My feet have finally landed on Africa. I can’t believe that I am finally on this continent that I have dreamed of for so long.
This place is so foreign to me. My brain desperately tries to connect it to things that are familiar to me in order to make sense of it.
The best way I can describe the Ngorongoro Crater is as a combination of the following: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Crater Lake National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Hawaiian island Kauai, the Great Salt Lake, central Wyoming, the National Elk Refuge, and Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands. If you took the best of each of these remarkable places and mixed them together, you would get the Ngorongoro Crater.
Imagine it it:
- The complexity of animal life of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
- The geology and rock stories of Crater Lake
- The colors of the Grand Canyon
- The the natural wonder of Kauai
- The salt flats and water of the Great Salt Lake
- The wide open plains of Central Wyoming
- The herds of ungulates of the National Elk Refuge
- The unique species of the Galápagos Islands
In Swahili the word ‘safari’ translates to journey. This seems appropriate as this is an outstanding journey. Thus it is fair to say that I am on safari in Tanzania with my parents and our amazing guide Alex. We will explore the Ngorongoro Crater before heading to the Central Serengeti and ending in the Northern Serengeti. My parents and I have been planning this trip for ten months. After Tanzania we will go to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls, continue on to another safari in Botswana to explore the Okavango Delta, and finish our trip with a self-drive safari through Namibia. Our primary objective is to see wildlife, diverse ecosystems, and gain a deeper understanding of African culture.
The Crater is gorgeous. Seemingly dry and empty, it is actually abundant with life. Travelers often focus on seeing the Big 5. The Big 5 is the name given the the African animals that were highly sought after and most difficult to hunt. They are: the African buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard, and rhino. Each of the big 5 is majestic, although they range in their likelihood of sightings. More than anything I have dreamed of seeing elephants, my favorite animal.
Before reaching the floor of the Crater we saw our first animal: a solitary bull elephant. We rounded a corner and were greeted by a lioness with four 2-month old cubs. That was just the beginning!
It is our first full day of safari and we have already seen 16 species of mammals and 18 species of birds. This includes 4 out of the 5 Big 5. I am amazed that we saw a black rhino, the rarest of the 5. I learned that rhinos only reproduce once every five years. This contributes to the difficulties rhinos face in regaining their population size as a species after being hunted and poached for years. Although we have not seen a leopard, the last one missing of our big 5, we have seen more in our first full day than I imaged we see in our entire trip. This leads me to believe that every scene from National Geography must be true.
Alex has an affinity for spotting lions. He understands the king of the jungle, and knows its habitats and behaviors. Alex also has an eagle eye. Mid-morning he pointed out a pride of lions in the distance. I followed their activity for a few moments and observed two lionesses leave the pride with a sense of determination. Just beyond the pride there was a herd of wildebeest. I watched in amazement as the lionesses gained ground on the herd. Eventually, the first of the two came into striking distance and lunged after a young calf. The older wildebeest briefly attempted to ward off the lion before quickly retreating. The lion’s hunt was successful.
It isn’t just the predators that are captivating to watch. Each zebra has a different pattern of stripes. Upon first glance, they look like they are only black and white, but upon closer investigation shades of brown and grey can be seen. They have superb eyesight. Zebras frequently stand beside each other facing the opposite directions. This permits them to keep watch for each other while using their tails to combat the pesky flies. It also creates a small but necessary amount of shade for each zebra. My mom loves looking at the zebras. She regularly states that their tails appear to be braided. They are indeed fabulous creatures, very horse-like they also seem to have a mystical energy around them.
While observing and searching for such creatures I have created my own radio station. It plays in my head throughout our game drives. It lacks variety and is rather cliche, nevertheless I find myself whistling the songs softly to myself. Africa by Toto, the Circle of Life from the Lion King, and of course… Under African Skies by Paul Simon.