A special light invisible to the naked eye
There are magical places on this planet. These magical places seem to talk to your heart, establish a connection to your being, unleash a sense of longing and awaken a sense of freedom, peace and joy deep in your soul. They even have a special light, invisible to the naked eye, that only a few can appreciate. They talk to you with every breeze of fresh air that touches your skin and with every step you take with your barefoot. To me, one of these magical places is home to the Manyara Green Camp.
In the midst of Manyara National Park's thick groundwater forest dominated by evergreen figs and mahogany trees, there is a crack that only birds can appreciate from the sky that at ground level unfolds as a river bed connecting a shy rocky waterfall coming from the Great Rift Valley to the lake. Because the lake is high in alkalinity, the waterfall and river bed become one of the main life sustains for the wildlife living in the ecosystem.
Right at the birth of the river bed, next to the shy rocky waterfall, the camp rises above the sand. What initially was one mobile tent soon became a set of six. Jean DuPlessis got there in the late '90s a few years after the reserve was established in 1957 and had the privilege to call it home.
We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts - William Hazlitt
At glance, the camp has all the elements needed for life to bloom. The water flows through the river bed, gathering wildlife like a mother calling her children home. The Earth provides soil to grow nutrients with volcanic rocks from nearby volcanoes that act as a catalyst for life. The air is kept fresh by the forests. The fire gathers humans every evening and keeps wildlife away from camp. Together they bring balance and allow life to unwind. Perhaps the rawness of the essential elements and the connection to our ancient roots is what attracts humans and wildlife alike.
What I like the most, however, are the voices I hear when I enter the camp. Vincent and Nuru have always been in camp whenever I visited. This time Polycarp and Baraka were also in camp. Together, we spent countless hours sharing stories.
Vincent has been in camp since the very beginning and has one of the most beautiful Tanzanian smiles I have ever seen. He is one of a kind and also the Chef in camp. I always like to visit him in the kitchen to share stories while I smell and taste his delicious food.
Vincent is also very much connected to this magical place. He breathes nature and adores the place as much as I do. One evening, as the sun was setting down and the water for the shower was getting ready, we chatted about the essence of life and what connects us all. Like the tree that grows its roots deep in the soil to search for nutrients, Vincent and I concluded that we also like to grow our roots in this soil to find the nutrients for a happy and fulfilled life.
We come from this wilderness. Perhaps this is why so many of us feel a strong bond with this land. It is the land of our youth - Boyd Norton
While in the kitchen, I also told Vincent about my adventures of the day. I know he has experienced them all already, but I am still very excited to share them. Just a few hours earlier, my friends and I climbed up the rocky waterfall in time to see a few herds of elephants coming to drink water. We popped our heads above the first set of rocks to witness the majestic nature. The elephants, just a few meters away, had no idea we were right there, looking at them with awe and deep appreciation.
One of the herds came with a couple of very tiny elephants. We remained quiet to observe the family dynamics. Some elephants got to drink first, and others watched out for threats. The little ones struggled to operate their trunk and sought protection and warmth from the mums. We were pinching each other, feeling very grateful for the encounter. Soon enough, the wind changed direction and a couple of elephants put their trunks up to smell the environment right before walking away.
Vincent explained how elephants don't have good sight and instead, rely on their sense of hearing and smell. To my surprise, it seems like the elephants did not know we were close to them until they smelled us with their trunks. I wonder what they would think if they could smell Vincent's food!
After the warm shower in the open air, we all had dinner in the river bed under the milky way. Venus was very bright, shining like the fairy lights we had around the table. That evening we didn’t seem to be able to finish a sentence without being interrupted by elephant trumpeting. Nuru was standing a few meters away from our table flashing our surroundings with a torch. There were at least 30 elephants around us running up and down. They seemed a bit confused and so I went to talk to Nuru to understand what was happening.
Nuru has a deep appreciation and understanding of wildlife. He reminds me of a true wildlife warrior with the knowledge of a scientist and the spirit of a ranger. I queried him about wildlife as elephants kept passing by, less than 10 meters away. I wish I had a picture of that moment. I think it is hard to understand the sensation of standing in the dark night feeling the energy of elephants around without seeing them. How it feels to be totally vulnerable and exposed but at the same time totally connected and trusting to another species.
As we stood together, the full moon started to rise above the trees. Nuru then told me about the respect elephants and themselves have developed. He said that elephants understand that there are people in the camp and that they should not get too close, likewise, in the camp, they understand that elephants need space and don’t get too close to them either. We respect them and they respect us, he said. Then I asked him about lions, as I had seen lion tracks next to my tent. He later explained that like elephants, lions are also very respectful.
Both elephants and lions will make a sign to you if they feel bothered, the same way you will make a gesture to them, but that does not mean they are aggressive or trying to attack. They are just communicating. Nuru then looked at me to say ‘you can trust a lion but not a buffalo’.
After this heartfelt experience and exchange, we went on to another one. We sat by the fire and listened to all the sounds around camp. We tried naming the animals whose sounds we thought we heard. Baboons were quite dominant at that point, but there were also lots of birds one could hear talking. Many bird species live in the park - my favourites to see are the hornbills.
Like all good things come to an end. The following morning, we packed up to head back to Arusha. We had spent a couple of nights anchored in true wilderness, being part of a greater ecosystem, and it was with great sadness that we said bye to Vincent, Nuru, Polycarp and Baraka.
Forever grateful to have magical places like this.
Places with a special light invisible to the naked eye.