WHAT TOOK ME TO TANZANIA, AFRICA? 2012 (VACATION SUGGESTS ARE BELOW)
In 2012, I was talking to my boss who told me that one of the contractors we work with does “Africa Stuff.” My friend couldn’t expand on it. 6 months later I was in a meeting with that contractor and in a moment the room clears as everyone goes to get the coffee. Having the opportunity alone with him, I asked about the “Africa Stuff” he does. Next thing you know we started telling stories back and forth about Africa. At the end of the conversation he asked me what I had planned for October. When I said I didn’t know, he offered for me to join his crew of people installing a hydroelectric generator in Tanzania, Africa. I said I’d think about it. Ultimately, I bought my ticket and flew out with some guys I hardly knew to another continent. And that’s when the adventures began and ultimately we gave light and power to a school/dormitory that serves a community & even takes care of a few orphans.
It’s an incredible transition to go from no electricity to full electricity. Without it, it’s a lot of campfires, no means of charging cell phones/computers/etc. In a lot of respects it’s kind of nice, especially since everyone sits around a fire together. On the other hand, electricity provides an incredible convenience. It means you can stay up past dark, you can see your equipment/clothing/book/etc. Turning on the lights for the first time made for incredibly fast progress for the students to do their homework, cook dinner while having light, and charge batteries so they can power flashlights as they walk around the campus.
Suggested Vacation Spots: Mt. Kilimanjaro & (for safari) Serengeti/Ngorogoro Crater National Preserves
If you’re in decent physical condition and ever in Tanzania, how can possibly miss climbing one of the 7 sisters (the tallest mountains on each continent)? That’s what I figured. So I literally hitchhiked to Kilimanjaro (that’s a great story in itself). Actually I was trying to take a bus, so after my crew left me at the bus stop, I came to the realization there weren’t any spaces on the busses. I had to say some prayers, quickly make friends, and improvise. It worked out AWESOME! See below (Full Kilimanjaro story).
(KILIMANJARO) Marangu Hotel: (http://www.maranguhotel.com/marangu/ ) Full Outfitter, Hotel Amenities, & Kilimanjaro Trip Planner. I’d say this, book direct and save a bundle. You can climb for as little as $1k including a night’s stay the night before and after the trip. They serve on a number of routes that go up the mountain. One of the easiest, most comfortable, and fastest ways to go up is the Marangu route (what I did). The quickest is to ascend it in approximately 3.5 days up, and 1.5 back down. That’s 3000ft/day up the mountain. The nice thing is that this route is that it offers staying in huts with beds. Basically staying wooden A-Frame shelters or a rock building (kibo hut) all the way up. Some call that cheating, but I call it cheaper. That’s right, cheaper. By taking the tent option, you have to pay for more porters to carry the additional equipment. Staying in huts only requires sleeping bags. So it provides better accommodations than tents (wind blowing, sometimes really cold) and you save money. It’s well worth it if you ask me. It’s hard enough just acclimating to the elevation. A good nights sleep is phenomenal!!
(SAFARI) Kiliserengeti Tours (http://kiliserengetitours.com/) I jumped on a trip to the Lake Manyara and Ngorogoro national preserves. I would highly suggest spending time at the Ngorogoro and Serengeti parks instead of Lake Mayara. Ngorogoro national park was pretty amazing geologically & for the animals. It’s actually a giant volcano crater (caldera). You drive down the side of the crater where you see a number of animals from lions, eland, topi, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, interesting birds (secretary birds), Hippos, and some predatory birds (swooping in after your lunches, not joking). Pretty amazing. This particular tour service was pretty good. The safari leader/manager was a really nice guy, found exceptional accommodations, and was pretty flexible. His equipment (Toyota land cruiser) wasn’t in good repair though, so we had to stop and swap vehicles. It set us back by about an hour, but the new driver didn’t fear speeding, so we probably went around 90MPH down smooth asphalt roads leading to/from our destinations. Read below to hear about the full story.
THE FULL STORY:
The Full Kilimanjaro Story: So I went with my team to South West Tanzania, but Kilimanjaro is in the exact opposite corner of the country. Our driver knew that it would be faster for me to get to Kilimanjaro by hopping on a bus at a remote junction point in the middle of no-where (Chalenze, Tanzania) . I agreed (while in the truck driving there). As we pulled up to the junction the rest of the team jumped on the truck to unload my backpack while our driver went over to speak to a police officer. As he walked back he said “I’d feel totally safe here, if you have any trouble getting on a bus going that way (as he pointed), then go talk to the cop, give him a few schillings (Tanzania currency) and he will stop every car until he gets you a ride,” then asks “are you good?” Dumbfounded, I said uhhhh… He jumps in the truck and then drives off. I watch them turn the corner and then are gone… I ask myself what the heck am I doing. I waited for the first bus for a few minutes. It was full. The next bus went somewhere else. Next bus, full. Next bus, full. Next bus to another place. 3 hours I waited while sitting on my backpack, having random men walk up to me saying I wouldn’t find a ride on a bus and that they could arrange a car transport. Uhhh, no…. Getting a little scared, I stopped myself and sang some Christian worship songs within myself, calmed down a bit, then bought a Coca-Cola and wondered what to do next. I noticed there was a guy standing off to the left of me wearing a white ball cap. He hadn’t ever tried to sell me anything, he walked up to the same buses I went to also. I started a conversation with him “Jambo, Habari Asabuyi?” (Hello, good morning). He replied, “Zuri, Zuri sana” (good very good). Then asked if I was in Tanzania for vacation. I replied “mimi ni funde wayumeme” (I’m an electrician, direct translation is lightning worker). He looked puzzled and pointed to himself saying “mimi funde wayumeme”… He was an electrician named Joseph that was headed to a town just beyond where I was going. We struck up a quick friendshiop, talking about his family, my family, etc. Next thing you know, a bus shows up. He motions for me to stay put as he checks it out. Bus was full. He came back and said he would try to find a car to buy a seat (people make money by transporting others in their personal cars). I saw that he went up to the nicer cars. I liked his style. With no luck, he walked back. I then tried my hand at doing the same thing. The second car I waved down was a white Toyota LandCruiser (Like a Lexus, leather seats, navigation). The middle eastern man inside asked me if I was on holiday and where I was going. I mentioned Moshi, Tanzania and he offered to take me (and my new friend) 70% of the way there. In the car, I found out he was a coffee/tea processing businessman. He was going to be taking 20 sweedish people up Kilimanjaro in 2 months, and gave me all the contact info for the Kilimanjaro company I should use. And I did use them. When he dropped us off at the bus stop ahead, the middle eastern man saw a few of his friends sitting there. He told his friends to get us on the bus (full). That guy ran up to the bus driver and started arguing with him. Joseph (electrican) was listening to everything and translating for me (“is standing room only okay?”). I said yes, and we jumped on the bus. Before it left the station Joseph started a conversation with a lady getting on the bus. He found out that a few kids would be getting off at the next stop and strategically positioned me so we could quickly take the seats, which we did. In Moshi, stepping off the bus, a number of aggressive taxi drivers grabbed my bag and started walking towards their cabs. Joseph ran over to them, ripping the bag out of their hands, yelling at them, then hands it back to me and we chose a non-aggressive taxi driver to take me to a hotel Joseph knew of. After checking in, Joseph helped carry my bag up to my room, saying good-byes, and him telling me that I needed to meet his wife and daughter if I was ever in his town. How amazing was that?? AMAZING!!!
The Full Safari Story: I had no idea how I’d be able to go on safari after getting off Kilimanjaro. I was pretty tired and everything I had to wear was in desperate need of washing. I had 3 days left before my flight back to the states. So when I prayed about it that morning, it felt like I should take a relaxing day of doing nothing instead of scrambling to get to the Serengeti or Ngorogoro National Preserves. So I did exactly that. I spent the entire day resting around Moshi, Tanzania (base of Kilimanjaro) looking for souvenirs, doing my laundry in the sink, and drying it out the window. At the very end of the day I was sitting in the restaurant on the bottom level of the hotel. Sipping a drink and eating some local food, I glance across the aisle and see about 8 guys at a table , obviously American with their accents and one wearing a Nebraska t-shirt. They all looked to be in pretty good shape so I asked if they were going up Kilimanjaro. They had actually just came down that morning. Since I came down the day before, we swapped stories and experiences. They asked if I was alone and then offered to have me join them. I did and they were really cool guys. They ended up buying my meal and beverages. How great is that? Then they started talking about going on safari the next day. I didn’t ask immediately, I kind of sat there getting to know them. Since they were some great guys, I asked at the end of the evening if they could fit another guy in on their safari. They said, oh sure, let’s ask the safari guide in the morning. The next morning I was with these guys in a vehicle driving towards the safari.. How great is that? Thankful to God for that one.
WHAT TOOK ME TO AFRICA? In 2011, I randomly received an email from an organization that does volunteer engineering trips in third world countries (www.emiworld.org). In the email, they were looking for an engineer to do an electrical assessment of a hospital. One month from the time I received the email, I was on the ground near Bomet, Kenya to tackle the job. Luckily, my amazing boss at the time let me take the vacation on short notice to go volunteer. As the leader of the trip put it, we were there to kick over rocks looking for snakes. And yes, we did find a few real problems at the hospital that were corrected shortly after our departure. A great trip in general 🙂 And then the photo taking truly began…
Suggested Vacation Spots: Masaai Mara National Reserve – June 2011 SALT SPRINGS MARA CAMP: (http://saltspringsmaracamp.com/ ) If you really have a craving for adventure, I highly suggest the Salt Springs Mara Camp. At the time, it was the only Masaai (native people) owned camp. I was the only person at the camp and had approximately 15 people working there. The food was amazing and the safari tent was great and comfortable. It really felt luxurious yet quite adventurous (no fences around the compound). You’re actually protected by actual Masai Warriors (red blanket clothing). At each meal, you sit in a giant grass topped building (much nicer than I explain it here) that sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking a salt spring. As you sit and enjoy a meal, you see zebra, giraffe’s bending down to drink the salty water, wildebeests, and many other wild animals eating grass beneath you. It was an incredible experience.
Fairmont Mara Safari Club Resort: (http://www.fairmont.com/masai-mara-safari/ ) This tour is for the person that likes glamping (glamorous camping). Being a volunteer for the hospital, they gave me half price.. No other way I’d be able to afford the luxurious accommodations that actually look directly down on the Mara River. Many of the (luxurious) tents (with hot water showers btw) have wooden porches overlooking hippos in the waters below. When eating, I highly suggest throwing your bread rolls into the water. A swarm of fish are down in the river quickly devour them. When it comes to Safari, the camp takes guests out in the early morning and at dusk in safari vehicles, even stopping at a place where armed guards follow a rhino to ensure it isn’t poached. As a side option, If you can afford it, they also have hot air balloon rides that literally drop down within 20 feet of the ground and gradually follow the hillsides up. Animals in abundance underneath you. They end with a brunch on a hill that includes a full breakfast with champagne, orange juice. Yeah, pretty incredible. It all depends on your interests. You can’t miss in Kenya..