Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 8 – Saying goodbye to Ngorongoro and Tanzania!

This post is the conclusion of a series documenting my trip to Tanzania a decade ago. I am writing this post at a time when I would have been in Hungary enjoying the Euro 2020 in an alternate dimension where there was no pandemic. Sadly I am stuck in this one where the pandemic rules supreme and all my travels stand cancelled for the time being. So the best I can do is reminisce about the travel rich decade that I enjoyed & this trip that started it all!

We had just spent a morning filled with sightings inside the Ngorongoro crater. (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 7 – A morning at the Ngorongoro Crater). The highlight of the morning had undoubtedly been the pair of endangered Black Rhinos that Haji had tracked from way off and had ended up walking across the track right in front of our vehicle. We had also had our breakfast in the bush on the bonnet of our land cruiser with a bevy of colourful birds for company.

After that amazing meal we had set off again and started wandering around the crater floor again. The Ngorongoro crater floor is so rich in wildlife that its impossible to go a few minutes without seeing something wonderful. The next sighting was a beautiful male Ostrich strutting elegantly across the track. It stuck a beautiful pose against the grasslands on the flat crater bed and made for a pretty picture.

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An Ostrich poses against the flat landscape beyond

We had just crossed the Ostrich when Hadji pointed at a bird sitting on a rock ahead and told me to be ready with the camera as it may fly off any instant. As we slowed down and moved slowly towards the bird, I could see that it was a raptor. Haji identified it as a Augur Buzzard. It was sitting with its back to the track and I took a few photos lest it fly away before I had any.

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A beautiful Augur Buzzard

As we got closer I was hoping against hope that the bird turned and sat facing the road, but I knew that there were more chances of it flying away. Luckily for me that day my pessimism was proven wrong as the Buzzard hopped around on the rock and now sat facing the track and showing off its beautiful pristine white breast feathers. I got what I consider one of the photos and sightings that I distinctly remember as if it was yesterday. Even today the bird photos give me much more satisfaction than any other large beast I might capture on photo.

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The Augur Buzzard shows off its pristine white breast feathers

Finally the buzzard got tired of us and flew off leaving a big smile on my face. We drove on and got to the slightly hilly part of the crater floor. Haji stopped and scanned the hill top and asked me to see through the telephoto lens along the top of the hill. How he had spotted the lioness sitting on the edge at the top of the hill is still a mystery to me, I guess that’s the years of being a guide and the willingness to show us as much as possible that make it happen!

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A lioness spying us from the top of the hill

It was mid day now and Haji said that there was no chance of that lioness moving any where at that time of the day. So we said goodbye to her and moved on. In the Serengeti the herds of herbivores are huge & while that is good from a spotting point of view, it makes photography very messy. Composing photos with huge teeming herds & making it look good is a difficult task. The Ngorongoro crater floor with its smaller but equally diverse herbivore population makes photography a pleasure. An excellent example of this is the pair of Cape Buffalo we came across next.

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A pair of Cape Buffalo looking straight at us

We also saw a group of Vultures and Maribou Storks in the distance. I had already subjected the better half to enough of the horrible stench that these birds seem to emanate in the Serengeti (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 5 – Serengeti by Air and Land). So I decided that a few photos from afar would be good enough as we had just finished a good breakfast. Large meals and foul odours are not a good combination!

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Vultures and Maribou Storks from a distance

As we came to a clump of trees we saw something that I had read about before coming on this trip – The tree climbing lions of Manyara. Except we hadn’t seen any such thing in our time in the Manyara National Park. (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 1 – Lake Manyara National Park). Here we were in the Ngorongoro crater floor and in front of us were three lions comfortably perched up at various levels on the branches of a tree! Haji said that the lions usually climb trees to get away from insects or the heat. Whatever the reason we got to see our tree climbing lions, but only in the wrong park!

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Tree climbing lions at the Ngorongoro Crater

We stood there and watched the lions enjoying their perch for a few minutes before saying goodbye to them. We were visiting Tanzania during the short rains where the weather is said to change in minutes. We had been lucky till now to avoid a downpour while on Safari but not today. Nature decided to show us what it could do in a few minutes as dark clouds seemed to roll in from nowhere.

Hadji stopped and we closed the pop top roof in preparation of the coming rain. We were just in time! We were now sitting and watching a herd of Zebras when the rain started pouring down.

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Watching a herd of Zebras as the rain starts

In a few seconds it was pouring down heavily. We were sitting dry in the warmed comfort of our land cruiser but as Haji had told me on day 1 the animals had nowhere to go. We saw the zebras brave the downpour like it was nothing. As we moved slowly on in the pouring rain we saw a Grey Crowned crane just standing there. Next we saw a stately Kori Bustard walking around very close to the car. It was amazing to see the indifference of the animals to the downpour.

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A grey crowned crane getting drenched
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A Kori Bustard enjoys a walk in the rain

The downpour must have lasted just a few minutes and the weather improved just as fast as it had deteriorated. The clouds disappeared like magic and the sun made its appearance again. We had just witnessed first hand what the short rains of Tanzania meant!

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Zebras walk across a freshly wet crater floor at Ngorongoro

As we popped our vehicle top open again and saw the freshly wet and glimmering grass of the crater floor. We watched the herd of Zebras walk away and continue their days activities. As we started off slowly on the wet muddy track we came across 2 Golden Jackals scouring for insects and other creatures that the rain had driven out from their burrows. We had seen the black backed Jackal earlier but this was the first appearance of their Golden cousins. We stopped and watched the jackals criss cross the muddy floor with their noses to the ground making full use of the brief downpour.

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Golden Jackals at the Ngorongoro

We then came to the main lake at the centre of the crater and there were huge flocks of Flamingos deep in the lake. The rains meant that we couldn’t get any closer to the lake without our getting our tyres stuck in the mud. So a distant look at the pink herd would have to do for now. The better half was disappointed as she wanted to see the birds up close. Since then we have travelled to a lot of places & seen these brightly coloured birds from up close and even seen them close to home in the Thane Creek. (Wild Mumbai 2 – Birding at the Bhandup Pumping station)

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Huge flocks of Flamingos in the lake at Ngorongoro

Closer to the shore there were some other birds like the majestic Great White Pelican and the colourful Egyptian Goose but sadly no Flamingos. The sun was shining brightly in the sky now and it was as if the rains of a few minutes back were just a bad dream!

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A great White Pelican
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An Egyptian Goose shines in the sun

I was concentrating on the birds when Haji pointed at what from afar looked like a huge boulder in the lake. I looked through the lens and it was a hippo just lying there and enjoying the pool

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A Hippo mimicking a boulder in the lake

We moved ahead from the lake area and came across two lions enjoying their afternoon siesta. Whether they had slept through the downpour was doubtful, but now that the sun was out they had passed out on the crater floor. We stopped there for sometime and hoped that at least one of them would show some sign of activity.

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A pair of sleeping lions in the Ngorongoro

A few more vehicles joined us in the wait for the lions to show some activity. Then after a few minutes one of the males sat up and looked at us to see what the fuss was all about. I thought that it would be the maximum extent of activity that the lion would show on the now hot afternoon.

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The lion sits up and looks in our direction

Once again I was proven wrong as the Safari Gods continued to smile on us that day. The lion got up and decided to stroll on right in our direction. All the cameras in the vehicles that had lined up were going off at a rapid rate now.

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The lion decides to walk on towards us

The lion continued to walk on towards the waiting vehicles and stopped right at the edge of the track where fresh water had collected in the tyre tracks. It then proceeded to have a drink oblivious to all the activity and oohs and aahs around him.

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The lion drinks the freshly collected rain water

After he satiated his thirst the lion promptly sat down in the shade of the vehicle just ahead. Anything to get respite from the sun I guess! It was our last lion sighting for the trip and a memorable one at that.

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The lion sits down in the shade of the vehicle

It was way past lunch time but we had forgotten all about it in the excitement of the sightings. We had packed a light lunch that day too and we returned to the small lake and had our lunch with the masked weavers for company. This time I was ready and prepared my small photography hide crouching at the back of the vehicle and waited for the weavers to come to the edge of the popped roof in search for crumbs.

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A masked weaver at the edge of the roof of our vehicle
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Another weaver in the search for crumbs

With satisfactory photos of the weavers we proceeded to have our packed lunch in those beautiful surroundings. Once again after the meal we decided to walk around the lake edges for some time enjoying our last few hours in this beautiful part of the world.

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Note the fearless Weaver at the left of the photo

The Tawny eagle that we had seen at breakfast then landed some distance away with a catch in its feet. It had posed enough for me in the morning. We had just finished our meal in peace so we let the Eagle do the same and didn’t venture closer to the bird.

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A tawny eagle with its catch at its feet

We then drove back to the Serena Ngoronogoro lodge and the last sighting we had was a flock of Maribou storks drying their wings all in a formation as if saying goodbye!

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Maribou storks drying their wings

It had been a memorable full day safari inside the Ngorongoro crater. It had exceeded my expectations by a huge margin and I hope to go back some day. We took photos from our balcony with the crater and the lake in the centre as a background as the sun started to go down on our last night in Tanzania.

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Posing on the balcony with the crater in the background

We had our last humongous dinner that night and slept peacefully. We woke up early out of habit and got to witness a beautiful sunrise over the Ngorongoro crater. The colours of the African sky are unparalleled at dawn and dusk.

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Beautiful skies at dawn over the Ngorongoro Crater
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Sunrise at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

We packed up and had our breakfast before saying goodbye to the staff and left for Arusha where we would be taking the flight back home. We stopped for Lunch at Arusha where we said goodbye to Haji. Without his experience, knowledge and enthusiasm we would not have had even half the fun we had in our safari.

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Saying goodbye to Haji Mbuguni – Our great guide in Tanzania

We were then dropped off at the airport where we took a flight back to Nairobi. The airlines had overbooked the Kenya Mumbai leg of our flight and we along with a few others who had come on connecting flights were offered a stay at a five star hotel, cash compensation & the next days confirmed boarding pass. While it might have been an inconvenience to others it only meant that we enjoyed an extra night on our honeymoon!

Thus ended our superb trip to Tanzania. We have travelled to a lot of places after that but our first trip together will always be the most memorable. In a way I’m glad that the pandemic gave me a chance to revisit these photos a decade later and write my memoirs. Better late than never!

Till next time,

Bye.

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