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Obo Nat. Park, then Accra - Lisbon - London - Home

Homeward bound


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having set the alarm last night for 6 o'clock this morning, I get up in order to do some bird watching before breakfast.

The first thing I notice, however, is what looks like a rat's tail under the patio door.

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I try poking it with a stick. Nothing. I try again. Still nothing. It is obviously not alive. I shove it along a bit so that I can examine it, and it does indeed look like a tail from a rat. Not sure how I feel about that. Where is the rat? How did it get its tail stuck under the door? Did it chew its own tail off in order to survive (or have I been watching too many horror movies)? Did we do the damage when we closed the door last night? Was the rat in the room?

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I open the door and tentatively walk out onto the balcony and look around. At first glance I can't see any evidence of a dead rat or one without a tail but with massive gnashers dripping with blood.

I feel a little foolish when I do spot the owner of the tail: an innocent, harmless lizard. Awww.

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Although being without his appendage doesn't seem to impede him, I do hope I wasn't instrumental in him losing his tail, poor thing.

Anyway, back to the bird watching.

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Village Weavers

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Village Weaver with its impressive nest

After breakfast we arrange for a late check out and then head for the hills.

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Hotel reception

Nova Roça Coffee Plantation

We stop to look at the rows and rows of coffee plants. These are the berries of the Robusta coffee, one of two beans grown here – the other is Arabica.

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Obo National park

Our destination for today is São Tomé's only national park, Obo.

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Covering 290 km² (nearly 30% of the land area), the park is characterised by a wide range of biotypes, from lowland and mountain forests to mangroves and savannah areas. The park spans parts of both islands. This area, the high altitude rainforest, is popular with hikers. There is even a walker's café at the start of the trail.

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David and Agostinho are setting off on a serious trek, to Lake Amelia. I stay in the extensive botanical gardens and the shade of an old plantation house, now used as the park headquarters.

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Botanical Gardens

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David comes back, several hours later, absolutely exhausted. That was some serious hike Agostinho took him on!

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The disappointingly dried out Lake Amelie

After a well deserved rest and a packed lunch, we set off again to explore a little more of the national park.

Cascata São Nicolau

With a drop of around 30m, this is São Tomé's highest waterfall.

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It's in a lovely setting, a horse-shoe=shaped cove, covered in vegetation, and a set of steps lead down to the wooden bridge crossing the river just below the falls.

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The area all around is full of the gorgeous flame trees too.

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The beginning of the end

It's back to base for us, have a shower and change, check out of the room and wait in the lobby for Nino to pick us up for the last journey here in São Tomé: to the airport for our flight home.

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São Tomé Airport

I am not sure why we are picked up at 16:30 for a 20:35 flight, especially as the airport is a mere 15 minutes or so away from the hotel.

We spend a lot of time sitting on a low wall as there are no seats outside, and the terminal building is not open yet. A self-appointed airport official (methinks there are some mental issues...) takes our passports and tickets and goes in to talk to the staff on the security desk just inside the door. Nothing happens. Some 20 minutes or so later he shouts “Go! Go! Go!”, but we only get as far as the door opening anyway. We chat to a couple from Austria/Germany while we wait, as more and more people arrive and join the queue behind us.

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Our 'facilitator' keeps holding his outstretched palm up towards us and saying “wait”. As if we are going to storm the building or something. More and more staff stroll in, and eventually, after about an hour of waiting outside in the heat , we are allowed through. Our passports are checked on the door and the check-in is very smooth and easy. One step nearer.

Security, however, is not ready to accept passengers, so we join another queue and wait for them to open. Immigration on the other hand is manned and ready and they show us straight through.

Departure Gate

We are pleasantly surprised to find the lounge complete with comfy seats, efficient A/C, free wifi and a bar selling beer!

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The journey home via Accra and Lisbon is uneventful, apart from the fact we are delayed in Ghana as two passengers 'forget' to get off in Accra.

The End

And that brings our São Tomé adventure to an end. We have thoroughly enjoyed this small, laid back country, with a reasonable infrastructure, beautiful scenery and friendly people.

Not so much a 'lost world', São Tomé is just slightly mislaid. Or as someone said: “STP has not been forgotten, it has never actually been discovered by mainstream tourism”.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for bringing us here, and looking forward to arranging another adventure through this great little tour operator in the future.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:14 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged birds gardens flowers trek plants walk hike tail trail lizard birding path coffee national_park botanical_gardens plantations bird_watching sao_tome miramar_hotel missing_tail nova_roca robusta coffee_plantations obo obo_national_park Comments (1)

Mucumbili - - Santana - Agua Ize - São João dos Angolares

A day full of variety

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

We wake to the sound of the waves and the chirping birds this morning, and sit on the balcony for a while just taking it all in.

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Laughing Dove

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São Tomé Prinia

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Fishermen going out for the day's catch

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São Tomé Speirops

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An endemic subspecies of the Vitelline Masked Weaver

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Newton's Sunbird - another endemic

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Yellow Billed Kite

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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São Tomé Thrush - the endemics are out in force today, adding to my life list.

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Bronze Mannikin

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Bronze Mannikin

The leaves are still wet from the overnight rain and the birds are using the raindrops for bathing.

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Evidence from last night still sits on the balcony table

The fishermen are out in force now, and from our elevated lookout point, we can so easily see where the shoals of fish are congregating.

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Cattle Egret

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Southern Cordon Bleu

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Beautiful bougainvillea close to our balcony

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Odd looking flowers

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Some sort of a tomato?

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Vitelline masked Weaver - an endemic subspecies

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Yellow Fronted Canary

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Yellow Billed Kite

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I have no idea what they are, but they are pretty

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Southern Cordon Bleu

We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the birds to go and have some breakfast.

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Water melon

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Omelette

I would love to stay here for another couple of days and just sit on the balcony watching the birds and listening to the waves; but we have places to go and things to see.

Neves

Our first stop is in the small settlement of Neves, which is a town of two parts, one of which is known as 'beer central' as it is the location of the country's beer factory, Rosema.

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A collection of ramshackle but charming wooden houses make up this small town, and I make friends with a few children – and adults – as I walk through and 'talk' with them using sign language and a lot of smiles.

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Even the pigs are cute

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São Tomé Central Market

We are back in the capital much quicker than I expected, and it seems the market is in full swing today.

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Private car ownership is fairly rare, and bus service infrequent and unreliable, so most people will take a taxi – or a motorbike taxi – when coming in from the outskirts to do their shopping in town.

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The local bus service

We are not staying in town this time, but heading south along the east coast.

I am very amused by this improvised mud-guard.

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Santana

We stop in the small town of Santana, partly to stretch our legs, and partly to hear the story of the statue of St Ana, mother of mothers.

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In the 16th century, a statue of St Ana was discovered on this site, and a chapel was built on the spot to mark the discovery. For whatever reason, the statue was moved away at some point. As soon as the statue left, the rivers dried up and all the vegetation died. The people of the town all got together and demanded that the statue was brought back, after which everything came back to life again as normal: the river flowed freely and the vegetation flourished.

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The old Sisters' House is now being used as a school.

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Like most of the coastal villages, the people of Santana rely mainly on fishing.

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Laundry day

Every day is laundry day at Abade River, with both banks full of people who come to clean themselves, their clothes, linen, and even bicycles, in the river.

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Agua Ize

As we turn off the main road to take a much smaller track winding its way through the rickety but charismatic small town of Agua Ize, I practice some 'drive-by-shooting'. Strictly with my camera, of course, through the open window of the car.

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It looks like it is laundry day here too.

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The whole town we see today was once part of a large plantation and the buildings were staff housing.

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The plantations at the time were like complete communities, with schools, shops, doctors and two hospitals, a small one for the black slave workers and a much better and larger one for the white European management. Only newly qualified doctors and nurses would be employed in the smaller hospital, and as a result many people died due to inadequate treatment.

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The hospital now lies abandoned and has become an unlikely tourist attraction.

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While the building is no longer in use as a hospital, and is in a sad state of disrepair, it can not really be described as 'abandoned'. These days the former wards are homes to several families.

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I channel my inner Urbex* as we ascend the rickety steps to the upper levels.

* Urbex = an expression given to photographers who explore abandoned buildings, usually by breaking in and often illegally in the middle of the night. The abbreviation stands for 'Urban Explorer.

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Boca de Inferno

Boca de Inferno, or Hells mouth, is a natural phenomenon caused by waves finding their way into a small ravine that leads to a series of grottos in the rugged coastline. A narrow channel funnels the waves around an 'island platform' and under a bridge of basalt stones; later spewing the water out the other side roaring and spraying. Many people have been swept away to their deaths while trying to brave the elements down on the rocks.

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Ribiera Afonso

We pass by the small town of Ribiera Afonso, one of the poorer areas of São Tomé. This place is inhabited by the descendant of the very first settlers, mostly shipwrecked Angolans, who fiercely cling to their traditional ways. Agostinho explains that they have only recently started wearing clothes.

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He also recounts how these people live from hand to mouth, fishing to survive day by day and refusing to plan for the future or even the next day. The local women are said to sleep with the men 'for a fish', resulting in a number of unwanted pregnancies and questionable parentage.

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Roça São João dos Angolares

We make it to this beautifully restored colonial plantation house in time for lunch. And what a treat lunch is. Run by the famous TV chef João Carlos Silva, this restaurant is firmly on the tourist circuit, and quite rightly so.

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Let me take you on a gastronomic journey through Africa and Portugal with a fusion of Sãotoméan and contemporary cuisine plus elements borrowed from other parts of the world: all lovingly prepared by Carlos Silva himself and his small army of friendly staff.

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While waiting for it to be our turn to be called up to the counter where the amuse bouche (which is charmingly translated as “spark of tongue”) is being served, I watch the Portuguese guests (part of a large party) screw their noses up and spit out whatever it is they have eaten. I am now very intrigued.

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First of all we are given a cocoa seed complete with surrounding flesh, which we are to suck on to separate the sweet flesh from the seed. I know from past experience (at a cocoa farm in Ghana) that this is something I really enjoy.

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After spitting the seed out, we take a small spoonful of grated ginger, a square of locally produced chocolate (chocolate from São Tomé is said to be world class) and a couple of peppercorns. So that is what disgusted the previous diners. It's an interesting combination, and both David and I love it!

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A small glass of red wine completes the first of many courses.

The second amuse bouche (or is that the third or even fourth? I have lost count already) consists of a small sliver of fried breadfruit.

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First starter: banana with Misquito flower (no idea), coranto leaf (also no idea), fish, onion, Taiwanese lemon, mango, passion fruit.

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Second starter: green pepper, apple, coconut, courgette, sweetcorn, tuna fish, avocado, ginger, pepper, grated roasted popinki mushrooms

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A small dish of fish roe is served with this.

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I am impressed with how this well-oiled organisation works, even when people arrive late, the staff seem to know who has had what course and they are all attentive and polite, despite the mad rush to get everyone fed. It seems to run like clockwork.

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Third starter: sweet potato, orange ball coated with manioc flakes, pineapple with coconut, okra, 'egg of fish', aubergine, watercress, cucumber. No being a fan of aubergine, okra or cucumber, this is the only dish I find less than superb.

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Fourth starter: malanga root dough wrapped around bacon, marlin, mango sauce.

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It soon becomes obvious that Agostinho comes here regularly, as he knows what all the ingredients are in the various dishes being served, and if he is unsure, the waiter describes them in detail. I am glad we have an English speaking guide though, as the waiters only speak Portuguese and French. My Portuguese is non-existent, and my French only marginally better.

Fifth starter: roast banana stuffed with bacon and cheese, tied with lemongrass, peanut and manioc flakes dipped in pepper.

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Sixth starter: octopus in tomato sauce, green cocoyam leaves, brown bean pueée, rice and egg ball.

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Seventh starter: tomato with misquite flower (still no idea), cheese and bacon; omelette with fever bush leaves (which I think is the same as cassava leaves), crispy deep fried taro dipped in tomato sauce with chocolate.

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Eighth starter: Roasted pineapple with honey, chilli, salt; roasted guava

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Ninth starter: roasted mango with passion fruit. Roasting it has made the mango incredibly sweet; I must try this at home.

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Meanwhile, several of the staff gather at the railings and are looking out over the edge of the balcony – it turns out that someone has been having a crafty cigarette (I have only seen one person smoking in this restaurant, so no points for guessing who), and somehow dropping the cigarette down onto a ledge below, starting a fire! Doh!

So, we have finally come to the main course, which is served buffet style: fish and bean stew, sweet potato, rice, grated cassava, extremely strong pickled green peppers.

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First dessert: crystallised green papaya, passion fruit sauce, Portuguese cheese.

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Second dessert: banana with chocolate, cassava curl, honey sauce.

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Third dessert: selection of ice creams – avocado, isakinki (?), frozen yogurt, lemon; cake, mango sauce

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That finally signals the end of this amazing meal, consisting of 3 amuse bouce, nine starters, a main course and three desserts. SIXTEEN courses in total. That is certainly the most dishes I have ever had for a menú degustación meal.

We collapse into the narrow four-poster bed for a much needed siesta. The room is in a charming traditional colonial style, with no A/C, but a super-efficient ceiling fan.

Later in the afternoon we take a stroll around the plantation house and estate.

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The gardens are filled with eclectic sculptures, some of which are a little too 'weird' for me.

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I am not sure whether Roça São João dos Angolares is a gourmet restaurant with rooms or a hotel with a gourmet restaurant. It certainly has a completely different feel to it now that all the tourists have left and the balcony is almost deserted.

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The main building has six quaint rooms; with a further three in the old hospital building across the yard.

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The main building

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The old hospital

We sit on the balcony with a glass (OK, bottle) of wine, watching the rain.

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At dinner there are only three tables with guests and there is an air of serenity about the place that was most certainly not here earlier.

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The restaurant is no longer a hive of activity with hoards of staff milling around, although there is still an impressive display of fresh fruit and vegetables, many of which are completely alien to me.

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Mosquitoes are kept at bay by a whole host of water-filled plastic bags hanging from the rafters. We saw this in Haiti a couple of years ago too, the idea is that the reflection in the bags scares the insects.

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This evening's meal is buffet style, and we start with a fish soup.

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Marlin in a mango sauce with rice and 'shoo-shoo'.

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Chocolate torte to finish

A few bats are accompanying us this evening, darting around at lightning speed, way too fast to even attempt to photograph. What an amazing day it has been, with such a lovely relaxing finish. Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this fabulous trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:47 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged birds beer fishing statue market village river school africa wine birding photography chef fishing_boats chapel teaching hospital laundry abandoned blowhole santana hell's_gate bird_watching central_market neves eco_lodge urban_exploring undiscovered_destinations sao_tome urbex abandoned_hospital mucumbili twitching rosema rosema_beer são_tomé mother_of_mothers pupils agua_ize abade_river drive_by_shooting boca_de_inferno basalt rocky_coastline ribiera_afonso angolan_shipwrecks roça_são_joão_dos_angolares joão_carlos_silva tv_chef famous_tv_chef menu_degustacion tasting_menu sixteen_course_lunch Comments (3)

São Tomé - Agostinho Neto - Mucumbili

Sombre history and a west-coast hide-away paradise

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Memorial dos Heróis da Liberdade

Yesterday, at Trindade, we saw the memorial at the site of the Batepá Massacre where hundreds of natives were killed by Portuguese forces in 1953 during a rebellion, and Agostinho was telling us how they were “thrown in the sea, like animals”. Today we visit the spot, at Fernão Dias on the north coast, where those murdered were transported by the truckload and their bodies unceremoniously dumped in the sea off the now-defunct pier.

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A memorial has been erected here too, listing the names of all those killed in the fight for freedom.

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An abandoned ship lies off the coast as if to pay tribute to the fallen martyrs.

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Old Tree

We stop beside a tree, more than one hundred years old, for Agostinho to explain how they used to make canoes.

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I am more interested in playing with a young kid who is selling fruit at the side of the road.

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Agostinho Neto

Named after a benevolent Angolan doctor (late president of Angola) who fought fervently in the battle against Portuguese colonialism, the roça (plantation) and surrounding village is now mostly in ruins and lies partly abandoned.

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The abandoned hospital on the hill

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The old botanical gardens is now the governor's house

Many of the picturesque old buildings (these would have been for the managers) have survived and are now in use.

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Hospital

The old hospital, built as part of the roça (plantation), now lies abandoned, with a number of poorer families having moved into some of its many rooms.

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Unleashing my inner Urbex (Urban Explorer, a popular genre in photography), I wander around some of the abandoned halls and wards.

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Love the home made bicycle

Poverty

Categorised as a 'least developed country', São Tomé is mostly dependent on international aid, and is among the poorest in the world, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line, and 29% in extreme poverty.

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Pounding the corn is extremely hard work, and the locals find it very amusing that I would like to have a go.


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The population of São Tomé is relatively young, with children aged 0 to 14 years representing 44.4% of the population, yet only 38% attend secondary school.

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Blue Lagoon

This sheltered bay is popular with snorkellers as the pristine waters are teeming with fish.

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An ancient baobab stands on the beach – those of you who have followed my blog for a while will be aware of how fond I am of baobab trees.

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Picnic

At a small picnic area, we make a quick stop with coffee, juice, fruit and biscuits.

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This is the place where the Portuguese first arrived back in the 15th century.

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Star fruit. I explain to Agostinho that, although we buy these fruits in the UK, I have never seen one actually growing; and he promises to look out for a star fruit tree for me.

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Taiwanese guava, they taste a little like unripe pears.

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Agostinho calls these carozo nuts, but I believe we know them as 'tropical almonds' (Terminalia catappa). They taste very similar to regular almonds.

Here they are, growing on the tree:

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Dug-out canoes on the beach

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Tunnel

The road hugs the coast on the north-west of the island and at one stage it goes through São Tomé's only tunnel.

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It is a popular place to stop and take photos.

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The coastline here is rugged, with some interesting rock formations and crashing waves.

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As we head inland, we pass imposing old plantation houses and more modest wooden chalets.

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Roça Monte Forté

The old plantation buildings have now been turned into a guest house and restaurant, with a small craft centre and a garden bulging with fruit and vegetables.

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I love this place, it has so much character. The bedrooms look basic but more than adequate, with a bed, mosquito net and en suite bathroom.

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Basket weaving

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Cacao fruit

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Calabash fruit

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Cashew fruit - the nut is the curious dark thing hanging down below the fruit

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Lemon tree

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Love the modern TV screen on the rickety old veranda.

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David takes a pre-lunch snooze while I wander around taking photos.

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Bananas

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View from the balcony

This is the sort of place that we love staying in, but unfortunately it is not to be this time, as we are only stopping here for lunch.

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Grilled bonito fish with onions

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Pumpkin, carrots, cabbage and shoo-shoo (a type of courgette or marrow)

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Fried plantain

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Dessert: cashew fruit and papaya

Another first for the Howards: eating the fruit from the cashew nut tree. It is obviously not that common over here either, as Agostinho takes the rest home for his children, who have never tasted it, plus some seeds to grow his own tree in his garden.

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Mucumbili

After a leisurely lunch we make our way to Mucumbili, our fabulous eco-lodge for the night. We check in and are shown to our room, a rustic wooden cabin built on the edge of the wooded cliff, with a balcony on stilts overlooking the valley and ocean beyond.

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Each cabin has a name rather than a number and I am absolutely thrilled to find that ours is called 'Carambola', meaning star fruit.

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Not only that, we have a star fruit tree right outside!

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We spend the rest of the afternoon on the balcony with a bottle of chilled white wine, watching the birds and the fishermen.

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São Tomé Prinia, and endemic to this island

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São Tome Speirops, another endemic

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Southern Cordon Bleu

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São Tomé Sunbird - yet another endemic

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Bronze Mannikin - not a very good photo, but it is the only one I manage to capture as he is hiding behind long grasses

Above us circle a couple of Yellow Billed Kites, and butterflies and lizards abound.

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This is my idea of heaven: a gorgeous rustic lodge miles from the nearest habitation, lots of birds and other small critters to keep me amused, a glass of something enjoyable and the man I love with no other human sound (or sight) for hours.

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What we do hear, however, is a strange clicking sound. We spend a long time trying to work out what it is. After a while it becomes obvious that it is coming from a bird, but which one? Eventually we discover the answer: the small São Tomé Prinia is somehow flapping its wing in a manner to make a fairly loud clicking sound. How bizarre.

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The noisy little prinia

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Northern Cordon Bleu

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Sao Tomé Speirops

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Prinia

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Cordon Bleu

From our balcony we can see the fish jumping in the sea, causing small ripples on the surface of the water.

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The fishermen all make their way towards that area, but by the time many of them have reached the spot, the fish have moved on.

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Dinner

Dinner is taken in the open-sided restaurant, with each cabin having its own dedicated table.

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Vegetable soup

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Pasta with crab, cream and Parmesan cheese

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This is not quite what David was expecting when he ordered 'apple pie'.

After dinner we yet again sit on the balcony for a long while, taking in the sounds and sights of the jungle after dark. There is next to no llight pollution and the stars are out, but unfortunately so are the clouds for a lot of the time.

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And so ends another delightful day in paradise. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:27 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged children birds fish fishing memorial kite paradise tunnel lizard birding fishermen bananas poverty heaven stars hospital baobab cacao rustic abandoned plantations bonito massacre astro martyrs blue_lagoon bird_watching roca eco_lodge undiscovered_destinations calabash astrophotography batepa_massacre prinia endemic_birds vinho_verde fernão_dias memorial_dos_heróis_da_liberdad agostinho_neto urbex abandoned_hospital star_fruit tropical_almonds rugged_coastline roça_monte_forte basket_weaving lemon_tree cashew_nut cashew_fruit mucumbili carambola life_list white_wine cordon_bleu speirops after_dark apple_pie Comments (4)

Tadoba National Park - Part III

No tigers this morning


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Black Ibis
Considering it was only yesterday that we saw our very first Black Ibis, today the first thing we see is a whole flock of them flying.

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Another first: Muntjack AKA Barking Deer

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Gaur

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant - another new one for my list.

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Crested Serpent Eagle

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Green Bee Eater

The park is looking really pretty this morning, with rising mist and rays from the emerging sun seeping through the trees.

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Sambar in the sunrise

Wild Boar

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Sambar

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Vehicle Check
We are most surprised to find ourselves being stopped by the traffic cops in the middle of the park. Do they get danger money for being surrounded by wild animals at work?

Black Drongo

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Green Bee Eater

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White Throated Kingfisher

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Gaur

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We turn off the main road onto a smaller lane, and the next three cars coming the other way flash their lights at us. With high hopes for a tiger sighting, we set off at great speed!

Down by the waterhole there is a large gathering of Gypsy safari vehicles, all waiting for the tigress and her cubs to re-appear from the woods where they were spotted earlier.

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We sit around for ages, some 45 minutes or so, with no sighting of even a stripy tail!

A couple of birds appear to help us pass the time.

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Green Bee Eater

All too soon it is time to make our way out of the park and back to the lodge for lunch.

On the way we spot a gorgeous Indian Roller sitting on the telephone wire.

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And a couple of women carrying her stuff for the day in a bowl on their heads.

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Back at the lodge I discover just how dirty this game driving lark is, after wiping my face on a white cloth.

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Time for a rest and some food before this afternoon's safari – the last one of our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds travel india sunrise safari eagle birding travelling roller ibis parakeet kingfisher gaur barking_deer tadoba sambar drongo bird_watching lapwing indian_bison adjutant bee_eater muntjack sambar_deer Comments (3)

Tadoba National Park - Part II

A disappointing afternoon


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After this morning's exciting tiger sighting, we head into the park with great expectations.

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Getting tickets at the park gate

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Mongoose
We do see a Ruddy Mongoose as it disappears behind the trees.

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Down at the lake a gathering of Gypsies (Maruti Gypsy, the safari vehicle of choice in India) are waiting (and hoping) for a sighting. It doesn't happen and we all gradually move on.

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When we see a few Gypsies bunch up, we hope for the best: maybe another tiger sighting?

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No such luck: it's a Hoopoe. Much as I like Hoopoes, they cannot compare to tigers.

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Some beautiful reflections in a pond

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Sambar

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Black Ibis

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Why did the chicken cross the road? Indian Junglefowl

Mongoose
On our way out of the park, we see another mongoose crossing the road. I try to take a picture of it while the vehicles is in motion, but again it is not very successful.

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It has not been a very successful afternoon as far as animal spotting goes. Apart from the Black Ibis, which is a new species to us, the highlight is the red moon that appears soon after sundown.

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We continue to the lodge and have a quick shower and change before dinner. Again it is served buffet style – which I am not too keen on – but I have to say the food is superb. In fact, we all agree that the Vegetable Manchurian (crispy balls in a spicy sauce) is the best dish we have had so far on the trip. I am so excited by it that I even forget to take photos!

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:16 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india safari moon tadoba bird_watching mangoose red_moon Comments (5)

Pench - Tadoba

A lovely surprise awaits us in Tadoba


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This morning we are treated to a breakfast fit for a king, with cereal, fruit, watermelon juice; followed by egg, vegetable sausage, tomatoes. Then they bring out the kedgeree. I walk away from there absolutely stuffed.

Sorry, no photos.

Pench - Tadoba

We are having an easy day today, just driving between Pench National park and our next – and final – tiger reserve: Tadoba National Park.

There is not much to say about the first part of the journey, until we start seeing signs for Tadoba, so I will just leave you with a few photos from the road trip.

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Yet another bullock cart photo

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Village life

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Rakesh stops the car for us to get out and take some pictures as well as a stretch of legs.

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After quite a few miles of rural lanes, we venture on to the highway of sorts. It's a little disconcerting when you are faced with a long line of trucks coming towards you, on both sides of the road with no obvious space for it to pull in.

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The same goes for those trucks driving the same direction as us – this one only narrowly misses the red car coming the other way.

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Border crossing

For the last six days we have been in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and today we are crossing over the border to Maharashtra State.

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It doesn't affect us in any way, but trucks have to have a special licence for each of the states and are required to pass through border control.

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I love the beautifully decorated trucks that you find in India. You can see on this one that he has a sign saying: “All India permit”, meaning he is allowed to travel to other states too.

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They do like to overfill their trucks here though.

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The large, overfilled trucks play havoc with the road surface, leaving huge potholes and slowing down our journey considerably.

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Although the fact that we are slowing right down, means I have more of a chance to photograph the street scenes, such as these two men sitting at the road-side.

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Tadoba

We see signs for Tadoba, and turn off the main road. I have the name of the village where the lodge is located and the closest gate. The road scenes are getting much more rural again now.

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We see signs for the gate, and soon afterwards stop and ask the way to the hotel.

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We ask again.

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We know we are getting close to a park when we see this sign.

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The fourth time Rakesh stops to ask for directions, we are sent in the opposite direction. Groan. Here we go again.

It seems the whole village of Bhamdeli (where the lodge is located) is gated, as we have to wake up the guard to let us through. Rakesh shows him the piece of paper with the lodge name and address, and he points in the general direction we are heading.

After passing a few cotton fields, we find ourselves driving through this linear village, lined with hotels, lodges and camps either side. This is obviously where the bulk of the accommodation for the park is found.

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Cotton

Suddenly we see a unassuming looking sign at the side of the road, and turn into a side track. The first impression from the sign is a little worrying, this is the only hotel on this trip I didn't choose (I left it to our tour operator), and I don't know what to expect.

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My expectations rise considerably when I see the entrance gate to the lodge, however.

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Irai Safari Retreat

We get a warm welcome at the reception from the very friendly manager who not only has a great sense of humour, but also speaks excellent English. He scans our passports – or rather, tries, to, as a power cut interrupts the action. Fear not, his mobile phone does the job just as well.

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The bar and reception area

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The comfortable lounge

After a briefing about the hotel and its facilities, we are shown to our rooms. From the website I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am very pleasantly surprised.

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Paved paths lead to the accommodation

Rooms are located in cottages spread around the well kept gardens, and each cottage houses two rooms. Other than our immediate neighbours who are in a room within the same building (in this case it is our friends Lyn and Chris, of course), we are far enough away from the other cottages for it to feel very private and exclusive.

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Our side of the cottage - steps on the left of the photo lead to the roof terrace - more about that later

Each of the rooms has a covered seating area outside the front door, making for quite a romantic little niche.

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There is also a sunny balcony with a hammock for a relaxing afternoon siesta. There's even a BBQ in the corner – not that I am thinking of doing any cooking while I am here!

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The bedroom is spacious, with a separate cosy seating area.

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The bathroom features double basins and a proper bath tub. Personally I prefer a walk-in shower, but I know Lyn likes to have a bath.

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The lodge is owned by a member of the local royal family, and most of the furniture and ornaments are from his personal collection. I particularly like these horse-shaped door handles on the wardrobe.

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Swimming Pool

The lodge also has a very inviting-looking pool, so we get changed and head over there while it is still sunny.

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Just as I am about to get undressed, I discover a series of tiny little blisters on my shin, plus one that is quite large. They cover an area about the size of a mobile phone, in the exact spot that I had cellulitis earlier in the year. If this is a sunburn, it is rather worrying, as I have only been outside in the sun for around 15 minutes, and a large proportion of that was walking in the shade. After much deliberation I decide it is probably best not to go in the pool after all.

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Sunset

Instead I climb to the roof terrace with my camera equipment and wait for the sunset.

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The sky is a dreamy pink, later to turn a glowing orange; and I can see the lake from which the lodge takes its name from up here.

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Being situated in the buffer zone of the national park, there are naturally a number of birds in the vicinity, many of which are coming back to roost for the night. They fly around a bit before descending into the surrounding trees, rustling the leaves as they land, making quite a noise.

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On closer inspection, most of the birds are cormorants.

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With a few storks.

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And a Red Vented Bulbul thrown in for good measure.

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Plus a Rufous Treepie.

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Although the evening started off with a beautiful pink sky; as the sun gets lower, the mist wins the battle and colours the sky a dirty brown. The sun holds its own for a while as a golden globe sinking slowly to earth.

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Once the sun has gone down, I go in and have a shower (without getting my poorly leg wet – quite a feat and requiring me to be a bit of a contortionist) before dinner.

Dinner

Dinner tonight is buffet and very good it is too. We have dhal fry (a nice spicy lentil dish), vegetable keema (minced vegetable curry), jeera rice (rice with cumin seeds), methi mattar makhani (a buttery curry with fenugreek and peas).

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It is all very tasty and I go to bed a happy bunny, ready for another day in another safari park tomorrow.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:12 Archived in India Tagged birds sunset road_trip india hammock dinner safari border bbq lost swimming_pool maharashtra trucks sunburn royal_family tadoba blisters pench bullock_cart irai_safari_retreat madya_pradesh cotton_plantation all_india_permit ask_directions buffer_zone Comments (4)

Pench National Park - Part I

A very rare and endangered sighting this afternoon


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

There appears to be some sort of confusion about our park tickets for today. It seems our agent booked them for the wrong gate, some 60km away. Hence the very early start of 04:30. Rakesh (the driver who brought us down from Jabalpur) is picking us up and driving us to the gate in his car, where we will change into the open top safari vehicle (known as a 'gypsy'), so that we won't get frozen solid by taking the long journey in an open top car. Wise move.

4:30 comes and goes. No Rakesh. At 05:00 I ask the young receptionist what is happening. He wanders off to check with the manager. After a few minutes, he comes running back and continues on to the car park.

A short while later a Gypsy arrives for us. There has been a change of plan. We are going to the nearest gate just a few kilometres away after all; and will pay for a new ticket instead, saving all the hassle of the long journey. That sounds good to me, as it would take well in excess of an hour to travel 60 km on these roads.

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We also have to pay for a (compulsory) park guide who will accompany us on this morning's safari. Once that is all in order, we can enter the park.

The first thing we spot, is an Oriental Honey Buzzard, another new tick on our life list.

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Seeing very fresh tiger pug marks is promising for a sighting this morning.

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The sun is just beginning to break through the mist as we make our way deeper into the forest.

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Dhole
We are very excited when our guide spots a rare and endangered dhole (Indian wild dog) in between the trees. Our very first sighting of this species in the wild.

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There are thought to be fewer than 2500 of these animals left in the wild, so it is in fact even more rare than the tiger.

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We follow him as he makes his way through the forest.

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Indian Ghost Trees
Found all throughout the park (as well as being quite common elsewhere on the subcontinent), the bark of this very distinctive tree (Sterculia urens) exudes a gum that is used for laxatives.

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Rufous Treepie

Jungle Fowl

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The sun is slowly warming up the air, but the mist is still hanging over the lower ground, creating a mystical and eerie atmosphere.

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

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Spotted Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Pond Heron

Changeable Hawk Eagle

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Another Peacock sunning himself

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Brown Fish Owl
The guide keeps telling us the name of this bird, but I just can't get what he is trying to say. It sounds something like 'ground peace owl'. It is not until very much later that I realise he is saying 'Brown Fish Owl'.

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We pass a flooded area with a Green Sandpiper feeding in the shallows.

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Golden Jackals in the far distance

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Indian Roller

Breakfast
We stop for breakfast in a dedicated picnic area. A structure has been created to provide shade or shelter you from the rain, but as the temperature this morning is still very much on the cool side, everyone remains outside to catch some warmth from the sun's rays.

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The breakfast box is rather disappointing this morning, especially considering how superior the food was at the lodge yesterday.

A rather hideous plastic Mowgli adorns the site, which is appropriately called Mowgli Picnic Area.

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We continue to a large wetlands area that is teeming with birds, and spend some time with binoculars picking out various species, many of which are new to us. It is all rather exciting.

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Indian Cormorant

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Bonelli's Eagle

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Green Sandpiper

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Little Ringed Plovers

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Painted Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Pond Heron having a bad hair day

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Great Egret

There are also a couple of jackals around.

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We reluctantly leave the pond area behind to go in search of more wildlife.

Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Hoopoe

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Chital

Nilgai
This is the first nilgai we see on this trip, and then only for a few seconds as she disappears into the forest.

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Jungle Owlet

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Black Drongo

Upon hearing loud warning calls, the driver stops the car and we sit and wait. There is obviously a predator in the vicinity, and a lot of very distressed langurs. We wait. And wait. And wait. As time is now getting on, we eventually have to move, despite not having seen any tigers.

It is time to leave the park and return to the Lodge as the park rules have very strict timings for just morning and evening safaris rather than the whole day as we are used to from Africa.

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On the way we spot these two gorgeous Indian Rollers, one with his lunch.

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As we were up so early this morning (plus I didn't sleep well last night), I decide to forego lunch and spend the time snoozing instead.

Stay tuned for the next entry.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india sunrise breakfast safari eagle mist birding picnic national_park pigeon peacock roller heron egret stork vulture dove langur gypsy owl cormorant jackal chital drongo bird_watching pench nilgai buzzard early_morning hanuman_langur owlet plover tiger_park breakfast_picnic pench_tiger_park pench-tree-lodge pench_national_park tiger_pug_marks dhole indian_wild_dog wild_dog ghost_tree indian_ghost_tree treepie jungle_fowl early_morning_mist mowgli sandpiper hoppoe snooze Comments (3)

Tarangire Part I

Elephants galore


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It is still dark when we leave the lodge this morning, just as it has been every single morning since we arrived here. Today is our last day in Tanzania, so it won't be long before we are able to have a lie-in once we get home.

There is no sign of the lion from last night around the hotel grounds this morning, but we do see a lot of giraffe close to the lodge today, as well as a couple of waterbuck.

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The weather is still pretty murky by the time we reach the Tarangire National Park gates, hence the quality (graininess) of the first handful of photos.

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These girls belong to a harem. Male impala sometimes have as many as 50 or so females in his harem, here there are nowhere near that many. Where there is an impala harem, there is usually a bachelor herd nearby waiting for the polygamous husband to retire (or maybe just tire, with so many females to service) so that they can move in.

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Tarangire is famous for its incredible bird life, especially at this time of year, with nearly 500 species recorded in the park. We see quite a few this morning, including a few species that are new to us (known as a lifer - a new addition to the life list)

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Ashy Starling

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White Winged Widow Bird (a lifer)

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Brown Parrot

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah (another lifer)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (above) construct elaborate and fanciful hanging nests (below)

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Magpie Shrike

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A rather wet and bedraggled Wattled Starling

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We're having to put the roof up, down, up, down this morning as the showers come and go at various intervals. I think you could call the weather changeable.

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White Browed Coucal

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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While the mongooses we saw earlier were quite some distance away, these are really close by the road, where an abandoned termite mound has been converted into social housing for a family on mongooses.

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As we stay to observe them for a while, small, furry heads pop out of various orifices in the mound, including some cute babies.

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And angry little not-so-cute adults.

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You can distinguish the Common Waterbuck from the other species found here, the Defassa Waterbuck, by the white markings on its rump, commonly referred to as the toilet seat.

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Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge herds of elephants, so we are quite surprised to not have seen any yet this morning, just damage caused by these large animals as they passed through.

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Not long afterwards, when we are on on our way to the Matete Picnic Site for breakfast, we see a lone elephant, as if on cue.

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Then a large bachelor herd appears.

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Time for morning ablutions, in the form of a little dust bath.

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The mood suddenly turns nasty, with an unfriendly mob marching angrily towards us. Malisa proves that he is just as capable (and safe) a driver backwards, as he has to quickly reverse the car out of the way of the bullies. Never argue with an angry elephant.

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It's not all anger management issues this morning, however, there's a bit of bonding session going on here with two teenage brothers butting against each other.

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When they have finished showering each other with affection, they walk right past out car, so close I could reach out and touch them. I have to really restrain myself not to.

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I feel so incredibly privileged to be here so close to these majestic giants, watching them go about their daily lives and be party to their family interactions, I almost cry with happiness.

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All around us are elephants, in every direction we look. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. To think I was only complaining a couple of minutes ago that we hadn't seen any elephants yet.

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More family snuggles. This is like reality TV but with animals. Much more interesting.

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For some reason this next picture reminds me of Colonel Hathi in the Jungle Book cartoon.

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I have heard of 'pink elephants', but never 'red'. These eles have obviously been rolling in the mud. Or maybe it's the latest must-have face mask.

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She has a young baby with her, probably around four months old. We can only just see the top of his back over the long grass.

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In places the grass is shorter so we can see him better.

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On the other side of the car is an even younger baby, this one is less than 2 weeks old. All together now: “awwwww”

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Look at the difference in size!

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We leave the elephants behind (pun intended) and (yet again) try to make our way towards the picnic site. This could take a while, depending on what we see on the way.

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We finally make it for breakfast, to a completely empty picnic site. This place has changed beyond all recognition since we were first here ten years ago: back then there was one squalid long-drop toilet. Now there is a very modern facilities block with clean flushable toilets, lockable doors, water, soap and toilet paper.

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Check out my next blog entry for more animal encounters with Calabash Adventures, the best safari
operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain travel elephants africa safari tanzania parrot eagle picnic giraffe tarangire impala waterbuck starling weaver mongoose shrike barbet bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller mongooses calabash_adventures maramboi coucal best_safari_operator widow_bird impala_harem spurfowl guineafowl guinea_fowl go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete matete_picnic_site picnic_breakfast Comments (4)

Serengeti Day II Part III - The Maasai Pride

Lions, lions and more lions


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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The Rasta Lions we saw this morning are still under the same tree several hours later, and still not doing anything. But they have moved to the other side of the tree (presumably as the sun moved around), and they do pop their heads up as we pull up alongside them. Briefly.

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They look kinda cute and soft when they're asleep, but not so much so when they open their eyes and stare right at me from close quarters like that!

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Look at those paws! They could do some serious damage!

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The antibiotics I have been taking completely knock me out and I go into a deep sleep while David and Malisa look out for animals. I wake up an hour or so later when it starts to rain and we have to put the roof down.

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Some of the delights about the ever-changing weather in Serengeti at this time of year, are the dramatic clouds and the number of beautiful rainbows that appear periodically.

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And a strategically-placed Grey Kestrel. I wanted a giraffe or an elephant silhouetted in the foreground, but I guess this kestrel will do.

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In the road we can see animals tracks, lion paw prints with one big and one little one. They were made before the recent rain shower by the looks of it, and they went the same way as we are going. Oh goody!

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The wet mud on top of compacted baked earth makes for an interesting drive, doing the 'Serengeti Samba' sliding our way along the track!

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We swing by the Maasai Kopjes on our way back to base, hoping to see a cat or two. We are not disappointed.

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A lioness and her cub sit in amongst the shrubbery. These is the same ones as we saw earlier so they don't count towards my total tally of lions seen on this trip (for the record, we finished at 118 individual lions).

A few minutes later we see several more lions almost hidden by the long grass.

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Trust me, those are lions.

We hear thunder in the distance and while I am busy looking all around me for possible lightning, the lions in the long grass have made their way down to the track along from us.

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There are eight cubs and two adults.

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We drive nearer to take a closer look at the action. We are not alone, but I can cope with just one other vehicle.

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If you can't find a pal, play with some elephant dung!

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The Maasai Pride often come down to the smooth track at this time of day, especially after a rain shower, in order to avoid the damp grass.

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The cubs head off into the undergrowth, with the adults in hot pursuit, trying to keep an eye of the mischievous youngsters.

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The cubs have found an interesting tree to explore and where they can test out their climbing skills.

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They may only be young, but I still wouldn't like to mess with those claws!

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And don't even think about getting on the wrong side of their mum... even the babies back off when confronted!

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Just a gentle tap with that giant paw and the cub is on the floor.

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"Hey bro, I found a stick!"

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“My stick is bigger than yours!”

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Only one small issue there Buster, it is still attached!

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It's getting crowded around the base of the tree, everyone wants to play in the same place at the same time.

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Mum shows the kiddies how it is done.

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Is she going to jump?

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It seems her courage fails her and she tries to (awkwardly) turn around on the small branch.

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One of the braver cubs tries it for himself.

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Like his mum before him, he too considers the option of jumping down.

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He is not sure about this...

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"Maybe I should try and walk down?"

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“I wonder what happens if I try and go this way.”

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“Or maybe I can jump down on this side?”

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“It's a long way down.”

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“Yikes, this is not as easy as it looks.”

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“Aargh, I think I am stuck. I'm scared! It looked so easy when mum did it.”

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“Phew! Nearly there.”

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“That's not the greeting I was expecting, I was kinda hoping for admiration for my bravery. You're only jealous!”

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“Ow! That's my paw!"

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"Get off!”

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“I'm out of here!”

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A couple more cubs decide to give it a go, some with more 'encouragement' than others.

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Just like they were this morning, the pride is spread out over several rocks and we see lions in almost every direction we look, such as this girl on top of a rock...

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… and these lions frolicking in the long grass.

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They are heading off to join the little group over by the tree root.

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The Maasai Pride consists of eleven cubs to five mothers, and we see all of them here this evening at various locations. It is not a question of looking for them, it's a question of deciding where to look: on the tree, the rocks, the root, the road...?

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Wanting to keep an eye on her offspring, mum joins them on the road. The cubs think she has come to play.

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“Mum! Don't go! Play with me...”

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“Will. You. Leave. Me. Alone!”

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“Sorry mum.”

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We have stayed far too long with the lion cubs and I have taken far too many photos of them, so now we have to rush to get back to the lodge before dark. As usual.

[Post note: I took 1600 photos of those cubs, of which I selected 300 to be edited as 'keepers'. It was extremely hard narrowing it down to 'just a few' to include here in the blog, so I make no apologies for the overload of cuteness photos.]

Alternatively, if you still haven't had enough of these adorable babies, check out my Flickr album.

The light is amazing this evening, with more rainbows, strangely localised rain showers, impressively moody clouds and a glorious sunset. I try my best to photograph it all from a fast moving car on a bumpy gravel track.

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Spot the lion on top of the rock!

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Back at the tent, as I am enjoying a shower under the stars (or rather the menacing clouds), the sky is lit up by nature's own fireworks. The perfect finish to a perfect day: thunder and lightning! Looking up at the flashes in the sky as the warm water washes off the dust from the mighty Serengeti after a wonderful day with magnificent animal encounters, I feel overcome with a multitude of emotions: happiness, gratitude, appreciation and it makes me feel incredibly small and insignificant. What a wonderful world we live in ♥

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All that is left to say about today is THANK YOU to Calabash Adventures for making this all possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:50 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania birding lions serengeti bird_watching calabash _adventures rasta_lions Comments (6)

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Making our way across the savannah, I am surprised to see how dry the grass is already considering we are still in the wet season, albeit towards the end.

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Parched from the hot sun, the surface of the earth has cracked, forming a thin crust easily disturbed by passing animals.

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With the gentle movement of the car, the warm sun and the number of tablets I am taking for my chest infection; I go into a deep sleep. Only when the car slows to a standstill nearly an hour later, do I wake up.

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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While we are busy photographing the cats, my Facebook friend Jim and his family / friends turn up. Serengeti is a large place, so the chances of seeing him here today is very small. We have already seen them once in Ndutu. It really is a small world.

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Bored with sunbathing, the lioness jumps down and takes a stroll in morning heat.

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The Red Headed Rock Agama doesn't seem the least bit bothered about a lioness walking past his rock.

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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Resting peacefully in the shade of a tree, two 'Rasta Lions' momentarily sit up, barely opening their eyes to check us out, then lie down to sleep again. Oh, it is such a hard life to be a lion here.

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This picture shows the difference between the Superb and the Hildebrand Starlings.

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The Superb in the foreground has a white band on his chest and a white eye; whereas the Hildebrand (singing his little heart out) has no marking between the orange and blue, and the eye is black.

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This guy has obviously lost a horn while fighting for a female. I hope she was worth it!

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A very similar antelope to the topi, but as you can see, the colouring is not the same (the topi has very dark markings on the head and legs), and the horns are different shapes.

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The name 'Serengeti' comes from a local Maa word 'sirenget' (the language spoken by the Maasai tribe) meaning 'endless plains'. Driving for what seems like an eternity (in reality probably no more than around half an hour) across the flat, parched landscape, seemingly devoid of all life, I can certainly see that the name is very fitting.

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Arriving at a series of waterholes known as Research Ponds, we stay for a while to watch the goings on at the water's edge. Although initially appearing somewhat uninspiring, with just a couple of buffalo and some Grant's gazelle grazing in the background, this place proves to be rather fruitful in terms of animal sightings and interactions.

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A dazzle of zebra (other collective nouns for zebra include zeal and cohort) make their way to the ponds.

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More and more animals arrive as we sit by the ponds in the oppressive midday heat.

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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Additional animals are constantly appearing, their hooves throwing up clouds of dust that hang heavily in the hot air.

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The zebra, like the buffalo before them, immerse themselves in the still water, drinking, bathing and cooling down.

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On the horizon a herd of eland nervously make their way towards the waterhole. Normally extremely shy (as a result of being endlessly hunted for their delicious meat), we wonder if – or more likely when – they will start running in the opposite direction.

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So far so good as they cautiously move nearer and nearer the water.

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I am so excited to see them drinking – this is definitely a first for us!

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The other elands are looking at us apprehensively, as they consider whether it is safe enough to quench that thirst.

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The zebra, on the other hand, do not seem to have a worry in the world.

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Another eland has braved it to the water's edge.

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But will he drink?

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Yes, he will. They are getting very brave now.

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The zebra look on with amazement (or is that my overactive imagination again?) as a band on mongooses make their way down to the water for a drink.

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They are loving the water, rolling around in the mud at the shoreline.

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From a quiet waterhole with just a couple of sleepy buffalo, the place has now come alive with activity and several different animal species. This is awesome!

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There is even a couple of amorous Egyptian Geese on the water.

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Having all these newcomers disturbing his hitherto peaceful morning siesta, Mr Buffalo gets up and moves on to pastures new.

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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I have never noticed before that zebras vary so much in colouration. Look at how dark the one on the left is compared to the zebra behind him.

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Just as we decide to leave, a European White Stork arrives. They are not native to the African continent (the clue is in the name), rather a migrant. A bit like us then.

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Another stork arrives, much to the bemusement of the eland.

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And another.

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The moment Malisa starts the car engine, the shy elands scatter. As expected. I am surprised they stayed this long.

As we travel towards Ogol Kopjes, we see a few animals on our way.

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A spotted hyena who barely raises his head from the puddle he was sleeping in when we pass.

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Common Praticole - a nice little lifer (a new bird species for us)!

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Another lifer, the European Roller. This one has been on my wish list for a while now, so I am particularly excited to see him. Or her. I really can't ell from this distance.

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A couple of topi on a mound looking out for predators.

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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Eland are pretty huge animals (around the size of an average horse), and create quite a considerable amount of dust as they gallop across the dry savannah.

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We leave Ogol Kopjes behind and search for some shade for our lunch picnic.

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Be sure to check out my next blog entry for the rest of this afternoon's safari experiences with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania zebra lizard birding dry buffalo lions roller serengeti hyena stork starlings topi mongoose jackal bird_watching eland calabash_adventures hartebeest cape_buffalo kopjes grant's_gazelle endless_plains research_ponds cracked_earth parched pratincole eurasian_roller agama_lizard ogola_kopjes Comments (2)

Serengeti Day II Part I - Hyenas, Lions and more

Never a dull moment on safari


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I guess the lioness we heard calling out for her babies yesterday afternoon didn't find them, as she was roaring all night. Hearing nature in all its raw glory is always exciting, but not necessarily conducive to a good sleep. With that and my incessant coughing, I didn't get a lot of rest last night. I feel embarrassed and concerned about keeping other guests awake too, so I am grateful there are no other tourists around in the lodge when we leave this morning.

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The tables are laid out ready for breakfast, which starts from 06:00. I always find it strange that people don't want to make the most of their day on safari by getting out into the park at the earliest opportunity (06:00), which is also when the animals are at their most active. After all, a safari is not a cheap holiday, and for a number of people, a holiday of a lifetime. If you want to relax, build in some chill time at a beach resort afterwards.

Now getting off my soap box.

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We leave the lodge in darkness. As the light of day starts to brighten up the sky, the promise of a beautiful sunrise teases us with a warm yellow glow above the savannah and a blue sky sporting fluffy clouds edged with crimson.

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It is not long, however, before the sun sends its first rays of the day over the horizon, warming the cool morning air.

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A wobble of ostriches (I love discovering apt and humorous collective nouns of animals) enjoy the warm glow of the sun. One male can have a dozen or more females in his harem.

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He is in his breading colours as evidenced by his red neck and legs.

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Having recently been kicked out of the herd (or obstinacy, as I am on a roll with collective nouns), the bull buffalo has anger management issues, as can be seen from his sweaty nose.

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Having a 700 pound animal's stare directed right at me is more than a little intimidating, especially as he keeps walking closer and closer, while snorting angrily. Not that it seems to bother the oxpecker much.

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Time to make a move.

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Oh, to be in that basket floating effortlessly over the African plains in the early morning sun.

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If it wasn't for the price tag I'd be there like a shot! I do realise, however, that part of the reason for the high cost is the huge fee they pay to the park authorities to be able to drive off-road to retrieve the balloon and its passengers.

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Almost totally hidden by the tall grass, a lone hippo wanders towards a small pond. All we can see is the top of his back.

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It is hard to describe the feeling of awe I get when we drive along and encounter wildlife – such as these hyenas – in the road. Being part of, or rather guests in, their natural habitat is an experience I will never tire of. It is at times like this that I realise that it is me who is the stranger here; this is their home. I feel incredibly humbled to have the privilege of being included in their lives, even for a short while.

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There is some serious 'establishing of territory' going on here, with chasing, growling, barking and baring of teeth.

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A cackle of hyenas (♥collective nouns) can be enormously intimidating, especially when they are plotting gang warfare such as here. Or maybe I just have an over-zealous imagination.

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Although sometimes they can look almost cute.

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Three amigos saunter off down the road...

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… while another goes for a drink.

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And then lies down in it to cool off.

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The hyenas do not seem to bother this three banded plover though.

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Hippo flatulence gives off a powerful ammonia-like aroma, with the result that you can usually smell the hippos before you see them, especially when they are present in numbers such as these.

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Meanwhile, we head back to the Maasai Kopjes, where we immediately see a collared lioness atop a rock.

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It looks like she has a cub with her.

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As one cub walks off to the right, another one can be seen sitting up on the left.

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Mum goes off to join the youngster on the left, and we discover another cub in the shade of the tree.

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The Maasai Pride is huge, and rarely venture far from this collection of rocky outcrops known as the Maasai Kopjes (hence the name of the lion pride, of course).

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At the base of the rocks we see another lioness, hiding five young cubs in the long grass.

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The mum on top of the rock leaves her three cubs behind to go for a wander.

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Prompting her babies to explore too.

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Maasai kopjes is teeming with big cats this morning, spread out over a large area. Everywhere we look there is a lion; some seeking the cool shade of the shrubby undergrowth, others the warmth of the sunbaked rocks.

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The kopjes are also home to a number of other species, such as this Dark Chanting Goshawk.

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And the Crested Lark.

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The lark has a most beautiful song, as you can hear in David's video below.

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More lions to follow in the next instalment of my blog. Our safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel adventure hot_air_balloons bird sunrise africa safari tanzania animal birding buffalo balloons lion lions watching hippo ostrich hyena bird_watching hippopotamus ostriches calabash_adventures maasai_kopjes cape_buffalo spotted_hyena plover hippo_pool hyenas spotted_hyenas kopjes Comments (4)

Serengeti Day I Part III - Birds, Mongoose, Topi & Warthogs

A day cut short


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

When on safari, we spend all day every day in specially adapted Landcruisers, with a lifting roof and large opening side window for all-round viewing.

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We either sit down to view and photograph the animals...

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... or stand up for a 360° view of the savannah around us.

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We are also lucky to have our amazing guide Malisa with us, who is not just a great friend, but an exceptional spotter and extremely knowledgable about animals and birds, the environment, geology, ecology, history, culture, animal behaviour....

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More sleep in the car for me this afternoon, this chest infection sure is taking its toll on me. The boys make sure I am awake for any bird or animal sightings though, such as the wildlife we find when we stop at this small pond.

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A very uncooperative crocodile refuses to turn around and face the camera on request. Pfft. Doesn't he know who we are? So, it looks like a bum shot it is then.

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The hippo aren't much better – all we can see is the top of their backs. We can certainly smell them though!

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Every picnic site should have a giraffe in the distance...

Mawe Meupe, which means “The White Rocks”, is a small hillock dotted with picnic tables and a great place to spot birds.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

The birds are so used to people and quite unafraid. They come right up to our table hoping for a small offering from our lunch. I hold my hand out with a few crumbs and a starling lands on it and sits there while he is eating. I also get a severe telling off – quite rightly – by Malisa. The birds and animals in the Serengeti are wild and should remain so. They can find their own food and should not be encouraged to rely on humans. I consider myself properly chastised and promise not to do it again. Then feel guilty about it for the rest of the trip.

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Ashy Starling

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Superb Starling

As “Never pass a toilet without using it” is my travel motto, I make a point of visiting the facilities before we leave. They are nice and clean with a lock on the door, paper and running water. Although the walk is a very short distance, it totally wears me out and I get back to the car completely breathless and coughing wildly. Being ill on holiday sucks!

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Our path is blocked by a giraffe as we leave the picnic site to continue our afternoon game viewing.

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A group of banded mongoose is called a band of mongoose of course.

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The grass here is so long during the rainy season that it manages to almost completely lose the adult warthog. And that is why they run with their tails straight up, so that their babies can see them and follow.

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Judging by the number of cars (I counted eleven) parked by the tree, it is obvious that the leopard we saw last night is still there.

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And judging by the number of times she tosses and turns in the short time we are here, she obviously still hasn't found a comfortable position in that tree.

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A very pale baby giraffe with his mummy - they get darker as they age.

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Look at that hairstyle!

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And look at that nose! The dik dik has an elongated snout which is very mobile, constantly twitching, with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent the animal from over-heating. The flow of air and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body. How ingenious!

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Dik diks are monogamous, so you will almost always see them in pairs (or three, with their single offspring).

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The female is looking for her babies. She walks into the long grass and stops to let out an almighty roar, a sound that carries a long distance, hoping that her offspring will make their way to where she is. There is no sign of any cubs though.

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For the first time ever in our thirty years of safaris, I ask to be taken back to the lodge early. Malisa is so sweet, knowing that I would never want to return to base before sunset unless I am really ill, he is obviously concerned about me. He keeps offering me advice and suggestions, plus lots of sympathy. All I want right now is my bed though.

When I get back to the room I watch a couple of buffalo walk past the tent on the slope below, then go to bed. With some serious coughing fits and the lioness still roaring for her cubs, I struggle to stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This is going to be a long night.

With thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds travel africa safari tanzania crocodile birding picnic lion giraffe experience hippo serengeti leopard waterbuck topi starling mongoose warthog courser bird_watching calabash_adventures dik_dik lion-roaring Comments (4)

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