Today we explore Ngorongoro Crater. Before it erupted, it was the highest mountain in Africa and towered over its neighbour, Kilimanjaro. It is the world’s largest caldera. A caldera is a cauldron-like volcanic feature which is generally formed by the collapse of land after an eruption. It is impressive in size, though very dusty and made dustier by the volume of Safari vehicles searching for the elusive Rhinoceros.
We bounce along the bottom of the caldera, kicking up dust as we travel and eating the dust of the vehicles in front. I am excited to see the Rhino, though not wanting to bother them as this is one of the few places they are not in as much danger. Poachers are a constant threat. We are in no danger of getting too close as Stephen points out the elusive Rhino a great distance away. John and I take pictures, but the haze coupled with the distance make for a less than impressive photo. We have now seen the big five.
Ngorongoro crater, with its fertile plains is home to many animals. We see pink flamingos, and many brightly coloured birds at the alkaline soda lake. We see hyenas and thanks to Disney we instantly recoil. It’s difficult to see them as anything other than a salivating mass, intent on disrupting the circle of life. We see hippos lazing by the water and Zebras grazing on the grass. Later, we see an entire troop of Baboons march out of the woods in front of our vehicle. The variety makes up for the lack of volume.
We book a Ranger to lead us on a walk tomorrow around the crater rim. We will be 600meters from the base at an altitude of 2400meters. It will be good to stretch our legs. We sign up for anything that will offer a break from the vehicle.
We arrive at our camp earlier than usual today and it’s nice to arrive in the light of day and relax before dinner. Water is in short supply and our bush shower has a pail of water that should last for three showers. John has taught us the Navy way and accompanying lingo and we have become experts at Pusser showers. This is accomplished by a short burst of water, soap, followed by a final burst of water. It’s effective and I think how much water we waste at home on a daily basis, with our Hollywood showers.
We take much for granted at home. We have few comforts here and yet are comfortable. We are unplugged from the rest of the world and take the time to listen to the stories of each others’ lives, to engage in conversation that is happening in real time and not in a virtual world. We awake to the light of day and fall asleep to the darkness of night. We are in tune with our surroundings.
A lodge experience would have been nice, though the gift of the camping experience outweighs. We spend our evenings getting to know our Guides, Stephen and Hussein and our Chef, Abraham. We are learning the scarcity of resources, shortage of money and opportunity in Africa and with each truth are thankful of all we have at home, knowing it is luck and chance that we were born where we were. The lodge would have supplied us with our typical comforts. The Guides would have delivered us nightly and picked us up daily. We would have known their names, but the relationship would have had no substance. We would have been comfortable in our beds and unaware we were missing anything. Instead, our experience was rich and layered.
As I lay on my cot listening to John’s steady breathing, I wonder if this experience will change me. Will I accept the gift of being grateful when I return home? Will I spend more time having real conversations with friends and family? Will I be a better steward of resources? Impossible to know, I decide, though the seed is planted. I roll over and think that true change is always uncomfortable. I bunch the sleeping bag under my sore hip and find comfort on this night. Satisfied I fall fast asleep.