In March 2019, Winnie, our Africa expert, visited Osiligilai Maasai Lodge in Tanzania, where she got right up close to the Masai culture.
It’s about quarter past six when I hear Martha pottering about outside my hut. “Madam,” she says, “I’ve got some coffee for you.” I thank her and take the water, instant coffee and a cup from her. I’ve slept with the door open, and behind her I can just make out the shape of Mount Kilimanjaro, gradually appearing in the dawn light.
I’m at Osiligilai Maasai Lodge, a good two-hour drive from Moshi in Tanzania. I arrived yesterday, and I have rarely seen anything so beautiful. The landscape is almost like highlands. Bare with low bushes, a lot of stones and golden-green grass. It’s flat here, but on the outskirts of the landscape, there are hills and mountains – on one side, the majestic Kilimanjaro and on the other, Mt Meru.
On the way here, we drove past small Masai villages. The children ran after the car and waved with all their might. Goats blocked the road, and here and there on the hilltops, we could glimpse the outlines of a few Masai who perhaps, like me, had become lost in their own thoughts on seeing the view.
The Masai lodge here was built by an officious Masai who has big dreams for his people. As he explained when I spoke to him, “If our cows die because it doesn’t rain, we die, too. Our children have to go to school – and we must learn how to survive in a different way without necessarily compromising on our culture and our traditions.” So he got the money together and built this lodge, where he now welcomes guests like me. You get right up close to the Masai culture here – without compromising on comfort. There’s a pool and a sauna, and the 11 huts all have a toilet and (hot!) running water for the shower.
When we arrived, we were welcomed with song and dance. The Masai are a happy people. They smile a lot, and they put enormous energy into their dance. They can jump incredibly high – almost as if they have big springs in their legs. And then we learned that you’re not really accepted into a Masai village until you’ve drunk cow blood! As the young Masai said, “If you’re a vegetarian, it’s okay not to taste, but it is best of everyone drinks a little, because it’s the tradition.” I was seriously considering becoming a vegetarian just for one day, but came round to thinking, “When in Rome”, and took a few sips of the cold, blood-red liquid poured out for me. Duly accepted, I was shown to my Masai hut.
My enthusiasm verged on the childish.
I’m staying in a round hut made of clay/mud with a thatched roof. There’s a wooden door, and in the middle of the room, there’s a bed made up with the most beautiful red bedspreads and pillows, contrasting starkly with the clay hut. Behind a half-wall, Martha shows me the pull chain toilet and shower. Upon my arrival, I walk around the hut open mouthed. Not only is there water and a toilet, but hanging from the ceiling are hundreds of bead chains with round embellishments at the end – in all manner of colours, patterns and sizes. You bump into them when you walk around the hut. Totally impractical, but I already know that I have to have some of them for my patio at home – and I also know that my better half will have something to say about that… It’s incredibly cosy here – and from the bed, there is a view of Kilimanjaro.
We are offered coffee to wash the cow’s blood down with, and then there’s spear throwing – again with lots of dancing, jumping and big smiles. In olden times, a lion would have been sacrificed, but the Masai no longer kill lions, so the young men eagerly set about killing a big tree stump. With the stump well and truly dead, the sun is so low in the sky that it’s time for a “sundowner”. We are led along small paths through the high grass up a hill offering the most amazing views of the landscape, Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru.
With more dancing, snacks and a cold beer, we stand in the warm evening and watch the sun set behind Mt Meru. It’s stunningly beautiful here, with grass, small hills and the most beautiful shades of purple, red, yellow and orange as far as the eye can see – the sun puts on a good light show this evening.
When darkness falls, we are offered yet another real Masai delicacy: goat roasted over a bonfire. I don’t normally even eat lamb, but having adopted the “When in Rome” approach (and hearing that they have slaughtered the poor goat for my sake!), I gratefully accept the chunks of goat I am offered. It tastes incredibly goaty, and it is about as tough to chew as a piece of chewing gum. I don’t mind admitting that when, to the great despair of the kitchen staff, a cat is suddenly slinking around our legs, it may well be because I have “dropped” a little goat on the ground. Thankfully, my fellow travellers love the roast goat, so they wolf most of it down while I look forward to the three course meal I know awaits me afterwards ?.
So, full of experiences and food, I head off to bed in my Masai hut, where I sleep like a baby until Martha wakes me up with the coffee.
I jump out of bed, wrap my shuka (a typical Masai rug) around me and sit outside on my little terrace. In front of me is Kilimanjaro in all its glory. The sun is rising, and suddenly it shines right on top of the mountain. It gives me goosebumps, and I think of all the climbers who have got up in the middle of the night and are now standing at the top at Uhuru Peak, looking at the same sun as me.
I am incredibly privileged and have really travelled a lot. I’ve seen the sun rise over Uluru in Australia, seen a sunrise from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. I’ve seen the midnight sun rise from a lake in northern Sweden. I have seen it colour Grand Canyon red in the first light of the morning and I’ve seen it cast its rays over the Andes. This morning, overlooking Kilimanjaro at Osiligilai Maasai Lodge, a cup of coffee my hand; this morning is now on my list of magical sunrises.
The only problem is that the coffee tastes of goat !!
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