My alarm this morning wasn’t my phone, it was my friends the lions that awoke me again at 6am. They were SO close and I kick myself that I didn’t voice record their growls. Sunrise was in half an hour so I knew they would wander off by then. Quite the experience!!
I was first at breakfast - Gee I wonder why , and some had heard the lions and others not. Lois came in the tent wide-eyed so I knew she had.
Our departure time is 7:30am, the staff come out to thank us and give us hugs. We are so amazed at their incredible service! As we climb into our jeeps they break out in song and sing Jambo to us! It was fantastic and we really hated to leave.
Although it hadn’t rained at all yesterday, the trails were still very wet and some impassable! Big John is a superb driver turning every which way to get us out of Ndutu. The CB radio was abuzz with drivers communicating “go this way, no that way” and try as we might not to, we did get stuck. Thankfully there were at least 6 or 7 jeeps waiting and we were pulled out in minutes.
Each time we would come across a muddy, tricky bit, Big John would say “hold on” and we would slide, bounce and slip through. Once through each mud hole we would cheer and clap, yeah John!!! Our biceps and abs are getting quite the workout just staying upright in our seats.
The final challenge is the river crossing that now resembles more of a lake. At least 10 jeeps are stopped with all drivers at the edge sussing out the situation. John & John come back to the vehicle and Big John says, “it’s bad but we are going for it, hang on!!” He expertly guided us through but we did his bottom pretty hard on the back end. Fingers crossed no damage has been done. Cheers and hoots again and we are all so relieved to be on higher ground.
Before long we are cruising down the washboard gravel road and we are grinning from ear to ear that we are out of the mud. We see huge herds of wildebeest and zebra and then all of a sudden we are 4x4ing over the plain to join two other jeeps. We look at each other in wonderment - where are we going? Aha - two large male lions is what all the commotion is about. They look very, very full from last nights dinner and are just lounging in the sun. I am always so amazed at how nonchalant they are with jeeps of tourists photographing them.
Onwards and we say goodbye to the Serengeti and hello once again to Ngorongoro Crater. We are entering the crater from the east and slowly descend the 610m (2000ft) on to the crater floor https://www.ngorongorocrater.org.
We see more lions (mating or ‘on honeymoon’ as Big John puts it ), hyena, zebra and wart hogs enroute to our picnic site. All jeeps stop here as we are sheltered from the animals, and it is a bit of a zoo with about 20 of us. No matter, it is a nice spot and we are hungry. Big John warns us to keep an eye out for the kite hawks as they may steal our food. Shane, Liz and I choose a nice log to sit upon and within minutes the hawk brushes my hat and aims for Shane’s lunch. It misses his lunch but takes a wee chunk out of his knuckles. We are shell shocked and scoot over to the jeep for cover. Too funny.
Lunch finished we carry on with our game drive and come upon another pair of lions “on honeymoon”, red-billed stork, yellow billed stork, the crested crane and others. The roads in here are uncharacteristically flooded and we have a few slip sliding incidents. We come upon several jeeps and think, there must be an interesting animal to see. Nope, it is a Jeep that is up to its axle in the mud (sometimes the driest looking patches are the worst!). John & John head over to see if they can help and honestly it looks like a city work crew - 15 supervisors and 3 workers .
As we were sitting watching progress of the rescue, the driver ahead of us (from Zara Tours) decides he is moving and backs his vehicle up to ours and then races ahead spewing mud everywhere. We wondered what the heck he was up to as he did this several times and from our vantage point, all he was doing was making deep ruts. He then gets out of his Jeep and walks back towards ours and the Jeep next to us yelling in Swahili. He then realizes we don’t have a driver and opens the door to jump into our Jeep and move it. All 6 of us said ‘no way buddy, you are not driving our Jeep - go see our driver”. He was furious and stomped away, giving me the stink eye and said something I like ‘fine, but if you get stuck, we’ll see if anyone helps you out’. He went back to his Jeep, finally turned it around and drove like a bat out of hell giving us the nasty look and almost hitting the Jeep next to us! I felt sorry for his passengers as we all thought he was acting a little crazy. Fero & I have had previous experience with staff & guides from Zara tours and he fits the bill. Unprofessional and not customer oriented. Big John was very happy we stood up for our Jeep & crew!!
Stranded Jeep out, we slipped our way out of the mud hole and Big John exclaims ‘are you ready to go home’! With cheers & YES from all of us, we skedaddled our way up out of the crater and to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge - our home for the night.
The Sopa Lodge (Sopa means hello in The Maasai language) is in a gorgeous location overlooking the Crater to the west, and tonight we have our first African sunset!! Gorgeous.
We met in the lounge for our final happy hour / dinner together and then retired early. All this excitement makes us sleepy . Lala Salama