Olduvai Gorge & Serengeti National Park, Tanzania – by Heather Thistleton
After 2 days at the crater we headed off to the Serengeti calling in at the Olduvai Gorge where, in 1959, Mary Leaky made her groundbreaking discovery of a human-like skull dating back 1.8million years. Since then other human-like species have been found in the area some dating back as far as 3.7million years. There are even footprints which prove, from their pressure points, early upright human-like beings once lived there. Volcanic eruptions over time have fossilised many ancient treasures. This whole area is often referred to as “the cradle of mankind” and worth a read on the internet. It shows the layers of time from the deep gorge where the soil is black, to volcanic ash, to red lifeless soil, to volcanic ash again and finally Terra Firma as we know it today. The Tanzanians have a gripe in that the gorge was named by them centuries ago because of the “oldupai” plant that grows in abundance there. This plant resembles flax and when a blade is cut off and twisted, refreshing liquid drips out of it. This plant is eaten by the animals to gain moisture in dry season and has been used for generations by the Maasai for “water” and medicine. The Tanzanians say the German who came to the gorge in the early 1900’s to look for butterflies could not hear properly so he documented it as Olduvai instead of Oldupai. They are determined to get the history books re-written no matter how long it takes!
The Serengeti Lodge is set high on a hill with breathtaking vistas of a landscape teeming with game. It was here that after dark and before sunrise we had to have an armed escort from/to our rooms as the lions regularly drink from the swimming pool. I woke to a giraffe grazing the tops of the acacia trees outside my bedroom balcony. The sound of so many different birds was like a magical orchestra. Nature truly is God’s greatest gift and I cannot believe just how much the Tanzanians treasure this gift. The Maasai are a tribe from a bygone era. They are at one with nature and never abuse it. They never over graze the land, moving constantly with their cattle. They never cut down trees for firewood; they simply pick up the dead branches and bushes. They wander freely amongst all the animals either with their cattle or just returning to their make-shift village. We saw a child about 9years old rolling a plastic drum down the road with his foot. He was in the middle of nowhere and completely alone. Our driver explained that he had been 28kms to collect water for his mother and was on his way back. I asked if he was safe from the wild animals (we hadn’t long passed lions). Our driver replied that seldom are the animals a threat and attacks are extremely rare and no one would harm this child.
Just before we entered the actual Serengeti National Park we saw the spectacle of the wildebeest migration. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest with their babies – some still had their umbilical cords hanging down – running to get from one side of the plains to the other. Once they reached the other side of the road they stopped and started grazing as if they were in no hurry to go anywhere. I have one photo that shows wildebeest from right next to the Land cruiser to as far as your eye can see. Eventually on the horizon the animals were mere dots. Again, if you don’t actually see it, it is impossible to describe.
My heart sang as we passed the “compounds” for the Lodge staff and all the little children came running out to wave and shout in their high pitched voices “jambo, jambo”. Their eyes as bright as stars, their smiles as wide as the crater and their teeth as white as snow. It brought back all the memories of my farm days and how the little children did exactly the same way back then. Occasionally we would come across a man on his bicycle with his wife and child on the carrier (not Maasai). He too would pull over and as we drove past would wave and call “jambo”. What an amazing nation.