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Ngorongoro

Ngorongoro, Tanzania

In the middle of the night, we were startled awake by a deep roaring sound followed by some sort of barking and another deep grumble. Clearly, some predator had found their prey, right near our tent. In the morning, the people who knew animal sounds informed us that was a lion attacking a buffalo.
Despite the interruption, we awoke before sunrise without an alarm, even though ours was set for 5:30 so we could make it to 6am breakfast and get an early start on the day. Breakfast was tasty, although simple- eggs, crepe pancakes, buns and some meats. Afterwards, we were incredibly lucky to be able to watch the sun come up over the horizon. The colors are amazing, and the tree silhouettes created by the angle of the light just add to the beauty.
sunrise over the serengeti

sunrise over the serengeti


Less than a minute after we left the glamp site, we started to see wildlife. The plains abounded with Thompsons gazelle munching grass, zebras barking away, and topi running around in play. Behind a bunch of these, two secretary birds sat atop a tree, preening. These birds have amazing crests. I want to know who does their hair and get mine done like that!
secretary birds

secretary birds


We saw a hyena hiding in some grass, watching some gazelle. And then we spotted a spotted a hyena walking down the road. His belly was huge, so he must have eaten his fill pretty recently.
hyena

hyena


We caught a glimpse of some dikdik running away from us as a goose sat and watched.
All this was within about 20 minutes of when we left the camp. As the dirt roads are very bumpy and uneven, this is not a very large distance.
Every few minutes, we stop and see something else amazing. This place is incredible!
Hippos stay in the water during the day, but at night and early in the morning, they come out to eat grass. We saw a couple of them out for a snack. One of them had ox pecker birds sitting on his back as if he was just a big rock.
lion

lion


A couple of minutes later, we caught sight of two lions. One was sittting under a copse of trees while the other walked towards her.
A herd of impala blocked the road as we passed near a ranger post, marked by a huge antenna or pole sticking up out of the bush. Nearby, there's a tiny little airport, right in the middle of the savannah. The planes are small there, but they fly to nearby cities. Overhead, two hot air balloons floated past. I'm sure they had an amazing view. Maybe we'll splurge for that next time.
One thing that amazes me is how our guide gets us anywhere. There are tons of dirt roads that all look the same to me, and no signs at 90% of the junctions. The ones that do have signs usually have signs that say things like "danger" or a bridge weight limit and not street names or directions to a lodge. I would get so lost if I tried to navigate myself. Meanwhile, Eli is capable of quickly driving over the bumpy, uneven road, while keeping a keen eye out for interesting wildlife, and turning at just the right places. And the guides can't just memorize one route. We came upon one area of mud that was impassable. So Eli backed up, turned around, and found us another way to wherever we were going.
He found us a cluster of safari vehicles watching a mama cheetah out with her four cubs. For a while she was calmly walking on the road as they followed. As more and more vehicles joined he audience, she moved off the road and into the grass. But as the grass was taller than the cubs, they had to hop in order to follow her. So here she is, calmly strolling through the golden savannah, in a most dignified manner, with a bunch of kittens hippity hopping around following her.
cheetah

cheetah


In general, the dirt roads were wide enough for vehicles to pass. But at one point, we came to a road that only had ruts wide enough for one vehicle. Bushes lined either side of the road. Of course, there are no directives or one way signs out here, so when we came upon another vehicle from the opposite direction, he had to back up a bit until our driver could find a low enough bank to climb and wait as the other vehicle passed by. Then, we could continue on.
We saw a pair of trees containing a vulture and another lilac breasted roller, then two in the same tree.
bird on plant

bird on plant


We keep having good luck with big cats. We saw another lioness on top of one of the big piles of rock like they have in the Lion King. And then she went to hide in the bushes.
I saw a red and yellow barbet perched on a branch. Some superb sterlings fluttered about as we passed them. And then there he was- adult simba. A big lion with a large mane walked along the horizon line before plopping himself down in the grass to survey his territory.
We had the opportunity to see a bustard, the biggest flying bird in Africa. Some blackwing stilts dug for bugs in a marsh nearby.
The grassland road we took towards the exit was less busy than the greener area we had spent the early morning. There were no marshes for water, and eventually no trees for shade. Still, we saw quite a few birds as we bumped our way along the road. We also saw another hyena strolling through grass up to its belly and Thompsons gazelles munching on the short grass.
I'm starting to get good at identifying the different animals. The Thomspons gazelles are smaller than the Grants, but bigger than the impala, and have stripes on their sides. We saw more of them hanging out by a bunch of hot beasts, which I still can't tell apart from topis though.
We made a quick stop at the Serengeti park "entrance" where we ate lunch yesterday. The spot still teemed with superb starlings. Then, we continued back across the plains with endless short yellow grass where no trees or scrub broke the infinite pale golden ground. The only difference between one minute and the next were the herds we occasionally passed.
At the park border, the scenery is still the same. As soon as you leave the park though, you are in the Ngorongoro conservation area, as they abut each other. The road is just as bumpy and rumbly as the grassland plains area inside the park. Really, you pretty much vibrate the whole way. I am super impressed with the guys who designed the Toyota Landcruisers as I don't know how the vehicle doesn't just shake apart. A suggestion for the ladies who might plan on taking a trip like this: wear a good bra, even a sports bra if you have a comfortable one. The various dirt roads alternate between an unevenness that causes large sideways rocking, bumpy that causes just general jostling, and an odd pattern that causes constant vibration.
Slowly, Masai and their herds and villages start creeping into the monotonous landscape. The occasional tree appears. Then, the mountains off in the distance grow and grow, until you're right next to them.
As we neared them, I saw a vertical discoloration off in the distance. I thought it might be smoke from a Masai village, but it was too straight. I thought it might just be the way the light was pouring through a hole in the clouds, but the clouds were normal and not shaped for that. Then they were identified as sand devils- sort of a mini tornado that had picked up a bunch of dust.
We passed them and the vehicle began the climb up the mountain. The scenery now alternated between areas that consisted of lots of close together scrubby trees and bushes and areas of short grass with virtually nothing else. The animal life was limited to giraffe, Masai herds, and some birds until we passed a large lake, where we also saw ostrich and impala.
We got a great view on Ngorongoro crater from the entrance point, and then proceeded down. The guide explained that since this is really a collapsed volcano top and not from a meteor, it's technically a caldera and not a crater.
crater

crater


On the way down, we saw a patch of yellow flowers, which were some of the first flowers we have seen this whole trip. I guess it's just not flower season now. A few of the cactus trees also had some yellow at the tips, which may have been flowers. As we descended we saw maybe 10 different kinds of tiny flowers, although they were still few and far between.
The entrance road is pretty narrow, twisty, uneven, and generally treacherous. The vehicle swayed side to side as we bumped slowly along at a speed I probably could have walked. I noticed that some of the rock walls were an interesting turquiose blue color, but I'm not sure what mineral made them that way. Also, about halfway down we started seeing the herds. They were there all along, but too far away to see them from the top.
Once we got even closer, could identify the animals as more than black dots. The first animals we saw were some buffalo catching shade under a tree that was filled with weavers' nests. On a much closer tree, we saw the weavers flitting about their nests.
buffalo

buffalo


A red winged lark whistled from a nearby tree.
And then, we got to the bottom and the flood of wildlife. We saw anteater chats, a warted starling sitting on a zebra's back, eating bugs. We saw a bunch of crowned cranes, the national bird of Uganda that is on their flag. We saw a seemingly endless amount of zebras, warthogs, buffalo, Grants gazelle, and wildebeest all mixed in with each other, and all munching on grass or just standing there, dumb.
warthog DSCF2153

warthog DSCF2153


We saw both female and male ostriches, and even got to hear the male calling to the female ostrich. We saw several lone bull elephants.
birds on zebras

birds on zebras


We ate lunch amongst the animals. It was surreal to look up from a bite and see Wildebeest fighting.
As we moved to more wetland and lake areas of the park, we spotted flamingos in the alkaline lake. Nearby, wildebeest honked. Turning around to look at a smaller pond, we spotted some Egyptian geese with babies, stork, eversets, and ducks. Then, some flamingos from the big lake flew overhead and joined the small pond party.
flamingo

flamingo


Here, both hyenas and jackalls roamed the fields freely. They were out in the open, not hiding, and it didn't bother any of the herd animals.
hyena

hyena


We saw several groups of lions, although they were all just sleeping or sunbathing. At one site, I actually thought one was dead at first.
sleeping lion

sleeping lion


We also caught a few different groups of hippos. Most weren't doing much. They sat submerged in the water, maybe spashing water on themselves rarely. But the group by the restrooms was super active. They made noise and snorted. One got up a few times. Periodically they all popped their heads up to look around, before resubmerging themselves.
Near one of these water holes, we also saw some egrets and pelicans.
bird in a tree

bird in a tree


And we did get to see one of the rarer animals- a rhino. He was a bit far away, but at least he was moving. He took a nice walk through the brush and then out into the open, just for us.
We passed some eland and bustards before happening upon a group of olive baboons. The group contained some babies, but some of the large adults were more amusing. One of them kept charging around like he was angry or something.
On the way out of the park, we caught sight of some Guinea fowl and two different types of jackal, right in a row- the black backed jackal and the golden jackal. And of course we passed through many of the same herd animals we had been constantly seeing the whole time.
animals DSCF2281

animals DSCF2281


We climbed back up through the jungled walls of the caldera/crater and drove to the exit point, where our guide had to check out. Right by the exit point, we saw a family of baboons, but they scattered as we tried to slowly approach.
We returned to the same Green Hills Lodge as two nights ago. Like last time, it seems like we are the only ones here, although this time we did see another couple and their guide at dinner. Our guide explained that the high season is over as European vacations are over and that they try to put their guests in locations that aren't too crowded.
As last time, the service here is impeccable. The food is good. Most importantly, it is clean, quiet, and beautiful.
Since we're near the end of the safari portion of the trip, I'd like to give mad props to our guide, Eli from Elyon tours. He was perfect for us. He is very knowledgeable and was able to answer all but one our hundreds of questions. For the single question that he didn't know, he was honest and said so instead of feeding us b.s. I really appreciate that. He is AMAZING at animal and plant and bird identification. Seriously, I think he memorized an encyclopedia or something. And he wasn't too chatty, which was perfect for us. We like looking at the animals and scenery in relative serenity. Ok, maybe sometimes quiet plus the sound of the engine rumbling or the car chugging down the road, but still, not lots of mindless chatter. He would give us the explanation we needed, answer our questions, and let us enjoy what we were looking at and the feeling of being semi-alone in the middle of nowhere. He didn't feel the need to fill every second with noise, like some guides I've had in other places. He was one of the reasons that we really enjoyed the tour and we strongly recommend him for anybody who wants to go on safari in Tanzania.

Today's animal summary: Thompsons gazelle, zebra, topi, secretary bird, hyena, dikdik, goose, hippopotamus, ox pecker, lion, impala, cheetah, vulture, lilac breasted roller, red and yellow barbet, superb starling, bustard, blackwing stilt, buffalo, weaver, red winged lark, anteater chat, warted starling, zebra, crowned cranes, warthogs, Grants gazelle, wildebeest, ostrich, elephant, flamingo, Egyptian geese, stork, eversets, flamingos, ducks, egret, pelican, rhino, eland, guinea fowl, black backed jackal, golden jackal, olive baboon, cattle.
Spelling and grammar will be fixed and good pictures added when I have my laptop.

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Posted by spsadventures 03:16 Archived in Tanzania

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