On The Road Again

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
Trip End Nov 09, 2009

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

     It was another restless night in the Serengeti as the winds continued to shake the tent and keep the window and door flaps active throughout the evening. We also heard a person running in the night, apparently chasing a lion that was strolling in the tented camp area.

    We started off at 7:30 AM for our journey to Ngorongoro crater. The skies are overcast but the temperature feels like a comfortable 18 C (64 F). We initially see many herds of the big game animals that we have already seen. Some may say “ho hum, same old, same old”, but to us it is still exciting and exhilarating to see the animals up close and in person.

    We travel for about of an hour and the landscape changes. The many trees that we are used to seeing are gone and it becomes a vast grassland without a tree in sight for an hour and a half. This truly portrays its namesake, the Serengeti, as “endless plains”. The game we see is greatly reduced to the occasional Thompson's gazelle, an ostrich, a secretary bird, and warthog. The grass is short and gradually diminishes to nothing but a swirl of dust.

    We reach the park gate and the park officers quickly recognize that Ahmed is an Kenyan. He is asked to provide his papers several times and other vehicles that arrived after us are processed quickly and dispatched while we are still waiting. This does not seem normal.

    We continue on for several hours on a dusty, gravel, washboard road, eating dust all the way, and arrive at the Oldupai Gorge. This area is a World Heritage site and is significant for archaeological findings dating back 2.5 million years. These include fossils of hominids which had massive jaws and large, thickly molars suitable for crushing tough vegetation. Their bite was several times more powerful than modern humans.

    The other important discovery was that of fossils depicting the first specimens of homo habilis, which lived about 2 million to 1.6 million years ago. They were the first species that could make and use stone tools. Their footprints are identical in shape and form to modern humans.

    We reach the park gate at Ngorongoro crater at 12:30 PM. The trip took 5 hours and covered 250 km. (150 mi.). Our driver is having some complications with the authorities. They charge him $200 US for having a non-Tanzanian vehicle and want to charge him a fee for a guide even though he is a guide and has been guiding in Tanzania for days already. He wins the argument but the park officials make him pay for two beers as consolation. Something seems fishy here.

    Ngorongoro crater, according to the Tanzanian Tourist Authority, is the most popular destination in Tanzania, even more popular than the Serengeti. The reason may be is that it is closer to the larger cities than the Serengeti, it has a fairly large big game population and a smaller area than the Serengeti to view them.

    The crater is actually a collapsed volcano or caldera. It may have been higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro and collapsed in on itself over time and now forms a perfect basin which measures 18 km. (11 mi.) in diameter, lies 500 m. (1,640 ft.) below the rim which towers above it at 2,200 m. (7,217 ft.) above sea level. It is believed to have been formed 2 million years ago.

    It is suppose to have a vast array of big game animals including the black rhino which we are anxious to see.

    We are surprised to see how dry the crater floor is, the lake is dry and the grass is a golden wheat color. The animals are not as accessible as Masai Mara, but they are used to vehicles and do not move even when the Land Cruiser is right on their tail literally.  We see a lion which has climbed into the trees, which is not unusual if it were at Lake Manyara and not Ngorongoro, and we also see several other lions throughout the crater.

    Our guide is not getting much respect and courtesy from the Tanzanian guides in the park. He is receiving false information and directions. It is becoming abundantly clear to us that the Tanzanians do not welcome him and / or perceive him as a threat to their jobs.  We see prejudice and discrimination toward our Kenyan driver/guide and we are sure that he is starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the situation because he does not understand why (nor do we).

    We are staying at another Serena lodge and it is located on the rim of the crater.  Every room has a patio that looks out onto the crater and it is a spectacular view.  Our room has a king-size bed and a twin bed in it.  There are about 60 rooms at the lodge and it appears to be quite full.  There is a buffet for dinner with many dishes, most with coconut or coconut sauce in them (almost like East Indian cuisine).  We have tried many African wines and beers, including Tusker, Serengeti, Safari, Ndovu, and Kilimanjaro.  Along with the drinks they also serve peanuts and hot cashews, both which are grown locally and taste delicious.

    There is almost a full moon and it shines brightly over the crater floor to end another wonderful day in Africa.

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