From England to Ecuador and beyond

From England to Ecuador and beyond

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Game on (part III): Ngorongoro Crater

The night before

This crater had better be worth the hassle getting here, and the crappy campsite! The road from the Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater is outrageously bumpy - 'bumpy' being an understatement. We're talking the kind that has your brain rattling around in your skull, your arms glued to your chest to restrain any runaway boobs and your funny bone screaming out in pain as you whack it against the window for the umpteenth time. You can't read, you certainly can't sleep; even drinking a sip of water is out of the question because you will inevitably end up taking an early shower. 

This went on for hours until 'luckily' the truck got a flat tyre so we could chill on the side of the road while it was being fixed (being watched and approached by curious Masai tribespeople, one of the creepy variety who started reading my book over my shoulder - pet hate - touching my shoulder, and asking for my name, home town etc). Got to the campsite late, rushed to pitch the tents before the light completely faded, tromped over to the shower block trying to avoid big lumps of elephant shit (there are animals roaming around freely here too - there were zebra walking to and fro just a few metres away while we were having dinner!) to be greeted by cubicles with no lights (seriously, why?!) and squatty potties. B-e-a-utiful. 

My shower was steaming hot though, hooray, which meant I could actually stand to be in there long enough to shave my legs for the first time in a while (was in danger of growing my own game reserve ha. Camping is delightful). It's meant to get down to below freezing tonight as well - we're quite high up - so I'm expecting a sleepless night. Really struggle in the cold and didn't have the backpack space to shove in loads of layers, gah. Ooo camping turns me into a MONSTER! Thank christ there are only 2 more nights left.

The big day

Nestled in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) which measures a total of 8300km squared, Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest unbroken caldera on the earth at 310km squared (including its steep slopes). The volcanic ash has made the ground fertile and the bowl-like shape gives it the capacity to easily retain water, making the area very popular with thousands of species of East African wildlife; in fact, the Crater boasts the highest density and biodiversity of wildlife in the world with over 25,000 resident herbivores and over 300 carnivores. Surrounded by arid & stony ground, the green trees and grass by the lakes and watering holes in the Crater make it stand out as something really quite special even before descending the 600 metres from the rim to the basin for a game drive. It has been described as a Garden of Eden, and while much of the area is arid now with parched straw-like grass, I can imagine it as a lush green haven in the rainy season - and because it's completely contained, the quiet when the engines are switched off echoes throughout the entire caldera. 

The steep descent prevents giraffe, topi and baby & female elephants from entering the caldera, but we saw plenty: ostrich, baboons, zebra, wildebeest, Pumbas, hyenas, jackal, gazelles, a bee eater (a gorgeous bright green bird), an elephant, a lioness and her 2 cubs (although a Jeep went too close and scared them away), a pack of lions tearing apart a warthog they'd just killed (sucking its intestines up like spaghetti! Unfortunately we missed the kill, beyond gutted - no pun intended) and hippos (including a baby!). Around what I presume is one of the bigger bodies of water, it was rich with game: wildebeest galloping towards the water & cooling off with zebra, smiling (we reckon - see photo!) hippos basking in the sun and several species of bird - one hitching a ride on a buffalo! 

Lovely last (maybe last ever...) game drive and last blog post from East Africa. We're spending the night in a snake park - not snake pit as someone in the group thought yesterday! - then heading back to Nairobi tomorrow. It's been amazing, it really has. Next stop, Cape Town!