Blessed is he who sets foot upon this sacred land.
Privileged is he to gaze long into the eyes of majesty itself.
In the past month I found myself with two separate opportunities to go on safari in Tanzania’s northern game parks. I jumped on both chances. The first was with my family when they visited me in early June, and the second was with my friends Lydia and Wes just two weeks ago. With my family I visited Lake Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. With Lydia and Wes, I visited the Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge, and Ngorongoro Crater for the second time. I know what you’re thinking: this girl is seriously obsessed with national parks. Well yes, I am. Tanzania happens to have some of the best game parks on the continent of Africa and anyone with a beating heart will be swept away. The most fantastic imagination couldn’t have dreamt this land up.
The majority of safaris begin in Arusha, Tanzania’s second largest city, which is situated at the foothills of Mount Meru in the north of the country. Lydia, Wes, and I had traveled for 11 hours by bus from Dar es Salaam before we reached Arusha, and upon arrival I collapsed into bed suffering from a bout of altitude sickness. The next morning we found ourselves on a safari vehicle driven by a man I call Screw-Loose Steven. Steven had the face of a 70 year old but the body of a 30 year old, so this caused much confusion for my friends and me when we attempted to guess his age. Although we decided that he was in fact a young man, and just appeared to be aged because of heavy smoking, we found out quickly that Steven was actually a veteran safari driver and had been guiding tours for over 25 years. Steven was a pro, this much was clear. And park rules? What park rules? Between throwing a rock at a sleeping male lion, using the safari vehicle to herd a gazelle toward two cheetahs, and off-roading like nobody’s business, Steven sure earned his reputation.
Nothing could have prepared me for the extremes of a camping safari. During the day I was exceedingly hot, and at night I cajoled myself to sleep by thinking warm thoughts. As much as it was a struggle to fall asleep in the cold, I was told that I slept like a rock through the night, even while the tent was surrounded by the piercing shrieks of hyenas. It was while on safari that I learned to loathe the tse-tse fly. Why do those blasted things exist? Much of central Africa is inhospitable to farm animals like cattle, sheep, and horses, because of the tse-tse fly and the deadly trypanosomiasis parasite it spreads. I also learned to loathe restrooms and toilets while on safari. I found myself wondering why we restrict ourselves to these smelly dens when the whole of the Serengeti surrounds us. And so, when I could, I found myself a nice tall patch of grass.
Lydia, Wes, and I anticipated the next beast we would sight, almost as much as our next meal. This was due to the fact that we had been graced with the best personal chef this side of the solar system. Imagine that, a personal chef! As we slurped pumpkin soup under the Milky Way by the light of a kerosene lamp that first night, you could not have laid eyes upon three happier souls. Truly.
Game parks aside, Olduvai Gorge was the stuff of dreams. The cradle of mankind, this was serious! Although we couldn’t actually go inside the gorge, it being the site of precious fossil records, we admired it from above. In the museum at the entrance to the gorge there is a copy of the original cast of the hominid footprints, (which are at least 3.6 million years old), taken by Mary Leakey in 1976. All I have to say is paleontology was never the same. Artists’ renditions aside, it was simply awe-inspiring to be able to see the paths of three beings who walked this earth so long ago. It is a memory I will treasure.
In all seriousness, I consider myself extremely lucky. I have seen with my own eyes the audacity with which this planet flourishes. This earth is to be treasured by all of us. It is all that we have, and everything that we have.
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