By morning the rain had ended, but it was still overcast. I cleaned up and headed to the restaurant building for breakfast. I met Larry and Teri there and talked with them while I ate. There was even more bacon and sausage there this morning, so I ate well. Alas, though. No warm milk for drinking chocolate! I was beginning to wonder why they put it out. It must be intended to be used in a manner which I did not know about!
Joe and Joyce made it up the hill and waited in the entrance building for Njau to arrive. I looked through the gift shop one last time, debating on whether or not to buy the official park guidebooks they had. I didn't. I also looked over the camp's radio equipment, which was clearly visible through a window in the main building. They had an HF transceiver turned to a frequency that would be in about the 37 meter band. They also had a VHF transceiver that was tuned to a frequency in the high VHF band, just above the 2 meter amateur band. All of the HF radios I saw in Tanzania were Yaesu FT-90's. The VHF radio was also a Yaesu, if I remember.
Another interesting observation. Although a VHF antenna was visible, I never found the HF antenna, which was in most cases a dipole.
While waiting for Njau, I found a beautiful flower in one of the parking lot gardens. It was a puffy thing with many red flowers on the puff. The puff was supported by a thick stalk. (8:24) I think I have seen these in the Rochester area as well, but I couldn't tell you what they are.
Soon, we were back on Hwy B144, headed for Ngorongoro crater. This would be the only day in the trip in which there would not be time specifically set aside for game viewing.
As we drove into the Crater Highlands (Also referred to as the Ngorongoro Massif), we passed through the villages of Rhotia and Karatu. These villages were quite different from the villages we had passed through earlier in the trip. Most were neatly built of a red brick. They were also fairly uniform in general construction practices from one building to the next. There was also electricity in these somewhat remote villages. The people who lived here were definitely more wealthy than the people of, say Mto-Wa_Mbu. Njau explained that the big difference here was the intensive farming taking place here in the rich volcanic soils. It was also a bit cooler in the highlands, which was also good for the crops. As a result of these factors, the farmers here tended to be financially successful. Everyone here prospered as a result.
As we drove along, I took several photographs of the picturesque farms set in the rolling hills of the highlands. (8:23-19)
We stopped at a 'supermarket' to stock up on soft drinks. What they call a supermarket, we would call a convenience store. The only difference was a small selection of fresh vegetables. There was no meat department, and no refrigerated or frozen foods. We stocked up on bottled water while here.
Next to the 'supermarket' was a tiny gift shop. There I bought a handful of postcards featuring lions. One of these, and oversize postcard, showed 4 magnificent male lions laying in the grass. It said 'Ngorongoro Crater' on it. I wonder if this isn't the famous foursome that ruled over 2 or 3 prides simultaneously in the crater a few years back....
We stopped at a curio shop in one of the villages. It had a wide variety of different curios, not just wood carvings. One thing they had in particular was Masai weaponry, including beautifully wrought spears. The price on these was also quite reasonable, about $35 US. However, without a suitable container to place it in, it would be tough to get on an airplane. I also had the strict weight limit to worry about. Instead, I looked at a beautiful print on cloth of a pride of lions against Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was done in rich blues and purples. I ended up negotiating a deal of $17 for the print. This will look very nice, framed on the wall!
While I was working this deal, (I learned from guide books that is is considered impolite not to dicker on price!) Joe and Joyce were working on a deal for a stout, iron-tipped Masai walking stick. Most of these sticks were about 3 to 4 feet long and made of a light-colored wood. This one was made of ebony, and was thick and heavy. It was also nearly 5 feet long. After considerable wheeling and dealing, they struck a deal for the stick and purchased it. They were still dealing when I had made my purchase, and had absorbed myself in more malachite lion carvings. Meanwhile, Teri was closing a deal on a Masai red cloth. I had wanted one of these, but was being conservative at the moment.
I found a large lion carving I liked. The salesperson asked $100 for it, or a trade for my watch! I explained to him that the watch was not all it looked to be. I also considered putting the carving on my charge card, and also getting a Masai cloth along with it. I finally waxed too conservative, and bought nothing more. Njau told us we would have only one other chance to visit a curio shop before we entered the Ngorongoro/Serengeti controlled areas. When this chance came, I again waxed conservative, and said 'no' again! This would prove to be a source of minor frustration for the next several days.
Shortly after entering the controlled area, we turned off on a side road to Kifaru Farm. Kifaru, which means 'rhino' in Swahili, was a working coffee plantation and hotel. We wound through huge fields of coffee plants, which had been recently heavily pruned.
We finally reached the farm, which was a truly beautiful place. Many plants that you can only find in a flower shop or greenhouse in the US grew wild here. Many plants that I tried to grow in my garden also grew here, but the big difference is theirs were thriving! The first of these wild plants was a poinsettia bush (8:18). It was also in flower. Other plants I recognized were a banana tree (8:17), kniphofera (Red Hot Poker plant, which barely thrived in my garden) (8:14) and a typical variety of acacia, which could be examined close-up. (8:8) I spent a long time examining their gardens while lunch was being prepared. (8:18-8:8, 8:6)
We learned that Kifaru was a very old coffee plantation that had been in these hills since the twenties. At that time, it was owned by the famous ethnologist Ludwig Kohl-Larsen. (Tanzania was German East Africa in those days.) Eventually, the farm ran into financial trouble, and nearly fell into ruins. A German couple came in and both revitalized the coffee fields and created the lodges now on the farm. Since malaria is not a factor in the Crater Highlands, an open swimming pool is one of the nice amenities to be found here. There are also tennis courts.
We took lunch in a nice room in the former farmhouse. We shared the room with just one other group of guests-- The family from California with the kid wearing the 'A Bug's Life' shirt! We finally got a chance to converse and compare notes. (They had noticed me, as well as I noticed them!) They had quite a different experience in Lake Manyara than us. They came across lions mating right along the road! They were actually staying at Kifaru for a night before exploring Ngorongoro Crater. Then, they were off to Kenya to see the game parks there. I wished them a good trip and hoped to see them somewhere in Ngorongoro!
After a nice, filling lunch, we were back on our way to our camp in Ngorongoro. As we left Kifaru, I got a nice picture of some of the buildings with coffee bushes growing on the hillside. (8:5)
Rain was a possibility anytime we were in the crater highlands. In fact, we ran into a brief shower a bit later while on the crater rim road. I got a nice picture of an African rainstorm as we made our way higher and higher towards the crater rim.(8:4)
We found one of the sources of all the red brick in the area-- a brick quarry. There, bricks were cut out of natural red clay and stacked to form a furnace. A fire was then lit in the furnace, which fired the bricks into permanent hardness. The furnace was disassembled and the new bricks sold. (8:3,2)
We finally reached the park gate. Joyce was wearing a watch that contained an altimeter. It indicated our altitude was in excess of 6,000 feet! While Njau took care of paperwork, We visited the visitor's center and store. There we learned about the forces that had formed the crater, the Serengeti Plains, the rift valley and many other geologic features of the area. We saw samples of 3.5 million year old hominid footprints, which we would explore in depth in a couple of days. They also had a terrific collection of souvenirs. I bought a T-shirt and a 'I visited Ngorongoro' sticker. Again, I didn't buy the Official Park Service guidebooks! I also missed a beautiful lion T-shirt that someone else in our group was lucky enough to find and purchase!
After leaving the gate, we climbed in our vehicle to the crater rim. There, we had our first chance to look down into the vast volcanic caldera that is Ngorongoro. I shot one picture looking across the rim of the crater (8:2) and another looking down into the crater. (8:1)
The rim of the crater was uneven in elevation. We were constantly going uphill or downhill. Sometimes, we could look down into the crater. Other times, we had a wall of rock between us and it. Joyce's altimeter (Which we determined was fairly accurate) indicated we were varying between 6,500 and 7,000 feet elevation on this road.
There wasn't a lot of animal life up on the crater rim compared to other places we had been. But, there was a lot of beautiful big acacia trees. I hadn't gotten any pictures of them alone yet, so I took a few. In the final picture, I inadvertently caught part of the small guardhouse at the beginning of the crater descent-ascent road close to our camp. I didn't notice this until I examined the photo a month later! (9:36-33)
We were extremely fortunate to have our campsite actually within the crater (But not on the crater floor.). There are only a handful of such campsites, located near the top of the descent-ascent road. These offer a substantial advantage in that we can be on the crater floor 30 minutes to an hour ahead of everyone else! After turning onto the crater descent-ascent road, we passed through the gate and went about half a mile down the road. The actual camp was a good half mile back in the woods, over an extremely bad road.
The camp was the same one we had used in Tarangire, staffed with the same people-- Thomas and Juma being the headpersons. So, I won't spend a lot of time describing the camp. Of course, it was laid out a bit differently because of the terrain of the site, but even these details aren't really important. I guess the most interesting thing was the view. There was one spot where you could get a good look down into the crater! Even so, the crater is so immense that it was like getting an overview! (10:36,35 and 12:25,24)
There was some time to unpack, relax and look around. A short nap also felt very good.
Larry and Teri worked in a National Forest, and spent much time hiking. They were quite frustrated by the fact that they could not go very far from the camp to stretch their legs. Therefore, they found out that there was an opportunity to take a hike near Olmoti Crater. Knowing this would feel good, I decided to join them. It was already late in the afternoon, so we would have to go quickly.
Hiking in the Olmoti Crater area required a local guide. We would stop in the village of Nainokanoka to see if a guide was available.
I took a couple of pictures of the rugged land as we drove towards Olmoti Crater, which is a bit Northeast of Ngorongoro. (9:31,30. Note the land rover's HF antenna is visible in 9:30.) Now, earlier, I said that we did no planned game viewing that day. Nevertheless, I was able to get a picture of a white stork foraging in the highland grasses. (9:32)
We soon reached Nainokanoka, which is a Masai village. We had to ask around several places before we located a guide. The guide's name was January, and he was a most pleasant fellow. He was wearing bluejeans and a T-shirt, instead of the traditional red blanket of the Masai. (Nainokanoka was a more 'modern' Masai village.)
We proceeded a mile or so past the village, and stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Not too far away, across a grassy field, was an unimpressive tree-covered hill. This is where our hike would take place. (9:7-6,3-2)
Larry and Teri agreed that we would hike just to the treeline, as it was late in the afternoon. So, we took off with January in the lead. Njau also joined us on the hike.
The thin air didn't seem to be having too serious an effect on me as we reached the treeline. With a couple of assenting nods from Larry and Teri, we continued up into the trees. We quickly found ourselves on a treacherous footpath leading up a rocky ravine. This quickly became steep, and I quickly became out of breath!
The vegetation changed quickly as we climbed. We started to see more alpine plants (9:29) such as heather (9:28), and moss growing in the trees (9:27)
Although I was panting like a racehorse at this point, I found the energy to keep going. The group would wait for me when I had to stop and catch my breath. Higher and higher we went up the increasingly steep ravine. January told us that this was a Masai cattle path. This shows how hardy the Masai and their cattle were, if they could routinely negotiate a path like this!
From time to time, I turned and took a picture looking back at the ground we had covered. It was obvious were gaining altitude very quickly! (9:26-23)
Just at the point when I thought I would run out of energy, the top came in sight. One final push.... a slight dip, and one final rise...I made it to the crater rim!!!!! I later found out from studying a map that our altitude at this point was 10,000 +/- 10 feet! I climbed that high and lived to tell about it!
Believe it or not, it did not take long to catch my breath, even in the rarefied air at this altitude. As I did, we were joined by two Masai girls, who were more traditionally dressed. They knew January, and the three of them talked in Masai for a while. Larry and Teri got some pictures of them, and they then wandered off to whatever business brought them to the crater rim.
Unlike Ngorongoro, Olmoti Crater is not an unbroken crater. A deep ravine leads out of the crater floor. The hill we had climbed parallels the ravine, and I took some photos of it. (9:17-15) The floor of the crater was not flat like Ngorongoro, but had a lot of hills and plateaus. There was also a river flowing along the floor of the crater, which drained out through the aforementioned deep ravine. Some Masai lived in the crater, and cattle herds were evident all over. (9:22,21,20,18)You could hear the bells on the necks of the cattle as they were watered at the river. (9:19,12)
I posed for a picture with Larry and Teri. (9:14) They also took a picture of me. (9:13) This could very well be the highest I ever get under my own power, but one never knows! (If I can ever lose my excess weight and keep it off, I might someday attempt Kilimanjaro!)
Now, it was time for the long climb down. Even though this wasn't near as physically demanding as climbing up, keeping a good footing was actually harder. I had to carefully climb over some rocks that the nimbler members of our party could easily scramble over. I got a nice group shot as we climbed down. (9:11 Left to right: Teri, Larry, January, Njau.) I also got a very nice picture of the moss in the trees. (9:10)
When I finally caught sight of our land rover, it was but a speck. (9:9, Almost dead center.) We had really climbed a long ways! From this vantage point, I could also get a nice shot of Nainokanoka. (9:8)
Looking back, I took a few shots of the hill we had just climbed. Not much to see. The little dip in the treeline is the deep ravine leading out of the crater. You would never guess from looking at these pictures that this is actually a small mountain! (9:6,3)
Exhilarated, but exhausted, we made it back to our vehicle. We dropped off January and bid a fond farewell. We then had to hurry back to camp, as we were past the time when they close the gate. (Remember, we are staying inside the park!) On the way, I saw an impressive thunderhead building somewhere over the Ngorongoro Massif. (9:1)
Lucky for us, Njau had told the gatekeeper we might be late getting back from the hike. As a result, we came upon an open gate....and no gatekeeper around! Thankful for no problems, we headed to camp. (If the gate had been closed, we would have had to go a couple miles away to Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, and radio to the park headquarters to get a ranger to open the gate. That would have taken as long as an hour.)
After all that physical exertion, a warm shower felt absolutely wonderful! This was also a day to change into all clean clothes, and that felt really good, too.
As the sun set, I walked to the campfire, and sat down in one of the folding chairs. I was enjoying a conversation with Larry, Teri and Njau. It was then I started to feel something like an occasional insect bite to my legs. I had also noticed this sensation once or twice during our ride back from Olmoti Crater, but had ignored it. When the 'bites' became more persistent, and started to show up above my beltline, I came to the conclusion there was a problem. I looked down in the dim light, and found ant-like creatures with their jaws clamped into my flesh. I pulled them off, but there were more and more of them. I finally had to go back to my tent, undress, and inspect every square inch of my body for these biting insects. I changed pants and socks, and thoroughly inspected my other clothing. Finally convinced I was rid of the pests, I set the 'bugged' clothing outside for a wash the next day.
What were they? At first I thought they were termites. I had plowed through part of a termite's nest during our hike, but didn't stay there long enough to pick up any termites. Even so, that would explain why I felt a couple of bites on the ride back. However, termites are red and tiny. These were only fairly small and black, with an antlike body. I never did figure out what they really were.
While this was going on, dinner was called. We discussed our plans for the next day. We would have an early breakfast and descend into the crater. Lunch would be at a picnic site in the crater, and then more game viewing. We would return late in the afternoon, but not so late as to miss visiting a Masai village. It was still fairly early, but I was tired. The cool alpine air was also very conducive to a good night's sleep. It didn't rain that night, but it could have. In any case, it was a really pleasant place to sleep, as I thought about all the lions I would see the next day!
I nearly had a companion that night. A toad was trapped under the canvas floor of the tent. From time to time, it would move, and create a scratching sound. Although I knew it was completely harmless, the sound took some getting used to!