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6-Ngorongoro Crater Safari/Tanzania

Day 10-11 of Safari

View Tanzania 2009 on Sharon E's travel map.

“Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.”
--W.C. Fields

Thank goodness we had a corkscrew!

August 23, 2009
Depart:............Mbuzi Mawe
Arrive:.............Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Animals Seen:..Transit/Cultural Day (Masai Rock Painting, Olduvai Gorge, Masai Village)

[*]We got to leave late this morning (7:30) since it's mostly a transit day. The mornings are always beautiful, even the dangerous animals look so peaceful and harmless
[*]Even though there were memorable events in Central Serengeti, we are SO ready to leave
[*]Stopping through Moru Kopjes, we visited what used to be Masai land. "Gong Rock" is this huge rock that the Masai banged on to assemble the villagers. It is a big, white, granite rock that somehow sounds a bell when you hit another rock against it. All those pocky marks were created by Masai over hundreds of years
[*]Here's a Masai rock painting and their dwelling. The black marks are from the fires they lit for food and warmth. It's not what I would call dwelling but maybe more a shelter from rain
[*]It takes a while to check out of the Seregeti. There is a lot of paperwork that our guide has to handle! In the meantime, I get out of the safe haven from the car and into the dust storm to check out the stores. Not much but I got this great picture of the Superb Starling. Isn't it pretty? I love the "bling" (c'mon Tamra, even you can't deny its beauty)
[*]It is more miles of just flat, dusty, boring desert. Because of this, we close up the roof which is good because then flies can't get in! Our first stop is a small Masai boma (village). (Such a relief to finally stop!) We gave the elected Masai liaison $20 and he took us inside. They greeted us
and we partook in some rituals...lots of jumping up and down
As you may know, the Masai typically wear shades of red and blue. The warriors only wear red. It is believed that the animals are fiercely afraid of red because long ago the Masai hunted many of the animals. So now you know what color to wear on your safari. The Masai, while not a big tribe, is quite famous for their way of life and decorated bodies (stretched earlobes and all)
They made me check out their jewelry and I bought a $5 bracelet (overpriced but I felt bad). Then we went inside one of their homes. It's small, dark and uncomfortable.
A family of four live here. Dad sleeps on a mat by himself and mom and 2 kids get the other mat to share. You can't stand upright as the structures are short and there's always a blazing hot, smoky fire in the center for cooking. I don't know why they like the pitch black; there are no windows. There is no room to move about, either. Our liaison tells us what village life is like and explains the process of a Masai warrior. You are selected from childhood and it is a tough life ahead. They have long hair, drink blood for good health and when called upon, they will come to any village to protect the boma/cattle. They live simply as they did hundreds of years ago. They are mostly nomadic herders and sell the occasional cow for food and education. Not sure how people get married off but each boma is just one family (in some cases, only one father...polygamy is acceptable in their culture and AIDS is rampant unfortunately). The liaison explains the females are responsible for getting food, preparing meals, taking care of the children, building/maintaining the homes and making/selling the jewelry. I later asked our guide (too afraid to ask the liaison) what in the world the adult males do since the children take care of the cattle. He said that they go out to bars/restaurants and meet their friends and talk all day. Sounds just like the animals here. The last visit is to the school. I'm pretty skeptical that this is just for show and that they really don't teach here. It's full of children and as usual, they sing and spout out their ABCs and I hand them a donation. The poor that you imagine Africa to be is definitely the Masai. They are the Unicef poster children...dirt everywhere, holes in their clothing, yellow eyes with goop dripping down, crazy teeth. Nevertheless, they are adorable and so friendly
[*]Next stop is Olduvai Gorge, "The Cradle of Mankind," site of the work of the Leakeys. The guide gave us an introductory speech and there is a museum (a small room) filled with the exacavation discoveries. It's more of an historical appreciation rather than an exciting visit. It's just a big excavation site as you can see
[*]I can't believe there is clear, blue sky in the middle of the day. We stop to see our first glimpse of Ngorongoro Crater
[*]We are super excited about Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. It is funky looking. There are zebra grazing the property and we are greeted by our personal staff with a drink and hot towel.
The crater is at 8,000 feet so it is a bit chilly here but that means there are no mosquitos! The decor at the lodge is extravagant old world. Check out the reception area
Daniel is our personal butler. He shows us to our room.
We are near the restaurant so we won't need an escort to go back and forth in the evening (we like that!). It's a bit cold so I ask Daniel to start a fire and then he sent hot cocoa my way. I draw a hot bath in the clawfoot tub that overlooks a view of the crater and grab one of the chocolate truffles. This is the life. I wish I were rich.
[*]When we first arrived to the room, there was an envelope with a gold wax seal addressed to "Haron and Matt." We laughed but Daniel was mortified. They had not seen the "S" so they were calling me Haron the entire time. But we were impressed with the nice note left for us.
[*]After relaxing and wishing we could afford another night here (we really can't), we head out to meet everyone for cocktails and pupus. The deck overlooks the crater and there is a nice, hot fire to warm us. We have wine and a bunch of yummy appetizers. We engage in a wonderful conversation with the chef who is from South Africa and another couple who have been hopping around to other luxury safari lodges. As much as I really can't complain about our trip, I was jealous. I think they did the right thing by visiting (by plane) different places and using the lodge's safari drivers. These guys are out driving the same course every day so they know exactly where the animals are and if anything unusual is going on from a day-to-day basis. Daniel tells us how afraid of the animals he is and we find that this is common among the Tanzanians. Every day he takes a bus to work but there are days when the buffalo just won't leave his property and he is afraid to pass them so he then has to tell the lodge that he will be late that day. Africa's form of a traffic jam, I suppose. This evening, there is a woman celebrating her birthday. The chef baked a special cake and the staff started singing, dancing, playing instruments. It was definitely a day to remember for the rest of our lives (yes, it was pretty much worth every penny we spent here)
[*]We come back to our room to find another new note personally addressed to us, the bed turned down, a blazing fire and the truffles have been replaced by brandy. They really have the service down here! Unfortunately, we have to pack up to leave tomorrow. Since we'll be coming back after our day at the crater, Daniel will be taking all of our laundry in the morning and he promised it would be ready when we return in the afternoon. It really is nice having an all-inclusive package.

[*]Saying goodbye to the staff at Mbuzi Mawe
[*]No sightings of any of the 12 black rhinos (or really much of any other animal) at Moru Kopjes. A bit boring here but this is the only area outside of Ngorongoro that has a black rhino population
[*]Our guide is a master at spotting the oddities. This cape buffalo is really sick...look at its mouth!
[*]South Serengeti is where the animals live during the wet season. Right now, it's a totally empty (as they have all migrated north), dry, flat desert. Quite boring.
[*]Leaving Serengeti, the road to Ngorongoro is wide and straight but, as warned by many, it is super bumpy and unbelievably dusty. It was a very long ride that made me nervous as we sped through riding the side of the road as much as possible. I buckled up because I really thought we were going to turn over any second.
[*]Matt had terrible stomach aches during the Masai tour and had to go back to the car. Unfortunately, he couldn't wait for Olduvai Gorge and had to visit the dusty fields for a little relief. He didn't feel good all day. The bathrooms were really not any better at the Gorge. Not very comfortable to be in the bush today for Matt.
[*]Every time you get out of the car, there are Masai constantly hovering over you, soliciting their wares (they are a lot cheaper than the Masai bomas, though)
[*]Sad we are only staying at Crater Lodge for one night!

August 24, 2009
Depart:............Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Arrive:.............Plantation Lodge
Animals Seen:..The Final Of The Big Five...The Black Rhino, Elephants, Cranes, Warthogs, Cape Buffalo, Hippos, Serval, Wild Cat, Lions, Jackal, Vultures, Ostrich, Zebra

[*]Waking up to hot chocolate and biscotti in bed
[*]We are packed and ready to leave by 5:45. We are third in line to get into the crater which opens up at 6am. But the office is open so we can process our paperwork in the meantime. There are only a few cars (most from the same outfitter as ours as most drivers don't come out this early) and we make the scary drive (steep and narrow) down to the bottom of the crater. We are there just in time for sunrise as our guide stops to roll up the vehicle's roof. It's actually not too cold today
[*]Passing the beautiful cranes in the salt lakes, our guide thinks he spotted a black rhino and its "baby" so we head out towards them. We can't believe it is our first sighting of the day and no one is here! So now we've seen all of the Big 5...check that one off the list. We watched the rhinos cross the road so we were able to get a close view
Black rhinos are rare and endangered. They are solitary animals and hardly mate so it's a little difficult for them to make a comeback. They are the one species that rangers make an exception and interfere with nature to protect them as best as possible.
[*]Our guide tells us a funny story about a client that insisted she saw a baby rhino by itself. He was pretty skeptical but he stopped and backed up the car because she literally screamed "Stop the car! I see a baby rhino!" Turns out it was a warthog. She had never seen one before. If you think about it, I could see maybe a resemblance
[*]We stop at a beautiful hippo lake (this one doesn't actually smell) to have our picnic breakfast. Cape Buffalo cross the field but stop as they see us
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge goes all out with even the picnic meals. It's enough food for six, though. We have a variety of eggs, pastries, fruit, granola, the works. Look at all the bacon!
[*]Can't believe we saw another serval!
[*]The marshes are actually beautiful and you'll see elephants out there soaking the day away. These two we nicknamed Brokeback Mountain elephants...can you tell why?
[*]The lions are so used to humans here. Once again, they find refuge from the heat right underneath the car
I like this photo...real lions against a backdrop of a fake lion
The other family travelling with ADS had not seen any lions active at all on their entire safari so they were pretty excited that they were doing more than sleeping

[*]But lions still find sleeping their favorite pastime
[*]These zebras have spotted the pack of lions and can't help but be frozen in their defense positions
[*]And yet more lion photos
[*]This is an exciting area to see predator/prey in action. It's a lot of animals in a relatively small area (12 miles across and about 100 square miles). We saw a lot of close calls but the lions haven't been successful today.
[*]If you recall, the rangers intentionally burn fields so that they can keep the grass low for grazers. An unfortunate circumstance is that bird eggs will burn with it. We saw an ostrich egg in the middle of one of these fields. Vultures are smart birds and will pick up a rock and from a distance, will drop it on the super hard egg to crack them open. No such luck in seeing that today. But we heard that there was an abandoned egg with green grass surrounding it. When the mother sees the fire, she will begin to bring water in to try and protect the egg which is why the grass is green there. So sad.
[*]Here's a lion and a jackal awaiting a victim
[*]You can only picnic in two designated areas because the lions are ubiquitous here. We have lunch in the same spot as breakfast. It's another wonderful meal and mostly vegetarian so I am ecstatic! Daniel said that the lodge can also prepare a huge bush lunch in the crater. It's a huge deal that takes several hours.
[*]A zebra crossing. The one on the ground is trying to get all the bugs off by rolling around in the dirt
[*]We see a hippo and a baby calf
[*]Working our way towards the beautiful rain forest, we see a wild cat chasing an animal. I think we've seen every form of cat now!
[*]The forest is so stunning as we work our way out of the park. It is super steep and curvy. It amazes me that the elephants can migrate out of here
[*]The view is spectacular as we make our way to Plantation Lodge which is where Daniel got his training before getting his dream job at Crater Lodge.
[*]There are coffee plantations all over and the Lodge grows their own vegetables. As a result, we get a wonderful home-cooked meal for dinner...salad, stroganoff, mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.
[*]The lodge is cute and homey but it is no Crater Lodge

[*]While it was a fairly good day at the Crater, especially since there were a lot fewer cars than normal, there was still a LOT of dust and a bit anticlimatic from Serengeti. One day was definitely enough. We hear that they are thinking about stopping visitors from going down to the crater and you will only be able to look from the top. That is a bit of a bummer but they have huge environmental concerns.
[*]No giraffes live in Ngorongoro Crater and we didn't see any cheetahs or leopards.
[*]So very sad to be leaving Daniel and Crater Lodge

Posted by Sharon E 23:56 Archived in Tanzania

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