We left the Serengeti on Monday morning to travel to the Ngorongoro conservation area. We encountered more hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions and leopards along the way, and ended our tour of the Serengeti on a spectacular note. There was an immediate change in the landscape as soon as we exited the park. Donkeys were now as commonplace as zebras, and the water buffalo were replaced by cattle lead by Maasai herders. The terrain became more and more arid as we entered the territory of the semi-nomadic Maasai tribes.
Near the end of our voyage we stopped at a traditional Maasai village. The locals had long ago figured out the monetary value of their culture through tourism, and we coughed up $30 to watch a Maasai welcoming ceremony. I was skeptical at first, but the clothing, jewelry and dancing were really quite impressive. The music was astounding, as it was based on rhythmic vocal patterns composed of the melodic grunts and hums of Maasai language. We then toured the village to see the houses and learn about the culture. The tour was interesting, and we all purchased some jewelry before heading out.
As our caravan approached the Ngorongoro crater, the arid landscape began to transform into a lush forest. The Maasai villages and herders became more numerous as the grass became greener and higher. When we reached the top of the Ngorongoro caldera, the view into the crater reminded me of a scene from Land Before Time (the first one, not the other 15). There was a start difference between the sparse plains surrounding the crater and the diverse vegetation within the conservation area. However, the cloud cover along the road blocked our visibility. We pulled up to the beautiful Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, and had our first breath-taking views of the crater.
Don’t quote me on these facts, but here’s what I gathered about the geography of the area: the Ngorongoro crater was formed by the collapse of a volcano millions of years ago. The terrain within the crater is constantly changing, with an assortment of microclimates ranging from salt flats around a mobile lake, swamps around small streams and rivers, dense woods, tall grassy plains, and arid deserts. The distribution of animals is similarly diverse, and covers nearly the entire range of biodiversity as the Serengeti plains. Our first trip into the crater took us through all of these climates, where we saw the same fantastic assortment of wildlife as before. We even saw a rare Rhino, albeit from about a mile away. During the day we stopped at a picnic spot next to a group of hippos (was this a good idea???) where we took a group picture on a big tree on the edge of the lake.
The next day we drove from Ngorongoro crater to Arusha. I don’t remember much of the drive, except for one town along the way that had been invaded by herons. The trees were painted white by their droppings, and the only thing you could here while driving through were the herons’ cries. I wish I could remember the name of the town! We stopped to buy crafts along the way as well. Eventually we made it into Arusha, a large city next to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We checked into the Arusha Mountain Lodge, another gorgeous hotel. (DISCLAIMER: For those of you who are skeptical of all the luxury on my trip, don’t worry! Although I wish it weren’t so, the funding for my Safari adventures came out of my own pocket!) The WiFi, comfy beds and fresh mountain air made the stay incredibly restful.
After another tasty breakfast we checked out to head to the airport. I had a bit of a struggle with my flight due to an overbooking, but I eventually found a solution. Nonetheless, I was left with an 8 hour layover at the airport. After an eternity of blog writing and to-do list planning, I got on my 1 hour flight to Dar and met up with the rest of the group at a hotel in the city. The final leg of my trip home was also a hassle because of some British Airways scheduling errors, but we all made it back safe and sound by the end of the weekend.
All in all, the 2012 Tanzania SITE was a great success, and a thrilling adventure to boot. I expect good things to come as we develop the program and bring new volunteer facilitators to our program in Tanzania. Thank you all for reading, and stay posted as Chelsey kicks off our two SITE programs in Ghana!
Goodbye for now,