After another stop at a souvenir shop we ended our day at Gibbs Farm, a working coffee plantation with a delightful bed-and-breakfast nestled in the lush greenery along the hillside. Like the RiverTrees, it is structured as a set of individual cottages, each sleeping two or four, each with large sitting areas, luxurious porches, and individual fireplaces. Lush gardens of greenery and flowers line the paths and bushbabies scamper among the trees overhead. The main lodge houses an outstanding restaurant – easily the best food we had on the whole trip, and that’s really saying something because we had delicious food at every meal. More than 90% of the food they serve is grown on their own farm, from the vegetables to the eggs and meat, and the chef is outstanding. This was our base for exploring Ngorogoro crater, although Gibbs has its own series of activities (watch the bread-making operation, tour the farms, help pick the vegies for the evening dinner, or listen to a local church choir sing) that made the place a truly fun place to stay.
Day 5 was dedicated to Ngorogoro crater, “the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera.” Covering over 100 square miles, with walls over 2,000 feet high, it’s an impressive ecosystem unto its own. We climbed slowly up the winding road on the outside of the crater, then bumped through the cloud forest along the dirt road halfway around the rim before heading down to the crater floor. (The caldera, a collapsed volcano, is tall enough to generate its own weather and the upper slopes are generally enveloped in clouds throughout the morning.) The crater floor is largely flat, largely open grassland, with a few small forested areas, a spring-fed marshy area, and a soda lake that was dwindling in size as the dry season progressed. The crater floor, though relatively small compared to the big national parks, has an incredibly dense collection of wildlife. At this point we were accustomed to common sights of zebra, wildebeest, and various species of antelope, though we did catch our first look at Thomson Gazelles – small antelopes with distinctive markings and, given we were touring with Thomson Safaris, a special favorite for our group. We had our first good look at hippos — although the best would come later, we were told; the real excitement was a sighting of a rare black rhinoceros (highly endangered due to poaching, with only 17 surviving in the crater) and of a serval, a small but beautiful cat. While watching a herd of elephants, we watched an auger buzzard swoop down and catch a snake, an impressive feat from his perch high in a tree and the tall grass where he found the snake.
We climbed back out of the crater on a steep and twisty cobblestone road – not a good place for acrophobes! — and around the rim to our starting point. From the viewpoint we could survey the entire crater, with thousands of grazing animals visible two thousand feet below. Memorial markers here celebrate the German scientists and explorers who, a hundred years earlier at a very different time, recognized the ecological importance and impressively unique nature of this place, pushing for its conservation and preservation.
After a wonderful performance by a local church choir, singing upbeat Christian hymns in Swahili, we had another delicious meal at Gibbs Farm in the restaurant as the sun set over the coffee fields and the rolling hills below.
More in the next post! and don’t miss the full photo collection.