Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai, Masai village and Serengeti safari
- Ngorongoro Crater - lots of wildlife
- Olduvai Gorge - early ancestors of humans
- Masai Village, Kilaki, and its nursery school
- Serengeti safari
You can read all about our climb of Kilimanjaro on other pages. This story will tell you about the few days we spent seeing some of the other fascinating aspects of Tanzania, especially the wildlife.
This story is especially for my grandaughter who is studying Africa just now at school.
There is also a Gallery with some photos from the Ngorongoro Crater - the first day of our safari. (The photos in the Gallery are larger and better if you want to print a copy).
The Ngorongoro Crater - this is an amazing place. It was once a volcanic crater, and the steep hills all around it are the edges of the crater. It's now a wide area of grassland, but it holds some water, so that even in the dry season there are a lot of different animals to be seen here. We were surprised to see them all just living here side by side. They have got used to safari vehicles so we could get pretty close to many different types of animals.
The most numerous were the zebra, but we did catch sight of an elephant coming out of some elephant grass, and a lion lying low in the dry grass. There were a couple of hippos in a pool, as well as warthogs and a hyena, some water buffalo, and various birds and gazelles.
And some wildebeest, just a small herd of them, lazing around in the sunshine. There are millions of wildebeest that roam around the Serengeti every year, from Tanzania into Kenya (which is called the Masai Mara reserve) and back again, following the seasonal rains which make the grass grow. But a few wildebeest got left behind here and the hills around the crater form a barrier stopping them getting to the Serengeti.
It was all quite magical, and the slender trees which we saw later in the afternoon added to the scenery. There were a few other safari vehicles driving round at the same time, but it certainly wasn't busy. See more of the photos in the Gallery here.
When we finally drove out of the crater it was a very steep and "exciting" climb. We then had some distance to go to the Olduvai tented camp where we enjoyed a good meal and some beers and talked about plans for the next day.
The Olduvai Gorge - we were travelling around in the African Rift Valley, which is known as the cradle of humanity. This is where the earliest remains of our pre-human ancestors were found - some of them in the Olduvai Gorge. You can read more about it on Wikipedia. There's a visitor centre and museum overlooking the gorge, and we sat and listened as the guide told us the story of the excavations and the importance of what was found. These early pre-humans developed the use of tools, and also their social behaviours. A lot of the discoveries were made by Louis and Mary Leakey.
From there we were driven a short distance further to a Masai village, Kiloki. The Masai is one of the main tribes of this part of Africa, well-known for their striking traditional dress which looks rather like tartan with red the main colour. They are herders of cattle, and a lot of their culture is based on this. Their villages are circular with a fence surrounding it, and low huts inside. Usually there's an old tree in the centre where the village elders sit and talk, and there's space for marching and dancing.
Obviously this village is a frequent stop for safari tours, and ther's a standard fee for the visit. After our guide sorted things out with a couple of young men (it was $10 each), we entered the village and very soon a couple of our group were drawn into a lively marching parade by the Masai warriors. They made a good effort at copying the steps, gestures and shouts of the warriors. Moving into the centre of the village, we watched the men, and then some women, doing their traditional dance. This includes a peculiar straight-legged leap into the air.
We had time to walk around the houses, just low huts made of sticks coated with mud, and covered with thatch. We were even invited inside, and Cedric, Pete and I somehow squeezed in with one of the young warriors to see the cramped space they live in, the few possessions, and to hear about social life in the village. Some of the young men and women travel away for their education and they can be trained in the professions, such as law and medicine, but they keep their ties with the village.
After that, there was some bargaining going on for souvenirs. I bought some bracelets to take home for the family. Much better to get them here than in a souvenir shop in town (although we ended up in a shopping village in Arusha two days later). One of the ones I bought was from the oldest village elder.
There was one more very interesting feature which we saw - the village school - just outside the perimeter fence, in a flat dusty plain, it looked just like a flimsy timber shed as we approached it. But inside, in the shade, were about 30 children and a teacher. This was the nursery school for 5-8 year olds. They sang us a song, then one of the children recited the numbers on the blackboard (in English and Swahili) with the others chanting them back. Another one drew a picture in the dust on the floor - they didn't have any paper, or desks. It made me think about the big gap between the standards in Britain and this poor part of Africa.
But everyone seemed very cheerful and no doubt pleased to see us - the income from tourists helps to sustain the village, buy more cattle (costing about $30 each), make an annual excursion to Arusha, and send the older children away to secondary school. It also pays for a weekly delivery of a big tank of water (costing $100), which is so important for survival in this dusty place on the edge of the Serengeti. We reckoned they must have got at least $200 from our visit - and there was another group going round after us. So they get something out of it, and so did we - it's better than charity.
See a Gallery of photos from Olduvai Gorge and Kiloki Masai Village.
We then headed off towards the Naabi Hill gate into the Serengeti. We stopped at the car park beside the hill, inside the park, where we had lunch and climbed up the little wooded hill to see the view. Siringet means "the endless plain" and we could understand why the Masai gave it this name. It was the only "hillwalk" we did on this safari. Brightly coloured birds, like jays, hopped around looking for scraps. There was a big lizard on the rocks, with a brightly coloured head.
Our standard packed lunch was a boiled egg, a bread roll, a piece of cake, a small banana, an apple, a carton of juice, a small packet of biscuits and a Cadbury's chocolate bar - enough to keep us going until supper.
Driving across the Serengeti plain, we could see how dry the ground was. There wouldn't be much there for grazing animals, but we still saw small groups of gazelle nibbling at the ground. In the rainy season there would be massive herds of wildebeest here, but they had moved on hundreds of miles away.
There were other animals to see - we had a detour to find a lioness and cubs on a rock, and saw lots of other less spectacular animals and birds. There were plenty of trees next to the watercourses, and some large birds high in the branches. However, a lot of trees had been pushed over by elephants - apparently they cause a lot of damage to woodland. Our guide, Sam, was hoping to show us a leopard in a tree, but couldn't find one. So at the end of the afternoon we went on to another tented camp for a shower and a meal. Right in front of the tents were a couple of big ant hills, built by termites - the opposite of "big game".
On our final full day in Tanzania, we had another tour around this part of the Serengeti, watching a family of elephants for a while, and finally catching sight of a leopard snoozing on a branch high up in a tree, with one leg and its tail dangling down. Word had gone round the safari guides, and we joined a number of other vehicles sqeezed round within sight of the tree. The leopard was in the shade and not very visible (as the photo in the Gallery shows). So that was a bit of a highlight.
Then we travelled some distance to a National Park visitor centre where there were interesting exhibits and some furry rodents running around our ankles! Then back out to find more wildlife - the highlight was the hippo pool at the end, where we also saw a couple of medium-sized crocodiles. It was pretty smelly, with the water not flowing through much.
So we'd seen a fair collection of the iconic African animals, along with lots of less famous species, all part of the amazing biodiversity of this most famous of African wildlife reserves. It was obvious that some of the area are maintained to create good habitats for wildlife, and there are locations that the guides know are likely to have a lion or a hippo to spot. Thinking back it seems a rather strange pursuit, driving round this wildlife park looking at the animals, but it was still a memorable experience, and without the national park, a lot of these animals probably wouldn't survive for long.
Contributed by Andrew Llanwarne - March 2013< Back to Tanzania page for links to other stories
GalleryView a gallery of further images for this story.