Tanzania: Serengeti

Tanzania is a step back in time where oxen pull carts, women grill food along the highway and on street corners, and people carry water in buckets from the community well, but Tanzania goes all the way back to the evolution of man. Ol Duvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world where archaeologists found footprints made over 3.6 million years ago by Australopithecus Afarensis and the remains of four types of hominids.

The road to Serengeti National Park is hot and flat and mirages the size of lakes reflect the surrounding trees. Most of the roads are unpaved and guides call these rough, spine-jarring rides “African massages.” Rocks puncture tires and leave jeeps on the side of the road waiting for a spare.

The Serengeti is 9,000 square miles, one of the largest wild life sanctuaries in the world. A herd of elephants looks like dots on the horizon and driving for hours may not find any big cats. Termite hills begin to look like resting lions and every sausage tree has a lion’s paw or tail hanging from a limb.

We spent most nights in nyumbas–tents with porches, beds, and bathrooms, but the sounds and scenery were different at each one. In the Serengeti, crickets chirped all night with the aaoooh of hyenas and the zip, zip, zip of zebras until 6 AM when the stars faded into the silhouettes of acacia trees and the birds began to sing. The sun rose and set like a luminous pink, orange and red bubble.

Our last two nights were camping on the eastern border close to Kenya overlooking herds of wildebeests, impala and zebra.  The wind shook and punched our tent and threatened to pull it down. This is another territory of the Maasai people and roads are footpaths and livestock trails.