A local driver picked me up at the airport. Large drops of rain began to fall as the car took off. The driver told me that I had arrived in Tanzania during the rainy season. I saw children in uniforms dash through the streets in rain. The car drove slowly because of traffic congestion and the rain. It must have been the result of infrastructure development lagging behind rapid growth, a phenomenon peculiar to developing nations. The driver told me that stricter traffic controls would be imposed from the next day, for the African version of the Davos Forum.
A meeting had already started for young global leaders, i.e. 40 years of age or younger as a part of this summit in Tanzania. I graduated that age group quite some time ago. My part of the Forum was scheduled to begin the day after tomorrow. So, I decided to carry out a plan I had eagerly developed.
I would go on safari. I rushed to a travel agency in downtown Dar es Salaam. I put down my suitcase and changed into light clothes. I picked up a ticket, confirmed my travel arrangements and went back to the airport. I asked the agency to keep my suitcase and deliver it to the airport when I returned to Dar es Salaam.
I boarded a plane to Kilimanjaro Airport in the late afternoon. It was a propeller plane. Arriving at night, I could see no signs of a mountain at Kilimanjaro Airport. I decided to face the direction of Mt. Kilimanjaro and imagine it (something that was admittedly a little difficult to do).
A local driver was there to pick us up. He came in a Land Cruiser equipped for safari. We made the night journey westward to Arusha, the third largest city in Tanzania. I checked my maps and figured that we were traveling west, parallel to the country’s border with Kenya. After one hour in the jolting Land Cruiser, awestruck at the beauty of the stars blanketing the night sky down to the horizon, we arrived at Arusha. My long journey finally came to an end when our Land Cruiser slowly slipped into a hotel driveway. I decided to concentrate that night on unwinding and getting over my fatigue from the long trip from Japan.
I woke up in a mosquito net the next morning, feeling invigorated. I felt the energy arising from inside. The energy of the Earth must be extremely strong there. Where did I last feel that feeling? My cellular phone rang while I was searching my mind for an answer. It was a call from home. My fourth son was throwing a tantrum and weeping on the other end of the line. With his mother’s voice in the background, he gibbered, “Mum’s been giving me a hard time.”
Logic does not work in a situation like this. I calmly told my fourth son how wonderful he was, persuaded him to head off to the Go tournament, and hung up. I checked the time. It was five in the morning in Tanzania and 11 in the morning in Japan. I got out of bed, had breakfast and took a walk. Then it was time for the Land Cruiser to pick us up. I hopped in and we hit the road. Our destination, Ngorongoro, was about 200 kilometers away. It was a three-hour-plus drive.
Coffee plantations and maize fields surrounded us as we left the city streets. After traveling a while, the scenery changed to a green meadow dotted with acacia shrubs and yellow cassia flowers. I saw cattle grazing near a gently sloping hill. Soon, a Masai village came into view. Cylindrical huts in the village looked like yurts in Mongolia, but they had a thatched roof. I began noticing Masai people in their distinct, colorful kitenge garment on the roadside. Masai men still wore a slender, spear-like staff next to their skin at all times. The kitenge garment laid bare their hardened legs.
I didn’t know if it was because of the rainy season or the savanna climate, but suddenly the rain started again. Then the rain stopped and the sun began glaring down. The weather was amazing. So was the scenery. A school building gradually appeared in a meadow with absolutely no man-made object in sight. It was a breathtaking sight. In the Land Cruiser, I was informed that in recent years, the Masai people had started to go to schools and do jobs such as security.
Out of nowhere, a herd of elephants showed up in the distance, while I gaped at oddly-shaped baobab trees. I counted their number on impulse. There were 12 elephants in the herd. Our tour guide began touching something in the Land Cruiser’s ceiling after asking the driver to pull it over. I had not noticed it, but the car’s roof was designed to rise about 80 centimeters. We lifted the roof, stood up in the car, and chose to watch the distant elephants from the open space that emerged between the car and its raised roof.
The herd of elephants walked toward us. They appeared to want to cross the road. The Land Cruiser approached the elephants, until they were very close. I saw calves at the tail of the herd. The young ones looked as if they were playing with each other. After a while, the herd began crossing the road right before our eyes. Finally, the elephants walked farther and farther away from us at a leisurely pace.
After the herd of elephants, we soon came across giraffes. I saw more than ten giraffes on both sides of the road. They walked with great elegance, swaying their heads back and forth. Meanwhile, I found a wild animal dead on the road. It was a hyena. It lay dead on the side of an ordinary road. That was before our Land Cruiser had even entered the national park.
After traveling a bit further, what looked like a flat table mountain appeared ahead. The surrounding scenery changed from meadow to bush land, with many trees. Then, the bush land gave way to forest, as the Land Cruiser began to climb the mountain. A huge lake spread under my eyes. It was Lake Manyara. The area around the lake was a national park known as a habitat for tree-climbing lions.
We arrived at a gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We chose to open our lunch box and have a meal there while our driver performed the formalities. The ecosystem changed drastically as the Land Cruiser passed through the gate. The atmosphere changed to that of a damp tropical rainforest or a jungle.
We drove along mountain road. After a while, a huge depression in the ground leaped to our eyes. The driver parked the car at an observation platform. We went outside and admired the view. The scenery was so beautiful that it didn’t seem real. I have tried as hard as I could to come up with the right words to convey the grandeur, but I’m unable to do it justice. It was astonishingly beautiful.
Ngorongoro is a gigantic crater with a radius of 9 kilometers. The crater is 600 meters deep. It is a wilderness area with absolutely no man-made object, where only wildlife lives. It’s a paradise where a wild ecosystem remains in pristine condition. The mention of a crater might bring to mind a semicircular depression with exposed dirt on its surface. But this crater is covered with rich green, and its bottom is flat. Imagine a crater shaped like a frying pan, and you have an idea of how Ngorongoro is shaped.
The bottom of Ngorongoro consists of an area covered with yellow flowers, a habitat for pale purple flowers, a light green meadow and a blue lake. It was surrounded by mountains. Green mountains framed the view of the paradise that extended far into the distance, and the wide open sky spread above both of them. The translucent light blue sky and white clouds created a contrast of colors unique to Africa.
“I didn’t know the sky could be so translucent blue. I didn’t know clouds could be so pure white.” Each aspect of the sight touched me. Viewed from above, the scenery looked like a true heaven. At the insistence of our driver, I returned to our Land Cruiser, and decided to go to the bottom of this frying pan.
After making a quarter round of the crater counterclockwise along its rim, we finally descended to the bottom of Ngorongoro. A thick carpet of umbrella-shaped trees covered the mountains on the crater’s edge. The trees decreased in number and the scenery changed to a meadow that offered a commanding view as our Land Cruiser climbed down. The driver pulled the vehicle over, and allowed us to study yellow flowers. The yellow flowers were possibly marigolds. They looked like dandelions. The marigold added a yellow accent to the meadow. We drove on. There was no other vehicle in the sea of grass, as far as our eyes could see. It was truly a wildlife paradise.
We spotted clusters of black dots in the yellow and green paradise soon. They were herds of buffalos. Then, we saw groups of whitish horses far away. These were zebras. Bands of brownish, thin animals turned out to be herds of gnus. We also saw big birds here and there. They were ostriches and a type of ibis.
The driver would stop the Land Cruiser the moment he saw an animal. We stood up in the car, capturing a view from the space in the roof, and enjoyed every bit of the panoramic view that spread in all directions each time our vehicle stopped. Finally, we saw lions. The encounter moved me so much that I began tweeting from my cellular phone to inform the people who follow me on that service.
“A big male lion rolled over just 10 meters from our car.”
“He is right next to our car now.”
“His tail is knocking the window.”
And so on. After rolling himself over, the lion began a slow walk. He hit the car section next to my door, and his tail knocked a window. I managed to send brief tweets as he did so. The lion walked away slowly after enjoying the odd encounter with our Land Cruiser for about 10 minutes.
After that, we drove to the lake to see the hippopotamuses. The hippos were hard to find because they stayed underwater in groups. We saw their flat faces and noses slightly above the surface of lake in the distance. Somewhat closer, we also found a hippo rising to the lake surface periodically to take a breath.
I wasn’t sure if it was permitted, but while we were at the lake, I stepped out of the car, and walked around. I could do so without fear because I was told there were no predators like crocodiles and lions nearby. I closed my eyes and sat in meditation under a big tree by the lake for 10 minutes or so. It was truly refreshing.
Pressed by the driver, I returned to the vehicle, looking forward to the rest of the safari. I was hoping to see some rhinoceroses. After traveling along the bumpy road for some time, our native guide began shouting something. He had found two rhinos, a parent and her child. They were very close. According to our guide and driver, the chance to view a rhino from such a short distance is extremely rare. And there were two of them, a mother and a child. The guide and driver kept telling me, “You are lucky.”
The mother seemed to be giving milk to her child. We had a silent exchange with the pair for about ten minutes. After they were done, the rhinos faced us, and began walking slowly toward the lake with the calf in front.
After observing animals such as hyenas, warthogs, gazelles, flamingos, ostriches and baboons, we left the crater and checked in at a hotel on its outer rim. The hotel offered a sweeping view of the crater and its paradise.
I went to bed early that night to prepare for the early start on next day.
May 5, 2010
At a hotel overlooking the crater