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

Some unusual sightings this afternoon


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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)

Lake Manyara - Serengeti - Mating Hyena, Serval

Not just one serval, but two! And a surprise camp.


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

Ngorongoro Crater Viewpoint

This is one of my most favourite places on this earth. I will never tire of seeing this view of the Ngorongoro Crater from above.

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When we came to Tanzania with our friends Lyn and Chris in 2016 for their very first safari, Chris was totally overwhelmed when we arrived at this point, and for the first time on the trip exclaimed: “WOW”. He is not normally a 'wow-man', so that was saying something.

Lyn and Chris we unable to accompany us on this trip, but we did manage to sort out a second best – having brought large photographs of them with us to recreate this 'wow-moment' in this place.

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Nyati Picnic Site

We stop for lunch at a designated site overlooking the crater. Hoping guests will leave a few crumbs behind, there are always a lot of birds to be found here.

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Black Kite

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Red Collared Widowbird - an exciting lifer!

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Baglafecht Weaver

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Common Bulbul and Baglafecht Weaver

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White Necked Raven - another lifer

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Black Kite circling above

As we are eating, the temperatures suddenly falls considerably, and soon we feel the arrival of large, heavy rain drops. Getting a little wet along the way, we hurriedly return to the car to continue on our journey. We still have a couple of hours' drive before we even reach Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill Gate, and then there is a further half an hour drive to our camp.

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When the heavens open and we get a torrential rain shower, Malisa starts to worry about a certain river we have to cross on the way. As we are on the only road to Serengeti in this area, it would be a major problem if we were to be unable to get across.

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When the rain stops, the road becomes steamy in the oppressive heat.

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Zebra

Here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we often see wild animals intermingling with domestic sheep, goats or cattle; or even humans, such as here.

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Zebra mum with her three day old baby

We are initially concerned when we see this tiny baby lying motionless next to his mother, but much to our relief, he eventually sits up.

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It looks like the ink ran out during the printing process of this one.

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This sculpture is new since we were here last, some fifteen months ago – advertising Oldupai Gorge, AKA The Cradle of Mankind, where hominid footprints were found and a new museum has opened up.

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The skulls are not life sized

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As we make our way across the area known as the Short Grass Plains, we see the tail end of the migration – the horizon is dotted with the black outlines of wildebeest making their way to the Ndutu area for the birth of their babies.

We have now arrived at the river crossing that Malisa was worried about previously. He gingerly makes his way through the flooded river, and thankfully we make it to the other side without incident. Phew!

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Vultures on a carcass

A number of various vultures have descended on a predator's leftovers, and have now eaten so much they are unable to fly for the moment.

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Look at this guy at the front: he is so full he can't even move, let alone fly!

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Ostriches

This family consists of seven babies who are around two-three months old. Unusually, we only see one female adult: male ostriches have been known to take a harem of up to fifteen concubines!

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To think how wet and muddy everything was earlier – look at the dust generated here by the other car!

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Migratory Abdim's Storks flying in from Europe

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Hyenas

We see a couple of hyenas strutting their stuff, before 'getting intimate'.

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Jealousy is not a pretty emotion – a third hyena takes great interest in what they are doing, but gets chased off by the initial suitor.

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A Golden Jackal comes over to investigate. This confuses me: why would a jackal be interested in a couple of mating hyenas? Malisa explains that the growling sound made by the male seeing off his rival, is like the noise they make when squabbling over food.

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The jackal shakes his head and makes a dozen or more tsetse flies homeless.

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He realises that food is the last thing on the hyenas mind, and slopes off, disappointedly.

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Meanwhile, our hyena ménage à trois are back at it.

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And the interloper is still not welcome.

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Neither of them are prepared to give in, and they go round in circles for a while.

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Quite literally.

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Eventually he manages to get rid of his rival for good.

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We too move on as we still have quite a long way to go.

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Gabar Goshawk

There are several of these on the ground and in the trees.

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More Hyenas

A few miles later two males are in a dispute over a female. Again.

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Naabi Gate

The entrance gate to Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill is one giant building site at the moment, and the lovely little pool which always used to attract such a great variety of birds, has all gone; as have the birds. David is also disappointed that the grocery store doesn't stock any of his favourite Savanna Cider; so we both sit and sulk in the car until Malisa comes back from registering us into the park.

Death by Poison

It is hard to see from this photo, but there is a carcass of a wildebeest, with a dead hyena next to it. Malisa believes that the wildebeest died from eating poison grass, which was so toxic that the hyena died almost as soon as he tucked into the meat! Now the two bodies lie there decomposing as a stark warning to other animals not to get anywhere near it for fear of death! Instinct tells animals to leave well alone - isn't nature grand?

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Immature Steppe Eagle

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Black Backed Jackal

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Tawny Eagle

There is so much water about after the rains, with flooding everywhere, and the Short Grass Plains will have to be renamed, as the grass is no longer short.

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Serval

Suddenly Malisa spots something altogether more interesting. This timid cat doesn't hang around long enough for us to photograph him properly and with the aforementioned 'short grass' being so long, it makes it all too easy for him to hide.

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All we can see is a couple of black stripes in amongst the vegetation.

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He turns around briefly, but is still very obscured by the greenery.

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Wandamu River

“You cannot be serious Malisa?”

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The crossing looks completely and utterly impossible. I cannot believe that Malisa would even think of attempting this! I hold my breath as he gingerly moves the car along the 'road', hidden somewhere under an unknown depth of water cleverly disguised as a river.

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We are surely going to get washed away?

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This image is not taken from the safety of a bridge, it is looking straight down out of the car window.

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Phew! I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we get to the other side without incident. I am not a nervous passenger by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to admit even I had serious concerns about our safety here. Thankfully Malisa really knows what he is doing and I should have realised that he would never attempt it if he's had any doubts. Sorry Malisa.

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Geese

Meanwhile, on the dam by the ford, there is a family of Egyptian Geese with several babies. My racing heart has still not settled down from the river crossing as I try to enjoy looking at the chicks.

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There are also hippos in the water

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Giraffes in the distance

Serval

Would you believe it! Servals are such rare cats to spot, and here we see two different ones within an hour of each other!

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This one is also almost completely hidden by the tall grass though.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

More babies!

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Sunset

It is getting late now and the daylight is fading fast. Here, so near the equator, the twilight is short and darkness descends quickly.

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Matawi Serengeti Camp

We knew earlier today that we wouldn't be staying at the 'advertised' accommodation, but Malisa would not tell us where Tillya had (yet again) upgraded us to.

The approach road to the camp is no more than a couple of tyre tracks in the grass, and the reception area is extremely low key. With only six luxury tents, this camp is very exclusive and private, with exceptionally friendly service.

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The communal tent where the reception, lounge, bar and restaurant are found

We are asked if we'd prefer a double or a twin room, and on confirming the latter, we are taken to our tent by an askari (Maasai guard).

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The tent is large, with one double and one single mosquito-screened bed; two armchairs and a small coffee table, a little fridge (great for keeping the Coke and cider cold), a writing desk and chair, free standing claw-feet bath, and a separate shower and toilet.

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What a strange idea to put spiky branches in a vase on the coffee table!

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Dinner

As the only guests staying we are greeted warmly when we arrive in the restaurant. I try out my little bit of Swahili, much to the delight of the staff.

“Habari za jioni?” (good evening, how are you)
“Nzuri, asante, ne wewe?” (well, thank you, and you?)
“Nzuri sana, asante” (very well, thank you)
“Samahani, ongeza pilpili tafadhali” (excuse me, I'd like some more hot sauce please)
“Chakula nikitamu, asante” (the food was delicious, thank you)
“Usiku mwema” (goodnight)
“Lala salama” (sleep well)
“Tutaonana kesho” (see you tomorrow)

It may be just a greeting and a few pleasantries, but everyone joins in and one guy whispers to Malisa: “Does she speak Swahili? We have to be careful what we say...”

The food is delicious, with a very peppery butternut squash soup to start, followed by what they describe as “ram meat”, which turns out to be a goat curry.

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The chocolate dessert is very creamy with a hint of coffee.

As the askari walks us back to the tent after dinner, we can hear the hyenas very close by. Thank goodness he has a big stick to protect us! We can still hear them from the inside of the tent, and the sound of hyenas mating carries on most of the night. I struggle to sleep, not just because of the hyena porn going on outside; but I have not so much 'restless legs', as 'restless body'. I am twitching and itching and unable to find a comfortable position.

At 23:30 I hear vehicles arrive and people chatting. Malisa was telling us earlier that a group of Korean tourists (three cars) were unable to reach their accommodation further north this evening because of the bad state of the roads and the amount of flooding (large parts of the Serengeti are completely inaccessible at the moment for that reason); and they were heading to our camp. They have obviously arrived.

In addition to the sex-mad hyenas and lost tourists, I am kept awake by the rain; as well as dust on my lungs, resulting in wheezing and squeaking when I breathe. When I finally manage to drop off, I suffer a terrible nightmare in which I fall off a high walkway! Thanks Lariam!

This safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds rain wildlife raven tent africa dinner safari animal zebra eagle hawk birding adventures picnic national_park hippo flooding serengeti ngorongoro hyena stork vultures geese ford glamping weaver olduvai jackal poison swahili ngorongoro_crater bird_watching african_safari wild_animals ostriches serval serengeti_national_park fording calabash oldupai tse_tse_flies askari guineafowl golden_jackal picnic_lunch goshawk naabi_gate wildlife_photography steppe_eagle black_kite river_crossing abdim's_stork ngorongo_conservation_area nyati_picnic_site lunch_box widowbird baabi_hill wildebest short-grass_plains vultures_on_kill menage_a_trois gabar_goshawk wandamu_river matawi matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp permenent_tented_camp Comments (2)

Lake Natron - Mto Wa Mbu walking Tour - Kilimamoja

Something a little different today


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

Lake Natron Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giraffe

Our path is blocked by a giraffe again today.

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Strange earth mounds appear on the side of the road.

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Crowned Lapwing

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

Kori Bustard

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

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

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Capped Wheatear

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

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Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse - today's first lifer

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk, lifting one leg for thermoregulation.

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

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White Throated Bee Eaters

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

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

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The hillside is ablaze with colour

Zebra

We spook a zebra mummy and her young foal.

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

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

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

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

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

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The local bus service

It looks like we have another river to get across.

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Breasted Bee Eater

Ngaruka

We pass through the small town of Ngaruka again.

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The roads are still pretty awful

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Donkey Cart, AKA Maasai Landrover

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

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Where did the road go?

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Here it is. Or rather, was.

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This looks like fun


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Road Re-Construction

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

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We stop and give them some bottles of water.

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

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Cactus

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

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Mto Wa Mbu

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

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

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

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

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It's a muddy job!

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

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

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

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Dried out corn husks will be used as animal fodder.

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Taking it home for the cattle

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Okra or Lady Fingers

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Cassawa Plants

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

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Banana Plantations

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

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Lunch

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

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It's good to be out of the fierce sun

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

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

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

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Lake Manyara

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

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Kilimamoja Lodge

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

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

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

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

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Towel art on the bed


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We have an unobscured view of the valley below

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

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Always prepared for a great photo opportunity

Dinner

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

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

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

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

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Cappuccino Art

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

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

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

Arusha National Park - Malisa's House - Kilimamoja Lodge

Meeting our Tanzanian 'family'.


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

Picnic Time

We took breakfast in the hotel this morning, but for lunch we have the first of many picnic boxes we will enjoy on this trip. We climb to the top of a small hill where picnic tables have been arranged overlooking Big Momella Lake.

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We are joined for lunch by this damselfly.

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And a Speckled Mousebird, trying its best to hide behind a thin branch.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

They may be 'just a chicken', but their babies are cute – a family of guineafowl attempt to cross a muddy path.

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Some of you will already know the story behind the 'just a chicken' comment: many years ago in a vehicle in Sikkim, India, David exclaims: “Oh look, a colourful bird!” With more than a hint of disdain in his voice, the driver replies: “It's a chicken!” Malisa has cottoned on to the joke (as did Lyn and Chris when they travelled with us a couple of times on safari) and every time we see a guineafowl, at least one of us makes this 'joke'.

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Flamingos

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, one of the main reasons for visiting Arusha National Park on this trip, is to see the flamingos that spend part of the year on Big Momella Lake.

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Normally at this time of year they will mostly have flown to Lake Natron (where we are going tomorrow), but because of the recent heavy rains, the vast majority of them are still here.

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Cape Buffalo

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I love how each of these bovine animals have a completely different look and personality!

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Banded Mongoose

A band of mongooses frolic in the grass. The collective noun for these animals is band; and the plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese.

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You looking at me?

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Look at those claws! Her nails are longer than mine. Just right for digging out termites.

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Who knew mongooses liked dust baths?

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More and more join them.

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As we make our way towards the park gate, we see our injured waterbuck again; apparently lying down to die. It is always sad when nature takes its course like that, but there is nothing we, as visitors to their domain, can, or should, do.

Malisa's Family

We consider Malisa almost as an adopted son, and he calls us Mama and Papa. Today we get the opportunity to meet his family for the first time while visiting his house.

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We are made to feel very welcome, offered refreshments and given gifts and lots of hugs.

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The track leading to and from Malisa's house is more like a river than a road.

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Kilimamoja Lodge

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At Mto Wa Mbu we once again leave our comfortable ride behind and head off down another dirt track towards our accommodation for the night.

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On arrival at the lodge, we are greeted by an army of helpers who take every piece of luggage we remove from the car; we are not allowed to carry anything! A few staff sing and dance for us, and adorn us with a traditional Maasai necklace.

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The lodge is fairly large, with 49 rooms spread around sprawling grounds, perched on a cliff overlooking The Great Rift Valley.

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Sculptures in the grounds

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The pool with the Rift Valley beyond

The palatial lobby sports high ceilings and grandiose furniture; much like Palace of the Lost City in Sun City (South Africa) – the only six star hotel we have ever stayed in.

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The reception has a life size sculpture of an elephant; another similarity to The Lost City.

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After a welcome drink and paperwork formalities where we are introduced to Lilian, 'who will be looking after us during our stay' (a bit like having our very own butler-esse), we are shown to our very impressive room.

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I do like my mosquito nets to be away from the bed at night, for two reasons: I have been known to wake up in the morning with my knuckles covered in insect bites where my hand has been resting against the net overnight; and I so hate to have to fight with the net before I can even put my feet on the floor when I get up to use the bathroom in the night. This room has got it right, with a good foot on all sides of the bed (the net pulls around the canopy above the bed), and even the bedside tables are inside it - another pet hate of mine is having to find the opening of the net if I want to have a drink in the night.

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There is a comfortable armchair and foot rest in the room too, which we have filled up with some of all our stuff, as well as a chaise longue . A fireplace offers warmth on a chilly evening and beyond that you can see the double (!) shower unit! That is a first for us!

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Double hand basins, naturally.

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Every comfort has been thought of – there is also an outdoor shower should you prefer to shower in the fresh air - which is something I love, especially in the rain – there is nothing quite like standing under the African sky, with the hot shower mixing with the cool rain. But on this occasion we take a shower side by side in the bathroom. It certainly speeds things up, leaving more time for a pre-dinner drink on the balcony.

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The spacious balcony wraps around two sides of the room, with great views over the valley beyond. It is furnished with a circular day bed, two wicker chair plus a table, and a hanging egg chair.

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The entire wall of the bedroom is made up of sliding doors, giving the impression when open that the balcony is very much part of the room. I love it!

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Dinner

We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the luxurious room to wander up to the restaurant for something to eat.

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Lilian, our 'personal assistant' is there with the menu. There are four other tables occupied, and a plethora of staff milling around. The service is professional, yet very personal, with Lilian and the waiting staff using our first names at every opportunity.

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'Design your own salad' for starter, with a choice from tomato, bell peppers, carrots, onion, black olives and cheese. All drizzled with a tasty 'chef's dressing'.

The menu shows a choice of main courses, or so we think. It turns out that we get all of it: beef fillet stir fry, pan roasted king fish in a Swahili sauce, and chicken rubbed with mild mustard and herbs. Three waitresses walk around the table at the same time serving us both simultaneously from platters. The meats are accompanied by a potato and chick pea curry, roasted herb potatoes and Swahili chapatis.


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Dessert is a choice of fruit custard or chocolate fondant, and the latter is to die for. It comes out as a bit of a dull-looking pudding, but once I cut into it and the melted chocolate starts oozing out... O.M.G.

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The chef later takes a walk around the tables, and we see him chuckling to himself as he meanders back to the kitchen after I tell him the dessert was “better than sex”.

Back in the room we enjoy a glass of Amarula and Captain and Coke on the balcony before going to bed.

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While we were at dinner, staff have been in to perform turn-back service, leaving us a couple of little chocolates on a dish, with the message: "La la salama", which means "sleep well" in Swahili. While turn-back service is fairly common in higher class establishment, providing chocolate as part of it is not so prevalent these days. Last time we experienced that was when we were in Tanzania with Lyn and Chris in 2018, staying at the Ole Serai in Serengeti. We later learn that this hotel is part of the same chain.

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Thank you Tillya of Calabash Adventures for booking us in to this amazing lodge, as well as arranging our seventh safari in Tanzania.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:20 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife dinner safari tanzania birding picnic buffalo flamingos mongoose arusha amarula bird_watching calabash_adventures mousebird guineafowl ole_serai wildlife_photography malisa arusha_national_park big_momella_lake damselfly malisa's_family bad_roads kilimamoja_lodge palace+of_the_lost_city turnback_service chocolate_fondant better_than_sex Comments (6)

Serdar - Kopetdag - Magtymguly - Mollakara - Balkanabad

Moon Mountains and the Salt Sea


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast this morning in the guest house here at Serdar consists of yogurt, cherry jam, cheese, tomatoes and the ever-present bread. There can't be many nations on earth who eat as much bread as the Turkmen do.

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Later we are asked if we want fried egg and salami. It's an unusual combination, but rather enjoyable.

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This morning's drive takes us south through barren and desolate scenery, with no trees or even falcons, which we saw many of on our journey yesterday. Nothing. The place appears eerily devoid of life.

We are now nearing the Iranian border and arrive at a restricted area that requires special permission to enter. We have been warned that the checks here may take a while, and that we are to avoid photography at all costs. We hand over our passports, which Artem (our cute driver) takes to the police post along with vehicle registration documents, his driving licence and the tourist authorisation certificate; and wait. And wait. Meanwhile we listen to music in the car; Artem plays a good mix of popular western and Russian songs. The procedure takes just over 25 minutes in all, and we are on our way again.

Moon Mountains

The Kopetdag Mountains is a 600 kilometre long mountain range stretching along the Turkmenistan-Iran border. The landscape is distinctly lunar in appearance, living up to its local nickname of 'Moon Mountains'. The name Kopetdag, in fact, means 'many mountains' in the Turkmen language.

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Once located at the bottom of the sea, the heavily furrowed sedimentary rock slopes look like soft gravel or even slag heaps, but are in fact more akin to solidified mud, and very firm underfoot. We see evidence of crustaceans on the ground, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

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Stretching as far as the eye can see, the forbidding desert-like landscape is as curious as it is beautiful – seeing the arid remains of low-level vegetation, I can but wonder what it would look like in spring, after the rains, when plants and flowers come to life.

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This area is rich with pomegranate and walnut trees, and we see a number of the former along the side of the road.

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It's the first time we have seen pomegranates in their natural habitat, and I am keen to see how they grow and photograph them. That is one of the numerous things I love about travel – exotic fruits that I have only ever seen in the supermarkets, are commonplace somewhere in the world. It never ceases to amaze me that however much we travel, we still manage to get 'firsts' on every single trip.

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Magtymguly Museum

We make a stop at a small museum dedicated to a local hero, Magtymguly Pyragy, who was an Iranian-Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet in the 18th century.

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Looking at the copies of some of the books Magtymguly has written, I am intrigued by the frames within each page containing diagonal writing. Neither the guide nor the museum curator are able to shed any light on this peculiar aspect.

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Magtymguly was much more than a renowned poet; he also worked as a silversmith for a while.

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He even made a wedding ring for Mengli, the girl he loved and wanted to marry. Unfortunately her family forbade the union, and the ring remained unworn.

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Magtymguly had a number of strong political views, and fought to keep the Turkmen-way sacred, as well as maintaining the harmony and integrity of the Turkmen nation. He became a symbol of Turkmen unity but also a common voice of Turkish and Islamic world and is revered not only in Turkmenistan but also in neighbouring countries. The museum is very proud of the artefacts associated with his life and career.

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17th century ewers found during excavations

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Meat cooler made from sheep skin

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Kitchen implements, including a pestle used to make the customary small holes found in the traditional Turkmen bread

David is suffering from a severe cold he picked up on the flight out here, with his eyes being extremely sore and sensitive to light, so stays behind in the car while I have the museum, guide, and curator to myself.

The journey back through the border control is way quicker, just a mere three minute passport check and we're on our way, continuing further west. For a while the road is intermittently bumpy, with a number of potholes, and a couple of times I find myself caught unawares and bouncing off the ceiling.

Lunch

Yet another private room with a huge flat-screen TV. This one is not playing Lara Croft, however, but a very funny Russian slap-stick comedy about an incompetent chef in a restaurant. There is no need to understand Russian to appreciate the humour, although Meylis translates any dialogue of importance. None of us want to leave when we have finished our meal, as we are desperate to find out what happens next in the soap opera. Alas, we will never know the fate of the live goose the hapless chef bought.

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After the huge lunches we've had the last couple of days, and as my tummy is still pretty fragile, I order just a plain lentil soup accompanied by the ubiquitous bread

The road from here is long and straight, cutting through a vast flat area with the Kopetdag Mountain Range behind, and in the distance a mirage appears on the horizon. It must be soul-destroying boring to drive, and although the speed limit is 90km / hour, we are travelling a 'little bit' faster than that.

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Sand from the Karakum Desert (which covers 80% of the country) blows across the road for a few miles, offering some reprieve - and interest - from the previous monotonous view.

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In this arid and barren region we are surprised to see a flood plain. Apparently the water is still here since some heavy rain they experienced in April. I am absolutely flabbergasted that surface water can survive the oppressive dry heat in this region for five months without evaporating. That must have been some rain storm! It's not just a small puddle either, but covers quite a substantial area. Meylis tells us that at the time the road was deep under water for a couple of weeks. I can well imagine that is must have been pretty bad for there still to be so much flood water left now.

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We stop at a filling station to put fuel in the car, and are impressed by the Eco 93 petrol sold here. Apparently it is the first 'clean petrol' in the world, made from gas (of which Turkmenistan has rather a lot). At 2 manat a litre (57c / 46p at the official rate of 3.5 manat per dollar) it is more expensive than regular petrol. I wish I could take some home!

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Mollakara Sanatorium and Salt Lake

Opened in 2012, the modern health spa was built in a famous therapeutic mud resort on the shores of Lake Mollakara. The lake is fed by underground sources, and its healing features include chlorides and sodium sulphate, magnesium, iron, bromine salts and other minerals.

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Artem is trying to find a way down to the lake, but it seems the sanatorium wants to monopolise the salty waters, and has closed all gates and entrances that lead down to the shore. After trying a number of options, which include ignoring signs, attempting to pick gate locks, and driving off road to get around fencing; we finally manage to get near the water's edge, only to find the lake is almost dry!

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How astonishing! We passed areas of flooding just a few miles back, yet here there is very little water left in the lake! The sanatorium websites talk about swimming and floating in the alkaline waters - here it is so shallow that you'd be lucky if your ankles get wet!

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After driving around a little bit more, Artem finds another part of the lake, where, although there is very little water left, the salt deposits are easily accessible close to the road.

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The salt has formed little ridges on the surface, creating an interesting texture.

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Like little kids, all four of us go and play on and with the crusty salt formations.

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The benefits of salty water and mud treatments have been know to people from old times, and as long ago as 1900 there was a sanatorium built here.

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Who needs an expensive health spa to reap the benefits?

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Cemetery

It seems that different regions of Turkmenistan have different traditions and cultures when it comes to burying their dead. The grave markers at this cemetery consist of leaning plants of wood.

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Balkanabat

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This area is well known for its strong winds (which we saw evidence of earlier, with the sand drifting across the road), something that is reflected in this sculpture depicting desert people leaning in to the wind and shielding their faces from the blowing sand as they walk.

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Balkanabat may be a modern city built on the proceeds of oil; but there are still unattended camels wandering around the streets.

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Nebichi Hotel

As with the hotel we stayed at in Ashgabat, Nebichi Hotel looks palatial from the outside and has a grand-looking lobby.

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What it doesn't have, however, is a lift. Nor does it provide more than one set of towels or spare roll(s) of toilet paper. This seems to be a common trend here in Turkmenistan, and we ring for Housekeeping to bring the missing items to the room. Thankfully Meylis helps carry our bags up the two flights of stairs. Having a strong young man for a guide, certainly has its advantages.

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Dinner

As he did last night, Meylis knocks on the door as he has been asked to come down to the restaurant to help us order as the waitress speaks no English.

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The restaurant is full of idiosyncrasies – lovely linen tablecloth, covered in tacky-looking plastic; and the beautifully folded cloth napkins are apparently just for decorative purposes. Once the waitress has taken our order, she removes David's napkin and places it on a storage cabinet next to us. As soon as she is out of sight, however, I recover the napkin and place it back onto David's plate. When she returns with our drinks, the server yet again removes the cloth napkin, and brings us cheap paper serviettes instead. By this stage I have already unfolded mine and put it on my lap, so the moment she disappears back into the kitchen again, I carefully re-fold it, thread it through the little serviette-ring and put in with David's on the side. I might as well comply with the unwritten napkin rule and enjoy a my beer.

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Too pretty to be used

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David's head cold is still making his eyes extremely sensitive to light, so he plays Mr Cool with his sunglasses on.

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Adana Kebab - meat in a wrap with vegetables and a tasty sauce.

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The beef stroganoff features the best meat we've had so far on the trip

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Russian salad. With ham. In a Muslim country. OK.....

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The food is good, and we go to bed feeling very satisfied after another fascinating day here in Turkmenistan. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:12 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged beer desert landscape cemetery scenery museum dinner tv flood camel salt gas petrol cold travel_photography mirage poetry fuel arid comedy poet turkmenistan salt_lake kebab central_asia undiscovered_destinations head_cold pomegranate karakum ex_ussr fried_salami border_checks moon_mountains kopetdag kopetdag_mountains lunar_scenery pomegranate_trees magtymguly magtymguly_museum private_dining lentil_soup karakum_desert mollakara sanatorium mollakara_sanatorium mollakara_salt_lake balkanabat petrol_station nebichi_hotel idiosyncrasy napkin napkin_saga serviette adana_kebab beef_stroganoff stroganoff russian_salad Comments (11)

A day of doing very little at Mandina Lodges

Our last day in The Gambia


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

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We choose the full works today:

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Fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee

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

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

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

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Egret on the neighbours' deck

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Western Plantain Eater

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Common Bulbul

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African Palm Swift

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Western Plantain Eaters

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Common Bulbul

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Channelling my creative side...

I love the artwork dotted around the grounds.

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Dinner

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

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Prawns in Black Bean Sauce with Noodles

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

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

And so it is off to bed.

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

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


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This afternoon we are taking another boat trip, this one with two added bonuses: a bottle of wine and the sunset! Hopefully. The sunset, that is, the bottle is most definitely present!

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My plan of action this evening is to take photos of birds just as they take off. I always like a challenge and to step outside my comfort zone. I start with this Long Tailed Cormorant.

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Fishing centre

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I have a soft spot for baobab trees

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Whimbrel

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Wattled Plover

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Black Kite taking off

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Great White Egret

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Preening

I think she's going to fly...

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Here she goes!

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It looks like she is having a blast!

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We see a tree full of Pink Backed Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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African Spoonbill

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Goliath Heron

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Black Kite

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Blue Cheeked Bee Eater

The sun is getting low now, and depending which direction I point my camera, the sky glows a warm yellow, glistening in the ripples on the water surface.

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Great White Egret

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Common Sandpiper

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Sacred Ibis

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Sacred Ibis

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Whimbrels

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And they're gone

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African Darter

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Cattle Egret

The sun is only just above the horizon now, as we have entered an area enclosed on three sides by mangroves and an island in the middle.

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Max, the captain, explains we will wait here for the sun to go down and the birds to come back to roost.

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We see a few single birds flying around in the sunset, then coming in to the island to settle down for the night.

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The sun has painted the sky a deep orange now.

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Beautiful reflections on the water

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Where there were initially just one or two, they are now coming in thick and fast, it seems to be never ending, and they seem to appear from nowhere.

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More and more egrets are gathering in the trees, and when you think there is no room for any more birds, a whole lot of others arrive.

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It is hard to know where to look, the birds are coming from three out of four directions, and seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind us with a whoosh. It is an air traffic control nightmare!

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When there is no more room at the inn and the light is fading rapidly, we start to make our way back to the lodge, stopping from time to time to take photos of the sunset. To say this evening's performance has been spectacular is an understatement!

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By the time we reach the hotel, darkness has all but enveloped Makasutu Forest and the twinkling lights of Mandina Lodge welcome us back.

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Dinner

As time is getting on, we go straight to dinner from the sunset cruise; the boat conveniently lands at the jetty right by the restaurant anyway.

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Pre-dinner drink of Pina Colada

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Prawn Cocktail

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Butter fish with Lyonnaise potatoes and a delicious home made tartare sauce

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David's Samosas

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Gambian Rice Pudding with ground peanuts - a very delicate flavour

We decline the offer of an early morning coffee in the room tomorrow, in favour of a lie in, and sneak off to bed after a magical day in Makasutu Forest.

Posted by Grete Howard 15:16 Archived in Gambia Tagged trees birds fishing reflections sunset pelicans kite africa dinner forest birding captain baobab stork vulture ibis egrets spoonbill birdwatching mangroves cocktail west_africa samosas cormorant gambia boat_trip fores sunset_cruise piña_colada darter roost plover bee_eater sandpiper the_gambia butter_fish mandina_lodges makasutu makasutu_forest whinbrel flying_birds birds_flying air_traffic_control prawn_cocktail rice_pudding Comments (5)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Finally: the Bluebill.


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

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

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

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

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Western Bluebill

Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A scruffy Common Bulbul

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African Thrush

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Angry looking Black Necked Weavers

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Blackcap Babbler with photobombing friend

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat showing off his beautiful markings

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Village Weaver doing his best Village Idiot impersonation

Bath time Fun

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

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

Dinner

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

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Fish Dodoma - absolutely delicious!

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

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

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He's a beauty!

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

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

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