About 5:00 pm on Day 6, as we came around a bend, we got a spectacular preview of the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, our home for the night. It is a beautiful African lodge, perched on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.
Our spacious room faced the crater. The lobby and dining areas spilled out onto the deck area, right on the rim. One minute, we had an unimpeded view of the entire caldera, then a cloud bank rolled in, obscuring everything. As quickly as it came in, it disappeared, revealing the beginnings of a spectacular sunset. This really is a special place. We helped ourselves to some tea and tempting cakes that had been set out for guests and went back outside to watch the sunset and some brilliant yellow breasted birds perched on the railings. Dinner was spring rolls, carrot soup, a regional specialty dish (African style crepes), and fruit Pavlova.
We inquired about the rates and learned that a room for two was $140 plus 20% taxes through June and then doubled to $280. Obviously, 2Afrika is able to negotiate lower group rates for their tour customers.
DAY 7 Ngorongoro Crater
After a nice buffet breakfast we were off in our Land Rover for another full day of game viewing. It took us about 20 minutes to wind our way down through rainforest with moss-laden acacia trees toward the vast, flat floor of the crater. Nestled against the foothills at the bottom of the crater is a heavily wooded area that is home to leopards, tree snakes, and other fearsome creatures. We had the top popped up on the vehicle and were wearing light jackets. It was cooler today. The crater floor looked much like the Serengeti except that it was totally encircled by the steep crater rim. In some areas the terrain was blanketed by yellow and purple wildflowers. We saw a wide variety of animals today and some spectacular birds, including shrikes, flamingoes, and long crested eagles. The crater is the best place in Tanzania to see the endangered black rhino and we did see a number of them. Giraffes are not seen in the crater because the variety of acacia that they depend on does not grow there. We returned to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge in time for more tea and cakes and another beautiful sunset before dinner. Dinner was leeks with ham and cheese, celery soup, grilled king fish or Normandy chicken with apple stuffing, and chocolate cake.
DAY 8 Ngorongoro Crater to Nairobi
We got an early start today, leaving the lodge about 7:30. We were no more than 2 minutes beyond the entrance gate when we saw a leopard in the road with a prey in its mouth. Many animals do wander in and out of the crater. The previous evening as we returned to the lodge, we saw tree branches strewn about just outside the gates, indicating that one or more elephants had passed through. We were backtracking now and as we reached the turnoff to Lake Manyara and Shabba's village, we picked up the one and only paved road in the country - the route back to Arusha. And it was only paved last year. Judi surprisingly spotted camels in a field. Shabba said they are used for transport.
In Arusha, we said our farewells to Shabba. We had traveled over 1500 hundred kilometers in our trusty and rugged Land Rover. Then, along, with our 2 tour companions, we boarded a shuttle for our 4-hour drive to our departure airport in Nairobi, with Judi buying 3 batiks through the window of the van as we pulled away. A Swahili radio station contributed some appropriate ambience for our journey. We knew we were headed generally in the direction of Mt. Kilimanjaro and asked our driver if it might be visible. Alas, he said it is never visible. From time to time, we saw Maasai walking along the road and at the ramshackle roadside shopping areas that we passed by. The Maasai appeared far too dignified for such places, looking much more at home as they herded their cattle and goats through the Serengeti.
After an hour and a quarter, we reached the border with Kenya and got out to have our passports stamped. We practically had to fight our way back to our vehicle through a gauntlet of highly enthusiastic vendors, dressed in riotously colorful garb and jewelry. Even after we managed to regain our seats in the van, we were besieged by this group as they thrust all kinds of jewelry into our faces from both sides, all talking at once. As our driver slowly proceeded a half block or so to Kenyan immigration, the vendors left substantial amounts of merchandise on our laps and chased after the van. Once we were done with immigration (a simple matter), we settled up with the vendors and continued on our way. Half an hour further down the road we stopped for gas and had another chance to see an array of goods displayed by half a dozen or so vendors -- and we departed with still more batiks.
We arrived at Jomo Kenyatta airport just after 6:00 pm. We expected intense security after the recently-issued terrorism threats and State Dept. warnings but there was nothing of the kind. Two lone guards were stationed along the entry drive and they nonchalantly waved us past. Inside the terminal, security seemed almost nonexistent. Before approaching security we heard the following announcement: "Would passenger Abdul Hussein Mohammed please report to Interpol". At security Larry removed his shoes. The screeners laughed as the shoes passed through and the agent checking papers seemed positively baffled why anyone would do so. We had an on-time departure at 10:00 pm for the 8.5 hr flight to Amsterdam.
DAY 9 Amsterdam
We arrived just after 5:00 am and were not scheduled to depart for New York until 2:00 pm. Schiphol airport has an excellent web site and we had learned before leaving home that we could easily store our luggage and that there were trains to the town center about every 15 minutes. Once in the center, we found a place for coffee and croissants and then spent the remainder of the morning strolling along the canals and shops in the center of Amsterdam before heading back to the airport for our flight back to the US.
On this trip, we visited 3 World Heritage sites: Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge and Serengeti National Park. It was a trip filled with close encounters with a wide array of animal and bird species. We enjoyed the gracious African lodges interspersed between our game drives. Seeing the Maasai and getting a taste of the energy of Africa was most interesting and enjoyable. Our congenial and knowledgeable guide enhanced our understanding of what we were seeing. It was a trip that almost anyone would enjoy.
During the trip, we saw the following animals and birds:
Giraffe, ostrich, vervet monkey, impala, warthog, cape (water) buffalo, baboon, leopard, blue monkey, mongoose, zebra, elephant, dik dik, water buck, wildebeest (gnu), Grant's gazelle, agura (colorful) lizard, gecko, jackal, topi, crocodile, lion, hartebeest, hippo, red buck, antelope, Thompson's gazelle, hyrax, eland, cheetah, rhino and camel.
Stork, giant hornbill, pelican, ibis, heron, flamingo, long crested eagle, black & white shrike, ground hornbill, hawk, kingfisher, speckled mouse bird, bee eater, bustard bird, superb starling, love bird, weaver bird, Egyptian goose, crowned crane, parrot, secretary bird, tawny eagle, vulture, magpie shrike, lilac breasted roller and cormorant.