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Ha'il - Jubbah - Sakaka

Ancient petroglyphs and modern trains


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast
Having established with the reception staff last night that we would like breakfast at 08:30 this morning, I am a little surprised to get a phone call at 08:00 asking if we would like breakfast. Knowing that the staff here speak very little English, and feeling somewhat confused, I tentatively reply with a single word: “Now”?

The guy doesn't reply to my question, but counters with his own: “Buffet or room”?

Again I am confused... if the breakfast is a buffet, why would they even offer to bring it to the room? I decide to find out by simply replying: “Room”.

It all becomes clear, when five minutes later three massive bags of food are delivered – from an outside caterer.

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Obviously last night they needed to know what time to order the food to be delivered this morning and this morning it was probably easier for them to take it straight to the room rather than spreading it out on small tables in the lobby, as I doubt very much that they even have a dining area.

We later find out that it is quite the normal thing for Saudi hotels to operate in this way, with guests ordering food in for breakfast as well as dinner, rather than the hotel providing it.

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There is so much food: a large bowl of fuul medames each (a typical Arabian breakfast dish of mashed fava beans), six tubs of water, a massive bag of bread, some really tasty falafels, hummous, babaganoush (smoky aubergine dip) and another salad which I can't quite make out what is. Tomatoes, cucumber, and pickles on the side. Not sure what is in those small containers at the front, it tastes like oil. A dressing, maybe?

The only thing missing is cutlery, as most Saudis will eat with their fingers. While I am happy to use my hands to eat, I do find it easier to use a fork or spoon. Thankfully I always pack a couple of sporks.

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We drive out of town on straight, empty, smooth, and fast roads. I see a sign just outside town that reads: NEXT GASOLENE 250 KM. Road trips take a very different type of planning here. You can forget driving electric cars on these roads.

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Jubbah

While there is still a settlement here in Jubbah, this was once a thriving oasis filled with people and wildlife, as documented in carvings on the rocks dating back 10,000 years.

We meet Abduljamid in the car park of the largest archaeological site in the area, now protected by UNESCO. He has kindly arranged to borrow his mate's 4x4 vehicle, so that he can drive us around the most interesting petroglyphs.

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The site is huge, with a good path circling the two rocks, as you can see in the Google Maps image above.

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The carvings indicate that this area was once a savannah and home to numerous species of animals.

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David goes with Bacha and Abduljamid to take a closer look, as well as climb specially constructed steps that lead to strategically-placed viewing platforms. I stay behind in the car, fighting with the pesky flies that have made this ancient site their home.

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I am disappointed to see how many people have carelessly discarded empty water bottles from the top of the steps.

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The petroglyphs here cover three distinct time periods, dating from 10,000 years ago, 5,000 and 2,000. It is like an ancient open-air library with its images and writing. They were such prolific carvers. I wonder why they all came to this particular place over the millennia. What drew them to these specific rocks?

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The figure known as THE KING

The rock itself is made of sandstone, which I guess is reasonably easy to carve. It is thought that sharp pieces of basalt were used to make the inscriptions.

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We continue to a second site nearby, where, like the first place, we are the only visitors.

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Leaving Jubbah and Abduljamid behind, we continue on our journey north. The temperature has been slowly creeping up as the day has gone on, reaching a high of 39 °C. Thank goodness for the efficient A/C inside the car.

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Saudi Arabian Railways
For mile after mile, the road runs parallel with the railway line, which carries some amazingly long goods trains. At one stage we estimate there are about two hundred carriages, mostly filled with phosphoric acid.

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I set Bacha a challenge that I would like to get a decent photo of a train (rather than the drive-by-shooting through the window at 120 kph as in these pictures.

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After an hour or so, we strike lucky (he later admits to me that he was concerned about how he would fulfill this challenge). We are leaving the main road and turning right across a bridge over the railway, and seeing the train approaching in the distance, Bacha finds the perfect spot on the bridge for me to get my pictures.

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I have never before seen a train that requires not just a front and back engine, but also a double header in the middle!

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The train driver spots me and blows his horn three times in a friendly greeting.

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Or is it?

I suddenly panic that maybe I am not supposed to take pictures of trains in Saudi Arabia. I know some countries are very strict about what subjects are permitted to photograph, such as bridges, stations, and even banks (as I found out to my horror when I was chased down the road in Algiers and ordered at gunpoint to delete my photo!)

I spend the rest of the journey into the town of Sakaka, where we are spending the night, looking over my shoulders to scan the roads for police cars. We see more cop cars than I have ever seen in my life, every street corner seems to have at least one, or maybe I just don't normally notice them. They don't pay any attention to us, of course, and I slowly start to relax. It obviously was just a friendly greeting after all. How sweet.

Fakhamat al Orjoana Hotel
I am jolly glad that Bacha is able to read Arabic, as from the outside, there is no indication that this is even a hotel. (Bacha, incidentally, speaks/understands at least seven different languages)

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The porter arriving with a trolley confirms that this is, indeed, a hotel. Check-in is smooth, and unlike the last couple of hotels, the receptionist is able to locate our reservation without a problem. We soon find our way to the room – or rather the suite: in addition to the bedroom, we have a separate sitting room complete with a kitchen area. No crockery, cutlery, or glasses, but there is a working fridge.

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Like the last place we stayed in, this hotel has no restaurant and serves no food, not even breakfast. There are, however, a couple of take-away menus on the coffee table, and we decide to order in some kebabs.

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We go down to reception to ask for some help with the order. The receptionist speaks no English, so calls on another worker to help us. He, on the other hand, cannot read Arabic. Between them and us, we think we have ordered two chicken kebabs. This could be interesting.

Five minutes later there is a knock on the door:

Man: “Money”

David: “Huh?”

Man: “Money”

David: “Food?”

Man: “Yes”

David follows the man down into the car park where another chap in an unmarked car has a card machine to take payment, and David walks away with a bag of goodies.

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We have a different local guide in each destination, and our new guide here in Sakaka, Abdul Al Ali, WhatsApps me to confirm arrangements for tomorrow. I am rather pleased when I discover we are meeting in a restaurant for breakfast – at least that means we don't have to try and arrange delivery to the hotel.

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Not just any restaurant either, it is one that I had seen on the internet before we left home, and rather liked the look of. I am now thoroughly looking forward to breakfast in the morning.

We settle down to an early night, but sleep evades me. The building is creaking, and every few minutes I hear what sounds like a car or train horn (David thinks it might be the A/C), David is suffering from hypnic jerks which makes him unwittingly jump around in bed every couple of minutes, and when I finally manage to fall asleep, I almost immediately wake up from a nightmare. Time and time again. It is going to be a long night.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for another great day here in Saudi Arabia, Check out their website for this and other fascinating trips.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:40 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged train breakfast unesco hot railway ancient petroglyphs sandstone suite delivery saudi rock_art middle_east nightmare hummus saudi_arabia ksa undiscovered_destinations fuul sar kebabs basalt take_away ful_medames humous hummous babaganoush jubbah rock_carving littering saudi_arabian_railways phosphoric_acid phosphorous fakhamat_al_orjoana hypnic_jerks Comments (0)

Bristol - London - Riyadh

The start of another adventure


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Foreword

As often happens with our trips, as soon as we mention where we are going – this time Saudi Arabia – we find the other person's eyes widening, their whole face turning into a huge question mark, and their mouth uttering “Really? Why? Is that safe?”

Sigh. Why should it not be safe?

Too many people seem to rely on the gutter press to form their opinions of a country, and confuse political headlines with everyday life for citizens and visitors.

As for why we want to go, it all started with an article in the travel magazine Wanderlust about the historical site Al Ula. I was captivated by the photographs and intrigued by the little-known historical sights. Two days later I phoned up Undiscovered Destinations to book a private trip for just the two of us to KSA, following the same itinerary as their group tour.

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Saudi Arabia only opened its doors to regular tourists in 2019 (up until then, visas were generally just issued to religious visitors and workers), with their long-term plan to be in the top ten tourist destinations in the world by 2030.

Obtaining a tourist visa was remarkably quick in a smooth and easy online process. David's visa landed in the email inbox before we had even finished applying for mine, which arrived a few minutes later. That has to be some sort of record! I have since been told that the approval system is mostly carried out via automated bots that look for certain 'correct' answers, and then a team of workers are available to give the final authorisation. It is not a cheap service, however, at £123 each.

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Are they ready for an influx of large numbers of foreign visitors? Do they have enough to offer curious travellers? Follow my blog to read about my experiences and opinions.

Thursday 13th October 2022

With an early start tomorrow morning, we figure we are better off staying in a hotel near the airport, rather than leaving home at some unearthly hour of the morning, so we travel up to Premier Inn this afternoon. We like Premier Inns, they are clean, reliable and reasonably priced. We have stayed at this particular one before, so we know what to expect.

After checking in, to what we discover is a large family room with one double and two single beds, we wander down to the restaurant for a drink before dinner, enjoying our last drop of alcohol for the next two weeks (KSA is a dry country).

One of the other things we like about Premier Inns is that they nearly always have a restaurant or pub attached, which – like the hotels – are usually very dependable. Premier Inns are part of the Whitbread Group and have a variety of different restaurant brands too. Here at Bath Road, there is an enormous atrium, part of which houses the Thyme restaurant. Their restaurants are usually as dependable as their hotels, and while it is not the sort of place I would go for a celebratory meal, it is certainly good enough for an overnight stay. Although indoors, the atrium gives the restaurant a nice open and airy feel to it. We are able to sit 'outside' in the atrium part, which is nice. The menu features classic British pub food, and I choose grilled salmon with chips, whereas David has grilled chicken with vegetables. We share the chips and vegetables.

Friday 14th October 2022

After an interrupted sleep, I drag myself out of bed at 5:30. We are too early to take advantage of the legendary Premier Inn breakfast, so drive directly to Terminal four at Heathrow. In the period between our flight tickets being issued and us travelling, Saudia Airlines moved their operations from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4, something that the ticket agents omitted to inform us of. Thankfully we do check these things, although there was conflicting information available online too. In the end, I relied on the Heathrow phone app, and David got his information from the Saudia app.

Valet Parking
We nearly always book valet parking these days, where a driver from the parking company meets us at the short-term car park, collects our car and keys from us, and takes the car off-site for parking while we are away. They then deliver the car to the same place ready for us to get in and drive off on our return. It is so much nicer than having to take a shared bus from a long-term off-airport car park to the airport and the reverse when arriving back. To us it is worth the extra cost.

Special Assistance
Because of a knee injury which has plagued me all through the summer, I booked a wheelchair through Saudia Airlines and headed directly to the Special Assistance counter before check-in at the terminal, conveniently situated just inside the door. While I am capable of walking short distances, I am unable to stand for any period of time, and walking longer distances causes me a lot of pain.

The special assistance kiosk is full of wheelchairs, but no other waiting passengers. There are two members of staff there, and I approach the lady at the counter, explaining that I have booked a chair. She asks which airline we are travelling with and whether we have checked in yet (which we have not). “You need to check in first and come back here” she explains. I point out to her that if I had been able to walk all the way down to the other end of the concourse to the check-in desk and back again, I wouldn't have needed to book a wheelchair. She sighs and reluctantly asks her colleague to push me down to the Saudia desk.

Once she has brought me back to the Special Assistance holding area again, she suggests it would be better for David to push me from there on. This is unfortunately typical of the lack of service we have found at Heathrow for less-able customers.

Security
Unsurprisingly for such an early start, there is no queue at security, but they are really quite thorough this morning (fresh on shift, I am guessing), and ask me to take my camera out of the bag, something that I can't remember being asked at Heathrow before. David gets the full treatment, having to remove his shoes and walk through the scanner a couple of extra times, as well as being patted down by hand and with swabs.

Breakfast
Having left the hotel too early to take advantage of their excellent breakfast, we head to the Prince of Wales pub in the terminal. I'd checked out the options before leaving home and found that the pub had more options and better prices for breakfast than the other restaurant here.

One of the reasons I chose the Prince of Wales for this morning's meal, is that the menu features my favourite breakfast dish – Eggs Royale: toasted English muffin with smoked salmon, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. David, predictably, has the full English breakfast.

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Unfortunately, as is often the case, expectation and reality don't quite match this morning; and I am rather disappointed in the ridiculously meagre amount of salmon. With its lacklustre presentation, the dish does not warrant the £9.35 price tag.

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Saudia Airlines
One of the benefits of travelling in a wheelchair is that you do get to board the aircraft before the other passengers. We have aisle and middle seats in the centre section of their 3-3-3 configuration. Thankfully the plane is not full this morning, which means we are able to spread out and have the whole row of three seats to ourselves, making for a much more comfortable flight.

Soon after the crew start the meal service, we experience turbulence, and they have to stop serving and take the trolleys back to the galley for safety reasons. This happens several times in a row, and some passengers are getting impatient, aggressively pressing the call button and demanding their food NOW! The interrupted service also creates some confusion as to who has already been served their main meals; resulting in the ice cream dessert being separately distributed while some people are still eating their main meal, and for others (like David), it arrives before he has even received his other tray.

I have to say the ice cream is a very welcome addition to the menu, however, and it is one of my favourite brands, too.

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Once the meal service is over, I manage to grab some semi-decent sleep before we land in Riyadh after a 5.5-hour flight.

King Khalid International Airport
A wheelchair is waiting for me as we exit the plane, and I am taken through corridors and tunnels of the modern airport, which bears no resemblance to the scruffy underbelly of Heathrow that I was previously taken through on arrival there. Here the walls are covered in colourful tiles and everything is looking gleaming, clean and pretty.

Immigration
Our visas are obviously already on the system, as we are not asked for the paper copies we have printed out. We are, however, required to submit fingerprints, but the scanner for this is seriously unreliable. After several unsuccessful attempts, the official gives me some hand sanitiser to use and tells me to try again. Eventually, it accepts my fingerprint, and my passport is stamped. I'm in!

Immediately after passport control, our hand luggage goes through an X-ray before we get to the luggage carousel. I can see David's case on the belt, and the porter who has been pushing the wheelchair with me in it, runs off to retrieve it before David is even through passport control! Mine arrives very much later, as one of the very last pieces of luggage to come off the plane. I guess someone's bag has to be the last.

Arrival
As we exit through the very unobtrusive customs hall, I can see a smart young man in a dark suit and immaculate white shirt carrying a placard with our name on it. Such a reassuring sight when you arrive in a foreign country. He goes off to collect the car – a massive 6-seater SUV (GMC Yukon XL) - and pulls up right outside the exit door to pick us up. The car is so high that I struggle to get in, but is very comfortable. The driver, who introduces himself as Bacha, moves the front passenger seat forward so that I have plenty of legroom in the back. The car is spacious, clean, and very comfortable.

During our journey from the airport to the hotel, George, the local agent that Undiscovered Destinations use here in KSA, rings to welcome us to the country and to inform us that we will be picked up at 16:00 tomorrow for our booked excursion.

Riyadh
My first impressions of Riyadh are a city of bright lights, fabulous modern architecture, wide avenues, and definitely not a walking city! We see very few pedestrians about anywhere, just a few people milling around by the market.

Hotel Centro
As Bacha pulls up outside this posh-looking modern hotel with its inviting facade, I wonder if there has been a change of plan. Our original documents had us down to stay here, but the latest version of our itinerary suggests that we are booked into the Gloria Inn instead.

The friendly and chatty receptionist confirms my suspicions, as he can find no record of our booking. Bacha insists that this is where we are staying, and shows us the instructions he has received on his phone, which quite clearly state Hotel Centro. While he phones George, I look up the confirmation I received from Undiscovered Destinations. Bacha returns and explains that it was an 'office mistake', and that we are indeed staying at Gloria Inn. Oh good, we all agree now. Hopefully, Gloria Inn will be aware of us too. With a cheery “maybe next time” to the helpful receptionist, we leave Centro Hotel and get back in the car while Bacha googles how to get to Gloria Inn from here. “Just another 20 minutes” he informs us as we head off into the bright lights of Riyadh again.

Gloria Inn
After the more upmarket Centro Hotel, Gloria Inn looks a little shabby. Several of the bulbs in the name sign on the front of the hotel are missing, and the side entrance looks disappointingly uninviting.

The welcome more than makes up for it, though, with the receptionist greeting us from behind a huge smile, and our room key ready and waiting on the desk. Phew, that's a relief!

After the usual formalities including showing our passports and visas, we say goodbye to Bacha as the porter takes our luggage – and us – to our room. The initial anticlimax I felt when we arrived here, is soon replaced with delight: the room is huge, with a nice seating area and a large double bed.

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Room Service
When we checked in, the receptionist explained that the hotel restaurant is only open for breakfast, but we can order dinner from a room service menu to be delivered to the room, which is what we do.

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The porter arrives with a large tray of food, and a credit card machine for us to pay for it. We both have spicy chicken sandwiches with chips and a Diet Coke. While the chicken is anything but spicy, it has a crispy coating and the bread roll is fresh.

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Just after we've finished the meal, the room phone rings. The person the other end introduces himself as Ali, explaining that he will be our guide for the duration of our stay here in Riyadh. He suggests that 16:00 is way too late to leave from the city tomorrow, so he will pick us up at 13:00 instead. That sounds a much better plan to me.

After a long and tiring day, we sneak into bed early to get some rest for an exciting day tomorrow. Welcome to Saudi Arabia, and THANK YOU to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:51 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged airport breakfast security visa heathrow ice_cream immigration arrival wheelchair customs riyadh middle_east saudi_arabia ksa undiscovered_destinations visa_application premier_inn valet_parking tourist_visa saudia special_assistance room_service whitbread thyme_restaurant eggs_royale saudia_airlines king_khalid_international_airpo hotel_centro gloria_inn Comments (4)

Araras Day Three - Bridge 3, swimming pool, anteaters

A great finish to our stay in Araras


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another early start this morning: up at 04:15 for a 05:00 safari.

We stop at the statue of São Francisco, the protector of ecology, to photograph the sunrise, before continuing to Ponte 3, our favourite bridge (I never thought I'd end up with a favourite bridge on the Transpantaneira).

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Bridge # 3
There are way more birds flying this morning than yesterday, and in greater quantities.

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Most birds roost near water at night, as the sun heats the water during the day, which helps keep the birds warm during the night. In the morning they fly off in search of food.

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It is mesmerising to watch.

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Flash Gun
After the problems I had with low light necessitating high ISO (= noisy/grainy images) yesterday, I brought my Speedlight with me this morning, plus my Better Beamer.

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Ringed Kingfisher

The Better Beamer is basically a fresnel lens on a frame. Its main purpose is to extend the range of the flash, although it will also reduce the possibility of the lens hood casting a shadow.

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Green Kingfisher

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Caiman

I am impressed that it seems to work all the way across the other side of the pond!

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As well as into the sky above.

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Large Billed Tern

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Black Vulture

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Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

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Orange Winged Parrots

After a while, I abandon the flash.

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Caiman

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Wood Stork

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Jabiru

Black Skimmers
I love watching the way these birds fish by skimming the water with their beaks open. The lower mandible is larger than the top one, allowing them to more easily hook up some breakfast.

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This one's got a fish!

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Large Billed Terns having a bit of a domestic

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Yellow Billed Cardinal with a colouration issue

This is what he is supposed to look like:

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Southern Caracara

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Black Capped Night Heron

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Maguari Stork

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Unicoloured Blackbird

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Striated Heron

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Great Egret

Reluctantly we move on from the pond at Bridge # 3, and slowly make our way back towards the lodge.

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Maguari Stork

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Savanna Hawk

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Southern Lapwing coming in to land

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Black Stilt

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Wood Stork

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Wattled Jacana

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Monk Parakeets

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufous Cachalote

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Bared Faced Ibis

We see a Southern Caracara have a wrestling match with a stick.

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Guira Cuckoo

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Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture

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Black Vulture

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Snail Kite

Breakfast
By the time we get back to the hotel, we are too late for the breakfast buffet, but the lodge has laid our usual table in the shade of a tree on the patio, and they bring us a number of different dishes.

It seems the chachalaca have got to the butter, however, before we can.

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Caught red-handed - or is that red-beaked - with a large knob of butter in his mouth.

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I bet the butter does melt in his mouth, though!

This is the most we've eaten for any breakfast so far. Disclaimer: we didn't eat everything served! We do feel obliged to eat more than we normally do, however, as they've brought us all this food.

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Chill time
Mid-afternoon we spend some time in the pool cooling down. We are the only ones around, so have the pool to ourselves. I guess everyone else has gone out for a strenuous walk or horse-riding.

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This is not a sign you really want to see right next to the pool

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Afternoon safari
At 16:00 we set off for our very last safari in the Pantanal, as tomorrow we are moving on to pastures new.

The first thing we spot is another armadillo.

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Agouti
He is a long way away, there is lots of dust in the air, and I am shooting into the sun, so unfortunately I don't get any good pictures of the agouti.

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A Crab-Eating Fox rushes past us.

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Blue Crowned Parakeets

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Yellow Collared Macaws

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Collared Anteaters
Leaving the best until last, Roberto slams on the brakes and reverses the car back a few yards before jumping out with his binoculars. Soon he beckons us over: he has seen an anteater in a tree.

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Wow!

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Not just one, but there is another one in a nearby tree, which is quite surprising, as they are normally solitary creatures.

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Once the sun's gone down, leaving the anteaters in very low light, we reluctantly return to the lodge for a shower, dinner and packing before bed.

Goodnight and goodbye from Araras. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 19:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife breakfast kite safari parrots pool hawk brazil birding brasil ducks fox swimming_pool south_america caiman swimmingpool heron egret stilt stork vulture ibis armadillo cardinal caracara blackbird kingfisher pantanal butter cuckoo bird_watching transpantaneira anteater jacana undiscovered_destinations tern lapwing parakeets bird_photography wild_birds flying_birds speedlight flash_gun skimmer araras sao_francisco bridge_three roosting_birds better_beamer cachalote chachalaca butter_wouldn't_melt_in_his_mou chill_time agouti Comments (0)

Iguaçu - helicopter, glass lift and boat trip

Another busy day


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We are joined by the usual crew this morning at breakfast.

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David and his favourite member of staff: Melissa

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Plush Crested Jay

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Toco Toucan

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Planalto Hermit

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Saffron Finch

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A hungry Coati

Helicopter Flight
As soon as we meet up with our guide Carini, we head straight to the heliport, just outside the park gates.

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We have booked a private sightseeing flight over the falls, which means that there is only us and the pilot on board, and I can move around much more freely in the back seat.

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We can see the mist rising from the falls long before we see the falls themselves.

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Here you can clearly see the amazing position of our hotel

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Devil's Throat

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In the pictures below, you can see just how near we were to the edge of the falls yesterday!

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The pilot takes a couple of loops around the falls to give us both some great views, but the ten minutes is soon up and we are back at base again.

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I have hardly had time to breathe on the flight, I have been so busy taking photos, with two cameras, out of the windows on both sides. I would love to go around again without the cameras and just enjoy the scenery. I get out of the helicopter absolutely buzzing with the excitement and adrenalin of it all. Wow! What an experience that was!

Itaipu
Carini suggests we go on an optional excursion this morning, to see something different while we are here: Itaipu Dam. I remember it being pointed out to us when we were here last in 1990, but these days they offer guided tours of the hydroelectric plant, something David thought might be interesting.

We drive through the town of Iguaçu, very much a tourist place, with lots of hotels of every size and budget, and many restaurants. It looks like a laid-back and interesting place, but I would still rather stay inside the national park in the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

We get to the power station, where we find the gates locked shut. A security guard explains that they have recently started closing it to tourists on a Tuesday, something Carini was not aware of. Oh well.

Lunch
Instead, we head for a large tourist restaurant at the head of the falls, driving past our hotel to the end of the road. This was definitely not here when we last visited!

In addition to the restaurant, there is a visitors centre and a large souvenir store, where David finds a pair of nice thin trousers, ideal for the jungle.

The restaurant is huge, with seating inside and out. We pay a fixed price on entry and find ourselves a table outside overlooking the river with the top of the falls in the distance.

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The food is an all-you-can-eat buffet and is quite pleasant, nothing more, nothing less.

Glass Lift
I remember walking down to this from the hotel when we last came and being amazed by the proximity to the falls and the little swallows nesting behind the falls, flying in and out of the spray.

From the road, there are stairs and a ramp leading down to the upper platform, from which you take a glass lift down to the lower viewing area. We walk straight into the lift, with no queue.

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There are further walkways to take, in order to get nearer the falls. Both David and I decline the offer.

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Selfies
Selfies are the bane of a photographer's life! While having the odd picture of myself or me and David while we travel is nice, I cannot see the desire to be in every single photo I take! It just seems so narcissistic to me. “Look at me! Look at me!” Can people no longer just purely enjoy the surroundings, or it is just for likes on Instagram?

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Mind you, it is infinitely better than before the selfie invention, when one person would stand near the edge and their companion on the other side of the path to take their photo so that no one could get past.

And here is our selfie!

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There is a long line of people waiting for the lift to go back up again, but Carini has a word with the operator, and not only do we jump the queue, we actually get a private lift to ourselves (the service lift).

Macuco Boat Trip
I am constantly impressed with the way Brazilians accommodate less able people. The transfer truck that takes us from the entrance to the funicular, is easily adapted to take a girl in a wheelchair and me on a ramp, while still being able to seat a number of able-bodied passengers. I have never felt that I am a nuisance, every single adaptation and modification has been carried out without hesitation and with a smile.

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The truck takes us to the top of a funicular, where there are lockers and changing rooms. There is a choice of “wet” or “dry” boats, and we decide to go for the dry boat so that I can take photos. At the last minute, however, we change our minds, leave everything except the waterproof cameras in the lockers, and go to get wet!

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Getting into the boat is down some very steep steps, from where you step across into the boat. I manage with a bit of help, and the staff effortlessly carry the paralysed girl and place her in a seat. There is no turning back now!

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The boat is extremely powerful and weaves from side to side, leaning right over to add to the adventure, negotiating the rapids with ease. It reminds me very much of the jetboat on the Shotover River in New Zealand.

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We stop to view the falls from a distance, and this is the point at which the “dry” boat would turn around. As a result of all the mist, the view is not great, so I am glad I didn't risk my cameras, as even the “dry” boat would have got us wet from the spray.

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From here it is full steam straight into the falls!


How can I describe it? It starts off as a gentle shower and you brace yourself for the downpour. It doesn't come. Just as you think that “this is actually quite bland, it hits you. Quite literally! Imagine a huge barrel full of icy-cold water dumped over your head without warning... that is what it feels like. To say it's a shock is an understatement!

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David looks shell-shocked!

Then they do it again. And a third time. By this time we are both shivering, and the wind as we speed back to the jetty does not help.

For sure it was an adventure, and I am glad I did it – would I do it again? Not on your Nelly!

At the jetty, I struggle to get out of the boat, as I haven't got the strength in my knees to step up onto the seat. It hurts like hell when I try. Panic and distress set in. Eventually, I manage to manoeuvre myself so that my bum is leaning on the back of the seat, and with David's help manage to lift one leg up, and then the other. By the time I have climbed the steep steps back up to the platform, my legs are shaking, and I haven't even got the strength in my knees to walk. I drag my feet on the floor, shuffling along like a zombie.

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Carini is worried about me, and as soon as we get back to the hotel, she asks for a wheelchair for me, as well as some ice to be delivered to the room. As he is pushing me up the incline in the hotel corridor, the porter comments “leg day yesterday, arm day today, no need for gym”.

Dinner
On Carini's suggestion, we order room service for our dinner this evening. This hotel can manage to make a salad and sandwich look like a five-star meal!

The waiter arrives with a large tray complete with condiments as well as a small bunch of flowers.

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My chicken Caesar salad

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David's tuna sandwiches

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Some fresh fruit to share for dessert

I see housekeeping has been having fun with my glasses again while we have been out, creating a little pouch for them from a face cloth. How sweet.

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Tonight we need to pack, as we are moving on to pastures new tomorrow. Why is there so much less room in my bag now than there was when I left home, even though I haven't bought anything?

Goodnight from Iguaçu for the last time. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls breakfast brazil lunch mist brasil jay jetty jetboat shock pain coati iguacu devils_throat pilot wheelchair iguassu hermit finch boat_trip hummingbird selfies itaipu hydroelectric helcipter helicopter_flight heliport glass_lift macuco macuco_boat_safari painful_knee room_service Comments (2)

Iguaçu - Parque das Aves, and the falls from the hotel

A taste of things to come


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep, we wander down to the pool area for breakfast in Restaurant Ipé. The pool looks quite inviting, as the pool boy removes the POOL CLOSED sign, turns all the mattresses down, opens up the parasols, and turns on a coule of fountains.

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At the restaurant, Melissa (the maître d' from yesterday lunchtime) greets us: “Good morning Mrs Howard, did you sleep well?”

The buffet is massive, with 20 different breads, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, and a counter where chefs to cook items to your liking.

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At Melissa's suggestion, we order a tapioca pancake – a first for us. It is quite pleasant, and nowhere near as dry as it looks.

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We are joined outside on the terrace by some gorgeous colourful birds.

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Green Headed Tanager

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Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

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Greater Kiskadee

Parque das Aves
This bird park came recommended, not just by Trip Advisor writers, but also the hotel staff. Set within the 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest, the park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) from all over South America. The privately owned park focuses on reversing the conservation crisis that these birds and the Atlantic Rainforest are experiencing.

Our first impression is not the best: being Sunday, the entrance is heaving with groups and families on a day out. It seems they have lost our reservation, so we face a long wait just to get in.

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To be fair, as a result of the sprawling grounds, it does not feel all that crowded once we get inside.

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Some of the birds are within reasonably-sized cages, but there are also some enormous walk-through aviaries where the birds fly freely all around you.

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Scarlet Ibis

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King Vulture

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Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

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Black Fronted Piping Guan

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Buff Necked Ibis

This area used to hold flamingos until a couple of months ago when a jaguar managed to get into the enclosure. I remember reading about it in the news at the time.

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As well as birds, the park is home to reptiles, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.

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Black Bellied Sliders

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Broad Snouted Caiman

At the halfway mark is a nice little café where we sit down to rest my weary knee. David has been carrying a foldable stool for me, although there have been plenty of benches around too. While we are drinking our cool orange juices, David notices that his shoes are coming apart.

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The large enclosure housing parrots and macaws, is definitely my favourite part of the park. I desperately try – totally unsuccessfully – to capture these brightly coloured birds in flight as they whizz past me with their wings-tips almost touching my face.

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Red and Green Macaw

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Chestnut Fronted Macaw

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Jandaya Parakeet

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Blue and Yellow Macaw

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Blue Winged Macaw

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An unidentified bird in the park

By the time we reach the exit, David is completely sole-less on one foot, so we stop in the gift shop at the national park entrance. Carini arranges a Personal Shopper for him, and he comes out, not only with a new pair of walking shoes but also with a long-sleeved top for the jungle.

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David wearing his new shoes and carrying his heavy (?) shopping bags.

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New shoes

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Getting ready to keep the insects at bay in the jungle with a long-sleeved top

Lunch
We head back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. We don't want a proper meal as such, just a little snack, so we order from the pool menu: fried potatoes with a tasty dip and Brazilian pastels (savoury pastry squares) to share.

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Notice how my bag has yet again got its own chair?

The potatoes and dip are so good we order another portion.

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Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving on the hill behind the patio: coatis. Lots of them running down towards the pool.

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They seem to be attracted by a particular bush, or rather the yellow fruits dropped on the ground underneath the bush.

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Its flexible, pointed, pig-like snout, used for sniffing out food under leaf litter and in crevices, has earned it the nickname “hog-nosed raccoon.”

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Meanwhile, up by our table, hummingbirds flit in and out of the climbing flower, so fast, and severely backlit, that I really struggle to be able to capture them with my camera. With a fair amount of help from Photoshop and Topaz later, I manage a semi-decent picture of the Panalto Hermit.

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We take a bag of ice back to the room with us for my poorly knee.

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Unfortunately, it doesn't remain on my knee for very long, after a few minutes, an ice cube landslide occurs, and they all end up on the floor.

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Iguaçu Falls
After resting my knee for a while, we wander down to the falls. That's the beauty of staying in the Belmond Hotel, you can visit the falls any time of day or night. When we arrived back from the bird park earlier, there were dozens of people at the viewing platform, now there are only a handful. I find a lonely abandoned chair and sit myself down, put up my tripod, and spend the next couple of hours photographing and watching this magnificent spectacle.

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Iguaçu Falls (spelled Iguazu in Spanish) is a series of 275 cataracts on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and together they become the biggest waterfall in the world. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are from Brazil.

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On both sides of the border, a number of different walkways lead out to vantage points where you can get incredibly close to the cascades (often getting very wet in the process)!

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Queueing up for selfies

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing these falls: "Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet."

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Photographs cannot do this natural wonder justice, in fact, not even a video can convey that feeling of power and magnitude!


By the time the light fades and I decide I have enough photos of the waterfalls to last me a lifetime – or at least until tomorrow – there is only me left at the falls. I go back to the room for a shower and get changed for dinner.

Dinner
I start with a Caipirinha, naturally, when in Brazil and all that! We order a bread basket while we wait. The selection of five different types of bread comes with a trio of dips: spiced butter, whipped cream cheese, and a red wine reduction. It is so good!

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The waiter then brings some thin flatbread with garlic and Parmesan cheese.

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For mains we both choose filet mignon on a bed of Gorgonzola ravioli. The waiter asks if we want side vegetables, but having gorged ourselves on bread, we decide not to. Just as well, as the portion is enormous: one fillet would have been plenty. I struggle to finish it, but it is so superb that I battle on until the end.

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David still has room for dessert, whereas I settle for another drink instead.

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Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

When we return to the room, housekeeping has yet again been in for turndown service, and in addition to a chocolate on the pillow, they have given each of the items I left on the little table each own face cloth to rest on. How sweet.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls birds wildlife shopping ice breakfast dinner parrots argentina lunch birding brasil iguazu jay south_america caiman tanager ibis coati iguacu iguassu finch bird_watching hummingbird macaws parque_das_aves bird_park undiscovered_destinations parakeets tapioca_pancake kiskadee sliders broken_shoes new_shoes elanor_roosevelt filet_mignon turnback_servce Comments (6)

São Paulo - Iguaçu

Stage two of the journey to Brazil


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I managed to get some sleep, despite the seat adjustment buttons having a mind of their own, and either not working when I pressed them or continuing to recline when I took my finger off them. When I mention it to the steward this morning, he is quite surprised, as apparently it is a new plane.

Breakfast
The scrambled eggs with pork sausage, mushrooms, and tomato were surprisingly good.

São Paulo Airport
I really should have pre-requested assistance here at Sãp Paulo, as the walk is incredibly long – David estimates almost two miles. We have to clear immigration, collect our luggage, go through customs and walk to the domestic terminal. An official lets me cut in the line for immigration, and I do so myself for customs.

There is a long queue for check-in at the domestic terminal, but a kindly lady sends me to the Special Assistance counter. The young guy there speaks no English and my Portuguese is no better, but we get by using Google Translate.

Opposite the check-in counter is the wheelchair hub, and someone took me straight to a dedicated Special Assistance holding area. As we wait for a porter to collect us when the flight is ready to board, I receive an email from British Airways about our missing bag. Missing bag? What missing bag? We have just collected both bags and checked them in again. I decide to ignore the email.

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São Paulo – Iguaçu flight
The GOL flight is full and I am right at the back of the plane. The steward who helps me cannot understand why they didn't give me a seat at the front of the plane, where there are dedicated seats for the disabled. There is a screaming child two rows in front of me, plus his spoilt brat brother who jumps up and down in the seat throughout the entire flight, including for landing.

As soon as we land in Iguaçu, I attempt to stand up as my knees are hurting, and cannot understand why everyone remains seated. It later transpires that Brazilian flights disembark by row, and only when invited to do so by the crew. How very civilised!

A wheelchair is waiting for me, whisking me straight through in front of everyone else, right to the place where Carini, our local guide, is waiting for us.

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Iguaçu
Our hotel is inside the national park, so we stop at the entrance gate to pay for the park fees. A few hundred yards later is another gate – the first check-in for the hotel. Carini's company is one of very few agencies that are allowed to drive right up to the hotel; everyone else must stop at this post, park their car here and take the hotel shuttle the rest of the way. I am very grateful we don't have to deal with that hassle.

We first visited Iguaçu back in 1990 as part of a big South America trip, and totally fell in love with this place; so much so, that it has remained my all-time favourite spot ever since.

At the time I wrote in my journal:

“Around each corner is a new spectacle, each better than the previous, it is all so magnificent.... It is so overwhelming standing here at the edge of such a mighty waterfall that I am in tears at so much natural beauty. It is all too much for me.”

I do wonder if reality will live up to my memory and expectations 32 years later, with some two hundred more trips abroad and almost one hundred more countries visited since then.

I needn't have worried. As soon as we get the first glimpse of the magnificent falls from the road, my eyes well up, and again I feel extremely emotional.

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Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
This is the only hotel inside the Iguaçu National Park, and classes itself as five star luxury. Way back in 1990 when we last visited Brazil, we did not find it all that luxurious, with a fairly scruffy room where the AC did not work, and disinterested staff.

This time it is very different.

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As soon as we pull up outside the beautiful pink façade, a small army of porters arrive. One of them leads us to the reception while the rest take our luggage out of the car. Gabriel, the receptionist, hands us a welcome drink and a small traditional coconut sweet, and asks if I would prefer a bath or a walk-in shower. Most definitely the latter, as I struggle to get in and out of a bathtub with this poorly knee. He apologises that the room is not quite ready yet (not surprising as it is not even midday at this stage), so he walks us onto the lawn next to the pool, carrying our hand luggage, where he introduces us to Melissa “who will look after you while you wait for your room to be ready”. Melissa leads us to a table, and insists on finding a chair for my camera bag. “We are a five-star hotel, we will not let you put your bag on the ground” she maintains.

Lunch
Today the hotel are hosting a BBQ on the lawns, where all food and drinks are included in the one price. I have no idea how much that 'one price' is, as the saying goes: “if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it”. This is a popular event for the local 'In Crowd', and it is easy to see who has just arrived for the BBQ to see and be seen (dressed to the nines), versus those who are staying in the hotel.

We are assigned a waiter, called Claudiana. He explains that he was named partly after his mother, who was called Ariana, and he hates his name but loves his mother, so he puts up with it. He is very sweet, and ensures we have everything we can possibly want, and more. Each table has a small bottle of hand sanitiser as well as a natural insect repellent.

I start with a classic Caipirinha, Brazil's national drink made with cachaça, sugar, and lime. Cachaça is a bit of an institution here in Brazil, and is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice.

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I have another couple, just to make sure I like them.

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There is an impressive buffet with salads and side dishes, and two large tables with meats carved on demand.

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I am intrigued by the grilled banana to go with the meat, and as I am rather partial to fruit with savoury dishes, I find it most enjoyable. The cracking is probably the best I have ever had!

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David picks up a potato stuffed with cheese, which he claims is delicious.

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The dessert buffet looks extraordinarily temping, and I feel obliged to try one of each dish!

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Oh yes!!!!

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David is not quite so greedy.

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There is a live group entertaining us, playing some very nice music, but a little too loud for me, as we struggle to hold a normal conversation at the table.

We go back to Gabriel on reception, who confirms that our room is now indeed ready for us, and that he has not only upgraded us to a deluxe room, but in fact a deluxe room with a view of the falls! Sounds good!

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The view from the room

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David in our room waving at me when I am down at the falls

The room is unremarkable, while the bathroom has pretty tiles and a built-in seat in the shower, which is rather nice.

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We take a much-needed nap, followed by a refreshing shower. Neither of us feels particularly hungry after the massive BBQ lunch, so we just go down to the bar for drinks and snacks.

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Cold cuts and cheeses to share

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Panga cocktail: Cachaça M'Boy, Cointreau, Sicilian lemon juice, basil, and raspberry syrup.

When we return to the room, housekeeping have been, leaving a mat on the floor beside the bed and a chocolate on the pillow. I do like some old-fashioned turn-back service.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu.

Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged park hotel flight airport breakfast waterfall national bar brazil brasil bbq aircraft south_america sao_paulo dessert disabled iguacu wheelchair cocktail luxury_travel gol live_music caipirinha hotel_room housekeeping british_airways business_class cachaca insect_repellent check-in belmond dessert_buffet turnback_service luxury_hotel ba_club_world disabled_traveller club_world gol_airlines hotel_das_cataratas belmond_hotel_das_cataratas five_star_hotel lunch_on_the_lawn hand_sanitiser grilled_banana room_upgrade cold_cuts Comments (3)

Ndutu IX - migration, cheetah, walkabout lion, hyena, hare

Still no 'Maternity Ward'


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

We stop somewhere suitable to have our picnic breakfast. It is always nice to be able to get out of the car and stretch our legs – we spend over twelve hours each day cooped up inside the car.

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Of course, we can't just stop and get out anywhere, this is, after all, an area full of dangerous wild animals. Malisa chooses his spot carefully, and although he takes every precaution to keep us safe, I think part of the excitement is that you never know...

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Thankfully we can stand up and walk about within the car, with it being just the two of us in the back.

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From the front seat we have everything we need within reach: camera, camcorder, binoculars, notebook and chargers.

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Big Bertha lives on the back seat when not in use.

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But when I need her, she has her own bean bag to rest on at the roof bars. Perfect!

Black Shouldered Kite

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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White Browed Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

The Great Migration

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Although Ndutu and surrounding areas are considered to be the start of the migration (as this is where the babies are born), the migration is in fact a never ending trek driven by the rains and available fresh grass. The location of the enormous herds are rarely ever the same each year in terms of precise timing and direction, as local conditions influence grass growth, but we have been very lucky on this trip to see so many of them.

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Although previous trips have involved areas where the migration herds have been present in large numbers, they have always been fairly spread out, grazing peacefully. Here we are seeing them walking in a single file or 2-3 abreast on slightly wider paths, always on the move. The fabled migration consists in excess of three million wildebeest, several hundred thousand zebra and a few hangers on such as gazelles and eland. Over the course of the year, they move from where we are now to the north of Tanzania and into Kenya, then back to this area again for more babies to be born - a journey of some 500+ kilometres.

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This is just how you see them in wildlife programmes on TV, and I feel so incredibly honoured to be here witnessing this.

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Cattle Egrets

As always, when a great number of wildebeest are present, so are the egrets, who feed on the small insects that make the fur of the animals their home.

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Helping fellow game watchers

Another day, another car stuck in the mud. This time it is Leopard Tours, Tanzania's biggest safari operators. While the vast majority of their drivers are excellent, a few are not quite so well liked, which has given them a bit of a reputation in the industry.

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Other drivers still help out, of course, even if it is just for the sake of the clients.

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Here they go!

Cheetah

Tucked into some undergrowth, we see a cheetah mum and her seven moths old youngster.

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Many cars gather around the sighting, and soon the two cats are on the move.

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They are heading for the shade and safety of the tall grasses again.

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We all follow, of course, keeping a respectful distance from the wild animals. Except one vehicle, whose driver seemed to think that the animals are here for his clients' entertainment and is not happy that the cats want some peace and shade. He heads straight for them inside the undergrowth, driving them out into the open.

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We are all absolutely shocked and horrified – we have never seen such totally unacceptable behaviour in Tanzania before.

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I am sure the cheetah are not impressed either, and they head for another similar place to hide.

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Lo and behold, the rogue driver does it again! I am speechless at his sheer ignorance and attitude! His clients must be equally obtuse and insensitive to allow him to do it, or perhaps they are just plain selfish! Looking into the car, it even looks like one of his passengers is asleep. It am totally aghast by this abhorrent behaviour and vow to report him! Not that I want him to lose his job, but he certainly needs educating!

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In the distance we see a lion, and the cheetah mum has spotted him too and they disappear completely into the grasses. Thankfully the offending driver decides to move off now, as do we.

Lion

This guy is certainly on a mission as he strides across the savannah.

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Much to Malisa's surprise, he just keeps on walking, walking, and walking. We follow – at a respectful distance, of course. You can see he is feeling the heat of the midday sun.

It is very unusual to see a lion walking like this in the middle of the day. I wonder if he has a female somewhere or perhaps he is heading for the wildebeest we saw earlier.

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If you look closely, you can see he is collared. A few of the cats are, just for rangers and researchers to keep a track on their movement.

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We finally figure it out – he is heading for the one and only tree for miles around, where he tries to find a shady spot for his afternoon siesta.

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We have been following him for forty minutes now as he strolled across the grassy flats, and it is obvious that he is suffering badly from the heat and exhaustion – his panting sounds like a steam train!

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That moment when you look into his eyes and swear you can see the soul of the beast!

Wildebeest

We head for a large group of wildebeests in the distance, hoping to find the maternity ward, only to discover it is a bachelor herd.

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We see plenty of Cattle Egrets, however.

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Hyena

Thomson's Gazelle

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Cape Hare

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Lunch
We find a suitable tree to have our picnic under as usual.

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A little too late we discover the tree is full of ants, which are 'dripping' onto David. And there were we just thinking he was being fussy when he claims the “coffee tastes like ants' piss”.

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On that note I shall close this blog off. Once again, thank you Calabash Adventures for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged breakfast kite africa safari tanzania lunch cheetah lion hyena egrets migration gazelle wildebeest hare african_safari wild_animals ndutu big_bertha calabash_adventures coucal lapwing spurfowl picnic_breakfast game_viewing picnic_lunch thomson's_gazelle great_migration wildlife_photography black_shouldered_kite african_animals stuck_in_mud african_birds wildebest_migration cattle_egrets Comments (2)

Serengeti Part II - Cheetah and Leopard

The ethical conundrum of visiting, conservation versus interference


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

Tumbili Picnic Site

This site is part of a public camp ground, and quite large and well organised, with lots of tables and a clean, modern toilet. Oh how things have changed since our very first camping safari in The Serengeti 2007!

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

I get side tracked by a hornbill flitting in amongst the trees and the parked cars at the picnic site.

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They are funny looking things when they are taking a dust bath!

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A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling has found a large piece of bread left behind by picnickers.

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Cheetah

A cheetah mum and her sub-adult cub survey the countryside from the top of a rock. The mum has a nasty gash on her chest, most likely caused by an antelope horn, and is looking very hungry.

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They've spotted some Hartebeest in the distance and are obviously considering their options for lunch.

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It looks like she might be going for it.

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Nope, just having a stretch.

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Oh yes, she is, she was obviously just limbering up.

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The cub follows.

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For a while they stroll through the long grass together.

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Mum moves on and somehow the cub gets left behind. Lost and confused, he starts to call out to his mum.

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Mum climbs atop another rock and they are soon reunited.

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He gets left behind again when mum continues her quest for food, ”You need to keep up son.”

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The cheetah still has her eye on those hartebeest, but cannot work out how to get to them – there are some 70 or so tourist vehicles between her and them. I know the wildlife is protected as a result of safari tourists coming here, with locals encouraged to conserve the animals rather than hunt them but it still feels all wrong, as if we are interfering with nature.

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Where mother goes, son follows.

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She's off again.

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And so is the youngster.

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We can hear mum calling him, and suddenly he breaks into a run, bouncing up and down in the long grass as he goes.

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Constantly on the move, here and there, back and forth. At one stage we find the cub trying to hide in the long grass right by the car.

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This rock looks like a good place to get a view over the plains.

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And the cub follows.

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Junior has spotted something. Is it suitable for lunch?

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Not at all – the cheetahs may be brave hunters, but a large baboon spooks them and they disappear into the long grass.

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Olive baboons

The cheetahs are not the only ones feeling concerned as the baboons walk between the vehicles and even jump on top of one of the cars looking for food.

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The can be quite aggressive and cause a lot of damage should they attack.

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Time to move on.

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Three Banded Plover

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Silverbird

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Striated Heron

Road Repairs

I know this is the main road through Serengeti, which is used not only by safari vehicles, but also by heavy goods trucks; but here the surface was pretty good in the first place! Wouldn't it be so much more sensible to try and sort out some of the smaller, muddier tracks we've been along, where in some places the road is not even passable?

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Steel Blue Whydah

Leopard

Would you believe we see another leopard in a tree?

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There are quite a few vehicles here already, but one by one they drive off as the cat just relaxes on a branch, licking herpaws and generally not doing a lot. When she starts to yawn, we know she will soon make a move, and after about half an hour, we are the only people left watching when she slowly makes her way across the tree branches. As always, patience sure pays off!

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Within five minutes, she has made her way down from the tree – unfortunately hidden by the vegetation so no photos.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

Giraffe

I mentioned to Malisa earlier how surprised I was at the lack of 'plains game' such as giraffe, zebra and antelopes. With that, we come across a giraffe.

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Malisa estimates that this youngster is less than three months old

All this excitement has made us hungry, and we call into the Visitor's Centre Picnic Area for lunch.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for another amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:10 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife breakfast africa safari tanzania birding cheetah picnic giraffe baboons roller serengeti leopard heron starling bird_watching hornbill african_safari lilac_breasted_roller calabash_adventures plover breakfast_picnic helmetshrike silverbird wildlife_photography whydah leopard_in_a_tree tumbili_picnic_site cheetah_cub road_repairs road_works Comments (3)

Lake Manyara: Tree Climbing Lion, Leopard -Treetop Walkway

Some great sightings in a park without high expectations


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

Breakfast Picnic, Lake Manyara National Park

We find ourselves at a large picnic site overlooking the valley below, with several picnic tables dotted about, and thankfully no other tourists.

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Last night the chef asked us what we wanted for our packed breakfast for today, and he suggested that we might like some croissants with bacon. It didn't expect three of them, plus boiled eggs and bacon, two yogurts and three bananas. We are certainly not going to starve on this trip. The croissants are, as you'd expect from an establishment such as the Kilimamoja Lodge, freshly made this morning, and were still warm when Malisa collected the boxes at 6am.

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We are joined by an army of ants.

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Later three cars with American tourists turn up. They are not the least bit interested in the view or other surroundings, they all want to see, feel, lift and have their photos taken with Big Bertha (my 600mm f/4 lens). It's a bit like having a puppy that everyone wants to stroke – she is certainly a talking point and a way of meeting people.

I use Bertha hand held to take this picture of elephants in the river way, way below us. With the 1.4x converter and the 7DII body, it makes an effective focal length of 1344mm. Bertha is really a bit too heavy to hand hold, so I used a 1/4000 second exposure, resulting in an ISO of 1000. Unfortunately the 7DII doesn't fare well with high ISO and the image is rather grainy as a result.

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Detour

Not even Malisa and his super-skilled driving can manage to get us across this ravine where the road has been washed away as a result of recent heavy rain.

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We, and the three cars behind us, have a bit of a job trying to reverse back to a place suitable for turning.

Tree-Climbing Lions

Lake Manyara National Park is supposedly famous for its tree-climbing lions. On neither of our two previous visits to the park did we see a lion, let alone one aloft any branches. Malisa hears on the radio that one has been spotted not far away, so sets off in hot pursuit.

We are not alone, and initially we can't get anywhere near the cats!

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With a bit of skilful manoeuvring, however, and the goodwill of others drivers, we do eventually get to see one of the famous tree-lions of Manyara!

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Under the tree we pick out two more. No, three. Actually, there are FOUR!

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She doesn't look comfortable in her tree, and fidgets a lot, trying out different positions.

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Neither are we. The pesky tsetse flies are irksome to say the least, and I feel like I am being eaten alive.

Leopard

So, do we hang around here, hoping the lioness will jump down, or do we follow the news on the radio that there is a leopard in a tree too? We opt for the latter.

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She is some distance away from the road (and my camera), and very well hidden in amongst the tree branches, making it very hard to focus. She too is unsettled.

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Not long after we arrive, she starts to make her way down from the tree. We are very lucky to have got here just in time. She didn't hang around for me to get a clear photo of her.

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Blue Monkey

On our way out of the park, we spot the Blue Monkey, a species that we have seen rarely on our previous safaris.

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Treetop Walkway

A new treetop walkway has opened up, just a five-minute drive from the main gate, and we stop there on our way.

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First we take a short walk through the woods, and our guide explain a few things along the way.

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Mahogany Pod

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So this is what the baboons were picking up from the floor and eating earlier.

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Golden Orb Spider; a common insect in the forest

A gentle slope leads up to the first of ten platforms, and the start of the hanging rope bridges.

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I start off nonchalantly, almost cocky, on the first bridge. Until it starts to sway. Considerably! Fear grips my like an iron glove and I feel myself starting to panic. Concentrating on breathing heavily, I stop and let the bridge settle down before continuing, this time much more gingerly and much less confidently.

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I made it! Still shaking, only eight more bridges to go.

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Even Malisa wavers a little at the swaying. To be fair, he is carrying my big camera in one hand, David's video camera in the other and his own over his shoulder.


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It is the first treetop walkway in Tanzania and with a total of 370 metre,s one of the longest in Africa!

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There are nine bridges and ten platforms.

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By the time I get to the end of bridge number four, I have regained my confidence, and am beginning to enjoy it.

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Having been on several of these in the past, I have no expectations of seeing any animals or even birds from it; I am just here to 'enjoy' the experience. I am therefore very surprised to see a couple of Blue Monkeys.

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Look at the length of that tail!

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The walkway’s highest point is 18 metres above the ground.

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It's all downhill from now on.

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Just a short walk through the woods back to the car and we'll be on our way for the third part of today's adventures. Stay tuned!

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging all this for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife elephants breakfast africa safari spider birding picnic lions flooding ants manyara leopard fear blue_monkey detour bird_watching panic lake_manyara big_bertha calabash_adventures tse_tse_flies big_cats breakfast_picnic ravine breakfast_box wildlife_photography picnic_site kilimamoja_lodge canon_600mm american_tourists tree_climbing_lions treetop_walkway canopy_walkway hanging_bridges rope_bridges manyara_treetops_walkway mahogany_pod Comments (2)

Lake Natron - Mto Wa Mbu walking Tour - Kilimamoja

Something a little different today


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

Lake Natron Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giraffe

Our path is blocked by a giraffe again today.

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Strange earth mounds appear on the side of the road.

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Crowned Lapwing

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

Kori Bustard

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

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

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Capped Wheatear

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

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Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse - today's first lifer

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk, lifting one leg for thermoregulation.

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

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White Throated Bee Eaters

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

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

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The hillside is ablaze with colour

Zebra

We spook a zebra mummy and her young foal.

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

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

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

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

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

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The local bus service

It looks like we have another river to get across.

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Breasted Bee Eater

Ngaruka

We pass through the small town of Ngaruka again.

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The roads are still pretty awful

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Donkey Cart, AKA Maasai Landrover

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

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Where did the road go?

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Here it is. Or rather, was.

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This looks like fun


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Road Re-Construction

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

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We stop and give them some bottles of water.

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

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Cactus

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

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Mto Wa Mbu

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

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

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

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

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It's a muddy job!

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

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

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

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Dried out corn husks will be used as animal fodder.

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Taking it home for the cattle

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Okra or Lady Fingers

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Cassawa Plants

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

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Banana Plantations

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

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Lunch

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

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It's good to be out of the fierce sun

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

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

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

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Lake Manyara

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

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Kilimamoja Lodge

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

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

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

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

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Towel art on the bed


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We have an unobscured view of the valley below

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

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Always prepared for a great photo opportunity

Dinner

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

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

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

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

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Cappuccino Art

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

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

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

Kilimamoja Lodge - Lake Natron

Exploring new ground


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

Despite having lots of strange and unpleasant dreams, I slept very, very well last night. I get up before dawn this morning to try and capture the sunrise.

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Breakfast

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A continental selection is available as a buffet, and Lilian comes to take our order for cooked food. As soon as I see Eggs Benedict on the menu, I know what I am having.

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We slide along the same muddy track back to the main road this morning. It hasn't improved any overnight!

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We are joining the sealed road only briefly today, as far as Mto Wa Mbu, where we turn off left towards Lake Natron

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My mum used to meet me with my bike and hers after school when I was eight, but I have never before seen someone cycling with THREE bikes before!

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There are always a lot of baboons near Mto Wa Mbu. This one looks somewhat philosophical!

The Road to Lake Natron

We are now entering new territory for us, this is the first time we have come this way. The track follows the Ngorongoro Escarpment on the left, with the flat plains of the Great Rift Valley on the right.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Roadworks

Work started on repairing this road last year, with the rocks just having been arranged in place when the rain came and washed them all away. Now they have to start all over again.

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We can certainly see why they are having problems. I find it amazing that Malisa can manage to negotiate these sort of tracks. He has brand new chunky tyres, four-wheel drive and is an excellent driver, but even so.

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The track crosses a number of rivers on the way. Why does this make me think of a UB40 song?

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As we get nearer, I realise that the river is really rather fast flowing. "Are you sure you are going to drive across that Malisa?"

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So far so good...

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At this point I am getting a little concerned that we are going to wash away down the river. The water is so murky that it is impossible to see what is at the bottom, or how deep the river is.

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At least we'll have a good video for YouTube if we do!

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We make it, safe and sound (and dry) to the other side!

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The track doesn't get much better this side – I have seen smoother dried up river beds.

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This looks like another impossible crossing – a sheer drop of around a foot.

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A few little boulder the other side of the drop does the trick. We're fine!

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White Throated Bee Eaters

Abdim's Stork

A migrant from Europe, who comes to this area for winter; this is the first time we have seen the Abdim's Stork in Tanzania.

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Uh, uh.

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It is not as bad as it first looked; there is a slightly easier route to one side. But only slightly.

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Another river to cross, although this one is nowhere near as deep.

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We pass a few villages, with straw and mud huts.

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Ngaruka

We drive through the small settlement of Ngaruka Town, which has only recently had electricity installed.

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Of course, not everyone has power.

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Gotta love the petrol station, where fuel is sold in plastic water bottles.

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This may look primitive to us, but it is also pretty eco-friendly: true basic upcycling.

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Blue Naped Mousebird

Another river to cross. We're getting good at this!

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Traffic Jam

We encounter an unexpected traffic jam.

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Affectionately known as 'Maasai Landrovers', donkeys are much sought after within the agricultural community and are generally well looked after.

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I have never before noticed that donkeys have a stripe along their backs and down their necks.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano

Meaning 'Mountain of God' in the local Maasai language, Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano that last erupted in 2008, although in 2017 scientists confirmed it was quietly rumbling, showing signs that an eruption may be imminent.

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From a scientific point of view, it is extremely fascinating: it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. This thin, silvery lava melts at a lower temperature (around 600 °C), and more importantly, it can flow faster than a person can run. This sensational discovery was not made until as recently as in the 1960s.

More bad road surface.

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Layers of lava clearly showing.

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Augur Buzzard

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Ostrich

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Brown Snake Eagle

Giraffe

I don't think I will even get used to seeing exotic wild animals such as the giraffe, roaming free. In the national parks, yes, but here we are just driving across the country, not actually in a designated animal park. There are no physical barriers and the animals don't know where the borders are of course.

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The youngster is about a year old.

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Broken Down Bus

Up until this moment, it has felt like we are pioneering travellers in a land that time forgot. Knowing that this is a bus route ruins all that in a flash.

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I am not at all surprised that it has broken down, I am more amazed that it managed to get this far in the first place!

When we realise that there are people working underneath the vehicle, we stop and give them some of our water. They are delighted, and even more so when they find that the bottles are cold out of the fridge!

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Kori Bustard

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Booted Eagle - a dreadful photo, but it is a lifer.

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We have no idea what this boy was doing under the tree miles from anywhere, but I think he makes an interesting silhouette.

The original sheep contraception. Sometimes simple solutions work better than chemicals.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

From a distance we can see tonight's accommodation, so I will finish this blog entry here. Thank you Calabash Adventures for making this trip possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife volcano bus sunrise breakfast safari eagle birding lava donkeys petrol giraffe baboons ostrich goat electricity ford gas_station kori_bustard bird_watching buzzard roadworks great_rift_valley broken_down_bus calabash_adventures eruption mto_wa_mbu snake_eagle tawny_eagle traffic_jam mousebird augur_buzzard bee_eaters sandgrouse wildlife_photography petrol_station kilimamoja_lodge muddy_tracks lake_natron river_crossing abdim's_stork ngaruka fuel_station maasai_landrovers ol_doynio_lengai mountain_of_god volcanic_eruption broken_down goat_contraception Comments (4)

A day of doing very little at Mandina Lodges

Our last day in The Gambia


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

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

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We choose the full works today:

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Fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee

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

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

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

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Egret on the neighbours' deck

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Western Plantain Eater

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Common Bulbul

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African Palm Swift

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Western Plantain Eaters

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Common Bulbul

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Channelling my creative side...

I love the artwork dotted around the grounds.

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Dinner

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

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Prawns in Black Bean Sauce with Noodles

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

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

And so it is off to bed.

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

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