The drives between places are often just as pretty as the places themselves. I’ve had a life long love of road trips, and always enjoy the journey. To the guides, a sign of their driving skills is that everyone falls asleep, but not me — I prefer to soak it all in, and enjoy the trip. I’ve never understood how people come to places like this and sleep through it, yet I saw it happen in various vehicles along the way, people asleep in the middle of all of this grandeur, having travelled from all corners of the earth. Stay at home and watch TV, sleepy people. Places like this are for those who want to savor it all — the sight, the sound, the smell, and feel of each place.
The entrance to the crater gave us the first view of it, seeing the valley floor through the haze of the summer heat, the nearly dried-up salt water lake below. It was something to behold, this massive crater, cause by a volcanic eruption some two to three million years ago, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. The drive down into the crater floor is a steep and windy dirt road on one side, giving you a progressive view as you descend into the vastness of it. After the rainy season, it’s completely painted green, but we arrived in the summer, with the grass all golden, and the animals grazing on what they could find, sharing the fewer water holes throughout the crater. The Masai are all across this land, starting in Kenya, and also here in Tanzania, and they were even herding cattle down in the crater, swathed in their signature red wraps.
The animals were spread out across the crater, from warthogs and wildebeest to the always photogenic zebra, all braving the heat of the day in the baking sun. We headed for a grove of trees, looking for what we might be able to spot among them, finding a precocious little vervet monkey in the painted branches of a yellow barked acacia tree, along with many birds and a couple of very large buffalo, grazing on very green plants in a boggy area that was fed by a natural spring. Circling back to the open areas, we spotted more ostrich, and the cool looking crown crested crane, along with some flamingos in the distance in the two lakes of the crater. A group of jackals put on a bit of a wrestling show for us, playing in the sun.
We stopped for lunch on a lake, enjoying the view and the break, watching some hippos in the water, and many shore birds, some of whom were making fools of the naive tourists who didn’t watch their picnic food close enough, and lost a bit to a couple of quick birds. It’s really important and a park rule, just like in the U.S. to not feed the wildlife, intentionally or by lack of attention. Not only does it create bad habits for them, much of what we eat is not good for them, and not really good for us, for that matter. Thankfully we didn’t see anyone intentionally breaking this rule, otherwise, I would have been in their face right quick.
We finished the day with a drive across the crater to the area where we needed to begin our climb up to the rim where our lodge was located, spotting various animals and birds along the way, including more flamingo in the far distance (I shot what I could with full zoom), a kori bustard bird, the largest flying bird native to Africa, and even some lions in the distance. But it’s the zebra that turned out to be the most fun to photograph out of all of the grazing animals, as I swear that they pose for photos. It’s like they know that they are stunning subjects, with nature’s perfect contrast, lines, and dimension. First up was a very pregnant female standing in the road, off to one side, who was just not going to move for anything. As we went around her, I snapped a few great close-ups of her face and mane, capturing the beautiful detail that these animals possess. Further up the climb we came across the smallest zebra baby that I saw the whole trip, still covered in the brown fuzzy fur all over that they have as babies, with only part of it starting to turn their signature black and white color, losing the fuzz. Such an adorable little peanut.
Once we arrived at the lodge, which is perched on the crater rim, with an incredible view, I settled in to enjoy the view, and enjoy the progression of the setting sun across the sky, dipping down below the far side of the crater, creating a firey evening that I won’t soon forget.