I woke up to the sound of Fflur, my new Welsh safari friend, saying, “Are you awake Brady? We leave in 10 minutes.” Oops! I got ready quickly and was the first person to the truck! This morning brought us to the Ngorongoro Crater National Park. I had heard about this one (through the Amazing Race of course!) and my excitement was at a fever pitch. It was quickly cooled down by the intense cold of the crater. You first climb to an altitude of about 2,400 meters or 7,000 feet to the crater rim and it was freezing! No one tells you Africa can be cold! Fortunately, we had bought traditional Masai blankets the day before and swaddled ourselves in them.
Just as soon as we descended into the crater we had some great ostrich sightings and then, boom, a lion! Well, not boom. She was passed out on the ground sleeping, most likely after an early morning hunt or a filling hunt the last night. The morning yielded a whole lot of great herds of animals. The zebras, even all in black and white, actually do blend in and are possibly my new favorite animal with their gorgeous patterns and their somehow long and stocky bodies. The wildebeest were supposed to be in Kenya at this time of year, but were in full force here, with comical long faces and fur that needed a good brushing. We saw gazelles, some submerged hippos, a couple errant hyenas and jackals, ostriches, buffalo, cranes, and of course lions and rhinos.
Rhinos are actually pretty tough to come by and we counted ourselves lucky to see not one but two rhinos during our safari. The first rhino was spotted by every truck in the crater and as all of the trucks drew as close as they could to take a picture, the rhino got nervous. She just wanted to cross the road and ended up panicking before decided to just jauntily squeeze through a couple of the cars. Rhinos don’t walk, they kind of bounce as they trot along as if they were as light as a feather. It was the only time I ever saw the trucks actually affect the behavior of the animals.
Perhaps the coolest viewpoint we had was above a watering hole shared by zebras and wildebeest alike. As they went in small groups to get water, a lioness lay camouflaged in the brush just 15 feet from our truck. 30 feet down from her, another lioness, bigger but poorly camouflaged. And we didn’t notice for another ten minutes, but there was a third lion hiding behind a bush, absolutely hidden at first glance. They were tracking the zebras and wildebeests to figure out which were injured or sick so they could attack later that night. It was the start of a long stake out.
Even though we ended up seeing the more rare animals in Ngorongoro Crater, I definitely preferred Lake Manyara. Ngorongoro works because it is tons of animals in such a small area. At all times at the bottom of the crater, you can see 360 degrees around you the walls of the crater, bounding in all of the fauna. But you also don’t really stumble upon things. It was far busier and unless you wanted to spend 20 minutes staring at a gazelle (which we did!) there was always a big crowd around anything rare. Traffic jams formed around lions with the truck drivers yelling at each other, aggressively jockeying to get their passengers the best view. It was a little maddening and detracted from the authenticity, but the animals rarely seemed to mind. They were only thinking about survival.