One mile at a time…

As with most people, the past 2 years have handed me anything but a gold platter of creamy cookies and delicious tea. Last year in particular was a hard one because never in my entire existence have I had to buckle down and be still. In retrospect though, it was a blessing in disguise. In those moments of stillness, I learned a thing or 2 about myself and had to shed many layers of what I harbored but no longer needed. For a free-spirited soul that loves to wander, get lost and experience newness, I knew any further lockdown would cost me my own sanity and so at the beginning of this year, I made a promise to myself that I would travel as soon as things eased off and my wallet could permit my desired escapades. At the tail end of first quarter of the year, I already felt as though my head was spinning off its hinges so I impulsively browsed the internet, looked for cheaper options to travel, booked myself on one and prayed for a miracle to win a lotto or hit a jackpot because I only had enough to book a one-way flight. But here’s a free nugget of wisdom: There is something about all of your heart, mind and soul longing for something relentlessly but consciously choosing not to fight it and that’s exactly what I did. The rest is history and I landed here on the 22nd of last month.

In all my trips as a solo traveler, I’ve never quiet actually known the most precise adjective to describe wherever I found my 2 pink luggage bags and almost petite body at. For some odd reason though, I knew beforehand what to describe Arusha, Tanzania as. Interesting. As vague as that may seem, it seemed to be the perfect word that would sum up my experience

– and still is. I nestled at a beautiful homestead known as Nyumbani Hostel, adjacent to the beautiful Mount Meru and almost hidden to the buzz and hustle of horning tuk tuks and revving engines of boda bodas (motorbikes). Despite such glaring and stark differences between my home country and this side of the world, I never actually felt any cultural shock other than that which came with living among ‘whites’ as the only black person. Not for any sinister reason but I’ve always tip-toed around using this phrase but I wouldn’t be entirely genuine if I blotted it out of my experience. Anyway, that’s a whole different topic for another day.

One of the first things I learned as a frugal traveler is to be willing and open to an immersive local experience. Despite being situated in the heart of Arusha, in a hostel there’s only fractions and glimpses of local experiences one can get. Most, if not all, local sentiments kind of dissipate the moment you step on the corridors leading into the paved homestead, dotted by manicured lawns and a sky-blue swimming pool surrounded by hammock stands. That is not a true depiction of the reality outside lofty walls with high security and so, I took advantage of the dispensation that Nyumbani offers: to be in 2 places at once. Off I went to spend what was meant to be a week at a nearby village known as Bomang’ombe, just a stone’s throw away from Moshi. Meanwhile, my housemates were off to Zanzibar, some breezing on a Safari. In Boma, I was confronted by anything but familiarity. With virtually no

lining of luxury or fanciness and no single person I knew by name, I plunged into this newness, head first.

I stayed with a loving nuclear family I had met online. For any aspiring digital nomad, Boma is the place to go if you have back-up WiFi or MiFi (mobile connection). What could have been the best 7 days was incessantly interrupted by urgent trips to Moshi because I needed WiFi to work and engage on weekly check-ins. By the end of my 3rd day, I knew the back and forth trips wouldn’t work – not to mention the painful tuk tuk rides late at night on the potholed gravel road. And so my stay was cut short and I returned to Arusha.

On one particular red-lettered day the week after, I reconnected with the family again and set off for Chemka, the Hot Springs. Outside, the place was very underwhelming but inside, the oasis was as magical and mysterious as its black waters. Besides my non-existent swimming skills, I chose not to swim because the day we went coincided with a certain holiday and it was full and my claustrophobia wouldn’t let me be. Nonetheless, I enjoyed myself and took countless photos while at it, to make the excruciating, bumpy and dusty ride to get there worthwhile. On the same day, I parted with my family and headed south to Moshi. Again, in the hunt for novelty. I met with a German lad I had connected with online on a travel site. Not sure of what to expect as this was the first time ever experiencing something like this, I put my open-minded cap on and braced myself for this peculiar adventure. To be frank, it turned out not to be bad at all. We talked about everything from culture, politics to relationships over local food at Taj Mahal after almost getting cheated out of our pockets at a different eatery. I had local wine for the first time and a popular cider back home known as Savannah before heading to a nearby hostel for the night while my companion jetted off to his to get ready for Mount Kili. It was a blur of a night but totally fun.

I woke up the next day, strolled around the busy neighborhood then took a cold shower after spending hours ogling at a perfect view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Believe me when I say this was the first time I saw the highly revered mountain and quiet frankly made sense of everyone’s obsession. It was magical. I recall texting my mother at what would be 5 am her time so she could catch the glimpse of my view via a video call. Glad to say I successfully failed at waking her up. Then I got into another long journey back to Arusha.

My adventures don’t end here. There is definitely a lot more to feel and learn through my experiences but I think most people would resonate with what I am about to say: while the past few years were ugly, they once again reinforced the lesson that time is of the essence. Our lives are as fickle as time. While I am not advocating for recklessness, in the little time I have had here (outside absurd encounters I’ve had) I have learned that sometimes waiting for the ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ time to go on a journey or do something that truly sets your soul on fire may never present itself. You create it. I promised myself after 2 years of being stuck at

home that I would travel; I didn’t know what that would look like or who would sponsor me and it has been messy, disorganized, sometimes laced with regrets but it has been a journey nonetheless. A journey of a thousand miles that began with one mile at a time.

By Kaone Tlagae