Dreams Achieved! Touring Tanzania

Article and Photos by PJ Wheeler

Three months prior to arriving in Tanzania, I left my comfort zone and American culture to become a full-time traveler. Nearing age fifty, my goals shifted; I don’t want a humdrum life. I want to live an extraordinary life. I want to witness scenes found in the pages of travel magazines, first-hand. To achieve this lifestyle, I rent rooms form good-honest folk that enjoy promoting hospitality to travelers.

Climbing the tallest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, is the main reason most people visit Moshi, Tanzania. For me, it wasn’t such a monstrous task that drew me in. It was the kind face of Mama Simba, a homestay owner that I felt a magnetic draw to, and apparently, I am not the only one. Fellow residents confessed that they too were drawn in by her inviting smile and happy demeanor.

Moshi is located in the northern region of Tanzania, about an hour by bus, south of Kilimanjaro International Airport. On this day, I was coming from Arusha by dala dala the local bus, which cost about the equivalent of two dollars and fifty-cents; the fee covered me, and my backpack. The bus is the cheapest transportation across the country and an overall good experience; if you do not mind your personal space invaded, and the possibility of live chickens under your seat.

Moshi sprawls out from the base of one of the world’s most famous mountains. The shanty town of Rau is a tight-knit community, yet welcoming, and I felt secure enough to walk alone, unlike when I was in Arusha. I started up the powdery dirt road to reach the compound, when a man asked if he could be of assistance. From the directions he provided, I knew I could find my home for the next two weeks without an escort, yet allowed him to guide me. Of course, a tip was expected at the end of our journey.

Mama Simba’s Provides All You Need
Outdoor living and dining areas are encompassed by private en-suite rooms that deliver all the comforts of home. The desk in front of the screened windows supplied ample room for my laptop and odds and ends. Behind the curtained wall, deep shelves yielded more than enough space for the contents of my backpack. In the corner, next to the bed draped with mosquito netting, the cozy leather chair lured me each night to curl upon it with a book.

Mama Simba’s Homebase, a family-run bed and breakfast offers authentic for each meal. Breakfast is included in your stay cost; yet the chef is delighted to present lunch and dinner, upon request. The family also offers tours, cultural experiences and if you would like to volunteer, they can hook you up with that too.

Waterfall and Coffee Plantation Tour
At the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Marangu Waterfall is a spectacle to behold as melted glacier waters fall into the drop zone. The surrounding foothill terrain belongs to the indigenous people, the Chagga; who live in the village of Marangu.

It’s an easy single-line trail through the tropical rain forest that reveals: traditional Chagga houses, exotic plants, tropical birds, monkeys, banana trees and terraced fields of coffee plantations. Swimming is allowed, for those who don’t mind frigid water.

All hikers entering the park must hire a guide for the simple reason that you are helping the village’s economy. Since you have to hire a guide, you might as well book both the waterfall and coffee plantation tours.

A Coffee Lover’s Dream
I am far from a coffee lover, if I happen to order  the beverage; it has to be disguised with an array of sugary flavors, so visiting the plantation was done strictly for commentary purposes. Unbeknownst to me, that day, I would drink the perfect cup of java.

Tanzania grows more than forty-three species of Robusta and eighty species of Arabica, GMO’s extend the Arabica genus. Plantations are handed down generation to generation and great care is given in tending to the product as they have always been. Our tutorial covered how the trees are tended and how long it takes from planting to harvesting. When our lesson concluded, we were then given guidelines for which berries to pluck. After a satisfying amount of plump red delectables were gathered, we assembled around the processing equipment.

There are twelve-steps that coffee goes through from seed to cup. Pesticides are never used. To conclude if a berry has parasites, the beans are placed in a bucket of water to soak overnight; any beans that float are discarded. For our lesson to continue, we proceeded with beans that were harvested the previous day. The crew sang traditional work songs that have been sung throughout generations and enlisted individuals for hands-on participation, which brought eruptions of laughter from all.

“Cherries” that were ready for final processing from the day before were skinned, pounded, shifted to remove all outer shells, roasted over an open fire, pound again until granular, then returned to the fire to brew for two-minutes and fifty-seconds.

At that moment of perfection, it was strained into a thermos and then distributed into our cups. I wasn’t keen on the idea of drinking a cup of Joe without vanilla and caramel, but I couldn’t really turn it down. I took a tentative sip and found it really good. I added a half teaspoon of sugar and started mentally calculating which of my clothes I could leave behind to fit a sack of beans in my backpack.

Painting on Canvas
Expect to be pestered by hawkers trying to sell souvenirs. I am slow traveling, long-term with a thirty one liter backpack and, do not have a lot of room for bric-a-brac; yet when asked by my homestay if I wanted to paint my own wall art, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Zebra are abundant in Tanzania; so they became the subject of my drawing. I received a piece of 10×13 canvas, a pencil, and a photo to aid my attempt.

Instructions given, I proceeded with the accuracy of a kindergartener. Thankfully the artistic skills of Baba Motta (men are referred to as Baba, which means father) came to my rescue: ears were rounded, neck made fuller, nose corrected, and stripes, mane, eyes and nostrils added.

The next stage required melted wax to be brushed onto all areas meant to be white and the outline of the animal. The wax prevents the paint, used in the next step, from seeping into unwanted areas.

Choosing gray for the background, I used a sponge to color the backdrop, then using black, I brushed over the zebra; the paint flowing over the stiffened wax into vacant canvas.

After the paint dried, I dipped the wide painters brush into the hot wax, and using long strokes, engulfed the entire creation with the hot substance. Once the piece was completely dry, I scrunched it up, rubbed the fabric together, removing all waxy build-up from the material. Ironing the backside was the final step. The end result, with its imperfections, became the perfect reminder of my journey through Tanzania.

Swimming at an Oasis
The van bounced and rattled down the dirt road, traveling through what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Sporadically, we passed by crude stick and mud houses, or ones made of cinder blocks, both kinds of dwellings supported a tin roof.

Adolescent Maasai boys draped in traditional clothing and holding a shepherd’s stick, walked close to the roadside herding goats and cattle that trampled the thirsty landscape. A no longer used train track represented days gone by.

Palm trees marked our destination off in the distance. If anyone had looked at me, my relief would have been evident. For over two hours, sweat and red dust had been collecting upon my skin; a time for swimming could never have been better. I was flabbergasted as I rounded the corner and saw Chemka Hot Springs. Reading about a desert oasis is one thing, being in the middle of one, seems likea magic trick.

Just beyond the green bramble, trees and majestic palms was a landscape that moisture had forgotten.

In this little patch of heaven, water flowed with gusto from somewhere beneath the surface from which we stood, creating a clear multi-colored turquoise pool of liquid allure. Trees lined the pool; their roots hugged the lands edge. Two veins flowed out: one into a wider secluded lagoon where the

water eventually disappeared back underground and the other outsource flowed top-side, downstream around the bend, where two local women fished with handmade nets.

Most water seekers were twenty-something year-old, making me feel a little antique, yet not hindering my aquatic quest. The rope swing at the main waterhole beckoned both guys and gals; each newcomer was anxious to show off their acrobatic abilities. I found it in my best interest to only witness the scene. I lowered myself in and found it cooler than I expected; it was a challenge keeping myself stationary, due to the pressure of water surging in from somewhere below the waterline. I breast stroked over to the side to gain a footing on

a boulder. Minutes later, I let out a shriek of terror as tiny fish nibbled the dead skin on my feet. While this might be the newest spa craze, it was unsettling having something you cannot see snack on you.

Safari, One of the Best Days of My Life
With sixteen national parks in Tanzania; there are plenty of options to fulfill safari dreams. On this trip, I decided to visit the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Parks. Both parks have abundant animals, are a few hours apart from one another, and at the Ngorongoro Crater; it is possible to see the big five.

I stood at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater (above), anticipation raised within, as I scanned the exteriors dense vegetation covered slope and its golden grassland interior that lacked trees. Its dry season, so only a few ponds and streams provided water for the residents. The animals that reside here are plentiful and they are content with their habitat; the park is not fenced, they could leave if desired.

It took thirty-minutes traveling down the windy dirt road to reach the bottom. The guide maneuvered the vehicle with the accurate precision and speed of a race car driver; a plume of rust-colored dust trailed behind us. Before we reach the bottom, our guide cried out, “Elephants!” Six pairs of eyes scan the landscape; sure enough, two massive bull elephants, their tusks were long and curved, grazed amongst the dry turf. As we approached, they meandered away,

their strides slow and graceful. The guide allowed enough time for everyone to be happy with their collection of snapshots, then he floored it to the next must-stop sight.

Zebras, gazelles and wildebeest nibbled around the waterhole on sparse, green grass near the water’s edge. Farther away, an elephant transferred water from its trunk to mouth, while warthogs rested on their front knees in the moist mud to drink. Not too far away, a secretary bird, with its long spiny legs walked with precision through the brush, then plunged its claws into its next meal.

consciously brought our arms inside the vehicle as we blazed by, commenting on how painful it would be getting pierced by one.

Soon enough we exited to see a family of elephants enjoying their bounty and velvet monkeys jumping from limb to limb overhead.

It was lunchtime, after checking to see if any predators were near, those who needed to use the bathroom facilities made a calculating dash to the outbuilding. Our guide provided box lunches: roasted chicken, fruit, muffin, cookies and a juice box. As we ate our meal, inside the vehicle, a stork touched ground twenty-feet away. I quickly exchanged my lunch box for my camera.

Soon we were back on our mission, lions emerged from a section of river reeds; the two-year- old male and two lionesses lazily strolled into the clearing; apparently, the gazelles were in no immediate threat. As our transport jolted along the path, a young Thompson Gazelle started racing our vehicle, causing the herd to join in. For about eight-seconds, they sprinted alongside, and then abruptly stopped.

Turning onto another road, we spied a quartet of water buffalo chewing their cud under a tree, while a trio fed along the river’s edge. With no concern, they each brought their heads up from the water to look at us, and then returned to feeding.

Onward we went, until we came to a traffic jam of three tour vehicles; we too tried to figure out what the shape was way out in the distance. With the help from binoculars, we saw a rhino with its offspring, making their way in the opposite direction of us. After the binoculars were passed around, we went on our way, passing a pair of jackals, a spotted hyena and numerous wildebeest.

The hippo pool is on the opposite side of a lush grassy knoll where a pride of lions lay resting. I calculated around ninety plump bodies in the black filthy stagnant water. The hippos were huddled together grunting, yawning and tossing water upon their backs.

One left the muck and others followed, bursting out onto dry land, the zebras scattered. As the hippos made their way to the clean river, the zebras keep a watchful eye on their movements, not settling back to  grazing until satisfied they were in no danger. At the water’s edge, one-by-one they lurched into the water; then the lead hippopotamus surged through the water and the others mimicked him. It was quite the sight to see.

Our time was almost up, the park gates are locked at 6 pm; from our location, it’s an hour drive back. We zipped down one more road that ran along the river. On the other side of the bank, two adult male lions with full manes, conclude our sighting

desires. One rested in the open, providing a perfect view, the other was blocked by trees. Our existence didn’t disturb the brothers until our guide revved the motor, which caused a casual glance over the sunbather’s shoulder.

Tired of the attention received from the paparazzi, our feline friend walked out of view. Our guide zoomed down the road, crossed the shallow river and brought us side-by-side to the majestic beast. Multiple cameras clicked, along with a steady stream of appreciation to our guide. Anticipating the lion’s destination as they continued on their way, our driver took us back to our original spot.

We made it back in time to see one brother drink from the river, before crossing it. To our delight, he walked beside our Land Rover, until he came to the back, and then strolled into the plains.

The clock ticked our final moment; time to skedaddle out of the crater. Our guide was cautious of the time. When we arrived back to the lion trio, he granted one final photo shoot, before he pressed the accelerator pedal hurtling us toward the exit. Chatter filled the vehicle cabin as we gave cheers and recalled our favorite sightings.

Hands down, it was one of the best days of my life.

Meet Mama & check out this short video summary of my trip

Stay with Mama Simba and enjoy Rau, just outside of Moshi, Tanzania. You’ll be welcomed home! Click here for more information and to book your stay.


PJ Wheeler is a part-time freelance travel writer from Boise, Idaho who writes about getting out of one’s comfort zone and discovering off the beaten-path locations. Her articles have been published in online magazines and she publishes a blog at A Traveler’s Postcard.




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