Mto Wa Mbu… "River of Mosquitos"

Perhaps we should have started taking malaria medication for this trip given what the name of this town means. Fingers crossed we do not come down with malaria. A month later, so far so good! Anyway, this bustling little town was our home for two non-consecutive days. One night in their less-than-stellar campsite, and the second with an upgrade to a hotel room. This area of Tanzania is far more lush than where we were previously. This section reminded me of the lush, Irish countryside, as well as Puerto Maldonado in Peru with the buildings and lushness.

The hotel, Twiga Resort, included an open area that served as the campground, beautiful villas, and basic hotel rooms. The campsite occupants were provided access to a bath house that left a lot to be desired. As did the grounds for camping… damp and hot. The toilets were dirty and bug-filled, and the showers were also dirty and bug-filled. Third strike for the showers… no hot water. Twiga, I think ‘resort’ is a little farfetched for what this was.

Camping vs. Villas

Upon our return to Twiga from the Serengeti, husband and I opted to upgrade to an actual hotel room for a whopping $50 USD. Oh, how I missed hot showers and beds. Well… I only got to take advantage of a lukewarm shower, as hubs used all of the hot water. Brute.

Another bonus to staying in an actual hotel room… AC and space for a workout. Sitting on a bus for hours on end does not allow for a fitness zealot to wear off an adequate amount of energy. I excitedly scrawled down a 30 minute HIIT workout. Drenched and jubilantly exhausted, I collapsed on the floor once my self-inflicted ass-kicking was accomplished.

The many faces of me on the LOOOONNNNG bus rides, and a brief explanation of each:

My face when I can’t workout because of long hours sitting on a bouncy bus
My face when bored on the aforementioned long, bouncy bus ride
My face when I spot something amuzing to photograph outside the bouncing bus
My face glued to a book on my Kindle during the long bus ride

Our second night in Mto Wa Mbu included a guided cultural walking tour through the inner workings of this eclectic village. Three local residents guided us through the village… Hawa, Kelvin and Elouise. Hawa was a delight – bubbly, smiling and saying “in our village here” after every single sentence.

Meet Hawa!
And Kelvin! Along with some kids leaping into the channel

Us ignorant tourists were schooled on the basics of Mto Wa Mbu. The village is made up of 120 tribes, all living in harmony. Hey, USA (and most of the western world)… you could learn a lot from these congenial people. Fifty percent of the village is Christian, forty percent practice Islam, and the remaining ten percent have not declared a religious predilection. The predominant occupation was most certainly agriculture, not surprisingly. On that note, on to the tour, which started by taking a stroll the towns rice fields.

The rice fields consisted of a huge expanse of field, partitioned by mounds of mud formed into walls/fencing. Running between the different paddocks are irrigation channels, which are controlled, by no joke, the “water czar.” That’d be a fun title to have. The aforementioned czar governs how much H20 is permitted to funnel through the channels. None of the irrigation with underground tubing we see in the States, but hand-dug, deep channels running between separate fields. We climbed across the mud “fencing,” hoping we would not plummet into the fields or irrigation below, before departing the grain fields, bound for another type of farm… those with animals.

Disclaimer: I am NOT for poor animal treatment – I love furry critters more than humans. And onto the second agricultural proclivity!

Farming choice number two was a basic farm… cows and chickens abound. The cows were confined in small quarters behind wooden fencing. Enter PETA with their claims of horrifying treatment of animals, demanding the creatures rights be recognized and they be freed from their bovine jail! Hold up, pet enthusiasts, it is done for practical reasons… if the milk-makers were freely wandering a field, they would become dinner for a number of other African mammals that would surely love the easy-to-slaughter, slow-moving cows. Defeats the purpose of having cattle. These farms have a what is basically an outdoor kitchen separate from the rest of the house because of the smoke and flames, since they cook on an open fire.

The outdoor kitchen, complete with chicken

We moseyed on to the Mozambique refugees. The refugees were displaced after the 1997 civil war, and settled in Mto Wa Mbu. These gentleman spend their days carving intricate animals, masks, statues, cookware, and other works of art. The carvings are made of a few different types of wood – ebony, teak, mahogany, etc. All the items are locally carved, and we were able to watch them in action. After the purchase of two masks and serving spoons, we moved on to stroll among bananas.

A short saunter through fields filled with an assortment of crops… sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and who knows what else… lead us into a Banana Plantation. Hawa explained the ins and outs of maintaining said plantation, guiding us into the trees themselves. One of the many things these bananas are used for is banana beer. Only locally made and not sold in cans or bottles for distribution, we tried a sip from one large glass. Tasted… interesting. I am also not a huge fan of bananas, and the beer was rather… grainy. I’ll try just about anything once.

And Banana WINE!

Wandering through the dirt paths and rutted streets of the village lead us passed an active football game with quite a few onlookers. And no, I don’t mean the game involving throwing a cylindrical ball, but instead kicking a black and white sphere around. Now on to my favorite stop of the trek… the art gallery.

A large open air gallery greeted us. Wood fencing formed the walls, and an insane number of original paintings were hanging from walls, trees and anything else the artists found to display them on. The colors were unreal – vibrant, luminous and alluring. The canvases depicted animals, people, scenery, and more animals in highly saturated hues. The paintings were unique and impressive, especially given they were composed of bicycle paints and whatever else the seven artists were able to get their hands on. The style is called Tingatinga, and that’s about the extent of my knowledge gain from the debrief the painters provided. I almost instantly got distracted by a portrait of a zebra. Not a simple black and white portrayal of the stylish horses, half of the white stripes had been filled with brilliant colors, all on a black background.

Hubs became similarly entranced by the amazing depiction of the hoofed creature. After a bit of negotiation, we agreed to purchase not only that painting, but also a close up of a zebras eye as a Christmas gift for my mom. Alas, we were fresh out of Tanzanian schillings. Shit. These trusting fellows allowed us to take the canvases with us, with the understanding that we would give one of the guides the cash for him to ferry back to them. Hands were shook and a verbal contract was entered!

Unfortunately, our purchases did not make it unscathed on the journey back to the States. The well-meaning gents rolled them up backwards (painting rolled inward), and then aggressively taped them inside Korean newsprint. Where they acquired a random, foreign newspaper, I will never know. Anyway, Hubs scoured the internet upon our arrival back home, and he discovered a delightful woman to restore the aforementioned and pictured pieces. Please read on to see the finished restoration of our pieces, and for information on the splendid artist and restorer, Anabela Ferguson.

Hubs and I were a tad slow departing the gallery, and had to be lead in the darkness by Hawa to a local homestead for a locally made, delectable dinner. While I do not recall everything I dumped down my gullet, it was all delightfully scrumptious! And it was washed down with Kilimanjaro beer, who’s motto is “If you can’t climb it, drink it!”

High Fives all around!

Throughout our jaunt, we heard squeals from children, as they shouted, “Wazungu!!!” The happy little youngsters would come running at us, smiles plastered across their faces. Wazungu means ‘white people’ in Swahili… appropriate. The adorable little school children wanted high fives and to take photographs with us. Upon the photo being snapped, all they wanted to do was look at their image on the viewfinder. After we departed the final shop, we ran into three young girls. They grabbed onto my hands as we traipsed down the road towards our dining locale.

This post is as good as any to delve into the African language… Swahili. The very confusing language is what connects Kenya and Tanzania. Q explained that those from Tanzania speak a very refined dialect of Swahili, while Kenyans are apparently a little more lax. Swahili also unites all African nations. Another fun fact: Swear words do not exist in Swahili. Q advised she did not start swearing until she started working as a guide. I think she even called us tourists a corrupting influence, but in a less nice word, like uncouth, crass, vulgar, or just simply, poisonous. Oops?

Useful words and phrases in Swahili:

  • Jambo – Hello
  • Asante – Thank you
  • Asante Sana – Thank you very much
  • Karibu – Welcome
  • Maisha Marefu – Long Life (aka. Cheers)
  • Mambo – How are you? Response: Poa – Good (yeah, I don’t know why it’s different from the one below)
  • Habari – How are you? Response: Shanti – Good
  • Sawa – Okay (we said this A LOT)
  • Karibsana – Warm welcome
  • Ndiyo – Yes
  • Hakuna – No
  • Twendai – Let’s go
  • Wazungu – White Person (as mentioned previously)

**************************

Left: Gift for my Mom // Right: Gift for ourselves

As mentioned above, the paintings we procured in Mto Wa Mbu were in rough condition once we arrived back home in the States. The gentleman rolled the pieces improperly, which resulted in SEVERE cracking and damage to the non-traditional painting style. Hubs found the delightful Anabela and her business, Brush Strokes Fine Art. She came to our house to inspect our broken paintings, gave us a quote that she did not stray from, and several weeks of repair later, we got the finished product back! The one on the left was “unfinished” by the artists’ standards, which unfortunately, resulted in more damage after rolling and transportation. Anabela stretched, rehydrated, and patched the paint in the cracked areas, resulting in a great restoration. We can’t wait to get ours up on the wall! I can highly recommend Anabela’s services… we dumped an impossible task in her lap. The unknown products used to paint the African creatures (likely bicycle paints and anything else they could get their hands on), unknown “finishing” techniques… basically, unknown everything. Her information is below:

Anabela’s website: https://www.anabela-artist.com/

Anabela’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE_9ypldX00um6I5LFEz_VA

Anabela can be contacted at: anabela@anabela-artist.com

Final night in the village with a Tuk Tuk ride! Hubs photo fail… super blurry. Oh well! Alas, the following morning we depart The River of Mosquitos bound for the mountains and Lushoto… Kwaheri! That one means goodbye!


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