We were up at 6:30 and at breakfast at 7:30. In general, I preferred the food at the Springlands Hotel to the High View Hotel. At the High View they tended to stay away from Tanzanian food and tried to serve more Western-style food, which is to say it was not very good.
Mohammed picked us up at 8 and then we left for Ngorongoro Crater. The drive to the gate was quick, but then you had to take a slow, winding road down into the crater. It was really foggy as we were driving down so I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see anything, but it cleared up by the time we reached the bottom. Ngorongoro Crater doesn’t have giraffes, but it has pretty much every other animal you’d want to see. And as opposed to the jungles of Lake Manyara, the crater is mostly wide, grassy plains, which made it really easy to spot animals. And boy were there a lot of them. (I somehow whittled 200 pictures down to 43.)
Besides zebras, wildebeest, and flamino, we finally saw some lions, which were another one of the Big Five we could cross off the list.
But one of my absolute favorite animals I saw on the entire trip was a massive old elephant at the crater. Our guide estimated by the length of his tusks that he was around 50 years old, and he visibly dwarfed the other elephants. There was something so prehistoric about seeing this huge animal just walking around slowly in the middle of a grassy plain; I think it’s probably as close as I will ever get to seeing a dinosaur.
With another safari jeep for scale. Notice that the safari jeep is actually closer than the elephant:
As all the guides drive around the park, they stay in radio contact with each other and let each other know when they’ve spotted a particularly interesting or rare animal. As we were driving around, Mohammed’s radio crackled to life, and after exchanging a few words, he changed directions and informed us that a pair of cheetahs had been spotted. Cheetahs are apparently very rare in the crater, so I was really excited. As we pulled to a stop behind a few other jeeps, we spotted two cheetahs way in the distance to the left of the road.
They were exhibiting the same slinky, stalking behavior that you’ve probably seen house cats do, so they were clearly hunting. As I followed their line of sight, I saw a small herd of gazelle on the right side of the road. This was awesome enough, but as we watched them over the next hour, they came closer and closer and finally actually crossed the road right in front of our safari car. At some point, the herd noticed them and bolted, so the pair gave up the hunt. They sat around for a bit before crossing the road again and wandering off. It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.
We were also lucky enough to see some black rhino, albeit extremely far away. Even at 200mm on my crop-sensor 20D, they ended up rhino-shaped blobs. We ended up seeing 4 or 5 of them throughout, and seeing as the entire park’s population is about 25, we did pretty well.
As we were heading out of the park, we happened upon a lioness sleeping by the side of the road. Mohammed stopped the jeep right in front of her; she was probably 5 feet away from us (with a strong safari door inbetween, of course) and seemed totally unconcerned that we were there. Mohammed eventually started revving the jeep’s engine to wake her up, and Amanda and I feebly tried to suggest that it might not be the greatest idea to antagonize the lion. But all she did was lift her head for a bit, yawn, and fall back asleep.
After an incredible day, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the night.