15 December 2009

ngorongoro conservation area

Ngorongoro is a conservation area instead of a national park because "activities in national parks are restricted to research and tourism in vehicles. In NCA, escorted walks are allowed in addition, and, mainly, the Maasai and their cattle are allowed to live there in traditional ways" (per Safari Patrol). You're also only allowed to visit for six hours per day.

I'll address this more in my next post (a compilation of safari tips), but when we got to our campsite, we were covered in a fine cream-colored dust. My sunglasses were coated (good thing I had them), and my normally dark hair looked like I'd aged a few decades.

But what a beautiful campsite it was, 2300 meters (about 7550 feet) above sea level on the rim of the Ngorongoro caldera (collapsed volcano-- Ngorongoro 'Crater' is technically incorrect). We had a huge tree in the middle of the lawn where we camped. Cows grazed on the lawn during the day, and zebras grazed right outside our tent at night. As we tried to sleep, we could hear them pulling the grass out and munching loudly.

There was also a local elephant that would come to drink from the campsite water tank. Elephants drink over 200 liters (50 gallons) of water a day, so I guess this made it quite easy for him.

He came to drink randomly during the day, but he seemed to come pretty regularly around 6pm.

While I took photos of this elephant, my partner took pictures of me. I thought it was neat to see the different angles here:

The elephant wandered around the site and between the bathrooms as if he were one of the campers.

Since we only had six hours to visit Ngorongoro, we left quite early the next morning to avoid the other visitors. We had breakfast here (and you can just make out the hippos in the water to the right of the tree):

This bird also decided to join us in hope of scoring some breakfast, too.

Ngorongoro is known for its misty mornings that clear in the late mornings, and our day there was no different. It was quite chilly when we entered and quite warm when we left.

We saw tons of animals again, including buffaloes, ostriches and our first jackals and hyenas.

The jackals looked like foxes, and the hyenas were larger than I expected. Not the cutest creatures, that's for sure... When we asked our guide if anyone had ever been hurt by any animals at our campsite (I heard a leopard's raspy roar on my way from the bathroom to the tent at night), he said something like, "Well, not really, but some people were attacked by some hyenas a little while ago." Yikes.

The highlight of Ngorongoro for our guide was seeing a python. He said in his seven years of exploring the parks, this was his second python sighting. The one we saw spanned the dirt road, so it was probably around eight feet long.

It slithered out from the grassy area and into a small stream. Once it got across the road, we drove closer to get a better look.

It was amazing to me how well and how quickly it swam. It makes sense, but I had just never seen a snake swim.

My partner and I were staring at it, making graceful S's in the water when a baby hippo flew out of the water like a projectile. The poor little guy must have been scared out of his wits. We didn't even know he was there.

For my partner and me, I'd say the highlight of visiting Ngorongoro was seeing all of the wildebeest. We weren't there during the huge migration when millions of them stampede through the north of Tanzania into the south of Kenya, but we got a taste of what that might be like-- and it was pretty amazing.

We saw never-ending lines of wildebeest and zebras, along with other animals (we even saw an elephant!), heading from one water source to another.

Wildebeest aren't the most attractive animals, and the way they move is as gangly as the way they look, but there's something kind of lovable in their awkwardness.

It was also cool to be able to identify the Grant's gazelle (near) and see how different it was from the Thompson's gazelle (the three in the distance, a little smaller than the Grant's, with a black horizontal stripe between the tan fur and the white belly).

And of course, the land itself was quite beautiful. Even though riding along dirt roads for hours each day wasn't the most comfortable experience ever, I'm glad that the Tanzanian parks decided to keep the roads natural.

We saw some rhinos from a distance, completing our Big 5 (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos), but sadly, most of the rhinos in Tanzania have been decimated by illegal poaching. Now, the black rhinos stay as far from people as possible (no surprise), and our guide told us all of the white rhinos have been wiped out in Tanzania. If you want to see white rhinos, you'll have to go to South Africa.

When we were leaving Ngorongoro, golden fields were replaced by lush, green forest.

And as we made our way back out of the caldera, our guide told us they cleaned up the normally really bumpy road because the president had been there about a week ago. Nice. (The official entrance to Ngorongoro had been officially reopened with a new, wider opening a week before we arrived.)

This was the view we had of the 'crater' as we drove around the edge:

We headed back to our campsite along another picture-perfect dirt road:

And saw our trusty elephant drinking from the campsite water tank again:

We drove away from the parks and started making our way back to civilization.

And in case you've never seen red bananas, here they are (in the front/right bucket):

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