The campsite at Ngorongoro Crater is situated at its rim. We pitched our tents in a field not far from the edge, where the ground dropped away, offering spectacular views. Our jeep had arrived from the Serengeti at about 4:30 pm, giving us enough time to set up camp and get settled in before the light faded.
I went to take a shower in a shower block that was even more infested with jumpy bugs than our first campsite of the tour at Lake Manyara. You’ve just got to suck it up and get in and out as quickly as possible. I’d also recommend running the water for a bit before you get in. This is when the bugs really go frantic trying to escape a watery death and a few disappear into the adjacent cubicle.
As soon as I got back to my tent, one of the guides rushed over and beckoned me to where the jeeps were parked beside the shower blocks. A couple of wild adult elephants were drinking water from the shower supply – not your everyday reason for reduced water pressure!
We stood and watched them for some time. One man was attempting to get up close to take photos, and the guides seemed quite nervous that the elephants might charge him. They waited armed with rifles just in case there was an incident and this made it very clear just how dangerous these giant creatures can be if you unnerve them. They certainly unnerved me. I remained hidden behind a jeep and then took the long route back to our tent, making a mental note not to use the shower block in the night.
Our tour group gathered by mine and my friend Ally’s tent and we poured ourselves some of the local tipple – Konyagi – with coke, to sip on as we admired the sunset.
Perhaps a little macabre, we discussed writing in our diaries how we’d like our funerals to be organised in case the elephants trampled our tents in the night. Africa by Toto was a popular song choice, though I don’t think any of us would choose that now!
Dinner that evening was curry and rice. As we ate, a massive cricket suddenly landed on our table and, just as we were begining to relax from the shock of it, it launched itself off again and landed on Ally’s face. It was probably a very traumatic experience for her but really amusing for the rest of us – sorry Ally!
With the darkness at this high altitude, it was very cold so we all gathered around a bonfire. I chatted to a group who were on a bus tour through Africa from Cape Town to Nairobi. One of them was from the same village I grew up in – yet another example of what a small world it is, although not as crazy as when my sister and I actually bumped into friends at the top of the Rockefeller building! After an hour or so of star gazing – the skies are so clear up there and there’s no light pollution at all – we crawled, shivering, into our rented sleeping bags.
The next morning we got up at 5 am, ate a quick breakfast in the dark and packed ourselves into the jeep. There was a beautiful red sunrise over Ngorongoro Crater, reflecting off the soft clouds that were rolling in over the crater’s rim.
It was a very steep drive into the crater and we gripped on to our seats nervously. Once safely on level ground, we manoeuvred along dirt tracks and admired the views of migrating wildebeest against the crater’s dramatic backdrop.
There were hundreds of zebras, including one that seemed to have an itch and was going mental spinning about on its back in the dust, giving the impression it was breakdancing.
We watched a pair of lions mating and felt somewhat intrusive, although I’m sure they were oblivious to our presence.
Next came the highlight of the four-day safari. Of the ‘big five’ animals – so called because, in the days of poaching, they were notoriously difficult to hunt – the rhino was the only one we hadn’t seen yet. Very far in the distance was a female black rhino and her calf. These are extremely rare now. Our guide told us there were only 20 still living in the crater (an area of over 8000 km²) and that the rangers had to keep a very close eye on them.
Just after the rhino, our guide received a message from one of the other jeeps and we sped off to a spot where four other jeeps were already lined up. Just metres from the side of the track was a pair of cheetahs. They were sitting still in the grass, occasionally breaking their cover for a peek at the passing wildebeest and zebras. We hoped we’d get to see a chase, but it seemed they weren’t at all hungry.
We stopped off by a lake with hippos and a very large tree and we all got out of the jeep to stretch our legs. Once again, I was surprised that the guides were happy for us to wander around in such close proximity to hippos, which are notoriously dangerous. This had also been the case on the first day by Lake Manyara.
The drive back out of the crater was even hairier than the one in. The path we took was quite muddy and a jeep ahead of us had got stuck. We arrived back at the campsite in one piece though, and sat in the field eating a packed lunch while our guide packed up our tents in the jeep. They had already been taken down by Omari, our chef, while we’d been out in the crater.
I was sad that our time on safari was over, but more than satisfied that it had been worthwhile. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not they’re wildlife fanatics. You meet some great people along the way and it really is an unforgettable experience. On top of that, you wonder how much longer it will be before some of these magnificent species become extinct. I feel privileged to have seen them in their natural habitat and it’s given me an even greater appreciation of those who dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation in these areas.