We left Serengeti National Park and drove straight into the Ngorongoro Reserve as they abut each other. Along the way we saw huge "herds" of ostriches (anyone know the collective noun for ostriches?) on a wide featureless plain with the mountains we were heading for in the distance. The heat formed haze on the desert floor resembling huge lakes, even reflecting rock outcrops and hills, though the dust raised by vehicles in front of us laid bare the lie of the mirage.
Masaai herdsmen in their red, deep blue and purple blankets and rich, elaborate, silver headgear tended herds of goats, cattle, sheep and donkeys. The women also wore heavy silver earrings hanging from the tops of their earlobes. Both carried spears - long metal points attached to thin wooden poles. The red cloaks are for a specific reason - they apparently keep lions away. What was shocking though was the sight of some of these proud warriors begging for food as we passed by, and asking for money when we slowed down.
On the way we did a small detour to Olduvai Gorge, an iconic place for those interested in hominid paleontology. Some of the oldest fossils of early man have been found here, first by the Leakeys and also by more recent scientists. The road in was, in all honesty, the worst bit of road we have yet travelled on - and we have travelled some pretty dreadful roads! It was 5 kms of the worst corrugations in the entire world - we could only travel at less than 5kph the whole distance. There was a small museum there with some stone tools and bones, and a cast of the 3.6 million year old hominid footprints in the volcanic ash (now volcanic tuff), the original of which is about 40kms further south and now covered over for preservation. Then we were treated to a talk while sitting on a cliff overlooking the desolate layers of rocks reaching down to the floor of the gorge itself while yellow canaries (yes, they come from Africa) flew all around us.
Then up and up into the mountains again and up to the crater rim. We passed mud and thatch villages on steep precipices with no roads in to them, only walking tracks. Masaai children at the side of the road jumped high for passing vehicles, laughing as they did so, a break from the monotony of herding the goats. To look over the rim was as marvellous as looking over the rim of the Grand Canyon. But the descent to the crater was for the next day and we drove right along the quite narrow rim to the camp.
And while sitting watching the sun set over the crater and having the obligatory sundowner, we were treated to two elephants who ambled through the camp, ripping out the vegetation as they went right past our tents.
We left early the next morning for the gate into the crater. But there was a hitch. The guards there wouldn't let us through without a local guide - we wondered where he was supposed to sit as we only have two seats in the cars. We were made to cool our heels there for one and a half hours while all the other safari trucks were let through. Young Masaai crowded around all the cars and trucks as they arrived selling jewellery and artifacts. They were most interested in us all, and we had the opportunity to chat with them at length while we were waiting for someone somewhere to sort our problem out.
Finally we were allowed through and descended the crater wall on a rough and steep 4 wheel drive track. We stayed together and only did a circuit of the crater as we now had limited time there. The wildife in this setting is nothing short of amazing. We could drive close to zebra and wildebeest next to the road, came across a pride of lions resting in the shade of a safari vehicle whose driver didn't dare move away, saw elephants feeding in the reeds of a marshy lake, spied a cheetah in the long, dry grass.
The ascent when leaving was just as spectacular as anything we had seen. We climbed a steep and deeply rutted road with a vertical rock wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The vista of the whole crater dotted with animals and the salt pan shimmering in the heat was amazing. We hurried on to the exit gate to get there by our appointed time, but we were all a bit late. The rangers then wanted to charge us each another $200 for another day! Hardly fair in the circumstances, having been so delayed at the start of the day. And then it transpired that we had been followed all day by a ranger in a car to see if we did anything wrong so they could fine us!
Fortunately we were let out without penalty, though not without a lot of fast talking, and headed for Arusha. But Arusha is a story on its own - suffice it to say here that the photos of the crater in the blog are not ours!