If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people you might better stay at home.” James Michener
This statement couldn’t hold more true for my recent trip to Arusha. I had been to Tanzania’s capital before on a company assignment. As with such gigs, much of the time was spent in the hotel with no opportunity to see the town. Not this time! Armed with my passport and having booked the Nairobi-Arusha shuttle, I was pumped to explore the town and its environs. The drive from Nairobi to Arusha, that started at 8am, was amazingly smooth. The road network from Mombasa Road, to the small towns of Athi River, Kitengela, Isinya, Kajiado and to the border town of Namanga was well carpeted guaranteeing a pleasant ride. We arrived at 12.30pm and after the customs formalities, we proceeded on to Tanzania. Now Arusha is known as the launching point for any safari into Northern Tanzania where all its famous parks – Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara and Tarangire are found. And I could see why. At the outskirts of the town, right in front of our vehicle, a herd of Maasai giraffes strutted across the road! They seemed so in their element crossing a highway, like its no biggie, while it looked surreal for me!
We arrived in Arusha town at 3pm and proceeded to the Green Mountain Hotel which was to be home for my bestie and I for the next 4 nights. While Kenya and Tanzania are similar in a lot of ways, for instance Swahili is the national language in both countries, the differences started to become apparent when we paid for our rooms. See, Tanzania’s currency (T shillings) features 10,000/- even 5,000/- in notes! Currency exchange became a bit of a challenge but we eventually got the hang of it.
Green Mountain Hotel is located at the foot of a hill, and along a busy road. It did get a tad noisy especially at night however if you are looking for affordable accommodation close to town then the hotel will do. We spent the next day doing the touristy thing sight seeing Arusha by cab. We cruised through the town taking in the sights including Mwenge wa Uhuru (Independence Torch), an important and historic landmark as well as all the government offices. Arusha was such a restful change from the bustling pace in Nairobi. Here, there is no rush and there is more order.
However my absolute favourite sight was the Jacaranda-lined streets at sunset! October has to be one of the best months to be in Arusha. The trees are in full bloom, perfuming the air with sweet fragrance and the weather is pleasantly warm in the evening to enjoy it all on a stroll.
The following day, we decided to be adventurous and boarded public transport from Arusha to Moshi and back. Just one thing about public transport, you will be more comfortable seated next to the driver otherwise the vehicles get cramped with passengers making the ride really awkward. Kilimanjaro International Airport is the middle point between these two towns. Kili as it is popularly known is Tanzania’s largest airport and the gateway into the country by flight.
Moshi is located at the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. So anyone interested on a climb, drives from Moshi to the starting points of the various routes that lead to the summit of the mountain. While we didn’t have any intention of going on a climb, we took a two hour drive uphill to the Marangu gate of Kilimanjaro National Park just to get an idea. It was interesting to learn that they have shorter hikes for anyone who wants to explore the park without going all the way up to Uhuru Peak.
While at Marangu we learnt of the first European and African to reach Africa’s ceiling, Hans Meyer and his guide, Yohana Lauwo. This history and all other information regarding the mountain such as the vegetation, wildlife etc can be found at the booking office.
After taking lots of selfies 🙂 we were famished and headed back to town to have lunch. You have not experienced an East African country until you have tasted nyama choma. Our roasted meat is the epitome of African cuisine and is best served with ugali and eaten by hand (no fork and knife here!). Two things stood out for me about Moshi: it is super clean. You cannot find litter anywhere. Very impressive! The other one is that as we ate, we kept hearing bands in vehicles whizz by every few minutes followed by a bridal party convoy of vehicles. Being a Saturday, there were lots of weddings taking place and apparently each had to be accompanied by a band! Imagine that!
The next day was a Sunday and like any African city, all roads lead to church. We decided to attend the nearby St Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kijenge. When we entered the church, I noticed people looking at us oddly and I thought it was because we were guests. Mass was beautiful, coloured further by the lovely tunes of the choir. Tanzanians have the most amazing choirs in Africa! It was only later that I noticed that all women were in dresses and skirts and we were there decked out in jeans!
TIP: When you travel to Tanzania, buy yourself a mobile telephone line with any of the mobile network operators because calling outside the country using a mobile line from elsewhere can be very expensive. You will find shops written ‘Wakala‘ (meaning agent) for the various telcos be it Vodacom or Airtel.
I was sad when the trip came to an end, however, going on it was one of the best decisions I have made this year. Just travelling and playing it by ear is certainly the only way to get the most out of a safari. Looking forward to the next one!