From Lushoto we catch a noon bus up the mountain, squeezing into the back with our rucksacks. The bus winds its way on a narrow road through pine forests, and the tarmac soon turns to dirt track as it passes through villages. There are markets out the windows where people are selling vegetables and goats and cows. A little girl next to Moz is sick into a plastic bag, her mum stoney faced in the seat infront. On the backseat we bump around for three hours and watch as the bus begins to empty. Finally we’re dropped off on a bend in the road; the bus will carry on to the village of Mtae and we have 3km to walk to our destination: the village of Mambo. We fall in step with two men who were with us on the bus and muddle through a conversation with them in Swahili.
Reaching the village, the two men wave goodbye and we carry on passing houses and climbing upwards. Little children wave and laugh at us, and some follow asking for money. We reach a bare football pitch where a big group of kids are playing and on the far side we can see the edge of a cliff and the land dropping away for many hundreds of feet. A steep climb and we reached Mambo Viewpoint, our home for the next couple of nights. The lovely Claire and Richard, who we meet in Uganda, had recommended that we come here and we’d decided that it would be the place where we would celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
Mambo is a tiny and remote village where, ten years ago, Dutch couple Herman and Marianne moved, bought a plot of land on top of a high outcrop of rock and built a lodge. It’s not only a place to stay but supports lots of projects in the village such as training health workers, providing modern maternity services and education.
We were shown to our safari tent which had a Narnia-like feel to it: inside was a big bed and an open air shower and bathroom at the back. We sat on the terrace at the front and looked out at the amazing view: it was early evening, a hazy gold falling over the mountains, and the dappled light of cloud shadows on the plains far below. Across the valley we could see the village of Mtae, built precariously along a narrow spine of land. Clouds began to rise, shrouding the mountains, the forest, the rocks and crags.
That night we went down to the dining room where places were set around a big table. The other people staying were Danish, Swedish and Norwegian interns working in the embassies in Dar, a couple and two international development Brits – everyone was really lovely and it was fun to chat and eat with others.
The next morning was our anniversary – 1 year married! We headed out with guide Joseph and Kim and Weri, the two lodge dogs. Our big walk was to take us through the nearby forest and we set off through Mambo village, Joseph telling us about the local area. Most people here live on less than $1 a day, making their living from cash crops like maize. We waved at the little kids who ran up and shook our hands then we began to climb upwards to a phone mast and a couple of buildings. This was Sunga pottery, an enterprise run by a group of women who we found, along with their children, pounding clay and making pots. There was a baby crying sat on the floor ignored by its mother who was working and I worried a bit about it until one of its siblings came along and picked it up. While Jospeh was telling us about the pottery, the women had brought out their wares and started laying them out on the floor; I’ve never seen so many pots in my life. They were all £1 each, too cheap for such beautiful pieces and we bought some mugs and a plate; half the money would go direct to the maker and the other half would be shared amongst the co-operative.
We left the village and continued towards the forest walking through a pine plantation that smelt dusky and sweet and reminded me of Scotland. A little girl was high up a tree, quite alone, hacking at a branch with a machete for firewood and Jospeh called to her asking if she was stealing. No, she calls back, her father knows the owner and Joseph makes a loud sound of disbelief. Meanwhile we were worrying that she didn’t fall.
On we went and passed through a line of eucalyptus trees which mark the border of the natural forest and whose leaves are used to heal flu. We entered the Shaguyu Forest; thousands of years ago these woods would have spread all over the region and biologists say that it has some of the richest biodiversity in Africa. We headed into the rainforest on a narrow path for several hours, walking past enormous trees and pushing through thick foliage. Everywhere there was water running and creepers and butterflies. The dogs bounded ahead and eventually we reached the Kidhege Falls where we stood under the tumbling water and shared our chapatti pilfered from the breakfast buffet.
Jospeh pointed out the “communication tree” with a huge hollow trunk which tribes used to use to send information – he picked up a rock and gave it a big knock. He showed us the comphrey tree which is used to heal chest and respiratory problems, crushed peppermint leaves in our hands and explained how it could cure stomach aches and broke open a castor pod and said that pregnant women took the oil to make them strong.
A few hours later we reach Mtae and took a break in a small tea house. We stooped through the door into a dark, low ceilinged room whose walls were blackened with smoke. A few men sat around tables listening to a local football game on the radio. We ordered and sweet dark chai came in mismatched teacups and saucers, accompanied by mandazis, deep-fried doughnuts flavoured with cardamon. I sat next to a very old and very tiny man in a prayer cap whose creaking face reminded me of my grandpa Trods. We spoke to him in Swahili and I shared my mandazi; Jospeh told us that he was a local healer who walked daily down to the plains and back again. The man nodded to us and held my hand.
On the walk back we’re caught in a downpour and trudge back getting very soggy. When we get back we’ve been upgraded to a little cottage next to our tent (which had a leaky loo, not what you want!) and we laid out our wet socks to sizzle – and singe – on the woodburner. Despite the rain it was a perfect anniversary.
The next morning we woke early and stepped outside to spot Kili. In the purple dawn, there she finally was: topped with snow and pink gold in the morning sunshine.
We ate breakfast slowly, sitting out in the burning sun. I finished a book with a coffee and we spent a slow day, playing cards and Yatze and walked down through the cloud to cliffs below. There, we stayed high and headed around the hillside to find a big rock to sit on and admire the amazing view. We could see right down to the plains, the tributaries of rivers and green flat land. From there the mountains scooped suddenly upwards into sheer rock faces, the clouds drifting up and Mambo Viewpoint perched high on top. Kids herded goats and we could hear their shouts and the sound of bells tied around the goats’ necks.
We had the most amazing couple of days in Mambo and it was such a special place to spend our first year married. It felt to me like we were sleeping on top of the world, the clouds spread beneath us and mountain peaks in the far off distance.
The next day we made our way back down to Lushoto to Lawns where we would spend one more night. It was lovely to be back and we spent the night chatting with Alessandro. We talked about growing up in Tanzania, his Italian family and his Cypriot wife, the challenges of raising his small children in Africa, our travels and future plans. Lawns had been built by Germans before WWI and had been a holiday resort for expats; Alessandro’s wife’s family had owned it for 40 years. It was a lovely last night in the mountains, sitting in the old school bar whilst Alessandro mixed double G&Ts and brought us a complimentary chocolate pudding to share.
I loved being in the Usambaras, a part of Tanzania often overlooked in favour of safaris and the beaches of Zanzibar, but for us it was a definite highlight of our time in Tanzania.