Animals and acrobats in Ngorongoro

As we were finishing our lunch in Tengaru, “Edwin” was getting antsy that we needed to leave, and at 2:30, stood up from the table and announced, “I must insist we leave now”. We quickly said our goodbyes with lots of hugs and waves, and climbed into the safari vehicle to head north to our destination, the Ngorongoro Crater.

Ready to pull away from the village, we discovered the vehicle would not turn over! “Edwin”got out and opened the hood. Elisante, Stephen, and Hilary joined him and tinkered around while Amy & I sat inside.  He got back into the vehicle and it still would not work. Finally, a number of men came from the surrounding buildings and started pushing us, jumping the vehicle in reverse, which I’d never done before! We waved and blew kisses, and were off on the 180km drive to Ngorongoro.

Travel in Tanzania takes much longer to get anywhere than in Canada. The roads, while in decent shape, are crowded and dangerous. There are always animals (cows, goats, donkeys, chickens, pigs, dogs) along the sides of the road, and cars have to navigate trucks, motorbikes, people, and construction. We drove with the windows down, breathing in the sights, sounds, and smells. It was obvious to us that “Edwin” was in a hurry, and a couple of times I noticed the speedometer at speeds that would make me uncomfortable on a twinned highway at home.

I was amazed by the difference in the landscape from what I had experienced in March. Tanzania is at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the “short rains” We drove through one patch of rain, which barely touched the dust. The farther we got, however, the greener it got.

As we arrived at the Ngorongoro Conservation area, a UNESCO World Heritage site located adjacent to the Serengeti, “Edwin” pulled over at a lookoff and encouraged us to get out for a photo. There is nothing I can compare the breathtaking view to. I was overwhelmed by the size and depth of the crater, and none of the research I had done before I left had prepared me for the grandeur.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a deep, volcanic crater; the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. It is about 22 kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area. Here, the Maasi Tribe co-exist peacefully with the wildlife and with the tourists.

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We were not stopped for long, before we were back in the vehicle, and entered the gates of the Ngorongoro Conservation at 5:55 p.m. We then learned why “Edwin” had been rushing us from Tengaru and driving so quickly – the gates to the crater close at 6 p.m!

We were encouraged to get out while “Edwin” looked after our paperwork, but not to take any belongings with us because of the family of baboons that camp out in the parking lot. We went through the interpretive centre, where we learned about the animals we would (hopefully) see the following day. I found a poster of an ostrich and got Amy to take my photo for Olivia who was hoping I would find one for her.

We spent a short time watching the baboons use a ranger’s truck as a slide and then propel themselves into the trees. Amy was braver (more foolish?) than I and got right in with them to take some photos.

We entered the conservation area to begin the one hour climb to the Serena Lodge, where we would be staying for the night. Immediately as we entered the park, we encountered elephants! We pulled over and watched them for awhile. They were so large and amazing. Mama watched us carefully while baby ate and put on a bit of a show. Mama started throwing dust, letting us know it was time to be on our way.

During the drive to the lodge, we also saw buffalo, and gazelles. “Edwin” pointed out places along the hills where the elephants dig at night to find the minerals located in the cliffs.

It was just past 7pm and dark when we arrived at the beautiful Serena Lodge for the night. We were offered hot clothes for our faces and hands upon arrival, along with a glass of freshly squeezed juice. The lodge long and low, and is built with local river stones on the edge of the crater, camouflaged in indigenous vines, and invisible from the crater floor. We were told we had 20 minutes until the acrobats would be performing, and that we could enjoy dinner after that.

We were led to our connecting rooms to change, and headed back to the lounge to watch the acrobats. We were seated at the bar, and watching them perform, accompanied by the lively African drumming was a thrill. After the show, Amy & I had a beer while making friends with the bartender and asking MANY questions about what it was like to work there. One of the acrobats approached me to sell me a CD of the show – they can spot a sucker in the crowd every time!

We spent some time people-watching, which I find fascinating, especially in situations like we were in. There was one group of North Americans and the husband and wife were obviously entertaining the rest of the group. The stories were bold, grand, and wild. She was drinking Prosecco and he then switched to scotch. When the bartender poured it neat, he demanded, “fill it up with ice and water”! Amy & I smirked to one another, “obviously not a true Scotch drinker…”

We went upstairs to the restaurant to have dinner, but were not hungry enough for the buffet, so ordered a curried chicken off the menu which was delicious. There is strong Indian influence in Tanzanian dishes and I loved the spices. I could have licked the plate!

We called it a night early after our first full day in Tanzania together – and what a “full” day it was! We were booked to have breakfast the following morning at 6am, and be picked up for a safari in the crater at 6:30am. I’m pretty sure that for both of us, we were asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows!

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