(Oct 8) was the big day! Possibly the day I've been most excited for, for a while. Ngorongoro Crater! Literally, a 3 million old crater from a massive volcanic eruption!
I hopped in the passenger seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser at 8 AM, and we departed for our destination. The 45 minute drive felt like 10 minutes and before we knew it, we were at the gate for the road up through the cloud forest to the Ngorongoro Crater. At the gate, there was a visitor center. I was pretty hesitant to get out because the olive baboons in the area were charging one of my professors continuously, teeth out
. So, needless to say when the baboons ran off, I crawled across the drivers seat and darted out the door to the building. After about 30 minutes of exploring the center and gift shop, we got in the cars and headed in the gate. Regularly, the cost to enter the crater is $200/car (car entry fee), $50/person (entry fee), plus the cost of a guide (which is ridiculous). TZ citizens literally pay .89 cents for the entry fee and about $30/safari car.. like what!?
Driving up the road, on the rim of the crater (about 9,000 feet) was beautiful. The landscape was covered in clouds, and I literally felt like I was in the clouds. The actual name of the habitat is cloud forest. The moisture from the clouds helps with forest growth. I was already amazed and we hadn't even made it into the crater. We drove on the rim for about 30 minutes to the NCAA office where we had an hour long presentation about Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the people surrounding the NCA. As soon as we pulled in, there was about 6 zebras standing on the lawn. They literally looked like lawn ornaments. I didn't think they were even real, because they weren't moving. Years ago, NCA established a law that said no people can live in the crater. 258 families were moved outside the crater. Now, they TRY to establish peace with the local people in the area by supplying them with food, schools and care. In return, these people are to live peacefully on the grounds of the NCA. These tribes live outside of the crater. No tribes are to live inside the crater, it is for wildlife and tourism only. In reality, this conservation area has 87,851 people currently living in it. The carrying capacity of the area is supposed to be 28,000 people total. That is 59,851 more people than what should be living in the conservation area. The law currently restricts these people to graze their cattle on NCA property, but to make the people happy, NCA allows them to graze cattle, ALL illegally. The people would illegally graze their cattle their anyways. NCA has some of the best conserved land around, where not influenced by people. These people are also not allowed to build permit structures.. such as permanent homes. We were told that many people moved into the crater when they found out what was being supplied to the locals. Families will often invite friends to live there and many new families establish. I don't know how well this will work in the end with such a low carrying capacity and such a large group of people with a growth rate of 4.2%. However, it was interesting to hear about the issues of the NCA.
Afterwards, we made our way down the side of the crater into a wonderful and peaceful place. It felt like I was in a completely new place (and I was), but it was different. It was amazing. The crater was exactly the way I pictured Africa to be (or what I wanted to see and what I've seen on TV..). It was beautiful to see the wildlife living peacefully and undisturbed, for the most part. The first carnivore we saw was a golden jackal. One was seen continuously and curiously digging.. we thought for rodents. A new species for me! We also saw a ton of large spotted hyenas. Most laying down near or in water. We saw large groups of Thompson's gazelle foraging and Hartebeest standing in the background. We drove through the middle of a huge group of wildebeest and zebra.. so close, I could touch them. When we got to the top of a hill, we looked down over the crater. I wish I could've gotten a panoramic shot. We continued on and found 4 adult male lions laying far out in the grassland, resting. I checked them out through my binoculars. Turns, out this group of four males were lead males of one of the prides in the crater. A single pride had coexisted for more than 20 years. Crazy! But lions have been here for much longer.
We drove to a small hippo pool, where one hippo was resting with some alert Egyptian geese sitting on the water nearby. We spotted a large group of cars in the distance and went towards it. We knew something good had to be there and sure enough, it was pretty awesome. 2 adult female lions and 3 cubs snuggling together! They were laying right next to the road too, and didn't care that 20 cars at a time were lined up to see them. At almost any given time, only two heads of the cubs could be seen. One always seemed to have its head tucked away near its mama. We then made our way to the hippo pool where we would have lunch. On our way, we stumbled across another awesome thing.. A black rhino laying down in the middle of a grassland. He was very far away but I could make it out with my binoculars. AMAZING! I had somehow and luckily reached the Big 5 (African lion African elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhinoceros) by seeing this rhino. There are only 26 rhinos living in the Ngorongoro Crater, so I was incredibly lucky! Life could not have felt more complete at that moment (although, I haven't seen a Cheetah). I was so lucky to see what I did see though within the last 37 days in Tanzania!
At the hippo pool, we immediately saw black kites flying everywhere. Immediately, a friend and I jumped out of the car and began taking pictures of the black kites (birds of prey) flying over our heads. I got a lot of great pictures of them. I didn't eat until we left hippo pool because I took pictures the whole time. I even got a shot of a hippo coming up for air. The black kites in the area are known for stealing food from people. On of the SFS's was standing up in the land cruiser with his head and body out of the roof, and a kite swooped down and grabbed his doughnut right out of his hand. We had about 6-8 kites flying low over our heads in search of handouts. The birds were sure beautiful though.
After we left hippo pool, we saw a female ostrich sitting near the road on her nest. We also found a male and a female lion laying and resting in a grassland, somewhat close to the road. Later on, they lifted their heads up, and I got some decent shots of them. We drove around for a while longer and went into the Lerai Acacia forest in the crater and saw more elephants and some cool birds (hoopee, woodpecker). I also saw a lot of gray-crowned cranes. Before we left, we watched a female lion laying flat on her back, sleeping undisturbed. We also observed a second pregnant lion drinking at the salty lake Magadi for about 5 minutes. She contentiously drank and then went back behind the cattails to sleep. As we were leaving, a lappet-faced vulture was in the top of a cactus-tree on the side of the crater, telling us goodbye!
Thursday, we had Wildlife Management most of the day, where we worked on statistical lab work and then had a lecture. Didn't do much of anything else, besides a little work.
Friday, we went to Mto wa Mbu to begin out habitat assessments for our habitat management plans for the Maasai giraffe. At 1, a group of us went to the primary school to do a reading program with the kids. I've been going to fifth grade. We read, played pictionary and sang a song together. The kids know some English and they've even taught me a few words in Swahili. The rest of the day pretty much revolved around homework.
Saturday, three words.. Gibb's Coffee Farm. Eternal happiness for me. At 10 AM, we made our way to Gibb's Farm for a coffee tour, coffee and an insanely good lunch buffet. We first saw the front of the building. Nice place, but nothing to go absolutely crazy over. Second, I made my way to the bathroom. This is where s*** got real. The semi-outdoor bathroom was built to overlook the farm. It was made from beautiful wood and had fancy rounded sinks. It was so nice, I had to take pictures of it.. Next, we went on a tour of the farm. First, we saw coffee and banana trees! The whole coffee bean fermenting, washing and drying process was shown to us. They showed us their gardens packed full of tomato trees, strawberries, rhubarb, broccoli, mint, spinach, tea, tobacco, and many more plants. Our guide told us what they use all of the plants in on their buffet, which of course made everything much more appetizing when we did finally eat the buffet! The guy also tried to tell us that what we saw in the garden were elephant tracks.. I had a hard time believing this, because the place is fenced in and there didn't seem to be any damage. I'm pretty sure it was staged. When we got to the end of the tour, we went inside and got our 'free' cup of coffee.. BEST COFFEE I'VE HAD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. I had Gibb's Farm coffee at one other lodge in the area.. so amazing. After the buffet was sat up, we dug in. The buffet was packed with delicious foods.. breads, quiche, roasted chicken, GREEN OLIVES, brie, beef, rice, fresh salad and strawberry rhubarb pie, churros, and fresh fruit (papaya, mango, watermelon) for desert. By the end, we were all stuffed.. all for only 25,000 TSH ($15 USD). I bought a 500 gram bag of coffee at the gift shop for $15 USD.. which was ridiculous, but the coffee was amazing. I wish I could have afforded to buy more. Now, or whole banda smells like coffee, it's amazing, but it makes me constantly want REAL coffee that we don't have at our camp. Ahhhh.. coffee!
Sunday, we visited the Hadaza(be) and the Datoga near Lake Eyasi. We drove for about an hour and a half, almost two to the Hadza site. The Hadza number around 1,700 people total. The Hadza tribe are traditional hunter-gathers, meaning they gather everything from their environment. They hunt wild animals for meat, gather fruits from the bush, and use resources from the bush/woods to build their houses, etc. Baboons are a favorite meat of theirs and the skins are also used as traditional wear; however they'll hunt anything from cape buffalo to wild cats (excluding lion) to kudu to bats for food. They even had the skin of a python stretched out and pinned across the baobab tree. We were told that they don't normally eat pythons or snakes, but use their skins for clothes and poisons for darts (to dart and kill an animal). They hunt using spears and bow and arrows. They speak Khoisan, a click language. Within a village of Hadza, groups are separated into women/children, elder men, and young boys. Hadza are nomadic, meaning they move and never settle on one land permanently. The group we visited seemed to be more permanent, as they stay in the area/close by for cultural tourism reasons, which in the end means that they are essentially overusing the resources in the area. They're also highly associated with baobab trees. At first, we walked around and looked at the homes and also saw some meat they had drying (we're guessing jerky). The meat didn't look to appetizing, as there were flies all over it, but they must cook it over the fire. The young boys also showed us how to start a fire using wood and the metal of a knife. The pressure from the rubbing of the sticks down to the metal makes hot ashes which are then put into a small pile of dried grass and blown on. These young boys were also smoking marijuana, which is something that the Hadza people traditionally do. Although, it is highly illegal in Tanzania, the Hadza are allowed to smoke marijuana and hunt without permits because it is their traditional way of living. We then went for a little walk to dig for bush potatoes. We tried baobab fruit and I tasted a bush potato. It was full of water. Didn't really taste like anything but the baobab fruit was sweet and dry. Afterwards, we walked to the cave where some of the sleep and were shown the drawings that they made with ash from a fire of each animal that they hunt.. bat, giraffe, etc. That was pretty cool. We then went and shot bow and arrows. It was fun and I did pretty well! I've always wanted to buy a recurve bow and really learn how to shoot one. I've shot them before but these were pretty nice bows that the Hadza made with animal skins and feathers and wood. After we were done shooting arrows. The Hadza began to do their traditional songs and dances. It was one of the coolest dances I've ever witnessed. They even has us join in. We had a great time. I recorded them dancing at first. Afterwards, some of us bought a few things from the Hadza. They sold pipes, necklaces, bracelets and small bows and arrows.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Datoka bomas. Here, they create bracelets, rings, and arrowheads from brass. We got to witness the whole process of the arrowhead and bracelet making. A line of men sit in front of the fire and take their turn doing their parts in the process of bracelet and arrowhead making. We also got the chance to buy some of these things.
Monday, I was just completely stressed out in the morning because of the statistics lab we were doing. It wouldn't have even been hard to follow if I would't have missed the first step of the process completely and had spent the next hour and a half trying to fix it. The smallest step I missed made me angry the whole morning. After lunch, I was fine though. I finished my research paper for Environmental Policy about the local government system. Around 5, I did some yoga (for pretty much the first time ever-almost). I'd like to keep doing yoga and try to progress.
I realized a few weeks ago how much I miss wearing jeans and make-up. Weird, I know. But I brought no make-up and no jeans here. I mostly brought baggy or field clothes. It feels good to not really care what I look like most of the time, but a lot of the people here have brought way nicer clothes than I. However, I am in Africa, so it feels nice to wake up 5 minutes until breakfast and normally scrunge it most days. See you in a few months, jeans and mascara.
My desk is situated in front of the main window in our bedroom. I enjoy looking out our rustic window. I often watch the run around outside the window. Sometimes they fly indoors to visit us in the dining hall and our classroom. I like seeing the birds fly through the wide open doors or windows on a daily basis here. It's funny to enjoy nature from the inside.
Tuesday, was community service (and then relax) day! The choices were help with elementary bathroom building, garbage pick up in the village or help paint the picnic tables.. So, I naturally chose to help paint.. and I'm also in the art club who is charge of painting. We worked more on table designs and continued painting the table that was started last community service day. The table is really neat looking so far. Attached is a picture. I helped paint the flamingos and mix paint.