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This review is about my short stay (one month) in Tanzania during my gap year in 2003 with World Challenge Expiditions - Read on and enjoy...
I signed up for the World Challenge Expedition to Tanzania way back in 2001 and knew as soon as I had put my name down I had done the right thing. Apart for the high price tag of around £3000 I was determined to make this happen, along with financial help from my parents of course! Throughout the two agonising years waiting for my departure I worked at my local Tesco's saving every penny I earned (apart from the odd pint down the pub and that chocolate doughnut that just begged to be eaten!) As the clock counted down to our departure I began meeting with the other team members, most of whom I didn't know that well, to discuss our itinerary whilst in country:
Week 1: Project work at Vudoi Secondary school
Week 2: Mt. Hannang and Cultural Education
Week 3: Mt Kilimanjaro trek
Week 4: R 'n' R
Arriving in Tanzania seemed surreal, we were actually there and away from home for a whole month - Oh yes! As we walked out into the main square of Dar Es Salaam airport we saw the true Tanzania culture running on 'African time.' Time-wise, whatever a Tanzanian says - don't believe them. If they say a bus is going to be 30 minutes its more like two hours, which was exactly what happened to us! When the bus finally arrived the shock continued as the bus conductor piled, and I mean piled, people on until the whole bus was at bursting point. I spent the eight hour journey not knowing whether to laugh or cry, surrounded by chickens, baby cattle, locals reeking of body odour and the 'nice' plump ass I had dangling in front of my face for seven out of those eight hours (yes you heard right!) Transport in Tanzania is amongst the worst you will experience and also the most dangerous, as they accelerate to race each other whilst playing a tune on their fairground horns, not music to your ears when you're trying to get some kip!
Finally off the death trap and in Mwanga the locals welcomed us warmly and took us to the Vudoi school. You're always assured a warm welcome in Tanzania by anyone (although being a Westerner increases this). Our accommodation at Vudoi Secondary was basic but at least we had a roof over our heads, a toilet/shower and two bedrooms, which was more than some locals had. We shared the building with lizards, hedgehogs, snakes and those pesky mosquitos and I had the bites to prove it (over 50 I counted). The project we chose to do was to help the school attach guttering to two of its buildings, as during Tanzania's dry season there is a lack of water and staff at the school struggle to run it efficiently. Being a notably western luxury, it was hard to find guttering in Tanzania but we eventually found some in Moshi, the nearest main town to Mwanga, whilst also witnessing two floggings in the main square during our visit, which is still common practice (so don't do anything illegal...it'll hurt!).
Now that we had the equipment we pressed on with the project, with the occasional bodge up along the way. The main problem we had was how we were to actually reach the roofs to place the guttering, so therefore the school caretaker, with the little tools he had, created several 'ladders' to aid us. Whilst the project progressed further we had to take a trip back to Moshi to collect the down pipes and water tanks, yet another dreaded ride on a Tanzanian bus! During our visit to Moshi we became the victims of pickpockets who robbed us of over $500, which led us to a police station visit where the corruption was clearly visible (luckily we were able to clam the $500 back on the insurance once we had obtained a police report).
The test day came once we had the final pieces and guess what...it leaked! To combat the leaks we taped up the gaps with gaffa-tape, or bodge tape as it became known to us...hopefully the locals would be able to provide a permanent solution to it! The project was completed within days which left us with a well deserved day off, but instead the Team challenged the school football team to a match. One thing I learnt during that game is that African children are a lot healthier than us English, or maybe just me, as after 10 minutes most of the English team were tired and drenched in sweat - including me!. But being true Brits we continued the game, which in true African fashion ended after 120+ minutes (didn't help much that the referee didn't have a watch!)
The morning after our farewell dinner at George 'The Gangsta' Mufasa's house, we headed on our cramped 'dalla-dalla' (mini-bus in Swahili) to Babati where we were to spend the next week of our expedition. Our accommodation was adequate comprising of beds and the lovely Eastern style squat toilets, but unfortunately no showers (which you should only expect in the big hotels). Food was also err...lets say different!
"I'll have chicken and chips please". (2 mins later) "Squawk". (10 mins later) "Your chicken and chips sir".
You get the picture?
The following day, after we arrived in Babati, we visited a Barbaig warrior settlement on a foothill of Mt. Hanang. The Barbaig warriors, about ten years ago, were at war with the Masai tribes over fertile salt lands surrounding Mt.Hanang. During our tour of the settlement the chief showed us the warriors' weapons - very, very sharp spears (luckily they only use them today for hunting). The settlement was made up of a selection of sticks, mud and cow dung, and consisted of two huts housing ten members of the family. The chief showed us around the village and also introduced us to his two wives, one being 60 and the other pregnant wife being only 16-years-old (the lucky bugger)! In the tribe the wives' jobs are to make goatskin clothes for sale at market which took them, on average, five days to make one high quality garment. The money made was widely needed in the tribe to buy food during harsh times when the men couldn't hunt and looked like it was used to buy corn to make their home brew called Gisuda (highly toxic, trust me).
Every other day Babati hosted a market in its centre and I visited it to buy some gifts for family. This is the best place to get gifts for family or friends as you can barter for anything and get them really cheap, also if you need extra clothes this is a good option. The market sold everything including Barbaig's goatskin gowns, carved utensils, cattle, clothes and food galore! During my visit I bought a carved statue for only 5p and a quality Nelly T-shirt for 10p - now that's what I call a bargain! The following day we walked to Babati Lake where we were to go on dug-out canoe's, which was truly an experience. The canoes were very unstable and I was surprised to see (thankfully) that they actually floated. Once on the lake we passed several hippos within 10 metres of our canoe and also saw pelicans and water snakes. This was amazing but there was no way I was going to swim in it! The lake was also used by the locals to wash their clothes, for cooking water and also to wash cattle by the hundreds - something which I had only expected to see on TV.
Week two ended with the team climbing Mt. Hanang (3417m A.S.L), Tanzania's 4th highest mountain, in preparation for our Mt. Kilimanjaro trek the following week. As I stood at the foot of Mt. Hanang I said to myself: "It looks big, bloody big." The peak was just piercing through the clouds. After a swig of Red Bull (unfortunately with no vodka) I began my ascent of Hanang with the rest of the team through forest, brambles and then plain land to the top, 3417 metres of pure bliss...ahh! After five hours of walking this was what I had been waiting for, the taster of Kilimanjaro and I loved it! All of this week was organised by a top guide by the name of Joas Kahembe, check him out at www.infojep.com/culturaltours (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are heading to Babati, Arusha or Katesh.
The moment I had been anticipating for the last two years was finally about to happen - I was going to climb Kilimanjaro! All sorts of thoughts were going through my head at this point: "Am I going to make it?"; "Is it going to be hard?"; and most importantly "Am I mad?" Firstly we had to get to our base camp (1500m above sea-level) which meant an agonising three and a half hours of travelling over dust covered 'roads.' It didn't help much that some people had asthma! Once at base camp we were able to hire equipment that we had forgotten at quite reasonable rates. One thing you definitely need are poles and good quality gloves, and at only $13 for the week it was hardly breaking the budget.
It was already cold at 1500m so God only knew what it was going to be like at the top - that's if I was to get that far. We settled down for the night ready to depart in the morning for our first day of ascent up Kilimanjaro. Arose to nothing, pure nothing as the clouds had surrounded us in the night (the only thing that worried me was that I couldn't actually see the peak). During the first day it was cold due to the low cloud base but after two hours we emerged and entered the rainforest. This was the first highlight of the climb as monkeys surrounded us, however we couldn't actually see them... The toilets also provided much amusement with the hole measuring the size of a CD case and being in the worst state I've ever seen! We arrived at campsite number two and set up our tents, only to realise that we had set them up on an ant's nest...man did they ever pinch! We were now at 2500m and it was even colder than yesterday so most hit the sack at 7pm to warm up, including poor old me (why can't there be a cable car to the top?)
Day three and Kilimanjaro looks closer than ever...which is strange seen as we still have 3365m to go! The worst thing at this point has to be getting out of your tent in the middle of the night, in -4 degrees Celsius conditions, just to go to the loo - especially as you might fall into the hole if you lose your torch! From now on we would be staying at the cave campsites, most of which had water and corrugated iron huts (but that just spoils the experience). One thing you experience up here is how you really do need those little things such as radio and TV as the days just drag on, so some advice...bring a minidisc or CD player for when you're walking. Another thing is you will get easily burnt at this altitude but you won't notice it due to the layered dirt all over your body, so wear sunscreen (high factor: 50+) and use baby wipes to cleanse.
At 3400m the first cave camp site was freezing and I thanked myself for hiring those fleece lined gloves...ahh! We were heading to the second cave campsite (3550m) and headed off over the reasonably flat land, even so it still took us 3 hours to reach as the group were already feeling the effects of the altitude. I stupidly ran up a hill with my rucksack on and by the time I got to the top I had a splitting headache which required two paracetamol, so don't push it! Once at the campsite I headed straight to bed, which is always the lifestyle up Kilimanjaro as you need the sleep and there is not much else to do, unless you like sitting by yourself.
The effects of altitude had finally hit as three of the team puked in the early hours of day five, and myself after breakfast. This was possibly the worst day of the trek for me as I had no energy to breathe or walk, every step became a chore. At this point I began to doubt whether I would make the summit and I was close to giving up. However with the help of Dioralyte I was able to gain some energy, even though the blackcurrent flavour was foul! The water I constantly drank came up time and time again making me dehydrated and making it even harder for me to continue. Somehow I made it, don't ask me how but I did, and I slept I for 16 hours solid - having also lost my appetite.
Awoke to the sounds of people being sick on day six, which was hilarious as I was now fine and I could give them the hard time they gave me the day before...hahaha, revenge is sweet! Once I emerged from my tent I discovered two people had been sick IN their sleeping bags, which wasn't a nice sight! Today we could see Kibo hut (4600m) from the ridge. Man, was that a good sight but we still had five hours walking ahead of us. Kibo hut was the final one before the ascent to Kilimanjaro's peak, Uhuru. Once we had reached Kibo hut we found, to our amazement, that they sold Kit-Kats and obviously Kilimanjaro beer - we opted for the Kit-Kats however. The climb was to commence at midnight that same day, however I had decided I was not to climb to Uhuru peak due to being sick and having a sore throat (good thing too as that night I coughed up blood...NICE!). The others continued up the mountain at midnight whilst I and two other members of the team stayed at Kibo in the -15 degrees Celsius temperatures. Out of my team of 12 only four people made it to Uhuru peak - the highest point on the World's highest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro.
During the morning we heard the stories of the ascent from those who were actually awake and in the afternoon began our decent to around 3500m, where we stayed in the huts used by guides - with the help of a backhander of course! The following day we were finally back at base camp after the previous seven days of fun and torture, well for me anyway. One thing I will never forget about Kilimanjaro are the great, peaceful views of nothing but clouds (oh and also hearing the others puke on day six. I can still hear it to this day!).
REST AND RELAXATION - SAFARI AND PANGANI
Finally the Rest and Relaxation phase had arrived, which by now most of us gratefully deserved. One thing you have to do in Tanzania is safari, and guess what... we did it in style. Between the 12 of us we had three landcruisers with removable hoods which took us everywhere for the next three days. To make it even better my drivers name was Lazer...how cool?! During the safari we went to the Ngorogoro Crater, Tarangeri and Serengiti National Parks and saw all of the big five - even getting within a few metres of a herd of elephants and the hilarious sight of two lions shagging.
After the three amazing days of safari, with the exception of the guest houses, we packed our bags once again and caught a bus to Pangani via Tanga. As usual the bus was on African time and arrived half an hour late, but at least this time I had a seat and no ass in my face! Once in Pangani we looked around for accommodation but decided to wait until the following day so we could cross the river before settling down. After another night in a disgusting guest house (apart from the great fresh fish and chips cooked by the owners) we crossed the river in the morning and headed for the Coco Beach Resort, which was bloody lovely! The team took all six of the chalets at the resort, we had our own private beach and even our own bar - could this get any better?! That night the Kili beer and spirits flowed and we ended up mashed and chasing the ghost like crabs down the beaches.
Woke at 11am with the biggest hangover, and went straight to the bar to get a remedy...a Kili beer of course! This was by far the hottest place that we had been to during the month and we were loving every minute of it. With the contacts we had made we organised a motor boat to take us water skiing, tubing and on the banana boat. It's strange how somewhere in Africa could be just like Faliraki, the only distinction being the Dhows that line the shore and the peace and tranquility. The following day we did the exact same, and loved it even more than the day before as it was our last day at the Coco Beach resort.
Finally arrived in Dar Es Salaam, after a six hour bus journey and went to our pre-arranged accommodation, which funnily enough was the YWCA. The team, consisting as it did of 12 males, didn't fit in too well! Anyway the owner thankfully allowed us to stay and we indulged in western food that we had so dearly missed for the last month...mmm burgers! I couldn't believe that tomorrow I was leaving Tanzania, the country and its people I had begun to love so much. However part of me wanted to head back and meet family and friends and also earn extra cash to plan my next travels! What a great start to my gap year. Who knows...I may be back!