There are some things in life one has to see to believe. Pictures and video recordings can both be altered, oral tradition stories can be exaggerated or twisted beyond belief, and the visual memories of our elders begin to fade as time goes by, rendering some of them not much more than rich fantasies. This reality makes it all the more important to explore the magical frontier areas around the globe in person whenever possible. We’ve made a habit of that at Chrysalis through the years. When it comes to the best parts of Africa, the audio and visual sensory inputs are so far beyond our norm that they can overwhelm our internal circuits. leaving us temporarily stunned, jaws dropping, eyes popping, unable to effectively process what’s right in front of us in that moment. For those of you old enough to remember the reference, it’s like a “close encounters of the third kind” moment.
This trip into the surreal first occurred on Kilimanjaro, as described in an earlier post. Our next exposures to visual magnificence in Africa took place in the N’gora N’gora wildlife preserve and the Serengeti. There were lions galore (no tigers, no bears) but almost every other African beast and critter was spotted in these remarkable places. Our students (and a few parents) giggled and blushed as two lions mated, and mated, and mated (ad infinitum). The old guy dropped to the ground exhausted after each round, rested for 10 minutes, then struggled back to his feet to do his patriarchal duty. His determination, to say nothing about his remarkable endurance, was entirely impressive. All us mature guys would have bumped fists (paws?) with him afterward if we could have waited around for several more hours for him to finish the job. Later, we were treated to three lionesses working together and doing their worst with a herd of wildebeests. Two wildebeests came to a violent but natural end that afternoon, and the lionesses hovered over their kill for awhile, waiting on their male counterpart to arrive and presumably start the evening meal. A leopard had it’s kill safely by it’s side up in a tree as it slept. Cheetahs raced by. Elephants lumbered around, seemingly without much worry about anything. The list goes on and on. What a visually stunning place.
The Serengeti eventually gave way to Zanzibar on our second trip to Tanzania in 2012. We climbed into small planes at the edge of the savannah and made the short flight to the island to learn a bit of history and to enjoy the pleasures of this Indian Ocean paradise. The scuba and snorkeling day trip along the reef, which was a short boat ride away from our beachfront lodging, may have been the most fun in a water environment that any of us had ever experienced.. We toured historic Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, infamous due to its major role as a processing center for the African slave trade prior to 1897. The tour was both sobering and very important in terms of raising our collective consciousness about the horrific conditions that once existed there. The group stopped by a spice farm, a strong part of this island’s identity, for some aromatic shopping before returning to the mainland for the return home.
All of this (an incredible journey to the top of a continent, exotic animals in their natural habitat doing everything that’s required in order to sustain life, a dazzling beach/ocean environment juxtaposed against a very disturbing history of slave trade) worked together to educate us, to inspire us, and to infuse us with new perspective and gratitude. We became better citizens of planet earth as a result of everything that we had seen, heard, and experienced together. None of us will ever be the same (in a good way.) You just had to be there.