The speed of travel: London to Marangu, Kilimanjaro

On Friday evening, I left London for Marangu, a village situated on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro between Moshi (Tanzania) and Taveta (Kenya). Having left home at 4.45pm, I arrived in my accommodation at 5pm on Saturday. I could have arrived slightly earlier had I flown from Nairobi to Arusha, but I decided to take the shuttle bus via Namanga and Longido and see some of the other side of the mountain (ie Kilimanjaro) and also, hopefully catch a glimpse of Mount Meru – which did pop out for a photo. (Map)

In my few years of travelling this route, it was the first time that I really got to see Mount Longido and the gap at Namanga as the border post there is being reconfigured, and I got to walk between the two posts alone!

This is travel in the 21st century and in complete contrast to what the soldiers experienced between 1914 and 1918. A soldier, such as one in the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen), leaving London from Waterloo Station at 2am on 10 April 1915 to catch a ship from Plymouth, arrived at Kilindani, Mombasa, on 4 May 1915 to begin disembarking at 2pm. After disembarking onto lighters to reach the mainland, they then were sent by train in very basic conditions (cattle trucks?) to Kajiado where they stayed for three months.

However, troops destined for Moshi would detrain at Voi from where they were sent to Mbuyuni, by vehicle if they were lucky or train once the line was built. From there to Moshi was either a march, train or truck ride. Today, travelling by car along the road from Voi to Moshi will take the most part of a day, Moshi being about an hour away from the border post at Holili opposite Taveta. The road, which passes Salaita Hill, is long, hot and dusty and it can only be wondered at how the men survived travelling this route which has a 32km waterless stretch. (James Willson’s Guerillas of Tsavo sets out some of the experiences of the men, British and German, in this area during the war.) Locals on Kilimanjaro who are old enough to remember walking to Moshi from Marangu (10 kilometres up the mountain from Himo, 10 kilometres from Holili) will tell you it took them a day to do the walk using a short cut across the mountain slopes.

The other route, which was undertaken by General Jaap van Deventer in 1916 when the South Africans advanced on German East Africa (Tanzania) was via Lake Chala, Rombo, Longido and then onto Arusha – a journey then completed on horseback. From Arusha to Moshi on the current road will take about 2½ hours by car. I haven’t done this exact route, but from Longido to Arusha is a two-hour journey by shuttle today, and it takes runners eight or nine days to do a 260km round-Kilimanjaro run completing 32 kilometres a day.

There was obviously far more to the challenges the men had to face on their journeys than I have to, and I am constantly in awe of what they survived whenever I drive along the routes I know the men traversed. Some idea of what the men had to endure to get to their regiment or base can be obtained from George Lucas’ The Young India Jones Chasing the Phantom (in all not to be taken as a true account of the campaign).

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