In a wildebeest stampede Derrek...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

July 30, 2000|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

In a wildebeest stampede

Derrek Shulman

Special to the Sun

It took 27 hours to reach Tanzania, but only five seconds to realize the best "sight" in the East African country is not a sight at all.

It's the sound, smell and feel of being surrounded by a quarter-million wildebeests when -- suddenly -- they stampede.

In seconds, the massive herd disappears in a choking cloud of dust. The thunder of hoofs reverberates in a continuous wave, shaking acacia trees and sending birds skyward. Bleats and grunts come from every direction as calves still wet from birth struggle to keep up with their galloping mothers.

Welcome to the Serengeti, Tanzania's natural wonder of the world. Home to a dazzling menagerie of large mammals, the Serengeti -- slightly larger than Connecticut -- made me feel that I had entered another place and time.

The wildebeests' migration, replete with on-the-run births, raging river crossings and deadly battles with crocodiles, defines the image of Africa to many Westerners.

The stampede was one of many scenes suggesting that Tanzania is the land that time forgot. The Masai, one of the country's indigenous people, follow old customs. Alone with peripatetic herds of goats and cows, a tribesman whom I met wore a scarlet robe (the bright color is said to discourage animal attacks) and carried a spear, stick, knife and club. His earlobes sagged with the weight of matching cork plugs.

The local people were fascinating, but the main reason I flew 17 hours to Nairobi and then rode a bus another 10 hours to reach the Serengeti was to see animals. I wanted to see lions, giraffes and all the other animals at close range.

I should have been careful what I wished for.

I wasn't thinking about snakes when I headed for a toilet pit. The rustle in the grass a few feet from me must have been some kind of lizard, I thought. But looking down, I saw the curved body and yellow crescent-shaped markings of a snake. Not just any snake, either. This was a puff adder, a species whose venom can be deadly.

I backed away slowly. The reptile slithered in the opposite direction.

Having encountered small terrors and big game in the Serengeti, I was left with one question: When can I go back?

Derrek Shulman lives in Massachusetts.

MY BEST SHOT

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The environment of the Galapagos was like none I had ever seen. The creatures there have no instinctive fear of humans. It was amazing how the iguanas would perch on lava rocks waiting for their body temperatures to rise with the morning sun -- all pointed in the same direction, as if listening to some unseen lecturer.

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nev.

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"Located 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, this state park is a little-known place that makes a wonderful day trip. Among the many attractions are rock formations, desert landscapes, hiking and camping."

New Brunswick, Canada

Sandra and David Van de Streek,

New Freedom, Pa.

"On a visit to the island of Grand Manan off New Brunswick, my husband and I stopped at the Swallow Tail lighthouse. From its serene setting, one can spot whales, and we delighted in watching harbor seals near the rocks."

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