Adventures on Udzungwa Ranges

Plans for a holiday was made several times in the past couple of months. Zanzibar Islands and Mikumi National Park, nearest to Dar, and which can be hit on a weekend, were parts of the plan always.  But the last couple of months, saw umpteen number of activities, Dramas, rehearsals, and what not; the plans always remained as plans.

This time too, we planned for a weekend at Zanzibar, the spice island, where they say ‘Mondays never exist’! But this time round, there was a small difference in the planning.  We started thinking of it only on Thursday. Not much time was there for BIG PLANS.  Well, big or small, plans were made.  Rooms were booked at the Tembo Hotel, Zanzibar. Then came the rains.  Rains the likes of which I have never seen in Dar.  Rains with thunder storms, Ah! another plan shattered!!  It was then that mama suggested Mikumi.  Well, Mikumi it is. No plans made, No rooms booked.  Friday in the evening, we asked Adam to come on Saturday, early in the morning, so that we drive to Mikumi.

Saturday came.  No Adam in the morning.  We were all waiting.  Adam called and suggested that, we take the RAV-4 instead of our car. Our car a saloon may not be suitable for the long drive.  Ok let it be the RAV-4.  Problem 1. The RAV -4 needed a change of the fan belt.  So we got to wait till the garage opens.  It was decided that we have breakfast and then leave by about 9:00 in the morning.  Good. At least we are going somewhere now.

We had breakfast.  Adam came with the car by 9:30.  After some last minute packing and unpacking, we were ready to move by 10:00.  We hit the local store, loaded our backpacks with loads of biscuits, chips, toffees and water. On with the drive, it took ages to get past the city limits.  After that the drive went on smooth.  And believe me, the clouds that danced over Dar, the previous day was not to be seen anywhere.  We were thinking of Zanzibar. It was a pity that we were sitting here in a car, when we could have spent the whole day on the cool beaches of Zanzibar.

It was then we started thinking of Udzungwa mountain National park.  Its some 100 odd Kilometres from Mikumi.  So, if we could drive a wee bit faster, and reach Udzungwa by about 3 or 4 in the evening, we would be able to see Prince Bernard Waterfall, and then come back to Mikumi for the night.  Appu had been to Udzungwa before, and I had seen a couple of snaps of Prince Bernard, and we were of the opinion that, it was something that can be added on to the Mikumi itinerary.

So Udzungwa it is.. We crossed Mikumi, with not much of a sighting.  It was an hour or two past mid day, and too sunny and hot, even for the animals to come out.  All we saw was a couple of elephants, and some zebras.

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We drove directly to Udzungwa.  The road from Mikumi to Udzungwa is pretty bad.  Thanks to Toyota engineering, we could cruise past the bad roads (read as no roads).  We reached Udzungwa Mountain National Park office, at Man’gula village, sometime after 4:00 pm.  Mr. David, the guide ushered us in, and suggested a one day stay at Udzungwa.  He said that, Prince Bernard is dry, and suggested a trek to Sonjo and Sanje falls.

Change of plans again.  After some serious discussions, we decided, to take the 2.5 km trek to Sonjo, see it and then decide on going back to Mikumi for the evening.  Everything agreed, we paid the park fee and guide fee, and stacked back into the RAV-4.  Drove for some 5 minutes to the start point of the trek. The start went fine. The trail was super cool and well maintained.  After about 5 min of walk, the trail changed its colours, it started winding up, up and up again.

The last time I took a trek, was at Gokarna and Yaana, and I was 3 years and 5 kg younger. After the trek, I had made this resolution of reducing my wait, before I even think of another one.  But……….. well, there was no much time to think for this trek. It just happened.  Thanks to the sweets and toffees that we got in the morning, they provided us with good energy to walk up.

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After an hour of effort, with a lot many stops, gasping and panting, we (read as I, others were better) reached the Sonjo falls, stage 1.  It was simply beautiful.  Serene and calm place, water gushing out on the rocks, and lush green tropical forest all around, and the best part, cool and refreshing air to go along with.  Think it was the fresh air, rejuvenated me, and I started climbing up the rocks to reach above the falls.  Half way through, well, it was not half way, just after I started, I fell down, slipped on the rocks, and got wet.  This didn’t stop me, walked on all fours, more like a monkey than a man, and scrambled up to the top.

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After spending some time over there, we trekked to the 2nd stage of Sonjo.  This was a steeper trail, and more hard. Think, it was the power of the mind, rather than physical strength that, took me forward.  Reached the second phase, panting and tired.  But the view was even more good.  This was water falling from a greater height, and we had natural view points, with rocks for gallery seats spread around..

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After many toffees and even more snaps, emptying all the water that we carried, we started with the return trek.  One thing sure in our minds, WE ARE GOING TO STAY HERE FOR THE DAY.  We needed to see the Sanje falls.  If Sonjo falls was this good, and if Mr. David is to be believed, Snaje is going to be GREAT.

Tired, but thrilled, we reached the car, and drove back to the park office. We were directed to a hotel by the guide.  We passed the hotel, decided to find another place and went deep into the village.  There, we came across this small place, Mountain peak lodge, and got rooms there.  After a bath and a good deal of food, we retired for the day.  But this lodge, seemed to be the only place with a TV in the whole of the village, and it was the day of the match between Man utd and A villa. The cheers and howls of the people and the booming sound from the TV speakers, and the heat of the tropical forest.. ah!, that’s all that u want after a tiring day.

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Day 2 dawned, and we with our sleepy eyes, went to the restaurant, only to find it closed.  After a good deal of time, we got the cook, fry some eggs, and slice some bread.  And then came the coffee.. Very good, and very fresh.  If anything could bring us back to tune, it was this coffee.. We had lots of it and went to the park office.  Here Mr. David was waiting for us.

Another drive for 10 minutes, we reached the base of the trek.. Now, we all had experience, of the previous day, and was well prepared.  We walked at a good pace, and started scaling the mountain.  If anything made us fall back, it was the heat.  The mercury was shooting high, and the humidity made us all sweat.  This was a more steeper trail, and we were walking through heavy forest.  We saw many monkeys and many indigenous species of plants and trees.

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Our guide, Mr. David, stopped suddenly, and pointed at something.  It was a black mamba, right in front of us.  Black mamba is the most poisonous snake in Africa.  It is told that, the snake produces more than 10 mg of poison, when even the King cobra produces only 1.2 mg of poison.  The lore is that, once the snake bites, you can walk only 7 steps, and then you die.  Now this snake was right in our way, and all we could do was to wait.  Wait till the snake decides that we are of no danger and goes off.  This took a good part of 15 minutes, and was a welcome break for all of us.

After the snake, it was a pack of red colobus monkeys that stopped us.  We herd a narrative from Mr. David on the eating habits of these monkeys.. another welcome break.  After about and hour and half of trek we reached the view point of the falls, and believe me, that is one great site.  You see it once, you forget all the hardships you suffered to reach this point.  Here at the view point, we rested and had to decide on another important thing.  Should we take the path to the base of the water fall or to the top.  Mr. David told, that to the top, it was another steep trek and would be hard in the heat.  So we decided to go the base. Another long trek, but we were going down for most of it, and was not that tiring, we reached the base.

It is a breathtaking sight, the water falling some 150 meters down, and making a thunderous roar, the majesty of it revealed,  the power unleashed. The might of the rain forests and the enchanting beauty of the waterfall, the freshness of the air and the coolness of the water, don’t know what it is, we all just stared at it for God knows how long.

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Then started the adventures.  Climbing rocks, posing for photos, it was fun. The second fall, came just then.  There was no need for me to fall there. Was helping Ayshu to climb a rock, slipped and fell into the water.  Well, that too was fun.

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After a good long time in the water, we started the trek back. This was much easier and we reached the base in an hour or so.  We had cold cokes from a shop at the base and left for Mikumi.  Reached Mikumi Genesis motel at around 3:00pm.  We were all hungry and tired.  Ordered our lunch, and was waiting, when we found that one of our tyres was flat.  Appu and Adam changed the tyre.  Good it happened when we were at the motel.  Imagine a flat tyre in the wilderness in the middle of nothing.

After the tyre change, good amount of food in our tummies and a visit to the snake park, we started our drive back.  The debate now, was, should we enter Mikumi national park, for a game drive or drive back straight home.  Nothing was decided, and we were still debating, when we saw a car oddly parked on the highway.  Went near it, and God!, here was a couple of lions, fresh after a kill, guarding the food.  They might have hunted down this big buffalo sometime in the morning, and are now guarding it.  All round were vultures, waiting for the kings to leave.  This was an amazing sight.  We stopped, adjusted our car, and started clicking the cameras.  The stink of dead meat, and the buzz of the flies were bad.  But the sight of the Kings lazing around, was too good for us to leave.  After about 100 clicks on the camera, we left the lions with their food, and drove back, deciding, not to take a game drive in the national park.  Why do you need it, after the lions with the kill.  On the drive back, we spotted some giraffes and elephants, impalas and zebras.  Well the day had been GREAT!

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The drive home was broken by a small break at Morogoro, where Adam visited his relatives.  We reached Dar by 11:00 in the night, after some big traffic jam, making us wait for more than an hour, and some, tricky driving to avoid more of it.

Home, its time to see all the snaps.  Connected the cameras to the TV, saw the photos, commented, laughed, made fun of each other.. don’t remember when I got up and went to sleep.  The next day was Monday, and I got to go to college again.  Hope “the land without Mondays” existed!

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