Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti

 I was rewarded for getting up early and going out on the veranda. The grounds at the +Tloma Lodge were stunning. I think we all felt bad that we only had a few hours here and most of it was spent sleeping. The hotel grows its own vegetables and herbs and they even grow their own coffee which they brew and serve with very hot milk (I think I said yummy in a previous post but it bears repeating that it can't get any better than getting hot whole milk with my coffee).

Banana sucker hanging outside my veranda

My chalet at Tloma Lodge
Chef and Sunita

 Tloma Lodge
 Tloma Lodge
 Breakfast (and lunch boxes)

Karatu Village Children

We headed off to +Ngorongoro Crater which was about a 30-40 minute drive from the Tloma Lodge. The 3,000,000 year old crater is an inactive volcano of about 250 square kilometres and almost 200 feet deep. The crater is a UNESCO Heritage site and is very interesting. Within the caldera (the inside of the volcano), many species of animals live. It was rather dry when we looked from above and when we descended (by vehicle) into the bottom of the caldera, it was indeed as dry as it looked from above. We heard that the crater was stunning but after the +Okavanga Delta in 2006 (see previous posts from August 2006), this was a pale comparison. For my companions, this was the first time they were on a safari so they were thoroughly impressed. There were lots of wild animals to see including lions, wildebeests, antelopes, hundreds of zebras and the ubiquitous and very ugly warthog.
 Ngorongoro Crater

 Acacia trees

Lechwe antelope

 Female Ostrich



We had our boxed lunch at the Serengeti Park gate and off we went right into the heart of the Serengeti. Now, this has been a place on my "wish I could see" list and here I am. When I was in the Okavanga Delta and wanted to see lots of zebras, I was told that I'd have to go to the Serengeti to see vast quantities. This park has the most migratory animals including wildebeests and zebras. I am quite fascinated by zebra stripes - being told that zebra stripes are like fingerprints - unique to each zebra. I saw a few in the crater but I hope I see a lot more here.

We did see a couple of spotted hyenas and the putrid stench from them was unbearable. They smelled like a mass of decaying flesh but it's from the food they scavenge. They both looked pretty ragged and one of them looked like he was in a fight because there was a huge gash running down the side of his face.

 Wounded hyena

So this next parts was exciting. We saw not one but three leopards! Now, most of you who know me know that I do not like domestic cats but leopards are an entirely different category. You know it's exciting when your driver/guide pulls out his camera and starts snapping pictures. Their bodies are so finely sculpted and move with such grace, that if you have the rare chance to see them in their natural habitat, it is quite magnificent.


That was already late in the afternoon but it was worth every bit of time we spent on the dusty Serengeti roads getting an African massage (aka, travelling long distances on very bumpy and dusty roads at great speed [since there are no posted speed limits] so that you feel like your guts are going to come out of your mouth at any moment.
As a great reward, we were treated to a spectacular Serengeti sunset - the colours of the sky changing from blue to many shades of orange, gold, burnt orange, and finally as the light started to fade to pink and blue hues.
 Serengeti Sunset

Darkness descended very quickly after the sun set and we were happy to arrive at our camp for the night. Only problem was, we were at the wrong camp. Edson said he was there once before and he knew where he was going but obviously, he didn't. That was not very reassuring because by this time, we were tired from being in the vehicle almost all day, we needed a bathroom break badly (you can't really stop at the side of the dirt road in the jungle to pee for fear of being attacked by a wild animal) and we were hungry.
We sat in the vehicle for about 15 minutes while Edson and the staff from the camp discussed directions at length in Swahili - pointing several times in a direction where there appeared to be nothing but darkness. Finally, I went outside to ask what was going on and I was told that indeed we were at the wrong camp but the good news was that it was owned by the same company as the one we were supposed to go to. The rest of the news was that "no, we were not staying here after all" but would have to drive to the next camp in God knows which direction because our driver had no idea.
Finally one of the staff from the wrong camp decided to accompany us to our camp since he knew the way (he must have been an owl able to see in the dark of night). The vehicle got a bit more crowded but off we went in the darkness of night hoping against hope that we would see a light in the distance that was our camp. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw a light that Edson said was our camp but it was so far away, that I estimated it would take us almost an hour on the dirt roads to get to it. And it took almost as long.
We arrived at the camp very close to 7:30pm and we were all glad to get out of the safari vehicle which - except for a brief lunch and one break, we were in since this morning. There were a number of other guests sitting enjoying a nice fire but we had to get our luggage to our tents and be back at the dining tent shortly after 7:30 for dinner.
We were taken to our tents by the camp staff and told quite clearly that we were NOT to go to or from our tents unless we were accompanied by one of them. I don't have much appreciation for being mauled by a lion, hyena or leopard (who apparently kills for the fun of it), so we waited for the staff member to come get us for dinner.
Dinner was everything you read about in a romantic novel set in the wilds of the Serengeti. The table was set with fine linens, the soup was deliciously hot, the main course was tasty and all of this served over a rising full moon which lit up the sky.
 Dinner at Serengeti Kati Kati Camp

Walking back to the tent with our guide, I saw literally millions of stars in the sky and it reminded me of when I was a young girl. At night in Belair, Sabena, Karran and I would spread a blanket on the platform of our front steps. Then we would lay our three pillows in a row on the blanket and we would curl up under one top blanket and try to count the stars in the sky. We were never able to count all of them but ritualistically, we would attempt again and again to do it.
We got back to our tent to find the door unzipped and flapping in the wind. The staff member who accompanied us had a very worried look on his face and chastised us for leaving the zipper open (invitation for wild animals to enter) but we told him that the guide took us to dinner was the last one to exit the tent. He made some noises and entered the tent tentatively calling out - I'm not sure if it was to the wild animals. There we were, Sunita and I standing outside - not sure if we were going to be pounced upon standing outside or mauled if there was indeed a wild animal inside waiting for us. There was none so the guide reminded us again that we are not to leave the tent without one of them accompanying us at all times. He said there was a whistle we could use in case of an emergency. When was what would constitute such an emergency, he said "if a lion is biting your foot." He noted the horrified look on Sunita's face and then with as straight a face as ever, said: "I joke."
We cleaned up and settled into to our luxurious sink (well luxurious for a tent) and settled into our king sized bed with nice, fluffy blankets.

 Camping in the Serengeti
I got up a couple of times because I heard some scratching sounds right outside the tent but I could see nothing so I finally settled in for the night. Something must have been out there though because I smelled the same rotten meat smell from earlier today. There have been some hyenas howling around. Maybe that's what it is. Good night from the deep in the Serengeti wilderness.

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