This place seems so familiar, it’s like I never left. The air is thick and wet—a bit smoky. The streets are as dark as the night I left behind a day ago.
In that time, my body has left home and effortlessly crossed the globe. Call it travel or translocation, the passport of my mind searches for a page that fits and lands on Tanzania.
I am in Tanzania—back in Tanzania. I like it here and I am happy to be back, for this is the great secret of Africa—that this place is so very addictive. Most of us dream of visiting Africa one day—and then there’s the rest of us who simply dream of returning.
This is, in fact, my fourth trip to Africa this year—
Last spring, I sailed across the ocean to Cape Town and then voyaged inland to explore the bouldered shores of Lake Malawi. Weeks later I returned to South Africa to host a documentary for the National Geographic Channel (set for release in early 2013), and then, just a few weeks ago, I stopped by the great Serengeti on my hopscotch around the world.
Those two nights in Tanzania hinted at my journey to come—a chance to return and sink my teeth into the wildest corners of this great African nation. Not only is the entire history of humankind wrapped up in Tanzania, but the very history of National Geographic is anchored in this corner of East Africa, where the Society brought us Jane Goodall and her chimps and the Leakeys’ groundbreaking discoveries of our fossilized ancestors.
After 17 hours on airplanes, I am feeling a bit fossilized myself—perhaps even slouched over a bit with the bent stature of our distant relative Australopithecus. I spent most of my flight trying to soak up Swahili from a book, a procrastinated attempt to prepare for a new culture in a new land.
KiSwahili was once the language of travelers across much of Africa, passed from local tribe to foreign traders on caravan routes and along the seacoast. Centuries have passed since those more exotic times, but even now, I am just a traveler making my way, forever searching for the right words.
In Swahili, the word safari means “journey”—and today, such African, game-viewing journeys are the much sought-after experience of discerning travelers. And yet, the safari of today in fact, derives from the 19th century British colonial construct, with doting guides who serve tea and biscuits in the bush, spot wildlife for you and then wrap the day with gin and tonic sundowners. It is all good fun and admittedly, I have come bearing khaki and bug spray. I aim to see as many wild animals as I can, to revel in the terrific nature of Tanzania—but above all this will be a journey—a true safari.
For the record, I am not going to the Serengeti—I was just there and the Serengeti already has its own Disney soundtrack and major motion picture and a touring Broadway show. Instead, I intend to make my safari across Tanzania’s other national parks, in particular those rare and hard-to-reach places that are still so timeless and alive.
At least this is my plan—a real safari follows no agenda, other than the animals and the weather. Tonight I find myself in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar Es Salaam (the “House of Peace”) where the weather is absolutely fine—tropical and breezy, cheerful and summery in mid-November.
When I check into my hotel, I am only concerned with one thing—the internet. I have gone nearly a day without and now I am suffering serious withdrawal. Thus, I bombard the receptionist with questions.
Is there Wi-Fi? Yes. In the rooms? Yes. Are you sure? Yes. Is there a password? Yes.
What is your Wi-Fi code?
“Paradise,” she says, “Just paradise.”
And so here I am: back in Africa, back online, in paradise.