A Surprise Lunch in the Ngorongoro Crater
“I think we’re lost,” our guide Hamis Nyati says, as the Toyota Land Cruiser he’s driving bumps and spurts down a rocky road off the beaten path in Tanzania’s Ngorngoro Crater. Up ahead, we see another jeep and a few men milling around. “I’m going to ask these guys for directions,” he says, turning the vehicle toward a small clearing.
As we get closer, it becomes clear we aren’t lost, but rather, subjects of a delightful hoax. The other vehicle is a Sanctuary Retreats jeep, and the men are staff from the camp on the rim of the crater where a few journalists and I have been staying. They’ve set up a buffet and a table for four. It’s time for lunch.
Fanuel Michael, the camp’s head chef, invites us over to where he’s keeping meat and vegetable skewers hot on the grill. On an adjacent table, there are trays of beets, avocados, red and green peppers, and rice with corn. I fill my plate and head back to the table, where a waiter arrives to pour a glass of a lovely South African Chenin Blanc.
Eating a surprise tablecloth lunch and drinking a cold Chenin Blanc in the middle of the Ngorongoro Crater is pretty surreal, but then again there’s hardly anything about one’s experience in the crater — a 2,000-foot deep, 12-mile-wide cavity that formed when a massive volcano exploded and caved in on itself several million years ago — that isn’t surreal. With more than 30,000 animals — including lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and elephants — and a truly epic, almost fantastical topography, the vibe here is distinctly Narnian. It’s the sort of place where you half expect one of the animals to approach you and ask for your help combating the forces of darkness. In this context, a gourmet lunch, as strange as it seems, actually kind of makes sense.
We dine surrounded by acacia trees and papyrus grass, superb starlings skirt around us, their iridescent backs shimmering in the light. As I get up for seconds, I notice a family of vervet monkeys looking on enviously. Can you blame them?