Keeping Promises And Another Spin Around The Sun Done - Tanga And Moshi
You must agree with this statement, “You’ve not experienced South Africa if you’ve only stuck to the N1 from Bloemfontein to Leeu Gamka?” Indeed. You have only touched the tip of the iceberg with a teaspoon.
Right off the bat I must apologise for the quality of some of my photographs, all these photos were taken using my smart phone, many while driving in a filthy truck with even dirtier windows. It is my wish to show you a glimpse into the fragile, resilient, unashamedly authentic and vibrant Africa we are exploring, showcasing it's fascinating, intriguing history and beauty. We are not trying to win competitions.
To experience any country, province, city or village, you must explore. Crisscrossing the highways and byways allows all your senses to kick in; only then can you make an informed decision about a place. As they say "you can't judge a book by it's cover" or a grocery store by it's frozen produce aisle. You've got to push that trolley up and down every aisle and peruse many shelves before you can make a judgement call. Now, that’s exactly what we try to do with our travels.
So, when our dear friend, an ex-pat now living down-under, asked us to visit Tanga north of Bagamoyo, we didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond before Butch’s flighty fingers responded, “Yes, of course, we’ll do that. Why?"
I had never heard of Tanga, except that it was on the coast, and there lives a lovely Englishman who lets overlanders park on his large property. We had three excellent reasons to go.
My guidebook said very little about Tanga but did mention the following: “Tanga is a port city in northeast Tanzania. Covering large swaths of coastline, Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park shelters prehistoric coelacanth fish and manatee-like dugongs. Within the park, Tanga Bay is home to Toten Island, with its ruined mosques and German colonial buildings. Tongoni village has centuries-old, ruined tombs. Northwest of Tanga, the limestone Amboni Caves are filled with stalagmites and stalactites.
Tanga means “sail” because the port and its surrounding area are still the centre of life in Tanga today. The most important export goods from the port include sisal, coffee, tea and cotton.”
The following anecdote made me smile; “The Battle of Tanga, also known as the Battle of the Bees (2–5 October 1914), is the opening battle in German East Africa (Tanzania) led by the famous German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck during World War I, an amphibious landing at Tanga ended in a fiasco for the British.
Aitken’s landing on 2 October was thwarted by German machine gun fire just east of the town. On 4 October, Aitken attempted a large-scale assault. Indian troops ran into massed rifle and machine gun fire, and casualties were heavy; the battle was further complicated by the fury of agitated bees, which sometimes even spurred a cessation of shooting while both sides fled the attacking stinging bees.”
With only two nights available to us and a packed programme to fulfil in Tanga, it was all systems go from early Saturday morning.
The weather was playing havoc with meteorologists all around the globe, predictions were unreliable, and we woke up to rain. Subtropical summer rain in the winter. Unheard of. The bajaj is the perfect vehicle for street photography. The speed allows one to get the picture, not too fast and no-one takes a second glance at the passengers, very seldom do they expect to see a nosy tourist snapping pictures. The other advantage is; they're a very affordable mode of transport.
Decked out in our plastic ponchos, we hailed a bajaj and went in search of the cemetery where our friend’s late father is buried after succumbing to an aeroplane crash in Tanzania in 1953.
I have a macabre fascination with cemeteries and often visit graves, especially ones that seem neglected or forgotten. The mosses and lichen covering old, dated, often faded, and eroded cement or stone statuettes that guard these graves stir unexpected emotions in me while the quiet of their solitude calms my soul. I know the sudden, light, cool grazing air on my arms and neck isn’t a figment of my imagination. There are angels everywhere.
The weather was particularly fitting on the day of our visit. The somberness of the stone angels’ moist faces reflected our sadness for our bereft friend so far away from his beloved father. It took moments of quiet reflection before Butch and I could leave and return to the incessant noise of an African city that never sleeps.
Edward, our accommodating host, is the Commodore of the Tanga yacht club and his recommendation to have lunch there was spot on.
Dappled light reflected on the harbour’s calm waters where dozens of small yachts, fishing boats, canoes and tenders lay serenely, hardly bobbing on the placid neap tide. The only sound carried was the occasional ping pings as a tightened rope snapped against a mast or a boy called his friend to look at his fish or the thunk of a wooden dugout met the jetty.
The ghosts of many commodores and regatta winners are recorded in gold leaf on the wooden notice boards lining the walls. Not one name was known to us. We were total strangers here, but so were the two vagabonds, backpacks nestled against their feet, waiting to board a yacht anchored a few hundred meters offshore. Harbours and jetties are meeting places for strangers.
We agreed one couldn’t go wrong with a chicken curry anywhere in Tanzania. Our lunch was simple yet perfectly seasoned and just the medicine the doctor ordered on a gloomy, wet day. A little cumin, curry and cardamom went a long way to drive out the chills. We ordered a pizza take-away for supper. It was delicious. A thin crispy base, tomato, basil and mozzarella topping. Re-heated in the Airfryer it turned out beautifully.
In our bajaj, we explored the old town and visited its historic library, where the friendly librarians welcomed us to browse and enjoy their library. The antiquated books from the sixties were musty and randomly filed on drooping shelves.
For a bibliophile like me, it was a treasure trove of opportunities to scratch around, finding a book with a suitable date printed on the linen or leather cover, e.g. 1957, my birth year or 1974. When I matriculated to see what had happened in the world on those dates. There weren’t any, but the scent of old, faded, yellowed paper and printer’s ink was enough to send me into a swoon.
In this modern era of the internet and smartphones, it was painfully clear that books were not in demand. The shelves were weighed down with out-of-date academic reference books and encyclopedias no one had any use for. The ghostlike, watchful librarians, quietly following us on slippered feet, keeping a close eye on our manoeuvres, were the guardians of mildewed, out-of-date relics of a colonial past no one had any interest in.
The architecture in Tanga is fascinating and reflects the evolution of the country’s social, cultural and technological development over time.
During the 19th century, the influence of European colonialism saw the construction of various grand buildings and public works, such as churches, government buildings and railway stations. These structures were often constructed in the Neoclassical style and featured large columns and domes. The use of colour adds a bright touch. We took a slow drive back to our Honey Badger enjoying the various landmarks along the way.
Early the following day, we set off. This time we would leave the coast and keep going in a westerly direction almost parallel to the Kenyan border to Moshi, which lies under the watchful gaze of Mount Kilimanjaro. The landscape changed dramatically from lush sub-tropical, to semi-arid as we dropped down to Moshi.
Once again, I had to pinch myself to be reminded that I was not hallucinating. There before my eyes, peeking out like a veiled virgin bride, was Kilimanjaro in all her regal glory.
To see her can be likened to the shock my grandchildren experienced when I appeared like an apparition on their doorstep, after two years of them chatting to Grandma via Zoom during the pandemic. They saw, knew, and loved me, but seeing me in the flesh was downright terrifying.
Unfortunately, we were never rewarded with a clear sighting of Mount Kilimanjaro. She is shy, we were told, and only makes an appearance unexpectedly when her veil of clouds lifts and the sun bathes her in golden light.
On the 3rd, I completed another spin around the sun. I celebrated my birthday in a beautiful setting at Tulivu Kilimanjaro Retreat in Moshi, surrounded by lush gardens, forests of ancient and the largest indigenous trees, with Kilimanjaro watching over me.
For once, the words “Maricha, every day is your birthday and a celebration” when my birthday comes around rang true. Yes, I was fortunate to be there. Who could’ve predicted such a thing? No one! I certainly am lucky. On our bikes we got to visit a very special place Butch promised.
Butch and I, with Joseph, our guide, explored the RUA Catchment Forest Reserve on our bikes. Like children, we excitedly went weaving through the ancient gnarled roots, moss-covered boughs and branches covered in lichen and air plants. At any moment, Tarzan could’ve come swinging by on a rope. Without Joseph, we would’ve been lost as he seamlessly navigated us along narrow footpaths throughout the forest, pointing out trees, birds, mammals and various small critters we would’ve missed as we concentrated on keeping ourselves on the bikes.
The RAU Catchment Forest Reserve is located 3 km southeast of Moshi. The reserve is on the gentle south-facing alluvial base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and is mainly a natural groundwater forest, swamp forest and woodland forest.
The reserve has diverse bird life and several large mammal species, including the black-and-white colobus monkey (Colobus guereza), Vervet monkey and Kirk’s dik-dik.
Other species include squirrels, spiders, magnificent butterflies, dragonflies, ants, millipedes, centipedes, African snails, lizards, Nile monitors, and frogs.
The forest represents several native Tanzanian and endemic trees, including the largest and oldest African teak (Milicia excelsa), which is revered and serves as a spiritual meeting place for local tribes. This particular tree is believed to have supernatural healing powers and exudes spiritual energy, and is sacred.
As a tree hugger, I encircled my arms around the tree for a few minutes and left with that warm, calm, fuzzy feeling. I’m sure there’s something to our ancient superstitions.
I have heard that hugging a tree increases levels of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for feeling calm and is excellent for emotional bonding. When embracing a tree, serotonin and dopamine hormones are released, which make us feel happier. Using the “free” space in a forest is essential to heal ourselves holistically.
Joseph has such an acute sense of smell that he could identify the black and white, very shy Colubus monkeys in a tree as we came cycling past and later, he could smell the shedded skin of a python a few feet off the road in some shrubbery.
We exited the forest, and like Alice and the looking glass, we reimagined ourselves in a rice paddy in Vietnam. That is how similar the landscape was. Rice paddies, water canals, ladies labouring in the ricefields planting new stock or tilling the sodden soil, preparing for the seedlings or harvesting the yellowed rice plants.
Alongside them, cattle were grazing quietly, only interrupted by the calong-calong of cowbells when they occasionally looked up with forlorn eyes.
From sunrise to sunset, these remarkable women are bent doing back-breaking work, knee-deep in mud and water as they labour under the scorching sun and high humidity. I asked Joseph if they do not suffer skin diseases and fungal infections being in water for so long. He said no, they have built up a resistance.
I think one of my favourite traditions in the African countries that we've traveled in is that the local communities continue to live in the parks or are able to use the park as a thoroughfare and can access freely as they have always done.
Women are the farmers and gardeners here, and sometimes children are guardians of the harvested crops, as we realized when we spotted a young girl babysitting her siblings while keeping an eye on a mountain of just-picked aubergines.
This was irresistible, and with Joseph’s permission, we stopped, and I enquired whether we could buy two or three aubergines.
Mother came dashing out of her garden where she was picking ripe aubergines to assist her daughter who clearly was at a loss. After much negotiation, we settled, and I could purchase eleven beautiful, shiny, purple aubergines for 8000 Tan. Shillings an equivalent of R60. Joseph and Butch filled their backpacks to brimming with aubergines, and we agreed the rest Mother could send to the market. A win-win for everyone.
We would have Babaganoush, moussaka, aubergine curry, parmigiana, and slow-cooked caponata. I baked, grilled, fried, and froze them—a feast and celebration of aubergine.
We rode home on a high enjoying the landscape, the people, the flowers and the mild temperature. A lovely day it was.
Butch suggested we dig out our gladrags from the back of our hatches. He’d made a reservation for supper at the restaurant.
I was thrilled and took a long shower in the beautifully appointed bathroom. For the first time in almost a year, I dabbed my Americhe perfume behind my ears and elbows and fetched my only lipstick, which is nestled between the Hot English Mustard and the bottle of Piri-Piri, from the fridge.
At the last minute, I couldn’t find my proper sandals (Birkenstocks), I know, but my flip-flops would do. Holding my hand we made our way along the lit-up path to the restaurant where Victoria, the manageress and her clutch of gorgeous young assistants awaited our arrival.
We were escorted to a festive table with lights and flowers under the banana tree. I was overwhelmed, and the best rendition of Happy Birthday I’d ever heard started. One cries when one's happy. I bawled.
The evening ended with the presentation of a slice of carrot cake, my favourite, and candles. How extraordinary my birthday was. One to remember forever. No simple thank you can convey my gratitude for the kindness shown to me. I know the next spin around the sun is going to be remarkable.
We accepted the invitation to have breakfast under the banana tree before our departure. What a feast it was too. These special treats are a spoil.
My review and description of Tulivu Kilimanjaro Retreat on iOverlander included words like heaven, exceptional, and picturesque, which describe the gardens, ablutions, and accommodations. But does not describe Victoria’s undivided attention, friendliness, and willingness to accommodate guests, even campers. Every evening Manuel, the in-house guide, would call to chat and give us recommendations and suggestions. We would look forward to his visits. Every staff member was kind, helpful, and professional and meant it when they said, “You’re welcome.”
Every campsite we’ve stayed at offers clients something unique. I am hard-pressed to compare because ratings are seldom based on equal terms and typically reflect one’s subjective viewpoint based on an experience. But, I must confess, this was one of our best stays.
Once you’ve set your sights on Kilimanjaro, it isn’t easy to exit her orbit. Our next destination would be Arusha, the gateway to Tanzania’s world-renowned National Parks.