Heading North from Dar, the PPE made light work of the well travelled and nicely tarred Dar-Arusha road. Although we had planned on staying further up the Swahili coast at Pangani, we settled on Lushoto, in the Usambara Mountains and were met with sparklingly cool mountain breezes. Not since Swakopmund, on Africa’s West coast had we experienced sub 25 degree temperatures… it was a spectacular change.
After a visit to the local children’s orphanage and some relaxing mountain walks, we got word of a great little camp site to the North-West at Lake Chala, straddling the Kenyan / Tanzanian border.
Keen to avoid the heavily trafficked border post outside Arusha, we beelined for the small camp. At Chala we were met with a magnificent crater-lake, whose azure waters contrasted stunningly with the dry African savannah surrounding it. Unfortunately, the return of the African heat and insatiable fly population forced our hand, and we pushed on the following day.
The border post at Holili was just a 5km drive from the turn off to Chala, but word on the street was that a luxuriously tarred road and new border post had recently opened that would cut driving time to Nairobi down to 5hrs. Juxtaposed against a notoriously rough road connecting Holili to the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, we opted for the more luxurious and direct affair, and quickly found ourselves at the small Tarakea border town.
We breezed through immigration with the usual formalities. However, just as we were making our escape, we were accosted by a local customs official who appeared upset that we had neglected to visit his office on our way to the Kenyan border. He revealed that Tanzanian vehicles leaving the country were compelled to leave their original registration papers at the border, and demanded we comply.
Having explained that we had travelled across Southern Africa without ever having to do so, I quickly objected, reasoning that retrieving our proof of ownership of the Purple People Eater at a remote border post 2 months later would be a bad idea. After heated exchanges and a lot of waiting (usually a good strategy when dealing with local bureaucrats), our good friend called the local police mama. Understanding completely our predicament of re-entering Tanzania via a different border, she showed some sympathy, yet concluded that ‘procedures must be followed’ with a shake of the head in a matter-of-fact way.
Meanwhile, the good customs official sensed a possibility that the police mama may in fact be allowing us to pass, undermining his authority. Fearing the worst, he retreated to his office and returned, brandishing a glimmering, never before used, steel chain, and proceeded to secure it to the border gate. His determination that we would not pass was infallible. The gaggle of numerous locals who had turned up to pass judgement on the situation giggled at the customs ‘babu,’ infuriating him further. He resolutely pad-locked the gate. We would not be passing through Tarakea today.
Left with no other option, Christine and I resolved to drive the 80km back to Lake Chala to try the Holili border post. Low and behold, we passed in a blink of an eye, and were subsequently met with over 100km of close to the worst driving conditions we have seen this trip.
Arriving eventually at the town of Voi, we stayed at the luxurious Voi Wildlife Camp bordering East Tsavo national park. We were greeted instantly by the famed ‘red elephants’ (Tsavo elephants use the red mud to protect their skin from parasites) over some sundowners, albeit some distance away. They returned during our dinner, appearing out of nowhere just over Christine’s shoulder. As we feasted on our buffet dinner, a herd of greedy elephants playfully quenched their thirsts at their local watering hole just metres away.
A magnificent end to a rough, rough day!