Published: October 4th 2011October 4th 2011
Well, it’s been two months since we arrived in Tanzania and we have just completed the first term of the first semester of the school year here at Msalato. Each semester consists of two 7-week terms with a one-week break for rest and rejuvenation in the middle. Being our first experience, we looked forward to it. We had hoped to go to Zanzibar for a few days with some other ex-pats here, but that proved to be too expensive as we would have had to charter a plane from Arusha to pick us up and take us to Zanzibar and pay too much extra. So we made alternative plans.
Charles and Mary Worsley, two retired Anglican pastors from New Zealand, were disappointed in the cancellation also and were planning to do something else in its place. They seemed very adventurous and so we talked together about what we could do and came up with a plan. We decided to embark on a 5-day trek to Ruaha National Park. Ruaha is located in the south about 115 km west of Iringa and is a favourite of those who have visited a few parks.
We left Msalato on Monday morning, Sept.26th at about
Shopping in Iringa
Rob checking our newest in running shoe
9:00 am. In Africa there is a road that meanders through the entire continent, north from Cairo, Egypt and south to Cape Town, South Africa. And within Tanzania it travels from Arusha through Dodoma to Iringa, passing right by Msalato. However, the Tanzania section is currently not paved and is very rough. So to get to Iringa we had to take a round-a-bout route through Morogoro on paved roads. Consequently, our trip to Iringa took two days. You don’t drive in Africa after dark as it is just too dangerous, and while driving in Africa, one has to not only watch out for trucks and oncoming cars, but also villagers walking and bicycling along the side of the road with their cargoes of wood for charcoal and bags of maize other needed supplies. Roads are two lanes and you pass through many villages that force you to slow down to an almost stop, for bone-crushing speed bumps. So traveling anywhere is often a slow journey – all the more time to enjoy the very scenic countryside.
Upon arrival in our first stop-off, Morogoro, we hoped to find lodging at the St. Thomas Guest House, but as they were having a
convention, there was no room in the Inn. However, we have slated it for a future stopover, as it is very beautiful with acres of gardens and magnificent trees. We settled for another hotel, the Hilux, which had very nice rooms with hot showers and flush toilets. Once we got organized, we explored Morogoro as none of us had visited this city before. It is quite a prosperous town by African standards which is probably due to the fact that they are situated in an area with adequate rainfall. Many of the produce we get in Dodoma comes from there. The next morning we were up early and off to Iringa.
While traveling to Iringa we passed through Mikumi National Park where we saw our first African animals including baboons, giraffes, zebras, and gazelles just off the side of the highway. It was very exciting. We arrived in Iringa at about 2:00 and after having lunch, we contemplated whether or not to make the trek to Ruaha along a very rough road. It was now 3pm and we were told it could take up to three hours to reach the Park and we had no reservations. We had to decide
if we wanted to risk getting a place before dark or waiting until the next day. We looked for divine guidance and then felt confident to begin the adventurous journey. Mary and Charles were up for the challenge. The road was as rough as we had been told. However, our little Rav4 did not let us down.
We were looking for a camp in our guide book called Tungamalenga that was supposed to be situated about 35 km outside the park. We must have missed the sign and when we were about 30 km from the park gates we saw another sign to a lodge, the Sifa Safari Campsite, not suggested in our book, but which advertised tented bandas, flush toilets and hot showers. This enticed us to investigate as it was almost 6pm and getting close to dark. Upon entering the gates, we were met by Vanista, the manager, who showed us his banda lodgings. This banda is a tent structure on a cement foundation with thatched roofing overtop with solar-powered electricity. The lodging included ‘full board’ (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Well, things just seemed to be turning out in our favour as the accommodation was more than
Bedtime in Banda
Bedtime for Jeannie in Banda at Sifa
expected and our stay was perfect. Dinner was served in an open dining banda served by lanterns as the solar battery for electric power in the dining banda had run out of energy. Vanista collected us at our banda and escorted us to the dining lodge. The evening meal of beef stroganoff, a noodle dish and rice vegetable was amazing considering Vanista had to bring in his staff of one to quickly accommodate us, his only guests that night. The meal concluded with a campfire under a million stars. Breakfast the next morning included eggs, toast, fruit, a wonderful cinnamon roll and lots of coffee. Vanista was a wonderful host and we all agreed that we would recommend this place to anyone.
By 8am we embarked again on our adventure into the park and drove to the Ruaha River Lodge, a place we had read about in our guide book and who others had recommended. It was rather expensive, but as we planned to stay only one night and they offered us the Tanzanian resident rate we decided to do it. It was special to be considered Tanzanian. Well, we thought that last night’s accommodations were special; this was even
more so. These bandas were even more elaborate – built of stone with thatched roofs and lots of screened windows. They were very large with amazing bathrooms with hot showers and flush toilets, and sitting areas and verandas overlooking the almost dried up river that was visited regularly by lions, elephants, gazelle and baboons. Again, the lodging included lunch, dinner and breakfast in an open dining lodge.
While eating lunch just after our arrival, our host, Nick, pointed out two lionesses lounging under a shade tree across the river; our first experience being close enough to being eaten ourselves. After lunch we booked a safari from 2 to 6:30 pm. Our vehicle was an open truck and included our own guide and a driver. We felt confident having two experienced guides in this exposed vehicle. Charles, Mary, Jeannie and Rob were the only clients. Like the rest of our trip to this point the safari did not disappoint. We saw an amazing variety of animals, birds, and plant life with wonderful commentary along the way. The pictures highlight many of the animals, but actually being there close up with wildlife in their natural habitat was an experience of a life
time, especially driving within 5 feet of a male lion under a tree and within 20 feet of a family of elephants resting their young under a shade tree. We saw giraffe, many gazelles, African buffalo, banded mongoose, zebras, lizards, baboons, warthogs, hippos, crocodiles and lots of birds. A bonus was spotting a leopard resting in a tree close to his kill (a gazelle) which was hanging much farther up in the tree. This whole area is very dry, except near the very low river, as it is in Dodoma, but our guide told us that during the rainy season it is lush and green. We look forward to the rainy season to see the contrast. It was over far too soon, and we returned just after 6:30 completely enthralled with our experience.
But we couldn’t linger on it and had to quickly shower and be ready for our evening meal by 7:30 pm. Like the night before, we were escorted to dinner and back to our bandas for our own safety as the animals roam around the campsite in the evenings. But this time our escort was a Masai warrior in full tribal dress, including his spear. He was
in charge of picking up six of us including Mary and Charles and was quite a friendly fellow who spoke English well, as we chatted easily on the path to dinner. We discovered that he is also a guide for this lodge – a versatile Masai. Of course he escorted us back afterwards, too.
The next morning at breakfast, there was a buzz around the lodge about the lioness that had roamed and roared around the camp during the night. Jeannie heard what she thought was an elephant close by, but it must have been the lioness. We now know why they told us not to leave our bandas after dark.
Well, our trip to this point was more than we expected, but we knew we had to start heading back. Fortunately, we were able to take another road back to Iringa away from the outside-the-park lodgings. Thank goodness, it was a lot smoother. Our plan was to stop for lunch in Iringa and then drive to the VETA Training College/Tourist Information Centre and Lodge in the town of Mikumi that we had visited on our way through. We arrived just before dark and booked into a very comfortable room
and enjoyed a pleasant buffet in an outside dining banda.
The accommodations, including the outside cooking and eating area, was all part of the vocational school on the premises. The campus accommodates about 4000 students, 3000 living on campus and another 1000 living nearby. The school includes carpentry, auto-mechanics, electricity, hotel management, secretarial, and brick-laying. One of the brick-laying students we met was a Catholic sister who took her course in full nun attire. She was the only woman in the course. There are about twenty of these schools around the country and the tuition for full board is about Tsh300,000, which is about $210. The schools are supported by the government.
The individual that greeted us on our arrival joined us after our meal and talked at length about the school and its’ partnership with a vocational school in Halifax, NS. He was very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of history, not only about the school, but about Tanzania as well. He offered to meet us the next morning and give us a tour of the school. We couldn’t pass up this opportunity to visit a secular school and found it very interesting and informative. It showed
us that Tanzania is definitely making progress. This was another bonus to our trip. After our tour, we continued on our way to Morogoro and then onto Dodoma. We arrived home at about 4:00 pm. It was certainly a quick trip, but jam- packed with all kinds of wonderful experiences.
During the week before our trip and while we were away, we had the cement floors of our home painted, along with touch-ups throughout the house where needed. We also had our counter tops replaced as they were all ripped and cracked and in awful repair. We gave the work to Alpha, a student at St. John’s University who needed money to help pay for his final term and to our carpenter, Meshak, who had already done some work for us. Alpha also patched our roof where necessary to prepare our home for the upcoming rainy season when they can get some heavy torrents. Peter, who looks after our very large yard, took advantage of the week off school to plant gardens around the property, and enhanced the yard with some stone work. We now have many more flowers around the house and lovely little patches of cacti and other
Relaxing in the Banda
Relaxing in the Ruaha River lodger banda
flora. Peter is studying to be a pastor and works very hard to support his family. His wife Nelly works in the office at the college and they have a 10-month-old son. He also spends his Saturdays in Dodoma with the kids at Compassion who are from the street or who have families that can’t provide for them. All three did an amazing job for which we are very grateful. Now our house feels much more homey and comfortable. Moti also came in on Thursday to clean up after Alpha and Meshak , and on Friday to prepare a meal for our arrival that evening. She also did some laundry. We couldn’t do without her.
Well, it is back to work this week and until the next holiday at the end of November, when the college will be closed for a two-month semester break. Rob’s job has changed this week, as the college is now including a new education program from St. John’s University and he will be taking on one of the courses. He is very keen on this program and is busy preparing the course outline and lessons for classes beginning next week. After visiting the university a
Escort to dinner
couple times, he is very impressed with the campus and library. Both are very neat, clean and up to date. In this endeavour to incorporate programs outside the theological realm, Msalato would be able to procure much needed financial support from the government.
If anyone wants to view all our Reids African Mission pictures, you are most welcome (karibu) at:
There are more photos below