we left for our first day working in the Ngorongoro Crater inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I was excited but nervous to start our first day in the crater. Everyone was so happy in the morning, so it put me in an extra, extra good mood. I was realllll happy! We arrived at the Simba campsite which sits on the rim of the crater and overlooks it at 11:30 AM and began setting up our tents and getting situated. Due to logistical reasons, Dr. Shem told us that we wouldn't be going into the crater to practice our data collection methods until 2:30. So, we got situated. I took some pictures and laid on the lawn in front of my tent and watched the clouds pass by over the crater. I have watched the clouds many times before, but I've never noticed them separate and regroup and pass by like they were our first day in Ngorongoro. It was amazing. It also helps that there are a ton of black kites in the area. I could see 6 soaring high, high up below the clouds. They looked like little black specs but the were fun to watch. We made it into the crater a little after 3 and got a lecture on our methods, then began practicing. I was with two other doing 1 transect per grid because we have limited equipment, and it was taking a while to even complete one quadrant, so I was worried. We went to camp around 5. It takes a while to make it out of the crater and up the side of the crater wall. The Ngorongoro Crater is beautiful though. Doing this research here continues to remind me why I love this place so much. When we leave the crater, we always drive through Leroi Forest, because that where the exit road is. It's always beautiful. Elephants, cape buffalos, guineafowl, and bushbucks always around.
At night, we just came back to camp and relaxed until dinner. After dinner, we played "To hell and back" as a group and played 'Bob the weasel' which seems like a total cult game, because we chant but its really funny. There were so many tourists at the campsite--mostly Europeans and Americans-- and they were mostly staring at us the whole time, some laughing. I sat outside my tent at night and wrote in my journal. It was beautiful. Black kites were calling in the night, wind blowing, and crickets all around. The moon was bright, not 100% full, but CLOSE. It was lighting the sky up.
Thursday was our first day conducting actual research in the crater. It took a long time and was actually kind of frustrating because I didn't know how I was going to collect adequate data in 4-10 days. We left a little late and didn't begin collecting data until 10 AM. We only got through 1 1/2 transects. It was really windy, and was hard to keep ahold of our things. Zebras, gazelles, and wildebeest everywhere. We walked over some huge holes, either hyena or warthog. We found out that warthogs back into their hole, so they can come flying out and charge at you. Pretty crazy. Also, saw 2 hyenas walking in front of a group of alert zebra. We got back to the camp site (Simba) around 6 PM, and got ready for dinner. Nights at the camp were really cold, but I had my sleeping bag to keep me warm, so it was night.
Friday was our second day in the crater. We got 2 transects completed. Pretty good day. Kind of long, but the crater was great! We saw a rhino far away when we were out in the field, and then close when we drove by one when we left. Also, saw golden jackals and BAT-EARED FOXES. So adorable. I saw some in Serengeti before, but they were so cute and so funny to watch. I also found out that there are a decent amount of cervals in the crater. One group ended up seeing one, but I've never seen one here unfortunately. We had our first camp fire was tonight, but had to buy the wood for the fire from the NCA. It was also a beautiful full moon. I also saw a silohette of two bushpigs walking behind us while we were sitting at the fire. I heard rustling in the plants behind us and sure, enough.. there they were! And then, I heard more rustling.. turned around and there was a big waterbuck behind me. They are so cool! We met two older guys and learned a little about them. Especially George, who was from Brazil and literally travels for nine months in a year and works in NY the other 3 months. How crazy and awesome is that!? He's lucky!
Saturday, we finished two more grids. During one grid we were doing, I looked up and there was a warthog trotting right for us. He/she must not have seen us because it just kept on coming closer to us. I warned the others, and finally picked up my whistle and blew it to try to get it to run the other direction. He/she stopped, looked directly at us and started running to its left. There is a bigger body of water, where we always see a ton of hyenas, up to 20, and there always seemed to be a warthog or two just running around them by the water drinking and eating. Right in front of the hyenas. Makes me wonder if hyenas don't mess with warthogs, but knowing hyenas, they probably do. It's just weird to see the warthogs so relaxed with all of the hyenas around. We finished up half of grid 139, a grid with mostly water vegetation, but the area is dried up. Lots of wildlife in the area though. We had two large hippos in a small body of water who had their eyes on us. When we were walking to our start point, we forgot all about them and got within 50 meters of them. One of the other teams radioed us and reminded us that there were some pretty angry hippos staring us down. As soon as we heard him, we instantly looked up to our left and started quickly walking backwards. One was half out of the water, while the other was standing next to it, watching us intensely. Hippos are highly territorial, and often people are killed because people are in their path and they end up getting trampled. I'm not positive that they would've jumped out of the water and came at us, but if we would've gotten closer, they could have become threatened by us and may have attacked or not. Who knows, but I never want to find out. It was crazy being that close to them, but also almost pretty awesome. We only ever see them that close when we are in cars. Anyways, we also saw some flamingos in our grid eating from the waters nearby. When we got to the cars, Shem met with us. He told us that we would be going back to camp, packing some things to go home for a day and come back on Monday. We hadn't expected to go back to camp until Monday, because it turns out that we aren't allowed to skip a non-program day, which I was ok with!
Sunday, we had a non-program day. I went to Gibb's Farm, surprise, surprise! It's one of my favorites, especially since there is coffee. Afterwards, I went into Karatu with the rest of the group to do a little shopping. We checked out some fabric shops. I got a few things, including a Maasai shuka to hopefully get made into a sweatshirt.. Hopefully a nice one.. I don't know though! The work of the tailors here are all good from what I've seen, but the make is also hard because it's not normally fit exactly how I like it. After we bought some fabric, we walked to Happy Days, where everyone else was. I found out the Karatu cat at Happy Days name was Kilaylay and that he actually lived in a house behind Happy Days with a foreign girl who was working as a teacher at a school in Karatu. She was there too actually, along with a guy from the Peace Corps and another girl who volunteers there. I kept it together, didn't drink because I knew we had a busy day/week ahead.I could smell Lake Manyara at our camp at night. It was weird, but also kind of cool. The lake is down over the escarpment from us. I had smelled the lake from our camp a few other times. The winds are carrying the heavy saltwater smell up the Rift Valley and even beyond us. It wasn't too bad at first, but now it's pretty strong. Crazy we can smell Manyara Lake here. It's also kind of cool.
Monday was pretty good. We didn't end up leaving camp until like 8:15. We made it back to Simba camp site by 9:30 AM. We ended up starting out transect around 11:45-12. The Cape Buffalo were in our transect and very vigilant. So, the Swaggin' with Shem, Kiri, Peter (NCA naturalist), Fousta, and students Caroline and Julia waited until Harrison over with a ranger. Our friend, Romano and also the ranger spent the rest of the day with us. We met him before, but he spent most time with a separate group. We were surprised he was so cool. Very nice and speaks english very well! We got 1 1/2 grids done today. We start 64 tomorrow. This day was nice and short. Beautiful day though! I finally saw hartebeest while being here. There were 10 of them and they were so vigilant. When we got back to camp, we had a lovely, lovely visitor!! I didn't even realize it. I was in my tent and heard other SFS'ers proclaim that they will "have to get a picture of that!" So, I knew right away that I needed to get out of my tent and go check it out! I ran out and there was a HUGE bull elephant drinking water from our water tank. He had his massive tusks resting on the side of the tank and had his trunk down in the water tank. It was sooooo cute! There were so many people and a lot of us were really close to him. I cannot believe he let people be that close to him. Elephants are also highly dangerous and have killed people. He is a big guy. I have a picture of him standing next to a land cruiser. It's awesome. It then walking behind the dining hall and then behind the bathrooms, past the "DANGER, KEEP OUT" signage point. He went into the woods, then 5-10 minutes later, came back and walked right up to the back of our dining hall. One of the SFS'ers was within 2 feet of him with the wall/fence inbetween him and the giant elephant. He stared at him, and the elephant gently reached up and touched the side of the screen (in front of the SFS'er's) face with his trunk and then put it down. He began walking again to the front of the building and across where everyone puts up their tents. There was a tarp laid down with a sleeping bag, suitcases, and a sleeping pad rolled up and sitting on it. The elephant began walking across the tarp. He gently reached his truck over and touched the sleeping bag and suitcases. Uninterested, he slowly and gently passed over the tarp, and even lifted his foot up to avoid stepping on the sleeping bag and even slipped past the tent he came within inches of walking into. It was an absolutely beautiful moment, and I've never seen anything like it before. He proceeded further, past Dr. Shem's tent (who was at the time sitting outside his tent, shaving his face and paid no attention to the passing elephant). It was so funny. The elephant went down to a large tree and began pulling branches from the tree. After about 10 minutes, it continued on down past the large bathroom and into the bush. Absolutely beautiful. At night, we had a nice warm fire to sit by and even some passer-bys to enjoy watching --waterbuck. Spiders were all over the moist ground. If you had the right flashlight, you could see their eyes glow. It was creepy!
Tuesday was semi-slow. Romano went with us the full day.We saw an eland today at a distance and thought it was a lion, but there are some very serious differences between them all. Haha. Today was super hot, but ok for the most part. We climbed up the side of a hill, because that's where our transect went. I got a nice panoramic view. Days in the field only seemed to get better, and being in the crater was truly an amazing experience everyday. I enjoyed it so much, even when I was cooking in the sun or losing my papers in the wind. It was beautiful!!
Wednesday was pretty awesome. We left around 9 AM to begin work in the crater for the day and left around 5 PM. We were within 70 meters from cape buffalos, which are also another scary group of animals! I found out that the single ones are normally the ones who are most dangerous. Romano said that! We were told by Romano that if we were charged by Cape Buffalo, that we were supposed to lay down, but SFS said we should run like hell. Romano however has been trained in this sort of thing and has lived in Tanzania all his life and I think it probably would make sense to lay down as long as they didn't run you over! They are so vigilant and scary, yet so cute and funny to watch. They'll run like 20 feet and stop. The leader will start running, they'll follow. The leader will stop and then quickly turn around, and all the others turn around. It is so funny, yet so scary to watch. They're awesome. I've completely gained a whole new respect for them, as all people should. They are so aware of their surroundings. We also saw an adorable warthog sitting right at the entrance of his hole on the side of the crater hill. We walked up the side of this large hill to begin our transect and on our way down, a different warthog ran out of his hole in front of us because he heard us coming. I'm glad he didn't come out when we were down by his hole. They are so cool to watch too and funny. Early in the study, we saw a mama warthog with three tiny baby warthogs. I couldn't believe how small and cute they were. They kept with their mom and hid behind her too. We even found a scorpion on this transect. Romano found it when he flipped over a rock. I think it might have been a three striped scorpion. He then decides to tell us to be careful and not turn over many rocks, meanwhile I've been in the lead the entire time, flipping a million rocks with my feet while walking, because it was an extremely rocky area and walking uphill was interesting through the bush. At night, I sat around the dining table with all the other SFS'ers while some played cards. I turned "Jump on It" on and a random younger guy walked through and he began singing and swinging his arms around his head. It was funny and entertaining. I didn't sleep too well the last night.
We did two transects. One where I actually spooked up a close hyena who then watched us intently but ran away. I watched four warthogs run behind it, and it almost looked like they were chasing the sleepy hyena. The first transect we did went through a wet area with streams, which made the beginning a little difficult, but there was wildlife everywhere. Sacred ibis, Egyptian geese, zebras, a falcon, warthogs, shorebirds. It was beautiful. The last transect also had parts in a wet area (in the rainy season) and had beautiful short green grasses like sedge. We then went and found our starting point for grid 45, where we would start the next day. In this transect, we drove right past another nesting shorebird --Crowned plover?-- and it had three eggs in its nest but was protecting it again. Its such an amazing thing to see!! We also saw an absolutely adorable baby hartebeest with its mom. The group was about 10 hartebeest and one wildebeest. It was actually really funny to see one wildebeest hanging out and feeding with this group of hartebeest. Later, we spooked up a tiny baby Thomson's gazelle. They are so fast! But I felt really bad for scaring it away, and I hope its mom found it. We then went to Serena Crater Lodge where I had a few drinks --Serena sundown and something I can't remember-- and also some marble cake! The two other lodges in the area are the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. The Maasai came in and did their dances. Three SFS'ers went and danced with them. They're always great to watch. Maasai like to jump around and make these deep sounds that come from their throat. You have to hear it to understand. They are very interesting though.
Friday, our last day working in the Ngorongoro Crater (NCA). :( Needless to say, it was a sad day, but we also had some fun with it. I had planned to wake up early to see the sun rise, but I had already been kept awake the whole night with the sound of the rain pitter-pattering on the roof of the tent on and off all night. When I did sleep, it was very little. I had my alarm set for 5:05 AM to see the sun rise, but apparently my hands were tucked in my sleeping bag and I did not hear my watch go off. I was however awoken by another rain shower at 5:45 AM. I peaked outside of the tent. It was pretty dark, but light enough to highlight the fog surrounding the land and other tents outside of our tents. I ended up just staying awake at the point, and didn't even bother trying to sleep again. At 7:30, we began packing up the soaking wet tents and brought our bags into the dining hall so that they wouldn't get wet. Afterwards, we ate breakfast and left Simba camp to work in the crater one more time before we left.
When we got to the crater, it was hot and it looked like there hadn't been a single drop of rain there, and there was no fog. On the rim, we couldn't see for more than 50 meters from the road normally. On our way in, we saw another plover protecting its nest from the car. But she had three eggs! The last day went well, but it was very sunny and pretty hot. I ended up getting pretty burnt, even sunburned my scalp and ears. We saw the group of hartebeest with the wildebeest again. The baby hartebeest was watching us too. So cute! We completed two grids, 45 and 28. 45 was mostly flat and 28, our very last one, was partially on a hill. 28 was the first grid that we worked in that actually had long grass, and also some bushes. Actually more difficult to navigate through, but I was glad to finally have a long grass transect. There was a large group of about 200 Cape Buffalo standing at the bottom of the hill about 400 meters from us while we were doing our last grid. When we were finished and Dr. Shem came to meet us. Because I have been wanting all along to go on a game drive, I asked Shem if we could go on a short game drive, especially since we finished a little early. Luckily, I got my way and we were able to stay until 4:30. At this time, we drove up on top of the table mountain (or hill) (mlima mesa). We ended up seeing 2 rhinos. One far out in the distance and a second on our way out, about 500 meters from the land cruiser. We saw Thomson's gazelle, hartebeest, wildebeest, Grant's gazelle, and even a hare hunkered down in the grass. I did end up seeing about 3 hares while working in the field though. Two ran out in front of me when I was making my way through taller grass and one when we were driving. We drove right past it, and it hunkered down very low to the ground with its ears back and its red eyes wide open. I unfortunately never got a great picture of a hare, but seeing them was pretty cool! We also saw a large pride of lions with females, cubs, and even an adult male!! The females were laying with some of the cubs on a small hill and most of the cubs were laying down below in a muddy spot next to a small stream that runs through the area. They were absolutely adorable! The male was laying on the road in the shade of the land cruisers. When that land cruiser left, the lion got up and walked further down the road, slightly away from the pride and laid in the shade of a separate car which drove up right next to the lion and basically continued to cut the lion off until in laid down. This actually really annoyed me. Why do people have to be such jackasses when wildlife is around? Anyways, the animals were beautiful, and I was very grateful to seen every single one of them, from the raging buffalo to the Thomson's gazelles and even the small blue beetles that crawled around on the Sodam's Apple plants and often on me.
At 4:30, we began making our way up the side of the crater road. I snapped some quick shots of sacred ibises and wildebeest on our way out. We stopped at the Ngorongoro gate on the way out and I bought a drink and talked to my rafiki running the register in the shop one more time. It was weird to be back at camp. We were only gone for 5 additional days, but camp seemed so different. We also weren't use to being around so many people.
Saturday, November 15 Non-program day. We went into Mto wa Mbu. On our way in we stopped at the African Galleria or what we call the 'Tanzanite store'. I'd never been there but had also wanted to go. There were a lot of nice things including trinkets, jewelry with Tanzanite, paintings, and wood carvings. It was huge and expensive. I didn't get anything. We went to Mto wa Mbu and went to a kitimoto (pig) place for grilled pork. It was served on a plate with veggies and chili sauce. We also had fried plantains. The food is all served on one plate and you share it as a table. It was really good! Afterwards, we went to the Maasai market. The market is fairly expensive. We ended up finding a place with cheap shukas on a side street. Then we walked to the wood carving place and than to Pizza Point. I bought a pomadoro pizza to go. Cheapest pizza on the menu. Has sauce and a little cheese, but it's really good. Only 4,000 shillings ($2-3).