Most people in East Africa have never heard of Mbeya. It’s a small city in Southern Tanzania surrounded by green mountains and cool weather. I thought Southern Tanzania was going to be a hot, malaria-infested wasteland that I’d want do flee from as soon as possible. I was wrong, even the drive down was beautiful and I was disappointed I couldn’t stay longer.
I was going to take it easy in Mbeya, catching up on some blogging/e-mails and sleep. Instead, a man introducing himself as “James Bond, but the bond is just for fun”, came up to me and enticed me into a half-day adventure in the mountains and I couldn’t resist. I chose Ngozi Crater, an hour-long hike through the jungle ending at a remote crater in a national park.
The way up was great. We took a minibus out and walked to the base of the mountain through farmland where we began the hike. After being in East Africa so long, I wasn’t expecting jungle. But it was lush, green jungle on all sides. In most places the brush had overgrown the trail so you had to fight your way through vegetation.
When we reached the top, we met a group of American doctors working in Mbeya. One even went to Azusa Pacific where I graduated! We could see the crater and lake below, but didn’t have enough time to hike down because it was getting late and we could see the clouds rolling in. On the way down it began to rain. Not just any rain, it was jungle rain. James Bond, true to his name, used his ingenuity and quickly made banana leaf umbrellas and we were good to go. I slipped once and laid out in the mud, but it only added to the adventure. All in all, it was a pretty awesome day of hiking and well worth the money spent.
Huge wild banana trees
Banana leaf umbrellas
At the crater with James Bond
Last week I traveled the entire length of Tanzania from Arusha to Mbeya in a day. I decided to buy my ticket a few days early to make sure I got a comfortable seat for the 18 hour journey. I chose the front row aisle seat, thinking about leg room, nausea, better air flow, etc. What I didn’t know was that there would be a wall separating the driver from the seating section and that the engine would be directly under my feet. It was a cramped, uncomfortable test of my patience with hot air blowing at my feet the entire time, not to mention the over-sized African mama next to me who had purchased a single ticket for herself and her 4-year-old daughter. She didn’t speak any English (or pretended not to) and I had to keep shoving my body into her to stay on my seat. Tanzanians don’t really open windows on buses either, preferring a sweat box to chilly air on their face. It got a little warm. Needless to say, I was thankful and relieved when we finally pulled into Mbeya at 1:00 in the morning.
Before the trip began, I encountered an incident that almost made me miss it. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 5:45 am, so I had asked a Tanzanian friend to call a cab to arrive by 5:00. At 5:15, I was still waiting at the gate in the pitch black, beginning to panic. I woke up my friend who didn’t know what to do, then woke up an American missionary family who graciously agreed to take me to the bus stand. I got there a few minutes before the bus left (which was surprisingly on time).
The rest of the trip was rather uneventful. Even though it wasn’t luxury service or as fast as a plane, I’m always glad after I do things like this. I’ve seen Tanzania now. There was a beautiful mountain range that followed us on one side for about half the trip. Rain poured on us as we looked out across the flat savannah. I met some interesting people who have to do this trip every month. Ultimately, I think that’s what travel is about: meeting the people and experiencing places along the way. And any destination can become cool if we choose to see it that way.
18 hours on this beast
Last week I said goodbye to Nairobi for the time being. More than anything, I’ll miss the people who made my time there worthwhile. But I have a feeling I’ll stay involved even from the States. They say that Africa gets under your skin and you always come back.
This week I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to work on aquaponics projects at YWAM and an orphanage. Having basically no construction or farming experience, building aquaponics systems in Tanzania seemed like a pretty daunting task to accomplish in a week. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish the second system at the orphanage, but I learned a ton and got some valuable experience. And no two days are ever the same in Africa. One day we wanted construction materials delivered to the site, and since the store’s driver was drunk, we hired a guy off the street to pull a hand-drawn cart all 6 miles. Another day we bought fish and loaded them in buckets into the trunk of our car. I laid down in the back, getting splashed as I made sure the buckets didn’t topple over on bumpy roads. Overall it was a pretty memorable experience.
Tanzania is a different than Kenya. I’ve worked in Africa for two years and realize it moves at its own pace, but so far Tanzania takes the cake in moving slowly. Apparently, East Africans all hire Kenyans for their management positions because they’re so much faster and harder-working than everyone else. In Tanzania, everything takes longer than you think and to avoid complete frustration you just have to take it easy. It gets to the point where you’ve waited so long for something that when it’s finally about to happen, you don’t even feel motivated to do it anymore. We did end up getting work done though, and now I just hope the system is maintained so people here actually reap the benefits.
Tomorrow I start my journey down to South Africa. I’m really excited and slightly terrified. First, I head to Mbeya, Tanzania. The Lonely Planet description of the trip merely states that it’s, “a grueling 18 hours”. After that, I’ll go to Lusaka and Livingstone, Zambia, before passing through Botswana and finally making it to Johannesburg.
The Grow Bed
The kids’ new favorite toy
My Friend Vincent