Tanzania: From Mountains To Coastlines

After a quick four day stop over in Nairobi, which included petting baby elephants, kissing giraffes (What? Like you’ve never experimented before!), hospital visits for malaria (This time it was for me. Came up negative. Cha-ching.), gaining respect in the street markets for our bargaining prowess, me eating meat for the first time in five weeks (It was glorious) and Loes spending the day shopping with two locals she met on the bus, Loes and I made our way by shuttle to Moshi, Tanzania.

Moshi is situated at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the reason most visitors find themselves in town. Given our budget (Since when did walking up a mountain cost $1,000?), we ended up relaxing there for a few days, enjoyed reading and meals in hidden gardens, meeting new friends over dinner, and not going swimming in the YMCA pool because they found a dead man floating in it the day before we got to town.

Through various conversations with strangers and friends alike, we decided that the town of Lushoto, a village in the Usambara Mountains in Northeast Tanzania, was worth checking out. It was a rough travel day. Our bus was late, crowded, uncomfortable and slow. I don’t remember bus rides being such an ordeal. Either I’m getting old or my memory of smooth bus rides in Asia are just a coping mechanism to deal with now forgotten pains.

Lushoto is a beautiful village known for a wide array of hiking options. As our bus snaked up the narrow roads, we soaked in sights of terraced hills, waterfalls, villagers washing clothes by the river and a beautiful mixture of orange-red soil and bright, thick greenery. Soon enough we found a comfortable bed and explored the city. The locals were kind and welcoming, though we did have an angry exchange with a waitress that left us fuming. First, please don’t wait 25 minutes after we ordered to tell us there are no avocados (We ordered guacamole. Pretty sure avocados are important.) Second, I can see a lady across the street selling avocados, please go buy some. Seriously, she’s just right there, selling them. I think she’s looking at us. Yep, she just waved.

The next morning we ended up going on a four hour hike to Irente Point, followed by a lunch of cheese, fresh bread, jam and fruit. Loes was in heaven. This was followed by our first glimpse of the chameleons that can be found throughout the region. It cautiously looked at us as it walked across our arms and hands, even being kind enough to come in for a close up. We spent the remainder of the hike with our eyes darting from tree to tree, eager to find more of these beautiful creatures. We found roughly 10 in all, but each new find was as exciting as the first.

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We ended the night making dinner and sharing beers with new friends. Sharing stories of travel and adventure always brings a smile to my face, but listening to Loes is something special. Rarely have I met someone so animated and excited when it comes to sharing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time I’ve heard the story or the 50th, there is always a reason to pay attention.

The next morning found us on another bus, then a smaller city bus, then a boat, then, finally, in Stonetown Zanzibar. We struck gold when the hotel we were staying at upgraded us for free, and we lived a pampered life, even for just one night. We walked around old town, the narrow streets sheltered from the sun by aged coral brick buildings, exploring back alleys and unused walkways. Our dinner was BBQ’ed for us on the waterfront in a large outdoor food market, and the chorus of calls and sales pitches from the chefs filled our ears while we cleaned our plate of every morsel.

Eventually the pull of white sands and calm waters were too strong for us and we hoped on a city bus and found our way to the east coast of Zanzibar. Our hostel truly was away from it all. Save for the lapping of waves during high tide and the soft sounds of reggae in the distance, silence overwhelmed us. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean were a surprise to me. It was nothing like the cold bite of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, it was warmer than most showers I’ve had over the past two months. Not that I’m complaining.

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We spent a night with the staff from a local upmarket hotel (350 euro a night!) celebrating a birthday. Beers and shots were passed around in between jokes and laughter. Five of us went out for a swim under a night’s sky of a thousand stars. It was magical (though the fish that kept nipping our toes did their best to keep us on edge).

How To Lose 10 pounds, The Unhealthy Way!

I have this new weight loss program everyone should try. It’s amazing. Ok, first, stop working out. That means you’ll lose muscle, and muscle is heavy. Plus women hate muscle. Bones are in. Everyone loves bones! Shoulder blades are the new biceps. Second, stop eating meat. You’ve always wanted to see what it was like to be vegetarian, right? You’ve always wanted to deny yourself the pleasure of delicious, mouth watering meat, just admit it. Well now is the time. Ok, still with me? Next, get food poisoning. That’s right. Order yourself some nice, not so fresh street food, preferably made one, maybe two days earlier. Who knows. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure that when you taste it the first time, you immediately question whether you should keep eating it, but because you are so stupid and hungry (no offense), you shove the entire thing in your face and hope for the best.

Boom, 5 weeks later you’ll see ribs you never even knew you had.

Uganda Might Be Number One, But To Loes, Kenya Is Number Two

¬†Loes and I jumped on the evening bus from Mbale to Nairobi, as the “itch” to start moving and exploring had overcome us both. We loaded up on our favorite foods, had our music, and said our prayers. Why prayers? Well the first thing they tell you about Kenya is to never travel at night. So obviously, the first thing we do in Kenya is travel at night. Well played, us!

The ride to the border went smoothly, but the walk to the immigration office was a bit questionable. They unloaded all of the passengers off on the main roadway, as traffic in our direction was at a standstill. Loes and I attached ourselves to some folks we *think* we on our bus, and follow them. The journey was a mixture of beauty and danger. Pitch black except for the lights of oncoming trucks, everything before us was just dusty silhouettes. Trucks sped by us as we walked along the side of the road, and we did our best to avoid hidden potholes and deep, muddy, puddles. The lights of the immigration office came into view, and we were soon surrounded by touts pushing peanuts, bananas, somosas and currency. We pushed and shoved our way through hordes of people (We aren’t being rude, that’s just how it works here. I swear.), made it through yet another immigration office, and eagerly open our passports to look at our new, shiny Kenya visas.

As we congratulated ourselves for a job well done, we noticed our bus slowly creeping away. No worries, we think, they are probably just parking. As the bus continued to creep away, confidence turned to doubt and our pace quickened. A few hundred meters later we flagged down the bus and it seems that the only people that were concerned were us. We shrugged, got back to our seats, and attempted to sleep away the next six hours of our ride to Nairobi.

Side note: Just a quick note on what a tough girl Loes is. This girl had malaria not even two days before this 12 hour bus ride. And what did she eat before this 12 hour bus ride? A big dish of Indian food. And what did she have on the streets, literally, right on the streets, in front of the Kenyan Immigration office? Horrible diarrhea. And what did she do it with? Class, nothing but class. However, this does make me wonder about those deep, muddy puddles we were avoiding earlier. I was walking directly behind her, you know.

Home, Sweet, Temporary Home

For the last 3 weeks or so, Loes and I did something that goes against both of our preferred traveling styles…we stayed in one place. That place was Mbale, Uganda, a city of roughly 100,000 (a good sized city for Uganda) on the Eastern border. Oddly enough, it was actually Mbale that brought us to Uganda in the first place. Back in August, we were looking for a volunteer opportunity and came across Mbale. We found a host who had several options for us (school, orphanage, farming, AIDS work, etc) and decided it seemed like a good fit. And we were right.

Loes found work at the mental health ward of the local hospital while I spent time helping with finances at a grassroots AIDS organization. Both of us also spent time with the children at Child of Hope, a school in the ghetto district of Namatala, where we were teachers aids and tutors. And human play toys. Not one day went by where I didn’t have at least five kids hanging on me at one time.

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(Above: Gloria, climbing a new swing structure. She was probably my favorite. She was also constantly causing trouble and would rarely listen to me. Sounds a lot like Loes, actually.)

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(Above: Breakfast time. The school provides a morning meal for the children. Sometimes it’s the only guaranteed meal the kids will get that day.)

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(Above: Kids singing during morning prayer. It’s hard not to join in.)

It was an interesting experience to settle down in one area, even for just 3 weeks. We moved into the unforgettably named “Casa Del Turista” where we quickly made friends with others who were volunteering, either on their own or through Peace Corps. In addition to our new friends, we had our favorite restaurants and hangouts, our favorite markets and our jobs. It was almost as if I was back home again, except with less stable electricity and much more chances of malaria. In our free time, we explored the local mountains on long hikes, played jump rope (using banana leaves) with village children, watched a break dancing competition, found a pool to relax by, watched a full solar eclipse and impressed all of our housemates with our cooking skills (Pumpkin soup, anyone?)

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