The veranadah we enjoyed our first Tanzanian beers on was at the Moivaro Lodge, a lovely getaway in the midst of a coffee plantation just outside Arusha. (It sounds more antebellum than it actually is). This quiet, beautifully landscaped place seems more a stopover for most of its guests than anything else, some heading to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, some heading to the Northern or Western safari circuits of Tanzania.
We were headed for the Western circuit first, but, stopover or not, nothing says romantic like a mosquito net draped over your wide, comfortable bed, like an awning of old. That, plus a great wood-carved bar — all the wood so far in Africa seems priceless, probably easily-harvested locally but no longer available elsewhere — and a roaring fire, with a friendly man serving locally-manufactured gin (lemony! light! complex!) with locally-manufactured tonic (sweet! also citrus-y!), with bowers of flowering African bushes outside, makes for a lovely stay, stopover or not.
There were really only two downsides to our stay at Moivaro:
- For some reason, we kept being seated far away from others at dinner, such that we felt like the young couple seated right next to the bathroom entrance at any LA restaurant; that is, shunned, and we already did the young couple in LA thing so we don’t need a refresher
- We decided to tour the local village, which turned out to be a pretty solid Kilimanjaro work-up (how do I know that? When we tried to quit, our guide told us so).
The food, especially the breakfasts, was delicious, so I can overlook the seating. But the walk through town? Advertised as a light two hours — just what our jet-lagged, thirty-hours-on-planes bodies needed, it turned out to be three-quarters quaint and detailed walk through the local village and one-quarter mental toughness exercise.
The walk through the local village was nice enough; everyone had their own farm plot, most clearly large enough to provide for a family. It was the typical scenic version of developing-world poverty: nobody looking hungry or naked, no missing roofs, but no paved roads or running water either.
The hill stood right behind town, overlooking it, with the nicest neighborhoods maybe even a couple of hundred feet up it. So we started up, and soon found out the hill’s dirty secret: while it wasn’t too high, the path was straight up to the top, and any hill is pretty darned steep that way.
We thought about turning around several times, but each time the guide prodded us on — you won’t make Kilimanjaro if you can’t make this! Neither of us is patient enough to spend six days climbing Kilimanjaro, so goodness knows neither of us cares, but neither of us is inclined to back down from a challenge like that either. So we kept at it, which would’ve been just fine if we’d done basic things like, oh, bring water. Which we didn’t. Because this was a leisurely jaunt through town, not a on-all-fours scrabble up a dry, dusty grade.
In retrospect, our biggest mistake was not imitating the village kids, who smashed large plastic bottles flat and rode them down the dirt path like any of us rode garbage can lids in our youth. As it was, I spent half the descent basically surfing my way along, crouched over one foot, sliding on the loose, steep dirt, the other foot out front to steer.
Somehow we made it back, and able to drag out a few Tanzanian Shilling to buy some water at a bar in the village on our way home. And then we got a massage, because we’d earned it: three and a half hours on a mountain, no water. Yep, we were ready to climb Kilimanjaro: pity we were headed for the Mahale Mountains first thing!