Tanzania, a Divine Destination
BY KATHLEEN DURKEE
Pullquote: I was filled with pure joy every day watching the animals as well as watching my family watch the animals.
We waited for years to go to Africa, for our kids to reach an age when we knew they would really appreciate it. Finally, in December, with college finals and work in the rearview mirror, we traveled to Tanzania for the trip of a lifetime. After two days travel, we arrived in Arusha, half-delirious with jet lag. All was forgotten when we caught a glimpse of our first African sunrise — a spectacular one, with soft pastel light illuminating the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. “You are so lucky to see her, she is shy,” one of our new Tanzanian friends said as we watched in awe. “She is usually shrouded in clouds.” And, so began our adventure, something of the divine in almost everything we saw.
Our safari included visits to the great game parks of East Africa, including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Just as we hit the road our first day, the skies opened up in an epic downpour. Sensing our disappointment, one of our guides, Godlisten, told us that beginning a safari in the rain brings luck. He was right, we had great luck the entire safari, but I now realize that he had something to do with it as well. Each morning I would share with Godlisten something I hoped to see, and without fail the cheetah, serval cat, leopard, or herd of elephants would miraculously appear, as if on cue. I think he had some connections.
Soon after we entered the gates of Tarangire National Park, an enormous mama elephant emerged from the bush and approached us with her calf. It was overwhelming to be so close to these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, to watch their movements and observe their behavior and personalities, and to hear their breathing and snorting. I was filled with pure joy every day watching the animals as well as watching my family watch the animals. The beautiful show continued day after day as we spotted giraffes, zebras, gazelles, lions, hippos, rhinos, birds – and all the while our incredibly gifted guides teaching us about the various characteristics of the animals we were observing, their hunting, grazing and migratory patterns and their quirky behaviors.
There is a certain level of expectation of what one should encounter on a safari. Many visitors measure their success through big game hunting trophies, or in witnessing wild animal kills, or by checking off the boxes on a game drive checklist: “Did you see the Big Five?” (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, rhino). We actually saw the Big Nine (cheetah, giraffe, hippo, zebra) within the first few days.
I found myself equally enchanted with the Tanzanian people and their innate friendliness and generosity. And as we trundled along the roads between the national parks, we were intrigued watching the tall, thin shadows of the nomadic Masai, wrapped in their brightly colored blankets, walking the footpaths connecting villages with pastures, their very young children charged with herding the livestock.
And I was totally in awe of the exquisite beauty all around us: the expansive land teeming with life — the boabab and acacia trees, so surreally beautiful they seem painted onto the landscape; the sky – its color and ephemeral clouds; and the ethereal quality of the light.
There is something bewitching about Africa, a unifying undercurrent that connects its land, people, and animals, a feeling of catching a glimpse of the primal, of how nature existed before our time, and how we are meant to exist – a very distinct feeling of being in the Garden of Eden.
There is an inherent and admirable economy in the way the people and animals coexist with one another and with the land. A bad day for the gazelle is a good one for the cheetah. In her memoir, “Out of Africa”, Isak Dinesen best describes the continent, “The geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere…the views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.”
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at a safari camp on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, the Masai call it, “the footprint of God”. After a day exploring the crater, during which we saw almost every creature imaginable, we enjoyed a beautiful dinner and sang Christmas carols with our hosts. Even the dung beetle that scorched its wings on the lantern above my head and crash-landed in my soup didn’t spoil one of the most magical Christmas Eves in memory. Instead of going to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, we had visions of lions, elephants, and hyenas creeping around our canvas tents at night.
Wrapped in Masai blankets on Christmas morning, we watched the sunrise over the Ngorongoro Crater and more of Dinesen’s words floated through my mind, “In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”
I have never felt closer to heaven, and one day I hope to return to Africa, my Garden of Eden.