I saw Mount Kilimanjaro. And it was so amazing that I forgot to take a picture of it. That’s when you know a moment is special: when it’s so amazing to be in the moment, that all other superficial cares of the world are lost in it – there’s no need to take a photo, or check in on Facebook, or prove to other people how much of a good time you are having. Those are the ones that are often cherished the most. It’s difficult for me, though, because I love to share my experiences with other people. Now, all I can do is tell other people I have seen it, but I have no proof! I have had to learn how to appreciate that moment for what it was: just me and the awe of being in nature’s massive presence.
The moment was amazing: we were driving along, trusting the GPS that there was a large mountain somewhere ahead of us. We tried to identify which one it was – maybe it’s that one over theeeeeere in the distance, it seems a bit bigger than the others, right? Then you see a slightly larger one, and you wonder if it’s not perhaps that one. Then all of a sudden, you look up. As in, up up. High above the clouds, high above any of the surrounding mountains that you were assessing, and you are left without a doubt as to which one it is. And you can’t help but feel small at the foot of this enormous chunk of rock that just rises high above all that is around it.
Then it gets confusing to your mind because it is so far away but so big that it actually looks small…
Tanzania was beautiful. I was highly surprised by how green it was though! Particularly in Ngorongoro, but everywhere you looked there was green. I definitely had different expectations. Traditionally I had pictured Africa to be more Savannah-type landscapes, with bush-veld as far as the eye can see. Instead, there were trees, and green fields. It was almost like the UK or Europe, except with skies brighter blue than you could ever imagine, and a sun that shines directly from above chasing all shadows away.
I also wasn’t expecting the traditional cultures to proliferate as they did: you drive along, and there are just Masai tribesmen walking along in their traditional blankets, with massive looped earlobes, with their knobkieries, just herding their cattle. Yes, I am most definitely a city girl, but this experience particularly highlighted how different South Africa comes across to me: yes, we have traditional people, but often it feels like they are traditional at certain times, and then resort to commercial, modern, “first-world” tendencies. For example, they live and work in the city, wearing suits, driving BMWs and drinking expensive coffee (I’m thinking bank executive here), and then get married in their traditional garments with cows as labola. The Masai tribesmen seemed all-tradition, all the time. It was fascinating and good to see that there are still some cultures out there that have held on to their traditions and the simple ways of life that don’t require the hustle and bustle and stress of today’s “modern world”.
Having said this, however, I didn’t get any photographs of the locals. Unfortunately, while they still live according to their old ways, they have been touched significantly by the tourism industry, and as a result, I found that one of the only English words in their vocabulary was: “Dollar?” We tried to drive up to Lake Natron and got stopped along the worst dirt roads and we were asked for toll fees (you know, to maintain the dirt road?) a good number of times. At the one stop, there was a Masai woman who was trying to sell us her jewellery, which is fair, but after the heavy tolls, I didn’t want to be buying some piece of jewellery (which, to be honest, was basically the same as what I would get back in South Africa, except triple the price). When I told her “No”, she insisted that that I at least take a photograph of her: “Photo? Dollar? Photo? Dollar?” I tried to say no in as many tones as I knew, and she kept repeating those two words and ignoring (and not understanding) my refusal. The Dollar tourism industry has made travelling quite expensive, even (especially) in Africa. None of the Masai folk would let us take photos of them without us handing over some cash. So I didn’t take any photos of them (religious reasons would be ok, but tourist exploitation was unfair on principle).
The journey took us up from Dar Es Salaam (which was polluted and busy and full of traffic and taxis far worse than any Johannesburg Kombi) to the foot of Kili at Moshi, up through Arusha, and a slight detour to Ngorongoro Crater and National Park. We would have done Serengeti too, had time and finances allowed. We took the scenic route from there up to the border. This route took us past some cool volcanoes and craters that we did our best to explore (uncomfortably by excitingly off the beaten track). There were Zebra, wildebees and buck roaming free, and the expansive wilderness was breathtaking and typically African. Unfortunately we never made it to Lake Natron, but it worked out better as far as time went anyway, so I can’t complain too much.
Tanzania (I still don’t know how to pronounce it properly) was an awesome African experience. It challenged my preconceptions of my continent as far as the landscape goes, and it showed me just how far of an influence America actually has. I loved seeing that there are some people who still hold onto their cultural traditions as tightly as they can, with no desire to change that, where I am a person who is confused by people who are not looking for progress, growth and development (in themselves or in the world around them). It is definitely a place everyone should experience some time in their lives. I’m not sure that I would go back, but if I did, I would definitely go with lots of “dollar?” just to make the journey that bit easier and less frustrating.