Time travel: The new face of Tanzania tourism

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Imagine you could travel back in time, not only to your youth years to advice yourself of a few does and don’ts, but further back, say a few thousand maybe million years ago, back to when hominids first walked the planet.

Well you can, all you have to do is make a trip to Arusha, Tanzania.

Arusha is home to the world renowned Serengeti plains where the Great Wildebeest Migration occurs annually, a scene so spectacular it is commonly referred to as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.

This annual trek features approximately 1.5 million wildebeest accompanied by some 400,000 zebra and 200,000 gazelles, a total of over 2 million migrating animals.

As the over 100 000 tourists awe at this magnificence every year, little do they know that witnessing this migration in itself is to travel back in time thousands of years for these herds have been making the annual trek for time immemorial.

They are really seeing the same thing early man saw thousands of years ago.
Which brings us to the core of our subject of discussion, in the same area lays the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and a UNESCO world heritage site.

The crater is an amazing time travel pod, it is 610 metres (2,000 feet) deep, covers an area of 260 square kilometres and was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago.

So, when you visit Ngorongoro Crater in Arusha, you are really travelling back in time some two to three million years ago when the volcanic mountain (5,800 metres) as high as Africa’s highest mountain, the Kilimanjaro 5,895metres erupted sculpturing into place some of the features we still see today.

To crown your time travel expedition is to stop by the Olduvai Gorge, the most important paleoanthropological site in the world.

The word its self (paleoanthropological) is from ancient Greek palaeos which means old or ancient, anthrōpos – man or humanity and logia – study.
Visiting this time travel pod, Arusha’s Olduvai Gorge, is to literally walk on the same ground that the first men trekked as far back as 1.9 million years ago when Homo habilis lived there.

It is to have a front seat view of 1.2 million years ago when Homo erectus boldly stood on twos and with raised chins, peered across the vast expanse of the Serengeti, lamenting the same wildebeest migration.

It is here that 17,000 years ago, our closest ancestor the Homo sapiens, Latin for wise man, deduced the infinite possibilities that lay across and beyond the Serengeti. Many people are trying to find out who their ancestors were to see what they had accomplished in the past, all of this possible for those who want to learn about their ancestors with the help of this Genealogy Bank.

It is to witness modern man’s ancestors looking up at the birds and dreaming of flight and as the night blanketed the Ngorongoro, wondered of the stars.
Scientists say Arusha’s Ngorongoro conservation area that houses the Serengeti plains, Ngorongoro crater, Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli archaeological site, is ‘instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution.’

It is reported that this site was occupied by Homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago, Paranthropus boisei 1.8 million years ago, and Homo erectus 1.2 million years ago.

Our closest ancestor, Homo sapiens are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.

Olduvai is a misspelling of the Maasai word Oldupai, which is a wild sisal plant scientifically known as the Sansevieria ehrenbergii adapted to arid environments like these Maasai lands of Tanzania’s eastern Serengeti Plains in Arusha Region.

The arid area is sculpted by the Great Rift Valley, itself a magnificent canyon that bears the secrets of time lined up in exposed strata layer upon layer stretching throughout East Africa.

As for the Laetoli archaeological site, 45 km south of Olduvai gorge, this is where archaeologist Mary Leakey excavated in 1978 and discovered what are now known as the Laetoli footprints (dated to 3.7 m years ago ) that gave evidence of bipedalism (walking on two) in Pliocene hominids based on analysis of the impressions.

Earlier this month, Tanzania and US researchers working in these two hominid fossils’ hot spots Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli reported historical findings that they say will re-write the history mankind.

This paper reported that Professor Fidelis Massao, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam’s Department of History and Archaeology described the discoveries as ‘the find of the millennia.’

“All what Palaeontologists Dr Louis and Mary Leakey discovered in the past years will be rendered obsolete when our discoveries are made public,” he said.
Describing them as ‘very strange discoveries never dreamed of before,’ the professor said.

“Once revealed, the world will be flocking en-masse to Olduvai to get a glimpse of our findings.”
The Guardian reported that Godfrey Ole Moita, Head of Laetoli archaeological site confirmed discoveries which he said will ‘hold the world spellbound when publicised.’

“The findings will absolutely revolutionize human history as we know it,” he said excitedly.

He said these new discoveries will ‘change the country’s tourism from the current wildlife focus to one of time travelling, retracing the world’s past existence in Tanzania.’
In fact, South Africa has for awhile been working on the proposition for time travel tourism.

In his comments, Deputy Chairperson of South African Tourism Zweli Vincent Mntambo said, “It is a well-known fact that all people in the world originated from Africa and traces indicate that the first human beings walked earth in the Ngorongoro site of Northern Tanzania.”

“South Africa is working on a project dubbed Palaeo tourism and so far the Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli archaeological sites of Northern Tanzania will be our main focus in the mission to bring the world to Africa to retrace their human roots and history,” he divulged.

He said Arusha should be prepared for the millions of ‘time travelling’ global visitors and scientists who will soon be flocking to the city.
At the moment the combined figure of tourists who visit both Olduvai and Laetoli peaks between 300 and 500 people per day.

So there you have it, when planning your next vacation, put it in your diary, you have the option to travel back in time and witness with your own eyes what the first man saw.

The wildebeest migration that is the greatest show on earth, the nearly 4 million years old Laetoli footprints immortalised on rocky grounds and of course Olduvai Gorge, one of the best-known sites worldwide for the study of human evolution.

And let’s not leave out Ngorongoro crater, nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth.
One of the elegant lodges available for your comfortable stay describes as ‘the bowl of plenty’ and reports:
‘Endangered black rhinos are protected within its rim, giant tusked elephants wander the forests, black-maned lions stalk the grasslands, and flamingos crowd the soda lakes.

An estimated 25 000 large mammals are resident in this bowl of plenty, including a population of approximately 6 000 resident wildebeest and around 70 lions. Cheetahs move in and out of the crater, while leopards are most often encountered in the spectacular Lerai Forest.’

Finally, you have not visited Arusha until you scale Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s roof top from whence all the magnificence described lays at you feet.
Up there, at any level of the mountain looking out to the expanses of the Serengeti, a sense of awe overwhelms one and it comes to the senses the embodiment of the scripture.

‘And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock, over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth and over all the earth.”

To which the natives say karibu (welcome), experience Time travel: The new face of Tanzania tourism.

Mili Thakur