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Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Finally: the Bluebill.


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

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

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

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

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

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Western Bluebill

Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A scruffy Common Bulbul

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African Thrush

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Angry looking Black Necked Weavers

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Blackcap Babbler with photobombing friend

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat showing off his beautiful markings

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Village Weaver doing his best Village Idiot impersonation

Bath time Fun

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

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

Dinner

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

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Fish Dodoma - absolutely delicious!

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

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

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He's a beauty!

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

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

Gatwick to Tanji

Better late than never


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

As expected, the hotel room was way too hot overnight (it is a common problem with Premier Inns) and I didn't sleep very well. The benefit of this is that I will then hopefully sleep on the plane, making the flight go quicker.

After dropping off the car at the valet parking, we head for the Titan check in desk. It is a number of years since we travelled on a charter flight, and I am concerned about my hand luggage which is full of camera equipment and borderline as far as the weight limit goes. To mitigate this, David is carrying one of my lenses in his backpack, and another in his coat pocket, whereas I slip all the batteries in my pocket and wear one of the cameras around my neck with yet another lens on it.

As it turns out, all this worry has been for nothing – they don't even give the hand luggage a second glance, yet alone weigh it.

Wondertree Restaurant

Duty Free purchase comes next, then breakfast.

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David's full English

I order pancakes with bacon and syrup.
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Flight

Boarding is simple and straight forward and we strike lucky with a row to ourselves.

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As we settle in, ready to relax for the next six-and-a-half hours, our hearts sink a little when the captain comes on the intercom with an announcement: “Things don't seem to be going too well for us this morning; we have developed a technical fault and have to go back to the stand to get an engineer to check it out.”

Oh dear.

One hour later, he updates us: “We're ready to go, air traffic control is ready, but Eurocontrol is not ready”.

At this point he switches the engine off to save fuel, which of course means no A/C. The cabin becomes hotter and hotter and hotter as people's patience wears thinner and thinner. After some (uncomfortable) time, he reassures us: “I am aware that you guys are getting rather warm back there...” and switches the power back on.

More time passes before the next announcement: “A restricted no-fly zone has cropped up in the south of France, so our flight path needs re-routing.”

More waiting time.

That sorted, we are informed that “we need a courier to push us out from the stand and they are all at the other side of the airport”.

At this point the lady across the aisle from us becomes very irate, shouting obscenities, calling the captain a liar, refusing to switch her phone off etc. While I understand that nerves are getting frayed and tempers short, that sort of outburst is not doing her – or us – any favours.

We finally take off two hours and twenty minutes late. What should have been a 6 and a half hour flight, now becomes nearly nine hours of having to sit in this tin can.

The flight itself is reasonably painless after all that, with quite good food (spicy chicken noodles and a very nice chocolate and orange mousse). Wine, of course, has to be bought – and paid for – separately. I guess we have been spoilt over the years with scheduled long haul flight where everything is included.

Banjul Airport

The modern terminal building has been added since we were last here; in fact, it is not fully completed yet. We are last in the queue for immigration, but it doesn't matter as the luggage has only just started to arrive when we get out there.

Some things have never changed since we were here last, 23 years ago: porters wishing to change the British coins they have been given as tips into notes which they are then able to convert into Dalasi, the local currency. I am happy to oblige.

My bag arrives and we watch everyone else collect theirs, one after the other. Still no sign of David's. Some bags go round and round, again and again, but David's is not one of them. More and more people are leaving the baggage area and heading for the customs and exit. Still no sign of David's bag. With only a handful of passengers still remaining around the carousel, all apparently in possession of their luggage, the belt stops. Without David's case. After a few tense moments, I spot it, partly hidden by the curtain at the entrance to the belt, stopping just short of actually coming into the baggage area. Phew.

Tanji Bird Lodge

As expected, we have a private minibus transfer to the hotel. Our accommodation for the first five days is in a very small eco-lodge with just eight rooms, and it soon becomes apparent that we are the only tourists staying here for those nights.

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The lodge is all very open plan, with a thatch-covered bar and tables in amongst the trees as well as on a ridge overlooking the ocean for eating and drinking.

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A meandering path leads us to the four simple brick huts housing two rooms in each.

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There is no A/C in the room, but it has been designed with a high domed ceiling to help disperse the heat, and with slatted windows, the sea breezes are allowed to flow through.

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The inside is basic but adequate, featuring a narrow double bed which has been lovingly strewn with flower petals. In all the years we've travelled and all the hotels we've stayed in, this is a first for us. We have had petals on the bed before, of course, but never has it spelled out our name – such a special and personal touch.

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Domed ceiling

The bathroom has a shower and toilet but no running hot water (we were fully aware of that when we booked), and we cannot seem to manage to get any water out of the shower hose, only through the tap. Cold bucket showers it is then. In this heat, that can be quite refreshing, and is an excellent way to preserve water.

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Bird Baths

But first things first: bird watching. The lodge is set inside Tanji Bird Reserve, and have enticed birds to visit the grounds by providing a series of bowls and pools filled with water. To encourage human visitors, chairs and benches are available for us to sit on as we watch our feathered friends come to bathe and drink; with strategically placed tables for our drinks too of course.

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David's preferred way to spot birds

We see a surprising amount of birds in the short time we are here this afternoon (by the time we get settled in to the room, we only have around half an hour left of daylight). They come to bathe and drink, or maybe just hang around with their mates. Here is a small selection:

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

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Blackcap Babblers

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weavers

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Black Necked Weaver and Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Laughing Dove

Dinner

As is the Howard tradition, we enjoy a Duty Free tipple in the room before going down to the restaurant for dinner. We find it surprisingly chilly, with a cool wind, to the point of wearing a fleece. We never expected that in The Gambia; in fact, while packing we contemplated whether or not to bring any type of warm clothing at all. Just as well we did.

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As the sun goes down, some interesting clouds appear, later taking on a muted pink hue from the setting sun.

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With us being the only two guests in the lodge this evening, catering is down to what they have in the kitchen, which is fish and chicken.

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We choose butter fish, which is thankfully de-boned and absolutely delicious. I have mine with rice while David orders chips.

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With a glass or two of the local beer, of course. While the main religion here in The Gambia is Islam, they are a secular nation and quite liberal – the country even has its own brewery.

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Being situated inside a bird reserve, there is no light pollution here. Walking back to the room in almost complete darkness, we are glad to see someone has been to the room and switched our outside light on while we were eating dinner. How thoughtful.

We have only had a couple of beers each this evening, but David really struggles to get the key in the lock. s we are fiddling, a knock from behind the door makes me jump – there is someone in our room! Then it dawns on us: this is not our room. It seems we have tried to enter the room where the manager was sleeping. Oops. Sheepishly we continue to our own room and make a mental note of leaving the outside light on tomorrow night.

Being used to a super-king sized bed at home, we worry that the four-foot bed in this place is going to feel rather cramped. Surprisingly, it doesn't, but it is somewhat chilly this evening so we reluctantly grab the duvet from the cupboard and put on the bed. While the bed is narrow, the duvet is miniscule. It is basically a single quilt inside a double cover. It looks like we will have to cuddle up all night, then.

Once the lights are out, the room is pitch black. The sort of blackness that you cannot imagine without having experienced somewhere with absolutely no light whatsoever. Your eyes never get used to it. You cannot see anything. At all. I make sure my torch is within groping distance, and drift off to sleep.

The Gambia Experience featuring Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Posted by Grete Howard 10:59 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds hotel flight airport breakfast dinner birding dove weaver gatwick titan bird_watching delay valet_parking check_in bajul charter_flight wondertree tanji tanji_bird_lodge bird-bath babbler robin_chat bristlebill butter_fish narrow_bed Comments (4)

Home to Gatwick

The Gambia here we come


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

After having to cancel our trip to Norway recently while looking after my terminally ill father: culminating in his death at the end of a long and stressful period of our lives; I felt the need to book something. Anything. I didn't want to have to spend time planning a 'proper' adventure, but I did want to go somewhere reasonably exotic. Having contemplated a return to The Gambia a couple of times in recent years (we first visited in 1996), it seemed a perfect destination: hot, sunny, relaxing, comfortable, friendly, excellent bird watching and not too long a flight.

So here we are, in the car on the way to Gatwick for an overnight stay before our early morning flight tomorrow.

Premier Inn at Gatwick Manor

After checking in to the hotel, we crack open a bottle of something alcoholic in the room (we do like to have a little tipple while we are getting ready) before sauntering down for an early dinner. We find there are no vacant tables in the restaurant, but the bar is reasonably empty, so we eat our food there instead.

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With mostly traditional pub dishes on the menu, I choose carefully. It is not that I don't like traditional food, but when I go out to eat I prefer to have dishes that I would not normally have at home.

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Very tasty mushrooms in Stilton and black peppercorn sauce on toasted sour dough bread for starter.

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Battered halloumi and chips. One of my frustrations with classic pub menus is that so much of it is deep fried (why not just simply grill the halloumi rather than adding extra grease and calories?) and most things seem to be served with chips, which I am not overly keen on.

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David, having more of a traditional palate than me, chooses pie and chips for his main course.

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My choux bun with Prosecco strawberries is disappointing. The berries appear to have come out of a tin and there is too much cream for my liking. David fares much better with his apple and sultana crumble with a hint of cinnamon. As usual David asks for custard and ice cream, but unlike most other places we have eaten over the last few years, he get charged extra for one of them.

Almost as soon as we have finished eating, we retire to the room to make sure we get some sleep before tomorrow's early start. Watch this space for further updates from The Gambia.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:36 Archived in England Tagged dinner gatwick gambia premier_inn gatwick_manor the_gambia pub_food halloumi pie_and_chips Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 3 - rimlit lion, anniversary dinner

A lion's share of cats this afternoon


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Lunch

Just like breakfast, Ole Serai (the luxury camp we stayed at last night) has provided us with a terribly posh lunch hamper, complete with 'hot' food in traditional tiffin containers.

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We are joined by a couple of Superb Starlings in a nearby tree.

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Moving on from our picnic site, we stop at a small pond area that reveals a hippo and a couple of birds.

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Ruff

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Three Banded Plover

Lions

Across the dry, grassy plains we barely see the tops of a pride of six lions, eating the remains of a warthog.

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The older animals patiently wait for the youngsters to finish their meal for deciding to go off for water.

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Whirlwind

A really strange sound, like rubber tyres on tarmac, reaches us, and we become aware that it is a 'mini-tornado'. Quickly covering up all electronic equipment, by the time the whirlwind reaches us we become sandblasted and totally engulfed in dust. For ages afterwards we feel as if we are eating grit.

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King of the Castle

A lot of the plains animals of Serengeti like to use termite mounds as look-out posts, surveying the surrounding landscape for any predators or prey depending on which end of the food chain they are.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

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Black Bellied Bustard

Topi

At a dried-out waterhole near Ogol Kopjes, a herd of topi have gathered to lap up what little water there is left.

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Over their lifetime topi go through six set of teeth, the last of which grow when they are around 15 years old. When they lose those teeth, in what is their old age, they basically starve to death. Nature can be so cruel at times.

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Lioness

Not far away, in the shade of a tree, a healthy looking lioness is chilling.

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She certainly looks like she has a belly full of food.

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When, after a lot of fidgeting, rolling, yawning and several changes of plan, she finally stands up, the topi are on high alert.

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Our beautiful girl has other ideas, however, and walks off in a different direction, towards a warthog in the far, far distance.

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Then she changes her mind again – talk about fickle!

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When she has yet another change of plan and lies down in the long grass, we give up on her and move on to see what else “nature has to offer us” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings, which has now become mine too).

Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

While spotting animals is theoretically easier during the dry season, the problem with coming this time of year is that everything is so brown; and birds, such as this Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse, are extremely well camouflaged. And photos look so...well, brown.

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Baby Black Backed Jackal

Another brown animal on the brown earth surrounded by brown grass.

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This one looks so much like a puppy dog, I just want to throw him a stick and shout "fetch!"

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It looks like he heard me, as he has picked up a small piece of wood.

Aardvark

For the last four or five (or maybe even more) safaris we have taken in Tanzania, my dream has been to see an aardvark. Imagine my excitement when Malisa points out a fresh aardvark hole. That is, however, all we see. A hole.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while, will probably remember that we have a saying “just a chicken” referring to an incident back in 2007 in Sikkim when David exclaimed excitedly “Oh look, a colourful bird!” The driver let out a loud exhalation of air while stating in a most disinterested and almost despairing voice: “It's just a chicken”. Malisa has the intonation down to a T, and won't let David hear the end of it, referring to all guinea-fowls as “just a chicken”.

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Baby Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

The Research Pride

In case you have ever wondered, this is what eighteen sleeping lions look like.

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There is some slow and gentle movement within the pride, but mostly it is all about that late afternoon siesta.

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Rimlit Lion

One of the (many) things I admire about Malisa, is the fact that he is very interested in photography himself and has an excellent eye for a great photo, knowing where to position the car for the best light for instance. When he sees a lion walking across the plains in the setting sun, Malisa has a plan...

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He keeps moving the car every minute or so, which means that we are shooting straight into the sun at all times as the lion continues walking with the occasional sit-down for a rest.

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I try out a number of different camera settings for various high key and low key effects, and play with some of the images further in post processing too.

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Of all the pictures I took, I think this is probably my favourite and is most like the image I had in mind when deliberately underexposing to get that rim-light effect.

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Reedbuck

Trying to remain inconspicuous by hiding in a tree, this reedbuck's camouflage tactics are no match for Malisa's eagle eye.

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Yet another lion

We have certainly seen more than our fair share of big cats today (31 lions at six different sightings and three cheetahs). Lyn spots this one, initially just seeing the lower parts of his legs as he rolls over in the long grass.

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The Golden Hour – every photographer's favourite time of day.

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Our young man is fighting a losing battle with the pesky tse tse flies.

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He's not a happy bunny.

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Sunset

We make Malisa stop for more photos as the setting sun peeks from behind a low cloud, creating some of my favourite crepuscular rays.

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I continue shooting as Malisa makes his way to the camp. As usual it is a mad dash to get back before darkness sets in (it is against the law to drive within the national parks in Tanzania after darkness).

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'Drive-by shooting' is never easy from a moving safari vehicle on a dusty, bumpy dirt track, but I don't think I am doing too badly with some of these photos.

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We make it back to base just as the last remnants of daylight leaves the African plains, all too soon followed by that all-encompassing darkness you only see in places with very little light pollution.

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Celebratory Dinner

After a quick shower and pre-dinner drink while we get ready, we meet up with the anniversary lovebirds for an evening of celebrations. The dining room looks very welcoming with soft lighting, period furniture and white tablecloths

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Tonight Malisa has been given permission to eat with us as we are celebrating Lyn and Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary. It's a shame that he couldn't join us for dinner every night – that would make this place absolutely perfect!

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After dinner all the staff come out playing drums and singing the customary celebration song, just as they did at Ang'Ata Nyeti. Poles apart, the two lots of accommodation couldn't be more different, yet both extremely enjoyable and both places made us feel part of the family. Only two other people are staying here tonight, and I feel somewhat sorry for them as they are rather left out of all the fun!

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Once it is all over we go back to Lyn and Chris' tent for a couple of drinks before returning to our own tent and settling in to bed ready for another early start tomorrow morning.

Thank you yet again to Calabash Adventures for making this dream safari come true, and to Tillya for the fabulous surprise stay in Ole Serai.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset party dinner safari tanzania celebrations birding picnic lions serengeti topi starling jackal bustard game_drive whirlwind calabash_adventures hartebeest tse_tse_flies plover guineafowl superb_starling game_viewing 40th_anniversary 40_years ole_serai sandgrouse lunch_picnic ruff mini_tornado thomson's_gazelle aardvark research_pride rimlit Comments (2)

Rolas Island

Wedding anniversary


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

Happy 41st anniversary to my best friend and favourite travel partner, the love of my life: David.

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Map of Rolas Island

We lie in bed this morning listening to the rain. Heavy rain. It rains when we walk to breakfast. We watch the rain from the restaurant. Heavy rain. It is still raining when we walk down to the bar. Then more rain as we make out way back to the room. We spend most of the morning sitting on the balcony watching – and photographing – the rain.

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The hotel grounds are pretty 'free range', with all sorts of animals wandering around freely: pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and cats. And of course birds.

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Cattle egret

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Common Waxbill

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Yellow Billed Kite

Infrared

A few weeks ago I bought a second-hand camera converted to Infrared, and have been looking for a chance to put it though its paces. A grey rainy day is certainly not the best condition for successful infrared photography, but I wander around the grounds with it all the same.

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Instead of lunch we take a long siesta, and when we wake up again, the rain has stopped so we head for the pool.

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It starts to rain once more, making the water quite chilly, so we go back to the room and change, then head for the bar.

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Tonight's buffet is extensive, and there is something for everyone.

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My 'minute steak', cooked to order

We finish the evening off in the bar with a last drink of the day.

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Happy anniversary!

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this tour of São Tomé for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:43 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged animals rain africa dinner bar wine photography drinks swimming_pool infrared sao_tome rolas_island infrared_photography infrared_camera pool_time Comments (3)

Pench - Tadoba

A lovely surprise awaits us in Tadoba


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

Sorry, no photos.

Pench - Tadoba

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

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

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Yet another bullock cart photo

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Village life

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

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

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

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Border crossing

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

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

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

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They do like to overfill their trucks here though.

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

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

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Tadoba

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

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

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We ask again.

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

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

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

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

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Cotton

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

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

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Irai Safari Retreat

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

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The bar and reception area

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The comfortable lounge

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

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Paved paths lead to the accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swimming Pool

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

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

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Sunset

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

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

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

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On closer inspection, most of the birds are cormorants.

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With a few storks.

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And a Red Vented Bulbul thrown in for good measure.

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Plus a Rufous Treepie.

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

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

Dinner

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

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

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

Kanha - Pench

It's got to be around here somewhere, surely?


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Today we move on to our next tiger park in search of new safari pastures. The good thing about that, is that we don't have to be up at the crack of dawn to get to the park gates for 05:30 this morning. We can actually have a lie-in, and are woken at 7am by the barashinga deer shouting out a warning call to the other animals of an impending danger.

After breakfast it is time to say goodbye to Kipling Camp and the delightfully warm crew we have come to love. It is all very sad, but new adventures await us in Pench National park.

But first, the journey there. A road trip in India, especially in rural areas, is always an adventure in itself. I love photographing street scenes, and today's reoccurring theme is bullocks.

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Pench 55 kms. We're on the map! Today is a five hour journey from Kanha to Pench, on mostly good roads with little traffic.

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As we get nearer Pench, we turn off the main road onto country lanes through much more rural countryside.

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Gotta love those telegraph poles.

It soon becomes blatantly obvious that Rakesh has no idea where he is going. It is also evident that the people he asks for directions also have no idea where he is going.

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After stopping twice more to ask directions, we come across the entrance gate to the park. Although I cannot hear, nor understand, what they are saying, it looks to me something like “It's just over there, turn right then a few bends and then turn left. Seems simple to me.

The map below, which I photographed later on the wall in the lodge, shows how simple it really is. Or rather could have been.

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We drive down through villages and the road does not seem that obvious. We stop again, and Rakesh asks an old man, who then comes up to the car and demands payment for – what turns out to be – giving us wrong directions.

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We stop a couple of more times to ask different people, even flagging down a passing motorcyclist. We can see the type of person Rakesh chooses for his questions: well dressed, with an air about them that says the person has maybe been to school. Thankfully I printed out a list of all the hotel name and addresses before I left home, which was just as well, as Rakesh had not even been told where we were staying, let alone been given an address or directions; and out here in the sticks there is no mobile signal to phone the lodge even.

Each time we stop, we are sent in a different direction. We drive through some villages several times – I am sure we must have driven down every single road in this area by now. Twice, at least. Eventually we come across someone who reads the piece of paper with a look of recognition on their face. He sends us down a narrow country track, and we feel quite confident that this is the correct road, finally.

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But no. It leads to a lodge, yes, but sadly not the one we are staying at. (It would probably have been a good move to pop in there and ask, but we didn't think about that at the time)

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We drive around a few more country lanes, most of which we have already driven down at least once before.

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The villages are getting to be rather familiar now, and I am sure I can see people laughing at us.

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We reach another entrance gate to the tiger park, where three officials scratch their heads for a while, then write something in Sanskrit on my paper. Directions in Hindi, hopefully.

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As you can see from the map, it really is a very easy journey from here. Of course, we don't have the map, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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We cross the river for the fourth time. Or is it fifth? I feel intimately connected to each and every boulder by now.

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This village looks awfully familiar. I begin to recognise individual people.

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Rakesh shows the paper with the Hindu directions on it to a family who are just about to get on their motorbike. They nod and immediately start pointing. This is promising. I think the woman eventually says: “Follow us”, as that is exactly what we do.

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We go through the same villages yet again.

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Even the birds are looking bemused. I swear I can hear him tweet: “I am sure I have already seen that car at least five times this afternoon...”

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We get stuck in a bit of a traffic jam (consisting of just us) at a construction site. The workers are not keen to move their vehicle for us to pass – they are busy unloading bricks, manually one by one it seems.

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At an intersection the family we have been following dismount their bike and the austere and officious-sounding matriarch tells us to head off the road onto a very bumpy, not-really-suitable-for-this-sort-of-vehicle track. This is new territory to us this afternoon. How exciting!

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After what seems like an eternity of pot-holed sandy track (also known as the 'Indian massage'), and a couple of little villages, we spot a very welcome sign. A big cheer goes up in the car.

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Pench Tree Lodge

We are greeted at the reception with some refreshing wet towels with a difference: these are dehydrated into little 'tablets'; but with water sprayed on them, they come back to life! I have never seen this done before and I love it!

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Another member of staff turns up with a tray full of powder for the traditional Indian blessing of bindi – a small red dot on the forehead.

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The Reception
The reception is a free-standing open area with some seating, maps on the wall, toilets and the office.

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On arrival we are each given a rather splendid aluminium water-bottle (to keep, not just for the duration of our stay), and I am impressed by the bottle-filling station at the reception, using filtered water.

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Lunch
As it is already getting on into the afternoon, we go straight to lunch. A winding path leads from the reception to the restaurant, and although not far as such, it is considerably further than is normal for a lodge. You can barely see the restaurant from the reception area.

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The path is pretty though, with some colourful grasses, a couple of small bridges and a pond.

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Finally we can see the restaurant.

The restaurant is in another free-standing building on a raised platform, with two floors and an observation tower.

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There is an outside covered terrace, and next to the main building is an inviting-looking infinity pool and changing room.

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There are in fact two dining rooms, one either side of the kitchen.

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The food is as classy as the rest of the establishment and beautifully presented.

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Beetroot Salad

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Cauliflower Cream

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Chicken raviloli

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Chocolate mousse

Our Room
After lunch, we are taken to our rooms, along another long and winding jungle path.

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When I say rooms, these are in fact tree houses, some 18ft above the ground!

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After climbing the stairs we are greeted with a small entrance hall, leading to another hallway connecting the bedroom, dressing room and bathroom.

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Accessed through French windows from the bedroom is a large balcony overlooking the river – although the surroundings are fairly overgrown so you cannot see much. Lyn and Chris can see even less from their balcony.

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Distant view from the balcony, through a very long zoom lens.

We sit outside for a while, looking out for birds (not many) and waiting for the sunset.

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Black Drongo

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Female Plum Headed Parakeet

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Red Vented Bulbul

The sunset is very much a non-event, as the sun turns into a red globe, then later simply dissolves into the mist.

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Dinner
I am woken up from a nice little snooze by a telephone call from reception: “We have dinner arrangements for you tonight, what time would you like to come?”

In order to get to our 'dinner arrangements', we have to walk past the restaurant to “meet in the welcome area”. From there we continue to the lodge's own Organic Farm, where a BBQ area has been set up. The path is very uneven, with gnarled roots and small trees in the way, and lit only by occasional lanterns and our torches.

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The place is already full, and we are put on a table in the far corner. I had no idea there were so many people staying tonight, I haven't seen any other guests until now. The manager tells us they are all one group, from various countries, who have been on a cycling trip through the park.

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We are all a little confused by what is happening, but the food just keeps arriving: salads, soup, small portions of grilled meat...

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Again there is very little light, so it is quite hard to see what we are eating, and I am still rather full from our very late lunch.

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The arrangements are all very well done, but have an atmosphere of being somewhat too formal for my liking, a complete opposite to our last three nights in Kipling Camp where we ate with the staff. We were also spoilt there, of course, by there being only two other guests, making it really personal and informal. I find this a little too impersonal and touristy. I have to confess that I find the whole eveing a complete waste of time and effort.

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The mobile bar in an old hay cart

Despite the firepit near our table, we are all feeling a little chilly as the evening goes on. With no toilets down at the farm, we have to go back to the welcome area to use the facilities there, and we retire to the room for an early night as we have an even-earlier-than-normal start tomorrow.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:50 Archived in India Tagged road_trip dinner lunch getting bbq lost kanha organic_farm tree_house pench posh kipling_camp pench_tree_lodge rural_street_scenes bullock_cart luxury_accommodation Comments (4)

Anjouan Island tour

Lobsters and lemurs

We both slept reasonably well, considering the party right below us went on until 04:00 this morning.

Sunrise

I stay behind taking photos of the sunrise while David goes off with Patrice to collect our bags from the port.

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Sunrise from our balcony

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Sunrise over the rocky beach

Picking up the luggage

Over at the quayside, David takes up the story:

”Arriving at the docks, we are faced with (what seems to be) a corrupt official, who insists we have to pay a 'port fee' just to go and collect the bags. They charge us per bag. It all seems like a total rip-off to me, and Patrice is furious.

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By the time we reach the ship, the crew are just starting to unload the bags, but ours are nowhere to be seen. Patrice arranges for me to be able to climb on board the ship to search for them rather than having to wait for every single case to be unloaded. Today there are not even any steps, nor gangplank, so I have to jump across the gap between the quayside and the ship.

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On board the boat last night's crew are busy cleaning up sick from the seats and gangways - not a job I envy them. I thankfully spot our luggage almost immediately, sitting just behind the bulkhead, and as soon as I hand over the luggage tickets, I am free to take the bags; which then have to be manhandled across the same gap between the ship and the docks. Once we are off the boat, we still have to transport them the considerate distance between the mooring and the dock gate, and from there back to where the car is parked, a couple of streets away. Thank goodness for luggage on wheels”

Back at the hotel, after a decent breakfast we finally have our shower and change, before setting out on a tour of the island with Patrice as the guide and Khalid as the driver.

Anjouan

A bit of a rebel child, Anjouan has never really fitted in. Declaring its independence from Comoros back in 1997, then changing its mind and asking to be re-integrated into France. Not being welcomed by the French, Anjouan reluctantly re-joined Comoros in 2002, only to once again declare itself an independent nation in 2007, prompting military action from the Comoros. The island now has a semi-autonomous status.

Island tour

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Setting off in a clockwise direction, we initially skirt the coast, then head inland and up into the highlands.

Cloves

Our first stop is at Koki Village where we see cloves being dried by the side of the road.

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Originally native to Indonesia, the Comoros is now one of the top exporters in the world of cloves. Patrice talks us through the whole process from harvesting through to bagging it up ready for export.

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The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to around ten metres high, with large leaves and crimson coloured buds growing in clusters, turning into white tufty flowers.

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When the flower buds have turned a bright red, they are ready to be harvested. Patrice gives us a raw clove to try – it is very strong and the taste lingers for a long time afterwards.

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At this stage they are 1.5-2.0 cm long with one end housing four outer petals and a central ball of four tight, unopened petals.

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The flower buds are then spread out on the ground to dry in the sun where they gradually turn brown, hard and slightly shrivelled up, just as you see them for sale in the west.

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Used in many culinary dishes as well as medicines and even cigarettes, cloves are also often used as a traditional treatment for toothache.

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I love spices and find it interesting how various spices are produced from various parts of the plants they come from: cinnamon is the bark, ginger is a root, and cloves are the aromatic flower buds. The whole area where we are standing is filled with the aroma, and I am sure from now on the scent of cloves will always remind me of Anjouan.

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Cloves bagged ready for export.

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Some of the local workers

Village of Bazimini

Further along the road, we look down on the village of Bazimini, which has been built inside the basin of an old volcanic crater.

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Sisal

Introduced to Africa from its native Mexico in the 19th century, the fibrous leaves of this spiky plant are stripped and dried to produce fibres used in rope, twine and sack production as well as mattresses, carpets and handicrafts.

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Pigeon Peas

Patrice calls them “petit pois model Comorione”: pigeon peas are very popular here, and are often served cooked in coconut milk.

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We try them raw and they are very pleasant.

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Tratringa Falls

Featuring on the 100FC and 125FC stamps, this waterfall is popular for more than one reason. and the natural beauty of these cascades is obvious.

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Unfortunately, the tranquil charm is ruined by heaps of trash floating in the water and blighting the side of the falls.

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The falls are wide (at least during the rainy season, today the water does not extend across the whole width of the falls) and tumble into a small pool before making their way under the road into another narrower chasm the other side.

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Being a Saturday, the area around the falls is quite crowded, and Patrice explain that they have mostly come up from Mutsamudu. The reason this place is so popular does not just have to do with the beauty of the place (although we do see a car full of locals pull up, get out, snap a few pictures with their mobiles and drive on); it is a much more practical and mundane explanation: People from the capital come here to do their laundry in the river.

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The paradox of someone driving here in a large, fancy, 4x4 or gleaming pick-up truck to wash their clothes in the river by the side of the road completely blows me away.

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Ylang ylang

Anjouan is affectionately known as the ‘Perfumed Isle’ as a result of its bountiful flora whose aroma often wafts with the wind and hangs in the air as we found earlier with the cloves.

The most prominent of those aromas, however, is arguably the ylang ylang, an ingredient found in many of the world’s most popular perfumes (including Chanel N°5, my mum’s favourite perfume). The ylang ylang, a tropical tree producing yellow flowers, is highly valued for its essential oil, of which Comoros is the world’s largest producer, exporting some 50 tonnes each year.

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The process is a fairly simple operation in this basic and somewhat primitive set up. But it works, and the surrounding area is enveloped in a glorious aroma.

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The aroma is slightly floral, so it is primarily used in women’s perfumes and other cosmetics, but it can also work as a middle note in fragrances and products for men.

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This aromatic oil is not just used for perfumes; however, it is also popular in aromatherapy. It is also said to increase libido, help fight depression, lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Maybe I should try some to get mine back up to scratch after all the illnesses and antibiotics I have had this year! It is also said to be extremely effective in calming and bringing about a sense of relaxation, and is thought to help with releasing feelings of anger, tension, and irritability. David says I definitely need some!

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Mango

As it is my favourite fruit, I am disappointed when I find out that this is not the mango season.

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Patrice, however, picks an unripe fruit from the tree, and eats it like he would an apple, skin and all. I remember having a salad in Laos some years ago made from green mangoes, and try the hard fruit when offered.

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After finding the skin a little tough and difficult to bite through, the fruit is tart and quite refreshing inside, like a cross between an apple and a pear.

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Once I have finished the whole fruit, I recollect the old adage about eating fruits and vegetables ‘abroad’: “Peel it, wash it or forget it”, and my mind goes back to eating an apple bought from a market in Ghana and the subsequent dreadful sickness that I suffered as a result. Oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten this mango… only time will tell.

Mausoleum of Abdallah

Continuing south, we reach the town of Domoni and the revered resting place of Abdallah. The first president of Independent Comoros in 1978, the late Ahmed Abdallah Abdermane is considered to be the ‘Father of Independence’ and very much a national hero. He was assassinated by a military guard during a coup d’état in 1989, allegedly on the order of the French.

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Turning inland and climbing higher, we can get a good look back on the town on Domoni.

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The town of Domoni

Sales people line the road side.

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As we turn inland, both he road conditions and the weather deteriorate, with a thick mist enveloping everything in its wake.

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The road snakes its way down from the highlands towards the south-west coast in a number of spectacular switchbacks

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Men and women climb the steep road, carrying firewood and animal fodder.

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Sometimes the road disappears into oblivion, as we can barely see more than a few feet in front of us.

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As we descend, however, the mist gradually lifts, and we can start to make out the beautiful coastline below.

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Moya

The road leading into the small town of Moya is particularly bad, with more potholes than actual road.

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Lunch at Moya Plage Hotel

After climbing down a number of pedestrian switchbacks and steep paths, we reach the Moya Plage hotel, perched on a ledge overlooking the ocean.

The table is bulging with seafood: lobster, tiger prawns, octopus curry, and tuna fish; plus a number of accompaniments such as fried bananas, taro, salad, mataba (cassava leaves) and rice.

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It is all absolutely delicious, and I gorge myself full of lobster, one of my favourite foods! (I eat three of them, but don’t tell anyone. Shhhh)

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Maki

Being very disappointed that I am not going to get to Mohéli Island on this trip to see the whales, dolphins, turtles, bats and lemurs, I am overjoyed when I spot a baby maki (AKA mongoose lemur) on the restaurant terrace. Never mind stuffing myself on lobsters… I am off to photograph the lemur!

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I don’t know what it is about feet / shoes and lemurs; I remember the ring-tails in Madagascar licking our feet. It must be something to do with the salt in the sweat, but why feet in particular?

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Although it seems my fingers don't taste too bad either.

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Despite not quite understanding my excitement about seeing a maki (“but they are always here…”), the kitchen let us have some fruit to entice the young animal with.

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Comoros is the only place outside Madagascar where you can find a population of wild lemurs. This little guy, although still quite young, is obviously used to people and is quite content to clamber over anyone who sits still long enough and happy let you stroke his back.

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In fact, he is rather partial to having his ears scratched.

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When Patrice informs us it is time to leave, I reluctantly tear myself away from my newfound friend.

William Sunley

In the 19th century, there was great rivalry between Britain and France in the Indian Ocean, prompting the British to establish a consul on Anjouan. The man appointed was a retired naval officer, William Sunley, who was later invited by the local Sultan to establish sugar plantations. As a result of using slaves provided by the Sultan, he was forced to resign as consul (slavery was by that time abolished in the British Empire). Concentrating on his export business, his holdings expanded and at one stage he controlled around half the arable land on Anjouan.

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What remains of William Sunley's warehouse

With a widespread rebellion among the slaves in 1889, the French took the opportunity to intervene and conquer the island. Thus started the French sovereignty in Comoros. Despite being implicated in the slavery trade, William Sunley appears to be some sort of hero on the island.

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The tomb of William Sunley

Coastal Road

Patrice gives us the option to travel back the way we came, or go along the coast, but “the road is bad, very bad” he says. We are OK with that; I would rather see something new.

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As we travel along the south west coast, we see glimpses of sandy beaches and rocky promontories with surf spraying up over the built-up road.

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Seeing those waves crashing in, I am glad I am not on that inter-island ferry today; yesterday was bad enough. Patrice tells us that the ferry is actually cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather.

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Small communities cling to whatever flat land can be found, eking a living from the sea.

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On this narrow country lane we meet a cavalcade of flash looking black cars with blackened windows and headlight on full beam. “It’s the Vice President” explains Patrice.

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Breakdown

We also come across a friend of Patrice’s, whose car has broken down. His battery is flat because the alternator is not working. We swap batteries so that he has a good battery, while we take the flat one and hopefully our (good) alternator will recharge his duff one by the time we get to the next village.

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Naturally we have to jump-start his car, but after that everything goes well all the way up a long hill to the village where we yet again swap over to the original battery.

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Another spanner in a trip full of spanners.

Malagasy Pirates

Comoros was a favourite haunt for Malagasy pirates in their quest to capture slaves they could sell on to Europeans. Patrice points out the headland where the buccaneers used to hang out and congregate before raiding the capital Mutsamudu.

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Abandoned ship

It seems that it is not just cars that are abandoned where they die; we see this rusting hulk beached just outside Mutsamudu.

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Hotel Al Amal

Yesterday the reception hinted that they may move us from Room 121, so when we arrive back at the hotel today, we ask “which room”. "121" the receptionist confirms, the same one as yesterday. As we are not particularly bothered whether we change rooms or not, we go and start to undress ready for a shower.

Looking forward to relaxing in the cool air-conditioned room, we are dismayed to find the remote control for the A/C is missing. With no other way of turning it on or off, we put our clothes back on again and go back down to reception.

”Oh, we have moved you,” says the same receptionist who a mere five minutes earlier told us we were in Room 121.

We pick up the key for Room 112, one floor down, and move all our stuff over. Yet again I take my shoes and trousers off and slump down on the bed and try to switch on the A/C. However much I try, and whichever button I press, the remote does not work. Clothes back on and back to reception. They agree to send an engineer up to look at it. He arrives around ten minutes later and after fiddling for some ten minutes more, concedes that the A/C is not working. Yes, we know.

Change rooms. Again. Clothes back on. Again. Move stuff over. Again.

Room 114 does have a working A/C! Hurrah! “No TV” reveals the engineer. “No problem” we assure him, but is it safe to get undress (again) yet? We check the bathroom. There is only one towel, which is wet. We still have the key for Room 112, so collect the one and only towel from there. That is also damp. I cannot work out whether they are leftover from the last occupant or just haven’t dried from being laundered, but as I’d rather not risk it, mausoleum I use the towel I brought from home.

The bathroom is somewhat shabby to say the least, with a shelf that looks like it is just about to disintegrate any minute. As for the bath mat – it is dirtier than the cloth I wash my floor with at home! Thank goodness for flip flops.

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Time for a shower. As there is no shower curtain,, it’s a sit-down job. I didn’t realise how much dirt was on that road today – the water that is coming out of my hair is the colour of mud!

Feeling much more refreshed after the shower, we go to change into something cool before going for dinner. “Where are the shorts?” Both David’s and mine are missing, and I know I packed them in Grand Comore. We wore them on the last night there and I distinctly remember asking David: “Is it OK if I put these in your bag as I have already done mine up?” I placed them on top of the other clothes in his bag and zipped it up. Oh dear. Somehow they have gone ‘missing’ between packing the bags before going for breakfast in Moroni and looking for them this evening in Anjouan. Hmm.

Dinner

One saving grace about this hotel is that they do serve a very good pizza! I have mine topped with lobster, while David chooses a pizza called Oslo, with meat and vegetables.

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What they don’t have, however, is stocked up on beer after David drank the last one yesterday. Another dry evening.

After dinner I look for stars. Last night the skies were full of them, but my tripod was in the luggage that was still on the boat. Tonight I have a tripod, but no stars. Oh well. Time for bed then I guess. There is a party on again this evening; in the sports stadium right next to the hotel.

This trip was booked through Undiscovered Destinations, an excellent tour operator who specialise in adventure tours to unusual destinations. Such as Comoros.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Comoros Tagged hotel surf waves ship river sunrise fruit waterfall africa dinner lobster lunch mist docks pirates ferry trash pizza bags mango breakdown swimming_pool luggage aroma fragrance indian_ocean octopus chasm laundry lemur abandoned towel distillery smell a/c perfume spray ylang_ylang comoros cloves malagasy_pirates anjouan al_amal_hotel quayside luggage_on_wheels maki photograhy bazimi sisal pigeon_peas tratringa_falls runnish unripe_mango green_mango moya moya_plage hotel_moya_plage ahmed_addallah_abdermane mausoleum_of_abdallah domoney switchbacks bad_road mataba tuna_fish william_sunley coastal_road car_battery alternator jump_start abandoned_ship room_121 air_conditioning Comments (3)

Danube Delta - Galati - Moldova - Chișinău

The end is nigh

sunny 34 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Setting the alarm early to see if I can catch the sunrise was well worth it – the river is bathed in a beautiful light this morning as the sun peeks up through the mist.

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It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning and it is already blisteringly hot as we walk down to the jetty to wait for our boat out of the Delta. This region of Romania has not seen a drop of rain since June and farmers are getting desperate.

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The early ferry back to the mainland seems to be attracting a lot of passengers.

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Thankfully it is a much bigger boat this time

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We sit outside on deck, next to a group of Russian men with a couple of youngsters (sons?). They start drinking as soon as they have boarded (as well as chain smoking – it seems to me that everyone here does!), and get louder and increasingly more annoying as the morning wears on.

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There is not a great deal to see along the shores of the canal, especially not once we get to the end of the linear village of Crișan.

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Little Egret

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Common Gulls

So many of life’s necessities here in Crișan and other similar villages in the Delta, have to be brought in from the mainland – including farm equipment, building materials, furniture etc.

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The ferry is most people’s lifeline here, and we make a few stops along the way.

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Andrei enjoys a spot of sunbathing.

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The canal-side offers some inviting beaches, where we see people picnicking and fishing.

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The arrival at Tulcea heralds the end of our Danube Delta adventure.

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Andrei shows us the map of the Delta and where we went on yesterday’s two boat trips.

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Today is going to be a long day, so we grab a couple of pastries at Tulcea before continuing on our journey.

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Plăcintă cu brânză – sweet pastries filled with cheese. (2 lei is ca. 40p)

I giggle to myself when I see the name of the local petrol station. I Norwegian the word ‘rompetroll’ (directly translated ass-troll) means tadpoles; and in my mind’s eye I can just imagine pouring a bucket full of baby frogs into the fuel tank of the car. OK, OK, it’s childish, I know, but this really tickles me!

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We get the ferry back over the Danube to Galați, where we have to call in Vila Belvedere (where we stayed on the way down), as Andrei walked away with his room key in his pocket!

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Blue Acqua Restaurant, Galați

We stop for some lunch at this riverfront restaurant specialising in seafood.

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David chooses a mixed seafood skewer with sweet chilli sauce, which is really nice.

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As usual, I like to scour the menu for ‘new’ food – dishes or ingredients that I have never tried before, are local to the region, or just somewhat unusual. This Snail Skewer fits that bill perfectly. Quite tough and rather chewy, I am very pleased it comes with a spicy Hoi Sin Sauce. Not my best selection, but it is always worth a try!

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The road from Galați to the Moldavian border is mostly smooth, traffic free and winding its way through beautiful countryside. From time to time we see these portable beehives – transported and parked to follow the blossom.

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The outside temperature is 34 °C, but the A/C in the car is efficient. Having suffered really badly with my knee on the way down here, I park myself in the front seat today, something which proves to be an excellent move as have no pain in my knee even after several hours in the same position. Andrei tries to engage me in one of his in-depth and serious discussions this afternoon (this time about crime and the success - or not - of penal reform systems), but I am just too tired.

Andrei worries me when he asks: “Do I need a passport to enter Moldova?” “What? You don’t have a passport?” I demand incredulously. “No, it ran out a couple of years ago.” he answers nonchalantly. For a few seconds I have visions of being stuck for hours, or even overnight, at the border with a passport-less guide; until I remember that most European countries issue ID cards that are good for international travel within EU. As it turns out, we have no problems at the border and we are soon out of Romania, through the ubiquitous no-man’s-land and back in Moldova. We just have to purchase a vignette for road tax, and we are on our way to Chișinău again, just as the sun starts to set.

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Andrei pulls up outside the Codru Hotel at 19:40, and we are thankful that there is no queue for check-in tonight; as we are being picked up for dinner in 20 minutes. Back in the now very familiar Room 313, we have a quick shower and change; and make it to reception with plenty of time to spare before Leonid arrives promptly at 20:00.

Vatra Neamului Restaurant

We explain to the waiter – whose English is only marginally better than our Moldovian – that tonight’s meal is paid for by Amadeus Travel; and ask if there is a special menu, or maybe a set meal that we should be ordering from. He just passes us a normal menu, smiles and walks away. We are nor particularly hungry, and as we have a very early start tomorrow morning (04:30 pick-up from the hotel), we just order a simple dish with no starters, sides or desserts.

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Chicken with cheese sauce

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Pork with cheese and mushrooms

The restaurant is quaint, with antique furniture and several cosy alcoves. We appear to be the only people eating here tonight, although I think there might be a private party in a back room. Strange, considering it is Saturday night.

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Two pretty singers and a chap on a cobza (a kind of lute) entertain us – at least the words to the song are easy to remember should we wish to sing along.

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So, our travel adventure is over for this time. Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania have all been compelling destinations, and despite considerable shared history and culture, they are surprisingly dissimilar to each other in so many ways. Each has given us highlights and new experiences to remember for years to come.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for showing us these hidden places in a small world.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:37 Archived in Moldova Tagged danube adventure dinner snails romania border_crossing ferry delta immigration moldova danube_delta undiscovered_destinations galati traditional_dinner Comments (0)

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