Sunday, September 04, 2016

African Adventure - Part 7: On the Road to the Serengeti

July 9, 2016
On the road again!  

After our very enjoyable morning learning about the daily life of a Maasai village, our tour group boarded our three Land Cruisers for the trip to the Serengeti National Park.  We would not arrive until the late afternoon the next day, as we made several interesting stops along the way.

Our first stop was a woodworkers' shop where we watched several young men carving gorgeous bowls, animal figures, and intricate wooden sculptures from ebony and other types of wood.  The younger members of our tour volunteered to do some of the sanding required to make the wood smooth and gleaming.  Naturally, there was an opportunity to purchase some of the finished products, and Rob and I came home with a small ebony elephant to decorate our mantle.
Craftsmen create beautiful works of art.

Bowls, animals, and other items from local woods.

Our tour members help with the creations.

Mary and Laura explore the simple shop selling the local crafts.
From Tarangire, we drove northwest past Lake Manyara, then up into the hills.  All along the way, we saw the people of this area going about their lives, attending a village market, and herding cattle right down the highway.
Traditional life meets modern transportation.

A village market along the road.

Gathering near the market

A large boma near the highway

Traffic jams in Africa involve cattle, not cars!

As we ascended into the hills, the landscape became greener and more agricultural.  We drove through a busy little town that Cosmas called Mosquito River, although I can't find that name on a map, so I'm not sure of the African name.
Driving through Mosquito River

The countryside became greener as we drove up into the hills.
In the mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Ngorongoro Farmhouse Valley Lodge, a lovely lodge with gorgeous views of the fields and farms that covered the green hills.  Each of the little cabins was identified by the Swahili names of African animal;  tumbili - the monkey, simba - the lion, tembo - the elephant, etc.  Our large, beautifully decorated room was at the end of the property with beautiful views of the countryside.  After our nights in the tented lodges, it felt quite luxurious to be in our big bedroom with solid walls and a great bathroom with plenty of electricity for charging tablets and camera batteries!
Ngorongoro Farm Valley Lodge

Ngorongoro Farm Valley Lodge lobby

Our bungalow at the end of the lodge

Our lovely room

The view out our "back door"

After settling in, Rob decided to enjoy the clear pool at the main lodge building.  As I snapped some photos, my eye was caught by a bright green flash.  What a treat to see several brightly colored little love birds in the trees right over the pool!   There were other birds in the trees...and one happy little fellow bathing on the shallow rim of the pool.
Fischer's Love Bird

Fischer's Love Bird

This (as yet unidentified) bird enjoyed a seed from the trees around the pool.  

Enjoying a path in the lodge's pool.

While Rob swam, I joined some of the others and a lodge staff member to explore the large farm that provides the fresh produce for the lodge.  Even here, there was wildlife - we saw a small jackal cross the path below us.  The staff member told us that the Cape Buffalo will sometimes walk right up to the lodge, We ended our walk at another lodge, owned, I believe, by the same company, where we sampled some of the really good coffee grown, roasted, and ground right here.  As I sipped my coffee on the patio, I enjoyed the sight of some huge marabou storks that walked around the property as well as up on the roof.
Some of our tour group visits the farm.

We walked by a large banana plantation.

Lettuces and cabbages provide greens for the lodge's salads.

Coffee plantation

Ripe coffee beans ready for picking

Roasting fresh coffee for the lodge guests
Storks walked freely around the lodge grounds...

and perched on the rooftops.
We ended this busy day with a good buffet dinner and a very good night's sleep.

July 10, 2016
On to the Serengeti via Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge

Our tour group left the lodge immediately after breakfast to continue our journey to Serengeti National Park.  Just outside of the lodge gates, we saw our first animal sighting for the day, a bold jackal who stood by the side of the road gripping the leg of a goat.
A black-backed jackal enjoys a meal of leg of goat.

The Ngorongoro Farmhouse Valley Lodge actually sits on the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater, so our first destination was a viewpoint overlooking the crater floor.  Sadly, the slopes of the crater were shrouded in a dense grey fog.  We could almost see nothing for the first hour of our trip but the thick jungle vegetation covering the slopes.

The dense jungle on the outer slopes of Ngorongoro Crater
Along the road, a group of Maasai and their little herd of donkeys appeared out of the mist.  Cosmas joked that donkeys are called Maasai Land Rovers.  And we stopped at this gravesite of Michael Grzimek, a German zoologist and filmmaker whose surveys of the migration of the animals helped to establish the borders of the Serengeti and whose films brought world attention to the conservation of the animals.  Sadly, his small plane was hit by a vulture and crashed near this site.  He was buried here on the slopes of Ngorongoro and the Tanzanian government erected this little monument in his honor.
Donkeys in the Mist

Gravesite of Michael Grzimek

As we drove along the rim of the crater, the fog finally cleared enough to see the floor of the huge caldera below.  We would not visit the crater floor today...that will come later in our journey...but we stopped for a quick (and very chilly) rest stop to view the lake and dry plains.  Our guides informed us that global warming is having a real effect on this region.  The lake below, usually filled with flamingos, is drying up and invasive species of flowers are killing the native grasses.  Climate change is also affecting the normal migration pattern of the wildebeest that loop through the Serengeti and Maasai Mara.
View into Ngorongoro Crater

As we descended down the far side of Ngorongoro, we came upon an usual sight - camels feeding on the acacia trees!  We learned that one of the U.S. aide societies had provided camels to the Maasai as beasts of burden in this warm and dry area, but the Maasai prefer their donkeys, so the project did not take off.
Camels enjoy the thorny acacias

We passed several Maasai villages along the road.  The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is not designated as a national park, thus it allows the Maasai to continue their traditional life here.  Cattle, sheep, and goat herds are numerous and share the grasslands with the wild herds of giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, and antelopes.
Cattle herd above the "cultural boma"
This "cultural boma" was open to visitors to demonstrate Maasai life.
I was grateful for our opportunity to visit a more authentic village.

Donkeys search for tiny bits of grass on the dry plain

Another cattle traffic jam!

Wildlife lived side by side with the Maasai herds of cattle, sheep, and goats.  

Male ostrich

Female ostrich watches the goat herd that shares the plain

Another hour and we were back on the flat plains below the Ngorongoro volcano.  We turned off of the main highway and drove over a very dusty road to our other important stop of the day - a visit to Oldupai Gorge, a ravine in the Great Rift Valley - and the site of the important discoveries of early man by Louis and Mary Leakey. This was a very special stop for me, as my dad, a geologist, was also a lay expert on evolution, creating and teaching a unit on evolution to California science teachers.
The marker points the way to Oldupai Gorge

When I first read the itinerary for this tour, I was confused by the name "oldupai."  Many of you probably knew this place as "Olduvai Gorge," but the name olduvai was a misunderstanding of the correct word by the Germans who colonized this area in the early 1900's.  The German wrote the first books and documents about the gorge and the name stuck.  So it was interesting to learn that the actual name of the area is "oldupai," after the Swahili name for the sisal plant that grows everywhere in this area.  It is still popularly known as Olduvai, but our guide urged us to spread the correct terminology.
The sisal plant, or oldupai, that gives the gorge its name.

Looking down into Oldupai Gorge

The view of Oldupai Gorge from the museum on the rim

We all sat down on benches facing the large gorge below us, and a museum guide presented a short lecture on the history of the region and the many important discoveries made here by the Leakeys.  Among the most significant were the discovery of early humans, of the tools used by early man,and  the discovery of the bones of indigenous and extinct animals, The Leakeys developed the theory that the Oldupai Gorge was the home to Homo habilis, a race of early humans that survived other species to become the ancestors of all present-day mankind.
Our docent shows a replica of the skull of an early hominin

As we listened to the lecture, several little birds came to check us out.
Any reader who can provide identification is welcomed to do so!

I think this is a green singing finch - also called a yellow-fronted canary.
Why and how did this become such a rich field of paleontological discoveries?  After the lecture, we drove down the steep rocky road into the gorge to the very site where Mary Leakey discovered the bones of an early hominid she called Zinjanthropus (now known as Paranthropus boisei).  Next to this very special spot, there was a display explaining more about why so many bones of several species of early humans over the course of many millenia could be found in this one spot:
"The recent discoveries carried out by TOPPP (The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project) have shown that this spot was near a fresh-water source available to hominins less than 200 meters away from the high density patch of stone tools and butchered bones observed at the site.  Here at the Zinj site itself, abundant plant silica bodies from woody dicotyledons and palms were found, which attest to the presence of trees and/or shrubs. Hence, the paleoenvironmental context at FLK-Zinj appears to offer a spring-fed watering hole and an adjacent woodland that would have provided a relatively safe location from carnivores for homonins to butcher animals.  The spring would have provided an attraction given the abundance of the fauna and the woodland a temporary respite of safety for multipurpose activities of homonins producing tools and consuming animals."
The ash from the volcanic activity in this region left minerals in the soil that helped to preserve the bones of both animals and early humans that inhabited this site over the centuries.
A small monument marks this very significant site.

Rob and Joan at the site of Mary Leakey's discovery of Zinjanthropus

A young boy herds his goats in the Oldupai Gorge

In addition to the small cement blocks marking the sites of the most significant discoveries down in the gorge, we also browsed through the small museum up on the rim.  Most of the space was devoted to photos and descriptions of the Leakeys and their work and a few small cases filled with some of the bones and skulls of both early humans and animals discovered here.
Mary Leakey

Louis Leakey

The skull discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959

Early tools

Reconstructed skull of Zinjanthropus

Animal bones found in Oldupai Gorge

More animal bones found in the gorge.  The large skull on the left
is an extinct ancestor of the rhinocerous.

A second room told the story of another major discovery in Laetoli, about 45 km. south of Oldupai Gorge.  The footprints found here provide evidence that hominins were walking upright over three million years ago.  The prints found at the actual site were covered over to preserve them, but a casting of the prints were on display in the museum.
The Laetloli site provides evidence that man's early ancestors walked upright.

A cast of the Laetoli footprints

The museum itself was small and rather shabby, so I was please to see construction work on a beautiful, large, new museum that will certainly be a more fitting home for such important discoveries in our human history!
The home of the future museum for the discoveries at Oldupai Gorge

We had one more ride over the flat, dusty plains to our final destination, Serengeti National Park.  I was very excited as we entered the gates to the park, as I knew that we had more exciting animal adventures ahead - and we were not disappointed!.  Stay tuned...that story will be coming up in the next post!
Entering Serengeti National Park


Annis Cassells said...

These stops were included in our tour, too. We loved the Ngorongoro Farmhouse and crater. xoA

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Yes, the Ngorongoro Farmhouse was our favorite of all of the lodges. So peaceful...and comfortable! I enjoyed the tent camps, but it felt quite luxurious to be in a "real" bedroom for a few nights! Our visit to the crater comes a few days later...on our way back to Arusha from the Serengeti.