There exists a little piece of heaven on earth as a coffee plantation in Karatu, Tanzania in the form of Gibb’s Farm. We had Cottage #2 for three nights as a break between safaris, and it was amazing. At first I didn’t think we would enjoy it as much. The thing is, it’s not really Africa–but it is in the sense that I’ve romanticized it. I mean, it is and it isn’t. The image of a coffee plantation brings up a sense of colonialism, that is, outsiders coming to a place and transforming the landscape. And it is. It really is. It brings with it feelings of privilege, of master and servitude, of capturing a piece of something that doesn’t necessarily belong to you and making it yours, whether the people want it or not. The guilt comes and I don’t necessarily know how to navigate it so that it meshes well with my own ideals, but as I’ve learned in my thirties, sometimes you can’t make things work so that they align perfectly. That’s part of the world. You have your ideals and you have things as they are. You can only make the best of it.
With that said, there is a grandeur, a sense of feeling you’re a part of transformation–or is it transition?–as you sit on the lawn of a beautiful garden overlooking a valley of coffee trees. I went running one day on the slopes and little animals, wild animals, ran alongside me. There was not another soul in sight. At one point I ran down the slope so fast, I thought my legs would pretzel underneath me and I would go tumbling down the rest of the way. That while colonialism no longer exists, there is still a distinct disparity in terms of economic wealth between you, the guests, and whoever is serving you, the locals and natives. Tourism brings money to the local economy and ecotourism encourages the protection of the local resources (though there are still negatives of ecotourism in terms of conservation). I am still undecided and unsure what to make of it.
One morning, we woke up early to head out to Ngorongoro Crater, and in the distance elephants were coming down from the mountain. At night they come down to the farms and plantations of Karatu, raid the agriculture, and by morning, they will retreat back into the mountain, spending the rest of their day in the midst of the jungle. When I saw them, I thought, where am I? Where is this place?
The food at Gibb’s blew me away. By far the best place we ate during our brief visits to Tanzania. Most of the food had been grown organically on the farm. The coffee we drank, which they provided generously, was also grown on the farm. Breakfast is served in a mini buffet in the forms of fruit, pastries, some meats, and eggs can be ordered to taste. Lunch is a buffet with a variety of dishes–some regional cuisine, but mostly with a Western bent to appease the palates of the travelers. There is also tea time! With cakes, pastries, cookies, and coffee and all the tea you could drink. Dinner was nowhere near the level of lunch. Everything that we ordered came a little too salty and was strictly European. I would have preferred more local cuisine, but I know I am in the minority. And the fruits. Mangoes so sweet and flavorful, I wonder if I could ever eat another and like it anywhere near as much.
As beautiful as the scenery was, my favorite evening came when we watched the sunset from our deck. You can’t see it in the photos, but it looked out onto the vegetable garden below. There is a giant acacia tree with a spiral staircase wrapping upwards along the trunk. At night, they light the pit. People gather and sit while stories are told–local myths and fairy tales or travelers swapping tales of animal sightings. We watched as the sky turn pink, then an electric blue, then black. No stars could be seen. That night the rain came and poured mercilessly. It pounded fast and hard. We sat on our chairs on the deck, just taking in the scenery, the smells, the sky, the sound of rain. It rained the next day, too. And we were seated on the deck. Little birds sought refuge in the brush, their tiny feet wrapped around branches, using the leaves above their heads to keep them dry. When the rain would break, they started to chirp and when they flew off, the branches shook. Sounds and movements; it was magical.
The thing about travel–for me, at least–is that it’s not just necessarily an exploration of a strange and foreign land, but also an exploration into myself. How I react to things. What my preconceived notions are. Prior to this trip, my version of Africa existed in two spheres: one, a giant wilderness with a huge desert right in the middle of it and two, an Africa that is predominately East Africa, the stuff of literature as captured by Hemingway and Denisen. But this is not Africa. Of course I know Africa is a huge continent and even though I have spent an entire semester reading postcolonial literature, my image of Africa is still pith helmets, khakis, and European writers. Why? I don’t know. I know it’s not. But it wasn’t until I was there that I realized how wrong I was. And that’s the point of travel, isn’t it? To discover something new, not just about the world but also about yourself? When Will, our safari guide (a wonderful, amazing, intelligent, and just beautiful person–someone I would highly recommend) remarked on how he longed to visit Bali, I pulled my phone and showed him pictures of our trip in 2011. He smiled. He saw the women carrying produce in baskets that they balanced on their heads at the markets. He said, “It is the same here as it is there. It is the same everywhere in the world.” I thought that was such a poignant statement even though Bali smells different, looks different, feels different, he is right. There are similarities that stretch across cultural boundaries. Despite the differences, it is the same.
Even as beautiful as Gibb’s Farm was, it was incomparable to Masek Tented Camp, our next accommodation. Gibb’s Farm could have been anywhere: the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, but Masek could only exist in Ndutu. But that topic is for a little later.