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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Trekking the Serengeti-Ngorongoro-Tarangire

For the last five days we have crossed the Maasai plateau of Northern Tanzania, a highland of vast savannah, bracing winds, brilliant sun, abrupt rock formations, infrequent rivers, and wildlife beyond counting.  Pictures will say much more than I can write here, but since we're still on the road, a brief summary.  From Mwanza we drove through the "Western Corridor" of Serengeti National Park.  We had barely cleared the (substantial!) fees at the gate before we were seeing girraffe, zebra, gazelle, wildebeest . . . I think Julia counted 25 species of animals.  The terrain is open and endless, austere beauty.  And though the largest herds head north to Kenya in the August dry season, the density of animals left behind was still magnitudes above Uganda.  We camped at a "special" campsite, meaning a spot in the wilderness with no amenities, but plenty of baboons.  Our highlight in the Serengeti was an evening game drive in which we outran a rainstorm, which produced brilliant rainbows in the setting sun.  Luke spotted a rare serval cat moving noiselessly through the high grass near a granite kopje.  We sat on the truck with the breeze and the fresh air, watching ostriches run away or a flock of jewel-bright-green lovebirds descend, a hyena slink across the road behind us, a lioness walk confidently alone beside us.  In all I think we saw ten lions in the Serengeti, and heard many more during the nights!
Serengeti National Park joins the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The road was NOT a highlight--corrugated bone-rattling gravel and choking dust for hours.  But then we ascended to the ridge of this extinct volcano and down into the crater, skirting a salt lake and watching more wildlife.  The highlight here:  cheetahs.  Two, relaxing in the afternoon sun, sleek and unworried.  This is only the second time in all our years in Africa to see cheetahs in the wild.  And mating crested cranes doing their wing-stretching hopping dances.  That night we pulled into the public campground at almost 8,000 feet, cold, with about a hundred other adventurers in their little communities of identical tour-company tents all around the meadow, and our little family.  An elephant walked right by our tents, and later a herd of zebra, as we cooked over our charcoal segeli in the starlight, shivering.  The next morning we visited Oduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys famously excavated many fossils from the layers of cliffs which are now displayed in a museum.
Our third and final park was our favorite, Tarangire.  After the crowd at Ngorongoro we decided to ask at the gate for another special campsite, more expensive but completely private.  Sometimes this week we felt like the only people who were not being herded effortlessly through the country by efficient tour operators driving landcruisers, the only people who had not had everything arranged months ago and paid for.  In spite of this the people at the gate managed to contact their superiors and assign us the most spectacular campsite we've ever had, under a fig tree, miles and miles from anyone, with a dry sandy riverbed and 360-degree views of the wild. From our campsite alone we saw elephants, zebra, giraffe, impala, vervette monkeys, warthogs, and many birds.  I've been pretty scared in the middle of the night before, but never as terrified as last night when massive elephants wandered stomping a few meters from our tent at 1 a.m., a dark outline with swaying trunks blotting out the stars as we barely dared breathe from our sleeping bags.  Having watched them uproot trees, I knew we had no hope if one decided to explore our tents.  We survived. . . and it's not a real Myhre vacation if sweating palms and heart rates of 200 facing potential death don't come into it somewhere.  Tarangire is bisected by an all-season river, so this morning we watched herds of buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra, in national-geographic proportions, moving up the riverbed.
Now we're in Arusha, where we stumbled upon a very reasonable place to shower and sleep in a bed and eat good food (it is no small task to keep a family of six fed for five days in the wild from a not-so-cool cooler and cooking over charcoal).  Tomorrow we'll visit Selian Hospital, founded by our friends the Jacobsons, who are sadly on furlough right now . . . but we still have appreciated following their work over the last two decades and want to see this new medical center which is the culmination of their efforts (more than two decades actually, Scott visited them here as a med student in 1986).  Caleb fell while jumping on logs at a picnic site and hurt his arm, so while we're touring we will also stop in for an xray.  Always something.
We are deeply grateful for this week's fullness, for the soul-lifting horizon of being alone in the wilderness, for the challenge of finding our way and pitching our tents, for the family time around the campfires, for the stunning beauty of a world uncontrolled by humans.  I think that is the element that most points us to God, the reminder, as  CS Lewis says, that His goodness does not translate into safety, that He is unpredictable, fierce, and completely other.  We are grateful to have stepped outside the normal bounds of culture and civilization, the illusions of mastery and safety, to glimpse the Creator through creation.


Tricia said...

What an amazing experience. Still praying for protection and rest on your TRIP. God bless.

Kemmel and Lisa Dunham said...

Great blog entry! I can almost imagine being there. May God bless your time together.