Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Africa #10: Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Time to move on. It took us something like three and a half hours to drive from the central Serengeti to the Ngorongoro crater. Our guide/driver said that he’d keep the top of the safari vehicle closed because this was a “main road”. As it turned out, our two world-views of what that meant didn’t really overlap much. What he actually should have said was “ a wider rock strewn path than we’ve used so far” rather than implying we’d be using something that had ever seen a layer of Mr. Macadam’s finest. Still, I like these long drives, and the bumps weren’t too bad except for one heavily wash-boarded section that they were in the process of resurfacing ... after a fashion, at least. Picture a couple of big earth-moving machines, each adorned with two rows of large metal claws and therefore looking like Iron Man’s garden rake, which basically drive along at 5 mph ploughing up the surface of the “road”. Fair enough, just the start of the process, right? Wrong. That’s about it. They move on, leaving piles of rock for passing vehicles to flatten back down all over again as the years click by. Not seen this tried on the M25 or US101, but given the state of the latter then they may just as well give it a go because it would still be an improvement on some sections around the Bay Area.

The Ngorogoro crater is a spectacular sight. You enter on a single-track dirt road curving down from the crater rim and looking out over the central lake. Unsurprisingly, time of year determines the size of the lake but for us here in July it was still a reasonable stretch of water and with the added bonus of being ringed by an edging of brilliant white salts. This is because the lake itself is very alkaline thanks to it being a captive body of water and hence continually absorbing dust from the volcanic explosion that caused it to come into being some half-million years ago. This alkalinity also causes certain algae to bloom on the surface of the lake that in turn attracts the flamingoes who like to feed on it; it also turns them pink, a lesson surely for all of us who eat too many Cheetos.

That night we stayed at the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed at: the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. All-in, close to $1,000 per night each! This better be good….

And it was … mostly. A quite remarkable room with spectacular views across the crater, complete with added foreground interest from their resident herd of zebras and a lone Cape buffalo. Dinner was included, as were drinks, and we also made sure to avail ourselves of the services of the butler assigned to cater for our every whim. However, having said all that, the food, whilst being very good, was not on a par with the price, and overall the service was a bit, err, variable shall we say. More on this tomorrow.

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