During my week-long safari and subsequent three-day Maasai home stay I had three showers – suffice it to say that I was definitely ripe by the time I got back to a town. While I would have loved to stay with my Maasai friends for a few more days (and indeed they invited me to stay longer), I also loved every second that I stood under a scalding hot shower at the Outpost Lodge in Arusha. The Outpost is a nice place; basic but clean and with a wonderful staff that makes you feel like family. Arusha is nothing special – just another city – but it is the staging place for all safaris in northern Tanzania and for everyone attempting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so you meet some fascinating people.
Although there’s not much to do in Arusha, I opted to spend three nights here after returning from the bush because I figured I’d need a rest. I did – but after a day of lounging around I started to get restless. Fortunately Hamisi, the cook who had accompanied me on safari, lives in Arusha. He stopped by the hotel at the end of my first day and offered to show me around town the next day.
There are only two paved roads in Arusha – one highway leading basically east-west and another north-south. Where they cross is a traffic circle with a clock tower in the center – perhaps the best known landmark in town. After we’d walked through town along the paved roadway, Hamisi diverted into the unpaved side roads. It wasn’t long before I was totally lost. There were no street signs, nor were there any addresses on the buildings. Usually I’m pretty good with directions. I rarely get lost – but lost I was. Were it not for Hamisi I would still be wandering around out there, trying to find my way back to the hotel.
Two things in Arusha made me marvel. The first was the sheer number of people on the sidewalks and the streets. Everyone walks. There are Moslem men in their round hats; Arab women in full chador, only their eyes visible from under their long black gowns; women vendors dressed in riotous colors, their heads wrapped in vivid silk scarves; tribal Maasai carrying their walking sticks; hordes of children; delivery men rolling big wooden push carts full of goods from store to store; and touts accosting tourists in an attempt to sell them safaris. With every step I bucked a seething mass of humanity.
The second thing that amazed me was the markets. I’ve been to markets in all parts of the world and in each fresh fruits and vegetables can be found, but never before have I seen the variety of produce I saw in Tanzania. Absolutely anything grows in this rich volcanic soil and all of it can be bought for pennies. I purchased a mango the size of a small watermelon for about 35 cents. In addition to produce, seafood is abundant.
I saw bins heaped high with dried sardines and tables overloaded with huge dried codfish. There is no lack of meat, either, nor of clothing, toiletries, tires, bicycles, etc. If the markets are any indication – and I believe they are – Tanzania is a prosperous country.
It seems that the volcanic soil, however, is a mixed blessing. About a week ago, we started to experience tremors. I felt the first of these mini-earthquakes when I was with the Maasai. Since then I have felt six more – including an extremely strong one two days ago. I was sitting in the hotel’s Internet room when I felt the now familiar rumbling of the ground but I ignored it. However, when the building began to shake it alarmed me enough that I moved outside. I wasn’t the only one – the general manager of the hotel came tearing down the stairs from the second floor, explaining that the walls had begun to sway on the upper level. This is quite unusual – the people in Arusha have never experienced earthquakes before. My driver today told me that fully 90% of the safari company employees had stayed home today because they are too frightened to come to work. He also added that the source of the tremors is an active volcanic crater about 45 miles to the northwest of Arusha. Scientists have been studying this crater for some time now, convinced that it will erupt sometime within the next two years. To support their prediction they point to the sulphurous gasses that have recently begun to emanate from the lake in the middle of the crater. I checked the US Geological Survey website, where they track every earthquake in the world, and discovered that the “big one” I felt was 5.9 on the Richter Scale and that there had been 12 quakes in the past week in Tanzania, all centered in the same general area as the suspect crater. Frankly, if I lived here, I think I’d be moving.
So, between the not-much-to-do situation in Arusha and the earthquakes, I was ready to leave today. I took the shuttle to the airport at Kilimanjaro, hoping to see the famous mountain upon departure, since I was unable to see it in the dark on the evening of my arrival. Unfortunately, daylight is not a guarantee of seeing Kilimanjaro. Most days of the year it is obscured by clouds. In fact, many days you can stand at the foot of the great mountain and not see it at all and today was one of those days. I decided my best bet for a glimpse would be from the plane as it took off, so I secreted my camera under the seat and took it out after the flight attendants had strapped themselves in for takeoff. The best I could do was to capture this shot of the flanks of the mountain – the peak refused to show itself.
Though I was disappointed by Kilimanjaro, upon our approach to the spice islands I was treated to this beautiful view of the reefs from my window.
I am in Zanzibar now and am lovin’ it here already. Finally, I am warm. I always thought that it was hot all year round at the equator but I’ve discovered just how cold it can get during the winter. Zanzibar is another animal, however, and I am relishing the 85 degree weather this afternoon. Time to beach it for a while!