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Tanzania Day 5 Part 1: Cruisin' in the Crater

Morning came and it was very cold and very windy. We were up early for breakfast because Maningo was picking us up at 6:30 so we could get down into the crater before it got too crowded with other vehicles. Plus, we had a long drive to our camp in the Serengeti afterwards. The Sopa Lodge had a large breakfast buffet set up with everything imaginable including my favorite, the omelet station. What it did not have, however, is the most important breakfast treat of all - my Coke. Apparently the Coke was all in the bar and the barman was not on duty at 6:00 in the morning. Not good! Maningo arrived right on time as usual. The poor guy was so cold that he had two blankets wrapped around him when he picked us up.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera that was formed two to three million years ago. It's about 2,000 feet deep and covers around 100 square miles. It sits at 5,900 feet above sea level (thus the reason it is much colder here). The Sopa Lodge where we spent the night sits on the rim of the crater and is conveniently located by the descent road into the crater.

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Right away there were three black-backed jackals on the side of the road. Two of them scattered immediately but one stuck around, continuing to chew on a small snake of some kind.

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As we descended, the scenery inside the crater was simply beautiful.

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A hyena family was squabbling over a wildebeest skull.

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Some cape buffalo and zebra were also hanging around nearby.

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A couple of vultures were roosting up high
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A Kori bustard, the heaviest bird capable of flight
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We drove to the top of a large hill to get a nice view and check the lay of the land.

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Specifically, we were looking for rhino as this would be the only chance we would have of seeing rhino in Tanzania. There are very few left in the crater and the few that are there make a rare appearance. They did not appear for us. Instead, we saw some Grant's gazelles, hartebeest, flamingoes, and cape buffalo.

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A flock of grey-crowned cranes flew overhead.
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They landed next to a golden jackal who was finishing off his flamingo lunch.
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Nearby, a couple of grey-crowned cranes and a chick were pecking around some kind of animal dung.
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We watched a long line of wildebeest and zebra walking along the lakeshore.
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A lone elephant bull came wandering through.
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We drove on and found some lions lazing around on a slight hill overlooking some hippos and zebra in the distance.
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By now it was around noon and about time to head out of the crater. On the way out, some olive baboons were crossing the hillside.
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After we ascended, Maningo stopped so I could take a picture from the crater rim.
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Just outside of the gate we stopped and ate our lunchboxes in the truck. The Sopa Lodge lunchbox was pretty good--a beef pattie sandwich, Lay's Thai Chili chips, apple, banana, and juice box. We then drove through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where a lot of Maasai tribesmen still live. This is also the area where a lot of trip operators take tourists to visit Maasai villages.

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A typical Maasai village
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Maasai herding their cattle and donkeys
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From here, we drove to the Serengeti National Park.

Posted by zihuatcat 20:37 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania ngorongoro brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 4: Monkey Business

We slept in a little bit today and had breakfast at the lodge. It was a slight improvement over lunch and dinner since there was an omelet station (yay!). Brenda tried a local dish called African millet which is some type of grain. It was brown and soupy and kind of oily. I couldn't bring myself to try it so early in the morning.

Our plan for the day was to leave Tarangire and head towards Lake Manyara, game drive in Lake Manyara National Park then drive to our overnight lodging at the Ngorongoro crater rim. On the way, we passed through the town of Mto wa Mbu, which means "river of mosquitoes."

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The town is a big banana export center and there were many different kinds of bananas available for sale on the roadside. We saw several signs advertising red bananas. Brenda wanted to try some so Maningo pulled over and bought some for her. Other than the red peel on the outside, they looked like normal bananas. Tastewise, they were a bit sweeter.

Not far down the road we came to the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park. This park was vastly different from Tarangire. Whereas Tarangire was dry, Lake Manyara was lush with red dirt.
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A few months prior, the park was devastated by a severe flood. Some of the buildings at the entrance had been completely washed away. There were piles and piles of huge boulders everywhere and lots of evidence of road repair.
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We came upon some blue monkeys.
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A klipspringer, the rock jumping antelope.
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And some olive baboons.
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While watching the baboons, suddenly a female bushbuck came bolting out of the bushes with a fawn. The fawn stayed hidden in the grass while the normally shy mother came up right next to us, as if she were trying to distract us.
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On down the road we saw a warthog family, an African fish-eagle, and a grey-headed kingfisher.
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We stopped at the hippo pool.
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The forest-type surroundings then changed and we came to an open field. A lone black-backed jackal was running across the field as if on a mission.
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Some grey crowned cranes were pecking around.
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A herd of cape buffalo were hanging out by the water.
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As were a few flamingoes.
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We stopped for lunch at a picnic area with some other guides and their guests. Our TSL lunch boxes were, as expected, truly awful. There was a boiled egg, some kind of unidentifiable sandwich, an apple, a banana, peanuts, and a juicebox. The egg and the peanuts were the best part. We were so glad to be done eating TSL's food!

After lunch we drove through a heavily treed area with a lot of undergrowth. There were numerous monkeys up high in the trees making lots of noise. To us, it sounded like alarm calls which could mean a predator was around, most likely leopard. We searched and searched in this area but never did see anything.

On down the road a lone wildebeest was standing in the middle of a field, looking nervously out towards something on the lakeshore. We got out our binoculars and could see a pride of some six or seven lions feasting on a kill right on the lakeshore. Our guess was another wildebeest. The crazy wildebeest kept walking and walking right towards the lions. Somehow the lions either were too busy to notice or didn't care because they let him walk on by.

By now it was time to turn around and head out of Lake Manyara since we needed to make it to the crater before dark. We came across this monitor lizard sunning on a rock on the way back.
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A large troop of olive baboons with lots of babies kept us entertained for a while, especially this little kung fu guy.
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There were more olive baboons at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. One little baby was especially being a brat. He kept trying to climb the concrete wall the baboons were sitting on but was too short to make it. So he would grab on to the other baboons' tails. He would use their tails to make it up the wall then jump down and do it all over again. His mother finally had enough of that so she dragged him by his own tail into the middle of the road. He was screeching the whole time.

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We arrived at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge before dark and were greeted with juice and warm towels. The lodge sits on the rim of the crater and at about 7,500 feet above sea level, it was cold and windy. Unfortunately, there is no regular heating here. The hotel is kind enough to turn the radiators on each evening between 7:30 and 9:30. After that, the only heat you get comes from a hot water bottle they place inside your bed. By sleeping in every piece of clothing we brought, we stayed pretty warm. The guides are not so lucky. Maningo said they are not provided heat or water bottles of any kind.

Inside our room #3
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The walkway to the rooms
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The main building, restaurant, and bar
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Since it was cold in our room, we thought we'd head to the bar for a drink or two and some happy hour snacks. We settled ourselves in front of a huge fireplace and ordered our rum and cokes. A fire had been set in the fireplace but it was barely burning, as in a slight flame. I asked if they could do anything about it and they acted like I was crazy. The fire was lit they told me. See the flame (that would be that tiny little orange speck just to the right and above the candle flame). OK, whatever. I grew up with bonfires in the country. A couple of coals of charcoal does not make a fire to me.

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We then moved to the even colder dining room for dinner, a four course affair. Mr. Goodluck was our waiter. The first course was a salad nicoise.
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The second course was chicken soup.
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The main course was a filet mignon with carrots and broccoli.
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Dessert was supposed to be apple pie with coffee ice cream. We told them we didn't like coffee ice cream so they brought us mango ice cream instead but no apple pie. I guess that's what we get for being difficult.
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Dinner was very good, the best we'd had so far. Afterwards, I called Mike from the lobby and we were able to talk on the phone for a bit before bedtime.

Posted by zihuatcat 19:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania manyara ngorongoro brenda Comments (0)

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