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Ndutu - Mbuzi Mawe

The Legendary Serengeti


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

White Rumped Helmetshrike

Dung beetle for breakfast anyone?

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Superb Starling

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Beautiful Sunbird

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

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

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Aardvark

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

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

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Oxpeckers

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

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Giraffe

Today's host is an old male giraffe.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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

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He is showing off his bright blue testicles again.

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Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

On the prowl across the grasslands, looking for snakes.

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Spotted Hyena

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Lions

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

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

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

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

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Woolly Necked Vultures

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Engine Failure

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

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

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

Short Grass Plains

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

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

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Grant's Gazelle

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Zebra

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Ostriches

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

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

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Lions

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

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Giraffe Drinking

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

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

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Naabi Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exit is through the shop, as usual.

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

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Rock Martin

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Juvenile Ashy Starling (I think)

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Juvenile Hildebrand Starling

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Hildebrand Starling

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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

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Serengeti National park

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

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

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

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Giraffe

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Warthogs

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

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Mirage

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

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Steppe Eagle

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

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

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Marabou Stork

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

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Lions

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

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Gol Kopjes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one seems to have the right idea.

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Golden Jackal

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Committee Meeting

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

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Thomson’s Gazelle

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

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Topi

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Tawny eagle

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Coke's Hartebeest

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Dung Beetle

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

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More Lions

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

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

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Tortoise

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

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Steppe Eagle

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

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

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

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

Grant’s Gazelle

A bachelor herd full of young wannabes.

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Topi

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

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White Stork

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

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Wildebeest

We come across a small herd of migrating wildebeest.

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

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

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

Dead Wildebeest

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

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

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

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

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Long Grass Plains

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

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

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

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

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Muddy Tracks

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

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Some even turn into impromptu streams and become totally impassable.

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

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

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Cape Buffalo

A breeding herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo.

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Bateleur Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Warthog

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Maasai Kopjes

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

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Lions

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

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Dik Dik

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White Headed Vulture

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

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Hippo

One lump or two?

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Pin Tailed Swallow

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Defassa Waterbuck

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Zebra

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It seems that stripes are in this year.

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Wildebeest Migration

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

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Coqui Francolin

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

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Stormy Clouds

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

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Klipspringer

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

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

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Mbuzi Mawe

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

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

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

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

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

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I love it!

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

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

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

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

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Rock Hyrax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ngorongoro - Oldupai - Ndutu

Education, education, education!


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

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

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Walking Safari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plant with unripe fruit

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The flower of the Sodom Apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful Sunbird

Natural Insect Repellent

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

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

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Augur Buzzard

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

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

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

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Elephant Dung

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

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

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Eucalyptus

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

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Chris puts it to the test.

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Juvenile Common Fiscal Shrike

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

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

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The guys come back bearing gifts.

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

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

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Quinine – this one might be useful for treating malaria.

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

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Malanja Depression with Mount Lemakarot in the distance

Emuratare - Circumcision ceremony

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

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Cow Bells

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

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Kaki Weed

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

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Cooke's Hartebeest

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Maasai Warriors

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

A Tower of Giraffes

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

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Then a few more.

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Soon we have a whole forest of giraffe.

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

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I have never seen anything like this incredible spectacle.

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

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

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There is just one word that will do: WOW!

Elerai Maasai Boma

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

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

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

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

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Chris decides he would like to join in

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So he studies the style and technique carefully.

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His approach is a little strained initially.

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But he soon gets the hang of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sure how it would work in the Howard Household…

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

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

Camels

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

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Dust

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

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

Eland

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Thomson's gazelle

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Rough track

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

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Beetle

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

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Oldupai Gorge – Where human life began

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

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

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

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

Cradle of Mankind Museum

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

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

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

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

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Dr Sekino's bike

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His route on the map within the exhibition

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

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

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We can clearly see three of the five layers here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mysterious Shifting Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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Erm... why Chris?

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

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Lemuta

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

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Giraffes

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

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Beetle

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

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

Thomson's Gazelles

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

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

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

(Ex) Wildebeest

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

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Vultures

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

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Endless Plains

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

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

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Secretary Bird

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

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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

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Vultures and Jackal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyenas

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

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

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

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Kori Bustard

Another tall bird at almost one metre in height.

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Capped Wheatear

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Crowned Plover

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Golden Jackal

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Eland

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

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Dung Beetle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you thought he was just another beetle!

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

Dung Beetles guided by Milky Way

Wikipedia

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Safari Vehicle

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

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Pregnant Hyena

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

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A congress of Jackals

Five or six Golden Jackals turn up.

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A couple of Ostriches

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Female

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Male

And some Zebra

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

Wildebeest Migration

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

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Grant’s Gazelle

The wildebeest are accompanied by Grant’s Gazelle.

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And a Tawny Eagle

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Lion Pride

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

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

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

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

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

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But it seems his brother is still not finished.

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Has he had enough?

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Has he?

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It seems that way…

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Has he heck!

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

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

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Finally!

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

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

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

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

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“I’ll try a different approach”

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“Or maybe I’ll just lick the plate”

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

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Ndutu Lodge

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

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

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Chicken and rice

Small Spotted Genet

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

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

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Dik Diks

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

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

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

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