Monday, July 27, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears!

he Ngorogoro crater is one of the most spectacular places on earth. It has both fresh and saltwater in it, and is one of the most species-rich places you will ever see.

Driving to the crater we first saw Thompson's Gazelle. They are adorable, with their ever-wagging tails. When we crossed the gates into the park we had a really awful lunch, which the driver told us we had to be careful with as the baboons are aggresive and will steal it. So we sat inside the car eating. At the end, Graham threw his banana peel in the bush. he got into a bit of a tiff with the driver, with him saying that a banana peel was not "food" Moments later the same driver tookout his lunch, set it on the hood of the car for not even two seconds, and in that time a baboon had stolen it. We all had to snicker.

The only animal you won't see in the crater are giraffe. One of my favourite moments was going past the water and seeing the veil of pink on the water. I have always loved pink flamingoes. Here there were thousands of them. We drove through and saw wildebeest, hyenas, secretary birds, vultures, warthogs, rhinos, hippos, water buffalo, ostriches, and the list goes on. And then we came across two post-coital lions. We had missed the activity by about two seconds. The way a safari works is that when one guide sees one of the "big five", they give a radio call to the other guides, and we all race over to that point. Our guide never found anything. He also had a particularly annoying habit of moving the car just a bit whenever we were taking pictures, so instead of taking just one picture, we would have to take 20. Thank god we live in a digital world.

It is so peaceful in the crater. Yes, there is a predator-prey existence there, but at the same time the animals simply go about their ways, eating and sleeping all day. We asked our guide about poachers. He told us that poachers and hyena are shot on sight. The Masai also used to be in the crater, but one of the hoops the government had to jump thorugh in order to get it listed as a world heritage sight was kick the Masai out. The belief was that the Masai would hunt the animals, but the Masai kill only their herded animals. If any of the Masai animals are killed by wild animals, the government compensates them in order to eliminate any desire for vengeance. The masai simply have tto provide the remains of the animal.

It took us a while to get out of the crater because some elephants were blocking our way. There's just no reasoning with them. When we got out, we headed to our lodge which was quite posh. It was on a cliff with windows overlooking the crater. The most beautiful sunset ever! And it had a buffet dinner with real deserts . We sat up until late telling jokes and trying to match up people on the tour.

The next morning took the whole trip up a notch. The lodge provided a champagne breakfast. How deluxe! We then drove our to the Serengetti.

While most of the animals we saw were the same, it was so wonderful to sit and watch them, and to be in such a vast expanse that is still so wild. And then we saw our first cougar. That was exciting right up until we saw a mother and her cubs a short time later. The mom was stalking a reebok. The slow creeping ended with a quick run, and the minute it did that our driver decided he would start the car and chase after it. Because we were standing, we were bounced around and so missed the kill itself (this was met with some frustration), but somewhere in there the cougar wound up on the other side of the water, the reebok escaped, and the cubs took down a gazelle which landed on the river. For the next while we watched as the four cubs took turns asphyxiating the gazelle, and then they realized that they weren't strong enough to pull the body from the water. The mother paced back and forth, trying to find a spot to cross the river (I guess with all the adrenaline going she didn't notice which way she came.) Suddenly, they all ducked. Far off in the distance a lion got up from under a tree. We could barely see it, but the animals could see it perfectly. It meanered around a bit, and then eventually laid back down. The cougars relaxed again, the mother got over to her cubs, and they began to eat their kill.

Down the road we saw the most elusive of the animals - the leopard. It was up in the highest reaches of an acacia tree. I have no idea how oone of the guides saw it. The drive along using only their eyes, and I only saw it with binoculars. I guess there are more ways of telling where they are other than just looking.

That night we stayed at a hotel inset in the rocks. It was even more beautiful than the last, and had little animals scurrying outside of my room - this little guy who looked part rabbit, part mouse. One was chased away by a monkey. Who needs television with that outside your window! In the evening I spied the eyes of a hyena looking in, and woke to the sounds of lions roaring.

After dinner that night we went for a midnight skinny-dip. We've since learned that that can get you into quite a bit of trouble here. Fortunately, we didn't.

In the morning we had another champagne breakfast, but after an evening of gin and tonics by the pool (yes, colonialism is alive and well in Africa), we weren't that enthoused. We headed off and saw all of the animals that had been killed in the early morning being eaten by lions. When we ran into the campers we heard some great stories. During the night Frank got up and went to the washroom. As he was finishing up he saw eyes looking back at him. He backed away from the lion annd went back to his tent. Moments later another lion ran through camp and made a kill (gazelle, not human). Nobody left their tents for the rest of the night.

Back in Arusha we raced through our chores and crashed. I was so happy with our tour, and the rest from biking

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