Usangi here we come!
Trip Start Dec 27, 2010
56Trip End Jul 06, 2011
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Anyway, we were the first people on the bus, and were only joined by a few fellow travellers, making our bus the only one in all of East Africa not dangerously overcrowded and full of chickens
and the semi-trailer. All at 140kmph. Crazy people.
We reached Mwanga soon enough, a reasonably sized, rather dull-looking town on the highway at the the turn off to the Pare mountains. For some unexplained reason, the bus then sat at the bus terminal (read dirt patch on the side of the road) with its own exhaust fumes filling the hot cabin for about 40 minutes. We then, equally inexplicably, took off again, without any new passengers/cargo. We were happy to be under way because we'd killed enough braincells with
the fumes, but to our dismay we only went about a kilometre before doing a ridiculous 30-point-turn in the middle of the road and returning to the same bus terminal. WTF. We sat there for
another 20 minutes, and then headed back the way we had gone before, this time not turning around, and heading up to Usangi in the mountains
Usangi is situated in the North Pare Mountains, part of the ancient Eastern Arc chain, north east of the Maasai Steppe. The ranges began to take shape around 100 million years ago, long before Mt Kilimanjaro was even a twinkle in the earth's eye. The most impressive features of the pare mountains are their isolation and their unique biodiversity. The eastern arc mountains are often referred to as the “Galapagos of Africa”. The isolation of the Pare mountains has resulted in a very strong and distinctive traditional culture among the Mpare (or the Pare people). Where traditional knowledge of local plants is disappearing among many tribes, the Mpare are renowned for their healers, and also their witches, or ndewa, whose powers are invariably linked to their botanical knowledge.
The town of Usangi is located in a basin among 11 lushly-forested peaks. The region has about 60,000 permanent residents, who apparently come from all across Tanzania. We didn't meet anyone in Usangi who was actually born there. That being said, the area is rarely visited by
foriegners, making us a very welcome form of entertainment for the locals
teacher at the school we had been directed to, and also happened to be on our bus! He walked us to the school, which happened to be very close to where the bus stopped. There, we were greeted by a lady that I will refer to as “Matron”, who was every inch as large and intimidating as she sounds. Where do all school principles learn to make you feel so damn young? Every time we talked to her I felt like she was going to tell me to spit out my gum and stand up straight.
From there we were directed to a 'campsite' next to the Lomwe Secondary School Store/Cafeteria/Bar (the last of which not used by the students, but frequented by the teachers). We decided to put up the tent, the first time we'd be using our own tent so far on the trip.
As we did so people started appearing out of no where, children and adults, to come and sit near out camp spot and watch us. Apparently we're extremely amusing, as are tents, because giggles and chattering followed us as we put the damn thing up
I felt like telling them to give us a hand, but couldn't put together the sentence in Kiswahili. By the time we finished the crowd numbered no less than 40 or 50 people.
After setting up we decided to get away from the masses and went for a wander along the road back through Usangi. Along the way we collected about 10 or so little kids, who followed us and kept saying things to us in kiswahili and giggling like crazy. Very cute. We bought some
tomatoes, avocados and a pineapple for dinner and continued along the road. It wasn't long before we ran into a couple of other wazungu. Just to make it clear, there are about 60,000 people around Usangi, plus the two of us, and in the first hour of being in the town we had
met three of the other five foreigners in the entire place. The only two we didn't meet were a couple of medical students who apparently worked on tropical disease research at the local hospital. So serendipitous to have met three of five! So it turns out that the wazungu walking
towards us were a retired Dutch couple, who subsequently invited us to their house for soda and chatted to us about Usangi and helped us organise our guide up Mt Kindoroko for two days later
and had fallen in love with the place. On a whim, Jacob bought a small house from a local who had had no children to give it to, and they had been returning to their house in the mountains every European winter for 30 years. Life's tough, huh?
Joke and Jacob had lots of interesting information about the local community and foreign projects in the area. The first of which was what they called the micro-economics project, where someone years ago had given 20,000 shillings (about $15) to a local to cover the cost of setting up a small business. This person, once they were making money, paid 20,000 shillings to another person to help them set up their business and so the cycle goes. Now, most of the businesses in the area were set up in this way, so the scheme ha done amazing things for the community. The other local charity-type business was the Usangi Women's Pottery Co-operative. The co-op employs local women, who have fallen on hard times, teaches them how to make clay pots, which are in high demand across TZ. Joke took us next-door, where the pottery is made, and introduced us to Mama who runs the co-op. Apparently they have big orders from wholesalers across the country for pots and charcoal stoves, and while there are only 18 women working in the co-op, they manage to churn out nearly 2000 pots a day. I would have bought one of the beautifully crafted stoves but obviously didn't want to lug that around in my backpack for 5 months.
In the afternoon we returned to the school to try to get past Matron and see the cultural tourism programme manager at the school, of course we had no luck. Matron told us decisively that she would send someone to speak to us at our tent about what we wanted to see in the area. And so we spent the rest of the afternoon around our tent waiting for someone to show up to talk to us, although they never did. We had a warm beer at the bar and played crosswords and cards and eventually decided to call it a night, when Matron came knocking on our tent door to enquire about whether or not we'd heard from the guide. When we told her we hadn't, she pursed her lips, scowled at us as if we were telling pork pies, and informed us we would be spoken to in the morning. Eeeep. I think she meant that the guide would come and speak to us, although either way I just swallowed hard and nodded in agreement. And that was that.