The Handsome Warthog

No trip to Africa would be complete without going on safari.   Compassion International knew that about our mindset and scheduled a trip to the Ngorongoro Crater for our group.  What an exciting day!  We boarded several vans specially outfitted for a sophisticated safari.

Early in the morning, we left Arusha and headed towards the crater, traveling on a long, solitary highway dotted by an occasional Maasai young boy or two who were herding their cattle towards greener pastures.

The word Maasai means ‘my people.’  Ezekiel told me that the Maasai believe that God gave all of the cattle on the earth to the Maasai, so it is not unusual to hear that the local Maasai have ‘acquired’ a random cow or two along their journey.

The route from Arusha to the crater first crosses the high desert plains (similar to southern Colorado).   Keep in mind that a “highway” is to Tanzania as a “road” is to us!  The landscape was brown and dry — winter was approaching.  Winter at the Equator only gets down into the 50 degree range so it really wasn’t cold to those of us from the Northland.

The flora during this part of trip was interesting — acacia trees and an assortment of other plants, most having thorns of some kind attached to them.

The Beauty of the Acacia Tree

I love the acacia trees.  Light and airy, their thorny branches stretch their tendrils out across the plains as if to embrace the whole world with them.   Weaver bird nests hang upside down on the branches of the trees.  The nests are elaborately woven and the bird enters from the bottom of the nest.  God’s design is amazing, each need carefully provided for by a Creator who knew the need first.

An hour or so into the trip, we started to climb a tall ridge and the flora became more diverse and green.  I believe the driver told us that this was the east wall of the infamous Rift Valley, made famous by Mary and Louis Leakey, whose excavations uncovered some of the earliest remains of stone-age man in the Olduvai Gorge close-by.  Both wildlife and the Maasai live symbiotically together in the crater, a unique feature of this preservation area.

As we crested the ridge we entered a landscape of rolling green hills.  This is where we encountered the infamous baobab tree.  I read somewhere that the baobab tree can live for several thousand years.  It is leafless nine months of the year and looks like an upside down tree (imagine the roots on top of the tree instead of leaves).  The circumference of the truck at ground level is immense!  Sprinkled over the landscape were small, red-earth, rustic dwellings.  This was rural Tanzania.

We passed the small town of Karatu, to which we would later return for a night’s stay in a wonderful, wonderful “hotel.”  It was the kind of places that dreams are made — African wood poster beds covered with white linen (including mosquito nets, of course!)  I was so enthralled with the landscapes as they passed by that in no time at all, we arrived at the crater…..well, we arrived at the long road leading up to the lip of the crater!

View from the top of the crater

Slowly we climbed up a winding two-lane road.  The vegetation was thick during the ascent and as we reached the top, the view that emerged was amazing!  There we were — standing on the lip of an ancient volcano looking down into a primordial crater!  The word that comes to mind is: spectacular.

Then came the descent….we began to creep down a series of skinny, pot-hole laden switch backs.  I couldn’t hold myself back and stood up the whole way down…just to enjoy the view!   (The tops of the vans open up so that we could stand up through the vent and observe the various animals we were to encounter. )  The crater floor is immense and I felt like a tiny ant in comparison.  The crater floor covers approx. 102 square miles, if the info I gathered is correct.  The altitude of the crater (from the same source) ranges from 1020 to 3587 meters (approx. 3400 to just over 11,000 feet.)

We had arrived at the Ngorongoro Crater towards the end of the migration season.  It’s possible the crater would have been much more alive with wildlife had we arrived a little earlier in the season.  However, we saw an amazing array of wildlife even so late into the season and it felt very, very alive to me.

You’d think a safari would be an extreme  wilderness experience — at least that’s what I thought.  It’s actually quite civilized.   There we were – driving all across the crater along several well-worn and rutted dirt paths which crisscrossed each other throughout the entire floor of the crater.  A plethora of vans, just like ours, sped quickly along the checkerboard created by the dirt “roads” in the crater.  Tourism is important for Tanzania, and the safari is an important source of revenue for the beautiful country.  The volume of vans crossing the floor of the crater told me just how popular the safari is to the tourism of Tanzania.

Our driver clung to his radio.  As soon as any animal was spotted, the radios became furiously active and suddenly, every van rushed to find the lone cheetah that was discovered.  Then we were off to find the elephant — the rhino — the hippos — the warthogs and more.  Each driver communicated with all of the others in the crater so that they could immediately drive their people to the animals which were discovered hiding in the tall, brown grass.

I think my favorite animal was the warthog.  You just have to love the warthog and after seeing them run through the tall grass, tails held high and straight, I couldn’t help but smile.  We also enjoyed some mother lions and their cubs, who decided that the shade provided by our vans was much more preferable than the hot sun on the treeless crater.

One of my favorite stories is about a handsome, elderly elephant we encountered.  His solitary presence on the floor of the crater told his life story.  Our driver said that normally elephants have companions with them and would be over on the sides of the crater at this time of year where the vegetation was more abundant.  The fact that he was alone in the middle of the crater was an indication that he had come down from the hills to die.   Thus, this picture is one of my very favorites from the trip (I’m an animal lover…).

The Old Man Going Home

Young Elephants

It was with great sadness that we left the crater.  We were all windblown and tired but I doubt there was a person in the group who didn’t enjoy this experience.  (Thank you, Doug!)  We slowly climbed out the other side of the crater only to encounter a tribe of baboons blocking passage on the road, a temporary obstacle which provided several minutes of jovial entertainment and photo shoots.

Writing these stories is a way for me not to forget.  And I never want to forget the people and places of Tanzania. The people?  Because they whisked us into their homes and into our hearts.  The places?  Because the beauty of God’s creation was magnified in my soul and has taken up residence there.   Thank you, God, for the beauty You created — in both people and places that You, a Holy God, have made.

Now for some random pictures for you to enjoy!

The Group


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