Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Just a day in the Crater!


We awoke today to another beautiful scene, our hotel rooms opening up
over a beautiful hillside shrouded by misty fog and covered in dew.
After a quick breakfast, we loaded up our luggage and got in the Land
Cruisers to embark toward Ngorongoro Crater. Our caravan briefly
stopped at the entrance of the national park to register each car, and
then we ventured on. No more than a hundred feet past the entrance,
we got our first view of wild animals - a trio of babboons. At this
point, I realized it would be the first of many animal sightings
today; yet, in typical tourist fashion, everyone stopped for a frantic
photo session before heading on. We then quickly dropped into the
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, the five-star hotel where we would "home" tonight.
Nestled just on the inner edge of the crater, the lodge had a
five-star view to match. The crater was absolutely breathtaking, a
sight that I could not possibly do justice with words if I tried. It
was created two million years ago by the eruption and subsequent
collapse of a volcano, and the resulting formation was a massive
grassy flatland tucked in the middle of a circle of majestic
mountains. The low-lying plains in the crater, spanning over 100
square miles, provide an ideal habitat for a wide variety of fauna; in
fact, its rich species diversity has made it the most highly protected
area in the country. As I stared out over the crater, somewhat in
awe, I couldn't help but get anxious imagining all the exotic animals
we would get to see today. And as soon as we had gotten that
breathtaking preview, out bags had been unloaded, and we were ready to
go on our safari!

As expected, the cameras started flashing from the moment we descended
into the heart of the crater as all our friends from The Lion King
began making their guest appearances, one by one. We first spotted
Pumba and his entourage of warthogs. Soon thereafter, we noticed a
small group of zebras. And no more than fifteen minutes into the
drive, our guide pointed out Mufasa himself, the king of the jungle.
Sure enough, there were two male lions resting near a tree off in the
distance. Before we had finished the first leg of our journey, we had
also spotted water buffalo, wildebeests, and ostriches. It was
amazing how close we got to them! At one point, a wildebeest ran
right alongside our car, darting across the road in front of us at the
last second. It felt like we could've been taping a special feature
for the Discovery channel.

We then stopped at a hippo lake to eat our boxed lunches, an
assortment of chicken, bread, fruit, and peanuts, before continuing on
our safari adventure. The afternoon leg showcased more of the same
wildlife... in much larger numbers. Before we knew it, we found
ourselves amidst hundred of water buffalo, zebras, and wildebeests.
Yet, it was not all the same animals. I was especially excited when I
saw an elephant for the first time! Until you are standing ten feet
away, you don't realize just how big they are - in more ways than
one... My favorite part of the day, though, was getting to see a pair
of rhinos. In fact, rhinos are very rare, so I was really glad we got
to see them at all. Near the end of the drive, we pulled up to the
edge of a massive lake and found an incredible sight. Stretching as
far as we could see, thousands of flamingos dotted the water, each
holding their signature one-legged pose; I had never seen so many in
my life! With that, our action-packed safari had pretty much come to
an end, and we returned to the hotel, exhausted yet very satisfied fom
the eight-hour trek. Watching the spectacular sunset provided a great
ending to another great day. The whole day was absolutely surreal,
and I am sure it will not completely sink in for a while. I had
always dreamed of going on an African safari, and it definitely
exceeded all my expectations. It is crazy to think that today was
just the beginning - tomorrow, it is on to Serengeti!

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