13 February 2017, Day 26
Courtesy of Wikipedia, these facts: the crater is in fact a caldera. A volcanic mountain, somewhere up to 19,000 feet, exploded and fell in upon itself some millions of years ago. The floor of the caldera is 5900 feet. What a cataclysm it must have been.
The crater is the world’s largest “inactive, intact and unfilled”, to quote Wikpedia, and is a World Heritage Site. The name comes from the Maasai phrase for “gift of life”. The crater floor is grasslands and covers some 100 square miles. It is like a great bowl, surrounded by the high walls of the highlands. The crater is home to some 25,000 animals, again according to Wikipedia. Given what we see today, I wonder if that number is high enough.
At the gate, we see a large troupe of olive baboons. These are habituated to human food, and can be really nasty. Mahunga tells us that at least one someone has been bitten by these creatures. Leaving the gate, we climb the dirt switchbacks through the tropical forest. We stop at an overlook, braving the chilly wind to take snaps. Witress sees animals far below; good eyes.
We encounter a large herd of Cape buffalo at the rim, and then begin dropping into the crater. We pass lodges at the rim and campsites. We pass the park village. The forest disappears, and we are among green fields. There are herds of cattle with their herders: Maasai and other tribes, Mahunga tells us. Across the road are zebras. It is very green.
We pass through another belt of scrubby trees. Some are festooned with moss, a new sight here. On the left is a large Maasai village, home to some 50,000 people. We pass more than one of these villages on our way down into the crater.
At 8 a.m. we pass through a checkpoint, and begin our final descent to the crater floor. The road is steep and rocky. We emerge onto a grassy plain. We see guinea fowl, 4 eland, and lots of wildebeest. There are Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and more wildebeest and zebras. A golden jackal trots through the grass.
We come upon a pair of lions, a male and female. The female is in estrus. We wait and, sure enough, the male has his way with her. It takes all of 5 seconds. This will be repeated at short intervals, Mahunga tells us.
We sight buffalos and elephants, and stop at ta picnic site for tea and banana bread.
On our way again, a hyena and a jackal stroll through a field dotted with unconcerned wildebeest. Mahunga spots black rhinocerous in the distance. They look like gray rocks to me, even at the farthest range of my lens. There are storks, pairs of crowned cranes, a Kori bustard, and more eland.
We take a loop around the Munge River, mostly dry at this time of year. A crew of 12 or more workmen are pulling up grasses that, Mahunga tells us, cause diseases in animals. The river is very low, but the spur-winged geese don’t seem to care, and two hippos find a place deep enough to rest in the water.
Ahead is a zebra standing in the road. It appears that this one has escaped a lion attack, given the piercings in his hide. His left rear leg also may be injured. He got away once, but he won’t live long.
On the east side of the crater, we come to the fresh water spring. There are ponds at the edges, and a large, green meadow cum swamp. Thousands of animals – gazelles, wildebeest, zebras – are grazing in the area. We pass a herd of zebras on alert, all looking in the same direction.
Sure enough, the zebras are looking at lions, a group of 5, including one cub. One is close to our vehicle, and others come close as we wait. This is the closest we have come to lions.
We stop for lunch at the hippo pool, fed by the springs. There are quite a few hippos en joying themselves in the water. Kites circle above, waiting to swoop down and steal food. We eat our boxed lunches in the vehicle. As it is, small birds perch on the rail below the open top of the safari vehicle, and sparrows huddle under the vehicles, hoping for carelessness or crumbs. The cumulus clouds above darken, heralding rain.
On our way again, we see more lions in the far distance, feeding on their kill. There are also vultures, hoping to get a bite. Mahunga judges it a small animal kill. As we travel on, there are some sprinkles, but no real rain. We stop at a rest stop. On our way out we pass a warthog family, and get some really good pictures of the warthogs moving on their knees to graze.
We reach the ascent road. This is steeper than the road we came in on, but it is paved with concrete paving stones. As we approach a steep switchback, the vehicle ahead of us has misjudged the turn. The vehicle backs, our momentum stalls.
Mahunga tries, but in the end must drift backward, lock the hubs, and engage low range. We roar up and around the turn, and on up and up. The vehicle behind us must also regain momentum. And probably the vehicle behind that. Many are leaving the crater at this time. We come across the driver as he stops to let his clients look down into the crater. Mahunga has some choice words for him, I gather.
Back on the dirt road at the rim, we wend our way to the gate. Here we see a case of picnic interruptus – Mahunga warns four young people picnicking outside their VW van that the baboons are coming. They hurriedly pack up.
Down again we go to the valley below, and thence to Bougainvilla Lodge. We are met with wet cloths – mine comes away quite dirty from the dust. Witress lets us know that the hotel did not have a duplicate key for our room, so it has not been cleaned. T.I.A. (traveling in Africa)
We repair to our uncleaned room, shower, wash clothes, and download pictures. As I type we are seated in the lounge enjoying drinks. I posted yesterday’s narrative, although I couldn’t quite get captions to work. Perhaps I will have a chance to post this tomorrow before our 7 a.m. departure for the Serengheti Plains.