January 13, 2011

Towards the summit of Kilimanjaro

Chapter 3 – On the Tanzanian road

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright United Athletes Magazine

On the Sanya Juu Road.

On arrival to Tanzania, my priority was not to climb immediately Kilimanjaro. Before climbing, I wanted to discover the local culture. One can easily lose himself in the cultural diversity of the country where there are more than 120 ethnic groups of which many have kept their language. However, the two official languages are Swahili and English which are largely spoken in the urban regions. Concerning the most practised religion on the continent, Christianity precedes although Islam and Animism are largely practised too. On the island of Zanzibar, the population is almost totally Muslim. In spite of the numerous differences, the whole population of the country recognize themselves as Tanzanians. This is the unity of this country which has obtained its independence from Great Britain in April 26, 1964. Quite a young nation!

Thus, one of the most interesting cities to live this diversity is Arusha in the north of the country near Mount Meru, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, the Serengeti plain and of course Mount Kilimanjaro. As you can understand, the places to visit do not lack in number!

While walking on the unpaved roads of this municipality of more than one million people, one can observe all the animation of the Tanzanian lifestyle. The central market is a place where the concentration of the different tribes is great. Quickly, one can do a tour of downtown with its small local enterprises and its restaurants which serve typical Tanzanian dishes. Since 1994, Arusha is also a diplomatic hub because it is host of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established by the United Nations Security Council. There, people responsible for the Rwandan genocide and other serious violations of the international law in Rwanda are judged. In brief, this town in its complexity and totality is a really interesting blend.

I also took the time to do a first safari in Arusha National Park in order to see the wildlife and the Tanzanian landscapes. Well rested by the activity, I was ready to go for my 60 km walk in two days.

A church along the Arusha-Moshi Road.

Along with two guides of the East African Voyage1, we left Arusha's downtown towards the east of the country. Under the direction of Sylvester Henry Geay of the Iraqw tribe and of the young Maasai warrior Saning'o Kimani, we took the busy Arusha-Moshi Road from where we could see Mount Meru in the background. While walking the 35 km of this first day, we observed the comings and goings of the workers in the banana, rice and coffee plantations. We also met a brickmaker who was deeply involved in his task. We crossed on our way dressed up families who were going to church in order to assist in the weekly celebration.

Passing through the village of Usa River, we continued walking. One after the other, we exchanged anecdotes on Tanzanian and North American cultures. Let's say that the exotic decor favoured the discussion.

The second day was quite different in its scenery as well as in its difficulty. We felt the effects of the 35 km covered the day before. We were now walking on the dirt road called Sanya Juu which is a slightly ascending slope and this under a blazing sun at 33 degrees Celsius.

On this road, there was not much circulation. Nevertheless, when a rare truck was passing us, it left a vast cloud of dust which blew back at us. It was our way to discover the Tanzanian territory and to feel what the country has to offer. Ha ha ha!

The end of the 60 km walk. The three walkers are quite satisfied by their hike.

After many hours of walking on red-orange dirt, we reached the really arid village Engare Nairobi which strangely means "cold water". No water at sight. It was dust everywhere... The land gives a reddish colour to the houses. What a scene for the traveller who is passing by! There, we took a break to speak with the locals and to drink water, because we truly needed it.

We went further on the road to finally come across the route of Onesmo Gabriel, the agency director where Sylvester and Saning'o are working. Smiling as usual, Onesmo greeted us with well-placed comments. Fatigued by the given effort of the two days, we finished our walk in the middle of nowhere. After 60 km and satisfied to have accomplished this stage, a little rest was necessary. The driver of the Land Rover, Audifus Lemunge, welcomed us and drove us to a relaxing place called Simba Farm.

I reached my goal, to discover the Tanzanian culture along the road. And, I was tired...

1. Thomas asked the services of the East African VoyageThis link will open in a new window. (main office in Arusha) in order to do the 60 km walk before the ascent of Kilimanjaro and also to do three safaris in the Arusha National Park, in the Tarangire National Park and in the Ngorongoro Crater.