Walking with the Ranger

We pack our camp and prepare for our walk with the Ranger and our drive to our final park, Tarangire.

The Ranger greets us and leads us along the top of Ngorongoro crater where we have an aerial view of the caldera. He smiles but is a man of no words intent on his task of leading our group. John tells me later that the gun he carried would not have been effective against predators. Good thing we only saw four donkeys!  Good thing John kept this knowledge to himself.

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Kilimanjaro fallout continues to pester as I have no feeling in several toes and each step I’m reminded how much I’ve come to rely on all ten. I wonder if the feeling will ever return, or if this is my new normal?

We arrive back at the Safari vehicle, say goodbye to the Ranger and begin our vehicle climb out of Ngorongoro. It is beautiful, lush and green; a sharp contrast to the dust bowl of the caldera.

We see young Maasai men with their faces painted and heads shaved. Stephen tells us that they have just been circumcised. He further advises that during the surgery the boy receives no medicine and must not move a muscle or cry as this would bring shame to his family. He must be a warrior.  Girls are also circumcised and they are allowed to cry though they must not kick at the knife. It is a harsh coming of age.

We meet up with the Lodge group at our lunch break. It’s always a treat to stop at places where we can shop and have the potential for cold ginger pop or even a cup of brewed coffee. The retail shops and restaurants are set up for Safari folks with their inflated prices and costly brik a brak. We buy only a few trinkets as the shopkeepers are not interested in haggling. A few minutes up the road, Stephen stops to purchase cigarettes for John. He leaves us and instantly the vehicle is surrounded. We are offered sale day pricing for nearly identical merchandise and we happily purchase.  In seconds the word is out and layers of people converge asking, then begging us to buy. The prices drop, we are tempted and buy again, a thick glut surrounds our vehicle and our senses are in overload. Stephen returns and shoos everyone away and we are off.

We continue our journey to Tarangire. We are close as we see a sign with a picture of lions in trees. Stephen tells us we may see this at Lake Manyara, the only place where lions climb trees.  It is believed the they have adapted to get away from the tse tse flies, though this is only one thought. A few moments later we see a small pride of lions in a tree. We watch for some time as the cub tries to find a comfortable position. I wonder if the fire department would attempt a rescue?

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We arrive at our campsite, our last home for the final two nights of our Safari. Our site is next to a dry river bed and the centre is a large baobab tree. It is pretty and somewhat shaded but the neighbours are less than desirable as we step out of the vehicle and begin swatting tse tse flies and bees.

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Our water for washing is thick with bees. This is the end of the dry season and the bees are thirsty. I quickly wash and then throw away the water attempting to redirect the bees from the door to our tent.  We swat constantly and shortly it becomes exhausting. I think if I lived here, I would adapt and wonder if the lions are on to something?  We retreat to the swat free zone of our tent and read before dinner. The situation improves dramatically as night falls and the pests sleep.

I lay awake concerned as our campsite is exposed and we are in the tent farthest from the Guides. I’m in the farther cot and only the canvas separates me from the many predators.  It is at moments like this I wish for the safety of a proper structure. John sleeps well, perhaps he doesn’t want to feel it coming?  I remain alert for both of us until I succumb to sleep and dreams.

Ngoronngoro crater

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.