Easter in the rainforests of Magamba…

14th April 2015

Six hours up the road from Morogoro to Moshi is the village of Mombo, where I leave my transport and head for a dala dala that will take me up into the mountains through the town of Lushoto to meet with our Leadership training group. A young conductor, with an even younger apprentice, gathers my cash, slaps the roof to attract customers who they harangue on board, and lets the driver know to set off. On the way, to conserve space, he hangs half out the window, leaping out at each break before we have stopped to gather passengers and goods for the onward journey. My ride fills up quickly and begins lumbering its way up the mountain, first running out of fuel and then a little later overheating, but it leaves plenty of opportunity to take in the changing scenery as we head up from the plains and into the rainforest of the Magamba Reserve. It’s wet here, with twice the annual rainfall of my native London. The forest is exceptionally lush and dense and the highest point - Kwahondo Peak - sits almost a thousand metres higher than our own highest mountain of Ben Nevis, at 2,287m above sea level. After a couple of hours I arrive in considerably better health than my transport, and go in search of Gidian, whose four-wheel drive will take me up to meet the group at the tiny village of Mirangui. Colours of Tanzania The beautiful colours of Tanzania. When I find the group they are camped out on the village football field, surrounded by an audience of local children who gaze on in silence and scatter with screams of laughter at any fast move in their direction. A local pastor is regaling a congregation on the far side of the field with a sound system that AC-DC would be proud of, albeit with a more staid audience. As the moon rises and darkness falls things quieten down and the group gathers after their rice and vegetable dinner to review the day and plan for the next. Trek Leader Paul is on his third trek of the expedition and is working with fellow VM and Medic Zoe, a Senior Paramedic from Essex when she isn’t a VM with Raleigh. They are joined by our Tanzanian guides Anderson and Kijazi, who liaise with village officials at each campsite and navigate the trails and roads of the region. Despite some torrential rains and a few upset stomachs, the group are in high spirits and enjoying the scenery that each day’s trek brings. Clouds drift through the valley, obscuring the hill tops, and as we head to bed a heavy dew sets on the grass and our tents that will still be there when we wake at 5.30 a.m to start the day. The next morning starts with the tune of Happy Birthday as Tanzanian venturer Jane wakes up to her 18th birthday. Her tent buddy Ella has painted a watercolour card for her, signed by us all. Later in the day at our next campsite in the village of Magamba is to come a ‘cake’ of a Snickers bar and peanut butter, served with a candle in a mess tin. Before that is a 15km hike upwards to just over 1700m of elevation where we arrive at a local school shortly before a downpour turns our proposed camp into a muddy pond. Bags off we sit under the shelter of the school’s tin roof as the rain pounds off it and wait out the weather. It’s moments like this that make trek unique, giving venturers time to reflect and simply take in their surroundings. More time is spent getting to know each other, particularly their tent buddy who they will be sharing with for each night of their 19 day adventure. The group’s day leader focuses on the essential tasks of water collection, fire wood and food, though by this point in the expedition it has become a process of mutual understanding and easy delegation rather than direction and argument, as it might have been eight weeks ago. Easter Monday market, Tanga Easter Monday market, Lukosi. Early in the morning Will, Anna, and I go in search of some dawn photographs. The school and surrounding buildings have an eerie quality to them in the quiet of the morning; and as the sun rises in the distance it silhouettes the tree covered hillsides that stretch to the horizon and starts to burn through the cloud that rests between them, trapping the moisture on the ground below. Before long it is bags on and we set off once more, climbing up a narrow trail made awkward by the recent rainfall, which brings us out on the road to the village of Lukosi. Venturer Gareth emerges last covered in mud from a slip halfway up, but otherwise intact we set off on a dirt top road to our next camp. Midway through the day we take shelter in a small tea room as the heavens once again open up on us. After a thorough soaking on my first trek in Iringa I learned the hard way that a good waterproof is a trek essential and for the next half hour I stand under the eaves of the building with Paul and Zoe, sharing the sweet ginger tea we have all become a little hooked on, while the venturers buy the owners out of mandazi and chapatis indoors. It’s all part of the wonderful experience that this phase brings, creating those moments that simply can’t be experienced on any holiday or tourist route. This is authentic Tanzania and everyone is loving it. Leadership training trek, from Viti to Gologolo. Leadership training trek, the journey from Viti to Gologolo. Over the next few days we trek further into the reserve, staying at schools or churches, a short walk from the village and a constant source of curiosity for the local children who come to watch as we pitch tents and go about our business. The nights are chilly here and I’m grateful for the Maasai blanket that has accompanied me on my travels since week one. I spend an evening at our camp in Viti with the family of the local Lutheran pastor - Paolo Shemndolwa - who despite his best attempts to retire some years ago, is still presiding over the six local parish churches. We share several cups of sweet tea and he tells me about the water project he is currently working on, while his daughter Elizabeth and son Rueben both look on. Some of our venturers come to join us and we end our evening sat in the kitchen behind the house with Mama and the family, gaining more unique insights into the real life of families here in rural Tanzania. Morning sunrise, Gologolo camp. A misty morning in Gologolo Village. The next day brings more spectacular views as the road winds from Viti to the isolated village of Gologolo. In contrast to the dusty brown football pitch of Bassadowish, the pitch here is almost like a paddy field, and we squelch across it to the village church on the far side. The hills around the village show the effects of logging, with the natural rainforest supplanted here by neat rows of Cypress and Pine, fast growing and easily harvested trees for the huge circular saws of the timber yard below. The Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group is an organisation that is working specifically to balance the needs of the growing population here with the management of the country’s natural resources. The Eastern Arc mountains that have formed a constant backdrop for many parts of our expedition here, provide over 3.5 million Tanzanians with water, and store over 100 million tonnes of carbon, as well as over 800 plant and 100 vertebrate species endemic to the area. Conservation of them is a complex and challenging job, but one well worth undertaking. Viti villager. Local character, Viti village. My final day with the group brings yet another rain storm, which we stand watching from the shelter of the little church we are encamped next to. There is another birthday in the group as venturer Ella turns 20 and gets another morning chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ as she emerges from her tent. It’s a memorable place for her to leave her teens and I’ve been fortunate to see her development as a person throughout the expedition. Trek has been a great opportunity for many of the group to consolidate their own personal journey and to reflect on the experiences they have had, many of which they have recorded in their own personal journals. Throughout the whole group they have made considerable progress during their time here, and they look decidedly different to the fresh, not to mention clean, faces that greeted us all those weeks ago. There is an attitude of support and encouragement and even the more vocal venturers tell me how they feel more tolerant, more patient and accepting. In some of them the change is pronounced.  DSC3175 It has been heartening to see and I head off from the group happy that their time here with Raleigh has taken them many steps closer to being the ‘active citizens’ that our world needs if we are to see success in achieving our targets of ending poverty and giving everyone access to the fundamental human needs of water, sanitation, education, and healthcare. I hope that they will be able to hold on to these changes when they go back to their more familiar surroundings of home. For now though, they will come home different to the people who left; richer for the experiences and better skilled to deal with the many more adventures that lay ahead for them.