A Travellerspoint blog

Pigeon Island

The first day in Paradise is not going too well

semi-overcast 30 °C
View St Lucia 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I think I have finally caught up with my sleep, as I slept really well – and long – last night. David, unfortunately, woke up with a really bad back this morning. Not a good start to the trip. We try to book a massage for later, but the masseuse is not in today.

At breakfast I am dying to approach the lady from last night to see how her night out went, but I don't want to admit I was eavesdropping on her conversation. She doesn't look like 'the cat who got the cream', so maybe the evening wasn't as successful as all that after all.

Time to head out to explore the island; but first, I want to take some photos of the hotel and the view from the elevated walkway outside our door.

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I pick up my camera, point it in the right direction, and freeze in shock as my lens is obviously not attached properly and immediately crashes to the hard, tiled floor. I can only watch in horror. I pick the lens up and try to re-attach it to the camera body, but have no joy. The mounting plate has been damaged by the fall, and the lens no longer fits! Bugger. If the holiday didn't start well with David's bad back, it certainly doesn't seem to be getting any better.

I take the injured equipment back inside and check out my other lenses. I have a 16-28mm lens which will do for any wide angles I want to shoot, and the 100-400mm for birds and other distance shots. I don't, however, have anything covering the main, everyday shooting range, between 28mm wide angle and 100mm telephoto. This could be a challenge.... Oh well, I will just have to work with what I've got.

Pigeon Island

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We head for Pigeon Island, a short drive northwards. Pigeon Island is a National landmark, full of civil, military and maritime history and is run by St Lucia National Trust. It once was an island – hence the name – but during the early 1970s a broad causeway was constructed, linking the island to the mainland. The island started life as a hang-out of pirates (although no sign whatsoever of Johnny Depp there unfortunately), and later became a military stronghold for the French, English and Americans at different times. During the late 1900s, the island was used for quarantine and grazing land for animals; and later as a whaling station. Now it is a much-visited national landmark with hiking trails, beaches, ruined historical buildings and a very rustic restaurant.

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One of our reasons for choosing St Lucia as a destination, was to see and photograph tropical birds. Pigeon Island is quite a good place for this, and as we make our way along the coastal path, we spot a few local species:

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

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Zenaida Dove

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Shiny Cowbird

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Brown Booby

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Tropical Mockingbird

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Bananaquit

Jambe de Bois Restaurant
Bird watching is hot work, and we stop for a milk shake in the quaint restaurant, named after a pirate called Francois Leclerc, better known in the region as “Jambe de Bois” because of his wooden leg. The restaurant was opened in 1947 by an Englishwoman called Mrs Josset Agnes Huskinson, who ten years prior had signed a lease with the Government for the use of Pigeon Island. Josset, a vivacious and unforgettable character, was an actress with the D'Oyle Carte Opera Company, and had a worldwide reputation for her charm and hospitality. Often she would entertain over a hundred guests here with frequent visitors from neighbouring Martinique. The restaurant is built using driftwood and other bits of wood from various ships.

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Snuba
From the restaurant overlook tourists partaking in the sport of “snuba” - basically a form of scuba diving, but instead of carrying a tank on your back, the tube from your mask is attached to a tank which floats on the surface of the water. The theory is that you walk off the beach and just carry on walking, under water, being able to breathe through the tubes. I like the idea of it, but as someone who is unable to sink, if I carried on walking I would just float to the surface. It looked fun though.

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Josset's House
This is all that remains of the private house of Josset Huskinson after it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1980. Despite relinquishing her lease, Josset retained an acre of land on the southern secluded part of Pigeon Island, where she was allowed to live out her days. She returned to England in 1976, aged 89, after a forty year romance with her tropical paradise. She died just a year later.

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Lime Kilns
During one of the British occupations of Pigeon Island in the 1800s (the British and French fought fiercely over St Lucia, and captured and recaptured St Lucia seven times each), a number of lime kilns were built. Lime was used as a binding agent for all masonry work and was made from coral and shells which were piled up and set on fire. The subsequent powder and ash was mixed with water, egg and straw to form a binding agent.

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Soldiers' Barracks
The Peace of Brede recognised French Sovereignty in St Lucia in 1667, but the colonial struggle between Britain and France continued well into the 1800s, although fighting was interrupted by short term treaties and peace settlements. These barracks were built to hold 60 men when the French fortified Pigeon Island in 1763, but were damaged by hurricanes in 1817 and again in 1824.

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We really enjoyed Pigeon Island, finding it peaceful, tranquil and delightful. Not so the group of middle aged Americans we were following back to the exit apparently: “I f****g hate this place”. “They should f****g rename it Hell Island”. “You would have to have a f****g death wish to want to come here”. When she started to talk about the toilets and how wet her “f****g ass felt” I was glad they went one way (to the bar) while we returned to our car.

Rodney Bay

On the way back to the hotel, we stop in the small town of Rodney Bay for a quick stroll among the tourist shops and bars. We have no sooner stepped out of the car, when we are approached by a smartly dressed young man who claims to be hungry and complains he doesn't have any money to buy food. The more we say “no” to his begging, the more aggressive he becomes. We eventually manage to shake him off, but it doesn't take long for another one to replace him. “Hi, I recognise you from your hotel” he starts off. Yeah, right... my scamming radar pricks up, but I initially give him the benefit of the doubt. However, when after a bit of chit chat he continues “I shall see you later, but first I need to take my boys for a game of cricket but I can't afford to buy a new ball, could you...?” At that point I just walk off with a dismissive wave as I hate being taken for a fool.

These two individuals leave a bad taste in my mouth, so we cut the walk short, just calling in the bottle store on the way back to the car to pick up some ciders. Unfortunately they are not locally made – in fact they are produced in Denmark – but David doesn't seem to mind.

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After BBQ dinner we stay for a while listening to the steel band before going to bed. Another day over, hopefully tomorrow will be better in terms of David's back and no more accidents.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:23 Archived in Saint Lucia Comments (0)

London Gatwick - Rodney Bay, St Lucia

We're here!

semi-overcast 27 °C
View St Lucia 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I didn't sleep at all well last night, but feel some better after a full English breakfast. As I said yesterday, the airport is literally a one minute walk from our hotel, although once inside, we have to take the little train from the North Terminal to the South, which is where our flight departs from. There is no queue for the bag drop, and when our gate is announced we board the flight immediately. Much better than being kept in a holding pen for 20 minutes. Every time I have to squeeze myself into one of the tiny seats in the economy cabin of an aircraft, I say “never again, I am tired of travelling cattle class”. Of course, I soon forget the discomfort when I start researching the next trip and see the difference in price for the larger, more comfortable seats. What's nine hours of discomfort out of a week anyway? The seat may be one inch shorter than my legs and two inches narrower than my hips; but the friendliness of the crew makes up for it. Always smiling, always genial, and nothing is too much trouble. When they come round with tea and coffee after the meal, David asks: “Do you have any hot chocolate”? “No, but I can make you one. Just give me five minutes”.

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Despite being trapped in the seat like a sardine in a can, I still manage around four hours 'sleep'. I even miss the take-off. Again.

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Castries from the air

At St Lucia Hewanorra International Airport, there is quite a long walk from the plane – initially across the tarmac, then along the outside of the terminal building. The lengthy queue for the immigration soon disappears and in no time we have the luggage and we are ushered through the customs area with a dismissive wave. Outside is the usual hustle and bustle of Arrivals, and we eventually spot the young lady holding up a sign saying: DAVID HOWARD.

The formalities for the hire car seem to take longer than getting through immigration and customs, but it is probably because I am eager to get on the way. The 4WD Suzuki is small, but adequate and goes well. The roads from the airport to our hotel take us right across the country from the south-east to the north-west. In better condition that I expected, the road is reasonably smooth, but very hilly and winding. Welcome to St Lucia!

After a couple of hours we pull up at the hotel and as I walk towards the entrance, a uniformed chap with a clipboard and a friendly smile asks tentatively: “Mrs Howard?” After exchanging greetings and welcoming us to the blu St Lucia Hotel, he goes on to enquire: “Can I get you a rum punch Mrs Howard”? It seems they know me already. I like this place.

The room is very pleasant, quite spacious and has a lovely balcony overlooking the restaurant, with the pool behind. Perfect for those sundowners.

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After a couple of relaxing rum punches on the balcony and a very refreshing shower, we go down for dinner. As I said before we left home, I was very concerned about the hotel, and in particular, the other guests. I need not have worried – this is a different world to the last all-inclusive resort we stayed in back in 2009 in Dominican Republic! The restaurant has an a la carte menu rather than the dreaded buffet; the guests are quiet and sedate, no raucous bars, no loud muzak, and smoking is not allowed anywhere within the hotel grounds. Phew. So far so good.

In the bar I overhear a conversation between a middle-aged woman who appears to be travelling on her own and some other guests. Apparently she met "a really nice man" on the beach this afternoon who she is meeting up with later on for him to take her 'somewhere nice'. Sounds very interesting. After a lovely fish dinner (battered grey snapper in ginger sauce), chosen from a limited but more than adequate menu and served by extremely friendly waiting staff, we retire to bed. It's been a long day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:31 Archived in Saint Lucia Comments (1)

Bristol - Gatwick

We're on our way!

semi-overcast 8 °C

As we have an early morning flight, we thought we'd travel up to Gatwick the night before and stay overnight in a hotel close to the airport, and you certainly can't get much closer than Premier Inn at the North Terminal – it is literally across the road from the terminal entrance, within the airport itself.

David drops me off at the front door and goes off to park the car in the long term car park – the hotel itself may be cheap (especially considering its position), but their car parking charges sure ain't! Trying to negotiate two main bags, my camera bag and a hand bag; I am somewhat confused in the hotel “lobby”, as there does not appear to be a reception desk there. Nor any other desk. In fact, there is no furniture whatsoever. I can't be the only one who has been a little flummoxed by this, as a uniformed “meeter-and-greeter” is directing everyone to the lifts to reach the check-in area two floors up. OK

I use the expression “check in area” rather than “reception”, as this place is very modern and high tech and doesn't in fact have a “reception” in the traditional sense, just a row of self service check in machines like are now often found in airports.

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You enter your surname and the computer brings up all your other details. It is quick and painless and spews out a couple of room card keys. I leave one with the attendant for when David arrives back, and head for the lift to take the luggage to the room.

Our room number is 324, so I press the 3 button in the lift. As there is only me in the lift, I don't have too much trouble wheeling both the bags out when the lift stops. I look for the familiar signs pointing which direction room number 324 is, but again this hotel has managed to confuse me – all the room numbers start with 7. It appears the lift completely missed the third floor and went straight to number seven. Oh well, maybe I didn't press the right button.

I wait for another lift to come, so that I can go back down to the correct floor. Despite there being three lifts, it seems to take ages, with a couple of lifts going straight past the floor on their way down from a higher elevation. Oh well, maybe I didn't press the button hard enough. I press it again, and eventually a lift does turn up. I get in and make sure I press the 3 button. It doesn't stop at the third floor, however, it goes straight down to the ground floor again. This time I know for sure that I did not make a mistake! I am not too keen on lifts at the best of times – not only do I suffer from claustrophobia, I was also sexually assaulted in a lift as a teenager – so this isn't exactly building up my confidence.

Finally. The lift and I are both on the third floor. After dumping the bags and ringing David to tell him where to collect the key from when he arrives, I go down to book a table at the restaurant for tonight's dinner. I press 0. The lift goes up to floor 6. A couple of other guests get in and they press 0. The lift goes straight to the correct floor. This is getting personal.

On the way back up again I get in a lift with a woman in a wheelchair and her carer. I am relieved when a staff member presses the buttons for us: floors number 3 and 6, as this time we surely will get to the correct floors. No such luck. The lift decides it wants to go to floor -2, despite there not being anyone on that floor awaiting the lift.
Eventually I get to my right floor, via levels 9 and 6. Thank goodness we are leaving this psycho lift behind!

At dinner we chat with Antony, the Venezuelan waiter, about travel in general and the political situation in his home country in particular. I order a starter after dinner instead of a dessert – a lovely baked Camembert served with sweet onion marmalade and a couple of cute little mini-baguettes.

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Our table overlooks the short term car park at the terminal, so we can watch the cars driving down and down the spiral exit. Oh, the excitement of a world traveller!

Posted by Grete Howard 07:20 Archived in England Comments (0)

Finally time for another trip

Caribbean bound

overcast

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I think this trip can best be described as a consolation prize, after not being able to go to Eritrea as planned in February because the visa didn't turn up in time. (Incidentally, the visa still hasn't arrived, some four months after applying. We were obviously not meant to go to Eritrea.) We haven't had a “proper” holiday since September last year, and the next one is not until June, so we were both getting itchy feet.

We wanted something relatively easy, something that didn't require too much planning. Somewhere that has a reasonable selection of birds which can be seen fairly easily independently. The Caribbean appealed to us both and we looked into going back to Tobago; but as our favourite hotel was fully booked all though March, we decided that we wanted to travel somewhere we had not been before instead. Hence we are now off to St Lucia on an all-inclusive holiday.

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Some of you may remember our week in the Dominican Republic in 2009, “affectionately” dubbed the Chav Safari. I said then I would never again do an all-inclusive resort holiday to the Caribbean.

Until now.

It is the same old story with St Lucia as it was with the Dominican Republic – the price for All Inclusive was too tempting. We are getting the flight, hotel and all food and drink for less than the cost of buying the flight alone. It's a no-brainer.

Wish us luck.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:14 Archived in England Comments (4)

Arusha - Nairobi - Doha - London - Bristol

The long 'road' home

sunny
View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We have a few hours today before our evening flight back to Nairobi and onwards, so Tillya has decided we are going out for a little adventure. That suits us. Relaxing is for wimps.

We start off with a visit to the Cultural Market for some shopping. Not being shoppers, it wouldn't be our top priority, but it's quite fun to see what's available and have a little banter with the (very eager) sales people. “You come see my shop” “No charge for looking” You wanna buy?” Beckoning us in to their store and trying to 'encourage' us to go in by blocking our way.

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I manage to get a pretty good deal even if I say so myself (two masks for less than half the original asking price for ONE); and even Tillya comments to David that “She drives a tough bargain”. I take that as a compliment.

We head out of Arusha towards Namanga and the Kenyan border, although exactly where we are heading I have no idea. Even Dickson isn't so sure. One thing is for certain – there is plenty of dust and the road still isn't finished! We were told three years ago when we came this way by bus that it will be done “soon”.

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At Longido we stop to try and find the Tourism Office – which turns out to be the Post Office as well.

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Somehow the name Longido rings a bell, and I rack my brain trying to remember what it is. An on-line newspaper article from a couple of weeks ago eventually comes back to me, reading:

“A herd of elephants wreaked havoc in northern Tanzania’s district of Longido, killing one person and injuring several others”

"Some people sustained with severe injuries in the tragic incident," the commissioner said, adding that "The killed man was at his home when a herd of elephants attacked him."
The official said after a few hours, fully-armed wildlife rangers arrived in the village, teamed with villagers and killed one of the elephants.
"They also managed to chase away the group of elephants, which were still roaming around the village," he said, adding that the dead man becomes the sixth to be killed by elephants in the past three years.

That's OK then. Thankfully we see no elephants on our visit to Longido. We are here to see birds, I believe, and pick up a guide called Samuel at the Tourist Office, who apologises every other sentence that we are not seeing as many birds as he thought because “not many birds in the afternoon”. Bless. The middle of the day is not the best time to go bird watching as the birds – like humans – will try and hide in the shade of the trees from the heat of the sun. But it is still a nice little outing.

The most common bird around here is the White Browed Sparrow – a pretty little weaver bird.

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This is why they are called “weaver birds”.

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We do see a few other birds too, such as...

The Square Tailed Drongo

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Red and Yellow Barbet

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Male Red Billed Hornbill

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and Speckled Mousebirds.

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The area around here is very dry and parched – they haven't had any proper rain for over three years.

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At the camp site we share our picnic with Samuel

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I am surprised at the interest, and knowledge, of the local people regarding the Scottish independence. Often they will bring the subject up and ask our opinion, especially as today is the day of the referendum!

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You think recycling is a modern, Western thing? Think again – these sandals were once car tyres!

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Soon it is time to head back to Arusha for a quick shower, change and re-pack, before going to the airport for the long journey home.

Leaving Tanzania and saying goodbye to Tillya from Calabash Adventures is sad, but we'll be back!

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We are very impressed at Kilimanjaro Airport that they are able to check our bags in all the way to London, despite having booked the flights separately and it being different airlines. I just hope it works.

The Precisionair flight on the way out was half an hour late departing, so this one leaves 25 minutes ahead of schedule to make up for it. I suppose if all the passengers are here and they have the time slot available at both airports, why not?

Arriving at the new terminal in Nairobi is a pleasure. Shame we have to go back into the old terminal for the onward flight. We linger in the newly built departure lounge as long as we can (rebuilt after the devastating fire last year) before moving on to the older, shabbier section. Here we have to report to the Transit Desk as although we checked in on line from the laptop last night, we were unable to print boarding cards. The chap at the desk is extremely helpful, but he doesn't seem to be expecting us – we are not on his list of transiting passengers. He takes all our details, including the information from the luggage tag.

We wander over to the area around the gate and sit down to wait for the departing flight. We have five hours in total here, so there is no rush. After a while the guy from the Transit Desk comes over and asks us how heavy are bags were. 37Kg for the two. He is happy with the answer and walks off. Some time later he comes back and delightedly tells us “We've found your bags, they are safe.” That's a relief. We didn't even know they were lost.

At Doha it is absolute chaos in the Transfer Screening Area. Although they have over a dozen X-ray machines, only three of them are manned. The queues are enormous and it seems to take forever to get through.

The flight from Doha to London is not full, and we would have three seats for the two of us if it wasn't for the “lady” next to David with a small child. She has only paid for one seat, so David very kindly moves across so that she doesn't have to spend the entire flight with the child on her lap.

What a brat the kid turns out to be! He spends the entire flight (or at the least the part where he is awake) kicking the seat back of the person in front, with his feet right up by the tray, making as much noise as he can. When his mother half-heartedly tries to calm him down, he kicks her too, in the face. As we are landing, he (and his mother) are not wearing a seat belt, he is still lying on his back with his feet near the top of the seat back in front, playing on a mobile phone! There really should be a “Passenger Re-training Program” (like there is for offending drivers) where passengers are banned until they have completed the course!

Welcome home to a UNITED Kingdom (well done Scotland on deciding to stay in the UK).

Posted by Grete Howard 09:57 Archived in Qatar Comments (0)

Mara River - Arusha via Lake Manyara

Time to say goodbye to the wildebeest


View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It was very sad to leave the tented camp this morning, especially as all the staff came out to shake hands as we left.

Our flight is not until 10:30 this morning, so we will be doing a little game viewing on the way to the airstrip, which is only about half an hour away.

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Just outside the camp we see a herd of elands, some helmeted guinea fowl, a large group of banded mongoose and a long crested eagle. Good start.

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We thought we'd just pop down to the river to see what the wildebeest are doing, when we suddenly see cars rushing off. Dickson shouts out the usual “Hold on” and off we go at break-neck speeds. I really admire this guy's driving!

Along the way we see several abandoned picnic tables, where visitors from some of the further-away camps have brought their breakfast to enjoy here and then just rushed off when got word of a crossing.

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One of them didn't just leave the table and chairs behind, the red “blob” on the left of this photo is actually a person! That is rather worrying – I certainly wouldn't like to be in the middle of the Serengeti on my own with only a croissant to protect me!

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By the time we arrived at Crossing # 4, it was all over. Again. It was only a small crossing apparently, just a few dozen animals. Oh well, I thought it was too good to be true to get one more piece of excitement in!

The carcass of a wildebeest has attracted a few different birds, such as the Superb Starling, Red Necked Spurfowl and Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling.

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A Black Backed Jackal attempts to chase a rabbit, but is nowhere near quick enough.

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Sandpiper

At the Kogatende Airstrip, there is a lot of activity this morning, with many flights arriving and departing, and people just popping in to use the only public facilities in the area.

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A Regional Air flight arrives and we get excited. It turns out he was just dropping off, not picking up. Oh well. Next one.

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One of the other flights is two passengers short. The captain is wandering around the various cars and people hanging about, asking for names. He finally finds them, and even carries their luggage to the aircraft for them. That's not something you see very often!

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Finally our aircraft arrives back again, and Dickson goes to check us in, which involves the captain looking at his list of passengers and seeing if our name is on it. It is.

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There's supposed to be a 15kg weight limit for luggage, which in theory is said to include your carry-on. In reality there are no scales, and Dickson makes sure he is the one who loads our bags, not the captain, so we manage to escape the excess baggage fees.

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And we're off! It's a 12-seater Cessna Caravan and ten passengers. No head room to stand up but plenty of leg room.

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The first part of the flight is mostly over flat terrain as we make our way across the plains of the Serengeti.

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Then the odd hill starts to creep in...

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In the distance we can see the cone of Oldonyo Lengai, (“Mountain of God” in the Maasai language), which is considered a sacred mountain by the Maasai. It's an active volcano in the Gregory Rift, part of the East African Rift, and is and the world’s only carbonatite volcano . The last eruption was in 2008.

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We could easily make out Ngorongoro Crater despite the presence of a few little fluffy white clouds.

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We land at Lake Manyara for two people to get off, before continuing on our last leg of the journey to Arusha.

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Soon we are back in Arusha – where we started – and our safari is over. For this time.

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No having to wait for our luggage here!

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Tillya is there to greet us, just like he had been at Kilimanjaro Airport a week earlier.

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Shanga Shangaa
I mention to Tillya that we want to treat him to lunch, and it so happens that we are just coming up to the turning to this place – and what a gem!

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Shanga Shangaa, meaning "amazing beads", in Swahili, is a small business employing 36 deaf, mute and physically disabled people and their workshop is open for visits every day.

It all started back in 2006 which a local girl making beads for the Christmas market. The necklaces were so successful, they now have a serious and sustainable operation employing 32 people and supplying retail outlets across Tanzania and beyond.

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Beads are produced in these moulds, with sticks to create the holes.

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The wood burns out during the baking, leaving a hole in the centre of the bead.

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Add water, turn on the motor for a couple of hours, and you have nice, smooth beads.

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It's all about recycling at Shanga Shangaa. Wine and beer bottles are collected from local tourist lodges and hotels in Arusha, as well as broken window glass; and this is then melted down to make new glass items, including the beads.

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We are given a guided tour with explanations of the work they do, how it helps the local economy, schools and charities, and we walk around the workshops themselves, seeing the glass blowing in action.

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Shanga Shangaa also features weaving and cloth making.

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This young chap was paralysed aged 17 when he fell out of a tree; and did not have any opportunities in life until he was offered a position here, making painted plaques for tourists. I buy a couple of them for Isla and Emmie.

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All sorts of stuff is recycled here, including metal.

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They also produce mosaic.

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Even the chairs and tables in the courtyard are made from recycled tyres.

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There is also a very nice restaurant within the grounds of Shanga Shangaa, and the head chef is Arnaud, the cook who travelled with us on our very first trip to Tanzania back in 2007.

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The food is excellent (of course, I wouldn't have expected anything else from Arnaud), with soup to start, then some delicious paneer and vegetable samosas with mango chutney; a fabulous BBQ buffet with tender fillet steak, chicken and fish; tasty lentils with coconut, courgette fritters, home made chilli sauce and various salads.

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Dessert is a selection of little dishes which included fresh fruit, a kind of millionaires shortbread, some little doughnutty things and chocolate with ground coffee beans in it.

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Tillya wants to buy us some coffee to take home, so we stop at the BURKA Coffee Estate just down the road. I love the smell of freshly roasted coffee.

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Back at Moivaro Lodge (was it really only a week since we left?), we chat with Tillya in the bar for a while, where he tells us about his plans for the future of business and how my reviews and forum replies on Virtual Tourist and Trip Advisor helped “pull his business up” during the recession. His genuine appreciation of my “help” is very humbling. As he said, it isn't much to me, but has meant the world of difference to him, his family and his business. Knowing that I have made a enormous positive difference to someone's life on another continent gives me a warm, glowing feeling.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we sit on the balcony of our room, enjoying a drink and looking back on the many highlights of this last week.

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As the light fades, hornbills come loudly trumpeting back to roost in the trees and black faced vervet monkeys scamper around the grounds, looking at us quizzically from their lofty branches.

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The only not-so-happy memory I have of the Serengeti, is the tse tse fly bites. They are really pesky little things, and hurt when they bite (a bit like a horse fly). It also seems like I am slightly allergic to their bites as I have come up in an angry red patch around the actual bites, about 3 inches in diameter. They itch like hell too!

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Dinner tonight causes some mixed feelings.

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Neither of us are hungry, so we don't want the set four course meal, but that is all they have. We order just a small dish of vegetarian pasta and a dessert, but still have to pay the fixed price of $25 for the full fixed menu. What a rip-off! The food is very nice though, and the staff are so sweet.

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And so it is time for our last night here in Tanzania. For this time. As Arnold Schwarzernegger said: we'll be back.

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Safari arrangements by Calabash Adventures

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:03 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

Mara River Area - Day 3

Lamai Wedge and Wogakuria

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View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We found a frog in the room late last night - cute little thing. David took it outside and let it go.

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I shall want to have coffee and biscuits brought me every morning when I get home – but preferably not at 05:45!

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Last night David half-jokingly said about having baked beans for breakfast this morning – and today this Pyrex bowl of beans turned up! Where on earth did they find those in the middle of the bush?

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Guess what? Another stunning sunrise this morning.

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When Dickson said about spending the day looking for cats and other animals, I was actually quite grateful. Much as I loved seeing the crossings, spending two whole days just waiting for a few minutes of excitement is enough.

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Black Backed Jackal

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Vultures on a Wildebeest carcass

Wildebeest migrations are closely followed by vultures, as wildebeest carcasses are an important source of food for these scavengers. The vultures consume about 70% of the wildebeest carcasses available.

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Rueppell's Griffon

Marabou Stork

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The marabou stork always reminds me of chocolate. Why, I hear you ask? Growing up in Norway, one of the most popular chocolates used a marabou stork as its emblem.

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Sweet childhood memories aside, the marabou is ugly as sin, and the fact that it is a carrion-eating scavenger doesn't really add to its appeal.

The marabou storks soars great heights and will descend on a carcass at high speed in a vulture-like fashion. In fact, it has been known to to drive away vultures when feeding on a carcass. The marabou also eats locusts, frogs and small birds.

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African White Backed Vulture

As we were heading for the “bridge” to do our very own Mara River Crossing this morning, we came across a couple of lionesses sunning themselves on the opposite river bank.

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On our side of the river a large lizard family were emerging from their crevice to enjoy the morning sun.

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A dazzle of zebra

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So, the eternal question – are they white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Some people think that a zebra is white because its stripes end towards the belly and the belly is mostly white. However, the zebra is actually black because if you shaved all the fur off a zebra the skin is mostly black. Not that I have ever tried shaving a zebra...

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At first glance zebras in a herd might all look alike, but their stripe patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints in humans. Their shiny coats dissipate over 70 % of incoming heat, and helps the animals withstand intense solar radiation.

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A tower of giraffe

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The giraffe has no vocal cord, although the can cough, bellow and miauw , snort, moo, snore and hiss. Mostly they communicate with their tail though.

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Giraffe have one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, averaging only 1.9 hours per day

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Unlike many animals, the giraffe sees in colour

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A family of elephants

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Elephants are found in matriarchal herds (or “memory” as a group of elephants are also known as) usually led by the oldest cow. Much like humans then. Closely knit families are made up of a number of related females and their dependent young. Female elephants stay with their mothers all their lives, whereas males leave the family unit upon reaching adolescence, usually around 12-13 years old.

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During a recent survey (in May and June this year), 7,535 elephants were counted in the whole of the Mara Serengeti eco-system, which is an increasing trend from 2,058 in 1986.

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Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world – they can weigh up to 6½ tons! Put in to context, the original mini weighed under 700kg and the average family car these days – our Toyota Prius for instance – weighs 1325kg. So these guys are basically five times the weight of a car and totally not worth messing with! The African elephant by the way is considerably bigger than the Asian one, with bigger ears.

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At one stage we were completely surrounded by elephants, going about their daily life, eating breakfast.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Olive Baboon

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The river is full of activity, with hippos....

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…. Yellow Billed Stork ...

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... and crocodile

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In order to reach the area north of the Mara River known as Lamai Wedge, we have to cross a “bridge” - just a concrete causeway really, which gets flooded regularly after the rains.

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In fact you can see what it what like when we drove past it on the way up through Serengeti the day we arrived.

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Lamai Wedge

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Lamai is 300 square miles of open plains, similar to the landscape of the Masai Mara in Kenya which forms one of its borders. This sweeping vista of rolling grasslands, dotted with the occasional acacia tree, is of stark contrast to the rest of Northern Serengeti's dense woodlands south of the river, where the herds of wildebeest tend to split up and stay in amongst the trees. Here in Lamai you can really appreciate the full visual impact of the massive wildebeest herds – the vast landscape stretching endlessly beyond covered in a vast carpet of gnus.

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In amongst the four legged animals we came across this Crowned Plover and her two cute little chicks, very well camouflaged in the grass.

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As far as the eye can see, in all direction, are wildebeest. And more wildebeest. Dickson estimated there were around 150-200,000 of them, the numbers are just totally mind-blowing.

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The shifting, grunting, grazing mass of animals is like a giant wasp's nest, buzzing with life and movement.

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Everywhere you look there are wildebeest. And more wildebeest. Up to a million hooves pounding the open plains.

And the odd Thomson's Gazelle....

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A lone concrete beacon marks the border between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya. No fences, no border posts, no passport control. Does this make us illegal immigrants?

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Kenyan elephants

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After the frenzy of the Mara River crossings which unsurprisingly attracts a number of tourist cars (although apparently nowhere near the amount they get on the Kenyan side), the main draw here is the peace and tranquillity – we see no other vehicles for hours. Just wildebeest, wildebeest and more wildebeest.

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Even in death, the wildebeest continues to be part of the eco-system, attracting a large number of vultures.

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Different species of vultures have different beaks – they have evolved to feed from different parts of the carcass so they don't compete for food and can co-exist quite happily. Ain't nature grand?

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Here you can see a Nubian Vulture at the back on the left, with the African White Backed in front of him. On the right is the Rueppell's Griffon and a Marabou Stork standing behind.

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Rueppell's Griffon

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African White Backed Vulture

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Nubian Vulture

Sometimes the vultures eat so much they are physically incapable of flying – they then have to spend some time resting on the ground until the food is digested so they can manage to take off.

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Photos cannot convey the enormousness of the landscape itself, let alone the experience of driving through the centre of a massive herd of wild animals with the surround sound of grunting wildebeest.

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Reedbuck near a small stream

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The stream was also home to a Pied Kingfisher.

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Marabou Stork
Marabou Storks are one of the heaviest birds that can fly; with a wing span of up to 2.8 metres, they are enormous! Their toes and legs are hollow in a bid to make them lighter for flying.

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The Marabou stork has a long, reddish pouch (gular sac) hanging from its neck which can be filled with air in hot weather in order to increase surface area for heat dissipation. This sack is also used in courtship rituals as it is directly connected to the left nostril and acts as a resonator allowing the bird to produce a guttural croaking.

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Hammerkop

Wattled Plover

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Impala

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Ostriches
Male ostriches have a harem of 3 to 5 females, all of which lay their eggs at a similar time in a nest made by the male. The social life of the ostrich is one of the most complex in the animal world. The male and his females all live together in small troops. Incubation is shared by both parents, only one hen being chosen for the job. Ostrich eggs weigh up to 1.5kg and have the same volume as over 20 hens eggs! The shell of the egg is so strong, it can hold the weight of a human standing on them. I know, we tried at an ostrich farm in South Africa.

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White Bellied Bustard

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Picnic with a view

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Elephants
While enjoying lunch, we noticed a herd of elephants coming our way. We were down-wind from them, so they hadn't spotted us yet, but we kept a really close eye on them.

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It is estimated that about 500 people are killed each year by elephants, either where they live or in captive situations. Generally speaking though, elephants are peaceful animals and providing you don't upset them they won't upset you.

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They seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence, however, and were in fact heading for a waterhole.

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Before wandering off into the distance until they became mere dots on the huge landscape.

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A baby Tommy, some 10 - 14 days old.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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As we have had showers and storms every afternoon we've been here, we decide it is a good idea to get back across the Mara River before any rain starts. We don't want to get stuck the other side, nor take the risk to drive across that causeway when it has flood water rushing across it.

(Footnote: I heard later that the day after we left, they'd had heavy rain causing terrible flooding, to the extent that not only was the causeway completely impassable, even the local airstrip was closed!)

Back on the Kogatende side we spent some time at a beautiful spot near the river, watching the different wild-life which were also taking advantage of this great place.

Nile Crocodile

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Red Headed Agama Lizard

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Goliath Heron

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Green Bee Eater (in the rain)

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More crocodiles - apparently this is where they go to lay their eggs

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Egyptian Geese

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Spur-Winged Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis. It was raining really quite heavily by now – thank goodness my camera and lens are waterproof.

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Water Thick-Knee - well camouflaged

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Monitor Lizard
Dickson got REALLY excited about spotting this, as it was one of the species on my wish list. Well done that man!

I still want to see an aardvark though.

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Common Sandpiper

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Hippo

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Elephants

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Black Headed Heron

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What great spot! Eventually we had to tear ourselves away, and headed for Wogakuria, an area dotted with kopjes and known for its cat population.

Eland

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Banded Mongoose chasing a Spring Hare. I am not sure what they thought they were going to do with the hare if they caught it (they didn't) – he's bigger than them!

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Can you see the hare?

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Spring Hare

Last time we came to Tanzania in 2007, I also had a wish list for Dickson, and he spent ages trying to find me an African Spoonbill. We did see one in the far distance – apparently – but this time he did a great job of finding one for me! Right close to the car too!

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Sacred Ibis

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Pygmy Kingfisher

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Klipspringer

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A large impala family

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On one of the many kopjes, we found our cats, seven of them in total, mostly hidden from view though!

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The skies went all stormy on us again, and we even saw a rainbow! When the thunder started, Dickson decided to head back home as we still had some precarious stretches of track to negotiate. The thunder went on and on and on, with no let up. Quite close too.

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Steenbok - often confused with baby impala

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What's that smell?
As we were driving through a lightly wooded area, David sarcastically commented on the “smell of fresh earth” as we passed through some foul smelling stuff. Dickson explained that certain types of acacia trees pass on an ‘alarm signal’ to other trees when they are attacked by animals such as the damage done here by elephants.

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The leaves of the tree produces lethal quantities of tannin (have been known to kill antelopes in huge numbers in South Africa) and pungent ethylene into the air which can travel up to 50 metres, and acts as a warning to other trees, which almost immediately produce their own tannin in order to keep animals away. This stuff really had a most unpleasant odour!

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We travelled through some areas with very heavy rain and subsequent flooding on the way back to the camp.

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What do you get when you mix a stormy sky, the smoke from a (controlled) bush fire, an orange sunset and an elephant?

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Even without the elephant, the sunset was not bad....

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We spent the evening watching the fire flies around the camp – unfortunately any attempts at photographing them failed miserably! And there ends the last full day in Serengeti.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for the safari arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Mara River Crossing - Day 2

The waiting game......

sunny
View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another pretty sunrise this morning.

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After breakfast we head off towards the river again, to spend another day with the wildebeest, waiting, watching, waiting, watching.

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There is a big herd at Crossing # 2, mostly grazing. When some of them move down river, the other vans follow. We decide to stay and see what happens.

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We didn't have to wait long. Without warning a few wildebeest start jumping 10-20 metres from the crossing, hurtling their body several feet into the air with the power of an Olympic diver! Go! Go! Go!

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A frenzy of curved horns and shaggy beards ensued into in a thin line across the river, and we had front row seats for this dramatic spectacle. For a while we were the only humans present.

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Soon the herd became a moving, breathing bridge that spanned the width of the river and their grunting bray matured into a low steady hum.

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Taking a leap of faith, the wildebeest throw themselves off the river bank and into the unknown, all too aware of the dangers that lie ahead. Many animals are injured when others land on top of them as they enter the river.

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Upon reaching the opposite bank, some wildebeest continue running further afield, while others are too exhausted to do anything more than drag themselves up on dry land.

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Others are very confused and actually cross the river back again to where they came from. What a waste of energy – they say wildebeest are not very bright animals!

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Many mothers get separated from their babies during the crossing – with around 1500 animals it is perhaps not really surprising. For ages afterwards you can see them walking around, looking lost, calling for their offspring (and vice versa). Most are reunited within a few minutes, but sometimes they end up on opposite sides of the river when one of them crosses but not the other.

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As suddenly as it started, it is over. Something (or someone – a crocodile maybe?) spooks the wildebeest and hysteria to get back up the bank ensues.

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It's over again for this time.

For the next few hours we sit and watch the (non) action. The herds run right to left, left to right, congregate (or “build” as it is known) at Crossing # 2, stare at each other across the river, search for their babies, graze, sprint towards the river, sprint away from the river. We also move accordingly. Back, forth, splitting up, getting back together.

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The excitement rises as they run down the embankment...... and up again.

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There are still some pretty big herds on the north side of the river, but will they cross? Will they heck!

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As we are so close, we go back to the camp to use the facilities, and take a few photos.

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This is how close the camp is to the migration!

The camp consists of a dining tent (on the left) and a lounge area (on the right), as well as the ten individual tents for sleeping.

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Dickson wearing the Bristol T-shirt we brought him over last time we were in Tanzania in 2011.

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Sudden starting of car engines gets the adrenalin going again; only to find that it is news that the rangers are on their way which causes a flurry of activity. Technically you are not allowed to drive off-road here, so all the cars parked under trees waiting for the action would get a telling-off if the rangers caught them. We all move to sit in an orderly line on the marked track. In the sun.

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To kill a bit of time, we ask Dickson to show us photos of his wife, young son and their wedding on his laptop. No sooner has he switched it on – and the crossing starts again! This time it is only a short drive away, so we are there almost immediately.

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Strong currents shift the crossing downriver, and it ends up as three crossings in one at one stage.

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One of the more surprising information I gleaned while researching this trip, was the fact that the migration is not quite such a natural phenomenon which has been happing since year dot - it only started in the 1960's. Even Ernest Hemingway, who wrote extensively about his safaris in Africa, wouldn’t have seen the Migration! It all started after an epidemic nearly eradicated the wildebeest population in the late 19th century. After treatment and immunisation had been found for the disease, the wildebeest population was slowly restored. In the next 50 or so years, the population boomed and soon became too large for the Serengeti's grasslands to sustain. Subsequently the large herds started moving further and further afield to find new pastures, eating their way across the Serengeti, the Kenya border and in to the Masai Mara. Once they had exhausted all the fresh grass in the Mara, they made their way back across the Serengeti to start this circular route again. Other herbivores, including zebras and Thompson gazelles, have followed.

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The spectacle is insane, but while it may appear as a total, chaotic frenzy, it isn't as random as it seems – wildebeest display what is known as “swarm intelligence” whereby the huge herds of animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one.

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Like the previous crossing, something spooked the wildebeest, and they make an about-turn in great numbers.

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A few of them run up river for a short distance and start a new crossing there – until they discover the crocodile you can see in the background.

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As I have said before, wildebeest aren't the brightest of creatures, and this young fellah decided he was going to take a different exit from the river – and promptly got stuck in the mud.

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We were all holding our breath as the crocodile discovered him and went to check it out. You're be glad to know that the baby managed to free himself before the croc got there.

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Most of the plains animals give birth between February and March, so it is unusual to see such a young zebra as this – this one was only about one or two weeks old – although sometimes they are able to prolong the birthing season if there is a shortage of food.

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Crocodile
As an opportunist hunter, the crocodile can lie in wait for hours, days and even weeks for a suitable prey, and moment, to attack. They are agile and swift with a powerful bite, sinking their teeth into the flesh for a grip that is almost impossible to loosen, holding their prey under water to drown.

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But just because you see a crocodile on the banks of the river, doesn't mean to say that he is waiting to attack - the Mara River crocodiles are said to feed only once or twice a year during the wildebeest crossing! It is thought that some of these mottled green giants are over 50 years old!

We thought we'd hang around for a bit to see if he was going to take any notice of the impala on the shore – but he totally ignored them. He'd obviously eaten already this year! The reason for the open mouth is to lose heat on warm days.

So, it was back to waiting, watching, watching, waiting again. In the warm afternoon sun we all ended up having an unintentional siesta in the car!

There were no more crossings this afternoon, but we did see a few more animals and birds before returning to the camp.

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Black Backed Jackal

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Elephants

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Bare Faced Go-Away Bird

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Eland

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A male reedbuck

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Giraffe

Another nice sunset tonight. I do love African sunsets.

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Something else I love about Africa (and there is a lot to love about this place!), is the night sky. I have never seen stars like it anywhere else in the world. With almost no light pollution for miles, the stars are unbelievably clear and there are more stars in the African sky than I ever believed existed.

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After dinner I set my camera up on a tripod to try and capture some of these stars, including the Milky Way. I am quite pleased with the way they came out.

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I even caught a passing plane:

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This would not have been possible without all the great arrangements by Calabash Adventures

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:50 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Mara River Crossing - Day 1

To cross or not to cross, that's the question

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View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I didn't sleep all that well last night – someone upset a zebra at one point and his barking went on for ages; and in the early hours of the morning two hyenas were fighting somewhere in or near the camp.

We were woken up at 05:45 this morning with coffee and biscuits at the tent. This is my kinda camping.

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I felt like I was part of a Colonial movie later at breakfast when the waiter said: “Will you take egg and bacon this morning sir?”

There was a nice pinky-purply sunrise this morning as we left the camp.

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Turning into bright orange as the sun climbed over the horizon.

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Were these the zebra that kept me awake last night?

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Our camp surely has to have the best position of any of the mobile camps in the area?

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Today is to be a full day of watching wildebeest crossing the Mara River. Now, wildebeest are fickle creatures, and crossings are far from guaranteed, but we set out with high hopes, heading for the river and one of the recognised crossing points. We are not alone. A pride of Landcruisers are hiding in the shadows of trees, watching for action, waiting for excitement.

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There are herds – or confusion as a group of wildebeest is also known – on the river bank. That is promising.

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The wildebeest stop milling around and start grazing. We move along to the next crossing, where the wildebeest are on the bank ready. Something spooks them and they run back up!

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They move further east along the river, towards the next crossing; so do we.

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There are zebra at the front again however, which is bad news – they are much more cautious than the wildebeest, and tend to stop the others from crossing. They start grazing.

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One of the major problems with stalking the wildebeest migration, is the flies. Where the migration go, so do those pesky little flying things too, and they love to sit on your mouth, glasses, hands....

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They don't bite, they're just bloody irritating!

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The herd our side of the river (southern side), head towards the river in great numbers, then change their mind. The northern herd have also changed their mind and are on the move again towards the original crossing. We drive that way too.

Seeing a river crossing is a waiting game. You require lots of patience, a huge amount of luck and a good guide. Dickson can read wildebeest body language, knows where the crossings are, is quick to spot any changes and has radio contact with the other drivers.

A Spur-Winged Lapwing joins us on the plains.

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Suddenly the herd starts running east again. We can see one wildebeest scaling the bank down to the river's edge.

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All the Landcruisers race off after them. We also have to cross a small ravine – one of the vehicles takes a short cut, but as he was an inch away from turning the car over, we decide to take the long way round, following the approved track.

When we get there, nothing is happening. Apparently the wildebeest went down the bank, sniffed around a bit and back up again.
They are now moving to the next crossing. So do we. They turn around again. So do we. The southern herd is now coming down to the crossing; but change their mind and turn around. And again. And again. The northern herd has also moved away from the edge. This has now been going on for about four hours.

Suddenly there's an excited cackle on the radio and it's all actions go! Dickson shouts: “Hold on!” and races off at breakneck speed towards Crossing # 4. This time it is NOT a false alarm and we see wildebeest after wildebeest heading across the Mara River.

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The current is quite strong, and the wildebeest are being swept down river, making it a hard time for them to make sure they reach the safe landing spot this side.

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Once the first couple of animals have crossed, it becomes an unstoppable wave of wildebeest and zebra, each one driven by the same ancient rhythm.

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Some may hesitate at the front, but instinct overwhelms any fear.

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Even the nervous zebra braved the river to get to greener pastures.

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Dust kicked up by the mob swirled overhead as they fearlessly leaped from the flat parched plains above down the steep river bank and the promise of fresh food.

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The river became a thronging mass of hooves and horns.

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The pressure from behind pushed more and more animals down the bank.

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Swimming against the current is hard work for adult animals, but for one of the small wildebeest babies, it proved too much. He was swept downstream and out of our sight.

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We feared the worst as all the other wildebeest had appeared our side of the river, just not "our" baby.

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Long after the river was empty and the migrating herds safely on the south bank, grazing happily, the little fellah showed up, exhausted by otherwise OK. Fifteen van-loads of safari tourists exhaled with relief: “awwwww”.

And then it was all over. Seven minutes. One thousand animals. WOW!!!!

Tranquillity was once again restored, and we went back to the waiting game.

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Yellow Billed Stork

Meanwhile we spot a memory of elephants (I have been reading up about collective nouns of animals) in the water further up and head that direction.

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Elephants have been known to cross the river, although they are not considered to be part of the Great Migration. These, however, were merely bathing and drinking.

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The smallest of the baby elephants (probably about 2 months old) was having a whale of a time, full of beans and mischief!

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Scratching his belly on a rock.

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Even a lone hippo has ventured out of the water today to go for a stroll in the sunshine. You really don't want to get between a hippo and the water, and this guy was showing his displeasure at another vehicle which he considered to be in his way.

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There are more elephants further downstream.

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Spotting dust in the distance and seeing other cars rushing off can only mean one thing: CROSSING!

We follow their lead and speed off to Crossing number four, but by the time we got there, it was all over.

It is all over for this wildebeest too – it is believed that up to 250,000 animals don't make the 1,800 mile round trip each year. The plains here in northern Serengeti are littered with carcasses such as this one.

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We spend the rest of the afternoon watching, waiting, moving from one crossing site to another, waiting, swatting flies, watching, moving, eating our packed lunch, waiting, following the herds, feeling hot, having a siesta in the car, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Nothing more happened.

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As the afternoon went on, the skies darkened and a storm was brewing.

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By the time we got back “home”, the camp fire was being lit, but our sundowners turned into watching lightning in the distance from our balcony. Rain stopped play and we went to bed.

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We are really grateful to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:54 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Ndutu - through Serengeti - Kogatende

A long but very exciting day

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View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us this morning, reflecting in Lake Ndutu as we left the lodge. I would have liked to spend some more time here, but we have a lot of distance to cover today as we make our way right through the 30,000 km² Serengeti National Park to its far north west corner.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Northern White Crowned Shrike

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Secretary bird

Dickson was heading for a marshy area not far from the lodge this morning, hoping to see some cats. And we did.

WARNING: CONTAINS IMAGES SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND DISTURBING

Three cheetahs – a mother and two sub-adult cubs - were pretending to be chilling on the plains, watching a few impala grazing in the distance. Cheetahs are never found in dense forests, they inhabit open savannah and semi desert areas. To avoid competition for food with other big cats who primarily hunt during the hours of darkness, the cheetah has developed a strategy whereby it hunts by day, and rather than using smell or sound to locate prey, it utilises its excellent eyesight to spot its next dinner.

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We decided to take our chances and stayed to watch for a while to see if anything would develop from it. For a long while it looked as if the cheetahs were far too comfortable to even contemplate going out for breakfast.

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After about ten minutes, mum gets up and starts walking towards the impala.

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She turns round towards her cubs as if to say “are you guys with me or not?” but still doesn't look too bothered about doing any hunting this morning.

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Suddenly it is all Go! Go! Go! By this time the impala have headed into the shrubs to our right, and the cheetah sets off in a fast sprint in that direction.

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The cubs follow in a slightly more leisurely fashion.

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They seem to have lost sight of both mum and the impala, who are now completely hidden by the long grass.

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Suddenly they – and we – spot mum who is giving chase to a couple of young impala who have become separated from the others.

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The impala twist and turn to try and shake off the predator, racing back out onto the open plains, zigzagging and splitting up to confuse the cheetah.

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One of the impala turns left, making the biggest mistake of its life. The cheetah follows in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the impala, a cheetah can run faster than any other land animal — up to 75 miles per hour in short bursts.

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She closes in on the poor antelope, as we hold our breaths, excited about the chase, terrified for the impala.

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As the cubs join in the hunt, cutting off the prey's escape route, the impala uses its unique leap in a bid to get away. When alarmed, an impala can run at very high speeds and "explode" in spectacular jumps to heights of 10ft, zigzagging over bushes and even other impala or as here, the predator itself, covering distances of up to 30ft.

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The impala looks like it is gaining some ground from the cheetah...

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Twisting again, running for its life.

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The impala runs out of luck.

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While the cheetah catches her breath, thinking that breakfast has been sorted, the impala makes a desperate attempt at getting up and again.

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But to no avail. The cheetah is hungry and is not about to let go that easily.

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While mum keeps a firm grip on the impala, the cubs join her for the final act of killing the prey. Mum is probably quite worn out right now – apparently half of cheetah chases are unsuccessful because the predators are too exhausted to finish off the prey.

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One of the cubs goes for the final suffocating bite to the neck and it's all over for the female impala.

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Breakfast is served!

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When the cheetah have had their fill, we bid them goodbye and make our way towards the Serengeti.

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The Ndutu area is a great place for wildlife, and we soon came across a couple of elephants and a another cheetah – probably hiding young cubs in the long grass.

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Unfortunately we had no time to find out, but Dickson radioed the other cars (there were three of us around the cheetah kill) so they could go and check it out.

Spotted Hyena
I somehow dislike these animals – I find them ugly and sinister-looking and they give me the heebe jeebees with their heavily built forequarters, sloping back and large head. There are three main hyena species in Africa – spotted (by far the most common and the only one we have encountered), brown and striped.

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Grant's Gazelles
The only relatively long-lasting relationship in gazelle society is that of a mother and her most recent offspring. Grant's are gregarious and form the usual social groupings of small herds of females with their offspring, territorial males and all-male bachelor groups. Membership in these groups is temporary.

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Hartebeest
One of the many problems with the dusty tracks through the national parks is that as soon as you stop the vehicle, the dust catches up with you and by the time it has cleared enough to take a relatively clear photo, the animals have often moved on.

These hartebeest were fairly close to the car when we stopped, then moved away as soon as we arrived. The baby is probably only about one or two days old.

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Serengeti National Park

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Known locally as ‘Siringitu’ – the place where the land runs on forever – Tanzania’s oldest park was created to preserve the path of the world’s largest migration circuit. The Serengeti National Park is one of the most celebrated wildlife reserves in the world and a UNESCO Heritage Site. This phenomenal National Park covers an absolutely vast area of pristine East African savannah.

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Thankfully, outside pressure has persuaded the Tanzanian government to cancel their plans of making a tarmaced highway right through the centre of the park. The proposed road was estimated to carry 800 vehicles a day by 2015 (one every two minutes) and 3,000 a day by 2035 (one every 30 seconds). Collisions between people and wildlife would have been inevitable. Wildlife experts had warned that paving and expanding the route would have severed a critical corridor for the annual migration. At the moment we have to put up with the dust generated by the huge trucks, but that is better than putting the animals at risk.

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We turn off the main road and head for the Simba Kopje. It seems to be a little less dusty and slightly greener here.

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Kopjes
A kopje is an isolated granite rock formation that rises abruptly from the surrounding plain. Kopjes provide, among other things, protection from grass-fires, more water in the ground around them, holes, cracks, and caves for animals, and a vantage point for hunters of all kinds.

The kopjes are over 550million years old, and the surrounding rock through which they protrude far, far older still - over 1200 million years in much of Serengeti

The word “kopje” - pronounced “car-pee” - comes from a Dutch word meaning “little head”.

Serval
Dickson got very excited to spot a serval – a nocturnal wild African cat rarely seen during the day. Servals have long legs which enable them to run fast (though not as fast as the cheetah). Normally they pounce on their prey, but they can also probe into crevices for rodents and grab them and pull them out, hence being seen near the kopje.

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The serval left its relatively safe hiding place in the shadow of the rocks, to cross the road into the long grass the other side, where it disappeared.

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Next we came across a male lion close to a dead zebra. It is most likely that a female made the kill last night and the male came and chased her away.

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Central Serengeti is a great place to spot animals any time of year, even outside the migration season.

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Elephants and zebra

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Huge zeals of zebra which have obviously decided not to migrate this year with the fresh grass after recent rains. Everywhere you look there are stripes!

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More lions resting under a tree

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A dozen or more each of lions and elephants are causing quite a traffic jam near the river.

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Sometimes you are lucky enough to get a whole pride of lions to yourself, such as we did yesterday in Ndutu, other times you have to be prepared to share.....

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This is NOT the place to get a flat tyre

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Moving away from the circus...

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Tawny Eagle

Hyrax
Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest! I love seeing these little creatures sunbathe on the rocks late in the afternoon where the sun has warmed the stone during the day, or in crevices hiding from predators. These were on the walls and trees near the toilets in the Visitors Centre.

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Tree Hyrax

Fossil remains indicate there were once hyraxes the size of oxen. This may explain its gestation period of 7 or 8 months, unusually long for an animal of its size.

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Rock Hyrax

Northern Serengeti
As we head into Northern Serengeti, the topography and landscape changes drastically from the wide open plains, to more undulating terrain, with numerous kopjes and wooded areas. The dry, parched earth has been replaced with fresh green grass. It's like being in a different season.

Topi
A very similar looking antelope to the hartebeest, is the gregarious topi, with the difference being that the topi have a darker colouration and lack sharply angled horns. The topi are nowhere near as widespread and common as the hartebeest, as they prefer certain grasslands in arid and savanna biomes, eating only grass, avoiding both mature leaves and very young shoots. Fussy eaters in other words.

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They prefer flat lowlands, and can go without water for long periods of time only if they have access to green pastures.

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Eland
Eland are herbivorous browsers who can survive for long periods of time on the moisture they extract from their food. Their favourite food are the leaves from the acacia tree. When this is unavailable they will eat grasses and fruits, and occasionally dig for roots and bulbs with their hooves.
Eland horns are long and twisted, with the female's being longer and thinner than the males, being able to grow up to 1.2m long. These horns are often used to help bring twigs and branches closer for feeding. Eland have a dewlap (a fold of loose skin) under the throat. This helps assist with cooling by increasing the surface area of the skin.

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The giant eland is Africa's largest antelope. Massive yet elegant, these powerful antelopes have been known to gracefully leap fences over 10 feet tall. Male elands can weigh up to 1000kg - it's difficult to appreciate their immense size unless they are seen grazing next to a 250kg wildebeest or a 25kg gazelle. Even here, alongside a zebra, it gives you some idea of its enormous size.

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Hunted throughout Africa for their meat, elands can be very skittish and difficult to approach closely. All my previous photographs of eland have been of them running away, so I got really excited about seeing them grazing peacefully this time. Despite their size, being timid creatures, they easily fall prey to predators.

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There was the cutest little elephant having a bath in a small mud pool!

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Steenbok
This is said to be the most frequently seen of the so-called dwarf antelopes, but we have only encountered them a couple of times before. Steenbok tend to be most active during the day, although when temperatures peak at midday they may seek refuge in shade. They live in monogamous pairs and are renowned for their very large ears. Only the males have horns. They are unique amongst the antelopes in that they defecate and urinate in shallow scrapes which are dug by the front hoofs and then covered again. A bit like a cat I suppose.....

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The weather is much less predictable up here than in Central Serengeti – it can rain one minute, with the sun coming out again the next. The skies start to darken, and there is obviously a storm on the way....

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As we reach Bologonja Springs near the Kenyan border, it starts to rain. It doesn't seem to bother this Reedbuck though.

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Wildebeest Migration
We start seeing increasing numbers of wildebeest as we get further north, and we are beginning to realise that this is in fact the famous “migration”. From August through to October the herds are in this part of the Northern Serengeti as well as in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Given that the herds are simply following local rainfall, some move north, some move south… and many move in both directions in the same day.

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Klipspringer
A small antelope which we have only seen once – in South Africa in 1999 – despite the fact that it is said to be present in several of the Kenyan and Tanzanian parks. This is probably because the klipspringer only occurs on mountain ranges and other rocky habitats. They are extremely agile and nimble, even over the roughest terrain.

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Other interesting facts about the klipspringer: this is the only antelope that walks on the tips of its hoofs; groups use communal dung heaps scattered throughout the home range; and they have a loud nasal alarm whistle.

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The rocky terrain also seems to appeal to lions.....

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It is still reasonably light when we reach our home for the next four nights – Serengeti North Wilderness Camp.

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This is what is known as a “luxury mobile camp” - a collection of ten tents which move with the wildebeest migration every three to six months.

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It feels good to be able to settle in for a while, not having to re-pack tomorrow morning and move on. I think we will like it here.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for arranging all this for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:51 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

Tarangire - Ngorongoro - Ndutu

Animals galore

sunny 27 °C
View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It's always so hard to get the balance right on safari between wanting to maximise the time spent in the national parks game viewing, and not missing out on the facilities and delights of the lodges. We always seem to arrive at our accommodation after dark and leave before it gets fully light, so we never actually get to see – or photograph – the camps during daylight hours.

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Maramboi Tented Camp was no exception. It was barely getting light as we were leaving, so I did try to get some pictures of the place during twilight. Not easy.

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It looked like a nice place to spend some time, with facilities such as a swimming pool, and animals including warthogs, zebra and wildebeest in the grounds. In fact, the grunting of the wildebeest continued through the night and kept me awake!

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Today we got to choose what we wanted in our lunch box, with a young chef making up sandwiches to order, and a buffet to choose other items from.

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Jackals versus baby goat
On the way from the lodge to the main road, we spotted a young goat which presumably became separated from the rest of the herd last night when being brought back home. Two black-backed jackals had taken advantage of this, and decided it would make a tasty breakfast!

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After much running around, and a very brave fight put up by the kid, much kicking, and a couple of unsuccessful grabs at the tail; the jackals finally went for the rear legs and brought the goat down.

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For some inexplicable reason, the jackals allowed to goat to get back up, and another stand-off ensued.

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They suddenly seemed to lose interest in the kill, however, as if they were just playing with the poor kid. The jackals went to lie down some distance away, and then slinked off into the trees. The poor goat still seemed petrified and frozen to the spot, or maybe he was just too exhausted from the fight to move. Either way he lived another day.

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I was strangely disappointed to not find the usual mischievous olive baboons at the gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The toilets were new though, and a vast improvement on the old ones.

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We travelled up to the crater rim through heavy mist and were really quite surprised to find the crater floor below bathed in sunshine.

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The black dots you can see below are in fact animals.

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More school children on a day trip to the crater

Acacia Trees
These flat-topped trees on the inside slope of the crater perform a very important conservation duty – acting as umbrellas, protecting the soil from erosion during heavy rains.

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Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO world heritage site, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and is commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The 610m (2,000 feet) high walls of the approximately 10 mile wide crater create a natural amphitheatre for the densest populations of large animals anywhere.

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Another "Gentlemen's Club" of old male buffalo kicked out of the herd by younger breeding males.

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Kori Bustard

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Tawny Eagle

Buffalo
Cape Buffalo are basically wild cattle, although it is not related to or the ancestor of domestic cattle. Known within Africa as one of the “big five”, “The Black Death” or “widowmaker”, the African buffalo is widely regarded as a very dangerous animal, as it gores and kills over 200 people every year. I find they have a very unnerving stare!

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The Cape buffalo is still a much sought-after trophy, with some hunters apparently paying over $10,000 for the opportunity to hunt one.

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A large breeding herd of buffalo

Hippo
During the day, hippos mostly spend their time in the water (the can stay under water for up to six minutes), coming ashore to the sandbanks grazing, usually at night. It was therefore very unusual to see one walking across the plains, seemingly some distance from any source of water.

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Further along we spot a whole bloat of hippos, so I assume this is where our mate is heading.

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Lions
On the opposite side of the road was a pride of lions – five adults and three cubs.

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The adults were mostly sleeping, whereas the cubs – like children everywhere – were more restless and wanted to play or cuddle with their mummy.

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More lions awaited us around the corner, resting quite happily in the middle of a road junction.

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Somehow Dickson spotted a rhino lying down in the tall grass quite some way in the distance. Well, he assured me it was a rhino... That makes it the big five already!

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Kori Bustard

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Secretary bird

Warthog
One of the (many) unusual aspects of the warthog's appearance is the way it drops onto its padded knuckles when feeding, and frequently shuffles along in this position. Warthogs are the only species of pig to move like that on their knuckles.

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Great White Pelican, Yellow Billed Stork and Sacred Ibis

This grey heron found an unusual landing site – on top of a thunder of hippos.

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Sacred Ibis

Hippos
Their ears, eyes and nostrils are situated high up on their head enabling them to function almost totally submerged Often all you can see of a hippo is the top of their backs as they wallow in the shallows.

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There must have been around 50 hippos in this pool, mostly sleeping, but a few were grunting and wallowing in the mud, doing somersaults to cool themselves down.

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The name hippopotamus comes from the Greek "hippos," meaning horse, these animals were once called "river horses." But the hippo is more closely related to whales and porpoises than horses!

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Maybe having our picnic downwind from 50+ grunting, swatting, rolling and whiffing hippos wasn't such a great idea after all......

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Hippo upside down

Spotted hyena
Although not known to attack fully grown wildebeest, the spotted hyena in their midst made them scatter in all directions.

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One of the braver wildebeest had a go, and managed to successfully scare the hyena off. Hyenas have been known to attack calves.

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The hyena decided it wasn't a battle he wanted to fight, so he made off on a different path, cutting a lonely Billy-No-Mates figure as he made his way across the plains. The wildebeest avoided him and he avoided the wildebeest.

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Wildebeest
Whichever way you look at them, wildebeest are not attractive animals. Many people say they appear like they were assembled from spare parts – the forequarters could have come from an ox, the hindquarters from an antelope and the mane and tail from a horse. The antics of the territorial bulls during breeding season have earned them the name “clowns of the savannah.”

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Ostrich
Adult males have a black body with white wing edges and tail. Their neck, head and thighs are flesh pink with some small feathers. Females are much duller in colour and have a brown body, off white or grey wings and tail, and are more densely feathered than the males.

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Thomson's Gazelle
Affectionately known as Tommies, herds of up to 60 animals are led by an older female. During migration, tommies spread out over the plains in the wake of zebra and wildebeest herds, coming together again in the evening.

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Elephant
When I first saw this elephant I thought he was a statue, he was so still. It turns out he was asleep, standing up! Elephants can live to around 65 years old, and this huge male was somewhere between 40 and 50 years old.

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He's a “left-tusker” - like humans are left or right handed, elephants has a predominant tusk, which is shown as being shorter through constant use.

All the elephants within the crater are old males – there are no breeding herds or females here, as they rely on tree cover for security when giving birth and while the babies are young.

Hartebeest
Popular game and trophy animals due to the highly regarded quality of their meat and the fact that they are easy to hunt due to their visibility. We have tasted hartebeest meat previously in Africa and found it quite a dense meat, quite gamey.

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As one of the fastest antelopes and most enduring runners, the hartebeest got its name, which means "tough ox."

Black Rhino
Black Rhinos are highly endangered and have been poached to near extinction. The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the last places in Tanzania where you can still reliably see wild black rhinos. In 1965 there were 100 rhinos in the Crater. By the mid 1980s, poaching had reduced the population to just a couple remaining animals. The rhinos are now under 24-hour ranger watch and numbers have been increasing, though slowly because of the rhino’s long gestation period. I understand the rhino population in the Crater now stands at 17. I have never got anywhere near any of them, this is usually the sort of distance we have seen them from.

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Making use of the facilities (much improved from the first time we were there), we leave the crater floor – we still have some considerable distance to go before our night stop.

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Great view back into the Ngorongoro Crater from the top, showing just how far down it is to the crater floor. The crater is not a self-contained ecosystem and some animals do migrate in and out of the surrounding Ngorongoro Conservation Area but not in any significant numbers.

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Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Whenever they hear the name Ngorongoro, most people think of the crater. As you can see from this map, the crater is really just a small part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and this afternoon we were crossing it north west to reach Ndutu.

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Giraffe
Giraffes are not found inside the crater as they find the steep slope too much to cope with. There always seem to be a few towers of giraffe in the rest of the conservation area, however, and we saw quite a few on the way to Ndutu.

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For all its great length the giraffe's neck has only seven vertebrae, as in man. Twiga, as the giraffe is known in Swahili, is the national emblem of Tanzania.

I always find watching a giraffe running rather amusing - they use front legs together, then back, alternating between front and back. Hind feet stay outside of the forelegs, so there is no contact. They are surprisingly fast runners, being faster than the average horse. They just look so awkward somehow.

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When they walk, however, giraffes (unlike most other animals) use the two right limbs together, then the two left, alternating right and left. Otherwise, the long front legs would tangle with the hind legs. Camels also walk this way.

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Banded Mongoose
A large band of banded mongooses seem to be playing a game with a black backed jackal. We could not work out who was chasing who, or if it was serious business or just a bit of fun.

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The “short-cut” Dickson took to Ndutu is only accessible during the dry season, and you can see why. The road was not the best I have seen.

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I say “short-cut”, but the black earth track seemed to go on for mile after mile after mile; hour after hour; with almost uninterrupted vistas of flat, parched land, dotted with huge herds of Maasai cattle and the odd giraffe. The whole scene was surreal.

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Lions
Just as I was beginning to find the journey extremely boring, a pride of lions turn up. As they do. And what a pride! 15 animals in total, all one family, mostly females with two young males and a number of cubs of various sizes.

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We parked the car up, switched the engine off, and let the group just walk right by the vehicle.

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We followed them for a while as the light was fading and the lions headed towards the last Maasai cattle herd we'd seen, about a mile away.

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A pride of lions one side of us and a beautiful sunset the other – what a perfect end to a perfect day!

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Ndutu Safari Lodge
It was already dark by the time we got to the lodge – this seems to be a theme on this trip! Originally a tented camp, Ndutu Lodge was constructed in 1967 by a professional hunter who gave up hunting and chose Ndutu as his regular campsite. It is one of the oldest camps in the area and one of the few which remains truly independent.

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The lodge is made up of stone cottages these days rather than tents, and although fairly small and basic, they are more than adequate and very comfortable.

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Ndutu lodge features dik dik in the grounds and genets in the rafters.

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Small Spotted Genet
Also known as the Common Genet, it is a secretive, nocturnal species, inhabiting rocky terrain with caves, dense scrub land, pine forests, and marshland. And the rafters of the lodge. They aid in keeping vermin populations in check as their favourite food is mice and other small mammals, although I did see the waiter feed them in the evening. The genet may look like a cat, but it is really in the mongoose family.

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Dickson ate with the other drivers this evening, in a special open sided dining room within the grounds. As they were enjoying their dinner, a couple of dik diks right outside the room were making lots of nervous, high pitched noises. Fearing a leopard close by, the drivers felt rather vulnerable as there was nowhere for them to hide. Later they heard a lion's roar, very close by, which didn't exactly make them feel any safer. Thankfully we had an armed guard to escort us back to our room after dinner.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for all our safari arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:15 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Arusha - Tarangire

Elephants and more

semi-overcast 25 °C
View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

With a later start this morning (Dickson is picking us up at 08:00), we had time for a leisurely breakfast at the lodge. They provided a great buffet plus a couple of chefs cooking your eggs to order, with a selection of bacon, sausage, potatoes and beans. We are making the most of it, as we know once we get into the bush we a) won't have such a choice and b) will probably leave before breakfast anyway!

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I even had some time to check out the lodge grounds and photograph some birds!

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Black Backed Puffback

We leave the lodge and head for Arusha to pick up our lunch boxes and a SIM card for the mobile WiFi unit we have brought with us. Not sure how much signal we will have up north, but it is worth a try. Tillya has arranged a Data SIM for us, but needs our passport to activate it. David goes with him to the phone shop, while I stay in the vehicle with Dickson; bargaining for a map of the Serengeti and fighting off all the hustlers and traders wanting to sell me T shirts, batik wall hangings, Maasai jewellery, safari hats and other trinkets. I have a laugh and a banter with them; and Dickson comments “it's just as well you are used to this”.

The road out of Arusha is much better than I remember, but then it has been three years since we were here last. The parched land is dotted with herds of goats and donkeys, Maasai cattle and the odd straw hut settlements.

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Dust storms are common

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After a while the terrain becomes more rocky and the earth more red, followed by rich black volcanic soil with acacia trees, baobabs and cactus.

Tarangire National Park

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Leaving the tarmaced main road, we head for Tarangire, Tanzania's fifth largest park at 1,600²km and the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem. The park is named after the life-giving Tarangire River that provides the only permanent water for wildlife in the area. One of the main reasons for including Tarangire in this year's safari, is the fact that the wildlife rhythms of Tarangire are almost directly opposite those of the Serengeti. Tarangire comes into its own during the dry season (July - November) when enormous populations of elephants and other animals are drawn to the Tarangire River and other sources of permanent water within the park, with massive concentrations of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra congregating along its banks.

I have never seen the park entrance gate so busy before, there seemed to be safari vehicles parked everywhere, backing right up out of the car park.

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While Dickson goes off to sort our entrance tickets, we make use of the facilities and start looking for birds and other wildlife.

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You'll be glad to know that these were NOT the toilets in use

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Spotted morning thrush

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Ashy Starling

It took Dickson 45 minutes to get to the front of the line and complete the paperwork for us.

Impala
One of the first animals most safari goers in East Africa experience is the impala. The first day you hear “look, there's an impala!” with cameras clicking away. The second day “awww, that's cute” with the odd photos being taken. By the third day, the comments are so much more nonchalant “oh, it's just an impala” as they are so common and so widespread. I still think they're cute, and still get excited about seeing them.

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Superb Starling

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White bellied go away bird - so called because of the sound it makes "Go! Go!"

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African white backed vulture

Giraffe
Giraffe feed exclusively on the tender leaves of acacia trees and their great height means they do not compete for food with other grazing animals so they are able to share their habitat with a wide range of animals. The normally elegant and graceful giraffe have difficulty in bending so that their heads reach down to ground level, so when drinking they have to splay their forelegs out sideways in a rather awkward looking position.

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A mature male giraffe weighs about 1000kg and stands approximately 3.3m at the shoulders making it easily the tallest mammal in the world. Some animals have been known to be as tall as a double decker bus. The giraffe's prehensile tongue is about 20in long, purplish-black in colour (it is thought to protect against sunburn), and is useful for grasping foliage, as well as for grooming and cleaning its nose and ears! With the help of their long tough tongue and long upper lip, they can eat even the smallest of leaves hidden between the big thorns of this tree.

Vervet Monkeys
Black Faced Vervet Monkeys - also known as Green Monkeys - are one of the best known monkeys in Africa and are often found close to human habitation, including a few of the lodges we have stayed in.

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Vervets rarely venture further than about 500 yards from the trees, since they are vulnerable to a variety of predators, including leopards, caracals, servals, baboons, large eagles, crocodiles and pythons. Though they usually confine contact calls to chirping and chittering, vervets scream and squeal when in danger.

You have to look very carefully at your surroundings when on a safari, as so many of the birds and animals are very well camouflaged, such as this Rufous Tailed Weaver. That's where it pays to have a good guide!

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Or this Laughing Dove.

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Female Red Billed Hornbill

We stopped to have our picnic lunch and watch this twister in the distance.

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I never expected to have a Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar in my picnic box in Tanzania!

We were joined by this Superb Starling, who was no doubt after our leftovers.

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I love the name of this Waxbill – Cordon Bleu! This is the female.

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Buffalo
Cape Buffalo – these are retired males kicked out of the herd by younger breeding males. They are quite vulnerable to predators as they are old and slow, and just the two of them rather than having the protection of a large herd.

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Lilac Breasted Roller - one of my favourite African birds!

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African Grey Hornbill

Elephants
A family of elephants walked past, with the youngest baby being about 6-9 months old with its sibling around 3½ – 4 years old. As well as the mum, there was another “baby” of around 5-6 years old, probably not related to the others.

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They seemed a really close knit family, and spent a lot of time intertwining tusks and appeared to be “cuddling”.

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You can see that the elephants here are in musth – an annual period of heightened sexual activity. Their temporal glands become swollen, from where a strong smelling fluid, rich of testosterone, runs down on their cheeks. During musth the males are often very aggressive, so we were keeping a very close eye on these beasts.

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Baobab Trees
Tarangire is famous for its giant baobab trees which take quite a lot of battering from the elephants in the park, leaving many with battle scars. The strange looking “upside down tree” - Latin name Adansonia – is useful in so many ways, not just as punch bags for the elephants. Able to store enormous amounts of water in their trunks (up to 100,000 litres), they are ideally suited to the arid lands of this region. Of the nine different species, only two are found outside Africa, one in the Arabian peninsula and one in Australia. To me, these trees are synonymous with the African bush!

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Nothing is wasted by the locals from these trees, its usefulness is reflected in the tact that Disney's Lion King named it the Tree of Life.

  • Root fibres – are turned into string
  • The fruits can be eaten (they taste a little like sherbet – we had a chance to taste one in West Africa a few years ago) or mixed with water/milk for a refreshing drink (baobab fruit has three times as much vitamin C as an orange, twice as much calcium as milk and is high in potassium, thiamin and vitamin B6), Now it is being hailed by Westerners as a new superfruit, although I would say it's an acquired taste. Decorative crafts are made from the dried fruits.
  • The powdery white interior can be used to thicken jams and stuff
  • The pulp can be dried and is used in the fermentation of beer, it is also the basis for cream of tartar, and is used in cosmetics, smoothies, as a thickener or sugar substitute. In the UK apparently one manufacturer is adding it to gin!
  • The bark is fire, drought and termite resistant and is used for rope, soap, rubber, glue, fishing nets, sacks, clothes and medicine. If the bark is stripped, it will grow back.
  • The seeds - oil is extracted by cold-pressing the seeds, or they can be ground to use as thickening for soups, fermented to use as flavouring, or roasted to be eaten as a snack.
  • The trunk - water contained in the trunk may be tapped in dry periods and elephants sometimes tear the trees down to get to the moisture inside. . The huge trunks are often hollow (naturally or man/animal made) an can provide shelter for animals and humans. One of the vast baobabs in Australia was even used as a prison in the 1890s and a district commissioner in Zambia set up an office inside one. I believe there is even a baobab pub somewhere!
  • The wood is used for fuel and timber
  • The leaves can be eaten fresh as a vegetable, and are said to contain a natural mosquito repellent. They can also be dried, milled and sieved to make a green powder that is used to flavour drinks and sauces.

Grant's Gazelles
These gazelles migrate in the opposite direction to most of the other ungulates, such as the Thomson’s gazelles, zebras and wildebeest. They can subsist on vegetation in waterless, semi-arid areas, where they face little competition.

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Zebra Crossing in the Tarangire
Zebra are everywhere on the African plains and they make for such great photographic subjects. There are different subspecies but by far the most widespread of the zebras is the Plains zebra which is also known as Burchell's or Chapman's zebra.

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The zebra were followed by wildebeest.

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Elephant baby
It was unusual to see such a young elephant baby out and about on his own, so we were immediately concerned for his wellbeing, as at around a year old he really was way too young to fend for himself. We soon noticed that all was not well – the animal had a dislocated rear right leg, which was swinging from side to side as he walked. You can see the disfigurement at his hip. Dickson surmised he'd probably been caught in a poacher’s snare and in the process of freeing himself, he'd pulled his leg out of socket. That still does not explain why he was abandoned by the rest of his family though, something that is very unusual.

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He will be very vulnerable to predators because of his small size, disability and the fact that he is on his own. His chances of survival are very slim indeed. He was still able to walk, albeit very awkwardly. So sad. But there was nothing we could do - such is the nature in the wild. We had to move on and let him get on with his life. Or not.

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Female Red Billed Hornbill

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Male ostrich in breeding season, as can be seen by his red neck and tail.

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Crowned Plover

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A large flock of ostriches (15 in total), consisting of adult females and their chicks from last year. Maybe this is where our breeding male was heading?

Common Waterbuck
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A large antelope distinguished by a white ring on its bum and large ears. As the name would indicate, waterbucks are always found near water, although they are not true water dwellers and have been known to wander considerable distances in times of drought. With human destruction of riverine forests, waterbucks have been forced to move inland in search of suitable grazing which exposes them to predators. In addition, the bleached skull of the waterbuck is a popular tourist souvenir, making this antelope a prime target for poachers.

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Because of their large size, they are seldom preyed upon in their natural habitat, even by lions. A lone waterbuck will often submerge itself in water in an emergency; an oily secretion covering the coat serves as waterproofing. The secretion is also the last line of defence, giving the meat an unpleasant taste. Apparently they can be detected by the pungent smell they give off, but I can't say I have ever noticed.

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Blacksmith Plover

Dik Dik
This tiny antelope only weighs around 5kg and is about 30cm high. It has an elongated nose which is very mobile, constantly twitching, and relatively large eyes, making it extremely cute! The elongated snouts have bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent over-heating. Airflow and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body.

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

Leopard
We saw a pride of Landcruisers staring at a tree, so we headed that way to see what the excitement was all about. True enough, there was a leopard sleeping on a branch.

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Leopards are more elusive and much less likely to be seen than lions and even cheetah, and being solitary animals, when you do come across one of these cats, there will only be one. They are nocturnal, most active at dusk and tend to hunt in the evenings and early mornings, which another reason why they are not seen often.

Cheetah
Another congregation of safari vehicles revealed a cheetah in the distance. Very difficult to spot in the long grass, initially all we could see was an unusual shape and a few spots.

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We hung around and waited until she decided to move before we could really see her.

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The name cheetah comes from an Indian word meaning "spotted one" and is thought to have gone through a prolonged period of inbreeding following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age which could explain some of its more unusual features such as its relatively small head and semi-retractable claws. As well as its supposedly low sperm count. Shhh, don't tell Mrs Cheetah!

Reedbuck
The reedbuck primarily eats fresh grass, often unpalatable species that are avoided by other antelopes, and it needs to drink water every few days at least, to several times a day during the dry season.

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As the name suggests, they can often be found in reeds near rivers and when threatened will initially try and hide by camouflaging themselves in the grasses, only fleeing when the danger gets too close for comfort. We never did see what it was that spooked them this time.

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Elephants
Tarangire National Park is especially famous for having the largest elephant population in northern Tanzania, whose numbers are on a steady increase after heavy poaching in the 1990s. Approximately 3,000 elephants were counted during the last census in the year 2000. Since 2000, the elephant population has continued to rise at an increasing rate as Tarangire is currently experiencing an elephant ‘baby boom’, and we noticed that a large proportion of the elephants encountered were less then 10 years old and baby elephants were abundant. Elephants are both migratory and resident in Tarangire; although some elephants leave, most stay inside the park year round.

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We stayed for a while watching them on the river bed, drinking and washing, before trying clumsily to climb up the river bank.

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As I said before, impala may be common, but they are still very cute!

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Verreaux Eagle Owl

The sun was getting low by this stage and time was getting on. We had to be out of the park by sunset, so we started to make our way towards the exit gates, stopping to photograph various game and birds along the way.

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Olive baboons

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African Fish Eagle

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Grey heron

Lion
This male juvenile lion sleeping on the river bed was our first lion on this trip, so we were quite excited to see him. That makes all three big cats in one day / park. Not bad!

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Dwarf Mongoose
Mongooses are commonly terrestrial and many are active during the day, feeding mainly on insects, crabs, earthworms, lizards, snakes, birds, and rodents. The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, during courtship and mating. They are related to hyenas, civets and cats. The plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese.

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Warthog
A member of the pig family, the warthog is a curious-looking animal, with its teeth forming two sets of curved tusks on the side of the head. A tusk will curve 90° or more from the root, and will not lie flat on a table, as it curves somewhat backwards as it grows. The tusks are used for digging, for combat with other hogs, and in defence against predators – the lower set can inflict severe wounds.
Warthog ivory is taken from the constantly growing canine teeth. The tusks, more often the upper set, are worked much in the way of elephant tusks with all designs scaled down. Tusks are carved predominantly for the tourist trade in East and Southern Africa.

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Dust
One of the greatest problems with travelling to Tanzania during the dry season, is the dust. The sand on the tracks is swirled up by cars and animals, and gets into everything. On previous visits I have suffered badly with sinus infections, so this time we decided to actually take preventative measures and protect ourselves from the effect on inhaling the dust.

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It may not be the latest fashion, but it works!

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Sunset
As Dickson was rushing to get out of the gate before sunset, I was trying to stand up in the vehicle photographing the same sunset while travelling at great speed on uneven roads.

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We made it out of the park in time, and continued to our tented camp for the night, the Maramboi.

Maramboi Tented Camp
This camp is situated in a rather unusual spot to the south-east of Lake Manyara, just across the main road from Tarangire in a 25,000 hectares private concession for conservation run entirely by the local Maasai Community. The views from the property are one of the big features, looking out to the Rift Escarpment and lake Manyara. Unfortunately, it was already pretty dark when we arrived, so we could see very little of the famed view.

It seemed to make sense to go straight to dinner as soon as we arrived (after the obligatory briefing), as it was already gone 19:00 by this time. The dining area – a large deck overlooking the grounds – was very dark, with only small candles on each table lighting the place. The food was good, and Dickson was telling us all about his family and his wedding – he was just starting to hang out with his then girlfriend (now wife) when we last met him. Now he has a young son. After eating, we retired to bed almost immediately, getting the guards to take our luggage and lead the way. You are not permitted to go outside on your own at night – if you want to leave your room, you need to call for someone to escort you. We seem to have the room (tent) furthest away from the main reception / restaurant area, right at the edge of the property.

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The rooms are large permanent tents on a wooden platform and it is all very comfortable, luxurious even, with A/C 24/7, hair drier and safe in the room, charger sockets and electricity.

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We have a drink on the balcony, watching the bats flying around, before going to bed.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for arranging our safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:06 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

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