This past week, L and I took a road trip through the Northeastern region of Tanzania called Tanga. This is a huge country, and varies so much between regions– I had really only seen a snippit of it. We set off with some carefully planned tools at hand: a to-go roll of toilet paper, swiss army knife, hand sanitizer, spare tire, lots of water, and plenty of snacks. Our first stop was a town called Mambo, which lies beyond the larger town of Lushoto. Lushoto district is known for its cooler temperatures and stunning views with lush greenery and, depending on the season, gorgeous waterfalls. During the time of German colonization, these overheated Europeans summered in these high hills to escape the overwhelming heat and humidity of Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. I know what they were running from. It took over eight hours to get to Lushoto town, largely due to the winding roads and sudden downpours. Little did we know we had not yet seen REAL Tanzanian roads. We were still on the good stuff. I had hoped to find an elusive Montessori training center and school up in the hills and happened to spot the sign as we passed. Remember, this is the kind of place where there is A road, so the odds were in our favor. All Montessori sites in Tanzania are supported by the Anglican Archdiocese, so nuns run the show and religious education plays a large part in everyday activity, unlike in most of Europe and the US. A large group of training teachers were sitting through a lecture about avoiding darkness in life, but there were no students working in the classroom. I was banking on its being a boarding school, but didn’t think about the children going home for Easter. I at least got to walk around the classroom, which was large, dark, and full of mostly handmade materials. Trays were precisely cut from cardboard, glued together and painted a bright, cheery turquoise. I was very impressed with the number of traditional materials they had on hand. We bought banana wine, cheese, and honey prepared by the nuns and headed on our way.
Soon after Lushoto, the road took a ferocious turn from decent pavement to ROUGH earth. Calling it bumpy would be like calling the past couple of months in Dar warm. We crept along, cringing every time the low-hanging guts of our 4-wheel drive Isuzu smacked or scraped along the lip of a mud pit. It took almost three hours to get to Mambo, just as the sun was setting. Children chased our car (not a hard feat given our creeping speed), shouting “WAZUNGU!” (foreigners!) and waving. Throughout the entire trip, children looked consistently excited to see us. Some even shouted phrases they had clearly tried out before such as, “GIVE ME MONEY!” in English. There are very few white people in this area, that much was clear- we were OUT THERE. We stayed in an ecolodge owned by a Dutch couple. We had a great cottage on the tip-top of the mountain peak. We took a hike with a guide from the town, Ali, who took us to caves that are thought to hold markings made by humans 1.5 million years ago. We’re talking steep, y’all. Probably more interesting than the caves was just passing villagers and talking with them. Every tiny plot of land was farmed on, even the steepest, rockiest bit that you or I might look over as an area that would be washed/eroded away in no time. Potatoes, beans, corn- you name it, they’ll try it. People here do not have much; the Lushoto district is where we get our farmshare vegetables from, and gorgeous veggies come out of the region, but it means that because they’re worth more sold, villagers here do not eat them. They live off mainly starches and are often malnourished as a consequence. My next batch of veg will taste all that much better out of gratitude… Or should I not support this? Arg.
After two nights of very welcomed, colder temperatures (it had been a full year since we felt autumn-like breezes), we headed down the mountain toward the ocean. We took the “back way” down, which we were told would be fine as long as we had 4×4 capability on our car. I do not have pictures of some of the switchbacks my brave husband maneuvered down because I was entirely too busy praying. I later found out he was too. Talk about slow, we were inching down this mountain like a cautious worm. When we finally made it down to flatter land, we had no road to follow but instead, the loose guidings of our hosts. We came down a muddy slope and immediately knew we were dragging something and that that something was rather large. We got out to find that a large branch was lodged between two pieces of metal (I don’t know enough about cars to go beyond that). We could neither pull nor push the thing through, so L got his dad’s trusty Swiss Army knife out and started to widdle while I twisted and yanked. I heard giggling from a way’s off, and soon thereafter, a group of women walked by. We greeted them excitedly, and proceeded through the large number of greetings common to Swahili-speaking cultures. “How’s work, how’re the kids, how’s home”… all before acknowledging the purple elephant of a tree under our car. We casually get into why we are sitting in a dried-up river bed, and the women whip out their machetes. In no time, the women were on their stomachs in the dirt and mud, but not after one half-jokingly asks, “Shilingi ngapi?” (“How many shillings?”) Everyone laughed, but this was not a joke. With their help, L yanked the branch out and gave the women 10,000 shillings, about six dollars, which sent them into a fit of joy. They probably hadn’t seen money like this in a while. At least not for something it took minutes to do. Onward we went through the river bed, leaving the concepts of roads behind.
After hours of avoiding cattle and goats, children, and staring elders, we made it to Pangani, south of Tanga town. We found our tented lodge and I promptly felt the effects of the rough road. Never in my life have I been truly carsick, but I spent the entire afternoon and night horizontal and not a happy camper. That being a blur, I’ll proceed. But go if you can, it’s lovely…
I drove the next day, in an attempt to keep control over the bumps, which actually seemed to help. We drove into Saadani National Park, the only one in Tanzania to be on the coast and therefore, have beach, river, and bush to explore. We were supposed to stay at a lodge on the river, but it turns out we had come from the wrong direction and it was going to take a lot of fees (read: bribes) to get there. We had made it to a sister lodge, who clarified the situation, and graciously agreed to take us in instead. We weren’t expecting much, but she gave us the… honeymoon suite! All others were booked, so we reluctantly accepted. This place was swank-Y. The entire lodge was made of little treehouse-like places to sit and read, play games, swim, all connected by winding boardwalks. Lucky for us, we had booked two nights at the other lodge! We went out on a sunrise safari drive the next morning and saw a few birds and bigger game, but the best part was probably the savannah itself. I don’t see how anyone could get tired of these vast grasslands, life hiding in every corner and winds steadily whispering. It’s wonderfully peaceful.
This trip was a reminder of how much there is to see and do, people to exchange stories with, lessons to learn. I don’t have to be in Tanzania to do it, but it helps motivate me to keep seeing and trying and learning. I feel awfully grateful to have this opportunity. I will close with a few animal shots: waterbuck, baboons (including the smallest I have ever seen), a donkey we temporarily helped escape, and L’s favorite guinea fowl, who we chased to banjo music down the road for quite awhile.