Usambara Mountains

 Posted by Elizabeth at 8:14 pm
Jul 052011

We left the coast and headed inland towards the Usambara Mountains and hopefully some relief from the humidity. For the most part the drive was pretty uneventful, passing through villages and most of the journey was on tar. Not long before we turned off to start the climb to Irente we were pulled over by a police officer – Wayne’s first speeding fine. It had to happen at some point during our trip! He was speeding, doing 52 in a 30 zone, but at least the officer was pleasant and polite, we were provided with a receipt, it was all above board and the fine is only 20000 Tsh (about $12). The ludicrous thing though is that they were raking in the money positioned where they were, yet no one seems to worry about the suicidal truck and bus drivers, the unroadworthy vehicles that are everywhere or the 30 people jammed into the back of a ute or hanging out the windows of the overloaded minibuses.

View from our campsite, Irente Cliff View Lodge, Usambara MountainsSo that experience over with, we headed up the mountains to Irente. The road is very scenic, winding its way through the mountains and through the villages. Once again we were glad we had our GPS as the road to the Irente viewpoint was somewhat rough and vague. We stopped off on the way at Irente Farm where we purchased some cheese and passionfruit jam, although the jam fell out of the car when we next stopped and broke so we never got to try it. They also offer camping but did not have the views. Right at the viewpoint we camped at the Irente Cliff Lodge where we parked our car on the edge of the cliff with magnificent views across the valley. There were super hot showers and the staff were friendly.

James from the hotel took us for a walk through the village and to Making sugar cane beer, Irentevarious viewpoints. Everyone was extremely friendly, welcoming us and saying hello. The village clings to the mountainside, burying itself amongst the dense tropical vegetation. There are pathways going off in all directions that somehow seem to connect with each other if you know the way. They make the local beer out of sugar cane and we watched as they demonstrated how they squeeze the juice out of the sugar cane using a manual press. The sugar cane is then left for a week to ferment and then it is ready to drink. The sugar cane juice was sweet, but not as sweet as either of us expected and the beer was a bit like a wine.

Irente, Usambara MountainsIrente, Usambara Mountains

Usambara MountainsToday we definitely took the roads less travelled from Irente, through the Usambara Mountains via Mtae and eventually arriving in Marangu. At times the road was hardly more than a walking track, barely wide enough for the car and clinging to the steep mountainsides. I doubt many cars travel most of the roads we ventured on and who knows when the last one went through! (The Usambara Mountainspicture at left is the road, not a path and the one at right is actually part of the road as you come down the mountain). As we get further north, our Tracks 4 Africa on the GPS has less roads on it, so there are times like today where you arrive at an intersection with 2 or 3 options but the GPS only shows 1 road. Twice we chose the wrong option and had to turn around on a very narrow road, retrace our steps and head on the other road. Especially along these roads, the children in particular were frightened by our car, dashing out of the way and clinging to the embankment.

Usambara MountainsThe drive was slow but definitely worth it. We travelled through lush tropical vegetation with magnificent views, travelling from one village to the next. I am glad though that we did our 4wd course as there is no way we would have been confident to venture along some of the roads otherwise. At times it felt like we were in the wild west, just add a couple of cowboys and horses and you could be on aUsambara Mountains movie set. In typical Tanzanian style, every possible inch that could be was cultivated and put to good use. The mountainsides were covered in terraced gardens, the riverbeds were a patchwork of various crops all making a very picturesque landscape. As usual, everyone stared at us as we passed by, the kids waving and cheering, even the adults would wave back to us or sometimes initiate a wave. I am quite sure they do not see a lot of cars, let alone one with 2 mzungus in it, they probably thought we were quite mad!

Usambara MountainsUsambara MountainsUsambara Mountains

Coffee Tree Camp, MaurangaWe are now at Coffee Tree Camp in Marungu, which is right at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro. It is pretty cold as we are quite high however we are yet to see the mountain as it is covered in cloud as usual. Hopefully in the morning it might lift a bit. The camp is very nice with lush green grass and piping hot showers (thank goodness – it is way too cold for cold showers).

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