Eden of Africa
My safari decision was very last minute...
As I previously mentioned, I am NOT good with budgeting. I can't do it... and I blame public education for my incompetencies.
I have been seriously struggling with the Serengeti. Yes, I have done a couple safaris in the past. Yes, I've seen the elephants and the hippos and the warthogs up close... so one would think I would be fine giving the Mother of all Safari Parks a miss. But, it's just not that easy. How can I justify leaing Tanzania without seeing the stomping grounds of the Great Migration?
Who does that?
I just drained my bank account of $4500+ in order to see the endangered & threatened Silverback Gorillas, I had to force myself to let the Serengeti go.
It was one or the other... and I had set my sights on Gorillas in the Mist.
But... on the other hand, I still had this strong desire to be a part of something... to connect with the girls at the dorm somehow by partaking in some kind of activity.
I couldn't spend a month in Arusha, alone in my bunk, scrolling through social media and deliberately refusing adventures.
I wouldn't hear of it.
Finally I forked out the money to visit Ngorongoro Crater.
Ngorongoro, meaning 'gift of life' in Swahili, is about 3 hours outside of Arusha, and halfway to the Serengeti. Ngorongoro was once a gigantic volcano... and is now the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera... and absolutely filled with wildlife.
Our safari guide’s name was Livingstone, as in “I presume…” but he was a dead ringer for Will Smith. I considered asking him to slap me, but wasn't sure if that reference might be lost in translation. As much as he looked like Will Smith, he drove like Mario Andretti. We were clinging on for dear life, as he took each corner, Mach 2 with his hair on fire.
I found comfort in knowing he had driven these roads many times, and I tried to relax, despite the bumpy roads, the sheer cliff drop off and the constant reminder that death was near by. We left Arusha at 6am... and he FINALLY stopped for our first bathroom break at 1pm…. The vibration from the rugged road was jarring to the bladder and I think we were all on the verge of exploding.
We bounded up the treacherous crater track, studying each tree branch intensely, searching for pythons and leopards... scouring each bush for an elephant sighting or a glimpse of a giraffe.
Ngorongoro is often referred to as the Eden of Africa, and rightfully so. At one point along the surrounding volcanic rim, we pulled over to admire the spectacular landscape.
Will Smith gave us the safari rules and off we went through the Ngorongoro gates.
- Stay in the vehicle at all times.
- No littering.
- No loud noises or screaming.
The density of wildlife in Ngorongoro is incredible, which makes it impossible to not gaze over the landscape without seeing dozens of animals. The animals seem to coexit peacefully, but the assorted carcuses and skulls scattered around give the impression that it's not always so harmonious.
After having done three safaris already, I thought I might be rather bored with everything, but thankfully, that was not the case. The crater was full of life and Mother Nature did not fail to impress. It doesn’t matter how many times you journey into African nature to see the animals, it is always a unique experience.
Has anyone ever heard of the Big 5? They are;
I seriously thought they made the list because they were BIG, and I always wondered why the hippo and the giraffe didn't make the cut. Turns out I was wrong and the reason for the categorization is due to the danger these animals pose to the trophy hunters trying to take them home.
Stupid trophy hunters...
The only one of the Big 5 that I have not laid eyes on is the leopard.
In Etosha, Okavango, Chobe... I've been up close & personal with the rhino, the elephant and the hippo... but only saw each of those from afar in Ngorongoro.
BUT... that was ok... because... I SAW LIONS!!!!!!!!
Lots of them!!!
Lions everywhere... and a lioness no more than 5 feet from the safety of my all terrain safari jeep! Moments like this make me wish I had a good camera. Mrs. Simba was relaxing in the shade... and I thought she was hyperventilating. Her breathing was a series of real forceful exhalations from the back of the throat, and I guess quite normal breathing for the heat, and after a hunt.
Lots of buffalo. Lots of wildebeest. Lots of zebras.
Even the warthogs, hyenas and ostriches made an appearance, along with an assortment of cool and colourful birds. Birders would LOVE it here as there are more than 200 species within the crater, including hundreds of pink flamingos.
Driven by money, of course, there is apparently no limit of how many tours they allow into the crater per day. There seemed to be a LOT of vehicles roaming around, but apparently it was a slow day. Odd that a UNESCO World Heritage Site isn't more properly monitored.
Two very odd things occurred during our safari.
1. Much to our surprise... and delight... we found an ice cream truck! Turns out it was the most expensive ice cream in Tanzania... but regardless... when you find an ice cream truck while on safari, you take advantage of the situation... and buy ice cream.
2. It hailed ICE BALLS.
During our lunch break - we sat and witnessed a temporary, yet extreme ice hail storm. Much to our amazement, we watched as these little ice balls smashed against the vehicle. The storm lasted for about 10 minutes and then the sun broke through once again. I'll say it again for anyone that might have missed it... ICE.
Wierd, eh? I can't make this stuff up.
... and an ice cream truck.
... and Will Smith.