At 7:00 am on Friday, January 13th, our three land cruisers drove through the quiet, golden-tinged Ngorongoro Conservation area. As we pulled up to our destination, the sunrise over Ngorongoro Crater stunned every one of us. The sky's pastels blended fluidly with the light greens and blues of the crater below. As the bright orange sun poked the horizon, our safari vehicles traveled down a single-lane switchback trail along the crater's steep wall. Within moments of landing in Ngorongoro Crater, we spotted two elephants chomping on their morning greens. (Fun fact: Elephants consume 350kg of vegetation every day, which is the same mass as three baby elephants!) During our morning of cruising on the crater's dusty roadways, we were thrilled to see an abundance of zebras, wildebeests, water buffalos, hyenas, ostriches, cranes, and hippopotamuses. We also spotted one rhinoceros and a total of six lions (including one cub).
Although we all had a blast seeing animals in the wild that we have only witnessed in movies or at the zoo, many of us shared feelings of great discomfort with our roles as tourists for the day. Throughout this program, we have been focusing on being culturally-aware student travelers as opposed to tourists. This mindset was difficult to embrace in an environment saturated with safari vans full of people decked in tan cargo vests, overly crisp white shirts, wide-brimmed hats, khaki pants, hiking boots, and humongous cameras dangling around their necks.
During our touristy picnic lunch next to the hippo pool, Killing'Ot, one of our Maasai cultural guides, gave us a lesson about Ngorongoro Conservation Area that left us even more unsettled. In the formation of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, many Maasai communities were forcibly evicted from the crater. They were allowed to continue to graze their livestock within the Crater since it contains a very large and reliable water source. However, the Tanzanian government decided to ban Maasai from entering the crater at all three weeks ago...in the middle of a severe drought. We are all enraged by this new law and its timing, and I was not alone in feeling guilty for supporting Ngorongoro's cause with our entrance fee.
Having the opportunity to view all of those wild animals in their home terrain was truly magical. However, the knowledge we have been acquiring this month through conversation with our Maasai friends complicated our enjoyment of the beauty within Ngorongoro Crater. We have been grappling with this sort of complication throughout our time in Tanzania.