Monday, 13 August 2012

Camp Tanzania: Coffee, school and daily life...

After a couple of days on Safari, our Tanzania expedition was about to get a bit more emotionally challenging.  We headed for Meru Camp, a small semi permanent camp in a village at the foothills of Mt Meru. We had already done plenty of hard physical work at Ndarakwai wildlife reserve, so it wasn't the physicality of the project work that caught me off guard, it was the realities of daily life for our village neighbours. The camp was located on a plot of land owned by a local elder who also had a small coffee plantation.  The community was surrounded on all sides by fields of maize, bannanas and other cash crops that were being produced on a small scale to sell locally and also further afield. There is no running water in the village, and we soon got over our initial shock at being allowed just 3 litres a day to wash in, when we realised how precious a resource water is in the area.  Children and women walked passed our gate carrying buckets of water on their heads up from the river at the bottom of a steep hill. It was back breaking work, and the water is not clean or safe to drink, with other villages both up and down stream. 

We were able to see first hand how Jackson, the youngest son of the landowner, picks his father's coffee beans and processes them to be sold at market (and to Camps volunteers!).  This was very exciting to me- I'd already noticed how good the coffee was at breakfast, and to see the production of one of my favourite weaknesses from start to finish was magical. Tanzanian highland coffee was always one of my favourite blends but now that aroma is even more evocative.  

 The beans are picked by hand as they ripen. 

 Ripe coffee beans look like red berries. 

 The crop is tipped in to a machine that pulverizes the soft outer flesh, revealing a small light brown hard bean. 

The beans are dried for several weeks, before being ground again to remove a thin outer skin.  

 The outer skin is seperated from the beans by hand. 

 The beans are roasted over an open fire, before being ground up by hand in a pestle and mortar. 

 The finished product, organic, fairtrade coffee. 

Our community work for this part of our expedition was in the local primary school.  Camps Interntational have a longstanding relationship with this community and it was great to see the work done by previous students over the last decade. The school itself is a far cry from European schools, but it is impressive that in Tanzania which is a very poor country by any measurement,  most children attend primary school (apart from the Masai, who are often reluctant to send their children to state school). Classes are huge, with 40 children being the norm. Classrooms are dark, crumbling and leaky and there is no glass in the windows. Paper and pencils are in short supply.  Basic primary education is funded by the government, but is desperately under resourced.  Parents must find the money for school dinners, books and uniforms, and this can be prohibitively expensive for the average family.  When we were there, the harvest had not been gathered and a lot of the village children were on free school meals.  I didn't get to see this, but our students reported that they were shocked by how small the portions were. 

 The school playground.

 Classrooms- we were building the foundations of a verandah outside the front of one of these classrooms, to allow students and teachers to work outside on hot days. 

Everywhere we went in the village, the local kids greeted us with a mixture of curiosity and excitement.   A strangely lovely experience. 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Camp Tanzania: Safari!

After four days of getting muddy, sweaty and dusty working at Ndarakwai wildlife reserve with Camps International we were in for a bit of a treat. Two days on Safari. Not only that, but we would be visiting the world famous Ngorogoro Crater.  Its like disneyland for wildlife geeks, only more so. First of all however, we went to Tarangire National Park, home of the elephant, and the baobab tree, which is basically an elephant in tree format. Tarangire is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and within minutes of entering the park we were surrounded by elephants.

Ancient Baobab tree.  The swollen trunk stores water and is a magnet for elephants who use their mighty strength to rip open the bark and access moisture. 

The first group of elephants we encountered was a large herd of females and calves, slipping in to a waterhole to cool off.

From a perch in a nearby tree, a greyheaded kingfisher looks on. 

Not much further up the trail, we met a vast herd of about 30 young bulls who silenty lumbered past our vehicle on their way to the waterhole. They passed close enough that we could have reached out and touched them, and despite their huge size, they didn't make a sound. 

Tarangire is also home to giraffes. 

This could be my favourite photo from the entire trip.  A beautiful elephant creche, with sleeping babies in the shade of their older relatives, who carefully guard them. 

The next day it was onwards to the Ngorogoro Crater.  I hate the term bucket list, but if Dr Who had ever turned up in my life and said he could take me to one place in the universe of my choosing, this would have been it. I had to keep pinching myself and reminding myself that this was "work".

The crater is a giant caldera formed when an enormous volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself between 2 and 3 million years ago. 

 There is a phenomenal amount of larger game in the crater. Everywhere we looked, herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo grazed the plains. 

Even though I spent 4 years researching these unusual animals in my previous incarnation as a palaeolithic archaologist, I'd never seen a spotted hyaena before. I saw more than expected-  I'm told that mating is rarely photographed behaviour....

 There were plenty of other spotted hyaenas loping aorund the crater too. Many were on their way to a lion kill that we came across later in the day. 

 Hippos keeping cool.

Young wildebeast bull. 

Because of the geography of the crater, the lion population is vulnerable to inbreeding and disease. Nevertheless, we saw several that day lounging about in the sun. In the distance you can see a male lion guarding a zebra kill he has made.  He is surrounded by about 30 spotted hyaenas. The standoff was still going when we left the crater late in the day.

As a feline fan my favourite animal to see was the serval. I've been on safari a few times before but never tracked down this elusive and charming little cat.  Its not the best photo, the serval is hunting so under cover as much as possible. Sitting and watching it stalking through the long grass was completely thrilling, with stripey ears cocked forward, and spotty back slinking through the brush. What a cat! I'm in love. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

Camp Tanzania: Ndarakwai

I've recently returned from 4 weeks in Tanzania leading for Camps International.  Its been an amazing experience, and a fantastic adventure for all of us involved, including the group of students and their teachers who joined us on the expedition.  The majority of our time was spent living in camp communities and carrying out project work  in villages and on nature reserves. This is the first installment- from Camp Ndarakwai, a remote wildlife camp on a game reserve nestling on the plains between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. The work here is aimed at improving the environment and habitat for the wildlife on the reserve and activities that support fundraising for anti-poaching measures.

Walking to the waterhole watched over by Kili. 

Zebra come to the waterhole to drink while we work. The project work here included digging out drainage ditches to ensure a continuous supply of water for the wildlife throughout the dry season. 

A (cheeky) vervet monkey drops in to camp hoping for some titbits.

Meeting one of the orphaned young elephants who live near to camp. 

Every evening at camp we were treated to the most incredible sunset....

Making elephant poo paper to help raise money for anti poaching measures. 

Masai girl at the nearby Boma. 

The Camp at Ndarakwai was my favourite of all the wonderful locations we stayed at.  Its a very wild place, with plenty of wildlife walking past camp all day and lots of strange noises at night.  The thorns ate my thermarest on the first night, and I'm still pulling spines out of my crocs. Creature comforts don't run beyond a bucket of hot water to wash in and a long drop toilet, but the amazing staff, stunning setting and natural wonders meant that every day felt like a once in a lifetime experience. A big highlight for me was a visit to the Masai Boma, and laughing, singing and dancing in the heat with the Masai women until I was ready to drop.