We finally made it to our last stop, the Ngorongoro Crater, a picture of which had kick-started my safari dreams in the first place, almost two years before. The inside of our lodge was absolutely beautiful, but it paled in comparison to the crater itself. Each of our rooms had spectacular, clear views across and down into the crater. As an added bonus, although this lodge was run by the same management as our lodge in the Serengeti, the service was much better here, meaning that I was able to enjoy two gin-based, pre-dinner cocktails with my group on the hotel’s outdoor verandah, overlooking the crater. Solid.
At dinner, the conversation at my end of the table was quite interesting, if a bit random (and bawdy). Somehow, we got onto the topic of waxing. One group member told a particularly horrifying tale. Apparently, his mother-in-law pulled him aside to ask a very personal question: “I heard that my daughter got a Brazilian wax–how does it feel?” His response was, appropriately, stunned silence. I later suggested that he should have responded with something simple, like “sunshine”, or something more creative, like “an immaculate cathedral where the heady mists of incense have finally cleared”. Oh, well, maybe those comebacks can be saved for a rainy day.
In that vein, someone else contributed that her male colleague had remarked that his daughter had gotten a “Siberian”. (Side note: What is up with all of these parents knowing about and discussing their daughters’ personal grooming habits? TMI!) In response, his female colleagues asked, “Is that like a Brazilian?” He replied, “Oh! THAT’S what it’s called. I knew that it was named after a country, but I couldn’t remember which one, so I just guessed the place that I thought had the most desolate, barren landscape.” Um, “A” for effort, sir. In any event, after a brief, post-dinner mini-nap (to sleep off the aforementioned pre-dinner cocktails, obvi), I joined my group for a quick nightcap before we all turned in early in preparation for the next day’s early start.
The next day, we drove into the crater, spotting an elephant along the way. Our guide explained that this wasn’t strange as the animals aren’t fenced into the crater, meaning that they are free to come and go as they please. Once we got into the crater, we began our search for the elusive black rhino, our last major sighting that we had repeatedly requested of our guide and drivers. While we were able to finally spot them, as the crater is one of their known habitats, we only saw two (a mother and a baby), and they were lying down, far in the distance and obscured by grass, both times that we saw them. Still, we did get to catch some more exciting sights: three sleepy lions, a couple of secretary birds (by now considered near and dear friends by many of my group members), some flamingos in the crater’s soda lake (reminiscent of Kenya’s beautiful Lake Londiani), and a male ostrich’s elaborate–but ultimately unsuccessful–mating dance.
My favorite sight was of three warthogs running into their hole. Apparently, warthogs build huge underground chambers for themselves, accessible by barely-visible holes in the ground’s surface. We saw the first two each scuttle towards the hole, do a 180, and then descend into the ground; by the time only the third remained, we all had our cameras ready. However, the third warthog had other ideas. It must have sensed that we wanted to photograph it, so it decided to mess with us. It did the same scuttle and 180 as the others but refused to enter the hole completely, instead alternating between going partially into the hole, partially coming back out, swiveling its head back and forth to survey the landscape, and just pausing to stare off into the distance, towards the soda lake. Meanwhile, we all kept snapping pictures patiently, convinced that, at any moment, the warthog would descend. Finally, the warthog tired of its cruel head games and entered the hole. Because of its antics, though, each of us had on our cameras the equivalent of a stop-motion movie of his descent. Hilarious. Well played, warthog, well played.
Not long after, we drove to a watering hole that fed a lush, green oasis, quite in contrast to the crater’s predominantly dry environment. Un-smelly hippos sunned themselves in a pool that was–happily for my group–regularly flushed out with fresh, flowing water. After we each took a not-a-moment-too-soon break for “happy time”, we all gathered under the tree near the middle of the pool for one last group photo. We then headed out of the park. Along the way, we saw the Elephant’s Graveyard, so named because older elephants, who have lost all of their teeth, take up residence in this portion of the crater during their final days so that they can munch on its soft grass. As if to emphasize our guide’s explanation, solitary elephant skulls lay scattered on the ground at almost regular intervals as we passed. Before finally exiting the crater, we saw a small dust storm stir and blow itself out in the distance. When we returned to the top of the crater, our drivers pulled over at an idyllic viewing spot so that we could take one last shot of it before embarking on our four-hour drive back to Arusha.
Upon our return to Arusha, we had some time to run some errands and settle back into the posh East African Hotel before meeting up one last time for pre-dinner drinks and goodbyes. While half the group stayed at the hotel afterwards for a special buffet dinner, the other half of us headed out to the nearby Blue Heron, a great outdoor restaurant with a fountain and tables lit only by candles (making the menus a bit hard to read). The restaurant also showcased a reputedly-good souvenir shop (which was closed at the time of our dinner, unfortunately) and live music. The music was cheesy, karaoke-style music (i.e., if the guy didn’t croon “Brown-Eyed Girl”, he definitely sang something along those lines), but we appreciated its presence nonetheless. After a long, laughter-filled meal, followed by a nightcap back at the hotel, I bid my safari companions farewell and went to bed, planning to sleep in in advance of making my way to the next stop on my trip: Zanzibar.