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You are lucky to see Kilimanjaro (Shining Mountain) as it spends a great deal of its time caped with a cloud but when you do it is a gob smacking sight. In mountaineering terms it is no Everest. However, raising from the surrounding flat plains without any competition its beauty passes like a dream that has dropped from its snow caped summit to dance on all below. On a clear day one can catch sight of it from over 300 kilometres away making it the highest mountain in the world that’s not part of a range. (Top Tip: If you most climb it remember drink a lot more water than you think you need. Bring high-energy bars against altitude appetite loss. When you stop for the night climb a couple of hundred meter further up to acclimatize then come back down to sleep.)
We arrive on the slops of Mount Meru in Arusha the administrative and processing shipping hub for the region. Refueled and stocked up with supplies from the market we turn off at Makuyuni one hundred and eighty clicks west of Arusha for Ngorongoro. A massive souvenir shop marks the exact spot to turn to begin the climb up to the creator rim. One hundred and twenty thousand craters later on one of the worst tooth rattling roads we reach Mto, Wa, Mdu or Karatu for the night. Gibbs Farm for some reason is marked on our Mitch élan map as the place to kip. It turns out to be one bump too much cost wise. However the luxury of washing the road away, an excellent dinner with comfortable air-conditioned bedrooms and a wonderful breakfast takes some of the sting out of the bill.
From here the road winds its way up to the gates of the eight wonder of the world – Ngorongoro crater. After a few kilometres we begin to wonder if the road should not be given the title. Although being work upon it is atrocious. At the gates we are screwed once more for being white by the three-tier pricing structure practiced by the Tanzanians. So what. Who can blame them for cashing in one of the most well-known Game Parks in the world? For all that we have heard it is an amphitheatre, one of the world’s biggest un-flooded and intact colander deserving of its reputation as the Garden of Eden.
On reaching the rim of the crater our first view is breathtaking. Trapped by the crater flippantly forested walls the floor shimmer’s in a kaleidoscope of colour. Nineteen kilometres wide and up to one thousand six hundred meters deep it is a mind imprinting sight.
We drive along the rim to the camping area where we find the only flat grass spot left at Simba Camping. Pitch no 103. Luckily for us we are well removed from the sanitary block that stinks. With no wild camping allowed in the area the site facilities can only be described as a national shame. We get the distinct feeling that campers are not welcome. It is stay in one of the very expensive lodges or don’t come in the first place.
Once settled in we walk through the bush out on to the sloping crater wall. Here in long grass for the rest of the afternoon we give the crater floor the once over with our binoculars. The floor for the most part is grassland dotted with Acacia trees. Right in front of us a small forest of very large fever acacia trees providing shade for a few dust-flapping Elephants. Away to our right a glittering salt pan half full of water looks like a waiting steam train pending departure. The entire floor is zigzagged by dust trails and flecked by small black dots that turn out to be animals as big an elephants and as small as zebra. All framed by the craters walls the whole panoramic view can only be described as both dramatic and inspirational.
In the course of the afternoon we count over fifty cars roaming the creator. Trails of dust mark their progress. In another five to seven years if not limited they will turn this conservation now a world heritage site into a dust bowl. With the sun cooling, the small dots are on the move. Emerging from the Lerai Forest our elephants make for one of the natural spring fed watering holes, it being the main reason that Ngorongoro has such a large intensity of wildlife.
With permanent water there is no need to migrate. Hippo, Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Zebra, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Jackals, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Bat-eared fox, Baboons, Vervet monkeys, and the star of the show Black rhino. With a bird population of over 350 species the only worth mentioning missing punters are Giraffes.
The Big Five:
Lions: Panrhera loa
Originally a Desert Animal:
Became extinct in Europe 2000 years ago:
Male Weigh: Up to 225kg:
Life span in the wild; 10-15 years:
Only Cats to live in groups called a pride:
Only cat to have a tuff at the end of its tail In the middle of which is a curious horny appendage called a thorn.
Most prides consist of a dominant male with up to 37 related females:
Can roar till it is two-year old:
Roar can be heard up to five miles way:
Worst enemy – Porcupine:
Simba is Swahili for Lion:
Elephants: Loxodonta Africana.
Can’t Jump every other mammal can:
A tooth can weigh up to 12lbs:
Largest Land Animal:
Needs 50 gallons of water a day:
Life span 55-60 years
Two separate species In Africa:
Four toes on forefeet, five on hind feet:
Have no breeding season:
Males find Randy females by listing to their tummy-rumbles which they can hear up to four km distance.
Females stay fertile up to sixty years: Breed every four years and are only receptive between 3-4 days
Male Elephants enter an annual condition called Musth (Meaning madness, marked by secretions from a gland behind the eye. This is when they are at the most dangerous, aggressive and sexually aroused:
Only animal in Africa to dig holes in search of water:
Cheetah: Acinonyx jubatus.
Fastest animal on land: 70 miles per hour for 400-600 yards before it is exhausted:
Only big cat that purrs:
Over the ages being trained for hunting purposes:
Were pets of Louis X1, Charles V11, and Louis X 11:
Kills by more by suffocation than bit:
The name Cheetah comes from a Hindi word meaning “Spotted one” or from the Sanskrit word “Chitaka”:
Movers it young ever few days to new hiding places:
It has a “tear drop” black markings below its eyes:
Weigh 80 -140 pounds:
Leopard: Panthera pardus.
Each Animal has “rosette” – spots unique to its self:
Powerful neck and shoulders:
Cunning and Adaptable:
Feline in its hunting behaviour:
Can haul a carcass of at least its own body weight up the vertical trunk of a tree:
Distinctive call that sound like a wood plank being cut with a saw:
Rhino: Diceros bicornis (black)
Ceratotherium simum (white)
A group of Rhinos is called a crash:
White is not white and black is not black. The white Rhino get it name from the Afrikaans word “weit” meaning “ wide” misinterpreted by early English settler in South Africa to white:
Can run up to 40 miles per hour:
Pregnancy last 15-16 months:
Suffers from sun stroke:
Horns made of keratin, same material that makes up your hair and fingernails:
Largest land animal after an elephant – up to 6000 pound:
Symbiotic relationship with oxpeckers called “Tick birds”:
Use their dung to leave messages for other Rhino: This is my territory.
Each Rhino has its own unique smell:
Have existed on earth for 50 million years:
Once roamed throughout North America – Europe:
Poor eyesight: good hearing and smell;
The Word Rhinoceros comes from the Greek rhino (Nose) and ceros (horn): Swahili name – Punda Milia:
Life spans 30- 50 years:
Two other Rhino species in the world Javan Rhino- Sumatran: All are on endangered Listing:
Horn is not used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Asian Medicine but to reduce pain and fever with on scientific evidence.
Williwaw crawls down a steep track coming out at the back of the Lerai Forest without the compulsory guide thank god. From our day of surveillance on high we turn left on a dirt road that travels clockwise around the crater floor in the direction of the steaming train Lake Magadi or Lake Makat depending on which map you have. It’s only nine a.m. and the temperature is already in the high c –twenties. Apart from a few elephants in the forest the only other moving animal is a hyena lopping along the shallows of the soda lakeshore.
Passing the Mandusi Swamp area a permanent water source, we have no additional luck > Sweet Fanny Adam. Arriving at what’s called the Round Table hill we are beginning to wonder where the estimated 30,000 large mammals are, perhaps they have buggered off over the rim. Leaving the Layanai forest to our right we cross the Munge River arriving at the Ngoitokitoh Springs, three-quarters of the circuit completed.
Ngoitokitoh turns out to be the main watering hole for all the other tour operators. In the blink of an eye our view of the waterhole with its few hippo is obliterate by the rear of a fleet of Toyota’s that have lined up right in front of us. Fanny rightly so sees red. She asks one of the drivers to move his vehicle. The request is met with a torrent of abusive language simply translated from English into the two fingers, which originated in the one hundred year war when English longbow archers gave the French the two fingers in triumph. “We still got them”. It’s no wonder that the animals have buggered off.
Next to arrive is another fleet with a group of South Koreans. They have no more stopped when the little buggers are on their mobile phones. “Two Hippos, two hippos,” one of them is reporting to his mother somewhere in Korea and to all within hearing distance of his high-excited voice.
Next we have a fully equipped ten zips, dozen pockets, green jacket, white socks, safari hat American holding up a dried sandwich to an incoming swooping kite. His wife is on the video camera to capture the pending red vapour trail as his fingers disappear into the sky.
All of a sudden and just a suddenly as they all appeared, they are all mount up and roar off in search of that one photo of whatever to prove they know Africa.
Somewhat uglified we make our way back on to the race circuit. The feeling does not last long for almost straight away we come across our first rhino sighting. Ears twitching, they take a vague interest in us. Looking down the lens of my binoculars I would much prefer a charging lion coming at Williwaw than a charging rhino. At least the lion would bounce off but the Rhino impact would be like getting run over by a tank. They impart a powerful sense of resistance. While complimenting their natural environment they are a symbol of evolution staying power.
One hour later at our own speed we climb out of the crater to the annoyance of Mr Fuck at the water hole who is stuck behind Williwaw getting a large dose of nostril filling dust. Well pleased with our repayment to Mr Fuck we stop at crater village, which has a small general store run by a few Masai.
It is hard to believe that not far from here at Laetoli Mr Fuck and all of us originated as modern man. The dawn of the human race walked out of this region some millions of years ago to colonise the world as we know it. Maybe a few went into outer space.
Having decided that one lap of the Ngorongoro is enough; we pass back through the gates feeling somewhat sorry for its true inhabitants, the animals that will have to install Zebra crossings in the near future for their young ones. Avoiding Gibbs Farm we arrive back at Karatu or Mto-Wa –Mdu known as Safari Junction. Pitch No 104. In residence are our Jewish friends from Pangani. They are also saddened by their Ngorongoro experience not by its natural beauty like us it’s over exploitation.
We spend the next, day clearing up Williwaw and preparing for our crossing into Kenya by way of Lake Natron. With fuel and water tanks full we set off to skirt behind the Ngorongoro crater. A long track leads off into the distance promising some superb off-road pistes driving. Its early morning the time most things move in Africa > all movement is dictated by the sun and then never in a rush. There is not a soul to be seen in any direction. An inclusive sense of freedom, space, purity, and adventure has us all in high spirits. With the crater on our left the horizon looks flat an inviting. Our track soon peters out turning to dust, then slowly turns to what is known as bull dust right up to the footsteps of Williwaw.
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