August 17, 2004

Ngoro Ngoro Crater

We flew from Zanzibar to Dar, then on to Arusha, a town in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro where many a treker and adventurer books their safaris, etc. We hastily booked a camping safari, going with a slightly cheap, but still recommended operator. The slightly cheaper part proved to be more of a bust than boon, as we would soon find out :-(.

We were originally going to head for the world-famous Serengeti in addition to the Crater, but decided against it as the annual wildebeest/Zebra migration was nearly over, meaning that the park would have significantly less wildlife than normal. Joining us for our modified excursion was Tom, a friendly and well-traveled Cannuck from Vancouver.

Our first indication that the our guide and cook were not quite up to snuff happened within minutes of getting into our vehicle, when Tom just happened to ask our driver/"guide" if he had brought sleeping bags (crucial because it can get down to 40F in the crater and because two of our party are a bit sensitive to cold (Tom and I of course!)). Luckily we asked before we were very far out of town...but that false start, plus picking up food, pillows and the cook, caused a nearly two hour delay (and would set the tone for the rest of the experience).

Finally on our way, we drover for ~ 3.5 hours to the crater's edge where we (attempted to) set up camp.

The girls sunning themselves on the camping gear

Our driver -- who looked all of 18 years old, if that -- did not know how to set up the tents, which of course set off more alarm bells. More disturbing was the contents of our first meal, a lunch featuring bread and butter as the main entree.

More than a little disgruntled at this point, the four of us packed into our chariot (Landrover with a pop-top) and headed for Ngoro Ngoro, the largest natural crater on the planet. Our ever-so-experienced driver had to ask another guide how to put the vehicle into 4WD and clearly did not know his way around the park (we're convinced it was his first time in the crater!).

After a steep decent we reached the basin floor and even our driver's incompetence did not detract from the beauty of NG. While animals can get in and out of basin, its steep sides result in few doing so, so it's a bit like a natural zoo with herds of wildebeest and zebra visible for miles and elephants almost discernible from the edge of the crater.

Our view of the crater from the camp sight (pretty cool!)

Attempting to display at least SOME competence, our driver provided the following invaluable commentary (verbatim):

Luckily we fell in line behind other vehicles whose drivers clearly knew what they we doing and we managed to see a bunch of cool stuff, including cheetas (our first ever sighting), warthogs, black-backed jackals, elephants, tons of wildebeest and zebra. We also stopped by a hippo pool which featured over 30 of our blubbery friends doing barrel rolls, grunting and sunning themselves.

We also stumbled on a pride of lions though we were a good distance away as, unlike Kruger in South Africa, roads are few & far between and you must stay on them. We still got a few good snaps out of the deal though:

I wish I could claim this was a snap of simba's roar...actually it's the lioness clearly showing her boredom ;-)

Unfortunately for our driver, our leo detour meant that he lost contact with the guides who actually knew what they were doing so we raced to catch up with the rest of the pack. However, I demanded a stop when I barely caught sight of a lioness just meters from the road, patiently watching a herd of wildebeest. I think the snap I got is one of the best I've managed on safari:

You get the sense that it's nearly dinner time, no?

Even our incompetent guide/driver, the motion sickness his "driving" incurred and the dustier than dusty atmosphere of the crater floor could not wipe the smile from Susan's face (her first safari :-)):

Safari Trio

Our little lion spotting diversion did manage to land our driver a fine for being in the crater past 6:00 PM (perhaps a little karmic justice?). He therefore drove about 20x faster than our normal snail's pace to get back to camp...Needless to say we were grateful (and a little surprised) to make it back after dark.

After an uninspiring dinner we turned in to our chilled tents, still gloating from the day's sightings, etc. :-).

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