Last Days in East Africa: Lake Chala

To Zanzibar! Well at least that was the original plan. In order to catch a bus to Zanzibar, we would have needed to be at the bust depot around 6 am and we didn’t get up until 8. Furthermore, after spending 5 days driving around the Serengeti, the thought of an entire day on a bus didn’t sit well in our minds.

Instead, we decided to hit up Moshitown with Marc and Lora who were leaving that evening. We checked out of Weruweru and made arrangements to stay at the Leopard Inn.

The Leopard overlooked the main market in the heart of Moshitown. As such, the surrounding streets were swarming with “flycatchers”. The four of us had a hard time getting around unbothered. For some unknown reasons, they were all drawn to Luke. He thought it was his boyish good looks; everyone else was sure it was his Jesus-like appearance. We ended up following the same strategy as on our first visit to Moshitown. We ducked into a guarded souvenir store and then followed back roads from coffee shop to coffee shop.

Saying goodbye to Marc and Lora, we turned in early at the hotel to prepare for our next adventure. We arranged for a guided mountain biking trip to camp at Lake Chala, Kilimanjaro’s only crater lake.

We were driven to our trail head and the two us mounted our mountain bikes along side a guide, Willie. Though we couldn’t describe the bikes as top of the line, they were not too shabby. The plan was to bike about 40 miles, stopping every hour or so to eat snacks and rest. We were to have a personal SAG vehicle. George was the driver and Joyce, training as a driver, came along.

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Luke riding down to camp.

Hours passed and no SAG vehicle. This meant no food. We stopped along the side of the road for a rest while the locals passing by all gave us inquisitive looks. Finally, George and Joyce came driving down the road. As it turns out, George took a different path and had to ask around to find us. Luckily, not many other white people pass through those parts on mountain bikes.

Sharon, deciding the trails were too rough and too scary, hitched a ride. Luke carried on with Willie. The trail only got easier and after one more up-hill push, the rest was all down hill.

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The after-effects of crashing!

Gaining speed on a section of dirt road, Luke steered his bike into a rut and then decided to steer out of it. Not a good idea. Luckily, the soft African soil took most of the impact as he slid face first a few meters; he only received a few minor scratches and bruises. A local woman working the fields witnessed the accident. She was frozen with terror until he got up, shook the dirt off, and announced that he was OK. Covered in dirt from head to toes, but OK.

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The beautiful crater lake.

Lake Chala, sitting on the border between Tanzania and Kenya, was relaxing. There were not many campers, the skies were clear, the air was fresh, the food was good, and the view was wild. There was also an outdoor bar serving beer and Coca-Cola, to which Luke had become addicted during the trip. (It must have been the massive amount of advertising, because he would buy one every chance he got.) Unfortunately, the area was being developed as a resort, on both sides of the border, so the peace and quiet would surely be gone soon.

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One of many colorful lizards.

We spent 3 days and 2 nights at the lake. We passed the time mainly by being lazy. Sharon read. Luke spent hours carving a crocodile from a piece of wood. We explored the site of the resort. We drank beer, even acquiring some Raha, a local brew made from bananas. The banana alcohol had a very interesting flavor, which neither of us could describe as good.

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Kenyan Elephants drinking at the fountain.

We took a hike into the crater and to the lake’s edge. Along the way, we witnessed a herd of elephants splashing around in a pool of water. The pool was made especially for the purpose of luring the amazing creatures with fresh drink. These were Kenyan elephants, unlike the ones we saw in the Serengeti. These had an interesting habit of bathing, then covering themselves with dirt.

Willie and Joyce did not stay with us and we had a lot of time to get to know George and hear his opinions on everything from his job to the non-profits working in the areas. We also met an older German lady who was spending a year driving around Africa with her husband in a VW van and a couple of Spanish speaking guides (one from Belgium and the other from Portugal) who got into an argument with George over whether Tanzanians or mzungu made better guides. Nobody won.

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The popular and unimpressive Marangu Waterfall

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George, our driver, chilling with the statue atop the fall.

On the way back, we stopped in Marangu to see the famous waterfall. The waterfall was not impressive and the entire area was very much a tourist trap. On the way out, we were accosted by street vendors; one attempting to charge us to take pictures of his little live chameleon. Poor little guy.

Returning to Moshi, we re-established our residence at the Leopard. Prayer calls from the surrounding mosques woke us up at 5 am every morning and we spent the days walking around. Traveling through town became easier and easier as time went by. Some of the flycatchers, with their elephant memories, remembered us and left us alone. Others tried to bother us more. However, we learned which routes to take in order to avoid being hassled and our outings became less and less stressful.

Life in Moshi.

We visited a grocery store where everything was unbelievably cheap. We saw the library, filled with old, obviously donated books. Luke, getting a bit of a tan, apparently looked Hispanic, as people on the street would speak Spanish to him. Him, not Sharon. We visited many of the local restaurants and consistently found that service was very slow. Very friendly, but very slow. No hurry in Africa!

The egg yolks were white and pork (usually in the form of hot dogs) and beans was a popular breakfast item. Beer was incredibly cheap and always came in 500ml bottles. So cheap and large in fact, that it was overly easy to get drunk to the point of puking in your hotel room, just ask Luke. Over beer, we met Luca, an Italian traveler, psychologist, and activist. He wowed us with stories of his journeys and civil disobedience.

East Africa grows on you, and now that we’re gone, we long to go back.