Over Spring Break, two other students and I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to conduct some first person interviews for our ecotourism research (and relax as much as possible, it was Spring Break!). It was a big trip for me, since I had never been out of the country before. This trip was an absolutely incredible experience and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go (Thanks, Busby!). I thought I’d use this post to talk about our experiences in Tanzania and give some brief insight into our interviews with ecotourism professionals.
Pretend that’s an elephant and you have an idea of how close we were to wildlife. I’ll get around to uploading my pictures on my computer at some point… Maybe before my next post.
We arrived in Arusha late on Saturday night, after 22ish hours of travel. The airport at Kilimanjaro was very tiny — we even exited the airplane straight onto the tarmac… There were no gates/tubes to walk in (which was totally new for me!). Our driver was waiting for us after we got our visas (which is a very long process as it turns out, we had to stand in line to pay for the visas, stand in line to take pictures to get the visas, then stand in line to get fingerprinted to get into the country). Our whole trip was spent being driven around in a safari jeep, which was so cool! Our hotel was very nice, I think we were all surprised by just how nice. The wifi never worked at the hotel, but the owners were kind enough to lend us a cell phone that we were able to convert into a hotspot (after paying for phone time) that we used for generally less than an hour per day (or every other day). The power went out every day during our stay, and the water was not reliable either. I definitely felt like I had a full “African experience” and I loved it.
Sunday was spent by the pool at the hotel (did I mention how nice it was?!) trying to adjust to the time zone and waiting to meet with some contacts who would help set up our meetings later in the week. Monday we hit the ground running. We had three interviews with tour operators that were quite helpful in determining our scope for our further interviews. Tuesday was the first of our three long days in a row. We had five (yes, five) interviews that had us out the door around 8 am and back at the hotel sometime after 9 pm. Wednesday was our safari day in Ngorongoro crater which was just incredible. We learned a lot about animal behaviors as well as saw just about every species you would expect to see…. Warthogs, rhinos, hippos, elephants, hyenas, lions, ostriches, several other birds, zebras, baboons, wildebeest, water buffalo, jackals, giraffes… I think I’m probably missing some. On Thursday we had a chance to go out to a WMA (Wildlife Management Area) and spend the day in the bush with the commander of the WMA. It was a long day in the car since it took several hours to get there and our time at the WMA was spent in the car, looking for animals and such.
Unfortunately, the trip didn’t end up being what we thought it would. The rangers we intended to speak with did not speak English at all, and their Swahili was fairly weak. It was cool to be able to say that we were given access to areas that most people will never see, though! It also helped us understand some issues that face anti-poaching rangers. Friday we did a couple interviews in the morning and spent the afternoon trying to finish our shopping for souvenirs and collaborating/ reviewing our notes from the week. Our flight was Saturday evening so we spent most of the day by the pool trying to mentally prepare for our 30+ hours of travel to get home.
A paragraph about food because I’m a foodie and food was a very important part of the trip for me. We at at the hotel several times, because there was a lot of variety on the menu and we were often too tired to take a cab into the city for dinner. My favorite food memory of Tanzania: passion fruit fanta. I love anything and everything passion fruit, so I had about a dozen of these sodas… It’s what I’ll miss most. There was actually a surprising amount of options, restaurant wise. We ate Mexican food (which was not up to our Texan standards, but was actually really good… better than you would get in a lot of U.S. cities that are far from Mexico). We went to a place called Ngiro (?) square which was a really amazing concept for food. It was an outdoor patio-area with restaurants circling it all around. We sat at a table and each restaurant brought us their menu. There was barbecue, Chinese, Indian, cafe-type, and fancy-ish restaurant as well. We got Chinese and Indian food (because how many times in life can you eat Chinese food in Africa?), both of which were fairly comparable to U.S. versions of those foods. We also ate at a french bakery, and an American cafe. Of course, we tried the local food as well… We had chicken and goat (yes, really) and ugali (?) which was kind of like a potato-y dumpling that tasted a bit like the filling of tamales, and sauteed greens. All-in-all, it was a great trip for a foodie.
It really was an incredible trip… I’m definitely going back to climb Kili one day!