August 28, 2011

From the Crater to Meserani

“It’s gone, it’s gone, someone has stolen it, it’s gone IT’S GONE, I can’t find it anywhere”. A familiar voice rang out. Instead of the customary chainsaw snoring from the tent nearby, it was a panicked screaming coming forth from the same tent. I know I’d gone to bed late, and hadn’t slept much because it was so cold, but I was pretty sure it was not yet time to get up. Sooner or later they’d stop and whatever it was that was “gone” would show up and we could all go back to sleep. But the cries of “it’s gone” gained more intensity in desperation and panic. I groaned, rolling over to find my phone and check out what time it was. 4am. What on earth is going wrong at this time of the morning. I wasn’t going to get out of bed to find out – tent walls are pretty thin and sooner or later somebody closer would respond to the panicked cries of CL (besides, Jen, the other person in my tent was out at a toilet stop, she’d be back soon to give me an update). Our tour leader Julius did the “leader” thing and got up to check out the disturbance. You know when somebody is in such a panic that it takes you ten minutes to actually calm them down to get something out of them – this was one of those times. Finally Julius got it out of her. Her passport and ALL her money was missing. She has it with her ALL the time she says, and now it’s not there. Someone had got into her tent and stolen it, there was NO WAY she would have lost it anywhere. Some of us went through all her stuff and also went and had a look around the toilet and shower blocks. Those who travel know what a passport means – it’s your ticket in and out of the country – it shows you are who you say you are and where you belong. It’s the most valuable thing you have when you’re travelling. But sympathy at 4am for a traveller who had tested our patience for the last 7 days had run out. So a couple of people helped her look and were able to look properly with “unpanicked eyes” – hoping that we’d find it and get her to shut up! Surely it had to have been lost – chances of somebody stealing it from luggage inside a tent are remote at best. I mean, first of all they have to actually get inside the tent with somebody sleeping in it, then find it in the dark amongst all their stuff… all without waking them up. It’s not good odds for the thief! Oddly though, it didn’t show up. A big thanks to Jen for representing our tent in the search!

Nobody really went back to sleep and come first light, Julius and CL headed into the police station. CL had the good fortune of getting her tent packed up for her (again) and lunch made for her as well. We got to meet a Tanzanian police officer and sympathise with him as he dealt with a still panic stricken CL.

Despite the drama of the morning, we were still hoping for a good day. It was Ngorongoro Crater day – the day we descended the crater and went on safari again and for the last time. We had heard many good things and were looking forward to it. Our vehicle this time wasn’t the truck, but some 4WD safari vehicles, with our own guides. That was great, until we realised that they really weren’t so great at english…

The only remaining animal in the big 5 list to see was the rhino. So when our driver asked us what we wanted to see, that’s what we said. Despite this place being known for all the animals, including the big 5, he told us he didn’t like our chances. Great – not. We spent a fair bit of our time searching the most likely places for rhinos. Our spotter tried to point out something he said *may* have been a rhino – but since none of us could actually see what he was talking about, it could have been anything, so we didn’t cross rhino of our list. The other thing I wanted to see were the flamingos. The bright pink birds that you see in all the pictures promoting the Crater. We pulled up at one stage and they point away in the distance to the lake. Yes, we thought, that’s a lake. Flamingos they say. The answer to our question “Can we get closer”? was met with a puzzled look and a definitely not, you can’t go out there there’s no roads, we’d get bogged. That was our flamingo experience. They just show up in the camera if you zoom in far enough, but to the naked eye, all you could really make out were vague pink streaks as the abundance of flamingos merged together to make something just visible.

We pulled up for lunch at a great looking picnic spot beside the lake. Oh by the way they said – eat your lunch in the vehicle because those nice looking birds will like it more than you will. Just when we thought maybe the day was getting better, and we could at least eat by the water, it was ripped from under us! Those birds certainly were annoying, small but intimidating, and none of us felt safe even in the vehicles – they were pretty close to coming in through our top viewing part and even the doors. Of course *somebody* insisted on attracting them by feeding them, no prizes for guessing who. Yes that’s right, somebody who had us up at 4am. “But they’re so lovely”…

There were plenty of wildebeest and zebras – herds of them as opposed to isolated smaller groups we saw in the Serengeti and these were also in much better condition. I guess a reliable year round water source and consequently food source helps. Some of the scenery in the crater was spectacular – the clouds over the hills of the crater were pretty cool and it was good to see something other than an endless sea of brown. We saw a couple of cheetahs – but the more amazing thing was the number of vehicles that seemed to come from nowhere just to see it. We hadn’t seen any cheetahs, so that was something new. Our guides pointed out a lion, getting quite excited, but we’re like lions – meh, seen heaps of them and we saw a couple of lion kills. We had an elephant approach our vehicle from a long way off – we got excited about that, sort of. He was a big old loner elephant. Separated from the herd as an outcast they said, and will probably die soon. He came up close, thought he may have been going to run off with someone’s camera, but he didn’t. Hopefully Pieter, our fellow traveller and expert photographer got some good shots!

I guess the crater wasn’t all bad – there was good scenery, and although mostly the same animals, there were many more of them. I probably wouldn’t do the crater again, but would be more than willing to do the Serengeti and different parts of Kenya/Tanzania again on safari.

After the crater we headed off to meet up with our truck and onward to a village called Mto Wa Mbu. We stopped there and of course got hassled by the locals to buy things. I really don’t understand why these guys don’t get that if they offer the best price on something first up, they would make a whole lot more sales. Most groups don’t have a lot of time, so therefore don’t want to spend time haggling and will go without something rather than be taken advantage of – or will run out of time because they are haggling and won’t get as much. I saw a really good painting that would’ve looked great hanging on my wall, but they wanted far too many shillings for it. So it stayed there. We went on a bit and had a look at a huge old tree and a last lookout over the Rift valley.

We stayed that night at the Meserani Snake Park. There were people everywhere. We had our own little area booked though and we had a good farewell night of our tour. Our cook (forget his name, maybe Habukka) got the night off and together with our driver Chris and tour leader Julius we read out an appreciative letter for each of them. Good staff on your tours really do make or break a tour. Added to that, good travellers on your tour also make or break the tour. We had a great group and while there were many forgettable CL moments, thankfully most of them have been forgotten and she wasn’t always bad. Chris told us we were one of the best groups he’d ever had and I said you probably say that about every group. He said no, normally he doesn’t socialise with the travellers – and they don’t want to socialise with him, so he stays in his truck. But this time he said, he didn’t do that at all and loved being out there with us. I guess not being a tour filled with teenagers helps and all of us were more than willing to pitch in and help clean up, set up camp, cook, wash up – whatever needed doing. We had a roster, but it wasn’t used, we all just did whatever needed to be done. The snake park had a bit of a reptile display and a nice bar area and it was good to meet up with some travellers from different countries. A few of us played a bit of darts, but most of us didn’t stay long after the late night the night before and the extremely early morning.


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