Monday, February 1, 2016

Kaributena Berega - welcome back

Hey all
It has been so long.
Here's an update as to what we've been up to.

‪On November 29‬, the two of us set off from our lovely little village of Berega to the big city, and for the first time since we'd arrived in Tanzania, we truly went to a BIG city, and not just the little city we normally visit. Dar Es Salaam. 6 hours on bus supposedly, but we have to remind ourselves that everything takes longer than you plan for when in Africa (and especially Tanzania, from what we have experienced). On this eventful Sunday, we left Berega ‪at 5am‬ on a bus to Morogoro, where we were given the option of waiting for hours and hours for a bus with two available seats on it to Dar or paying an overpriced fare for a luxury bus with one seat. Being two people (and especially knowing that the ride would take 4-5 hours), we opted to wait until there was a bus with seating to accommodate the both of us. Weird, I know. We didn't arrive into Dar until close to ‪8pm‬, but at least we arrived. We ate a delicious dinner at Mamboz around the corner from our hotel (seriously, if you're ever in Dar, eat at Mamboz) and then retired from our exhausting, albeit fairly uneventful, day of traveling. We were ready to pick up our friend Hannah from the airport the next day and begin our travels! :) Unfortunately, Tanzania was not quite ready for us to begin our fun. So ‪Monday afternoon‬, on our way to the airport, our taxi was stopped by askari (police). Seeing our foreign faces, you could almost see the dollar signs in this guy's eyes. He asked for our passports and when we couldn't produce them (they were in our hotel), ordered us to get out of the taxi, and told our taxi driver to leave us as we would be "taken into custody". Mike argued with the guy, as I quietly quaked next to him, that we weren't stupid enough to take our passports out into a city as dangerous as Dar. Anyway, the guy tried to yell at us, argue with Mike, give us the cold shoulder, and when he realized Mike wasn't going to budge and pay him a bribe, he finally told us to get back into our taxi but never make the same mistake again. You got it.
That was probably the most eventful thing that happened during our travels. It made for a good story and also allowed us to heap praises onto our taxi driver, who refused to leave us at the scene and even told the askari, "I cannot leave these people. I am contracted to take them to the airport, pick up their friend, and bring them back to the hotel. I will not leave them until they are safely back at their hotel." What a nice guy :)

The rest of our travels went like this:

We took a train from Dar to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia. It was long, but it could have been a lot longer (the train here is super unreliable and we have heard horror stories of it taking 5-7 days to reach Zambia when it should only take 2-3). We wanted to take this very scenic route, and it proved to be really beautiful. As opposed to taking the Tanzam Highway by bus, we got to see some really remote and really gorgeous landscapes. We also got to sleep on the train, which cut down on hotel stays for us.
Our destination in Zambia was Livingstone, the town that accesses Victoria Falls. We arrived after some grueling buses following the aforementioned train. We spent the first afternoon/evening settling in to the town, eating some wonderful Italian food, and even partaking in some gelato. (We continued to eat at this restaurant every day that we stayed in Livingstone.) The next day, we went to Victoria Falls Zam side, where the falls left a bit to be desired. It hadn't rained much (at all) in the months preceding our trip, but this worked out in our favor because it made it possible to visit the Devil's Pool, a shallow and natural pool that sits on top of the falls and literally brings you to the very edge of the falls. When we posed for pictures, our hands went over the falls; luckily, the current wasn't strong enough to drag you over and kill you due to such little rainfall. :)

The next day, we decided to walk the distance from the Zam side of the park to the Zim side. Paid a single entry visa into Zimbabwe, went to the park, saw some amazingly full falls, and walked around town a bit. It was beautiful! Seriously. The park on this side was way more abundant in its falls than the Zam side, even if the Zam side has all the fun things (i.e., Devil's Pool) to do. Honestly, I don't know which day was better. They were both awesome.

The following day, we took advantage of the fact that Botswana is only an hour's drive from our hotel in Zambia and went to Chobe National Park just over the border in Botswana. A wonderful perk is that US citizens don't pay for a visa into Botswana. The guides at Chobe told us that it has over 120,000 elephants - the most of any park in Africa. How cool! We saw so many elephants, hippos, buffalo, water buck, antelope, warthogs, giraffes, etc., etc., but the elephants were definitely the coolest (and the cutest - just imagine all those little babies!). Half the day was spent in a river cruise, and the other half was a game drive. It was totally fun.

Back to Tanzania
The trip back was long. That's all you have to know. We stopped in Mbeya to try to go to a national park that was set aside for just wild flowers, but to no avail. We continued on to Iringa, where we went to a Stone Age site (we didn't get the guide, so therefore didn't learn much of anything about this aspect) with a whole bunch of awesome canyons. They refer to it in our Rough Guide book as the "Little Grand Canyon". It was cool, because we trekked along in the forest until we got to the canyons and then had access to climb down into them and walk amongst all the canyon-ness. It was something we regretted not seeing the last time we were in Iringa, and it was cheap enough and not too much of a hassle to get to - all around, well worth the day spent enjoying it.
After that, we kind of slowly made our way back up to Dar to drop Hannah back off at the airport. It was a sad parting, but I'm pretty sure she was glad to get back to normal buses and normal toilets and normal standards of cleanliness and cooler weather.

Moshi was beautiful. Our terrible YMCA hotel had the wonderful advantage of having views of Kilimanjaro every morning and evening (when the skies were clear). We ate some more delicious food (this was a big perk throughout our trip, as you can imagine that variations on beans and rice for every meal gets a bit old, especially after 5 months), and we paid a deposit to climb the Big One during our spring break in late March. (We're supposed to be practicing right now for that, but we won't talk about that.)

Mike and I were a tad disappointed by Arusha, only because I guess we had heard wonderful things about everything there is to do and we mostly felt it was a place to get harassed by tour guides who tried ridiculously hard to get you to commit to an overpriced safari. I'm sure it would've been sweet, but with Kili on our minds, we just didn't want to spend an additional killing on another safari. The one perk of Arusha: tanzanite. Gorgeous.

We made it to Lushoto on Christmas Eve, and boy are we glad we left the concrete jungle of Arusha to do so. Lushoto was about a 4-5 hour bus from Arusha, the last 1-2 hours on a single lane road winding up the Usambara Mountains. Holy cow! - it was amazing. The weather cooled, the mountains were so beautiful, and we ate peaches and plums for the first time in months (ok, years because they're just not our favorites, but they tasted SO GOOD here - probably just perspective). Lushoto is a cute and quiet town, and it's the base for all kinds of good hikes through the Usambara Mountains. We scheduled a short hike for Christmas day to Irente Viewpoint - 1,000 meters above sea level and overlooking the Maasai steppe. It was beautiful.
We slept great and woke up the next day ready for a 3-day hike up the mountains to a small village called Mtae (2,000 meters). This was one thing that we had read about in our Rough Guide and were really looking forward to - and it did not disappoint. We hiked for 6-7 hours the first day, took a bus for what was supposed to be 1 hour but ended up being a lot longer, I think, and made it to a quiet convent tucked away in the beauty of the mountains, where we stayed the night. The next day, we hiked another 6-7 hours until we made it to Mtae. All of the viewpoints along the way were just jaw-droppingly stunning, but the best was from the village itself. We made it there for sunset and just enjoyed that view for an hour or so before letting ourselves feel exhausted and going back to the hotel to sleep. We woke up at sunrise to check it out again, but we were stuck in the clouds and couldn't see much of anything, so we let our bodies recuperate some more until later in the morning. That third day we just walked around the village, saw some more different lookouts, and went back to the best one for sunset again. This was seriously the best part of our trip. Everything was so beautiful and worth feeling sore over. The fourth morning, we woke up early to take a bus back to Lushoto and on to our final destination before home.

Ok, so when we were on our way to Zanzibar, and even on the ferry, we talked a bit about spending a couple of days in Stone Town and then a couple of days on the beach, but pretty much once we arrived in Stone Town and saw the dizzying, maze-like array of streets and alleys, we decided we were perfectly content to stay in this friendly city for the duration of our stay on the island. Stone Town was super cool with its nice locals and of course plenty of tourists, as well as the best street food I've ever had. Nutella-banana-Snickers pizza? Sure, why not? And even though it sounds like the most disgusting thing ever, it was heavenly. Veg samosas and sweet potatoes and all the things we normally can't get - along with sugar cane juice to top it off. (If it sounds like I'm talking way too much about food, refer back to our normal daily beans and rice, ok?) It was definitely worth the 10-day-long sickness (needing antibiotics) that was to follow.
We went on a couple of day tours - to Prison Island and a spice tour - both of which were pretty cool, though not nearly as cool as just spending time getting lost in Stone Town. We bought a ton of souvenirs, mostly artwork, that we would never find on mainland Tanzania, and even though it's a super touristy town and all the vendors started their asking prices super high, they were happy to cut it into a third or half if it meant we would buy it. (We now have a lot of cool artwork for our future house.)
Zanzibar was a totally different feel from the mainland, and I could see it becoming its own country one of these days.

We were sad to leave, but the next part of our trip meant coming home, which we were feeling increasingly more and more ready for. As much fun as it was to travel, sometimes we really just wanted to sleep in our own bed and have the option of not doing things for a couple of days.

So now we're home! And we just finished our second week back at school. It was certainly a rocky start, without enough tables, chairs, and even classrooms for our kids. But now we are settling in, getting to know our students and letting them get to know us. Mike is teaching kids he knew last year because they were a part of the main building - Standard 2 and Standard 4. I'm teaching kids who I mostly don't know from last year, namely because they were still a part of kindergarten (now Standard 1), and their English is a bit lacking, but that was to be expected. Luckily I've got some great kids and focusing most of the day around English instruction, so hopefully they'll pick it up quickly.

Oh! And some really great news. Our Standard 4 took their first ever national exams in late November, and we finally got their test results: #1 in the district!!! We are super proud of them and hoping to be able to make this a trend in the coming years :)

More later!


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