As Writing Wranglers and Warriors continues the A to Z challenge, I love how the titles of the blogs are sounding like pages from a child’s alphabet book. I will add to this by stating “R is for Rhino.”
We return to Africa, though I have to skip around a bit to use my letter “R.” After we visited Lake Manyara, we spent several days on the Serengeti. On the way back to Arusha and then the airport, we made a final stop at the Ngorongoro Crater. This is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that it so unique that it is protected by the world for future generations.
This deep, volcanic crater is the largest un-flooded and unbroken caldera in the world. All others this size either have a broken edge, are lakes, or are underwater. About 20 kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area, it is home to an entire, balanced ecosystem of animals. When I first looked into the crater from the observation deck of the Ngorongoro Lodge it didn’t seem that deep. We used the mounted binoculars to get a closer look and I realized that just how deceptive that first impression was. What I had thought were small bushes were fully grown trees, a small watering hole became a large lake and the “dirt streaks” became roads.
The next day we were driven into the crater, using tight switchbacks to reach the floor. The overall impression was being in a large bowl, with green and brown sides closing us in. Once at the bottom, it feels more like a valley surround by hills until you get near the edge and you realize how steep the sides were.
Due to the deep crater, the animals that live there cannot migrate as they would under normal circumstances which allowed us to view the wildebeest which we normally wouldn’t see that time of year. There were also the zebras, elephants, lions, gazelles, and giraffes that we had seen on the Serengeti. However, due to the unique nature of the crater, we also saw rare wild dogs, ostriches, white pelicans, and black rhinos.
Rhinos are at risk of becoming extinct and my husband, friends, and I were excited to have a chance to view some of them in the wild, including a mother and a baby. They contentedly munched on vegetation, ignoring us as we snapped picture after picture, with the wall of the crater as a backdrop.
We took break at a small rest area with bathrooms, which felt odd knowing that there was no fence or other protection between us and the lions, cheetahs, jackals, etc. Still, it was pretty and well-shaded with monkeys swinging from the branches above our heads. We had left a window down in one of our vehicles and the next thing we knew, a monkey had climbed inside. Just as we were wondering how to get her out, she rifled through a pocket on the back of a seat, pulled out a couple of cookies a friend had brought along for a snack, and jumped back out of the window with the cookies in her mouth. Other monkeys chased after her but she got away and was soon munching the cookies high above our heads. We still tease Elizabeth that she “lost her cookies” at the Ngorongoro Crater.
Next, we drove past the shore of the large, seasonal saline lake that filled with thousands of flamingos and past a marsh area where the elephants and hippos spend most of their time. There are several small springs throughout the crater which supply the wildlife with water.
Too soon we drove up the steep roads and back to our hotel, our adventure nearing the end. I carry with me the only sight I will probably ever have of a rhino in the wild, and the memory of our cookie thief.
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