Friday, April 21st:
After another full breakfast, we loaded up the SUV with our luggage and checked out of the hotel. We seem to have accumulated a lot of stuff! The Thursday Oilers game is actually being played this morning in Africa and they are tied with the San Jose Sharks 3-3. We weren’t able to stream it live due to slow wifi and we’re on the road heading to the Ngorongoro (pronounced goron-goro) crater now so I’m just refreshing the score with my SIM card internet on my cell phone. The crater is the world’s largest intact caldera (sort of a sinkhole after an intense volcanic eruption) and the waiter last night told us that we should see a lot of animals there. Our waiter at the Octagon Lodge was the best… he was there whenever we were and his facial expressions were priceless… I couldn’t stop laughing when he was around. I’ll miss the Octagon Lodge tucked away in the jungle and especially the friendly staff.
Back to the crater- there was a mountain in it’s place around 2-4 million years ago that collapsed and sent rocks everywhere, leaving the huge crater (measures around 20km in diameter) behind. Apparently these volcanic rocks ended up as far as Serengeti park (we were told that these are the huge rock formations that we will drive by when we get there) and that the original mountain was taller than Mount Kilimanjaro, which is currently the tallest in Africa. Well I have limited internet access and never any time to confirm this impressive story right now but I’m pretty excited to check out this crazy crater. They refer to it as Noah’s Ark because it houses 20,000 large animals, almost all the big game here except giraffes since there aren’t enough tall trees for their long necks to access food. The area around the crater is lush rainforest and it’s one of the few areas that we will see on the safari that stays green even in the dry season.
Sidenote: The Oilers won in overtime! I’m sure everyone in Edmonton is going nuts right about now.
Back to the safari- so we learned that the term “buffalo soldier” (I hope you all know that’s the title of a Bob Marley song) started because the buffalos, unlike a lot of other animals, are like soldiers and don’t leave their comrades behind. If one is injured or caught by a predator, they all go back to help and fight. We saw a lot of buffalo and other animals before arriving at the picnic site. You’re normally not supposed to get out of the car at all during a safari except for the designated picnic site which is usually where animals steer clear except little brats like the monkey that stole Sher’s sandwich and now the little birds that jumped through our open roof to eat Sher’s crumbs. Well at least they cleaned up for him!
Ngorongoro was BREATHTAKING…. it’s one of those places you just have to see. SO many animals on this huge flat enclosed plain and they’re all keeping a distance but sort of interacting once in a while. There’s a hotel here that we were told costs $1600 per night…another fact I want to confirm! Either way, we know that it’s very pricey since it has views into the crater from above.
Some random facts and observations while in the crater- the story of the Masai people got even more interesting. They used to live in Serengeti park but when the government wanted to make it a national park, they had to convince them to leave. For many reasons, they didn’t want to at first but eventually they were convinced that the crater area was better for them. They had to move a lot due to cold climates in some areas high in the rim of the crater and livestock interacting with the other animals but they are finally settled now since the 70s. You see them everywhere in the fields around the crater but not at the bottom. They’re a pretty friendly bunch and it’s so interesting to see them in their traditional dress, herding animals.
Also, hippos and elephants smell their feces when heading out on a journey and leave a trail of droppings so that they can smell and recognize their own droppings to find the correct way back. Zebras look like a cross between horses and donkeys but painted with decorative black and white stripes. The stripes don’t even look natural, it’s like someone came and dressed them all up. Last random fact (this one about the strangest animal, my husband)- Sher likes to leave little souvenirs everywhere he goes. Like breadcrumbs. Anytime he stays at a hotel, he’ll leave something behind… maybe to find his way back one day. I try to check for him but if I’m rushing or if I leave first, things get forgotten. So far, he left his backpack near the hospital in Mbeya when taking the kids for dental treatments. He got it back when we went for our big lunch with the whole group. He left our two paintings at the hotel in Dar es Salaam which Edgar was nice enough to go back for and send to us here on the safari. And this morning I asked where his new safari hat went… he left it in the Octagon Lodge. They’ll try and send it to us in Zanzibar but by then, our safari will be over. Interesting animal behaviours that I’m learning about on this trip! Another important sighting in Ngorongoro crater- we saw an endangered black rhino. I wish we were closer but it at least we got to see him running around in the grass.
We eventually made our way to Serengeti hours later. It was like stepping back in time to the Flinstones’ era.
Our “hotel” is literally in the middle of the plains (Serengeti means endless plain in the Masai language) and it’s a series of tents. The main tent has a dining area, lounge, etc and that’s the only place to plug your devices. Our tent is much bigger that it seems from the outside. It has several rooms, a shower, toilet, spare bed, and front sitting area with the perfect Serengeti view. Apparently it’s good for watching wildlife at night and safe if you’re inside the zipped section… I hope so! A “guard” (Masai warrior that they’ve hired) has to walk us to and from our tent after dark to protect us from potential lions. They are probably being over cautious but it’s still kind of exciting.
Animal sightings of the day- spotted (laughing) hyena, Thompson’s (little fact- their day vision sucks so they’re always running onto the road when we are driving by) and Grant’s gazelles, hippos, baboons, Cape buffalos (another one of the big 5!), wildebeests, plains zebras, elephants, ducks, ostriches, black rhino (4th of the big 5!), jackal, two male lions at separate places in the crater.