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Lake Natron - Mto Wa Mbu walking Tour - Kilimamoja

Something a little different today


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Lake Natron Camp

I slept reasonably well last night, despite someone's alarm going all through the night. The 'alarm', we are told, was a distressed nightjar!

Breakfast is good, with a Continental selection including peanut butter, followed by a cooked breakfast.

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Before we leave the camp, I use the facilities near the mess tent – a compostable toilet with buckets of sand to cover up any excrement, yet there is modern 'luxuries' such as running water in the basin and individual terry towels neatly rolled up in a basket.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano looks pretty this morning with her pink hat on.

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Wishing our friends Lyn and Chris could have come with us on this safari, we took with us large photos of them and pretended they were here too, creating this photo for them.

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It is time to head back to 'civilisation' again this morning. The roads have not improved any, that's for sure.

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Giraffe

Our path is blocked by a giraffe again today.

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Strange earth mounds appear on the side of the road.

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Crowned Lapwing

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You can quite clearly see the reason it got its name here

Kori Bustard

A large bird, this male is displaying the courtship ritual by inflating his throat, spreading the white frontal neck feathers outwards and raising his tail. All the while emitting a loud and powerful drum sound that can carry for several kilometres.

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While we are watching the bustard, an inquisitive Lesser Masked Weaver comes to investigate what we are doing.

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Capped Wheatear

It is obviously the time of year when birds have making babies on their minds, as this pair of wheatear are at it too!

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Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse - today's first lifer

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk, lifting one leg for thermoregulation.

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Although not quite as loud as the Kori Bustard, the Goshawk seems to still have plenty to say.

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White Throated Bee Eaters

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This Kori Bustard seems to be more intent on looking for food rather than sex – could it be the female our previous mate was trying to impress?

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Ostrich harem - one male five females. Good luck to him!

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The hillside is ablaze with colour

Zebra

We spook a zebra mummy and her young foal.

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They soon settle down, though, joining a few others.

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A couple of Maasai Warriors in their full regalia walk past in the field.

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I find it interesting that the men are dressed in what appears to me to be their finest regalia, with brightly coloured shúkà (cloth), rungu (club) and spear, while just casually walking in a field.

Also, look at the length of the hair on the guy on the right. His long braids indicate that he is a moran, or warrior; a title achieved after an initiation rite when puberty is reached, involving circumcision (traditionally without anaesthetic), and spending time living in isolation in the bush, learning tribal customs and developing strength, courage, and endurance—traits for which Maasai warriors are noted throughout the world. During this time the young men will wear black and often have their faces painted with bold patterns. Historically a Maasai man should also have killed a lion single-handedly using only a spear to prove that he is worthy to be a moran; although that practice has been outlawed today.

Some 900,000 Maasai people are spread throughout Kenya and Tanzania, and although some of the younger generation have steered away from the nomadic life to positions in business commerce and government roles. During recent years, projects have been implemented to help Maasai tribal leaders find a way to preserve their traditions and way of life while also trying to balance the education needs of the Maasai children for the modern world.

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The local bus service

It looks like we have another river to get across.

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Breasted Bee Eater

Ngaruka

We pass through the small town of Ngaruka again.

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The roads are still pretty awful

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Donkey Cart, AKA Maasai Landrover

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The roads are affectionately referred to as “Free African Massage”.

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Where did the road go?

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Here it is. Or rather, was.

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This looks like fun


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Road Re-Construction

It looks like they are finally trying to do something about some of the washed away areas of this road.

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We stop and give them some bottles of water.

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Goodness knows the could do with some improvement in many places along this route.

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Cactus

We pass a complete forest of cacti. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

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Mto Wa Mbu

We are back in civilisation for the time being, having stopped in Mto Wa Mbu, a large-ish town on the main road from Arusha to Serengeti. The local name means Mosquito River, as a reference to the numerous insects that frequent this area. The only time we've ever stopped here previously, is to buy some little red bananas. This time we are partaking in a 'Cultural Walking Tour' of the plantations in the area. By now it is 12:00 and blistering hot; making me think of the old saying: “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. As I am not English, I must be the mad dog.

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Water from the river is re-directed into canals to provide irrigation for plantations.

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Mango tree. Unfortunately right now is not the season for harvesting – I love mango!

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Crops are rotated three times a year, between, rice, corn and cassawa. Here they are clearing the fields ready for replanting rice.

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It's a muddy job!

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Rice plantations are started off in a dedicated seed bed, then transferred to their final growing area by hand. It's a labour intensive job.

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It's back-breaking work. The ladies invite me to join them after we share a joke; much as I would love to for the fun of it, I have to decline – my back would not thank me for it.

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Farmers often rent very small plots to grow just enough rice for their family and to maybe make a small amount of money.

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Dried out corn husks will be used as animal fodder.

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Taking it home for the cattle

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Okra or Lady Fingers

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Cassawa Plants

Three days ago during the heavy rains, this complete area was flooded. We did notice that when we drove through, the sides of the road were under several inches of water.

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Banana Plantations

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Three main types of bananas are grown here: the green bananas used for cooking, which take 6 months to mature; the yellow bananas that we all eat take 9 months, while the sweeter red variety take the longest to be ready, at a year.

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Lunch

We are taken to a small local restaurant set in amongst the plantations, with a bamboo hut housing the kitchen and an open-sided covered area with chair and tables for the diners.

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It's good to be out of the fierce sun

The food is served buffet style, with a number of dishes available.

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From left to right, back row: fried green bananas, boiled potatoes, aubergine (eggplant). Front row: mixed beans and corn (maize), a green vegetable similar to spinach, ugali - a staple in Tanzanian homes, it is made from flour (millet, maize, sorghum or cassawa) boiled with water to make a stodgy mass. It is bland but filling and I like it with a sauce.

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Back row, left to right: bean casserole, salad, beef stew. Bottom row, left to right: pilau rice, white rice and potatoes in a tomato sauce with green beans.

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Lake Manyara

As we climb up into the Ngorongoro Highlands, we look down on Lake Manyara. Not only can we see that the lake has swollen way past its normal size; but also that it has turned red from soil washed down from the hills.

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Kilimamoja Lodge

Arriving back at this lovely lodge is like coming home after a long trip. The staff are out in force to greet us, calling out: “Hello Grete, hello David, welcome back”.

This time we are in the room furthest away from the reception, and they provide us with a golf caddy to take us there.

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On the front porch, a very nice message is spelled out in green beans!

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With a couple of hours to spare, we debate whether to go for a swim, or sit on the balcony for a bit followed by a nap. The relaxation wins.

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Towel art on the bed


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We have an unobscured view of the valley below

Although the pool does look inviting, the balcony provides a very welcome breeze after the heat of the day, and we are delighted when we spot a pair of Verreaux's Eagles soaring over the Rift Valley – another lifer for us!

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Always prepared for a great photo opportunity

Dinner

We are the only guests in the restaurant this evening, and spend ages chatting to the chef, who appears to have worked all over southern Africa in some very high class establishments, including Palace of the Lost City (which this place reminds me of).

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I have never before been served a samosa in a cocktail glass

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A delightfully presented and beautifully tender rare fillet steak with a slightly spicy sauce.

While not actually on the menu this evening, the chef makes me another one of his better-than-sex-chocolate-fondants.

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Cappuccino Art

As before, there are chocolates on our pillow from the turnback service when we return to the room. Such a nice touch.

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Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:23 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wildlife volcano cactus river rice breakfast africa dinner safari tanzania zebra eagle lunch donkeys bananas canon maasai giraffe flooding masai plantations cappuccino rice_paddies ugali nightjar kori_bustard lake_manyara ostriches calabash_adventures mto_wa_mbu plover lapwing bee_eater sandgrouse goshawk wildlife_photography kilimamoja_lodge lake_natron ngaruka lake_natron_camp ol_doinyo_lengai courtship_titual wheatear maasai_warriors road_construction road_workers cactus_forest mosquito_river rice_planting banana_plantation red_bananas crop_rotation okra lake_manyara_flooded verreaux's_eagle samosa_in_a_cocktail_glass rare_fillet_steak Comments (1)

Arusha National Park

Raining morning in the bush


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite the long journey, I was way too wired to sleep last night: I only managed one hour and 20 minutes in total and am really hanging this morning. Malisa didn't get much sleep either apparently, as sharing out the presents we brought for his family created a Christmas Day atmosphere.

It is still raining when we leave the hotel this morning, and I am amused to see a number of motorcycles with large umbrella attachments. This is not something I have seen before, but my attempt at photographing them through a wet windscreen is rather unsuccessful.

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Arusha National Park

Another change of plan this morning – as a result of recent heavy rains, large parts of Lake Manyara National Park is under water. The lake itself has swelled so much that some lodges – including Maramboi, which we have stayed at three times previously – are closed due to flooding. Tillya therefore suggested we go to Arusha National Park instead. Another reason for doing so is that the flamingos are largely still there, rather than having migrated to Lake Natron, where we were hoping to see them tomorrow.

It is still raining as we enter the park, but that does not deter the animals, of course.

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Common Waterbuck

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Cape Buffalo at an area known as Little Serengeti

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A somewhat damp Olive Baboon

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One of the rarer species, which is not found in the other larger northern parks, is the Black and White Colobus Monkey

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Giraffe

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I can't believe how small the Dik Dik looks next to the giraffe.

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The tiniest little Olive Baboon baby - probably no more than two hours old, still struggling to walk

Warthogs

A sounder of warthogs are startled by our approach, and make a run for it.

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Others join in, not realising why they are running. Warthogs are known for their stupidity and the way they blindly follow their leaders. These two, however, appear to be unsure about which way to run initially.

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They soon realise the errors of their ways

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They reach the road and cross right behind us, much to our delight.

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They might be ugly creatures, but they have such elegant legs!

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A little one gets left behind and makes a mad dash for it.

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This surely has to be one of the highlights of today: a warthog mother in her den with a two-week old baby suckling.

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Hadada Ibis

I find it interesting how certain birds and animals are more prevalent at certain times of year - we've only had a couple of brief sightings of this bird on our previous six safaris in Tanzania, whereas here there are a number of them!

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Augur Buzzard

Trying to balance on a thorny bush, he has a bit of a flap on.

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They are seriously impressive birds when they spread their wings.

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It is interesting how different cameras and lenses render colours differently. The previous images were taken with a Canon 1DXII with a Canon 100-400mm and a 1.4 extender; whereas the one below was a Canon 7DII with a Canon 600mm f/4. Both shot with a Cloudy White Balance, yet the green colour is very different.

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A six-week old baby giraffe - look at those ears!

We stop for ages in this one place, as it seems to be all happening around us: birds aplenty, mongooses, giraffes, buffalo, warthogs.

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I always find it amazing how giraffes can eat around the thorns on the acacia trees

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Ashy Starling on a giraffe

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Banded Mongoose

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The Cape Buffalo attracts the flies and the flies attract the Red Billed Oxpecker

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Masked Weaver

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Hammerkop

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Red Billed Oxpeckers

Common Waterbuck

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While photographing the backside of this antelope to demonstrate the difference between a Common Waterbuck (with the toilet seat shaped white marking on its rear), and the Defassa Waterbuck with its more solid markings (see inset), we notice that he is struggling to walk.

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On closer inspection, it seems he has a nasty flesh wound on his upper thigh, probably caused by a hyena. It is causing him a great deal of distress, and he appears very weak and painfully thin. Not long for this world I fear.

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We move on to “see what else nature has to offer us”.

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Hippo in Big Momella Lake

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Pale Flycatcher

African Scops Owl

Without warning, Malisa grinds the car to an abrupt halt and reverses back. What has he seen? There, skilfully camouflaged in a tree, is an owl. An African Scops Owl – one of the handful of birds / animals on my wish list this year. Good job Malisa!

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He is well hidden, but we leave the vehicle and explore on foot to try and get a good viewpoint. Thankfully there are no big cats here in Arusha National Park, so it is reasonably safe to do so.

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He changes position, we follow.

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Owls looks seriously weird when they blink!

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Eventually he flies off to another tree, and we move on.

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Common Sandpiper

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Juvenile Augur Buzzard

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He is such a noisy bugger, squawking loudly

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African Pied Wagtail

Big Momella Lake

As I said at the beginning of this blog entry, today's visit to Arusha National park is totally unscheduled, with a plan to see the flamingos. And see them we do!

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Lesser Flamingos are much smaller but brighter in colour than the Greater Flamingos.

And thus ends the first morning in the bush. Thank you once again to Calabash Adventures for arranging our latest safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain wildlife monkey africa safari tanzania birding african buffalo giraffe baboon flamingos ibis waterbuck starling owl warthog arusha bird_watching suckling buzzard calabash_adventures hammerkop dik_dik olive_baboon augur_buzzard black_and_white_colobus_monkey wildlife_photography arusha_national_park colobus_monkey wildlife_viewing baby_suckling warthog_suckling hadada_ibis ashy_starling fiscal_shrike oxpeckers african_scops_owl wagtail big_momella_lake Comments (2)

Makasutu - Banjul - Gatwick - Home

Going home


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I lay awake in my bed early this morning, listening to the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer before daybreak. The first rays of daylight brings with them screeching plantain eaters flying through the camp, pigeons cooing in the rafters, quarrelsome crows in the tree tops and the chattering of many small birds. Makasutu Forest is awake once more. I shall miss this.

We wander around the hotel grounds before breakfast, enjoying the whimsical architecture and meandering paths overlooking the mangrove and mud flats. In addition to the four floating lodges, Mandina has Jungle lodges, a Stilted Lodge and a Mangrove Lodge – each room being individually designed.

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The pool

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Reception area

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Breakfast

We travel to the airport with three other Brits in a mini bus, and on the track leading to the main road we encounter many children running alongside the bus. One of the tourists has bought a large box of sweets which she is throwing out of the window to them. Not only is she encouraging the children to beg rather than go to school, she is putting their lives at risk by them getting too close to the moving vehicle. The driver is getting more and more angry and shouting out to the kids. The woman's husband tries to involve me in the hope of getting some support. Wrong move. Telling him exactly what I think of the practice doesn't sit too well with him and he tries to justify it by telling me he doesn't approve of people “flashing at dinner” (referring to me taking pictures of us and food). I shrug and reply “fair enough”, letting the conversation die right there.

Banjul has a new airport building which is almost finished. It looks very different to how it looked last time we came in 1996. We check in our luggage in the new terminal, but have to walk across to the old terminal for security and passport control. There is a long queue snaking its way through the covered area and out into the sun.

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Bottles confiscated at security

The departure lounge in the old terminal building hasn't changed much over the years, it still looks more like a cafeteria than an airport, with a large outside seating area.

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The flight is full of British school children – three separate classes from what I can gather. They are mostly well behaved, and on landing they give the pilot an enthusiastic applause that goes on and on with cheering and whooping.

The flight lands at 22:30, and with a 3.5 hour drive back from Gatwick, we have decided to spend the night at the airport before driving back home tomorrow. We quickly grab a few things for a 'room picnic' from M&S before trying to locate the Premier Inn next to the terminal.

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And so ends another Howard holiday.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:02 Archived in Gambia Tagged hotel airport africa gate gatwick banjul gambia premier_inn the_gambia mandina_lodges makasutu mandina airprot_transfer water_bottles desparture room_picnic Comments (6)

A day of doing very little at Mandina Lodges

Our last day in The Gambia


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having foregone the early morning coffee delivered to our room this morning, we sleep in until we wake naturally, and wander down to breakfast when we are ready.

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We choose the full works today:

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Fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee

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Continental selection: bread, jam and butter – as always there is too little butter, it seems to be the same all over the world!

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Full English: eggs of choice (I have vegetable, cheese and chilli omelette), bacon sausage, baked beans and tomato. I am rather surprised to be offered bacon in an Islamic country – I am assuming the chef is not a practising Muslim.

The day is spent between the shade on our private terrace with a book (and my camera by my side, just in case); on the bed in the cool room with a book; in the bar with a cold drink and a book; and in the pool cooling off - without a book.

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Egret on the neighbours' deck

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Western Plantain Eater

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Common Bulbul

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African Palm Swift

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Western Plantain Eaters

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Common Bulbul

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Channelling my creative side...

I love the artwork dotted around the grounds.

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Dinner

Our last night here at Mandina Lodges is as uneventful as the day has been.

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Prawns in Black Bean Sauce with Noodles

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The fish cakes are disappointing as they seem to be mostly potato, but the home made tartare sauce is delicious

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Apple Fritter with Ice Cream - or rather ice cream with apple fritter

And so it is off to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 11:33 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds book breakfast africa dinner swimming pool birding egret creative artwork prawns west_africa bulbul gambia omelette bird_watching bacon swift the_gambia plantain_eater makasutu makasutu_forest full_english_breakfast continental_breakfast reading_a_book manidian_lodges creative_side fish_cakes Comments (7)

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This afternoon we are taking another boat trip, this one with two added bonuses: a bottle of wine and the sunset! Hopefully. The sunset, that is, the bottle is most definitely present!

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My plan of action this evening is to take photos of birds just as they take off. I always like a challenge and to step outside my comfort zone. I start with this Long Tailed Cormorant.

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Fishing centre

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I have a soft spot for baobab trees

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Whimbrel

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Wattled Plover

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Black Kite taking off

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Great White Egret

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Preening

I think she's going to fly...

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Here she goes!

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It looks like she is having a blast!

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We see a tree full of Pink Backed Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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African Spoonbill

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Goliath Heron

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Black Kite

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Blue Cheeked Bee Eater

The sun is getting low now, and depending which direction I point my camera, the sky glows a warm yellow, glistening in the ripples on the water surface.

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Great White Egret

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Common Sandpiper

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Sacred Ibis

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Sacred Ibis

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Whimbrels

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And they're gone

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African Darter

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Cattle Egret

The sun is only just above the horizon now, as we have entered an area enclosed on three sides by mangroves and an island in the middle.

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Max, the captain, explains we will wait here for the sun to go down and the birds to come back to roost.

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We see a few single birds flying around in the sunset, then coming in to the island to settle down for the night.

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The sun has painted the sky a deep orange now.

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Beautiful reflections on the water

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Where there were initially just one or two, they are now coming in thick and fast, it seems to be never ending, and they seem to appear from nowhere.

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More and more egrets are gathering in the trees, and when you think there is no room for any more birds, a whole lot of others arrive.

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It is hard to know where to look, the birds are coming from three out of four directions, and seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind us with a whoosh. It is an air traffic control nightmare!

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When there is no more room at the inn and the light is fading rapidly, we start to make our way back to the lodge, stopping from time to time to take photos of the sunset. To say this evening's performance has been spectacular is an understatement!

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By the time we reach the hotel, darkness has all but enveloped Makasutu Forest and the twinkling lights of Mandina Lodge welcome us back.

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Dinner

As time is getting on, we go straight to dinner from the sunset cruise; the boat conveniently lands at the jetty right by the restaurant anyway.

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Pre-dinner drink of Pina Colada

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Prawn Cocktail

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Butter fish with Lyonnaise potatoes and a delicious home made tartare sauce

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David's Samosas

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Gambian Rice Pudding with ground peanuts - a very delicate flavour

We decline the offer of an early morning coffee in the room tomorrow, in favour of a lie in, and sneak off to bed after a magical day in Makasutu Forest.

Posted by Grete Howard 15:16 Archived in Gambia Tagged trees birds fishing reflections sunset pelicans kite africa dinner forest birding captain baobab stork vulture ibis egrets spoonbill birdwatching mangroves cocktail west_africa samosas cormorant gambia boat_trip fores sunset_cruise piña_colada darter roost plover bee_eater sandpiper the_gambia butter_fish mandina_lodges makasutu makasutu_forest whinbrel flying_birds birds_flying air_traffic_control prawn_cocktail rice_pudding Comments (5)

Morning Boat Trip at Mandina Lodges

Such variety of bird life


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I get up early this morning to catch the sunrise – there is a beautiful mist rising over the river.

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Sensing some movement out of the corner of my eye, I spot a new bird (to me) in amongst the foliage: a Mangrove Sunbird.

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Speckled Pigeon

Catching the sunrise was not the only reason I got up early today; we are off on a boat trip through the mangroves this morning.

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It's a glorious sunrise.

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An old boat lies moored near the lodge.

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The water is very still, creating beautiful reflections.

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Guinea Baboons

Just around the corner from the lodge, where our tributary meets a wider river, the trees are full of baboons. There are five different species of baboons worldwide, and the Guinea Baboons found here in The Gambia are the smallest.

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These are a new (sub)species for us, and I am very excited to see and photograph them at such close quarters.

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It looks like there may be more baboons here in the future.

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I am so in love with their facial expressions.

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African Darter drying out his wings.

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Great White Egret

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Green Backed Heron

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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African Darter

A crocodile sunbathes on the bank of the river.

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He doesn't look too friendly.

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I hope he didn't hear me and is coming for his revenge!

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I am very excited to see this elegant and flamboyant Violet Turaco fly over – another new one for me.

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One of the birds on my wish list when I came over here, was the Western Plantain Eater. Here they are two-a-penny!

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Oyster Factory

Oysters are big business around here, with the meat being eaten, and the shells burnt to make lime which is mixed with water to make house paint, and with sand to make cement. There are no wasted elements as anything left is used for chicken feed.

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Oysters growing on the mangroves

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Pied Crows mobbing a Harrier Hawk

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

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Common Sandpiper

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Whimbrel taking off

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Long Tailed Cormorant drying his wings out

And so the morning's boat trip is over, and we are back at the lodge in time for lunch.

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I am absolutely fascinated by the bats in the ceiling of the restaurant.

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Isn't he cute?

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Look at him yawn! ♥

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Today there is also a Speckled Pigeon in the rafters.

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Mr Heron is back in position in amongst the mangroves as usual.

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He is after the crabs, of course.

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I am not sure what is happening here – it looks like the big crab is stalking the little one.

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We return to the room for a little siesta, but find we are not alone.

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This girl is looking down on us from the rafters.

It looks like she is raising a family.

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I know every mother thinks their babies are the most beautiful in the world; but, I'm sorry, there is nothing remotely attractive about these chicks.

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I drift into a light snooze, knowing that I am being looked over by the pigeon family.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds wildlife river sunrise africa crocodile hawk lunch forest birding pigeon dawn crabs baboons bats heron parakeet croc west_africa kingfisher cormorant oysters siesta gambia boat_trip bird_watching crows sunbird darter thick_knee plover sandpiper river_trip the_gambia the_gambia_experience greenshank plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest guinea_baboons turaco oyster_factory Comments (6)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

A lazy morning at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy


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Coffee is delivered to each room every morning, at a time of your choice. We have ours outside at 07:30 this morning, while watching the beautiful sunrise over the river.

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We're not the only ones enjoying the sunrise.

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The morning goes something like this:

Breakfast
Bird watching
Walk around the grounds
Bird watching
Back to room
Sit outside
Birdwatching
Snooze

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Cheese and chilli omelette, sausage and beans = a great breakfast

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

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Another one of the fifteen cats at Mandina Lodges

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Village Weavers and Red Eyed Dove in a plant pot on the island in the middle of the pool

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Laughing Dove

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Bats in the ceiling of the restaurant

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The birds are fed every day

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Lovely bougainvillea in the grounds

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Village Weaver

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Black Kite - it looks like he has caught something - a mouse maybe?

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Black Necked Weaver

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Beautiful water reflections in the river

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Long Tailed Cormorants

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David at the poolside

Lunch

We eat our lunch in the shady bar, while watching a Whimbrel trying to catch a crab on the mud flats. The crab gets away several times before the bird finally managed to grab it.

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The crab has lost its claw.

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He still managed to escape though.

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But not for long.

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A Grey Heron wants to get in on the action.

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As well as a Western Plantain Eater.

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Time for another siesta.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:52 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds reflections dog river cat sunrise breakfast kite wild africa forest birding coffee bats crab heron dove whimbrel west_africa weaver gambia omelette bird_watching cormorants the_gambia the_gambia_experience plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest water_reflections Comments (8)

Bakotu Hotel - Mandina Lodges

Transfer Day


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Transfer day. After a leisurely breakfast, we get picked up for the transfer to our next – and last – lodge on this trip. The journey takes the best part of an hour, with the last half on dirt tracks that the driver describes as “African Massage”.

Mandina Lodges

The modest track leading down to the lodge from the main road is not indicative of the opulence that meets us at the lodge. Linda, the manager, greets us warmly and gives us a briefing about the lodge and its surroundings. I am a little disappointed that we do not have a private guide as advertised in the brochure, but share with a single lady from the UK. I can, however, understand the desire to keep staffing levels down this late in the season, especially as this evening there are only five of us staying.

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Reception area

Porters take our luggage as we are shown to the room along elevated wooden boardwalks.

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The rooms are nicely spread out to allow for plenty of privacy.

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There are nine rooms at Mandina, including four floating lodges, one of which we are staying in.

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Our lodge is # 3

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As we are in the third room from the main public area, there is just one lodge beyond ours. The gangway from the main boardwalk leading across to our room varies in steepness according to the level of the tide.

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The gangplank leads to a floating terrace where there are two sunbeds, plus a covered area with a couple of chairs and a table.

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Another gangplank leads across to the room itself, which is also floating on the river.

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The room has a small balcony that wraps itself around on three of the four sides, offering great views up, down and across the river.

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The wood panelled inside is spacious with a four poster bed in the centre of the room.

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The en suite bathroom is open to the elements out the back of the room.

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A preservation order forbids the owners to bury pipes under the lodges, so the toilet is fitted with a de-compostable plastic bag which takes a bit of getting used to. It is changed every day, but flushing it can be a little awkward, and the sound when you pee is rather disconcerting.

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Once we have settled in, we check out the large free form swimming pool.

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We're amazed to see a Pied Kingfisher nonchalantly sitting at the edge of the pool.

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He dives down into the pool, not for food, but to cool down in the hot, midday sun.

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Dotted around the pool are covered sunbathing areas (or rather shady areas to get away from the sun), again spaced apart for privacy.

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There is also a firepit, surrounded by chairs for sharing stories and keeping cosy on those chilly winter evenings.

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A large wooden deck leads down to the river, where the lodge's boats are moored.

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The restaurant features large, heavy metal chairs and ornate mosaic decorations on the floor.

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We saunter down to the bar area, where there is a little bit of a cooling breeze.

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David is delighted to find the bar stocks cider, while I choose a non-alcoholic ginger drink with a real punch.

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Fancy going all the way to West Africa to drink British cider!

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My ginger punch looks like mud but tastes delicious.

The bar overlooks the mud flats around the mangroves, which are dry when we arrive, but as we stay for a while drinking and enjoying some lunchtime sandwiches, the water rises with the tide.

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The mud appears to be moving, and on closer inspection we see hundreds of little Fiddler Crabs.

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Odd looking Mudskippers, who appear to have legs, fins and wings, also frolic in the shallow waters.

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The flowerpots attract Red Billed Firefinches.

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After lunch we retire to our new home for a siesta in the midday heat.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa pool bar birding crabs swimming_pool cider west_africa kingfisher transfer siesta boardwalks finch gambia firepit bird_watching the_gambia the_gambia_experience firefinch wild_birds bakotu kotu mandina_lodges makasutu mandina floating_lodge makasutu_forest four_poster_bed outside_toilet mangoves mud_flats fiddler_crabs muskippers Comments (6)

Marakissa River Camp

Another Birdie Heaven


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Marakissa River Camp

Abdoulie takes us to this delightful camp for refreshments and bird watching. The camp is set on the riverside (there is a hint in the name), and features many different species. We spend a couple of delightful hours here, nipping between the covered terrace overlooking man made water pools, and the river below.

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Abyssinian Roller

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Yellow Billed Shrike

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Beautiful Sunbird, preening

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Lesser Honeyguide

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Piapiac (AKA Black Magpie)

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Scruffy Looking Village Weaver

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Western Plantain Eater

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Black Crake

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Giant Kingfisher

Kingfisher Diving

While we are down at the river's edge, I spot a Pied Kingfisher in the corner of my eye, just about to dive into the water. I swing my camera around and manage to grab a quick shot as he carries his lunch away.

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Having devoured the fresh snack, he comes back, sitting on a nearby branch, contemplating his next move.

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Feeling hungry again, he hovers over the river, hoping to spot a fish.

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Bingo! Not only did he manage to catch one (just – he is barely holding on to it by the tip of its head), but he also speared a dead leaf.

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Which is now stuck on his beak.

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Speckled Pigeon

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Western Reef Heron

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African Black Kite

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Great White Egret

Back up at the terrace we are joined by the two Dutch ladies we met at Brufut and Tanji. It seems that we are all doing a very similar birding circuit.

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African Thrush

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Blue Bellied Roller

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Beautiful Sunbird

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The female sunbird is nowhere near as colourful as the male

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill

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Red Billed Firefinch

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A squirrel joins in the fun

Having had our fill of birdies this morning, we head back to the lodge, getting stuck in a very hot car as we hit a traffic jam along the way.

Lunch

It is lovely to see lots of people have come for lunch here at Tanji today – a big birding party plus a few other couples. We get a very warm welcome from our favourite waitress Awa, who throws her arms out and shouts our names as soon as she sees us. She has drastically changed her appearance from yesterday by going from long, black hair to extremely short, pillarbox red! It suits her. Mind you, she is such a pretty girl she'd look good in anything.

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Butter fish in a delicious spicy sauce, served with chips.

We are watched during lunch by a troupe of the local Green Vervet Monkeys, as well as a couple of birds

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

After a delightful siesta, we spend the rest of the afternoon chatting to Haddy, the owner of Tanji Eco Bird Lodge, hearing all about her plans for the property as well as solving all the world's problems. As you do.

Dinner

Dinner is a low key affair again as usual, with just the two of us and staff.

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Chicken Yassa

After dinner we retire to our room to let the staff go home while David and I share a few drinks on the balcony, going over the delights of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:45 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys wildlife kite wild africa birding squirrel roller heron vulture west_africa kingfisher starling shrike finch gambia bird_watching sunbird eco_lodge vervet_monkeys thrush cordon_bleu wildlife_photography the_gambia tanji the_gambia_experience cordon_blue piapiac crake plantain_eater firefinch waxbill tanji_bird_eco_lodge abdoulie marakissa leaflove marakissa_river_camp wild_birds kingfisher_diving camaroptera siest haddy chicken_yassa Comments (2)

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Finally: the Bluebill.


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After a great morning's birding at Abuko, we return to Tanji Bird Eco Lodge for the rest of the day. First of all I want to catch up on emails as I didn't really have much time last night – almost as soon as we'd got the password, we were off to the room where there is no wifi.

Communication completed, I go to my favourite seat in the house: overlooking the bird baths. The staff are busy refilling the various pools, and the birds are making a racket from the surrounding trees, excited at the prospect of a dip and a drink.

I, on the other hand, am waiting patiently for the Bluebill to appear. We saw him here on the first day, but it was too dark to take photos at the time, and he hasn't been back since. So we wait. And wait. And wait.

Our patience pays off, and just before lunch he rocks up. What a beauty!

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Western Bluebill

Lunch

When Sarra asked last night what we wanted to eat for lunch today, we both craved curry and I suggested shrimps. The chef went out to buy them especially this morning, and very good they are too; quite spicy. Mmmm

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The pain in my arm - photographer's elbow – has not abated any during the morning, so I text my good friend John (who is also my chiropractor) for advice. He suggests getting a bottle of cold beer and holding it against the painful area, then drink it afterwards. Now you know why we love him so much!

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Being a glutton for punishment, I forego resting my arm, and head back to the bird pool. After a short while, David retires to the room for a siesta, and I ask him to grab me a bottle of water from the bar before he goes. Awa, our delightful waitress, gets him a cold one from the fridge, and he brings it over for me before he leaves.

Finding that the seal is broken when I go to open the bottle, I assume that David has taken a swig out of before giving it to me, and continue to glug around a third of a litre in one go. It is mighty hot here, and keeping up the fluids is important.

Five minutes later a distraught Awa comes running out, and with obvious horror in her voice asks: “The water? You haven't drunk it...?”

When she sees how much is missing from the bottle, she is full of distressed apologies, but promises that I won't get ill as she takes away the offending bottle (of what I now hope is 'only' tap water and nothing more sinister) and brings me a fresh, SEALED one.

With the thought still in the back of my mind of what the unclean water might do to my tummy, I concentrate on the birds again.

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A scruffy Common Bulbul

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African Thrush

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Angry looking Black Necked Weavers

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Blackcap Babbler with photobombing friend

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat showing off his beautiful markings

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Village Weaver doing his best Village Idiot impersonation

Bath time Fun

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With the thought of the potentially contaminated water I drank now dominating my mind, I am becoming increasingly paranoid, and I start analysing every real or imagined 'feeling' in my stomach. As an IBS sufferer, I am used to my tummy being talkative and uncomfortable after eating, but is this something more foreboding? When after another twenty minutes or so, I hear donkey-like noises from my belly, I decide to go back to the room while I still can.

Wise move. I only just made it. A good excuse for a siesta, I guess.

Dinner

After the customary Duty Free drinks on the balcony, we head down to the restaurant for dinner. Having ordered it last night, we know exactly what's on offer this evening. Thankfully it seems that the little 'episode' earlier was just that, and I feel fine again now. Phew.

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Fish Dodoma - absolutely delicious!

The jewel in the crown of Tanji Bird Eco Lodge is undoubtedly its staff. Awa and Adama, who are gorgeous inside and out, are twins and have only recently started working here at Tanji, but have already carved out a little niche for themselves with their bubbly personality and service mindedness.

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Another highlight this evening is the resident spider in the toilet by the restaurant, about the size of my splayed palm.

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He's a beauty!

The lodge is situated inside a bird reserve of the same name, and with no other habitation for miles around, there is next to no light pollution here and the stars are really out in force this evening. Despite feeling decidedly tipsy, I attempt some astrophotography before going to bed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:53 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds beer africa dinner stars west_africa siesta bulbul astro gambia bird_watching eco_lodge shrimps night_photography upset_tummy starry_night astro_photography astrophotography thrush the_gambia tanji babbler robin_chat tanji_bird_eco_lodge abuko gambia_experience bluebill photographer's_elbow water_bottle fish_dodoma starry_sky Comments (2)

Afternoon at Tanji

Making a splash


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

As soon as we get back to Tanji Bird Eco Lodge from our birdwatching at Brufut this morning, we head for the bird baths, of course.

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Black Necked Weavers

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African Silverbill

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Common Bulbul

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Common Wattle Eye

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Village Weaver

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Grey Headed Bristlebill

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African Thrush

Lunch

As I said yesterday, we are the only overnight guests at the lodge, although other visitors come for a drink or just to watch the birds at the bath; including the two Dutch ladies we saw this morning at Brufut. For lunch, however, there is just the two of us, and we sit at one of the tables on the ridge overlooking the sea beyond.

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Fish with spicy sauce

After lunch I return to the paddling pool while David goes to the room for a siesta. The girls have been in to make the bed and have lovingly created some more designs with flower petals.

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Black Necked Weaver

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Village Weaver

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There is quite a pool party going on.

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Black Billed Wood Dove

All through the afternoon, birds come and go, different species, some of which are familiar to me, but many of whom I'd not seen before this morning. I am absolutely captivated by the goings-on and can't tear myself away.

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This poor little bulbul has a bent beak, and I am not sure if it is a birth defect or whether he has collided with a window or similar. He is still alive, so is presumably able to survive on soft fruits and suchlike.

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The Little Bee Eaters dart in from the confines of the trees, swoop down for a brief dip in the cool water and once again return to the safety of the woods. All in the blink of an eye.

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

I am particularly fascinated by the splashing in the shallow water. Dialling in rapid shooting on my camera, I fire off picture after picture after picture of the weavers (mainly) cleaning their feathers.

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There is even a squirrel who makes a brief appearance at the water hole.

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Feeling a slight twinge in my elbow from spending the last ten hours or so photographing birds (taking nearly 5000 pictures in the last 24 hours while holding a heavy lens in the air); I figure it is about time to call it a day. Popping into the bar on the way back to the room, I grab the last three Cokes to go with the Duty Free rum for me, and the last beer for David; for us to enjoy a little snifter in the room before dinner. It looks like we have drunk the bar dry. Again. This seems to be a fairly regular occurrence on our travels.

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Dinner

By the time we wander down to the restaurant for something to eat, the bar has thankfully been restocked, and we can both enjoy a beer with our food tonight.

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Sarra, the manager, comes over for a chat and asks: “You want wine? I'll get you wine for tomorrow”.

Followed by “We have internet, a service we offer to The Gambia Experience. 200 Dalasi for the duration of your stay”.

As I do like to be in touch with the world (really?), I reply with gusto “Great. What's the password?”

“I will go and get it”.

Sarra proceeds to walk over to a pile of papers and start to rummage. Nothing. He pokes around in the bar. Still nothing. Continuing his search in the kitchen, it is apparent he still has not found what he is looking for. Nor in the office. Eventually he wanders off to one of the bedrooms, presumably still looking for the elusive piece of paper with the code on it.

The food arrives, but still no wifi password. Oh well, it is not that important anyway.

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Chicken and chips, Gambian style. The chicken is served in a delicious sauce, but I am missing my veggies. I find the vast majority of restaurants, both in the UK and abroad, serve far too few vegetables with their meals for my liking.

Just as we finish our food, Sarra comes back with the password and I am yet again in touch with the world.

Acutely aware that we are the only guests in the lodge, we vacate the restaurant and retire to our room for the night so that the staff can go home. Before we go, we ask for an extra duvet to put on the bed - not something I expected to do here in the Gambia.

The room is eerily dark, with the only sound coming from the crashing waves and rustling palms. Pure heaven.

Posted by Grete Howard 16:47 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa birding flycatcher dove wifi weaver bulbul gambia bird_watching hornbill eco_lodge thrush bee_eater the_gambia tanji robin_chat bristlebill the_gambia_experience cordon_blue firefinch tanji_bird_eco_lodge tanji_bird_reserve bird_photography wood_dove wifi_password Comments (1)

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