It took us a few hours to drive here. We could see the mountain off in the distance, however. A caldera is like a crater, but bigger. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caldera) This one is a huge bowl. The rim, where we are staying is at 7800 feet in elevation, while the floor is closer to 6000. The edges of Ngorongoro are forested and they remind me of Costa Rica more than anything I've seen here in Tanzania yet. There are vines and lots of vegetation. Although in some places elephants have knocked the trees over and what's left are just thin, twisted trunks. I thought there had been a fire a few years ago to leave them like that. But no. Our guide explained that mother elephants knock the trees over so their babies can reach the tops.
But I'm getting ahead of myself! On our drive here we saw more of the migration. It was incredible because we kept driving and driving and the wildebeest and zebra were constantly there. I know I have way too many wildebeest pictures, but it's just so interesting seeing them especially when a big line of them charges across the road in front of you and keeps coming and coming. You have to wait for a break before you can drive across!
We also saw the Maasai people for the first time, out walking, carrying firewood, and tending their goats and cattle. Wow! I've seen pictures of them before, but like everything else here, it doesn't compare to seeing them "live" so to speak. They wear colorful draped clothing, have these amazing earrings and live in huts set in circles surrounded by a thorny branched barrier (anyone who watched Survivor Africa probably remembers what that barrier looks like). I don't think I'm going to take any pictures of them, however. Most Maasai don't want their pictures taken and apparently there are some who will let you if you pay them, but it still feels somewhat wrong to me. I'm not sure why.
The descent into the crater was phenomenal. The best way I can describe it is bands of color. The lighter green of the grass, the darker green of the marsh, a swath of pink flamingos, silver shining water, the dark sides of the crater, and the blue sky filled with huge white puffy clouds. And once you're in the crater (I keep typing "crater", but I mean "caldera" I'm rushing with this once again so I'm not going to go back and fix it!) the animals come up to the car much closer than they have in the other places we've visited. They are used to the cars here, and don't perceive them as a threat. It's a very isolated protected place so there isn't much movement of animals from inside to outside and vice-versa. I was able to take a ostrich picture and did see a few rhino off in the distance, but didn't take any photos because they just would have been white blobs. We are hoping to see them clearer today.
Highlights of Ngorongoro so far include watching a pack of hyenas tear into a baby wildebeest carcass. We didn't see the actual kill, but another car from our group did and said it was quite a traumatic site. We also saw a huge group of vultures tear into a buffalo carcass. (I guess if the last blog entry theme was romance, this one is carcasses!) We also saw lots of crowned cranes, which are stunning (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/247347/5045/Crowned-crane), hippos, zebra, lions, a huge male elephant, and lots of birds. They are so much fun to watch, and the setting, those bands of color, make for some beautiful pictures.
I have to dash since I'm almost out of computer time and I want to get some breakfast before another day here. Yay! Another day here!
Thanks so much for the comments. I'm glad you're enjoying reading about it all! :o)