Thursday 9 August

(magnify) Oryx

Another windy and noisy night and I do not sleep well, but there are no further earth tremors. Nimrod wakes us at 6.30 am. We had planned to wake at seven and since breakfast does not start for another hour we wait a bit before getting up.

We are sitting in the restaurant as breakfast arrives when I suddenly feel dizzy and slightly sick and have to lie down on the ground for a moment to get some blood to my head. Something dodgy from the swimming pool perhaps? I recover fairly quickly though and manage to eat some toast.

We say goodbye to the staff and distribute tips – I hate this bit and really hope that we got the amounts right. Francis and Ryan have been very helpful and friendly, and our cook was first-rate.

(magnify) Giraffe

It certainly is a rough road back towards Arusha, though not quite as bad as I had feared, and not as bad as the road that took us from Ngorongoro to Empakai. Francis and Ryan are riding with us as far as Mto wa Mbu, where they will pick up a lift back to Ngorongoro for their next assignment. They are dressed today in western-style clothes – apparently this makes it easier to hitch a lift.

The scenery changes several times as we drive from Natron. To begin with we are driving across volcanic desert in the shadow of Oldonyo Lengai. It is scoured in places with dry riverbeds that provide quite a test of the Land Cruiser’s suspension as we lurch down the rocks one side and then climb out again on the other.

(magnify) Ostrich

Then we are crossing dry grassland where Nimrod eschews altogether the track, which is deeply churned and rutted but now dry and hard as rock, and opts for a teeth-rattling dash across the grassland alongside. We nearly run over a giraffe, which skips irritably out of the way. There are a few zebra, and then we spot a family of rare oryx.

Finally we come to a village, where a toll of $20 is leveed, a kind of tourist tax to ensure that the villagers see at least some benefit of the tourism that passes through kicking up clouds of dust and scattering their herds of goats either side of the road.

Termite mount

After that, more scrubland, termite mounds, ostriches, and baobab trees. After three hours of rattling, shaking, and dust, the surroundings become greener and we reach Mto wa Mbu, where we say goodbye to Francis and Ryan.

Back on tarmac, the ride feels silky-smooth. We stop for lunch at a large souvenir emporium near to Kisongo village, just about half an hour from Arusha. But it seems too early in the trip to be buying souvenirs yet.

When we arrived in Arusha we were struck with how big it all seemed after being in very peaceful and empty Maasai land. It seemed odd for the locals to not be wearing Maasai get-up but a mixture of western and typical African clothing.

Also noticed how much plumper some of them are – the Maasai are very lean.

The road up the hill on the north edge of Arusha to the Ilboru Lodge, where we are booked in for the next two nights prior to the Kilimanjaro trek, seems most unlikely. It is an increasingly rough narrow track between ramshackle wooden houses and shops. But the lodge itself is an oasis. It is very smart. We have a triple room – well really a double into which they have squeezed an extra bed so it is a bit cramped.

The clock tower in Arusha

We head into town by taxi ($5) to check out the bus station and get the general lie of the land. Arusha is chaotic, noisy, and dusty – quite an assault on the senses after the tranquility of Natron. It is I suppose fairly typical of a large town in a developing country, the pavements full of holes and faded shop fronts. The touts are annoying but not as bad as the Rough Guide had led me to believe. Rachel strides ahead of me and is clearly enjoying herself. I keep up but seem to have a rather less clear idea of where we are and where we are going. In an attempt to reduce our visibility to touts, we try to avoid being seen consulting the map by ducking into a hotel foyer or a quiet shop when we need to check our position.

We pass the market and reach the bus station. There is no obvious order to the bus stands and no obvious way to identify where the Moshi buses go from. There is also no sign of the Dar Express or the Scandinavian Express, which both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet strongly recommend. We will have to ask when we come back here to buy tickets in a weeks time.

Arusha’s street-side garden centre

East of the rivers the town is much more green and spread out. We find the “Spices and Herbs” Ethiopian restaurant that we had decided on from the guide, but it is much too early to eat yet, so we walk on for a while up a wide street, along one side of which is laid out what seems to be Arusha’s longest pavement garden centre.

We return to the restuarant and order our dinner. It arrives, but without any cutlery. The waitress explains that it is better to eat with our fingers. I tear strips off a large rolled-up pancake and use it to pick up chunks of meat. It is a little messy but quite fun.

The taxi driver to return us to the lodge wants Tsh15000 but grudgingly accepts Tsh5000. The guidebook says that Tsh2000 should be enough. We are slightly concerned when he asks us whether we are staying at Ilboru A or Ilboru B. We had no idea that there were two, and it soon becomes clear that we have ended up at the wrong one. In the dark the track up from the town looked very different. Fortunately the driver is not too perturbed and doesn’t demand any extra money from us, but takes us round the corner to the familiar gate.

Rachel Leader arrives at the lodge at a quarter to ten and receives warm hugs from us both. Her check-in at Heathrow had been delayed by a KLM staff shortage and consequently the flight to Amsterdam was late and her luggage failed to make the connection. She has a verbal assurance that it has been located in Schipol airport and will be on tomorrow’s flight, but it is nevertheless a major blow.