half way. We got in. We were heading to Irente a must see site for every nature lover. The hike was amazing. It had the right balance of beautiful views and physical work out. It would have made for a good Iron man route.
‘The taxi driver says that he’ll charge you waiting fee if he waits for you to finish the tour. I told him to go.’ He said as he picked up a back pack and signalled us to follow him down a small path leading to the side of the mountain. We walked past ‘Heaven Bar’, ‘Irente Lodge’ and ‘Memory Shop’ to the ‘View Point’; a giant rock firmly rooted to the side of the mountain. From here we could see miles of sisal plantations, buses going across regional borders and the rooftops of neighbouring towns. We concluded our tour with a cheese and bread lunch served with home-made jam, fruits, juice and salads at Irente farm.
‘You should be able to catch the last bus back to Moshi on this one. It was a pleasure having you here. I hope to see you again in summer. Have a safe journey.’
Why would I need a tour guide anyway? Because my GPS:
1) May not work in super remote areas.
2) Can not advice me of road conditions and alternative routes (local shortcuts).
3) Can not alert me on possible dangers ahead.
4) Can not make interesting conversations.
5) Knows naught about the villages and the people who I’ll be passing on my way.
6) Can not call or negotiate prices with the Taxi.
7) Can not plan my trip and make sure I catch the bus on time.
8) Will not send me away with a warm good bye.
It’s cheaper using navigational equipments but first time round it’s better to put trust on a good tour guide