We set if for the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Tanzania, fueled by what will become a simple breakfast tradition- locally made bread, egg whites (for me) with tomato and whatever fresh fruit is available. Usually, it’s seeded tomato with white pineapple- both look better than they taste, as does the coffee. But no matter- we are excited to get going. There are Maasai everywhere- herding cattle and goats, walking alongside the road or just sitting and watching cars drive by. Robert shows us the settlement of one of the richest Maasai men- he had so many wives and children that he built his own school for them.
The weather is clear until we reach the rim of the crater, but unfortunately it is totally fogged in and we have no views. It’s a wonder that Robert can navigate the road as there is no visibility either. But we turn off the road for Oldupai Gorge, site of Louis and Mary Leakey’s most famous archaeological finds. I vaguely remember some history of early men and the fabulous work the Leakey’s did for more than 50 years- but it is a fraction of what we read at the museum at the gorge. We also have a very short lecture about Oldupai, which is actually a mispronunciation of the Maasai word for the Oldupai plant, a versatile plant that has leaves that resemble a skinny Aloe Vera leaf (but longer).
Time to head to the Serengeti- and its wildlife viewing. But first a stop at the shifting sands, a curious phenomena indeed. This mound of very fine black volcanic sand is about 25 feet high and 100 feet across. As we approach it, we see markers in the road- each one with a date inscribed. The first one is 1969, then 1976, then 1980, ’90, ’95, 2000, and so on- each one a little closer to the other, and less time in between. We finally reach the sand and Robert tells us that it creeps ever so slowly, moved by the wind- always staying the same shape but slinking forward. Maasai women, feeling that they are unable to bear children (their only value) come to the shifting sand and throw sacrifices of jewelry into the mound. Of course the kids walk to the top of it! And we’re off to find the ‘Big Cats’, which are said to populate this southern part of the great, endless Serengeti plains.
Before we reach the lodge, we see hundreds of Thompsan gazelle, so graceful and delicate; zebra, topi, baboon, banded meerkat, hyena, jackals, tiny dikdik (the smallest of the antelope family) and then we come upon a herd of elephants. These big, fabulous mammals were chasing the road- males, females and the most incredible part, nursing baby elephants. We saw one mama elephant with a nursing baby on either side of her- half underneath her massive chest. All the while the elephants were throwing dust up with their trunks and making loud noises. We saw huge termite mounds (the baboons eat the termites) nearly 5 feet tall. Ostrich, vultures and big birds Robert tells us are called Caliberry Bastards. Oh, did I mention the hippos wallowing in the mud? And the magnificent giraffes? You feel like you’re in an endless animal park- but better because they’re all wild.
We finally reach the lodge- definitely ready for a shower and to be out of the car for a while. It’s a beautiful location, cut into the rock- and there are monkeys on the roof and hyraxes scampering over the rocks. After an amazing sunset and a nondescript dinner we’re off to bed.