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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 4 – Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Today is spent all in the caldera. As most all our days, this one starts early, with breakfast at 6:00 and on our way at 6:30.  Morning light breaking through the clouds that seem to hover around the volcano early was fascinating to see from our vehicle as it headed down the steep road from the lip to the floor.  The reflection of the light in the infrequent water helped us see what was below.

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We spent about seven hours in the caldera, and it was fun almost from the get-go. The first of the highlights were the black rhinos, one of which we saw almost right off, and then later on we saw two more. All were at a distance, but hopefully the camera was up to recording them. We later learned that these black rhinos are extremely rare, there being approximately 25 left in the wild.  So seeing 3 of the 25 was even more of a treasure than we realized at the time.



There are four lions sleeping in this stone formation.

The second was a pride of lions all sleeping in and amongst some rocks on the side of a rise toward the middle of the caldera. Down below them we noticed a number of hyena, and a jackal or two.

Oh, no you don;t!

Oh, no you don’t!

Three of the hyena, sometimes joined by a fourth had a piece of a kill about 100 yards below them, and were busily taking hunks out of it. 20150926-DSC_1422One of the jackals tried several times to get a few bites, but was chased off by one of the hyenas each time. It was only as we climbed the rise behind the lions that we were able to see there were a number of hyena congregated in a depression below the ground level a bit farther away from the lions. We surmised that they were devouring what was left of a carcass that the lions had brought down and had sated themselves with last night. 20150926-DSC_1351There was a hyena that we had first noticed on our left as we were driving toward the area where we first saw the lions. He (or she) crossed our path between where we first stopped and where the lions slept and headed for the depression, but eventually stopped, watched what was going on for awhile, and after the appearance of a couple of other hyenas, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and came back across the road where he watched what was going on. We only really understood his actions after we spotted the hyena group as we drove above it. One of Gwen’s favorite aspects of the day was hearing the hyenas “talking” to each other during this episode.

We saw quite a variety of wildlife, most of which we had seen before, but I can never get enough of them, especially the birds.

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

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Crake, Black

Crake, Black

Pelican, Great White

Pelican, Great White

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Bustard, Kori

Bustard, Kori


Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg's

Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg’s

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We managed to get very close to some warthogs as we drove along.

20150926-DSC_1534 20150926-DSC_1678One of the more amazing sights were the herds of wildebeest stretching out to the horizon, or coming over the hill toward us at a distance.

A wildebeest herd and flock of birds in the Ngorongoro caldera

A wildebeest herd off in the distance

The third amazing find were a family group of elephants we passed as we came onto the rise where the road started to climb out of the caldera. This rise is hilly, with a number of trees of various kinds forming a loosely packed forest, enabling easy movement by the elephants as well as shelter from the sun when desired (like it was as it was well after noon by this time). 20150926-DSC_1887At first, we saw three females and two youngsters (one very young, a second perhaps a juvenile) eating grass and leaves from a tree not too far off the road. As we watched, the five became seven, as there was another youngster behind the tree-eater, and another older juvenile with the first youngster. 20150926-DSC_1875 20150926-DSC_1858There were about a dozen zebra on the other side of the vehicle happily munching away at the shorter grass shaded by the trees as well. As we continued on, the road took a turn which took us in front of the elephants, and we discovered the rest of the group, with at least three more adult females, a couple more juveniles and yet another youngster. 20150926-DSC_1895We watched them continue to eat, and some decided we were too close, so they headed away from us while two or three headed to an area we couldn’t see ahead of us. 20150926-DSC_1924 20150926-DSC_1923We eventually moved in that direction, and found a stream where four elephants, including one youngster and at least one juvenile were enjoying playing with the water. The baby was having the most fun, kicking up water with his feet and trunk, while the others were enjoying spraying themselves with the water, and doing their own dance to keep their feet cool. It was delightful to watch, and was a really nice way to end our tour of the area.

This afternoon we have another talk by Philip. He talked about Kenya and Tanzania, and the relative size and populations of them. In response to questions, he focused more on the education systems in the two countries and how they have evolved.

Tomorrow it is on to Oldivai Gorge (rather the museum the Leakeys created near there) to hear about the finds there, and then the afternoon is a tour which should end us in the Serengeti.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, The Beginning

Off we go on another trip!  This time our goal was the Great Migration in the plains of Kenya and Tanzania.  Once again we were in the capable hands of Road Scholar, and with Gwen’s great aid in getting us ready (a much more complicated process than going to Europe, for example, what with visas, immunizations, and clothes requirements), we flew first to London (on 17 Sep) to see relatives and friends, a play (“Kinky Boots”), and to time-adjust partially.

On 22 Sep, we got on our British Airways flight, joined by Gwen’s great friend, Gretchen Hurlbert, and traveled the 8 hours to Nairobi.

It was a pleasant journey, and a nice introduction to business class on British Air. The food was great, the service as well. The two ladies each had seats next to the windows, and those turned out to be cold enough to where they commented on it, but the aisle seat I was in was “just right”. We got in as scheduled, late in the evening, and shortly met up with our tour guide, Philip Keter and the driver Charles after we got through the usual customs and passport control dance and picked up our bags from the carousel. We also met the other pair we are to tour with, Dee and Bruce Dwelley, from Northern California.  The group of us got along really well throughout, and so the tour was very successful in this way.  Philip and Charles took us to the Eka Hotel about half an hour away from the airport, and there is where we stayed the rest of the night.

Wed 23 Sep: Nairobi to Amboseli Park, and out on our first safari

In the morning, we arose and after a very pleasant breakfast buffet, packed ourselves into the van that was to be our safari ride for the next few days, and off we went. The trip to Amboseli Park took four hours, and had a variety of very interesting sights as we moved from Nairobi urban life through its gradually thinning suburbs, and finally out to the rural farm land and the small town markets that exist near Amboseli.

The Amboseli Park area is quite something, and we are glad we made it! (We learned that evening that the park is over 350 square kilometres.)

The trip to the park kept me interested most of the time (as opposed to sleeping, which is what I thought I would be doing). The buildings we passed through as we moved out of the hotel’s location on the outskirts of Nairobi proper are not high rise, getting to three or four floors only. The bottom floor fronted a number of businesses, not unlike those found all over Europe. These included car dealerships, grocery stores, bars, hotels, taverns, hardware markets, and a variety of specialty consumer shops including electronics and furniture, as well as the occasional lawyer’s office or something business-to-business.

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The business that Phillip said delineated the outside of town was the cement manufacturing plant. Indeed that took a lot of space, and was quite clear to see. Other manufacturing concerns filled in the area around and after it, however. I have to give him credit, things began to be more suburban after that. More housing, street markets, and so on.

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As we got further out, the space between the small towns expanded. The trip itself took all of the four hours, with the look-and-feel of the place not really fully changing until we took off on the side-road to Amboseli’s entrance and our hotel which is just outside the entrance.

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The markets were probably the most interesting. One of the first we saw was indeed market day for all the surrounding area. There were numerous stalls each selling something different (well, many stalls sold onions apples tomatoes and squash in one form or another). The market fronted more established shops which were housed in ramshackle rectangles often of tin or wood, with hand-panted signs indicating the goods to be found within. These shops continued for several city blocks in either direction from the market square, and appeared to fold back behind the front lines offering more than one street of these kinds of shops. As we continued on, the number and quantity of housing types decreased, as well as the actual number of houses of each type. The markets were to be found where the main drag used speed bumps to slow traffic to a stand still — just long enough to allow the potential customers in the vehicles to get a good eyeful of the merchandise on offer by the purveyors walking between the lanes and holding their wares up to the windows for those inside the vehicles to view.

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The last 10 to 15 kilometres were driven at breakneck speed by Charles along the corrugated dirt road from that turnoff through to Amboseli Park. He later explained that driving as fast as he could over the corduroy road forced the car to skate over the top of the corduroy strips essentially smoothing the ride out for the car and the passengers. It’s a good theory…

We arrived safe and sound, and disembarked from the van in front of the Kilima Hotel. After checking in, Phillip sent us off to our rooms to freshen up and gather as soon as we could at the lunch table. We did, and enjoyed our lunch with the group of us.

Philip Keter, our guide for the trip., Amboseli Safari Hotel

Superb Starling, Amboseli


White-Headed Buffalo Weaver


White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver


Above the restaurant in the hotel is a look-out overseeing a small pond. Today, elephants were enjoying it.

Starting at 4:00, we got in the slightly reconfigured van (it’s top was up) and into the park we went.

That proved to be an excellent start to the adventures ahead, enabling us to see elephant, Grant’s Gazelle, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, an eagle, and even a cheetah and a lion.

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Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.

Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.


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