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A lazy morning at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy


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

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

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We're not the only ones enjoying the sunrise.

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The morning goes something like this:

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

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

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

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Another one of the fifteen cats at Mandina Lodges

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

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Laughing Dove

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Bats in the ceiling of the restaurant

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The birds are fed every day

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Lovely bougainvillea in the grounds

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Village Weaver

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

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Black Necked Weaver

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Beautiful water reflections in the river

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Long Tailed Cormorants

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David at the poolside

Lunch

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

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The crab has lost its claw.

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He still managed to escape though.

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But not for long.

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A Grey Heron wants to get in on the action.

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As well as a Western Plantain Eater.

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Time for another siesta.

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

Tanji Beach and Bird Bath

Last morning at Tanji


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

With no early morning bird trip booked today, we have a lie-in this morning and don't rise until 07:15. Luxury. It is also the first time in the four nights we've stayed here that we've had breakfast in the lodge.

After a lovely omelette, we go back to the room and pack for today's transfer to our next lodge, then take a long, leisurely stroll along the beach.

Tanji Beach

Tanji Bird Eco Lodge borders what could be a nice beach with a bit of TLC. As it is at the moment, it is littered with all sorts of rubbish washed up or discarded by fishermen. Other than the locals who are either using it as a short cut from one place to another, or are here to look for bait for their fishing trip; the beach is deserted.

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It could be so nice.

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The beach is suffering badly from erosion

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I was hoping to find some sea birds along the coast, but the only one we see is a lone Whimbrel.

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Instead I try my hand at some creative photography using the crashing waves as my subject.

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We return to the lodge and spend the remainder of the morning by the birding pool.

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With a drink, of course

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Black Necked Weaver enjoying a splash in the bird bath

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weaver

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African Silverbill

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African Silverbill

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Common Bulbul

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Black Necked Weaver

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Western Bluebill

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Pied Crow

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Common Wattle Eye

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Agama Lizard

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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White Crowned Robin Chat

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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A Green Vervet Monkey tries to muscle in on the scene too

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Bronze Mannikins

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Senegal Coucal

Lunch

During our long chat with Haddy yesterday, we were asked what time we would like to arrange the transfer from Tanji to Bakotu for today. As we love it so much here, we decided we'd like to have one last lunch at this place before moving on.

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Fish and chips

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One last coffee under our favourite umbrella

It is always hard to say goodbye when you have been treated like part of the family as we have here. Spending four nights in the same hotel is rather unusual for us, so we have really got to know the staff quite well.

The driver who picks us up for the transfer is the most miserable Gambian we have met to date, and a poor driver to boot. His driving style is jerky and aggressive and he travels much too close to the vehicle in front. Thankfully the journey to Bakotu only takes half an hour.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:49 Archived in Gambia Tagged beach monkey waves rubbish crow lunch lizard birding trash coffee erosion pollution flycatcher dove fish_and_chips west_africa weaver bulbul finch gambia omelette bird_watching hornbill eco_lodge coucal cordon_bleu the_gambia tanji robin_chat bristlebill cordon_blue mannikin firefinch tanji_bird_eco_lodge bluebill leaflove tanji_beah creative_photography slow_shutter_speed silverbill wattle_eye verver_monkey saying_goodbye Comments (3)

Brufut

So many lifers


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

Yet again Lariam (malaria prophylaxis) upsets my sleep with a series of bad dreams: while faced with a plethora of colourful birds, my camera refuses to operate despite repeatedly and frustratingly pressing the shutter. I wake up agitated and distressed, realise it is thankfully just a dream and return to sleep. And the dream. The same horrid dream. This repeats itself time and time again and by the time the alarm goes off at 6am, I am exhausted.

Birding Pool

Knowing we are too early for the breakfast, and will be out for most of the morning, we grab some snacks from our bags and head to the bird pool to wait for the guide to arrive.

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As it is still fairly dark, photography is almost impossible, so we just sit and enjoy until Malick turns up.

Police Check Point

We pre-booked Malick – Chris Packham's birding guide of choice - through The Gambia Experience before we left home, just to make sure we had a couple of days of serious birding organised. Having someone who knows where to go and the transport to take us there is half the battle.

As with so many African countries, The Gambia has its fair share of Police Road Blocks where they check the drivers' paperwork. It also acts as an opportunity to investigate the birds that hang around here, feeling on rubbish left behind.

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Yellow Crowned Gonolek

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Brown Babbler

Brufut

Our destination for today, however, is Brufut, a community-organised bird sanctuary protected by the West African Birds Study Association.

Before we reach the woods themselves, we stop near some habitation at the edge of a few plantations and take a short walk to see what species can be found around here. We are very excited to spot so many 'lifers' (species new to us, indicated by * below) in such a small area.

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Yellow Billed Shrike*

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Stone Partridge*

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Piapiac*

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White Crowned Robin Chat*

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Village Weaver

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Senegal Wattled Plover*

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Black Crake

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

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African Jacana

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Pied Crow

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White Billed Buffalo Weaver*

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Beautiful Sunbird (female)

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Bearded Barbet

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Splendid Sunbird (female)

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Copper Sunbird*

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Intermediate Egret

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Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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Variable Sunbird (female) The female sunbirds all look very similar.

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Common Sandpiper

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

The plantations include such crops as cashew nuts and mango trees.

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Unripe cashew fruits with the nuts not yet having developed - they will be hanging down below when ripe

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Mango fruits

Brufut Woodland Bar

We continue to an area known as Brufut Woods, where there is even a bar serving drinks. Fearing that they may not be open this late in the season, Malick had already contacted them by phone earlier, to make sure they put the kettle on.

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A number of benches are set out, overlooking an area with several bird baths in the trees and on the ground. I notice that rather than putting out food for the birds so that they become dependent on humans for feeding, only water is provided. I like that.

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This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.

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We spend the next couple of hours watching, photographing, and listening to the birds, seeing their family squabbles, how they interact with each other and some obvious pecking orders.

As before, any lifers are denoted with *

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Senegal Coucal

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Black Billed Wood Dove*

I usually have a wish list of birds (or animals) I wish to see when we travel, and this is one of only three on my list this time:

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Western Plantain Eater*

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Bronze Mannikin

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Yellow Throated Leaflove*

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Laughing Doves

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Common Bulbul

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Black Necked Weaver*

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Lavender Waxbill*

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

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African Thrush*

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Splendid Sunbird

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Hooded Vulture

We employ the services of a local guide to help us go in to the woods to look for the Long Tailed Nightjar which is often found in this area. After a short moment of concern when the bird is not where he saw it half an hour earlier (as nocturnal birds, nightjars don't tend to move far during the day unless they are spooked), he spots it on the ground, very well camouflaged.

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We start making our way back to the main road, along dirt tracks frequented by more animal carts than vehicles.

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But first, Malick wants to check out some palms on the way.

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Grey Woodpecker*

Having seen them here in the last couple of days, this is what he was looking for:

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Red Necked Falcons*

And so ends a very productive morning's birdwatching. Now back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow africa birding coffee mango woodpecker heron egret vulture dove malaria west_africa kingfisher starling plantations weaver falcon shrike bulbul dreams finch barbet gambia lariam nightjar bird_watching hornbill sunbird jacana cashews coucal plover thrush sandpiper life_list robin_chat mefloquine malaria_prophelaxis malaria_tablets nightmares disturbed_sleep police_check_point chris_packham malick_suso the_gambia_experience gonolek cordon_blue brufut brufut_woods piapiac whistling_ducks honeyguide crake glossy_starling greenshank red_bishop mango_trees cashew_nuts cashew_trees plantain_eater mannikin firefinch waxbill Comments (4)

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

Homeward bound


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the bird watching.

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Village Weavers

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Village Weaver with its impressive nest

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

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Hotel reception

Nova Roça Coffee Plantation

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

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Obo National park

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

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

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

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Botanical Gardens

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

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The disappointingly dried out Lake Amelie

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

Cascata São Nicolau

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

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

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

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The beginning of the end

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

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São Tomé Airport

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

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

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

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

Departure Gate

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

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

The End

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

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

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

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

São Tomé city tour and Monte Café

An easy day


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

I set the alarm for 06:30 this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds before breakfast. I am not disappointed.

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Yellow-billed kite

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Village Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Yellow Fronted Canary

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Yellow Billed Kite

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Village Weaver

Four 'lifers' (new species to us) before breakfast on the first day! I also spot a couple of cute little lizards.

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Breakfast

Forte de São Sebastião

The old San Sebastian Fort has now been turned into a museum.

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The square outside is home to statues depicting the first settlers in São Tomé and Principe.

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São Tomé & Principe were both uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in 1470 who came in search of land to grow sugar and as a base for trade with mainland Africa. São Tomé, being right on the equator and more than wet enough, fitted the bill perfectly. Slaves were brought over as forced labourers from Congo and Angola on the African coast to work the plantations. The first successful settlement was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown and by the mid-16th century the islands were Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

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Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were 'undesirables' sent from Portugal, mostly Jews, a great number of whom soon died.

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By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centred at Elmina in Ghana. The interesting little museum chronicles the history of the country, but unfortunately photography is not permitted inside most of the rooms in the fort, so you will just have to make do with some external shots from the courtyard.

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Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years as a result of competition from the West Indies, and São Tomé was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

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In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced to São Tomé. Large plantations (known as roças), mostly owned by Portuguese companies, sprung up all over the islands. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest producer of cocoa, with 800 of these plantations, and although this is no longer the case (and so many of the roças lie in ruins), cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

The second room in the museum shows examples of the different types of cocoa beans (and there was I thinking a cocoa bean was a cocoa bean). The plant was originally brought from Portugal as an ornamental plant, and remained so until someone said: “You're wasting your money, this plant grows so well here you should start a plantation”. Experts were imported from other Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola, and the rest is history.

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Other rooms are devoted to Catholicism, the President, the Flag, dining room, culture room (including voodoo paraphernalia and mannequins in various traditional costumes) and a gallery of old pictures from the city.

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By far the most emotional and poignant of all the exhibitions, is the Massacre Room. I find most of the pictures too distressing to look at, yet again despairing at man's inhumanity to man.

By the time we get to the 'turtle room', my back is giving me a lot of pain. I had hoped the pain would be gone by this morning after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, but not so; it is getting worse and worse.

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São Tomé is home to five different species of turtles, and much education work is taking place to ensure their continuing conservation.

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I had no idea Leatherback Turtles could grow that big!

Climbing onto the roof is proving to be quite a task because of my painful back. It is worth it for the view though.

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The graves of some 'important people' of a bygone age.

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Catedral de São Tomé

The 16th century cathedral is the oldest on the island and is reputed to be the first Catholic church to be built in an African country.

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The original building was constructed from wood, but the church was rebuilt in a more durable material - concrete - in the 17th century.

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As a place of worship, it is popular, especially for Sunday mass, when the pews are full.

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Damaged by fire during a revolt in 1975, the church was repaired from donations.

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Beautiful relics from the Portuguese era.

Parliament Building

Photographing this building is not permitted, with armed guards posted outside. Despite my experience in 2011 when I was chased down the road by one such guard after taking a picture of a bank in Algiers, I risk a covert shot from a distance.

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Driving by the market and later past the popularly named 'Think Square' where Sãotoméans gather to work out a survival strategy when they have no money (unemployment sits at 70%), we head out of town and up into the hills. I am pleasantly surprised at the condition of the road: there is some sizeable areas of tarmac between the potholes. The first settlement of any size we reach is Trindade, the second biggest city in São Tomé, with 45,000 inhabitants. It was here that a rebellion took place in 1953, where hundreds of native Creoles were killed or captured and tortured to death (known as the Batepá massacre). Later their bodies were thrown in the sea, like animals. "Throw this shit into the sea to avoid troubles," the Portuguese governor was quoted as saying. A memorial has been built to mark the spot and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

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Roça Monte Café

One of the largest coffee plantation on the island, Monte Café has now been turned into a museum offering a tour of the coffee production process.

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At 600m above sea level, the air is considerably cooler here than in town, and the climate is ideal for growing Arabica coffee.

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We are invited up the stairs of one of the old warehouses, to walk through the exhibitions with a Portuguese-speaking guide, and Agostinho as a translator. Here the men toiled the plantations while the women worked in the factory.

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I am in agony with my back now, and seek out a chair on the balcony after the first couple of rooms, especially as photography is not permitted inside the museum.

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Alei Coffe Shop

Despite taking a double dose of painkillers, my back is still going into spasms, unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the excellent lunch.

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Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

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Red snapper with plantain, breadfruit and rice. The green stuff is described as a 'lusoa sauce' and is really quite nice. I have been unable to ascertain what it is in English - maybe the green tops of sweet potato.

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David tries the locally brewed beer, Rosema, which comes in unmarked bottles without a label.

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Passionfruit cheesecake

Passionfruit is grown in abundance here on São Tomé, and I am intrigued by the size of them. I had no idea there was more than one type of passionfruit.

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Miramar Hotel

With my back being so painful, we return to the hotel a little earlier than planned, where I have a short siesta and feel some better afterwards.

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Like last night, we wander onto the terrace for a drink outside before dinner. Tonight we choose some Portuguese Vinho Verde, which goes down very nicely.

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Dinner

I am assuming the hotel is not full this evening, as we are the only diners at 19:30. Tonight's special is chicken stroganoff, and we both choose that. It is very good.

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Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

The end of another interesting day in São Tomé, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:45 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged turtles fish fort museum cathedral africa birding parliament coffee trindade pain slavery ceviche defence canary plantations weaver massacre demonstrations cocoa bird_watching roca red_snapper undiscovered_destinations sao_tome batepa_massacre miramar_hotel prinia endemic_birds forte_de_são_sebastião sugar_plantations roca_monte_café vinho_verde passionfruit back_pain Comments (4)

Muscat - Sur - Ras el Jinz

Along the north coast


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The breakfast buffet this morning is huge, with choices of various breads, Indian, English, American and Middle Eastern dishes, plus Continental cold meats / cheese and cereals.

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The whole place seems in a bit of a muddle this morning though, as there are no cups by the coffee machine, so people take them off the tables; there are no spoons in the cinnamon nor syrup, they run out of waffles as well as orange juice, no teaspoons are available so David has to stir his coffee with a dessert spoon.

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I managed to get a couple of waffles before the ran out

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David had to 'make do' with a fry-up.

Fish market

Our first stop on today's journey is at the fish market in Muscat, housed in a nice new modern building, a mere four months old.

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The long thin fish on the left are barracuda, while the big yellow ones with spots are the famed kingfish.

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The market is all very clean and the produce looks of high quality.

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Tuna

Most of the workers in the market are 'middle men' rather than the fishermen themselves, often ex-boatmen who maybe now find the all-night fishing a bit too much.

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Totally in awe of his skill and speed, we watch this man de-bone and fillet a large fish in next to no time.

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.

Vegetable Market

Next to the fish market is the equally new and modern vegetable market.

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Most of the produce is imported, and among the more familiar items, we see a lot of typical Indian vegetables, obviously to appease the immigrant population.

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The dates, however, are local and a must to accompany kahwa, the traditional Omani coffee.

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Off-roading

Said asks if we would prefer to take the main road between Muscat and the coast, or a short-cut which would mean 20km of off-roading.
Without hesitation, we both answer in unison: “off-roading please”

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The road is way smoother than either of us anticipate, but the geological formations alongside it are fascinating: bleak, ragged, crumbly hills more akin to man-made slag heaps than anything nature has created.

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I desperately try to take pictures through the car windows at every turn in the road, most of which don't turn out at all.

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The only other car we see on the 20km journey.

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Eventually, we stop on a ridge to tale photos out over the surreal landscape at Wadi Al Hawh. Is this really Planet Earth, or did we travel to the moon by mistake?

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Hawiyat Najm Park, featuring Bimmah Sink Hole

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Fresh water is mixed with sea water in this sink hole, making for a beautiful iridescent aquamarine colour, some 50m x 70m large and 20m deep.

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Despite the Arabic name Hawiyat Najm, which literally means 'the falling star', this depression was not caused by a meteorite as suggested by local folklore, but rather as a result of limestone erosion. Said suggests it was a fairly recent occurrence, maybe 25 years ago.

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The area around the sink hole has been turned into a leisure park, with decent toilets, shaded picnic areas and steps leading down to the water for locals and tourists to swim. Apparently it is a very popular place with families on the weekend. I can see why as there is a nice cooling breeze coming in from the sea.

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Kahwa and dates

Before we leave, we are invited for kahwa by Said's friend who is the gatekeeper guardian of the park.

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Kahwa is more than just a 'mere coffee' to the Omanis, it's a ritual that occupies a special place in their society. Friends and guests will always be served coffee and dates, usually in small, handle-less cups.

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By handing back the cup without any further ado, you indicate that you would like some more. If you have finished, you should shake the cup as you give it back.

Wadi Shab Oasis

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What an odd place. The initial access to the oasis is underneath a highway flyover, with the pillars supporting the road sitting on an island in the wadi.

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Having read all about this place before we left home, I had already decided I was going to give it a miss. Hearing that after the initial boat trip across the river we have to walk for an hour or more along a small rugged ledge and scramble over huge boulders just to get to the initial pools; then if we want to see the main attraction, we need to swim and wade across three pools; and in order to enter the cave, we actually have to swim through a hole between the mountains then climb up using a rope to reach the waterfall.

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I think we'll leave this place to the adrenalin-seeking youngsters we once were.

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Apparently, the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving final was held here in Wadi Shab.

Wadi Tiwi

To make up for not fully exploring Wadi Shab, Said suggests that we drive up the road through the five villages of Wadi Tiwi. Sounds like a fair exchange to me.

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My, oh my, what a drive! This really has to be one of the most amazing roads ever. Initially the road runs along the valley floor, between date and banana plantations and rock pools with boulders so large we discuss how they could possibly come to have rested in such a place.

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Known as the 'Wadi of Nine Villages', the road snakes its way between towering canyon walls in amongst old, traditional settlements (where Said seems to know everyone), criss-crossed by a network of aflaj (the traditional Omani irrigation channels).

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I am fascinated by the huge, upright boulder in the middle of this village. Real or mad-made I wonder...

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Said expertly handles the car around huge boulders and rocky outcrops in some impressive bends.

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Trying to grab photos of passing scenery is proving quite a challenge, with me hanging out of the window holding on to the camera for dear life.

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Eventually Said does stop the car so that we can take a proper look at the views.

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If driving up was impressive, travelling down is mind-blowing, with impossibly sharp bends, large rocks jutting out into the track, crumbling plantation walls and local houses seemingly blocking our way.

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During the rainy season this road becomes completely impassable for a few days as flood water gushes down the valley.

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The ever-present falaj (irrigation system).

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Lunch

At the bottom of the valley, we stop at a small road-side restaurant in the village of Tiwi.

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We order traditional Omani kingfish which is lovely and fresh and comes in a tasty coating. We also have a dish with vegetables, a spicy sauce, a salad and roti; and no self-respecting Omani would have lunch or dinner without a mountain of biriyani rice.

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Sur

With the appearance of a sleepy little seaside town, it is surprising to learn that Sur is the fourth largest city in Oman (after Muscat, Nizwa and Salalah) with nearly 70,000 inhabitants.

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Said looking out over the estuary

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Turtle in the water

During the 1500s, Sur was the region’s most important port, importing and exporting goods from India and Africa, including slaves.

Dhow Museum

It's for the construction of dhows, the traditional Arab sailing vessels, that Sur is famous today, however.

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Sur established itself as Oman’s most important ship-building centre around the 16th century, a trade which continued until the beginning of the 20th century and is barely kept alive today.

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The word 'dhow' is generally used to describe all traditional wooden-hulled Arabian boats, although locals will either refer to them as safena or suh-fin which both basically mean just ‘ships'; or they will use the more specific names such as boom, sambuq, ghanjah – which for all intents and purposes are different styles of dhow.

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Houri Al safeena – a small sailing boat used to send a rescue team to stranded boats.

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Launch samak – diesel boat from 1983 used for fishing with cast nets.

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Al Mashouh – a light canoe with a square shaped stern used for ferrying sailors to their ship and back.

Dhow Shipyard

The traditional Arab sailing vessels known as dhows are still being produced here at this shipyard in Sur, the only remaining of its kind in Oman.

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This dhow has been a 'work in progress' for over two years now, and will cost somewhere in the region of 200,000-300,000 Rial (ca £400,000-600,000).

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Traditionally, dhows were constructed of teak planks sewn together using coir rope and powered by enormous triangular lateen sails. These days iroko wood is mostly used.

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Many people work on the construction, with each person having a specific task, such as this woodcarver. Traditionally all the work was carried out by locals, but these days many immigrant workers, mostly from India, have taken over the jobs.

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I decline the invitation to climb on board the partially finished ship as health and safety is non-existent.

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Ras al Jinz Hotel

We continue to our hotel for the night, and as soon as we have checked in, we go to our room and await the porter bringing our bags.

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He arrives fairly promptly, but once he has left, we can't find the key to our door. We search everywhere. No sign of it. Eventually we give up and ask Housekeeping for a spare, so that we can actually lock the door when we leave the room.

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As it will be a late night tonight and an early start tomorrow, we try to have a bit of a nap, but struggle to get to sleep on the very hard bed.

Some two hours later, a very sheepish porter turns up with the key that was in his pocket all along. Doh.

Turtle Information Centre

There is only one reason for coming here: turtles.

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One of the main tourist destinations in Oman, Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve was set up in 1996 to protect the rare and endangered green turtle which returns every year to lay its eggs on the same beach where it was born decades ago.

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The well laid out visitor centre showcases the lifecycle of the green turtle as well as the archaeological findings from this area through museographical displays – whatever that means!

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There are interactive displays and a short film showing the life of a turtle and the work carried out here.

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Dinner

Having a bit of an upset tummy, I am not feeling up to much food this evening. The buffet is mostly Indian, with the odd international dish thrown in. I stick to potatoes with a yogurt-type dressing.

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Turtle Watching

Turtles are big business here, and I have to admit to finding the whole organisation rather too big and commercialised with far too many people.

This is considered the low season as far as turtles go, so we are told to gather in the lobby at 20:15 for news on whether any turtles have been spotted on the beach this evening. The area is very crowded, with nowhere near enough seats for everyone. We are lucky, as we arrive early to find a spare sofa.

We wait. And wait. And wait. No news.

Finally, at 21:15 we rush off in seven different groups. As hotel residents, we have priority and are in group # 1.

We exit through the rear of the hotel, each group being led by a local naturalist with a torch. Initially there is a smoothish gravel path, but soon the ground becomes like slippery mud, then slightly looser sand. As we get near to the water, the sand is deep and soft, making walking rather hard work.

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This photo, taken the next morning, shows the gravel path leading out from the hotel

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Here you can see the 'slippery mud' (the shiny bit reflecting the sun) and just how far away the sea is.

With just a small torch, it is hard to see what is going on, but eventually we come across the one and only female who is on this beach today. She has finished laying her eggs and is now covering them with sand, ready for her to leave them to their own devises as she returns to sea. Flash photography is strictly forbidden, as is individual torches, making for very dark conditions for getting any sort of photograph of the turtle. (For my photography friends: these images were taken on ISO 32,000)

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After digging a hole by scooping out clouds of sand with her flippers, the turtle deposits up to 100 eggs, before carefully covering them again and returning to sea, exhausted.

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The eggs take around 60 days to hatch, and the tiny creatures then have to not just burrow their way to the surface of the sand; they have to make it safely to the ocean, avoiding any predators on the way.

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AS there is only one turtle on the beach tonight, each group is only given five minutes at the nesting site, before moving on to make room for the next group.

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Sitting on a rock at the water's edge I become aware of something luminous in the water, being washed up on the beach with each wave: bioluminescent algae or glow-in-the-dark plankton. Never having seen this phenomenon before, I am absolutely mesmerised. Trying to take photos proves impossible, so I just sit there enjoying the spectacle, which coupled with the bright starry sky above, makes this a totally magical moment.

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As we leave to return to the hotel, the turtle has finished her duty and sets off to sea. Confused by all the people crowding around her, she leaves the nesting site in the wrong direction, and it saddens me that maybe we have caused her some unnecessary stress by our presence here tonight. Or at least the sheer numbers of us – there must be between 70 and 80 tourists here this evening.

Returning to the hotel we are offered a ride in the pick-up truck, which we gladly accept.

What a perfect ending to an amazing day! Thank you Undiscovered Destination for this fabulous trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:05 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains boats turtles fish oasis park canyon scenery breakfast valley sur ships sinkhole coffee oman stars buffet muscat wadi dhow dates shipyard fish_market ragged starry_night short-cut outer_worldly bimmah bimmah_sinkhole sink_hole hawiyat_najm_park kahwa wadi_shab ras_al_jinz bioluminescent glow_in_the_dark_plankton plankton egg_laying tiwi wadi_tiwi Comments (2)

Port au Prince: Fet Gede / Day of the Dead

Party in the cemetery, believers possessed by their dead ancestors and sacrificed goats - it is all happening today!

36 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Fet Gede

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Today we are setting out to see, experience and photograph the Fet Gede – the reason we made this return journey to Haiti.

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As a photographer, I have never perfected the art of travelling light.

Fet Gede, the 'Feast of the Ancestors', is a traditional Vodou festival which celebrates the Lwa (spirits) of death and fertility; a time when believers honour the ancestral dead who they regard as walking with us all our lives. Gede (the sacred ancestors) is considered an important part of every living person as we will all join them eventually.

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Fet Gede can be described as the Vodou equivalent of Mardi Gras, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Halloween, all rolled into one incredible ritual with enough drumming, singing, alcohol and laughter to quite literally raise the dead. The Fet Gede celebrations are unique to Haiti, a blend of traditions brought over from Africa during the slave trade, mixed with colonial Christianity and a dash of ritual from the original Taino inhabitants of the island.

Haitians believe that the frisky Vodou spirits helped them win independence and become the world's first black republic. Tradition marks the beginning of the revolution at a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman, where the call to arms was issued by a Houngan (Vodou priest), and within hours, the northern plantations were in flames. The rebellion spread through the entire colony and the rest is history as they say.

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Grand Cimetiére

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We start the day with a visit to the main cemetery. As you do. The Grand Cimetiére in Port au Prince is like a city for the dead within the living city. Like many cemeteries, it mirrors real life in its layout. Here you find various 'neighbourhoods': crowded slums with rotting tombs and muddy graves; stately communities with fabulous mausoleums, middle class suburbs and even a main boulevard.

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We can't get anywhere near the cemetery by car due to the enormous crowds of people. After a lot of hassle, Wilson (today's driver) manages to find a spot where he can stop long enough for us all to get out. We are joined today by Sam from New York and a group of five international architect student who are here to learn the art of building bamboo houses. After shuffling our way through the crowds, we enter the necropolis through the main gate which reads “Souviens-Toi Que Tu Es Poussiere” (remember you are dust).

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The cemetery is teeming with life and people thronging through the narrow alleyways. We make our way along the main boulevard, along with thousands of others. The atmosphere is convivial and friendly, with not a hint of sinister or threatening undertones.

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Kwa Baron (Cross of Baron)

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Vodouists come in a spiritual pilgrimage to the cemetery to pay their respect to the dead, but first, permission of passage has to be obtained. The grave of the Papa Gede, the first man who ever died. Ancestral services are held at this 'crossroad', considered to be the bridge between life and death. Kwa Baron is the Lwa guardian of the cemetery and head of the Gedes.

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So, who is Papa Gede?
The corpse of the 'first man' can in many ways be compared to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who is revered at memorials throughout the world - he may not necessarily be Haitian - just like the Baron is not Haitian nor African, he may be 'other' (foreign). Papa Gede is a psychopomp who waits at the crossroads to take departed souls into the afterlife, although he does not take a life before its time. Papa Gede has a very crude sense of humour, and a cunning ability to read people's minds, knowing everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead.

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Skulls and bones are removed from the crypts and turned into a makeshift shrine

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Pimam

Making an offering of Pimam (a mixture of raw rum known as clairin and 21 habareno chillies) is said to help the Gede (ancestral spirits) become warm and passionate again. Having been 'sleeping in the cold', the rum and chillies helps to 'heat them up' so that they can offer advice on such things as job hunting, love and marriage.

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The floor is awash with rum (and also coffee, which has been offered by the cup-full too). The smell is quite overpowering, and the bottom of my jeans are soaked in the stuff. I guess I'd better wash those before going on the flight back to the UK. We brave the crowds to venture further into the maze of alleyways in the cemetery.

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Baron Kriminel ('Baron of Criminals') is the enforcer of the Gede. As the first person to commit murder, he is Gede of murderers and perpetrators of violence against others; thus victims' relatives pray to him for revenge. His 'chevals' (possessed followers) are said to have an insatiable appetite for food, biting and chewing on anything and anyone (even themselves), they will attack those around them until they get fed. Thankfully none of the chevals present today seem to be possessed, as I don't fancy becpming breakfast.

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There is nothing formal about any of the celebrations here, people push and shove, stand on the graves to get a better view, and even put their feet on the altar.

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All this, and the enormous crowds everywhere, makes photography a real challenge! I am impressed, however, at how the sea of people seems to magically open up as I try to get closer to the action – spectators actively move aside and even encourage others to do so in order for me to see what is going on. Lots of locals are photographing the event too, and even the TV and radio stations are out in force.

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The occult has always fascinated me, and voodoo is no exception. In reality, voodoo is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, something I became more and more aware of as I did my research some ten years ago before our trip to West Africa. The word 'Voodoo' is in fact a bastardisation by Hollywood of 'vodoun', the original West African religion (also known as vodun). (One interesting observation here is that ‘voodoo’ passes the spellchecker in Word, ‘vodoun’, ‘vodun’ or the Haitian version of the religion, known as vodou, do not.) Hollywood also gave the world the idea that vodoun (or voodoo) is an evil black magic cult setting out to spread death and destruction. Films like the James Bond ‘Live and let Die’ also fuelled this misapprehension with its violence and bizarre rituals. Ask an average member of the public what they first think about when they hear the word ‘voodoo’ and they are most likely to answer something along the lines of ‘black magic’, ‘zombies’, ‘human sacrifice’ or ‘sticking pins in dolls’. I would love to be able to say “nothing is further from the truth”, but of course there are some associations to all of these within the vodoun religion, but there is so much more to it.

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Vodoun is a religion that can trace its roots back at least 6,000 years; some sources claim 10,000. It is freely practised in West Africa, and was in fact accepted as the state religion of Benin in 1996 where 80% of the population is followers. It is believed that over 60 million people practise vodoun worldwide, 30 million of which are thought to be in West Africa. Vodoun is widespread throughout the Caribbean, notably on Haiti where vodou was proclaimed the state religion in 2003 where is is popularly stated that the people are 80% Catholics and 110% vodouists. It is also found in Brazil, the Guianas, Dominican Republic and parts of USA, introduced by the slaves.

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Vodou in Haiti

There are also an awful lot of misconceptions that vodou originated in Haiti. Yes, it is the state religion in Haiti, but it was brought here by the slaves from West Africa during the French colonial time, when it mixed with local Taino religious beliefs and European mysticism, taking on a camouflage veneer of Roman Catholicism after it was outlawed by the slave masters.

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Vodou (a derivation of the West African Vodun and the New Orleans Voodoo) is mysterious and complicated, inherently mistrusted, frequently maligned and often misunderstood religion. Its reputation was badly tarnished by the 1960s dictator Papa Doc, who encouraged his people to believe he was Baron Samedi, the vodou spirit of darkness and dead. Most westerner's exposure to Haitian Vodou is through Hollywood portrayals such as the 1973 James Bond's Live and Let Die blockbuster (in which Baron Samedi featured as a villain), something that has created further suspicion and discredit in Vodou as a serious religion.

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Having witnessed a Vodun ceremony first hand in Benin in West Africa a few years ago, I was keen to find out a little more about how this enigmatic, cabbalistic doctrine plays out for the Haitians.

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Vodou ceremony in Benin 2006

I have tried to gain some sort of understanding of Vodou, and here I will try and give you a very brief synopsis of what I have gleaned from talking to our guide and other Haitians, as well as various websites.

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Lwa

Their top dog – the Supreme Creator – is called Bondye but doesn't really want to have anything much to do with mere mortals, so the people direct their worship towards one or more of the many spirits, known as Lwa. Each Lwa has a particular aspect of life which they are responsible for – much in the same way as Christian saints, Hindu deities and Greek gods. Voduists create altars, participate in ritual ceremonies involving music and dance; and make offerings to appease their chosen Lwa.

There is no one definitive form of Vodouism, each priest has a different style of worship, depending on the Lwas his 'house' honours. Priests can be either male (houngan) or female (mambo) and are said to have supernatural power to hurt or kill people in addition to doing good by helping and protecting others from spells of course. A Haitian Vodou temple is called an Hounfour or Peristyle.

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The Lwa and the humans belong to each other and are interdependent – the humans supply food, the Lwa provides protection from evil spirits, health and good fortune.

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In Vodouism, your soul is said to take the form of two parts – the Big Good Angel (gros bon ange) or Little Good Angel (ti bon ange). Big Angel is in charge of the more physical aspects of your life, such as breathing and the flow of blood; whereas Little Angel is the ruler of your personality, nature and willpower – basically, the Big Angel decides what to do and the Little Angel works out how to do it.

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Unlike the evil portrayed by popular media, Vodou moral code of conduct focusses on the vices of dishonour and greed, on love and support within the family, respecting your elders and giving alms to the poor. Much like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and most other religions.

Baron Samedi

The ruler of the graveyard and the Lwa of the Dead and is known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. Sounds like my kinda guy.

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Baron Samedi is a very sexualised Lwa, frequently represented by phallic symbols such as this skeletal hand between his legs.

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Fet Gede celebrations are huge here in Haiti and everywhere we go in the cemetery there are people taking photos and videos; plus all the TV and radio stations. Here Baron Samedi is interviewed for the daily TV news.

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While most devotees are merely here at the cemetery out of curiosity, some come to worship, and a small number of believers actually become possessed by the Lwa (spirits). As this guy goes in to a trance, he loses control of his senses, flails his arms and legs around and staggers about as if he has been given a hefty push in a drunken stupor. As we are all on top of a crypt at this stage, with steep steps and a throng of people, there are a few hairy moments as he tumbles down through the crowds and onto the ground below. Fortunately no-one is hurt on this occasion and he is helped by a number of bystanders as he recovers from his bewildering state of possession.

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Erzulie

This tree represents Erzulie, the Haitian African Lwa (spirit) of love and passion. She is fond of money and clothes, but especially of doll, and she enjoys receiving them as gifts.

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Devotees come here to attach dolls to the tree, in order to send messages to their dead loved ones and ancestors; which in turn will then ensure that Erzulie brings them luck. This practice is thought to have been the base of the misunderstanding and misinformation (perpetuated by popular media) that Vodouists stick pins in dolls to cause harm to their enemies.

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Peristyle - The Vodou Temple

From the cemetery we continue (via the supermarket for water and toilet stop) up into the hill towards Petionville to attend a vodou service to commemorate Fet Gede, the Feast of the Ancestors (or Day of the Dead).

Wilson drives the minibus as far as he can up roads that become narrower and more uneven as we climb higher. Eventually we reach a point where the road has been washed away (possibly by the recent hurricane?) and the surface is down to the bedrock. We scramble up further on foot and enter a series of tight alleyways occupied by children and goats. There is no sign of the Vodou Temple until we are right upon it and even then it is unrecognisable as a place of worship as we know it.

The immediate area outside the temple is full of people hanging around, smoking, drinking and chatting. There is an 'off-licence' by the entrance where worshippers can buy their rum for offering and personal consumption.

The temple itself can best be described as a small wooden shack, the inside of which is beautifully adorned with white and purple balloons, Halloween-style decorations and an altar awash with offerings - people bring with them food or drink particularly enjoyed by their ancestors when they were alive.

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Music

A group of special people, known as houn'torguiers, provide the music in the form of shaking rattles, playing drums and blowing a trumpet. Three drums, covered with ox-hide, provide the rhythm. They represent the three atmospheres of the sun: the largest represents the chromospheres, the middle one the photosphere, and the smallest one the solar nucleus. The instruments have to be purified prior to the ceremony.

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Everyone seems to be taking photos or recording video, and the TV crew are in attendance with their huge camera and microphone. As was the case in the cemetery, we are the only white people here.

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Maman Brigitte

Soon after we arrive, the ritual reaches a crescendo as (a devotee possessed by) Maman Brigitte (Baron Samedi's wife), frees the souls of the followers. She is a colourful character, both in appearance and speech, and is known as the guardian of the dead. As a psychopomp, she leads the dead to the afterlife.

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Dancing

Dancing is an expression of spirituality, and is seen as a connection with divinity and the spirit world. The dancing and drumming intensifies repeatedly and repetitively until the dancer is possessed by their Lwa, by which stage they appear to completely lose control of their body and some even appear to lose consciousness. Their limbs go stiff, they appear to fall backwards of they flail their arms and legs about, thrashing anyone and everyone in their way. This is the Lwa’s way of having a bit of fun with the devotee.

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Vodou devotees believe that everyone has a soul which is made up of two parts: a gros bon ange or 'big guardian angel', and a ti bon ange ('little guardian angel'). The ‘little angel’ is the one that leaves the body when the Lwa possess the dancers during a ritual, and it can be quite scary at times to watch. The Lwa will take over every movement of that person, they become the spirit and are no longer themselves, and the spirit will talk through the possessed – sometimes in a language they do not understand or even knew before they were possessed. The Lwa will convey – through the possessed – advice, desires and warnings.

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During the Vodou service, prayers are offered to the Lwa, followed by songs for the Lwa accompanied by shaking a calabash rattle (asson) filled with rattlesnake bones, as well as hypnotic drumming. Like many Hindu devotees, most Haitians have a 'favourite' Lwa, and as 'their' song is played, they believe that the spirit takes possession of their body and is thereby able to speak and act through them. They trust that by following the directives and taboos imposed by their particular Lwa, the Lwa will help them in life, enabling them to discard any toxic influences from the past as well as offering thanks to the ancestors and accepting beneficial help for the future. Fet Gede is a celebration for reconnecting with the past, and preparing for the future. By offering insight into the past, Fet Gede frees people from any futile or unacceptable patterns and habits that they may inadvertently repeat, thus preparing them for a better future where greater happiness can be achieved. Conversely, by ignoring the advice of the Lwa, all sorts of misfortunes will befall the worshipper.

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Other worshippers help the Houngan (Vodou priest) to stay cool (if that is at all possible in the stifling heat inside the Peristyle) while he is possessed.

The Gédé spirits are lewd and raucous, and those possessed by them during ceremonies can be wildly provocative and sexually charged – like this guy tying a goat to his belt by a rope, and simulating sex with it on the dance floor.

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Chanting

Chanting is also an integral part of the Vodou ceremony. The chorus is made up of a group of people, led by a strong spiritual devotee. The idea of the chanting is to attract the Lwa on the astral plane in order to draw them down to earth.

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Pimam

Pimam is an 'altar wine' made from klarin (Haitian moonshine) with habareno peppers – it can quite literally be described as 'fire water.' Once a worshipper is 'possessed', he (or she) drinks or rubs themselves with the pimam as a signal that they are really a Gede (spiritual ancestor), in other words: dead and need warming up.

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Devotees also sprinkle alcohol on the ground to attract the spirits.

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Sacrifice

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Fet Gede celebrations nearly always involve an animal sacrifice (never virgins I am assured!). Since the earthquake in 2010 goats and chickens are favoured over cows.

Unble to bear the heat inside any longer, we leave the temple for some fresh air (not that it is much cooler outside), and almost immediately Serge beckons me to come down a set of stairs with him.

There, without much pomp and circumstance, is a goat with his throat being slit.

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The blood is drained into a bowl as the head is severed off completely.

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The rest of the body is slung aside (still kicking) while the next goat is fetched.

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The goat is hit over the head with a mallet to stun it, then stabbed in the skull with a sharp knife.

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The blood from the bowl is smeared on the forehead and tongue of believers (who have paid 50 gourdes for the privilege). By drinking the blood whilst possessed by the Lwa, it is believed that the Lwa’s hunger is satisfied and the devotee will receive forgiveness for any wrongdoings.

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After the sacrifice has taken place, the animal is cooked and shared out amongst the villagers. This way, nothing goes to waste. The killing of an animal is believed to release life, which the Lwa receive to rejuvenate themselves during the rapture of the ceremony.

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Still overwhelmed and buzzing from the powerful experiences today, we return to our hotel to get ready for a night out with Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere.

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Jacqui brings along her friend Kelli from the US who has just adopted an adorable little Haitian girl called Vanedjina.

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We have a lovely relaxing evening with good food and great company – the perfect way to end a frantic but captivating day.

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Thank you Voyage Lumiere for making this happen.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:17 Archived in Haiti Tagged altar temple travel vacation skeleton cemetery halloween crowds holiday necropolis tv dancing drums photography coffee killing candles spirits graves bones goat skulls ancestors rum sacrifice crypt celebration voodoo dolls mardi_gras haiti offerings crossroads trance day_of_the_dead chanting peristil port_au_prince baron_samedi vodou possessed fet_gede fete_guede fet_guede fete_gede gede feast_of_the_ancestors lwa loa vodum vodoun grand_cimetiere kwa_baron cross_of_baron papa_gede tomb_of_the_unknown_soldiers pimam clairin clarin klarin maman_brigitte habarenos baron_criminal occult peristyle erzulie zonbiw erzulie_mayang vodou_temple voodoo_temple houn'torguiers psychopomp houngan mambo vodou_ceremony voodoo_ceremony Comments (0)

Arusha

Culture, shopping, charity, and coffee


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

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Cultural Heritage Centre

Each previous time we have come to Tanzania for a safari, we have passed this place along the side of the road just outside Arusha, and each time we have thought it looks expensive and touristy but interesting; with its futuristic architecture, metal animals sculptures in the grounds, and impressive entrance.

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Today we are making a visit, and I am glad we do. Yes, they do have some expensive, but truly beautiful art, but they also have crafts at prices to suit us mere mortals.

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The Centre is a cross between a museum, an art gallery and a craft shop, and we are given a guided tour of the exhibits.

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Said to be the world’s largest ebony carving, this sculpture was carved from a single piece of ebony wood and took 14 years to complete. The carving depicts the (now banned) Maasai culture where a young warrior has to prove his manhood by killing a lion.

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Ujamaa

The Ujamaa (Family Tree) is carved from one piece of rose wood and took 38 years to complete. Ujamaa is a Swahili word meaning extended family and refers to a kind of communal living where people work together and are united regardless of tribe, ethnic background, religion, gender or language. Each figure represents a different trade or skill.

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Tanzanite

This fabulously coloured gemstone was only discovered fairly recently (1967) and is unique to Tanzania. In the upmarket on-site jewellery store, we are given a thorough explanation of it grading, sizes, clarity etc, even though we make it perfectly clear we are not in a position to buy.

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I have to admit that the rings made from this gemstone are absolutely gorgeous.

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Shopping

Prices here at the Cultural Centre are supposed to be fixed, but with a little bargaining we get a discount on our purchases: a Maasai shuka (the blanket they use to wrap around them), a dung beetle and a lizard. As you do.

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David is left carrying the heavy bags. And believe me, metal dung beetles weigh a ton!

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Mount Meru Markets

Apparently the market burnt down since we were here last, so they’ve had to rebuild all the small individual stalls selling paintings, carvings, crafts and clothes to tourists. We are the only visitors here, and as such are the attention of all the sales people. “You come and see my store” “No charge for looking” and so on. David and I have absolutely no intention of buying anything, but Chris gets a really good deal on a couple of leather passport covers.

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Shanga Shangaa

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This successful socially conscious for-profit enterprise employs people with disabilities to create unique, high quality, handmade jewellery, glassware and home ware using recycled materials. These products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits bring reinvested back into development of new products and further employment of disabled people.

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It all started back in 2006 with a local girl making beads for the Christmas market. The necklaces were so successful; they now have a serious and sustainable operation employing 36 deaf, mute and physically disabled people supplying retail outlets across Tanzania and beyond.

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We are given a guided tour of the five different workshops, each team staffed by highly talented craftsmen and women.

The Weaving Team

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The Sewing Department

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Jewellery making

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Glass blowing

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

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.

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Metal work

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Plus, there is also this guy, who was paralysed aged 17 when he fell out of a tree; and did not have any opportunities in life until he was offered a position here, painting brightly coloured wall plaques with themes from Tanzania and the African bush.

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Jikoni African Restaurant

Shanga has moved its location since we were last here 18 months ago, and is now set within the grounds of the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Next door, still within the same complex, is Jikoni African Restaurant.

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Obviously aimed at the high-end tourist market, there is a large group of Americans there, plus us. A band plays African tunes while we wait for the lunch buffet to be ready.

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Although somewhat too touristy for my liking, it is a great opportunity to sample local food, the likes of which is not generally served at safari lodges; and each dish is explained in detail.

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Banana Soup with Beef

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Makanda (Corn and Beans)

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Pilau

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Kachumbari (Tomato and Onion Salad)

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Mchicha (Spinach and Peanut Curry)

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Kuku Baka (Chicken 'painted' with spices)

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Salad

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Ugali

We are shown how to make the East African staple known as ugali - millet flour cooked with water to make a dumpling-type dough, which is traditionally eaten with your hands, scooping up the sauce.

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Dessert

'Doughnut', rice flower cake and butternut squash in coconut milk with cardamom

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The food is tasty, the music enjoyable, the company fun and life is good.

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Coffee Tour

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Arusha Coffee Lodge offers tours of their plantations, which are strangely set in the lodge grounds amongst the guest cottages.

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Our guide, Nassoro, has a notable laugh, but is very knowledgeable, and good at imparting information about the coffee plantation, and the life story of that hot, steaming cuppa.

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Established in 1899 by a German settler, it is the oldest plantation in Tanzania and they grow two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta.

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Beans take 25 days to ripen, before they are hand picked.

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Dark beans means they have been left for too long.

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After the walkabout amongst the coffee bushes, we are shown what happens to the beans once they are harvested.

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Following the hulling and polishing you are left with green beans, which smell like grass. The amount of roasting time dictates the colour of the finished bean, and also the taste of course.

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Nassoro grinds some beans and brews coffee for us to taste. The grinding process should not be done any longer than 15 minutes before the coffee is brewed, otherwise it will lose some of that lovely taste.

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Water should be added at exactly 97 °C, and the resulting foamy coffee should be left for seven minutes before straining.

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We are finally allowed to get our hands on the finished product!

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Farewell Tanzania!

With no time to relax, we have to leave Arusha, head to the hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to Kilimanjaro airport to start the long and tedious journey home.

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It goes without saying, and I am sure that those of you who have been following us on this trip from the start will agree, that we have had the most incredible holiday. We have seen more game on this trip than any other safari, it has been such fun to share it with our best friends, and Calabash Adventures have yet again done us proud! As for our dedicated, courteous, funny, kind, knowledgeable, caring guide Malisa – you are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:14 Archived in Tanzania Tagged art weaving gallery market shopping sculpture africa safari tanzania painting jewelry coffee carvings demonstration charity gems crafts jewellery mosaics arusha workshops haggling bargaining ugali tanzanite african_food coffee_tour dung_beetle calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company best_safari_operator which_safari_operator wood-carving ebony ujamaa shuka precious_gems semi_precious_stones maasai_market masai_market shanga shanga_shangaa tinga_tinga_paintings tourist_buffet jikoni arusha_coffee_lodge tinga_tinga glass_blowing mount_meru_market cultural_heritage_centre art_and_crafts craft_centre art_gallery Comments (1)

Serengeti - Arusha

Goodbye 'wilderness', hello 'civilisation'.


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

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Having been awake from 03:30 this morning scratching my insect bites, it's going to be a long day.

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It is still dark when we leave the lodge at 06:00.

Brown Snake Eagle

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Spotted Hyena

A cackle of hyenas congregate on the road, and seem a lot less timid than the ones we have encountered previously, some are even bold enough to come right up to the car.

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Not my favourite animal (sorry Malisa), but I will admit that this seven-month old juvenile is almost bordering on being cute.

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Sunrise

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Topi

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Wildebeest

A confusion of wildebeest are waiting to cross the Seronera River

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Vultures

A committee of vultures are waiting in a nearby tree for the wildebeest to get eaten by crocodiles while crossing the Seronera River.

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I see no crocodiles…

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Martial Eagle

The biggest eagle in Africa, the Martial Eagle can kill a baby antelope! He will grab it, lift it up and drop it until it is dead.

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Hot Air Balloon

We are right in the flight path of the balloon as it glides across the savannah.

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Watching the balloon

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Goliath Heron

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Grey Heron

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Hippo

Usually hippos only come out at night to eat and go back to the water in the morning. During that one night, they can eat as much as 150kg of grass; followed by three days merely digesting the food: just lying around farting, burping, pooping.

”I know someone else like that” says David, just prior to being whacked around the head.

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This hippo seems a little premature: although it is still eating, the smell of ammonia is so strong it makes Lyn gag, followed by a severe coughing fit.

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White Browed Coucal

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Olive Baboons

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Lions

Close to the road, on a flat open area, we see two brothers with one female. It makes a nice change for them not to be half-hidden by the long grass.

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The female is on heat, but the male isn’t the least bit interested at this stage. Dirty girl!

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“Come and get me…”

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Tart!

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“Not this morning dear, I have a headache”

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Even threats don’t work!

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Other than to make him back off further.

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As she is obviously not going to get her wicked way with him this morning, she walks off in a huff.

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It looks like she has had her nose put out of joint at some stage, and not just figuratively speaking. I am assuming that she got her deformity from a fight rather than a birth defect.

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It seems the king has food - rather than sex - on his mind this morning.

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Normally, the male lion will not let the female anywhere near his food until he has had his fill, as we have seen on a couple of occasions on this safari. When the female is on heat, however, it’s a different story: he will allow her to eat alongside him. Typical man! The only time he treats his woman to a meal is when he thinks there is something in it for him!

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Why does this picture remind me of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the tramp cartoon?

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Meanwhile, brother Leo comes to check out what all the fuss is about.

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There’s no room for another diner, so Leo skulks off, complaining loudly.

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Then goes for a drink instead.

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Black Backed Jackal

A jackal waits nearby; ready to move in on the leftovers once the lions have had their fill. I think he'll have a long wait.

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As we seem to be running out of time, we eat our boxed breakfast ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. We have to be out of the park by a certain time – the permits are purchased in blocks of 24 hours, and they are quite strict in enforcing the fines if you overstay.

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Tawny Eagle

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Elephant

A lone elephant is walking across the savannah, presumably to catch up with the large herd we can see in the distance.

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Road Maintenance

Months of rain (we are right at the end of the rainy season now), tourist traffic, heavy trucks and the huge numbers of animals who also use the roads have taken their toll on the unsealed tracks.

By scraping off the top layer, the surface is smoothed out, getting rid of the washboard effect that is typical in this region.

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Simba Kopjes

Named after the Swahili word for ‘lion’, Simba Kopjes are the tallest kopjes (rocky outcrop) in Serengeti and as the name suggests, a good place to spot lions.

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Lions

And guess what? There is the aforementioned simba!

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And another.

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Migration

We come across a breakaway crowd who have obviously been dawdling on their journey up north.

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Look at that long line meandering in from somewhere beyond!

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Secretary Bird

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Naabi Hill

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This marks the end of our safari in Serengeti, as we have now reached the entrance / exit gate at Naabi Hill. We have a coffee while Malisa completes the formalities.

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While Chris goes off to use the facilities, I prank him by hiding his coffee, putting an empty cup in its place. With hindsight it was not a good move, as anyone who knows Chris can attest for his love of coffee. Unfortunately Lyn gets the blame as he accuses her of drinking it. Oops. Sorry Chris. Sorry Lyn.

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On a positive note: they have upgraded their toilets since our first visit in 2007 (PS these are the old ones)

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Kori Bustard

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We’ll be back!

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Just because we have left the Serengeti behind, does not mean our adventure is over. As soon as we enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Malisa drives off-road. Because he can.

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White Stork

Just like us, the White Stork is not a resident in Tanzania, he has flown in from Europe and is just here for his holidays.

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Vulture Feast

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The zebra died of natural causes, and now the vultures are having a banquet!

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I love the red-necked vultures – no, they are not a new species, that is blood from where they have stuck their heads right inside the carcass.

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It’s a chaotic and grotesque scene, yet morbidly fascinating.

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You can’t hear it too well in this short video clip because of the wind noise, but the sound is deafening: like a huge mob of bleating sheep!

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Giraffe

It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down as it makes them extremely vulnerably to predators. Here it seems every tree has one.

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Dust

As we rejoin the main ‘road’, we also meet up with traffic. And traffic means dust. Lots of it.

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Ngorongoro Highlands

The road to Arusha takes us back up into the highlands, and at this altitude David soon starts to feel the cold.

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This area is farming land, and we see many herders with their livestock and small stock along the side and even on the road.

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More Giraffes

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Malanja Depression

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Ngorongoro Crater

Not the worst view I have seen from a toilet stop.

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But David is still feeling the cold.

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Family Planning

The Maasai have an ingenious way of temporarily stopping their goats from reproducing. It is uncomplicated, cheap, safe for the animal and easily reversible – a simple flap physically stops the goats mating! I love it!

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Maasai Village Elders’ Weekly Meeting

Beats a day at the office any time.

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Picnic

We have our lunch in a picnic area within a camp ground between Ngorongoro and Arusha. We are all very sad that the safari part of our holiday is now over. Apart from maybe Malisa, as he now gets to see his family again and have a few days off.

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Makuyuni

Coming back into ‘civilisation’ again after eight days in the wilderness seems almost surreal – markets, shops, saloon cars, motorbikes, noise, traffic, and even a political rally!

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Traffic Check

We also experience the ugly side of ‘civilisation’: Malisa is pulled over for ‘speeding’. Being totally secure in the fact that he was most definitely NOT speeding, Malisa argues the case, asking them to prove where and how fast he was going. Knowing they haven’t got that sort of evidence, the police eventually back down and let him go! Cheeky! I bet they were looking for a bribe!

Arusha

Back in the big town there is a hive of activity as usual.

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Sugar Shortage

Due to some political agenda, there is a temporary shortage of sugar and we see long queues at the few stores that have any left.

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The Surprise

“Do you need anything from town?” asks Malisa, “if not, Tillya has a surprise for you”.

Avoiding the centre of Arusha, Malisa turns off the main road and weaves his way through the middle of Tenguru weekly market.

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Lake Dulutu Lodge

Surprise! Our original itinerary had us staying at Kibo Palace in the centre of Arusha, but Tillya felt that we needed to finish the trip in style; and he was worried that we might not sleep well as the area around Kibo is very noisy. The service we get from Calabash Adventures never ceases to amaze me.

And neither does Lake Dulutu Lodge. Wow!

The entrance drive is long, with vegetation either side, and the car park is empty when we arrive. Nothing particularly awesome so far.

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While the receptionist performs the registration formalities, we are invited to sit down in the lounge. This is where the wow-ness starts. The lobby is like something out of Harper’s Bazaar and I feel decidedly scruffy in my dirty safari gear.

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Our room is an individual cottage in the grounds, which look nothing much from the outside.

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Once we get through the front door, however, its opulence is evident.

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And the moment I enter the bathroom I am extremely impressed: despite having been lucky enough to stay in some pretty luxurious properties over the years, I have never seen a bathroom like this before.

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Only two other tables in the restaurant are taken, so I guess the hotel is pretty quiet at this time of year. The service, food and wine are all excellent.

Vegetable Spring Roll with Chilli Sauce

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Chicken with Rosemary Sauce

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Beef Medallions with Pepper sauce

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Wine

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Banana Tart with Chocolate sauce

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After all that we should sleep well, especially knowing we don't have to get up for a 6am game drive tomorrow morning.

Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for the last eight days of safari, and for Malisa's expertise, knowledge, sense of humour, excellent driving and caring nature.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wedding travel market elephant police balloon sunrise holiday africa safari lodge zebra eagle luxury picnic coffee donkeys lions maasai hippo cold lioness ballooning giraffes cows serengeti ngorongoro dust hyena heron stork vultures cattle goats topi wildebeest hot_air_balloon arusha ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard hippopotamus african_safari grey_heron bustard family_planning political_rally speeding calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company opulence olive_baboons maasai_cattle ngorongoro_conservation_area naabi_hill kopje coucal seronera babboons spotted_hyena brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle seronera_river martial_eagle goliath_heron white_browe_coucal lioness_on_heat tawny_eagle simba_kopjes simba elephant_herd confusuion_of_wildebeest speed_check white_stork off_road_driving tower_of_giraffes feeling_the_cold malanja_depression goat_family_planning makuyuni weekly_meeting wedding_car sugar_shortage tenguru tenguru_market lake_dulutu_lodge best_safari_operator which_safari_operator Comments (1)

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