06.19.08

Africa Day 6: Descent into the Crater

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 11:37 pm by wingerz

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Day 6: March 20

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Our descent into the Ngorongoro Crater is down a very steep, rocky road. The views are absolutely breathtaking – the flat basin, occupying roughly a 10 mile x 12 mile area, is covered in green grass and teeming with wildlife. The main geographical features include a small hill which may have been the remains of a mountaintop that once stood higher than kilimanjaro, a saltwater lake, and a small forest. We stop at the bottom, a bit woozy from the bumpy ride. From the floor of the caldera, green hillsides slope up to the crater rim. Wildebeests and zebras coexist peacefully and are completely unafraid of people. Ngorongoro has been criticized for being a bit too Disneyland-like, but we’re all ready to see animals up close..

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Assorted sightings:

  • Hyenas walk into the road and settle in a muddy puddle. We spot another hyena eating a wildebeest skull; they are exceedingly good at extracting nutrients from every last bit of animal.
  • Lone male wildebeests space themselves out, staking out territory for the upcoming mating season
  • Young zebras are fluffy, brown and white; their stripes darken as they age. One playfully rolls around in the dust.
  • We get sick of seeing zebras – they are everywhere, including up ahead of us, blocking the road.
  • A huge, old elephant hangs out in the distance. It can’t afford to damage its tusks.
  • We’re also able to spot a black rhino – there are only about 13 left in the world, all here in the crater. Apparently there is also a baby rhino, but we miss seeing it.
  • One of the lakes is full of flamingos. Even with binoculars it can be hard to discern individuals.
  • On our way out of the park, we see two lions lounging in the grass near the highway. Apparently there is one lion for every square mile of the Ngorongoro region. They don’t even get up for us.
  • Other sightings: jackal, Thompson and Grant gazelles, elan, lots of birds, warthogs.

The crowding is not terrible – at our lunch spot there may have been about 20 jeeps, parked near a freshwater pond (with hippos). Most of the time we see other jeeps scooting around the park but they are, for the most part, confined to the dirt roads. The day passes quickly and before we know it we are driving through the forest, then up and on our way out of the crater. Not only is Ngorongoro fun to say, it’s also one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. It’s a great place to end our safari experience.

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