The second highlight, the Ngorongoro Crater, is between the town of Arusha and the Serengeti, quite close to the border with Kenya. After looking at several ways of getting into the Crater we decided to drive to the small town closest to it, Karatu, and then get someone to drive us in. Because of the nature of the place there are lots of restrictions and costs involved.
For example, there is a one off cost for taking a vehicle down into the creator of $200 and only Tanzanian vehicles are allowed in. There are also weight constraints so that only vehicles of Land Rover size allowed in. The paperwork involved is quite unbelievable, involving a trip to a bank to pay the entrance fees, in US$, and then driving to the park to queue for about a 30 minutes to get the 5 copies of the bank receipt stamped and then replaced with 2 different sheets of paper, one of which is handed to a guard who has watched you go into the office and go through this whole process and the other is handed to the same person when you leave the park in the evening! Once you get down into the crater all this becomes irrelevant and a thing of distant and fading memory. There are an estimated 30,000 animals in an area of 265 square kilometres, or about 10 miles by 12 miles. We sat and ate our lunch watching a lioness basking in the sunshine, a little restless as she watched a herd of buffalo, knowing that she would need to wait for at least one other lion to come along to help her get supper.
Earlier we had had the most magnificent sighting of a male lion which passed so close to our Land Rover that you could see the flys sitting on his back and smell the lion.
We were told that the numbers of wildebeest in the Crater at this time of the year was low because numbers of them had left to go into the Serengeti and Masai Mara as part of the migration. I find it difficult to imagine there being many more wildebeest than we saw in such a small area. They and zebras were everywhere that you looked. It is also quite a strange sensation being down of the floor of the Crater, about 610 meters below the rim, part of which is shrouded in cloud which you can see tumbling over the rim and into the Crater. The whole of the floor of the Crater is basking in sunshine and, I marked contrast to the rim, warm without being excessively hot.
In this northern area of Tanzania we have come across many Masai. They are often working as guards at campsites. They are tall and very impressive in their traditional dress, always wearing a long narrow bladed knife and carrying a cherished stick. Very occasionally they are also seen carrying a spear too. On their feet they mostly wear a pair of flip flop type shoes that appear to be made from old car tyres. Against all this tradition, it is startling as you look at them with some awe and then hear the stark tones of a mobile phone, answered with "hallo" followed by a pause and then a gabble in a language one can not understand. It is said that there are more mobile phones per head of population in Tanzania than England!
On our journey from the coast to Arusha we travelled on some of the worst roads we have ever encounter anywhere in the World, made even more annoying by the fact that the new road, 90% complete but unusable, runs parallel and within sight of the bone shaker along which we were driving. We survived although we did loose our number plate and all of the rear lights on one side of the truck. Fortunately, we have been able to replace them but the hand painted number plate bothers me a bit! During this part of the journey we drove to the top of the Usambara Mountains and stayed at a campsite with the most amazing views and glorious sunsets. Our next move is to cross the border into Kenya to see, amongst other things, an ex-college friend of mine. We shall do that tomorrow.