On our way to Serengeti NP we had looked over the rim of Ngorognoro Crater and saw the beauty of the place 620m (over 2,000 feet) below, and were very excited about getting down there the next day, but first we were booked into Sopa Lodge for the night, and got there about an hour before sunset (which was at about 6.30pm). This is a large but really nice lodge, and is the only accommodation located on the less accessible eastern side of the rim, obviously this means that you have a fantastic view of the sunsetting over the far side of the crater. As it turns out, it wasn’t a great day for sunsets as it was a bit hazy, but it was still beautiful.
We were amazed that there was even a wedding going on here, there didn’t appear to be any guests with the bride and groom, but there were a few Maasai that were following the happy couple, perhaps they were witnesses, but it is a stunning place for a wedding here.
As the sun started to drop over the far rim, the temperature started to drop quite rapidly, and the ice in our gin and tonics suddenly seemed to stop melting (we were at 8,500 feet here), but we had paid dearly for this place and weren’t going to waste a minute here, though the pool was absolutely out of bounds, it was freezing.
We had a lovely big room that was a long walk from the bar/restaurant (up hill), but the one fantastic thing about that room was the hot shower! It was amazing, so much water, so hot, constant heat, even the water drained away as it should, I was starting to think that plumbed in hot water that drained away was something that couldn’t happen near the equator, thankfully I was proved wrong.
We had a lovely dinner again that night, this time a buffet and sadly Ole our Maasai guide wasn’t allowed to join us this evening, so we arranged that he would pick us up in the reception as early as possible the next morning. So after a very quick early breakfast (specially arranged with the kitchen the night before), we met Ole before the sun came up. Sopa Lodge has its own “descent road” as its about an hours drive to the main “descent road” on the western side of the crater, and we soon discovered why we weren’t allowed to bring our truck down here, its very very steep.
It looked like we were the first safari vehicle to enter the crater (from this track anyway), and even before we had finished descending we were upon four Lionesses, all of which appeared (according to Ole) pregnant. Things were looking good.
It was freezing down in the crater, obviously made worse by standing up to look through the pop up roof of the Landcruiser, but we were wrapped up and prepared for it, thanks to Jac insisting I would need my Rab Down jacket and wooly hat.
The crater was formed about 2.5 million years ago when a volcano imploded in on itself, leaving today the largest unbroken and unflooded crater in the world, apparently it is home to approx 30,000 large mammals, the vast majority of which are the large herds of wildebeest and zebra, that unlike their cousins on the Serengeti plains do not migrate, there is no need too, as there’s a constant supply of fresh water and grass in the crater.
But apart from the grasslands, and the walls, the main feature of the crater is the shallow and alkaline Lake Magadi, this is home to huge flocks of Flamingos, and creates yet another stunning back drop.
There is also a large array of other birds in the crater including Crowned Cranes, lots of birds of prey likes these Black Kites, and of course Ostrich.
Ngorongoro may be the largest unflooded crater in the world (its 19km across), and there may be a lot of mammals, but Tanzania has once again ruined the experience by putting too many of us tourists in one place at one time (especially considering how much they charge for entry into these National Parks/Conservation areas). This was highlighted when Ole our excellent guide got an inkling that someone had spotted possibly, maybe, an elusive and endangered Black Rhino, there are just over 20 of these beautiful animals in the crater, (not to be confused with the more common White Rhino that is normally seen, though there are no White Rhino in Ngorongoro). So off we set at high speed on the very very bumpy track, along with quite a few other identical Safari vehicles (again all closed in apart from the pop up roof), for about 10 minutes until we were faced with this in front of us!
Within two minutes the same scene was also behind us, Ole managed to push his way into the centre (he is without a doubt a very respected guide, and we were lucky to have him), sure enough there was the Black Rhino……..almost a kilometre away from the track, down in the long grass, and impossible to see without binoculars, even my trusty Panasonic Lumix with its 600mm (equivalent) lens could not pick out this fella! I counted over 100 safari vehicles watching this distant Rhino slowly getting further and further away, all three of us were laughing (Me, Jac and Ole) at the ridiculous state of affairs that was unfolding, there were cars pushing in everywhere, and tempers fraying, with everyone wanting that shot of a Black Rhino (I suggest going to Damaraland in Namibia, if your lucky you can watch one there on your own, without paying any park fees at all). Earlier this year the Tanzanian government hugely increased the entrance fees to Ngorongoro, and then at the end of May decided to put 18% tax onto ALL park fees as well………. I wonder how many people will be here in a few years time. Perhaps when you book your safari as a package from the comfort of your home country you don’t notice the costs of the parks in Tanzania, but it is making the overall holiday much more expensive than say, Botswana, or Zambia. I understand that they don’t want people self driving in the parks, but ask any campsite owner in northern Tanzania, and their takings are massively down. The South Africans especially have stopped coming as its too expensive now.
Ole decided that we wanted to stay away from the crowds (we definitely agreed), and we had a lovely time (on our own) in the only forested area of the crater, where there were a very large herd of elephants, monkeys and some great bird life…. this was more like it.
We left the crater just after lunchtime, after another very good packed lunch (see last post), but even then it was still freezing cold (its difficult to guess the temperature as we’ve really got used to the hot daytime temperatures of Eastern Africa).
By the time we drove up the “ascent road”, it was even colder, but the air was a little clearer, in the distance you can see the salty Lake Magadi on the floor of the crater.
By the time we got to the entrance gate, we were down to tee shirts and shorts again. We ended up staying at Maasai Camp in Arusha for another couple of nights, giving us chance to catch up on the clothes washing etc. On the day we left Maasai Camp we decided that as we needed to travel directly through Arusha centre (the traffic here is not good) and as we wanted to do some food shopping we wouldn’t go too far and would camp only 25km outside of Arusha at Meserani Snake Park, this would then give us a good place for an early morning start to Singida (our next planned stop).
Meserani is owned and run by South Africans that love snakes, any snakes, all snakes. The family here remove snakes from certain areas if the only other option is that the locals would kill them, they also have a large collection of snakes that you can view including, Mamba’s, Cobra’s, Boomslang’s, and more harmless snakes. When they first opened the campsite and started the Snake Park, they obviously kept anti-venom on site as a precaution for themselves getting bitten. The locals soon discovered this and started to come to them when they had been bitten for treatment with the anti-venom. The next step was to build a snake bite clinic, and now together with donations, the campsite, bar and snake park all contribute to the funding of the Clinic (which is opposite the campsite). After a quick walk around and viewing the snakes and other reptiles, we asked if we could visit the Clinic ,obviously with Jac being a nurse, she wanted to see inside. Unbelievabl ,for me anyway, all six beds of the clinic were full, including two young boys, one older woman and three men, all recuperating after their potentially deadly bites. The biggest problem we were told by the amazing nurse was necrosis and infection into the wound. This was highlighted by the youngest boy who I guess was about 4 years old and who had been bitten on the top of his head by a Red Cobra . The snakes apparently seek the warmth of a human in bed at night, and usually strike when that person wakes up. This little boy had been in the Clinic for two months while they ensure that the wound is cleaned and redressed and so heals properly. The other boy who was a little older had been bitten on his hand, again by a Cobra, while the woman in the end bed had been bitten just above her ankle by a Puff Adder. The thing that amazed Jac was that the nurse just walked us into the two three bed wards, and threw back the blankets and showed us the injury, there’s not too much discretion here!
There are two nurses that work here, with one on site at all times, they do a fantastic job and although the main stay of their work is with snake bites they also treat other ailments if they can’t get to Arusha. This is the Nurse (sorry I can’t remember her name) that showed us around the clinic with one of the precious anti-venom phials, these cost almost $250 each, and one guy that had been bitten by a Black Mamba required nine phials (thats well over $2,000).
Next the nurse opened her lap top and showed us photos of the wounds when the patients had first got to her (usually leaving it far too long), showing the grossly affected areas of skin then proudly showing the same areas after all the infected/necrotic flesh had been cut away, right down to the bone in places, Jac was intrigued, I was trying to be brave and not throw up!. It goes without saying we were very impressed and left a good donation. We returned about 30 minutes later with a couple of toys for the young lads (their little faces were beaming), and a bag full of toys for future kids that are unfortunate enough to get admitted. The owner later told is that there is very little provision from the government for treatment of snake bites in Tanzania, and many end up having at the very least limbs amputated ( http://www.meseranisnakepark.com ).
That night was spent in the bar of the campsite in the company of the owner “Ma”, she was such a character, and infectious to listen too. But just as she was closing the bar (of course we were the last customers left), some how she mentioned that her brother was Kork Ballington! For those that have never heard of him, Kork was a famous South African motorcycle racer from the late 70’s, four times world champion (250cc, and 350cc) and was a childhood hero of mine. I couldn’t believe it, and “Ma” was equally surprised that I was so excited about hearing stories about Kork and his mechanic and brother Dozy. Out come the old photos, his autobiography, and a guided tour of the photos on the wall of other racers (such as Kevin Schwantz, and Mick Grant) that Kork and Dozy had brought to Snake Park over the years.
Our next night was spent camped in a hotel car park in Singida, we negotiated a fee that included a room for us to use just for the toilet and a hot shower. Ha, yeah right, first of all the hot tap was as cold as the cold tap, and guess what? The bathroom was flooded as the fall in the wet area was going the wrong way! More dodgy ablutions, but hey, TIA, That Is Africa.
We are now camped on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, at “The Yacht Club”, (well there are two small motorboats moored here), on a nice flat grassy site just on the edge of the booming town of Mwanza. Here we met the rare breed, that is a couple travelling Africa in an overland truck. Robert and Clary are a Dutch couple that now ‘live’ in Australia, but have been travelling on and off around the world for the past 6 years.
Their Mercedes is a very well thought out truck, and includes a little cubby hole for a Suzuki scooter.
They travelled through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya in 2010, and were kind enough to share a few good camp spots in these countries (we also shared a few beers over the evenings that we spent together).
Our view from the campsite is back towards the town, and is beautiful both day and night.
This is one of the local fishermen out on the lake in his bamboo boat, rather them than me!
The skies here are full of huge Yellow Billed Kites, and there are hundreds of Pied Kingfishers, Herons and beautiful Blue Waxbills looking for seeds in the grass
Our plan was to drive from Mwanza up to the border with Rwanda then do a loop in a clockwise direction around Lake Victoria, going from Rwanda through Uganda and Kenya before arriving back in Tanzania. Obviously the big pull for us is Gorilla Tracking on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda with the DRC, but Permits for tracking are very hard to come by at the moment as its peak season, so we once again are changing our plans and are going to cross into Kenya first and go anti-clockwise round the lake. The other advantage of doing this, is there is the possibility (slight possibility) that we might witness the mass migration of the Wildebeest herds across the Mara River, with hundreds of hungry crocodiles waiting for them. Hopefully by the time we then get to Uganda and Rwanda we will stand a better chance of getting those elusive permits.
Today we have been catching up on ALL the washing, including towels and bed linen, and took over the lawn area with our washing lines, ah the glamour of travelling eh.
Thanks for reading