A Travellerspoint blog

Serengeti Part I

The lions of Togoro Plains and much more


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

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As we wait for Malisa to come and collect us for today’s safari, Chris catches up on some sleep.

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The sun has not yet made an appearance and darkness hangs over the camp when we leave, so I still have no idea what this place looks like: the layout, or the surroundings. Usually I do a lot of research of each accommodation before we leave home, but this lodge is a complete surprise for everyone - an alien concept to me.

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It's quite exciting really, like a mystery tour!

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Sunrises (and sunsets) are pretty speedy affairs this close to the equator, so we haven’t travelled far before we can start making out the outlines of the kopjes around the camp.

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Initially just as a silhouette, but within a few minutes we can distinguish some features on the landscape.

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Cape Buffalo

So these are the guys we heard chomping last night, right outside our tent, and whose eyes the escort shone the torch into while (over) dramatically telling us how dangerous they are?

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The temperature this morning is a little on the cool side.

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It will soon warm up when the sun comes out.

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Lions

Chris isn’t the only one who is feeling tired this morning it seems.

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On a meadow of fluffy grasses, a lion pride made up of nine members, gathers around a kill. A wildebeest. Or rather an ex-wildebeest. It could even be the mother of the orphaned calf we saw yesterday.

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The pecking order is very evident here as a couple of the youngsters try to join dad for breakfast. He tells them what he thinks of that in no uncertain terms, while mum looks on with resignation: “They’ll learn”.

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The cubs are soon distracted. “We’ll have a play instead”

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Wildebeest

All around us, literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest greet the rising sun. Individually their grunt sounds a little like a human groan, but in these numbers the noise they make becomes a hum, like an enormous swarm of bees!

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Speaking of sounds – we can clearly hear the lion crunching the bones as he devours his prey.

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Dad licks his plate, then moves his breakfast a few feet along the open plains. Erm… why?

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In the crater we had a Rasta Lion and at Ndutu there was a Punk Lion. Here we have a Hippy Lion – just look at that hair… I mean mane. It is like a 70s rock star!

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Well, kiss my ass!

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“Do you think a fringe suits me? I’ve heard it is all the rage this year.”

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The youngsters wait in the wings for dad to finish his meal.

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On every bush and in every tree is a vulture hanging around until it is their turn too.

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Wildebeest

A long line of wildebeest is heading straight for the lions. Their poor eyesight is leading them into trouble again.

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The young lionesses realise that there is a potentially earlier - maybe even easier - breakfast than having to wait for dad to finish eating.

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The wildebeest have also spotted the lions and are running for their lives. Literally.

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She’s closing in, aiming for that baby at the back. An easy prey…

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She has to be quicker than that, it’s no good just sitting there looking at them; they’re not going to come to you.

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The last of the wildebeest makes it alive past the lions. Phew! I can breathe again now.

Meanwhile dad continues to eat his breakfast.

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While the rest of the family lie around licking their chops impatiently for when they will be allowed to have some.

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“Let’s go and harass dad”

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Dad, however, is totally unperturbed by the whole thing.

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Has he finished?

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Nah.

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Finally?

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It certainly looks that way, as with a full tummy he wanders off to find water.

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Typical male: once he’s had his meal he goes off to the pub for a drink, leaving his wife to do the clearing up!

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The rest of the family descend on the dining table like hungry… well, lions.

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I notice dad hasn’t left much to be divided between the remaining eight. You could say he's had the lion's share. I can certainly see where that expression comes from.

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This guy has managed to secure himself a tasty little morsel, however.

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The vultures move in a little closer, and noisy plovers circle above screeching out distressed warning signals. “Yes, we know there are lions. Thanks anyway guys".

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As we wonder how many lions you can fit around a scrawny wildebeest carcass, we leave them – and the constant wildebeest hum - to it and move on to our next wilderness experience.

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Jackal versus Vultures

We come across another kill where the predators have moved on, leaving what little is left in the hands of the scavengers, in this case some White Backed Vultures and a couple of Marabou Storks.

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All is reasonably calm until a couple of Black Backed Jackals arrive.

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End of Round One: Vultures 1 Jackals 0

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Round Two: the jackal seems to have managed to somehow get hold of a slither of meat, and the vultures go all out for the tackle. The ensuing squabble is reminiscent of the scenes I once witnessed in Tesco when the reduced items came out on a Saturday afternoon.

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The vultures bring in the reserves.

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Despite this somewhat unfair advantage, the score at the end of Round Two is Vultures 1 Jackals 1

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The opposition team regroup to work out their next move.

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It seems they don’t quite agree on tactics.

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With all the internal politics, and no real action, the audience looks bored.

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While not exactly bored, we leave the jackals and vultures to fight it out between them and drive a little further north.

Lion and Jackal Prints

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More Lions + Another Kill = More Vultures

Further along we see seven lions on a kill (that’s the fourth kill we’ve seen this morning, and it's only 08:15) and another ‘Vulture Tree’ full of birds waiting to swoop on the carcass.

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As soon as the lions move off, the vultures descend en masse.

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The lions and a jackal look on with bemusement.

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Topi

Does my bum look big in this?

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Wildebeest Rutting Season

This time of the year is when the males compete for the attention of the females – they have been known to fight until death!

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This morning, however, hunger wins and they go back to grazing. So do we.

Picnic Breakfast

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When we made our choices last night for the breakfast box, Chris crossed everything out on the menu except the muffin. That was all he wanted for breakfast – a muffin. Fair enough. Imagine his disappointment when he opens his box this morning, and finds everything in there, EXCEPT the muffin!

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All around us is the hum of the wildebeest.

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It is very much cooler this morning than any previous days.

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Although Malisa doesn’t seem to feel it as he wears his Rasta Lion T shirt and motorcycle-tyre sandals.

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Grey Crowned Cranes

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Lions Re-Visited

We go back to see our lions, who have their eye on another wildebeest.

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They do some more half-hearted stalking, but they are obviously not that hungry.

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The vultures hover expectantly above, but this time they are out of luck.

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As we're driving along, David shouts out "Oh, look: wildebeest". We all fall for it, sitting bolt upright and looking for... wildebeest? Even Malisa stops. Doh... for the last hour or so, we have been surrounded by several thousand wildebeest - they are not exactly a novelty!

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My tummy is not at all happy today, and when I let Malisa know, he suggests going back to the camp to use their facilities, as we are very near anyway. That sounds good to me – not just because there is a proper toilet, but it will also be nice to see the camp in daylight.

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Today we can see just how close to our room the buffalo do graze. Gulp.

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The camp is totally devoid of human life, but we do see a few four legged critters.

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Emergency over, we continue our game drive, this time we head south.

Klipspringer

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Red Duiker

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Cape Buffalo

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Impala

One male can have a harem of up to 60 females.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Giraffe

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Hippos

A couple of hippos wallow in the shallow Orangi River.

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Olive Baboons

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Dust

We hit the main road through Serengeti; and while there is not much traffic compared with the main dry season, the huge trucks still throw up masses of dust!

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Warthogs

You can only just see the top of their backs in the long grass; which is exactly why they run with their tails straight up - so that their youngsters can see them!

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African Fish Eagle

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

These noise birds get their name from the sound they make when disturbed: “kweh” “kweh”, which does sound a bit like “go way”.

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Magpie Shrike

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Tree Python

Until this trip, we had never seen a snake in Tanzania, and it is one of the items on my wish list. Not only did we see a cobra in Tarangire, and a grass snake crossing the road earlier this morning; a couple of cars stopped with people staring at a tree alerts us to an enormous python.

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At around two metres in length, this brute can swallow an antelope!

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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

This wild African cat is about half way in size between a domestic cat and a cheetah and it’s a fairly rare sighting. Lyn and Chris have been so incredibly lucky with their animal spotting on this safari, although we still haven’t seen a leopard to complete the BIG FIVE.

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End of Part I

As today features quite a few more sightings, I have decided to publish it in two parts; so all that remains now is to say thank you to Calabash Adventures and Malisa for an exciting morning’s game drive.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises birds road_trip view travel vacation views hotel adventure scenery sunrise cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lodge lizard birding picnic photography lions giraffe hippo babies roadtrip eagles serengeti dust kill heron vultures python glamping impala topi wildebeest warthogs jackal stunning stalking bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip serval safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys lion_kill mbuzi_mawe long_grass_plains short_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje marabou_stork red_duiker klipspringer black_headed_heron african_fish_eagle tree_python jackals Comments (0)

Ndutu - Mbuzi Mawe

The Legendary Serengeti


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

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I start the day with a spot of bird watching as the sun comes up.

White Rumped Helmetshrike

Dung beetle for breakfast anyone?

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Superb Starling

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Unusually, we take breakfast in the lodge this morning, before setting off for another day of game viewing.

When asked if he would like egg and bacon, David jokingly says – in a lowered voice as the waiter walks away – “mushrooms, baked beans…” Of course, that is exactly what he gets!

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Aardvark

On our last couple of safaris with Calabash, I bantered with our guide Dickson about wanting to see an aardvark, and that I will keep coming to Tanzania on safari until I do.

Today I finally get to see my aardvark, in the grounds of Ndutu Lodge. Shame it is made from metal – I guess I can’t quite tick it off my wish list yet.

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Oxpeckers

These birds have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes. The giraffe provides a happy home for ticks, which the oxpeckers eat, relieving the giraffe of the annoyance the insects can cause.

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Giraffe

Today's host is an old male giraffe.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

As the leopard’s favourite food, the vervets go to great lengths to hide their whereabouts from their nocturnal predator, including smearing their poop on the branches at night, rather than letting it drop to the ground so that the leopard cannot easily detect where they are sleeping.

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He is showing off his bright blue testicles again.

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Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

On the prowl across the grasslands, looking for snakes.

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Spotted Hyena

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Lions

These guys have not moved from the spot where we left them resting last night, although the missing ninth lion has rejoined them.

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A couple of them head our way, coming right up to the car, sniffing the tyres and eventually settling down in the shade of the vehicle. That’s pretty close!

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I think that means we have a symbiotic relationship with the lions – we provide them with shade, they give us some great photo opportunities.

This guy does not look too sure about Chris. It makes me wonder how high they can jump.

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Woolly Necked Vultures

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Engine Failure

Ten minutes after leaving the lions, the engine coughs, splutters and then dies. After a few tries, Malisa gets it going again, but not for long. We joke that he’s filled it with ‘jumpy diesel’, but eventually he cannot get it going again just by turning the key, and has to get out and under. Oh dear.

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An area filled with lions, cheetah, leopards and hyena is not the best place to lie down on the ground under a car, so I am relieved when Malisa gets the car going again reasonably quickly – a wire had broken from all the off-roading.

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Having a trained car mechanic as a driver-guide certainly has its advantages. Well done that man! I am surprised that breakdowns don't happen more often - this is the first one we've encountered in the four safaris we've had with Calabash.

Short Grass Plains

Heading for the entrance gate to Serengeti, the track runs across what is known as the Short Grass Plains, for obvious reasons. One of the great things about a safari on the Northern Circuit in Tanzania is that even as you drive from one place to another, there is always an opportunity to do some game viewing, and this morning we see a few animals along the way.

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Here we can see Naabi Hill in the distance, which is what we are aiming for - the official entrance to the Serengeti National Park.

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Grant's Gazelle

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Zebra

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Ostriches

As we approach, panic mode sets in and these enormous flightless birds start running around like headless chickens. “Don’t panic, don’t panic!”

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We leave the Ndutu area behind a join the main ‘road’ to the gate.

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Lions

Just before the entrance, we spot a lioness with two cubs resting in the shade of a kopje.

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Giraffe Drinking

It is fairly unusual to see a giraffe drinking from the ground like this, as being in that position makes him very vulnerable to predators.

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It is even more unusual to see a three-necked giraffe!

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Naabi Hill

Towering above the grassy plains of the Serengeti, Naabi Hill is the location of the main entrance gate to the park, and offers amazing views over the Endless Plains below.

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While Malisa goes off to get our tickets and sort out the registration, we take a short walk on the Kopje Trail that leads up the scenic observation point on top of the rocky outcrop behind the information centre.

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The kopje appears to ‘float in the sea of grass’ that is the Serengeti Plains.

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From the summit we can easily understand why the Maasai named this place Serengeti – 'a vast land that runs forever, where endless plains meet the sky' in the local language.

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It is said that the only way you will get a better view of Serengeti, is from a hot air balloon, and that is definitely not on the agenda for this trip, not at $539 per person!

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Naabi Hill is a haven for lizards, who lounge on the sun-baked rocks along the path, totally unperturbed by passing tourists.

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Exit is through the shop, as usual.

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While we wait for Malisa to finish up the paper work, we do a spot of bird watching.

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Rock Martin

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Juvenile Ashy Starling (I think)

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Juvenile Hildebrand Starling

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Hildebrand Starling

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Lappet Faced Vulture

After a while I comment that the entrance formalities seem to be taking a particularly long time today, which considering how quiet it is, I find a bit strange. It turns out that while we have been waiting for Malisa outside the information centre, he has been at the car, wondering where we are. Doh!

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Serengeti National park

This has to be the most renowned wildlife park in the entire world, and for good reason; with over 10,000 square miles of pristine wilderness, it’s like stepping in to a wildlife documentary. The variety and abundance of wildlife here is unmatched anywhere else in Africa. Serengeti is unparalleled in so many ways – not only does it have the world's largest herd of migrating ungulates, but also the largest concentration of predators in the world.

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Most people think of the Serengeti as being a vast endless grassy plain, as well as totally underestimating its size. In reality the park is comprised of a wide range of ecosystems, with some parts featuring areas of acacia forest, others granite mountains and soda lakes, each with its own different character and range of wildlife.

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Rather than taking the main road this morning, we head east towards Gol Kopjes, an area where we need a special permit to visit.

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Giraffe

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Warthogs

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Aren’t they just the cutest when they run with their tails straight up? They do that so that the babies can see their mums in the long grass.

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Mirage

A naturally occurring optical illusion, a mirage is caused by light bending rays, giving the impression of an oasis in the distance.

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Steppe Eagle

For one spine-tingling moment we believe he has picked up a snake; until we realise he is merely nest building.

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It is still pretty cool to see him carry it away in his beak though.

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Marabou Stork

This has to be one of the ugliest birds in existence, surely?

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Lions

In the distance we spot a couple of lions. We are becoming almost blasé to them now – there is not much point in hanging around when they are so far away. We have seen them nearer and better before…

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Gol Kopjes

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Nicknamed the ‘world’s largest Japanese rock garden’, this is a picturesque area, with a series of granite outcrops (kopjes) dotted on the otherwise flat short grass plains.

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This area is said to have the highest concentration of cheetah in Africa, but it is not a cheetah we spot sleeping on the rocks, but a lion.

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When we go closer, we see it is in fact a collared lioness. The head of the pride, she is an exceptional hunter, which is why the authorities want to monitor her.

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As this girl is a well-known matriarch, it’s a pretty good bet that there are more lions in the near vicinity; and we don’t have long to wait before another lioness appears on the top of the rock behind.

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With a full belly she walks slowly and lazily, settling down in the shade of a tree.

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A heaving brown lump in the long grass indicates a male lion panting heavily. The lions have obviously recently eaten and are all full to bursting.

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This one seems to have the right idea.

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Golden Jackal

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Committee Meeting

The collective noun for vultures is committee, and here we have Rueppell’s Griffon, Woolly Necked and White Backed Vultures, as well as a couple of Marabou Storks.

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Thomson’s Gazelle

It’s that time of year – two Tommy males spar for the attention of a female.

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Topi

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Tawny eagle

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Coke's Hartebeest

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Dung Beetle

This poor little beetle is trying to roll his ball of dung into a hole in the ground, but is finding the earth too hard. He eventually just rolls it into the grass cover.

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More Lions

Another kopje, another lion pride. Such is life in the Serengeti.

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The one ‘security guard’ left out on the sunny savannah looking after the remains of dinner (probably a baby wildebeest) gazes longingly at the other pride membesr resting in the shade.

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Tortoise

One of the animals on my wish list this year is a tortoise, and this morning one strolls right by as we are watching the lions.

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Steppe Eagle

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Judging by the droppings, I'd say this is a favourite perch of his.

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After finding a large pride of lions at each of the last three kopjes, Lyn is not at all happy about getting out of the car when we stop at another rocky outcrop for our picnic lunch. “Is it safe” she asks Malisa, but eventually - after plenty of reassurance - she reluctantly alights the vehicle.

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Malisa teases her about it, and even takes a photo of her still in the van to send to Tillya.

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As we drive away from the picnic site, Lyn jokingly shouts out “Oh, look: simba!” pointing to a non-existent lion near the kopje we had just been sitting next to. Much to our amusement, Chris falls for it!

Grant’s Gazelle

A bachelor herd full of young wannabes.

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Topi

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After one quick look at us, he takes off. Literally.

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White Stork

Non-resident, they are European migrants – just like us then.

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Wildebeest

We come across a small herd of migrating wildebeest.

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A few minutes later we see this lone youngster, probably left behind when the herd moved on. He seems to be rather dazed – no wonder they call a group of wildebeest a confusion.

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He looks suspiciously towards us, then misled by his very poor eyesight, runs off in the opposite direct to the group we saw earlier.

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Having eaten too much for lunch, I feel like the lazy lions we encountered this morning and all I want to do is go to sleep in the shade to digest the food. I have a little nap in the car and wake up when we stop.

Dead Wildebeest

Malisa surmises that this wildebeest mother fell during a stampede and got trampled on, and has now become food for the vultures and Marabou Stork. Each of the different vultures have beaks that are designed for different actions, so as not to cause competition at a kill. The only one who can open a carcass is the Woolly Neck; so that's who they are all waiting for.

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The saddest thing about this scene is the baby wildebeest just standing there, watching the scavengers eating her mum. That really breaks my heart.

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In the middle of the road there is another, much younger baby wildebeest. We are guessing that his mother has probably been taken by a predator; this guy is so weak he can hardly walk and way too young to make it on his own - he is literally just waiting to be someone’s dinner.

That’s the stark and sometimes cruel reality of the wilderness.

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Long Grass Plains

As we drive further into the Serengeti, we notice that the plains change from the short grass that is typical around Ndutu, through medium grass plains around Naabi Hill to the longer grasses in this area. The plains are framed by rocky hills and river courses, swelled by the recent rains.

So why is the length of the grass worthy of a mention?

It is not so much the grass – although length does matter dontcha know – it’s the fact that the change of grassland also brings a change in the balance of the species – for instance, we see many more hartebeest and topi here than anywhere else on this trip.

Another point - sometimes we can only just see the tops of the animals, one of the disadvantages of travelling in the Green Season.

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Muddy Tracks

One of the other downsides to coming here at this time of year is that often the tracks become just pure mud after a heavy rainfall.

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Some even turn into impromptu streams and become totally impassable.

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Malisa engages the 4WD to make sure we can get through OK – we don’t really want to have to get out and push unless absolutely necessary.

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It’s easy peasy when you have the right tool for the job.

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Cape Buffalo

A breeding herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo.

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Bateleur Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Warthog

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Maasai Kopjes

Kopjes – an Afrikaans term referring to isolated rock hills that rise abruptly from the surrounding flat savannah – are remarkable in that they have their own little ecosystems with a range of vegetation and wildlife.

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Lions

Maasai Kopjes are home to a large pride of lions, who are the subject of numerous studies by the Serengeti Lion Project. We study them sleeping for a while this afternoon.

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Dik Dik

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White Headed Eagle

Malisa excitedly informs us this is a very rare sighting – it is certainly a new bird to us.

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Hippo

One lump or two?

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Pin Tailed Swallow

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Defassa Waterbuck

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Zebra

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It seems that stripes are in this year.

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Wildebeest Migration

The rains being a month late arriving this year has confused the wildebeest, and instead of being up in the Western Corridor now, they are found in great numbers here in Central Serengeti.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Coqui Francolin

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He makes the most peculiar sound – as if he is laughing.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Stormy Clouds

Some formidable dark clouds are building up and the light is extraordinarily intense with the low evening sun creating remarkably saturated colours! I think we might be in for some rain before long…

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Klipspringer

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And here comes the rain – bringing with it some even more bizzare conditions: the sunset reflecting in the water drops with a rainbow behind.

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We move on a bit further and are able to see the whole rainbow, with the dramatic light constantly changing.

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Mbuzi Mawe

By the time we reach our camp, it is dark and the rain has really set in – what was a gently drizzle, is now a heavy downpour. It’s the first ‘proper’ rain we’ve had on this trip, so we shouldn’t complain.

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A small army of porters with umbrellas meet us in the car park and take us to the reception. It seems a long walk.

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After the usual formalities, we are shown to our tent – which ironically is half way down to the car park again. Apologies for rubbish photos taken hand held in almost pitch black.

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The tents are very spacious, with two huge four-poster beds, a seating area and a writing desk. Attached to the back is a modern bathroom with double basins, shower, toilet and changing area. This is my sort of camping.

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This place is as much of a surprise to me as it is to Lyn and Chris. When he knew the wildebeest migration was changing route, Tillya changed our accommodation to a more convenient position – that is one of the numerous reasons we keep coming back to using Calabash Adventures – their customer care!

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I love it!

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Just after we get to the room, housekeeping arrives to carry out the ‘turn-back service’. A young girl is being trained and they seem to take forever - I know they prefer to come and do it while we are in the room so that we’ll tip them; but its a bit of an inconvenience as we have just a short time between arriving back from safari and going for dinner.

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So we have a drink instead of a shower. Shucks. Life is hard.

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The tents are all facing outwards on the edge of the camp, overlooking the kopje (or you would be looking at it if it wasn’t pitch black). Buffalo graze in the long grass the other side of the path.

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A gentle man with a big spear, little English and a contagious laugh escorts us from the tent to the restaurant.

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Rock Hyrax

On the way he shines his torch at the rocky outcrops, illuminating a huddle of rock hyrax.

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The dinner is impressive, arriving served under large silver domes, all four of which are removed at exactly the same time to reveal the piping hot food underneath.

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Both David and I have Kuku Wa Kupaka – a local dish of chicken cooked in a coconut cream with ‘coastal spices’.

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Lyn and I share a bottle of white wine, David and Chris have red.

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The dessert gateau is a disappointment apparently, as is my self-serve cheese and biscuits: there is next to nothing left.

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The servers and kitchen staff serenade an Australian couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, just as the staff did for us in Maramboi.

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We retire to our rooms after another spectacular day on safari with Calabash Adventures. Thanks again guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sky night monkeys rain hills sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel adventure roads scenery sunrise clouds holiday fun party africa mud safari rainbow tanzania lodge zebra eagle wine beetle lizard birding chicken tourists picnic photography alcohol lions giraffe hippo roadtrip serengeti hyena vulture night_time glamping waterbuck starling wildebeest stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip ndutu african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe hartebeest nadutu_safari_lodge gol_kopjes maasai_kopjes mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels long_grass_plains short_grass_plains naabi_hill central_serengeti mussy_tracks kopje stormy_clouds Comments (0)

Ndutu Part II

A very rare sighting indeed!


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

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Ndutu Lodge

Food at Ndutu is always a pleasure and today’s lunch is no different. After a starter of soup and bread, we are served a ham salad, the taste of which is nothing short of exquisite!

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I am feeling grateful for a relatively small portion at midday, until the accompaniments arrive: potato salad, capsicum salad, and coleslaw.

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Ndutu Lodge is one of the few remaining truly independent safari lodges in Tanzania, and also one of the oldest camps around, dating back to the 1960s when it was the domain of the flamboyant and eccentric professional hunter George Dove.

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When he abandoned hunting in 1967, he made a tented camp here at Ndutu. The lodge was taken over and refurbished in 1985, with stone cottages replacing the original tents. The lodge remains an extremely popular place to stay, and rightly so.

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Renowned wildlife researchers Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick used Ndutu as a base for much of their research about wild dogs and the lodge is popular with a lot of well-known wildlife photographers such as Nick Garbutt, Stu Porter and Steve Bloom. And not to forget Grete Howard and Lyn Gowler!

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I love the lodge's motto:
“Don't expect five stars; from our campfire you will see millions.”

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The lodge is also a cracking place for bird watching, with over 400 species recorded in the vicinity; so after lunch Lyn and I head out with our long lenses to see what we can shoot.

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Slate Coloured Boubou

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Blue Capped Cordon Bleu

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Swahili Sparrow

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Speckled Mousebird

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Laughing Dove

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Common Drongo

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Pool Party!

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Variable Sunbird

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White Bellied Canary

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

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Scarlet Breasted Sunbird

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Steel Blue Whydah

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Ndutu Safari Lodge is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, just outside the border with the Serengeti National Park. Of course, there are no physical barriers separating the two reserves, and the migrating animals aren’t too good at reading maps, so they wander in and out of the parks at will.

Dik Dik

We see these dik diks in the lodge grounds as we leave for this afternoon's game drive.

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Lake Ndutu

We head for the lake again this afternoon. Lake Ndutu used to belong to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but the authorities decided to move the border so that the lake is now inside Serengeti National Park. The reason for doing this is to do with to off-road driving, which is not permitted in the Serengeti but can - and does – take place in the conservation area. The number of cars driving too close to the lakeshore caused erosion damage and was a threat to the environment and the wildlife.

The white post marks the border, and Malisa is very careful to stick to the designated tracks here.

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Lesser Flamingo

On the lakeshore we find a few Lesser Flamingo – the ones that are darker with more pink colouring, are the younger birds; they get paler as they grow older.

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Spotted Thick Knee

We also spot a Spotted Thick Knee in the grass.

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A mini tornado

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And a couple of wildebeest carcasses

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Lions

Heading towards Lake Masek, we come across the lions we saw last night feeding on the zebra carcass. Today there are only eight, not nine, so one must have gone walkabout.

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We can still see the dried blood on this guy's face from yesterday's feast!

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Because they ate yesterday, there is no need for them to kill again for another three days.

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Now they are just lazing around, digesting the food.

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After eating, lions do not produce any solid waste for days: they poop blood!

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It's always such a relief to be able to 'pass through' a big meal I find.

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A family of Helmeted Guineafowl stroll by. As they do.

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There is not much left of yesterday’s zebra today, and the stench is nauseating.

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The lions have had their fill.

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The vultures have finished it off, and now all that is left is for the bluebottles to clean it.

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We let sleeping lions be, and move on.

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Caracal

We’re busy looking up into a tree at a hiding hoopoe, when Malisa gets word on the radio about a caracal being spotted down on the flats between the two lakes. Seeing this elusive cat is very rare, so it is an adrenalin-filled vehicle that rushes off in the direction of the sighting.

We can’t believe our luck when he comes rushing out of the bushes, right next to our car. He certainly isn’t hanging around, and I only manage to get a quick bum-shot as he dashes for cover!

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Anticipating that he may – or may not – emerge the other side; we drive around the thicket, occasionally catching a very brief glimpse of his backside as he creeps deeper into the shrubbery.

This is where having a quality guide pays off – Malisa moves with some considerable haste towards a very small clearing, urging us to get our cameras poised, ready for action so that we can shoot on the move if he emerges.

And he does. And we do.

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What a wondrous sighting! Knowing that this is only the third time Malisa has ever seen a caracal – it is that rare – we feel extremely honoured to have managed to catch a brief three-second glimpse of one today.

Giraffe

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African Hoopoe

We finally get a picture of the hoopoe that was so rudely interrupted by a caracal earlier.

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Speckled Mousebird

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Lake Masek

I don’t know what it is about trees on this trip – in Tarangire I remembered the tree I photographed two years ago, and today I recognised a tree under which we had a picnic in 2011. I really do need to get out more…

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Lake Masek 2016

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Picnic at Lake Masek 2011

Cape Teal

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Common Stilt

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Lesser Flamingo

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Hippo

The hippo only stay down this end of the lake as fresh water from the stream that runs into the lake at this point means the water is not as brackish here.

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Augur Buzzard

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The Golden Hour

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As the sun dips low on the horizon, painting everything in its path a rich golden orange, we encounter an elephant with her young baby – some 1½ years old.

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After a while the elephants wander in to the sunset, and so do we, heading for camp.

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Crested Eagle

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After another great dinner at Ndutu Safari Lodge, we join the genets for a quick drink in the bar, marking the end of yet another glorious day in the African Bush.

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As usual, I would like to thank Calabash Adventures and our ever-wonderful guide Malisa for allowing us to experience all this.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:23 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset road_trip travel elephants adventure roads cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lunch birding photography lions giraffe hippo flamingo roadtrip ngorongoro stilts kill good_food bird_watching hoopoe game_drive road-trip ndutu teal safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company ngorongoro_conservation_area lion_kill nadutu_safari_lodge thick_knee cape_teal lake_masek caracal Comments (0)

Ndutu - Part I

More cuteness overload


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

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Bat Eared Fox

We leave the lodge while it is still dark this morning, and as dawn breaks we spot a couple of Bat Eared Foxes.

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Having previously only seen the top of their ears in the distance, I get very excited at this sighting.

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They in turn get excited at the sight of a White Bellied Bustard with a couple of chicks.

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This is a chase they have little chance of winning, but they have a go at it anyway.

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Still hungry and with the bustards half way across the savannah by now, the fox is left sniffing the air.

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Lake Ndutu Sunrise

We turn our attention to the lake, where a dazzling sunrise marks the beginning of another day filled with thrilling wilderness experiences.

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Verreaux's Eagle Owl

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Black Backed Jackal

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Having stalked a guinea fowl which then flies up into a tree, the jackal spends ages just staring at it while it makes loud warning calls to its mates.

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Eventually the jackal comes to accept that neither tree climbing nor flying are part of his repertoire; and he wanders into the sunrise, posing for some great rim-lit shots.

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Broken Down Vehicle

In the distance we see a car with its bonnet open, so Malisa goes over to check if they need any help. Between the three of them they manage to get the Jeep going, albeit coughing and spluttering in a plume of smoke.

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This is not really the place to break down – roadside recovery service is somewhat limited and cheetahs are plentiful.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Coqui Francolin

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Cheetah

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“What’s that?” With his binoculars glued to his eyes, Chris spots something in the long grass and exclaims excitedly: “it’s a cheetah!”

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Bringing the car to a halt, Malisa takes a look: “There’s two… no, it’s a female with cubs!” There are four of them, about two months old.

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Desperate for some breakfast, mum is constantly on the move, and wherever she goes, the cubs follow.

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As is the unwritten rule, once we have had the kitties to ourselves for a while, Malisa radios the other couple of cars in the area to let them know about the sighting.

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Painfully thin, mum really needs to eat soon, as her suckling babies have taken all her energy.

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We spend the next hour or so following this family as they move across the plains, always on the look-out, always on the prowl.

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Not a true cat in that it does not have retractable claws like those in the panthera genus (lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers); the cheetah belongs to the genus acinonyx, as it cannot roar.

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Who knew that baby cheetah chirp like a bird?

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As the cheetah make their way towards the woodland, we reluctantly move on to see what else the Ndutu area has to offer today.

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Bat Eared Fox

After the excitement of seeing a Bat Eared Fox up close early this morning, I am doubly surprised to see another one!

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Lions

Down at The Big Marsh, two brothers – around seven years old - are trying to sleep off last night’s big meal.

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Two Banded Plover

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Coke's Hartebeest

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This is what happens when you fight - you lose a horn! Let that be a lesson!

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Breakfast

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We set up a picnic on the plains in the shade of a tree.

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Ndutu Lodge has done us proud with their picnic box – there is egg, bacon, pancake, fruit, yogurt, cake, banana and juice.

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Caterpillar

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A large, hairy caterpillar is attracted to our picnic basket, and David is attracted to its fluffiness.

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Only after David lets it crawl all over his hands for quite some time, does Malisa warn: “You’ll get a rash”.

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More Lions

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While the large male lion in Ngorongoro Crater was a real Rasta Lion, these ‘teenage boys’ (around 1½-2 years old) have more of a punk style.

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It’s a hard life being a teenager.

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Hooded Vulture

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If the vulture is hanging around hoping the lions will provide him with breakfast in the shape of a kill, I think he might have a long wait – these boys do not look like they are going anywhere soon.

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He might as well make himself comfortable…

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Oh, wait… there might be some action here…?

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Or maybe not.

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Spotted Hyena

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They like lying down in the mud to cool off, which is why you so often see hyenas with dirty bottoms.

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Empty Plains

For a while we drive across never ending plains, seemingly devoid of any wildlife.

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Malisa spots leopard footprints in the sand and later rescues a dung beetle who has fallen upside down and cannot get back up. Our handsome guide is all heart, for sure – not just a good driver / guide but caring too!

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Hidden valley

A shallow depression in the endless landscape unseen from the distance – hence its name – hides several small waterholes and an overwhelming number of animals.

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What can I say? Apart from another “wow”, it is hard to find words to describe the spectacle of 200,000 or so zebra (plus around another 100,000 wildebeest) drinking, cavorting, taking a cooling dip, running, play fighting, and whatever else these ungulates do.

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Never before have I seen so many zebra in one place, the area around the waterhole is a veritable sea of stripes.

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Lots of very young babies, some just a few days old.

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With a thunder of hooves and a cloud of dust, a few more thousand wildebeest arrive.

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They just keep on coming...

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Imagine the dust and the noise when a stampede ensues – what an extraordinary location and unforgettable experience this is!

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A small limping wildebeest baby causes us great concern – he is unlikely to last long if f he can’t keep up with the herd and his vulnerability will make him an easy target for predators.

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All around us, in every direction, whichever way you look, as far as the eye can see, there are zebra and wildebeest. No other animals. The spectacle is surreal and immense.

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Time to move on.

With smooth ‘roads’, no animals in sight and a hot day, both David and I find ourselves nodding off.

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Lesser Masked Weaver Birds

After a short ‘snoozette’, I wake when we stop for a tree full of weaver bird nests – all created on the western (leeward) side of the tree at the end of the branches to protect the eggs from their main predators: snakes.

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And here is the architect herself.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A chirpy little D'Arnaud's Barbet

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And his mate

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Lions

This is the pride belonging to the two daddies we saw earlier on this morning – three females with six cubs between them.

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There is not much activity going on in the midday heat – they occasionally lift their heads, look at us as if you say “why are you sitting there staring at us instead of taking a nap in the shade” and go back to sleep.

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Malisa explains that he first saw the growth on the side of this young male back in January, and that it doesn’t seem to bother the animal at all. It still doesn’t make comfortable viewing though.

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The daddies are still resting under the trees on the other side of the marsh, their whole bodies swaying when they pant. It makes me think of a salsa dancer.

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One of the females gets up and starts to walk across to where we – and her partner – are. Perhaps she is jealous? She spends a long time just staring at us before giving up and lying down.

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And how! A giraffe was the first large animal I saw on my very first African safari back in 1986 and I was mesmerised. I still feel that same way now, 30 years, eleven safaris, twenty-five game parks and countless giraffes later.

With thanks to Ndutu Safari Lodge for hose words.

Giraffe

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Did you know that each time a giraffe lifts up its neck, it lifts more than 550 pounds?

Tawny Eagle

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We return to the lodge for lunch, a siesta or some bird watching before resuming today’s game drive. For fear of overload, I shall leave you here and create a new blog entry for this afternoon’s excursion.

As always, thanks to Calabash Adventures and their expert guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds road_trip travel adventure sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding cheetah picnic lions giraffe roadtrip ngorongoro hyena wildebeest jackal bird_watching game_drive road-trip adorable dung_beetle safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company cuteness_overload ngorongoro_conservation_area hartebeest hidden_valley lake_ndutu bat_eared_fox Comments (0)

Ngorongoro - Oldupai - Ndutu

Education, education, education!


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

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Seeing the clear skies from our balcony this morning, I really wish I’d got up in the night to take some pictures of the stars. I shall just have to photograph the sunrise instead.

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Our room has an amazing view over the Ngorongoro Crater from its balcony. The hotel is rustic to the extreme, having been built from rough local stone with the rooms all set on the ridge, facing the crater.

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There’s an even more spectacular view from the bar!

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Walking Safari

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This morning we leave Malisa and the car behind and set out to explore the area on foot with a ranger called Yohana, in order to get a deeper understanding of the bush and up close and personal with nature.

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The first wildlife we see is a Cape Robin-Chat, right outside the front door of the lodge.

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We amble at a slow pace, along the Ngorongoro Crater Rim and upwards into the hillside as Yohana teaches us the language of the bush.

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These signs always amuse me – do the wild animals read them and refuse to venture past that point (in the other direction) too?

This is not so much a safari in that we are not really seeking out wild animals; we are here to learn what native peoples have known for millennia – how wild plants are used as medicine and food. I am hoping to find something for the back ache I have been suffering with since we left home.

Sodom’s Apple
Although this fruit belongs to the tomato family, you won’t find it in any salads. Known as Sodom’s Apple as it is said to be the first plant to grow again after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the small, yellow fruit is used as a medicine for stomach ache, diarrhoea and to treat external wounds.

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Plant with unripe fruit

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The flower of the Sodom Apple

Wild Marijuana
This plant, which is in the same family as the common marijuana plant, is used to produce pesticide, as insects do not like the smell of it. Neither does Lyn by the looks of it.

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Leaves are soaked in water, which is then used to spray the fields to keep insects from eating the crop.

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Enkang oo-nkiri Maasai Ceremony
We encounter a Maasai who is in the bush for the Engkang oo-nkiri, or meat-eating ceremony – one the many stages of initiation into warriorhood for the young men of the tribe. A dozen or so men take a bull into the bush and slaughter it, staying there to eat the meat for two weeks. This is said to help them remain strong.

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Devil’s Snare
The fact that this invasive species is poisonous has not stopped the Mexicans from making drugs from it apparently.

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Stingy Nettle
Like we do in the West, the locals make soup “and wot not” (Yohana’s favourite expression) from this.

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Being full of sugar sap, nectar eating birds love this plant, whose name I don't catch.

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Beautiful Sunbird

Natural Insect Repellent

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Wild Tobacco
Yohana warns us that it is “not very good”.

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Old Man’s Beard
The presence of this lichen on trees is an indication of the air quality – it will only grow where the air is pure and clean!

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Augur Buzzard

Altitude
We have been climbing gently but steadily upwards from the lodge, and here at 2400 metres above sea level I can certainly feel the altitude.

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“I can see your house from here!” - Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

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Elephants
Yohana tells us elephants came by here in the night, eating the tops of the plants.

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Elephant Dung

Here we learn to read the jungle as a ‘daily newspaper’, by identifying trails, inspecting bushes and trees, studying spoor marks and animal tracks to deduce what animals have passed by recently, which way they were going, how long ago, how fast they were going, what they have eaten and so on. In fact there seems to be a story to be told in virtually every track and dropping that we come across. A bit like opening up Facebook first thing in the morning.

There’s a great view over the crater from up here.

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Eucalyptus

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It’s well know for being beneficial for clearing a blocked nose.

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Chris puts it to the test.

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Juvenile Common Fiscal Shrike

This is where we part company with the guys – Lyn and I head for the road where Malisa is waiting with the car; David and Chris continue their walk with a hike to the top of the hill.

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While we wait for the boys to do their daily workout, we chat to a group of school children on the road. One by one, as they pass, they shout out “Shikamo” – the greeting reserved for respected elders. That’ll be me then, I guess. In reply, I shout back: “Marahaba” (the traditional reply), much to their surprise and delight.
The kids explain to Malisa that their bus has broken down, so they have to walk the 40 minutes to their school.

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The guys come back bearing gifts.

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Mushroom – you can't get much fresher than this. And very good it is too.

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Khat – the drug of choice from Somalia to Yemen and beyond (and is also available – although illegal – in our home town of Bristol). It does nothing for me – it’s a bit like chewing grass.

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Quinine – this one might be useful for treating malaria.

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It’s time to move on to the next item on today’s itinerary – but first we have to get there, and we never know what we might see on the way.

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Malanja Depression with Mount Lemakarot in the distance

Emuratare - Circumcision ceremony

A couple of young Maasai lads have their faces painted to indicate that they have just undergone the circumcision ceremony. This is the most vital initiation of all rites of passages in the Maasai society and is performed shortly after puberty.

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Cow Bells

We stop to listen to the sound of the cowbells as Malisa explains that this is how the area got its name. Ngoro ngoro ngoro ngoro. A lot of goodwill and some poetic licence is required methinks.

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Kaki Weed

Today is an educational sort of day for sure, as Malisa hands us this plant which some people do smoke.

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Cooke's Hartebeest

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Maasai Warriors

Ahead a number of Maasai Warriors are walking along the road, and we are warned by Malisa not to take photos. The scene is surreal, like we are driving through a film set.

A Tower of Giraffes

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At Endoldol we spot a few giraffe on the ridge, in the distance.

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Then a few more.

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Soon we have a whole forest of giraffe.

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We count 53 animals – which beats Malisa’s previous record of 48 - but it's impossible to put an accurate number down as more and more keep coming from the back.

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I have never seen anything like this incredible spectacle.

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When a Maasai warrior appears in the distance, the whole scenario goes from being fantastical to becoming completely absurd as 50+ giraffe start running.

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Giraffe are awkward runners, and with their long necks arching and bending as they go, they look like a wave. Totally, utterly unbelievable!

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There is just one word that will do: WOW!

Elerai Maasai Boma

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We are introduced to David, the son of the chief, who explains – in very good English – about the village and the dances we are about to see. The name Elerai refers to the yellow barked acacia trees that grow around here.

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First of all, the men and women perform a ‘welcome dance’ for us.

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The dance is accompanied by a single musical wind instrument (traditionally a kudu horn), an olaranyani (song leader) singing the melody and a chorus chanting harmonies, combined into a sort of screeching syncopation.

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This is followed by a display of the Maasai men's famous ‘jumping’ dance, known as adumu. This dance is traditionally performed during the eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of a Maasai warrior.

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Chris decides he would like to join in

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So he studies the style and technique carefully.

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His approach is a little strained initially.

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But he soon gets the hang of it.

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Elerai is what is known as a ‘cultural boma’. The Tanzanian government restricts visits to Maasai homesteads to just a small selection of villages in a bid to limit the damaging effect it has on their culture.

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The beauty of visiting one of the official villages is that not only are we shown around the village, we can also freely take photos of the people who have ‘dressed up’ for the occasion. Taking photos of the Maasai walking along the road is considered very bad and is strongly discouraged, as mentioned in the RULES AND REGULATIONS at the entry gate.

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Here at Elerai, however, I can snap away to my heart’s content. And I do.

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The women have been hanging around while the men have been jumping, but now it is their turn to dance.

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Over the years we have visited a few Maasai villages, as well as other East African ethnic groups, and never before have we been treated to a display of women jumping.

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They may not jump quite as high as the men, but they make a brave attempt.

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While David (the chief’s son, not my husband) takes Lyn and Chris around the village, Kaki, his brother, leads us into one of the other huts.

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To us, the village doesn’t look all that big, but this collection of straw-and-mud huts is home to around 120 people.

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The work of constructing the huts falls on the women, who build a frame from wooden sticks, make the walls and roof from acacia grass, they then cover the whole lot with cow dung. During the rainy season the houses have to be re-covered with new dung every night.

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Standing around or walking very slowly, as we have been doing while watching the dancing, has a terrible effect on my troubled back, it is now hurting so much I am struggling to walk. I therefore decline the invitation to see what the hut looks like on the inside, instead I send David in with strict instructions to take photos using his video camera.

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The heigh of luxury it ain't, but I guess they don't spend much time inside.

Eventually curiosity gets the better of me, and I carefully put my head around the corner to take a peek.

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Although the older children go to school in a nearby small town, the younger ones attend the on-site kindergarten.

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The children beautifully recite the alphabet and numbers in English for us.

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The occasional grubby exterior fails to hide the beauty and innocence of these charming kids.

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The Maasai – as well as most other ethnic tribes in this region – build their homes in a circular pattern, with a ‘fence’ made from thorny acacia bushes to keep any wild animals out.

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At night, the domestic animals are herded into a coral for safety.

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Exit through the shop.
A Maasai ‘market’ has been set up in the centre of the village where we are ‘encouraged’ to buy something from the stall belonging to the householder whose home we just visited.

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This stuff always looks so good - and tempting - when you see it like this in its appropriate surroundings, but usually becomes horribly out of place if you take it back home.

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We choose a ‘talking stick’ and a small calabash to go on our wall next to the necklace we bought in Kenya last year.

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The talking stick is a communication tool used by the Maasai elders during their community gatherings as a symbol of authority and a right to speak. Everyone present must listen respectfully to the person holding the stick, and only that person is allowed to speak. When he has finished talking, the stick is passed on to someone else, ensuring everyone present has a chance to be heard.

Not sure how it would work in the Howard Household…

We are only partially successful in getting a mutually satisfactory price, and walk away with a feeling of having been ripped off.

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Moving on to our next educational stop, with a few interesting (or not) sights along the way.

Camels

Tanzania has become a lot more commercialised in just the 20 months since we were here last – these camels are brought to the road side by the Maasai who charge tourists to have their photo taken with them.

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Dust

This may be the green season, but the only rain we have seen so far is a mere five minutes just as we left Kilimanjaro Airport. Any vehicles, especially large trucks, throw up great amounts of dust from the tracks.

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As we slow down for the junction, a group of teenagers shout and wave their arms. One young lad lifts his gown to reveal nothing underneath except a hard-on. I am left in a state of incredulity: “Did I really just see that?” You’ll be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence.

Eland

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Thomson's gazelle

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Rough track

The vibration caused by the incredibly rough rutted track results in Lyn’s lens filter becoming unscrewed and me shouting: “Can you keep the noise down please!”

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Beetle

A stowaway flies in through the window, hoping to catch a ride. One of my ambitions for this trip is to see a dung beetle, but this one is sadly dung-less. I know, I know, there is no pleasing some people.

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Oldupai Gorge – Where human life began

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The thirty-mile long and 300 feet deep ravine is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches through East Africa. The original paleoanthropologists who excavated this area over 50 years ago, wrongly named it Olduvai after mishearing the Maa word for the wild sisal plant which grows in the vicinity. The Tanzanian government renamed it (correctly) Oldupai Gorge in 2005.

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It is thought that millions of years ago, the site was that of a large lake, the shores of which were covered with successive deposits of volcanic ash. Around 500,000 years ago seismic activity diverted a nearby stream which began to cut down into the sediments, revealing seven main layers in the walls of the gorge. Just one small pinnacle remains standing.

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This is another place I hardly recognise from last time we came – which admittedly was nine years ago in 2007 – there is so much building work and a completely new Orientation Centre.

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Scenic as the gorge may be, it is by no means on the same scale as the Grand Canyon, or even Cheddar Gorge; but then again it is not the gorge itself that is the star attraction here; it is all about the secrets this deep-sided the ravine concealed.

Cradle of Mankind Museum

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Oldupai Gorge is considered to be one of the most important pre-historic sites in the world. In the 1930s Mary and Louis Leakey discovered fossils of early humanoid dating back some 5 million years (give or take a few hundred thousand years); which has been hugely instrumental in furthering our understanding of early human evolution.

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Realistic replicas of some of their most important discoveries are on display in the modest museum, including the ‘Laetoli Footprints’ – perfectly preserved marks in the rock showing two upright bipedal hominids, out for a stroll more than 3.5 million years ago. If that doesn’t make you feel humble and small, nothing will.

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Other exhibits include fossils, tools, artefacts and display boards with old photos from the Leakey’s time.

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Part of the exhibition is dedicated to Dr Yoshiharo Sekino, who set out on a remarkable journey following the routes of ancient civilisations.

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Dr Sekino's bike

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His route on the map within the exhibition

We have our picnic lunch overlooking the gorge, next to the group of American college students we saw on the flight from Nairobi as well in Tarangire National Park. They are incredibly noisy, but I am more concerned about the fact that this girl thinks it is perfectly acceptable to eat her lunch in public with her great big walking boot on the table!

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History comes to life with a short presentation on how the various layers of rock strata have formed over the past 5 million or so years.

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We can clearly see three of the five layers here:

1. Basalt from 2 million years ago
2. Volcanic ash from 1.75 million years ago
3. Iron oxide from 1.2 million years ago.

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The top two layers (ash and mud – 800,000 and 150,000 years ago respectively) have eroded over the years.

Different types of humanoids inhabited the different time epochs. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I have my own slant on evolution…

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We are also given the low-down on the sisal plant – which the gorge is named after – and its many uses: rope and mats, painkillers from the roots and animals will chew on it for water.

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After our educational break, we head down into the gorge itself, on some pretty basic tracks.

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What I want to know is how we can be sure we are not actually driving on top of some hitherto undiscovered important archaeological remains.

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The Mysterious Shifting Sands

Having come across articles about this phenomenon while researching our trip, I asked Malisa if we could make a detour to try and find these elusive dunes.

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These fascinating crescent-shaped mounds are a remarkable occurrence known as barkan. Dunes are formed when ground dust blown by unidirectional wind collects around a stone and continues to accumulate until a small dune is formed. As more sand is added, the process continues and the dune moves, in this case around ten metres a year.

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Shifting sands is not a new experience for us; but this one is different in that it is not only made up of very fine black sand, but it is also highly magnetised due to its high iron content.

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Despite its very fine texture, when you throw a handful of the stuff in the air, it doesn’t blow away on the wind, it falls almost straight down. The whole thing is eerie and ethereal, like an alien world.

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The volcanic sand that makes up the 9-metre high and 100-metre long dune originates from the Maasai’s most holy of places, Ol Doinyo Lengai - meaning ‘Mountain of God’ - which erupts with frequent intervals sending plumes of steam and ash over the surrounding countryside.

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Erm... why Chris?

The sands have moved around 500 metres since people started to take notice of it – there are markers on the road to indicate its route – the first recorded resting place was over by those trees in the background some time in the 1950s.

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Lemuta

Instead of taking the direct route west from Oldupai to Ndutu, Malisa heads off towards Lemuta, “to see what we can find”.

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Giraffes

The first thing we see is four giraffes lying down – a most unusual sight. In this position giraffes are very vulnerable to predators because of the time and effort it takes them to get up.

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Beetle

Another dungless beetle flies in through the window and lands on Chris. “Throw him out” I shout, and with that Chris gets out of the car! Doh!

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We make sure he is not on his back on the ground (the beetle, not Chris), before we drive off.

Thomson's Gazelles

A large herd of gazelles start running as we approach. One little baby gets separated from the rest and instead of running across; he sprints along the track as fast as his little legs will carry him.

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Malisa slows down so as not to cause him any more stress, and soon mum comes in from the left to collect him. Phew. Another disaster averted.

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A few gazelles refuse to run – instead they stand and stare eerily at us as we pass. David waves out of the window, but they don’t wave back. Ignorant so-and-sos.

(Ex) Wildebeest

It was the end of the road for this wildebeest as he died of natural causes.

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Vultures

Something obviously didn’t make it here either – Malisa explains that it is an old cheetah kill which the vultures are now finishing off.

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Endless Plains

Seeing the Short Grass Plains at Lemuta, I can understand how Serengeti got its name – it means “Endless Plains” in the local Maa language. As far as the eye can see in every direction there is nothing but grass, dotted with a few animals. It is quite overwhelming, and none of my photographs do it justice.

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The panorama below – joined together from nine different images, shows a 180° view, to give you some idea.

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Secretary Bird

This large bird - standing at 125 cm - gets its name from the crest of long quill-like feathers which gives it the appearance of an old-style secretary with quill pens tucked behind their ear. Although it has the ability to fly (I have never seen one in flight), the secretary birds is largely terrestrial, hunting its prey on foot

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Lappet Faced Vulture

A lappet Faced Vulture surveys the plains, looking for food.

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Vultures and Jackal

Another old cheetah kill attracts a number of vultures (White Backed, Woolly Necked, and Rueppell’s Griffon) as well as a Golden Jackal.

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Squabbles are almost constant, with everyone looking for an opportunity to grab a piece of meat for themselves.

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The jackal is definitely at the top of the pecking order, while the vultures fight amongst themselves.

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A couple of Lappet Faced Vultures arrive to join in the party

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More fighting, and even the jackal joins in with a growl.

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It looks like the jackal has his fill as he licks his chops and walks off.

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Then, and only then, do the vultures get a look-in.

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They tuck into what's left of the once cute little Thomson's Gazelle.

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Having access to the meat doesn't stop them feuding, however.

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We continue across the short grass plains, looking for cheetah at every kopje. No luck. Not one.

Hyenas

We do, however, spot a cackle of female hyenas. They lie down in puddles and streams to cool down while digesting their food. Unhappy at being woken up from her afternoon nap, this one takes flight when she sees us.

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Female hyenas have a false penis (which you can just about make out in the photo below) and are the pack leaders.

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For a while they circle a Tommy family (Thomson’s Gazelle), but eventually decide it’s too much like hard work and call it a day.

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Kori Bustard

Another tall bird at almost one metre in height.

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Capped Wheatear

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Crowned Plover

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Golden Jackal

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Eland

As a result of hunting (eland meat is highly prized), these animals have become very skittish, so it is good to get some photos that are not ‘bum shots’ for a change.

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Dung Beetle

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Each time I go on a safari, I have a wish list of animals I would like to see. This year the dung beetle is one of my top requests for Malisa to try and locate. As always, he comes up trumps, and much excitement ensues when he stops the car to introduce us our new little friend.

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Aren’t dung beetles just the coolest, most fascinating little animals? OK, maybe you think I am very sad for getting excited about a small shit-eating insect, but just hear me out first before you poo-poo my statement.

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These tiny bugs (about twice the size of my thumbnail) prefer excrement from herbivores rather than carnivores, as the former is largely undigested vegetable matter. OK, so now we have a vegetarian poo-eating insect. Although, the veggie poo is not so easy for them to locate as it gives off less of an odour than the meat waste. So, it has now become a vegetarian poo-eating insect with a sensitive nose.

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Most dung beetles are fussy eaters, so they won’t just eat any old shit; it has to be waste from a particular animal. They also like their poo to be fresh – don’t we all – the fresher the better. I think I am beginning to understand this; these are finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eaters. A new patty can be descended on by up to 4000 dung beetles within 15 minutes of being dropped, and as many as 15,000 have been observed on one pile of dung at the same time. A real sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eater it seems.

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All I wanted was one single beetle carefully rolling away his prized poo!

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You could say he is on a roll... actually, they move surprisingly fast!

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Dung beetles can eat their own weight in less than 24 hours, and are probably the most industrious resident on the savannah, clearing up the mess left behind by other animals. The original recyclers! We can now add another string to his bow, making him a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating eco-warrior.

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So how does a dung beetle know which way he should be rolling his poo? He navigates using the Milky Way of course. Now this is starting to get serious: he is a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating environmentally friendly astronomer.

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This image is all mine, although the pictures of the sky and the beetle were not taken at the same time.

Although not all dung beetles roll their dung away, those that do, do so to feed their young. There is nothing like passing poo to your babies eh? Those beetles that don’t move the poo, make their home in the pile of dung. You could say they are happy as a pig in shit – or it that beetle?

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As well as food and housing, that pile of manure is also great for cooling off your feet (or rather for the beetle’s feet) – a bit like us trying to get off the hot sand on a sunny beach. Dung is considerably cooler than the parched African soil, mainly due to its moisture contents. So, how is that little insect doing now? He can now be described as a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing environmentally friendly astronomer.

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The last point I want to make is about their strength (I’m am not going to mention about his horn) – imagine yourself pushing a giant ball (just try not to think about what it is made from) which is over a thousand times your body weight, which is equal to an average gym-goer pushing 80 tons!
Now our little friend has become a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing, athletic, environmentally friendly astronomer. He sure is my hero!

And you thought he was just another beetle!

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You think I am talking a lot of crap? Check it out for yourself.

Dung Beetles guided by Milky Way

Wikipedia

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Safari Vehicle

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This is what our ‘home’ for the eleven days in Tanzania looks like. Based on a Toyota Landcruiser, it has been especially converted for safari use, with plenty of room in the back (six seats plus luggage compartment), an elevating roof means we can stand up for a better view to take photos, and it is easy to move around on a flat floor. There are charging points for camera batteries, and a beanbag for photography, plus we can attach a clamp with a tripod head to the rails too. All mods cons (including a fridge full of cold drinks), and comfortable seats - it has everything we need for long days on the African savannah.

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Pregnant Hyena

This pregnant hyena is very close to giving birth, and all she wants to do is sleep. Instead she has to pose for these horrid tourists. It’s a hard life isn’t it?

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A congress of Jackals

Five or six Golden Jackals turn up.

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A couple of Ostriches

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Female

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Male

And some Zebra

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Spotting another vehicle makes us realise that the last time we saw one was actually four hours ago. I like this low season safari lark.

Wildebeest Migration

Because the rains arrived later than normal this year, the wildebeest seem confused and appear to have split up. You can see from the map below where they normally are during May, and where we spot large herds of them today.

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Grant’s Gazelle

The wildebeest are accompanied by Grant’s Gazelle.

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And a Tawny Eagle

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Lion Pride

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Not far from our lodge, and with the light fading fast, we come across a pride of nine lions spread out over a swampy area between Lakes Ndutu and Masek.

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The females and young males lie in the late sun, stroll around or play fight.

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By reason of a strict pecking order, these guys are waiting their turn to have dinner – once the two alpha males have had their fill.

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And for those of you who are wondering exactly how close we are to the lions – THIS is how close!

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When one of the boys has had enough and gets up and walks away, the others look at the kill expectantly.

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But it seems his brother is still not finished.

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Has he had enough?

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Has he?

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It seems that way…

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Has he heck!

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The youngsters resign themselves to having to wait a little longer for supper.

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One of the braver ones decides he is going to risk it.

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Finally!

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Seeing the look on this guy’s face as he struggles to bit off a slice of the fresh rib, I am instantly grateful for steak knives.

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And after all that, all he ends up with is a mouthful of bones. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

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Maybe, just maybe… he is trying to bite off more than he can chew…?

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He looks forlorn: “There’s got to be an easier way than this.”

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“I’ll try a different approach”

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“Or maybe I’ll just lick the plate”

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Malisa points out that meanwhile, behind us, a glorious sunset is painting the sky orange over the lake, signalling the end of another extraordinary day and time for us to say goodbye to our lions and head to camp.

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Ndutu Lodge

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As with our previous visit, it is dark by the time we arrive at Ndutu Lodge. Despite several other safari vehicles arriving at the same time, the check in is impressively swift and efficient. After a quick shower and change, we meet up dinner.

Good food, Savanna Cider, Genets in the Rafters, coffee in the lounge and Dik Diks on the lawn – a perfect end to a perfect day!

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Chicken and rice

Small Spotted Genet

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Cat-like in appearance, the genets are wild but encouraged to hang around the rafters of the lodge by staff who occasionally slip them tidbits of food in exchange for keeping the rodent population down. They are also obviously very popular with the guests.

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Apparently the roof of the dining room / bar area was originally supported by huge wooden beams which the genets used a climbing frame. When the rafters were removed during the refurbishment, one of the beams was retained purely for the pleasure of the genets

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Dik Diks

Normally extremely shy, these tiny antelopes have become accustomed to people and feed happily in the grounds of the lodge.

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Yet again Calabash Adventures and their wonderful guide Malisa have given us a day in the bush to remember.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:04 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sunset road_trip view travel vacation views shopping village adventure roads kids scenery museum sunrise africa safari tanzania lodge zebra lunch beetle unesco birding chicken souvenirs lions maasai giraffe roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro dust hyena kill tribes anthropology wildebeest olduvai jackal ngorongoro_crater rip_off bird_watching game_drive road-trip eland african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle great_rift_valley night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii school_kids qat calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company nature_trail maasai_cattle ngrongoro_serena ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe maasai_boma kindegarten shifting_sands oldupai lamuta lion_kill Comments (0)

Maramboi - Ngorongoro

How can we possibly top that?


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

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Breakfast at Maramboi is interrupted this morning by a family of warthogs coming through...

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... a couple of birds visiting the dining area...

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...and the sunrise.

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This morning we get to pick the contents of our own lunch boxes – another thing we like about Maramboi.

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There is quite a selection to choose from – something for everyone.

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Including for Chris, who struggles with the weight of his over-full box!

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Why have a healthy lunch when you can have cake?

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We are off to pastures new this morning – another park, another lodge, another eventful day filled with exciting animal encounters.

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In order to try and contain the elephants within Tarangire National Park, bee hives have been hung from the trees along the park boundaries – it has been found that those big, brave, huge animals are afraid of a tiny little bee! And I thought it was just mice that freaked elephants out, and then only in cartoons. Apparently not.

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The old traditional style

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And the more modern type

Minjungu

At Minjungu Village, Maasai women are busy setting up the weekly market.

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Today we are heading for Ngorongoro.

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We may not be in one of the national parks right now, but that doesn’t stop us seeing a plethora of wild animals along the way.

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Ostrich, Zebra and Wildebeest

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Thomson's Gazelles

Chris spots some animals in the distance and excitedly exclaims: “zebra!” They turn out to be donkeys, but shall be forever known as ‘Chris’ Zebra’.

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Maybe Chris has discovered a new species? A zonkey known as Debra?

Donkeys have extremely strong bones and in an impact with a car they can easily get up and walk away even if the car is a total wreck.

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Albino donkey?

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Nice ass!

Maasai Manyatta (village)

In the far distance we can see a huge Maasai Manyatta (terrible photo, sorry), belonging to the local village chief and his 27 wives! With over 100 children between them, he has even built his own school; which, with the help of the government, has since expanded to allow other local children to attend. One of the richest men in the area, he built his empire to become the biggest supplier of milk in the region . (And he's been milking it ever since)

So it is true what they say about the milkman then!

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I can’t remember seeing so many tuk tuks on our previous visits. These three wheeled auto rickshaw taxis are known as bajaji here in Tanzania. They are cheap and readily available, but probably not a good idea for a safari.

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Mto Wa Mbu

The small town of Mto Wa Mbu is just beginning to come to life as we pass through this morning on our way to the highlands.

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The town owes its fast increasing population to Medicine Men in Loliondo near Lake Natron, some 250 kilometres away. Offering to cure all incurable diseases, the witch doctors are extremely popular with believers who overnight here in Mto Wa Mbu before being taken to meet the doctors. The medicine dispensed is very reasonably priced at 500 shillings (ca. 22cents in US$) – the transport required to take you there, however, will set you back US$100. Sounds like a dreadful, but apparently successful, scam to me!

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Hanging out of the window with my camera in hand, I practise my usual drive-by-shooting.

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Meaning Mosquito River, Mto Wa Mbu is one of the few places around where you can find all Tanzania’s 120 ethnic tribes represented; mainly because of the lure of the tourist dollar and also the aforementioned racket involving greedy quacks.

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Mto Wa Mbu is where you find the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park, so there are plenty of tourist stalls around. Also, all road traffic to Ngorongoro and Serengeti come through here.

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Malisa stops the car and buys some little red bananas for us to try. They are sweeter than the normal yellow type, and Malisa explains how they will only grow successfully in volcanic soil – plant them anywhere else and the fruit turns green rather than red.

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This area is a major breeding site for storks (Marabou, Yellow Billed and African Open Billed) as well as Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed and Maribou Storks

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Yellow Billed Storks

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Yellow Billed Stork and Pink Backed Pelican

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Yellow Billed Stork

It also seems to be a favourite place for Olive Baboons to hang out – maybe they are after berries dropped by the birds, or it could be that tourists stopping to photograph the birds feed the baboons too…

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As we start to climb onto the Ngorongoro Highlands, we can feel the temperature dropping. We are doing some serious climbing today – thankfully by car – from an altitude of 4,150 feet above sea level at Maramboi, to around 7,200 on the crater rim. That’s a difference of a whopping 3,000 feet!

Putting it into perspective, the peak of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in UK, sits at 4,416 feet.

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We stop part way up to look at the view over Lake Manyara, from the shores of which we watched the sun rise this morning.

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As with all places where tourists routinely stop, a number of salesmen hang around. We negotiate a good deal on some fun little necklaces with carved animals, and we all wear one, including David and Chris.

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While sandals made from old tyres are quite a common sight all over sub-Saharan Africa, Malisa has a very much more upmarket version!

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Especially commissioned and made from brand new motorcycle tyres, they are totally unique and even have a cool antenna at the front! I love them, I can’t imagine, however, going in to a Clark’s shop in Bristol and asking for a “size 180/55ZR-17 with a six inch pole and four beds please”.

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That's the best grip I have ever seen on any sandal!

As we climb higher, large fields of sunflowers brighten up the scenery.

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So far on this trip we have been extremely lucky with the weather – especially as we are here in the Green Season – but those clouds looming over the hills do not look very promising.

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Karatu

There’s a different look and feel to this town up here in the highlands than the atmosphere of Mto Wa Mbu in the lowlands.

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And they have motorcycle taxis – known as pikipiki – instead of tuk tuks.

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Loduare Gate

As the portal to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as well as the Serengeti further along, each year more than 1.5 million people pass through this gate!

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It is not just safari tourists who enter – goods and passengers come this way too as this is the main B144 highway travelling north-west from Arusha.

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While Malisa completes the registration and pays the fee, we have time to inspect the small information centre with a cool 3D map depicting the dramatic ecology, ethnography and topography of the region.

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There is also an even smaller shop.

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At least the toilets here have improved drastically since our first visit in 2007, although that wouldn’t take much!

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Malisa has our permit and we are ready to move on to the next part of our adventure.

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Immediately after passing through the gate, the road goes from being a super highway (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration... but at least it is sealed and relatively smooth) to a simple dirt track. This is one of the things I like about Tanzania compared with places such as South Africa – you do feel that you are visiting a real African wilderness rather than a commercial safari park.

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Over a distance of around six kilometres, we negotiate a number of switchbacks as we climb ever upwards. Here the vegetation is more like a tropical rainforest, and I am very surprised – disappointed even – that the usual heavy mist is absent from the densely forested slope of the outer crater wall today.

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In the photo above, you can see the road we just came up at the back on the left

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We even get some quick glimpses of the ‘lowlands’ below us.

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Just as the road levels out, the mist finally appears.

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Then the dense vegetation surrounding the road abruptly opens up into a clearing and we are greeted by the most breathtaking panoramic view from the crater rim, a vista beyond all imagination.

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Chris’ reaction as he looks out from the viewpoint brings me to tears.

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Throughout our trip so far, we have all being uttering exclamations of delight with “wow” being one of our favourite expressions.
Chris on the other hand, has been more level headed. “I am not a ‘wow’ kind of person” he has been saying, “I was prepared to be amazed, and I have been”. For him, therefore, to be calling out “wow” at this point is really stupendous.

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I know how he feels, however. That first glimpse of the crater floor spread out below never fails to excite me as I gaze in awe at the small dark specks, trying to make out individual animals below through binoculars.

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This is our first visit in the Green Season, and I am almost overwhelmed by how verdant the crater floor looks. It looks totally different to the dry season, like a completely different park! I love it!

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As we continue on our way around the rim in a clockwise direction, the mist descends on us.

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The Tomb of Michael Grzimek

HE GAVE ALL HE POSSESSED
INCLUDING HIS LIFE
FOR THE WILD ANIMALS OF AFRICA

The German film maker and passionate conservationist Michael Grzimek is best known for the film 'Serengeti Shall not Die', and his tireless work (and infinite generosity) on the survey of the annual migration in East Africa which resulted in the mapping and extending of the Serengeti National Park.

After his plane crashed following a collision with a vulture in 1957, he was buried here at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. Later this memorial was erected in his honour.

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I am totally blown away by the colours of the Ngorongoro Highlands in the Green Season. I didn’t notice the difference to the same extent down in Tarangire and surroundings, but up here the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, with entire hillsides of the Malanja Depression covered in yellow flowers.

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Zebra and Wildebeest

In fact the surroundings look so different this time of year I am beginning to think that I have never been here before. David agrees. Malisa assures us that we must have come this way last time (and the time before), as there is a one-way system in and out the crater, and the only descent route is further down this road. That makes sense, so I guess the greenery makes all the difference.

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Maasai herders taking their livestock to softer grass

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Red Duiker

Despite its best efforts to hide in the tall grass, Malisa spots a Red Duiker – a small, shy antelope. Malisa never ceases to amaze me how he can pick these smallest of animals out while still concentrating on driving. And an excellent driver he is too!

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Patience rewards us with a better view as the antelope forgets we are there and starts to move around, feeding.

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I am particularly excited about being able to photograph this guy, as I have only even seen one very briefly once before, and that one was far too quick for me to be able to capture him on film.

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He eventually decides he’s had enough and makes a run for it.

Unlike Tarangire – and the more famous Serengeti – Ngorongoro is a conservation area rather than a national park. What this means in reality (amongst other things) is that the Maasai are permitted to live and herd their cattle within the area.

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Seneto Boma, a temporary Maasai settlement

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Maasai cattle co-exist happily with wild zebra

The further we drive along the road which skims the rim of the crater, the more convinced David and I are that we have not come this way before. And the more insistent Malisa is that we MUST have done, as there is no other route. Because my memory is usually extremely good (as the tree in Tarangire proved), it bothers me. Greatly.

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It plays on my mind and I keep trying to recall our journey from 20 months ago. I fail miserably, vowing to check blog from that trip when we get to the hotel – and Internet access – tonight to see if that helps to throw any light on this.

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When we reach Seneto Entrance, I have to concede that I have a vague recollection of having been here before, but it seems a lot longer ago than two years. I am beginning to get seriously worried about my mental recall here.

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The entrance area is full of flowers and plants.

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And birds.

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African Pied Wagtail

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Northern Anteater Chat

The Maasai are allowed to herd their cattle inside the crater, but they have to be out by nightfall. They don’t use the same access roads as tourists – here you can see their path leading in and out.

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And this is our road.

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Seneto Descent Road offers a different view over the crater – I love the way whole areas are shrouded in purple flowers!

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The scene is quite surreal, like an impressionist painting.

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By the time we get to the bottom of the road, I am still feeling perplexed as I look – unsuccessfully – for any familiar signs within the surroundings. Nothing. Total blank.

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Never mind, I will just enjoy the crater floor and check on my photos / blog tonight.

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Descending the 2000 feet high walls of this natural amphitheatre is like entering another world. We drove through a rainforest earlier, now we appear to be in the desert. It may only be just over ten miles across, but the flat-bottomed floor of the sunken caldera contains a wide range of eco-systems featuring the whole world of East African safari in miniature.

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Augur Buzzard

Warthogs

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Wildebeest

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Rufous Lark

I really can’t remember seeing Maasai cattle mingle with wild animals on our previous visits to the crater. I drive everyone else mad with my constant doubts: “are you sure there is no other way down?”

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Zebra with Maasai cattle in the background

Zebra

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“Is he dead?” We worry about a lifeless zebra on the grounds with two of his mates looking on.

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You'll be pleased to know he is only taking it easy in the heat of the day.

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Baby zebra are a delightful chocolate brown when they are young, gradually turning to black as they grow up.

Thomson’s Gazelle

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Thomson's Gazelle is the second fastest land animal in Tanzania after the cheetah; which is why you only tend to find them on the menu for the cheetahs: they are too fast for any of the other predators.

Grey Crowned Crane

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Grant’s Gazelle

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These are the first ungulates we’ve seen in any numbers, as they are not present in Tarangire at this time of year. During the dry season large herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles can been seen in all three parks, so this is a new experience for us.

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Fischer's Sparrow Lark

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There’s nothing like a dust bath on a dry and dusty day…

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Wildebeest with Wattled Starling on its back

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Female ostriches

Ngorongoro Serena
From the crater floor we can see the hotel we are staying in tonight, the Ngorongoro Serena, perched high on the rim overlooking the caldera.

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A couple of spotted hyenas (with dirty bottoms) stroll by and appear to upset a lone elephant who disappears back into the woods with a loud trump.

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Ngorongoro has much to boast about: it is a UNESCO Heritage Site; the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera, it has the densest population of large carnivores and herbivores anywhere in the world (as in density, not lack of intelligence!), and it is arguably the most impressive geological feature in Africa – no wonder it is commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The crater delivers some of the best game viewing Africa has to offer, the Africa of wildlife documentaries.

An African White Backed Vulture flies overhead – I love watching the daily life in the Ngorongoro Crater.

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When Malisa claims that the hyena is his favourite animal, I am not sure whether he is joking or not as I personally find the hyena quite sinister looking without any real redeeming features.

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A very unhappy wildebeest alerts us to the presence of a male lion, mostly hidden in the grass.

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Not that the lion appears to take any interest in the wildebeest, but I guess if you are considered a menu item you can’t be too careful.

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Lerai Forest
Its name being Maasai for the tall, yellow barked acacia trees that grow here, Lerai was once a thick forest, but over the years elephant destruction has reduced this area to a mere woodland glade.

And, as if on cue, here are the elephants.

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The big male is in musth and ready to mate. Apparently they pee down their own leg at this time – I will be eternally grateful humans don’t do the same!

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This guy lost one of his tusks when trying to bring down a tree. I would say “serves him right”, but I guess it is what elephants do. When asked if park rangers ever replace the trees decimated by elephants, Malisa replies: “No. They just let nature take its course”

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In order to exit Lerai Forest, we have to ford the Lairatati River. It looks like they’ve had some serious rain here!

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Nubian Woodpecker

Driving through the forest triggers a thought process in my brain, and I suddenly remember that last time we came, we descended into the crater through a host of flat-topped acacia trees. I mention this to Malisa, and he somewhat sheepishly admits: "yes, there is another road into the crater, right over the other side, and there were a few months in 2014 when Seneto descent Road was closed for resurfacing"

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Eureka! I am not cracking up! We really didn't come down the same way last time. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It also follows that we used that other road the previous time too, as we were staying in the lodge you can see just to the right of the red arrow.

The mystery is solved and I can sleep soundly tonight!

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We have company for our picnic.

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Hildebrand Starling

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

Ngorongoro Crater has to be one of the most iconic safari locations in Africa, and this incredible caldera is a haven for around 20,000 of Africa’s most cherished animals, virtually the whole range of East African wildlife including all three big cats but no giraffe (the trails along the crater walls are too steep for them to negotiate). We continue our journey in a quest to watch the dramatic unfolding of wilderness action. Malisa is on a mission to find a Rasta Lion.

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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A barrel of monkeys (I have been checking out the various collective names of animals) hang around in the trees. This particular youngster is enjoying an afternoon nap.

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Blacksmith Plover

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I’ve never seen one sit like this before.

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Rufous Lark

Wattled Starling

A deafening cacophony emanating from a tree draws our attention to a great number of wattled starlings.

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Dozens of tiny hungry mouths beg to be fed. Every time one of the parent birds arrives in the tree, all the babies clamour for attention, not just the offspring of that particular adult. What a racket! No wonder the collective word for a group of starlings is chattering!

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And when mum – and the food – flies past to feed their offspring, the other babies sulk.

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Until the next mother arrives with food for another baby in a different nest.

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It’s all too much for one little baby, who promptly falls asleep.

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He wakes up just as mum arrives…. to feed his brother!

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Once again he is left hungry as mum goes off in search of more grubs.

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This one’s not for him either.

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Much as we’d like to stay on to make sure ‘our’ little baby gets fed, we have places to go and animals to see.

Sacred Ibis at Gorigor Swamp

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While we’re busy looking at the ibises, Malisa spots a mother and baby rhino way out there on the horizon. The rest of us struggle to locate them, even with binoculars. Eventually, after a lot of directions, we do pick them out through the heat and dust haze that always hangs heavily in Ngorongoro Crater.

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More wildebeest.

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Including this suckling baby.

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Zebra - or horse in pyjamas as Lyn calls them. Or maybe we should call them 'Chris' Donkeys'?

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Always on the lookout for predators, the zebra can smell danger.

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The threat appears in the form of a spotted hyena.

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Two more rhinos – another mother and baby – can be seen on the horizon. This time they are considerably nearer and we can make them out to be a little more than just two blurry blobs.

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Seeing a couple of lions walking on the road in the distance, we rush off to join up with them.

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This one appears to have a broken tail. I wonder how that happened? I'd like to imagine some heroic escape from the clutches of a predator - but as lions have no predators in the crater, perhaps an elephant stood on it?

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These are two youngish brothers, and not the Rasta Lion Malisa was hoping to see.

Malisa gets word from a passing vehicle - one of the very few we have seen - that there is a lioness nursing her two babies further ahead, so we speed off to see for ourselves.

As we approach, they get up and start walking towards the road.

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They come right up to the side of the road, just a few feet away from us, and settle down in the part shade of a small bridge. To our absolute delight, the babies start to suckle!

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If ever there was such a thing as cuteness overload, this surely is it!

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Having had their quota of mother’s milk, the babies are full of life and mischief. If I thought the feeding cubs were adorable, when they start to play, it is almost too much to bear and I feel sure my heart is going to burst!

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Mum, however, is exhausted and all she wants to do is sleep.

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After spending a few tender moments with her little ones, mum is not amused when the cubs start jumping on her and pulling her tail.

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Eventually she loses her temper and lets out a frustrated snarl at her cubs: “will you guys leave me alone. Please!”

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As so many other mothers all over the world have done before her, she gets up and walks away is sheer exasperation to try and find a place where she can have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

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Time to smell the flowers

Much to the cub’s displeasure: “Where are you going mum?” “Mum??”

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She crosses the road to lie down in the shade, leaving her offspring behind, hoping that a bit of rough-and-tumble will have them worn out by bedtime.

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One of the cubs appears to have lost interested in playing.

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At a mere three weeks old, these cubs are incredibly inquisitive and heart-stirringly adorable.

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When I look into those deep eyes, I feel like I am very much part of a wildlife documentary, not just merely on holiday! I have to pinch myself that this really is happening. I feel exceptionally privileged to be here, witnessing this.

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We spend fifty minutes with the lioness and her delightful cubs, during which time we see one other vehicle. They stop for just a few minutes, take some photos and move on. I don’t understand that mentality at all – observing the interactions between the family members is what differentiates this wilderness experience from a zoo, surely?

This year's experience is also in stark contrast to our last lion cub encounter in the Ngorongoro Crater, in September 2014 during the dry season, when we struggled to get anywhere near the cats!

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Ngorongoro 2014

As we bid our cats goodbye and head towards the exit, I rib Malisa: "These cubs are very cute and all that, but you promised me a Rasta Lion! Where is he? It’s just as well Malisa understands my twisted sense of humour.

We see our two young brothers again (the one with the broken tail), walking across the marsh, but no Rasta Lion. I think Malisa is making this up.

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Further along, a couple more lions rest in the grass right by the side of the road (that’s the shadow of our car you can see in the photos). Did Lyn say before we left home that she was worried about not seeing any lions on the safari? How many is that so far? Twelve? And it’s only Day Two of the actual safari.

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Golden Jackal

Finally, there he is – Malisa’s Rasta Lion, an eight years old king and a very powerful one.

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Really? He looks more like a big pussycat to me.

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Now, there’s a reason why I spent this afternoon teasing Malisa about his ‘Rasta Lion’ – we brought over a T shirt as a gift for him from Bristol Zoo, which coincidentally features… yes, you guessed it: a Rasta Lion! Although we had planned it as a parting gift, now seems to be the right moment.

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We make it to the exit with seven minutes to spare until closing time – being late carries a $200 fine!

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As he does every evening, Malisa asks us about today’s highlight. As if there is any doubt!?! Malisa, of course, claims seeing the hyena was his favourite moment. Really?

Ngorongoro Serena Hotel

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As usual, we arrive at our accommodation for the night after dark. So do a lot of other people, so check in is not as quick and smooth as we are used to.

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Our room seems to be down an awful lot of steps, and after a very quick shower, it’s time to climb back up them for a drink in the bar while we watch the Maasai dancing.

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For such a big hotel (also part of a bigger chain), I find this evening’s set-up quite amateurish – there is no stage as such, just a small area of the bar, which has been cleared of furniture. A good view of the dancers is limited to those people in the front row only. The outfits are colourful, and the dancers fairly enthusiastic, but I find the whole scenario too commercialised and touristy for my liking. The main dance moves are rocking of the necklaces for the women and traditional jumping for the men. At least half of the performance is dedicated to ‘audience participation’. No thanks.

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The hotel redeems itself over dinner. The restaurant is super, the staff friendly, the menu table d'hôte and the food tasty.

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Nguru Wa Kupaka - king fish in exotic Swahili sauce

What a day! What can I say, apart from “How can we possibly top that?”

Thanks, yet again to Calabash Adventures – not forgetting our wonderful guide Malisa - for what is turning out to be a holiday of a lifetime!

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys food road_trip travel vacation elephants adventure roads sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding tourists photography souvenirs lions maasai donkey baboons flip_flops babies roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro woodpecker memory cattle glamping caldera boma wildebeest ngorongoro_crater bird_watching suckling karatu game_drive road-trip african_food adorable safari_vehicle manyatta calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators best_safari_company out_of_africa maramboi olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload maasai_cattle seneto seneto_descent_road malanja mto_wa_mbu Comments (1)

Tarangire National Park

Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Oh, and did I mention cute baby elephants?


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

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I am awake before the alarm goes off this morning, being abruptly dragged out of my slumber by the not-so-distant roar of a lion.

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It’s another early start today, leaving the lodge at 05:45 to get to Tarangire National park entrance for opening time at 06:15. Bleary eyed, we set off in the pitch black with humble expectations.

We don’t have to wait long for our first sighting. Just a couple of hundred yards from the lodge, we spot something in the car headlights.

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Two lionesses with two cubs!

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It is so dark out there we can only make them out with a torch or the car headlights, so I am surprised that the camera has picked anything up at all. (For those of you with an interest in the technical aspects, these photos were taken with a Canon EOS 6D with a 24-105mm f/4 at ISO 25,600 at 1/50 sec. Some of them have been cropped in the post processing stage, but no editing beyond the RAW conversion.)

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Now it makes perfect sense why we are not permitted to walk around the lodge grounds after dark without an escort!

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Mum is on the look-out for food, while the cubs just want to play.

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Before we left England, Lyn was concerned “what if we don’t see any lions?”, and here we are, before 06:00 on our first day of safari, before we have even left the grounds of the lodge, let alone reached the national park; and we have four lions within feet of the car! Talk about beginners’ luck!

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By 06:15 we are still here, and the sun starts to rise. We never did make it to the gate for opening time.

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While it is still quite dark, at least it does mean we can actually see the lions now without resorting to shining a bright light on them.

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It also means that I can bring the ISO down to a more manageable 6400-8000.

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We stay with the lions until they move out of sight in their quest for breakfast.

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This bachelor impala has been kicked out of his herd and will stay on his own for a while before creating his own harem and herd. He seems to have a growth on the side of his neck.

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Impala bachelor herd

Progress is slow for us this morning as we encounter animals after animals within the lodge grounds.

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Giraffe family consisting of eight members, young and old.

Including some very cute babies, thought to be around three months old.

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As far as male giraffes go, females believe that the darker markings the better, as these are thought to be the stronger animals. Definitely a case of wanting their mates to be tall, dark and handsome!

Having read that the giraffes in Tarangire are darker than usual with deeper marking, I am keen to inspect the difference for myself. As the national animal of Tanzania, the killing of giraffes is illegal. Unfortunately, bush meat poaching is still big business in the rural areas, and illegal market hunting for meat is well known to be rampant around Tarangire.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the giraffes and move on to the next animal sighting – Olive Baboons.

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There is a lot of squealing going on as a mother punishes her babies and they run to hide under our car.

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There is playing, mating, grooming and fighting going on, with the old males just sitting around doing nothing – much like our local pub on a Friday night.

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There’s another animal that seems to have a growth on its side.

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Two males chase one ready-to-mate female. After a loud fight, the winner takes it all.

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A warthog looks on with amusement.

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Lilac Breasted Roller – apparently they got their name from the way they roll when they mate. I had no idea…

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Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Yellow Crowned Canary

Marula

This is the marula tree – the fruit that makes the delicious liqueur Amarula. Apparently the elephants have been known to eat the fruit and then get drunk – the thought of meeting a drunk elephant in a dark alley is a frightening one…

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Baobab Tree

It is unusual to see a young baobab tree such as this one – believed to be about sixty years old – as the elephants destroy them. A Baby Baobab tree looks very different from its adult form and this is why some Bushmen believe that it doesn't grow in the same way as other trees. They think it suddenly crashes to the ground with a thump, fully grown, and then one day simply disappears.

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We have finally left the grounds of the lodge and are now heading towards Tarangire National Park – just about two hours later than planned.

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We are still not actually inside the park yet, and we make a few more stops before we are. That’s the beauty of a safari – you never know what nature is going to offer you.

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Red Bishop

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Fischer's Lovebird

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Ashy Starling

Tarangire National Park

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Our arrival at the Tarangire National Park Entrance Gate could not be any more different to the last time we were here – this time we are the only car waiting; last time the car park was full!

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September 2014

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May 2016

Last time it took 3/4 hour for Dickson, our guide, to get our permits. This time Malisa has the necessary paperwork in no time at all!

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The queues for the permits in 2014

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The queue in 2016

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Permit in hand – we’re ready to roll!

Tse Tse Flies

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One of the main problems with travelling to Tanzania in the Green Season is the prevalence of tse tse flies. These pesky insects are very attracted to the colours black and navy, so large flags have been hung from trees throughout the parks to encourage the insects to land on them. The material has been impregnated with poison, so that any unsuspecting flies which come into contact with them become sterile.

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There have apparently been a few cases reported recently about tourists having contracted sleeping sickness after being bitten by the tse tse fly in Tarangire, although Malisa and the other guides get bitten all the time and they haven't contracted the illness. It's probably a case of the media making a mountain out of a mole hill. It is certainly one animal that I really would rather NOT see while we are here, but unfortunately they are present in all the parks we are visiting, and are said to be particularly bothersome in Tarangire during the wet season.

These pesky flies have a painful bite, and when I was bitten on our last visit to Tanzania, the bite became quite red and swollen, but the fly thankfully did not carry the sleeping sickness disease. This time.

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Red Necked Francolin

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White Crowned Fiscal Shrike

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Common Waterbuck. They excrete a bad taste which predators find unpleasant, so are not generally found on the menu of the local lions and leopards.

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

Dwarf Mongoose

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Senegal Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

A large troupe of banded mongooses stare at us in disbelief before scampering; stopping occasionally to check if we are following them.

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Superb Starling. Chris soon gets the hang of differentiating between Superb and Hildebrand Starling – it’s all in the white band on its chest and the colour of the eyes!

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Magpie Shrike

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Crowned Lapwing

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Giraffe with passengers

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Yellow Billed Oxpecker

African Green Pigeon

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The long grass almost completely hides a pair of Southern Ground Hornbill, and they are pretty large birds!

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Elephants

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Tarangire National park is best known for its concentration of elephants – the densest anywhere in Africa – so I am therefore rather surprised that we don’t see any for quite a while after entering the park. In fact, some two hours pass before we come across the first herd – or memory as they are called – of eleven elephants, which includes this cute one-week old baby.

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We have a delightful close encounter for Lyn and Chris’ first wild elephants, as the family group saunters past our car.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Mr and Mrs Ostrich

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Rattling Cisticola

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Little Bee Eaters - one of my favourite birds!

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Two Banded Courser

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Dwarf Mongoose

Malisa spots some fresh lion footprints on the main track. They are heading towards the same picnic site as we are.

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Matete Picnic Site

With great views over the valley below, Tarangire River, elephants and with a tree hyrax in the railings, Matete Picnic Site is not a bad place to stop for breakfast.

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Elephants in Tarangire River

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Tree Hyrax

The facilities here have improved immensely since our last visit, with clean and modern attended toilets. A few other vans stop here too while we have our breakfast, including a group of American college student we saw on the flight from Nairobi. I am quite chuffed when – after a quick exchange of pleasantries with their driver in this native tongue – he asks: “where did you learn Swahili?”

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pygmy Falcon - the fastest bird in the park!

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Grant's Gazelle

Sausage Tree

– Kigela Africana
Named after its large sausage-shaped fruit (that is in fact a wood berry, not a fruit), which can grow up to a metre long! It's a useful tree in that monkeys eat the seeds and elephants chew on it for water. Humans make brushes from the dried fruit and even brew beer from it. Sausage Tree Beer – it has a certain ring to it, don't you think? It's all the rage these days to drink randomly-named designer beers from micro-breweries. Like so many African plants, it is thought to have a range of medicinal benefits, including curing syphilis. I shall have to remember that. The fresh fruit, however, is poisonous. The other danger from the tree is fallen fruit – being so big, they can cause some serious damage to anyone (or anything) underneath at the time!

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More Elephants

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This 40-year old male is in musth – as can be seen by the 'tear' secreted from his temporal gland. Musth is an annual cycle when the male is primed to mate, and is indicated by a heightened sense of aggression. Elephants in musth are known to attack and fight other males, and even destroy inanimate objects that get in their way. Such as safari vehicles.

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In order to get some relief from the heat, elephants wave their ears about; they are able to cool down an impressive 12 litres of blood at a time this way.

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The grass here is so long at this time of year that the baby elephants are almost hidden in the meadow. The play around like babies of every species do, wrapping their trunks around each other, and mock sparring.

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Infrasound
Elephants use this low frequency sound to communicate over great distances – vibrations are passed through the ground by their lowered trunks and can be picked up from up to 5 kilometres away by another elephant through the feet. Absolutely amazing stuff!

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The elephants are unbelievably close now, as they go about their daily business, wandering right by our vehicle; occasionally looking up to gawk at the humans in a tin can.

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In the photo below you can see just how close these elephants are to the car – that is the ledge of the car you can see in the bottom left! They are literally just feet away!

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The adults are extremely protective of their youngest, most vulnerable family members, doing their best to hide them from prying eyes by placing them in the middle of the herd; but occasionally we get a brief glimpse of one of the babies through the foliage from between mum's legs.

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Isn't he just simply adorable? I love the way he looks so young and innocent while his skin looks so wrinkly and weathered!

This is, without question, one of those unforgettable, magical moments.

Elephants eat around 300kg of vegetation a day; but only 60% of that is digested – the rest goes straight through. They spend a large part of the day eating, some 80% apparently! I know some people like that too.

It also means their droppings are still full of nutrients. The elephant's that is, not my acquaintances'.

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We reluctantly bid the elephants goodbye and carry on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Hammerkop

Much excitement ensues when we spot a Savannah Monitor on the banks of the river. A very rare beast indeed, this is a first for us. Good job Malisa!

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There is in fact not just one monitor, there are three of them!

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A Southern Ground Hornbill preens itself in a tree. As the name suggests, this is an unusual bird to find on a tree branch.

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So much greenery this time of year!

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Fischer's Lovebirds

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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It's at this point that I have to admit that it took me 29 years of safaris in Africa (last year to be precise) before I actually noticed that vervet monkeys have blue testicles. And I don't mean just slightly bluey-grey; these balls are as bright as they can be!

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Baobab Trees – the Tree of Life

Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the iconic baobab tree grows across 32 countries in Africa where it is often known as the ‘Tree of Life’. Found at the heart of local folklore, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition.

To me, this curious-looking ‘upside-down’ tree is synonymous with the African bush – its uniqueness in terms of geographical distribution, shape and size makes it one of the most impressive symbols of the African Savannah.

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The story of how the baobab got his looks

An old bushman tale explains that the baobab was one of the first trees that were created. It was short and stocky, and when the slim, graceful palm tree appeared, the baobab was jealous of its elegance and insisted that he should be created taller like the palm. Then the glorious flowering flame tree came along and again the baobab was dissatisfied, crying out that he wanted a mass of beautiful red flowers! The magnificent fig tree also aroused great envy, as the baobab was desperate to have sweet, tasty fruits growing from his branches. Eventually God got so fed up with the baobab’s selfish, demanding ways, and in one swift motion uprooted him and stuck him back down again upside down, hoping to shut him up once and for all.

And that, my friends, is how the baobab got his peculiar upside-down appearance.

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Water storage
Of course, there is a very good reason for the thick trunk and spindly branches: The tree has adapted to life in seasonally arid areas. In the wet months water is stored in its thick, spongy, fire-resistant trunk in readiness for the nine dry months ahead. A large baobab can store up to 120,000 litres of water in its trunk and can withstand long periods of drought; in fact it has been known to survive for ten years with no rain. Many animals take advantage of this - they survive drought by accessing the water within the tree, including elephants who cause a lot of damage to these ancient trees in Tarangire. Baboons and warthogs also enjoy feasting on the seed pods.

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Home, sweet home
A lot of birds make baobab trees their home, such as barn owls, spinetails, hornbills and weavers, making nests in the branches or clefts. The creased trunks and hollowed interiors also provide homes to countless reptiles, insects and bats, and in some cases even large cats have been known to take refuge inside the trees.

Humans too utilise the enormous trunks (the largest circumference on record is 47m) and baobab trees have been used as jail, water tank, post office, shop, toilet ( apparently complete with a flushing system), bus stop and pubs, amongst other things.

The baobab is a prehistoric species, predating both mankind and the splitting of the continents over 200 million years ago. In Tarangire there are some pretty ancient trees, with most of the larger specimens exceeding one thousand years old. The baobabs can have a lifespan of up to 5000 years.

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This tree is believed to be some 1,800 years old and the huge vault was created when an elephant broke down a branch.

Leaves
Having only ever seen the trees naked (“oh err missus!”) - as the branches are leaf-less most of the year - I am very excited to find leaves on them today!

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Flowers
Once it reaches the age of 20 or so, the baobab produces large, sweetly scented flowers on long drooping stalks. Having never seen them flower, I was hoping that the rainy season might bring them out, but no such luck. The flowers bloom at night only and bushmen believe that the flowers are home to spirits and that anyone picking the flowers will be torn apart by lions. The flowers only last 24 hours after which they turn brown and give off an unpleasant aroma. Pollination by fruit bats also takes place at night.

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Fruit
Six months after flowing, large, egg-shaped fruits – known as monkey-breads – are produced. These have a hard outer shell and a white powdery interior, which was previously used to produce cream of tartar. Rich in ascorbic acid, drinks made from baobab fruits are used to treat fever. It doesn’t really taste of much – we tried it last time we were in Tanzania.

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The baobab fruit is said to have an amazing amount of health benefits, however, and is reputed to be one of the most nutrient-dense fruits in the world.

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A good all-round plant
Almost every part of the baobab tree is utilised; in addition to nutritious drinks, porridge is also made from the pulp, seeds are used as thickener for soups, the pollen can be used as glue, and the leaves are eaten as a vegetable. Fibres from the bark are used for string and ropes, and the roots produce dye.

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Medicinal uses
Traditionally the baobab is thought to have a wide range of medicinal benefits, and various parts of the tree are used to treat a number of ailments: kidney and bladder disease, asthma, insect bites. Maybe that is something worth trying for tse tse bites?

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Superstition and folklore
As well as the story of the origin of the ‘upside down tree’ above and the one about evil spirits in the flowers punishing anyone who picks them by being ripped apart by a lion, there are a number of traditional beliefs surrounding the baobabs. I love legends, so here are a few others I have heard over the years or found during my research:

In some part of Africa the tree is worshipped as a symbol of fertility, and shrines are built at the base of the tree, such as this one we saw in Taberma in Togo in 2006. There is some scientific truth behind this superstition, however, as eating plenty of baobab leaves has been proven to increase a woman’s fertility rate.

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In Zambia, one particularly large baobab tree is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a python, who inhabited the tree long before the arrival of the white man. Locals worshipped the python, who in turn answered their prayers for good luck on their hunting expeditions, rain for their crops, or a good harvest. When the white hunters arrived and shot the python, the consequences were disastrous. It is said that you can still hear a loud hissing noise from the tree on a still night.

Drinking the water in which baobab pips have been soaked is believed to protect you from crocodiles, whereas sucking or eating the seeds will attract crocs.

Bathing a baby boy in a bark infusion will make him strong, but if you leave him in the water for too long, he will become obese; and should the water touch his head, it could cause this to swell.

Again in Zambia, there is a tree known as ‘Kondanamwali’ – the tree that eats maidens. Legend tells that the tree fell in love with four beautiful young girls, but when they grew up and got married, the tree opened up its huge trunk during a raging thunderstorm and swallowed up the girls in a fit of jealousy. To this day you can hear the pitiful cries of the imprisoned maidens on a stormy night.

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The Big Screen
Does the tree look familiar to you? There could be a reason for that. Baobabs played an important role in Disney’s Lion King – Rafiki (the baboon) lived in one. It has also featured in Avatar (The Tree of Souls), Madagascar and The Little Prince.

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Termite mounds

The park is also famous for the termite mounds that dot the landscape. Those that have been abandoned are often seen to be home to dwarf mongoose or snakes as we saw earlier.

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Tarangire Tango
We slide and slither along the sandy tracks, from one side to the other, doing the Tarangire Tango, as we make our way along the unmade roads that criss-cross the park.

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Red Billed Hornbill (male)

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Red Billed Hornbill (female)

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Common Waterbuck

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

We come across another cartload of vervet monkeys, including some young babies.

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This little kid looks so blissful during the mother-child bonding session (AKA picking-nits-out-of-the-little-bugger’s-fur)

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Lilac Breasted Roller - another of my favourite birds

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Ashy Starling

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Red Billed Hornbill

Another large memory of elephants grazing merrily under the trees in the far distance.

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Three Banded Plover

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Another Hammerkop – one of Malisa’s favourite birds

Lunch

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Tillya has another surprise for us today – in honour of our wedding anniversary yesterday, he has arranged for us to take lunch at the Tarangire River Lodge, which is inside the actual park; rather than having the usual lunch box.

After all our animals and bird sightings this morning, we are running a little late, so the lodge calls us up on the radio "Calabash, Calabash, are you there?", to make sure we are still coming. I guess it is getting towards the end of the lunchtime session and they want to finish serving soon.

When we enter the lodge, we are welcomed with the greeting: “At last you arrive”. It’s nice to feel welcome… All joking apart, everywhere we go on this trip, we are made to feel like we are extremely welcome and much anticipated VIPs.

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A large-ish lodge, it has great views over the plains and river below from its expansive terrace.

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Although the usual lunch boxes provided by the lodges are more than adequate, it is very nice to be able to choose hot food from a buffet and eat with proper knives and forks. And very tasty the food is too.

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Chicken enchilada, beef meatballs, spicy beans, pilau and chapati

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Pancakes with mango

We make friends with some of the local inhabitants.

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Bat

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Stick Insect

Soon we are on our way again, checking out some more of the critters in the park.

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We seem to go ages, however, without seeing anything this afternoon. It is hot, the sun is beaming down on me, I had quite a big lunch..... I find myself starting to nod off. Game viewing is nearly always best first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the middle of the day, the birds and animals don't tend to do much. Probably because they feel just like I do now...

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We eventually come across a couple more elephants – perhaps not surprising, as that is what Tarangire is most famous for. Some 3000+ of them live in the park year round.

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It was just what I needed to drag myself out of the land of slumber.

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Crowned Plover

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Green Wood Hoopoe

We come to a stop as the road is ‘blocked’ by some impala.

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And an African Ground Squirrel.

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For a while there is a most peculiar staring match between them.

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After a while both parties get bored and wander off in their different directions.

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I know impala are two-a-penny in the Tanzanian parks, but I still very much enjoy seeing them, and still find them rather cute – especially the youngsters.

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Grey Breasted Francolin

We are being bitten to smithereens this afternoon by those pesky tse tse flies. Their appearance – and bite – is somewhat similar to the horse fly, equally painful when they get you. They are quite slow in their reactions, however, so we manage to swat quite a few before they know what’s hit them! Reducing the population doesn’t seem to have any effect though; I get around 15 bites in a short time. There has to be something that repels them?

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This is thankfully not life sized!

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Grey Kestrel

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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White Rumped Helmet Shrike

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Dik Dik – this normally shy and very skittish antelope stands completely still right by our vehicle. This is almost unheard of and we discuss possible reasons for its lack of fear These tiny animals mate for life, but there is no sign of his wife anywhere, so maybe a leopard has taken her and he has lost the will to live?

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Whatever the reason, he does not seem to care at all about our presence and goes about his daily activities regardless, even when we start the engine and drive off. Most bizarre.

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Lost the will to live?

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These little Red Necked Spurfowl chicks cause us a bit of concern as one of them appears spread-eagled and totally motionless on the track, while the others tip toe around.

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Chris is ready to get out and give the little fellah a helping hand, but thankfully no intervention is necessary – he is obviously just warming himself up in the sun and as soon as we start the engine he plods along with his brothers. We all breathe a sigh of relief.

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Egyptian Cobra - another item I can cross off my wish list this afternoon! In all the years I have been coming to Kenya and Tanzania on safari – this is the first time I have seen one.

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Further along the track we see a few of these Red and Yellow Barbets – one of which is not only considerably larger than the others; it also has no tail! Chris theorises that with no tail he is unable to exercise (fly), hence he has put on weight. Hmmm

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Looking at the pictures on my computer screen back home, I think that the smaller one is possibly a Crested Barbet rather than a Red and Yellow, or maybe a juvenile; which would account for the size difference.

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Oh, and our tail-less wonder does fly, so no need to get a personal trainer involved.

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Giraffe. There is something so prehistoric about this animal; so graceful yet so awkward looking. I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing them in the wild. It was the very first wild animal I saw on our very fist safari in Kenya in 1986, and I was captivated. I still am.

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Impala

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Fresh lion paw prints, but no lions.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

A lone elephant kicks up dust as he walks along the track in front of us. We follow him for a while despite that we are now in a little bit of a rush – we have to be out of the park by 18:30.

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Elephants are fickle creatures, and right now this particular one has changed his mind. He turns round to walk in the opposite direction.
Malisa starts to back off, as Tarangire’s elephants are not known for their friendliness. Best to play safe, so we keep our distance.

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He really is not happy now, so Malisa speeds up (going backwards) and eventually reverses into the bushes, leaving the track free for the elephant to pass. Does the animal not know we are on a tight schedule?

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Did I mention that our elephant friend is fickle? Instead of making his way down the track past out vehicle, he eventually – after a few tense moments – wanders off into the bush again.

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Phew. We can continue on our way towards the gate as the sun gets lower on the horizon.

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Egrets flying home to roost for the night

A flock of Red and Yellow Billed Oxpeckers congregate on a giraffe. They have a symbiotic relationship – the giraffe provide the oxpeckers with a dining table while the birds remove insects from the larger animal.

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As with our last two previous visits to Tarangire, we have been 'side tracked' by the animals and are in a mad rush to get out of the gate. And this time too, I stand in the vehicle, trying to hold on for dear life with one hand and photograph the sunset with the other.

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While the sunset is not overly spectacular as sunsets go, it is still worth the effort.

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Tarangire has to be one of my all time favourite places to photograph the sunset – those awesome baobab trees make for striking foregrounds.

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A large herd (obstinacy) of buffalo hinders our progress towards the gate.

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I do find their stare rather unnerving.

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One of the photos I took while travelling at speed to reach the gate before the official closing time in 2014 has somehow become my most popular image on Flickr, with 36,000 views and over 500 ‘favourites’. This picture is in the back of my mind as I am hanging on to the rattling car for dear life and shooting wildly towards the sunset this evening.

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And there it is! My tree! The others don’t believe me when I tell them I recognise the tree from 20 months ago (Chris suggests that maybe I need to get out more), but here is the proof!

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Same tree, different sunset!

We make it to the gate at 18:35, and Malisa does not get fined when he checks out. Phew.

The lodge is busy tonight with lots of people coming down from Arusha for the weekend. We take a quick shower and sort out our luggage as we are moving on to another park and another lodge tomorrow; then go for dinner.

I love the the Maramboi Tented Camp, their grounds are like a safari park in its own right – as soon as we enter through the gate this evening, we pick out a giraffe in the headlights of the car!

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Lit almost entirely by candlelight, the open air dining area is very dark at night. Even at ISO 25,600, my camera struggles to pick up much of the surroundings here.

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Another thing I like very much about Maramboi is that, unlike most other lodges, the guides eat with the guests. During dinner Malisa asks us, one by one, what our highlight of the day has been. It is hard to choose – the lions in the lodge grounds before sunrise, or the elephants that came so close to our car? Maybe the little one peeking out from behind mum’s legs? Even the savanna monitor gets an honorary mention. It was all go good – how can we possibly top that?

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I huge thank you must go to Tillya and his team at Calabash Adventures for yet again organising a superb safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees animals birds monkeys sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation views elephants adventure roads scenery folklore holiday fun africa tanzania birding photography lions giraffe baboons roadtrip monitor night_time waterbuck cobra stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company maramboi hammerkop savannah_monitor sname egyptian_cobra olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls tarangire_river_lodge Comments (0)

Nairobi - Kilimanjaro - Arusha - Maramboi

Let the next stage of the adventure begin


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

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After a fitful sleep we drag ourselves out of bed this morning for a 05:00 pick-up for the airport and a day full of security checks ahead.

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The first check comes in the form of a road ‘block’ on the approach road to the airport where the cars are given a once-over while passengers get out and walk through an X-Ray and security screening.

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Security Check # 2 sees our tickets and passports inspected in order to gain entry into the terminal building.

Check # 3 is a conveyor-belt X-ray for all the bags, including the checked-in luggage. Panic sets in when the tray containing my camera and phone is accidentally pushed off the belt by the stuff behind it, and lands upside down on the hard tiled floor. A broken camera on the second day of the trip is the sort of thing I have nightmares about! I take a quick picture of David to check it out, and thankfully it appears to be fully working. Phew.

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Having checked in on line last night for today's flight, the bag drop is fairly painless. Check # 4 = passports.

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In order to be allowed to join the queue for Immigration, we have our passports and boarding cards checked (#5).

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At Immigration, the passports are scanned, fingerprints are taken and we are photographed. (Check # 6) We have now officially left Kenya.

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Consulting the departures board to see which gate we are going from, we are dismayed and somewhat confused to find our flight has been cancelled. Why on earth did the check-in staff not say anything when we dropped our bags off some ten minutes ago?

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We queue for the Kenya Airways Customer Service Desk, and find that the flight has not really been cancelled as such, it has just been combined with a flight to Zanzibar – which means that our flight leaves half an hour earlier than scheduled (and then travels on to Zanzibar).

Customer Services check our passports (#7), and re-issue the boarding cards. When we checked in on line last night we specifically chose left-hand side window seats behind the wing in order to be able to see Mount Kilimanjaro from the air as we come in to land in Tanzania. I ask for similar seats this time too, but am told that it is not possible as the plane is full. Bummer! Mind you, it is very dull and grey today, and quite misty, so I don’t suppose we would be able to see much anyway.

Between the main departures hall and the gate is security check # 8, with all hand luggage X-rayed and a full body scanner. All accessories must be removed, including watches, shoes, belts, glasses and such like.

Not until we reach the departure gate does Chris realise that he has left his watch behind at the scanner. He rushes back to retrieve it. “I left my watch behind” he tells the security officer, pointing to the watch, which is still exactly where he left it. “What does it look like?” the chap asks. “Well…” says Chris, rather bemused by now …”it has a blue and red strap… like that!” gesturing towards the watch. “Oh”, says the security guard, “is this yours?”

Chris arrives back just as we are called forward to go through security check # 9, showing our passports and boarding cards before getting on a bus bound for the plane.

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The cabin crew perform check # 10 (boarding cards) as we enter the plane.

Much to our amusement – and joy – we find we have exactly the same seats as we chose last night when we checked in on line: window seat, left-hand side, just behind the wing.

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There is a low cloud cover some hundred metres or so above the ground, but it is just a thin layer, which we fly above.

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Mount Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks rise majestically above the cloud cover. At 4,877 metres, it is the highest mountain in Africa and very popular amongst climbers.

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The next peak we spot is Mount Meru, a 4,562 metre high dormant volcano, which is believed by some to be the point where Noah’s Ark came to rest as the flood receded. There is no sign of the Ark today.

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From the sunny skies above the clouds, we descend into the thick pea-soup layer where we can hardly see the tip of the wing. A very strange sensation indeed.

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Soon we are through to the other side of the clouds and ready to land at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania.

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Two more checks (passport and customs – numbers 11 and 12!) and we are finally in Tanzania! After all the warnings we received about immunisations, none of us are asked about our Yellow Fever certificate!

As I said before, our flight left half an hour earlier than scheduled, and it is a larger plane than the original - thus faster, which means we arrive some 45 minutes before ETA and there is no one there to greet us. We are not alone as we wait outside the terminal building for our driver.

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A huge dung beetle causes some amusement amongst the waiting passengers, and Chris calls me over, as he knows that this is the item right at the top of my wish list. Pfft. This one is dung-less, that doesn’t count.

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Malisa turns up just as the rain starts, wearing a ready smile that we will come to know and love over the next couple of weeks. Instantly likeable, he seamlessly fits into our ‘family group’ and immediately joins in with our sarcastic sense of humour.

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First stop – the supermarket to stock up on some of life’s little necessities.

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On the one-hour journey from the airport to Arusha, Lyn and Chris take in all the African street scenes that have become so familiar to me over the years. Having safari newbies with us means that I look at these scenes with new eyes as I share their excitement and wonder.

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Carrying milk churns

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Malisa explains that farmers with five cows or fewer don’t tend to send their cattle out to graze, they send their men out to fetch the fodder while the cows stay home.

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Works are in place to make this road into a nice new dual carriageway. It’ll be great when it is finished, but for now the construction causes the usual traffic jams.

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Blue Heron

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At the Blue Heron in Arusha we meet up with Tillya again. He took the bus from Nairobi to Arusha last night, a journey which used to take six to seven hours when we first started coming to Tanzania, but can be done in a speedy three hours now that the new road has finally been completed.

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Blue Heron is run in conjunction with Malaika Children’s Home, a charity that helps local underprivileged children. One of the many things I like about Tillya and Calabash Adventures is that they are very socially and environmentally conscious in their choices of places to visit / stay / eat.

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Chicken Shawarma and Mango Juice seem to be the popular choices for lunch.

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Our lunch is accompanied by a pair of Yellow Bellied Sunbirds.

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After (the very early) lunch we are back on the road, heading for the wilderness and our first safari lodge. A road trip in Africa is always exciting, with many things to see along the side of the road.

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Whistling Acacia

The whistling acacia tree is so called because these brown nodules (they are not fruit, but hollow swellings) have small holes in them (caused by ants) which creates a whistling sound when the wind blows.

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The acacia tree and the ants have a symbiotic relationship, a kind of mutual respect. The tree provides the ants with food by secreting droplets of sweet fluid, and the ants in return protect the tree by attacking anything that tries to eat its leaves. The pheromones given off by the ants act as a warning to giraffes and other animals who then leave the tree alone.

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It's not all lovey-dovey between the two parties though, as the ants also fiercely protect 'their' tree from enemy ant colonies by trimming the branches and flowers of the acacia, which stunts the growth of the tree, killing the tips so the tree cannot propagate itself.

Maasai Manyatta

This is Maasai land we are passing through, and you can tell the number of wives a man has by the number of huts. One hut = one wife. This guy has seven, although some can have up to 20 or more.

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Sisal

A plant in the agave family, sisal yields a stiff fibre used to make a variety of products such as rope, mats, bags, carpets and cloths. I have seen these plants along the side of the road before, but had no idea what they were. I just thought they were a pretty plant.

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I certainly never expected to see camels grazing in the fields. I can’t remember ever seeing camels on previous visits to Tanzania.

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While the rest of us admire the marvels of nature and man, David takes an afternoon nap.

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The road along this stretch has improved beyond all recognition since we first came this way nine years ago. It is now very smooth and comfortable and cuts the travel time between parks considerably.

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Every now and again we get a glimpse of Lake Manyara, the alkaline lake Ernest Hemmingway dubbed “the loveliest in Africa” and whose shores we will be staying by tonight.

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Donkey Cart AKA Maasai Landrover

A local family struggle to get a heavily-laden donkey cart up a slope.

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The more they push, the less willing the donkeys become. Is this where the “stubborn as a mule” expression comes from?

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In the shade of a tree, a group of Maasai village elders hold their weekly meeting.

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I am amused to see that some of them arrived on motorbikes - 21st century Maasai.

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Birds of prey soar above or rest in the trees.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Tawny Eagle

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Augur Buzzard

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Dark Tawny Eagle

This tree is home to a number of weaver birds – notice how they make their nests on the western side of the tree due to the prevailing winds.

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

Soon we start to see our first wild animals.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Eland and Zebra

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Zebra

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Wildebeest

The wildebeest are chased by four young Maasai boys, wearing black and with their faces painted. Although they look menacing, the attire merely signifies that they have recently undergone the circumcision ceremony, which takes them from being young boys to becoming feared and respected morans (warriors). The white paint which adorns their faces (you can’t see it very clearly in these photos as they are a long way away) is used to repel any ‘evil eyes’ to help aid their recovery after the operation. Armed only with sticks / bows and arrows, the boys wander alone in the wilderness for three months to prove their manhood.

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Even during the Green Season there is a lot of activity around the waterholes.

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Egyptian Geese

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Great White Egret

At a small settlement we see catfish from Lake Manyara drying.

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While the kid is pleased to see us, the mum is none-too-happy with us taking photos of her dinner, so we make a hasty retreat.

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Impala Harem – one male will have several females. These gazelles are affectionately known as McDonalds after the M shaped markings on their rumps.

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Impala

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

To me there is something even more special about seeing these wild animals along the side of the road rather than in the actual national parks. I know there are no physical boundaries around the parks so that the animals can wander freely between them, but even so…

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Zebra

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Fischer's Sparrow-Lark

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Maramboi

After three hours or so on the road, we reach the turn-off for Maramboi, our home for the next two nights.

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Almost immediately after entering the large grounds of the lodge (it set in an exclusive conservancy area that covers 25,000 hectares and is run by the local Maasai community), we encounter a giraffe right next to the track.

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More follow.

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Magpie Shrike

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Hibiscus tea - a new experience for me

Check in procedures are interrupted by a group of warthogs walking through the grounds.

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We stayed here at Maramboi a couple of years ago, but at that time we arrived in the dark and left before it got light, so it is really nice to be able to see the lodge in daylight today.

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It is quite a big place, and the main restaurant / bar area is on a raised wooden deck, with views of endless vistas of rolling golden grassland and palm lined desert across to the shores of Lake Manyara and the escarpment of the Rift Valley / Ngorongoro highlands beyond.

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Since our last visit there have been a number of upgrades, such as all new decking/railings, refurbished rooms and a completely new swimming pool area.

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We are shown to our rooms, and we spend some leisure time on the balcony with a drink. There are not many places where you can see giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala and a plethora of colourful birds from your private balcony.

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Our room

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View from our balcony

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David with his Savanna

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Female Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Beautiful Sunbird

Grete & David's Wedding Anniversary

This evening we have a private sundowner by the lake to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.

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I set my camera on a tripod, affixing an intervalometer to it so that it will automatically take one photo every 30 seconds until I tell it to stop. That way I can enjoy the sunset, drinks, snacks and company too.

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The sunset is not spectacular, but the ambience, surroundings and company make it very special indeed.

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Flying spoonbills

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We have to be back up at the lodge before daylight fades completely, as it is not safe to wander around the grounds after dark.
As we start to make our way back, it feels wrong to leave the waitress on her own down by the lake, with only an empty bottle of wine to protect herself against wild animals with, so we hang around until the askari (Maasai security guard) can be seen making his way across the plains.

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That, of course, leaves the five of us walking back in the dark with a couple of tripods for protection. All is well that ends well, and we all make it back to the restaurant without incident.

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Dinner

This evening the kitchen is serving a Mongolian BBQ where we choose our vegetables from a buffet and the chefs prepare them, along with our chosen meat, in a large wok. They add various sauces of our choice and finally pasta or rice. The result is absolutely delicious.

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As we finish our meal, a commotion is heard behind us. All the kitchen workers come out singing, with the guy at the end banging a dustbin lid. As you do. They walk around the tables for what seem like an eternity, as if they are not quite sure whose birthday it is. Eventually the cake is placed in front of me!

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So… there is apparently a story behind this cake. Knowing that it is our wedding anniversary today (39 years, how time flies), Lyn wanted to do something special. She saw on the Maramboi website that they do celebration cakes so she contacted them. They replied to say they were very happy to provide a cake but they needed our booking reference. This, of course, is something Lyn doesn't have as we booked the lodge as a package through Calabash Adventures. Lyn then contacted Calabash, and Tillya managed to get this organised for her. Thank you both, it was a lovely thought and helped make the day very special for us.

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The perfect end to another perfect day. Thank you Calabash Adventures for organising this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:45 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset road_trip travel vacation airport holiday africa safari tanzania birding giraffe kilimanjaro glamping arusha bird_watching sundowners tented_camp calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company maramboi kenya_airways blue_heron Comments (4)

Nairobi

Close encounters with giraffes, elephants, birds, flip flops, history and exotic meats

overcast 24 °C
View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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As we are enjoying breakfast in the hotel, Tillya (owner of Calabash Adventures) arrives and greets us from behind a huge smile. He has come up from Arusha to personally show us Nairobi today.

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Giraffe Centre

Our first port of call today is the Giraffe Centre, and we arrive nearly half an hour before they open. They kindly let us in early, and we have the place to ourselves apart from one other family.

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Betty Melville founded the Centre in 1979 with the main objective being the breeding of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe whose habitat had been reduced to an 18,000-acre ranch that was slowly being subdivided to resettle squatters. Only 130 animals remained at that time. Betty rescued two of them and founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, a Non-Profit making organisation.

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Following fundraising efforts, 26 breeding giraffes were rescued, rehabilitated and relocated to other parks within Kenya. Since then, the programme has had huge successes, having rescued, hand-reared and released around 500 orphaned giraffes back into the wild since opening.

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The Giraffe Centre is now one of the top tourist attractions in Nairobi, where visitors can come to hand feed the giraffes. And that is exactly what we are doing this morning! Tillya recommended that we arrive at the centre first thing in the morning in order to successfully feed the giraffes – apparently the giraffes are often too full to be bothered to come out for the tourists later in the day!

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Our first close encounter is a pregnant female who is quite happy to be fed but doesn’t like being petted.

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We are encouraged to place specially formulated food pellets in our mouths for the giraffes to grab them with their long tongues, making for some hilarious reactions.

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No one seems to have told the giraffes that it is not 'proper' to do 'tongues on a first date'.

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I am a little concerned that Chris appears to be enjoying the kissing a little too much…

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David, on the other hand, isn’t quite so sure.

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He soon gets into the swing of it, however.

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The ranger assures us that giraffe saliva is antiseptic. That’s OK then…

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It's all good fun!

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After a lovely long snogging session, it’s time for some education. In 1983, conservation also became part of the organisation’s agenda when they opened the environmental education centre. The primary objective here is to provide conservation education for school children and the youth of Kenya and they offer all sorts of free programmes to schools and other youth groups. They also give an interesting and numerous presentation to us tourists about all things giraffe, where we are treated to a very hands-on experience.

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Wild warthogs run freely around the grounds and have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes – apparently they like to hang out underneath their tall friends in order to snack on giraffe droppings. That brings a whole new meaning to the expression 'friends with benefits'.

Warthogs are said to have small brains, a simple mind and a bad memory. As soon as the giraffes start to run, the warthogs follow; but they will soon forget why they are running.

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They also seem to have a high sex drive...

Nature Trail

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A naturalist guide named Moses takes us on a short nature trail, and explains about the medicinal, poisonous and other plants we see along the way.

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The bark of this tree produces a milky substance, which – if you get it in your eye – will make you go blind. I like Moses' logic: “If you get the milk into your eye, you have two options – you look for running water. If you cannot find running water, you go blind. If you cannot find running water, you look for a lactating mother; and it’s very hard to spot a breastfeeding mother on safari…”

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The Alaeodendron treats syphilis, diarrhoea and bloody cough, but the leaves are poisonous to cattle.

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The sap from the Acokanthera schimperi tree is collected to produce the poison used on hunting arrows. It can also be used to treat syphilis.

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Before we left home, I created a wish list of animals and birds I would like to see on this trip, and one of the items is a chameleon. I'm off to a good start, being able to one tick off on the first day!

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Jackson's Chameleon

These termite mounds appear to have been evacuated, probably because an anteater appeared on the scene, and a snake has moved in. Both aardvark and python are on my wish list, but we see neither.

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David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

We are early for the Elephant Orphanage too, and end up waiting outside for a while.

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Daphne Sheldrick set up David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust in memory of her husband after his death in 1977. The trust has played a significant and important role in Kenya's conservation effort, something the Sheldricks had both been heavily involved in prior to the creation of the trust.
Orphaned baby elephants are brought to the centre and are hand raised using Daphne's special baby milk formula - not an easy job. Armed with enormous patience, the staff take on the role of the elephants' mothers, teaching them how to suckle, use their trunks and ears, roll in the dust and bathe.

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The baby elephants are fed every three hours and continue to be mothered up until the age of two, when they are able to feed for themselves; at which stage the slow process of reintegration into the wild begins. This could take up to ten years.

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For an hour each day, the public are allowed in to the orphanage to see the elephants being brought out to feed.

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We stand at the rope waiting for the elephants to arrive, while looking around for other wildlife. A herd of impala wander past, a pin-tailed whydah flitters about and an inquisitive serval causes a bit of a stir.

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One by one the baby elephants start arriving. Slowly at first, then the anticipation of food gets the better of them and the excitement is palpable.

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The baby elephants are adorable, and watching them drink, play and being generally mischievous is an enchanting experience.

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Alamaya

Lyn fosters a baby elephant called Alamaya (a Mother's Day gift from her daughter Kelly). Ravaged by hyenas, Alamaya had lost her tail and suffered severe trauma in the attack, and it wasn't until three months after her rescue, when an operation was performed to help cut away scar tissue which was inhibiting her from urinating, that they discovered that Alamaya was in fact a he. So severe was his injuries when he was rescued from the Masai Mara in neighbouring Kenya two years ago that nothing remained to give the vets any evidence of his genitalia or indication of gender.

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Lyn at the entrance to the sanctuary, showing off her adoption certificate

Kelly chose Alamaya in particular, because the lack of a tail would make him easier for us to spot in amongst all the frolicking baby elephants. His name Alamaya is the Maa (local language) word for 'brave'.

You can read all about Alamaya here and even see the video of her/his rescue.

So, here we stand, looking at the backside of every elephant as they appear from the forest. They all have tails. A little disappointed, we resign ourselves to the fact that Alamaya is one of the elephants not making a public appearance today.

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The last elephant saunters in to the arena, and much to our delight, he is tail-less! This is Lyn's transgender immigrant foster child.

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Seeing Alamaya now, it is hard to imagine what a tough start in life he had!

We have some amazing close encounters with the elephants as they wander up to the single rope fence that divides us from them. What an experience!

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An African Love Story

If you have an interest in African animals and elephants in particular, I would wholeheartedly recommend reading Daphne Sheldrick's autobiography 'An African Love story: Love, Life and Elephants'. I read the book very recently and absolutely loved it. It is an extraordinary story of unconditional love of animals and enormous dedication to conservation. Well worth a read.

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As we leave the centre, Tillya decides he wants to do his bit and become a foster parent to a baby elephant. Here he is with the certificate for his adopted child. Congratulations on your latest offspring Tillya!

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Utamaduni Craft Centre

Utamaduni, which means “culture, tradition and folklore”, consists of a number of individual craft shops, where a portion of the profits supports charities including Street Boys.

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Veranda Restaurant

Our main reason for visiting Utamaduni is to have lunch in its peaceful restaurant on a shaded patio.

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I don't want to fill up too much at lunchtime today, as we are going to Carnivore for an early dinner tonight, so I settle for the melted steak and cheese sandwich.

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After my disappointment finding a lack of birds in our hotel gardens yesterday, the grounds here at Utamaduni more than makes up for it. I spend the entire lunchtime jumping up and down from my seat trying capture some of the feathered inhabitants that flit around the feeders and bird baths.

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Red Billed Firefinch

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Baglafecht Weaver

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Olive Thrush

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Large Golden Weaver

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Dusky Turtle Dove

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Bronze Mannikin

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Reichenow's Weaver

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Marula Studios

In most parts of Africa recycling is not a modern environmentally friendly feel-good concept; it has long been a necessity:
over the years we have seen petrol sold in used glass bottles along the side of the road, children's toys created from whatever is available, old car tyres becoming sandals or a toy for the kids, jewellery made from seeds or ring-pulls, cement sacks turned into clothing, sardine tins reappearing as oil lamps... you get the picture.

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The concept of recycling and upcycling has been taken one step further here at Marula Studios. Started by Julie Johnston after seeing the creative toys produced from plastic waste by the children of Lamu Island off the Kenyan coast; stuff which would otherwise have been an environmental hazard to birds, turtles and other marine life.

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From its humble beginnings in 2005, the enterprise now employs over one hundred women to collect discarded flip-flops (and the now more ubiquitous Crocs - Homer, take note!) dumped or washed up on Kenya's beach resorts.

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Truckloads of odd sandals are transported to the workshop here in Nairobi where the flip-flops are washed, sun-dried, sorted into colour schemes and then glued together to form bigger shapes.

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We are given a private tour of the workshops, with each stage explained to us in detail.

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Washing

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Drying

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Sorting

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Gluing

Using ordinary kitchen knives, the resulting blocks are carved into all sorts of shapes such as animals, toys, ornaments, photo frames, coasters, key chains, Christmas decorations, bottle holders and much more.

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Larger pieces start life with a core of Styrofoam before the flip-flops are affixed.

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Sanding machines add the finishing touches.

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The end products become stunning works of art and are sold here at Marula Studios and exported all over the world.

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To complete the recycling loop, any off-cuts left over from the carving is used for the creation of the soft mats found in children's playgrounds.

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The concept is a simple one, but it benefits the society in many ways:
· Cleaning up the beaches, making them more appealing to locals and tourists
· Preventing birds and marine life from getting sick or dying from ingesting waste
· Creating local employment on the coast as well as in the workshops and studio
· Reducing the amount of waste
· Offering domestic and foreign visitors unique souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home

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These two pieces now happily coexist in their new home in Bristol.

Naturally, exit is through the shop.

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Karen Blixen House

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For those of you old enough to remember the book Out of Africa and subsequent award-winning film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, the name Karen Blixen will be familiar. The film provides a vivid snapshot of life in the last decades of the British Empire and some breathtaking scenery shots, although not a true version of Karen's memoirs of the 17 years she spent in Africa.

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On a private tour of the house, the guide tells us all about the history of the house, pointing out the original pieces of furniture from Karen's time and the movie; as well as recounting Karen's Blixen's personal life story.

History of the House

Karen and her husband Bror von Blixen bought the house in 1917 as part of a coffee farm venture in Kenya, which was then called British East Africa. Karen called the house 'Bogani' or 'Mbogani' meaning a house in the woods. When their marriage failed after eight years, Karen continued to run the farm on her own until she returned to Denmark in 1931.

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Later the farm was broken into 20 acre parcels for development by its next owner Remy Marin, who is said to have named the subsequent residential Nairobi suburb Karen after the farm's famous resident.

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For a time the house was only sporadically occupied until the Danish government purchased it in 1964 and presented it to the Kenyan government as an independence gift. After the success of the Out of Africa film in 1985, the government opened the house as a museum. Many pieces of furniture that Karen Blixen sold on her departure were acquired for the shooting of the Out of Africa film, and are now part of the exhibition in the Museum. The architecture is typical of late 19th century, which includes the spacious rooms, verandas, tiled roof and stone construction typical of this period.

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The grounds contain old farm equipment, and from the terrace we can see the famed Ngong Hills, as mentioned in the opening scene from the Out of Africa film:

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills...”

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Karen Blixen's life

Born in Denmark in 1885, Karen entered into a marriage of convenience with her half-cousin Bror van Blixen who promised to buy her a dairy farm in Africa. Bror, however, developed their farm as a coffee plantation instead. The farm fared little better than their marriage - which ended in divorce after hard-drinking womanising Bror infected Karen with syphilis (funnily enough, the guide omits the bit about syphilis in her story) - and was plagued by a number of disasters including fire, repeatedly bad harvests and falling market price for coffee.

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Karen Blixen

After her divorce, Karen fell in love with an English man, Denys Finch Hatton. Tragedies were to follow Karen, however, and after Finch Hatton died in a plane crash in 1930 (he is buried in the Ngong Hills we can see beyond the house), she was forced to return to Denmark where she pursued a career in writing.

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Denys Finch Hatton

Karen died on her family estate in Denmark in 1962 at the age of 77.

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We go back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before Peter – Tillya’s driver – takes us to Carnivore Restaurant for dinner, where we again arrive early, nearly half an hour before they open for dinner. This means we have to sit and have a drink in the bar, oh the horror of it!

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The well-fed and very expectant cat follows us in to the restaurant when we are seated.

Carnivore Restaurant

The Carnivore opened its doors in 1980 to instant success as a strikingly different dining experience to anything previously seen in Kenya. Voted by UK magazine Restaurant to be among the 50 best restaurants in the world in 2002 and 2003 in recognition of the fact that you could dine here on exotic game meats. When we first came here in 2001 (and later in 2006) we were told that they had their own farm where they bred exotic game for the BBQ, and we were served meat such as zebra, warthog and even giraffe!

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In recent years, however, strict new laws mean that zebra, hartebeest, kudu and the like are now off the menu, which is quite ironic as I can buy all those and others in a store less than 20 miles from where we live in Bristol, UK (OK, I have never seen giraffe meat in the shop, but certainly all the others). Exotic meats or not, this is NOT the place to visit with a vegetarian – the Carnivore is a meat speciality restaurant whose motto is 'The Ultimate Beast of a Feast'; not dissimilar to a medieval banquet.

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Tonight's menu

Nyama Choma

This certainly is a BBQ with a difference and not for the light eater – hence my choice of a small lunch earlier. The Carnivore is a rather indulgent ‘Nyama Choma’ (barbecued meat) dining venue where we can sample a variety of local meats roasted over a charcoal fire. Dominating the entrance to the dining room is the spectacular fire pit, the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else on our travels. Whole joints of meat – legs of lamb and pork, ostrich, sausages, rumps of beef, spare ribs, chicken wings, kidneys and crocodile steaks are skewered on traditional Maasai spears and roasted over the fire.

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We are shown to our table and the movable feast can begin. Knowing from experience what is about to come, I urge the others not to eat the soup for starters but dive straight into the feeding frenzy of grilled meats.

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When the meat has reached a perfect temperature, an army of carvers carry the full skewers from table to table, carving slices of meat on to our sizzling cast iron plates for as long as we want and as much as we can handle.

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As long as the little white flag on the table is still flying the meats continue to arrive.

As I said earlier, most of the meat these days is of the more mainstream type, but that does not mean there is a lack of variety:

Roast beef
Roast leg of lamb
Roast chicken
Pork sausages
Crocodile
Ostrich
Turkey
Beef sausages
Honey glazed pork ribs
Chicken wings
Lamb chops
Beef ribs
Chicken legs

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Some of the ‘speciality meats' are brought out in little taster-sized morsel on a tray.

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There are chicken livers, spicy lamb sausages, rabbit and bulls’ testicles.

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Yes, you read that right: bull’s testicles. That’s what the small half-an-egg-shaped item is at the front of the plate. Not a strong taste, but it has a somewhat odd texture. Not unpleasant, but not something I would be in a rush to order again. At least I have the balls to try it!

The food is piled on our plates until our stomachs are over-full and the lurking (ever-expanding) cat has devoured any 'accidentally' dropped leftovers. Something tells me we won’t be sleeping well tonight – such an enormous amount of meat on top of this morning’s Larium*** tablets doesn't bode well!

  • ***Larium is a malaria prophylaxis known for its rather unpleasant side effect of psychotic nightmares.

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When we reach the point in this gastronomic overload that even just one more mouthful will send us over the top – we declare defeat and lower the white flag in capitulation.

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Yes, it is fairly pricey; and yes, it is most certainly touristy, with the zebra-aproned waiters’ theatrical ‘performances’ giving it an almost Disneyesque feel; but Carnivore has been an icon amongst tourists, ex-pats and wealthier locals for the last 25 years for a reason. Love it or hate it, I do think visitors to Nairobi should experience this circus-like dining adventure at least once.

Peter takes us back to our hotel for an early night as we have an early start tomorrow.

Thank you Tillya and Calabash Adventures for a great first day in Africa!

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:50 Archived in Kenya Tagged animals birds travel vacation elephants adventure holiday fun africa safari lunch bbq photography kenya giraffe flip_flops charity barbecue crafts kissing nairobi braai recycling bird_watching canon_eos_5d_iii calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen giraffe_centre snogging tongues which_safari_company best_safari_company nature_trail utadamuni marula_studios out_of_africa isak_dinesen carnivore carnivore_restaurant nyama_choma Comments (1)

Birmingham - Dubai - Nairobi

We've finally arrived in Africa!


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

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As we approach Dubai Airport after seven hours or so in the air, the sun rises and we get a brief glimpse of this modern metropolis from the air.

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On exit from the plane, a series of transfer buses are waiting to take us to the terminal – it’s all very well organised, with a different bus depending on your onward flight destination or whether you are stopping in Dubai. We board a bus for Nairobi. Not literally of course.

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We have a three-hour layover here in Dubai, so we spend a lot of time sitting about in the airport lounge.

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Eventually we are called for the flight and moved to another lounge at the departure gate, where we learn that the flight is delayed for over an hour – more sitting around, waiting.

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The next flight is also very comfortable, with space to spread out. I spend most of the time sleeping, only waking for food and again just before landing at Nairobi.

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At the immigration control in Nairobi, David is berated for having a Transfer Visa and is told that he should have a ‘proper’ visa if he is to leave the airport and stay overnight. This, of course, is quite contrary to the information on the Kenya Immigration Website, and the three of us go through the passport check without a single comment. David must have got the grumpy one this afternoon. Thankfully he is let through and we have finally arrived in Africa!

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The luggage is very slow to turn up, and as more and more bags arrive but ours are nowhere to be seen, we start to get a little twitchy. Eventually the last one appears on the luggage carousel and we breathe a sigh of relief. I suppose someone’s bag has to be the last one.

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At customs I am questioned at length about commercial filming due to all my camera equipment, but we finally make it through to the outside world, where William is waiting to take us to our hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.

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As usual, the Nairobi traffic is appalling despite the fact that we are not even entering the centre of town, and we sit in one huge jam as the road improvement works causes major diversions and delays as we make our way to the suburb of Karen. Eight months ago when we came this way on the way back from Lake Turkana, the road was pot-holed, rutted and chock-a-block with traffic. It is comforting in a way to see that some things never change.

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As we pull up at the hotel, we are delighted to see our friend Abdi, who has travelled down from North Horr to meet up with us.

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Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages

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Tillya (of Calabash Adventures) came out to Nairobi last month to personally check out our rooms here at Karen Blixen Cottages, and as we are shown to our room, we concur that he has made a good choice.

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Each room is set in an individual period-style cottage designed after the historic Swedo House in the so-called first generation style , and comes complete with a four-poster bed, a seating area with a fireplace, high-beam ceiling, a dressing room and a large bathroom with separate shower, toilet and bathtub. There is also a nice verandah (with a very friendly resident cat) for relaxing with a pre-dinner drink. The room evokes a taste of the past with yesteryear historic ambience from Kenya's early pioneering days.

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History

Much history is attached to this place - Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages (that is the longest hotel name we have come across since the 'Best Western Premier Amaranth Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel' in Thailand) is set in one of the largest and oldest formal gardens in Kenya, in what was once the estate of Karen Blixen (the author of the best selling book 'Out of Africa' which was later made in to an award-winning film).

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Meandering paths lead through the gardens, connecting the cottages with the main buildings, gym and swimming pool. It is hard to imagine how the original house was surrounded by indigenous forest, bush and grasslands at the time of its construction in 1906 – the 5½ acres of formal hotel gardens are now full of ornamental trees such as candelabra cactus, jacaranda (my favourite tree when in bloom) and bottle brush, as well as numerous (over 200 species I am told) exotic flowers.

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I am a little disappointed however, with the lack of bird life – I expected the flowers to attract a number of birds, but all I see is this ‘measly’ little sunbird.

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Swedo House

This building within the grounds was once the hunting lodge, and the farm manager's residence for Karen Blixen's coffee farm. Later Thomas Dinesen (Karen Blixen's brother) lived in this house, and Karen herself also spent a great deal of time here. It has since been refurbished to its original style.

The architectural style of Swedo House is typical of the pioneering days of Kenya, being built on stilts with the original walls of corrugated iron lined with wood inside; and sporting raised verandas with arched roof supports. The corrugated iron walls were later replaced by cement plastered over chicken wire. These days the house contains the lounge and gift shop.

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Meaning ‘medicine’ or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili, Dawa is the signature cocktail at Tamarind (the chain which owns the hotel restaurant). Based on the famous Brazilian Caipirinha, the cocktail it is made from vodka, sugar, quartered lime, ice and honey, and is apparently one of the most widely consumed cocktails in Kenya. As I really don’t like honey, I didn’t think I’d like it. I was wrong. The honey is served on the little wooden stick in the glass, and just tastes sweet rather than a strong honey taste.

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The curiously named Elephant Mudbath cocktail is a must as we are going to be visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the morning. The cocktail comprises of coffee liqueur, Amarula, Vodka and ice. A little drop of heaven in a glass!

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To go with the cocktails, an amuse bouche of chilli chicken and crab cocktail arrives.

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The chicken is surprisingly bland, whereas the crab cocktail is nicely spiced and absolutely delicious.

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At dinner I practise the little bit of Swahili I have tried to learn in the last few weeks, much to the amusement and delight of the staff.
“Nataka chakula cha kiafrika” (I would like African food) I ask, and John, the waiter, suggests the Chicken Ndogo Ndogo, a whole spring chicken grilled with ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime juice.

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Ndogo ndogo apparently means “young lady” or "nice thighs" in Swahili, and a few slightly risqué comments are banded about.

I ask for the chicken to be served kali (spicy), but instead they include a selection of pili pili (chillies), hot sauce and freshly chopped coriander. The chillies certainly pack a powerful punch!

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To go with my chicken I order ugali – the staple food throughout East Africa – a stiff polenta-like dough made from millet flour and water.

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Chris settles for the Fish with Mushrooms, a fillet of fish topped with mirin-flamed mushrooms and served with fried rice and creamy champagne sauce. From the contented murmurs and delighted exclamations, I am deducting that he is enjoying it.

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My request “tafadhali nakata nne bia Tusker baridi” gets us exactly what we want – four cold Tusker beers! This Swahili-speaking lark sure is fun!

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At the beginning of the meal John (the waiter) asks Chris to write down all our names on a sheet of paper, and from then on he calls us by name as he dishes up our food. Very personal service indeed. I am even more impressed when the dessert is delivered. Only David orders a pudding – crepe suzette – but the rest of us get complimentary petit fours, beautifully served on personalised plated with a Swahili saying and our names written out in chocolate! This certainly is a first for me!

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As we leave the restaurant, the serenade of the frogs in the grounds is almost deafening as you can hear from this little video. There is no picture as such as it is pitch black by now, but it is worth a listen for the sound alone.

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Having travelled for 24 hours through the night to get here, jetlag descends on us after dinner and we retire to bed for an early night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for a great start to our trip!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:00 Archived in Kenya Tagged food fish restaurant travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing chicken dubai karen kenya cocktails emirates birmingham gourmet nairobi good_food tamarind african_food calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen_coffee_gardens_and karen_blixen dawa_cocktail dawa Comments (1)

Bristol - Birmingham - Dubai

Let the adventure begin


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

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The day has finally arrived! After weeks and months of planning, we are off on the Great African Adventure with our friends Lyn and Chris.

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Thankfully Chris drives an estate car, which means we can get all four plus luggage into the one car. Unfortunately Bruno thinks he is coming too. On our previous trips with Lyn and Chris we have taken Bruno with us (three different canal barge holidays), so it is perhaps not surprising that he expects to be part of the trip this time too.

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It's an excited little gang who leave Bristol for Birmingham Airport

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For convenience and speed, we have chosen valet parking at the airport, and we just pull up in the car park right by the terminal building, hand over the car keys for someone else to park, and head for the check in.

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I am not saying we are keen, but we end up first in the queue before they even open the check-in desks!

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We sail through the Fast Track security lane and head straight for the executive lounge.

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With free food and drink, we start the trip the way we intend to carry on. There is a self-service salad and pastry bar, a menu to choose hot items from, and a well stocked bar.

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The food is fresh and tasty, although the portions aren't very big. But then we don't really want to be digesting a massive meal on our flight.

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Fish finger sandwiches! Mmmm

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It’s a very relaxing way to start this adventure, and we stay there until our flight is called.

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At the gate departure lounge, Chris spots a bag on the seat next to him which doesn't seem to belong to anybody. Having asked around the people in the immediate vicinity, he reports it to the airline staff, who are quick to react.

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It turns out the bag belongs to a chap who is standing by the window the other side of the room, too busy chatting on his phone to notice the commotion his bag is causing. The official loudly berates him for leaving his luggage unattended, and all is safe and well in our world again.

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Much to our delight, the flight is not full, and we are able to spread out, taking a whole row of seats each. This is Lyn and Chris’s first long haul flight – I hope they realise that having room to spread like this is the exception rather than the rule!

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I ask one of the crew members to take a photo of us all, chatting about the adventure we are about to embark on.
Soon the air stewardess comes back with a Polaroid camera, snapping us (and other passengers) and creating a very nice little personalised memento from it.

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All in all Emirates are a great airline to travel with, and we have a very enjoyable flight, with good food (in fact Chris reckons this is the best air-plane food he has ever had!) and plenty of drink.

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Tandoori chicken - very tasty!

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Two bottles of whisky - Lyn's happy!

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Although no Captain Morgan, Grete is happy too!

After dinner, the cabin lights are dimmed, with little ceiling lights creating the impression of a starry sky, as I settle down with the free wifi and the others watch live football on the TV screens.

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Shame the football results aren’t as good.

Just another five hours to go...

Posted by Grete Howard 01:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing emirates birmingham Comments (2)

The Gowler African Adventure 2016

We're ready for Africa, but is Africa ready for us?

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Planning

Not since our Around-the-World trip in 2002 has so much planning and so much anticipation gone in to a holiday. So why is this one so special? Several years ago my very good friend Lyn said to me that one day she wanted me to help her arrange an African safari. Well, that 'one day' finally arrived.

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I really want Lyn and Chris to have an extra special safari experience, as this is their very first safari, first time in sub-Saharan Africa, first time in the Southern Hemisphere and first long-haul holiday. It is also their first experience of a tailor made private tour.


So how can we make it special?

Enter Calabash African Adventures:

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Why Tanzania and why Calabash?

There are an almost infinite number of tour operators who will design a bespoke African safari, so why have I chosen Calabash? I first became aware of them some years ago when they replied to question a in the Tanzania Forum on Virtual Tourist at the time I was researching a safari. I contacted them for a quote and they came back to me with an itinerary that fitted my plans and a price well within my budget. The safari, taking in all four of the northern parks in Tanzania, was amazing, and Calabash more than lived up to our expectations in every way.

That was 2007. Compared with other safari destinations in Africa (we have been lucky enough to have been on a number of safaris to a number of different parks in a number of different countries over a number of years), we have found Northern Tanzania to be far superior, in particular as far as the wilderness experience goes. So we went back in 2011. And in 2014. And now we are taking our fourth Tanzanian safari – all arranged by Calabash of course.

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A safari in Tanzania is far from a cheap holiday, with the cost of accommodation in the wilderness starting at around £100 per person per night, and prices exceeding £1000 per person for sleeping in a (luxury) tent not being unusual (as you can see from the screen print below from one of the big safari operators).

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In an attempt to maximise our hard earned holiday savings, Tillya (of Calabash Adventures) suggested travelling at the end of the 'Green Season' when prices are lower, the grass is greener and there are fewer people. The only problem is, of course, this time of year is called the 'Green Season' for a reason... it may rain. A lot.

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We have been closely monitoring the weather forecasts, and keeping fingers crossed that at least the heavy rains will have finished by the time we arrive. Having taken safaris in Africa previously in the Green Season and not been particularly hampered by the rain, we are hoping that it won't be too much of a dampener (pun intended) this time either. At least it should make for some atmospheric scenery shots. Watch this space!

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Many an enjoyable evening has been spent during the planning stage of this trip, with African food and wine, while discussing itineraries, photography and packing.

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Other aspects of the preparations, however, have not been quite so pleasurable.

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A number of immunisations – as well as malaria prophylaxis - is required for all four of us, although David and I thankfully had the benefit of some of the vaccinations still being valid from previous trips. We spent an entertaining afternoon at Nomad Travel Clinic in Park Street in Bristol, being advised on all things travel-health related by a delightful nurse called Helen, who shared our slightly warped sense of humour.

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Although theoretically Tanzania requires you to produce a Yellow fever immunisation certificate if you are arriving from an infected country (in our case Kenya), we have travelled to the country three times in the past via Nairobi and never been asked for the certificate. I have heard, however, about travellers who have been stopped, fined ($300) and immunised on the spot, so it is not worth taking the risk. Not that we would ever consider opting out of any recommended vaccinations.

VISAS

Both Kenya and Tanzania require travellers to obtain a visa before entering the country. Kenya no longer issue visa on arrival, but their website is easy and user friendly. Or so I thought - David and I applied for an online visa last year when we visited Lake Turkana. As the two of us already have an account, it was just a matter of completing the personal details, information about this trip and any previous visits; and attach our itinerary, flight tickets, photograph and scanned copy of our passports.

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There are several agencies on line who will offer to arrange your visa for you - for a fee of course. While we sometimes use their services for some of the more obscure countries we visit, for Kenya (or Tanzania) this really isn't necessary. The money we saved will go towards a drink or five in Africa.

For visits up to 72 hours, you are entitled to enter on a transit visa, providing you are continuing to another East African country; and the issue of our Transit Visa was instant. Success.

So... I try to do the same for Lyn and Chris, setting them up with a Kenyan evisa account using their own existing email addresses. So far so good. A message pops up on my screen saying that an email has been sent with a link which they need to click on to confirm the address. No problem, I ring Lyn and let her know to look out for it. No email received their end. We wait half an hour. They still have no email. We try using a different email address for Lyn. Still no email from Kenyan High Commission. What to do now? I am guessing a firewall on their Sky account has stopped the emails reaching them, so it is time to put my thinking cap on. As a last resort, I try creating a new Outlook account for each of them on my PC, and this actually works! I receive the necessary link, carry out the confirmation 'click' and we're in business! Lyn and Chris also have Kenyan Visas! The applications have only taken me five-and-a-half hours! And that's just the Kenya ones!

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To obtain a Tanzanian visa, we need to download applications from their website, send off with the passports to their High Commission in London. No big deal, and in 2014 (our last visit to Tanzania), the passports took just over a week to come back, although the website only actually suggests to allow 3 working days for the process. Or at least it did last time I looked, a couple of months ago.

So imagine my horror when I casually glance at it now, and find that a new message has suddenly appeared: Apply 4-6 weeks prior to your departure date! Eeeek! Our trip is just over four weeks away, so I guess we ought to get a move-on with those!

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With the fee paid in cash to the Tanzanian High Commission's bank account, David takes the forms, bank receipt and passports to the post office on Saturday morning and send them off registered delivery. To our surprise, we get them back on the following Wednesday! So much for the 4-6 weeks and the mad panic, they didn't even take four days!

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We are now good to go! Almost.

Paying the balance of the holiday

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It's just a few minor issues to tie up now, such as paying the balance of the safari to Calabash Adventures. Priced in US dollars, the cost of the ground arrangements in Africa is dependent on the exchange rate, which is not particularly good at the moment. On our previous safaris organised by Calabash, we have paid the deposit by bank transfer, then the balance by cash on arrival. We do not really want to do that this time, for a couple of reasons – the amount is considerably more than it has been on previous occasions (longer and more involved trip, as well as being for four people rather than just two of course), and we are spending a couple of nights in Nairobi before arriving in Tanzania, so we don't really want to carry that amount of cash with us.

To cut a long story short, I gave David the task of searching for alternative ways of paying the bill, and he came up trumps in the form of a company called Currencies Direct, which seemed to offer the best rate. We have always transferred money through our regular bank in the past to pay for ground arrangements abroad, but the lower exchange rate through the bank, plus bank fees made a difference of nearly £300 more that of Currencies Direct. That is an awful lot of of rums for me, and whisky for Lyn (never mind beer for the boys).

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The process was simple. David opened an account, they checked him out to ensure he was a bona fida customer, and we were in business. After a couple of 'due diligence' compliance checks, the money was transferred to Calabash's account in Arusha. Simple, cheap, efficient. Now looking forward to a cocktail or five with the saved money!

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Countdown

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So, the countdown has begun, with each day marked off the calendar. Of course, in this electronic age, it is all done on the phone!

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So, what's left to do?

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Ordering foreign currency

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Getting our nails done. Mine are a nice turquoise, while Lyn has decided to blend in with the natives. Or not. I hope it doesn't scare the animals. David and Chris have decided to leave theirs au naturel.

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And of course...

Packing

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While keeping clothing and toiletries to a minimum is easy, travelling light is impossible for a photographer. It is not just the cameras and lenses; tripods and window clamps; batteries and chargers; flash guns and accessories, plus numerous memory cards that takes up space of course - it's all the other stuff too. OK, so I admit I am a gadget freak, but I do enjoy playing around creatively with filters, intervalometers, motion sensors and such like. The only item from this photo that I won't be taking is the high-viz vest. Not a good idea in the bush - we are trying to attract the animals, not scare them!

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It's strange really. I can't wait to go, can't wait to be there, see the sights, smell the air, taste the food and just drink in the atmosphere. And take lots of photographs, of course.

Yet, I don't want to go. I want to stop time right now as the excitement I feel at this moment is electrifying. It's tangible, it's giving me such a delirious high. I want to feel this intoxicated on excitement forever...

And then it's those "what if it doesn't live up to the expectations?" feelings. Perhaps it is better to just have the buzz of the anticipation than the real thing...

Then I give myself a virtual slap and a good talking to: "These are the most blatant First World Problems Grete! Stop overthinking it and just appreciate that you are in a position to be able to do this. Go forth and enjoy!"

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As we're off to fulfil our Out-of-Africa fantasy and make extraordinary and life-long memories for ourselves and our good friends, I will just leave you with this poster we bought in Kenya on our very first safari in 1986 - if you study it carefully you will see so many scenarios epitomising African safaris.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:09 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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