Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Usambara Mountains, a Northern Circuit Safari and Moshi, Tanzania . . . "Mzungu. Mzungu"

We are now in Moshi, a town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. When the sky is clear the mountain looms in the background, challenging Phil and frightening me. It looks big. It also looks somewhat out of place when you are viewing its snow capped peaks from the sweltering heat of Moshi.

For the last few months we have been considering the possibility of perhaps (weather, finances and health permitting) making an attempt to climb Kilimanjaro or ‘Kili’ as it is affectionately called in these parts.

Some people – wise people – train for a considerable period before attempting to climb 5,896 metres into very thin air. We have been sitting on buses and lazing around on beaches since climbing Sapitwa (‘Don’t Go There’) Peak in Malawi in March. Before that there were more buses and beaches. We have managed to avoid mirrors and scales for several months, but before we faced Kili we had to face the fact that we were out of shape. We had a few options:

(a) attempt the climb relying upon our ‘natural fitness’;
(b) try and improve our fitness; or
(c) do not attempt the climb.

We decided on (b) and after leaving Dar we spent five days hiking in the Usambara Mountains in the north of Tanzania. The highest peak is about half the height of Kili but at least we managed to get a lot of walking done. The area is beautiful and we spent days walking along winding paths through the small villages scattered all over the mountains. We went to Usambara for the walking but enjoyed it because of the locals. The people were very friendly and welcoming -aside from a few toddlers who screamed in terror when they saw Phil. Of course there were the older kids who followed us with the constant chant “Mzungu. Mzungu” (white person/ foreigner) ignoring my usual objections, but despite that we loved the village experience.

Another highlight was wine. We were deliriously happy to learn that the Usambara Mountains contained not one but two wine producing farms. The first we visited was a mission farm run by nuns who produced wine, cheese, jam and honey. Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. The nuns, in all their wisdom, had decided to use their acres to produce wine from bananas. Banana wine is not great. Think St Tropez wine cooler with a banana twist.

With substantially diminished expectations we visited the second farm, this one run by priests. Although I hate to admit it, the men had done a better job. They produced very drinkable red and white wine (from grapes- imagine that) for about ₤1.50 a bottle. Unable to rid himself of his hording instinct where wine is concerned, Phil picked up two bottles despite the fact that we had a very long walk back to Maweni farm, where we were staying.

This long walk was made longer by my insistence that we avoid the small bushfire we saw on the way to the priests’ farm, in favour of a longer route that would avoid any possibility of death by fire. Luckily, or so we thought at the time, about an hour or so into our walk a local Catholic priest offered to take us all the way back to Maweni farm after stopping for a quick drink at his place on the way.

The ‘quick drink’ lasted two hours during which time we provided him with an audience upon which he could test his theories of the world. His monologue included the following topics: the problems with acidity in wine; the distortion of God in the western world; the misrepresentation of the meaning behind the crucifixion of Jesus; the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrifice to the goddess of Spring; crucifixion and flagellation; flagellation and Lawrence of Arabia; flagellation and ejaculation (I kid you not); Calvinism; Jews in America; German Jews; Muslims; what is wrong with African development; persecution of the farmer in Africa; persecution generally; the UK and USA’s relatively insignificant contribution to the defeat of Germany in WW2; the strategic genius of Hitler; the brilliance of The Economist (which published two of his letters and which I silently vowed never again to purchase); and the inability of others to appreciate the truth.

We began by trying to take part in what we thought was a conversation but only managed a few words: “Oh yes, Jesus. . .”; “we were taught something quite different”; “well I wouldn’t agree that we were brain-washed, in fact . . .”. We soon gave up and listened until Phil skillfully sensed the end of and sentence and managed to quickly mention an imminent dinner appointment. We were saved.

By the time we got back to Maweni farm we were also exhausted. We decided that we had finished with Usambara. Our confidence buoyed by five days of walking, we went to Moshi, booked the Kili climb and then left for Arusha to do a safari.

Our safari was fantastic. We visited Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and we were lucky enough to see the ''Big Five'' (safari-speak for the lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino), the annual wildebeest migration and several other animals. We went on safari as a group with a fun English couple and managed to keep ourselves entertained by making a competition out of spotting animals. At the end of the day we played other games . . . eg. “What is this Soup?”, “What is this Meat”, and “Guess whether this is Soup or Meat.”

Now we are back in Moshi living under the under the ominous presence of Kili, preparing ourselves for our attempt at the mountain.

There is certainly no guarantee that we will make it to the top, a large percentage of those who attempt it never reach the summit because of altitude sickness. However, it is not the end of the world if we don’t reach the top (or so I have been trying to convince Phil) and we are going to try and enjoy ourselves going up.

It will take us about a week to climb the mountain and a day or so to recover, so the entry next entry will be in about 2 weeks.

In the meantime, Phil has posted more photos of Malawi and Mozambique . . . click here to see them . . .


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