Ngorongoro Crater and Beyond: Arusha and Goodbye

We came to the end of the journey, travelling to Arusha for the transfer back to Nairobi. Enroute, we stopped at a souvenir shop and wiped out the good merchant’s stock of AAA grade tanzanite. (We had orders from people at home to fill too, so it’s not like we’re super rich or anything.) They say tanzanite is running low in the mines and it was of course much cheaper near the source. At the cashier, we breezed past some frat boys thinking they were making a big purchase because they were splitting a USD300 statue. And then it struck me that we were carrying a small fortune worth of semi-precious stones. Luckily we weren’t in town for very long and the charming cottage we stayed at were in grounds protected by 24-hour guards and an electric fence.

If we thought luxury was over for the trip, we were wrong. Kimemo Coffee Lodge is absolutely stunning. We didn’t just have a suite to ourselves, we had a whole house to ourselves!

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Here I am at the path leading up to the house.

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It came with living room, dining room, kitchen, a study, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

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The four poster bed was almost de rigueur and it was so nice to sink into at the end of the day.

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The bathroom came with a roomy bathtub and had beautiful views of the outside. Our privacy was protected by a hedge, but we were worried that a gardener might come by while in the bath.

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Kimemo’s main business is in coffee. The lands of the plantation stretch for a bit and they process the beans on site. If you arrive at the right time, they’ll give you a tour and demonstration on how the beans are processed and the very friendly owners do their utmost to make you feel at home.

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We tried their homegrown brews in their onsite coffee house, sitting outside to enjoy the beautiful weather…

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… with their smooth cafe latte…

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… and aromatic frenchpress coffee.

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The view of Mount Meru at dusk was spectacular. We sat and enjoyed until it got too chilly.

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Then we went back to find that they’d put a lovely dinner in the fridge for us – shrimp cocktail followed by lobster tail, grilled tuna and squid with cous cous.

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And having breakfast in bed the next morning? No problem if one of you gets up to prepare it. The kitchen was there and I made scrambled eggs and toast to go with the fruit salad, yogurt and cereal already provided. What a lovely place.

Kimemo Coffee Lodge
Arusha, Tanzania

The day of our flight, we headed into Arusha town for lunch and a tiny spot of sightseeing. We weren’t able to get recommendations for good local fare for lunch. Apparently the nyama choma (barbecued meat) stalls are only open at night and there weren’t any good enough ones in town. Not wanting to have any of the usual Western fare, we went for Ethiopian at Spices & Herbs Restaurant, right by the famous roundabout (more about that in a bit).

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We were excited to try Ethiopian food for the first time. It was pretty cool to start the meal washing our hands right at the table.

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We ordered injera, which is a kind of flatbread made with fermented dough. It reminds me a bit of thosai, just that this is like a soft and slightly sour (from the ferment) pancake instead. I liked how it formed a bed under the food, soaking up all the lovely juices. Accompanying the injera were a spicy chicken stew that was veering towards curry, and chopped spinach that was kinda just… salty. At least it was a good foil to the meat dishes and the injera tasted yummy enough with just the salty spinach.

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We also had a rosemary mutton dish that came out on a miniature brazier. It tasted like a Chinese stirfry, probably from the green peppers accompanying it.

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It was quite a feast; similar to Indian food, the portions look small because the dishes are crammed together, but once you get to it it’s hard work finishing it. We left a lot of injera behind. What a waste. After lunch, we relaxed a bit writing postcards for friends and family…

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… and enjoying a cup of “spicy tea”.

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We then wandered to the roundabout, which was the only attraction in town. Apparently it was de rigueur for wedding couples to take photos there. It was a beautiful day for taking wedding photos, but we were not impressed. This certainly was a tiny town!

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So we headed back to Kimemo to get packed and take a photo with the indefatiguable Muba before setting off to the airport.

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Lucky for us, the weather kept being beautiful and the clouds opened up to allow a lovely view of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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We were glad to have caught a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the mountain that made our trip a success. Like Frank at FAME, Donna had a similar accident on the mountain. One of her Maasai guides “wandered” off to get help and Donna made herself a promise that she’d set up Maasai Wanderings if she came out of it fine. And she did. And because of her, we had this fantastic trip.

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Asante (Swahili for “thank you”), Muba. Asante, Donna. Asante sana, Kenya and Tanzania, for your warm welcome and a beautiful trip.

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Ngorongoro Crater and Beyond: A Visit to the Maasai

The next day brought us to a slightly more rustic visit, this time to a Maasai village. It was a fairly long drive in, this time on the flat plains but still very dry. The first word that came to mind when we stepped into the compound was “squalid”. This village was simply a group of little huts circling enclosed by a fence made of twigs, with a corral for the livestock right in the middle. There was plenty of space in between the huts – space for the animals to roam. Then the smell of livestock and poo struck. Squalid. No wonder.

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We went into one of the huts and were shocked at how dark it was inside. The sun was bright and pretty much overhead when we visited, yet when we entered the hut, everything was pitch black. It had no windows at all! The walls were made from dirt, ash and animal dung, with a roof of twigs. The twigs overhung the walls so that any rain would roll easily off and not wash away the walls. The inside contained a central area with with several alcoves. Two medium sized alcoves were for humans – one for the men and the other for the women and children. A big one was for the calves and a smaller one for the goat kids. Apparently lambs couldn’t be kept indoors and were put together with the sheep and other livestock in the large outdoor corral.

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We emerged from the dark hut and found that the village kids had discovered us. They ran up and charmingly tried out all their English words on us. It was clear that they had no clue what they were saying because they were shrieking “byebye, byebye!” gaily at us while trying to hold our hands and touch us. I’d normally be quite happy to pet the kids and play along, but I was horrified to find that flies were buzzing all over, concentrating on their eyes and seemingly feeding on their eye secretions. This is true village life all right, Maasai Wanderings had taken us to see a real village with its attendant problems like trachoma. It wasn’t a dressed up version like the one they attempted to show us at the Masai Mara for USD50 per person with a young man barely out of his teens claiming to be the village headman just because he had a hat made of a lion head.

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They taught DC how to use a stick to prop himself up the Maasai way – this helped to relax the body and allows a herdsman to stand for ages watching over his livestock. It’s so much of a habit that you can check out the young leader’s pose inside the hut. Look carefully and you can see him standing in a typically Maasai pose. And the man in the bright red plaid? He’s the village elder and it was beautifully endearing to see how much affection he had for his grandchildren.

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Soon, it was time for dancing. The village women gathered in a wide circle.

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They insisted that I join in too, and tried on several beaded collars on me till they were satisfied with the results.

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It was just sign language and smiles between us, and soon we were ready. Two ladies grabbed my hands and they started to chant.

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The ladies started dancing, a sort of hopping motion while jerking their ribcages so the beaded collars flipped up and down to the chanting. I shuffled along in a rather ungainly fashion and shrugged my shoulders up and down to simulate the flipping of the collar.

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Then it was time for the silly tourist to do her thing. My leading lady grabbed my hand even tighter and we crossed the circle, hopping away and went close to the other side, with a lady from the other side approaching too, and we almost crossed collars. “Hnee! Hnee!” chanted my leading lady in time with the beaded clashes.

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She then brought me over to DC and again “Hnee! Hnee!” as we hopped in front of him. Later DC told me it was some sort of presentation of a his woman dance and they were well pleased. Or somesuch. Pfft.

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Soon, the dancing was over and the ladies only let me admire the collar for a short while before asking if I wanted to keep it for USD25.

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This is where all the ladies took out their wares and the bargaining began. I ended up with a bracelet made from porcupine quills for USD5.

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I think the experience and the pictures are worth far more than that!