On one of my trips to Africa last year I had the distinct opportunity to visit and stay at one of the most remote and incredible places: The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Perched into the side of the craters wall, it’s a treat of wilderness and luxury in one of the more remote parts of the world. It takes a hop skip and a jump in two bush planes and a bumpy drive in an AWD vehicle to reach, but it’s worth the trip. I recommend starting the trip as early in the daytime as possible so you can see the crater as you drive upon it, and sights like Mt. Kilomanjaro on your flight in through nearby Arusha.
The crater makes up a large part of what’s known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which was originally formed from an exploded and then collapsed volcano. The eruption and subsequent settling of the ground left a completely perfect wilderness refuge. The walls and steep hills that lead to the floor are some 2,000 feet tall and the crater floor itself covers more than 100 square miles. It’s no wonder it’s home to more than 25,000 animals today. It’s natures perfect sanctuary and a good place to see the Big Five. Safari heaven by any measure.
Based on fossil evidence, most scientists say around this area was where man first came from some 3 million years ago. Mind blowing to think about, but when you see it, it all kind of makes sense.
After a bumpy but pleasant ride in, the grounds of the lodge come into view. Setup like a postcard, every window looks out upon the wildlife playground below.
After driving up, one of the first things you’re told are the ground rules. Some basics: The lodge is not fenced off, so lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo are found all around the buildings. Venomous snakes and scorpions are found everywhere, so keep an eye out for those. The lodge accepts no responsibility whatsoever for injury, death, loss or damage. Under no circumstances should a guest walk in or around the lodge at night unless accompanied by a staff member. Oh, and you’re in a malaria area. Welcome to Ngorongoro!
An ominous welcome to what is basically a luxury lodge, but I forgot it almost immediately after I saw where I would be staying.
The walkway to the main lodge. Everything was perched up on stilts, and many animals were hanging out under at any given time. Even in the middle of the night guests could hear and feel buffalo running below.
We managed to see the sun set over the crater as we were checking in.
I wondered what I would see first when we set out for the crater base first thing in the AM.
Postcard like. Just stunning.
Inside the main lodge where we met the staff and checked in. This would also be where we would socialize the next couple of nights. It proved to be the perfect living room.
The living room was packed with all kinds of old world items that made me feel like I was diving into a vast history of safari and game hunting. Books, globes, trinkets. It was a truly opulent interior– hidden behind a handful of bland huts that from a distance simply blended right in to the crater walls.
After checking in I was led to my own personal hut, situated only a 2 minute walk from the main lodge. A king size bed, a view to die for. I felt like royalty. It was flawlessly comfortable.
I knew this bath would come in handy after a long day tracking animals.
And the view I could see out the window from the bedroom wasn’t so bad!
Dinner was served under chandeliers each night. I was surprised to see that they could easily substitute and create almost anything to our liking. My then wheat sensitivities were not a problem– a rice based bread was made especially for me at each meal without hesitation. I knew they had seen it all when the next morning they were ready with options for lunch out at the crater base (which was exceptional).
The first night we met our guide who discussed our game plan for the next morning. We were up and out early looking for the big five. When she asked me what I wanted to see most, I said a zebra and giraffe. Hey, I’m easy to please. I didn’t realize that was like spotting a subway rat in NYC. We were joined by a second spotter– a spotter in training. He saw things from such a distance I still think he was cheating. Hundreds of feet away he would call STOP, whip out the binoculars and show me the ears of a lion, or the tusks of a rhino camouflaged far out in the distance.
A common sighting the next day, baboons in the road!
I called them African roadblocks. What fun (and nuisance) they could be.
Jurassic park clearly inspired by the real thing.
The sun started to come up as we made our way to our first stop. A visit to a local Massai village.
Akawelle translates into “also known as love” and is a jewelry line that uses spent bullet casings from the Liberian civil war. The necklaces and bracelets are made by 17 year old Lovetta Conto who fled Liberia with her father during its deadly civil war. Proceeds from each necklace goes towards the Strongheart House, a safehouse in Robertsport, Liberia for young people who have been displaced (and also the same program that brought her to the US). Incredible, beautiful, inspiring. Hat tip, Greta.
I’m heading to Tanzania! I’ll be in Dar Es Salaam, the Ngorongoro Crater and into some more remote areas with my friends from Millennium Promise. The primary purpose of the vist is a YGL Summit and a speech in London, but I’ve bolted on some pretty interesting side trips.
Posting will be minimal (as will my computer use in general). I’ll be updating occasionally from Twitter and snapping lots of pictures to share upon my return. See you on the other side…
Our favorite large scale street artist, JR, has just left his mark all over Kibera, Kenya. In his most ambitious move yet he created a series of shifting images that sit on a hill. The eyes of the faces (pictured) are on a moving train, giving each a different pair of eyes as the train passes by. Just the thought of sitting on a roof top in Kenya to watch the train go by to complete the photographs makes us smile. JR has enlisted the help of the locals to create the images, as well as a massive series of photographs that spanning several roofs of the village. The water-resistant fabric helps with the structural condition of the poor village. Supposedly these rooftop photographs are visible from space. We haven’t heard any vertification from NASA. Check out his full gallery for the latest project and a few additional pictures over at the Wooster Collective.
The first time Common Threadz caught our eye they were utilizing talented artists to help less fortunate children of Africa afford school uniforms. Fortunately, they haven’t stopped supporting creative minds and the cause of needy kids in Africa, they’ve only expanded their reach. The Orphan Collection raises money for the cause by featuring the children’s own artwork and designs. Each T-shirt sold goes to feed one child for a month. How many tees in your closet are feeding malnourished children?
One of the most compelling projects at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Nollywood Babylon, a movie about Nigeria’s film industry (after Hollywood and Mumbai-based Bollywood, it’s the third largest in the world but has the highest volume). With Lagos as the backdrop and against a soundtrack of ’70s African underground music, the documentary highlights passionate producers and directors (with Lancelot “Da Guvernor” Imasuen as a special treat) as they put together popular low-budget stories that frequently include drama and voodoo. Written and directed by Montreal’s AM Pictures partners Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, the team behind the documentaries Discordia and Bombay Calling, the movie does a fantastic job of making viewers feel like they’re on site at the colorful sets. Showing an industry that creates 50 films a week is no small feat and well worth a watch.
It’s great to see a classroom project launch a social enterprise company that is then able to provide for increased educational opportunities. That’s the case for Better World Books, “the online bookstore with a soul” founded by three Notre Dame alums that collect used books and sell new ones to help fund literacy efforts worldwide. Their newest partner is Invisible Children, a program that uses multimedia to discuss the ongoing war in northern Uganda and the need for improved classrooms and resources. The two organizations have invited high school and college students to host book drives as part of the “schools for schools” initiative and have raised more than a million dollars with the involvement of 2,000 schools. By visiting the Invisible Children partnership page on BetterWorld.com, online book buyers can have the proceeds of their purchases benefit Ugandan school children while helping inspire action education and hope in a place that desperately needs both.
Kehinde Wiley is approaching superstar attention levels in the art world with his continuation of The World Stage series. Wiley’s first installment was centered around China‘s urban youth and propaganda art. This time he’s moved to Africa — Senegal and Nigeria to be specific. By setting up shop abroad Wiley lived and worked with his subjects and their surroundings. The style mimics 19th century royal portraits, and even though he is clearly channeling some Victorian art styles, the pattern has nice modern touch. The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar is now showing at The Studio Museum in Harlem and will continue until October 23rd. Seeing Kehinde's paintings in person (they’re huge) gives you a better understanding why he’s getting so much attention.
We write about T-shirts a lot on this blog. And, why not? They’re in our closet, they fit — our jeans would be lost without them. However, we’re much more keen to write about tees that help African children get much-needed school uniforms. Common Threadz uses the same spiel other hip T-shirt moguls do about about up and coming artists creating eco-friendly shirts for celebrities that like their shirts arty and eco-friendly. But, the cash you’re dropping on these shirts directly funds children who can’t afford this expensive necessity. And these kids aren’t going to expensive prep schools — the fact is without a school uniform, they’re not allow to get an education. If you’re thinking about heading over to Threadless this morning (of which we’re big fans), detour and spend the same amount to do a bit of good.