If you’ve ever heard about the safety records of African airlines, you will understand why I was slightly nervous about flying Rwandair. Fortunately my concerns were completely unfounded, and both the flight and the accompanying service were flawless. Flying into Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro airport we had a stunning view of one of the eponymous mountain’s smaller siblings, Mount Meru, poking through the cloud cover. Almost clear, but not quite. This turned out to be a sign of the week to come.
We had planned to spend our time in Moshi enjoying the local consumables (see beer and BBQ) whilst basking in the glory of the world’s highest freestanding mountain, Kilimanjaro (as it rose like Olympus above the Serengeti). Unfortunately, the stubborn bastard just wanted to hide in the clouds. We went three days without even a glimpse of it, despite our ridiculous proximity. How you can be at the base of an almost six thousand metre high mountain and not even see it is beyond frustrating. Then suddenly one afternoon, it emerged. Firstly just the snowy cap, barely above the clouds, but I was thrilled all the same. As we stood by the side of the road, me waving my arms about trying to point it out to Laura, a local thought we were lost and tried to give us directions in Swahili. After a minute or so it finally dawned on him “Ahhhhhhh, Kilimanjaro!” he said with an understanding nod and smile, acknowledging it’s presence before continuing on his way. This was all we saw of the mountain for another couple of days, until one evening, around sunset, the cloud lifted entirely and we saw Kili in all it’s glory from the window of our taxi to the pub!
Being World Cup time, the pub is the only place to be of an evening. Our pub of choice, Malindi, was decked out like the seaside fishing village in Kenya for which it is named. The tables were actually dugout canoes and the music was a steady stream of seventies disco, nineties hip hop and ancient country music. Best of all was the Nyama Choma (smoked BBQ meat) sold by the kilo. At £2.45 per kilo the mbuzi (goat) and n’gombe (beef) were incredible in taste and value. Easily the best food I’ve eaten in some time. Tanzania also seems to share my love for chilli sauce as everything is served with freshly made stuff which is no more that pure orange scotch bonnets and water blended. Not for the weak.
With new countries come new sights, and for this part of Tanzania the most interesting has been the Masai. Sometimes herding cattle with sticks, but mostly working as Askaris (guards). A job which suits their badass looks and attitudes. With ritualistic facial scarring, stretched earlobes and always armed with knives and sticks, I wouldn’t mess with them. The Masai askaris at our hostel were especially effective. One evening a taxi driver locked us in his car and tried to scam money out of us, however after realising he had caught the attention of our Masai, he bricked his pants and quickly let us out. They didn’t even have to stand up. Sitting in their chairs under traditional cloaks which look like picnic blankets, they simply acknowledged the driver with a look which probably translated as “We will skin you alive”. Laura considered them her new BFF’s but they were mostly confused by her which lead to much laughter. The modern Masai were also a sight to behold. Dressed like they were heading out to a London club under traditional cloaks, knives replaced with smart phones. One night in Malindi we witnessed another great use of the cloak, as a Masai smuggled his own beer into the pub beneath it, grinning cheekily as he swigged.
The unfortunate thing about Moshi is that every man and his dog runs a safari or mountain climbing company. This results in every conversation we had with locals becoming a sales pitch. Even worse were the touts along the streets whose thinly veiled sales techniques were simply irritating. Genuine people were few and far between. We did meet a couple of Rastas from CouchSurfing who walked us around town showing us some less seen locations like the old German train yard, however they were both so beyond stoned that the conversation wasn’t exactly riveting. The highlight had to be giving them some Vegemite to try, which they loved, and the more wasted of the two asked “Can I get high off this?”.
I also managed to catch some Tanzanian TV whilst having my hair cut. One channel had goat racing (really), whilst the barber much preferred a Swahili soap where a gangsterly dressed man told a woman “Your shoes are bullshit!” before trying to open her face with a beer glass. Unexpectedly (after my horrific Bangkok haircut) the barber did a decent job. I’m glad I chose the place with Ludacris on it’s sign.
An unexpected discovery in Moshi was a Commonwealth war cemetery. A homeless man swigging water from a jerrican he’d hidden in the bushes pointed it out to us. Thanks mate! Containing soldiers from both sides, of both world wars it made for some interesting viewing. The graves which left me most intrigued were those with African names who were members of the ‘East African Military Labour Service’ of WW2. I’ll have to do some research, but it sounded like a nicer way of saying “Slave”.
Admittedly we weren’t too sad to leave Moshi. The 9 hour bus ride to Dar es Salaam wasn’t even too painful, though the amount of wrecked trucks the wrong way up littering the side of the highway was slightly fear inducing. Some of them in positions that you simply could not fathom how the accident happened. Arriving in Dar I thought we may face a similar fate. Our taxi driver attempted an obscene overtake only to come face to face with a giant steamroller crushing stones inches away. Swerving back into traffic we now sat behind a city bus with large Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden portraits carefully painted across the rear. “Where in the f*ck are we?” crossed my mind. Is it possible that the full size football hanging from the rearview mirror with “Jesus is God” scrawled literally hundreds of times all over it helped to save us? Unlikely.