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Day 14: Lake Manyara

Today we drove down into the Ngorongoro Crater for a long dusty game drive. The drive down on hairpin curves was through a beautiful forest, prolific with baboons and other monkeys. The safari jeeps are fun because you can stand up with your head popped out of the truck and even stand up on the seats without your shoes. We all feel like high school seniors in the limo prom but instead of high glamour, we look like road-weary dust bunnies. The roads are so bumpy you feel like a bowl of Jell-o with the wind whipping through your hair and a layer of red powder covering your face. Our driver stops and talks to all the drivers on the road in their native Swahili, discussing locations and activities of animals. We love our driver, Mbisi, who is about our age and married with four kids. We have all become friends and he says the other drivers call him the “Impala Man” with his six wives. Only an impala could keep all these women satisfied but he does it joyfully. He has as many questions of America and American life as we do of him. We take turns sitting in the front seat daily to keep him company and for an expansive inside view.

The crater is full of animals. We watch a lioness stalking a lame zebra for 30 minutes. I know its "survival of the fittest," but I'm actually glad the zebra got away. Still, the lioness was beautiful and patient, much more patient than we are when we are hungry. We drove further down the dirt road for five minutes and saw two cheetahs bring down a wildebeest, far enough away I could not see blood but Joanna, our WGN member and professional photographer, of course wished she could have captured nature a little closer than me. Cheetahs run 115 mph, amazing really and they are beautiful to look at.

I'm not one who knows much about birds but we have seen so many. The frazzled-looking "Secretary Bird," who looks like she has black leggings on and wild crazy hair; the beautiful lilac-breasted rollers with their spectacular colors; hawks; eagles; ugly but necessary vultures who clean up the leftovers; storks, flamingos, cranes and herons; and many more with names I can't begin to remember but who are aptly named. Their colors flash through the desert dust, a welcome relief from the often-brown landscape seen in the Serengeti and parts of the crater.

Every day we take picnic boxes from the lodge and find some safe place to eat, but always with a watchful eye. They pretty much have the same thing – fried chicken, a sandwich, banana, hardboiled egg; tea bread or donut, chocolate, juice and water. We put all of our uneaten leftovers in the "good box" and give it to the Masai children when we leave. They come running up to the truck in their bright colors, dirty little faces with hands outstretched. The government doesn't want anyone to feed them because they might beg and our driver could get fined. But he and we feel terrible about wasting food so we peel all the wrappings off and break all the food in half and hand it out, leaving no proof behind that we were there. We know they need water, as does everyone in Africa, but we can't leave the bottles behind. At least we can help a bit.

The one animal we had not seen in the Serengeti was a rhinoceros, and we were not disappointed. Mbise pointed out a large boulder which suddenly came alive as it rose to its feet. So many of these animals seem alone, one rhino, one ostrich, one lion. Not the zebras, wildebeests, impalas or gazelles - they seem to travel in large herds of 50 - 100, operating on the premise that safety is in numbers. Heading back up to the top of the crater it got cooler, no mosquitoes thank goodness, no white gauze around me. Claire is back to herself, malaria caught in the nick of time, the angels were watching over her and us.

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