When Stefje and I returned from our Safari, we were jarred back into reality by the chaos of Arusha. Even finding our hostel was difficult; roads were closed for construction, streets full of pedestrians clogged the city's major arteries, and markets spilled out into the highway.
In order to purchase tickets for our onward travel to Lushoto, we had to navigate a sea of bodies, second-hand clothes and construction sites on the walk to the bus station.
Before even arriving we were targeted as the only tourists in sight and accosted by ticket sellers, but eventually we were able to purchase a pair of seats. Our last stop in town was at the grocery store to purchase some snacks for the 8-hour ride the following day. We were disturbed to find the selection deeply lacking.
We ended up with much of the same unhealthy snacks we had eaten on the safari: white bread, peanuts, and peanut butter.
At 5:30 the next morning we reported to the bus station, slightly aghast at the layers of homeless bodies sleeping on the sidewalk yet determined to find the right bus.
20 minutes in, there was still no sign of the bus.
45 minutes in, we had found the bus and loaded on but it was yet to depart.
1 hour in, the bus moved about 5 meters before stopping again to pick up more passengers, fill the aisles with cargo, and even load on a few animals in cages.
2 hours in, we had only made it to the nearby town of Moshi. The bus station here was unparalleled chaos.
4 hours in, the towns started to disappear and farmland began to open up. On our left side the view was framed by the Southern slopes of the Eastern Arc mountains, some of Tanzania's most fertile land. The brick and stone buildings of developed areas gave way to wooden huts topped with aluminium roofs.
6 hours in, my knees and calves began cramping up and a migraine set in for Stefje.
8 hours in, we arrived in Lushoto! By this point we were mentally finished with the journey, but physically still had to locate our guesthouse. The location was incorrectly spotted on the map, leading to an hour of wandering in the sweltering afternoon heat. We huffed and puffed through gorgeous hilly scenery before finally stumbling to our destination.
Yet these last few minutes of pain only served to enhance the enjoyment of arrival. Our reward for the long day of travel was a private patio complete with a hammock overlooking the verdant woods of the Usambara mountains!
On Saturday morning we woke up refreshed after a long night of sleep, eager to explore our new surroundings. We set off for a hike to a nearby viewpoint, taking in the rhythms of daily life. Progressing through small villages and agricultural land, we glimpsed children playing soccer, women preparing meals over open fires, and people of all ages working in the fields to cultivate fruits and vegetables.
Life here was largely undisturbed by the trappings of modern society. Although we spotted a few flip phones, the pace of life was languid; locals were sitting outside talking to each other, not cooped up inside in front of a screen. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly. Shouts of "Jambo" and "Caribu" echoed through the hills in our direction as everyone was eager to greet the only two tourists in sight.
The path we followed was also enchanting due to its extreme biological diversity. From one crested vantage point, Stefje and I paused and could count 20 different species of trees, with the knowledge that we were probably missing many more. The Eastern Arc mountain range consists of 13 unique and separate ecosystems, each one evolving parallel to the others. The natural result is that this small segment of Africa contains more species of trees than all of Europe and North America combined!
By the time we reached the viewpoint, the blue skies that greeted us earlier in the day had been swapped out for some foreboding fog, encompassing our view in a misty haze.
Yet we had plenty of time to relax and wait for the cover to clear. Eventually it did and a sprawling valley opened up in front of us. To our left and right imposing cliffs rose up from the floor, spotted with shrubbery and trees on any of the plateaus. In the distance tiny towns were noticeable due to their shiny tin roofs. Just a few steps in front of us the rock face gave way to absolute nothingness, offering an exhilarating yet frightening view hundreds of feet down into an abyss.
Sufficiently impressed, we made our way back through the village towards a small organic restaurant. Overlooking another impeccable vista, we were served a decadent lunch consisting of homemade breads, cheeses, and jams alongside fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden.
The scenery combined with the ambience for a perfect setting and we took our sweet time enjoying every last morsel of the filling meal. In the afternoon we made our way on foot into town to explore Lushoto. Framed by woods on all sides, the path we took assaulted our nostrils with the smells of pine and eucalyptus.
With a growing population and a burgeoning tourism industry, the town appears to be in a constant state of construction.
My favorite pit stop was at the "Friends of Usambara" tourism center. Here we stumbled across a gigantic tree planting operation tasked with repopulating a forest ecosystem that has already been more than 50% destroyed. By educating locals on the benefits of maintaining a healthy forest and planting thousands of saplings, the organization hopes to fight against erosion and species depletion in the area.
On Sunday morning we enjoyed a delightful breakfast of avocado, eggs, and toast before setting off on foot to explore our surroundings further. This time we were joined by our guide Elias, who enhanced the experience with insights into the culture and local environment.
We traversed across plenty of rural villages before ascending into the fields that surround the town on all sides. Here corn, coffee, bananas, and potatoes were meticulously managed by local wielding hoes and sickles while the sun baked down on their necks.
An intense climb brought us to the entrance of the Magamba forest reserve, where a planted line of Eucalyptus trees stood sentinel watching over the surroundings and marking the entrance to the protected area.
Instantly upon entering the forest, the canopy cooled the air by blocking the sun's rays. Here undergrowth dominated our views, carpeting the forest floor as vines crept up along trunks and branches.
The trees here were old, sturdy, and magnificent: root structures protruded from the ground and their circumferences were much larger than my wingspan. Our necks craned upwards constantly, never quite glimpsing the top.
As the route progressed upwards, golden yellow leaves crackled beneath our feet and birds called through the forest to announce our arrival. All along the path, fallen trees formed detritus as they decomposed, slowly integrating their carbon compounds back into the rich soil. As the trunks thinned, the summit came into sight.
From here we were greeted with a stunning 360 degree panorama. All around us nature flourished, whether in the irrigated vegetable gardens of Lushoto or the wild forests of the undulating mountain range behind us.
We stopped here for a lengthy lunch, taking in the view as long as possible before taking a different path down back into the forest.
In this direction a multitude of species flourished. Plenty of tree species graced our path, along with massive ferns and jumbles of vines. Accompanying them was the steady hum of chirping insects: dragonflies, grasshoppers, and butterflies all had prominent populations here.
Our hike was capped with a highlight: our guide spotted a chameleon sitting motionless on a branch. The seven shades of green sewn into his scales made him almost invisible, but once sighted he was impossible to miss.
Two spiky horns protruded from the snout and an arched spine contained a jagged design, while sure-footed claws grasped onto a fern as it swayed in the wind.
Our hike ended with a long downhill saunter into town, which had our calves, knees, and quadriceps burning as we observed colorful displays of daily life. Children played beneath trees, women climbed up steep embankments while precariously balancing buckets full of water atop their heads, and families both muslim and christian returned from Sunday morning services.
Yet these displays of culture barely prepared us for the chaos of Lushoto's weekly market. Sporting villagers from miles around all coming to buy and sell goods, the town's main streets transformed into vibrant scenes of life.
My favorite details was the female attire. While males sported modern classics like hoodies and jeans, the women opt for classic robes and fabrics, mixing colors and patterns to each form their own distinct look. These fabrics can be worn as shawls, dresses, or even headscarves, creating a kaleidoscope of colors that catches the eye and mixes with the vibrant local produce.
We supported the local economy by purchasing fresh vegetables, a few keepsakes, and even a SIM card before retiring back to our guesthouse for one last sunset over the Usambara mountains.
In a country that mainly serves upscale tourists following a well-worn path, Lushoto and its surroundings offered us the perfect mix of culture, natural beauty, and relaxation, turning into a much-needed stopover on our journey.