Ngorongoro Crater

Trip Start Jul 19, 2007
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7
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Trip End Aug 03, 2007


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It was a long and bumpy ride from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater region.  The last section to the lodge was particularly rough, and Ndaskoi called it a "free massage" road.  If you sit back and enjoy being pummelled by the stiff seats, you don't have to pay $100 to have a masseuse do the same thing!  That's the theory, anyway.  I think all of us could have used a good massage (the real kind), but we hardly had the time.

We spent the late part of the afternoon relaxing at our accommodations for the next two nights, the Plantation Lodge:
http://www.tanzaniareservations.com/Plantation.asp

This was one of several deviations from the itinerary that REI originally provided, but we can hardly claim to have been short-changed.  The place is simply stunning, with immaculate landscaping, serenely beautiful rooms, and a quaint restaurant where we were served the best food of the trip.  None of us had ever had such flavorful soup, and it just got better from there.

Amy chose to spend the day relaxing by the pool, writing postcards and journaling, while Nathan joined a small group going on a guided hike.  Nathan saw the gardens, where all of the lodge's vegetables are grown; groves of Grevillea trees towering over fields of shade-grown coffee; and a man whose job is to sit by the fields and periodically crack a large whip (a 5-foot handle, with a 10+-foot cord) to scare birds away from the coffee beans.  The views were lovely, but Nathan and the other returned to the lodge covered in aggravating burrs and stickers after an extended tromp through waist-high weeds.

The next day was a full-day excursion into the Ngorongoro Crater.  It was once part of the Serengeti National Park, but the park status meant that no people were allowed to live in or cross the area without guides and permits.  Conflict arose between the government and the Masaai people, who had lived here for countless generations.  The Conservation Area designation was developed and applied to the region around the crater as a compromise.  The area is still protected, but the Masaai are allowed to live within the region, and many of them herd their cattle over the crater wall every day.

The crater itself is the "world's largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera" (from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngorongoro_Conservation_Area).  It is easy to lose track of the scale, but then you realize that the mountain range off to the left curves around, and around, and around...

Here we had our first encounters with gazelles, golden jackals, and hyenas, as well as flamingoes and other birds.  We were also lucky enough to see two of the crater's 19 remaining black rhinos, completing our Big Five (http://www.south-african-lodges.com/big-five.php)!  As with the leopard and warthogs the previous day, these two chunky fellows were quite far away and the pictures are barely recognizable as rhinos...but they are!

On our way out of the crater area, our first stop was at a real Maasai boma, a circular arrangement of Maasai huts with a central raised cattle pen.  Singing and dancing tribespeople welcomed us at the gate in the protective fence encircling the boma, sending goosebumps down our spines.  The group led us into the boma and then split into two groups, men and women.  The singing continued for several minutes, and the men performed a ritual dance, taking turns trying to jump as high as possible.

Once the singing stopped, we were divided into groups of 3-4 people and assigned guides from the tribe.  We paired up with the two Judys, and our guide was the son of the village chief (several bomas spread out over an area make up a village), who took us into one of the mud-and-cow-dung huts.  We had to hunker down to get into the hut, and there was barely room for us, our guide, and the woman who lived in the hut.  She sat with her baby on her lap and patiently answered our questions, translated by the chief's son.

As we emerged from the hut, our guide switched to saleman mode and walked us past displays of jewelry handmade by the women of the boma.  If we picked out too many things from one area, the chief's son would nudge us along to the next display so that more families would benefit.

Finally, we were all led to the schoolhouse behind the boma, where the children sang for us and demonstrated their counting schools.  Amy had brought coloring books and crayons, and she presented these gifts to the teacher.  This was probably the first time the teacher had seen either of these things, and Ndaskoi explained to her that the kids could color in the book when they'd done well in their schoolwork.  She seemed a little confused, but grateful.  Our resident clowns, Bob and Donna, stole the show by blowing up balloons for the whole class, but we think the kids will enjoy the coloring books for a long time to come.
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