Friday 2/24 Ngorongoro Conservation Preserve
An early rise, we were supposed to be on the road by 7 AM. Ok, African time again, Dousan sleeps someplace in the village and again we were wondering about the condition of the truck as we had to push start it several times the previous day. Again today?
He finally arrived for a quick breakfast from Joyce and we were on the road again before 8 AM to the Park. Not a national park but a preserve which allows the Masi and the animals to co-exist together. We drive past herds of baboons on the road in town and wind our way up a steep escarpment rising from the plains to a spectacular view of Lake Manyara which we will visit on our last day. We continue to drive through hilly country encountering many villages, again with many Maasai along the roads and the terrain changing again.
As we drive to the gates, the highway is the nicest we have been on so far. I guess it is only a couple years old and abruptly ends at the park gate. The fields and hills are reddish brown contrasted by lush green fields and vegetation. Very pretty!
After signing in at the park office, we embark on a very bumpy dusty road which is the norm for the entire time we are inside traveling around. We climb up and up winding around sharp curves with many bumps in the road to the rim of the crater formed by a volcano
Ngorongoro has an immediate and overwhelming initial impact, and like any great
natural sculpture, grows in stature with familiarity. Designated as a World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Crater has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. An estimated 25,000 large mammals make it, along with the Serengeti, the principal attraction on the Northern Tanzanian Safari Circuit. This cross-section of wildlife is as diverse as you will find, dispersed amongst an amazing array of ecosystems within this natural amphitheater. It is home to one of the few remaining populations of black rhino in Tanzania and just about every other East African mammal (although leopard sighting are rare).
Ngorongoro Crater is the world's largest intact caldera (collapsed volcano). The crater was formed some eight million years ago when the cone of an active volcano estimated to be larger than Kilimanjaro collapsed. This formed a crater more than 600 metres (2,000 ft.) deep and 20 kms (12 miles) in diameter with a crater floor area of approx. 265 sq kms. The volcanic nature of the soils and plentiful water supplies transformed the volcanic cone into a spectacular sanctuary to the many species of wild game and birds that inhabit it today.
We travel maybe ¼ of the way around the rim before we can get to a road to take us down to the plain below. Our views descending down were spectacular on a very steep, rough, and windy road.
Once at the bottom of the crater on the plains you get a whole different perspective on how expansive this are is. Because it has been so dry, the lakes and other bodies of water were sparse. Looking down from the crater you can’t see all the game inside.
Our driver, Dousan, seemed to know his way around the many, many roads around the inside of the crater. Apparently he was a driver for another tour company before starting with Zara Tours, for which he drives now. His mother is a nurse and father is a doctor. We three wonder how mom and dad feel about him (a rebel?) in this line of work. We don’t think he is the brightest star in the sky. A personable guy, but I think he is always trying to figure the angles. Not a slick guy, but I think he is trying to figure where he fits in with the whole picture. The information he gives us a guide is OK, but I guess I would expect more, and sometimes we doubt the accuracy
We drive around the inside rim of the crater where there is very lush foliage and larger prey like elephants, while the inside plains have many wildebeests and zebras. As we drive around, we stop frequently to check with other trucks and guides to see if they have spotted anything we haven’t already seen. Bingo, we catch wind of a Black Rhino sighting and we are off and running to find him (or her). There are only 15 in the park, and to see one is not that common.
We round a corner and head across a wide expanse and see many, maybe 6-8 vehicles parked with binoculars and long lens cameras trained on one area far away. Off into a field is a lone rhino feeding with it’s head down. A bit too far to get a good picture but I try anyway and do get one fairly decent picture. We hang around a bit but nothing changes so we head out again.
We then headed off to the hippo pool. Very cool, and again lots of vehicles stopped to take pictures and observe their behavior. A hippo just lazes in a big muddy pool doing absolutely nothing. You are lucky to see them even yawn or move. I got some good far away shots of one grazing in a field with some birds hanging around.
Approaching lunch, we head to another area where there are rest rooms next to a big lake
where there are lots of birds and maybe 2 dozen vehicles parked to do the same thing we were doing, bathroom break and food. Joyce had a nice lunch packed for us (box); fried chicken, pita, veggies, bread, egg (HB), muffin, drink, carrots, peanuts and chocolate!
The sky changed and we could see a sheet of rain coming across the plain. We heard thunder and it seemed that we were in the path of a storm, but it only sprinkled and there wasn’t the huge rain we expected as we exited in search of another rhino or the leopard which we need for the “big five”. Not!
We are headed up and out. As we ascend the road out it takes us 30 minutes in 4 wheel drive up maybe 2,000 ft of switchbacks on a one way rocky highway. Again, very cool! We have another 30 minutes drive after the rim to get to the Masi Villiage.