Western Usambara Mountains
Our last trip with the company car… the lease has run out, and the company is no longer giving us a car to use. To make sure we make the most of having a reliable car, although it proved not too reliable in the past week, we decided to finally make the long drive up to the north of Tanzania where there is a little known piece of paradise called Mambo View Point.
It’s located in the western Usambara Mountains, all part of the Great Arc of mountains in Kenya and Tanzania. We have already visited the Ulugurus and the Udzungwa Mountains, and have also been to the Usambara Mountains before for a different safari, but that was the eastern side, this time we were heading to the west.
Most people head to Lushoto, the main town in the area, but we had done some research and read about a place near a primal forest and with excellent views from a village called Mtae. Some intrepid Dutchies had started a small eco lodge on top of a mountain ten years ago, and we decided to stay there.
It’s a rather long drive, 8 and half hours from Dar es Salaam, so we created a long weekend by adding the Friday and Monday, and left early. Along the way we were stopped once by police and discovered their latest trick to extract money… A photo of your car with a handwritten random number on it, sent to a traffic police officer 20 minutes down the road… we didn’t want to pay a bribe so told him to write a fine, even though we hadn’t been speeding and that certainly wasn’t any proof for anything…
Arriving late in the afternoon we just relaxed, enjoyed the view, nearly froze to death (it went down to 18 degrees overnight – brrrrr) and read our books.
Over the next few days we went on several walks in the area, always with Ali, our excellent bird guide, and some with Gerhard, the temporary manager who hadn’t had time to go out yet. We scrambled down besides the cliffs to try to spot the Taita falcon. Jude caught a glimpse, but Jon missed it as he was looking through a viewfinder to catch the common buzzard that was also whizzing overhead. Falcons are the fastest birds in the world, and this one was certainly moving fast! We strolled to the dam which was full after some unexpected rain late last year, trekked to a sheltered valley with tall ferns and the village water pump, and drove to the ancient forest with magnificent towering trees where we ambled, binoculars ready, in their cooling shade. We caught a troop of Angola Pied Colobus monkeys flying through the top of the trees, and even spotted the bum of an elephant shrew next to the track before he or she disappeared into the thick undergrowth. The total tally of new birds for us this weekend was 21, quite amazing and all thanks to Ali for spotting and recognising the many birds.
At night we shared our dinners with everybody staying there, before we went to bed with a hot-water bottle and a book. But one night when we walked back to our cottage, we spotted a greater galago walking on a branch right next to us. We found about six of them effortlessly hopping between trees and often checking us out. They are quite noisy, that’s why they are often called bushbabies (they cry like a baby), and we often heard them before we saw them. Gerhard and Astrid joined and together we quietly approached them from below. We had a few good sightings and even found a few sleepy chameleons and an active spider.
We felt re-energised after a few days here, and were not looking forward to the long drive home. We left a little late in the hope that the police would have earned enough tea-money (= bribes) during the day, and it seemed to work as we managed to get home without a fine.
But our reliable car let us down a little for the second time in a week… another flat tyre. We are a well-organised team by now and quickly replaced it. Only delayed by having to find a large rock to drive the wheel on because the jack doesn’t fit under the car when the front tyre is flat! (we didn’t have any issues last week when it was the back tyre) Removing the rock proved a little tricky and the protection plate was moved in the process, requiring another stop to correct it. All-in-all it was still a much faster journey home with a few hours in the dark, even with the delay of the tyre.
We’ll miss our ‘reliable’ car, but luckily we still have Frank for another month. We’ll just have to rent a car for him to drive.