Leaving the E Unoto Retreat we began the long climb to Ngorogoro Crater, an extinct volcanic feature of the geological forces at work in the region. The road wound up across the stratified layers lining the wall of the Rift Valley and I found them reminiscent of Death Valley California. It was comforting to see so familiar a landscape halfway around the world but this was on a far grander scale. As the landscape became increasingly arid, the people clearly lived closer to the land and there was a certain rawness to the environment. We saw a number of ox drawn carts on the road and began to see wild game near the roadway. In rural Africa there are no utilities but seemingly everybody was talking into a cell phone.
There was a small museum at the gate to Ngorongoro Crater with a corner exhibit dedicated to early hominids. A length of footprints had been discovered in the area several decades ago, preserved in hardened mud. They are the footprints of our bipedal ancestors and at 3.5 millions years they are the oldest hominid footprints in the world. Looking at photos and dioramas of hominids in museums and on television intellectually I get that these are our early ancestors. Knowing this didn’t prepare me for the moment I placed my foot into a cast of one of the hominid footprints and my foot fit nearly perfectly into place. I felt a connection across the ages that startled me.
Ngorongoro Crater’s rim is lush in the way you imagine a jungle in Africa should be. Winding our way around the rim we dropped down the other side to Olduvai Gorge (Oldupai in Masai) and Serengeti. We were traveling in the landscape of my dreams. I had read about Olduvai Gorge while studying anthropology in college and learned about the incredible discoveries of Mary and Louis Leakey.
I never imagined I’d be standing there. Christy and I mingled with the other travelers eating box lunches while a guide spoke for several minutes about the history of the Gorge. We walked through the small exhibit in the little museum and had a chance to look closely at several of the actual fossils excavated by the Leakey’s which had changed human history and our perceptions of ourselves.