Seven subway stops on the “A” train local took me from my house in uptown Manhattan to the Museum of Natural History, which is where I first fell in love with Africa. I made that trip weekly from the age of 10 to 12, took my lunch, and spent Saturdays exploring the treasures.
The Museum’s main hall features an entire herd of stuffed elephants that mark the entry to the Africa exhibit. Every African animal species is stuffed and presented in their unique environment. There were stories and replicas of the lion hunting, Masai warriors, descriptions and pictures of Pygmies killing elephants; one day I would see them all, live in their own habitat. But I’d never done it and after last year’s thyroid tumor scare, I decided this was one trip I didn’t want to put off any longer.
This safari was not a primitive wilderness experience. We stayed in 5-star game lodges and permanent tent-camps with private baths and hot showers, good food, and sunset happy hours. A travel agent pre-arranged everything. From Kenya to Tanzania she took care of every detail, from hotels to guides. Bush pilots took us on game drives, even one at night. I saw the “big five”: elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard. We saw giraffes, wart hogs, antelope, flamingos by the millions, and 300 other species of birds. We watched hippos and the crocodiles in the rivers, and danced with the Masai at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was the “A” train local dream come true.
The world’s ultimate wild animal park, is Ngorogoro Crater, a 100-square-mile caldera of an extinct volcano, which has a resident population of virtually every species in Africa (no giraffes because they couldn’t climb the steep walls to get in). These animals have grown accustomed to human beings in Land Rovers, have even learned how to use the vehicles to hunt more effectively. I watched three cheetahs stalk a gazelle, using the vehicles as cover to get closer without being detected. The animals have adapted their behavior to take advantage of human presence.
The earth and all its inhabitants are changing — in 50 years half of the existing species will become extinct. The thought scared me enough that, upon returning, I told my grandkids they had to see it while it was still there. But there is hope! For the first time, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an environmentalist. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan government Minister, has said, “If you don’t manage your natural resources equitably you cannot have peace.” This is the first time that the struggle to preserve the earth’s resources has been linked to the promotion of world peace — cheers to Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Take your “A”train to a museum or zoo close by, where you can kindle dreams about faraway places. And then, let’s hope there’s still a station at the destination, when your dream comes true.