Trek local. Trek light.

Several years ago, my family and I traveled to the United Republic of Tanzania, that magnificent country in east Africa. The trip was proposed by my cousin and her husband while they were training nurses in Uganda. They planned to hike Mount Kilimanjaro and safari the Serengeti before traveling back to the States and invited the rest of the family to join them. My sisters and I, as well as another cousin, signed up quickly. After a short hesitation, my sixty year old father also opted in. Thanks to the world wide web and the impeccable service of an outfitter called Bush Buzz Tanzania, we orchestrated a plan from our respective earthly corners.

We learned of Bush Buzz Tanzania from my brother and his wife, who had previously hiked Mount Kilimanjaro with the company. They spoke legends about the experience Bush Buzz Tanzania had designed for them, and formed a lifelong friendship with its owner Emmanuel Bayo. We did investigate other similar trek + safari outfits before choosing Bush Buzz Tanzania and discovered that many others are owned and operated from outside of the country. We selected Bush Buzz Tanzania based on its strong and unique local roots.

Emmanuel was born and raised at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro on its Tanzanian side. After receiving a degree in hospitality and accumulating tourism credentials, Emmanuel and his wife founded a trek + safari company in Arusha. Since 2006, Bush Buzz Tanzania has been guiding international travelers around the wonders of the Seregenti, up the walls of Mount Kilimanjaro and to the roof of Africa. It is my good fortune to be counted in these ranks.

From Brooklyn, Chicago, Boulder and small towns in New Jersey and Uganda, the members of our party converged in Arusha. My sisters had a night layover in Dar Es Salaam, the country’s former capital and a larger city than Arusha. Emmanuel’s sister Weraely Glory met them at the airport there, and attended to all their needs for the night. As the rest of us waited in Arusha for them to arrive, Emmanuel patiently accommodated our various flight arrivals, hunger pangs, exhaustion tolerances, bad humor and anxiety. I will never forget how familiar his voice sounded as he called my name over the airport crowd. We had not seen one another before but there he was – my brother and my friend – standing with the rest of my family at the customs gate at the Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Bush Buzz Tanzania’s open-roof jeep waited outside the terminal under a tree with orange flowers. Our journey began. In the way that travelers do, we rolled our windows down and took into our cells the scent of an unfamiliar place. Baobab trees and small and large buildings appeared as silhouettes in the dark. We came upon a brightly lit compound whose entrance was a security booth. Emmanuel explained to us that those buildings were the site of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He asked if we had heard about the civil war and ensuing genocide in Rwanda. We rattled off the various films we had seen about the war, including Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, Frontline’s The Triumph of Evil, and Munyurangabo, but quickly, silence came over us. Emmanuel told us more. We listened and observed. From the guarded entrance of the court, we imagined the birthplace of a speech about guilt and forgiveness. At time of our trip, our own country continued to insist on an interminable engagement in an illogical war. Emmanuel’s history lesson resonated with us. It sits with us today.

During the drive, Emmanuel also introduced us to the legacy of Julius Nyerere, a former school teacher who became the first President of Tanzania after it was severed from British mandate in 1961. The Arusha Declaration came into being under Nyerere’s leadership. Its Policy on Self-Reliance states:

“It is obvious that in the past we have chosen the wrong weapon for our struggle, because we chose money as our weapon. We are trying to overcome our economic weakness by using the weapons of the economically strong – weapons which in fact we do not possess. By our thoughts, words, and actions it appears as if we have come to the conclusion that without money we cannot bring about the revolution we are aiming at. It is as if we have said, “Money is the basis of development. Without money there can be no development.”

Our education in these matters continued throughout the trip. It was a rare meeting if the Tanzanians we met did not mention Julius Nyerere and the Arusha Declaration. Another observation frequently shared was that Tanzania is the home to an unprecedented number of tribes who speak different languages and live together peacefully. People from Queens, New York say the same thing.

My sisters joined us on Sunday; we rested for another night in Arusha, and then embarked on a seven day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. To describe that adventure will take my lifetime. Here I will say that Bush Buzz Tanzania introduced to me to the sublime. Our collective patience and courage was tried. We got wet. My perpetually prepared sister brought an air mattress. Everything in my bag shifted. We hiked and had down time and enjoyed meals together in a tent. I threw up and swore off camping forever (that has not lasted). I swore off hiking, one of my favorite things to do, forever. We got mad and we fought. I threw up again and felt the altitude. The strength of our porters silenced our complaints. At every juncture (and there were many) our Maasai guides promised the peak was just around the next corner. We stayed the course. Extraordinary sights unfolded before our eyes. Battered but inspired, we reached the roof of Africa.

After the trek, Emmanuel took us on a personal tour of the Seregenti, Ngorogoro Crater, and Lake Manyara. We saw the Big Five and my sister realized she has a keen eye for spotting leopards in trees. We came within a stone’s throw of an elephant. Baboons waited while we crossed the road. The flamingos looked like they do in pictures, only cooler. We watched a migration. A tiny white bird sunbathed on a hippo. The majesty of the giraffe blew my mind. The Ngorongoro Crater is the most unreal place I have ever seen, and it is very real. Our trip ended in Zanzibar, an archipelago that is home to the ancient city of Stone Town and long white beaches. I was struck by Zanzibar’s architecture, the kindness of its people and the way that private development seemed to be moving in on the people who have always lived there. International resorts have constructed walls – huge concrete walls – to cordon off the parts of beach they purport to own. Security guards police who can come in, and who can leave.

Many elements of my trip are worthy of elaboration. The most deserving is Bush Buzz Tanzania. A myriad of compliments rush to my mind but here, I will mention only two.

First, the company’s customer service is exemplary, always professional and forever present. From the moment we were in touch with Emmanuel, he was there. He answered our questions thoughtfully and our emails immediately. He asked us to imagine what we wanted our trip to look like. Around our seven respective visions, Emmanuel designed several itinerary options and pricing schedules. As a gift, Emmanuel and his team presented us with a box of white wine at the start of our journey. We forgot to call home but Emmanuel kept in constant contact with my mom in New Jersey. Bush Buzz Tanzania is guided by Emmanuel’s philosophy to provide clients with attention, care and personalized service found nowhere else. At no point did it disappoint.

Second, Bush Buzz Tanzania is locally-owned and operated. Emmanuel is an entrepreneur committed to the ethical operation of his business and to the development of his community. His country is sacred to him and its natural resources are part of him. They are not for sale. Emmanuel hires guides and porters who he has known since he was child. They are active participants in enterprise, not cogs in the wheel of his creation. They do not subsist on tips. Bush Buzz Tanzania is the original local business.

As I reflect on the days I spent with Emmanuel Bayo and his colleagues, the words of Issac Newton occur to me. “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Travel does not erase the challenges in our lives but it does broaden our realities. In the space that opens up, transformation begins.

Where are you going this year?

Comments

  1. Rory Breslin says:

    Great writing, Coll! You gather my thoughts nicely;-) Thank you to Emmanuel, Amani, Allen, and all the porters.