The first, of what proved to be many, vehicle glitches, a dead battery, slowed us down a bit, so we weren't able to make the entry gates at sunrise, as planned...but we made it, into the Ngorongoro Crater in the early morning hours, a beautiful morning with cool, fresh air and clear skies.
The first animal we spotted were elephants, a herd of them, crossing the dirt road near the top of the crater. Our vehicle; Mike and I, Lyle and Sue, with Godfrey as our guide, was second to come upon them so we only got a glimpse of them, but it certainly got us excited - and the binoculars came out! For me, it was the first of many, "oh my gosh, we are in Africa" moments!
We spotted some colorful birds next, and a black-faced monkey...and then, as we dropped into the crater a little farther, a herd of water buffalo! Not the most attractive animal, with their George Washington wigs and big curled horns, but certainly a unique "Africa" moment!
And then, not far off the road, tucked into the weeds, napping - a cheetah! Godfrey had just told us that is was very rare to see a cheetah in the crater, and then, there it was! A beautiful cat, laying in the warm sun! Amazing!
The day blazed on, getting hotter and hotter, seeing more and more animals: jackals, zebras, warthogs, monkeys, and more! While the crater is tremendous in size (100 sq. miles), the walls surrounding the crater floor are pretty steep (a caldera, with a 2000 ft. drop in elevation), so most of the animals (with the exception of a couple of species) live year-round, contained in it's rich ecosystem (about 25,000 animals).
Herds of zebras, with their babies, were among my very favorite. I know, they are so similar to horses and mules that it shouldn't be that exciting to see them, but I loved their patterns...and all the cute brownish babies!
At one point along the road we came across a small pride of lions, seeking shade under and around the vehicles! That was an incredible rush, to see a wild, huge, beautiful lion walk past you at about 10 feet out! We had the top of our vehicle popped up, throughout the whole safari, and I kept wondering how quickly we could drop it if one of them jumped up on our car! Godfrey assured us that "all they want right now is our shade", but also said if we got out of the vehicle, we would be immediately seen as easy prey!
This little baby is challenging his boundaries and his little legs!!
We watched them move from car to car, stretch their feet against tires and occasionally rub up against each other in a playful way...and then, from across a field, a big, beautiful maned male lion came lumbering by... He was really cool, sauntering along, with the heat of the land rising up around him!
Lovin' the shade!
Sniffing the air.
A hot walk across the field to check on his ladies.
I'll have to consult my camera's captures to accurately report what else we saw and in what order - Grant's gazelles, Thomson's gazelles, hyenas, birds of every size and color, elephants (mostly from a distance), and huge hippopotamuses rolling in a "hippo pond", and wildebeests (which are unexpectedly kind of interesting looking)...and many more!
|The three little pigs!|
|Warthog, a.k.a. Pumba!|
Wildebeest, aren't they kinda cool looking?
One of our vehicles!
Elephant, zebra in the distance.
Oh, those two creatures on the horizon...black rhinos! Stay tuned!
Did I mention the zebra babies were my favorite?!
The hippo pond!
Can't tell if he's helping him up, or keeping him down?! Just monkeying around, I guess?!
And then we began a harrowingly fast climb out of the crater! We drove through an area near the bottom rim of the crater that Sue aptly nicknamed "the nursery" - filled with babies of all kinds! Warthogs (their babies are so funny and cute!), zebras, gazelles, wildebeests - tons of babies and mommas hanging out together. So fun! But, Godfrey only slowed momentarily and continued on up the windy road. Not far from there we went past a herd of elephants hanging out near the road in the trees and we spotted at least two little babies amongst them, but again, Godfrey drove right past them, ignoring our squeals! Up and through curves on an impossibly bumpy road we continued, passing a group of baboons really close to the road...and again we continued by them at our fast pace! It was kind of hair-raising! Dust flying, bumps and ruts that would scare off the Sportsmobile and we were taking it all at about 80 kmh!
Unbeknown to us, as we reached the first gate out of the crater, we were late! The crater, we then learned, closes at 6 p.m. (they monitor vehicles to prevent poaching) and we had arrived at the 1st gate (15 minutes or so from the main gate) at about 5 minutes 'til six! We could've been fined, or banned even, but the Maasai guards let us through and we careened on to make the last gate as quickly as possible! We had gone so fast up the crater and then down the other side that when we finally arrived back at our lodge, as Godfrey pulled into our parking spot, the brakes failed and sent us up and over the curb and about 15 feet into the bushes! What a dramatic ending to an exciting day!
Hot and covered with dust, we showered quickly and then met on the deck for dinner with the group. We enjoyed a yummy dinner and "Safari" beer as we all compared stories and sightings, and laughed about the unexpected twists to our day. We wiped down our gear and re-packed our bags for day two of the Ngorongoro safari...and it got even better!