African safari 2013: Part 6

July 6, 2013

Since we were in the comfort of our own lodge room instead of a tent, we decided to get up a little earlier than the official “Jambo Jambo” at 6:30. It seems to take us longer to get ready in the mornings. At home we call Genene the “diddler” and nothing is different in Africa. She piddles a lot and has to be pushed to get moving in the morning. Greg and I are not much better, as we spend our time competing for the toilet.

Breakfast was really good, with farm-fresh foods. The coffee is particularly delicious, and we tried rhubarb juice for the first time and found it yummy. We ate prosciutto, salami, and fresh fruits of all kinds. We were supposed to pull out at 7:30, but Genene could not be rushed when it was her turn in the bathroom. We made it out to the car at 7:45 and found that the other two cars were already gone. Our guide said, “Hakuna Matata! (Yes, they really do say that here!) There is paperwork to complete at the entrance to the crater conservation area, and we will see them there.”

The baboons at the crater entrance were amazing. They are completely habituated to people and are thieves and pests. They roam through the cars. Our guide told us we had to leave the top closed and the windows up or they would get inside the vehicles. Sure enough, we watched as one stole a lunch right out of a parked truck. They were close enough to touch, but I had no desire to touch them. They have huge sharp teeth and don’t look friendly or cute at all. Our guide Simon said that he saw one fighting with a tourist once in another park. I asked him who won, but he only laughed.

The thieves with their booty:

Family:

Another family:

The Ngorongoro Crater is 185 square miles, and is 12 miles wide and 2000 feet deep. Its elevation is 5,600 feet (bottom) to 7,500 (rim) feet. Millions of years ago, Ngorongoro was an active volcano, perhaps higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. The volcano eventually became extinct, and when its cone collapsed and sank over 2 million years ago, it formed the crater seen today. It is the largest intact volcanic crater (caldera) on earth. It is home to the highest concentration of wildlife on the planet. The rim is cloaked in moist montane forest and grasslands, while the crater floor is primarily grassland,with patches of spring-fed marshes, freshwater ponds, a salt lake and small forest. There are 20,000 large animals on the floor. My friend Sara (who came here 8 years ago) said it is like looking at Noah’s Ark or the Garden of Eden, and I can’t say it better than that. The conservation area is a World Heritage Site, and it protects both the wildlife habitat and the grazing rights of the local Masaai, who are allowed to use about 75% of the area.

We drove to the crater floor. It was very cold at the rim and warm in the bottom: two entirely distinct ecosystems.

The view from the top of the crater:

The candelabra tree is beautiful, but its poisonous white sap can cause blistering if it gets on your skin or blindness if it gets in your eyes. Admire from afar!

Masaai herders in the crater:

When we hit the crater floor, the wildlife show started.

Wildebeests:

Beautiful birds:

Jackal on the hunt:

Hippopotamus:

Massive water buffalo:

We saw a family of lionesses eating fresh zebra. It was a bit far off, so our view was not perfect. It was still very exciting. If you look closely, you can see the blood on her face.

Another jackal on the hunt:

Wildebeests by the hundreds:

 Sometimes the action takes place quite a distance from the automobiles. We saw a lion and his lioness in a dried lake bed. We wanted them to get up and come closer, but they never did.
 

Hippo takes a dive:

We had lunch by a hippo pool, and Genene and I enjoyed watching them periodically surface and go back down:

This photo gives you a concept of how dusty it was on the crater floor (and everywhere during our stay). We are in the dry season, and it shows:

Flamingoes:

Wildebeest on the left, hunting jackal on the right, and flamingoes in the water. This place is like a Garden of Eden.

The jackals were really posing for me on this day:

The male ostrich is black and white, while the female is brown. When the male’s neck is red, he’s “single.” When it’s pink, he’s “married.” (How the guide explained things to Genene). I like this picture because you can actually see a waterspout on the lake behind the ostrich. We saw several water spouts and dirt devils.

More hippos:

Thomson gazelle on the run:

Impala:

I spotted a hyena stalking a water buffalo in broad daylight before the guide saw it. It was a proud moment for me, because usually what I spotted was bushes or rocks shaped like animals. The guides are truly incredible. Their eyes can see a thousand miles, it seems. They can look at something that is no more than a speck on the horizon to me and identify it and tell us something about it. Greg has good eyes and spots the animals quite quickly. We both find that we are getting better at it as the days go by.

The hyena didn’t stand a chance against these brutes:

A young zebra enjoys a roll in the dirt:

As we were leaving the park, a serval cat crossed the road right in front of us. I barely had time to get the camera up, so my shot was not good. I was glad to see it anyway.

It was a fabulous day in the crater. Our only disappointment was that we did not see a rhino. They are critically endangered due to poaching. Their horns are sought out because they are thought to give a man “stamina.” Why not just take Viagra and leave the poor things alone? There are about 30 rhinos on the crater floor, but our guide had told us it was unlikely that we would see one today because it was so windy. According to Simon, the rhino’s ear structure is such that the animal is very disturbed by wind and thus does not leave the wooded areas on windy days.

On the drive back to Gibb’s Farm, we passed a wedding party on the road in Karutu. The bridal party was riding in an open-top car, and cars and bicycles and people streamed along behind it, honking, clapping and waving. Two cars back from the bridal car, a six-piece brass band played in another open-top car. It looked quite festive, but our guides said we would tire of it if we lived here. Apparently it is a common weekend occurrence and clogs up traffic for miles.

Riding in the Land Rovers is harder than you would think. Roads are very rough, and you have to hold tight all day. A fine dust is everywhere and permeates clothes, camera gear, hair and skin. We end each day feeling very tired, sometimes even thrashed.

It was nice to come back to Gibb’s Farm and have another wonderful meal. We will be sorry to leave the comfort of the farm, but the Serengeti awaits us.

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