Lushoto I - A Meditative Paradise

December 6th 2017
Published: December 13th 2017
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Bus ride to Lushoto

Climbing off the bus in Mombo, we surely must have been quite a sight. It was mid afternoon and the heat was at its zenith. We were sore, both physically and emotionally, from our uncomfortably overpriced ride. This resulted in us hauling on our backpacks with a somewhat hardened, defensive attitude. We had been informed that another bus would come along and take us the rest of the way to Lushoto, where we could grab a taxi to our lodge. However, we were too tired and too low on patience to wait for another bus - to load and unload all over again and then, once more, find a taxi. We decided to hire a taxi here in Mombo that would take us all the way through Lushoto to Milemeleni Lodge. A driver wanted 45.000 shillings for the ride; Monica offered 35,000. The driver needed to talk to a friend and the interpreter to see if that was acceptable. We waited for five minutes and I began to take in my surroundings. This roadside area of Mombo was little more than a series of shops - wooden structures with dirt floors - selling mainly local produce. The one in front of
me displayed three flayed goats hanging from hooks and covered with a blanket of flies. Behind us, two middle-aged women sat at a table amidst a vegetable stand. They smiled at us and spoke greetings in Swahili in a friendly tone. The one women smiled broadly, and reached out her arms with her hands open and extended. Slowly, she let her hands descend in gentle flow. The message was clear - 'take a deep breath, relax, cool off, everything will be fine.' Time to drop this defensive vibe, I assumed. The driver agreed to our price and drove us to the lodge. It was much farther than we had anticipated. Clearly, we realized, the driver's offer was fair - to a small extent, we were ripping him off. Gradually, the road became rougher and narrower as we wound our way higher into the mountains. The driver had to gun the engine to get up the hill and through the mud that took us to our destination. It was a high, metal fence with a gate in the middle and the sign, MILEMELENI painted upon it. Immediately, the gate opened revealing a sharply dressed African gentleman and a younger women wearing
a colourful sari. Smiling widely, he introduced himself in good English. "Hello, I am Jackson. Welcome to Melemeleni." Jackson grabbed Monica's backpack while his assistant, Ramona, gave me a look that said 'don't even think about carrying your own bag'. She hoisted my backpack like it was no more than a pillow, marching it up the thirty steps or so to the main building and our room.

Jackson gave us an hour to unwind and unpack before giving us a debrief of sorts. He is a tall, relatively thin African gentleman, probably in his mid thirties. He spoke excellent English and proved throughout the week to be conscientious and courteous. He is married and has a young child and goes to Catholic mass each morning before arriving at Milemeleni to ensure that our night had gone smoothly and that Ramona was getting our breakfast prepared. He told us that he was the manager of the lodge and that it was owned by an American who owns a similar lodge in Zanzibar. The owner visits Milemeleni once a year. The structure we were in was shaped much like a long house. Our room - including bed, table, chairs, sink, shower and toilet - was located at the south end. We had two doors; one exited outside onto a covered, cement floored, walkway that ran the full length of the building. Cushioned chairs and tables make this an ideal spot to sit shaded from either the sun or the rain, yet able to enjoy the view across the valley and into the Usambara mountain range. The other door lead into a hall way with two small bedrooms on one side and another bathroom across from these. It then opened up into a kind large recreation/living room, complete with sofa, chairs, card table and a couple of book cases. The sign on the bookcase explained that this was a kind of leave and take library where guests were welcome to exchange books if they please. Beyond this, was the kitchen complete with fridge, microwave and gas cooker. Jackson explained that since no other guests were staying at this time, we were quite welcome to use the entire house. Breakfast was included - usually an egg with toast and some fruit. By the end of the week, we had talked Romana and Jackson into giving us muesli with yogurt,
fresh pineapple and mango. Of course, dark African coffee is the best. Jackson explained that Ramona could also prepare dinner for us - we just had to inform him ahead of time. The vegetarian meals were spicy and filling and worth the $7 per plate we paid. However, since it was too late to make us dinner on this first day, Jackson suggested we have him call Mamma Mia in town and have them deliver a pizza to us. We really had not eaten anything all day, so when our chicken pizza arrived - packed in a brief case on the back of a motor scooter - we devoured it in no time.

MELEMELENI - it is a word found in the Swahili version of the New Testament. Its meaning is 'stand up', however, in a figurative or deeper sense, I believe if means to stand up for your beliefs; to be counted; to show courage. Unlike Dar es Salaam, Lushoto and the surrounding countryside is probably half Christian. The first Europeans here were German missionaries and their graves can be found on a hill overlooking the centre of town. There is more of a rural feel
here - almost an innocence. Most of the people are farmers and everyone is at least somewhat self sufficient. The bio-diversity of this region is one of the most lush and complex anywhere on the planet. They have strict laws concerning what types of trees and how many can be cut. In fact, no deciduous trees at all can be removed. The landscape is sloped and mountainous and heavy rains appear almost every afternoon. Without the native trees and their root systems, landslides and soil loss would be a certainty.

We slept soundly the first night, my only complaint being that the bed frame was only six feet in length, hence, my ankles tended to rest on the wooden boards at the end of the bed. Sunday we awoke before anyone arrived and tip-toed down the darkened hall into the kitchen. We had purchased coffee in Dar and it was very much a god-send that we could make our own first thing and not wait for Ramona and our breakfast. We spent Sunday getting our bearings and deciding how we were going to spend the week. We had arrived on a Saturday and were not leaving until the following Saturday. Jackson informed us that in the three years the lodge had been open, no guest had stayed for that length of time. Remember, there is no internet and no TV. Despite the warmth, being almost on the equator means the days are always around twelve hours in length. It gets dark by seven each night. Suddenly, that bookcase became the shining jewel. I finished off my paperback that I had in my

backpack - Friday by Heinlen - and then polished off Mission Song by Le Carre and State of Fear by Crichton. I was pleased to see Monica quite enthralled for the week in a book on Evolution written by a Frenchmen. She also found a yoga mat and put it to good use. I found that I just could not consume enough of the silence. Listening to the calls of the swallows, long tails and numerous others, I often found myself simply staring into the distance at the mountains and trees. The peacefulness of it all I found overwhelming. Animal calls one could use as a clock. Dozens and dozens of roosters would announce the beginning of each day and soon all the birds would join in. Like a full symphony, the bass lowing of the cows and bulls would follow, baying for their morning fodder. All would be repeated at sunset, in the opposite order. Overnight, one could hear the packs of feral dogs, yapping and fighting. We had two males, who after a night of chasing females in heat and scrapping with other males, would fall asleep on the cushioned chairs outside our window in the early morning hours. When we awoke, they would slink off down the steps, choosing a safe spot in the morning sun to curl up and sleep.

Monday would be the beginning of our hiking and explorations. During breakfast, Jackson presented us with two things he thought essential for us. One was a hand drawn map of the area he had done himself to prevent us from getting lost. And two, he had stocked the kitchen fridge with ten local beers - Kilimanjaro and Safari - to give us something to look forward to when we had to make our climb back.

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14th December 2017

African serenity
Love those bus ride and bus depot descriptions...they sound very familiar! And how lovely you are at this serene retreat. We read your writing and study photos with much anticipation. Keep 'em coming, M&M!

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