Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Avoiding Crowds in the Ngorongoro

I took Nicol to the Ngorongoro Crater. She wrote to me about an article and wanted me to change that part of the itinerary because of the crowds, but I wanted her to see it. I likened it to being 30 miles from the Grand Canyon and not going to have a look. It was a risk, because I know how busy the crater gets and how awful it can be with traffic jams, but its still an amazing place- a caldera with the highest densities of animals found anywhere in the world.

The morning starts before the sun has risen- drinking coffee and trying get warm we huddle into the vehicle and start our descent into the crater. The fog is lifting out of the crater, the dust from the previous day’s chaos has settled as we make the first vehicle tracks of the day. We end up watching the animals nearly alone and as we exit the crater heading for our next destination, I’m hoping that it was worth it. I look back and can see 20 vehicles congregating along a short stretch of road where lions have just killed a zebra. Its what we wanted to avoid, and we did.

(Photo by Alyssa Nicol

I take a left at the Ngorongoro airstrip and head towards a small village where I will attempt to drive down a new road that I walked 10 years ago with a friend of mine when it was just a donkey path. It’s another risk but Nicol wants to get off the beaten track as I do. I’m a little nervous because I know that 13km of road on a map can be hours of low range four wheel drive clambering and I just hope we’ll get to camp before dark. The road is steep with loose rock in places but the Landcruiser makes easy work of it even when it seems that the road is sliding out from under us, or one wheel is in the air.

Occasionally, I stop the car and admire a leopard orchid, or for Nicol to take a photo of a baobab with her Holga film camera. Trickling through one of the valleys is a clear stream and I remember cooling my feet in it when I walked down. I park in the shade and we grab the picnic basket and walk downstream under some magnificent fig trees and we sit barefoot on rocks in the stream, eating pickles and making our own sandwiches with avocado, tomato, smoked beef and home-made bread and cheese.

It refreshing to be with someone who finds this fun and I expect that everyone probably does, but its easy to get caught up in worrying about what people will like or not like. As we finish the last bites of our sandwiches, it is as though we planned it, a herd of calves comes down to the river herded by some young Datoga boys and girls. Nicol calls it serendipity. The dust kicked up by their hooves disperses the harsh light and this noontime scene becomes a photogenic moment. While the cattle drink they ask to borrow a cup so that they can drink some water. Nicol takes some photos and the kids are happy. I share some bananas, but wonder what the implications of this innocent interaction will be.