With 2 stops in Kogatende and Grumeti to drop of fellow travelers, we approach Manyara. Just before we land, we can see the Ngorongoro crater from the air, it is a spectacular view. We land and our guide is waiting for us. With a bit of confusion at the airstrip, when other guides are taking our luggage to a jeep from &Beyond thinking everybody on the plane is part of the same group, we finally are loaded in our jeep from Rangers Safari and on our way to the Manor. Our guide Moudy decides to make a stop at one of the tourists shops (for sure he will get commission on whatever purchases we make). We go in but are irritated with the lady that follows us on our heels trying to make us buy every item we look at. We are not really planning to buy anything. We have 2 more stops and don’t want to lug more things around than what we already have. But as I have been looking for a wooden elephant for years and they have some nice ones, out of curiosity I ask her for the price. The price is a shocking $ 450……ok, I want an elephant but not a $ 450 elephant. So I tell her it’s too heavy, which is actually true; there is no way I can carry that thing around for the next week and carry it back on the plane. She tells me that if I pay cash she can give me a better price and that they can ship it for me. Although I politely try to tell her no, she insist on having somebody do the calculation.  I can’t believe when, with a straight face, they tell me it is another $ 750 to ship it……I can’t help laughing and can’t even feel bad when they look insulted. More than $ 1,000 for an elephant??? Not in a thousand years. So we leave the shop with just postcards. Moudy doesn’t look too impressed but we don’t care and tell him that we would like to go to our hotel.

We leave Manyara and pass the town of Karatu. We love the various signs we see on the establishments: Las Vegas Bar and Grill, Mushroom cafe and Hillary Clinton’s shop. There are a lot of people walking on the side of the road with carts, animals and we wonder what is going on. Moudy explains it is market day. This is a monthly market and people come from all over to buy and sell. We pass the market and take some pictures. Shortly after we leave Karatu we get of the road and enter a narrow unpaved road. We pass several Masai huts before we reach the entrance of the Manor. Moudy explains that it is an old colonial house and that it used to be a coffee plantation. The coffee plantation is still there and it reminds us a bit of the wine country, but instead of vines and grapes, its coffee plants. We are welcomed by Margaret, who tells us they have lunch waiting for us. We are glad we didn’t eat our lunch box on the plane.  Moudy tells us there is nothing planned for the afternoon, but that there are activities organized by the hotel that we can sign up for like horseback riding or a plantation tour.

   

He tells us the next day will be a full day Ngorongoro Crater National Park. We check in and are shown to our room. All rooms are in fact little individual houses, with a terrace with fire pit, a sitting room with fireplace, a bedroom and a gorgeous bathroom. I love the tub and can’t wait to get into it later. We quickly unpack and put our laundry in the laundry bag (another great service that is included: laundry is free and we gratefully have our dusty clothes washed) before heading back to the restaurant for lunch. We are greeted by Peter, who accompanies us to a table in the swimming pool area. The table has 2 seats next to each other. We feel a bit weird sitting out here just the 2 of us facing the pool, but we accept it as yet another experience. Peter tells us the lunch options and we both decide to have a good old burger.

           

The pool looks very appealing so we decide that we deserve a relaxing afternoon at the pool with our books. We have the pool to ourselves and enjoy a couple of hours in the sun. The main house has wi-fi, so before dinner we take our computer and iPad to the bar to check emails and Facebook. Justin our bar tender keeps refilling our glasses of wine and Peter tells us that out table is ready whenever we are; service in the Manor is impeccable. We have another 3-course meal and try to be good by splitting the desert. During our main course, Peter asks if we want a fire in our room. Although not really necessary, we can’t resist, so Peter tells us that by the time we have our dessert, he will send somebody to light the fire. And indeed, when we go back to our room after dinner, there is a nice fire going in the room.

 

After a relaxing afternoon, a great dinner and a good night sleep we are ready for action again the next morning. Moudy picks us up at after breakfast and tells us it is about an hour to the gate of the park. Yesterday he casually mentioned a visit to a Masai village and after discussing it over dinner, we decided that we rather go straight to the park. When we bring it up this morning, Moudy dismisses it with a  “it is on our way and will only take 20 minutes “. We look at each other and shrug our shoulders; not much we can do. We realize he also casually mentioned something about $ 50. We arrive at the entrance and while Moudy sorts out our passes, we are entertained by  a group of baboons. We laugh out loud when we see one climb into one in the cars taking off with a lunch pack. They are chased away but we see the smirk on their face – got you, you dumb people. They know this is the place to be for food.

   

Moudy comes back with our passes and we enter the park. It is a winding road up to the top of the crater and we hold on for life as Moudy is driving like he is practicing for a F1 race; I look at the dashboard and realize we are doing 80 km/hour, overtaking cars in blind turns. Some people worried we would be killed by wild animals, I pray that we will not get killed by a crazy driver. We pass several Masai villages and about half an hour later we Moudy pulls up into one of them…there is no escaping so we just pay the $ 50 and get out of the car to be greeted by the son of the Masai chief. He tells us his people will perform a welcome dance before we go into the village for more performances and a tour. Still pissed off to be forced into this I watch the performance. I warm up watching a little baby and my anger disappears when the chief son is chatting up Mandi, asking me to take a picture of the two of them. I tease Mandi that I can make money by marrying her off to a Masai. Inside the village there are more performances and then we are dragged into one of the houses, where they give us the whole story, ending with a request that we buy some of the jewelry to support their family. We had a similar experience in Peru, but here they are hard-core. Everything is $ 20….they stuff things in our hands that we don’t want. Finally Mandi chooses a bracelet and I settle for a necklace with an elephant….30 minutes and a total of $ 90 later we leave the village. The necklace I paid $ 20 for, I buy in the next camp for $ 5…Oh well…..we shrug it of as part of our trip and our contribution to the Masai people. We are ready and eager to go into the crater.

   

At the rim we pass another gate and we finally see what is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world: the collapsed volcano that is now the Ngorongoro crater; 10 km wide by 17 km long and a natural habitat for a large number of animals. The views from the top are breathtaking. We slowly descend into the crater and on our way down we run into a group of baboons. The scenery is completely different from what we have seen in the other 2 parks. We drive down to the bottom and we are looking in awe at the blur of pink caused by thousands of flamingos. It’s impossible to capture on camera.   We drive on and pass a hyena sleeping against a rock at the side of the road.

    

We drive down to the bottom and we are looking in awe at the blur of pink caused by thousands of flamingos. It’s impossible to capture on camera.   We drive on and pass a hyena sleeping against a rock at the side of the road. We see a group of jeeps gathered in the distance. When we ask Moudy he tells us it is a hippo pond and our reply is quick “we have seen enough hippos in the last 2 parks, so we can skip that.”

   

We pass a couple of buffalo’s lazily hanging out before we get to one rolling around in the mud next to the road. He is probably part of the bigger group we see a little further on the other side of the road. Mummies and babies. So ugly, but because of it almost cute.

     

We continue our trip and all of a sudden we see a group of jeeps parked on the road. When we approach we realize there is a lion in the middle of the road. When we get closer we realize there are 2 females, just lying on the road. We can’t believe how close they are. Close but still what we call comfortably close. The one closest to us is just lying on the road, sleepy, relaxed while we watch and take pictures. Until all of a sudden she gets up. She no longer looks relaxed and sleepy, she is crouching down and staring at us with her yellow eyes when she starts crawling towards our jeep. She is beautiful, she is powerful, she is getting too close. Moudy is rolling up his window when she is strolling past the side of our jeep. If we stick our hands out we can touch her…..if we do we will most likely no longer have hands…..we watch, holding our breaths, not sure whether we are scared or excited or both. We watch her as she crawls under our jeep to take another nap in the shade. Ok we were happy to watch the lions up close and personal in Masai Mara and Serengeti, but this is beyond close or as Mandi posts on Facebook “Oh shit! Lion under the car…#toocloseforcomfort”.  We wonder how we will get her to leave, but after about 15 minutes. Moudy starts the engine and starts moving and our lioness walks off. We sit back and breath again while we drive off.

   

I am joking when I tell Moudy “now we just want to see a male lion as we have only seen one”. Not a minute has passed when he slows down, points to the right and says “I guess it is your lucky day.” And  there he is, about 30 meters away. We watch him; his big mane, his proud head and we now realize why he is called the king of the jungle: he is majestic. After we have watched him for about 15 minutes he all of a sudden gets up and starts walking toward us. He is coming closer….and closer…..and he finally settles in between our jeep and the one in front of us, almost sitting on our bumper. That is 2 lions on or under our jeep in less than 20 minutes. We see the people in the jeep in front of us looking at us all confused, putting up their hands, mouthing “where did he go??” we point down towards the front of our jeep and can’t help laughing when we see the shock on their faces. Our friend stays for about 5 minutes and then he gets up again, wanders around in between all the jeeps. He makes us smile when he lifts his leg and pees against one of the jeeps clearly making a statement that he knows who is the boss, before he struts off into the bush on the other side of the road. The show is over people…..We congratulate ourselves; if we would have gotten here 15 minutes later, we would have completely missed him.

        

We sit back and try to grasp how close we were to lions and I have to admit, much closer than I ever thought I would be. Moudy announces that it is time for lunch. He drives us to a pond where already loads of jeeps are parked. This must be the general Ngorongoro picnic place. Moudy starts unpacking several dishes. Like our picnic lunch in the Serengeti, it is a well prepared hot lunch, but unlike Adam who made an effort to serve us an outdoor lunch in style, Moudy just pushes the various dishes to the backseat and we are eating while balancing our plate on our knees. After lunch he tells us he is not feeling well and wants to take a nap. He had told us before he had a cold and we feel bad so we leave the car and stroll around for a while. But there is not much to do, so we end up back at the car long before the time Moudy told us we were going to leave. We kill the time by taking more pictures but then we give up. It is not our fault he is sick. We want to continue our trip. Fortunately he is awake when we get back and we continue the tour. We see several zebras in the usual line-up, and some elephants in the greener areas beyond them.

   

We admire the yellow acacia trees when Moudy pulls up behind a couple of jeeps. There are 2 lions under the tree next to the road, completely conked out with not a care in the world, the least of them a couple of snap happy tourists. We don’t care and snap away. It is a hot afternoon in the crater and most animals have gone into hiding in the shade. We have cruised thru about 3 quarters of the crater. We have another Rhino sighting. There are 2 of them grousing away in the fields in the distant.

  

Taking our last pictures while leaving the crater is a bit of a challenge as  Moudy seems to be racing for the finish line. So with a couple of new bruises on our arm from bouncing around in the jeep, we are on our way back to the Manor after another unforgettable day.

Back at the Manor we sink into the comfortable chairs on the patio; dusty, exhausted and still full of adrenaline. Justin and Peter come over and ask if we want anything. We look at each other, laugh and give them an update on the events of the day: from our F1 race along the winding roads of the crater to the lions under and next to the car. They tell us that we deserve a drink to calm down our nerves. Within minutes Justin is back with 2 glasses of wine. We relax out there, our glasses being refilled, until it is time to change before dinner. After a refreshing shower, we are back in the main lodge. Time for some emails and Facebook updates before dinner. When we walk into the dining room, we see that the table we had last night is occupied and that the diningroom is pretty much full. We search for Peter and when we ask him for a table he looks apologetic and tells us we might have to wait till some people are finished. When he sees our disappointed faces he starts smiling and tells us to follow him. He leads us to a private room that he has specially organized for us as it is our last night. It feels like we are dining in an old english country house, instead of the heart of Tanzania. It is another wonderful dinner and a great way to end our stay at the Manor.  

 

The next morning we will drive to Treetops in Tarangire and we can’t help being excited. As much as we have loved the luxurious accommodations and the excellent service of the Manor, specially Peter, Justin and Margaret who made sure we get everything we need, we both still missed our tent these last 2 nights and the feeling of being in the middle of a park surrounded by animals. We wonder about our next accommodation: is it a treehouse or is it a tent?????

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