Our first stop was the Marangu cultural village. The minibus chugged up the steep sides of Kilimanjaro and our stomachs started to turn as we saw the pointy wooden structure of the start gate of a route heading up. The familiar cold air nipped us as we stepped off the bus and danced around the fresh faced climbers in our flip-flops. They exchanged glances among themselves as they overheard our flashbacks or they just thought we were idiots about to climb Kilimanjaro in flip flops. In the way of a cultural village, there wasn't much culture as the majority of people around were either Europeans or Americans. However the Marangu gate has a lot more plaques and information than the Machame gate but I still couldn't help but notice the dominance of Europeans on them as well.
We were greeted by who appeared to be Stewart's bleary eyed mate and he took us to the entrance which was a dark hole covered primitively by a thatched roof and surrounded by a subterranean moat of pineapples to protect against snakes. Although the hole seemed to descend into endless darkness, I am pretty sure a 6ft Maasi warrior could have his feet at the bottom and still see daylight.
For having a fear of flappy things, I coped quite well being in a confined space with bats flying about. The caves were less cave-like and more a labyrinth of underground tunnels. The tunnels were not nearly big enough to stand up in and so you were constantly crouching. I was glad I was in shorts, until I noticed the bats and remembered where their faeces go and more importantly my lack of a rabies immunisation. Either way I still scrambled about on my hands an knees as we were guided around the caves which would hold around 10 families in relatively few chambers. Some of the tunnels were so small you had to army crawl through them, this was where the Chagga outdid the Maasi as their chief would hide in the furthest chamber at the end of the the smallest tunnel. Back int the daylight we washed off all the mud, faeces and rabies before heading back to the car but not until we got harassed by the local crazy man who 'does that to everyone'.
|In the cave|
The next stop on our less than typical tour was the Kilasiya waterfall (which means endless waterfall) which was also home to numerous coffee plantations mainly in villagers back-gardens. We felt like we were miles away from any part of the tourist trap and the locals had that genuine happy look, they didn't look at you like you were another sales opportunity. Stewart told us about the coffee production process and the uses of bananas. Stewart also pointed out the tree from which the bark is used as quanine to treat malaria, the locals simply pull bark off the tree and boil it in water to create a broth.
He led us through some winding paths in between avacado plants and more importantly some aloe vera plants. My tick bite was agony for me and when Stewart offered me some pure aloe vera I could not refuse, however I advise you to refuse a taste of it. Another of Stewart's friends greeted us in a wooden hut that was used as a waiting room but had a sign calling it the "office of Kilasiya waterfalls". A winding path was built through the lush forest and we hopped our way down dodging ant colonies as we went. The trees cleared to reveal one of those waterfalls, the ones you only see as desktop backgrounds. I always think its funny computers have typical 'paradiso' pictures on their background, it's like their computer is subtly telling the vacant face in front of it to get outside.
The waterfall wasn't quite endless but it was pretty high but the plunge pools were pretty shallow. Alas I stripped down quicker than if Joshua Radin had just sang me a song he wrote for me, and got in the water. Other than my red hair, my attempts at being the little mermaid were feeble to say the least. Even if I managed to get in the water without slipping on a rock the force of the water kept me awkwardly shoved up against a rock while my knee got repeatedly beaten on the adjacent rock. Also, nobody does the drowned rat and panda-eye look like I can. You did eventually get used to it and learnt where the gentle currents were and we had a wonderful time which wouldn't look out of place in some horrendous teen horror film, but the nice bit before we realise we are abandoned in the middle of nowhere. After the inital dip in the pool we got our best lunch down from the mountain yet, which made up a surprisingly satisfying packed lunch with a chicken wing, a beefburger, cake and a banana. I have now realised the advantage of being friends with fussy eaters, their leftovers are essentially a whole meal! The trip to the waterfall was one of the most idyllic moments of the trip as it was just simple fun with great people and a beautiful backdrop.
|Bottle cap tiling on the floor.|
Before we left Stewart we had to get money out to tip him but it took us attempts at four different banks before our cards were accepted (Barclays is the saviour in Tanzania, despite it's UK reputation!). We said goodbye to him outside the bank and thanked him for giving us a real and different insight into some Tanzanian history, scenery and cuisine. We all agreed it was a fun and exciting, if not bizarre, way to spend our day off. Afterwards we wandered to the supermarket to get food for tomorrow which was the long drive to start our big leg of independent travel. Instead of going back to the hotel we decided to eat somewhere in town, it was cheaper and after last nights bill fiasco we decided it was easier to eat with less people.
An easy option was the Coffee Lounge, we had become worryingly local to them over the past two days but as good it is to absorb the local culture it's nice to get a rest from street sellers every now and then and just drink your coffee. The food was simple but very good, it wasn't cheaper than any local places but it was still cheap by our standards. One reason I am very glad we went there was because I ordered their banana smoothie for the first time which was the best smoothie I think I have ever had. It might have been because I couldn't remember the last time I had fresh fruit (other than the obligatory watermelon at breakfast) or because the bananas here are some kind of wonderful.
|THE Banana Smoothie|