Tanzania, Ngorongoro Crater : Day 5

We greeted the day with an amazing sunrise over the valley behind our tents. A cool and hazy morning with many layers of cloud shrouding the many layers of hills into the distance. A simple breakfast of fruit, cereal or eggs and we headed off down the hill and across to the Ngorognoro crater. We drove past many mud huts, small single roomed dwellings housing a family and their goats, small children laughing and waving as we go by.  

Ngorongoro crater was formed about 2.5 million years ago in a massive volcanic eruption. It is 22km x 18km, 265 sqkm at the base, the rim is 2300m above sea level and the flatland is 600m lower. It is called Ngorongoro after the sound of the Masai cow bells as they herd their cattle in the marshlands there. The view from the top was amazing, all painted plains in the soft light today. You can’t see any wildlife and you wonder how many animals there could be down there. There are lots. 

It was slow to start, and we had no ‘Oh my god’ moments, but we saw a lot of animals at peace. Grants Gazelle, Thompsons Gazelle (a very beautiful animal, and we saw a mother with her small baby), buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, this time so close – almost touching distance, warthogs (more babies), jackals, hyenas, a few shy Eland – the largest of the antelope, several hippo pools (again, more babies) and our first lions and a solitary black rhino. 

The lions were all grubby looking and bloated – they had fed last night and were covered in blood still. Their tummies were extraordinary – so full and round. All they did today was lie around in the sun or in the grass. Apparently they would have a drink as well, but we didn’t see any move that much. And they won’t eat again for a week. With the size of their bellies – I mean, we joke about having food babies after a big meal, but this was ridiculous!

Seeing all these animals coexisting feels just like an Attenborough special – ostrich, zebra, wildebeest (or white bearded gnu!), eland, and buffalo all grazing together.  Later we saw a Black Rhino grazing amongst the same mix. There was a lake filled with flamingos, and groups of them ‘doing a dance’ all huddled and bouncing along together like a long legged pink mosh pit! That was one of Gran’s highlights of the trip. Lots of other birds for her today as well.  Little fire finches, bustards, beautiful crowned cranes, black and white storks, spur winged geese, weaver birds, guinea fowl, kites so aggressive we had to eat our lunch in the car overlooking the hippos or they’d likely take a finger along with the food they snatch from our hands!  This was a safe spot to eat, or get out of the car for pictures of the hippos as the grassy bank was too high for the very short legged beasts to get out that way, so there is no chance of an angry hippo getting a tourist. 

Once we got back to the lodge, we were able to walk over to the adjacent children’s home with the owners, Jorg and Marise from Holland, and give our gifts (5 bags of books and 20 small teddy bears and blankets. The soft things were bought by one of my patients for me to donate on her behalf, and the books and puzzles were a combination of things I had bought, books my kids no longer needed, and Christmas presents from family to our kids that were specifically for us to pass on today). They have been here five years, buying two adjacent parcels of land at the top of the hill. The forest behind has elephants in it (!) that will come out of the forest for water in. The dry season and wreck havoc on the farmers properties. So they were only too glad to sell this land. 

The tented lodge with 15 double/ twin tents and a dining / bar / reception hut is on one side, with generator power for only a few hours at night and for an hour or so in the morning if you have an early start. There are solar powered lanterns that charge all day to use in your tents during the night as required. The water is solar heated, and we have to catch the water from the shower in a bucket to use to flush the toilet. Kerosene lamps light the tables in the dining area.

The children’s home is on the other hill. 38 children live there in 3 homes with 3 house mamas.  The little kitchen uses a gas hot plate and a bio gas hot plate. The bio gas is provided by the cow dung. There is a small herd of cattle, 2 infants and one pregnant cow, imported from Holland. The milk, butter and yogurt for the children and for the lodge all comes from these cows. They have the bio gas set up behind the cow sheds, next to a huge veggie patch, so they are very self sufficient. Once again, the water is solar heated, little electricity is used, and water is collected in several 50 000L underground tanks. 56 local people are employed across the site. They have a bakery further down the hill that produces all the bread for both sites as well.  The volunteer teacher that helps the children with additional school work after school each day was thrilled with all the books we brought, and looking at their set up, they will be well used.  It is an amazing and inspirational sight. 

They have a graded soccer pitch with a basketball ring attached to one of the goal posts and a volleyball net set up on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, by the time the kids were home from school and then doing their homework, there was not the opportunity for our kids to join in with them and play soccer. 

Being as high as we are here (1700m), there are no mozzies, and therefore no mozzie nets to sleep under. We still take our anti malarials, of course (along with a probiotic each day to try to protect our guts), but it is a relief to not need to be so vigilant for a few days with the kids. Back on guard tomorrow, I expect. We have so much insect spray – 4 bottles, and I haven’t actually seen a mozzie yet. There are plenty of other big bugs around here – crawling and flying, but they all seem harmless. The big spiders with spindly black legs we saw last night – not so much. 

For dinner tonight, watching the lightning flash over the valley and smelling the briney lake smell from Lake Manyara once the wind changed, we had a cauliflower soup, lamb in red wine stew with homemade pappardelle and an eggplant parmigiana, followed by a ‘chocolate treat’. It was delicious, although tonight it was Milla’s turn to cry, declare herself too tired to eat and need be escorted to bed during dinner.  Last night it was Luca. Of course, they are awake before 6, like usual, and once awake are functioning at full power – no slow wake ups for them. 

I sat in the back of the truck with them for a while this afternoon, playing I spy, thumb wars, and another word game they had made up. They were so good this morning when we first got to the crater and had been in the car for several hours without seeing much. They all read or watched quietly, patiently even though they were bored and hungry and pretty tired. It is amazing how tiring a long day on the car can be. The kids have been writing in their travel diaries most days, and have done so when they are in the car. I can’t wait to read back through them. They are loving the experience here, although they are not all thrilled about the food – it is all fine, but they are being typically fussy with different foods. I’m hoping they relax their resistance as we go through the next 2 weeks of our adventure.
Tomorrow we are moving to our next lodge, and will have the opportunity for a bit of walking in the afternoon – not before time as 2 full days in the car so far is wearing the tolerance a bit thin for all of us. 

Sheesh, how lucky are we?