We left at 6 am and brought a boxed breakfast with us to eat once we were down on the crater floor. We made the 2000 ft descent into the crater, which was a beautiful drive along the interior of the mountain. The roads were narrow and very curved, and I tried not to look over the edge into the crater.
Once at the bottom, we began our game drive and spotted a gorgeous cat called a serval. It looked a little like a cheetah, with spots on its body, and it had horizontal stripes on its ears.
Immediately after that, we hit the jackpot and saw 5 lions laying in the grass; 2 males and 3 females. They were near the road, so we had the most perfect view of what was to come. The 2 males were resting beside 2 of the females, and occasionally nuzzling them. Suddenly one pair got up and walked away, and the male tried to mate with the female, right in front of us! The female snarled at him and he stopped. Meanwhile, the other male/female lion couple did the same thing. As the female got up and walked away, the male followed her and tried to mate with her. She was having none of it! Clearly, both couples were attempting to mate and the females were in heat. The females simply were not ready to get down to business. It was exciting to watch these interactions up close.
Later on, we found a pride of lions feasting on what was left of a wildebeest that one of them had killed. The male lion in the pride eats his fill first, then the lionesses eat and the cubs can join in. They were tearing at the ribs for quite a while so there must have been a lot of meat still there, although all we could see were the bloody ribs of the animal. It was fascinating to watch them feed; this is what they do to survive. There must have been 8-9 cubs in the pride who lost interest in the wildebeest and all wandered over to lay down and watch the male lion. It was cute to see how they gathered together to be near the male.
We were up close to a pair of ostriches. They are so funny to watch. They seem to wander aimlessly, pecking at the dirt.
We also saw quite a few warthogs and hippos. Our main goal for the day was to spot a rhino. Our guide saw one in the distance, but it was so far away we couldn’t really see it, even with the binoculars.
Our next adventure for the day was to visit the Masai tribes that inhabit the area. They are easily visible from the road as they wear brightly colored plaid wraps around their shoulders, presumably so they can be easily spotted by one another. They can be seen herding their goats, sheep and cattle, or walking to collect firewood. Their villages are also visible from the road, but we were on our way to see them up close. When we arrived at the Masai village, we were greeted by a tall Masai man who spoke great English! The rest of the tribe that was in the village came out to greet us with a dance, and they asked us to join in. We did and it was awkward but fun.
After that we were given a tour around the village, which is in the shape of a circle and surrounded by tall bushes to keep predators out. In the center of the village is a large pen where the animals are kept at night. The huts themselves have flat tops made of leaves and branches and the walls are made of mud, cow dung and thick branches. They are low; we both had to duck to get inside one of the huts and could not stand up once inside. The interior is dusty because the floor is dirt, and it’s very dark. It took a while for our eyes to adjust; at first we could see nothing. There is one main room and 2 smaller rooms off to the side that are the bedrooms. There are steps inside to sit on and one tiny window hole about 5 inches in diameter, to let the cooking smoke escape through. The “bedrooms” were small sleeping spaces, one for the mother and girls and the other for the father and boys. There is a cowhide on the bottom, which is what they sleep on. There were blankets in there as well. It looked extremely uncomfortable, but this is all they know.
After this we walked to another area in the village where there was a small building, separate from everything else. This was a school for the young children, up to age 7. Yes, they go to school to learn their numbers and letters. We went into the school and there were children there waiting for us. They recited the alphabet and then sang for us. They were very dirty, but so happy and lively. They have no books, but each child has a small blackboard and chalk to practice writing on.
Interesting to note about the Masai are their earlobes and the jewelry they wear. At the age of 12 or so, they can choose to have large holes cut into their earlobes, about 1.5 inches in diameter. Most wear nothing in the holes, so they just hang open. Their ears are also pierced higher up along the sides, with elaborate, dangling earrings hanging down. They also wear a lot of jewelry, bracelets and thick chokers.
Before we left, the women showed us the crafts that they make, from the jewelry they wear to small beaded figurines. We bought a little beaded lion for which we paid too much! They actually use the money to buy goods for the village, so they do interact with the surrounding towns.
After this fun afternoon, we headed to our next destination, still in the Ngorongoro area, the Ngorongoro O’ldeani Lodge. More tomorrow!