Tanzania diary, day 9

Saturday, 7 July, 2018. 17:32

I slept poorly, tossing and turning for much of the night, for no apparent reason. With the lights off, the tent was pitch black – no difference whatsoever with eyes closed or open. I used my torch to navigate to the toilet a couple of times during the night. M. woke a bit before our alarm and we got up at 06:00. We were ready for breakfast about 06:20 and wandered over, with the morning rather cloudy and still quite dim. A staff member met us partway there to escort us.

Two of the fellow Aussies were there at one end of the table and the staff suggested we leave five spaces for their fellow party members, and take the next seats opposite one another. They had a small buffet with cereals, watermelon and pineapple, small pastries, and toast. We chose the muesli, which was similar to what we’d had in other places, and yoghurt. Then we could order hot breakfast, and I chose bacon and fried eggs, but M. decided to just have some toast with peanut butter, which was dark and roasty.

After we ate, we returned to our tent to prepare for our day out. We were ready earlier than 07:30 and surprised Timba by showing up at the car early for once. We loaded up and drove out, heading further north on the road around the rim. It veered downhill into the crater after a while, descending a slope to the floor of the caldera. The view was amazing, with a few spots of rain enough to create a full, bright rainbow over the crater, with patches of cloud and sunlight creating a gorgeous pattern on the landscape. The crater looked small from this distance, but Timba said it was 13 by 19 kilometres, so it’s actually very large, much larger than it looks.

Rainbow in Ngorongoro
Descending into Ngorongoro crater

We began driving around inside the crater, seeing large herds of zebra and wildebeest, more concentrated than we’d seen in Serengeti. The first new animal of the day was a pair of black-backed jackals. We saw a few more of them later in the day too. I’d expected that lions would be easy to see in the crater, but we only spotted one all day, and in fact I was the one who spotted it. I saw it in the distance as we were driving and yelled at Timba to stop the car, saying I thought I could see a lion. Before I could focus my camera on it to see at magnification, Timba said it was a male lion. It was several hundred metres away, but we could see it surveying the land, and I got a decent shot of its face as it turned to look at us.

Black-backed jackal
Black-backed jackal

We saw several new birds as well, with Timba spotting some and describing them for us. We saw the grey crowned crane, a spectacular looking bird, and the national bird of Uganda.

Grey crowned crane
Grey crowned crane

One of the best was seeing flamingoes, although they were a bit of a distance away as well, as the road didn’t go very near the lake. We were lucky though as a group of three took flight and we could see the brighter pink colour under the wings.

Greater flamingo
Greater flamingoes in flight

The last of the big five animals we hadn’t seen in Serengeti was a rhinoceros, so we were keen to see one. Timba pointed out some in the distance a couple of times, but even through the camera lens they were indistinct and shimmering in the heat haze of the caldera floor. But then, just before lunch time, we were driving along a road near the middle of the crater, not near any other cars, when Timba suddenly stopped. He looked through his binoculars and said there were two rhinos off in the distance to the left. I looked through my camera lens and could see they were rhinos, but they were too far away to get a decent photo. But Timba then said they were on the move, walking in our direction. So we stayed there, sitting in that spot on the road, watching them for several minutes.

Black rhinoceros
Black rhinoceros mother

Over time, another car joined us, then another, and slowly more. I was watching the rhinos through my camera, walking, stopping, looking around, then continuing in a meandering path, but always closer to us. It was a mother and a juvenile not fully grown. Then when I looked away from my camera, suddenly there was dozens of cars lining the road around us, all watching the rhinos. At dinner, we learnt that the other Australian family group had been in one of those cars, and one of them said he’d counted 64 cars there. Everyone watched as the rhinos approached the road, and crossed in the middle of the cars. Unfortunately they crossed the road several cars away from us, but some of the cars got a very close look indeed. The closest we got was maybe 50 metres away, which was a bit of a shame as we were the ones who started the entire frenzy of rhino watching.

Rhino mum and baby
Black rhinoceros mother and baby

As the rhinos continued walking away from the road, Timba started the car and we drove off, towards the Ngoitokitok picnic site to have our packed lunch. We arrived at the spot, where dozens of other cars were already parked and scores of people were wandering around, having lunch, using the toilets, or watching the hippos wallowing in the adjacent pool and marsh area. Rather than the boxes provided by Nimali in Serengeti, here we had a large metal picnic box, which Timba unpacked, as well as picnic chairs and a small table for us to sit at, complete with a red checked tablecloth.

Picnic lunch in Ngorongoro
Picnic lunch by the Land Cruiser at Ngoitokitok picnic area

The wind was blowing uncomfortably, and Timba moved the car to create a windbreak behind the table, which helped a lot. We ate off metal plates, the lunch consisting of a cold pasta with vegetables, slices of a vegetable quiche or tart of some sort, bread rolls with tomato, lettuce, and sliced meat (corned beef I think), bananas, and apples. There was no vegetarian roll for M., so I had double of the meat ones. After eating, we walked over past the hippos to the twin toilet blocks, which were crowded with so many people all here at lunch time. The area was dusty, and as cars arrived and left they kicked it up and the strong wind blew it around, making it rather unpleasant near the toilet area. A large black kite was flying around and I got some good photos of it in flight.

Black kite in flight
Black kite in flight

Lunch done, we drove over to the Lerai Forest on the south side of the crater, where we hadn’t yet been. I expected this might be a good place for lions with all the cover, but we didn’t see much apart from a troop of baboons and some vervet monkeys in the trees. We then did a big loop anticlockwise around most of the crater, through open grassland where there were virtually no animals. We kept eyes peeled for any signs of lions, but didn’t see much more interesting than warthogs and ostriches.

With the day wearing on, Timba began driving back up the access road to the crater rim. Partway up we passed a stopped car with some men tinkering with the engine. A small truck had stopped to help them, but Timba pulled over and stopped the car and said he was going to see if he could help. We waited there maybe 15 to 20 minutes, watching up to six men all staring at the engine at once, when Timba returned and said that a mechanic had arrived and should be able to fix the car for them. So we continued driving and soon returned back to Lemala Camp, arriving about 16:15.

Departing Ngorongoro crater
View back into the crater, with the broken down car at centre

We asked for hot water to be prepared for showers for M. at 16:30 and me at 17:00, so we could be clean and fresh before dinner. At 16:40 there was still no sign of action, so I returned to the dining tent to check on progress. Nelson ran off to the staff area to get people into action, and soon we had hot water for our showers, delivered by the cheerful Major, again calling out from just outside the bathroom area of our tent. Later I pointed out to M. that the two guys here who we spoke to most were Major and Nelson. If only there’d been a Tony as well!

After the showers, I went over to the lounge while M. practised her Rock School songs a bit. I got a gin and soda and chatted with the mother of the Aussie family, then moved out to the bonfire once it was going. M. arrived and we enjoyed the fireside tales of today’s exploits with the other camp residents. Replacing the other guests who’d left today were an American family from Atlanta, a family of a Czech woman, German man, and their son, who now all lived in Florida, and another group of people who arrived late and we didn’t really talk to. Staff brought around snacks of onion pakoras and meatballs. After finishing my gin, I decided to try some Amarula, an African liqueur made with cream and fermented marula berries. It was fruity and tasted a bit like a mixture of strawberry and chocolate. Then they called everyone for dinner shortly after 19:00.

Swahili fish and coconut rice
Swahili fish and coconut rice

The soup today was green banana, which was interesting. It didn’t really taste like bananas at all, and could have passed for cauliflower soup. The main was Swahili fish with coconut rice and eggplant, with the fish replaced with a ratatouille-like vegetable mixture for M. The fish had a delicious spicy sauce. Dessert was chocolate brownie, although the texture was much more like a cake than brownie. After dinner M. tried an Amarula as well and liked it.

Then it was time for returning to our tent and hopping into the warm bed to spend our last night on the mainland of Tanzania.

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