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Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege


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

The room finally cooled enough for me to put the covers on at 01:00. The alarm is set for 05:00, but I am awake from 03:00 anyway.

Boat Safari
Like Araras, the activities here at Cristalino revolve mostly around trekking, but because of my bad knee, Gui has arranged boat safaris instead.

It is still dark when we go out at 07:00, so not good for photography.

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Amazon Kingfisher

The sun soon comes up, though, giving me more light to work with.

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Green Kingfisher

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Great Black Hawk

The guests that are staying here at Cristalino Lodge are mostly a combination of families looking for adventure, and avid bird watchers. Not sure where we fit into that.

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Long Nosed Bats
With clever camouflage, these bats attach themselves to the bark of a tree, hiding from the Bat Falcon.

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This caiman is also very well camouflaged amongst the logs and rocks in the river.

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Sunbittern

White Winged Swallow
I spend ages trying to make this little chap fly, but he is not very cooperative, and when he finally does take off, I am not ready with my camera.

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I follow him to his next perch.

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After hanging around for ages, I yet again miss him taking off. I give up for now.

Until I see a couple of a rock, that is!

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Green Ibis

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White Banded Swallow

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Swallow Winged Puffbird

We are now at the beginning of the dry season here in the Southern Amazon, so the level of the river is slowly going down. You can see just how much lower the water is already.

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These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.

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It certainly makes for challenging navigation and heightens my admiration for our skilled captain.

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Spectacled Caiman

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Anhinga

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Scarlet Macaws

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Capped Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

We spend most of our time motoring gently along the shady side of the river. David and I agree how incredibly privileged we are to be here, doing this.

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle

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Green Ibis

A dragonfly lands on the boat, and I try – not altogether successfully – to capture it before it flies off.

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Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.

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It looks like this one is in the throes of passion.

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Rapids
Where the water level has gone down, and rocks have become exposed, a number of rapids have developed.

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Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

The moving water attracts birds and is fun to navigate – for us. Again I admire the captain and his experience and knowledge as he steers us safely up the river.


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Capped Heron

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Back to Cristalino Lodge
We return to the lodge mid-morning, where Gui has arranged for me to have a ride back to the room in the electric luggage buggy in order to save my knee. I sit on the flatbed at the back, while David joins the driver in the front.

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We chill in the room and later on the patio before lunch

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An unusual rocking chair


Lunch
This oppressive 38 °C heat is making me feel lethargic, and I struggle to muster up the energy to walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Cristalino Cream of Tartar: with tomatoes, red onions and green herbal oil, plantains, Dijon mustard, capers, and ginger. Served with banana chips.

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Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

Regional spaghetti dish with cured beef, tomatoes, and orange sauce

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Very nice

Banana Crumble
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Yum! Must try this at home!

We opt out of taking an excursion this afternoon due to the heat, my knee, and David's sore throat; instead, we snooze for the afternoon before I drag myself to dinner. It doesn't feel any cooler after the sun has gone down. This heat is really getting to me.

Dinner
We start with a drink, while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Passion Fruit Caipirinha

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David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

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Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

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Cristalino salad: seasonal leaves, pickled red onion with mustard seeds, cherry tomato confit, cucumbers, pickled palm heart, olives, red cabbage, served with savoury granola. The dish is overly salty (which is saying something as I love a bit of food with my salt), the crunchy topping is nice though

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Savoury Granola

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Tucupi risotto and smoked catfish: rice, tucupi (cassava broth), jambu (paracress), Grana Padano cheese, and catfish smoked in cashew and blackberry leaves.

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Brazil nut mousse - I am not at all keen on this dish

And so to bed. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife kite hammock dinner safari hawk brazil lunch birding luxury amazon bats turtle caiman heron anhinga ibis rapids guan kingfisher macaw dragonfly bird_watching otter boat_safari dry_season undiscovered_destinations swallow wildlife_photography river_safari puffbird cristalino sunbittern water_level Comments (5)

Araras - Alta Floresta - Cristalino

Transfer Day


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

We are leaving Araras at 07:30 this morning, but I am awake from 03:45. As soon as it is light, I do some last-minute bird watching.

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Chaco Chachalaca

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Packed and ready to go

Our new-found German friends, Tina, Kristian, and their four children are moving on to the same lodge as us today, too, and we joke at breakfast about who will get to the airport first to put the towels down to reserve the seats.

We win.

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Cuiabá Airport
We do have a couple of advantages, however, one being that we are on a private tour so that we can don't have to wait for other people, and not travel in a 12-seater minibus, which means we spend less time loading and unloading luggage as there is only us.

The other advantage is that Roberto arranges special assistance for me once we arrive at the airport, which includes priority check-in as well as boarding, and special seats on the plane (the first three rows are dedicated 'disabled' seats, with extra legroom)

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The city of Cuiabá from the air

Alta Floresta
At the small airport (which only gets two flights a day, apparently) there are two vehicles waiting to take guests to Cristalino Lodge: a small truck for us and the luggage, and a minibus for all the others.

The first part of the road is on tarmac, but that soon turns into a gravel track, as we pass farms and logging stations. If we thought the Transpantaneira road was bad, that is nothing compared to this. We bounce all over the place each time the truck hits a pothole – which is often – and the driver seems to spend his time apologising. He doesn't speak much English but has a great sense of humour, and we laugh a lot on the one-hour journey.

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Cashews
At a gate across the road, he stops to poach some cashew fruits from a tree by the side of the road. He justifies it by explaining that the farm and land belong to Cristalino Lodge. Cashews always fascinate me the way the nut hangs at the bottom of the fruit.

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The fruit itself is also very pleasant to eat, so we take a couple of them with us.

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Boat Trip
When we arrive at the docking area (a fancy name for where the end of the road goes into the river), there is an army of helpers on hand to get the luggage from the truck into the waiting boats.

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Here we meet our guide, Gui, for the first time. He is to be with us for the next four days.

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The journey along the river to Cristalino Lodge takes around half an hour, and we do some bird watching along the way.

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Green Ibis

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Swallow Wing Puffbird

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle and Dyas Julia Butterflies

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White Winged Swallows

Gui explains that the dark colour of the water comes from minerals washed out of the forest, and contains decomposing leaves and other vegetable matter. The good news is that the mosquitoes do not like this water, so they stay away.

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Cristalino Lodge
This eco-lodge gets rave reviews on every site I have looked at on the internet, with National Geographic Traveller selecting it as one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world; and another sire describing it as “the best lodge in the Brazilian Amazon for wildlife enthusiasts”. I have high hopes for this place!

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The landing stage also features a sunbathing and swimming platform, with loungers and umbrellas (and apparently a cozy firepit in the evening).

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To get to the lodge there are 30 wooden steps, but before that, I have to get out of the boat.

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I try to step up onto the raised part at the front, but my knee will not let me. I attempt to swing my leg over the side and straight onto the boardwalk. I fail again. Finally, I sit down on the front, but I am still not able to get my legs up.
The aforementioned army of helpers step in and literally lift me up and out of the boat. I am impressed they manage it, but by this stage, I am feeling pretty stressed and panicky.

I manage the steps, and the trail through the jungle to the restaurant, which is up a few more wooden steps. The public areas of the hotel are all on a raised platform: the inside and outside dining areas, the bar, the lounge, the shop, toilets, conference room, and patio. It oozes luxury.

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Gui

We are given a welcome drink, made from a fruit called cocoazu. I have not heard of it before, and I have to admit it is a little too bitter for me.

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As we missed lunch while travelling (it is now mid-afternoon), they serve us a small wrap, some fruit salad, and a delicious cake.

Gui is very laid back and nothing seems to be a rush here. We saunter back down the wooden steps along the path from the restaurant to the crossroads of paths where we came up from the jetty.

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As we turn into the jungle and the track that leads to our room, we come across Mr and Mrs Bare Faced Curassow, reinforcing my high expectations of seeing a lot of birds here.

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Our Room
Having upgraded to a Junior Suite, we find that our room is almost the furthest away from the restaurant and the jetty. But at least it is private, set in its own clearing in the forest.

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The inside is large, bright, and airy. There is an overhead fan, but no air conditioning.

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The welcome pack contains two complimentary metal water bottles that can be refilled at the bar for free, a box of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, and some postcards.

There is a separate dressing room, toilet, and shower, with an additional shower outside.

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Once we have settled in, we try out the outdoor shower. To say it is refreshing would be a gross understatement – the water is absolutely freezing.

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Dinner
We joke that walking to the restaurant for dinner is about as far as it is to walk to our local Tesco supermarket. “Fancy Tesco for dinner this evening?”

As everything is cooked to order here at Cristalino, they brought us the menus when we arrived for us to choose what we would like to have for dinner this evening. After seven nights of buffet food, it is such a pleasant change to be served at the table.

We are greeted on arrival at the restaurant by the customer relations manager, Gabriel, who is very pleasant, very knowledgable, and has a great memory, but he does talk too much, lingering at the table while we are eating.

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Sun-dried meat croquettes with pepper aioli and a hot sauce. Crunchy outside, with a soft centre. Very nice.

The main course is extremely slow to arrive, but when it finally turns up after around 40 minutes or so, it is worth the wait.

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Grilled tenderloin medallion steak

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The caramel nut pie is only just OK. It has a slightly unpleasant gritty texture and definitely needs more caramel!

With no AC, the room feels very hot as we go to bed, so I lay on top of the sheets without anything on and put the ceiling fan on full.

Goodnight from the Amazon. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:44 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards flight airport river jungle dinner brazil birding brasil luxury amazon turtle butterflies ibis steak kingfisher cuiabá boat_trip cashew bird_watching swallows eco_lodge undiscovered_destinations outdoor_shower water_bottles special_assistance araras curassow chachalaca alta_floresta puffbird cristalino cocoazu caramel_pie Comments (2)

Porto Jofre - Araras

An exciting transfer


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

After the early starts over the last few days, we are delighted to be able to have a lie-in this morning, with the alarm set for 05:30! David's eyes were stuck shut when he woke up, and he feels so rotten, he wishes he was back home! Poor thing.

After breakfast we try and find reception to settle our bill – we are moving on to a new playground today.

On the way, we have a mini-safari in the hotel grounds.

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Jabiru

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Buff Necked Ibis

Southern River Otter
This is the same little otter than was chased into the restaurant by a jaguar on our first evening here. Although not a pet or tame as such, she has become habituated and is unafraid of humans.

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The staff has named her Belinha, which means “little beautiful”.

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Belinha checks out David's new shows.

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They get her seal of approval – or is that otterly approved?

She follows us into reception, running around our feet as we pay our dues. At one point she gets a little too excited and bites my toe - she has sharp teeth, but thankfully she doesn't break the skin. Thank goodness she is only playing, I am sure those gnashers could cause some intense damage if she was serious.

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Jabiru - I love the way they strut around as if they own the place!

Flight Transfer
Instead of travelling to Araras by car, we have opted for a flight transfer, and our plane is here already.

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With scruffy jeans and a camouflage shirt, long greasy hair and covered in tattoos, Julinho so does not look like a stereotypical pilot! He is delightful, though, speaks great English and has a super sense of humour.

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We had hoped to do a panoramic flight over the national park as part of the transfer, but the message does not seem to have come through to Julianho, who is most apologetic when he explains that he does not have enough fuel to do that, much as he would be more than happy to.

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Getting into the plane involves climbing up onto the wing, and somehow sliding myself in. I manage without too much difficulty.


Take-off
To call it a 'runway' would be a gross exaggeration, the airstrip is, in fact, a patch of land with gravel and grass. You can see it on the Google Earth map below.

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Space is at a premium inside, and I daren't move a muscle for fear of touching some of the controls as I am sitting next to the pilot in the front. There is no room for the luggage, so that travels separately in another truck that is going that way today anyway.

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You can see my knees jammed right up against the dashboard.

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The lodge we just left

Photography, as a result, is extremely challenging. Not just because of not being able to move around freely as I did in the back seat of the helicopter (where there was loads more legroom too), but also because none of the windows open, they are small and covered in scratches and splattered with kamikaze insects. Oh, and my side is into the sun.

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It does, however, make for some great shots of the low sun reflecting in the rivers. Well... they would be great if the dirty window wasn't there.

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You can see why they call it a wetland.

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Julinho points out Areras Lodge, our next overnight accommodation as we fly past. Unlike Porto Jofre, Araras does not have its own airstrip, so we are carrying on to Poconé and will drive back down the Transpantaneira (the long straight track that runs through the Pantanal wetlands that you can see in the photo) to reach the lodge.

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As we get nearer to Poconé, we see gold mines rather than wetlands.

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As we approach the landing strip in Poconé, Roberto points out to Julinho that there is another small aircraft that is due to land just before him. Oops. We do a swift, about-turn, and circle the town to come back when it is safe.


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At least it means that I get to see Poconé from the air; which I otherwise would have missed as there would have been no reason to fly over the city because of where the airstrip is located.


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While I am sure they would still have been able to avoid each other, I guess this is what in aviation terms would be classed as a near-miss. When there is no air traffic control, you have to rely on physically seeing any other aircraft.

Landing in Poconé is somewhat bumpy – the landing strip here is not a great deal better than the one in Porto Jofre.

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Getting out of the aircraft can only be described as 'interesting'. None of the other three can help me, as I have to get out before them. The lack of space is not helping one bit, and obviously, neither is the fact that I struggle to bend my knee.

Eventually, I manage to swing myself around so that my bum is resting on the wing. What now? The owner of the plane, and the driver who has come to pick us up for the road transfer look on with bemusement, not sure whether to laugh or cry. When I start to laugh, they nervously join in.

By the time I have endeavoured to somehow get my legs out of the cockpit, with some pushing and lifting by Julinho, and swing those same legs over the top of the plane while lying on my back on the wing, everyone is roaring with laughter. “No need to go to the gym today!” says Julinho.

I slowly slide down the wing, conscious of not losing my pants in the process, I land on the ground with whatever small amount of dignity I have left and smile broadly. “Welcome to Poconé” says the plane's owner.

Thankfully there is no video of this, as David is still inside the aircraft.

Poconé
We ask Roberto to stop at a pharmacy for David to get something for his sore throat. The pharmacist himself shines a torch down into his throat and exclaims: “that is very red and looks extremely sore. I think you have a bad infection there!” He prescribes antibiotics for the throat and drops for the eyes.

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The pharmacy

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David's poorly eye - not a pretty sight!

Transpantaneira Safari
Roberto says we will take a safari on our way to the lodge, and instructs Mr Marcos to drive slowly. I never see him smile once during the entire journey and rename him Misery Guts.

Charity Cycle Ride
The first thing we see is a plethora of MILCC – Middle Aged Lycra Clad Cyclists. Actually, they are not all middle-aged, but few of them have the usual cycling event type body. This is a charity event and one that whole families and groups of friends can take part in.

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Roberto claims he's never seen so much traffic on the Transpanntaneira before, not only the 500 or so participants on bikes but also sponsors, police, ambulances, pick-up trucks, supporters, bike carriers for those who have given up, food suppliers, water trucks and more.

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Ambulance

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There is no shame in admitting defeat

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Prat's, the sponsors (they make orange juice)

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More bikers abandon the ride

I must admit I would not want to cycle on the Transpantaneira – not just the heat, but the dust! Every time a car goes past, a cloud of dust gets thrown up and hangs in the air, just waiting to enter those poor cyclists' lungs.

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As for wildlife, it is conspicuous with its absence today, undoubtedly as a result of the charity event with its numerous cyclists and vehicles.

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Little Blue Heron

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Black Necked Stilt

Pousada Araras Eco Lodge

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As soon as we arrive, Roberto negotiates with the manager for us to have a room nearer the restaurant and parking area. Good man. The room is not ready yet, however, so we have a drink in the shade while we wait.

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The lodge consists of several accommodation blocks set in lovely grounds that include a swimming pool.

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Each room has a couple of comfy chairs and a hammock on the veranda, and the interior is cool and cosy.

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Flower decoration on our bed

The one thing that I find surprising here, is the number of children. We saw none in Porto Jofre, whereas here there are several – German, French, English, American and Brazilian.

Lunch
We hear a bell at 11:30, which we later learn is the dinner bell. By the time we arrive at 12:30, all the tables under cover appear to be taken. There is one free table out on the patio, in the shade, that is laid up. When we get nearer, we discover it has a name on it: “Matias Family x 4”. The waiter casually moves the sign to an empty table and beckons us to sit down.

As usual, the food is served as a buffet – I so don't like buffets! There is a large bucket filled with ice, where soft drinks and beer are found, and you just help yourself. I assume the waiter makes a note of it from your table, hence the names.

As I rummage through what is left of soft drinks in the cooler, I come across cans of Guaraná, and memories from our last visit to Brazil come flooding back. I was completely hooked on this drink back then.

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It still tastes just as good as I remember.

The main course may be a buffet, but the dessert is served! And very nice it is too!

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Afternoon Safari
Araras Lodge has a number of included activities, mostly centred around trekking, horse riding and canoeing. As my poorly knee will not allow me to do any of those, Roberto has arranged for the use of a car every day we are here, and we will do car safaris.

This afternoon Roberto drives the vehicle himself, with me in the front and David in the back seat. Bird sightings begin even before we get into the car, right here in the grounds of the hotel.

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Rufous Hornero

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Campo Flicker

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Striated Heron

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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Greater Kiskadee

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Green Ibis

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Purpleish Jay

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Bare Faced Curassow

Sundowners
As we return to the lodge in time for sunset, a welcome drink of champagne and nibbles has been laid on for us, overlooking the lagoon as the sun goes down.

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Dinner
At dinner, we join an English family with two teenage boys, who are absolutely delightful. Much as I love chatting to people, I do tend to be rather antisocial when we travel, but here we don't have a great deal of choice. There are no tables for two, and the barman tries to get you to mix by placing you with different people each night - hence the names on the tables.

Still feeling rough, and no doubt knocked out from the antibiotics he is now taking, David goes straight to bed after eating. Roberto and I, however, go out into the wilderness in search of a good place for shooting the Milky Way.

He knows of a large open area with some old farming machinery left lying around that could be used as a foreground.

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The stars are absolutely amazing tonight, with no light pollution whatsoever on the horizon. These are truly dark skies!

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:07 Archived in Brazil Tagged sunset wildlife flight dinner safari brazil lunch brasil eye jay south_america stars heron stilt ibis cardinal spoonbill gold_mine guarana pharmacy bubbly pantanal eco-lodge astro cockpit drops mosquitos otter antibiotics jabiru milky_way pocone astro_photography wildlife_photography undiscovered_destination throat_infection araras port_jofre southern_river_otter small_aircraft pantanal_from_the_air near_miss transpananeira charity_cycle_ride cycle_ride cycylists pousada_araras safarai_by_car jeep_safari hornero flicker curassow sundowner chanpagne unlimted_champage Comments (6)

Cuiabá - Porto Jofre

Entering the Pantanal


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

David is really suffering this morning with his sore throat, poor thing. After a decent breakfast and a leisurely start, we meet Roberto, our guide, and Ouzito. the driver, outside the hotel at 10 o'clock. They will be taking us by road to Pantanal today. I am excited. I am very excited. Pantanal has been on my wish list for the longest time, and having had this trip cancelled twice, I can't quite believe that I am here now, so very close.

The first part of the journey is on a sealed road with a relatively smooth surface. Alongside the road, we see fields where they grow soya beans or graze Brahma cows imported from India. The odd gold mine dots the landscape, and we see birds such as vultures and rhea, plus the odd capybara.

By the time we reach Poconé, the only town of any size in this region, I have diarrhea. Thankfully we are stopping here for lunch, in a BBQ restaurant known as a Churruascaria, and they have decent toilets.

After filling our plates with salads from a buffet, a waiter comes around with various BBQ meats that he carves off as much or as little as we want. Every few minutes he brings something different: various cuts of beef, chicken, pork, sausages etc.

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Transpantaneira
From Poconé it is a dirt road all the way, known as the Transpantaneira, a 150km journey through a range of landscapes - with drier grasslands in the north, while further south, closer to Porto Jofre, the landscape is wetter with more forest and swamp.

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The road is unpaved, rough, and pot-holed, connected by 122 bridges in varying states of disrepair. A few have been replaced with newer concrete constructions, while some still remain old, rickety, and nerve-wracking. I am sure glad it is not me who is driving.

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We drive slowly as we look out for birds and animals, stopping often when we see something worth photographing - safari Pantanal style.

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Savanna Hawk

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Candle Tree

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Red Legged Serima

Termite Mounds
During the dry season, the termites live under ground, but as soon as the rains start, they commence building their nests on top of the existing mound, thus increasing the height year by year. Some of the mounds we see are taller than a human.

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Red Brocket Deer

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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American Wood Stork

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Lesser Yellow Hooded Vulture

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Cocoi Heron

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Rufous Hornero

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White Woodpecker

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Caiman

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Black Collared Hawk

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Great Kiskadee

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Sunbittern

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Green Iguana

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Yellow Anaconda

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Marsh Deer

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Finally half way - Bridge 61!

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Juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Jabiru, the symbol of Pantanal

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Black Crowned Night Heron

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Capped Heron

Roberto said the journey to Porto Jofre would take between three and four hours, depending on how many times we stop. We finally arrive at the end of the road and pull up at our hotel after 7½ hours.

Pousada Porto Jofre
Ouzito drives right up to our room. Roberto has arranged for our room to be in such a position that we have easy access to everything: the restaurant, the pool, the docks, the reception, and the car park with the least amount of walking. Good man. There is no check-in procedure, although our room does have our name on it.

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The room is fairly basic, but more than adequate, and the AC is good, which is a definite bonus.

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The hotel started life as a fishing camp on a farm, and when the owner realised that not just fishermen wanted to visit this area, it grew into the mixed-use resort it is today, with the focus split between fishing and jaguar safaris by boat.

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Capybara in the grounds

While exploring the hotel and its grounds, I identify a spot that I would like to use later for astrophotography – an elevated boardwalk with a lily pond that I can hopefully get the Milky Way to reflect in.

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Dinner

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The restaurant

At dinner we are one of the few smaller tables: there are several large groups, including an American party at a long table next to us. Suddenly there is quite a commotion, with scraping of chairs, screeching of guests, and everybody abruptly and quickly getting up and running around.

The reason soon becomes clear: a river otter has managed to get inside the restaurant, and now all the staff and guides are trying to catch it (while the guests are trying to get away from it). After finally managing to grab it and throwing it out, Roberto goes outside to make sure the otter isn't able to get back in again.

Waving his arms, Roberto comes running back in to the restaurant, shouting in excitement: “jaguar!” “jaguar”. We think he is winding us up, but apparently not. It appears the otter was chased into the building by the big cat, and when Roberto went out, it was just outside the restaurant.

By the time we get out there, he has moved further down onto the boardwalk, and all we can see in the darkness of night is the outline of the body and the torchlight reflecting in his eyes. What excitement!

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We reluctantly return to dinner. Tonight is a buffet, and while I am generally not keen on buffets, there is a very nice beef in a tasty sauce, and the strawberry cake is delicious.

Milky Way
Even though the jaguar sauntered off into the jungle earlier, we decide that maybe the boardwalk isn't the best place for astrophotography this evening. Roberto suggests going out onto the Transpantaneira where it will be darker than the hotel grounds, and I reckon I can use the road as a decent foreground. The gates are locked shut, however, so we settle for the lawns.

The problem is the trees have spotlights pointing at them. Roberto tries his best to point them away from my camera, and cover one with his hat, one with my bag, and David stands in front of the third light.

It works (with a little help from Photoshop later).

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Goodnight from Porto Jofre. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged dinner safari iguana hawk brazil brasil bbq deer buffet caiman heron stork ibis parakeet cardinal jaguar kingfisher pantanal anaconda cuiabá termite_mounds milky_way pocone porto_jofre termites undiscovered_destinations astrophotography kiskadee tranpantaneira churrascaria wooden_bridges serima Comments (4)

Iguaçu - day trip to Argentina

A new day, a new country, a new viewpoint


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

This morning at breakfast, we pick up an extra cookie, which we break up on our table hoping to attract some of the colourful birds. You could say “that's the way the cookie crumbles”. We don't have to wait long before the first visitor arrives.

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Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

We deliberately sit at the table nearest the one that staff use as a bird feeding station, despite the seats being outside the covered roof, thus damp from the spray of the falls overnight.

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Melissa comes along, puts some crumbs in her hand, and a jay almost immediately lands and stuffs its face while perched on her fingers. Apparently, only one bird will eat from the hands, and they have affectionately named it Philhelmina.

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David tries to do the same, holding his arm out at a right angle for so long it begins to hurt, but he only gets one very quick grab-and-go visit.

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While we wait for Carini to pick us up for today's excursion, we do some more bird watching out the front of the hotel.

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Black-fronted piping guan, colloquially known as Jungle Turkey. I can see why.

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Southern Lapwing

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Scaly headed parrot

We make a quick stop at another viewing platform on the Brazilian side of the falls before continuing.

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Unlike yesterday, which had a reasonably thick cloud cover all, day, today the sun is shining; creating beautiful rainbows over the falls.

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Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, the park is closed for cleaning every Monday, so the only people we see today are those who are staying in the Belmond Hotel.

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Argentina
From the viewing platform, we continue out of the park and the short distance to the Argentine border. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, and while Brazil has the best views for that very reason, there are some interesting boardwalks on the Argentine side, including one that goes right up to the edge of the most impressive of all the falls, The Devil's Throat.

But first, we have to get into the country.

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Getting out of Brazil is reasonably quick, but the official at the Argentine immigration claims that we should have filled in and printed out an online application before we arrived. Carini is confused about this, as she came through here last week with British tourists and was not asked for this paper then. “They can be so bureaucratic,” she says. We are sent to a 'special immigration office', but to get there we have to make a U-turn and join the original queue again. Carini is having none of that and opens up a new line by moving some bollards.

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Carini is gone for ages, and we can see the official typing away on his keyboard, completing the online forms for us, and we are each issued with a number, which we then take back to the original immigration booth for them to access our online form.

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The official studies us intently (David and I have been in the car all this time, letting Carini sort out all the paperwork – that is one of the many reasons we like to have a guide!), before declaring that David's date of birth has been typed in wrong. Sigh.

Being sent back to the 'special immigration office', Carini is at her wit's end, and states that she is prepared to use tears to get what she wants. David and I both burst into song: “Don't cry for me Argentina...”

After one hour and lots of frustration, we are finally in!

The last time we came to the Argentine side of the falls, some 32 years ago, we parked up at the then Sheraton Hotel (now the Grand Meliá) and walked down from there. These days it is very commercialised, very modern, very well organised.

The entrance is huge and the distances great, so Carini arranges a buggy to take me to the train station. Despite there being plenty of room in the buggy, Carini, as a local guide, is not allowed to travel with us, but has to walk.

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Train tickets are timed, and at the station, there is a large waiting area with a souvenir shop and cafeteria.

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The announcer is a perfect character for the job, and obviously very funny, as he creates a lot of laughter. It's a shame I can't understand what he is saying. He comes over to me and explains that despite having tickets for the following train, he will not only get me on the next one, but ushers me onto the platform to ensure I get to board first!

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At least Carini is allowed to travel with us on the train!

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The train makes one stop at the start of the falls, before continuing to the end station and the trail leading to The Devil's Throat.

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On the map below, you can see the route from the car park, through the Visitors Centre and Entrance, then the train track down to the station at the end.

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Last time we only walked the yellow trail along the top of the different cataracts nearest the hotel, so this is an all-new experience for us.

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David and I make a slow start on the boardwalk, while Carini goes off to get a wheelchair for me.

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The trail is around a mile in each direction, so theoretically I should be able to do it under my own steam. I don't want to completely ruin my already painful knee at this early stage of the trip, however, so the wheelchair is very welcome when it arrives.

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Along the way, we cross little islands while turtles and birds rest on rocks jutting out of the river.

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Arriving at the end of the boardwalk, there are many people and a kind of one-way roundabout system to relieve congestion. It works very well.

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From a distance, the cascade looks impressive, but that is nothing to how overwhelming the view is once you are literally on the precipice of the falls.

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Devil's Throat
The horse-shoe-shaped cataract gets its name from an old legend in which an indigenous chief's daughter, named Naipi, was considered so beautiful that she was able to stop the waters of the Iguaçu River. Learning that her father had offered her to the god M'Boy, she escapes across the river in a canoe with her young warrior lover called Tarobá. M'boy was furious, and in retaliation, opened up a huge chasm in the river, turned Naipi into a rock, and Tarobá into a palm tree at the edge of a nearby abyss. It is said that M'boy stands at this spot to guard over the two young lovers to this day.

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Devils Throat is made up of 14 separate powerful waterfalls and at 82 metres, has the highest drop of any of the cataracts in the entire waterfall system; and is also the most photographed.

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The sheer power of the water tumbling over the edge of the river is mind-blowing, and the spray gets everywhere, as you can see from the video below.


I am forever cleaning my lens!

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The image below, taken from a helicopter, shows just how close to the edge of the waterfall that viewing platform is!

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The whole experience is totally breathtaking, and I am so mesmerised by the fast-moving water that I don't want to leave!

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The time has come to return to Brazil, however, and we head back to the train station, where there are as many coati as there are passengers.

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I rename the station Coati Central.

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One of them manages to get into the pushchair storage area of the train, making a passenger in our compartment completely freak out.

The same lovely buggy driver takes us back to the entrance area where we grab a quick burger before returning to the border.

Getting out of Argentina is way easier than getting in! The officials on the Brazilian side want to see our Covid Vaccination certificates – we do have hard copies but didn't think to take them with us today. Doh! We can show digital versions on our phones though, which is good enough for the officers. While David goes with Carini to the office, I stay in the car. They come back for me to find my document on my phone, but by the time they get back to the office with my phone, the screen has blanked and the image 'disappeared'. Thankfully David is able to find it again after some searching.

Insect bites
Both David and I seem to have suffered quite a few insect bites since we've been here at Iguaçu.

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With David, it is his legs that have been attacked, for me, it is my arms.

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The Belmond Tower
I politely decline when David suggests he wants to climb the tower at the hotel, which offers great views over the grounds and the falls beyond. I give him my camera with a fish-eye lens attached and send him on his way.

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David gets creative while photographing the staircase, and I apply a creative edit

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Sunset
As we are getting ready for dinner, we notice that there is a beautiful sunset this evening.

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Dinner
Forgetting that Brazilians eat their evening meal much later than we do in the UK, we arrive at the restaurant at 19:00, only to be told that the à la carte dinner is not served until 19:30. We are offered some nachos while we wait.

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Tonight's waitress Ana, is delightful, and we have many laughs. She later comes back to apologise for a joke she told about 'musical condoms', which she feared may have been inappropriate. She obviously does not know our sense of humour.

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We order a small pepperoni pizza each, which, when it comes, really is small.

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At least it means that we have room for dessert.

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David's lemon pie

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My meringue with berries - I love the design of the plate!

Ana persuades us to try a glass of dessert wine – she suggests two different ones, so we try one each and swap.

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With coffee and liqueurs to follow (Baileys and Cointreau), we are not surprised when the bill for the evening comes to around £200.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds sunset tower waterfall dinner rainbow argentina brazil birding pizza iguazu jay south_america cascade helicopter turtle dessert bureaucracy anhinga boardwalk coati immigration iguacu devils_throat wheelchair guan finch spray baileys devil's_throat cataracts fish_eye undiscovered_destinations nachos belmond lapwing insect_bites belmond_hotel_das_cataratas feeding_the-birds lemon_pie meringue cointreau ecological_train torn_ligament lens_cleaning fish_eye_lens dessert_wine Comments (2)

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

A taste of things to come


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Headed Tanager

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Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

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Greater Kiskadee

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

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

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

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

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Scarlet Ibis

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King Vulture

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Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

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Black Fronted Piping Guan

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Buff Necked Ibis

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

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

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Black Bellied Sliders

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Broad Snouted Caiman

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

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

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Red and Green Macaw

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Chestnut Fronted Macaw

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Jandaya Parakeet

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Blue and Yellow Macaw

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Blue Winged Macaw

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An unidentified bird in the park

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

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

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New shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Queueing up for selfies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

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

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

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

Lake Eyasi - Arusha

Our last journey with Malisa


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

The marauding monkeys made for a very disturbed night: as they jumped from tree to tree, the leaves made a sound like the rustling of a plastic bag, with the occasional abrupt noise sounding like a gun shot; not to mention the racket when they ran across our roof! Thankfully we have a late start this morning – the first one since we arrived in Tanzania (we're not leaving until 9am) – and we spend it exploring the grounds of Kisima Ngeda Lodge.

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The camp fire and bar beyond

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The observation tower

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View from the tower with Lake Eyasi in the background

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The wooden boardwalk leading down to a small bird pond - currently out of use as it is under renovation due to being overgrown and unsafe

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The secluded swimming pool

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Fishermen on Lake Eyasi

The 3½ hour drive to Arusha is uneventful, we just make three stops along the way: to photograph an immature Steppe Eagle; to use the surprisingly clean, modern, spacious and fully stocked / working toilets at a police check point; and for cattle crossing.

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Wide load!

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And another one!

At Sable Square Shopping Village we meet up with Tillya and Halima (the owners of Calabash Adventures) for lunch.

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My highlight, however, is finally seeing the rather rare Shoebill which Tillya has promised me on every single trip so far! Yay! What a wonderful eleventh-hour bonus!

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Kia Lodge

From here it's another hour-and-a-half drive to Kia Lodge, the Kilimanjaro Airport Hotel. We have stayed here a couple of time before, and it works so well as it is within the airport grounds and offers free transfers. As always it is sad to say goodbye to Malisa, so we keep it short and sweet. We will be keeping in touch via WhatsApp and Facebook though, which sweetens the parting somewhat.

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This is the busiest we've seen Kia Lodge, however, and when we arrive there are people coming, going and milling around. In the confusion the receptionist gives me the passports of a French couple checking in at the same time. Oops! Fortunately I discover it immediately - I dread to think what would happen if I'd just absentmindedly put them all in my bag and not got them out until the airport.

Our room is the furthest away from reception, which is nice, as, unlike the guests who are going off on a safari, we are not leaving until later tomorrow and can have a bit of a lie-in without being disturbed by other guests. We agree a price with the receptionist for keeping the room until lunchtime tomorrow. Despite my hard negotiations and a very decent discount, it is still a hefty $100. Worth it though to be able to have a shower and change before we leave for the long journey home.

Dinner

We are very pleasantly surprised that dinner is in fact included in our stay, which somehow takes the sting off the rather steep rate for a day-room.

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Starter: Vegetable Bruschetta on toast with mango salsa

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I have what the menu described as: 'Green Dall and Red Dall cooked in Indian served with Turmeric Rice and Tortillas Cup'.

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David chooses Beef Tenderloin with a rich sauce

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The chocolate cake with vanilla sauce is a bit of a disappointment in that it is very dry and served with what I would describe as jam.

We retire to the room to finish off the Duty Free that has travelled around with us for the last seventeen days. It is such a delight to have power 24/7 and wifi in the room.

Another fantastic holiday arranged by Calabash Adventures has come to and end. Until next time. Cheers!

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:36 Archived in Tanzania Tagged africa dinner tanzania eagle arusha calabash_adventures steppe_eagle lake_eyasi tillya halima kisima_ngeda sable_square_shopping_village showbill kia_lodge Comments (2)

Visiting the Datoga Tribe

A fascinating afternoon


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Datoga Tribe

Known as the Mang'ati in Swahili, the pastoral Datoga people consider themselves the oldest tribe in Tanzania.

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We are invited into one of their huts, to see how the women grind corn. We saw mounds of discarded corn husks as we arrived.

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The work is all done by hand and is very labour intensive – not to mention back breaking, as I find out when I try.

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Kneeling is not an option for me after several knee injuries over the years.

The Datoga are traditionally patrilineal and polygynous, and today we see mainly women and children in this settlement.

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Scarification in a circular pattern around the eyes is a popular of creating facial beautification, and you can recognise a married woman from the tassels she wears over her skirt.

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I hope David is not getting any ideas about polygamy!

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Tikiri, a poplar strategy game that we have seen numerous variations of throughout Africa.

These pastoralists are also skilled silversmiths, and as well as jewellery, they supply the Hadzabe with iron arrow tips, knives and spears in exchange for honey and fruits, and we continue on to their outdoor workshop.

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David has a go at bellowing to try and get the fire going, but doesn't have much success.


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One of their men shows him how it's done.


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We are shown how the blacksmith will take a thick nail from his pile of scrap metal and turn it into an intricate arrow tip.

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I love the way he is holding onto it with his feet!

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The finish product

The Datoga are known for onion farming, and we stop at a plantation on our way back to the lodge.

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The onion crop is rotated every three months with corn.

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The produce is taken to the market, or exported to Kenya and Europe.

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Back at the lodge, we spend the rest of the afternoon watching the antics of the Black faced Vervet Monkeys in the grounds.

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I have a weird fascination with their blue balls.

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Dinner

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Lovely napkin art

Starter of pea soup (not photographed)

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Chicken with Madeira sauce

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Chocolate Mousse

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Love the play on words!

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Looks like I may have caught the sun today

And so it is time for bed at the end of another fascinating day in Tanzania, beautifully arranged – as always – by Calabash Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged monkeys market africa dinner tanzania onions workshop blacksmith farming ironwork jewellery sunburn metalwork export suntan rusty_nail billowing arrows calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls lake_eyasi kisima_ngeda kisima_ngeda_lodge ethnic_tribe datoga datoga_tribe pastoral_tribe grinding_corn patrilineal polygamy scarification married_women tikiri silversmith scrap_metal hunting_arrows onion_farming onion_plantation goat_do_roam red_wine blue_testicles tan_lines Comments (5)

Ndutu VII - bat eared foxes, cheetah with cubs, mating lions

Some unusual sightings this afternoon


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

After our picnic lunch overlooking the marsh, we continue our drive to see what nature has to offer us.

Pratincole

Not a bird we've seen a lot on our safaris, so I am therefore really surprised to find a pond absolutely full of them! They are, of course, a northern migrant, so the time of year will have an influence.

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Eurasian Avocet

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African Cuckoo

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Dickson

Near the marsh we bump into Dickson, our guide from our safaris in Tanzania in 2007, 2011, and 2014, who now has his own safari company and was out with clients. It is great to see him again, and we chat for ages with him, as well as his passengers, before moving on.

Zebra

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We follow the zebra and wildebeest into the forest, but soon come out of there, as the flies are just too bothersome!

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Tortoise

It isn't often we see a tortoise in Tanzania, and even less often we see one run! In fact he was so quick he managed to get into the bushes before I had a chance to photograph him.

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Bat Eared Fox

It is rare to see a fox so near, they are usually really skittish.

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There appears to be at least six of them!

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The are obviously chasing something, and suddenly Malisa spots what it is: a black mamba! Wow! David and I just get a brief glimpse of it as it slithers into the bushes, and I am way too slow to get a photo.

One brave little soldier decides to go after it!

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Some of the others follow at a safe distance.

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Suddenly the snake raises his head as if to attack, and they all scamper. Not such brave little soldiers now.

They all gather on a sandy patch to chill out.

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Crested Lark

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Secretary Bird

She is probably looking for that Black Mamba!

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Cheetah

We see a cheetah in the bushes, and it looks like she has a cub.

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No, there are two cubs!

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Mum wanders off to find another place to rest.

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The cubs follow.

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I fire off shot after shot using the high speed continuous function on the Canon 1DXII, which can shoot at up to 16 frames per second. The shutter is also quite loud, and for a while my camera is getting more attention from people in the other cars than the cheetah!

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The cubs are seriously cute, and we would love to stay and watch their antics, but if we are to be back at the lodge before dark (as is a requirement in the parks), we need to get going.

Cattle Egrets

The egrets are heading home too.

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Impala

Down at the marsh, three impala are crossing the water, keeping a watchful eye on a hyena in the distance.

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The zebra take the more aggressive approach, and chase away the unwanted predator.

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The impala are much more relaxed now

Giraffe

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Seeing a giraffe drink from a puddle on the ground is always a treat. Mostly they get their moisture from the leaves they eat, as drinking like this is uncomfortable and risky business. They have been known to fall and break their bones, and with their heads down and their legs splayed like that, they are much more vulnerable to predators.

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Stuck - again

As we make our way down towards Lake Ndutu, we get stuck in a deep hole in the road. Thankfully, this time there are three of Malisa's friends nearby, who help to push us out, using their powerful vehicles to nudge us along.

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Wildebeest

As we wait for Malisa and his friends to catch up on news and gossip, I entertain myself with taking photos of backlit wildebeest.

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Lions
Just the other side of the lake, we see a couple of lions. It looks like our male from earlier blog entries has finally found his long lost love!

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And love seems to be on their mind tonight.

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Until she growls at him.

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It's a strange light tonight, with the clouds appearing like crepuscular rays.

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Ndutu Lodge

We make it back to the lodge just as it is getting dark, with enough time for a quick shower and change before dinner.

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Butternut squash tart

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Chicken pasta

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Ginger, walnut and toffee tart

Stars

The African sky seems to be bigger than anywhere else we've been, mainly down to the lack of light pollution here in the bush. I try my hand at some photos this evening; as I cannot wander away from the lodge because of wild animals, I decide to include the camp fire in my photo. Today's lesson (which I did know from previous experience): do not try your hand at astrophotography after a few drinks.

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I soon realise my mistake and opt to go to bed instead. Thank you Calabash Adventures for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals wildlife kite africa dinner safari tanzania zebra snake birding cheetah fox lions giraffe stars egrets avocet tortoise impala stuck wildebeest astro cuckoo game_drives ndutu lark calabash_adventures bat_eared_fox dickson secretary_bird pratincole astrophotography wildlife_photography black_shouldered_kite ndutu_lodge african_animals bird_wacthing black_mamba crested_lark lions_mating Comments (2)

Ndutu IV: zebra, stuck in mud, lion in a tree

What an adventurous afternoon!


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Picnic Lunch

We find the only tree for miles around, under which to have our picnic this lunchtime. There is something very special about eating our lunch in the wild.

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After lunch we go on our way again to see what else nature has to offer us today.

Zebra

The first wildlife we see is a few zebra.

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One month old baby

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Two month old baby suckling

This Grant's gazelle is all on its own, miles from anywhere and any other animals. Most odd.

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Bogged Down

There are not many animals in this area, so we decide to move on elsewhere. Although there is a track, it is very muddy and pot-holed, so Malisa drives off-road; heading towards a forested area we can see in the distance. While the plains look fine on the surface, the ground is sodden underneath, hidden by the long grass; so Malisa speeds up to try and avoid sinking in to the soft soil. It makes for a very bouncy ride, and poor Bertha (my 600mm lens) falls off the seat onto the floor and gets detached from the camera body. Hoping she has not suffered any damage, I put her back together again and leave her on the floor - at least then she can't fall anywhere!

The ground gets wetter and wetter, but Malisa manages to stay afloat so to speak, by turning on the four wheel drive and some skilful driving skimming across the surface. Until we hit a hole created by termites. We come to an abrupt halt, and no amount of revving the engine or turning the wheels makes any difference. We're stuck. Well and truly bogged down.

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Malisa gets out the spade and tries to dig us out, while David and I make sure we are facing opposite directions as we scan the horizon for wild animals. In areas with lots of plains game such as wildebeest, antelopes or zebra, you know you are reasonably safe from predators; whereas here there are no signs of life, human or animal for as far as the eye can see. I stare so intently at the surrounding area that every bush and tree becomes a cheetah or a lion. This is not good for my blood pressure! Five minutes later the same bush again looks like a big cat - I soon become paranoid and start seeing signs of danger with every small movement of the vegetation. David admits to his imagination playing havoc with him in the same way too.

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David on the look-out

Having worked up a sweat trying to shift the heavy wet soil and make a sold path for the wheels, Malisa gets back in the car and tries to drive off again. The wheels just spin and spin. It's no good, we are still stuck.

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Time to radio for help. All morning the radio has been going, with the occasional message about an exciting cat sighting, but mostly calls for help to get out of a sticky situation like this. Malisa grabs the microphone. Nothing. Completely dead. We can hear others, but they can't hear us. He keeps trying but it is obvious the microphone is faulty. Kaput.

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Plan C: Modern technology to the rescue, Malisa whips out his mobile phone to call for help. No signal. I try mine. Also no signal. David, who is on a different network to me, has a very weak signal, so Malisa uses it to make a call to the lodge. After initially having to explain to the confused receptionist why he is calling from a British phone, Malisa is able to let them know what has happened, explain where we are as best as he can, and ask for assistance.

Meanwhile continues to try and dig us out, using a spade and a mud board. David and I go back to scan the horizon, not just for predators, but also for any other cars that may be able to help us out of this mess.

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In the far, far distance, we spot three cars heading from right to left. They are too far away to see us, we can only just make them out using binoculars. How to attract their attention? Malisa tries using his torch, and David waves his mobile phone around with the light on. Both are way too weak to be seen, and anyway, the others will probably just think it is a reflection of the sun.

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I have a bright idea. Taking the speedlight flash gun from my camera bag, I set it on full power and use the TEST button to fire it. Again and again and again. It seems to work, as the vehicles change direction and appear to be heading towards us, coming closer and closer. What a relief! When they are within shouting distance, Malisa tells them not to come any nearer, as there is no point for them to get stuck in the mud as well. Protecting himself with a stick against any potential wild animals, he walks over to the other cars.

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All three drivers come back over with Malisa – these are the same guys who we helped rescue earlier this morning down by Lake Ndutu – and discuss a plan of action. A few more attempts at digging us out are made, then the decision is taken that David and I should go with the others, who will take us back to the lodge. Meanwhile Malisa will stay with the car and wait for help. I argue. I don't want to leave Malisa on his own, but I am talking to deaf ears. I guess he is right when he says that we would be more of a hindrance than a help to the rescuers.

We quickly grab all our stuff and walk across to the other cars. Or at least try to. On my third step I sink knee deep in the mud. I manage to get my left leg out, but in the struggle to free the other one, my shoe gets left behind. Malisa ends up having to use his spade to dig it out. Someone mentions: “all that brown stuff is not just mud, you know...” Thanks a lot for that thought!

The passengers in the other cars are very welcoming, cheering as we arrive and offering us welcome drinks (cartons of juice) and cakes when we get inside the car. Thank goodness they have some spare seats! Only when we drive away do we realise that Malisa is stuck in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals (potentially) and without any form of communication. We should have left David's phone with him, the only one that worked! I feel really bad about that, but he is too far away to hear me shout, and anyway, none of us feel like traipsing through that mud (!) to go back to where he and the car is.

Douglas, our hero rescue driver, explains that we need to go back to close to the point where we had lunch (they had lunch not far away too - we could see them when we were picnicking) before trying to find the road that will take us back to the lodge. Like Malisa did, he drives at great speed over the boggy landscape, resulting in the windscreen being splattered with mud!

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As we carefully make our way towards the area where we can safely meet up with the track again, we chat to the other passengers. They are on their last day of a five day safari, and are disappointed that they haven't seen a cheetah yet. We try to explain to them where we saw the mother and cubs yesterday.

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Being in a full car (seven passengers plus driver), also makes me realise how spoilt we are for space with just the two of us. Plus Malisa, of course. Having a private safari is the only way to go in my opinion!

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Beautiful late afternoon light over Lake Ndutu

Wildebeest

We drive through large areas dotted with hundreds – no thousands – of wildebeest, some with young babies. Like us, the passengers in this car are on the lookout for a wildebeest-mama just about to give birth. They have not been lucky enough to witness that either, and of course, this afternoon is their last chance. We all frantically scan the herds to look for large bellies.

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We also see a couple of Black Backed Jackals running away. I am sitting in the front seat next to the driver, where photography is not so easy as standing up is difficult because the roof hatch doesn't line up with the footwell, and there is no 'aisle' to stand in like there is at the back. With all my camera gear on my lap, it is hard to manoeuvre myself in any direction.

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Giraffe

Stuck. Again.

Making our way back to Ndutu and the lodges, we have to cross the same boggy area near Lake Ndutu where we helped the car out of the mud earlier this morning. Guess what? Maggie, one of the other drivers in our convoy, gets stuck in the mud.

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Douglas drives our car as close as he dares, then gets out and attaches a tow rope to Maggie's car.

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Here we go:


Easy peasy!

The plains are bathed in a glorious warm glow from the setting sun.

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Someone in the car complains that they haven't seen anything 'interesting' this afternoon. Another good reason why I am so grateful we are not travelling in a group - to me every wild animal we see is interesting in its own right, it is not just about the big cats and other 'popular' animals. He does take a bit of stick for his comments from the others in the car, to be fair.

Lions

Back by the lake, our three lions are still hanging around. I hope our whinger from earlier is happy now. We notice a vehicle from the KOPE Lion Conservation Project is here too. They have followed these particular lions making their way from Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu. I later find out that these are the same lions we saw as tiny cubs in the crater back in May 2016 - how cool is that!?!

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Being in a convoy of three cars means that the lead car (which on this occasion is us) can't just find the best position at a sighting, he has to make sure the other two cars can get a good view too.

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We move along to give the other two cars access.

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It looks like the lions have been asleep all afternoon, and are now just waking up.

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He's on the move!

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His brother follows.

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OMG! He's climbed the tree again!

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“I might not make it, but I am going to try. Hold on tight!” says Douglas as he drives straight for the bushes. Not just into undergrowth, but shrubs the height of the car. He cuts through them as if they are just tall grasses. These cars – and their drivers – are amazing!

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The King looks magnificent as his surveys his domain. What light! What colours!

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He doesn't look all that comfortable.

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That's better!

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Definitely not comfortable!

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Unfortunately we have to leave as Douglas is dropping us off, and then taking his original passengers to another camp further away. When we arrive at Ndutu Lodge, he gives the manager the co-ordinates of Malisa's position from his GPS. We are relieved to later hear that help has gone out and have located Malisa; and they promise to let us know when Malisa and his rescuers arrive back safe and sound.

Shower

My feet and legs are filthy dirty after this afternoon's wallow in the mud, and I take my shoes and sock with me into the shower. There is mud everywhere and I feel guilty for using so much water to wash off. I am normally very conscious of my water usage when we travel, so it goes against the grain to stay in the shower for a long time.

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Dinner

The first thing we do when we get to the main building, is to ask the manager if Malisa is back. He is not. It is dark outside now and I am really concerned, but I am reassured to know that he is no longer on his own and they are working hard to rescue him.

There are not so many people in the restaurant tonight, two if the large groups from last night have moved on.

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Starter of Greek Quesadilla drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Followed by a very nice tomato soup which I did not photograph

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Peppered beef - tender and tasty. One of the many things I like about Ndutu Lodge is that they serve extra vegetables on the side. We eat a lot of veggies at home and I so miss them when travelling, as I find most restaurants merely plonk a bit of greenery on the plate for visual impact (if you're lucky).

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The dessert – described as After Dinner Chocolate Slice – is served too cold for my liking. I dislike any cold food straight out of the fridge! I even take ice cream out 10-15 minutes before serving it, or put it in the microwave at home. OK, so I'm weird, we all know that.

Small Spotted Genets

Ndutu Lodge is famous for its resident population of genets – small cat-like creatures who live in the rafters of the lodge. They are wild, but have become habituated to people (and flash guns). The kitchen staff tempt them into the lounge after dinner with leftovers, but they are free to come and go as they like. We later see them roaming the ground and climbing bushes when we go back to our room.

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I refuse to go to bed until Malisa is back, even if it means staying in the reception area half the night! We position ourselves in the bar so that we can see up the pathway leading to the car park, hoping that Malisa will come down this way before going to the drivers' quarters. Thankfully we don't have to wait too long, and when he arrives at around 21:30, we give him the biggest hug ever.

Malisa explains how his rescuers were unable to drive right up to where he was stuck, but like we did, they walked across and helped him dig out the car and place mud boards underneath the wheels. While waiting for them to turn up, Malisa also managed to fix the radio to get the microphone working again. He is such a star! We can go to bed happy and relieved now.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari, and Malisa for looking after us so well. We love you guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:05 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife adventure phone dinner mud safari tanzania zebra flash dirty birding dirt radio picnic shower lions giraffe mobile_phone gazelle stuck wildebeest douglas bird_watching maggie ndutu calabash_adventures jackals game_viewing picnic_lunch wildlife_photography malisa tree_climbing_lions ndutu_lodge lion_in_a_tree stuck_in_mud bogged_down rescued cell_phone no_phone_signal mud_board speedlight flash_gun camera_flash kope genets Comments (2)

Serengeti VI: elephants, crocodile, lions

Too close for comfort


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

Elephants

We finally find the elephants we went out looking for this morning – or rather: they find us, crossing the road all around us.

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Giraffe

This giraffe is being pestered by Yellow Billed Oxpeckers, and keeps trying to shake them off.

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White Headed Vulture

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Egyptian Geese with chicks

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A little less flooding

Hopefully this is a sign that the surface water is receding and some sort of normality can be restored on the roads here in the Serengeti. Providing we don't get more rain, of course.

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Or maybe not.

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Nile Crocodile

On the far bank of a small lake, a huge crocodile exposes his predator teeth. The reason crocodiles lie around with the mouths open, is to catch birds. The food left in the teeth attracts insects, and the insects in turn attract birds: the lazy approach to hunting.

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A Cape Hare unintentionally wanders into the proximity of the crocodile, and freezes to the spot when she realises.

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Meanwhile, another crocodile is coming our way.

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They are such prehistoric looking creatures.

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A third croc fancies his chances with a Black Crake.

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He is way too slow for the birds (yet too fast for the camera, or rather my reactions)

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Black Headed Heron

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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I am forever fascinated by their blue balls.

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She looks almost human here

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White Bellied Busard

Lions

We'd heard on the grapevine that there was a lion close to our lodge, and there, in the fading light, just before we turn the corner into the lodge's parking area, is a big cat under a tree.


Here you can see our tent from where the lion is.

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You can see where numerous cars have driven around this tree earlier today. Now we have the lioness to ourselves.

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She's on the move.

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She joins two others under another tree.

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We leave them to it and drive the few metres to our camp, feeling a little nervous as we get out of the car.

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I don't think tonight is the night to have sundowners around the camp fire outside, sitting between the tent and the lions.

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There are three lions under one of those trees in the distance

The grass is so long beside the path to the tents that a lion could easily hide in there for later on when we go to dinner...

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Tsetse Fly Bites

I have been itching like mad all afternoon, and when I get undressed for the shower, I find my shoulder and back are covered in bites, some of which have turned into large blisters.

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Dinner

Tonight's dinner is pumpkin soup, followed by beef and pork kebabs with ugali (stodgy grits-like local dish), pilau rice, spinach, pilipili (hot sauce) and salad; followed by rhubarb tart.

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Yet again I offer my thanks to Calabash Adventures for this fabulous safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:34 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys wildlife elephants bird africa dinner safari tanzania crocodile birding lions giraffe flooding serengeti heron vulture geese goose hare ugali bird_watching calabash_adventures game_viewing vervet_monkey crake oxpeckers matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp insect_bites wilflide_photography egyptian_geese lions_close_to_camptsetse_flies tsetse_fly_bites Comments (4)

Serengeti III: lost lion cub, pond life, croc, leopard

What an amazing afternoon!


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

Serengeti Visitors Centre

Always busy at lunchtime, we get the last free picnic table in the grounds. The place may be commercialised, but it has a very decent toilet block these days, and there are always lots of birds, rock hyraxes and lizards around to amuse us.

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Grey Headed Social Weaver

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Rock Hyrax

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

Once we have finished eating, we move on “to see what else nature has to offer us” - Malisa's favourite saying.

Warthog

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He looks like he is smiling

Impala

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This poor guy has a bad limp and barely gets out of the way of the passing car.

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I fear he will come a cropper sooner rather than later.

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Pond Life

We spend a long time watching the comings and goings at a small pond.

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Grey Heron

A baby baboon has found a bottle top that someone has dropped. He hope he doesn't choke on it.

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Big Bertha* tries to get inside the nostrils of a hippo (*my 600mm lens)

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Spur Wing Plover

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Marabou Stork

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"Look into my eyes..."

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Another Grey Heron

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Three Banded Plover

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A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling shows off his beautiful feathers

He later also shows off his singing voice – he's a bit of an extrovert, this one.

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Nile Crocodile

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Blacksmith Plover

Olive Baboons

Nearby a family of baboons eat their way through the vegetation.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from all the activities that are going on here by the water's edge, and move on to pastures new.

Banded Mongoose

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A young giraffe

The sky is dark and foreboding and a sudden gust of wind blows across the savannah. Are we in for a storm?

Dik Dik

I love how names in Swahili are very often repeated, such as Dik Dik. These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and when you see one of them, there is usually another one nearby - here you can see his mate in the bushes behind.

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Lion Cub

When a lioness with young goes off hunting, she will leave her cubs behind, with strict instructions to stay where they are (we have seen this in action previously – fascinating!). This little cub obviously did not do as he was told, and wandered off. Now he can't find his siblings, nor his mum.

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He walks out onto the road, but is unsure of which way to go.

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Maybe she went this way?

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Maybe not...

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He strikes a lonesome, forlorn figure. We follow him for a while as he makes his way along the road, aimlessly darting into the grass on the left, only to pop over to the right hand side soon after.

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Eventually he changes his mind completely, and walks back the way he came, right by our car.

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Providing he doesn't deviate too far from where she left him, there is every chance that they will be reunited. When the mum gets back, she will call out for him.

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Rain Storm

I was right earlier when I surmised we'd get a bit of a storm – after some huge lightning bolts and deafening thunder, the heavens open.

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Followed by a rainbow.

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Nile Crocodile

This one is very much bigger than the one we saw earlier.

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African Hoopoe

It is still raining, and the poor hoopoe is looking somewhat bedraggled.

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Two Banded Courser

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Nubian Woodpecker

Giraffe

An old male giraffe is being greatly bothered by the Oxpeckers all up his spine. His tail cannot reach that far so he shakes his neck violently to try and rid himself of the birds.

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Unusually, he is feeding on the ground rather than from a tree.

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Augur Buzzard spreading his wings to dry after the rain

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Fischer's Lovebird

Leopard

Seeing a leopard on safari is always rewarding, as they are the most difficult of the three big cats to spot. Seeing two leopards is lucky! Seeing THREE leopards in the same day is just greedy! (we saw two others earlier in the day at two different sightings)

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This guy is posing beautifully for us.

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He's a big male, and judging by his restlessness, he's about to jump down from the tree.

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He is soon on the move.

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Is he going to jump or just rearrange himself in a different branch?

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As he disappears the other side of the trunk, I expect he will be gone without a sight now.

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There he is! He's coming down!

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All around me I can hear the high speed clicking of cameras. Unlike everywhere else we've been at any time in Tanzania, this sighting has attracted a number of serious photographers, including half a dozen other Big Berthas.

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Having a high frame rate certainly increases the odds of capturing the animal just at the right time.

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Soon all we can see is the top of his tail. I can't believe just how long the grass is!

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It looks like he is making his way towards the road.

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Could we be lucky?

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There he goes, between the cars!

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He re-emerges briefly the other side of the road, and disappears into the bush for the night.

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We really need to get going anyway, as the day draws to a close.

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We make a brief stop at a very exciting lifer - the Green Winged Pytillia

There is not much of a sunset tonight, but Malisa does stop a couple of times for me to photograph some dramatic cloud formations.

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Looks like rain in the distance

Sunburn

My lips feel very sore this evening when I get back to the tent. After a couple of incidents over the years, my bottom lip in particular has developed photosensitive dermatitis, and I am quite paranoid that they have become sunburnt. Three years ago an innocent sunburn turned into a secondary infection covering my entire mouth is open sores, something I really don't want a repeat of.

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Insect Bites

My arms are itching like mad and I soon discover why – the bites from those horrible little tsetse flies have turned into blisters and angry red patches. I smother them in antihistamine cream and hope they get better overnight.

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Dinner

We have company this evening in the restaurant: a Swedish couple and their driver.

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After another delicious dinner, starting with green banana soup (which tastes much better than it sounds); we retire to bed to the sounds of a not-so-distant lion.

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Main course: tender steak with croquette potatoes, vegetables and a fruity salad

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Peach cobbler to finish

Thank you Calabash Adventures for yet another amazing day on safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife africa dinner safari rainbow tanzania crocodile lizard birding picnic lion giraffe hippo baboon serengeti leopard woodpecker heron stork sunburn steak impala starling weaver mongoose warthog hyrax barbet courser bird_watching hoopoe big_bertha calabash_adventures serengeti_visitors_centre plover dik_dik agama_lizard picnic_lunch pond_life wildlife_photography crake lion_cub lost_lion_cub rain_storm oxpecker lovebird pytillia dermititis insect_bites tsetse_fly tse_tse_fly peach_cobbler green_banana_soup Comments (2)

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