Tuesday November 13, 2012
Back into Karatu town we drove. Street vendor carts selling souvenirs reflected the locals’ acknowledgement of the USA; one named “Obama is back” and one for “Hilary Clin ton”. As we drove into the petrol station we were approached by the ubiquitous souvenir vendors; bracelets, necklaces and printed fabrics. “Hapana asanti.” we said. Most had now learned not to touch the things they offered. Soon we were on the way out of town.
Ngorongoro Crater appeared beyond the view point on the rim. Our three OAT vans stopped to view and photography the vast space. The collapsed volcanic crater is about 100 square miles in area with a small lake inside and is easily visited in a day. TEENY specks, animals, were visible on the floor of the crater, even though you could not identify them very well. The entrance gate descent road is one way gravel road that parallels a walking track that Maasai herders use. If they bring their animals into the crater, it is only during daylight hours and they can only use this 1000 ft descent/ascent trail. About 25,000 large animals inhabit the reserve and few are involved in any of the famed migrations.
We drove along the dirt roads noting the lack of water. It was the beginning of the rainy season and soon there might be more water. Rain and runoff from the walls collect in the lake and some marginal wetlands. But over the past decade the climate has been changing and less rain falls. This will limit the carrying capacity of the crater.
An old bull elephant with very long curved tusks was spotted grazing on acacia bushes. “It is probably on its last set of molars.
When they wear out, he will no longer be able to eat and will starve to death.
Zebras pay little attention to the passing vans. They graze yards off the road. Sometimes they stand in groups that have them alternately facing opposite directions; better to watch for lions. Wildebeest, their Serengeti companions, are not numerous in the crater. A few topi and gazelles graze nearby. Pink flamingos “graze” on the margins of the lake. The wind swirls dust devils across the dry floor of the crater. A pair of female lions were relaxing on a knoll and watching a hyena trying to approach a handful of Thompson gazelles. Being midday, there would be little activity.
We parked at the viewpoint near the lake. Black Kites soared and floated above the parked vans. “Eat you lunch inside the van or the Kites will dive and take your food.” There were many vans and cars parked. Most were “safari” tours and a few were normal cars that had no open roof viewing. One young boy with a bag of chips was dived by a kite. He dropped the bag and ran; the kite won.
Oldupai Gorge, about 40 km away from Ngorongoro Crater, is in the rain shield. So it is very dry and hot. This is the “cradle of man”. Meg and I were to have gone on an Earthwatch Research archeology dig here in 2008?. But there was civil unrest in nearby Kenya that was near the airport we would be arriving at; Earthwatch cancelled our research trip. We were very happy to be able to finally visit. It was emotional to sit on the rim above the gorge where the digs take place; to sit above the gorge where hominids walked and lived and died millions of years ago. On the horizon, the plains of Serengeti stretched away.
Leaving the area we drove across the “river” that approaches and then flows through Oldupai Gorge. Godliving, our guide/driver, pulled the van to a stop in the shade by the river and said, “I have to check the tires.” A bit of laughter rose from the passengers as this was usually code for a toilet break. “No, really. I think we have a flat tire.” Yup we did. Out from under one of the river bank trees advanced a half dozen Maasai boys in black (Circumcision trainees). They thought we had stopped to interact with them. They were surprised to see that our flat rear tire demanded our attention; not much chance to pose and collect money. The four guys worked and the two ladies and Maasai boys watched. Fixed and on our way to Serengeti.