Friday, December 28, 2007

Saturday, 15 September - Ngorongoro Crater

We decided to skip breakfast this morning, as we were both pretty full from the non-stop feeding. Although in retrospect we should have grabbed a yogurt or something, as we were both hungry well before lunch.

Every time we check in to a new lodge, I charge up the batteries. The power strip I plug into the adapter, and then plug everything into the strip. The stuff that needs power conversion (110 v 220) I charge later without the strip so I can use the adapter on the item.

We've done laundry twice now, once at Amboseli Serena Lodge and once here, at Ngorongoro Crater Sopa Lodge. Both times the clothes came back in excellent condition. I'm trying to avoid a third washing so we'll see how I do. (Aside - in the future, just do the laundry as needed, even every other day. It's very reasonable and the service is wonderful. It would save on packing. Since there were just one or two items I loved wearing, I would pack less and wash more.)

As I sat Sunday morning the 16th, writing in my journal, I took some time to just look around from me seat in the sun room at the Sopa and think about where I was. It was 8:48 am, or 11:48 pm in Colorado, where FSU was playing game 3 or so on the season. When we were in the crater Saturday, I didn't even begin to think about what was happening in the States, beyond thinking about Mom and the puppies at home (who were in my thoughts every day). I guess the truly important things come into focus at times of reflection.

Our wake-up call was not the three knocks, each louder than before, that we got in Tarangire. Instead, it was a hard rapping at 6:00 am. No jackals or hyenas, however.

Renny joined our car the entire day. He and Steven seem to make a great team. It's fun to watch them, and listen to tehm use Kiswahili, looking for the best game. I love how clear it is that they love doing this. It is clear that they love Tanzania, and want us to have an unforgettable experience.

Our drive into the crater, with me in the first row behind Renny and E now in the back with Betsy, (I'm thinking - OK, these girls are really hitting it off now) descends slowly through various areas, from teh montane forest down to the open savannah floor. (Savannah floor? Not sure, but that's what I thought of.)

We first spot a male lion in the distance, walking away from us out into some better hunting ground. Later we see three lionesses, each one apart from the other, but in the general area. One of them had her kill about 10 feet away from her resting spot in the shade of a tree. I was able to spot a jackal in the distance while the others were focuses on the lioness (way to go me). Renny had told us about how the aged elephants moved into the papyrus 'forest' to die. Sure enough, we saw an old bull, with long tusks, moving into the forest. Renny said the ele will make it no more than three months and then pass. The scavangeers will then move in and clean up.

Renny also mentioned that poaching has been significantly reduced here, thanks to increased security, ranger compensation (to combat graft), and international ivory trade bans. Those caught poching face seven years in prison mandatory.

We had lunch out on the lake, which I dubbed hippo lake. Apparently this is where all the tours eat, as all the safari vehicles were pretty much lined up around the shore. The Micato boys set up a beautiful red table cloth and china arrangement, all sorts of great drink choices, and delicious foods.

Looking back on it, I realize I saw more wildebeest and zebra than I've ever seen in my life (then again, given this was day six of the trip, that's a somewhat loaded comment). Apparently we should have seen even more flamingoes, but the soda lake had too much water and hence the crustacean population was not right. Renny was disappointed that we weren't surrounded by lions at times (from what I understand, that is not an uncommon experience). But none of us were in the least bit disappointed. We honestly couldn't have been more thrilled with everything!

After lunch we made it to the heavily forested area, where perhaps 20 to 30 cars were watching a black rhino. I got a quick shot of it on video.

On our way out of the crater we stopped and watching a cheetah, making her way around the cars toward a watering hole. Yet another feline experience to wrap up a safari locale. The next one would be even better....

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Great Article

Thanks to Jess215 on the Fodors forums for making me aware of this article about the Kenyan election this week. It speaks to some of my comments earlier about tribal v national attitudes, and how that may play out on Thursday.

A Question On Colors

I think I've said before that God must have been playing with his Crayolas when he got to Africa. I mean, that Lilac-Breasted Roller alone is enough to brighten any den. If I'm right, coloration usually has to do with either mating or environmental factors, yes? We know that the male ostrich turns bright pink during mating season, for example. But why the unique colors on the Agama? They don't seem to blend with the environment. Is it a mating purpose, then? Anyone have any idea? Maybe Alfred or Renny would know - I should have asked them.

I miss the colors of Africa.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, 14 September – Tarangire to Ngorongoro

Although we had ordered a 6 am wake-up by knocking, it wasn’t necessary. We awoke to the sound of barking. Yelp – yelp – yelp. I thought they were wild dogs. I sat up in bed, beaming, as was Betsy. Of course, when I mentioned to Steven that we had this experience, he corrected us. That noise, in fact, was a hyena. Now this was awesome! On our way to breakfast, and of course around the lodge, we saw the rock hyrax, which I took to be a cute rodent. It turns out that it is a member of the elephant family. What's neat when you leave is that all you have to do is bring your bags outside, and one of the porters will be waiting to take them away.

The breakfast included awesome pancakes, that were more like crepes. I didn't see any avocado juice this morning, though, unlike last night.

We took a picture with Steven in front of the car and began our trek into Tarangire. Little did we know we would be encountering a rather vocal pachaderm. About thirty minutes into the drive, we came across a young male bull, perhaps 15 years old, most likely recently removed from his herd. (As an aside we found out later tha elephants live to about 60 years old, losing their teeth every 10 years until at last no more come in. They then move to an area where papyrus is found, which they can chew on until they starve. Rather brutal, yet beautiful at the same time.) Anyway, this male was not happy to see us! He flared his ears, raised his trunk, made his loud noises, and 'charged.' OK, as far as Steven was concerned, it wasn't a charge. He can tell the difference. But to us it was fascinating, and a bit intense! He sort of would run to us a little bit, stop, run sideways, make more noises, then do it all over again. This continued for about 15 minutes. Eventually he settled down and took off.

The birds, antelopes, and other mammals were beyond amazing. I see now why birders love Tarangire, and why they all show up during the long rains, when it is cold north of the equator. After stopping for a drink and a snack, and a group photo, we finished our drive along the river. We came upon about nine lions fresh off a kill. Now, most of them were hidden in the bush, so it was hard to make them all out. Probably all females, most of them sleeping it off. We spent enough time there until everyone in the car spotted them all (Steven was great on this - he insisted that all five of us see them all before we continued on). Finally we all saw them, so we continued back to Sopa Lodge, for lunch by the pool, enjoying the moussaka and passion custars, and taking photos of all the Agama lizards.

Finally, we were off to the Crater, about a three hour drive, with an occasional stop to 'check the tire pressure.' We passed many towns and villages along the paved highway, built by the Japanese (?) and now maintained to promote tourism to and from the NCA (Nogorongoro Conservation Area). Betsy did some bargaining for a zebra mask, this time getting a great deal when she originally planned to walk away.

The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is on the rim of the crater. We stopped at the visitor's center to get a brief lesson on this large ecosystem (NCA) from Renny. Here I noticed that the other tour group was not with us (pretty much OK by us). We arrived at the lodge to welcome juices and yet another bottle of South African white wine (and a free mini-bar).

We had drinks upstairs in a private room, then proceeded to a fantastic dinner and desert. Finally, off to bed, prepping for huge day tomorrow in the rim....