Saturday, March 1, 2008

WC: Another Day of Wonder


Got an email from my sister asking for more emotional info--am I having fun, is it awesome, etc. Since the email was sent 5 days ago and I just got it, I don't know if the question is still pertinent or if my blogs have answered it. Just in case:

This is one of the coolest things I have ever done in my entire life and I'm having a great, great, wonderful, great time.

I also feel like I got hit by a truck.

Today we got up at 4:30 am to go down into the Ngorongoro crater (pronounced Goro-goro but with an "n"ish sound before each "g"). We were on the road by 5:45. Our American tour guides told us not to get our hopes up for seeing a black rhino--there are only 25 left in the crater, which is hundreds of square kilometers big--but we would do our best to find one. Well, we must be pure of heart, because about 10, 15 minutes in, there was a black rhino right in the road waiting for us! (We ended up seeing a total of 5!)

The whole experience was glorious. The day was beautiful. It was so early in the morning that there were no other humans for miles and miles. We were surrounded by vast expanses of grasses dotted with various trees and here and there animals.

The rhino is an amazing beast, absolutely prehistoric in its look. It's small-eyed, like an elephant, and its skin looks like I imagine a dinosaur's skin would look.

And then, a bit later, a lion came by. A big male. It actually crossed the road between our two vehicles, then settled down on its back, paws in the air like Bert Lahr in the Wizard of Oz, and snoozed, only feet from us. We must be really, really pure of heart.

Today we also saw hyenas, jackals, and about a zillion flamingoes. I tried to get film of the flamingoes that gives a sense of how many there are, but I have no idea if I succeeded.

To be honest, much of today is a bit of a blur. I was exhausted, and I kept dozing off in the back of the vehicle. I am now able to bounce around as in an ill-maintained roller coaster, mostly without getting nauseous, and sleep! But I haven't really been falling asleep on this trip--I've been collapsing into unconsciousness. The trip is that intense.

About my video-filming: I suck at it. In my defense, when we stop to take pictures, if someone moves it shakes the vehicle. And I can't see particularly well through the eyepiece. Even with those excuses, however, I suspect my filming skills are unusually bad. I forget to press pause when I'm going from shot to shot. My hands are not steady. When I want to zoom, I nearly always go in the wrong direction first--and my zooming is far from steady. But I still think I got some really good footage. Time will tell. And the others jn my group are sharing their photos, and some of those should be amazing. I'm sure we have a ton of good pictures of lion belly from today.

Tomorrow's Olduvai Gorge, which I'm very pysched about. And a visit to Masai village. And a visit to Shifting Sands, which I take it is a really deserty desert. And then we end up at the Serengeti. Hey, no wonder I'm tired.

There's a sense of awe to this whole experience. Being on the other side of the world. Being surrounded by glorious expanses of nature. Seeing a zebra's erection (I kid you not, it was awesome). Being away from the world as I have always known it.

A vervet monkey stole Andrea's apple during lunch today. She had her box lunch open on the seat of one of the vehicles and she was standing outside next to it--the rest of us were eating off the hood. And suddenly we saw a vervet monkey scurrying out of the pop top with an apple in its mouth. No dummy, it was eating the apple as it was jumping back to its tree, just in case it lost it I guess.

I haven't had to go to the bathroom "in the woods" yet, but that'll probably come tomorrow or the next day on the Serengeti. I did go in a bathroom today that was impressively awful, but it did offer privacy.

This lodge is amazing. We have a view of the crater from our room. We don't have phones in the room (we haven't since the first few days), and we're about 2 and a half blocks (I paced it off) from the restaurant and reception area. At night, people walk you to the room to protect you from elephants, buffalo, monkeys, etc. The main building has grates in the ground--sort of like the ones in the sidewalks in NY but with the metal only going in one direction--to stop animals from coming in.

An elephant was right behind our rooms about an hour ago (I missed it--I took the afternoon off from a bird-watching trek and conked out).

Internet costs about $10 for half an hour here. I sprang for an hour tonight because I felt like writing without rushing.

This is my last post for at least a few days. No 'net on the Serengeti. This is when we move into tents that will be struck each night and re-assembled wherever we end up. Since we are following the wildebeest migration, we can't predict where that will be. Our African guides will keep in touch and figure things out. We'll be in two-room tents with bathrooms. As exhausting and challenging as this trip has been, it's definitely "An American White Girl in Africa."

I wish I could begin to do this trip justice. To be, for instance, in the crater surrounded by beauty and wonder--and some carnage too--is an amazing feeling. I find myself wondering about the meaning of life (though I tend to always come to the same conclusion: it has the meaning we give it). I ponder how humans live vs how animals live. In the Serengeti we're likely to see more "nature red in tooth and claw," but in the crater a lot of nature looks downright mellow. The animals are just, well, living.

On the other hand, the lion did have blood around his mouth. And we did see a hyena, surrounded by white feathers, trying to get a little bit more meat from the bird's bill with a tiny bit of bird left attached to it. And we've seen bee-eaters (tiny pretty birds) whack bees against branches to kill them.

Sometimes, when we're out there, it's hard to remember that NY exists. And I've carefully avoided getting any news, which has been a pleasure.

I think I'm going to read this over and go back to my room. I'm skipping dinner tonight--I've had a bunch of food today, and rest trumped food for the evening.

Lala salana. (The way I spelled it earlier was wrong.)

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