SAFARI – NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA
I’m easing down to one picture a day, and a little blurb. We climbed out of the Ngorongoro Crater amazed by what we’d seen there, and passed through a smaller valley, dotted with Maasai thatch roof huts, Maasai driving their cattle, and up in the foothills, the now ubiquitous wildebeests and zebras with their spinning tails. Although pastorale is a musical reference, it seems apres pro for the serene pastoral setting we saw here (and everywhere, honestly). On the horizon, we could see the great Serengeti plain stretching for miles, and couldn’t imagine what we’d end up seeing there would top the Crater…but then again, we were headed straight to the Great Migration. Africa the amazing!
Yeah, I know you can get burned out on too many animal pictures. One of the things I’m mixing up here to try and keep it interesting is closeups–or as I call them “The National Geographic shots”–and some wider views of the plains with the animals dotting the landscape, to give you perspective on what we saw, and reassure you this is not some open air zoo, but their homes. There is an unmistakeable vibe of peacefulness and contentment with the animals here, and though the law of the wild/circle of life still applies, the tranquility of the crater and these magnificent beasts is unmistakeable. That’s part of what makes a trip to Africa a spiritual journey of sorts. Which says a lot, since in my regular life, I’m an earthbound, pragmatic fellow in general. Moreover, if the zoos back home were hard to visit before the trip, we all agreed wed have a very tough time seeing these guys in small enclosures ever again. their spirits soared on these wide open plains, and ours with them.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a couple hours away from Lake Manyara, and stunningly beautiful. The NCA is home to the Ngorogoro Crater, a 13 mile diameter collapsed remains of a volcanic caldera where 25,000 animals now make their home in this lush green Babylon garden. The place was simply jaw dropping, hard to believe you were not looking at a postcard–much like the Grand Canyon, except far far greener. If you need a reason to go to Africa — this is definitely it. It also happens to be the home of the critically endangered black rhino, and rhino sightings caused hordes of Land Cruisers to converge as the guides talked on their walkie-talkies. We were very fortunate to get close sightings of a mother and her young rhino son within 50 yards. Anyhow – enjoy the simply amazing pictures of this natural wonder of the world.
Tanzanian Tourism–of which safaris are a huge part–took a 40% nose dive due to basic geographical ignorance on the part of many tourists who labeled the entire African continent with the stigma of the Ebola epidemic that broke out last fall. Never mind that Tanzania is in east Africa over 3100 miles away; to put that in perspective, it would be like canceling a trip to Key Largo, Florida because someone in Seattle got the virus. Moreover, Western Europe, including Spain, which did have Ebola cases, are closer than Tanzania to the western Africa outbreak. And the final depressing fact is that although the US and Europe reported both Ebola cases AND deaths resulting from it, Tanzania has to date reported zero (0) cases of the epidemic. The net result was that the four of us stayed in some grand old lodges all by ourselves – polished timber throwbacks to the 1800’s English hunting lodges. Amazing and a little sad. I hope Tanzania rebounds soon.
NOTE: After this initial safari post, I’ll try and keep the stories to a minimum and make the posts heavily image based, since we captured so many amazing images, they sorta speak for themselves (or through their captions).
After 9 days on Kilimanjaro with no shower and a limited change of clothing, Alex, Irina, Caryl and myself welcomed the idea of a 7 day safari standing in a Toyota Landcruiser, staying in lodges each night with–we hoped–warm water. Tanzania doesn’t really do washers & dryers, so our first night back at Iboru Safari Lodge, we walked down the road and picked up an old fashioned bar of washing soap, which we split. I’ll simply say it was both a workout and a scary amount of dirt wrung from my clothing.
We met our driver Julius Wenga (call me “Wenga”), a seasoned laid back fellow with a pleasant demeanor, packed our stuff into the 6 seat green Toyota Land Cruiser, and headed out of Arusha to Lake Manyara, the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks (40% of the country is protected reserve parkland).
Although we visited a Masai Village on the way to Lake Manyara, I’m saving that for another post. We drove for a couple hours out of Arusha, then started ascending. When we entered the park – we raised the roof, and stood up as we went pole pole–there it is again, the ubiquitous “slowly”–over a dirt road and plunged into the jungle, Irina had her binoculars, and the rest of us 3 were armed with cameras, eyes peeled. Today’s pictures are just a few of what we captured, and I’ll try & post a few each day with minimal story. Let’s just say every time we saw a new animal we’d ojnly seen in zoos before, we could barely contain our exceitement, except, as Wenga cautioned us, we had to, to avoid startling the animals. Some of the animals were indifferent and somewhat used to the many jeeps (baboons and monkeys in general), some would start running for the hills (gazelles), and some were far enough away to simply keep an eye on us and continue munching whatever they were munching. Regardless…birds, ungulates, insects, or all manners of flora and fauna..everything we saw was an exotic thrill.