Africa Log: Day 5

We woke from a slightly less restful sleep before dawn. Unlike the first night, when I guess we were so exhausted that we slept through the night, this time we heard everything! Birds, bugs, bush babies, other creatures. And yet we were anxious to get cleaned up, packed, breakfast and check out to meet our connection to Ngorongoro Crater. Of course, everything went smoothly in spite of our anxieties. We had another delicious buffet breakfast.

It got a little awkward when we went to tip using a credit card. There was no front desk, so Adam our butler asked us to write the amounts to tip on a piece of paper that he took to the back room with our credit card. In retrospect I probably should have been wary, but everyone had been so friendly and accommodating that it did not occur to me.

We loaded onto the vehicle to drive to the airport for our transfer. We were on a bit of a hurry because our guide. Titus needed to catch a plane himself. As such, Sami was with us to drive the vehicle back. Nevertheless, we managed to see the dominant lion, a giraffe, more baboons, and lots of impala before we left the park.
We made pretty good time, so rather than waiting at the little Lake Manyara airport, Titus dropped us off at a souvenir shop outside the airport. At first this seemed like a good idea, but the merchant was a little pushy. He essentially coerced us into buy some figurines, but insisted on payment in cash. When we said we didn’t want to spend all our cash there, he insisted, so we decided not to buy some things. He then said we could use the credit card for those things, but by this time we were really annoyed so we bought the figurines only, and he did not have any change.

When we exited the store, Sami had returned and took us to the airport, where Humphrey and Twalib were waiting with coffee and tea, and after a cup of tea and some cookies, drove about an hour to Ngorongoro Crater park. This time the vehicle was another Toyota Land Cruiser, but was enclosed and had a pop up top.

As we approached the crowded gate to the park, I imagined what I would tell Maureen, our safari advisor, when we get home. Lake Manyara was what we were looking for. Luxurious, exotic, and fully satisfying. I think Ngorongoro Crater will be what we expected. More crowded, less personal, perhaps more commercial. And I think Serengeti will be beyond our imagination.
We drove up the winding rim road, stopping at the overlook (under construction) to view the scenic vistas on both sides. The overlook was crowded with vehicles like the entrance gate, and I was beginning to have some doubts about Ngorongoro Crater Lodge until we rounded the corner to find a herd of zebras grazing just outside the entrance to the courtyard.
We were greeted by the staff singing a welcoming song. Then we were escorted to the sumptuous north lodge (there’s north lodge, south lodge, and the tree lodge) lounge to sign in and get briefed about the facility. The briefing seemed more perfunctory and businesslike, and everyone seemed a little stiffer. Then we were shown to our hut (North Camp #7).
Our quarters made us feel like royalty. The sumptuous space was divided in a living area with a fireplace and a decanter of sherry, a large bedroom with huge windows overlooking our balcony, a lawn being grazed by zebras, and the crater valley below beyond that. The bathroom was of similar proportions to the bedroom, with to sinks, an indoor shower, and a large bathtub. The front door opened into a butler pantry. The door with the lock our key worked with was inside the butler pantry.
After gawking at the opulence of our accommodations, we decided to take a walk around the grounds. We decided to follow the path around to the little gift shop. Immediately I noticed the flies. They were attracted to the zebra poop all over the green space. Small birds were darting all around scooping them up as they flew. We walked somewhat more quickly to the gift shop, where I bought a copy of the book Titus has been using to point out the animals to us, and Steph bought a similar book for birds.
When we came out, we decided to continue on the loop path back to our hut. That’s when we noticed a pregnant zebra standing in the shade where we disembarked from the vehicle on arrival. And then we saw more zebras grazing in the space between the lodge building and the line of huts that we would have to walk right by. We did so without incident and went back to our hut to unpack and get ready for lunch.
When we walked back to the lodge for lunch, the zebras were still there. They watched us make our way to the dining room by were otherwise unperturbed. Lunch consisted of individual turkey pies that reminded me of dim sum, along with roasted pumpkin and couscous. For dessert we had almond ricotta torte with strawberry sorbet that was also delicious. When we emerged from the dining room, the zebras had moved to the lawn we had circled on the path before lunch, and I took pictures of them through the windows of our hut.

We prepped for our first game drive and the another couple who we would be game driving with, Bill and JoBeth, retired attorneys from St. Louis, who were also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. This is when we learned that we had two different guides, Moody and Humphrey, and that Moody was training Humphrey, who was driving. Moody, a twenty year veteran, asked what our interests were as it was already 3:00 and all vehicles must be out of the park by 6:00. The consensus was to see a rhinoceros, so he said that we would head directly to the two sites where rhinoceros are most frequently seen rather than stopping for creatures that will always be visible and that we would see tomorrow.

The crater rim road to Ngorongoro Crater Nature Conservation Reserve is bumpy. There are actually two routes into the park, but the nearer one is closed and will be replaced by a paved road in a few months. So we had to travel along a very bumpy road, while was like driving continuously over deep rumble strips, for 45 minutes to get to the entrance on the other side of the crater. Once through the gate, the roads inside the park were no better. Nevertheless, once inside the park, we were amazed at the diversity and abundance of animal life there. We saw many animals we had seen before, including hundreds of zebras, but also, hyenas, Thompson’s gazelles, wildebeests, a jackal family, and some elephants. We went to both sites, but did not see any rhinoceros.
I found our guides a little off-putting. Moody was knowledgeable, but he had an air of superiority about him. I would point something out and his would dismissively downplay it. Humphrey was more enthusiastic, but he to Moody. As we were looking for rhinoceros, we only stopped a couple of times, but we passed numerous photo opportunities where one of them would point out something, but at 40 kph on those bumpy roads, even sports mode on my camera couldn’t get clear shots.

As it was approaching 6:00, we made haste to leave. The road entering the crater is one way, as is the road exiting it, which was also on the opposite side of the crater from the lodge. Once out of the park, the road back to the lodge was also the main route to the Serengeti used by commercial vehicles, so it was even more bumpy than the road to the entrance, and we had to travel an estimated hour and fifteen minutes on it to get back. I was dead tired, but the road was so bumpy that it was hard to fall asleep, and the two times I did, I was awakened by my head banging against the window. About 20 minutes out from the lodge, the traffic was stopped. There had been a fender bender up ahead, and in Tanzania, no one moves until the police document the scene. Fortunately there was a police station just beyond the site of the accident and the road was reopened about fifteen minutes later.

Once back at the lodge, it was dark and the zebras were all gone. We got an escort back to our room, freshened up, and got escorted to the dining room for a delicious dinner. We had a choice of two entrees, and we both got vegetable soup, duck with potatoes and green beans, and chocolate truffles on meringue for dessert.

While we were waiting for the first course, Ben and Zoe arrived, and were seated at the table next to ours. We exchanged some stories waiting for the entrees. After dinner, we were both fatigued after the long day and my back was hurting, so Steph took a bath and I had a nice hot shower before going to bed.

Author: joabstieglitz

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