Crater and plains
13 March 2013- Mwanza, Tanzania
We are parked on the beach of Lake Victoria. The gate to the camp opens right on the water and yesterday when we arrived it was windy, pushing waves across the gate so we had to drive through water to get to our camp. Yesterday it looked like a sea, with the waves and today it looks like a lake, although a very big one. It’s a beautiful still day with a little breeze.
The last few days have been really amazing and feel a bit dream like this morning next to the water. We have been exploring in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. These are
places that we had planned to visit right from the first times we discussed our trip, and here we were, very excited at driving up onto the rim of Ngorongoro Crater! We reached the rim and stopped to look down into the crater, stretching our eyes we could see a few dots in the base of the crater, and as our eyes adjusted we could make out an elephant wandering along. It was the afternoon when we arrived and we camped that night on the rim of the crater anxious to get up early and head down inside. We were up so early that we had to wait to be let out of the campsite, it was still dark as we headed for the gate down into the crater, as we got closer we hit dense mist and we became a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to see anything in the crater. We stopped at the gate, signed in, and then headed on our way down, thankfully we soon drove down below the mist and the crater opened up in front of us. A huge bowl with a flat base, covered by a manicured lawn, munched short by the thousands of grazers. As we got to the base we could see a sliver of morning sunlight above the rim, just peeking under the level of the clouds. There were a couple of cars way in front of us, and some a long way behind but we soon pulled off onto a side road and felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was fantastic to be seeing the day wake, wildebeest trotting after each other and bulky eland surveying the surrounding plain. As we ambled along we were stopped by the awesome sight of a male lion walking right towards us along the road, behind him were the rest of his pride sitting on and beside the road while teenage cubs chased, hunted and pounced on each other and any mum or aunt that moved.
The male walked right past us followed by the rest of the pride, the cubs still pouncing on each other and wrestling as they walked past. It was an amazing moment, finally in the crater and so special to see a whole pride interacting and so lucky no one else was around. We watched them for a while, the cubs wrestling in the bushes, we could see their tails flicking or two ear tips and eyes starting out at us every so often as if they were getting ready ambush us. The other animals around kept a close watch on the pride, a small group of eland not surprising galloped off as the adults approached. We watched as they headed over a few small hills blending in perfectly with the bushes and rocks, if someone had come by at that moment they would have no idea there was a pride of twelve lions so near.
We spent about four hours driving around, revelling that we were actually in the Ngorongoro crater. We drove through patches of woodland, short grass plains (where you can see every animal there is to see, nothing to block the view), saw the lake tinged pink by hundreds of thousand of flamingos, and stopped for breakfast while watching a pack of hyenas. A highlight was seeing two brown lumps in the grass, we reversed and realised they were two very young hyenas stumbling around near the entrance to their den. They still had watery eyes and were so unsure on their feet we wondered how many times they had been out. A few of the tracks on the outskirts got pretty muddy but even though we slid around a bit we managed to keep going with a little sigh of relief we didn’t get stuck-not keen to get unstuck with lions around and then having to pay a further $200 to leave the crater late! We were a little disappointed when we had to start our climb out of the crater, it’s a spectacular place with incredible scenery and so many animals!!
We had to get a move on it and drove along the rim of the crater and down the other side towards the Sergeant plains. The Ngorognoro Conservation Area (NCA) is not a national park and is part of the homeland of the Maasai people, who still live in the area. It was interesting to see an area where people an animals live together (we don’t know how well). Unlike a national park the Maasai are permitted to live in this area with their cattle and even permitted to take their cattle into the crater for water. We passed the colourful dressed people tending to their herds of cattle and a few small villages (which consisted of literally a few very basic huts clustered together). It was interesting to see herds of cattle and then a short distance away large herd of zebra or buffalo.
Just before we crossed the line on the map that separates the NCA from the Serengeti we started to pass through massive herds of zebra and a seemingly never-ending herd of wildebeest, can’t imagine it during the migration! As we looked across the flat vast plains of the Serengeti the wildebeest were spread out as far as the eye could see from cows and their calves close by to tiny specks of black on the horizon.
We arrived into the Serengeti in the afternoon and made our way to our camp. The camps are basic but def adequate and mostly full of people on tours, in fact in the crater area and the Serengeti we only saw two other vehicles that were not tour vehicles! We parked as far away from the groups as possible as larger groups of people tend to be noisy and we were glad we did because as they all sat inside eating and talking we sat outside on the edge of camp listening to hyenas, buck, lion and the odd trump from an elephant. In the morning we were up very early again (woken before the alarm by elephant feeding nearby) and just as we were getting ready to leave in the first shards of light we saw a group of elephant walking through the edge of the camp site, a pretty special way to start the day. We had smiles plastered across our faces as we left. We explored as much of the area as we could in our 24 hours and especially enjoyed the morning spent on a tiny track weaving through the plains where we could see forever and watching hyena, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, warthog, buck, hippo, monkey, baboon, elephant and even a few bat eared foxes. The only thing we didn’t enjoy was the tsetse flies! We have come across these awful beasts before but not in such numbers as that afternoon. They are attracted to heat so they were swarming landy and we had to put the windows up. Tsetse flies put the sting of the march fly to shame. We stopped to look at the largest group of giraffe we have seen yet. Each one was stretching and craning their neck to stare our way, although they were def checking us out we noticed a movement nearby and realised they were also keeping a close eye on a pair lions lazing under a tree.
It had been two really long days of driving all day but it didn’t seem like that because there was always something to see around the next corner. As we approached the far west exit of the Serengeti we continued to see lots of animals, especially large groups of munching zebra, wallowing buffalo and wildebeest as well as the ever-present warthogs trotting here and there and were treated to a final sighting of a pair of lions.
When we left the Serengeti we were snapped back into the real Africa (although you would think seeing the lions and zebra would do that!) straight away there were villages, noises, cars and people.The sights, sounds and smells and every bit of space being utilised, which is the norm in Africa with national parks being the pockets of exception. We decided to push on to Mwanza so we could have a day or two relaxing by the lake and we are glad we did. Mwanza is Tanzania’s second largest city and sits right on the edge of Lake Victoria. We felt like we were really back amongst people and the usual sites of Africa. As we drove along we were hit by the noises and smells and the variety of things being sold by the street. You can buy food, phone credit, sunglasses, carpets, sofas being reupholstered, bricks, sugarcane, tyres, bicycle parts… One minute a sweet smell of donuts and the next the not so sweet aroma of sewage. Maze being cooked on open fires and sold on the side of the road, clothing hung out to dry blowing in the breeze, kids walking home from school, piles of bamboo being loaded onto bicycles, and two guys stuffing three goats into the tiny space behind the last row of seats in a local taxi (mini bus). A guy walked past with a chicken (nothing out of the ordinary there) hopped on his bike, tied the chicken by the legs to his handle bars and rode away. We can tell we have been in Africa for a while as all of this we rarely think to mention, we hardly notice it most of the time anymore.
Today we have been looking landy over (after bumpy roads of Serengeti) getting caught up on some other bits and tomorrow we plan to head to Rwanda, or close to anyway.
O and L