After a couple of days in the beautiful Serengeti, it was time to head to the Ngorongoro Crater to meet my friends. I arranged for a driver from the Serena Serengeti Safari Lodge to take me to the Ngorongoro Farm House, where I was meeting my friends, as it’s quite some distance away, but I was looking forward to the trip as we could go on a game drive the whole way there. The Ngorongoro Crater is in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is distinguished from the Serengeti in at least one way: the pastoral Maasai tribe is allowed to let their animals graze there. I got up early, had breakfast, checked out of the Serena Lodge, and off we went to the Ngorongoro!! Mid-day is the worst time to see the animals, as many of them get pretty lazy when the sun is at its hottest (can you blame them??)
As we left the Lodge, we immediately came across a herd of Impala – such graceful creatures! They are very similar to some of the other animals we encountered: gazelle. Both Impala and Gazelle are in the antelope family, so I guess you can say they are related! (And, interesting side-note, if you’re a linguistics geek like me: both animals can be referred to in the plural either by adding and “s” or the same way as the singular, so the plural of Impala is Impala or Impalas, and the plural of Gazelle is Gazelle
or Gazelles). We saw Grant gazelle and Thompson gazelle, and my driver (whose name I can’t remember, and it’s driving me CRAZY! But at least I can remember the things he taught me about the animals, right?) taught me to distinguish between the two species of Gazelle. The Thompson Gazelle, which we saw first, has a distinguishing dark stripe along its side, and it is usually smaller than the Grant’s Gazelle. Regardless of the minor details that differentiate these animals from one another, they are all quite beautiful and gentle creatures, and I enjoyed looking at all of them. And I liked adding the ability to tell the difference between them to the large amount of generally useless knowledge (at least in my day-to-day life) in my head!
Another animal we saw a lot of was the Zebra. There were a ton of Zebra around!! The thing that surprised me was that we saw some that were just hanging out, surprisingly close to two Hyena. But then again, the Hyena were, ahem…. otherwise engaged….. Let me tell you this: it can be quite awkward to sit with someone of the opposite sex that you just met watching hyenas mate!! But hey, it’s nature, I guess! Not to be a critic, but the male hyena didn’t seem to be doing too good a job….. he seemed to be getting the angle of entry wrong and missing is target. The female hyena was just standing there, waiting….. looking a little bored, actually, and the male would try to mount her, miss, then maybe get it right for a couple of seconds, then give up and take a break. I tried to get video, but every time I’d start recording he’d give up and take a break. This video is the best I got, but what can you do. I guess my dream of becoming a professional hyena pornography producer/director just went up in smoke! 🙂 Just kidding, of course.
Another animal that there are plenty of between the two parks is the Wildebeest. What a strange-looking animal that is! Not quite as ugly as the Hyena, but certainly quite gangly and awkward looking. To say that the one crossing in front of our car (pictured left) lacked grace as he trotted across the road would be a huge understatement. But everywhere we went, there these great big animals were. Hanging out with the zebra and gazelle, just grazing to their heart’s delight.
(By the way, never have so many bad joke beginnings – “why did the wildebeest/zebra/hyena/ostrich/etc. cross the road?” popped into my head with no good punch lines to follow…. the 6 year old’s voice in my head keeps supplying “ha ha, to get to the other side!!” as the tired punchline….. guess my sense of humor could be better developed!)
Not too far from the Wildebeest, we spotted some vultures. My guide told me that these unfriendly birds of prey like to hang around the fringes of the Wildebeest herds, hoping for one to fall off and die, so that they can scavenge its carcass. Lovely, right? Now, while I know that as a living creature, these birds will leave me alone, I can’t help but have a bit of a fear of them. To begin with, I’ve never been a huge bird person – at least not close up. I like to look at them from a distance, but get too close to them, and I start to get quite unnerved. Not sure why, but I’ve just never befriended this one of nature’s creatures, nor have I felt particularly compelled to change that fact. These scavengers are so morbid that I’m happy not to keep company with them on any kind of regular basis!! A stark contrast to the ostriches who were across the street (you can see them in the picture above, watching the Wildebeest cross the road), who I don’t mind having around, even if it’s just to giggle at how ridiculous they look! To be honest, Ostriches don’t seem to do too much, so I can’t say I find them particularly entertaining, but just look at’em! If you can look at an ostrich and not either smile or wrinkle your brow, you’re more jaded than I am because they always make me smile!
The animals weren’t the only thing that made the drive to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area noteworthy…. though they were more fun than the other thing…. So something you should know if you decide to take this drive is that, although it’s not off-roading or anything like that, you DEFINITELY need four-wheel drive to take the trip. We were in a Land Cruiser (see top picture) and the road was clear for most of the ride. At some point, after we got into the NCA, the road turned from dusty, sandy dirt to a rich red clay texture, which was quite lovely. Until it rained….. It didn’t rain for too long, but it rained just enough to make the road a bit more difficult to drive on. We found ourselves behind a truck that was smoothing the road back down (kind of reminded me of those crazy machines they use to groom ski runs at a lot of mountains), that was creating a long pile of clay in the other lane. We crawled behind him for a while, since we weren’t in any rush. But then when the cars started to line up behind me, I guess the driver was starting to feel pressure to pass the truck, and when the truck waved his arm out to indicate that it was safe to pass, he moved into the other lane….. well, partially, anyway. We started to shift to the other lane, when we got stuck. I mean, really stuck. And of course, that’s when it started to rain again! I stepped out to see if I could help, but got the sense that the driver didn’t want my help, so I soon jumped back in to wait until he could get this sorted out. Luckily, another truck stopped and with the help of the two guys in that truck, we were soon on our way once again. But take this as a warning: we managed to get stuck with four-wheel drive, so definitely don’t even try this without it!!