I wanted to do something to remember - and simply going someplace new by myself, did not seem to make it justice. So I remembered my mother-in-law's long-standing wish to travel and to go on safari and I felt that it would be the perfect occasion to make this wish come true.
I decided to take them on safari in Tarangire National Park as I myself had never been there also and I decided to take two of my three mother-in-laws, Yayai and Totoi, who were the once who had expressed this wish together, my husband, his cousin, our son Yannik and Claudia, a girl close to my heart, my son's cousin and a girl I have known for the entire 8 years of her life.
|Totoi, Yayai, Claudia, Yannik and I at the gate to Tarangire.|
I was nervous about taking so many of my family and so many who had never travelled before. I thought Claudia and Yannik would cry at the sight of swahili people and would be scared of the big busses we would travel in, and I thought my two mother-in-laws would suffer from motion sickness. Both of these fears turned out to have been superfluous.
We did the trip to Arusha to access Tarangire National Park in stages, as it is a long trip and all on dirt roads which had suffered extensivly from the ongoing rains.
We set off in the afternoon of the 25th January on three motorbikes to Kijungu where we planned to get a car to Kibaya, our district capital. From there we were to take a bus at 6 am the next morning, straight through the Maasai Steppe and straight to Arusha, a route I had chosen because it was shorter and in better condition than the usual route I would take to Moshi/Arusha via Handeni and Korogwe and also because I had never been that way before and had always wanted to see more of the Maasai Steppe.
|Yayai, Totoi, Claudia and Yannik at our home, the day of our departure|
We waited for two hours in Kijungu until finally a Toyota Noah turned up, fully loaded with used clothes he was transporting to Kibaya.
Four of us plus Claudia and Yannik squeezed into the back seat and Kiringo, Sokoine's cousin was in the front with 3 other people including the driver, who shared his seat with another person. Luckily the car was an automatic - I don't know how he would have managed to reach the pedals to change gear otherwise. I handed sick bags to my mother-in-laws and off we went.
The road was muddy but passable as it had not yet rained that day. It is 90 km to Kibaya from Kijungu and it took us 3.5 hours. It started raining half-way in and we made slow progress on the slippery road.
Then, just as we were about to enter Kibaya, we got to a stop at a bridge, where a trail of waiting cars made us stop ours too. The driver had alreday mentioned that he was expecting this - the bridge was flooded. What was usually a brook, had turned into a raging river and several cars on either side of it had stopped - too scared to try and drive through the thigh-high, fast-flowing water.
|Enjoying the wildlife in Tarangire National Park.|
We had not eaten anything since breakfast, were tired and on edge and I was concerned about the children getting upset. We all got out to check out the water and witnessed a motorbike rider who nearly got washed away....other people were crossing by foot higher up the river and people were talking about having to sleep where we are to wait for the water to receed. I was rolling my eyes, thinking what a great start to our trip this was....
Then luckily things got moving - a lorry braved the ride through the water and made it to the other side, accompanied by cheers from the people watching. Then another car, then a motorbike. Our driver called us, telling us to get in the car - he had seen enough to be convinced we would not be washed away. I was pretty certain also but just to make sure I told him to roll down the front windows, so that just in case we would have an escape route and I could pull them out one by one, being the only one in the car who knows how to swim......
We rolled down the hill, revved the engine and sped through the water.....we made it to the other side. We were so relieved. Yayai and Totoi had been so scared, they had their heads between their knees during the crossing - probably praying.
Yannik had been nervous too as he had experienced a few crossings like this in our village lately when he was riding with his father on the motorbike - he knows what water does to muddy roads and how difficult it is to navigate.
We made it to Kibaya, a short 90 km trip that should have taken 1.5 hours and during which I had no expected any difficulties - a bit shaken, but alive.
We took the bus at 6 am the next day. 380 km on dirt road through the Maasai Steppe to Arusha. It had rained at night and the roads were even muddier than before. We had just left the bus stand in Kibaya and had turned a few corner when we got to a halt, the driver revving the engines of the old bus. One look through the window and it become clear that he is trying to find the right angle to take a very sharp corner on very muddy roads with a very large bus. He reverses a couple of times, makes an attempt, reverses again and then he swerves left to get a better angle and the tires give way on the muddy road and he drives us into the left-hand ditch of the road.
The bus is stuck at a precarious angle and it is clear that we will fall if he attempts to drive us put of the ditch. Everyone in the bus gets up at the same time, panicking, wanting to get out before he attempts anything.
I tell Sokoine to hurry and get Yannik out of the bus - adrenaline is already rushing through me - I have experienced these situations so many times and they always bring back the accident I had the first time I every visited Sokoine. We are in the back of the bus and it takes a loooooong time for everyone to get out. My Mamas are terrified and so am I but I try not to show.
Finally we make it out and we just start walking. We all just want to leave the muddy stretch behind and get on a good part of the road to continue our journey from, should the driver manage to get the bus out. We turn around to see what is happening after hearing the engine scream and with one big rush, the bus is out.
It takes a different route, meets us on the way and we all get back in.....reluctantly. Yannik and the Mamas are nervous, Claudia is fine. Laughing even. I silently ask myself if this is an omen of what's to come or if the universe is just testing my spirits again.
|The flooded bridge at Terat, Simanjiro, Maasai Steppe on the way to Arusha.|
We drive for 5 hours without accident, through the Maasai Steppe, we see very few people, and if we see them they are Maasai herding their cattle. It is a beautiful route, a beautiful part of the country I have come to love so much. We even see zebra and wildebeest on the way, grazing, sharing their space with warriors herding their goats. It is a beautiful sight. Claudia shouts out every time she sees a zebra and the Mamas love it too.
At 12 pm, in the midst of the Maasai Steppe, far away from 'civilization' the bus comes to a halt. Another trail of waiting cars in front, more whispers about a flooded bridge. I say 'oh no' quietly in my head.
We all get out to have a look and find, yes, a flooded bridge, a raging river and a landruiser stranded in the middle of it with the owner sitting on the roof of his flooded car.
He had tried to cross and failed. The water was reaching to its bonnet.
About 50 people on each side of the river and 5 vehicles on each side...all watching, waiting. The water is not too deep, people wade through it to try and attach a rope to the cruiser to pull it out but the rope is too short.
Whispers of ' we will wait till the water receeds', 'there is no crossing the water until we pulled the car out - it is blocking the way' and I realize that that is true. The landruiser had been turned by the water so that it lies across the bridge - the water would be passable with a big bus but the cruiser is blocking the way.
|Yannik and Claudia posing by our bus as we wait to cross a flooded bridge on the way to Arusha.|
We wait and wait and wait. Apparently there is a tractor on its way to pull the car out. We go for a walk with the children, trying to find the zebras again. Sokoine says to not go too far as there are bound to be leopards around and I agree - so much prey around, the predator cannot be far. The Mamas are sleeping in the car, Yannik and Claudia are in good spirits despite not having eaten much apart from peanuts since last night. They laugh and play along the road and we take pictures by the standing bus. It definitely is an adventure - but I fear my Mamas already had enough of it.
Finally as we are all trying to sleep in the bus and I have to hide the last few drops of water we have from Yannik who says he is thirsty (as I don't know how much longer we will be stranded here), we here the revved of a tractor engine and look out the window to see the cruiser being pulled out. I can't help but to cheer and clap. 'Yes, we will make it out of here'.
Busses start pulling through the water and pass us. The rest of the passengers file back into our bus and the driver gets ready to pass. And we make it through without a problem. It is now 3 pm. We would have been in Arusha already.
We are thirsty and tired but glad that w ewont have to spend the night in the bush. On we go and we break down for half an hour a little further down the road....but luckily some Maasai women sell soda on the side of the road so at least we get to quench our thirst. My head hurts, I am hungry, tired and nervous. I pass paracetamol around to my Mamas who accept gratefully. Their heads hurt too.
We continue and finally at 6 am, after a 12 hour journey we make it to Arusha.
So so grateful and happy to have made it despite all the difficulties. The Mamas just fall into bed, exhausted. Yannik is hungry and I run out to get him a chips and eggs omelette which he laughs. He is happy as can be, excited to be in the big city.
We all go out later to eat and everyone is just happy and grateful to have made it.
|Yannik enjoying Tarangire.|
The next day we have a rest day and arrange our safari to Tarangire.
We leave at 6 am the next day. It has rained so much that parts of the park are inaccessible, even in four wheel drives. The grass is green and high and animals are difficult to spot. Yet we see elephant, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, warthog, baboons, vervet monkey and even two big male lions.
We try to drive through a very muddy bit and get another shock as the car slides from side to side and the makes a 360 as the driver tries to take a corner to get us out. I am nervous and tell the driver to slow down, Yannik feels my fear and starts crying and I take him in my arms and tell him not to worry as the car slides and swerves through the mud.
We make it out and continue. We take a rest at a beautiful picnic site overlooking the Tarangire river with vervet monkeys guarding over us trying to get crumbs of whatever we are eating. Yannik gets another shock as one of the monkeys he and Claudia approached gets aggressive, expecting them to feed him.
I think because Yannik is so small the monkey dared to challenge him - I run over and take a crying Yannik in my arms wondering if his love for monkeys is destroyed now. Claudia is laughing as always. The girl I had been so worried about turns out to be inquisitive and fearless in all situations. I am proud of her.
We continue our safari till about two pm and then head back to Arusha. Yayai says elephants are ugly and I say 'Whaaaat, they are beautiful!!!' She says, well you say that because you never had them trying to break your house and chase away your children and your cattle. And I see her point. It brings back childhood memories for her.
We get to Arusha at 5 pm and then get into a bus to Moshi. We are very tired from all the excitement and the challenging roads but I want to take them to Materuni waterfalls tomorrow, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, close to Moshi town, so we need to get there tonight.
|The mystical beauty of the Materuni waterfalls in the foothills of Kilimanjaro.|
We are all exhausted. Yannik had fallen asleep in the last half hour on the bus and I carry him from the bus, to the taxi and into our hotel room and am thankful that he stays asleep through all of this. No dinner for him, but at least lots of sleep.
He had been so excited and therefore overtired the last few days, that he only got 8 hours sleep or so each night, so I am glad he fell asleep at his usual time today.
We leave Yannik with his grandmothers and Claudia, who say they are too exhausted to eat, and go out for beers, Sokoine, Kiringo and I. I have a pizza and a beer and am very thankful to be here in Moshi and to have made the safari happen. And I am exhausted.
The next day we get up, have breakfast and discuss we there or not to go the waterfalls. I really really want to take the Mamas and the kids but I know that the roads in the foothills of the mountain will be wet and slippery. It is a 40 minute drive to the gate and then a 45 minute walk through the hills to the waterfalls and I am worried that the Mamas might not be up for it. Weather forecast says rain I the afternoon. The Mamas say they are ready to go and Sokoine and Kiringo say the same. So at 9.30 we set off into town and find a taxi for a good price that sprees to take us to the gate.
The driver is a young guy, very nice but doesn't quite know the way. He asks me for it and I tell him: 'What, you asking the Mzungu for the way - who is the taxi driver here? Ask people of the way'. And he does and we make it.
He then decides to join us on the walk as he has never been and he agrees to take us back in his taxi also.
|Yayai and Totoi making their way towards the waterfalls.|
The paths up the mountain are slippery and steep and the Mamas are very nervous. They won't even look at the views of the mountain as they are too scared to fall. I feel for them and ask myself if I asked too much of them. We walk slowly in single line as one wrong step and you would slip on the wet mountain paths. Sokoine is ahead with the guide and the driver, guiding Yannik, Kiringo is looking after Claudia and I am in the back with the two Mamas telling them to take their time and guiding them over wooden bridges and slippery bits.
I start cracking up at the Mamas because I am so nervous that they might fall and break a leg and I apologise to them for putting them through this. They are in good spirits, and put on brave faces say, 'No Stephania, we are very grateful for you to bring us here, don't worry, we are fine. This is something that we will talk to about to our great-grandchildren - the day our white daughter brought us to Kilimanjaro'.
And I laugh and nearly tear up, grateful for their graciousness, their strength, courage and resilience. They show me again, why I love them so much.
We make it to the waterfalls, the Mamas are amazed and scared at the same time and I point them to a log to sit down and rest. They don't dare to go up close to the rushing water. I finally catch up with Yannik and Sokoine, Yannik seems teary and I figure he must be hungry, he just walked 45 minute up and down hills on slippery paths. I am so proud of him and call him my mini warrior. His grandmothers do the same and call him from their log. I give him a juice and biscuits and he cheers up.
We take a few pictures and take a rest in a nearby hut. The Mamas have taken their shoes off and look exhausted. I give out biscuits to everyone and tell them how well they did. Sokoine and Kiringo are pouring sweat and I laugh at them.
We start the way back slowly, the Mamas without shoes. The going is easier now as we are used to it and glad to be on the way back. I praise the sun which has come out to dry our paths. I laugh and giggle in the back with Kiringo, maybe it is adrenaline, maybe thankfulness that everyone is still healthy.
We make it to the car and drive back to Moshi. I take the drivers number and promise to bring him customers when I can.
|Our team at Materuni waterfalls.|
My work is done - I took my family on safari and to the the water coming down from the famous Kilimanjaro and I finally feel like I can relax.
I have some work to do in town and let my family rest.
The next day is another errand day for me and a rest day for the family.
I have a go at taking Yannik into the pool at the Ymca, but he is scared of the water and gets out quickly.
At 3pm we make it to the bus stand to get back to Arusha after nearly losing Sokoine's backpack after we had left it in the back of a tukuk. We get it back and take the bus, so that tomorrow we would get the 6 am bus back to Kibaya. Our adventure is coming to an end and I am sad.
No surprise, our bus breaks down about 30 km outside of Arusha. Lots of smoke coming out the engine and I tell Sokoine 'let's go find another bus.'
We get into a dala dala, a mini van. Sokoine, Yannik and I are next to the driver who takes a liking to Yannik, trying to speak Swahili with him all the way. Yannik knows mainly Maa, his tribal language and little English and Swahili but the two manage to communicate and it is lovely to see.
It is the warmth and kindness of the Tanzanian people that has won my heart. Hardly would you get into a bus in Europe and have the driver engage you and your kid in conversation.
We make it to Arusha around 6 pm and I get bus tickets for the next day. The Mamas again are too tired too eat.
The next day, our journey passes uneventfully. The rains had not been that heavy the last few days and all the bridges are passable again. We again see Zebras and wildebeest grazing alongside Maasai cattle and that makes me so happy. I think 'This is how it is meant to be - man and animals in harmony. The Maasai still know what that means, while we in the western world have forgotten it'.
We make it to Kibaya at 3 pm.
I am sad to be back and at the same time relieved to have made it safely despite the difficult travel conditions.
The next day we take it easy, I am exhausted due to lack of sleep and worry about getting my family home safe on these dirty roads. It rained at night and we still have 100 km of mud between us and home.
We get in a minibus at 1 pm and thankfully the roads are pretty dry despite a drizzle.
Only 20 km outside Kibaya though we get to another flooded bridge - and another car stuck in the water, blocking the way.
There is a tractor on the other side and rumours say, it will pull the car out. Yannik is tired and nd nervous about the water - he has seen it too many times now. He tells me: 'Mama, let's just go by foot, I don't want to get back in the car, I don't like the water'. My sentiments exactly. I see the way the car is stuck, its backwheel in a ditch in the mud and I ask myself how our old minibus is going to make it through it.
Sokoine says we should get back in the bus, as soon as they pull the car out and I refuse, saying I am going to strap Yannik on my back and walk through the water. People had been passing and it was only knee-high, flowing slowly. I was much more confident wading through it that sitting in our bus.
The car is pulled out and I say to Yayai, give me your cloth - I want to put Yannik on my back and walk. And she says: 'Right, here you go, let's go together'. I put Yannik on my back and take her hand and we start wading through the water. Totoi takes the hand of an elderly Maasai man and off we go. I look back and see Kiringo and Claudia standing at the water's edge, giving us instructions of where to go and I tell him: 'Let's go, take Claudia'. He does and follows us. Sokoine arrives out of nowhere, wanting to help us, but he sees that we got it all under control and goes back to help push our truck. We make it to the other side safely and I cannot help but ask myself how many more obstacles fate will put in our way until we make it home safely.
We all look back to see our truck shaking and rolling its way over the broken bridge and through the mud.
We get back on, reluctantly and continue our trip.
We see rain falling close to home and just pray that we will get there.
We make it closer to Kijungu, Yannik playing horn which is missing in our bus, when we have to pass herds of cattle, much to the amusement of our driver: 'Beep beeeeeep' he goes.
We share grilled corn that we bought on the side of the road, the bus passengers having become family after we made it through the hellish water. An older man, passes half a corn to Claudia and she hesitates to accept and I tell her to take it and say 'asante' which she does and I can't help but smile at this token of love and humanity being shared between strangers. Then I see our driver break his cob in half and pass it to one of his passengers and I am reminded again why I love this country so much.
Nothing is taken for granted - dangers and difficulties are expected at each moment and they are being taken in their stride, with courage and dignity and afterwards people are not scared or angry, but happy and thankful to be alive. And they go and share corn with each other that they bought with the little money they have. But here in Tanzania, what you have, you share and you don't think twice about it. To eat while your neighbour is not eating, is something that simply feels wrong and that is easily corrected by sharing.
I am sitting in this old cluttery minibus, exhausted, in my soaking wet sandals from passing through a river, looking at dark thunder clouds threatening our safe return back home and I get teary thinking how thankful I am for it all. How alive I feel and how full of love. And I know that we will make it. And if we have to walk the last kilometres - I am ready, I say.
We make it to the turn off to our village after it had started raining again and after the bus had nearly slid into a ditch again, to which Yannik told the driver 'Pole pole', which means slowly in Swahili, much to the amusement of the entire bus - and Sokoine's brother Lemomo is waiting there with our motorbike to take us back home.
We are all tired of the combination of mud and cars, so we tell him to just take our bags and let us walk. Three kilometers by foot to get home seems like nothing to the distance and the challenges we had already behind us.
So we walk, my family and I and stop by Sokoine's sister's home on the way to distribute biscuits. We walk through dirt and mud and water and laugh and say words of thanks to have made it home safe.
And this is where our adventure ends.
And I say to Totoi and Yayai: 'If it weren't for the mud - I would turn around right now and do it all again.'