Arusha: People and wild life

Day 1-2 Arusha (photos by Robin Kuijs)

If you remove the cows and the black people with colorful clothing from the picture, the roadside scenery in Arusha looks exactly like the Philippines – car repair shops, eateries, furniture stores, grocery stores selling gas tanks, low stone and wooden houses, cellphone repair shops and sari-sari stores.

As you go deeper into the villages, the landscape can fool you into believing that you’re visiting just another Filipino barrio. The same plants grow in abundance everywhere – bananas, guavas, mangoes, acacia tress, bougainvillea even the same grasses and weeds. Only the miles of cornfields replace our rice paddies. But you’ll see chickens, goats and cows freely walking around and people dragging their animals or carrying heavy things on their heads. Along the dirt roads, you can find small tables selling the garden’s produce.

While the Dutch people in our group marveled at the contrast against their own country, I felt like I was travelling home. Seeing the village kids giggling and waving at the foreigners dotting on them, I remembered my childhood during Moriones festival when me and my friends would roam around town talking to foreign tourists. It all felt so familiar.

The biggest surprise?

People here were watching the same teleseryes I grew up with particularly Mara Clara and Pangako Sa’yo. I even saw a highway billboard of Glamorosa, a drama series from one of the Philippines’ biggest network. Apparently Filipino teleseryes are big here and that’s how Tanzanians like Josephet knew about our little country.

While I was chatting with him before dinner time at the Kiboko Lodge, our first accommodation in Tanzania, Josephet jokingly told me that Mara is his wife and Clara is his girlfriend. I wanted to show him a picture of Judy Ann Santos (Mara) and Gladys Reyes (Clara), the actors who played the main characters, together in Instagram but the Internet was not working at all. So I promised to send him that photo when I am back in the Netherlands.

Our plane landed at the Kilimanjaro Airport at half past nine. We were picked up from the airport by Rogarth, our driver-guide for the next ten days. Robin was ecstatic that someone will be waiting at the arrival area with a placard with our names on it. This was our very first all-inclusive trip.

We spent the first day lounging in the Kiboko lodge, Robin shooting birds nesting in the swamp while I finish reading The Old Man and the Sea. He drank copious amount of African powdered coffee while I familiarized my palate with the taste of Kilimanjaro, the country’s most popular lager. As someone whose beer loyalty belongs only to Brand’s Oud Bruin, I have been unfaithful while in Tanzania.

Robin and our Maasai guide Rogarth Mollel.

First game drive

Early in the morning the next day, we drove to our first game drive at the Arusha National Park. It was raining hard and surprisingly cold. I had to put on my rain jacket on top of my cashmere hoodie and refused to look out from the jeep’s open roof until the sun became a bit warmer.

The first animals that greeted us were a herd of cape buffalos (one of the Big 5) lazily lounging from a distance and a group of baboons noisily fighting over a tree.

Then came the giraffes – their long slender necks and graceful legs blocking the road that we had to stop. In the national parks, animals always have the right of way. They nervously crossed the road to the other side where grasses are abundant, grazing together with zebras, antelopes and the baboons.

It is of course forbidden to get out of the jeep but I had this strong desire to jump out of the roof and run to the plains to touch and play with the zebras and the giraffes. But these are not zoo animals. With that fuzzy feeling of seeing them so close in their own habitat comes the confrontation that there is and should be a respected distance between the wild life and humans. That’s the only way that each can live harmoniously in this planet.

The boys of Watoto Foundation

After lunch at the scenic Small Momella Lake, we drove back to Arusha late in the afternoon to visit the Watoto Foundation, an ambitious project undertaken by a selfless Dutch couple whose love for Tanzania is even greater than some of its residents. In a vast compound in Arusha, former street boys are provided food, shelter and training so that they can have a better life after two years. Kiboko Lodge is owned by Watoto Foundation and all the staff are boys-in-training and after a few years, they will move on to other lodges for a paid job.

The boys at Watoto tend their own garden, take care of the pigs, cows, goats, chickens and rabbits, which not only provide them food but also a part of the foundation’s income. There’s a school for basic education as well as for vocational skills such as carpentry, welding and electronics.

While the manager was touring us around the property, I felt a bit envious at the efforts poured into this foundation by Truus and Noud van Hout. I wish that more people would have the same love and would undertake such a Herculean endeavor for my beloved Philippines.
Watoto Boys
Top: The Kiboko Lodge is surrounded by lush greeneries and a swamp with nesting birds and the resident hippo (kiboko in Ki-Swahili) who moves to the national park during high tourist season. Bottom: Josephet on the left and Chef Edward on the right. Both are former street children who were given a prospect of a better future by the Watoto Foundation.

Back at the lodge, we had a short tour of Ngurdoto, the village where the lodge is located, played soccer with the local boys, drank corn beer with the local men and women at Mazao (the village pub which translate to crop in Ki-Swahili) and trotted through mud and rain back home.

It was a beautiful day.

We ended the evening with the unforgettable rosemary and cinnamon bread of Chef Edward, Kiboko’s young cook. His beef may not at all be impressive enough but his grilled chicken and bread are quit the bomb. Before we said goodbye, he gave me the recipe. I wish these boys will fulfill their dreams in the future as I have mine.