David Cogswell | October 12, 2015 8:30 AM ET
A Space on the Calendar Called Tanzania
It sometimes seems that there is an impermeable membrane between the mind at work and the mind on tour.
Before I traveled to Tanzania last week, it was just a space on my calendar, a period I had to get through. As I made my plans I would be looking at the calendar, thinking about my schedule going into the trip, and picking up on it again when I got back, figuring what deadlines I would need to be looking at when and how soon I could get them worked out. I saw the space on the calendar marked “Tanzania” as an interim between work considerations before and after the trip. Once I got the trip over I could get back to all the work that was on my mind.
Like others I observe, I tend to get very wrapped up in work concerns, and I almost forget there is anything else in the world that matters. Then you take a trip to a place like Tanzania and the earth shudders beneath your feet.
When I went to this country, that blank space on the calendar opened into a vast new splendorous horizon. It was like going from black-and-white TV to a full-color three-dimensional experience. Reality became so monumental in comparison to the workaday office mentality; it almost deserves to be called by another name. Call it "superreality."
By the time I returned to that workaday world it had become so distant it was as if I looked back at my departure date across a broad canyon to a place remote in time and space. The time I had spent in Tanzania had only been about week. But it had been so novel, so spectacular that it was almost as if I had lived a lifetime in that brief period.
You’ve heard that at times one’s entire life can seem to flash by in an instant. A week in a place like Tanzania is so rich in novel experiences and impressions, it feels much larger than a week as measured by a calendar.
After the trip I returned to that calendar in my office and it looked like an artifact from an ancient civilization. It seemed so long ago when I left home. How could I ever have thought that a trip to Tanzania would only be a space on the calendar? How could I have thought I would go to the spectacular East African country and then just come back and resume where I had left off, as if nothing happened?
No. An encounter with Tanzania cannot fail to be an inner earthquake and move the soul to a different ground.
Africa is vast. If you look on a globe instead of a flat Mercator map, you can see the massive size of this continent. It is worlds upon worlds, many civilizations, a huge range of geographical variation. But if one is to pick one place in Africa to go for what may be one’s only opportunity to visit the continent, Tanzania would be a good choice.
This country could be said to offer more of the archetypal experiences associated with Africa than any other single nation. It has the Serengeti, the great plain that is home of the Great Migration, the most spectacular pageantry of wildlife still in existence on earth, when thousands of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes march and dance across the landscape. It shares the Great Migration with Kenya, where the Serengeti spreads into the Masai Mara. But Tanzania does have the greatest share of it.
Tanzania has Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, so gigantic in fact that it can be seen from Kenya.
Tanzania has the Indian Ocean coast, where the waters are warm and tropical. A short distance off the coast of Tanzania is Zanzibar, a place so legendary its name rings with romantic historical lore.
Ngogongoro Crater is one of the most insanely fantastic places you could possibly hope to experience. A result of giant cataclysmic movements of tectonic plates in prehistoric times, the crater is a flat plane surrounded by a mountainous rim. It’s mind blowing to observe it just as a geographic phenomenon. And then there are the lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, antelope, zebras… A wonderland of animals. The things you’ve seen in movies, or maybe circuses and zoos. Here they are running free.
Spending time in such an alternate reality as novel as Tanzania obliterates the sense of time that appears on a calendar. Inevitably we return to it. But it will not be quite as it was when we left it. The mind, having been expanded from the experience of travel to an exotic place, will never shrink back to its former dimension, though it may well sag a bit.
The experiences, such as seeing a lion in the wild for the first time, will never be forgotten, and they will spring forth into consciousness from time to time, aroused by some association.
When compared to a trip through Tanzania, the world of the office seems artificial, a flimsy human construct that blinds us to the real world of nature. In comparison to our consciousness while in the office, travel time is Real Time.
We will return to our place of servitude to the economic system of the world, we will try to pick up where we left off, and gradually the workaday mentality will enclose our minds again.
But we will never forget Tanzania. It is unforgettable. And soon we can perhaps plot another escape.
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Hotel & Resort
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Features & Advice
Airlines & Airports
Airlines & Airports
Features & Advice
Destination & Tourism