Monday, January 23, 2012
Today is Jesse’s birthday! We are very pleased to be able to spend such a special day with such an impressive person in such an awesome place. We started our day at various pre-dawn hours as different ones of us awoke upon hearing the buffaloes munching grass at the edges of our tents. Some of us could see silhouettes of the animals from the bathhouse light while others just had to imagine their size. No one familiar with the park was alarmed but we, as newcomers, were having trouble avoiding freaking out. It turns out the park vets were right.
Two things we missed in our camp were the presence of hyenas in the early morning hours (chased off by the camp dogs, as usual, apparently) and the visit of some local elephants who regularly walk through the camp in the night to pursue water. We didn’t see or hear either (though we heard the dogs).
We did, however, rise early enough to catch a fabulous sunrise over the rim of the crater. We were the chilliest that we have been all trip, bundled up in every warm thing we own, but it was worth it to see the sky burn orange and blue until the big ball rose over the hilltops just past our camp. A range of different birds flitted all over and around us, including some huge storks.
We started our early drive down into the crater where we encountered a whole range of animals that we didn’t imagine would co-exist side by side in one place. There were zebras and wildebeests, warthogs and gazelles, hippos and flamingos, elephants and buffaloes, medium-sized cats of a few exotic varieties and – perhaps most thrilling of all – a few adult lions. Everyone seemed to be in perfect sync with everyone else out in the crater, with the exception of a few sinister-looking hyenas who seemed to be out for a fight, but who never started one when we were looking. Things were extremely pastoral and serene, but also overwhelming in their perfect simple harmony.
Today’s glitch was that one of our safari cars refused to restart after being turned off at a crossroads, leaving us as a spectacle that other safari vehicles photographed as they passed. It took awhile for our drivers to realize that the problem was the timing belt so we had to pile a little deeper in the two remaining cars to finish our drive and make our way back to camp. Once we were there, the vehicles returned to tow the disabled one out of the crater while we brought down our tents and ate lunch. Despite the automotive problem, the whole experience was exhilarating.
Our afternoon involved a short but lovely walk to Elephant Caves and Waterfalls, two features of a small but beautiful nature preserve just outside Ngorongoro. The caves are actually remnants of a larger cave that collapsed in an El Niño year. They are called Elephant Caves because elephants migrate through the area and actually eat the dirt of the area as a means of gaining iron, potassium, calcium and phosphorous. Pregnant elephants are especially drawn to the area, apparently using the earth there as a form of pre-natal vitamin. The waterfall is a long drop that is not flowing heavily at the moment though it is clearly spectacular when in its prime. In any case, the hike is a fascinating look at an entirely different ecosystem than those we’ve enjoyed over the last few days.
We settled in after our hike to our one “fancy” night of accommodations at a safari lodge that has the feel of a small resort. They furnished dinner for us, including birthday dessert for Jesse complete with a couple of happy songs sung in Swahili. We’re taking it easy tonight to prepare for our long trip home.
Once home we need to hole up for a few days in a computer lab on campus to finish our multimedia work. We will try to backfill photos and videos at that time. Also, we will finish our final projects (three for each team), some of which will be screened publicly on the Saint Mary’s campus on the evening of Wednesday, February 8.
We will be traveling for the next couple of days so we will likely disappear from this space for a bit. Watch for an update once we return to California. Thanks!