Under Attack

September 19

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I woke up even before Jim's alarm clock could do the honors, and when I saw out of the corner of my eye that one could actually see the moon (in the last throes of its cycle, like the insurgency in Iraq). So I quickly dug up the camera and tripod and snapped some pictures of the imminent sunrise. Not the best one ever, but hey, it was a sunrise, something we had almost forgotten what it looks like! I even got access to the restaurant balcony to shoot from and had to be rescued by one of the staff since the exit was blocked by some happily dining ladies in very elaborate garb. I wondered if they knew where they were going, or if they were even going, since admittedly the lodge offered a premier viewing spot.

After a quick breakfast, mainly aimed at not further upsetting my system, we headed down into the crater. Today the ride with Derek was much slower & smoother, given that we didn't have an imminent deadline to beat. The first impression inside the crater could be summarized by "holy crap, lions!" as they say in the cartoon. An even bigger pride of lions than yesterday was spread out around us, and soon underneath us: shade is apparently a rare commodity here in the crater, and our Rovers offered just that. Now of course it's (1) illegal and (2) in bad taste to run over a sleeping lion, even if it's under your car, so it was fun to see the drivers maneuver the cars out of this situation.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (92 pictures)
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When we in a way escaped the lions we once again got to enjoy Derek's driving skills since Jim got a rather urgent call from nature, and the only facility was not where we were. As such we pretty much zipped by the single male lion who proudly marched across the steppe, showing off his superiority for everyone to behold. After the break we continued our trek across the crater and got to see a cheetah in the distance; you could barely make it out, it was a good example of how good our guides were.

We stopped for lunch at the local water hole - hippos included - where we consumed our lunch. It was the first but by far not last example of Death In A Box, an expression I learned in London, describing a boxed lunch. Somewhat unexpectedly I got to share my lunch with some aggressive birds, one of which literally ripped my sandwich out of my hands and took off with it. I guess that's why everyone was eating inside the cars? Well, almost everyone: some people made it a sport to feed these birds. Some people are apparently even competing for the Darwin Awards, like the dude not so long ago who put the chicken out of his Death In A Box (ah! that's what it was supposed to be!) onto his head, for the bird to take. The bird did that, and since it was at it also took off a healthy chunk of his scalp. Dude was flown to Nairobi for treatment; I guess it is a good idea to get travel insurance if you're planning to be an idiot.

I like warthogs: they are so ugly that they are cute. Plus, when they run they put their tails cutely up in the air. My pursuit of warthogs was soon notorious, but it was preempted when over the radio came the news that a rhino was sighted nearby. Some mad driving skillz later we were looking at a rhino who just crossed the road (why? because the grass was greener) and didn't seem to care too much about us, which was a good thing as typically you don't want to be charged by one.

Did I mention dust? Like, lots of it? If you want to get an idea what it was like here, stick your head into a big bag of flour and sneeze. I am including some pictures on this page that show the same subject matter when the wind is / is not blowing. Out here, wind = bad dust. I should take this time to thank Andy for his suggestion to show up with three cameras (instead just two), each having a designated lens permanently attached. You really don't want to be changing your lenses here - the sensor gets crapped up enough the way it is already. You have not seen dust until you visited here. I have traveled through many a desert before, but this place takes the cake, or should I say the sensor. I should also thank Graham, who has asthma, for giving me one of his face masks. He had mercy with me, given that I was coughing as I was still fighting my bug. His face mask has definitely made my recovery much easier.

Nicely dusted we drove out of the crater, to the other side this time, where we had a camp set up. These were "real" tents: no concrete slab, no power in the cafeteria, heck: no cafeteria. Yet still, there was a dining tent, and in the back of every tent was a field shower and a chemical toilet. There goes again my notion of camping. Last time we properly camped I was dragging my not-yet-wife for more than two weeks through Scandinavia without a single shower. Now that's what I call camping! In contrast, here we had a power generator, a three course meal with wine, even a bed for Pete's sake. As always the dinner featured an amazingly good soup, of which I ate at least four bowls. Because of my affinity for soup I had to tell my fellow travelers The Soup Story from my youth, which made everyone laugh - and consider me even weirder. The big irony of the evening was that The Ladies who are from Canada were the ones freezing, huddled around the campfire, wearing jackets that may guarantee survival on Mars.

Since we were in a camp in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by friendly creatures, the tour organizers thought of everything, including our safety. As such, we had a sizable man from the native Maasai tribe as security guard, spear included. After all they grow up surrounded by wild animals and survive, for the most part, until the high age of ~45. That made me feel really good, as purely statistically I was not due yet.

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