Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 10: Cats and Carnage in the Crater (Ngorongoro)

Sunday: I slept in until almost 6:30AM! That was nice. Took another hot shower and met Nickson in the dining room for breakfast. Fresh Papaya, Banana, Cereal, Scrambled eggs and bacon. I am loving the fresh fruit here. We made the drive into Ngorongoro Crater which took about an hour from Bouganvillea. We instantly found many Zebra and Wildebeest. The Alkaline Lake smells interesting. There are Pink Flamingo's on it but again we can't get close enough for a detailed shot of them. As I am writing this, about 75 yards away a Black Rhino and her calf are laying down in a field. There or very few of these magnificent beasts left in the wild and here are two of them. Amazing! I am sad to report my binoculars have gone missing. They were on the front seat for our drive yesterday. Now they are gone. I hope they weren't stolen (they were).

-Sitting in the car eating a boxed lunch at a nice park area of the crater. We saw one more Rhino pretty far away. It's awesome to see them. Visited the hippo pool here. It's nice, but my favorite hippo pool was at Serengeti for sure. At this one there were lions sleeping high above the pool on some rocks. So far in my opinion, Ngorongoro Crater is a let-down considering all the hype. Everyone has been saying it is the very best so my expectations were high. It is very nice, but not a mind blower. In my opinion, Tarangiri was the nicest most diverse area of the trip.

-So after lunch we drove on and saw a Serval Cat in the distance hunting. It's a smaller cat and was pretty far off so I didn't get much of a shot. We drove for a couple of hours without seeing much of anything at all. It was quite dull. This was the only drive this entire trip that we've been on in the middle of the afternoon (because you can't exit and enter) I'm glad we didn't do more.

-We came across a flock of Crown Cranes which were really quite extraordinary. Then some Warthogs were in a good spot to get some closeups. Followed by some super-tight Zebra shots. Therer were thousands of Wildebeest and Zebras in the crater. Incomprehensible numbers. I can only imagine what it's like in Kenya at Maasai Mara where the migrating herds are at now. A while later, Nickson got the call I'd been waiting for the entire trip. The Pride of Lions above the Hippo Pool had killed a Zebra! We flipped a U-turn and hauled ass to the hippo pool. There were dozens of cars already there. Apparently the kill occurred about an hour before we arrived. The lions weren't in a very good spot and I could barely make out a patch of black and white (and red) at the bottom of a dip in the ground. The two males were laying down snoozing peacefully. Their faces were covered in blood. One female was eating the zebra. There was a Jackal keeping his distance on one side and a hyena on the other. Both were patiently waiting for their chance to eat as I was (im)patiently waiting for some cars to move to get a better angle for a decent photograph. Finally, the other cars got bored and left. We were able to drive to a much better position. They were still very far away and I was glad I brought the Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS lens. I added the 2X II converter and was shooting 800mm f/5.6. The eating lioness started working hard to get a good chunk of meat and had lifted the Zebra's head up so I could see it better. I fired off a bunch of shots with my fingers crossed hoping some will be good. We stuck around for awhile. It sucked not having the binoculars as they would have come in handy. I sure hope they turn up. We drove a bit further and saw a Lion cub being taunted by a Jackal while his mother stood watch. I took some photo's but they were even further back so I doubt they'll be usable (they weren't).

Driving on, we found a Brown Snake on the side of the road. Further still was a Cheetah wayyy out in the distance. No shot possible. We then came across a beautiful Serval Cat hunting right next to the road giving me a great photo opportunity. We were on our way out at this point and passed a giant herd of Wildebeest. I grabbed some photo's but it will be difficult to represent the magnitude of the herd. The road out of the crater was narrow and consisted of soft red dirt with an precariously steep drop to our immediate right. Treacherous.

Driving to camp we passed a huge elephant on the side of the road. The wide angle shots of the close elephants are some of my favorites I think. We arrived at camp and Swalehh had already set up my tent which was Poa (cool). The bathroom nearest is the nastiest yet. A non-flushing stone toilet with a pile of poo petrified on the rim. Nasty. At another section of camp where there is only 2 tents set up I walked to check out the bathroom and found it immaculate! Private stalls, running water, the works. Awesome!

I walked back to my side of the camp and there was a massive elephant in camp! He was drinking water from the mess tent supply. Soon a crowd gathered snapping photo's. He was very impressive and didn't seem too disturbed by us. It's so funny, I'm now pretty much used to wild animals in camp (easy to say when it's still light out :)

I'm now sitting outside my tent eating popcorn and waiting for dinner and a good nights sleep. I'm ready for the drive back to Arusha, the long flight home and the highly anticipated reunion with my beautiful family.

Dinner was good as usual. Peanut Soup followed by Mbuze Cataliki (Pork Chops..aka Catholic Lamb) and Crepe' Suzette...yum yum.

After dinner, I hiked to the (clean) bathroom in the dark. My flashlight caught the reflection of glowing eyes and there grazing beside me were 7 zebras. Too cool. When done, I tried to see how close I could get but about 15 feet was it before they slowly walked away. The camp is crowded. There are a bunch of giggling teenagers so once again I am grateful for the earplugs :)

I talked to Savannah and Sophie on the phone tonight-I cannot wait to see them!

Good Night.

Halfway down the road into the crater we were greeted by hundreds of zebras.
Running Wildebeest
Profile of a Wildebeest.
A Zebra standing in front of the Pink Flamingo covered lake.
A mother Black Rhino and her calf. Black Rhino's are bordering on extinction in the wild.
Ngorongoro Crater is home to many hippo's.
This Hippo was just showing off :)
The 3rd Black Rhino we saw in one day!

The beautiful Grey Crowned Crane.

It's good to be King of the Crater...
...though sometimes it sucks to be a zebra!
You gotta love Pink Flamingo's!
This snake was slithering in front of us on the road.
This Serval Cat was hunting for mice just next to the road on our way out. The other day I watched a BBC Special created by two people that spent 3 months in Tanzania searching for Serval Cats with no luck until 3 days before the end of their trip! A rare and special find.
I couldn't resist posting two shots of this awesome cat.
A Massive herd of Wildebeest.
This Monkey was one of several smart enough to hang out near the public restroom located next to the road out of Ngorongoro where they successfully beg for food and sometimes steal it from the exiting tourists.
Check out the root system on this tree I spotted on the steep road out of Ngorongoro Crater.
Another awesome elephant seen on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. It is so cool to be close enough to shoot these guys with a 16-35mm lens.
All I needed was a copy of Popular Photography Mazazine, maybe a soft tune through the sound system and this bathroom would have had all the necessary comforts.
Holy Crap! This was a huge elephant walking into camp!
Turns out he was just a bit thirsty and this was an easier trip than walking down into the crater for a drink.
I wonder what a Health Inspector would have said about the standards of sanitation in the camp kitchen.


Anonymous said...

What a huge elephant !! I love the one of him drinking. Another great story.

Ingrid said...

I was at this exact campsite just about a week ago!