The drive to Mazumbai forest reserve is an all-day road trip. The first hour is along the Nairobi/Moshi road (the main road in northern Tanzania) to Moshi. The next few hours approach the mountainous coastal region through sisal plantations and small villages. At the town of Mombo we stopped for lunch before ascending to the winding roads of the Usambaras.
The West Usambara Mountains are an odd formation of fault-block mountains formed as the Central African Plateau rose rapidly about 30 million years ago. At the high elevation, the mountains caught the wet winds off the Indian Ocean and became enclaves of tropical forests and alluvial plains suited for agriculture. The mountain people have been farming the plains for thousands of years and only since colonization have the forests atop the mountains become protected – and therefore off-limits for fuel wood or timber collection.
We left the paved road at the town of Soni and made our way slowly up and down the slopes of the mountains to our accommodations at a Swiss style chalet on the edge of the Mazumbai Forest Reserve. We set up our tents on a manicured lawn, next to the garden. Our Mazumbai routine consisted of morning forest study groups and free afternoons to focus on our ISPs and read the assigned chapters for the week.
We also began our workout schedule with our Academic Director called Baba Jack Boot Camp every evening at 5pm. Let’s just say that the name is well suited to the experience…
The first day in the forest was an opportunity for everyone to get personally acquainted with the forest in their own way. We were all released into the forest to climb trees, build forts, and tromp about. In the afternoon, my partner and I prepared our lecture for the following day, and did not participate in the grueling 4 hour hike up and down the forest. According to the rest of the group, we missed out on a lot of pain and despair.
The next day we ventured into the forest at different altitudes in small groups to study horizontal stratification. We made a 500 square meter plot with rope and divided it into sections. We proceeded to measure the trees, crown cover, percent coverage of foliage and leaf litter for each quadrant. After our study we returned to the chalet to present our findings and compare them with the other groups.
My lecture partner, Melissa, and I presented our PEC (Political Ecology Concept) on the history of the Usambara mountains as biodiversity hotspots and their colonization by many peoples over the past few centuries.
After lunch we had the afternoon free to begin reading the next PEC on Tropical Forest Ecology. On Thursday we studied vertical stratification in the forest. We used a similar approach to the horizontal stratification method (a plot and percent coverage), but this time we spent our time looking up and counting up percentages in each layer of coverage. Again we presented our findings to the other groups in the evening with the afternoon off.
On Friday we changed pace by heading into the nearby village to interview the residents there with our translators. We separated into a few groups that focused on different topics like fuelwood, gender, agriculture, and ethno-botany. Before lunch we listened to the next PEC.
Our last full day at Mazumbai was dedicated to preparing for Independent Study Project (ISP) Prep Week. We each made a poster with our topic and study question for our ISP. I plan to study bees and beekeeping through the TAWIRI Beekeeping Institute in Arusha. We presented our posters to one another and made comments and asked questions. In the afternoon we got to say goodbye to the forest in our own way.
Oh, did I mention that it rained every single day from 10pm until 9am, and sometimes longer? I think we slept through the most outrageous rainstorm of my life…I could have taken my soap and gone outside for a shower.
Sunday morning we left a few of our colleagues at the chalet for their ISP Prep Week and hit the road back to Arusha. Halfway to the city we dropped off 6 more people (two got on a bus to Dar Es Salaam, and 4 headed out to the coast). By the time we got back to Arusha there were only ten of us left.