Standing at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, John Barrett looks out over 12 miles of a former volcano that is home to lush green scenery and countless forms of wildlife. As far as he can see are blue monkeys, black heron, elephants, zebras, grazing impalas and lions relaxing underneath the African sky. A vibrant-colored lilac breasted roller streaks by leaving only the essence of its blue and purple coverings hanging in the air. As he walks through the Olduvai Gorge, onto to the Serengeti Plains and into the mud huts, each destination offers its own personality and captivating view.
On Jan. 9, the Kingsport man with a passion for photography returned from an awe-inspiring adventure to Tanzania. There, he had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the Maasai Tribe and learn about their culture and traditions. The group was not allowed in the actual village, but could visit the camps. Within the Maasai Tribe there were 16,000 members led by their Chief, who spoke about their lives within the beautiful mountains of Tanzania.
Barrett and the rest of his travel group with the National Geographic Society had the honor of watching the Maasai Tribe members do traditional dances, cloaked in bright clothing and intricate bead work necklaces. Speaking of the bead work, Barrett explained how “the daughter of the Chief created her own personal bead work pieces for others to purchase and match with their outfits.”
The experience gave Barrett an inside look at what life was like for those in Tanzania, not only within the Maasai Tribe, but those on the outskirts. The buildings along the roads traveling in and out of the mountains were just as colorful as the cloth worn by those in the Tribe, he recalled. The people were very energetic and seemed to always be smiling. It was intriguing, he thought, that many of the locals carried phones with them, even under their garments. “They seemed to take from society what is important, but not detrimental to their traditions,” Barrett explained.
In addition to the wildlife and the Maasai tribe, Barrett lights up as he talks about the spectacular scenery surrounding the tented lodges in which the travel group stayed.
“Our tents were in the middle of the wildlife. At night, we had to call someone to come get us for dinner and they would send a man with a spear to escort us. This protected us from hyenas, hippos and other animals,” he explained.
During the day, however, Barrett with his camera in hand would spend a lot of time looking upward. He captured, through his camera lens, skies outlined with the silhouettes of Acacia trees and cranes, looking as if they were on fire, bursting with bright oranges, reds and yellows.
“The sunsets were just fantastic,” he said, and he made sure to take photos every chance he had. Not only did he capture the beauty of nature, the unique animals, but also the beauty of the faces of those that call the Tanzanian landscape home.
Rhinos tromped through knee-high grasses, and “Darth Vader” birds pulled their midnight dark feathers over their face to see into the water clearly for their minnow dinner. Massive elephants walked surprisingly silently toward the next watering hole as an impala gave birth.
By sharing his story and his photographs, Barrett brings this African safari experience back to Tennessee to share with those who have only dreamed of such a surreal adventure. He chose this particular adventure to Tanzania because the activity level was light and the tour group was a smaller one. “I noticed there wasn’t a lot of hiking and the groups only had maybe 20 in them, so those were a few reasons I chose Tanzania this year,” he said.
Last year, he traveled to Australia and New Zealand. The Tanzania trip was 11 days on safari which took him and his Visa from the United States to Amsterdam into Tanzania. The appeal of the enticing culture and animals met the criteria Barrett wanted; and he was definitely not disappointed.
So what is next for this world traveler? Well, before he jets off anywhere else, local residents interested in hearing his story first-hand can join him on March 20 when he relives this incredible trip at the Kingsport Alliance for Continued Learning.
Barrett says he will always remember what he saw in Tanzania and how much excitement he felt with each sunset, conversation and giraffe, because “you shouldn’t be doing things you don’t enjoy.”
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