August 25, 2011

Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater

I felt the warm gentle breeze blow over me and the warmth of the sun. I found a place just out of the way and for a moment, enjoyed the silence of the Serengeti before I heard the distant chatter of more people arriving. And I drank in a 360 degree view of endless sun scorched plains with a kopje (rocky outcrop) away in the distance, marveled at the shadow of the clouds on the ground, ground vast enough to have a shadow uninterrupted by hills, trees or kopjes and let my mind play back the amazing sights of earlier that day. It was quite cool in the morning as we packed up our camp while the sun slowly rose over the dusty vegetation nearby and began to show its colours of bright yellow and red, promising another hot day. As we started on safari we drove past the different scenery. There were the small watering holes, providing an “oasis in the desert”, the savannah trees, somehow managing to survive in the harsh climate. The dry grass under your feet ( when it wasn’t the dust and rocks) and the out of place palm trees. Then there were the animals. The giraffes. So close that the whole giraffe wouldn’t even fit in the frame of the camera. So close that you could see the calloused knees from kneeling, so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. Then there were the numerous herds of thousands of thompson gazelle, the zebras, the hyenas with their small kill and the vultures hanging around, looking for any scraps from the hyena. The ostrich, the hard to spot owl, the baboons that arrived at our campsite just as we finished packing up, and of course, there was the amazing lion hunt and kill this morning.

It was nature at it’s finest and truly, it was such a pleasure to witness the cycle of nature. That may sound funny, but whether we like it or not, that’s how nature works. Animals eat other animals to survive, that’s just the way it is. So to witness the stalking and then the actual kill of a small thompson gazelle not more than 10m from us, was, well a real privilege. We had front row seats thanks to our driver Chris. We watched the lions stalk out the prey, isolate it from the rest of the herd and slowly, slowly close in. By the time the little gazelle smelt the trouble, it was too late. Even the screams from CL (see earlier post for CL explanation) to the little gazelle could not save her. Yes, everyone else was holding their breath, trying not to make a noise breathing, but CL decided that it wasn’t right and started yelling. I’m sure she was nearly tackled by everyone in our truck – as quietly as we could of course and while trying not to miss the action. Finally the lions pounced. One from one side, the other from the other side. The little gazelle ran away, right into the path of the other lion. I reflected on how I’d manged to capture it on video, even if, unfortunately the little gazelle ran for cover behind a bush and was taken down then. The lions dragged the gazelle back out a bit and we could see them feasting on their hard work. Such a privilege and something you normally only see on tv or at the zoo. It was in a way, a fitting end to our safari through the Serengeti. After that, we sat back satisfied. We had watched the kings of the jungle outwork their total dominance, their power, their speed, their patience, skill and presence.

Then we took the road out toward the Naabi Hill gate, along the dusty, bumpy roads we had come to know the Serengeti for and here I was, drinking in the 360 view. I could still taste and smell the dust, but I was high enough to be well above it and could see plenty of the blue sky. Pretty amazing to stop and consider where you were and the things you were seeing.

Somebody called my name and I was jolted back to real life.

Lunch was going to be ready soon, so my time up at the highest point, overlooking the Serengeti was nearly over. I lingered as long as I could, savouring it for as long as I could, and already marking down my time at the top of the kopje as one of the top 2 or 3 moments of my African trip.

After lunch we headed further south east toward Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped at a Masai village and while the others took a tour of the village, I enjoyed the view of the distant crater rising from nowhere, an upclose view of the spikes on the savannah trees and the rocky ground, all to the background noise of the Masai warrior dancers entertaining the tourists.

A bit further on we stopped in at Olduvai gorge. They had a museum showing the history of the gorge but again, the real highlight was the view. They gave us a talk about something – what it was – I really don’t know. I was too busy looking at the view, thinking how cool it would be to go and explore – if only we had more time. Next time.

The climb to the top of the crater was a slow one in our truck. We witnessed yet another great sunset and got there just in time to set up our tents and have some tea in the last of the light. There were tents everywhere and people everywhere! There were also animals wandering around the edge of the camp – I can’t quite remember what they were now, maybe a zebra? Ngorongoro Crater is not only known for its abundance of animals, but it’s also known to be really cold. I stayed as long as I could by the fire – it was really quite late by the time I went to bed – and I knew it was going to be far warmer by the fire than in bed. I’d been cold in the Serengeti at night, and this was going to be colder. My tip: Bring a good sleeping bag. It is COLD! Overall, the best day on
the Kenyan/Tanzanian trip by far and close to, if not the best, day of my African trip.


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