Leaving the Serengeti behind, we headed up to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, passing through lands inhabited by the Masai people. Stopping to allow the new comers on the truck to interact with a local community, we found them very inhospitable when we asked if we could view their handicrafts without having to pay for the whole village experience (having already done this in the Maasai Mara). When one local guy swore at Sarah with a gesture that left her like he’d put a curse on her, she retreated to the truck and hid when he came shouting after her. Add to this the Maasai kid who threw a rock through the open truck as we drove past (luckily not hitting anybody in the head) and the two naked Maasai boys pretending to shag on the side of the road as we passed and it wasn’t exactly the welcome to the region we’d been hoping for. At least the landscape made up for the lack of hospitality, with a view afforded back down onto the Serengeti.
We passed through a strange, barren volcanic landscape as we got closer to the rim where we were able to stop for our first view of the crater floor, 610 meters below. 2-3 million years ago, a huge volcano exploded before collapsing in on itself and forming the 260 sqkm crater floor, the world 6th largest caldera (most of the top 5 are in Japan and the Philippines). Several springs and a seasonal salt lake dot the area, forming an important water source for wildlife and the surrounding Maasai tribesmen, who are still permitted to take their cattle down during day, before having to leave by 5pm. The women are also permitted to take donkeys down for water and can often walk 45km a day up and down the crater rim. The origin of the name Ngorongoro is no longer known, though it’s been suggested it came from the sound of the cow bells as the Maasai led their cattle along.
Climbing higher, the temperature plummets as we pass through woodlands with trees dripping with moss where giraffe blend right into the lengthening shadows. Tonight’s campsite is perched right on the rim at around 2,200m above sea level, and it’s the first night most of us drag out the thermals. Tents are pitched on a field full of zebra shit, with no chance of finding a clear spot. This is also the reason that nights dinner of carbonara pasta was served less 2/3 of the bacon, which was accidentally poured onto the shit covered ground and couldn’t be saved (we won’t mention any names!!).
A bunch of pop-top Landcruiser 4WD’s pick us up at sunrise to take us down to the crater floor. Rugged up in the freezing cold, we spot two dik-diks, the worlds smallest antelope, run past us, before stripping off layer by layer as we get lower into the crater and the sun rises higher. Our guide Phillip was one of the best of the lot, answering all our questions and offering up info on the species we spotted throughout the day (on the other hand some of the other guys barely said a word). The crater floor is mostly grassland, and whilst you can’t see any sign of animals from the rim, once you’re on the crater floor you get the impression of a vast dust bowl filled with wildebeest, zebra and antelope, herds of which we drove right through the middle of.
We also spotted several hyenas and jackals slinking around, gazelle with their beautiful features, huge buzzards, several ostrich and some hippo, including one lying all alone in the burning sun, something which they don’t usually do as they’re prone to sunburn. A black rhino in the distance was too hard to make out for us to feel like we could tick that box, and we spotted a herd of elephant in the forest at the bottom of the rim. One animal you won’t see down here are giraffe, as the rim is too steep for them to get down.
Pulling up for a toilet stop we were just in time to find out why taking malaria preventative Doxycycline is not a good idea on an empty stomach, as Sarah spends the 10 minute stop spewing behind the toilet block. Lesson learned. With our game drive over, we ascended the steep rim, passing through lush green jungle in total contrast to the dry dusty floor below. Taking in our last views as we reach the rim, we head to a small town nearby for a quick lunch of trusty chipsi mayai (hot chips and fried eggs omelet style for just £1.50) before hitting the road. We make a brief stop at a curio store where some people are tempted to part with hundreds of dollars to own a piece of Tanzanite, a bluish-purple gemstone found naturally only in Tanzania. Reportedly 1,000 times rarer than diamonds, rumours abound that the gem will continue to increase in value…which wasn’t enough to part us from our hard earned cash. Besides, the store was crazily overpriced (case in point…paintings which somebody paid almost USD$25 each for Sarah picked up outside a supermarket the next day for just USD$6…same size, same quality).
After a long afternoon driving, we passed the active stratovolcano Mt Meru (which last erupted in 1910) and arrived in the old German town of Arusha, with it’s pale pink buildings highlighted in the dusk. Joining up with another Absolute Africa truck we’re treated to a BBQ chicken dinner cooked by our guides while we mingle over some beers. The night winds up with Sarah and a fellow Aussie from the other truck, Jen, posing with the security guards rather large gun.
The next day passed with a three hour wait in Arusha for truck repairs, attempting to shop for the first time to cook for 20+ people, an ATM debacle when one of the girls card was swallowed by an ATM not attached to a bank (leaving no choice but to visit their head office to sign to have the card recovered 3 hours later), red earth termite mounds and mountains reminiscent of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, and one looooong 14 hour day on the truck. By the time we arrived at our next stop, most of us were a little stir crazy, and the fact that we arrived at camp to find a local wedding in full swing (complete with blaring music) did nothing to settle the mood. Some people managed an early night while some people chose to join the party (and were more than welcome!).
Happily the next day was a little shorter though we were held up by a political rally as we entered Dar es Salaam. With people marching down the streets, our driver Tom blows the horn to try and get them to move. Instead they come back and circle the truck, chanting and handing up campaign posters through the open windows. A minibus passes in the background with a man inside playing bongos while women all waggle their booties out the open windows. Election fever is in full swing in Tanzania.
Pitching up right on the shores of the Indian Ocean at Mikadi Beach, we wash away the long travel days in the warm shallow water, as local kids circle us and stare. Unfortunately a pleasant afternoon turned tragic when a local man was pulled from the water right in front of the campsite bar. With corruption and bribery so rampant in Tanzania, the mans girlfriend took off and the managers of the campsite refused to call an ambulance, having been dragged into something similar before and forced to pay compensation to the victims family when all they’d tried to do was help. After an hour of CPR on the beach, he was carried to a truck where somebody had finally offered to drive him to the hospital.
With everybody a little down after witnessing this, we called it an early night, only to be disturbed shortly afterwards when a couple who’d upgraded to a private cabin caught one of the Maasai guards peeping through their window. Not a pleasant afternoon for team Shaggy, but with Zanzibar the next stop we’re sure things will improve.
You can check out more pics of Tanzania on our Flickr page!