Sunday 14th October
A slightly later start was tempered by the need to pack our bags and prepare for our drive to the Ngorongoro Crater and our reward of a days game viewing in one of the wonders of the world.
Several people took the opportunity to lighten their load by donating all manner of equipment (poles/ rucksacks/ mosquito nets/ first aid kits/ rehydration salts/ karri-mats) to our crew, I myself offering my spare trek t-shirt and my battered Sigg water bottle. After breakfast we said our final goodbyes and set off in our comfortable 4x4 jeeps on the 3-hour journey to the crater gate.
We stopped on the way in the town of Kerata for fuel and supplies and I took the opportunity to purchase a healthy bunch of red bananas (25 in all) for the princely sum of $5. These I distributed about the group much to everyone’s appreciation.
We continued on our way stopping briefly at the viewpoint above Lake Manyara before proceeding to the entrance to the crater where we picked up our permits and made our way into the park. Our progress was checked rather severely due to the rather poorly timed roadworks that were taking place reducing the only entry route to the crater rim to a single carriageway. On top of this was the seeming reluctance of anyone to aid the passing of a large work truck which resulted in a massive tailback and a standoff between sullen workers and irate tour guides. Eventually Zyggy took matters into his own hands and began showing the workmen exactly what they should be doing (much to their amusement) and the congestion was cleared allowing us to continue to the descent road some 10km further on. One final stop to have our papers checked brought an influx of Maasai hawkers to the vehicle – male and very persistent, but eventually we set off and began the drive down into the crater.
We spent several hours driving around the ‘natural amphitheatre’ spying the usual plains animals we had seen all trip (with the exception of giraffe – no food) and with the added bonus of buffalo, hyena, flamingo, warthog, hippos, elephant, ostrich and a lion with her 2 cubs feeding on a zebra kill. We also spied the backside of a rhino…apparently and were attacked by monkeys at the picnic stop who attempted all manner of tricks to get hold of our sandwiches including jumping onto the front seat of the 4x4 and opening Cheryl’s lunchbox. As the heavens opened we began our route back out of the crater stopping briefly where we seemingly got a little too close to an oncoming elephant for our drivers liking and had to hurry at some speed to our vehicle.
Our journey back to our accommodation for the night was broken by a shopping stop before darkness descended and we eventually rolled up at what turned out to be the most wonderful of Maasai lodges – a real luxury resort in the middle of the African plain.
We learnt later that the complex (approximately 26 individual huts set into the hillside with restaurant, bar and swimming pool) was the vision of a Texan who, along with a local from Arusha had invested in the local village and employed the majority of the staff from the area to provide a splendid retreat and a perfect final nights rest for the weary travellers. The first shower and shave for 5 days (for me at least) was greeted with overwhelming joy and a 4 course meal of soup, salad, meat and dessert with a splendid bottle of wine was equally welcome. As we sat by the pool finishing our drinks we reflected on our journey, before all turning in to some of the most comfortable of beds ever known.