Into Africa

22/12/2017 11:50

A journey to Tanzania brings unforgettable encounters with local culture and timeless nature.

Tanzania, a vast country in East Africa that is three times the size of Vietnam with only half the population, prides itself on its abundance of superlatives in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa; Victoria Lake, the largest freshwater lake; Selous Animal Reserve (named after adventurer Frederick Selous), with the largest number of protected animals in Africa; and Serengeti as the most fantastic destination for those who want to marvel at the authentic wildlife. However, what sparked my decision to visit this fascinating land was far simpler:  a movie quote, from the Oscar-winning film “Cabaret,” in which one character promises: “I will take you Tanzania to watch flamingos cloud the sunset sky. There is nothing more beautiful in this world.”


Visiting Africa had also been a childhood dream when I read “In Desert and Wilderness” by Polish writer Sienkiewicz. It seemed so distant, but at the same time was surprisingly accessible. With passports and certificates of yellow fever vaccination, my friends and I took a direct flight from Hanoi to Nairobi, Kenya and connected there for another flight to Arusha City in the north, also known as the gateway to Tanzania. The duration of both flights was just about 9 hours, shorter than a trip to Europe.  
In September of the dry season, Tanzania was not as hot as I had expected. The temperature was quite pleasant, hovering between 20 to 32oC. Our journey to explore Tanzania started with a jeep ride along a dirt road flanked by vast plateaus racing to infinity, with local Maasai in their red robes occasionally appearing and waving to us, heralding an exciting adventure ahead.
Meeting the Maasai
 
In the midst of our digital world, the Maasai tribe still live largely as they have for hundreds of years, when they migrated from the Nile delta to Tanzania and Kenya. Travelers can visit to catch a glimpse of their daily lives, and many can speak English thanks to their interactions with foreigners. A tribe famous for their unique customs and traditions in Africa, the Maasai believe that they were created by gods to tend cattle. They live semi-nomadic, pastoral lives in low huts made of mud-coated bare branches and cow dung (it is believed that cow dung can keep mosquitoes and snakes at bay). Peeking into these simple homes, I couldn’t see much in the dim light; there were few possessions, just a hearth in the center, and small corners strewn with branches coated in a shroud used as their beds.


There are also famous for their adumu, or competitive jumping dance. A Maasai youngster missing a front tooth told us: “Our custom dictates that 16-year-old men are supposed to extract a front tooth to prove that they are full-grown. I can marry a number of women. The higher a man can jump the stronger he seems.”
Meeting Maasai women with shaved heads in blue outfits with lots of jewelry, and seeing tall men jumping as high as possible to welcome visitors, was a fascinating glimpse of a world unlike any I had encountered before.
Into the wild
While still an economically developing country, the government and people of Tanzania are vigilant about natural protection and preservation. Many reserves and national parks are incredible destinations, including Selous Hunting Animal Reserve, Gombe Stream National Park, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mikumi, Ruaha and Serengeti. Our group decided to go to Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO Natural Heritage Reserve. It is world’s largest inactive and intact volcanic crater. Reaching a height of 2,000 meters, it measures 600 meters in depth, 22 kilometers in diameter and over 260 square kilometers in area, where wild animals gather all year round in the highest density worldwide.


Discovery and National Geographic channels, among many others, along with archeologists, writers, journalists and photographers have spent years and worked hard trying to zoom into the largely untouched lives of these wild creatures.


The landscape looked even more striking in person than on film. Greenery subsided up along the crater, giving rise to swarms of wild beasts rambling and idly savoring the serenity there. A family of lions could be seen slumbering under a perennial tree, while herds of antelopes grazed, and farther away, big throngs of elephants fetching water. Numerous animal species can be seen within this giant crater; from small creatures like birds (over 500 species) to giant beings including giraffes, elephants, hippos, rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs or zebras, it is estimated that 25,000 species are inhabiting there. Seated in a convertible jeep, we were brought closer to wild animals than I had ever been before, and watched them function in the wildlife: hunting, eating, sleeping and mating.


Finally, I was granted the scene that had sparked my curiosity to visit: Enormous flocks of tens of thousands of flamingos that reddened the entire saltwater lake of Manyara. Watching from the bank, the flamingos soared like countless rubies evaporating under the late sun. The dream came true, but our group still yearned for more time to take a closer look, and bring ourselves closer to such magic that the wild had to offer.


Packing up, we headed for Kenya to admire “the most spectacular migration on earth” in which millions of wildebeests cross Mara River from Kenya to Tanzania to seek new sources of food. (To be continued).
Thu Hoa

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