Alive in Africa
My name is Vique Martin and I am 28 years old. I have wanted to
go to Africa for six years. I finally realised that ambition with
a trip to Kenya and Tanzania. For me one of the main goals was to
see real lions (a minor obsession of mine). The best place to see
them is on the plains of the Serengeti. So, I went there, finally.
First was a week in Kenya, then a week in Tanzania. I inherited
the money to go when my mother died five years ago. This was my "Africa
moneyÓ and no matter how broke I got I refused to dip into
it. It took a long time until I found a friend who had the funds
to make such a trip. When I finally found someone, I jumped at the
chance. We plotted and planned for a month, bought our tickets, and
flew off to Africa two months after that. The whole trip cost around
$2,500. All you need is a friend to travel with, a Rough Guide/Lonely
Planet book and the dough. The rest is up to you. I have split the
writings up into two parts. This is part two about Tanzania. Part
one appeared in August/September issue of Clamor.
An hour or so into Tanzania it looms ahead of us in the clouds.
It's so large it's breathtaking. Mount Kilimanjaro. It's so fucking
intense to finally see it. The biggest mountain in Africa is right
there, to my left, in all its glory. Sitting on the bus speeding
along on the bumpy roads, staring at the view. And I knew it was
only the beginning.
This area of Tanzania is so rich with natural beauties it's mind-blowing.
Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater are just
a few. But these were the ones that I had decided I wanted to see,
more than anywhere in the world. And now I am here.
Darkness in Africa seems to come out of nowhere ¨ one minute
(around 6:15 p.m.) you notice the light fading -- and the next it's
pitch black. By the time we enter Arusha, our destination, it's 7
p.m. and really, really dark. Having only been in the two biggest
cities in Kenya, we were not really prepared for the town of Arusha.
It seemed awfully dark, and it was very quiet, despite it being a
As we disembarked the bus we were met with tourist operators who
offered us rides to hotels for free. We declined and found a taxi.
After several trips to sold out or overpriced hotels we eventually
found one. After checking in I finally started to relax. Driving
around in the taxi, having accommodation problems, and feeling like
we were in a much more remote location than before, I was actually
more scared than at any other time on the trip. It was SO, SO dark.
It's hard to explain -- we are so used to lights EVERYWHERE. Even
the cars drive with only their side lights, not their headlights,
Once we were in our own room and it seemed pretty safe, I started
to get used to the quiet. Even started to enjoy it. We freshened
up and then hit the most recommended restaurant in our Lonely Planet
guide -- Spices and Herbs Ethiopian restaurant. And what a place!
A fairly large, sparsely decorated room, with lots of open doors
and a really warm atmosphere, playing Frank Sinatra. Beautiful old-fashioned
gramophones were in each corner of the restaurant and there was Ethiopian
art everywhere. The owner was a really lovely woman, and we chatted
with her before, during and after the meal, which was the best Ethiopian
food I've ever had. The beets were to die for.
Feeling like Arusha wasn't such a scary place, we relaxed and enjoyed
our evening, which was good, as the next day was a real challenge.
We had to book a safari. After talking with some really dodgy people
who seemed to have no license as a safari company, we were introduced
to a man called Sammy, who the dodgy dude wanted us to have as our
driver. He turned out to be extremely non-dodgy and took us to his "real
boss,Ó who was a lovely man. We haggled and debated and tried
to figure out our options. After a lunch with a friend of a friend,
a man called Bobby who lived in Arusha, who gave us advice, we decided
to go with "real boss-manÓ (as he became known to us).
We haggled the price some more and debated our choices.
Both of us had envisaged camping on the safari, rather than staying
in the nasty lodges that are full of rich Wasunga (African word for
foreigners, which we used rather excitedly whilst we were on safari,
to refer to other whiteys (and sometimes ourselves), even though
we were never really sure whether it was a neutral or negative term).
However, there are only three ways to do a safari. The first option
is to stay in little blue nylon tents, which you imagine boy scouts
might camp in --not the kind you would imagine would protect you
against a lion. The fire is supposed to keep the animals away! Plus,
where we were going we were told that the campsite itself was subsided
and muddy and really shitty. Second was the lodge option, which had
the advantages of hot showers and a comfortable (?) bed. Third was
the kind of camping we had imagined, in heavy green army kind of
tents. This is called "luxury campingÓ and is a much
more expensive option than the lodges. Also, we would have had to
take a cook with us on the whole trip -- which meant another person
in the safari land rover (at the moment there was only us two and
Sammy, the driver). And we'd heard horror stories of bad cooks, not
enough food, and vegetarians having to pick the meat out of casseroles.
It sounded like a risk.
So, we took the soft option and went with the lodges, especially
because it was the very end of the low season, so it was only going
to cost us an extra $30 each for three nights. It seemed worth it
just for the food option -- I'm vegan and allergic to yeast, and
my travel companion is a strict vegetarian and always hungry. I don't
regret our decision at all. It also lessened the chances of getting
bitten alive by all of the millions of bugs and malaria carrying
mosquitoes. Those damn bastards.
So, we went for it (time was running out) and we handed our dough
over. We'd manage to get thrown into the bargain an afternoon (it
was now 2 p.m. or so) trip to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro
and we were anxious to set off. We just had such a good feeling for
our driver that we just went with this instinct, and we were very
lucky. Sometimes it's good to follow one's guts.
The drive to Moshi, and then Marangu, which lead us right to the
foot of the mountain, took around two hours. It was beautiful. From
about a third of the way we got the best view of Kilimanjaro and
we stopped and took pictures. It is a majestic, breathtaking sight.
So powerful and just so damn fucking BIG.
We stopped several times actually. We took photos of the fields
of sunflowers, the maize and the banana trees. Lush vegetation was
everywhere. Everyone that we passed was friendly. Children all waved
to the car, especially if they were waved to first. The towns seemed
similar to Arusha, which made where we were staying look like a huge
city in comparison. There were many people in all of the villages
and by the roadside in Tanzania wearing traditional Maasai clothing.
The striking image of the people going about their everyday lives
wearing the beautiful red clothing is one that reoccurred throughout
As we passed through Marangu we started climbing upwards. We couldn't
see the mountain now, as we were driving up the foothills of Kilimanjaro
itself. The part where no cars can drive is approximately one third
of the way up the almost 6,000 meter-high mountain, and that was
our destination. Justin wanted a picture by the sign. The foothills
were increasingly beautiful as we climbed higher and higher. The
sides of the road were littered with houses and there were people
walking everywhere as it was around 5 p.m. People were coming home
from school and work and going on with their everyday lives whilst
we drove through them half hanging out the windows in our excitement.
Their response to our invasion of their community was to stop and
stare at our vehicle, and look at us until we were out of sight.
The children all waved and at one point about ten of them started
chasing us up the street shouting "Wasunga, wasunga,Ó with
huge smiles on their faces as they waved to us. People stopped what
they were doing and shouted "Jambo, jamboÓ (hello) as
we drove leisurely by. Sometimes people seemed like they were unhappy
with our being there, but the second I smiled and waved, they warmed
and waved and smiled back. At one point we drove past a large group
of ladies, all wearing really brightly coloured clothes and carrying
various things on their heads (washing, produce, etc.). They seemed
to be cross that we were driving through their community, but I turned
to face them as I stuck my whole head and shoulders out of the window
and smiled and waved. Their faces all broke into smiles and they
raised their hands to wave back. There I was rushing up Mount Kilimanjaro
with fifteen local ladies wishing me well. I felt truly lucky.
The actual gate to the mountain was a bit of an anti-climax, but
I took some pictures of Justin in front of the sign, and we headed
back into the land rover. We had been pummeling Sammy with questions
the whole drive and he'd been really informative and solved many
mysteries that had been niggling at us regarding African customs.
We had talked to him about the Mbege beer that our Lonely Planet
book had mentioned, as Justin was curious to try it. It was specific
to the Chagga people who live on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
and in and around Moshi. It's made of bananas and millet and you
can only buy it there, in their pubs and cafes -- not bottled or
anything like that.
So, as we drove back down the slopes of the mountain and passed
a bar, the men sitting outside shout "Jambo, karibuÓ to
us (hello, welcome). Sammy pulled the land rover to a stop and said
we should try some Mbege. As we got out of the car, three little
boys came running out and we stopped to photograph them. It was hard
as they wouldn't stay still, they were SO excited. We crossed the
road and entered the outdoor seating area of the bar. Five men were
seated around a large wooden table. Sammy said we should sit and
he disappeared inside. One of the old, Chagga men half stood and
held out to me a bright blue plastic cup that was almost the size
of a bucket. All the men were smiling warmly and repeatedly greeting
and welcoming us in both Swahili and English. Sammy came back out
and gestured that we should take it and drink. I insisted that Justin
do it first. He's brave when it comes to tasting unknown things.
He went for it and said it was pretty good. I followed his example
and it was. It's like grainy flat banana-ish beer. It's only about
2 percent alcohol, and we sipped away.
We gave Sammy some money and he went in and bought us some, and
brough it to us. The custom, so we learn, is that one person buys
it and everyone shares from the same, extremely large, cup. We bought
small ones, and as you can see from the picture taken -- they were
in no way small. So we shared their cup and then they share ours.
Justin and I taking wussy sips, the locals and Sammy taking huge
gulps. Sammy's from a different tribe, having grown up about 20 miles
south of Arusha, neither Chagga or Maasai, but they welcomed him
with open arms. His explanation for this later is that all Tanzanian
people love everyone, whether they are from their own tribe or not.
Sounds like a great philosophy -- shame the rest of the world couldn't
learn from them.
So, there we were, sitting a third of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro,
sharing buckets of Mbege beer with the local Chagga tribesmen and
I felt on top of the world. I'm seated between Justin, my travelling
companion, and Sammy, our driver. I look as though I am so happy
I might explode. It was utterly and totally one of the best experiences
of my life. The men were so friendly and lovely and spoke incredible
English. But I have to confess I don't remember much of the conversation.
I was too busy flying high. We talked about where we were from, what
we were doing in Africa, how we liked it, where we were going next,
and where we had been. They talked about their perspective on hospitality
and teased me for not drinking enough beer and they explained how
the beer was made. It was so incredible to be welcomed into their
community -- to be invited in and to share from their communal cup
and engage in interesting, and funny conversation. They were making
jokes and were such warm-hearted men, and I could have stayed there
forever. Sammy pulled us away, as we had a two-hour drive home and
he wanted to make the most of the light. I thanked the men and said
my farewells, and we were on our way again.
We stopped when we were nearly home to take photos of the sun setting
over Mount Meru, which is the mountain that shadows Arusha. It was
beautiful, as was the rest of the drive home, but I was exhausted.
Another fine Ethiopian feast awaited us before we fell into bed.
I was beside myself with excitement, as the following day we were
leaving on safari, and I was finally going to make it to the Serengeti.
I was finally going to see real lions.
After sorting out the practicalities for the safari (buying supplies,
changing some money, etc.) we were on our way. Caught my first sight
of coffee plantations -- providing the first thrill of the day. It
was to be overshadowed in a big way. I was on my way to the Serengeti.
READ ABOUT THE SERENGETI AND THE REST OF
VIQUE'S TRIP IN ISSUE #5!