Day 20 – Bump in the Night

February 8, 2012
Ngorongoro Crater/Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park Camp

The highlight of this tour (other than Zanzibar) is the visit to the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti – both ideal for the amazing game viewing. We had to leave our big overland truck behind and split into two 4×4 trucks because of road conditions. The roofs of these trucks pop up and we’re allowed to stand on the seats, so I’m a happy camper. We were all so excited to be making our way to the crater this morning that we didn’t even notice we had to wake up at 5am. Well maybe I noticed a little bit.

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The crater itself isn’t very large, you can see from one side to the other and it’s actually not a crater at all. It was formed 2.5 million years ago when a volcano blew up so technically it’s a calderra but everyone calls it a crater (I have no idea why).

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The descent into the crater was steep and took us over an hour but it immediately paid off. You could see animals in the distance before we had even started the game drive which was everyones cue to pull out their cameras. Warthogs, zebras, antelopes, wildebeest and elephants were all milling about together like they were old friends. Everywhere you looked there was a different animal like your own personal zoo, without the glass partition and scheduled feedings.

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After about an hour of driving we interrupted a male and female lion during their ‘honeymoon.’ The driver explained this is the period of time after they mate and because they were lying a little ways apart I can only assume he said something stupid and they’re fighting already.

We had a lovely lunch on the side of a small watering hole, with armed rangers patrolling and reminding us not to get too close to the water or the hippos would pull us in. I have no idea if he was kidding or not, but I didn’t want to take my chances.

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On our way out of the park we had stopped to check out a black rhino when we noticed a lot of trucks stopped together staring at a herd of wildebeest. We pulled up, cameras ready and binoculars scanning and at first we thought one of the wildebeest had been attacked because of the blood, but as we watched we realized she was actually giving birth. Everyone was absolutely silent, totally in awe of this National Geographic moment. After a bit of struggle and hesitation there was a collective sigh of relief and small cheer as the calf emerged.

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Within 10 minutes of being born she was fighting to stand up and just like a toddler she took a few tentative steps before teetering over, then getting up and trying again. Her tiny legs were no thicker than sticks and she just wouldn’t give up.

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Within 15 minutes she was up and running with the herd and as they moved on everyone just looked at each other in stunned disbelief at what we had just witnessed.

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The roads through the crater give the best ‘African massage’ so far and are so narrow I’m doubtful one jeep can fit on it, let alone two. Each time the jeeps pass each other it feels like a dangerous game of chicken, who’s going to swerve out of the way first?

After being in the crater for three hours or so we headed to the Serengeti, where we’ll be spending the next two days and nights.

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Camping.
In the Serengeti.
Without fences.
Eek.

When I went to use the washroom I stumbled upon a group of baboons hanging out in the trees right behind the facilities. I suddenly realized I didn’t have to go that bad and slowly walked away back to camp. After that we instituted a ‘buddy system’ because two white girls are tastier than one.

The sun sets around 630pm here and as the moon rose and stars came out it became obvious we were in for a beautiful night. The air was warm and the full moon was so strong and bright it cast a pale blue glow on the whole campsite. Around 9pm, as people were getting ready for bed, we started to hear the local wildlife stir and everyone started to get a bit jumpy.

I was already in my pjs, in my tent, when whispers started going around that there were elephants on the other side of the camp. Before I could think about it I grabbed my flashlight and hopped out of the tent. I started towards the group gathered at the opposite end of the site when a loud ripping noise caught my attention. I froze where I stood and turned to face a huge elephant slowly ripping leaves off the tree 20ft from my tent. For the second time today I held my breath and watched while she chewed and swallowed, ripped, chewed and swallowed. The moon behind her was huge and as her silhouette deliberately searched each tree for food I considered how lucky I had been to experience the things I did today.

When the elephant disappeared back into the trees I got back in my tent and tried to remember every single detail about what had just happened – the size of the moon, the way the leaves sounded when they were ripped from the branch, the rhythm of her chewing and the heavy plod as she walked away.

A short time later I fell asleep and around midnight I woke up to that same ripping sound. I peeked out the window of the tent and there she was again. This time I stayed in the tent and just watched as she had her late night snack.

Breakfast: toast, fried eggs, papaya, coffee/tea
Lunch: (packed lunch) sandwich, juice, banana
Dinner: cucumber and potato soup, pasta, bolognese sauce, veggie medley

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