Saturday, 26 June

Ngorongoro Crater

In the clouds

This morning, we literally woke up in a cloud. We were all scrunched halfway down the tent because of the slope of the hill...so four people taking up a little more than half of one tent. It was dark, cold and everything outside was wet. Including our flip-flops, which we had all left outside of the tent. I guess we should have thought that it might rain in a rainforest. Whoops.

As we started trying to get moving and shake off the cold, we all traded theories of what the crazy animal noises we had heard overnight were. I said it sounded like dogs and thought it was a hyena. Lauren and Kate thought it was a lion snarling (I hope they were wrong). Adam said it was a hyena that was trying to steal some camper's food from the locked mess hall. Damien thought it was a warthog. I guess we'll never know for sure. Maybe it was a warthog, a lion and a hyena having a vicious battle to the death! Adam reassured us that hyenas won't attack anything bigger than themselves. He said that Maasai parents make their children carry sticks so that they appear larger for that very reason.

For breakfast we had plenty of hot coffee and tea. Damien made Spanish eggs; scrambled eggs with peppers and onions in them. There were lentils and beans on the side, as well as sausage and fruit. After breakfast, we packed our bags. While we were on our game drive, Damien was going to take down our tents so we could make a speedy getaway after lunch (which meant more time in the crater). What a helper that guy was.

Ngorongoro Crater

We headed down into the crater (image merged from three shots using Photoshop CS's Photomerge).

Wildebeest Wildebeest Wildebeest

Once we got to the crater floor, we came across these two wildebeest butting heads. It was pretty cool to watch! The herd that they were part of was massive.

Lion

A little bit down the road, we came across this male lion off in the grass.

Spotted Hyena

And then this hyena. He gave us a nice, long look.

Flamingos Black winged stilt

We made our way over to the lake, which is home to this flock of flamingos. There were also a couple of juvenile black winged stilts near us.

Spotted Hyena Spotted Hyena

While we were there, David and I got out of the Land Rover and whizzed. Shortly after we got back in, a hyena came out of the water, circled and sniffed around our truck and then rolled around on the ground right near we had peed.

Hippo Hippo Hippo

Then we drove over to a pond where hippos live. I learned about—and witnessed—a lovely habit of hippos known as dung showering. They simultaneously urinate and defecate while paddling their tails to spread it out over a nice distance. It is used to mark their territory or show dominance.

Hyena den Spotted hyena Spotted hyena

As we drove onward, Adam showed us this hyena den. A guide book of his said that hyenas are capable of digesting teeth and bones.

Ostrich

And then a lone male ostrich surrounded by his harem of females.

As we drove along, we passed a single cheetah off in the distance. We watched him for a few minutes but he just sat there. So we moved on.

Egyptian geese Black kite Black kite Lauren and David

We stopped for a break at a picnic site. I watched a couple of Egyptian geese splash down. Then I watched a black kite fly around with something in his mouth. (That picture of him on the left is one of my favorite photos from this whole trip.) And then I watched Lauren and David be sweet.

Hippo out of water

After we got moving again, the first thing we saw were a couple of hippos out of water...something they can only do for a short time when the sun is shining.

Adam had hoped to find us one of the seven black rhinos that is known to be in The Crater. He got on the radio and started asking around. No one had seen one yet that morning.

Kori Bustard Crowned Crane Crowned Crane

After driving around somewhat aimlessly hoping to find a rhino, I decided to take a few more bird pictures. The one on the left is a Kori bustard. We had seen them before. We all thought Adam was calling them something bastards, like Carrie Bastards. It wasn't until he showed me their page in his bird book that I found out what it really was. That book also informed me that the Kori bustard is the heaviest flying bird in Africa. The birds on the two right photos are crowned cranes. They were pretty far off in the distance, unfortunately. They are beautiful birds!

Wildebeest Sodom apple

Adam kept trying to find the rhinos. He asked every driver he could catch on the radio, but no one had seen one that morning. He apologized to us, said that they were hiding and headed towards the edge of the crater. On the way out, we passed another herd of wildebeest. He also took a moment to tell us about a Sodom apple (or Solanum Sodomæum). It's mildly poisonous. It can be used as an antiseptic. The Maasai use it to treat cavities.

We got back to the campsite and had lunch. Damien had all of our stuff in a pile, ready to be loaded into the Land Rover. He also made us our final meal. It was pilau, a rice and beef dish with plenty of seasonings. It reminded me of jambalaya. We had a vegetable salad on the side, which included cucumbers, tomato and peppers in a mustard sauce. There was a little bit of tuna in the salad, too. For desert, we had pancakes with honey on them. Delicious! I think there was some fruit, too. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure we had fruit, vegetables, meat and a starch for every meal there. Well done, Damien!

Dusty plants Maasai

Remember when I said it was dusty? Look how dusty those plants are! The Maasai live there, dust and all. Anyway, we drove back to Arusha. Our safari was over. All in all, it was an awesome experience. I'm glad David and I had the girls there. He and I respect silence. When we have nothing to say, we typically say nothing. We've known each other too long to force it. Lauren and Kate helped break that up and make the whole trip more lively.

Our guides were great. Adam was very friendly. He seemed to me like the kind of guy who would be really well liked. He had an infectious laugh. Many times he would be speaking Swahili with Lauren and David and start laughing. I would laugh, too, even though I had no idea what was being said. He spoke great English. Sometimes he didn't know the best words, but he was always able to convey his meaning. When we would pass other trucks on the trails, he would almost always gesture hello to them, usually in the form of a fist pressed against the windshield. Sometimes, he'd flip on the CB and have a quick chat with the other driver. He usually ended with a good-hearted, "Ciao!" He told us that it was the only Italian he knew. "Too many languages makes my head hurt," he related to us once.

Damien was a different sort of fellow. He was a quiet man. The kind of person who could walk up next to you without you noticing. In fact, more than once, all of the sudden he would just appear next to us holding another tray of food. He seemed to be a very mild mannered guy. Maybe he was quiet because he didn't know very much English. Regardless, he was kind, quiet and helpful.

Adam and Damien

Back in Arusha, I made Adam, left, and Damien pose for a picture (they're 38 and 24, respectively). It's socially acceptable for men to hold hands in Tanzania; it's a friendly thing. You would quite often see guys holding hands walking down the street.

Dirty Travis Vim

David and I checked into the Meru House Inn once again. I made David take a picture of me in my dirty, sweaty, dusty state. I tried not to smile too much, lest people think I was enjoying being filthy. I took a shower, the first shower since leaving Arusha. It was wonderful. It might have been the most satisfying shower of my life. I was the filthiest I think I've ever been. I also noticed that the bathroom cleaner is "Vim" (if you don't get it then you're not a computer nerd).

We decided to meet up with the girls for dinner. We went to Big Bite, a local Indian food place. The menu didn't have descriptions with the items, it was only a list. We had no idea what anything was, so we asked the owner/waiter for some recommendations. "Everything is good," he said. But then he started describing specific things until we were satisfied. (It helped that none of us were picky eaters. Though Lauren was anti-spicy. Ruiner.) We got plenty of rice, naan, and a few curries to share. It was a great meal. Halfway through eating, the power went out. The owner said that that had been happening regularly, every Saturday at 8pm. We sat there in darkness for a few minutes until someone brought a candle to our table. But by the time we were done, the power was restored.

After eating, the four of us went to a bar and had a round of drinks. Followed by our goodbyes. Kate was heading back to The States the next day. David and I would be heading to his village, Endasak.

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All content and photos Copyright © 2004 Travis Pettijohn.