The following morning took us to Kitulo National Park. The 90km drive to the turnoff from Mbeya took about 2 hours. Gotta love Tanzania trucks and speed bumps! After the slow going we made it to Mfumbi where we left the tarred road for a really nice dirt/gravel road. The drive up into the plateau was easy going and offered some great views of the valley below. Upon arrival at Matambo we went to the park headquarters, purchased our tickets for entry and camping, and made the last little trek up to the plateau. If you're not familiar with Kitulo NP, it is a botanical paradise! So many orchids were in bloom, a grass Aloe, and hundreds of other things I don't know. Surprisingly, the road through the park to Nhembe falls was pretty good. It was slow going but the views of the park made us not want to drive too fast. Of course, there were some sketchy parts of the road that we were quite muddy and full of water but the road was worn enough there was solid ground underneath. We eventually made it to the turnoff for the falls and decided to hike the remaining 4.6km since I was tired of driving. The hike was nice and during the trek Killian and I both agreed that it was good we didn't drive since in several places there were signs of previous stuck vehicles and deep trenches for wheels. As we neared the falls we came upon a camping facility that looked very new and wasn't indicated on the map. After using the loo, we made the STEEP climb down the hillside to the falls. Luckily, some stairs were built into the hill but that didn't help my vertigo. Now, before we entered the park we had no idea there were falls and when we arrived at the viewpoint we were shocked at the beauty of the thing. Thundering plumes of water shot towards the ground and made massive waves at the bottom. We were slowly getting drenched but we didn't want to leave the sight of this amazing feature. After snapping lots of pictures we made the STEEP climb but up. The combination of high altitude and lack of exercise for the past two months made for a very tough climb but we made it back up and back to the car, smelly and exhausted. It was getting late so we quickly drove the remainder of the park road back towards the main road. We came across some very deep, gooey stretches of road but we luckily made it past them but not without some rough bumps. We were less than 1km from the main road and we approached a fairly washed out portion of the road. It wasn't muddy but the areas where the wheels usually go were deep with a high middle section. I quickly approached the incline and boom, we got hung up on section we couldn't clear. Now, here is where I made my mistake. I decided to back up and try another route up over the drop. Well, I backed up too far and bottomed out the car enough that two wheels decided to spin. Great! Killian and I tried for 1.5 hours to get the car out by wedging rocks and tree limbs under the tires with no success. It eventually got too dark so we set up camp up on the slope in a cornfield. The night was gonna be cold and in the morning we'd have to try and get the car out again, but the hike wore us out so sleep came easy.
We awoke the following morning to sounds of rubber boots walking by the tent and motorcycles revving near our beds. I climbed out of the tent and witnessed one of the most beautiful mornings yet. On one side, the almost full moon , and in the other, the rising sun. In between were rolling hills with fog floating in and out of their valleys and a dark blue, almost purple sky. After taking in the sights, we made breakfast and waved to the passersby while we ate. We started to then figure out what we needed to do in order to get the car unstuck and decided we needed a shovel. A nice lady was walking back past us again and I politely asked if she knew where we could get a shovel. Of course, I didn't ask because I don't speak Swahili, I just simply made the motion. She signalled for me to follow her and we met two young men with trowels. She spoke with them and soon after the men and myself walked back to the car. They quickly began removing the raised center section of the road in order to make it flatter. Not 5 minutes had passed and three men on a motorcycle appeared and also began to help. What would have taken Killian and myself a whole day to accomplish took them 15 minutes. The lead guy then signalled for me to get in and back up while they pushed. We were unstuck. They then leveled out the road where the car was and signalled for me to drive forward while they pushed. Voile! In under 30 minutes we were good to go. We quickly loaded up the car, thanked everyone for their help and drove off. The drive to Iringa went smoothly and we arrived mid-afternoon at the Old Farm Lodge. We enjoyed tea under a hut while it rained and had much needed hot showers soon thereafter. What a great day!
The following day was a fairly short drive to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania. The newly paved road was in excellent condition and driving was fantastic. We arrived in town looking for a certain hotel that didn't seem to exist anymore. So then asked some nice guys in the street if they knew of camping sites around the city and they suggested a hotel nearby. No luck. So we then made our way to another hotel in town called the Kidia Vision Hotel where they had one room remaining. We took it, went upstairs and relaxed in the A/C while watching some interesting television. Dinner was gonna be at a local place that the receptionist had suggested, however, along the way we passed a busy joint and decided to stop there instead. We fumbled around a bit trying to figure out how we order food and eventually found a guy who spoke English and ordered for us. We sat down, got our drinks and waited for dinner. We accompanied by a random guy but from Moshi who was all buddy and interested in our stories. Unfortunately for him, we knew what he wanted and wouldn't give him any money easily. He eventually just came right out and asked if we could help him get some food and he started to look very hungry and exhausted. Silly. I eventually gave him a $1 and told him to go away, which he happily did. Killian and I enjoyed our Tanzanian cuisine, grabbed another drink and people watched until it was time to head back to the room for bed.
Thursday was the final long drive to Arusha. The road from Dodoma to Babati is almost all paved, and when we arrived in Babati we stopped for lunch and some fabric shopping. The poor salesman had to really work for our money because we were asking to see every pattern he had. We purchased $40 worth of stuff and hopped back into the car for the final leg to Arusha. We arrived, got groceries, pulled into Masai Camp and started relaxing. I also cleaned my specimens I had collected along the road in Tanzania since we were going to visit TPRI the next day and get them inspected for shipment to the U.S.
On Friday we went to TPRI to return the plant press I had borrowed and see what we needed to do in order to get a phytosanitary certificate. We arrived and searched around for assistance and were eventually told we needed a letter from my collaborator for the inspection, and that they no longer issued phytos at their location. My contact was away so we decided we'd return Monday and deal with it then. On the way back to camp we stopped at Roadtrip Tanzania's office to settle our bill for the car rental and discuss our departure plans and pick up for the car. The rest of the day was reading and relaxing, so much so we had two teas that afternoon.
Our return to Simba Farm happened on Saturday. We leisurely drove the short distance, read and hiked around for the afternoon then enjoyed their dinner that evening.
Sunday was another easy day. We went to Moshi where we had lunch at Milan's then drove back to Arusha. Killian did his laundry while I continued to read and prepare for shipping my plants the next day. Hopefully all goes well and the remainder of the trip is easy-going, some may even say boring. :-)