Adding another stamp to my passport always gives me a thrill. I crossed the boarder into Tanzania around 11:30am and began the long drive to Arusha. In the distance I could see a mountain peeking through the clouds. As I found out later, this was not Kilimanjaro as I had expected but Mt. Mero. Unfortunately a cloud was covering Kilimanjaro’s summit that day so I could not see it. It has always been a dream of mine to conquer Kili. I’ve set the date for 2015, giving myself and a few friends who want to trek as well enough time to save money and train. So you I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was when I saw a snowy white peak.
I arrived in Arusha just as the sun was setting and drove through the city to my camp site about 40 minutes outside of town. It stayed light just long enough to set up my tent on a huge patch of dust in the snake park where I was staying. The following morning was an early one, we set off into town to get supplies for those going to visit the Serengeti and Ngongo creator. I had opted not to participate in this activity as it was slightly out of my budget at $450 for 2 days. Instead I decided to stay back and see what Arusha had to offer. I had my morning coffee at a cute little cafe in town and used the internet Cafe for a while before setting off in search of the AICC where genocide trails had been held for the Rwandan genocide. I wandered aimlessly for a little while in the direction I was pointed in by one of the shopkeepers, and after walking around in circles for about 20 minutes I decided it was best to ask again for directions. I asked a girl on the street who was about my age and speaking English to one of her friends if she could help me. She told me to wait a moment, quickly finished her conversation and then asked me to follow her. We walked down the road a little ways and she mentioned that she had to wait for her mom. When her mom showed up they offered to drive me to the AICC as they did not think I would be able to find it on my own. They made a quick stop at the bank and apologized for making me wait. I could not believe their kindness. I told them it was not a problem for me to wait as they were doing me the favour. When they dropped me off right in front of the AICC and called one of the guards over to help me further they handed me their telephone number, email address and the business card of the husband/father and told me that if I needed anything else while I was in Arusha please do not hesitate to call them. Once again a typical display of African hospitality and one of the reasons why I love this continent so much.
I walked up to the AICC with my passport in hand and asked a couple of questions about the trails, if there would be any trails held during the week. The UN security personnel manning the desk checked my passport and let me through. He told me a little bit about the trails that had taken place there but explained that there has not been any trails for a little while now and they do not expect any more in the near future. I left the AICC and walked to the cultural museum. The museum was very basic, just some pictures on the wall really with an explanation about Tanzanian history. When saying “Tanzania” you are actually referring to the mainland Tanganyika as well as the island of Zanzibar to form Tanzania. I walked out of the museum and decided it would be best to try to find a daladala back to camp while it was still light out. I went back to the coffee shop I was dropped off at in the morning and there was a man standing outside who asked where I was going. I told him I was going to the Snake Park in Monduli and he waited with me to show me the correct daladala to get on. He was selling paintings and I told him that unfortunately I could not buy one because I was traveling very far and it would be damaged along the way, instead of being pushy he just said “Hakuna Matata, I am Tanzanian, I will still help you no worries”. I was grateful for his help that day as there was a market in Kisongo so all of the daladalas meant for Monduli where turning back and going to Kisongo instead. When I finally got into a daladala it was packed and I had to stand. Two Masaai men asked me in broken English where I was going, I told them and they said they were getting off at the same stop. When I got off of the daladala they walked me to the gate of the snake park to make sure I got in safely. I had heard horror stories about Arusha and how “dangerous” it is but all I have been met with here is the overwhelming kindness of complete strangers who want nothing in return.
The next day we woke up early and decided to spend the morning checking out what the snake park had to offer. The snake park has a snake exhibit, as well as a baboon that had been rescued from a poacher but cannot be released back into the wild because she was separated from her family. It’s kind of sad actually. She is very lonely. If you go and sit by her cage she will groom you and hold your hand for hours. Baboons are pack animals so I’m sure she is missing the company of others. I got to hold a baby python and walked around reading and learning about all of the snakes they have at the park, most of which are found in the region. Some are poisonous and some constrictors.
We went to see the snake park clinic afterwards. The clinic is run by the people who own the campground, funded by the proceeds both from camping fees and the bar. It is free for everyone who uses it which is about 1000 people from the surrounding area and it is the only clinic in the region that treats snake bites. After a rainfall a lot of the snakes crawl into Masai huts to get shelter and crawl into peoples beds. Children are often bitten this way.
We also went to the Masai cultural museum where a Masai man showed us around and explained the exhibits to us. He explained that the Masai women build the houses and the men take care of the livestock. Huts are made from sticks, mud and cow dung and they last for 6 months before weather or termites get the best of them and they have to move. He mentioned that if you have many wives the houses will get built quickly as each of the wives helps the other build her home. One house takes about one month to build. Each wife has a separate house. Men and Women do not sleep in the same bed. I think he exact word were “after the fun stuff” the woman goes and sleeps with the children and the man has his own bed. The marriages in Masai culture used to be arranged but now it is more common to choose you own spouse. The ear stretching that you see in Masai culture is for vanity and has no significant meaning to it. Men are circumcised at age 13 and they are not allowed to cry during circumcision. Female circumcision used to be very common but this practice too (thankfully) is becoming something of the past. They used to believe that if a woman was circumcised this meant that she would stay with only one man. But through education these beliefs are changing. Masai live on a diet of cows meat, milk and blood and a little bit of maize. To bleed the cows they make a small hole in the neck with an arrow and then seal the wound with dung. Only small cows are killed for meat and they cows are killed by smothering them. The Masai beads as well have a significance. Beads make you look beautiful and therefore you wear a lot of beads when you are unmarried. If you would like more information on the snake park in Monduli please check out their website here.
In the afternoon we decided to take another daladala into town to explore a bit more of Arusha. We had lunch at a fabulous Mexican restaurant in town and then walked around exploring for a while. We eventually ran into some school boys playing basketball and joined them for a game that gained a few spectators.
my third day in Arusha it rained most of the day. The locals said it was the first time it had rained in a year. I got up early and got directions to the coffee plantation where the Shanga project is located. The Shanga project is a project for the deaf and mute and it is located in the Burka Coffee Farm. The project was started by a dutch woman when she entered a Christmas craft fair with a necklace she had designed using local fabric and glass beads. After the craft fair she was getting so many orders that she employed one deaf lady to help her fill the orders and the project grew from there. She had no other funding from outside. “Shanga”, which means “bead” in Swahili, now employs 55 disabled people and pays them a salary which is enough to support themselves and their families. The project now makes a number of different products using recycled materials. The project also supports disabled children in Tanzania through a program called Pink Balloon. The program is called pink balloon because one of the teachers had said that “simply one balloon would already change the lives of the children as they would then have something fun to play with”. Please take a moment to check out this amazing and worth while project here
After spending a few hours learning about the project I took a coffee tour on the plantation with the same guide. Coffee plants he told me start production at 3 years and need to be cut every 7 years. After the plants are cut it takes a year and a half for them to start producing coffee again. The plants have a total lifespan of 70 years. The coffee plants produce white flowers which resemble jasmine, the flowers them dry out and produce little green berries. The berries mature after 7 months and become bright red. This is when picking starts. Picking is best done by hand once a year during a long harvest from May to October. Hand picked coffee is the best coffee because this ensures only the bright red cherries are picked and the bitter green ones are left on the plant to mature. Burka coffee estate is one of the oldest plantations in Tanzania. planted in 1893. Coffee was brought from India to Tanzania at this time by German Missionaries. The plantation grows Arabica coffee. The difference between arabica coffee and robusta coffee has to do with the elevation at which the coffee is grown. Arabica coffee is grown from 1000m and above. This plantation sits at about 1400m above sea level. Robusta coffee is very high in caffeine at 3.5% while arabica coffee is much lower at 1.5%. Once the seeds are picked they take 24 hours to ferment. After 24 hours the coffee is washed with clean water and air dried outside for 6 days. The coffee bean is in a white husk which is removed once it is dry. After drying the green bean is taken out of its parchment. It is covered by a silver membrane which is scratched clean. The bean is then roasted. Coffee beans turn brown after roasting due to the caramelization of sugars that takes place during the roasting process. The beans are roasted at 200 degrees Celsius. Dark roast is no more than 10 minutes, and light and medium are less. You must watch the beans to look for colour to know when to stop roasting. The longer you roast coffee the less caffeine it has. There for debunking the common misconception that dark roast coffee is the strongest in caffeine, dark roast is however the strongest in flavour.
After the coffee tour ended it was a 45 minute walk back into town to have some lunch and I spent the afternoon visiting the art gallery in Arusha. It is fabulous and an afternoon is not even close to enough time to get through all of it. 3 days in Arusha is not nearly enough to explore what the city has to offer and I hope to make it back there one day soon for another visit.
I also managed to spend time in hot and humid Dar es Salaam and along the boarder of Malawi where it is cool and mountainous. Tanzania is a large and beautifully diverse country.