Ngorongoro Crater

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I was awakened at 5am with the distant sounds of prayer from the local Mosque and my neighbor’s stereo playing “Saturday Night Fever” just a bit too loud for 5am in Africa.  East Africa is an interesting contrast in cultures where Christians, Muslims and others seem to live together in relative harmony.  Life is struggle enough.

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We’re met at 7:30 by our Safari guide and really good friend Albert.  We drive up the hill to the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  Ngorongoro is an ancient volcano (now caldera) with a few hundred square km central plain completely surrounded by 600m high rim.  A giant Crater Lake.  Entrance fees are expensive ($60 per person + $200 for the vehicle – per day) but tourists come from all over the world to see this.  We also saw a bus full of local school kids on a field trip.  We ascend into the fog that covers the rim.  The road is dirt but well traveled and not as bad as we have seen the past week.

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As we descend, overlooking the Olduvai Gorge to the west, we make a quick stop to “Check the tires”  (code for pee along side the road).  Before I was done…we were approached by a group of 10 Maasai herdsmen who were working both their herd and the tourist that might stop along the way and pay a small fee for a picture.  There were a very friendly group with a few things to sell, great jumping ability and big smiles.  Everywhere we go, the African people are friendly, polite and happy to be alive.

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As we descend into the crater the fog disappears and in front of us is a great plain filled with animals as far as you can see.  Within 5 minutes we spot Wildebeest, Zebra, Warthog, Thompson Gazelle, Cape Buffalo, Jackel, Ostrich, Elephant, and Hartebeast.  It is amazing to see the diversity of species all in one place.  We spent the day traveling the dirt roads and looking for Hippo, Rhino, Lion and any other new species we could find.  The weather was perfect and the conditions were awesome.

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We stopped for lunch at the Hippo pool and we had a chance to watch them swim in the hippo pool.  There were about 10 hippos with ears and eyes above the water at any given time.  More people are killed by Hippos in africa than any other animal.  Unlike the Cape Buffalo (2nd leading killer) Hippos are big, smart and mean (Cape Buffalo are just big and mean).

After lunch we were back on the dirt roads looking for a good lion on the hunt.  We spotted a collection of Safari vehicles on a remote rode and knew they were up to something…there in the distance was a Rhino.  There are reportedly only 5 rhinos in Ngorongoro and something line 10 in all of Tanzania.  Ahead were a couple of female lions sleeping and then finally as the day was getting ready to end we chanced upon a pride of female lions with one on the hunt.  She seemed to be stalking a warthog but many other animals were watching including a trio of hyenas ready to battle for any carcass that might be in the future.  After a half hour of can and pig games we had to get going (just as the light was becoming golden).  It’s too bad the park gate closes at 6pm and it’s more than an hour drive to the gate.

On the way out we picked up a lone park ranger with an AK-47 and gave him a lift.  He was on the lookout for poachers looking for Rhino or Elephant tusks.  No Leopard or Cheetah but an Awesome day!  We were the last one out the gate – only 5 minutes after the gate “closes.”  Albert was nervous – I was proud.

I napped on the way down the mountain and awoke just as we passed a free Wifi café.  (Free if you buy a round of beers for $6 – $6 total – deal!)  For dinner that night I ate my first goat.  Not my last but not my favorite either.

Ellen Tarwater had asked me how Elley and Heward were tolerating me.  I said “what?” (knowing exactly what she was asking).  It turns out that Elley is a special education teacher in California specializing in autism…she gets me…

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