An endless plain…
I have always wondered…at what point does it hit you, what is it that triggers the release of tension and stress. When, on these epic adventures, do you realize that you are worlds away from the rattling city, the ego of man in traffic jams that can’t help but hoot and shout and speed off in disgust of others making the same mistakes they made last week. When do you feel this precious freedom, when do you feel that you are there…
In Tanzania it was in a similar traffic-jam where this descendance of beautiful reality arrived. It does not creep nor stalk but hits you like a warm gust of wind that blows away the lingering threats of daily to-do lists, social media expectations and the stresses of the future. The part of you that is forced to sleep through the struggles of daily life. The part of you that only stirs in the night, to lead you to dreams of vast grasslands and mountains and streams and the quietness of the wilderness, allows himself a voice…he says “come now and be present, go now and get stuck in”. Stuck in we already were for uphill of us lay a two-wheel drive, nine tone truck with tires that looked like they should have been carrying a motorbike, a sea of mud, relentless rain and several Swahili men winding up a “discussion” on an already increasingly dire situation.
At first there was only us and the truck driver hovering about in a slowly growing circle on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. On our one side it fell towards the crater floor and on the other it fell towards Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley. Through the mist and rain, we could see the approach of headlights, the growing cue of the stranded and the bowed heads of despairing drivers as they approached our circle of ideas. Traction on this road, barely wide enough for one jeep, felt like the equivalent of pushing yourself onto an ice rink for the first time (for us Africans this is usually a once in a life time ordeal and the memory is still quite vivid no matter how young we were). In the beginning this was the only humor I could find in our situation. Watching a man’s legs rapidly part over the rise in the middle of the road then in order to regain his balance he launches into gallop with a gait similar to that of, but tenfold the speed, a new born impala trying to walk for the first time, and without gaining any distance nor control of the body is forced to grip the mud with both hands before continuing onto the now chuckling crowd.
In typical African fashion we all threw out ideas to solve this conundrum, usually more than once depending on the length of our stay in this place of mud and rain and stuck trucks. The truck driver’s opinion came out in angry embarrassment, refusing to admit his truck blocking the only road along the rim of the crater was the problem. The Masai man’s came out in quite confidence and mine came out in broken Swahili which it seems nobody took acknowledgement of, in fact nobody takes acknowledgement of anybody else’s ideas in an attempt to protect ones pride and to hide the fact that you’re not actually entirely sure on what to do.
The details of the situation at hand may differ throughout Africa but it seems that the same characters are adopted where ever these situations arrive. The instigator (the man with the truck in this case) fires off his blame on anything and anybody else within sight or earshot. There are those who immediately pull out their phones and stand nearby apparently calling someone important who can relieve us of our troubles but who never shows up. There are the new comers who without fail will state the obvious as a safe way of being allowed into the circle. “I know what the problem is, it must be this truck blocking the path” pointing at what we have all been looking at for over an hour now. This is usually followed by a volley of the same plans to solve the situation we have heard a dozen times by now and another barrage of verbal abuse towards the driver of the truck, who’s character holds on by a thread now. There are those who express their agreement with every idea no matter how contradictory one is to the next and those who disagree with every idea presented in an attempt, it seems, to prolong our predicament as without a doubt, deep down inside us, we’re starting to enjoy ourselves. There are those who “tssik” there tongues, give up and walk back to their land rovers and await a miracle and there are those who just stand and watch and wait for the first plan ever mentioned (clearly the only possible way out of this mess) to become apparent to the others. Turn around, drive down the exit road into the crater and use the roads in the crater floor to go around.
An ordeal, yes. Covered in mud and soaked by the rain, yes. Were we in one of the most biodiverse and beautiful places on earth…yes. This was our ordeal and our adventure and all I could do was pity the rest of the world for not being there and not being a part of it and not baring site to the marvel of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Its hard to comprehend a world that swells from the vastness of the Serengeti where Grants and Thompsons gazelle speckle the golf course like landscape for as far as the eye can see , and then shrinks to the tiny territory of the bat eared fox that calls the almost micro habitat of the Ngorongoro Crater floor its home. Its hard to imagine a black rhino charging towards you through a field of purple and golden flours, back dropped by the blue rise of the crater where clouds peep over the edge of the rim as if wondering on our activities. Its hard to imagine that this was a violent volcano three million years ago and now its molten lava is replaced with lions that punctuate the black volcanic rocks, dust trials of zebra and wildebeest and buffalo that rise in the distance as they stream back and forth from a lake…a lake that rebels against the lush greenery that surrounds it. Blue like the sky it reflects but saline and undrinkable to most creatures. A lake where flamingos flourish on algae, diatoms and aquatic plants that survive the beautiful but harsh waters. A saturated landscaped where old elephant bulls troll the nutrient rich flatlands and hyena rest, waiting for the night, on the convergence with the rainforest that crawls from the edge of the crater floor to tips of the surrounding ridge. It is hard to imagine…until you descend the crater rim from the old story of its rocks to its new story of writhing life, or when you leave it towards the very place where the volcanos ashes fell. The place where horizons are obscured by mirages and distance is measured in the length of your travels and not by an object you intend to reach. The place of endless plains. The Serengeti…
Ridges and rainforest are gone now. Only a gentle breeze hisses through the grass. Absent of direction and without reference to size and scale you realise your irrelevance in the face an useable horizon in all directions. At first its vastness seems empty and lifeless but there in the distance megalithic “kopjies” (rocky outcrops) start to rise up from the fields of grass. The mirage starts to be broken by beige and black shapes that are but a taste of the life that thrives here. Nomadic male lions slowly take shape as they move towards you. Menacing and intent on seeking out prides of their own that reside amongst the famed “kopjies” of the Serengeti. Wildebeest and zebra and gazelle in single file lines and with an old and unstoppable purpose trek northwards towards mountains…or is it clouds…its too far to tell but they know exactly what they are headed for. Lines only to be split or dispersed by the rush of lion and cheetah that await the great herds.
Never have I seen a place where the writer of every days story is so excitingly reckless with each chapter. A place that brutalises predicament with unseen and unexpected scenarios.
“Its only another wildebeest calf left behind by the herd”…you say. You watch in pity as its panicked trot takes it further and further into nowhere. Your pity (and excitement, admittedly) grows when you see the flick of that black tipped tail and those black ears of a lioness who has locked onto its helpless prey…
“Its another cheetah”… you convince yourself. Until you get a glimpse of the dance of little tails below her as her mattress of cubs struggle through the grass.
Beautiful blonde nomadic males, a nervous buffalo, a bypassing cheetah, a lactating lioness, and a days’ worth of “cat and mouse” in order to deceive them and lead them away from her den site that harbours cubs barely a day old.
It’s said the Serengeti can spoil you. It can show you too much and can leave your imagination whimpering with withdrawals once you leave it. Unable to appreciate the site of a mere park or forest, or unable to enjoy a simple walk in nature. Fear not my nature loving friend for the herds will return, the lions will hunt again and although it is hard to believe and it is hard to imagine and its impossible to feel the energy of this wonderous place unless you are there…it is there and it is waiting.