2012 brought me several challenges that I never expected to encounter during my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It tested my commitment, will, and faith to remain in the program. With the support of my husband, family and friends inside and out of Peace Corps, the Peace Corps staff, and even a family who became my family within Tanzania, I was able to push through these trying times and have some really spectacular experiences here. Below are the adventures in 2012 that I find to be my top memories. It’s hard to only select 12, but I tried to choose the 12 that are a once in a lifetime experiences. These are not ranked in any order, simply listed.
1. Matema Beach
Situated on the northern shore of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) is a relaxed and minimally developed beach town. The Livingstone mountain range envelops you as you skip into the lake to prevent the sand from burning your feet. To the west, you can see the country of Malawi. I rang in 2012 skinny dipping in Lake Nyasa with about 40 other volunteers. The first minutes of the New Year were spent being thrown a few feet into the air by 3-4 strong men and splashing down into the lake. An action we coined as “launching”. Turn after turn was afforded to daring and adventurous people launching themselves into the New Year. People slowly exited the lake and cozied up alongside a beach camp fire for hours into the night. This beautiful lakeshore was fully explored with beachside walks, snorkeling to find cichlids, and kayaking.
2. Loleza Peak
Loleza Peak rises up at 8,714 feet elevation and towers in the distance of the southwestern city of Mbeya. After several false starts, we finally managed to get on the right trail which brings hikers to the towering peak. The day was memorable climbing with so many friends, new and old. We walked through farms, greeting farmers and mamas along the way. We ate wild berries off bushes and relaxed with phenomenal views of Mbeya. The steep route we chose to the summit included a straight vertical climb without any gear in which I thought that I would surely plummet to my death. We rewarded our survival by combining our food and making a trail mix at the summit.
More about this on a previous post: http://tanzanianology.blogspot.com/2012/08/mbeya.html
3. Discovering Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam is bustling full of crowded mini buses and hidden gems scattered around the city. I spent countless days and trips in the economic capital city of Tanzania discovering the cheapest and tastiest places to eat, the best entertainment to be found, beaches, and more. I learned my way around the city and while it is not one of my favorite cities in the world, it’s nice to feel comfortable while visiting.
4. Mbamba Bay
Mbamba Bay is another quaint town located on the shores of Lake Nyasa. It takes several days from most parts of Tanzania to reach this fishing town. Mbamba Bay takes top 12 because it is a town where life is revolved around the success of the fisherman. As you walk the pebbled shores of Lake Nyasa, you are constantly greeted in Swahili by men repairing their fishing nets, women washing their clothes in the lake, and children sneaking a peak at the white people in town. The few days in Mbamba bay were relaxing with a canoe ride, swimming, and hiking.
I visited the Serengeti in time to witness the great migration of the wildebeest. Over a million wildebeest migrate north to Kenya. I was awed by the harmony that the zebra and hundreds upon hundreds of wildebeest find with each other. They traveled in single file lines parading across the vast plains of the Serengeti. Their calls to each other were loud, so loud. Let’s not forget the elusive leopard we saw up close, nor the herds of elephants, babies and all. The hippopotamus out of water is an entertaining site – like a huge pig gracefully moving overland. From the dikdiks to the impalas, to the hyenas, lions, and water buffalo. The Serengeti is like having a front row seat to the best zoo in the world.
6. Pride Rock (Gangilonga Rock)
This beautiful bit of rock is known by Peace Corps volunteers as Pride Rock, like that out of the Lion King. It is locally known as Gangilonga Rock and it is a peaceful place to walk to and get a view of Iringa town and the surrounding hills covered in large boulders and rocks. When you reach the top after a simple climb up, you don’t question why the chief of the local tribe used to come here to meditate. It’s difficult to locate the trailhead if you do not speak any Swahili and as such there are only ever a few other Tanzanians sharing the view with you.
An old post about Iringa: http://tanzanianology.blogspot.com/2011/12/iringa.html
7. Cross-culture project of letter writing
One of my success stories of living, working, and traveling in Tanzania is certainly the pen pal system I created at the end of the Tanzanian school year. Over 40 letters from Tanzanian students went out to 5 different countries. It was a most memorable moment to watch my students light up and write their letters. I am looking forward to see their joy return again when they receive a response from a faraway land.
More on writing letters: http://tanzanianology.blogspot.com/2012/12/writing-letters.html
8. Ngozi Crater
As the name suggests, Ngozi crater was formed by a volcano that collapsed over a million and a half years ago. Right after the new year, we hiked up this beautiful mountain and saw chameleons, monkeys, and butterflies along the way. Once you summit, you are rewarded with spectacular views of a lake that is about 650 feet below the summit.
9. Ngorongoro Crater
The view of Ngorongoro crater from our campsite was breathtaking (not to mention cold and windy!). Ngorongoro was spectacular and the highlights included seeing male lions up close and seeing “The Big 5”. We saw one of the rare rhinoceroses in the park that cool morning. The water buffalo herds were abundant!
This small hike out of Songea town gives views as far as the eye can see! There was no wildlife along the way, but sitting at the top was so peaceful.
11. Time well spent with friends
One of the rewards of living in Tanzania is finding similar minded people to hang out with. These people who also travel Tanzania and live all over the huge country are the best sources of travel advice and information you can receive. We shared several holidays and parties hanging out with these fine people. Many a memory was shared and support received!
More about this during the month of December here: http://tanzanianology.blogspot.com/2012_12_01_archive.html
12. Gombe Stream National Park
Okay, so I said I wasn’t ranking these in any order. Which is true. Until now. Gombe Stream National Park was by far, the best trip I have taken not only in 2012, but in all of Tanzania, and possibly for wildlife viewing, in the entire world. We spent only two nights in this park and got a sneak preview of baboon-viewing. The next day, we were guided and observed chimpanzees only a few feet away from us. We watched them for a long time – they groomed, they played, they masterbated (yes, they really did), they mated, they ate, they chased each other, they made calls. It was fantastic. Their calls will echo in my mind forever. In addition to viewing the chimpanzees, being in a place of such scientific significance where few visitors to Tanzania will ever make the journey is a once in a lifetime experience. It was a long, treacherous journey to the wild wild west of Tanzania, but one that was well worth the 4 days of buses.
More on Gombe here: http://tanzanianology.blogspot.com/2012/07/gombe-stream-national-park-ii.html
Thank you 2012 for a memorable year. In 2013, we are planning snorkeling off the island of Pemba and a safari to Ruaha National park, and flower viewing at Kitulo National Park!