A Travellerspoint blog

Ngorongoro - Ndutu

Lake Masek Tented Camp

rain
View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Having left Ngorongoro Crater behind, we make our way to our overnight accommodation at Ndutu, driving across the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. When they hear the name Ngorongoro, most people think only of the crater; but that is a just very small part of the overall reserve as the map below shows.

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As we make our way across the highlands we can once again see the Maasai tending to their cattle.

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After not having slept much last night and still struggling with being able to breathe, I am feeling extremely sleepy as we bump along the rough track, drifting into a lovely long snooze while Malisa negotiates the road to Ndutu. I don't wake up until we reach the beginning of the Ndutu Plains, some two hours later.

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It looks like this one feels about as sleepy as I do.

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Ostriches live in harems, with the male having several females such as these ten here. The male will mate with all of them and the females will share the babysitting duties.

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It is raining quite heavily now, and these giraffes look super miserable at getting wet.

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Bad hair day?

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Sheltering from the rain

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Not only has it stopped raining by the time we reach our accommodation for the night; it is still daylight.

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We last stayed here in 2011, when we arrived after dark and left again the following morning before daybreak. This time we have three nights here, and it is lovely to be able to actually see what the camp looks like.

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The camp consists of 20 tents set on wooden platforms, linked by gravel paths, staggered for privacy and most (ours at least) overlooking the lake of the same name.

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There is also a large dining tent with a bar, restaurant and a wonderful terrace with sweeping views.

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This 'room' even brings glamping to a new dimension.

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Outside the main tent, but still protected from the bugs by mosquito netting, is a cool terrace with comfy chairs and a great view. The perfect place for a sundowner.

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The room itself features a huge four poster bed, bedside tables, a chest of drawers, two spacious luggage racks and a writing desk with chair.

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There is a telephone, torch, whistle to attract attention in case of emergency, 24 hour electricity, plug sockets for charging phones and a very handy water dispenser for cold drinking water as well as hot water for making tea and coffee.

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And the bathroom... what can I say? Twin vanity basins, a free-standing bath, bathrobe and hair drier, a wardrobe (with safety deposit box inside), and separate toilet and shower rooms.

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The highlight is having a shower in the outside cubicle – nothing can beat a hot shower in cool rain under a starry sky!

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David is most disappointed with his shower and complains that I have used up all the cold water: by the time he goes in (or rather out), it has stopped raining.

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We have to call an askari (Maasai warrior) to come and collect us from our tent when we go to the restaurant. Dinner is a quiet affair, the only other guests are a German group of four, and the food consists of a 'buffet' brought to our table. As is usual on safari, we don't linger after dinner, and return to our tent around 21:00. The askari chooses his weapon ( simple spear) and escorts us safely to our room.

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And so ends another amazing day on safari with Calabash Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged lake africa tanzania luxury giraffe ngorongoro hyena glamping impala safai ndutu calabash calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area _masek lake_masek_tented_camp askari Comments (1)

Ngorongoro Crater

The Eighth Wonder of the the World?


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

At 02:00 I wake in a mad panic with a feeling of being unable to breathe. My head is spinning, the floor is moving like ocean waves and my heart is beating so fast it feels like I have just run a marathon (not that I am ever likely to know what that feels like).

I walk to the bathroom, having to hold on to the furniture along the way so as not to stumble, and by the time I return to bed I feel exhausted. As soon as I lie back down again, I start coughing. Thanks David for giving me your cold. Having spent the first three months of the year being very ill / hospitalised with pneumonia, and having to cancel a holiday in February, I was so looking forward to this trip. I really don't want to be sick!

A large group of tourists are leaving the lodge at the same time as us this morning (06:00), but Malisa has conveniently placed himself in the car park rather than just outside the door, so we get away before they do, which means we enter the Crater as the very fist vehicle this morning.

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Ngorongoro crater as seen from the rim

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Like an African safari in miniature, the Ngorongoro Crater is an iconic soup bowl filled with animals and wrapped in superlatives. As the largest un-filled, un-broken caldera in the world, the crater boasts a number of 'records', including the densest animal population in Africa. No wonder it is dubbed as the 8th Wonder of the World. Created some three million years ago when a large volcano exploded, the caldera is ca 20 km across and 610 metres deep; and contains all the 'Big Five' as well as a number of other plains game. Only the giraffe is absent, as the caldera walls are too steep for them to climb.

Also absent these days is the Maasai cattle, having recently been banned from the caldera. When we first started coming to Tanzania some ten years ago, the cattle were only permitted on the caldera walls, but over the years they have been spreading themselves further and further down, and last year we were quite surprised to see them on the crater floor itself. No more. They are not permitted into the caldera at all now.

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Instead of Maasai cattle, we see a number of Cape Buffalo on the crater walls this morning. Considered one of the Big Five, this is an aggressive and dangerous animal, responsible for a number of human deaths each year.

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We spot our very first lions about half way down the descent road, and we follow the two females all the way to the bottom, where they move off the road in their continued quest for breakfast.

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In the distance we – and the lionesses – have spotted a warthog. He too is very aware of the predators approaching.

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What to do now? The clever hog finds himself a hole in the ground and goes into hiding by 'reversing' into the crevice.

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We hold our breaths as the lionesses arrive in the area the warthog is lurking, looking in a few of the small ravines for the breakfast they know is hiding somewhere close by.

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Unfortunately for the lionesses, but fortunately for the warthog, they never do discover his hiding place. Well played Mr Hogg, well played!

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We follow the lionesses for a little while longer, hoping they might lead us to their babies.

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No such luck, and we join the baboons in looking at the lions disappear into the forest.

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Wise advice

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When Malisa spots a lone lioness in the distance, we stay a while watching to see if the gazelles spot her before she spots them as potential breakfast.

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Again nothing happens, another lion foregoes breakfast and we - and the gazelles - move on the pastures new.

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Endemic to the open grasslands in sub-Saharan Africa, the Secretary Bird stands around four feet tall and is so named because of the quill-like crest on the backs of its heads that resemble 18th century clerks with pens tucked into their wigs.

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Unlike most birds of prey, the Secretary Bird doesn't swoop down to catch its prey, rather he hunts on foot, jumping up and down to flush out his intended breakfast (snakes and lizards mainly) and then kills them with a force five times his own weight.

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When we met up with Tillya yesterday, her told me I have to take some award-winning photos on this trip; and I asked him if there was anything in particular he had in mind. “Zebras fighting” was his reply.

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Fortunately, these two very cooperative zebras do seem to have received the memo and put on an obliging display for me.

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More zebras down by Lake Magadi.

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As well as wildebeest and a hyena.

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And a very cute baby Thomson's Gazelle.

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The lake is also home to a number of Lesser Flamingos.

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To say the weather is changeable today is an understatement; the lifting roof has come down and gone up more times than a hooker's undergarments this morning already. Each rain shower lasts only a few minutes and is not heavy, but the wind makes sure that everything inside the car gets soaked.

It does make for some dramatic skies though.

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As Africa's heaviest flying birds, the Kori Bustard can weigh up to 19kg and stands at around 120cm tall. During courtship displays, the male inflates his neck and dances for the female, although this guy is obviously a little confused, as we cannot see any females around. Perhaps he is just practising.

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On all our previous visits to Ngorongoro, we have only ever seen the rhino from a great distance, so when Malisa asked me about my wish list this year, seeing a rhino up close was mentioned.

And there he is!

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Black rhino are on the Critically Endangered conservation status list, so I feel quite honoured to see one of the 30 or so rhinos that inhabit the caldera.

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We see eight lions in the distance, mainly sleeping.

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This old male of around 55-60 years old (it is mostly males who live in the crater) likes to stay close to the swamp as he has lost his last molars so favours the soft grass found here. Look at those impressive tusks though! I think they are the longest tusks I have ever seen!

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Mum is accompanied by her baby, who is around 3½-4 months old.

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May is considered part of the 'Green Season' (otherwise known as the 'Rainy Season', but obviously tour operators feel that 'Green' sounds better than 'Rainy'), and as such the prices are lower and there are fewer people around.

We love it. Not only do we often have the animal sightings completely to ourselves, we also enjoy all the flowers and lush vegetation around at this time of year.

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This area beside a spring of the same name is popular with tourists, and we too stop here for breakfast.

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It's times like these that I am glad we are travelling on a private safari.

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We have company, eyeing up the leftover breakfast.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Sacred Ibis

Meaning “water coming from the ground”, the spring is favoured by hippos as well as tourists.

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Warthogs have to be some of the ugliest animals around, but look at those legs: they look like an elegant lady's with stiletto heels!

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The male puts on an impressive display for his intended female, with some elegant dance moves.

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I love the way it looks as if these baboons are picking up the flowers to take in the wonderful aroma.

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And everyone should have an elephant or two in their flower bed!

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This one is even wearing flowers in his hair!

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We encounter a large breeding herd of Cape Buffalo.

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I do find their menacing stare somewhat intimidating.

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Although some do look more like country yokels than inner city thugs.

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But the babies are cute. As most babies are. This one is very young, just one or two days old.

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Look at the flies!

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The buffalo are joined by an elephant.

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My camera seems to be malfunctioning at this stage, refusing to focus or fire and the viewfinder becoming very dark. I feel a growing sense of panic until I remove the battery grip and find it works fine again. Phew.

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Wherever the buffalo go, the Yellow Billed Oxpeckers follow.

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The birds enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the buffalo (as well as other animals here); where the animal provides a 'home' for the birds, while the oxpeckers assist the buffalo by removing the ticks and flies.

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And in the trees, the Barn Swallows gather.

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So called because they like to live in close proximity to each other, these small birds have filled this tree to beyond recognition with their elaborate nests!

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This enormous bird stands around 1.5m (5 ft) tall and can weigh up to 19kg (42 lbs).

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The pool doesn't just attract hippos, we also see a few birds here:

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Cattle Egret

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African Spoonbills hiding those beautiful beaks of theirs

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Egyptian Goose

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Blacksmith Plover

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Red Bishop

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Hammerkop

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Sacred Ibis

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This is one seriously big antelope, standing at around 180cm (6 feet) tall at the shoulders. It is also one of the most skittish of the plains game; mainly as a result of being extensively hunted for their delicious meat.

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As a result they are therefore usually seen running away as soon as we approach, so it makes a very pleasant change to be able to photograph them actually standing still.

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The older they get, the greyer they become (just like humans) and the larger the dewlap grows. This guy is a seriously old dude by the looks of it. Notice how all the youngsters stare at us while the old man carries on eating, totally oblivious.

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We become a little concerned when we see a baby zebra lying in the middle of the road with no apparent urge to move as we get closer.

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Mum soon arrives on the scene to 'rescue' her little darling...

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... who promptly throws a tantrum. "I don't wanna move!"

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But mum's having none of it and marches him out of harm's way.

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Less than a week old, he is just too adorable!

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In these pictures you can easily see the facial warts that have given this animal its name.

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As we say goodbye to Ngorongoro Crater, I can easily appreciate why it is often dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World.

Once back up on the rim, I can yet again feel the effect of the altitude on my chest. I did have some temporary relief down in the crater, which is over 600m lower than the surrounding area.

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Coughing madly and struggling to breathe, I curse David for bringing a cold with him on this trip.

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We take one last look at the crater below before we make our way to our next destination and new adventures.

This amazing experience was made a reality by the wonderful staff at Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged elephant africa safari tanzania zebra buffalo lion rhino black_rhino ngorongoro hyena warthog ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard bustard rhinocerous calabash calabash_adventures hammerkop cape_buffalo secretary_bird zebras_fighting giant_tusk long_tusked_elephant Comments (3)

Kilimanjaro - Ngorongoro

Let the adventure begin


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Much too excited to sleep, I wake early this morning. Far too early. It's going to be a long day having had a mere two hours sleep.

We take breakfast in the lodge before Tillya and Malisa arrive to whisk us away on the start of our adventure. The first stop is in Arusha, at a different supermarket to the one we usually use. To David's horror they don't stock Savanna Cider!

While Malisa goes off to get us some brand new tyres for the safari vehicle, we enjoy a leisurely coffee.

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Nice wheels!

Having not slept well for the last three nights, I dose on and off as we make our way from Arusha towards Ngorongoro. This journey is becoming very familiar – it is now the fifth time we have driven this stretch over the years.

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Kisongo Market

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Kisongo Market

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Kisongo Market

Along the way we see three funeral cars for the children killed in the horrendous accident last week involving a school bus that plunged down a ravine killing 36 children. Later on in our journey we pass the exact spot it happened, but unlike some other safari vehicles, I request Malisa does not stop as I really don't feel the scene of such devastation should be treated as a tourist attraction.

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Cattle Crossing

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Yellow Billed Storks nesting at Mto Wa Mbu

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Butterflies at Mto Wa Mbu

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Although we usually have a picnic lunch box, today Tillya has arranged for us to take lunch in Karatu, at Kudu Lodge.

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Dining room

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Vegetable soup - lovely and peppery

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Creamy coconut chicken curry - delicious!

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You know it's a decent place when the public toilets have individual terry towels

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The lodge has beautiful grounds with this stunning Variable Sunbird flitting around

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After lunch we continue on our way, entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at Lodoare Gate and drive to my all time favourite view over the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.

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Entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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View over the crater from the rim

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Malisa assures us these are in fact lions. We take his word for it.

Malisa tries to speak with these Maasai women, but they either don't know, or refuse to understand, Swahili, only talking in their own Maa language.

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As we are arriving at our lodge during daylight hours for a change, we quickly shower and change, and head for the bar to wait for sunset and maybe even some stars later. I can really feel the altitude this time (we are at 2,326m/7,633 feet here), and with my lungs still being rather weak from the recent bout of pneumonia, I actually struggle to walk. I am therefore very grateful when the staff take pity on me and give us the room nearest the reception (which is still down two flights of stairs, but at least it is on the same level as the bar!).

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Our room

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Great view from the bed!

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The outside terrace of the bar

Choosing an appropriately named Ruby Cabernet (it is our 40th wedding anniversary tour after all!), we settle down to watch the clouds roll in and the shadows getting longer across this mesmerising vista.

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Great view

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Great wine

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The sunset is a total non-event, but the moonrise more than makes up for it.

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For dinner I choose a local dish called Kuku Wa Kupaka (Traditional Swahili favourite chicken simmered in coconut curry sauce served with naan, boiled and Tamu Tamu Rice), while David has the poached red snapper in garlic sauce.

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Chicken Curry

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Red Snapper

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Cream and Yogurt Mousse Cake with Chocolate Sauce

At this altitude the air is really quite cold tonight and I am feeling very grateful for the hot water bottle I discover in my bed when we return from dinner.

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This amazing adventure was made possible thanks to Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:21 Archived in Tanzania Tagged children adventure africa safari tanzania moonlight moonrise stars ngorongoro cider ngorongoro_crater night_sky african_safari african_food moon_rise calabash calabash_adventures ngrongoro_serena ngorongoro_conservation_area moonshine starry_night Comments (1)

Bristol - Birmingham - Istanbul - Tanzania

The Howard's 40th Anniversary Tour


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

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“It has to be a safari,” David stated without hesitation when I asked him a while back where he would like to celebrate our Ruby wedding anniversary. Seeing as photographing animals in their natural habitat is one of my favourite pastimes, I didn’t need any encouragement or persuasion; and immediately booked a couple of flights. Tanzania it is then.

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Where have those 40 years gone? It doesn’t seem that long ago that a starry eyed teenager met a fancy man with an even fancier car who whisked her off to a fancy dinner at the Post Office Tower in London for her 17th birthday.

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And the rest is history as they say.

Here's a few pictures of our journey together through 40 years of marriage:

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On a Mediterranean cruise 1984

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Having fun in a photobooth 1979

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In a friend's cabin in Lillehammer 1976

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At a friend's wedding 1982

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1975

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In our first home, 1977

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In Amish County, USA 2000

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Having fun in a safari park 2013

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Celebrating Christmas camping in Taberma Valley, Togo 2006

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Goa 2003

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Sea Trek, Jamaica 2004

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Gyatsola Pass, Tibet 2005

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Celebrating the Indian festival of colours, Jaipur 2014

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Hong Kong 2010

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Collecting ice for my nightcap, Antarctica 2004

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Tobago 2012

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Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb 2002

40 years of marriage, 40 years of shared fun, 40 years of travel, to all corners of the earth and some of the world’s most amazing places.

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Not only will we be celebrating our 40th anniversary on this holiday, it will also be our 200th trip abroad together (making an average of 5 foreign trips every year of marriage - plus another 100+ domestic trips).

Travel is a humbling experience. I consider myself extremely privileged to be able to indulge my obsession to the extent I do. I am fortunate that I can experience the way of life of other civilisations and I regard it as an honour to be invited to learn about their traditions and customs. Travel has a way of making me feel blessed – not just because I can see for myself all these far-flung exotic destinations, but also because it makes me appreciate what I have back home. I am the luckiest girl alive: being married to the best travel companion anyone could wish for.

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We have been lucky enough to visit 138 countries on all seven continents (148 if you count East Germany, Macau and Hong Kong (all countries in their own right when we visited), Tahiti, Tibet, Palestine, Antarctica, Martinique, Greenland and Transdniestr).

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We are often asked if we have a favourite country. Much as we love almost every place we have been to, there are two countries that stick their head above all the others for us: India and Tanzania.

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So here we are, jetting off on yet another African adventure.

The Tanzanian visa caused me a few moment of concern this year. Following the Brexit Vote, they appear to have changed the wording on their website:

”A Photocopy of Residence Permit or Visa (is required) for non-British and EU countries passport holders”

Having lived in this country for 43½ years, and married to a Brit for 40 of those, I do not have a Residency Permit, nor do I require one. Hopefully the Tanzanian High Commission would be aware of that too, but just in case they were not, I enclosed a screen shot of the gov.org website confirming that I have Infinite Leave to Remain.

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Thankfully the visa came back without any issues, and as always with the Embassy of Tanzania, very quickly.

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Having stayed overnight just a few miles away, the idea was to arrive at Birmingham Airport refreshed and raring to go for our flight to Kilimanjaro Airport via Istanbul.

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There is plenty of legroom on the flight, the food is good and we soon find ourselves arriving in Tanzania.

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Plenty of legroom

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Istanbul from the air

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Tasty pasta and a chocolate mousse to die for.

As we exit the baggage claim at Kilimanjaro airport, we spot a smiling gentleman holding a welcoming sign bearing the word GRETE. That'll be me then.

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Kia Lodge is the official airport hotel for Kilimanjaro, and as such is within the grounds of the airport, a mere five minute drive away. This is not your average airport hotel though, Kia Lodge is a series of rondavels laid out in lush grounds, more akin to a safari lodge.

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After a very welcoming welcome drink, we are shown to our room and collapse in bed. It is 2am, and we are meeting Tillya and Malisa at 8am.

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This amazing adventure was made possible thanks to Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 23:24 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wedding history travel flight istanbul anniversary holiday africa safari tanzania journey airline nostalgia turkish_airlines birmingham_airport kilimanjaro_aiport Comments (4)

Tanzania Safari Highlights 2016

A round-up of the amazing experiences we had on our 2016 safari


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

By popular demand, and to remind ourselves of things to come for our next safari, I have created this résumé of everything we experienced on this safari of a lifetime in 2016!

We started the trip as it was to carry on - in luxury - at the No 1 Executive Lounge at Birmingham Airport.

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The flights were a pleasure, with room to spread out.

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~~NAIROBI~~

The hotel in Nairobi - especially picked out by Tillya - was amazing.

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Some serious snogging going on at the Giraffe Centre

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Followed by a very interesting nature trail

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The baby elephants being fed at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage were beyond cute.

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At Utamaduni Craft Centre we had lunch, photographed some beautiful birds and browsed handicrafts.

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We saw flip flops being turned into beautiful works of art at Marula Studios

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Followed by a guided tour of Karen Blixen's House.

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This very exciting first day was finished with a Feast of the Beast at Carnivore Restaurant.

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A 'special' mention must go to our new culinary experience: bulls' testicles!

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~~TANZANIA~~

Fantastic view of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru from the flight to Kilimanjaro Airport

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David's highlight: buying Savanna Cider!

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~~MARAMBOI~~

We could have spent all day just watching the animals from our balcony at Maramboi Tented Lodge

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But we had sunsets to see and beers to drink - Sundowners by Lake Manyara

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Lyn, with a little help from Tillya, arranged for a cake to celebrate our wedding anniversary

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The next morning saw our first big cat sightings within yards of the lodge, long before sunrise or hitting the national park.

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~~TARANGIRE~~

The large herds of elephants who walked right by our car

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The little baby elephant hiding behind his mummy's legs and then triumphantly emerging

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The Savannah Monitor - a new species to us

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Tillya arranging for us to have lunch at Tarangire River Lodge as a surprise for our wedding anniversary

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The angry elephant who blocked our road

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And finally the beautiful sunset

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Leaving Tarangire behind and heading for Ngorongoro, an honourable mention has to go to Chris' Zebra.

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Trying red bananas at Mto Wa Mbu

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The breeding site for storks and pelicans

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The view back out over Lake Manyara

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Another special mention: Malisa's sandals, made from recycled motorbike tyres.

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The information Centre at Loduare Gate, the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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The view from the rim over the Ngorongoro Crater, and more importantly, Chris' reaction when he first saw it!

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The beautiful flower-covered hillsides of the Malanja Depression

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~~NGORONGORO CRATER~~

The crater floor in the Green Season was stunning with carpets of flowers

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Zebra dust bath

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The one-tusked elephant and his family

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The tree full of baby starlings

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The suckling lion cubs who entertained us for the best part of an hour

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Malisa finally finding his Rasta Lion

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Maasai dancing at Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

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The sunrise over Ngorongoro Crater

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~~Ngorongoro Conservation Area~~

Walking safari with Yohana

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Maasai boys with traditional painted faces following their circumcision

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The enormous tower of giraffes, which even beat Malisa's previous record

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Visiting Elerai Maasai Boma, and Chris participating in the 'jumping dance'.

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The children in the kindergarten

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Oldupai Gorge

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And the Cradle of Civilisation Museum dedicated to Louis Leakey's anthropological finds

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The mysterious Shifting Sands

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The battle of wits between vultures and a jackal

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Kori Bustard

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The jumpy Spotted Hyena

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Golden Jackal

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The Dung Beetles who rolled their treasure across the savannah for us

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The majestic Eland

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The pregnant hyena who was just about to give birth

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Golden Jackal

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Ostriches

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Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Tawny Eagle

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~~NDUTU~~

The pride of nine lions

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Feasting on a zebra carcass

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Sunset over Lake Ndutu

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Small Spotted Genet in the rafters of Ndutu Lodge

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Dik Dik in the grounds of the lodge

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Sunrise over Lake Ndutu the following morning

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Bat Eared Fox

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Verreaux's Eagle Owl

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Black Backed Jackal kicking up the dust in the early morning light

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Giraffe

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Coqui Francolin - a new species for us

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Grey Breasted Spurfowl

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The cheetah mum with her four cubs who we followed for ages

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Two male lions down at the flats by the lake

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Coke's Hartebeest, one of whom had lost a horn in a fight

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Picnic Breakfast

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David made friends with a hairy caterpillar, which thankfully did not give him a rash as Malisa predicted

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Two Banded Plover

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Two more male lions

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Hooded Vulture

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A lazy spotted hyena who briefly got up from the puddle before lying down again

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Ostriches

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Hidden Valley with hundreds of thousands of zebra and wildebeest

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Female lions resting in the shade

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Bird Watching back at Ndutu Safari Lodge at lunchtime

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Lesser Flamingo at Lake Ndutu

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Spotted Thick Knee

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More lions

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Last night's zebra carcass eaten clean by the lions and later vultures, and now the flies had moved in

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Caracal - a very rare sighting, and only Malisa's third!

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Giraffe

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Lesser Flamingo at lake Masek

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African Hoopoe

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Speckled Mousebird

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Common Stilt

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Hippo

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Elephants

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A crested eagle silhouetted against the orange sky

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Sunset at Ndutu

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More bird watching at Ndutu Lodge the following morning

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Followed by another nice sunrise

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Giraffe

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Playing host to an Oxpecker

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys frolicking in the trees

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Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

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Spotted Hyena

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A very close lion encounter

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Woolly Necked Vultures

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Tawny Eagle

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A broken wire in the car engine was fixed in no time by our driver-guide Malisa who is also a trained mechanic

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~~SHORT GRASS PLAINS~~

Grant's Gazelles

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Zebra

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Panicked ostriches running around like headless chickens

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Giraffe Drinking

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~~NAABI HILL~~

Great views over the Serengeti

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Here we find a number of lizards

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And some great birds

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~~SERENGETI~~

Giraffe

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Warthogs

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Steppe Eagle picking up what we initially thought was a snake, which turned out to be 'just' a stick

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Gabar Goshawk

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~~THE BEAUTIFUL GOL KOPJES (rocky outcrops)~~

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Marabou Stork

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The kopjes are home to a number of lions

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Golden Jackal

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Topi

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Tawny Eagle

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Coke's Hartebeest

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More Lions

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Gabar Goshawk

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Steppe Eagle

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Picnic Lunch at Gol Kopjes - are there any lions hiding at this one?

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Topi

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Migratory White Stork

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~~CENTRAL SERENGETI~~

A lost and emancipated baby wildebeest

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4WD required on the muddy tracks!

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Cape Buffalo

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Wildebeest

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Bateleur Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Maasai Kopjes

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More Lions

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Dik Dik

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The rarely seen White Headed Vulture

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Hippo in the river

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Pin Tailed Swallow

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Defassa Waterbuck

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Zebra

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Tawny Eagle

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Coqui Francolin

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Giraffe under stormy clouds

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Klipspringer

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Rainbow

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Mbuzi Mawe - the very luxurious tented camp which Tillya surprised us with

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Cape Buffalo right outside our tent the following morning

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~~TOGORO PLAINS~~

Sunrise

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The pride of nine lions on Togoro Plains, squabbling over a kill and mock stalking the passing wildebeest

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Almost a chase

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A Hooded Vulture waiting and hoping for a kill

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The jackal who finally managed to grab a piece of meat from the vultures, and was successful in chasing them off

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Topi

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Wildebeest Rutting - fighting over a female

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Picnic breakfast on Togoro Plains

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Klipspringer

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Red Duiker

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Cape Buffalo

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Impala

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Giraffe

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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~~CENTRAL SERENGETI~~

Hippos in the Orangi River

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Olive Baboons

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African Fish Eagle

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Warthogs

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Nile Crocodile

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Magpie Shrike

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Tree Python

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Black Chested Snake Eagle

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Little Bee Eater

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Black Headed Heron

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Serval

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Elephants - lots of them

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Lunch at Mawe Mupe Picnic Site

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Birds at Mawe Meupe Picnic Site

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Giraffe

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A leopard mum and son in a tree

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Olive Baboons

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Elephants

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Giraffe

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A yawning hippo on land - it's unusual to see them out of the water

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Retima Hippo Pool

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'White' Giraffe with Leucism

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Sunset over Kimasi Kopje

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Wildebeest Migration

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Balloon over Serengeti - we just watched from the ground

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Zebra

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Cheetah

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Olive Baboon

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Giraffe

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~~SERENGETI VISITORS CENTRE~~

Banded Mongoose

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Tree Hyrax

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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Team Photo

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Guided tour of the centre

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Rock Hyrax

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~~HEADING SOUTH~~

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Hippos

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Black Headed Heron

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Giraffes

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A large herd of 31 elephants walked right by our car

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White Browed Coucal

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Impala

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Lions in a tree

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Rueppel's Long Tailed Starling

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Grey Backed Shrike

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Lake Magadi

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White Winged Black and Whiskered Terns

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Banded Mongoose

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Cape Buffalo

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~~MORU KOPJES~~

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Masai Ostrich

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Gong Rock

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Ancient Maasai Rock Art

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Rhino Project Information Centre

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Nile Crocodile

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Hamerkop Nest

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~~HEADING NORTH AGAIN~~

Giraffe

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Black Backed Jackal

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Rain

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Lions in the rain

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Rainbow

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I wanted a giraffe as a foreground for the rainbow, but all Malisa could manage was this elephant

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Spotted Hyena

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Stunning Sunset

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Bush Baby in a tree at Serengeti Serena Lodge

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Spotted Hyenas

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Sunrise

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Topi

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Wildebeest waiting to cross Seronera River

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Vultures waiting for the crocodiles to attack the wildebeest crossing Seronera River

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Martial Eagle

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Grey Heron

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Goliath Heron

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Hot Air Balloon

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Hippo

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White Browed Coucal

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Olive Baboons

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Lions - she was on heat, he wasn't interested

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Tawny Eagle

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Elephants

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Lion at the appropriately named Simba Kopjes

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Zebra

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Rock Martin at Naabi Hill

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~~LEAVING THE SERENGETI FOR THE NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA~~

Kori Bustard

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White Stork

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Vultures feasting on a zebra

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~~BACK IN ARUSHA~~

Lake Duluti Lodge - another one of Tillya's luxury surprises

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Cultural Heritage Centre Art Exhibition

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And shopping opportunities

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An informative demonstration of the Tanzanite gems unique to Tanzania

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More shopping opportunities at Mount Meru Market

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A guided tour of Shanga Shangaa workshop for disabled people

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Followed by a traditional African buffet lunch

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Accompanied by African music

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We took a tour of the coffee estate with a very informative guide

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And were able to taste the produce

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~~THE END~~

That marked the end of our African Adventure, as arranged by Calabash African Adventures, a small, locally owned and run company based in Arusha. They come highly recommended for their professionalism, calibre of their driver-guides, reliability, trustworthiness, passion for the environment and last but not least, their very competitive pricing. This was the fourth time we used their services for arranging our Tanzania safaris, and as soon as we returned to the UK we booked the next one for the following year. And I can guarantee that won't be the last!

For those of you who are interested in a similar trip, below is a copy of our itinerary.

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Thank you for reading and have a nice day!

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:47 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

Atlanta - London - Bristol

Home, sweet Home


View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After a long overnight flight from Atlanta, we arrive at London Heathrow before 7am, still carrying the wall mask now known as Ram Ram. The customs here in the UK are totally disinterested and we sail through.

Having stayed overnight on our way out in a hotel near Terminal 5 and now arriving back to Terminal 3, we have to use the Heathrow Express Train to get back to the hotel and our car. I think next time we will probably splash out a little more and have the valet parking again where the driver meets us outside the arrival terminal with our car. It would have been especially good this time as we are carrying such a large item.

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From Terminal 3 to the hotel we also have to negotiate the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus, which fortunately is not full.

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Back home, we carefully undress Ram Ram, who thankfully survived the journey in one piece and is now well settled in his forever home along with a couple of his Haitian friends.

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And so ends our adventure to Haiti.

Thank you to Voyages Lumiere for all the ground arrangements in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:19 Archived in England Comments (0)

Port au Prince - Atlanta

The long journey home


View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today is going to be a very long day. Having got up at 04:20 to travel to the airport, we are dismayed to find that when we get there the terminal building is not even open yet, and there is already a long queue of passengers outside waiting to get in.

A small team of officials are on hand to ensure we all form an orderly queue, and to quickly admonish any would-be queue-jumpers. Suddenly there is a hive of activity, and before we know it, a porter grabs our bags and leads us past the long line of waiting passengers and in through the door. Although I am a little embarrassed by the unexpected and somewhat unnecessary VIP treatment, I am not exactly doing anything to prevent it happening either.

At the Delta check in desk I am told that Ram Ram – our beautifully wrapped wall sculpture (see yesterday's entry for details) – has to travel in the hold, and that it is going to cost me $108 through to London. I quibble that we have a free second bag from Atlanta to London and it can't possibly cost that much just from Port au Prince to Atlanta. She argues that this is the cost. We battle back and forth for some time, with me insisting to speak to the supervisor, and her insisting she is the supervisor.

Eventually, after a lot of pleading, shouting and threatening, I 'throw my toys out of the pram'. The supervisor agrees to let me try to take Ram Ram as hand luggage but warns that I am likely to be stopped at the gate and sent back to check him in. It is a risk I am willing to take, and we move on to obstacle number two: security screening (which also is not open yet). When we finally get to the front of the queue, Ram Ram is no problem at all and we breathe a sigh of relief.

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At passport control David and I go to different booths, and I am through in no time. I sit down at the gate to wait for David, and I am surprised at how long he is taking. It turns out that because we are travelling through the US, he is asked for the ESTA form (Visa Waiver Program). Despite having checked our ESTA for the security check before even being able to join the queue for check-in, as well as during the actual check-in process, and the boarding card being denoted with that fact; they won't let David go without seeing his physical ESTA form (so much for it being an Electronic System for Travel Authorization; thankfully had the sense to print it out!). There is, however, a slight problem there: I have that form and David has no way of contacting me to come back for him. Oops. They finally let him through, albeit reluctantly.

I think they have just delivered my consignment of Duty Free rum.

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When it is time to board the aircraft I notice that the same lady who checked us in is on duty and I do wonder if she is going to block Ram Ram for the sake of it so 'save face'. She doesn't. Ram Ram gets taken off for special screening, but is found to be harmless and he is allowed onto the aircraft with us. The crew put him in the coat cupboard in the first class cabin for the flight – they all love him.

Security Checks

In order to get as far as the aircraft seat we have had a number of checks, as follows:

1. Passport and tickets checked in order to be allowed to enter the terminal building.

2. Passport and ESTA documents closely examined before being allowed to join the queue for check in.

3. Passport, ticket and ESTA inspected on check-in.

4. Boarding cards checked at security, shoes off, bags x-rayed and passengers screened.

5. Passport control – passport and boarding card for me, plus the aforementioned ESTA check for David.

6. Passport and boarding card at the gate.

7. Manual pat-down and bag check before being allowed to board the plane.

8. Boarding card check on entering the plane.

Port au Prince - Atlanta

The flight is unremarkable, we have three seats for the two of us and can spread out.

At Atlanta there is a long queue for immigration, and David yet again doesn't pass through the automated self-check, but we have plenty of time (nearly six hours) here, so it doesn't really matter.

At least we don't have to collect our checked in luggage – as a 'favour' the supervisor in Port au Prince checked our bags in all the way to London (I didn't even know that was possible), and gave us a 'golden ticket' to show to staff here.

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We are not even given a second glance at customs in to the US, but as usual the body scanner causes all sorts of issues. The scary thing is that my panty-liners showed up but not the mobile phone I'd forgotten in my pocket!

At Homeland Security Ram Ram is undressed and re-dressed by a charming official with a sense of humour (they are few and far between!). He is even swabbed for drugs but again found to be completely innocent. The possibility had occurred to me that maybe the artist had been using drugs and some traces had somehow remained on the sculpture, but I needn't have worried. Ram Ram even gets a 'seal of approval' in the form of an 'INSPECTED' tape.

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After our last Atlanta Airport dining experience on the way back from Haiti in February (Read all about the most expensive pizza we ever ate here), we head straight for the airport train and the Food Court at Terminal E - still with Ram Ram in tow.

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We settle for a TGI Friday's, where David is delighted to find they serve cider! Of course that is a pure coincidence, we don't read the menus of all the restaurants to check before deciding where to eat. Much.

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The food is pretty good too, we both have Sizzling Chicken and Cheese, and it is nice to have mashed potato for a change rather than the ubiquitous fries which come with almost every meal in the hotel restaurants in Haiti. The bill is a fraction of what we paid last time too, so we are on to a winner here.

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Later we even stop for a cinnamon bun, but although it is nice, it is just not a Cinnabon!

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After a long and boring wait here at Atlanta, we finally get to board the Virgin Airways flight for the next leg of the journey home, just as the sun goes down.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:06 Archived in USA Tagged flight caribbean tickets atlanta delta air_travel passports haiti port_au_prince security_check voyages_lumiere delta_airways passport-control homeland_security virgina_airlines Comments (1)

Port au Prince: Street Photography

On the streets of the capital of the poorest country in the western hemisphere

sunny 34 °C
View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is set aside for some street photography; again to compensate for the fact that last time we came many of the streets in Port au Prince were out of bounds for security issues surrounding the political demonstrations taking place at the time.

Bus Station

We start the day at the bus station, to see some of the many painted buses that are unique to Haiti. The chassis is imported (mostly from the US), whereas the body work and decorations are added here to create the ubiquitous Haitian style; with popular themes featuring religion, history, politics and local celebrities.

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The bus station also houses one of numerous street markets found in and around Port au Prince. With jobs being scarce, selling what little they can helps to supplement family income. There always seem to be way more stall holders than customers though, and most vendors sell very similar stuff.

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I love this guy's T-shirt slogan:

Eat a little pig
Take a little swig
Do a little jig

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Mobile pharmacy

Marché de la Croix des Bossales – the Slave Market

Situated in the place where the slaves arrived in Haiti, the Marché de la Croix des Bossales is the biggest market in Haiti and one of the largest in the Caribbean.

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Today parts of the market are a chaotic mess, a huge jumble of second-hand clothes imported from the US for resale.

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The import of second-hand clothes has all but killed the once-thriving tailor businesses in Haiti, as it is much cheaper to buy used clothing than to have items made for you by a craftsman. The few remaining tailors now specialise in uniforms and alterations.

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After commenting on how we seem to be as much of attraction to the locals as they are to us, Serge replies: “They don't see many foreigners, I never bring tourists here, only you!” I take that as a compliment.

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Pouchard drives slowly past the market stalls for me to carry out my 'trademark' drive-by-shootings (photographically speaking only, of course). Given the almost-stationary traffic, this is not a difficult task.

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Livestock Market

Since the earthquake, cattle is rarely seen at the markets in Haiti, these days it is mainly goats and chickens for sale.

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Never sleep under a defecating goat

A somewhat deranged woman gets most upset about me taking pictures, thinking I am photographing her. She does not calm down despite Serge's reassurance that I am only interested in pictures of the animals, and continues to shout obscenities even after the other workers try to calm her down.

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We make a swift exit before she gets over-exited, photographing the pigs on the way out. They don't seem to object to having their photo taken.

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How to transport your live goats

Slums

Leaving the port area, we travel through some serious slums.

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The area may be a ramshackle shanty-town, but their immediate surroundings are mostly tidy and I am impressed at how the residents have made the most of their situation and tried to brighten up their surroundings with a few plants.

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Bel Air

Serge takes us up in the hills for a better view of the sprawling market below. The Bel Air area is said to be a notorious hot spot of crime and poverty.

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According to Wikipedia, Bel Air is a “slum area of the city... Crime is widespread, and kidnappings and killings have created panic among the local population.... the murder rate in Bel Air reached 50 murders per 100,000 residents ”

The British Government doesn't have a much better view of the place either:
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the ... Bel Air neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince due to the risk of criminal activity”.

That's OK then.

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Raram No Limit

We meet a local celebrity: the main man behind the band Raram No Limit.

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He shows us some of the street art he and others have painted to brighten up the neighbourhood.

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Central Market

We head for one of the many other markets in town, to look for a belt for David. The market is crowded, with mud and debris everywhere and some interesting stalls.

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The beauty of shopping in a place like this is that you don't have to go to the vendors, they come to you.

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More Street Art

David gets his belt, and we return to the down-town area of Port au Prince for some more street art, this time on the walls of the fence surrounding the University.

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Lunch

After taking a lot of ribbing over the last week from my Facebook friends about always posing with a drink in my hand, I decide to prove that I don't normally have alcohol at lunchtime.

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Look, no drink!

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Only fresh lemon juice

It doesn't seem to convince my friends much though.

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Packing

Time to get ready for the return to the UK. Packing shouldn't take long, although we need to ensure the new mask goes in the case first and everything else can be wrapped around it. There is only one 'slight' problem – the sculpture – who we have named Ram Ram – is way too big for the bag. Oops. It didn't look that big when I bought it....

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The guys on the hotel reception kindly let us have some newspapers and cellotape to wrap him in, but it soon becomes apparent that he needs more, especially if he is to travel in the cargo hold of the plane.

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I send a text to Jackie, our local agent Voyages Lumiere, asking her where I can get some bubble wrap, and less than an hour later her driver Pouchon turns up at our hotel with a huge roll of the stuff! Now that is what I call great customer service!

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I think Ram Ram is now ready for his journey of a life-time to his forever home in England.

Drinks and Dinner

Just to keep my Facebook friends happy (believe that and you believe anything), we order some 'proper' pre-dinner drinks: Plaza punch (with plenty of rum) and some white wine.

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Everyone makes sure their cocktails match their outfit for the night, right?

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After an interesting dish of chicken in red wine and vanilla sauce, it is time to say goodnight as we are getting up very early tomorrow morning for our flight home.

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Thank you to Voyage Lumiere for yet another fantastic holiday in Haiti. You guys are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:08 Archived in Haiti Tagged market public_transport caribbean buses photography bus_station pigs goats livestock pig_market haiti port_au_prince street_photography voyages_lumiere le_plaza painted_buses second_hand_clothes marche_de_la_croix_des_bossales slave_market _goat_market Comments (1)

Port au Prince: Marché de Fer and Atiz Rezistans

Iron Market and Craft Centre

34 °C
View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Iron Market (Marché de Fer)

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As we were unable to reach this – one of Haiti's most important civic landmarks - on our last visit because of the political rallies taking place, we have set aside a morning to explore its sales halls.

Shipped over from France in 1891, the structure was originally destined for Cairo, where it was going to become a railway station; but the deal fell through so it ended up here in Port au Prince instead. No-one is quite sure why or how.

The iconic market was badly destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, but has since been rebuilt and is yet again the focus of the city's vendors.

Notorious for its overwhelming atmosphere and high-pressure aggressive salesmen, it is with some trepidation we enter the first of the two halls, which contains a number of food and everyday household items for sale.

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Manioc

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Plantain Smasher

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Star anise

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Gourds and dried mushrooms

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Great selection of fancy shoes

Herbal Medicine
Many locals prefer to rely on alternative medicine, and we see several stalls selling a great variety of herbal infusions.

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For medicinal purposes only?

No salesmen have bothered us so far, but I guess the other hall – full of Vodou paraphernalia, artists and souvenirs, is where it is all happening as far as the tourist goes.

Here we see all sorts of 'creations' – I find the ones featuring dolls (of which there are many) - somewhat unnerving.

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Other - equally macabre - items are produced from and around human skulls. Real human skulls that is.

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When the slaves were brought over from Africa, they were forbidden to practice their Vodou religion, so would disguise their art behind a veil of Catholic saints. Today the two merge into one as far as art goes.

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The bowls of turtles intrigue me, and Serge explains that they are used for rituals. The turtle is not killed, merely drained of some blood, which is mixed with rum and coffee (isn't everything over here?), and given to pregnant women to protect the foetus from evil spirits.

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Candles used for ceremonies

The last part of the market is dedicated to souvenirs, and although we are approached by the stall holders and encouraged to browse their goods, they are not what I would call 'aggressive', or even particularly persistent. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Serge has spent years trying to discourage them; maybe it's because we have taken one of the stallholders as a guide, or it could be that we are just so used to it from our many travels through Africa and Asia that we just ignore it. While Haiti does not receive many tourists as such, the great number of visiting diaspora are the main buyers of these items, wanting to take a small piece of their home-land back to the US (or wherever) with them.

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From the Iron Market we make our way across town to the area known as Grand Rue (Main Street) through the labyrinthine warren of back streets in neighbourhoods dedicated entirely to car scrap yards and recycling.

Atis Rezistans – the Sculptors of Grand Rue

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It is not immediately obvious where the junk-yard ends and the art museum / gallery begins.

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The artists in this tight-knit community use salvaged wood, discarded car parts and household items to create bold, radical and warped sculptures.

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E Pluribus Unum”: out of many, one.

Compelling and whimsical, sometimes disturbing, often absurd, always extraordinary, each piece of art has a story behind it and a meaning to it, although the latter can be very elusive to the non-initiated.

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This open-air gallery is crammed full of sculptures, the focus seemingly being on ghoulish representations, although I am told the symbology is based on slavery, death and rebirth, Vodou, Christianity and the occult.

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Fetish, sexuality and anatomy are recurring themes in these fantastical creations reborn from discarded everyday items.

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And of course the ever-present human skulls grinning at us as we walk past.

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“Who buys this stuff” I ask André Eugéne – the founder of the art museum – as he invites us in to see his studio and bedroom. “It is mainly art collectors from all over the world, rarely locals” he explains. The interior of his work-and-living-space is dimly lit – by a human skull with red and green bulbs in its eye sockets. Not exactly what I would like to wake up to after a night on the rum.

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As we are leaving, I take a fancy to a mask hanging by the exit. “Everything here is for sale” says Eugéne, but I recoil when he ask for $400. “That is way out of my reach” I explain. “How much?” asks Eugéne hopefully and I throw back an almost derisory offer of $100, which is immediately rejected for double that. I explain that this price is still way too high for me and walk away. Eugéne calls me back, money changes hands and I am now the 'proud' owner of an 'original' piece of Haitian art. More on that tomorrow.

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Kids' Place – a Street Kid Project

Children between the ages of 10 and 17 are encouraged to create their own art and have been given a small shack in which to display and sell their creations.

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We - no, correction, I - buy another mask for our collection. David looks at me and shakes his head. Evidently he and I do not share the same taste in art.

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The kids are cute and love playing up for the camera.

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Le Plaza Hotel – chill time

After a morning of 'culture', the 'arts' and shopping, we have some free time this afternoon. Inspired (encouragingly 'bullied') by my friend Ian to use my macro lens, I take a few close-up pictures of everyday items in the restaurant.

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Ice cubes in my ginger ale

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The metal table

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Salt Pot

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Bubbles and condensation on my glass

Levitation Trick

The rest of the afternoon is spent in and around the swimming pool - first to create some trick photography.

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So how are these created? Quite simple really – one photo of David on a chair, and one photo of just the scene (making sure that the camera is in the identical position), then layer them in Photoshop and remove the chair. Voila!

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Later we fool around in the pool with my little waterproof camera, until the sun goes down and the lights come on.

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Dinner

After a quick shower we wander down to the restaurant for dinner. Although they do have an air-conditioned dining room, we make the most of the lovely warm evening by sitting outside in the leafy courtyard.

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David enjoys a cold Premiere beer in a frosted glass

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Prawn skewers with garlic mango sauce

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Filet mignon with creamy mushroom sauce

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I take great pleasure in a refreshing Plaza Punch after dinner, before it is time to say goodnight.

Thank you Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere for arranging this amazing trip to Haiti for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Haiti Tagged art craft masks hotel market sculpture pool photography souvenirs mask swimming_pool artists haiti recycling port_au_prince vodou le_plaza le_plaza_hotel atis_rezistans sculptors scrap_yard atis_resizistans_vodou_art vodou_art iron_market marché_de_fer mask_collection 2010_earthquake fun_in_the_pool waterproof_camera levitaion_photography _levitation_trick levitation andre_eugene Comments (0)

Port au Prince: Fet Gede / Day of the Dead

Party in the cemetery, believers possessed by their dead ancestors and sacrificed goats - it is all happening today!

36 °C
View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

Fet Gede

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Today we are setting out to see, experience and photograph the Fet Gede – the reason we made this return journey to Haiti.

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As a photographer, I have never perfected the art of travelling light.

Fet Gede, the 'Feast of the Ancestors', is a traditional Vodou festival which celebrates the Lwa (spirits) of death and fertility; a time when believers honour the ancestral dead who they regard as walking with us all our lives. Gede (the sacred ancestors) is considered an important part of every living person as we will all join them eventually.

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Fet Gede can be described as the Vodou equivalent of Mardi Gras, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Halloween, all rolled into one incredible ritual with enough drumming, singing, alcohol and laughter to quite literally raise the dead. The Fet Gede celebrations are unique to Haiti, a blend of traditions brought over from Africa during the slave trade, mixed with colonial Christianity and a dash of ritual from the original Taino inhabitants of the island.

Haitians believe that the frisky Vodou spirits helped them win independence and become the world's first black republic. Tradition marks the beginning of the revolution at a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman, where the call to arms was issued by a Houngan (Vodou priest), and within hours, the northern plantations were in flames. The rebellion spread through the entire colony and the rest is history as they say.

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Grand Cimetiére

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We start the day with a visit to the main cemetery. As you do. The Grand Cimetiére in Port au Prince is like a city for the dead within the living city. Like many cemeteries, it mirrors real life in its layout. Here you find various 'neighbourhoods': crowded slums with rotting tombs and muddy graves; stately communities with fabulous mausoleums, middle class suburbs and even a main boulevard.

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We can't get anywhere near the cemetery by car due to the enormous crowds of people. After a lot of hassle, Wilson (today's driver) manages to find a spot where he can stop long enough for us all to get out. We are joined today by Sam from New York and a group of five international architect student who are here to learn the art of building bamboo houses. After shuffling our way through the crowds, we enter the necropolis through the main gate which reads “Souviens-Toi Que Tu Es Poussiere” (remember you are dust).

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The cemetery is teeming with life and people thronging through the narrow alleyways. We make our way along the main boulevard, along with thousands of others. The atmosphere is convivial and friendly, with not a hint of sinister or threatening undertones.

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Kwa Baron (Cross of Baron)

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Vodouists come in a spiritual pilgrimage to the cemetery to pay their respect to the dead, but first, permission of passage has to be obtained. The grave of the Papa Gede, the first man who ever died. Ancestral services are held at this 'crossroad', considered to be the bridge between life and death. Kwa Baron is the Lwa guardian of the cemetery and head of the Gedes.

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So, who is Papa Gede?
The corpse of the 'first man' can in many ways be compared to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who is revered at memorials throughout the world - he may not necessarily be Haitian - just like the Baron is not Haitian nor African, he may be 'other' (foreign). Papa Gede is a psychopomp who waits at the crossroads to take departed souls into the afterlife, although he does not take a life before its time. Papa Gede has a very crude sense of humour, and a cunning ability to read people's minds, knowing everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead.

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Skulls and bones are removed from the crypts and turned into a makeshift shrine

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Pimam

Making an offering of Pimam (a mixture of raw rum known as clairin and 21 habareno chillies) is said to help the Gede (ancestral spirits) become warm and passionate again. Having been 'sleeping in the cold', the rum and chillies helps to 'heat them up' so that they can offer advice on such things as job hunting, love and marriage.

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The floor is awash with rum (and also coffee, which has been offered by the cup-full too). The smell is quite overpowering, and the bottom of my jeans are soaked in the stuff. I guess I'd better wash those before going on the flight back to the UK. We brave the crowds to venture further into the maze of alleyways in the cemetery.

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Baron Kriminel ('Baron of Criminals') is the enforcer of the Gede. As the first person to commit murder, he is Gede of murderers and perpetrators of violence against others; thus victims' relatives pray to him for revenge. His 'chevals' (possessed followers) are said to have an insatiable appetite for food, biting and chewing on anything and anyone (even themselves), they will attack those around them until they get fed. Thankfully none of the chevals present today seem to be possessed, as I don't fancy becpming breakfast.

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There is nothing formal about any of the celebrations here, people push and shove, stand on the graves to get a better view, and even put their feet on the altar.

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All this, and the enormous crowds everywhere, makes photography a real challenge! I am impressed, however, at how the sea of people seems to magically open up as I try to get closer to the action – spectators actively move aside and even encourage others to do so in order for me to see what is going on. Lots of locals are photographing the event too, and even the TV and radio stations are out in force.

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The occult has always fascinated me, and voodoo is no exception. In reality, voodoo is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, something I became more and more aware of as I did my research some ten years ago before our trip to West Africa. The word 'Voodoo' is in fact a bastardisation by Hollywood of 'vodoun', the original West African religion (also known as vodun). (One interesting observation here is that ‘voodoo’ passes the spellchecker in Word, ‘vodoun’, ‘vodun’ or the Haitian version of the religion, known as vodou, do not.) Hollywood also gave the world the idea that vodoun (or voodoo) is an evil black magic cult setting out to spread death and destruction. Films like the James Bond ‘Live and let Die’ also fuelled this misapprehension with its violence and bizarre rituals. Ask an average member of the public what they first think about when they hear the word ‘voodoo’ and they are most likely to answer something along the lines of ‘black magic’, ‘zombies’, ‘human sacrifice’ or ‘sticking pins in dolls’. I would love to be able to say “nothing is further from the truth”, but of course there are some associations to all of these within the vodoun religion, but there is so much more to it.

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Vodoun is a religion that can trace its roots back at least 6,000 years; some sources claim 10,000. It is freely practised in West Africa, and was in fact accepted as the state religion of Benin in 1996 where 80% of the population is followers. It is believed that over 60 million people practise vodoun worldwide, 30 million of which are thought to be in West Africa. Vodoun is widespread throughout the Caribbean, notably on Haiti where vodou was proclaimed the state religion in 2003 where is is popularly stated that the people are 80% Catholics and 110% vodouists. It is also found in Brazil, the Guianas, Dominican Republic and parts of USA, introduced by the slaves.

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Vodou in Haiti

There are also an awful lot of misconceptions that vodou originated in Haiti. Yes, it is the state religion in Haiti, but it was brought here by the slaves from West Africa during the French colonial time, when it mixed with local Taino religious beliefs and European mysticism, taking on a camouflage veneer of Roman Catholicism after it was outlawed by the slave masters.

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Vodou (a derivation of the West African Vodun and the New Orleans Voodoo) is mysterious and complicated, inherently mistrusted, frequently maligned and often misunderstood religion. Its reputation was badly tarnished by the 1960s dictator Papa Doc, who encouraged his people to believe he was Baron Samedi, the vodou spirit of darkness and dead. Most westerner's exposure to Haitian Vodou is through Hollywood portrayals such as the 1973 James Bond's Live and Let Die blockbuster (in which Baron Samedi featured as a villain), something that has created further suspicion and discredit in Vodou as a serious religion.

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Having witnessed a Vodun ceremony first hand in Benin in West Africa a few years ago, I was keen to find out a little more about how this enigmatic, cabbalistic doctrine plays out for the Haitians.

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Vodou ceremony in Benin 2006

I have tried to gain some sort of understanding of Vodou, and here I will try and give you a very brief synopsis of what I have gleaned from talking to our guide and other Haitians, as well as various websites.

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Lwa

Their top dog – the Supreme Creator – is called Bondye but doesn't really want to have anything much to do with mere mortals, so the people direct their worship towards one or more of the many spirits, known as Lwa. Each Lwa has a particular aspect of life which they are responsible for – much in the same way as Christian saints, Hindu deities and Greek gods. Voduists create altars, participate in ritual ceremonies involving music and dance; and make offerings to appease their chosen Lwa.

There is no one definitive form of Vodouism, each priest has a different style of worship, depending on the Lwas his 'house' honours. Priests can be either male (houngan) or female (mambo) and are said to have supernatural power to hurt or kill people in addition to doing good by helping and protecting others from spells of course. A Haitian Vodou temple is called an Hounfour or Peristyle.

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The Lwa and the humans belong to each other and are interdependent – the humans supply food, the Lwa provides protection from evil spirits, health and good fortune.

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In Vodouism, your soul is said to take the form of two parts – the Big Good Angel (gros bon ange) or Little Good Angel (ti bon ange). Big Angel is in charge of the more physical aspects of your life, such as breathing and the flow of blood; whereas Little Angel is the ruler of your personality, nature and willpower – basically, the Big Angel decides what to do and the Little Angel works out how to do it.

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Unlike the evil portrayed by popular media, Vodou moral code of conduct focusses on the vices of dishonour and greed, on love and support within the family, respecting your elders and giving alms to the poor. Much like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and most other religions.

Baron Samedi

The ruler of the graveyard and the Lwa of the Dead and is known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. Sounds like my kinda guy.

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Baron Samedi is a very sexualised Lwa, frequently represented by phallic symbols such as this skeletal hand between his legs.

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Fet Gede celebrations are huge here in Haiti and everywhere we go in the cemetery there are people taking photos and videos; plus all the TV and radio stations. Here Baron Samedi is interviewed for the daily TV news.

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While most devotees are merely here at the cemetery out of curiosity, some come to worship, and a small number of believers actually become possessed by the Lwa (spirits). As this guy goes in to a trance, he loses control of his senses, flails his arms and legs around and staggers about as if he has been given a hefty push in a drunken stupor. As we are all on top of a crypt at this stage, with steep steps and a throng of people, there are a few hairy moments as he tumbles down through the crowds and onto the ground below. Fortunately no-one is hurt on this occasion and he is helped by a number of bystanders as he recovers from his bewildering state of possession.

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Erzulie

This tree represents Erzulie, the Haitian African Lwa (spirit) of love and passion. She is fond of money and clothes, but especially of doll, and she enjoys receiving them as gifts.

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Devotees come here to attach dolls to the tree, in order to send messages to their dead loved ones and ancestors; which in turn will then ensure that Erzulie brings them luck. This practice is thought to have been the base of the misunderstanding and misinformation (perpetuated by popular media) that Vodouists stick pins in dolls to cause harm to their enemies.

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Peristyle - The Vodou Temple

From the cemetery we continue (via the supermarket for water and toilet stop) up into the hill towards Petionville to attend a vodou service to commemorate Fet Gede, the Feast of the Ancestors (or Day of the Dead).

Wilson drives the minibus as far as he can up roads that become narrower and more uneven as we climb higher. Eventually we reach a point where the road has been washed away (possibly by the recent hurricane?) and the surface is down to the bedrock. We scramble up further on foot and enter a series of tight alleyways occupied by children and goats. There is no sign of the Vodou Temple until we are right upon it and even then it is unrecognisable as a place of worship as we know it.

The immediate area outside the temple is full of people hanging around, smoking, drinking and chatting. There is an 'off-licence' by the entrance where worshippers can buy their rum for offering and personal consumption.

The temple itself can best be described as a small wooden shack, the inside of which is beautifully adorned with white and purple balloons, Halloween-style decorations and an altar awash with offerings - people bring with them food or drink particularly enjoyed by their ancestors when they were alive.

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Music

A group of special people, known as houn'torguiers, provide the music in the form of shaking rattles, playing drums and blowing a trumpet. Three drums, covered with ox-hide, provide the rhythm. They represent the three atmospheres of the sun: the largest represents the chromospheres, the middle one the photosphere, and the smallest one the solar nucleus. The instruments have to be purified prior to the ceremony.

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Everyone seems to be taking photos or recording video, and the TV crew are in attendance with their huge camera and microphone. As was the case in the cemetery, we are the only white people here.

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Maman Brigitte

Soon after we arrive, the ritual reaches a crescendo as (a devotee possessed by) Maman Brigitte (Baron Samedi's wife), frees the souls of the followers. She is a colourful character, both in appearance and speech, and is known as the guardian of the dead. As a psychopomp, she leads the dead to the afterlife.

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Dancing

Dancing is an expression of spirituality, and is seen as a connection with divinity and the spirit world. The dancing and drumming intensifies repeatedly and repetitively until the dancer is possessed by their Lwa, by which stage they appear to completely lose control of their body and some even appear to lose consciousness. Their limbs go stiff, they appear to fall backwards of they flail their arms and legs about, thrashing anyone and everyone in their way. This is the Lwa’s way of having a bit of fun with the devotee.

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Vodou devotees believe that everyone has a soul which is made up of two parts: a gros bon ange or 'big guardian angel', and a ti bon ange ('little guardian angel'). The ‘little angel’ is the one that leaves the body when the Lwa possess the dancers during a ritual, and it can be quite scary at times to watch. The Lwa will take over every movement of that person, they become the spirit and are no longer themselves, and the spirit will talk through the possessed – sometimes in a language they do not understand or even knew before they were possessed. The Lwa will convey – through the possessed – advice, desires and warnings.

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During the Vodou service, prayers are offered to the Lwa, followed by songs for the Lwa accompanied by shaking a calabash rattle (asson) filled with rattlesnake bones, as well as hypnotic drumming. Like many Hindu devotees, most Haitians have a 'favourite' Lwa, and as 'their' song is played, they believe that the spirit takes possession of their body and is thereby able to speak and act through them. They trust that by following the directives and taboos imposed by their particular Lwa, the Lwa will help them in life, enabling them to discard any toxic influences from the past as well as offering thanks to the ancestors and accepting beneficial help for the future. Fet Gede is a celebration for reconnecting with the past, and preparing for the future. By offering insight into the past, Fet Gede frees people from any futile or unacceptable patterns and habits that they may inadvertently repeat, thus preparing them for a better future where greater happiness can be achieved. Conversely, by ignoring the advice of the Lwa, all sorts of misfortunes will befall the worshipper.

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Other worshippers help the Houngan (Vodou priest) to stay cool (if that is at all possible in the stifling heat inside the Peristyle) while he is possessed.

The Gédé spirits are lewd and raucous, and those possessed by them during ceremonies can be wildly provocative and sexually charged – like this guy tying a goat to his belt by a rope, and simulating sex with it on the dance floor.

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Chanting

Chanting is also an integral part of the Vodou ceremony. The chorus is made up of a group of people, led by a strong spiritual devotee. The idea of the chanting is to attract the Lwa on the astral plane in order to draw them down to earth.

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Pimam

Pimam is an 'altar wine' made from klarin (Haitian moonshine) with habareno peppers – it can quite literally be described as 'fire water.' Once a worshipper is 'possessed', he (or she) drinks or rubs themselves with the pimam as a signal that they are really a Gede (spiritual ancestor), in other words: dead and need warming up.

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Devotees also sprinkle alcohol on the ground to attract the spirits.

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Sacrifice

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Fet Gede celebrations nearly always involve an animal sacrifice (never virgins I am assured!). Since the earthquake in 2010 goats and chickens are favoured over cows.

Unble to bear the heat inside any longer, we leave the temple for some fresh air (not that it is much cooler outside), and almost immediately Serge beckons me to come down a set of stairs with him.

There, without much pomp and circumstance, is a goat with his throat being slit.

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The blood is drained into a bowl as the head is severed off completely.

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The rest of the body is slung aside (still kicking) while the next goat is fetched.

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The goat is hit over the head with a mallet to stun it, then stabbed in the skull with a sharp knife.

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The blood from the bowl is smeared on the forehead and tongue of believers (who have paid 50 gourdes for the privilege). By drinking the blood whilst possessed by the Lwa, it is believed that the Lwa’s hunger is satisfied and the devotee will receive forgiveness for any wrongdoings.

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After the sacrifice has taken place, the animal is cooked and shared out amongst the villagers. This way, nothing goes to waste. The killing of an animal is believed to release life, which the Lwa receive to rejuvenate themselves during the rapture of the ceremony.

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Still overwhelmed and buzzing from the powerful experiences today, we return to our hotel to get ready for a night out with Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere.

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Jacqui brings along her friend Kelli from the US who has just adopted an adorable little Haitian girl called Vanedjina.

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We have a lovely relaxing evening with good food and great company – the perfect way to end a frantic but captivating day.

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Thank you Voyage Lumiere for making this happen.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:17 Archived in Haiti Tagged altar temple travel vacation skeleton cemetery halloween crowds holiday necropolis tv dancing drums photography coffee killing candles spirits graves bones goat skulls ancestors rum sacrifice crypt celebration voodoo dolls mardi_gras haiti offerings crossroads trance day_of_the_dead chanting peristil port_au_prince baron_samedi vodou possessed fet_gede fete_guede fet_guede fete_gede gede feast_of_the_ancestors lwa loa vodum vodoun grand_cimetiere kwa_baron cross_of_baron papa_gede tomb_of_the_unknown_soldiers pimam clairin clarin klarin maman_brigitte habarenos baron_criminal occult peristyle erzulie zonbiw erzulie_mayang vodou_temple voodoo_temple houn'torguiers psychopomp houngan mambo vodou_ceremony voodoo_ceremony Comments (0)

Montrouis - Port au Prince

Here comes the rain - briedfly

rain 33 °C
View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is very much a non-event, as David is up at 04:00 with an upset tummy. He stays in bed while I go for breakfast, the whole morning, as well as while I enjoy lunch. Only as we are checking out to travel back to Port au Prince does he surface.

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Yummy fruit and French toast for breakfast

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While David stays in the air-conditioned room feeling sorry for himself, I soak up the last of the ocean views and some sunshine.

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Grilled cheese sandwich for lunch

I am feeling very much more alive on this journey than the one in the opposite direction a couple of days ago, and spend my time taking photos of the passing traffic which consists of overfilled tap-taps (open-sided small trucks used for passengers), hand carts, cows eating from rubbish tips, big Macks (the truck variety, not the burger), donkey carts, sleek modern buses, pedestrians and kamakazi goats dashing from one side of the road to the other through the crazy traffic!

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It's Monday, so it must be wash day!

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A new venture for a future ex-president?

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David, on the other hand, is not having a good day, and is violently sick on the journey. Thankfully - and much to Pouchons' relief - I always carry a sick bag.

Rain and flooding

Half way back to the capital, we encounter the much publicised rain; and it certainly looks like they have had a LOT of it here, judging by the flooding in the streets.

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Just a mile or so further on the rain has stopped and the roads are bone dry. Strange weather.

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Unlike the reverse journey, the freeway is running smoothly; but when we arrive in the capital, we hit a major traffic jam. Pouchon tries to avoid the standstill by cutting through some of the backstreets – areas with slums heavily ingrained with poverty like we've rarely seen anywhere in a capital city in the western world. Feeling very uncomfortable about taking photos (for safety and ethical reasons), I do snap a few covert pictures from inside the mini-van.

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Le Plaza Hotel

Arriving back here is like coming home; and the receptionist, remembering us from last week, greets us like long lost friends.

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Samantha, our gorgeous waitress this evening, gives us a French lesson as she takes our order. Just afterwards, a heavy peal of thunder is followed by a power cut. Just as I have found the torch in my bag, the lights come back on again.

My Tassot de Boeuf (fried beef in spicy sauce) is very tasty, and I have forgotten how delicious their piclis (spicy coleslaw) is!

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David takes two bites from his Poulet Pays au Noix (Haitian chicken with nuts) and immediately feels nauseous again.

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I order a cappuccino after dinner, but when Samantha comes back to tell me they have run out, I am 'forced' to have a piña colada. It's a hard life.

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We speak to Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere (who kindly arranged our trip to Haiti) to confirm the details of our itinerary for the next couple of days, before retiring for the night.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Haiti Tagged travel hotel holiday caribbean sick trucks haiti mack nausea port_au_prince voyages_lumiere le_plaza montrois le_plaza_hotel nauseous upset_tummy Comments (0)

Montrouis - Moulin sur Mer beach resort

More chill time

storm 36 °C
View Fet Gede on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am up early this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds.

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Yellow Faced Grassquit

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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White Necked Crow

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Bananaquit

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

The hotel also has domestic ducks and geese on its ponds; as well as a pigeon loft.

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Breakfast

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Lots of lovely fresh mango, and French toast with bacon - one of my favourite breakfasts!

Montrouis Beach

Apart from a conch shell salesman, and a sunbed stacker, we have the beach to ourselves this morning.

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It is blisteringly hot and suddenly my tummy doesn't feel good at all. In fact, it is so sudden that I don't make it back to the bathroom on time – a most unpleasant experience.

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You'll be glad to know that there are no photos of my little "accident".

Lunch

Today is Sunday, so lunch is a buffet.

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Chicken curry, national rice, fried plantains, creamed corn and tomato salad

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A delightfully tart passionfruit mousse

Rain? What rain?

The forecast for this weekend (and beyond) has consistently showed rain, rain and more rain, plus the odd thunder shower. There is certainly no sign of that this afternoon, the sea is sparkling in the sunshine.

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We sit for a while just gazing out to sea and those mesmerizing sparkles of sunshine dancing across the water like little luminous fairies. Life is good, until my tummy tells me that the lunch is an unwelcome guest and is about to be evicted, so we retire to the cool room. Next door is a lovely local family who are here for the weekend with their small child. I am unconcerned when I hear hear the key being turned in the connecting door as it is surely locked from both sides; but before I have had the chance to say “I'd better put some clothes on”, the girl and her father are in our room. I don't know who is most shocked: the kid or her dad! For the rest of their stay he avoids all eye contact with me.

I guess that is my cue to get dressed and head out to wait for the sunset.

There are a few more people down at the beach this afternoon; both in and out of the water.

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Tonight's sunset is not a patch on yesterday's, but the 'Bushwacker' cocktail more than makes up for it: Khalua, Amaretto, Baileys, cream and ice cream. Heaven in a glass!

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What the evening sky lacks in terms of colour, intensity and clouds, it more than makes up for in a passing lightning storm.

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Dinner

On the menu tonight is langoustine thermador – one of my favourite dishes. It certainly lives up to expectations.

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Thank you to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for yet another day here in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:05 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sea water sunset ocean beach storm caribbean sleep drinking birding photography lightning thunder woodpecker cocktail haiti lightning_storm langoustine bird_watching kestrel american_kestrel moulin_sur_mer montrouis voyages_lumier twitcher hispaniolan_woodpecker grassquit yellow_faced_grassquit bananaquit kingbird grey_kingbird waterskiing bushwalker_cocktail langoustine_thermador Comments (0)

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