Sunrise on the hills of Manyara is like no other. The hills glow red before the glow of the sun comes into view.
Since Ngorongoro is a crater, we drive up up up to top at first, and then still more up up up to the crater entry gate. We pass Maasai laborers on our way, gathering fruit, wood, working. Then we head down down down into the crater where animals aplenty wait.
A queue of jeeps announces a male and female lion “on honeymoon.” If we wait “12 to 20 minutes,” we may see them “make love”. The most we get is some stretching, she rolls over, he licks her for a while. Not as exciting as we’d hoped. Still, when he stands up, he is intimidatingly tall and large!
The zebra and wildebeest are much more used to humans here than in Manyara, and don’t dart out of the way when our jeep approaches. We take advantage of the close ups for better photos and more involved observation. [Enjoy some terrific wildlife footage by a dedicated South African couple who befriend a leopard, drown $2 million worth of camera gear and film a pride of lionesses attacking an elephant here: http://www.ted.com/talks/beverly_dereck_joubert_life_lessons_from_big_cats.html.]
Lunch is at a lake where all the other safari goers have gathered to eat, like a herd of wildebeest grazing in the shade, close to the water; good thing we aren’t anyone’s prey. Hippos bask in one corner, a few surface and submerge near us. I eat my hardboiled egg and remember cracking a similar egg at Mawenzi Peak just a few days ago.
It’s hard to fight sleep after an early morning and so much food. We don’t have to do anything besides sit and look, which is also conducive to a snooze! I wrap Hamsa’s kanga tighter around me to keep the cold air from making the hair on my sunburned arms stand on end. Amazing how cold it is down in the crater!
Walter nudges me awake as we ascend the crater on our way out. Still no faru, or rhino—the last of the ‘big five’ animals to spot—and we take in the rainforest views for the last time. We get to the Ngorongoro gate where Dickson and a van driver are waiting. Walter and I transfer our bags to the van, say kwa heri to John and we head for Arusha. We pick up 4 other passengers along the way—Dickson is comfortably sandwiched between driver and a passenger and they heatedly debate which of the 2 reigning political parties, CCM and Chadema, should win the upcoming elections. ‘Salaam Maria,’ a radio show, Walter and I gather, comes on the radio which quiets them down; in time for a flaming sunset, even. Walter and I talk culture differences between Americans, Europeans and Indians. I learn that Gouda (as in the cheese) is pronounced “howda.”
Back in Arusha, I am reunited with my Tanzanian family. Katana’s mother has had our hiking shoes washed! They are no longer mud-and-dirt splattered from climbing a mountain. “It is a mother’s work,” she says simply. And next morning, as I gather my things for the bus back to Dar Es Salaam and bid farewell to my new-found family, she is equally sincere and says what all of us are feeling: “it is very hard to say goodbye.”