Tarangerie to Ngorogoro Crater

Jul 21

Breakfast buffet at Tarangerie and there were elephants walking around just outside. We walked out on the deck with our coffee and watched them for a few minutes. How’s that for an amazing start to the day. John was still getting ready so I had breakfast with Suz, Nathan and Jeff. I stopped by the gift shop to pick up some maps. I had tried to bargain with her yesterday but she would only come down to $4/map. I really wanted them so I got 4 maps for $12 – Kili, Tarangerie, the Crater and Serengeti.

After breakfast is was back to the room to grab bags and load up for a game drive on the way out. We spent about an hour and half driving out spotting the usual suspects along the way. We saw buffalo with tick birds on their backs and another buffalo that looked like its tail had been bitten or scratched by a lion. I felt so sorry for him because the birds were picking at it and he couldn’t reach them. I could tell it was driving him crazy. He had backed himself into a tree to try to get the birds off of his tail. Our driver said he will end up being somebody’s dinner because of the injury. Next we saw a young female with three males competing to be her mate. They were all dancing around each other and when one would give up and walk away the female would go after him. Usia, our guide, said it takes 3 to 4 days before the decision is made but the winner is always the most senior male lion. We saw maribou storks, vultures eating leftovers, a ringed/target Waterbuck, impala, black faced monkeys crossing the road, a beautiful lime green bird called a Fischer’s Love Bird, Baboons near a Tamarind Tree, Warthogs, Egyptian Geese, and an Eland (the largest antelope). During the game drive one of our Land Cruisers lost some major part and was having some trouble. Usia called Bushbuck and lined them up to meet us at the turn off to the Crater to give us a new vehicle.

It was a long drive to the Crater. We headed back to the road to Arusha then took a left a road that was built by the Japanese. This was one of the nicest roads we had been on but was getting to the point where it was going to need some maintenance soon. We stopped at the turn off to do the car transfer and hoped that none of the local vendors would see Sierra’s smiling face in the window and come knocking.

Back on the road Usia continued talking about the area. The road to the Crater had a fairly well developed town with sidewalks and a number of shops. He told me that this town had sprung up in response the needs of people traveling to see a local healer (5 hours down the road in the middle of nowhere) named Abilikile Mswapili. Abilikile makes a tea from the root of the mugariga tree. He is a retired Lutheran Minister who says than an angel came to him and told him to make the tea and it would heal people. He is said to cure Diabetes, Aids, High Blood Pressure and Cancer. He has become very famous and people come from all over Africa and other parts of the world to see him. He charges something like 50 cents for a cup of the tea and sees over 3,000 people per day. There is even and article in the New York Times about him. I looked him up after I got home. After I told the rest of the group about this at lunch some of them asked their guides about him. One of the other guides, Carlos, said he had been to see him for a fungus he had that wouldn’t go away. He said he drank the tea, his hands turned white (he was black) and then the fungus went away. I guess his hands turned black again because I don’t remember any of our guides having white hands. Anyway, I find that sort of stuff really fascinating. Plants have really powerful properties. This conversation started me searching through one of Usia’s guide books and looking at what the various trees and plants were used for – they listed uses such as after childbirth (I guess to induce the afterbirth), for abortion, for piles (hemorrhoids), stomach problems, diarrhea, to stop bleeding, and on and on. I guess that the plants of Africa are much like the Amazon rainforest – there are many medicinal properties.

Next we drove past Lake Manyara, a vast salt water lake and it currently pretty low on water. Here the landscape was lush with trees as we are going up to higher elevation. Its also an area where there is a lot of farming. The people that farm the area are known as the Iraqw and they came to Tanzania from Ethiopia. The Masai are enemies of the Iraqw. For many the Masai were always trying to kill the Iraqw and they would hunt them down. One way that the Masai found where the Iraqw were hiding was from listening for their crying babies. So the Iraqw started making cuts under their babies eyes so that the salt from the tears would burn when they cried and that would teach them not to cry. So Usia says that many Iraqw have lines/scars under their eyes from this practice. Now the Masai and the Iraqw do not fight each other. He didn’t really elaborate on this.

The Iragw are big farmers. They were growing a lot of corn, sunflowers (for the oil) and some other crops. They also had a few animals but pretty much stay away from cattle because that’s the Masai’s main animal. There is also quite a bit of Mexican thistle along the road. Usia said that this came in with some of the fertilizer that was purchased from Mexico. Nothing like spreading weeds through the global economy.

We stopped at another souvenir shop along the roadway and I bought a few things for the kids. I really hate the process of haggling and the dishonesty that goes along with it. The girl told me if I would pay her under the table she would give me a better price. How’s that for honesty. Imagine trying to run a business under those circumstances. The accountant in me has been going nuts since we got to this place trying to figure out how anybody could possibly run a business – keep inventory and know profit margins. Its just impossible.

Back on the road our car went ahead to pay the park fees while the others stayed behind for more shopping and haggling. When we got to the entrance of Ngorogoro Usia parked the Land Cruiser and we sat and waited. He left his window rolled down. I was sitting in the passenger seat taking a picture of the sign. I heard a commotion from everybody else in the car and I turned around to find a large baboon leaning into the drivers side window. Just as I looked at him he jumped down in to the drivers seat. Lucky for me Doug shouted at him and he jumped back out of the car. I didn’t know but they are apparently very aggressive so I was lucky he didn’t try to grab me or any of my cameras or food. That was pretty exciting for a few minutes.

We used the loo while waiting for Usia to pay and the other cars to arrive. As we were sitting there Usia saw that we had a flat tire. He changed that tire faster than a NASCAR pit crew. We were amazed. Later we would learn more about why they are so fast with the tire changing.
Finally we started driving to the lodge along the Crater ascent road. We were running behind, as usual. By now we were really in a lush area with heavy vegetation but the red dirt from the road was covering everything so it wasn’t that pretty along the road. Of course, we still had about an hour or more to go before we got to the lodge. We could see game trails through the vegetation along the roadside. As we were driving we saw a car pulled over on the side of the road getting out chairs and setting up a picnic. Usia said that was a very bad idea because the animals roam all around the road area and a lion could just walk up while you are sitting there eating.

We finally made it to the turn off to the road going up to Sopa Lodge. Just then Usia realized that we had another flat tire. We were stopped in the middle of the road right at the turn off and there were two more Land Cruisers coming behind us. We all jumped out and he asked someone to go down to the turn and flag down the other cars so they didn’t come around the turn and hit us. Nan and John walked down to the turn just as one of the cars was coming. They started waiving at the car and our people in the other car were waiving at them and telling them to hurry and get back in the car. By that time Doug and Usia had finished changing the tire. We drop the last few miles up to the lodge. Then we found out that there had been a lion in the road just around the turn. Guess that’s why the guides are so fast with the tires. Better be fast or get eaten!

We stepped in to the lodge and were greeted by the warm towels to wash off the dust, friendly porters in African dress and a magnificent view of the Crater below. A thick haze hung in the air partly obscuring the majesty of it but it was still spectacular. We were scurried in to the dining room and seat at several big tables. John and I sat with Lori, Connie, Mickey, April, Neal, Kristy and Susie. I had a vegetable curry dish that was delightful. John got some sort of wrap that he said was wonderful too. He also had a salad with these fabulous avocados. After tasting it I had to ask them to bring me one as well.

We didn’t realize that the Crater closes earlier than the other parks so we had to rush out the door again in order to get the game drive in. As we drive down in to the Crater we leave the lush vegetation and are back to the arid plains. The drought that has been going on since the late 90’s is really taking its toll. I don’t know what it was like before the drought but it is very dry now and reminds me of a very dry summer in Colorado. Everything in the floor of the Crater is brown and the river is just a trickle except in a few spots where the hippos are soaking. I wonder what this place is like during the rainy season when everything is green. According to Usia they used to have about 3-4 months of rain. Now they are lucky to get a month or so. Africa has always had problems with patterns of drought but this has been over ten years. Even so, the animals in the Crater seem more numerous than they were in the Tarangerie. The herds are much larger. We saw large herds of buffalo, zebra and gazelle but fewer elephants. This was our first view of the hippos in the hippos pool. They are actually pretty boring because they are so sedentary. They just sit in the water with only their backs visible so it is really hard to see them. They look like big rocks except when they poke their noses up to take a breath. They are supposed to be one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. More people die being attacked by hippos than any other wild animal. Go figure, they look so tame floating in the water.

There are approximately 30 black rhinos in the Crater. We are searching for one of these rhinos since we have seen a lot of the other animals at Tarangerie. Usia says that morning is a better time to find the rhino. The black rhino is one of the rarest animals in the world. There are only about 4,000 in the wild and just 50 or so in Tanzania. The others are in the Serengeti. The black rhino is hunted for its horn which is used in a Chinese aphrodisiac and to make certain highly prized daggers in the Middle East. A poacher who kills a black rhino would make more money than they would otherwise make in their entire lifetime. This makes the protection of the rhino quite difficult. I wonder how they even get rangers that are honest enough to protect the rhino since the culture is generally not one of honesty. It really is a miracle that there are any left at all.

We drive around in search of this elusive animal until it is nearing time to leave the park but we don’t see one. Just as we are heading back, Usia spots a cheetah in the grass out in the distance. We stop and pull out the binoculars. You can just see her head above the waves of grass blowing in the wind. We watch her but she ducks down and becomes harder to spot. Just then a park ranger drives up and talks to Usia in Swahili. They drive off and head for the open plain where the cheetah is. The ranger is driving out to stir up the cheetah so we can see her better. At first, she pays no attention to the truck. Finally, they drive right up next to her. She lazily gets up looks at them and turns to walk away in the opposite direction of our car. She is beautiful. Her movements are elegant and powerful as she saunters through the grasses off to another quiet spot. We bid her fairwell and head back up the hill to the Crater Lodge.

We also saw a lot of birds and I also asked about some of the plants in the Crater. Of course, there are acacia trees – they are everywhere in Africa. We the Albizia gummifera or Peacock Flower Tree which has a flat wide crown and sodom apples. We saw a large bird called a Kori Bustard, tiny seed eater birds, bee eaters, crowned crane pairs, firefinch (black bellied), an African marsh harrier eating its prey, black shoulder kite (raptor), Hartlaub’s Turaco and a speckled mousebird ( a bird with a very long tail).

Back at the lodge we cleaned up and I walked out to the patio for a drink. Lots of the group were already out walking and sitting around the area enjoying the view of the beautiful sunset. Jeff was set up with is tripod on the lawn ready to catch the perfect sunset photograph. I sat down on a lawn chair to enjoy a glass of wine but the sunset quickly. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon the temperature dropped and I headed in to the bar with Mickey. We pulled some couches and chairs together and the whole group started coming in to the bar. We had a late dinner seating (8pm) so we all enjoyed catching up over a Kili beer or a glass of wine. Brandis was trying to book her add on to Zanibar with Mickey and Sarah but the internet connection wasn’t cooperating. Honestly, I am shocked they even have internet at all given the poor infrastructure in the country.

Now that we’ve been in the cars for two days we are all getting a bit tired. This lodge would be a perfect place to just prop your feet up for a few days and enjoy the scenery without having to rush around. Exhaustion is setting in and I think we are all missing the group camaraderie of the climb. We now spend most of our days in the car and the roads make it difficult to have much of a conversation. Add to that we are with the same smaller group each day. The dinner tables are also smaller so we are missing the big group dinner table. But this is still wonderful.

We head in to the dining room and are seated at three tables. I forgot to write down what I ate this night but I seem to recall there was a traditional African dish on the menu. I don’t think anyone at our table tried it. The food at every meal has been excellent and I am pretty sure if I lost any weight on the mountain I am gaining it back in these lodges. After dinner its off to bed again because we have another early start with a long drive to the Serengeti through the Olduvai Gorge. This is where Lucy, the missing link, was found.

We walk out of the main building to go to our room and are greeted by a guard. She walks us to our room. I ask her if that is to protect us from the animals. She says, yes, there are no fences and the animals often roam around the property at night. I wonder if they like the water in the swimming pool but I don’t ask.

Lights out after another fantastic day in Africa.

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