Of a unique Maasai lodge in the Tanzanian savannah
It is surprisingly cold this early in the morning. Then again, the sun has barely risen and, admittedly, you have neither. Which is why it takes you a while to break away from your hot coffee and leave the lovely terrace of your lodge – overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro, if the weather gods were a little more on your side – to meet up with Boni for this day’s activity: the „nature walk“. He is already awaiting you, clad in his traditional red Maasai shuka and completely unfazed by your tired state.
It is your second day at the Africa Amini Maasai lodge, located about 42 miles outside of Moshi right in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Tanzanian savannah. The drive to the lodge was quite an adventure in itself. Mostly on gravel roads and without any real signage, it took you almost three hours to find the place. But somehow, this only added to the charm and was completely forgotten once you arrived and stepped out of the sadly chosen compact car that brought you there.
Leeze Laiser is the operating manager and first person to welcome you with a warm smile. Together with the whole team, he had been waiting on your arrival. He soon takes you around the premises of the lodge. All houses are in traditional Maasai design but with a modern touch. Solar panels on the huts‘ roofs guarantee a sufficient power supply. „Honestly, it was born out of necessity. In rural areas like this, it was the only way for us to have electricity. But now, we are independent and ecofriendly all at once. And both is very important to us, since we want our lodge to be sustainable and not a burden to the environment.“
The team aims at making this place comfortable for European guests but leaving it true to their own culture, says Leeze. What might look like a simple hut from the outside turns out to be one of the most exceptional rooms you have ever seen. Modern comforts and traditional materials such as soil and cow dung are perfectly combined. This holds true for the whole lodge from its atmospheric dining area to the free form pool with panoramic view – where you find yourself relaxing for the rest of your first day.
However, Africa Amini Maasai lodge is about more than just relaxation. It is part of an NGO, founded by Austrian Dr. Jur. Dr. Med. Christine Wallner. With the support of her daughter Dr. Cornelia Wallner-Friesee, she has initiated many projects to support local health care, education, tourism, and agriculture. „100 percent of the lodge’s income are used to sustain the other community projects that are running in the background”, explains Leeze. Three English middle schools, a soccer orphanage and a garage to train mechanics all profit from the lodge. „I have been working in tourism for 13 years now. But when I came here last year, I saw the chance to work with my own community for the profit of my own community. And in a beautiful landscape none the less”, he tells you.
So today is all about discovering this beautiful landscape. Luckily, despite the early hours Boni‘s enthusiasm catches on very quickly. The sun finally warming you up does her part, too. He shows you all kinds of plants like a gnarly root, with which to cure headaches or a dark green cactus, which you do not even dare get close to after he shows you the scars on his skin caused by the milky liquid coming out of the plant. Then he points you to a small crooked shrub, breaks of three little twigs and starts to cut them expertly for you, all the while you are left wondering what you are even supposed to do with them once he is finished. You guess. A pencil? He just laughs and explains. You are standing in front of a Salvadora persica – a toothbrush tree he says – and now you understand. He hands each of you a twig and tells you to chew on it. The thin branches have been used as makeshift toothbrushes for centuries now, he says. They are beneficial for your teeth and gums because of their natural amounts of Vitamin C, chlorides and fluorides.
This goes on for about two hours – Boni walking in front of you, in his tire sandals and with his wooden stick held loosely behind his shoulders. You following, chewing on your twig. Soaking up everything he tells you about this dry African savannah, but also about life in his village and his plans for the future. At the end of your nature walk, you feel like you have learned about more than just herbs, roots and plants. When you get picked up soon after – this time by a 4-wheel drive – you know that you are leaving a very special place.