| May 27, 2016 |
I genuinely feel blessed for my experience in Tanzania. From volunteer Physical Therapy mission work to exploring Arusha to safaris in Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park, EduTours Africa surpassed my expectations for the two-week journey. I left Tanzania feeling incredibly inspired, with a renewed sense of energy. Prior to leaving for this trip, I was feeling STUCK – missing my family in New York, and lacking spunk in my daily routine. In fact, I was in too much of a routine; I wasn’t feeling challenged, and I was unfulfilled in many areas. When I got home from Tanzania, I had a revival of my life perspective and was awakened to my desires, which I now have the courage and strength to pursue.
The landscapes, wildlife, and natural wonders in Tanzania reminded me of the unimaginable, unthinkable, unfathomable beauty afar. I know my heart will bring me back to Tanzania, and I am forever connected to the people who welcomed me so full-heartedly – especially the staff and students I worked with at Step by Step. I also recognize this is only the beginning of my worldly connection, my adventures in 2016, and a blissful life. Though the year is almost halfway done, I can sense the remainder of the year will be powerfully inspiring and fulfilling.
With all that being said, I’d like to share some general closing thoughts and recommendations if you’re considering travel to Tanzania (and East Africa).
Let’s take care of business first. Let’s face it, you’re thinking about how UNSAFE it must’ve been in Tanzania, and how travel in Africa is “risky” to begin with. It’s really quite untrue, and I’d like to debunk that myth! Of course, there are some necessary precautions when traveling to Tanzania, Africa, but I overall felt safe the entire time! Nonetheless, here are some travel/safety tips:
- DO NOT drink tap water – elect for boiled or bottled water.
- DO NOT carry around too many flashy valuables. Do you WANT to attract people? This should just be a general guideline for traveling anyways. Put your DSLR camera in your bag, please!
- BE AWARE children WILL beg for money.
- TRAVEL SMART. It’s best to travel in groups in the towns, or with a local. When shopping at local markets, the prices are guaranteed to be increased for a “mzungu” (us people of European descent).
- DO NOT eat fresh veggies or raw meat. Make sure it’s all cooked. I did not follow this at Kimemo Holdings Ltd., where we were served the most incredible fresh salad. But, that’s only because the coffee plantation had its own filtered water (and I couldn’t say no to these avocados and cucumbers):
Traveling to/From Tanzania
When heading to Tanzania, I stopped for 24 hours in Amsterdam to break up the trip. Our itinerary in general included the following airports: Fort Lauderdale(FLL) Atlanta(ATL) Amsterdam(AMS) Kilimanjaro(JRO).
Once arriving at JRO, we were fingerprinted and photographed for our visas (we had submitted paperwork before arriving) as getting a visa is a requirement for entry into Tanzania. According to the U.S. Department of State, you also must have “a passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond visa issuance and/or date of entry, and at least one blank visa page.”
When leaving Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro (JRO) airport, most flights (I found no exceptions) must first stop at Dar es Salaam. Our flight took a 1-hour stop (we didn’t actually get off the plane) at Dar es Salaam to refuel and load more passengers. This certainly lengthens the trip, and may not print on your itinerary, so be aware!
Traveling Within Tanzania
There is a combination of paved and gravel/dirt roads in Africa and level of unpredictability with traveling on ground in Tanzania. Of course, this adds to the excitement overall, but definitely makes it hard to count on ground travel. We actually left Outpost Lodge seven hours early for our flight out of JRO in order to make sure we got to the airport on time. This level of challenging unpredictability may be too much for some people, but people some people frankly don’t care. Liam Walls is an adventurous traveler who wrote a memoir, Faster To Fly, documenting his five-month hitchhiking journey across Africa. So, if you’re up for the unpredictable challenge of traveling on ground, you’ll be sure to find cheap public transportation – whether it be pre-arranged or spontaneous. (In his book, Liam Walls also debunks aforementioned myth that Africa is DANGEROUS. Wrong, wrong, wrong!)
Another option to ground transportation is – you guessed it – by air! Arusha Airport (ARK) is a smaller airport running flights within Tanzania. A friend of mine (visit her on Instagram @adventures_of_snax) traveled to Serengeti National Park via plane after our adventures based out of Arusha, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park. So it’s up to you – bumpy, unpredictable ground transportation; or plain-ol’ air transit?
If you have the opportunity to stay in any of the three locations my group experienced, you’re a lucky ducky. Honestly, I pictured extremely rustic lodging situations with limited running water and electricity in Africa. I thought I’d have to walk to the bathroom, sleep in a cot, or build a fire or something. So, I packed light (32L backpack + camera bag) and brought imperative supplies (headlamp + wipes + toiletries). But… this was not the case (do you sense my slight disappointment in our pristine accommodations?). Though none of our accommodations had air conditioning (fans were perfect!), I felt like we were living in luxury. The following three lodges/tented camps were beyond expectations in more ways than one:
- Outpost Lodge, Arusha.
Lush greenery and flowers, a refreshing pool, and delicious dinner buffets were just a few highlights of this location. Walkable from this lodge includes: a small gift shop (negotiable, good prices), ice cream/steak chain restaurant (AMAZING SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM), bank/ATM, and fruit/vegetable stand. Though this is not five-star hotel standards, the beauty shall not be undermined. We stayed at this lodge for a majority of our time in Tanzania, and served as our central spot for Arusha explorations during our volunteer time.
- Ngorongoro Farm House, Ngorongoro Crater.
Woah, woah, woah – holy delicious food! Want to enjoy a buffet of fresh, organic fruits and veggies after a day of safari? Want to be greeted with a cocktail and warm towel? Want to wake up to fresh coffee from an on-site coffee plantation? Want to have your OWN cabin with beyond spacious floor plans? AND sleep in the fluffiest bed with bountiful pillows? Then this place is for you. There’s also a pool, spa (not a bad idea after bumpy safari rides), and complimentary tea/coffee available after hours. I wish we got to spend more time here because it was truly relaxing. On our night of arrival, a local tribe performed their traditional songs and dances around a bonfire. This stop was a real treat!
- Maramboi Tented Camp, Tarangire National Park.
If you were “wowed” by the above accommodation, prepare to have your world ROCKED at this “tented camp.” I pictured sleeping in a tent on a pile of grass/mud, so when we rolled up to giant cabins with canvas covering, I was a wee bit disappointed by how NON-rustic it was. I got over this quickly. The 40 “tents” are in the middle of a plain dotted with zebras, wildebeest, and giraffes with Lake Manyara and mountains of Rift Valley in the background. The views from our individual cabin/tents were indescribable, with dramatic sunlight looming over palm trees in the morning and evening light. The evening also brought happy hour (free cocktails until 7pm), and a sunrise spectacular from the deck of an infinity pool. I trick you not, this was real life. We were all in awe.
The Constant “Wow”
Tanzania was a non-stop “wow” trip for me. I felt welcomed by everyone I encountered, and truly felt home. I never thought a two-week journey would spark so much inspiration inside of me, nor that I would feel so connected with the country and its people.
Why I Will Return
I will undoubtedly return to Tanzania. In my mind, I have unfinished business. Firstly, I didn’t get to visit Step by Step school where I volunteered as a Physical Therapist. The teachers and students from Step by Step traveled to Outpost Lodge for education sessions due to the rainy weather and inaccessibility of the school. Secondly, there is a shift happening in Tanzania where previous, traditional perceptions of individuals with disabilities are changing to a more positive light. This means there may be more opportunity and demand for rehabilitation services, and therefore more room for Physical Therapists like me to make an impact. Perhaps rather than children with disabilities ending up in isolation and without an education, they will be given the same potential as an able-bodied individual. This vision needs support and resources for its success, but I can certainly see this revolution happening in the near future.
For more personal reasons, I also plan to return to Tanzania to: hike Mount Kilimanjaro, visit Serengeti National Park, spot a leopard (the only animal of the “Big Five” I didn’t see!), go on a mountain biking safari (yes, really), and camp for REAL (not in one of those posh “tents” with running water).
Until next time, Tanzania…
Other Tanzania Posts:
13 Ways I Fell In Love With Tanzania
Mt. Meru Waterfall Hike, Arusha
Must-See In Arusha, Tanzania
My Physical Therapy Mission Trip
Mission Trip Wisdom: Do’s And Don’ts
East Africa Safari: Ngorongoro Crater
East Africa Safari: Tarangire National Park
Going On A Safari? (Guide)