AFRICA DAY 15 - NGORONGORO CRATER, LAKE EYASI
Saturday, July 9
 
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We got up early so we could get out around 7:00am in an attempt to beat the other trucks into the crater. Since we were going to be coming back to the same lodge for lunch we could leave our luggage and only needed to take our day bags. After a quick and light breakfast (French toast and waffles with tea) we got out just after 7:00.

We now also had a new truck and driver. The truck we were previously traveling in required parts that were not available in the shop at the lodge so they had to be ordered. Our new truck was also a Land Cruiser, and Simon was our new driver. Our previous truck would be fixed while we were traveling during the day and would hopefully be ready for tomorrow.

The ride into the crater took a while - a lot longer than I expected. Although the lodge sat on the crater rim, there was no access road near it so we had to drive around it through the Masai land and valley we had previously gone through. We started down a steep and narrow dirt and rock road, through the gate, and into the crater, the floor of which was 2000 feet below. Fortunately, the road was one-way so it was less scary than it might have otherwise been. About an hour after leaving the lodge we reached the crater floor.

At first we saw a lot of the same animals we had previously seen, including zebra, wildebeest, antelope, and a variety of birds. We did, however, see several new things as well. The highlight of which was a pair of black rhinos - one of the most endangered species in the world. They have been pushed to the brink of extinction due primarily to poaching (their horns are highly valued by Chinese herbalists among others; the horns sell on the black market for almost as much as gold by weight). We saw a mother and child rhino - though the child was rather large so was probably several years old (rhinos stay with their mother for up to three years). They crossed a road no more than 100 feet from our truck - we were very lucky considering that most visitors see them from a far distance, if at all.

We also saw a reasonably fresh lion kill - though unfortunately we missed the actual hunt and eating portion. A pack of about 10 lions were lying around having eaten, with a partial zebra corpse nearby. At hand were scavengers waiting for the lions to leave, including a jackal and vultures. We did get very close to another lion pack, including a large male lion complete with big mane.

We left the park around noon, heading up another steep (but at least one-way) and narrow road back to the lodge for lunch. I had beef with vegetables, some soup, and a salad. We then grabbed our luggage the lodge was holding for us and hit the road.

We continued around the rim of the crater back to the gate. A few hundred yards short of the gate (and nice pavement) we got a flat tire, so the driver pulled over and let us all out. We walked the short distance to the gate (and visitor's center area) and killed time while the guides completed the required paperwork and got the tire changed. Given that we had been driving on the rocky and uneven terrain for the last few days I'm actually surprised more flat tires didn't happen. After a short wait, the truck was ready to go and so were we.

Our destination for the evening was the Tindiga Tent Camp near Lake Eyasi and the home base for the Datoga tribe and the Hadzu (Bushmen). Having been on nothing but rocky dirt roads for the last few days we were quite happy to hit an actual paved road leaving Ngorongro. That feeling was short-lived however, when we soon turned onto yet another rocky dirt road. We had descended outside the crater rim from rainforest to a very barren area, complete with bone-dry riverbeds and more dust than we'd run into before. As bad as some of the roads were previously, this one was even worse and made the others look (and feel) luxurious by comparison. Often, the Land Cruiser had to slow to single digit speeds (and low gear) to maneuver through tricky areas, while we kept closing the windows to ward off the dust despite the warm temperatures. After about an hour on this road, we hit a town near the lake and picked up a local guide - Modi - to show us around.

Our stop was at the home of a Datoga tribesman and his family. We learned that the chief of the family had four wives and four kids (one by each) and that per their tradition the more wives and childen a man had the more wealthy he was. We saw how they lived and made flour (grinding maize by hand using heavy stones). The Datoga are known for their blacksmithing ability, and they often make arrow points to trade for animal skins with the Bushmen in the area. The blacksmith made an arrowhead as we watched and we saw some of the other things they had previously made - including bracelets and rings.

Our next stop was down by Lake Eyasi. Where we stood is underwater during the wet season, but now in the dry season is a sandy and rocky area filled with grasses and plants. Mike talked a bit about the "pillow lava" we were surrounded by - rock formations formed when lava solidifies under water.

We continued down to the tent camp to get settled in and eat dinner. We arrived passing by onion fields (this area is known for and grows a lot of onions) at around 5:30pm. Earlier in the day we had found out that the tour company had messed up and reserved only six rooms when seven were needed, but arriving at the camp we found out they had actually only reserved five. To make it worse, the camp had no extra beds available to place in rooms we did have. After Mike talked with the drivers and the camp manager we found a possible spot for four of us to stay instead, and we headed out to take a look. The four of us were the four single guys - Mike, Randy, Alex, and me.

Mang'Ola Plantation was the name of our destination. After traveling for 15 minutes or so along dirt roads that looked exactly like the surroundings (only vaguely lined by markers - I have no idea how the drivers knew which empty dirt area was a road and what wasn't, especially at twilight) we reached it. It looked fine from the outside - it was a pinkish house with a courtyard and very friendly dog. There was a guy cleaning up who the drivers talked to and then left to get the key. We waited for probably 15-20 minutes before he came back and let us in. There were two rooms with two beds each and with a bathroom in between. It looked fairly clean by flashlight (no electicity) so we decided it would work. After talking to the cleaning guy to let him know we would be back, we returned to the tent camp to get our luggage.

Originally the tent camp had refused to provide any food for the four of us that were staying elsewhere, but the manager had apparently changed his mind by the time we got back. But now there was another problem - the camp had assigned a couple to a room with a single twin-sized bed. There was apparently a mix-up in the room assignment, but at least this was able to be sorted out. Jeff and Gail were given another room and Nikki and Yoko were each put in a single room. We then got to eat dinner - some soup and bread followed by "beef stew" (which was really just some meat) with potatoes and vegetables, with a raspberry/spike cake-like dessert. The four of us then grabbed our luggage and left for the other place for the night.

During this time we also learned that Amani had gotten the truck fixed (it ended up needing practically an entirely new transmission) and would be picking us up in the morning. This would allow our driver for the day, Simon, to head home.

When we got back to the plantation we met the manager - a "West German" (his words) ex-pat who seemed drunk, complaining generally (though not accusingly) that the place wasn't prepared as he hadn't been made aware that people were going to be staying there that night (of course, we didn't know either). He had put out some kerosene lamps in the rooms so we could see despite the lack of electrical power. Apparently, one of the rooms was normally his, but it was fine for us to use it for the night. When we commented that we were visiting the Bushmen in the morning he mentioned he had been researching them for a long time and had a book coming out later in the year. After talking to Mike about payment (the tour company was taking care of it as they messed up the original reservations) he left and we got ready for the next day and for bed. We were leaving very early in the morning (before sunrise) so we got everything packed up and ready to go before heading to sleep.


>> View all pictures from today <<      

 
view
View from the Crater Rim (Ngorongoro Crater)


zebra
Zebra (Ngorongoro Crater)


rhinos
Black Rhinos (Ngorongoro Crater)


lion
Lion (Ngorongoro Crater)


jackal
Jackal (Ngorongoro Crater)


hippo
Lone Hippo (Ngorongoro Crater)


datoga
Datoga Blacksmith


pano
Datoga Gourds (Black & White)



lava
Pillow Lava (Lake Eyasi)


sand
Sand and Plants (Lake Eyasi)

     More pictures from today:

pano
Ngorongoro Crater

pano
Black Rhinos (Ngorongoro Crater)

pano2
Lion Kill (Ngorongoro Crater)

wildebeest
Wildebeest (Ngorongoro Crater)
lions
Lions (Ngorongoro Crater)

pano
Lion (Ngorongoro Crater)

lion
Lion Kill (Ngorongoro Crater)
trails
Migratory Trails (Ngorongoro Crater)

warthog
Happy Warthog (Pumbaa?) (Ngorongoro Crater)
andy
Me in the Crater (Ngorongoro Crater)

crane
Crown-crested Crane (Ngorongoro Crater)
ostrich
Ostrich (Ngorongoro Crater)
women
Datoga Women

datoga
Datoga Woman Grinding Flour
bracelets
Datoga Bracelets

arrow
Datoga Arrowheads
tree
Baobab Tree (near Lake Eyasi)

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