Sunday 24th May – Day two – Lions, elephants and the ‘birthplace of mankind’ !!

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Our breakfast audience – banded mongooses !!

After eating breakfast with an audience of banded mongooses and giraffes it was time to bid farewell to the Jansens, Kate, Hilary and Brian who were heading back to Mwanza as they only had the weekend off.

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What a sight to wake up to – 20m from our tent!!

We were heading south towards the Ngorongoro Crater – a drive through virtually the entire length of the Serengeti and then through most of the Ngorongoro Conservation area – all on rough dirt roads.  The first part was through acacia trees and then they thinned out and to the right of us we could see several safari trucks.  It wasn’t on our route but we took the next right as we decided to see what they were all looking at. When we got there there was a safari truck with six lionesses around it’s wheels plus another two up the nearby tree.

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Welcome shade !
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Spotted hyena with vultures waiting for their chance.
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Literally next to the road – too hot to move despite safari trucks, and us, passing by.

We stayed a while whilst they sat in the shade, took some photos and then headed back to our main route. It was going to be a long hot day on very dusty, bumpy roads.  The further south we headed the rougher the road got and we were travelling at about 40 kph. It did give us the chance to stop for the animals though – more lions, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, impala and herds of elephants (some on the road).

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These had just crossed the road !!

However, one of the best sights was a stand-off between a hyena and some vultures – who seemed to be taking it in turns in stripping a carcass of it’s flesh.  We got to Naabi Hill – the boundary between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area (NCA) by lunch – good going given the roads and the amount of times we stopped to look at animals.

By 2.30 we had made it to the Oldupai Gorge – one of  the ‘must do’s’ we had written down when we knew we were coming to Tanzania.  The Oldupai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world.

History lesson – in 1931, Louis Leakey found Oldupai fossils in Berlin and thought Oldupai Gorge held information on human origins, and thus began excavating there. Louis and Mary Leakey are the archaeologists responsible for most of the excavations and discoveries of the hominid fossils in Oldupai Gorge. Their finds convinced most paleoanthropologists that humans originally evolved in Africa. In 1959, Mary found remains of the robust australopithecine Zinjanthropus boisei . The specimen’s age of 1.75 million years radically altered the accepted ideas about the time scale of human evolution. Leakey’s son Jonathan found the first specimen of Homo habilis, a jaw fragment, at Olduvai in 1960.

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Amazingly, this concrete post marks one of the world’s most important paleoarchaeological sites.

So there we were. A huge site with a natural feature named ‘The Castle’ infront of us. We listened to the talk by the guide and then asked if he would take us to see the sites where the fossils had been found.  We drove down into the gorge and saw where the hominid fossil was found in 1959. It was possibly the most unassuming place we had visited simply marked by a small concrete post.  Excavations are still going on 56 years after the initial find.  We then visited 2 more sites close by where other hominid remains had been found.

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‘The Castle,’ Oldupai Gorge.
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The Ngorongoro Crater – 14 miles wide with Lake Magadi visible on the crater floor.
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Masai children with our Landcruiser

After the tour it was back in the car for the rest of the journey to our overnight stop.  After the Oldupai it was a steady drive through flat plains but slowly the landscape changed and it was a steady climb.  We came to a sudden bend and there to the left was the most incredible view – the crater floor with Lake Magadi way down in the distance.

From here it was slow drive around very twisty roads until we eventually reached the exit from the NCA.  From there it was only a few kilometres to our overnight stay – a nunnery!!  It was very peaceful and the portions of food were ridiculous – enough for 8 people !! The room was clean and simple and double what we had paid to camp – the doubling of room prices would continue.

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