By Deepa Thomas-Sutcliffe
The next day we left for the two-day stay at the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, a world heritage site. An interesting display at the visitor centre explained how this crater was once as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro and is now a large caldera (collapsed volcano). I checked into the charming Rhino Lodge and then set out on safari. The crater is a must-visit and packed with animals. If you can only manage one park, I would choose this over Serengeti. I saw buffaloes, bushbucks, ostrich, giraffes and zebras. The next morning, we headed down into the crater and had a very eventful safari viewing and managed my Big 5 (black rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo). I also saw lions walking in our midst and even saw two large male lions being chased by a buffalo. In addition, I saw a hyena hunt and killing of a baby wildebeest. I also managed to see jackals, Thomsons gazelle and Grants gazelles, antelopes, hartebeest and waterbuck, besides many wildebeests and zebra troupes. This was followed by a tasty lunch at the Hippo Pool, watching them chill in the water. The Masai and their goat and cow herds have grazing rights in the Conservation Area and you can see them striding everywhere in their colourful outfits.
The next days trip was to the famous Serengeti National Park and I was looking forward to the three days we had there to see more big cats. The park is very vast and we were based in the north at Ikoma. The park has got many kopjes (rock outcroppings) that are favourites with cats and geckos. I visited the Simba Kopje and sure enough, spotted a male lion napping on it. I saw many animals I had seen at the other parks and felt like I was starring in a wildlife movie. In addition, I saw the small rock hyrax, who is actually related to the large elephant. As I stepped into the restaurant at Ikoma Tented Camp, the bartender greeted me with a khem cho (a greeting from Gujarat, India). An interesting feature for travellers at the Camps are a book trade corner, where you drop off the books you have read and pick up another one of your choice.
The second day was a big cat sighting – cheetahs, two leopards and many lions, lionesses and cubs. An interesting sighting was of a male lion with a buffalo skull. We headed to the hippo pool, where I saw an exciting hippo fight, lots of open jaws, whirlpools of water and lots of splashing. One of them was defending their territory from the other. In another corner, a mama and baby hippo were spotted and when a crocodile came calling, the mama hippo chased him away. I also spotted the red buck and topis and dozens of interesting birds. I also had a bit of a brush with tsetse flies and was bitten once. We had a blackout for a few hours when an elephant uprooted a tree and brought down the power line.
The last leg of my African safari was a six-hour drive away and downhill to Tarangire National Park. I stopped en route to buy a few souvenirs as gifts for family and a mask for me. Tarangire is very warm and muggy and an avoidable park. I saw the giant Baobab trees, for which it is famous, a few elephants, rock hyrax, giraffes and ostrich. The park was infested by tsetse flies and I got bitten, forcing us to cut short the safari. I had stayed at the Tarangire Elephant Lodge, which has some nice rooms.
The next morning I headed back to Arusha to see a doctor for the bites and for my flight to Kenya for the volunteering stint with Colobus Trust. I stayed at a charming boutique hotel, the Mount Meru Lodge, which has an animal sanctuary on location. Sylvan surroundings, peaceful grazing animals (zebras, waterbuck, peacocks, vervet monkeys and storks) made for a fairy tale ending of my African adventure.