Choosing the Right Safari
The great African Family Safari! What could be better? We had never been to Africa and decided that Tanzania was the best place to start. There were many reasons for Tanzania, including hopes of seeing the Great Wildebeest Migration and experiencing the Big 5 on safari. We also wanted to see Mt. Kilimanjaro and take a hike in its lush foothills. So with all this in mind, we planned our trip through Access 2 Tanzania. Our trip would include two days trekking/walking the foothills around Kilimanjaro (we did not in anyway climb Kilimanjaro) near Moshi, Tanzania and a week on safari in the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and in Tarangire National Park.
Our First Impressions of the Foothills of Kilimanjaro
After a plane cancelation in Nairobi, we finally arrived at Kaliwa Lodge in the dead of night. We quickly were escorted to our rooms and without much effort fell fast asleep. Occasionally we were woken in the night to a screeching noise but luckily exhaustion took the better of us and we quickly dozed off again. In the morning we became aware our beautiful surroundings! The lush, cool, green forest was studded with beautiful bright flowers. They were all the colours our eyes so desperately miss living in the desert. It was gorgeous! We quickly ate our breakfast and were ready for our big day ahead walking the Machame Trail.
Walking the Foothills of Kilimanjaro
We started our walk off with an explanation of the four different types of bananas that are locally grown. We instantly learned a lot about something that we've been eating daily for decades! We took in all the information possible on the banana trees, the different types of bananas, their multiple purposes, and how they are removed for regrowth. Rob especially enjoyed being educated on the ins and outs of banana beer.
As we walked on, it was stunning to be surrounded by the dense, lush, forest. Just beautiful. Our guide began the explanation of the Chaga Tribe - the most common and prevalent tribe in the area. We later found out that there are a staggering 120 local tribes in Tanzania. We passed by a graveyard while learning about the transfer of land between the Chaga family members. Land is almost never sold or leaves the family, even after death.
The Chaga Tribe
As we walked through the forest, we saw Chaga people busily doing their work for the day. It was almost exclusively women working, including carrying almost everything and anything balanced on their heads. It was incredible. Most of the time you could not hear a sound from their walking and then they would silently appear from the thick forest. They looked incredibly graceful to me even while working so hard. We did see a few men along the way. One had scaled a very high tree and was hitting avocados out of it. He had scaled about 10 meters up the tree and was balancing on a limb while hitting avocados down to the ground with a long stick. He thought it was funny how nervous we were for him. Apparently this is a common activity for him. We also met many small children playing who would cautiously gaze at us and then smile and wave. Seeing how people live and work in other places is so incredibly interesting. Probably my favourite thing about traveling.
Visiting A Local Tanzanian School
The next stop was at a local school solely funded by the Tanzanian government. Meaning there was no funding from outside sources, such as NGO's. This instantly was a major eye-opener for our family. Even though the majority of us know children are not treated equally around the world, it becomes a lot more real when you are staring the inequality directly in the face. To see children not being given an adequate standard of education was really hard to see. We are well aware of the huge privilege of education our children enjoy in Dubai (and in our stays in Canada and Belgium as well) but visiting the Tanzanian school and learning about their education process was a humble reminder just how fortunate we are. The school's "classroom" had no real markings of any classroom we would recognize. There was no electricity, no grouping of tables and chairs, no supplies, no proudly displayed works of accomplishment on the walls, no fresh coat of paint, no sources of play, no athletic equipment, and more. School in Tanzania is only obligatory (and I use that word with a grain of salt) until the age of 12. At this point, the majority of kids must drop out because the language of learning switches from Swahili to English. Most children do not know enough English so are unable to attend secondary school. But...
The kids we met at the school were much like any other children you would meet around the world - happy, playful, curious, smart, funny, shy, gentle, loud...the list goes on. When we first arrived, the school children cautiously eyed our boys as ours did with them. But very quickly they were taking steps towards each other and the laughter and playing began. (The children were fascinated by our boys G-Shock watches). They happily led us into their classroom, walked with us around the property, and played games with the boys. We could not speak more than a handful of Swahili and they could not speak English, but we communicated just fine. Earlier in the morning, the boys learned how to say "hello, what is your name" in Swahili which was returned with gales of laughter when they used it on their new friends. We really liked meeting the children and we appreciated them showing us their school. A lifetime memory without a doubt.
We made our way down to the river where a bridge separated two once feuding tribes. Now the tribes coexist peacefully on each side of the river and pass freely from side to side thanks to the bridge. Let's just say the bridge would not pass Western safety standards. That's probably why our boys loved running back and forth across it. It was a beautiful stop for our guide, Hilary, to explain more about the local people and customs and his many climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The Local Shops
We needed to leave the cool lush surroundings of the forest in favour of walking next to the road to get to get to our next destination. On the way, we passed by local shops, including hair salons, restaurants, supply stores, but the most interesting were the butcher shops. When there is meat in the shop to sell, a white flag is placed outside the door and a drum is beat signally meat is available. The butcher sat behind a small window (no glass) that displayed some hanging meat and skin (which did not look fresh). Two long, rusty, dirty, knives sat on the counter in front of him, ready to cut off "fresh" pieces of meat. Let's just say there is quite a stretch between this butcher shop and the local "boucherie" we love in Europe. But it was interesting to see none the less. Again, one of my favourite things is watching how people are carrying on in their daily lives, and there was plenty to watch on this part of the walk.
The Arabica Coffee Bean
Next stop was lunch located on a local coffee farm. While there, we were lucky enough to see the step-by-step process on how the beans make the transition from the bush all the way to your cup.
A Late Lunch in Kilimanjaro
After sampling the coffee, it was time to eat which was a good thing as we had worked up a healthy appetite. The lunch was at a local home beside the coffee farm. We enjoyed a beautiful setting while eating Al Fresco.
Anytime we leave on a trip to a developing country I am always concerned about getting sick due to food and/or water contamination. Miraculously, these fears tend to slip away once we are on location which is exactly what happened in Tanzania. Our lunch consisted of banana soup, banana curry, beef and rice, wilted garlic spinach, and vegetable salad - all prepared in an outdoor kitchen. At first when I heard "banana soup" I was skeptical but it was delicious as was the rest of the meal. Thankfully the boys are open to eating almost anything put in front of them and this meal was no exception. They really loved it - especially the soup!
Making Our Way To The Waterfall
After we finished eating it was time to make our way back to the lodge. On the way, we were going to stop at a waterfall that was promoted as one of the highlights of the walk. Although the waterfall was worth the stop, it was not the highlight of the walk for us. Meeting the children at the local school, seeing the Chaga people along the way, and experiencing local dishes at lunch in a beautiful setting were far more special.
A few local children joined us for the walk to the waterfall. They giggled and stared at the boys the whole way. It was really sweet. Once we reached the waterfall the children continued on their way and we took a few minutes to enjoy the crashing sound of the water over the falls.
The Forest Was Bursting With Colour
There were many things I was not prepared for in Africa. One of which was the many vibrant flowers we saw along the way bursting with the most vivid colours. When you live in the desert you forget how much colour can make such a difference. Breathtaking.
End of the Day Contemplation While Gazing at Mount Kilimanjaro
Our day came to an end around 6 pm as we made it back to Kaliwa Lodge. The lodge has a beautiful suspended deck, overlooking the foothills and offering the most spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the perfect place to sit and have a drink while thinking about everything we had experienced over the last day and a half. There was a lot to reflect on. We also found out what the screaming noise was we had heard the night before - howler monkeys were jumping from treetop to treetop below us! To finish the night we had a lovely dinner where we enjoyed the company of fellow travelers at the lodge. It was then back to bed to recharge for the transition to the Serengeti the next day.
The Hustle and Bustle on the Streets of Kilimanjaro
The next morning came quickly and it was time to leave Moshi and Kilimanjaro. We had a quick breakfast and started our drive back to Kilimanjaro airport. Seeing our surroundings in daylight was so much better than in total darkness as on our arrival night. I really enjoyed most of our drives in Tanzania (and there were many long ones.) They were generally quite slow and it was often possible to see all the action happening on the street. If I haven't said it enough, I love watching people doing their day to day activities.
Bye For Now Kilimanjaro
It was time to board the plane that would take us to the Serengeti. Did I mention that it was a ten seater prop plane? I thought I would be nervous boarding the plane but I really wasn't at all. We had never been in a plane like this before and it was really quite exciting. Liam was lucky enough to sit in the front beside the pilot. Super cool! And as we made our way up in the sky it was magical to see the top of Mount Meru pop up right beside us. Now on to see the Big 5!