Sorry you haven't heard from us in a week. We thought we would have had Internet here in Ngorongoro but we did not, so this is a summary of the last week. We are currently in our day room in Arusha getting ready to go to the airport for the first of our 3 flights and 21 hours in the air to get home. We should be arriving in Satellite Beach around 9:30 pm EST tomorrow 16 Oct.And I thought Antarctica was remote, but there we did have communication with the outside world. Not here. This is one remote place that hasn’t changed that much in the last millennium. I certainly hope all is well at home with everyone, we have not had a chance to read e-mails in a week, and will not be able to until we return home. It has been a strange feeling to have no idea what is happening in the rest of the world.
Our last day we saw the wildebeest that were the first to complete their 400 mile trip from where we saw them on the Masai Mara. 300,000 wildebeest was our guides count! I could go on and on but enough to say, No wonder it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Wow!!!
I wrote the summary mostly for my travel log and will be telling you snippets from time to time when we return, but Tom thought we should send it all, even though it is very long.
Amboseli Day 2 and Balloon Ride -Saturday, Oct. 9 - We had to get up at 4:00 am in order to head out for our balloon ride. Our driver traveled over the bush land and there were no roads visible. It was pitch black, and we wondered how in the world he could possibly find the balloon. It turned out he just headed in a direction checking which way our dust was blowing to help him indicate where the balloon may take off from. Finding the balloon was an adventure in itself. You felt like you were on some wild roller coaster except it kept going for an hour and the dust, did I mention DUST! We found the balloon, watched them inflate it and off we went. We rose to 9,000 feet above the clouds with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. The sun coming up over the clouds, casting it red glow gave us one beautiful sight. We were already at 5,000 feet so we only rose another 4,000 ft., but the ground was a long way down. Trying to find our breakfast site, we came closer to the ground and saw some more amazing sights. We saw an élan which is the largest antelope in Africa at the same time we watched a hyena chasing two dik diks which are the smallest antelope. They escaped the hyena. All of this action started the near by giraffe running. Fun to watch how fast they are. We also saw a rabbit and a squirrel. Yes, a regular old squirrel. Our landing was quite something. The chase truck came just in the nick of time before we ran into a rather substantial bush.
On to breakfast. Out in the middle of the bush, we saw a tree and under the tree a table set with china and proper linen and chefs in white coats, waiting for us with champagne. We had probably the best omelets I have ever eaten. I don’t know whether it was because I was hungry or because he used an iron skillet. Yum! It was quite something this breakfast. Then unfortunately an hour back to the lodge to leave for Tarangire, Tanzania. Benson our guide in Amboseli was one crazy driver, and I think we are all glad we survived his driving. We did arrive with a flat tire. No surprise there.
At the border Tom was a little concerned that he may not have enough blank pages for entry, but as we figured, they only were concerned about the $100 per person entry fee. We met our new drivers and off we went. Our new guide is Deo, and he is super and a much safer driver. We spent the night at our first tented camp along the Tarangire River which is now mostly dry. The rainy season doesn’t start for another few weeks. The camp is right in the middle of all the animals so a Masai walks to you to and from your cabin. After dinner we sat on our tent porch over looking the African bush and had a bottle of wine. They turn off the power at about ten o’clock and inside the tent became pitch black. During the night we heard an elephant tearing the bark off a tree next to our tent along with other interesting sounds.
Along the road getting to our next destination, we passed several towns and because it was Saturday everyone was going to the market. Our driver told us that many people walk up to twenty miles to go to the market. The wealthy use donkeys to carry the goods, but most people carry the items on their heads and this work is done mostly by the women. I must confess, I am really glad I don’t live in Africa, and I am not a Masai woman. In Europe and America we just have no clue.
Sunday, Oct. 10, Tarangire Park -In the morning, we visited the park. We saw lots of beautifully colored birds. There are over 500 species in Tanzania. That is more than any other place in the world. We also saw lions who were on their honeymoon but not while we were there. We knew the female was in heat because that is the only time you see a male and female together unless the females had prepared dinner. They were absolutely beautiful animals. I guess he had a head ache because nothing happened while we were there. It was toward the end of the honeymoon, and he was one exhausted animal. The first few days they mate every 15 minutes. No wonder he was tired. We also saw elephants playing in the little water that was there. It was so fun to watch the baby throw himself in the water, splash, get up and the run to catch up with mom. Elephants can dig in the dry river bed as well and will find water. It is very clean water because it filters through the sand. It was interesting watching a group of zebras hoping the elephant would hurry up so they could have a drink as well. I think we humans could learn a few things from the relationship between animals. For example, you usually see zebras and wildebeest together. The zebras eat longer than wildebeest because the wildebeest eat, lie down and chew their cud. The zebras have excellent hearing and the wildebeest have an excellent sense of smell. Also the zebras eat the taller grass and the wildebeest come along and like the shorter grass left by the zebras. We know how important this part of the relationship is because our horses would not eat the tall grass and we had to mow the pastures before they could benefit from the pasture grass. Until this trip I did not know that wildebeest belong to the antelope family.
Then we traveled to Ngorongoro. I need to mention that the majority of the roads in Africa are dirt. The vans are not airconditioned so the dust I have spoken of comes flying in our open windows so by the end of the day you are covered. My hair at the end of the day is so thick with dust that I can’t get a comb through it and the water in the shower runs red from the dirt that covers us. Being in Africa, one realizes how precious water is. There is so little water in parts of Africa and people have to carry jugs of water for miles. You can bet they don’t wash with it. Everyone in our group has towelettes and wipes our hands and faces constantly. The first thing we all do upon arrival at our destinations is run for the showers. Yes, we are very spoiled. Every time I wash my face or shower I will think of the African people especially the Masai.
Some unanswered thoughts on the environment. We visited two Masai villages so far. We have passed village after village however, and they all look pretty much the same. When we see them, and learn that some go to school, we wonder how they can come back and live in mud huts covered with cow dung. By the way once the mud dries, the cow dung water proofs the house. The more modern Masai have thatched roofs which is an improvement from the ones we saw covered with plastic and cow dung. Anyway if all of the Africans started to live like we do, the world could not support the need for electricity. Right now most of the power in Africa comes from hydro electric power. The need for power already cannot keep up so they are going to start using coal. Oh, Dear Poor Environment. The big cities already are soooo polluted that one can hardly breath. What is going to happen to our world? Yet how can we say, “Don’t improve your standard of life, so we can keep ours?” Tough question.
Monday, October 11 – Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The deep volcanic crater is the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world at 19.2 km in diameter, 610 m deep and 8,292 sq km in area. It supports 25,000 animals. Because of the reserve’s work with conservation, the Masai that live there and tourism, it has been awarded World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. It is also one of the New Natural Wonders of the World. That makes two for this trip.
We stayed at a lodge on the rim overlooking the crater. The view from the lodge was magnificent. It takes about 15 minutes to drive along the crater’s rim before you start the descent. Along the road we saw many Masai children heading to school. Instead of a backpack, they each carried their own firewood, so they could cook their lunch. Interesting! The descent in very steep but the ascent back to the top was really scary. We were in four wheel drive, very close to the edge with lots of loose dirt. Many places we just sort of shut our eyes and prayed. No one asked our driver a question on the way up. We just let him concentrate. Thank goodness there is only one road going down and one going up.
Once on the crater floor, we learned and saw many interesting things. Deo, our guide, is extremely knowledgeable. We saw a small herd of cape buffalo, all males. He said they were the old guys in retirement because some young stud had removed them from the main herd. Since there is safety in numbers they stick together. We saw two male lions together. He told us they were cubs who had not yet found a pride of their own. When they do, it is possible they may stay together because then both of the them can protect the pride. However, once a male lion is on his own with his own pride, he will not let another male join them until he is overthrown. A male can only be king for about two years. We then later saw another set of male lions and they came right up to the vans. They wanted to use the vans for shade. We later saw a female lion stocking a few zebras, but she ended with no dinner. Lions are only about 30% successful with their hunt. We then were lucky to see a beautiful lion in a tree which made for fantastic photo opportunities.
The crater can be thankful for two Germans, Michael and Bernard Gzimek. Michael was in the army during the war and fell in love with the animals of the crater and believed it should be saved. His son followed in his foot steps and was actually killed when a buzzard flew into his airplane engine when he was counting wildebeest on the crater floor. Both father and son knew if something wasn’t done the wildlife of the crater would be gone forever. They are buried on the rim of the crater and on their tombstone it reads, “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” What a beautiful quote.
Tuesday, October 12 Travel to the Serengeti. On the way we visited the Oldupai Gorge. Excavations in the gorge, mostly by Louis and Mary Leakey, yielded four different hominid, showing gradual increase in brain size. The first skull of Zinjanthropus commonly known as Nutcracker Man who lived about 1.75 million years ago was found here. It was very interesting to see the pictures of the fossils they found. Of course the real sculls and fossils are in the British Museum. The British have it all.
After a long dusty day and fantastic game drive we arrived at our tented camp. On the game drive we saw a pride of 17 lions. Tom got some fantastic photos. You know me, I never pass a rest stop, and yes they have them scattered along the roads, we turned back so I could use one. I was feeling somewhat guilty because I was the only one who needed the facilities, but when we turned back, Deo spotted a leopard. We got some great photos of it sleeping in a tree. It was the only one of the Big 5 that we had not seen up till now. After the rest stop the other guides said the leopard was up and eating its kill which was a gazelle, yes we went and watched. Yes, this is Africa.
When we arrived at out tented camp, Marylyn from Chicago, said, “Oh my God, I am a spoiled only child, and I can’t believe I am doing this. It definitely puts us in the African mood for sure. We started at a 5 star hotel and now are in 5 star tents. The shower is filled with solar heated water and someone fills it just before you are ready. You pull the cord and I must admit the water is a perfect temp. We all sat around a fire having before dinner drinks. I guess I am definitely on an African Safari. This is not quite the rainy season but last night we had a bad storm, and a small tornado hit our camp. There are ten tents and an eating tent in the middle. The tornado blew down two middle tents on each side of the dinner tent. We didn’t hear a thing except the rain. Tornadoes are always a mystery. Today when we returned, they had everything back to normal. At night the camp staff walk you to your tent and want you to stay inside. There are kerosene lamps and other lamps positioned around the camp to protect us from the wild animals. At night you can hear them especially the hyenas. We have experienced hot days but cool nights. I am very surprised, we use our blankets at night and are very comfortable.
Wednesday, Oct.13 – The Serengeti – Serengeti is a Masai word for endless plains. Well named! We saw so many amazing sights today including a hippo pool with over 100 animals. The Serengeti is a refuge for the animals because of the tsetse fly. Animals can put up with them but humans cannot, so for years when ever humans would try to come here the tsetse fly would drive them away. Unknowingly this saved the animals until it became a National Park. No people live here.
Thursday, Oct 14 – The Serengeti – We started today at 7:00 am. We hadn’t driven very far when we saw our first herd of wildebeest running across the road. To hear the thunder of their hoofs, and the bleating of the calves working to keep track of mom, is one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. I could watch forever. We didn't go very far when we saw more of them as far as the eye could see in every direction running. They stretched for miles. All day you could witness herds running. Once they would cross a road they would eventually stop and rest. When they did stop, instead of green grass about all you could see were the wildebeest. We saw over 30 different species of mammals and over 140 species of birds. But the migration is something so special, I will cherish the sight all of my life. I feel so fortunate to have been witness to this spectacular event. What an adventure!
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful Ralph Waldo Emerson