We've just returned from a full and amazing sixteen days in Tanzania. The group of travelers included nine high school aged students from states across the country -- below are their written reflections after a life-changing journey . . . .
Monday: Anticipation in Amsterdam/Arriving in Arusha
Monday, July 30th started off with the group arriving in Amsterdam at around 5:13 am local time. If you have ever had the pleasure of being in the Amsterdam airport, then you would know that the Dutch make sure that there is plenty to do; even before dawn! In the early hours, some of the group went to lie down in the empty terminal, while others went off to explore everything that the airport had to offer. The 5-hour layover went by surprisingly quickly and before we knew it we were on our way to the Kilimanjaro International Airport. The 8-hour plane ride was made more bearable by the frequent naps and abundant movie options. When we landed in Kilimanjaro, we faced shockingly long customs lines and we ended up being the last ones leaving the airport. Fortunately, everyone remained in good spirits and we were able to head off to Arusha and begin our African adventure. When we arrived in Arusha most group members set off to shower and get ready to sleep after a long journey. Our night ended at around 12am to ensure we all would be well-rested for our busy day ahead.
Tuesday: Adventuring in Arusha/Leaving for Longido
Tuesday was an action-packed day to say the least. We started off the day with a yummy breakfast in the rooftop restaurant at the backpacker’s hostel. After breakfast, we sat down to discuss the local language and plans for the day ahead. The first order of business was exchanging our American dollars for shillings, so that we could shop throughout our day in Arusha. As we exchanged our money a crowd of eager salesmen gathered outside the door waiting for us to exit. This is when we discovered that in Tanzania, salesmen will follow you for blocks in order to make a profit. Unlike the United States, they won’t just stay in one place and their persistence keeps them off the street. Even though we all felt a little pestered by the salesmen, we had a great time exploring Arusha and seeing how the locals live. Before we left for Longido, we stopped by a Masaai market where many of us purchased bracelets, shirts, art, etc. to bring home. It was awesome to see all of the craftsmanship that goes into each piece. After the market, we all piled into cars and headed out on the 1-hour journey to Longido. This year we lucked out immensely; we saw not only giraffes but zebras and gazelles too! It was like a safari without being an actual safari! We stopped to take pictures of the wildlife a few times before we headed down the final stretch to Longido. Everyone in the town was automatically welcoming and before we knew it we were surrounded by grinning children who were eager to play! We ended the night with a delicious dinner, a few rounds of cards, and a lot of laughter. It was definitely a day to remember.
Wednesday: Living in Longido:
Today started off with a sleepy group, as we were all worn out from our busy day in Arusha following our travel. We woke up to the sound of roosters crowing and the beautiful voices from the Mosque in prayer down the road from our home. We all had a delicious breakfast at La Mamaa, the restaurant we were eating at for our time in Longido. After breakfast, we all headed to the Meloc school; this school hardly existed when the Gogi group came last year. We spent our morning at the school playing with tennis balls and teaching the children in school. Many of us sang with the children in the classroom of this English-speaking school, further enhancing their English-speaking abilities. Each and every kid was perfectly content and happy to learn. Many of us were surprised by the good behavior and listening skills of the children, as the majority of them were between the ages of three and five. All of our time at the school was filled with joy, laughter, and smiles. When we finished at the school, we headed back to La Mamaa for a filling and yummy lunch followed by a brief rest. At around three, we headed to the after-school program at Leyeyo’s guest house. We played games, did face paint, and colored. We had a great time with all the kids. After a few hours, it was time to head back to La Mamaa for dinner. We had, once again a delicious meal before the end-of-the-night check-in and bed.
Thursday: Living in Longido
Today we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast that was partially made by our group. Many of us wanted to learn how to make the delicious doughnuts made by Nancy at La Mamaa. Nancy taught us and we made them the night before. We added our own little American twist to the doughnuts by adding some Nutella! After breakfast, we headed to the Meloc school for a full day of work. While at the school, we planned and began work on the painting of the slide, mural, and tires. We made tremendous progress on our work and had tons of fun with the kids, yet again playing with tennis balls and running around. Soon enough it was time for lunch, so we said our goodbyes and headed down to La Mamaa for a delicious lunch. After lunch, we had a brief rest before heading to the after-school play program created by Leyeyo’s mom, Sarah. We spent a couple hours there playing games, talking, drawing, and getting some pretty stylish braids in our hair. After our time with the after-school children, we headed back down to the house to take some pictures and rest before dinner. After dinner, we had a group check-in and headed to bed.
A story from Iva about our experience camping out at the boma in the Crater:
On Thursday, August 9th we all woke up at around 5:00 am, packed our day packs as lightly as possible, and scrambled out the door to get a much needed breakfast. As we sat down to eat we discussed the safari we would be on all day and the boma we would be staying at in the Crater. Even though we were all tired at 5:30 am there was a general sense of excitement about the day to come; no one could wait to see the animals! Unfortunately, there was a lot of waiting to do. There was a slight mix up with the jeep company that was going to take us on the safari and we ended up waiting at the Crater entrance for around 3 hours. Even though it was frustrating the 3 hours passed by rather quickly thanks to the fun spirit and patience of the group. Before we knew it, we were all settled into our jeeps and heading down into the Crater. The drive down was beautiful but a little scary for me because it was so foggy and so steep. Luckily, something appeared to take my mind off the drive; AN ELEPHANT!
We hadn’t even started the safari and we had already seen the biggest land mammal…. mind blown! The rest of the ride was amazing too; we saw lots of zebras and Masaai men herding their cattle. It didn’t take long for us to get down into the Crater and when we did, no one could take their eyes off the windows. Animals we had only seen on Google or in films were as close as I was to Liz as I typed this. It was insane. We were lucky enough to see over 20 elephants, around 10 lions, 2 rhinos, a bunch of hippos, and many more. The safari gods were really on our side that day. Sadly, safaris can’t last forever so we had to pack up and leave; however we got to head to a beautiful boma a few hours away and that was amazing. Staying at the boma for a night, in a pen with cows, really was an experience like no other. From the endless night sky above us, to the goat cooking on the fire (that had just been skinned); it was a night I will never forget. It was a little overwhelming to sit in the dark under the stars with the fire glowing and illuminating the recently killed goat; but it really allowed us to understand Masaai culture more and I could not be more grateful for that. Overall, Thursday was a success and a day I’m sure we will all remember for years to come. Few people get to say that they saw so many animals and slept with cows at a boma in one day, so I’d say we’re pretty lucky!
Saturday: Living in LongidToday we woke up, ate our breakfast at Nancy’s restaurant at the usual time and Liz gave an overview of our day. Around 9:00 am, we began our walk to Leyeyo’s Boma. The walk took about 35-40 minutes. We saw the main water hole and Maasai warriors herding their cattle. Once we arrived we were greeted by Leyeyo’s mother, Uncle, and other family members. We walked over to the mother’s cement Boma, made by Leyeyo, and took a tour of the huts. Once we were done with the tours, we gathered in front of one of the huts made of cow dung and participated in traditional Maasai chants and dance. They placed the beaded collars around our necks and we practiced rolling our shoulders back and forth to bounce the collars up and down to the beat. We tossed a tennis ball around for a bit, then began beading ankle bracelets with the mothers. With the donations we brought we passed out piles of gifts to each mother and said our goodbyes. Fred and Babu (Leyeyo’s best friend since childhood) met us with lunch as we walked to the market. There we saw goats, cows, shoes, jewelry, soda bars, and met tons of Maasai warriors. We walked around for a bit checking out all the stores, then ended our adventure drinking Fanta’s under a tent.
Sunday: Hike → Mount Longido
Today we all woke up with the sun and had our usual breakfast at La Maama. Following breakfast, we all headed through the town of Longido and on to the base of Longido Mountain. We followed our guides, one of whom was fully responsible for our safety throughout the hike and would be our watch-man during our night in tents at the campsite. We all walked in somewhat of a trance due to the early hour of the morning. The beginning of the hike was very dry and rocky and many of us were struggling to clear our breath, with the large amount of dust floating in the air. Throughout the hike, we took many breaks to hydrate and rest. The majority of the hike was very steep and there was a large increase in elevation from where we started, in the town of Longido. As we progressed, the climate of the mountain changed drastically, from the dusty dryness that has become familiar, to lush green forest land.
About half way through our journey, we stood in a meadow, surrounded and encompassed by clouds. Up to this point, there were many mental and physical struggles within the entire group, and later the support to and from all was clearly recognized. When we finally reached the last stretch to the summit, some were faced with an even larger mental obstacle; we all had to climb a ladder-type thing up a large rock face in order to complete the hike. When we made it to the top of Mount Longido, we were all overjoyed and filled with a huge sense of accomplishment, especially after we all faced mental and physical challenges. As we sat on the top enjoying the view, we ate our delicious packed lunch from La Maama and watched birds fly above and around the peak. We stayed up on the peak for almost an hour before heading down to our campsite. It took all of us about three hours to make it to the clearing of trees where we would spend the night in tents. When we arrived at the campsite, dinner was already being prepared, and there were seats set up for all of us around the campfire. At camp, we had dinner and a short check-in around the fire before heading to bed, after a long day of hiking.
By Katherine: The hike up Mount Longido was my hardest challenge yet on this trip. Throughout the hike, my mental and physical fatigue varied from positive to exhausted which tested my ability to self-motivate and be positive for myself and the group. Getting deeper into the hike, I learned to find more mental strength within myself and notice more of the beauty around me and how grateful I was for the opportunity