Serena Lodge and the Ngorongoro.

End of day 4

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge was definitely NOT a tent camp! The outside walls were made of gray round stones about the size of softballs, cemented together. It gave the building a texture and color that truly camouflaged it, causing it to blend into the surrounding vegetation and countryside. You could look directly at it from a half-mile away and never see it! But it was huge! And magnificent! Pictures just can't give you the feel of the place. We were greeted in the lobby with glasses of cold fruit juice and cold, wet face cloths! The rooms included a large bathroom with a huge walk-in shower (bigger than the walk-in clothes closet in my bedroom at home). During dinner time in the evening, the staff would come and turn down the beds for us.

We were served a multi-course gourmet dinner in the dining room. The peaked ceiling was at least twenty feet high, with columns supporting it. There was a stone fireplace in the middle of the floor, subdued lighting, and stone walls with large windows. Naturally all of the place settings were sparkling with china, glassware and flatware perfectly in place. A gleaming hardwood floor and heavy wooden furniture completed the décor. The first evening, Les commented that he didn't want to ruin dinner, but he wondered how much we had paid to stay there for two nights. We decided that we didn't want to know, we would just enjoy it. (The entire trip had been arranged for us as a "package" by Journeys International and was paid for in advance. We didn't see a breakdown of the cost of each lodge or camp.)

A partial view of the dining room at Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

In recapping the day, Les and Linda commented that they were amazed at the number of different animals we had seen in our first day of game drives!

We arose before dawn getting ready for a full day in the crater. We were greeted by a gorgeous view out the double glass doors leading to our balcony. The sun had not yet climbed over the far edge of the crater rim, but the easterly breeze had pushed warm, humid air up the slopes from outside the crater forming clouds that looked like whipped cream along the ridge line. We noticed a bare-dirt trail beside the lodge (in fact, beside our room since we were at the very end of the building -- a LONG walk from the lobby and dining area!) leading over the rim and down into the crater. The day before, Mrosso had told us that the local Masai people were not allowed to live in the crater, but they WERE allowed to graze their cattle there during the day. Sure enough, just after sunrise a large herd of cows were escorted (by youngsters) along the trail past our room, over the rim, and down the long, steep slope to the grasslands below.

Double glass doors leading from our room to the balcony.

Sunrise from our balcony. Truly a "room with a view!"

Masai cows on their way down into the crater shortly after dawn.

A quick note about some of our pictures: very few of them have any of the local people in them. For example, the picture above does not show the herders. We were told that many of the local tribal people are very sensitive about having their pictures taken. Courtesy demands that permission always be asked first; sometimes it is denied. Usually something is asked in return, either money or another gift. Some tribes actually believe that part of their being or soul is taken along with their image. Others simply feel that their image has value, and they want something of value in return.

Throughout Tanzania the crop we saw most often in the fields and small garden plots was corn. At the lodge dining room we began to see what the corn was used for. At breakfast (a sumptuous buffet) one of the offerings labeled "Porridge" was basically hominy grits. There were corn cakes at dinner that (we were told) were made from the same ingredients as the porridge, only mixed a little thicker. The locals formulated a homemade beer from almost the same porridge!

Part of the breakfast buffet. The loaf on top spells out "Tanzania," the ones below are "Karibu Ngorongoro" (welcome to the crater).

Mrosso had told us to meet him at about 8:00 at the front of the lodge. By the time we collected our box lunches, loaded up the vehicle, and waited for all the other safari vehicles to clear out, it was almost 8:30. It took nearly 30 minutes to reach the crater floor, and we were anxious to see some lions! Boy, did we see lions! And lots of other game. I'll list all of the sightings a little later.

The day was beautiful, bright and warm but not oppressive. It had rained in the crater the day before so some areas were soft and muddy, but with four wheel drive and Mrosso at the wheel there was no problem going wherever we wanted. We had to stay on the "roads" (remember the definition of a "road?") and couldn't cut across country, but usually that didn't prevent us from getting close enough to the animals we spotted. A 12-mile diameter circle contains over 108 square miles, and although it looked like we should easily be able to cover all of it in a few hours, there was no way to even come close.

Once in the crater, the scenery was fabulous. The "whipped cream" clouds were still hanging over the Eastern rim, the lake was like a mirror, and animals were abundant!

The tiny spots on the lake are flamingos. In the foreground are Thompson's gazelles. (It looks better full size!)

We were anxious to see everything at once, but Mrosso was patient. He knew it would be a long day and there would be plenty of variety. We spotted a Kori Bustard, one of Africa's biggest birds and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. It rarely flies, but has a wingspan of about 4 1/2 feet! We saw numerous Egyptian geese (obviously lost -- we were nowhere near Egypt.)

Kori Bustard. At right, an Egyptian goose far from home.

Driving on we soon found a small group of cape buffalo, with one off by himself with cattle egrets on and around him. Then we were able to get a hartebeest to pose for us. In the group shot of buffalo, notice that most of the animals are facing and moving away from us? This was a very common problem we encountered when trying to take pictures. Linda's frequent comment was, "East ends heading West!" Apt!

Lone cape buffalo with a cattle egret. At right, a group with tails in full view. These animals just look sullen and mean!

A Hartebeest. Linda's description: their horns look like they have a rubber band around them at the bottom.

We were anxious to see lions, and it wasn't long before we saw a few combies stopped beside each other -- a sure sign of something interesting nearby -- so we drove over to them. Sure enough, lying on a sandy area was a female lion all alone. She had her eyes closed and looked for all the world like she was lying on the beach sunbathing. The only way we could be sure she was alive was that she was panting in the sun and her flanks were moving. Every now and then she would twitch the tip of her tail. Later in the morning we saw a pride of about 11 nearly 100 yards off the road -- too far for good pictures. All told for the morning we counted 13 lions seen! Several of our drivers told us that lions simply ignore vehicles; you can drive almost over top of them, and they won't budge. From what we saw, this was true in nearly every case.

Our first lion -- working on her tan!

Far away lion pride. That's the best our zoom lens could do.

We came across an adult female black rhino lying in the grass about 20-30 yards from the road. We took some pictures, but were disappointed that she wouldn't get up and show herself better.

Our first rhino. She had obviously been wallowing in the mud! Interesting horns!

Finally we grew tired of waiting for her and drove off. About a half-mile away there was a huge elephant walking right down the middle of the dirt road toward some more combies. They had stopped to take pictures, but as the elephant came closer and closer, one or the other had to yield! Well, elephants ALWAYS have the right of way, so the combies began backing up trying to avoid both the elephant and each other.

The girl in the white Land Cruiser looks VERY anxious to get out of the way! Blame her?

Everybody gets out of the way. The elephant looks unconcerned, though.

Just before he got to us, the elephant ambled off the road and began to pull bunches of grass with his trunk and eat. This was a great opportunity for a close-up shot, and we were SO close that I had to "zoom out" almost to wide angle to get all of him in the picture. This elephant totally ignored the vehicles and the people, as if we were all completely invisible. We heard stories later of elephants who did NOT ignore vehicles, and the elephant always wins!

I couldn't even get his back legs in the picture. This guy was big, and CLOSE!

After he moved away a little, I finally got all of him.

After we had taken some good pictures of the elephant, Mrosso looked back and noticed that the female rhino had stood up, and was still close to the road! We turned around and were able to stop beside her about 20 yards away. She posed for us for a while, then turned to show us her other side, then finally began to wander away from the road, munching grass as she walked.

Is this my good side?

No, THIS is my good side.

There's more! Click HERE for more of the crater...