Ngorongoro Crater

The drive back to Ngorongoro Crater was no more pleasant than the first time, and I was very happy to get off the truck around 5pm at Simba Camp A, a windswept field on the rim of the crater, full of grass and dried dung. It was a cold spot, but dinner was good and we had a nice hot campfire. Simba A is known for being a spot for wildlife to cross and they head into the crater, and it wasn’t long before we saw a bush-pig rustling around beyond the campfire. From the name it sounds kind of cute, and so I went off with my flashlight to get a closer look The guide warned me back just as I spotted it, and the warning was hardly necessary - it was a waist-high black humped shape that wasn’t cute at all - think “wild boar”. Later on Sheryl and I took a walk and saw an elephant - a solitary bull feeding in a stand of trees not fifteen meters away. We watched for awhile, seeing only his back half, and reckoning we were safe enough a long as he kept eating. We got nervous whenever he stopped and much more so when he moved and we saw his face - and tusks - dimly in the weak flashlight and realized just how huge he really was. It was at this moment some of the guides came over and asked us what we’d seen. We said “elephant” and they got very agitated - “Very dangerous, come now” - and we went quite willingly.

It was at this point that we remembered our plan for not getting eaten by elephants in Africa and put it into action. We made up a sign reading “We are not peanuts” with a drawing of a peanut inside one of those bar-and-circle devices to cross out the peanut. We’d initially planned to just to use the no-peanut symbol but thought that might be offensive and mistaken for anti-peanut sentiment. But then we weren’t sure which languages elephants could read, and so we had one of the guides translate it into Swahili for us (“Sisi sio karanga”); We taped it to the outside of the tent and went to bed hearing the stamping of bush-pigs all around us and hoping our sign would work.

It must have, since we woke up in the morning uneaten and unstomped. It was only a few minutes though, before we heard a huge long angry snort and something big crashed into our tent. We nearly jumped out of our skins but the thing that hit our tent turned out to be Margaret, hiding from the source of the angry snort - another elephant. We piled out of the tent with our cameras. It wasn’t our friend from the night before - this one’s tusks were shorter and much more worn. He was striding irritatedly away through the camp, shaking his head in annoyance. Margaret reckoned she’d irritated him with her headlight when she was looking at him.

After that excitement breakfast was an anticlimax, but we were amazed again when we paused at the crater rim and took the winding descent road down the inside of the wall to the caldera floor. It was just as stunning a panorama a before - even more so in the early morning haze with the walls receding into the distance. We drove around all morning seeing lots of zebras and hyenas, some wildebeest and water buffalo, cranes, flamingos and jackals. We saw two lions sleeping by the water, filthy with mud, but we didn’t watch them long because they didn’t move much. We did see another pride of lions late - one of the highlights of the day, since there were two three-week old cubs, besides the older male, three females and two young males The other highlight was two elephants right beside the road. One old male decided he wanted to cross and made a mock charge at the line of trucks watching him and blocking his way - they all moved in a hurry.

The Crater floor is littered with bones - white skulls and long bones scattered everywhere - even the bones of an elephant are there. It must be a bit strange for the animals living there, you’d think - grazing among the remains of their compatriots, as it were. It was very cool to us, though.

We headed out of the Crater at noon, much enriched by the experience but having missed out on seeing a rhino - the last of the Big Five game animals we were missing (the rest being lions, elephants, leopards and water buffalo, all of which we’d see the previous day). We didn’t mind missing out at all, though - we’d seen too much to begrudge one animal, so we were happy and sunburned as we headed back to Arusha to rejoin the tour.

It was an amazing experience and one I hope to repeat someday. The Serengeti and the Crater are two of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. I’ll stay much longer next time, and I’ll bring a good heavy pair of binoculars and a long, long lens for my camera. I’d decided against bringing one on the world tour, since it would be heavy and expensive and I wouldn’t use it often enough to justify the weight or cost. I certainly felt the lack the past few days, though, when I couldn’t zoom in enough to get close to the animals I think I still got some good shots though - I still have to go through them. I took more than a thousand over the three days. There’ a lot of junk in there though - I’ll probably end up with three or four hundred that I’d like to keep.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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