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Published: December 17th 2017
What this area is really known for is its hiking. There are numerous day trails one can take as well as hikes that last from three to five days through the Usambara mountains. Looking through Jackson's guest book, it was not surprising to see that almost all of his guests were European - the majority German with a smattering of French, Swiss, English and Belgium. We had to go back over a year to find the last visitor from North America. Jackson's map revealed a path that lead from our lodge to the Irente farm, then up to the Viewpoints before looping back to the lodge. He had distances listed but I was skeptical. Remembering our hikes in Asia, I knew caucasians were always told that routes were somewhat shorter than in reality. Attempting to not discourage those from a more 'car' oriented culture.
The rains seemed to be an afternoon phenomenon so, on Monday morning, we set off for Irente farm with Jackson's map in hand. It was downhill all the way and closer to four km. rather than the two Jackson had posted on the map. We passed a Christian church, a school for the blind
and finally came upon the farm. It started with some bee hives and a barn where jams and juices were made and sold. The Irente farm itself is actually part farm, part campsite, part lodge and part restaurant. We ordered a lunch platter for one. The amount of bread, cheese, fruits and vegetables was enough to fill both of us. Their bread, although very tasty, is extremely thick and heavy. It is used as a filler for a culture that consumes very little meat. I got to the point where even after a couple of hours of hiking, a single slice of bread, smothered in avocado, topped with tomato and washed down with some fresh mango or pineapple, was more than enough. We started our trek back and realized then that we had a ways to go to get our legs back. It was afternoon so the sun's heat was much more intense. Also, the afternoon rains were building and, although not yet upon us, the air was getting wetter and heavier. Most important of all, it was almost all up hill and the steepness increased the closer we got to the lodge. We beat the rains by minutes, showered,
and laid down listening to the tumultuous pounding of the huge drops on the metal roof - like the sound of stampeding elephant hoofs, one author had described. The mountain rains here are really something to behold. The clouds creep in like a spirit infested mist or fog. There is no wind or movement. Everything goes silent and still. Once the rain starts, it rarely lasts for more than an hour or so, but it falls with a straight down force and heaviness I have never experienced. Like a waterfall - one could strip and stand under it, arms wide, head upraised, as if welcoming the heavens and its cleansing force. Once finished, the dense, green foliage gobbles up the moisture as the rest flows downhill to the valleys. A fresh breeze clears the clouds and leaves the air fresh and light. Outside of the quagmired road - a man-made muddy mess - one could easily forget how intense the passing rains had been.
On Tuesday, Jackson arranged a guide to show us a number of the neighbouring farms. Francis was around 30, very tall and thin. He must have stood six and half feet tall. With
My Dance floor
once Monica started jiving, the old men just seemed to emerge out of the shadows
a driver who did not speak English, we taxied out into the mountainous country side. We stopped in a small village called Soni where Francis bought some vegetables for our lunch and Monica made herself known. First, she attempted to buy some toilet paper in a local shop and the boy working the counter and speaking very little English, thought she wanted tampons. It resulted in a good laugh and the father scolding the son about the advantages of learning to speak English. Music was playing in the street so Monica decided to dance which got the attention of all of the older men. I decided we better move on before one of them decided to offer me a goat or a cow in exchange for Monica. We disembarked from the taxi and began hiking through a number of tea farms and plantations. What was most interesting was how the tea was all planted on the hillsides, while at the bottom where it was most moist, it was row upon row of cabbage. An hour later we emerged into a large vineyard filled with ripening grapes and dozens of workers, pruning and tying the vines. Francis pointed out the different
grapes used for red and white wines and we were told that many of these grape vines were over 60 years old. Francis then lead us to a central point where stood a small structure, almost like a guard tower. We climbed the dozen stairs or so and inside was a bench to sit on and enjoy our lunch. Francis opened his bag and made us a lunch including mashed avocado with onion spread on a chapati with tomato, carrots and fruit. Delicious. Amazing how quickly your tastes and diet can change. After lunch, we hiked to the monastery where the monks made the wine and also harvested the macadamia nuts. It was starting to rain, but fortunately I had tucked a couple of rain ponchos in my zippered pocket a week before. We did not see any monks or Fathers, however, Francis made a couple of calls and within minutes, a Father showed up who opened up the office, as well as our taxi driver. In a matter of minutes, Monica and I had four bottles of wine - two red and two white at $3.75 per bottle - and four good sized packages of macadamia nuts for $2.50
This area is a real Eden.... all the fruits and veggies extremely large and full of flavour
each. We hustled across the monastery towards our taxi with our bounty in tow, as the heavy rains began to fall. On the drive back to the lodge, the driver kept asking Francis questions about us and peering at us in the rearview. Finally, Francis laughed and turned to us, stating in English, that he and his friend both assumed we were much younger, that we both appeared so relaxed. It reminded me of a woman we passed while hiking. When we smiled and said 'mambo' (hello), she responded by saying in English, 'welcome home'.
Upon our return, we trudged past the lower guest house and noticed that the lodge had some new guests. Mike and Mel are a young North American couple doing an African trek from north to south. Mike is from Florida originally and Mel is from Winnipeg. They had been residing in Salt Lake but plan on moving to Colorado once they return. Although young, they have already done a lot of traveling and plan on doing much more. On this trek, I believe they started in Egypt and worked their way through the Sudan, Kenya and now Tanzania. They still have six
countries to visit before flying home in early March from Cape Town. We sat up Wednesday night with them, exchanging travel stories over a bottle of white wine. We all agreed on how severely travel changes one - that seeing the world first hand gives one a totally different perspective, not only of other cultures but also our own. And how many new and exciting people come into your life, while so many so-called friends just do not understand you anymore and tend to fade away. So heartening to see young people with so much spirit for risk and adventure. The next morning, Mike and Mel said their good-byes over breakfast and hopped a bus for Dar on their way to Zanzibar.
Thursday was our last big hike. We hiked up beyond the Irente farm to the two viewpoints. The first, the yogai viewpoint was the farthest and demanded a long, steady uphill trek. On the way, eight young kids came running up to us, offering to escort us to the viewpoint. They ranged in age from maybe ten down to three. One even sported a kind of make shift brace on one leg that covered a
Waiting for the cloud to disperse
kids.... always surrounded by kids
club foot. These kids knew all the short cuts through the forest and they danced around on the precipice of rock with total confidence and no fear. Peering over the edge, we had to be up 5,000 feet or so. The hawks and swallows circled below us as did a few of the clouds. We returned, making sure the kids stopped at their homes, hiked to the second viewpoint and sat in silence for half an hour simply taking in the view. The trek back was tiring but I still had a number of cold Kilimanjaro beers in the fridge so that kept us going. We made one more hike, this time into town. It was market day which made the village spectacularly chaotic. We wandered through and used the local bank to pick up some more Tan money.
We spent the Friday resting, packing and getting ready to leave Lushoto. It had been a wonderful week. And for $34 a night with breakfast included. We arranged with Jackson to have a taxi pick us up early Saturday morning and take us to the bus station. We finished our beers and wine and gave Jackson a bottle
of red as a gift. To be honest, it was a port wine, almost a liqueur and much too sweet for our tastes. We ordered a final pizza from Mamma Mia and spent the evening attempting to let the beauty of this paradise imprint itself upon us. It had really been a wonderful week.
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