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- 10 January 2020 - Travel Scholarship

On the 27th July 2019, the World Challenge expedition team and I boarded our flight to Dar Es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania. After months of training, preparation and fundraising, the beginning of the adventure finally begun. With our group being ‘Project Independence’, the organisation and management was left down to our teams which were split into various categories, leaving me with the task of organising and budgeting for accommodation.

The first few days were spent in the city, gathering supplies, acclimatising and working in our groups to book the aspects of the trip we were responsible for. The city was bustling with culture as we explored fruit and vegetable markets and spoke to locals to find out the best locations for meals and hostels. We noticed the contrast of city life in London compared to Tanzania as the majority of the locals worked at stalls in the city making every street a hotspot for social interaction. We quickly got used to the blazing heat and over our exhaustion from the flight as we tried to learn key Swahili phrases for the rest of our trip and make the final touches on our bookings.

By day four, we had begun a 10-hour drive to Tona, a small village located on the South-Pare Mountains. We ascended up the mountains, skimming the edges before reaching a beautiful tree house where we would be camping and attending acclimatisation treks to prepare for our larger and more challenging trek phase further into the trip. Our stay consisted of three treks around seven to eight hours long further up the mountains into the dense jungle and viewing the scenery of Northern Tanzania.

Included in the treks, we visited waterfalls, high viewpoints including the rock where the Lion King was based upon, historical settlements in the village and even a cave which we climbed into, learning it was once used by slaves to hide from Masai men hunting their cattle, the writings still preserved. We had grown used to treating/filtering our water and the limited access to good hygiene while camping, washing each item of clothing in any water source we could find. When camping, we had to cook food for the whole team and wash up, keeping ourselves busy and organised.

During the stay at Tona Lodge, a senior official in the Tanzanian government visited Tona Lodge and even handed us awards for helping in their efforts to give back to the community which we were very appreciative and honoured to receive as locals watched and listened to her speech in awe during the ceremony.

We departed from Tona and travelled to the town of Arusha, stopping for the night as we prepared for our project phase in a Masai tribe. We ate the Tanzanian dish called ‘Zege’ which consisted of a chip omelette, preparing us for the upcoming days. After a few hours journey, we arrived in Moita and travelled into the desolate Serengeti savannah environment to get to our main project phase staying with a Masai tribal village. We were greeted with a traditional Swahili dance and set up camp for the next 5 days. As well as the beautiful sights, we were all nervous to stay in such an open atmosphere in the middle of the savannah where lions lurked but were reassured that the Masai men were notorious for scaring them off, even visibly showing us their facial scars which is a rite of passage by standing off against a lion.

During our project phase we were helping to build a women’s empowerment centre and classroom as the children did not have access to a school. We spent hours in the sun mixing cement and rendering walls to help the process. Our team also thought of some other ways we could help the community including building a shelter for the litter of puppies from the stray guard dogs, picking up litter around the area and building a swing for the children to use. As well as sticking to our jobs across our stay, we tried to immerse ourselves into the culture by cooking with the women, helping them make jewellery to sell and building up relationships with the children who loved the attention.

It was so empowering to watch a culture with very traditional views on their conjugal roles to build a women empowerment centre which we felt very grateful to be a part of. As much as I felt we had helped the village and the individuals within, I really felt as if they helped me to be a part of something I have never done before and teaching me memorable lessons through their kind nature and altruistic attitudes. It was sad to bid farewell to a village I would never forget but hoped that I could come back in the future to see the centre we had helped to build and how that would impact the local children and families of the village. Some of the children even left me a drawing in my notebook which I have already stuck on my wall at home to remember them!

We set off for our camping and trekking phase in Moshi. This phase was by far the most challenging and a phase we were all apprehensive about. As we completed our treks, we would carry all our belongings to the next camping spot, trek the next day and camp where we get up to etc. The treks were at a steep incline and usually lasted around 10 hours. The treks brought us to 2,700 metres above sea level which made the conditions cold and the altitude taking some getting used to. One of the hardest aspects of the trek phase was having to set up camp for a night and then pack it all up and carry it for the next trek and do the same habitual routine for three nights and four long, tiring days.We were all physically challenged by this phase but with immense support we managed to make it through with our trek guides and leaders and felt accomplished once we completed our main journey. Carrying all of our belongings including group medical kit, our tents and the group food bag meant a much heavier load, but we managed to distribute the equipment and push through.

Journeying out to Monduli for our safari phase where we would visit the Ngorongoro crater (the largest in the world formed by an asteroid and spanning 60km wide and filled with wildlife) was exciting as we knew we had the hardest phases over. We camped near the crater, enduring a night of biting ant infested tents to wake up at 5am for our six hour safari. The safari was mesmerising in a fog immersed crater with salt lakes and beautiful natural habitats. In those six hours, we saw lions, giraffes, African elephants, hippos, ostriches, zebras and so many more animals I had the privilege to view up close. The Ngorongoro crater was a protected national park as we appreciated how preserved the animals and environment were, feeling very responsive to the untouched tusks on the elephants and the strict rules on littering, something our group were extremely happy about.

After our safari we managed an 11-hour drive to the coast for our snorkelling phase where we explored a coral reef around the island of Cinder off a fishing boat and witnessed the ecosystem and beautiful sea creatures as well as being stung multiple times by jellyfish! We used these last relaxing few days on the coast of Kipeppeo beach to reflect on our struggles and achievements towards the trip we thought we would never be able to complete.It was emotional to look back at almost a month of travelling we had endured, to anticipate seeing our families once again and say goodbye to the close friends we made on the trip.

This trip has taught me so many memorable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I truly can say I have challenged myself physically, mentally and experienced a culture which I would have never expected to visit. After a year of preparation and planning, the end of my trip finally arrived as I felt a huge milestone had been achieved. This trip also helped me to acknowledge the false perception of a country in central Africa as I learned just how much it truly has to offer. I can’t wait to use my experience and the skills I have learnt in my future journey and hopefully travel to similar destinations where I can immerse myself and explore a brand new culture again!