Updated: May 28, 2020
Some days it feels like I have lived in Tanzania for years. Other days, it feels like I just arrived. Three months have gone by faster than I could have imagined and it is time to go but not without one last adventure: Materuni Falls. Materuni falls had been on my to-do list for awhile but always seemed to be pushed back for whatever reason. With only three days left, I finally had to just make a point of going. I got up early on my last grey Saturday morning and caught the bus to Moshi at the end of our road. As usual, the bus was cramped but true to all my transit experiences so far, everyone was also very friendly and made sure I was comfortable and ended up where I need to be. This might be just because I look hopelessly lost half the time but also because the people of Tanzania are some of the sweetest and most welcoming people I have ever met.
When I got off the bus in Moshi, the real adventure began because at this point, I really only had a vague idea of where to go next. I had read a blog post on how to get to the falls and checked it out on a map but beyond that, not a clue. Cue the hopelessly lost expression and Tanzanian stranger to the rescue. This is when I met Anders, a local guy who just so happened to be from the village near the falls. He could take me there no problem. This is always how it seems to work out - a funny stroke of luck that seems really strange and maybe even unsafe from a western point of view. After a quick chat and negotiation, I had a tour guide for the day and off we went.
The ride up the side of the mountain wasn’t the most comfortable dala dala ride, cramped and hot as usual, with lots of extra bumps and uneven ground but no worse for wear by the time we arrived at the village entry point. After signing into the village area and paying a small entrance fee, we started our hike up to the falls. On a nice day, it's about a 30 minute hike through the village and hills. On this particular day, it was a little different. It had rained overnight which left the roads muddy and weirdly slippery. Have you ever tried walking on ice? It was kind of like that but trying to do it going up and down the hill. The rain made the scenery absolutely beautiful and atmospheric with the clouds and mist hanging low in the trees but in turned an easy walk into a Tough Mudder challenge.
I’d like to say I managed it like a pro. In reality, I looked like a newborn giraffe who wasn’t sure what it’s legs were for. It wasn’t long before I took and embarrassingly long wipeout. I thought I managed to catch myself a few times but continued my extended, awkward fall, face first into Anders, almost taking us both out. After that, the rest of our hike had us looking like we were on a romantic stroll but actually was a system we’d worked out to keep us both upright in the slippery mud. The first wipe out was the only one so, all in all, I'm calling it a success.
The falls are almost hidden until you are just under them but you can hear them as you come around the side of the mountain and just catch a glimpse of the top. The downside of the rainy season is the mud but the upside is that the waterfall is at full force. That amount of water falling from 90 metres / 300 ft was intense and standing anywhere near it meant taking a shower in the spray. The water from the falls comes from the caps of Kilimanjaro so it was freezing but refreshing after the hike and a good chance to get off some of the mud. I came ready to swim but between the temperature and the intensity of the falls, that idea was out. Either way, the hike and absolutely beautiful falls are worth the effort to get there.
It was impossible to be anywhere near the falls without everything being wet - including my camera lens so we're a little blurry!
The falls are on Chugga tribal land and one of the traditional drinks of the tribe is banana beer called Mbege. On our way back down this hill, we stopped at a small village house for a well-earned beer. Unless you’ve tried this particular brew, whatever you have in mind about beer right now is not even close. It’s less lager and more of a beer smoothie. Traditionally only made by women, the brew is made by cooking and fermenting ripe bananas, adding sprouted finger millet and quinine bark. The longer it sits, the stronger it gets and is served at everything from weddings to funerals, and after church on Sundays. The flavour itself is interesting, somewhere between a beer and sweet wine, with changing hints of sweet and bitter. That being said, I couldn’t quite get over the texture. There is a technique to drinking it too. You are supposed to blow on it before taking a sip, to move some of the floating grains away. It was still a little too textured for me but definitely worth trying. I had to laugh at the scene while were we there too. Even though we were sitting on a rickety bench in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, it was a scene that could have played out anywhere in the world - two 30 somethings sitting down for a beer, on their phones.
Cheers to banana beers!
The sun had finally come out which made the walk back considerably easier as the roads had started to dry out in the afternoon heat. Since we weren’t as focused on just putting one foot in front of the other, we got a chance to talk a lot more about life in general and what life is like for two people of the same age in two completely different places. Hours ago, we were strangers at a bus stop. By the end of the day, we were friends with a surprising amount in common. The longer I’m on the road, the more I think that little adage we learn as kids is a mistake. You should always talk to strangers.
Materuni Falls ended up being a perfect way to spend my last hours in Tanzania. It was the embodiment of my whole three months here - good adventure, amazing scenery and some of the warmest people around. It feels strange to leave, almost like I'm leaving home all over again but I’m excited to see what the next couple months in Thailand have to offer.
This isn’t ‘goodbye’ Tanzania, just a ‘see you later’.