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Tanzania and the Crater Part 4

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Animals of the day:
eland gazelle wildebeests zebra Bateleur eagle buffalo
ostrich black rhino!! elephant vervet monkey hippo
Kori bustard hyena warthogs lions (2 males together and 1 young male with 2 females) jackal crowned cranes
greater and lesser flamingos

We got up at our usual time (6:30) and although Larry was up before our wake up visit as he usually is, it was much later (6:25) than it has been.
We dressed, packed, left our little tent and made our way to breakfast. We were on the road with Simon to Ngorongoro Crater by 7:45.
The temperature at camp was cooler and within an hour or so we were at a high enough elevation that the air was very damp and cloudy and lots cooler. The jackets were all brought out!
We drove down into the crater and saw all of the animals listed above. A black rhino was spotted very early in the journey, standing in the tall grass pretty far away. So technically, we've seen the "Big Five"; and Larry has seen his absolute favorite animal. However we would be even happier to see a rhino up close. Simon says there are only about 30 rhino in the Serengeti/Ngorongoro area, with about 13 of them being at the crater.
Simon pointed out a type of acacia tree that grows mostly in this area due to the water supply. People used to call it the "fever tree", because people tended to get malaria when they were around the tree. Turns out the water, which enabled the tree to grow, that gave them malaria.
Simon also pointed out a fig/ficus tree that is very large, with large roots hanging down from the branches toward the road. It is very similar to what Simon referred to as the "sausage tree"; but what was hanging on it was smaller and about the shape of a corndog or sausage hanging down.
There were bushes growing along the roadside that had small, yellow round fruit on it. Simon said it was a Sodom apple. The fruit, or juice from it is used for topical medicine. You can chew its roots to relieve a stomach ache. Periodically, the bush (plains) is burned to allow for new growth. The seeds in the Sodom apple plant must burn in order to regenerate. Its name is derived from Sodom and Gomorrah--the saying is that this was the first plant to come after the burning, as it continues to be today.
A part of the lake was covered in flamingos: Greater and Lesser. The greater flamingos are a larger breed than the lesser flamingos. They are able to cohabit due to the lesser flamingos eating algae, while the greater flamingos eating small fish and animals. In this way, they are not competitive for food.
The lions here grow bigger than in the Serengeti because of the cooler weather and abundance of game (food).
The roads here in Ngorongoro crater are a bit less bumpy, except for some areas, as they are more dirt and mud than gravel, dirt and dust. The land is lush and green and moist. It puts one in mind of the Garden of Eden...how things actually started. It's a beautiful paradise. The animals here generally do not migrate due to the good food and water supply.
Elephants generally are on the crater rim, but when male elephants get old, they stay down inside the crater. They live alone. Simon refers to it as the "elephant nursing home".
We had a box lunch at a picnic area. Generally all of our box lunches have included chicken leg/thigh, butter or butter and cheese sandwich, juice box and a piece of fruit (apple or orange). Some have included boiled eggs, muffins, chocolate bars, triangles of cheese, pkg. of cookies, that were almost like a sweet cracker than a cookie.
We haven't figured out what they do with the other chicken parts. Except for one time, we've had the thighs/legs every day--whether it's in a dining area or a box lunch.
*Ngorongoro is a Masaai name which is supposed to be teh sound of the cow bells on the Masaai cattle.
*On the drive today, early, we saw a Masaai warrior in training with his black clothes and face painted with white paint.
We are now at the Ngorongoro Crater Serena Lodge. It is beautiful and luxurious. It has toilets that flush, electricity and plumbing. They took our laundry and it will be returned this evening. They have massages, facials, pedicures/manicures advertised at very reasonable rates.
Larry and I walked around the inn a bit, and have been settled into the spacious bar. We have had a couple of drinks, read and I've been writing. CNN is on the television--which we haven't heard in 9 days. Lots more people...English speaking. They're annoying me, although they're not doing anything other than talking to each other and having a good time. I miss being one of few, or one of two, isolated and quiet....I miss our tents, however primitive.
*At almost all inns, lodges we enter, we are greeted with cool, damp washcloths and fruit juice. At the bars, including "happy hour" at our private luxury camp, they serve fairly large portions of roasted nuts--usually cashews, sometimes peanuts.
*It was cloudy and chilly most of the day. It drizzled a bit off and on. The elevation here is 8,000 feet, so here we are in Africa, below the equator, and it's pretty much cold!!! Okay.... a bit chilly....
Simon joined us for drinks in the lounge and we had a great time talking and laughing, particularly when talking about his "work secrets" and dealing with difficult clients.
Larry and I had a good dinner, then back to the room. Our laundry arrived shortly after and we went to bed. It was the best night's sleep I've had so far, and the first time I've dreamed of Africa.
*My sleep problems had more to do with time changes and sinus medication than accommodations....

*Oh, I keep forgetting to say that the Tanzanian coffee is outstanding. And when we ask for milk to put in it, they always bring warm milk (cream) instead of cold. What a treat!


Saturday, May 28, 2005

We awoke early (5:30) and were in the dining room having a good breakfast by 6:30. Off on safari game drive with Simon by 7:00. (During breakfast we had a beautiful view of the crater for about 20 mins. We looked down for a minute, then back out the window, and the crater had completely disappeared in the clouds!)
Simon's mission today was to find a rhinoceros and a leopard for us. Not that we didn't want to see other things, but that was the mission we set him on.
The drive to the Crater was quite precarious. The clouds were thick and visibility was 10 feet or less. The windshield wipers were not effective, and the truck had no defrost. At times, the only way I could tell where the road was by the change in color between the ground and the road. Certainly was glad for Simon to be driving!! I had to talk myself out of being nervous.
Masaai are plentiful here and herd their cattle, goats and donkeys. While "Ngorongoro" means cattle bell, it also means "life", for all of the lush vegetation and life in this area. Simon also mentioned that they only put the bells on the cows/goats that tend to wander off or move around a lot.
Simon found a black rhinoceros almost immediately--or at least pretty quickly. It wasn't quite as close as we'd have liked, but it was close enough to see very well with the binoculars and still get some decent pictures. So that was one down and the leopard to go! We had told Simon that whenever we saw the rhino and the leopard, we'd call it a day, no matter how early.....

The game of the day:
gazelle buffalo hyena guinea hen/chicks elephant
waterbuck crowned crane hippo rhino Kori bustard
ostriches zebra wildebeests jackal cheetah
bat-eared fox ibis heron African spoonbill
yellow billed stork black winged stilt blacksmith plover
flamingo warthog baboons

And that was all by noon!!

We were ascending the crater, when Simon jumped quickly, braked, and called out "leopard!!" By the time we were in position to take photos, the young leopard had turned and run into the dense foliage. But we both saw it. Simon turned to Larry, "Laurence, you did see the leopard?" Larry had. Based on luck or skill, or most probable, a combination ob the two, Simon has given us everything we've asked.
*Later during our conversations with Simon we discussed how guides can guarantee nothing, because you never know where the animals are going to be. For people taking a safari of just a few days (2-3 or so), they may not see very much. By our deciding on the 12 days, it gave much more opportunity to see different animals.
We drove back to the Serena lodge for lunch, then on to the Crater Lodge for check in. The Crater Lodge pretty much defies description.
There is a north and south camp. We are in the north in room/suite #4. The lounge where check in took place and adjacent restaurant are two connected buildings with terraces and balconies outside. Buffalo graze all over the grounds.
The inside is well-appointed, what we're calling African Colonial: rich wood on the walls, luxurious drapes that billow onto the floor, comfortable stuffed sofas and chairs. LOTS of detail; crystal chandeliers.
All of the rooms are individual buildings (round) with wood shingle roofs overlooking the crater. It is a gated community.
In our room, on the table in the seating area is a wood box with small candies. On the writing desk are two wood writing boxes - one with brochures about Tanzania and Africa, the other with info on the hotel, stationery and info on bird watching. There was a personalized card on the table to greet us.
On the vanity is a glass apothecary type bottle of lotion. The tub and the shower face a large window overlooking the crater. The king sized bed is facing glass doors that overlook the crater, that you can also open out onto a balcony.
All of the toiletries in the bathroom are in the same type of glass bottles as the lotion--Guess we won't be packing those up and bringing them home!! By the very large claw foot tub is a table with a planter full of roses (3-4 dozen), a candle, matches and soap and body scrub in a glass jar. There are doors that open onto a smaller balcony overlooking the crater to where one could sit in the tub and look out over the crater....
The shower is between two sink/vanity areas and is huge and open. So big that shower curtains are not really necessary to prevent splashing.
There are windows all around, but many of them are small squares with a wooden door and latch. You can open these up to catch even more glimpses of the wonderful view. And they are located in every space imaginable at different heights.....
The door going into the foyer and the door going outside each have a small window/door you can open without opening the whole door, if you need to see who's at the door.
The only heat available (and it's chilly here) is the fireplace. Festo, our private/personal butler started the fire for us and added more wood to it while we were at dinner. There are electric blankets on the bed, but the blankets and covers are so heavy one can scarcely move. I don't think keeping warm will be a problem!
The glasses in the bathroom and for drinking the sherry that is provided in the sitting area in front of the fireplace are cut glass. The towels are large and thick as are the robes. The drapes are lush, oversized and like in the lounge, billow over the floor. There is such attention to detail--stools at the chairs, at the foot of the bed, beside the tub for the towels.... It is absolute elegance. Oh, and there is a crystal chandelier in the bedroom and one over the tub.
*I'm writing, sitting in a large leather chair and upholstered ottoman, in front of the fire while sipping sherry. It's not that I care that much for sherry, but when will I have an opportunity like this again?! I told Larry that I was going to make good use of all of the amenities!!
Larry and I had a drink in the lounge/receiving area before dinner. Everyone was in there, many gathered in small groups chatting--about 15 or so total. There are all kinds of books on tables to look at: pictures, guests' comments, etc. Most books appeared old and were leather bound.
Tanya, one of the managers, came over to talk with us and is from South Africa. She's been with this company four years, and at the Crater Lodge just over 1 year. Prior to four years ago, she worked as an occupational therapist in pediatrics! What a small world it is! We had a good conversation on child development/education in Tanzania and South Africa. Also talked of the plight of the Masaai in getting more education and endangering the traditions and customs of the tribe.
We sat at a beautiful table beside the fireplace for dinner. The meal was quite good. I had fish and Larry had the pork chops. There was soup, salad, side dishes of vegetables and rice or potatoes. The rice was "clove" rice, with clove cooked in it. It made for a different way to fix it and gave it a good flavor. It was a fairly long dinner.
We're getting a bit of a later start tomorrow: "8:00 sharp!" according to Simon. We'll drive to Lake Manyera for our last game drive. :-(
We've decided that Simon shows us everything we request, however, we're thinking we may not be specific enough: i.e.: barely seeing the leopard as he ran today. So Simon has a new assignment for tomorrow: A leopard, standing or sitting in the open, within 7 meters of the truck!
We shared that with Simon before we parted this afternoon. He laughed and said that 7 meters was too far--he'll get it within 4 meters! We'll see.....
When we arrived at our room after dinner, we had fresh towels, our robes were hanging on wood hangers on hooks in the bathroom, bottles of water and glasses were on each of our bedside tables, as well as at the sink. There were small mats on each side of the bed with slippers on them. The bed was turned down and a brown bag of Tanzanian coffee, tied in olduvai twine was on the bed.

*Did I mention we had our own personal butler..... Read through the hotel info, and saw where Festo would have drawn my bath for me..... If only I had known......

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