A Humongous Crater

11 Oct

The Serengeti Part I

The Serengeti is a fantasy land of grassy plains and exotic animals. With my head sticking out of the top of a land cruiser, wind swirling my hair over my head while we sped across the plains searching for animals that before then I’d only seen in the zoo, I seriously felt like I was in another world. Being in such an untouched area, with animals roaming freely and grassland stretching forever across the horizon, made me forget that the rest of the world even existed.

Our overland truck, nicknamed "Imani"

We arrived in the Serengeti after a loooong drive from Nairobi to the northern tip of Tanzania, stopping on the way to camp near the village of Mto Wa Mbu (Swahili for “River of Mosquitoes” due to its proximity to a river with swarms of mosquitoes). I was surprised at how much I didn’t mind the camping – in fact, after a few days of it and getting the hang of putting the tent up and down, I actually started to have fun doing it.

Our overland tour group is full of a ton of cool young people from all over the world – Sweden, Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Australia, Spain, London, New York City – and we all pitch in to set up the campsite and help Charles, our African cook, prepare delicious and surprisingly gourmet meals. Gino, our main tour guide, is Spanish and the craziest, funniest, most entertaining guy I have ever met. Matt from England is our main driver and assistant tour guide and also quit his miserable job to embrace the traveling life. It is a great group of people, which is lucky for Adam and me since we will be spending a ton of time with them over the next six weeks!

The mountainy side of the Ngorongoro Crater

Adjoining the Serengeti National Park is the Ngorongoro Crater, a HUGE (as in, it covers 100 square miles and is 2000 feet deep) bowl-shaped gorge in the earth formed by an eruption and subsequent collapse of a volcano a few million years ago. The journey to the bottom of the crater is a seat-gripping ride on narrow dirt roads hugging and curving down the steep side of the crater wall. When I wasn’t trying to convince myself not to look out the window of the land cruiser (our driver Rama wasn’t the most cautious maneuverer of the harrowing road), I was awestruck by the fog rolling over the top of the mountainy crater side, the brown-green grass and bush covered crater floor, and the ice colored salt lake that expanded over the grassland and bushland.

Inside the Ngorongoro Crater

We spent the first morning of our Serengeti exploration cruising around this gigantic hollow through packs of zebras, gazelles, wildebeest, and buffalos, periodically spotting through the tall grass the hilarious trot of the “pumbaas” (what the guides call warthogs, which came from a Swahili word meaning stupid, “pumbafu,” and also the name of the beloved The Lion King character), and even – being very lucky we were told, as they only make an appearance about one out of every four tour days – spotting two black rhinoceroses.

Wildebeest grazing in the Ngorongoro Crater

The coolest thing ever happened while we were stopped at a small hippo-filled pond for lunch. An enormous elephant started making his way towards the lunch crowd from the other side of the pond. Closer and closer he slowly clomped, to the disbelief of all of us lunchers. Would he really just tramp right in front of us – literally just a few feet away – as we temporarily stopped munching our sandwiches? Yes, he really would.

An elephant interrupting our lunch

As the massive animal circled around the pond right by us, unknowingly becoming the subject of dozens of photographs, we all looked at each other in amazement, thinking, did that really just happen?!

Our trip to the Serengeti already felt complete, but there was way more to come.


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