Posted by: Dana | 2010/03/18

March 17 – Overlooking Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania

I need to write more frequently because I seriously feel like I’ve packed weeks worth of activity and experience into each day, and will hardly do justice in the description. I’m at the point now where I need to look at my watch now to remind me not of which day it is, but which month, and it’s difficult to recall where we camped the previous few nights. Each day is so full and so amazing.

I’m currently sitting in a beautiful lodge on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, a 20km wide volcanic crater which essentially holds captive tens of thousands of animals, including the “big five”: panthers, lions, black rhinos, elephants, and buffaloes. While the animals are not technically locked in, the steep sidewalls of the crater make it impossible for most of the animals to leave, which makes Ngorongoro an incredible place to view the wildlife (aka predators) up-close and personal.

We hit the half-way point of the ride, in Arusha, Tanzania, two riding days from Nairobi. In Arusha, we have a three-day mid-way break, a vacation from the vacation of sorts. Many riders took extended leaves—some to rest on the beaches in Zanzibar, others to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and some even took the opportunity to go home for a week or so. I opted for a three-day safari, with accommodations, along with eleven other riders.

Today was our second day on the safari and we have been blown away by the number and variety of animals we have seen, and how close we can get to some of the world’s most dangerous and magnificent creatures. We have seen four of the big five—all but the panther—and hundreds, if not thousands, of other species. In the crater, animals typically travel in herds but mix and mingle peacefully with others species (except when they are hungry, apparently!). Literally, at any time while in the crater, we could see hundreds of animals in every direction and I couldn’t imagine anywhere else in the world closer to the Garden of Eden. Lush green and vibrant, we benefited from being at the tail end of the tourist season here. Rains have started in Tanzania (but we have lucked out with perfect weather here) which has turned the brown prairie green and the number of tourists have diminished to a small trickle compared to high season. We travel six to a vehicle plus the driver/guide. The vehicles are four wheel drive with a pop-up roof and big open windows, so we sit or stand with our heads above the roof of the vehicle for a perfect view of whatever it is that is galloping or grazing or grooming in front of us. It was a truly breath-taking descent into the crater and with every twist and turn of the vehicle, we were awe-struck by magnificent sitings of elephants, lions, buffaloes, flamingos, ostriches, zebras, warthogs, hippos, antelopes, wildebeests, hartebeests, gazelles, and so many others. Yesterday, in the denser and even more lush Lake Manyara National Park, we saw giraffes and baboons, among many others of the animals already mentioned.

Last night and again tonight we are staying in absolutely incredible accommodations. Last night, the lodge overlooked the Rift Valley, with unbelievable views, baboons that frolicked all over the grounds, and delicious food. Tonight, the lodge is as stunningly beautiful with the views of the crater. I had the thought before the safari started, that perhaps I should have stayed close to camp in Arusha and simply rested and worked on my bike. I wasn’t sure I had the energy for this type of excursion, but this experience simply could not be beat and we are seeing some of Tanzania’s most incredible places that are not accessible by bike. I’m glad I’m here. For our final safari day tomorrow, we will be touring the Tarangire National Park, which is known for its baobab trees and high concentrations of animals, including enormous herds of elephants.
Between these few days off, and the extended rest day I took last week in Nairobi, I am definitely feeling like I have had a break from riding. Less than 48 hours before I was to arrive in Nairobi, Eythan confirmed his plans to travel there for work for a perfectly-timed visit on my rest day. I skipped the day of cycling into Nairobi and hopped a ride along with five other riders who were anxious to get to Nairobi in order to spend extra time with him there. It was a fabulous visit, filled with lots of things that didn’t feel particularly Kenyan (such as swimming in a pool at the UN sports complex, playing frisbee, grocery shopping in a huge supermarket, and eating out in a couple of great restaurants). We also spent a few hours at the Masai Market, a big open-air market where local Masai tribes people and artisans sell their wares after they’ve haggled you and once you’ve spent the obligatory thirty minutes negotiating the price. We had a great visit.

I arrived at the hotel before Eythan did and I walked across the street to the Village Market, a high-end retail area. Just as I was experiencing complete culture shock, Loren (my sister) called me and thankfully talked me through one of the most bizarre experiences I have felt in a very long time. Still scabby and bruised, dirty and probably a little smelly, and wearing the same clothes I have worn for two months, I walked around the mall and could not have felt more out-of-place. Even though the mall was closer to “home” than any other place I have been with its shops, restaurants, food court, movie theater, etc., I was so overwhelmed by the options (Greek, Thai, Indian food!), the wealth, and the white people I saw in front of me and honestly felt as if I had just crawled out from under a rock, or out of the desert, which indeed was the case! For the first time, I was without my band of fellow riders. I had stepped outside of the uniquely bizarre cycling clique where going to the bathroom in self-dug hole in the ground is the norm to a place that was beautifully landscaped and had every amenity one would expect from a high-end shopping area in the States. I definitely felt out of place. I was reprimanded twice in the hotel for trying to line-dry my hand-washed laundry (mostly cycling shorts). First, while hanging clothing on the roof-top lounge of the hotel, the Director of Hospitality promptly corrected me (and offered to have the clothing dried). For the few items I didn’t hand over to him, I hung them out the room window, but was quickly asked by the front desk receptionist to remove them.

By jumping ahead one day to Nairobi, I missed the efforts of my D.C. neighbor at meeting up with me in Nairobi. Somehow he found the campsite where our group stayed in Nairobi, but unfortunately and unbelievably, it was the one night of the entire ride when I wasn’t with the group. I so sincerely appreciated his effort and for offering me accommodations in Nairobi, and regret that we didn’t connect.  Thank you, Leigh!  Meanwhile, I want to give a shout-out to his daughter, Olivia, and her friends at the Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., who I understand are following my blog. Thanks for your interest and give me a shout out in the comments section or email me directly (dfarrell75@yahoo.com)!

It seems like Kenya came and went so fast, even though we were in the country for two weeks. I wasn’t quite ready, when we reached the border crossing to leave. Kenya left strong impressions on me though the experience seemed to consist of two entirely distinct parts. The first part was the northern stretch of unpaved roads and torrential rains which I have written a lot about and which will forever represent some of the biggest challenges of this trip (at least so far!) and my first encounters with Kenyan tribal communities which just blew me away. During the latter part of our time in Kenya, we cycled past Mt. Kenya, beautiful highlands, into the Nairobi outskirts, and then into the city. I was struck by how lush and vibrant the countryside is and how flowers are blooming everywhere, both wild and planted. Towns seemed to have thriving local economies and contain essential stores/businesses (ie., butcher, grocery, etc) in each commercial center. We saw street signage that we almost never saw in other countries marking distances and contemporary advertisements along the roadside. The Kenyan people, almost universally, were kind, friendly, welcoming, and warm. Children were well-dressed (typically in brightly colored school uniforms) and well-behaved. Very rarely did we encounter people asking for money or food. There seemed to be a pride in the physical appearance not only of the individuals, themselves, but also of their small homes and town centers. Kenya felt like a relatively prosperous country (especially coming from Ethiopia) and remarkably livable.

The border crossing into Tanzania marked the first one in which we weren’t confronted with immediate and striking changes from one country to the next. Tanzanians speak Swahili, as do their Kenyan neighbors, and the beautiful countryside scenery (cultivated farmlands, lush forests, alpine meadows, etc.) we enjoyed in Kenya continues here. I haven’t gotten the real flavor of Tanzania yet, but during the first couple of days cycling, we’ve ridden past Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, at nearly 6000 meters. We had incredible views of Mt. Meru, Kili’s neighbor and Tanzania’s second tallest peak. Road conditions were spotty—sometimes we cruised on beautiful pavement but were then sadly confronted with gravel and corrugated stretches in between paved parts. One big regret was listening to a paving crew that waved us on to a newly paved section of road only to find our tires and bike frames coated with tar and our bodies completely splattered with it from head to toe. (Yes, for those who read along on my cross-America ride, the EXACT same thing happened. Note to self and others: Don’t ride a bike on wet pavement. It creates an absolute mess and it is impossible to get tar off of the bike and the body!) The TDA staff picked up jugs of petrol gasoline that night so we could bathe our bikes and ourselves in it, as it was the only thing we could find to get the tar off. This did not make for a fun evening—trust me!

My bike is kind of a wreck right now. It hasn’t been the same since the battering it took in northern Kenya. The brakes are still iffy, the shifting is screwy, and the chain falls off the cassette when I shift into my large cog. (I actually managed to put the chain back on while riding the other day, which was a first!) When I went to replace my slick tires with my fat, nobby ones after Nairobi (we’re going to be on unpaved roads from now until our next rest day, a week from now, in Iringa), I noticed my fat tire had a gash in the sidewall, rendering it completely useless. This was really bad news for me, as I only have one pair of fat nobbies, and I really need them. I may be able to borrow someone else’s. Anyhow, this all means that I need to spend some serious time on the bike (with the help of the mechanic, I hope) this week replacing the brake pads, cables, chain, etc. There is never enough time in the day, after the ride, to get everything I need to get done, but I will try to fix one thing on the bike each night until it is back to 100%. I’m still very happy with my bike—it just needs a little TLC after covering the distance we (my bike and me) have traveled.

So, off to bed I go, with images of panthers swirling in my head (wouldn’t it be fun to see all of the big five??), excited for our third and final safari day, and then we meet up again with the group (minus all of those taking extended vacations) and get ready to ride south of Arusha heading towards Tanzania’s capital city of Dodoma. I feel energized and ready for the second half of this ride—amazed that we’ve already come so far and that we have less than half left to go. Please send updates from home, because I miss my wonderful family and friends. xoxo

One more thing–this blog is totally incomplete without pictures!  I will do my best over the next few days to find internet and upload and post a few.  We’re heading out for a seven day riding stretch on unpaved roads, so it’s probably likely that I’ll be out of touch for a week or so.  I promise that for whomever is interested in seeing my pictures when I get back, I will gladly show the best of them.  I just find it impossible to upload the photos with these crappy internet connections and hate to spend hours of our very limited time on rest days searching out internet connections that can handle the task!  Ok, I’m off!!!


Responses

  1. Amazing, Dana!! What an adventure and opportunity. Just unbelievable. Can’t wait to see the pics!!

  2. I’m offering to host the party for friends and family wherever and whenever so that we can all see the pictures and hear the wonderful stories. I’ll rent the clubhouse here and we’ll have an African themed party with you at the helm.
    Hope the bike is up to the rest of the journey. Be well and be safe. Incredible journey, Dana. ILY

  3. dana-you are still incredible. tracy and i comment to all the hghschool girls on how hoss and awesome you are. i think of you often and miss you-spring in rock creek park is not the same without ya! happy to run with you on yr return to train for ironman (crazy lady!) and can’t wait to see you and pics
    love, laren

  4. Dana! Your blog continues to amaze and inspire me! I can see the colors, the mist, the terrain, and hear the animals! What a journey. Can’t wait to get even more stories when you return. We’ll host a welcome home party for you!!!!!!!

  5. dana,
    i love the safari. wish i were there. hope you saw panthers too. brought ruben to the zoo for the first time yesterday. not quite the same huh! so great you got to see e. half way through, you still have so much to see.

    xxx
    ak

  6. Love reading your entries. You really take us along for the ride. Can’t wait to hear more. Happy trails!

  7. Dana,

    Steve and I love to follow your trip. Keep up the posts and pictures and best wishes from Maine.

  8. Bonjour Dana!

    Thanks so much for making us dream, I hadn’t gone on your blog for a while and I feel like I just picked a great book! We started riding this weekend again in DC after a really long winter and thought about you.
    Have a wonderful rest of the trip!
    Au revoir et bises,
    Isa

  9. When this adventure is complete your Father said he will rent out Harbor Yard in Bridgeport for a showing of all the pictures, story telling of your adventure, and one hell of a party to celebrate your journey.
    Tom Bloch


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