In the water and in the road, huge herds and lone bulls, sparring teens and teeny babies - the elephants were out in full force today. Just beside our vehicle, two youngsters wrestled their trunks in a play-fight. We drove leisurely out of the park, spotting a pair of tiny dik-dik as we left. We headed northwards onto a newly-paved highway, passing Mosquito River, a Maasai town. The colors were intense and everywhere - on signs, on the cloth wraps of the women balancing bags of grain on their heads, on the hills and flatlands. Clusters of small round huts dotted the landscape, each belonging to one family. One villager had a hillside full of huts for his 21 wives.
We arrived midday at Gibb's Farm, a former coffee plantation converted to a lodge. It was an oasis, a slice of paradise in a rural dry place. Vines climbed the walls on the main house, now used as the reception and dining area. Our rooms were small cabins set among lush greens and bright flowers. In the sloping hill below, the meticulously-tended organic garden grew all the produce and herbs used to prepare the most incredible meal of the trip. Spinach salads, vegetable quiches, rhubarb cobbler, seasoned potatoes, pineapple upside-down cake, passion fruit juice greeted us on the lunch buffet. Later I toured the garden and saw everything I had eaten and more - celery, papaya, mango, squash, potato, artichoke, avocado, carrot, beet, turnip, and on and on. Because the farm borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a team of gardeners not only tends the plants but must keep out intruders, like the elephant that left a trail of footprints in the lettuce patch.
In the afternoon we took a guided walk into the Conservation Area to a nearby waterfall and the elephant cave. The cave was carved by elephants digging into the hillside to extract minerals from the soil. Once large enough to hold several elephants, the cave was washed away by El Nino rains. What remains resembles a mining pit, with a new small cave being carved out at the top. Our guide Pascal was a remarkable young man who worked as a porter at Gibb's and spent his free time volunteering for an AIDS charity, caring for the sick and educating other young people about prevention.
Before dinner I had a chance to relax and make use of the lodge's internet connection to send a quick message home. It was remarkable to be so far removed from all that I knew yet able to share a brief bit of what I was experiencing. In the highlands the air quickly grew cold after dark. Dinner was served by candlelit, with a roaring fire by our table. Several of us stayed late to plot a few surprises for Chuck's upcoming 60th birthday. It was a wonderful night of wine and laughter. I returned to my room to find a warm fire in the small fireplace, and soon after porter delivered a basket of wood to keep the fire going. I feel asleep to the soft glow and warm crackle, my head full of misty hills and elephants and thoughts of home. >>