Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ngorongoro Crater

A short distance from Karatu is a national park called, “Ngorongoro Crater.”  It is a HUGE crater in which many animals live. It is also a Maasai area; the Maasai live and herd their animals in the park. We saved our trip to the Ngorongoro Crater for our last day in Karatu, a Sunday when school was not in session. We started from the volunteer house at 7:30 in the morning.  It was foggy and threatened rain; in fact, when we got to the edge of the crater, we could hardly see in front of our faces. (We may as well have been in San Francisco, given the fog!)  Soon after we went through the entrance to the park, baboons appeared out of nowhere, all along the side of the road. On the edge of the crater, as the fog began to break, we saw a large boma. In this case, “boma” refers to a large, fenced-in enclosure to keep the Maasai cattle and the people in the houses protected from predators.

We started down into the crater and it became sunny.  By the time we reached the floor of the crater, it was warm enough to pop the top of the Land Rover so that we could stand up.  And we immediately began to see animals! Wildebeests and warthogs were among the first animals we saw. There were African buffalo and impalas. We saw herds of zebras in several places. They are so beautiful! And we had the good fortune not only to see ostriches, but to get up close to them two or three times.  Near a river, we saw two hippopotamuses curled up together. THAT’s quite a sight! And we were fortunate to see a rhinoceros – and at a relatively close distance. Rhinos are quite a rare sight; in 2013, we saw one at the end of the day and from a huge distance, such that it looked like a speck against the landscape.

It’s easy to tell where someone has spotted a “must see” animal because the land rovers gather into a traffic jam in the middle of the savanna. That happened in front of the rhinoceros. It happened again later, and that’s how we found the lions. At first, we saw three adult lions lying in the sun, rather close to the road.  They weren’t very active; they were much more interested in taking a nap in the sun than in doing much else.  After awhile, we drove on and saw more ostriches and zebras, as well as a couple of hyenas. Then we circled back and saw that a buffalo was alone in the middle of a pride of five lions. What this meant to the guides was that the lions were going to attack. So . . . we sat, watched and waited, hoping to see the food chain in action.  It appeared, however, that despite the fact that this buffalo was fairly slow, and was really cornered, it was not his day to die.  Our guide speculated that the lions had already eaten this morning, and as a result were not interested in more food.

Eventually, we gave up and went on to the place where we had lunch – a small lake or large pool where there were many hippopotamuses that would surface periodically to take in some air.  This is the place where most, if not all, of the guides park their land rovers for lunch. I was looking out of the car and saw a friend from San Francisco – a woman who works with the orphanage that we will visit tomorrow in Mto wa Mbu. Amazing!  I had no idea she was in the country; our arrangements to visit the orphanage were through Gloria Upchurch.  The friend, Betsy Collard, was in the park with a group of people from the Bay Area who help raise money for the orphanage.

From the lunch spot, we started back toward the road that leads out of the crater. On the way, we saw Thompson’s gazelles, flamingos, a couple of beautiful birds, one with a crown that is spectacular, and more of the animals we had already seen. We also saw a jackal heading through some bushes, clearly protected from view. Unfortunately, there were no elephants today, although they are usually in the crater.  Giraffes do not go into the crater because there is no food for them there.  Sometimes, people see giraffes at the top of the crater on the way in, but the fog made that impossible today.

When we got back to the lookout where we had started our day, there was no more fog, and the view across the crater was spectacular!  It is hard to explain how large this crater is; you have to see it.  We were standing at the lookout, taking pictures and absorbing the view, when out of nowhere came a swarm of bees! All of us ran for the road and escaped being bitten! What a rush of adrenalin – and an addition to the list of wild animals we had seen! When we were all safely back in the car, we drove on to the park entrance, where we were met by another slew of baboons. They were sitting on both sides of the road and in the middle of the road.  Amazing!  As we got out of the car to go into the gift shop, our guide told us to shut the doors and windows of the car to keep the baboons from taking anything.  But we were too slow.  A baboon came up and grabbed an uneaten sandwich and pack of cookies out of the land rover.  He dropped the cookies but climbed up a tree with the sandwich, wrapped in plastic, and proceeded to eat it. Unbelievable!  The baboons are strong and quick – and they are hilarious to watch!

It was a great day – really satisfying!

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