Saturday, February 16, 2013

Safari Day Five

Day Five – Animals In flagrante delecte and other cool things

Last night I actually fell asleep without pharmaceutical assistance, which is a great thing. I slept fairly well and when the alarm went off at 5:15, I leapt out of bed. I knew that since today is our visit to the Ngorongoro Crater, this was my first really good chance to see some big cats. My hopes were high. Before we set out, I asked Said “Big cats today?” and he said “you can never predict…” So we went out at 6:30 with a hope and a prayer.

The crater itself is 269 square kilometers of space, which, let me tell you folks, is a pretty dam big space.. We drove along the rim of the crater for about a half hour before we started the descent down to the floor. Once on the floor, it was nothing but flatness with animals as far as the eye can see. I felt as if I’d turn in any one direction and would see specks on the horizon and would have to compute that those are herds of cape buffalo or herds of zebra, herds of wildebeest. At some point, you just have to stop counting. To say we saw hundreds of either is sufficient for me, but I will never be able to explain the scope of the animals that were just there. Or explain the scope of how big this crater was. It is completely, entirely inexplicable.

To start the day, we saw a whole lot of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, some waterbuck, cape buffalo. Can you tell that I had my mind on other things? Our first significant stop was when Said spotted four black rhino. There are only 20 in the crater altogether, so to see four right in front of us was fabulous. So now we has spotted three of the big five on this trip (The Big Five are: lion, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard).

Continuing along, we managed to see a hippo pool where we watched five hippos float around and interact. This was an improvement upon the hippos we saw yesterday in that they were so much closer, and we could hear them honk and blow off air underwater. It was pretty cool. Sadly, we moved further along and saw a hyena snacking on a baby rhino kill, which was sad but fascinating at the same time. Hyena are scavengers, so whether the hyena killed this itself or found it as leftovers is a question we won’t find an answer to.

Finally, finally, finally, after about 3 hours out in the crater, Said spotted two lions dozing about 75 yards from the road, and through the binoculars, it appeared to be a male and a female. There were a whole lot of other jeeps around, but we managed to out-wait them. Said said they were probably “honeymooning” as they were alone and not part of a larger pride. This meant that they were in the process of mating, which can happen repeatedly every 10-15 minutes or hours over the course of a week or so. After a few false starts when either the male or the female would get up to stretch of change position, our patience paid off and the pair mated. It was over in a flash, but we all felt like we’d seen something really unique, and it was just us in the jeep and the loving pair. Once it was over, they laid down again to snooze and despite us waiting a bit longer, they did not go for it again.

Just past that, we came upon two more black rhino, so now we’ve seen five of the 20 in the crater, which is sort of spectacular if you think of it.

We lunched near another hippo pool where there were several hippos floating about right outside our jeep. Lunch today was a box lunch that we put together before we left the lodge this morning. I had a tomato and cheese sandwich, a piece of spinach quiche and a piece of spice bread.

Right after lunch, Said with his eagle eye again spotted a pride of lions. This time it seems we happened upon a pride. My count was one male, four adult females and 3 older cubs (not tiny but still young enough to have their baby spots and stripes). We watched them for quite a while as various combinations of them would move, roll, stretch, but for the most part it was one big pile of lion. I was in heaven, no complaints here.

Just down the road, Said spotted a solo adult male lion sleeping alone. He said due to the proximity to the pride we just left, it was probably part of that pride just choosing to be on his own for a bit.

After 7 hours in the crater, we started to climb back up to the rim and head out. Along the way we encountered jackal, a warthog family with 4 piglets, a lot of really colorful birds. But all of a sudden we came upon a zebra pair who were just about to start mating. Of course we stopped to watch, and they performed spectacularly for us, although both looked at us awkwardly when they were done and I almost felt bad about it. Except it was really a privilege to be there.

All these encounters managed to be just us and the animals. Other than lunch and once at the hippo pool, we were always alone, no other vehicles distracting us or the animals. In many cases, like wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, gazelles, hyena, buffalo, we can pull up right next to them and they don’t even flinch. I resist the urge to reach out and touch them almost every time. Already this has surpassed my expectations. I cannot believe I still have a week left here. How much better can it get?

I go off the grid after today.  No internet until Friday....let the withdrawal begin!

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