The Usambara mountain range in North East Tanzania forms part of the Eastern Arc chain, a stretch of mountains in a broken crescent from Southern Kenya to the Southern highlands, making them at least 100 million years old, fifty times that of Mount Kilimanjaro. Home to the Shambaa people, agriculturists who are said to have moved here after a Masai invasion down on the plains. Lushoto, the main town of the Usumbaras is 1400m above sea level, making it a nice cool getaway for a few days and to do a bit of casual rambling.
There’s no real need to have a guide if you’re only visiting some of the local countryside, Yoghoi village about 7km from Lushoto is a friendly place and all the locals will help you find your way. Just be prepared to say Jambo (hello) to everybody you pass. Jambo is reserved for tourists so I’m assuming it’s a bit like a Chinaman coming to England and saying something incredibly cliché such as ‘lovrey jubrey’. Yoghoi also has the Usumbara’s biggest Arsenal fan, he’s the owner of the Emirates shop and the Highbury barbers.
On the edge of the Usumbara massif there’s some vast views of the Masai Steppes 1000m below, just say to a local in Yoghoi “Jambo, Viewpoint” whilst doing the classic looking on the horizon gesture. It may seem like you’re trying to re-enact the dance moves for ‘In the navy’ by the village people, buy they’ll know what you mean.
On Sundays and Thursdays Lushoto has a colourful market where the Shambaa woman come from the surrounding villages to sell local produce. Ever wondered where your second hand clothes end up? Well by the looks of it Lushoto market. Everything is at a reduced price, says the woman wearing a pink shirt that reads ‘Donna’s Hen Do, Blackpool 2009’.
Magamba forest is about a 90 minute uphill walk from Lushoto. In the dense rainforest it is possible to spot blue monkeys and colobus monkeys if you’re lucky and also the endemic Usumbara Weaver and Usumbara Akalat. I finally got some use out of the binoculars I brought but I’m a long way to becoming a true twitcher. It was just particularly nice strolling along listening to the sounds of the ancient forest and learning about the many types of tree that grow here.
Lushoto was of particular importance during the German colonial period, when the town was known as Wilhelmstal and provided cool relief for the Deutsch workers travelling up on the weekends to escape the dry heat of the plains. The German cave hidden inside the Magamba forest was carved out of the limestone cliff and was used as a hideout during World War One. Now it serves as a hideout for pot smoking Rastas.
On the way back down to Lushoto we purchased some local banana cake – banana mashed up and mixed with maize then rolled and held together with a leaf, very stodgy and not particularly appetising but it certainly filled a hole after that sweaty trek through the forest. So far in Tanzania I’ve noticed that for some reason most adults do not like being photographed, even if you ask. After purchasing the banana cakes from two fine Shambaa woman, I managed to talk them into letting me take a photo for my memories of the Usumbaras, which they obliged with the utmost enthusiasm. Say banana cake!