K2inCanada's Blog

February 21, 2016

Day 8: Ngorongoro Crater: In search of the rhino

Filed under: Africa, Animals, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 10:53 PM

Had a bit of time yesterday and realized that I never finished the Africa posts from 2014. The best is yet to come, well almost the best. But first we are going to spent a day in Ngorongoro Crater. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610 meters (2,000 feet) deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometers (100 square miles). Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 4,500 to 5,800 meters (14,800 to 19,000 feet) high. The elevation of the crater floor is 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level. The crater highlands on the side facing the easterly trade winds receives 800 to 1,200 millimeters (31 to 47 inches) of rain a year and are covered largely in montane forest. The less-steep west wall receives only 400 to 600 millimeters (16 to 24 inches) and is grassland and bushland. The crater floor is mostly open grassland with two small wooded areas and salt lakes.

NgorongoroMap2 (Medium)

So much for the facts – here comes our story of it or click here if you just want to see the pictures:

Day 8 (Sep 5, 2014): We were supposed to get up early. But apparently Matteo was supposed to get up even earlier. Someone rattled the tent looking for a Matteo well before we had to get up. Now that I was awake I really had to go to the washroom. It was still pitch dark when we got up. So much about the rule that you should not leave the tent in the dark – EVER. Apparently only applies unless the guides says otherwise. We had to get an early start since our national park time expired at 2:15PM and we wanted to maximize the time in the crater. Breakfast at 6AM. It was cold and damp. Hard to believe we were in Africa. Poor Mike had gotten Jeff’s cold and was sniffling quite badly.

We were on the road 20min later. It was very foggy. I am not sure how Mike could see the road. I saw nothing around us but grey as the daylight started to creep in. The fog stayed with us even as we started to drop down into the crater. I was extremely worried that the clouds would follow us all the way to the bottom but alas they didn’t. We finally dropped below the clouds and could see the crater floor stretched out below us. There was even some lighter spots in the distance. Sun maybe? We never got to see any all day. I had expected to see vast herds of grazers but the crater floor looked surprisingly empty – yellow grass and red dirt and grey clouds dominated the landscape – not many animals and not many tourist trucks either. Eventually we saw some Thompson Gazelles, Buffalo and Wildebeest as well as a Common Jackal hunting and a couple Spotted Hyenas. The light for taking pictures sucked mind you. And it was cold and windy. Near the salt lake there were cranes and flamingos. After about a 30min drive we saw a bunch of trucks parked along the road. Mike bee-lined for them. We saw a relatively big group of Zebras and Wildebeest in the distance but that didn’t seem worth stopping for. Mike didn’t say a word other than asked for the binoculars. So we were thinking there must be a Rhino … and we strained our eyes as much as we could and didn’t see nothing. Jeff wanted the binoculars back but Mike was determined to find whatever he was looking for first (well it is his job :-)). We must have sat there for at least 30min and saw nothing. I was ready to move one – screw the big 5! But then Mike saw it. Apparently it was lying down hidden in the long grass hiding from the wind. Took me another 5min even after Mike tried to point to it. But yes, there it was – a grey hump. I gave Jeff my camera with the zoom being of higher magnification than the binoculars and he saw it too. And then the damn thing stood up!!! Now it looked like a Rhino in its full glory. It was quite far away and the light was still bad so the pictures Jeff took are not that great. But we – aehm Mike – did it: The Big 5! The Rhino did not stand up for long. A minute or so and it sat down. Another minute or less and it lay down hiding in the grass. A grey hump only. Apparently they do not like the wind. Finally we could move on – it was worth seeing the Rhino, especially since I could see how proud Mike proud was that he gave us the big 5. From here on it was the usual fauna. We saw Lions popping their heads up watching Zebras walk by. We almost got stuck in another mud puddle crossing a small creek. We spent some time with the Hippos at the hippo pool. Another cluster of parked trucks gave away a Lion feeding on a kill from the previous night – the closest we ever came to see any kill. His two girls were watching from the sidelines. 3 Hyenas and a couple Jackals tried to steal some of the spoils. Interesting to watch but it was far far away even for my mega zoom. Next big attraction was a big old Elephant. Apparently Elephants are rare in Ngorongoro Crater since they don’t like walking up and down the steep crater walls. I know, you would think we had seen enough elephants by now, well Mike sure thought that, but the lonely Elephant on the wide open plain made for great pictures. Mike was just shaking his head. Next up a lioness with 2 cubs. More pelicans, cranes and flamingos as we got back to near the salt swamp before we headed into the only forested areas on the crater floor. Quite a change in scenery – here animals can hide again and are harder to spot. Nevertheless, we saw a bush buck, another elephant and a black kite before we started to head out of the crater on a steep road through some rain forest with great views over the crater floor until the fog swallowed us again near the crater rim.

We were back in camp by 12:30PM and packed up in less than 20min. Hamisi had already taken down the tents and we rushed back to the park gate. We made it in good time and did not have to pay an additional $100 per person for overstaying our welcome :-). From here the drive to Karatu wasn’t long and by 2:30PM we arrived at the campsite which was part of Kudu Lodge. Lunch box lunch – getting tired of cold chicken and boiled egg by now – and then finally a hot shower. First one in more than 3 days and it felt good! Finally some time to write into my log (or how else do you think I remembered all this after more than 1 year :-)). While Jeff had a nap, I went for a walk around the lodge grounds which were full of tropical plants with small bungalows sprinkled in between them. I actually got a tour from one of the lodge employees showing me their vegetable garden and the pool with the elephant showers. I felt guilty the whole time because I did not have any money for a tip on me. But the woman didn’t seem to mind, the opposite, she seemed quite proud of the place and to be able to show someone.

We checked with Hamisi to make sure it would be safe to walk into town. Mike had taken the truck to get something on the rear axle repaired. Town wasn’t very far and  we were pleasantly surprised the people seemed to behaved just normal around us even though we were the only white people we could see. No begging, no funny looks. Not until we turned around when two urchins locked on to us but they were polite and accepted our “No we don’t want to buy anything”. Nevertheless they walked with us for a bit and we did small talk. It’s amazing how good their English was.

The advantage of camping on the Lodge grounds, there was a bar! Sure, they served the most expensive beer of the whole trip but we also met a young couple from Ireland doing a similar trip than us but as a lodge safari. We shared our stories which was fun. Dinner – outdoor camping style of course – was at 7PM. Hamisi had made this wonderful beef stew with cooking bananas in it. Never had cooking bananas before. They don’t really taste like bananas and more or less have the texture of potatoes. I thought I would try that at home some day – that day is still to come. Mike, who usually eats dinner with us was still not back. I am sure he just curled up some place trying to get rid of that cold and was in no mood to do small talk. Totally can’t blame him. Hamisi never ate with us no matter how often we asked. Since we had been up early we crawled into the tent by 9PM. “Tomorrow” we will start our 3 day hike….



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