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Visiting The West Usambara Mountains of Tanzania

When visiting a third world country it is important to know the money you are spending is actually doing some good in the communities you will be visiting. Your visit will then be changing a life or for the better. You do not even have to be involved.

If you choose just to relax and enjoy your vacation this is fine ? your vacation is changing lives for the better. This is, however, if you choose your operator with care and discernment.It is also worth the time and effort to journey to the less well-traveled areas of the country you will visit. Here in Tanzania one such area is the Usamabara Mountains.

Here we will talk of the West Usambara Mountains.Leaving Arusha and traveling for a few hours by road, passing the great Kilimanjaro and then onward across the seemingly endless arid landscape you arrive at Mombo. Turning left here the road almost magically transports you, in an instant, into the Usamabara Mountains.

Often they are called Africa's little Switzerland ? do not be tempted to listen to such misleading talk. These mountains are very African and an experience to be taken should the opportunity and time allow.If you travel to this destination, bite the bullet and travel to the very top of the mountains. To the very top is where the magic of these mountains lie; and take time to enjoy and explore.

There is an amazing bird life here and if this does not interest you than this is a perfect place to start an interest.Here I will write about a few places of interest you might visit. There are many young men and women that have trained as guides and it is well worth the expense to pay a few dollars to theses enthusiastic young Tanzanian's who will then share their mountains, culture and time.

In Africa there is always lots of time ? you must take everything slowly or you will just miss the magic.In pre-colonial days, these very fertile mountains were witness to many bloody battles between to Maasia and the resident Shambaa tribes. The Shambaa people were never defeated by the Maasia and managed to hang on to their prized green land.Mtae is a small village on the westernmost tip of the Usambara Mountains.

Here there is a spectacular view point with a 1000m sheer drop to the savannah bellow. Mt Kilimanjaro is over 240 kilometers away but on a clear day, it is possible to see this huge Mountain with its snow crown, sitting on the border of Kenya.When the first missionaries arrived in Mtae, at the end of the 19th Century, the leaders of the Shambaa people allocated for them to sleep in an area, which was regarded as the "residence of spirits of the dead" - the local people thought the newly arrived missionaries would surly die in this haunted area. They did not; and so amazed where the local elders that the missionaries were given land on which to build a church. This church can be visited to this day.Tewe village is home to the Shilaghi tribe, or in English the "have-nots" For centuries these people have been blacksmiths and as such were regarded as the bottom of the social order; other clans were forbade marriage into this clan.

Taew is a village of blacksmiths and almost every knife used in the Usambara Mountains comes from Tawe. Today most people in this village earn a living from the blacksmith trade regardless of clan or gender.Traditionally the local people would extract iron from the soil, however, with the arrival of the colonial times, there came scrap metal and the locals have learnt the art of re-cycling. There is now a move to return to extracting iron locally and overseas funding is helping develop the blacksmiths art in this village.Mvueni Falls is high up in the mountains. It is so quiet here; there is no background noise; it has to be experienced to be believed.

It is possible to swim here although the water is very cold. The Mkuzi River feeds Mvueni falls, which is more than 2,300 meters above sea level. The river moves down the mountains and as it passes along the Soni falls the water cascades dramatically toward the Pangani River, dropping more than 800 meters over a couple of kilometers.

Lushoto is capital of the Usambara Mountains and is worth spending some time exploring. There is a locally run cultural tourism office on the main road. Also if it is market day take some time walking around the market meeting these very friendly mountain people.When you visit Tanzania ? do not let your tour operator put you off visiting this area ? or indeed any other place you may want to visit. Many operators are lazy and would rather keep you within the confines of the tourist circuit ? do not be bullied ? insist on seeing as much of Tanzania as time allows.NOTES: When visiting the Usambara Mountains from Arusha consider taking a day out and spend this day walking on Kilimanjaro, spending the night in Marangu village among the many banana and coffee trees.

After the Usambara take a few days in the tropical Pangani Bay [rather than Zanzibar ?unless you are looking for disco's or diving] will finish off your safari beautifully. Diving is worth considering Pemba Island rather than Zanzibar for something different and spectacular. If you enjoy beach parties and disco's then Zanzibar is the better option.

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For more information on the Usambara Mountains and Tanzania see http://www.betheladventure.co.ok and http://www.aardvark-expeditions.

com ? working in Aruhsa Tanzania using tourism to fund Community Initiatives.

By: Ian Williamson



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