Saturday, May 29
Steve: After several days restricted to our Land Rover
and with basically no exercise, today was a great change of pace. Our plan
for the day included driving to the rim of Empakaai Crater and then hiking
down to the crater floor to explore its lake and resident pink flamingoes.
Our ride to Empakaai took much less time than expected because the road has
been recently repaired - Nassibu remembers that the last time he came to Empakaai
the drive took several hours over badly gutted dirt roads. Our trip took only
1 ½ hours and we arrived at our "Thomson Adventure Camp"
We passed by several Maasai villages today, and Nassibu began talking about
the Maasai culture and specifically how they use the lands of the Ngorongoro
region. Many of the villages that we saw are temporary, as the Maasai move
after food for their cattle has been exhausted in one area. However, the area
surrounding Ngorongoro crater is particularly productive and so several of
the Maasai villages that we saw today are actually permanent. We will have
numerous opportunities to learn
more about the Maasai over the next few days as we visit villages and meet
Empakaai crater is six kilometers wide and its walls rise approximately 1,000
feet above the floor. It's an area that is not usually frequented by tourists,
but is exceptionally beautiful.
This morning brought thick fog and although our camp sits right on the rim
of the crater, we were unable to see anything but cloud as we began our hike.
Accompanied by Nassibu, Justin (our Maasai guide
for the next few days), and an armed park ranger (pictured here, and always
ready to protect us at any sign of danger), we began our hike down the side
of the crater. All campers and hikers must be accompanied by an armed ranger
to protect against wild animals that frequent the area, primarily buffaloes.
Nassibu assured us that he had never heard of any problems with animals bothering
hike was steep at times, and we found it unusual to be walking down on the
way there (as opposed to hiking up a mountain). We descended the 1,000 feet
and reached the crater floor after 1 ½ hours finding that the weather
had begun to clear nicely. Most of the crater floor is covered by Empakaai
Lake, which is unusually deep at over 85 meters. The lake is also a home for
large flocks of greater and lesser flamingoes, and we enjoyed seeing them
fly repeatedly across from one shore to another. These flamingoes are easily
frightened, and as we hiked around the lake we were treated to the beautiful
sight of large flocks
flying all at once. This made us think back to our time in the Camargue in
Southern France, and how excited we were there to see only 2 or 3 of these
beautiful birds in flight
We ate lunch by the lake, and then walked along the shore before heading
back up to the rim during mid-afternoon. The sun was now shining brightly,
and we had
great views looking down into the crater as we hiked. Although we didn't encounter
any buffalo, we were attacked repeatedly by ants that seemed to take delight
in climbing up our shoes,
into our pants, and then delivering painful little bites. Even when we walked
quickly, the large "soldier ants" always seemed to find a way to
latch onto our shoes and became quite an annoyance.
We reached our camp to find a staff of 8-10 people working busily to complete
setting up the camp, cooking us dinner, and making a fire. We feel a little
guilty about being taken care of by so many people. There's even a friendly
Maasai warrior who has brought seven donkeys that will be
used tomorrow to carry our gear to our next campsite. Although an "Adventure
Camp" is not the same as a "Classic Camp" (these are the names
that Thomson gives to its camps), it is clear that we will be more than comfortable
here. There is a shower tent, a toilet tent, small cots in our tents, and
a separate dining tent.
Tomorrow we will be hiking along the Rift Valley toward an area called Acacia
Forest beside the Oldonyo Lengai volcano, where we'll set up camp again. On
the way, we'll be stopping by Naiyobi, a Maasai village where we hope to begin
getting more exposed to the local culture.
Animals seen today:
New birds seen today: