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Missing mountains & magic moments in Moshi

There’s no doubt that Tanzania offers some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities in the world. The country has pristine white sanded and blue watered beaches, clichéd but very much real island paradises, baobabs in open savannahs, the annual Wildebeest migration, the continent’s largest mountain and two lakes so big they have inland beaches. Yet Tanzania is so much more than just these natural wonders. We spent a night in Moshi that illustrated this perfectly.

We’d been to Tanzania four times before and not seen Kilimanjaro, except from the airplane, and decided we just couldn’t go for a fifth time and not at least briefly cast an eye on her. So from our stop at Mkoma Bay on the east coast we headed inland to Moshi to see the famous mountain. We were lucky enough to make friends with another guest at Mkoma Bay who lives in Moshi and not only offered to lead the 380km from Pangani to Moshi but also a spot to camp for the night! We gladly followed Musi and Marie through the never ending roadworks (by now the same road must be in tip top condition) with our sense of excitement growing as we got closer, metre by metre, to Kilimanjaro. From a 100km outside of Moshi we started looking out for Africa’s largest mountain and were more than a little confused that the world’s largest free standing mountain was by now not immediately evident! It turns out this fact is true but made difficult to see by the fact that the area around Kilimanjaro is covered with mountain ranges, it’s just that none of these actually connect to Kilimanjaro itself.

It didn’t help that is was a very rainy and cloudy day but as we drove into Moshi we could at last see at least the bottom of the world famous Kilimanjaro! As the locals say, we just needed to wait for her to lift her skirt and reveal herself in all her splendid glory. Musi led us through Moshi to our camping spot for the night and after setting and cleaning ourselves up we headed out to catch some Moshi nightlife. We all piled into Musi’s car and headed to Glacier Bar, a massive house converted into several bars, restaurants and even fashion booths with a big open area in the middle where the party happens. As luck would have it the big event on at Glacier’s that night was the Redds Fashion Unibash. The fashion show is aimed at show-casing young designers from the country’s universities and offers cash prizes to those judged as having the best designs on the night. In between the fashion, all modelled by the Miss and Mr Tanzania contestants, the massive crowd was entertained by Joh Makini live in action.

After an excellent dinner of nyama choma (grilled meat) we grabbed a drink and headed straight into the thriving mass of people surrounding the stage. The all-Tanzanian live line-up busted out Bongo Flava beats that kept the crowd literally jumping. And that included us! Bearing in mind that we’re old now and thumping club scenes are not really our bag anymore, the music has to be quite something for us to keep going – but that it certainly was. So much so we were almost disappointed when it stopped so the fashion show could start. That feeling passed the second the incredibly energetic MC stepped on stage with the phrase ‘Nice, nice, nice’, one we would hear countless more times that night. All the designs were modern, fashion forward and unmistakably African, but our favourites were most definitely the brightly coloured formal men’s wear.

Despite slightly sore heads we awoke bright and early the next morning and jumped out from under our mosquito nets hoping to at last see Kilimanjaro in all her glory. Alas she was still hiding and for all we know there could have been a golf course or an ocean under all those clouds. After as many delays as possible, all aimed at giving the clouds time to disappear, we eventually headed to our next destination without having laid eyes on her. There was no sense of disappointment though since Moshi had delivered so many unexpected and unique experiences, more than making up for its hiding mountain.

The entire Moshi encounter, from our generous host and now friend, to the slick and home-grown fashion event, is a great metaphor for Tanzania today: a vibrant, energetic, colourful, modern and cutting edge society that has so much more to offer than just safaris.

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