From Moshi we take a bus east: we’re heading for the Usambara mountains on a tarmac highway that stretches across the flat landscape. Children herd goats through the scrub by the side of the road and occasionally we pass a line of people carrying plastic buckets on their heads. It’s a rattly old bus that hasn’t seen much in the way of maintenance for a long time, except for the inclusion of a small tv at the front which is showing Tanzanian music videos. The highway weaves and begins to hug some hills to our left which turn into mountains, looming up above us. It’s a steep mountain range of green trees and rocks and cloud covered peaks. To our right, the land is just as flat as before, stretching away beneath a huge sky.
A few hours later, at a little town called Mombo Junction, we turn off the highway and begin to climb, the bus taking bend after bend on the winding road. We’re in the foothills of the mountains and it’s very green and lush with small villages along the way. Eventually we reach Lushoto, the main town in the mountains but a small, leafy highland town. After so long sitting, we gladly tumble off the bus into the small square where little stalls line the edges and where the buses end and begin their journeys. We grab our rucksacks and navigate a couple of inevitable touts who come up and ask us where we’re staying, if we need to be shown the way, if we need a guide: after almost three months of this I’ve perfected ignoring them while Moz is much nicer and answers them with one word responses. We leave them behind with a wave and walk to Lawns Hotel where we’ll be staying for a couple of nights.
It’s a very sweet place and, surrounded by pine trees and a neat lawn, has an old-school feel to it, a sort of faded glamour. Inside there’s a creaking wood panelled games room and a book exchange and even an English style pub with memorabilia on the beams and painted plates from around the world hung up on the walls. It’s run by the friendly Alessandro as he shows us around I think how much my Mum and Dad would like it here. We sit out on the veranda, play a board game and watch a giant green cricket wave his front legs at us; after a long journey with no food I drink a hot chocolate and the sugar tastes so good.
That evening we walk into town, taking the back road past houses and stalls. Kids wave from corners and a little toddler runs up and clings to my legs, his young mum laughing at him. Hungry, we find a little local restaurant and order fish and salad and chips: the women cook and chat in the open kitchen at the back and a cat scrounges for bones. When the bill comes, our meals each have cost £2.
The next morning we eat breakfast in the large dining room next to a big fireplace lined with artefacts and trinkets. I resolve to ask Alessandro about the history of Lawns when he has time.
The weather, unlike our past couple of days in Moshi, is warm and dry and we set off on a walk to Irente Viewpoint, a couple of hours out of town. We begin climbing a tarmac road and we’re soon above Lushoto, looking down on the town nestled in the valley of trees; when the tarmac ends and the road divides we take the middle fork and walk on a quiet track past a couple of houses, past farmland and through forests. Some old ladies carrying firewood on their heads greet us and the occasional boda speeds past, some people waving, some people not. It’s really nice to walk, and especially just the two of us with no need for a guide.
After a couple of hours we reach a high village which we assume to be Irente. We’re 1500m up and we’ve reached cloud level; we couldn’t see more than 10m in front of us and it’s eerie with the empty cloud filled roads and people appearing suddenly out of the gloom. We take a track through the trees that hugs the side of a cliff, the land dropping away to our right but any view obscured by the cloud, and pay our 70p entrance fee. A small path leads up to a rock and there’s total blank white ahead. Typical – we’ve climbed for two hours to a viewpoint and there’s absolutely no view at all!
We decide to sit for a bit to wait it out. I lie on my belly and crawl to the edge of the rock, looking over the edge. Far, far down I can make out the ghostly outlines of a distant trees. Moz does not like this and I wriggle back to sit with him.
Suddenly, the cloud seems to melt and in its place we can see land far below us. It’s like a picture being painted right in front of us as the cloud lifts and more of the landscape is visible. Distant mountain peaks appear out of nowhere and we can make out forests and the Masai plans below. The Usambara mountain range rises steeply from the flat land it feels like we are right on its edge looking down. It’s so beautiful and feels perfect that where we could see nothing suddenly we can see it all.
On our way out, the guy at the entrance gives us our change and shows us where to stand to hear the echo of our voices, bouncing off cliffs on the far side of a gully. There’s almost a Jurassic feeling to the place, with the cloud rising across craggy rockfaces, and trees clinging to the edges.
We retrace our footsteps, and then take a turn off to Irente farm where Alessandro has recommended that we go for lunch. We found a farmhouse with a terrace overlooking the valley and, hungry from our climbing, we ordered the Farm Lunch which turned out to be juice, a plate of carrots, tomatoes and cucumber, another plate of fresh fruit, big doorstop slices of brown bread, a pat of butter, a bowl of goats cheese, slices of cheddar and jars of jam – all made on the farm. I was almost giddy with excitement; as Moz commented “you could not get a more Skel lunch than that”. We sat for ages eating the delicious food then made our way (very full) back down to town.
As if Lawns didn’t have enough of an old-school vibe, it also had a sauna and that evening we trotted down carrying our towels and swimming stuff. It had wood panelling and a log burner and, again, I was pretty excited. We sat sweating out the day’s walking and talking about how much of a lush time we’d had in Lushoto.