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Ndutu X - lion, 1000 wildebeest, dung beetles, cheetah cubs

A perfect end to a perfect day


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

We set off after lunch to see what nature has to offer us here in Ndutu, and hopefully find a wildebeest herd where we can witness a birth.

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African Hoopoe

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Juvenile Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

Lion

Under a tree we see a magnificent male lion. Initially just resting, he soon sits up surveying the tourists arriving.

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Big yawn. And other funny facial expressions.

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He licks his chops and walks straight towards us.

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Too close for comfort, or at least for photography!

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It's only when we drive away that we realise that Dickson (our driver during our first three safaris in Tanzania) and his clients are right behind us.

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Two Banded Courser

Eurasian Avocet

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"What are you looking at?"

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Blacksmith Plover

Wildebeest Migration

Continuing on our way, we drive alongside thousands of wildebeest, running in an (almost) single file.

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The line seems to go on forever, then group into a HUGE herd, surrounding us on every side, and they just keep on coming.

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More and more and more arrive, a never ending stream of wildebeest join the mêlée, until there is just a sea of horns.

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We see very few babies in amongst this crowd though. A few of the females look like they are ready – they are fat, their nipples have developed and they are struggling to walk – but none are just about to drop. Oh well, we'll keep searching.

Zebra

A few zebras have joined the wildebeest, and we see a few babies too. Our hearts stop as we spot what appears to be a dead baby zebra in the grass.

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We hold our breath when the mother appears and starts nudging her little foal. Is he alive?

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Yes, he is, and he soon runs off with his mother. Phew.

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Dung Beetles

So many wildebeest in one place means two things: 1. we are eaten alive by pesky flies, and 2. it is a dung beetle's paradise.

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Within a few minutes, large piles of dung are turned into neat little balls and rolled away.

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With my love of dung beetles, I am totally in my element here, and before I know it I have taken over a thousand photos of... basically a pile of shit - plus these fascinating insects, of course.

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It is now several hours since we last saw any other cars or human activity. This may be the height of the season in Ndutu, but it is still possible to have large areas all to yourself. Most people go back to the lodge for lunch, preferring to stay out of the sun in the midday heat. I can see why, as we are being cooked to perfection even in the shade of the car. I wouldn't want to miss an animal experience though!

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Greater Spotted Thick Knee

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Light Tawny Eagle

European White Stork

A number of storks return to roost for the night, gliding effortlessly across the savannah.

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Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands! They just keep on coming.

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And I just keep on photographing them.

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And the wildebeest just keep on walking.

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The storks are followed by a large flock of Cattle Egrets.

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Even a small chattering of Wattled Starlings join in. (chattering is the collective noun for starlings)

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Cheetah

A mum and her two cubs are very active in the late afternoon sun, running around and playing and for the next 30 minutes or so we delight in their antics. The dozen or so photos you will see here, are whittled down from a massive 1200 images – that amounts to around one picture a second!

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I have nothing more to say about this encounter, I think the note I made in my journal at the time sums it up!

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Much as we'd love to stay and watch these adorable little animals for longer, we really have to go. We are still quite some distance away from the lodge, and have to be back by 19:00.

Sunset

As we approach Lake Ndutu, I gasp. I don't think I have ever seen such a spectacular sunset here in Tanzania before.

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I make poor Malisa stop time after time as a new vista comes into view.

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Thankfully sunsets are over rather rapidly this close to the Equator, and we can continue on our way back to the lodge as originally planned.

Until we get to the Marsh.

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The light is really poor now, too dark for photography, so I don't feel bad that we don't stop long.

We do, however, stop to help out this vehicle which is well and truly bogged down.

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Not sure I'd like to be out of the vehicle this close to two lions.

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And they're out!

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Having to rush along the basic tracks that make up Ndutu's 'road system', we dislodge an enormous amount of dust. It seems almost incongruous that a few days ago there was heavy rain and every track was a mud bath.

Ndutu Lodge

We finally make it back to the lodge by 19:30, and after a quick shower and change we are the last to dinner. Again.

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Apple, feta and walnut stack with home made dressing

Somehow I forget to take a photo of the main course, which was lamb tagine with couscous, green beans and courgettes. I do, however, snap a picture of a large moth enjoying what's left on David's plate.

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A very tasty Malva Pudding for dessert

The excellent arrangements for this safari was made by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra eagle birding cheetah lion stork egrets avocet starlings migration wildebeest courser bird_watching hoopoe wild_animals dung_beetles ndutu calabash_adventures lake_ndutu thick_knee wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle plover lapwing game_viewing blacksmith_plover annual_migration wildlife_photography big_marsh wild_birds cheetah_cubs ndutu_lodge the_great_migration african_birds cattle_egrets africa_safari aniams african-animals thickknee Comments (2)

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

Still no 'Maternity Ward'


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Shouldered Kite

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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White Browed Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

The Great Migration

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

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

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

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Cattle Egrets

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

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Helping fellow game watchers

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

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

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Here they go!

Cheetah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildebeest

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

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We see plenty of Cattle Egrets, however.

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Hyena

Thomson's Gazelle

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Cape Hare

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

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

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

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

Ndutu VIII - lions, sunrise, wildebeest, flying eagle

A glorious start to the day


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

There are dik diks in the grounds of Ndutu Lodge as we make our way from he room this morning, but it is still silly o'clock and pitch black so no point in trying to take a photo.

Lions

It is still dark when we reach the lake and encounter the lions we saw mating last night. The lack of light really pushes my camera to the limit, but I figure grainy photos is better than no photos.

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They get up and start walking, but soon disappear into the thick undergrowth, probably to mate.

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We are hoping they'll come out from the bushes, as the female needs space to be able to roll around after copulation, in order to distribute the sperm. We hang around for a while.

Moon

The moon seems to be particularly bright this morning.

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Sunrise

For a few minutes the colours are glorious, with a heavy dew hanging over the water.

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That moment does not last long, although the mist lingers for a while longer.

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More Marabou Storks

They make great foregrounds for sunrise photos.

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We even get a couple of hot air balloons thrown in for good measure.

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Bearded Woodpecker

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It doesn't look like the lions are coming back out again, so we move off to try and find the 'maternity ward' and see if the midwife is on duty (ie a place where the wildebeest are ready to drop their babies).

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Red Bishop

Augur Buzzard

From his lofty position atop a tree, he is busy doing his ablutions and morning exercises.

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Wildebeest

Such fickle animals, they run along at speed, stop and then walk back the way they came.

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While Malisa and David are busy looking our for pregnant mamas who may honour us with the spectacle of their birthing; I spend the time photographing the birds that make wildebeest their home, or at least their dining table.

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Wattled Starlings

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I love to watch them as they try to stay upright while the wildebeest is walking, often with very comical results. The birds, I mean, not Malisa and David.

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Cattle Egret

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Secretary Bird

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Long Crested Eagle

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Singing his little heart out!

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African Hoopoe

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Dark Tawny Eagle

We hang around for ages waiting for this eagle to fly. Well worth the wait!

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African Hoopoe

We see two more hoopoe on the road – it is a bird we rarely see, let alone in any great numbers, but this morning alone they have been around in double figures.

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Augur Buzzard

It is time for us to stop for a picnic breakfast and me to finish this blog entry. Stay tuned for more.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:19 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds wildlife sunrise africa safari tanzania eagle moon birding lions serengeti woodpecker storks egrets starling wildebeest bird_watching hoopoe buzzard wild_animals ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle secretary_bird dik_dik wattled_starling spurfowl augur_buzzard game_viewing cattle_egret annual_migration dark_chanting_goshawk goshawk wildlife_photography red_bishop bird_photography wild_birds african_animals the_great_migration marabou_storks crested_eagle Comments (2)

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

Some unusual sightings this afternoon


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

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

Pratincole

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

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Eurasian Avocet

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African Cuckoo

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Dickson

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

Zebra

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

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Tortoise

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

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Bat Eared Fox

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

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There appears to be at least six of them!

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

One brave little soldier decides to go after it!

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Some of the others follow at a safe distance.

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

They all gather on a sandy patch to chill out.

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Crested Lark

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Secretary Bird

She is probably looking for that Black Mamba!

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Cheetah

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

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No, there are two cubs!

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Mum wanders off to find another place to rest.

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The cubs follow.

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

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

Cattle Egrets

The egrets are heading home too.

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Impala

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

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

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The impala are much more relaxed now

Giraffe

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

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Stuck - again

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

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Wildebeest

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

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

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And love seems to be on their mind tonight.

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Until she growls at him.

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

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Ndutu Lodge

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

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Butternut squash tart

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Chicken pasta

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Ginger, walnut and toffee tart

Stars

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

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

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

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


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

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)

Kanha National Park Part I - Kanha Zone

Talk about "Beginner's Luck"!


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a restless night full of meflaquine dreams (nightmare-inducing malaria prophylaxis), I wake to a knock on the door. Thinking that Ahmed will leave our coffee on the table outside the door, I just shout out “thanks” to him. It is several minutes later that I realise he is still standing outside waiting for us to open the door, and I feel really guilty about leaving him there.

Kipling Camp has its own Gypsy (specially converted safari vehicle), driven by Rahim, who is not just an excellent driver, spotter and identifier, he speaks good English too and is a thoroughly nice person. This morning we are also accompanied by Jeswin, the resident naturalist at Kipling Camp, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Rahim ensures we arrive first at the gate, in the pitch black, some 50 minutes before they open. As time goes on, a huge queue forms (but unusually for India, it remains orderly), and by the time we are allowed in (after having passports checked and tickets issued), there are dozens of Gypsies behind us.

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Drivers queuing for tickets

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Long line of Gypsies behind us

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We are finally let through the gate

Kanha National Park is divided into four zones, and visitors must drive the circuit stipulated on their tickets. This morning we have been allocated Kanha Zone, The first animals we spot, just inside the gate, are a pack of jackals and some cheetal (Indian spotted deer). It is still very dark, so the pictures are extremely grainy as a result of the high ISO (ISO 32,000 for my photography friends).

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Sunrise

And then the sun comes up, and what a sunrise it is, culminating in an elephant and mahout appearing out of the mist. Such a magical moment.

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We continue driving, seeing more animals and birds along the way.

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Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

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Eurasian Golden Oriole

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Hanuman Langur

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Cheetal

Tiger

Before leaving the UK, I had warned Lyn and Chris that seeing tiger is not easy, and to expect maybe one tiger sighting for every five game drives. And here we are, before 07:30 on our very first drive when we spot a tiger in the undergrowth. Wow!

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The tigress strolls along, taking no notice of us whatsoever.

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She heads straight for us initially, then veers off to her left, pausing briefly to turn towards the elephant that has appeared behind her.

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As the tigress saunters down the path, Rahim manoeuvres the Gypsy to a better position, anticipating the she will cross the road right in front of us.

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He is right, of course.

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You can see from the fact that I have caught part of the car in the bottom corner of the photo, just how close she is.

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And then she's gone. After nearly four minutes of sheer adrenalin and excitement, we are left with just one word on our lips: “Wow!” “We can go home now” says Chris, “we've seen what we came to see.” What an amazing experience and such a clear and close encounter. What a beautiful animal!

How can you top that?

We continue on our game drive to see what else the park has to offer. At least the pressure is off now as far as finding tigers go.

We get quite excited seeing these Blackbucks, as they are a new species to us in the wild.

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The male is black, while the females are a more neutral fawn colour. Here seen with a male cheetal.

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Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Gaur (Indian Bison) sticking his head above the long grass

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At up to ten feet long and seven feet tall, the gaur is the world's biggest wild cow. They are HUUUUGE

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Wild boar

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Indian Peafowl

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Jackal

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Jackal

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Cheetal - apparently there are some 22,000 of these spotted deer in the park

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Cattle egrets flying

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Stonechat

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Stonechat

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White Rumped Vulture

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Paddyfield Pipit

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Indian Roller

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Common Kestrel

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Green Bee Eater

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Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

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White Fronted Kingfisher

Breakfast picnic

At the Visitors Centre, we stop for a picnic. Kipling Camp made us some lovely scrambled egg wraps, plus fruit and juice - the best packed picnic on the whole trip.

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The monumental arch is made from antlers from cheetal, sambar and barashinga deer. Very impressive.

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Back on the road again for a little bit more game viewing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Unlike African safaris, Indian national parks only allow visitors to enter for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon.

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Black Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Roller

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Sambar

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Changeable Hawk Eagle

What an amazing morning's game viewing, not just a tiger, but also quite a few lifers (new birds to us) to add to our bird list. Well done Rahim and Kipling Camp.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:31 Archived in India Tagged india elephant sunrise safari mist birding tiger peacock bison stork vulture peafowl egrets langur gypsy kingfisher oriole jackal gaur indian_roller chital sambar blackbuck stonechat kestrel wild_boar lapwing kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park breakfast_picnic cheetal pipit munia wild_cow Comments (8)

Grand Comore Island Tour

A brief glimpse of life on this island


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night’s sleep, I feel ready to take on Comoros: today we have a tour around the main island, Grand Comore.

Breakfast

But first, time to fill our bellies.

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While I hate being presented with a buffet for dinner, I am rather partial to a breakfast buffet.

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David’s breakfast of fried egg, potatoes and beans.

The restaurant is full of sparrows nesting in the rafters and hanging around waiting for the opportunity to grab a few crumbs.

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They are really quite cheeky, swooping in on abandoned plates as diners leave the tables to refill their coffees or whatever.

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Island Tour

We make an anticlockwise tour of the northern part of the island; but first we travel a short distance south along the west coast.

Iconi Cliffs

It was here, in the 16th century, that a number of local women threw themselves off the cliffs rather than allow themselves to be captured by Malagasy pirates to be sold into slavery.

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Kavhiridjewo Palace

Strategically positioned on a rocky promontory, the 15th century Kavhiridjewo Palace was built entirely from lava blocks and still retains some of the walls and defence towers from the time of the last Sultan.

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The Sultan was captured by the French and taken to Madagascar, whereas the Prince is buried here (the larger, more elaborate tomb) alongside his mum (the smaller, simpler grave at the front).

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There are no rivers or other waterways on the whole island, and although there is one spring that feeds the capital, most people have to rely on digging wells such as this one in the Sultan's palace for their drinking water.

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Spider

There is a legend attached to the Guardian of the Palace, the ‘humble’ spider: when the enemy wanted to attack the Sultan, the spider created a web strong enough to protect him. From that day on the Sultan vowed not to kill spiders.

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My on-line searches suggest that this is a female Red Legged Golden Orb Spider, a rather large spider (it is a bit bigger than the palm of my hand) who weaves extremely strong webs.

Witchcraft Lake

In the old days, the people of Comoros strongly believed in witchcraft (many still do); and when the Sultan wanted to win the war, it was only natural that he consulted the local witch. The Sultan was told to kill his slaves and throw them in the lake for the spirits to drink their blood and the fish to eat their flesh, which he duly did (and he went on to win the war).

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It is said that for many years, screams could still be heard until the whole village got together to pray for the lost souls.

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Car Breakdown

As we go to drive away from the lake, the car won’t start. Again.

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The driver fiddles under the bonnet of the car, but still nothing. It fires, then dies. I use the time to wander over to the lake again to take some photos of the egrets in the trees on the far side.

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Still no joy with the car. The driver phones for a mechanic to come and have a look at it. We hang around, photographing more birds.

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Pied Crow

When, after half an hour there is still no mechanic, there is only one thing to do: we have to make a sacrifice!

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An hour passes. There is not much around here, and Yahaya suggests we have to call for another car and driver rather than wait for the mechanic. Of course, soon after the call has been made, the mechanic turns up! By this stage neither the driver nor the guide is anywhere to be seen.

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The mechanic spends less than a minute ‘tinkering’ with the engine and once the other two realise the car has been fixed, we make a move!

Parliament

Politics of the Union of the Comoros takes place in a framework of a federal presidential republic, whereby the President of the Comoros is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. There are 42 members of parliament, none of whom are women. There seems to be widespread corruption, with the president giving himself a huge pay-rise as soon as he came to power, and all the important jobs going to his mates.

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Friday Mosque

Today is Friday and we can hear the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

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Badjanani Mosque

Built in a unique Comorian architectural style, Badjanani Msoque (AKA Ancienne Mosquée du Vendredi – Old Friday Mosque) is a symbol of the rich cultural and historical heritage of the country. Originally constructed in 1427, it is the oldest mosque in the Medina in Moroni, although the minaret was added much later, in 1921.

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Plateau Diboini

We drive across the island from the west coast to the east, over the picturesque Diboini Plateau with its seven cones of extinct volcanoes.

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Mount Karthala

On a clear day (not today), you can see Mount Karthala from this point on the east coast. The highest point of the Comoros and at 2,361m, it is the largest active volcano in the world, as well as one of the most active. Over the years it has had a devastating impact on many parts of the country.

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Mount Karthala hiding behind the cloud

Like so many of these type of disasters, the eruption of Mount Karthala has a bit of a legend attached to it: a tired and thirsty holy man wandered from home to home in the village looking for water, but everyone turned him away, apart from one old lady who was generous enough to offer him a drink. Complaining about the bad people of the village, the holy man insisted on taking the kind woman and her family with him when he left. Cursing, he turned to the volcano and with that the lava erupted, flattening the village they had just left.

Heroumbili

During one of the many eruptions (there have been more than twenty since the 19th century, the last one in 2007), the lava from the volcano reached the sea here and created an extension of the coastline land in the village of Heroumbili.

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Reclaimed land on the coast

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The village kids come out in force to interact with us.

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We continue along the north-east coastal road.

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Turtle Island

This small island has been given a 'protected status' to stop locals rowing across and 'harvesting' the turtles who nest here, or their eggs.

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Kissing Rocks

In Comoros, strictly-followed tradition means that the first-born girl must be kept pure until her parents find a suitable husband for her. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend, unlike any subsequent daughters.

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Legend tells of one such first-born girl, who had gone against tradition and her family’s wishes by secretly dating a young man. Hearing of her father’s arranged marriage to a suitor she did not know, she feared what would happen in the morning after the wedding night when all the male members of both families traditionally meet to inspect the bed sheet for signs of blood. She was very much in love, and not wanting to cause shame and embarrassment to her father, she and her boyfriend chose to jump to their death from the cliff.

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As they kissed one final time, their bodies turned to stone. If you look carefully, you can still see them there now, kissing.

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From the top there is a great view of the coastline below to one side and the mountains on the other.

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The house where the daughter lived - now abandoned

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On the road again.

Lac Niamawi, AKA Lac Salé (Salt Lake)

In the 16th century, an eruption demolished the city of Niamawi. In its wake, it left a crater that has since filled with salt water.

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The lake changes colour throughout the day, from brown to blue to green and is said to have healing properties due to its high sulphur content. No one knows how deep the lake is. In 1977 a team of Belgian divers went down to investigate, but they were never seen again.

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Lunch

Near Mitsamiouli we stop at a small restaurant called Mi Amuse, where we have lunch.

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The food consists of barracuda served with sweet and ordinary potatoes, carrots, fried bananas and rice, with a side of pickled lemon and chilli sauce.

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The restaurant, which is also a hotel, has a bar serving alcohol and a nightclub with lively music and dancing of an evening.

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Baobab Prison

As baobab trees get older (this one is a few hundred years old for sure), they very often become hollow in the centre.

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Hollowed-out baobabs have been utilised for a number of different things all over Africa, including as here, a prison

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In the old days, wrongdoers were put inside this ‘organic’ prison for three days, with the added night time punishment of the only light being the moonlight shining down through the gap above.

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Galawa Hotel

“Once upon a time…” Isn’t that how all fairy tales start? Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending.

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Back in the 1980s and 1990s, this part of Comoros was a really ‘happening’ place, with a luxury hotel that employed 750 people and saw 350 visitors arrive twice a week on charter flights from South Africa.

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Yahaya proudly tells us he worked here for ten years, and Omar was his boss then, as he is now.

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At least the frangipani still flowers

After going into decline following neglect by the Comorian government, the hotel was razed to the ground by the French some fifteen years ago. Promises of renewed interest and investment from Dubai have not materialised and all hopes were dashed by the financial crash of 2008.

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One of Galawa's three beaches, there was a popular beach bar here

Today locals enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean at this site

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They are even enjoying a little song and dance routine as they bathe.

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The only evidence of the former leisure hub is the tiled fountain and a redundant gate (the gate doesn't actually do anything, as we can drive around the side)

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Yahaya also points out the spot where the hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed in 1996.

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Mtswamwindza Mosque

It was here that Islam was first introduced to Comoros in the 7th century. Mtswamwindza, whose real name is Mhassi Fessima embarked on a journey to Medina where he converted to Islam and then returned to his city, Ntsaoueni, and converted the people to the new religion.

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It was only the second mosque to be built in Africa, and Mtswamwindza is buried here.

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Rain

On our way back down the west coast, the heavens open and throw bucket-loads of water on us. Thankfully we are dry inside the car, albeit a little warm once we close the windows. The roads are horribly potholed from the frequent torrential showers.

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Along the coast we see beautiful sandy beaches, mangroves and lava flows reaching the sea.

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Note the abandoned hull of a car - the whole island is littered with such wrecks, just left where they lost their will to live.

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Road side grocery store

Bad News

Later Omar meets us in the reception of the hotel to tell us the arrangements for our flight to Anjouan tomorrow. There has been a change of plan... Really? That seems to be the theme of this trip.

The domestic airline Int’Air Iles has two planes: one 28-year old Airbus and a small 9-seater Cessna. The government has taken the larger plane to Kenya. We believe (hope?) it is for servicing; as I understand both Réunion and Madagascar have recently banned the airline citing safety issues.

What this means for us, is that we will have to take a ferry (hopefully) to Anjouan Island tomorrow instead of flying; but we will not be able to visit Mohéli Island as planned because there are no ferries connecting the island. The former is not a big deal, but the latter is a great shame, as our stay on Mohéli was to be the main part of our trip and the highlight: that is where we were going to go whale and dolphin watching, see turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night and see the rare Livingstone bats as well a the maki lemurs.

Oh well, there is not much we can do about it, we will just have to make the most of our time on Anjouan. Omar has arranged for us to come back to Grand Comore one day earlier than planned, so that we can easily connect with the new departure date from Comoros, also one day earlier than planned. That means four nights on Anjouan instead of the planned two.

Dinner

The restaurant has run out of lobster (I was hoping to try the local speciality of lobster in vanilla sauce) as well as fries, so it is rice or vegetables tonight (we can't have both).

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Chicken with mushroom sauce and vegetables

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Beef in mushroom sauce and rice

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in adventure travel to unusual destinations (such as Comoros), for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:46 Archived in Comoros Tagged rain mosque travel volcano hotel lake kids island breakfast crow africa prison spider muslim lunch parliament buffet islam sultan slavery baobab egrets sparrows sacrifice legend breakfast_buffet comoros barracuda undiscovered_destinations moroni grand_comore sultan's_palace karthala_volcano karthala iconi inconi_cliffs malagasy_pirates kavhiridjewo_palace witchcraft car_mechanic car_breakdown pied_crow friday_mosque badjanani badjanani_mosque plateau_diboini mount_karthala heroumbili turtle_island kissing_rocks ivoini mitsamiouli mi_amuse baobab_prison galawa_hotel galawa mtswamwindza mtswamwindza_mosque int'air_iles Comments (2)

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