Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lopé – Part II: Into the Park

Once again, I found myself way behind on posts – I actually have several in the queue, its just a matter of making the time to write, find pictures, and post them. So, accept my apologies as I’m sure you’ve been waiting on the edge of your seat to find out what happened on our safari…

After a beautiful, but bone jarring eight hour journey, we finally arrived in Lopé and to a lodge where we would spend the night. We had pre-arranged a package deal that included our rooms and one excursion (a walk the next morning through a forest deep inside the park). We wanted to take a boat ride along the Ogooué River, but the “captain” was sick. Too bad for that guy, and to be selfish, too bad for us because the river there is almost majestic, no, it is majestic. It runs a very eratic path through the valley of high, treeless hills - very fast, dark water churning past, and through, and over black outcroppings of rock resembling old lava flow, but some kind of geologic formation I’d never seen before. And, so we decided to jump on a driving safari tour. It was almost cheesy how cliché it was – the lodge had fitted out an old Toyota pick-up truck with several rows of bench seats and a canvas cover with rolled-up side flaps. Its was actually pretty cool as we journeyed to the park. If this blog is called The Table in part because that’s where my life is being played out right now, then this weekend I could have changed the title to The SUV because in the end we spent about 20 hours total bouncing in one 4x4 or another.
Mozza livin' the dream!

We passed through the small village of Lopé and into the park. Besides us, our 4x4, and the road upon which we drove, there was no sign of human existence for as far as we could see – no cell towers, no houses, no farms or fields or orchards, or airplanes, or trains, no sounds of humans. We were out in the middle of somewhere grand. We saw elephants, buffalos, monkeys, listened to the forest come to life as the sun set – frogs and birds and chimps. It was actually more driving around to find animals than actually seeing them. But my favorite part of the evening was standing a bald hill overlooking a stream meandering through as narrow valley along which a family of elephants were walking, drinking, eating. There was such a peace, a simplicity, as the cool air came in through the valley, as the sunset painted the huge sky in hues of oranges and pinks and then purples, and all along we watched the family end its day. Parks sometimes have a plastic, false atmosphere – its too bad that we need fences to keep the animals in and the people out. But the reality is we need them, to protect land and animals from ourselves. And I’m so grateful we have them, otherwise I wonder if my kids will ever get to experience the same thing.

We woke the next morning for a trek through one of the park’s forests. Yesterday, we had been hesitant about the driving safari, but I’m so glad we did it. Unfortunately, the walk did not prove so exciting in terms of animals. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to be walking in a new place and the piles of elephant dung gave us hope that we would come upon a group of elephants. But no. A couple of the guys did, maybe, see a spider monkey. Towards the end we asked our guide to tell us about the forest – the trees, the fruit, and flowers. The experience got me thinking…

The forest was not unlike one you might find in the Blue Ridge, even the mountains and valley reminded me of the Shenandoah. Mossa and the Grande Fromage said the hills reminded them of Scotland, and CBS suggested that the Ogooué reminded him of parts of south east Asia. There is a fair amount of habitat diversity around the world, but one can travel to various places and be reminded of somewhere else. In a way, the world is more homogeneous than I think it is – flora and fauna and terrain changes; the Himalaya is drastically different than Kauai which is nothing like the Saudi deserts – but again, one terrain looks like another. However, as I travel around or even see pictures or movies, it doesn’t feel so homogeneous.

To start, you can see a postcard of a Greek island and one of a Spanish village in the Mediterranean. The land is very similar, but the architecture, the boats, the colors are dead giveaways as to which place is which. We have structural differences – rich and poor, sick and healthy; we have language differences, food differences; differences in music, art, manners, ethics, laws, religions, believes, entertainments, sports, history, and culture. Landscapes may look similar around the world, but the vibe and atmosphere and smells and experiences can be so different because of the people and the way they have adapted to their environment in different ways and the ways in which they have adapted or rejected other peoples’ way of dealing with what’s around them and expressing themselves. And, yet, Globalization is making its best efforts to homogenize us.

There are some good things that come with the blending and merging of cultures. I do believe in certain universal rights and truths and the power in unity to fight for them when someone weak cannot do it on their own. It is good to know when something bad happens in the world, and those with the ability to help and respond can – we are connected and that’s a good thing. Our ability to witness evil and calamity in our world increases our responsibility to do something about it. Similarly, I think it’s a cop-out not to do something to stop an evil because of some deference to culture - its easy to blame hate and violence and racism and genocide on culture (too often we suggest that its their issue to sort out, we should stay out of it). No, globalism gives us the power of observation, we are connected, no longer do we have the excuse of “We didn’t know how bad it was until it was too late”.

But I really do hope that we can maintain some of our differences. It makes our world so much more interesting and special and unique. Our differences do matter – its means that our culture matters, our history matters, each one of us matters. I think there’s a tendency to mimic our animal friends, we tend to hide and camouflage ourselves, coupled with globalism’s ploys to make us all the same in order to make and sell more of the same products. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite dialogues from The Incredibles. Dash has been using his super speed powers in school when he’s not supposed to and his Mom (Helen aka Elasta Girl) is telling him how he can’t do that:

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

So, yes, I want a place for everyone at the table, but if we lose our cultural identities in the process, we’re in for one boring dinner party.

No comments:

Post a Comment