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Serengeti Day 2 Part 2 - lion cubs, cheetah, eles on kopje

Cuteness overload with a lioness and her three cubs


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

Having had a lovely relaxing breakfast, it is time to go out and see "what nature has to offer us" today.

Hyena

Presumably injured in a fight for food, this hyena is limping badly.

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Coqui Francolin

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Rattling Cisticola

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Short Toed Snake Eagle (I think)

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Magpie Shrike

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Black Shouldered Kite

Lioness with cubs

Perched on the edge of a kopje (rocky outcrop), a lioness tries to sleep as her three cubs mill around, suckling and wanting to play and explore their surroundings.

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One of the cubs appears to have an eye infection.

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Why so melancholy, young man?

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Over the time we spend observing these little cats, the different personalities of each of the cubs begins to shine through.

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"Mum, I'm bored!"

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This guy has a bit of a 'gormless' character, he looks like he is blissfully happy but doesn't know why.

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I take over 1,000 photos of the young family, and make no apologies for the cuteness overload to follow.

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I would love to get a picture of the lion cubs on my mobile that I can upload to Facebook when we get back to the lodge tonight, and after lamenting that I am unable to zoom in enough to get a decent shot, Malisa takes my phone and tries to take a photo through the binoculars.

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While it works reasonably well, the lions have other ideas and by the time Malisa has managed to line everything up and focus both binos and phone, the cubs have moved out of sight. Doh.

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Not a bad picture considering it was taken with a mobile phone through binoculars

LBB

The world is full of LBBs (Little Brown Bird), also known as SUBBs (Small Unidentified Brown Bird). On closer inspection this one turns out to be a Rattling Cisticola.

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Spotted Hyena

We follow this lone hyena down the road for a while.

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Common Morning Glory

Unlike our two previous visits when we have travelled at the end of the rainy season and everything is green with an abundance of flowers; at this time of year seeing flowering plants is a bit of a novelty. Malisa never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge: not only can he identify animals and birds, he also knows the names of the plants we see.

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White Bellied Bustards

Doing their best to hide in the long grass.

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Black Backed Jackals

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There are two of them.

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Cheetah

We spot a cheetah mum with two five-month old cubs.

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She appears to be a good mum as both she and her cubs look healthy and well fed. This morning she starts to stalk a Thomson's Gazelle for their breakfast.

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Unfortunately the Tommy spots the hunter and makes a dash for it; so no breakfast for the beautiful cats this morning.

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Instead she leads her family to find some shade – a single tree next to a low kopje.

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Mum has a good sniff around to make sure they are not settling down on the patch of a rival cheetah family or other obvious danger.

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The cats are quite some distance away (the photos are taken with a 600mm lens and significantly cropped in the post processing stage), but here in the Serengeti off-road driving is not permitted so we can't get any closer. We are therefore rather dismayed to see several cars blatantly flout this law. Shame on them.

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When the cats settle down under the tree we leave them to it and move on.

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Eurasian Roller

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Ficher's Sparrow Lark

Elephants

So far on this trip we haven't seen many elephants, but that is about to change as a herd - or memory as they are also called - of 15 elephants walk past.

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They have some very small babies too. Aww.

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Having a herd of elephants just strolling by your car as if you are not there is a magical experience, making you feel like you are part of some wildlife documentary.

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

You'd be forgiven for thinking these are two totally separate species of lizards, seeing the flashy and vibrant male against the terribly drab female.

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Little Bee Eater

More Elephants

Colourful as they are, it is not the lizards that are the star attraction here at this kopje – there are nine elephants dotted around, between and on top of this rocky outcrop. I have to say that it is the first time I have seen rock climbing elephants!

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These enormous creatures are surprisingly quiet as they walk – the soles of their feet have built in 'sponges', which not just makes them 'light' on their feet, but they also use their feet to communicate. One elephant will 'talk' with his trunk on the ground, which others can pick up by putting more pressure on one leg than the other. When you see elephants leaning to one side, they are basically having a chat with their mates. Pretty cool eh?

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Copying the older elephants, the five-month old baby tries to pick up smaller stones from the kopje in order to get to the essential minerals.

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A couple of other trucks have gathered here too, including one containing an overexcited Asian female, squealing in an infuriatingly high pitched voice “OMG OMG OMG, those red things” when she sees the rock agama, followed by “OMG OMG OMG he's smiling” and “OMG OMG OMG he's peeing” referring to the elephants. Thank goodness she is not in our vehicle.

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Nothing can mar the magical experience, however, of having a herd of nine wild elephants walk right around the car, a mere ten feet away.

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It seems everywhere we look there are elephants.

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One of the youngsters squeezes through a gap between the rocks, but when his older sister tries, she gets stuck for a while before wriggling herself loose.

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The youngster is still suckling.

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We stay with them for one-and-a-half hours (taking hundreds of photos) until they walk off into the distance. What a special time that was!

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Tawny Eagle

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Two Banded Courser

Lappet Faced Vulture

Amazingly, this is the first vulture we have seen on this trip, when we came before we encountered so many kills left on the ground with the remains being devoured by a variety of scavengers. Not so this time.

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Lesser Kestrel

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Time to stop for lunch after yet again spending an exciting morning in the Serengeti. Thank you to Calabash Adventures for another terrific safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds food flowers elephants flag breakfast cute kite anniversary africa safari tanzania eagle celebrations lizard birding cheetah picnic eating lions wind lion_cubs lioness roller hyena vulture eggs starling shrike agama jackal pastries bird_watching bacon suckling bustard sausages omg game_drive kestrel hamper lark limping calabash_adventures cuteness_overload kopje wedding_anniversary francolin breakfast_picnic bee_eater cisticola game_viewing breakfast_box 40_years packed_breakfast ole_serai tiffin posh_food cuteness lbb subb morning_glory purple_flowers helmetshrike rock_agama Comments (3)

Butuceni - Capriana - Hincu - Chișinău

Our first canonisation


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

The restaurant looks completely different this morning without the wedding party, decorations and DJ equipment.

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For breakfast we are on the same table as a group of eleven Finnish tourists, and like last night, there is way too much food.

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Some sort of rice pudding, doughnut-type pastries, feta-style cheese, yogurt and tomatoes more than fills us up.

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After breakfast we take a short walk around Butuceni Village, with its collection of cute old buildings, ornate gates and jumbled street furniture.

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I call in the village shop to get some water, and notice the elderly shopkeeper uses an abacus to add up the purchases. I don’t think I have seen one of those in use since we visited the old USSR back in the 1980s.

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I am also very surprised to see a British car in the village!

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Capriana Monastery

On our way to Capriana, we spot a number of police cars that increase in frequency and number the nearer we get to the monastery. The last bit of road leading to the complex is closed off with a police cordon, and parking is impossible anywhere near the area. There are people everywhere; most dressed in their Sunday best. The national TV station is present and there are food stalls and first aid tents set up. Somebody important must be visiting – other than us, I mean.

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Even from a great distance we can clearly hear the church bells and some beautiful chanting.

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Valeriu is as perplexed as we are, but his confusion soon turns to awe as he realises that the liturgy is being led by none other than the Patriarch of Moscow – who for those of us not in the know (including me and David), he is the 'head honcho' of the Moldavian Orthodox Church, held in the same esteem as the Pope is for the Catholics.

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The air is full of celebratory reverence, devoted admiration, and pious wonderment; and we soon discover the reason: Moldova is getting its very first Saint in the shape of Metropolitan Banulescu Bodoni who died 200 years ago. We, along with thousands of others, are in fact attending their – and our - very first canonisation. How cool is that?

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The Church of St Mary

The crowds are too great to do sightseeing justice, but we follow the throngs of worshippers into the church of St Mary. Dating from 1545, it is the oldest of the three churches that make up the monastery complex, and the oldest preserved church in Moldova.

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After falling into decline during the 17th century, the church was reinvigorated in 1813, and for a while thrived. In 1940, the whole monastic estate was confiscated by Soviet troops, the monks fled and the churches were desecrated and pillaged. During the 1960s and 70s, the monastery was used as a sanatorium for sick children and later as a dance hall. In 1989 reconstruction of the monastery began and Capriana once again became a place of religious services.

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It amuses me that a woman’s hair must be covered before entering the church, yet a tight, short dress is fine.

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Despite not being religious, I find the visit to the church quite emotional and very spiritual. Valeriu gives us a candle each as we enter the church, for us to say a prayer and then ‘plant’ the candle.

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The Church of St George

Dating from 1907, the church of St George is smaller and nowhere near as crowded.

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We leave the crowds behind and call Leonid to come back and pick us up for the journey to Hincu.

Hincu Monastery / Convent

Located in the picturesque Codrii Forest, reaching Hincu Monastery involves a very pleasant stroll up through the woods, although I didn’t expect to see a monk on a tractor along the way.

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Founded in 1678 by the daughter of the High Steward Mihai Hincu, Hincu is one of the richest monasteries in Moldova. The convent was then known as Parascheva. After the wooden church and cells were destroyed several times during Tatar invasions in the 18th century, the nuns left. The care of the convent fell on monks from a nearby monastery, who repaired the cells and eventually moved in.

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With the arrival of the Soviets in 1944, the monastery closed and the monks were 'asked' to leave. In 1978 the monastery was taken into use as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, while the church was turned into a club. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, Hincu once more became an active monastery, albeit short lived: in 1992, the community was abolished and the monks moved out. Later the same year, a few nuns returned and started the reconstruction of the monastery / convent – which just proves that if you want a job done, get the girls in!

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Next-door a new church is in the process of being constructed, but apparently they have run out of funds, so the interior is still fairly basic, without any of the usual adornments normally associated with orthodox churches.

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The grounds are beautiful, with beds bursting to the seams with brightly coloured flowers. I guess this is the female touch that comes from it being a convent now rather than a monastery.

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The nunnery has one of the best tended and colourful cemeteries I have ever seen!

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From Hincu we continue the short distance to the official visitors area of Codrii Forest.

Codrii Nature Reserve

At the reserve head quarters we have a picnic in a specially constructed ‘pavilion’, set in a serene and tranquil location in amongst the trees.

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Founded in 1972, it is the oldest scientific nature reserve in Moldova, and boasts some 1,000 species of protected plants, 43 species of mammals, 145 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and more than 8,000 species of insects.

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Natural Museum

Guided by the curator’s daughter Doina - who is keen to practise her somewhat limited English - we are shown around the small museum detailing some of the species found in the area.

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While David goes with Doina for a hike down to the lake, I join Valeriu in the ‘pavilion’, listening to Deep Purple and discussing palaeoanthropology. As you do.

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We leave the countryside behind and return to Chișinău, taking a nap in the car on the way.

Chișinău

Back in Chișinău we drop the bags off at the hotel and continue to the National History Museum.

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Chișinău National History Museum

The museum's large, bright, clean and modern rooms feature exhibits dating from pre-history, through various occupations to independence of this small country.

The visit feels a little rushed, but to be honest I am not at all unhappy about that as I am tired, it is uncomfortably hot and my back is hurting.

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Hotel Codru

As it is only a couple of blocks away, we walk back to the hotel (rather than let Leonid drive us) to pick up the luggage we dumped earlier and check in. We’re back in Room 313, and yet again we negotiate the tiny lift, just about 1m², where there is barely enough room for two (large) people with two backpacks, two wheelybags and two camera bags.

Dinner

After some chill time and a welcome shower, we wander downstairs to have dinner. The restaurant is closed for of a wedding reception (another one? That’s exactly what happened to us last night!), and the outside terrace is out of bounds because of a private party; which leaves us the bar. That suits us fine, as we really just want a small meal and a glass or three of wine.

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Chicken stew with branza (feta type cheese), smetana (soured cream) and mămăligă (polenta)

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Moldovan style roast beef in a clay pot
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Side dish of grilled vegetables and country style potatoes

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Wine!!!!

The food is delicious (especially the cheese) - and we are both very impressed with the wine - very, very smooth!

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for another great day in Moldova!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:49 Archived in Moldova Tagged trees food flowers nature hotel cemetery museum woods wine monastery forest saint convent chisinau moldova nunnery natural_history codru_hotel pucari pucari_wine capriana capriana_monastery hincu codrii codrii_forest canonisation moldovian_food Comments (0)

Chisinau - Cricova - Lalova - Orcheiul Vechi - Butuceni

A varied day for sure - city walking tour, wine tasting, boat trip and cave monastery

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

Day ONE of our private tour of Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

As we weren't served any food on either of yesterday’s flights, it has been a long time since we last had a meal, so we head straight for the breakfast buffet this morning. And very nice it is too.

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Any place that serves champagne as a regular item on their breakfast buffet gets my vote.

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For holding the bread hygienically while cutting it, the restaurant provides plastic gloves. Very different - I have not seen this in any of the 650 or so hotels we have previously stayed in.

The Repulic of Moldova

And so it is time to start our exploration of Moldova, yet another of our trips to draw a response of “where’s that?”

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Until 1991, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union, and it sits between Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe. It has a chequered history, but now appears to be very stable, politically. The name ‘Moldova’ comes from the river of the same name, which again is said to have been named by a 14th century prince whose dog called Molda drowned in the river.

Itinerary

We are amused to receive a very detailed itinerary from the local agent, setting out our days minute by minute. I see the old Soviet regimented precision style is very much alive and well.

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Chișinău

We start our sightseeing in the capital. Dating back to the 15th century, most of the older buildings in Chișinău were destroyed by extensive bombing during WWII. Rebuilt on a typical Soviet grid system of streets, the city now contains one of the highest proportions of green spaces found in any large European city.

Cathedral

Built in 1936; the cathedral suffered serious damage during WWII, but has since been reconstructed to its current state and today it is the main Russian Orthodox place of worship in Chisinau, as well as the biggest church in Moldova.

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As we enter the church, we can hear singing emanating from inside. There is a service on, and we are not permitted to take photographs of the gilded and highly decorated interior.

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Arc de Triomphe

Built in 1841, the Triumphal Arch was constructed to commemorate the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottoman Empire in 1829.

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A bell was made by copper smelted down from cannons captured from the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish war, to be installed in the arch. Unfortunately, when the bell was completed, they discovered that it was too big to fit in to the space allocated, so a separate belfry had to be especially constructed nearby to house the bell (hence the tower between the arch and the church). Doh!

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Belfry

The current bell tower is a replica and was built in 1961 to replace the original, which was destroyed during the Soviet era.

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Parliament

During the civil unrest in 2009 that caused some serious damage to the building, the parliament moved out, to return in 2014. Today we see preparations in place for tomorrow’s celebrations of Army Day, including lines depicting an outline map of Moldova. This national holiday was established to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of Armed Forces of Moldova in 1991 after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union.

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Ştefan cel Mare Monument

Stefan The Great is a national hero who defended the country against an Ottoman invasion in the 15th century. This sculpture replaces a previous statue to Alexander II (destroyed in 1918 by the Romanian authorities).

It’s a well-travelled monument: being moved to Vaslui (East Romania) in 1940, then two years later returned to Chisinau. A couple of years after that it again travelled to Romania, to finally be returned to Chisinau in 1989.

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City Hall

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Giant chess set

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Monument to popular folk musicians who died in a car crash.

Complexul Memorial Eternitate

Commemorating the Soviet soldiers who fell for the liberation of Chişinău and Moldova during the Second World War, this striking memorial is made up of five stylised ‘rifles’ coming together in a pyramidal point some 25 metres above a central eternal flame.

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Cricova – an Underground Wine City

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Who knew Moldova was famous for its wines? Not me for sure.

Moldova is in fact a country full of wine, vineyards and wineries, with 360,000 acres of the stuff, mostly for export. 250,000 acres of that are commercially grown vines, the rest are smaller family businesses, with grapes strands and recipes that have been handed down through generations.

A very commercialised and slick operation, our visit to Cricova Winery starts with a ‘train’ journey into their cellars. And what cellars they are!

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The wine cellars of Cricova are the second largest in Moldova (after Milestii Mici, which are the largest in the world), boasting 75 miles of underground labyrinthine roads descending to a depth of 100 metres).

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In the 15th century, mines here were excavated for limestone to be used as building materials in the construction of Chisinau; the tunnels were later converted to an underground wine emporium in the 1950s. During WWII, wine barrels were used to hide Jews from the Nazis, and Putin is said to have celebrated his 50th birthday here.

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Pictures of some of the famous people who have visited Cricova Winery.

We are taken on a journey through some of these cellars, first by ‘train’, then a short walk amongst the barrels accompanied by an informative talk about the winery.

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Later, after another little ‘train’ journey, we see an English film about Cricova and its history.

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In the bottling room the guide explains how six workers – all female – spend their days turning the bottles of sparkling wine. One woman can gently twist 50,000 bottles in two days. That sounds like a soul-destroying job to me.

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Part of our group consists of a 13 strong stag party from Israel, who do seem to have already been drinking rather a lot. Despite the guide frequently requesting: “Please do not touch the bottles”, they seem unable to restrain themselves.

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The first time they burst into patriotic songs it is amusing, the next dozen times it just becomes plain annoying. The guide is having a hard time trying to control them, with the rest of us becoming increasingly frustrated by their lack of respect and general disruptiveness.

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Around 50% of the roads are used to store the 1.25 million bottles of wine, the oldest dating back to 1902. I wonder if they would miss a couple? The porosity of the limestone creates a perfect environment to store wines, where the temperature is about 12 °C all year round.

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Not only is the winery full of underground 'streets' where wine is stored, there is a whole little city here, complete with meeting rooms and lounges for relaxing, and it is very popular as a wedding venue.

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The Presidential Suite

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Meeting Room

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Working fireplace with a 60m high chimney!

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Map of the underground city!

At the end of the tour we are shown in to a nautically-inspired Tasting Room. Thankfully the Israeli stag party have not paid for tasting, so we manage to lose them. There are eight of us: a delightful couple of Asian-Africans from London who are here for a friend’s wedding, a young couple from Poland and their friend who have hitch-hiked their way here, a lone Italian guy and us. It is all very civilised.

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Each table setting has two wine glasses plus one for champagne and another for water. There is also a selection of snacks to help clear the palate and soak up the alcohol.

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Four wines are being offered: a very fresh white wine, a light rosé, a very drinkable red and a rather enjoyable sparkling wine; with each one being explained to us.

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Wine making is certainly not a new thing to Moldova – the tradition dates back 5000 years, and is a major contributor to the country’s economy: 25% GDP and 50% of total export earnings. Not only that, this small country (4.5 million inhabitants, about the size of Holland) ranks as 7th amongst the top wine exporters of the world. And to think I have never before tried a Moldovan wine! Until today, that is.

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Before we leave there is the opportunity to purchase some of the wines, at a cost of ca. €2 per bottle. Bargain! We get a red and a rosé, and the couple from London buy a whole case of sparkling wine to take to the wedding.

Moldovan Countryside

Heading out of town, the surroundings change dramatically, from a modern post-Soviet big city, to an eastern European peasant society with donkey carts, one-storey wooden houses in desperate need of modernisation, and frequently-used wells along the side of the road.

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After the pre-lunch snifters, it is time for a siesta in the car until we turn off the main road on to a washer-board effect dirt track. The scenery is picturesque with rolling hills, blue-domed churches and far-reaching fields of sunflowers.

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Lunch at Hanul lui Hangana

Our next destination is the village of Lalova and the Hanul lui Hangana Guest House where we are taking lunch in a beautiful rural setting overlooking the Dniester River.

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Soups are customary for every meal in this part of the world, and we start lunch with a chicken noodle soup called zeama, which is served with smetana (Russian style soured cream) and a whole fresh chilli for nibbling.

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Valeriu is horrified when I pick up the chilli and go to take a bite from it; shouting out the warning: “it is very hot, be careful; it is REALLY hot”. I just smile and carry on, while David reassures our very caring guide that “she will be fine, don’t worry”. Which of course I am.

Branza, the home made brined cheese, reminds me of feta cheese – it is very salty and absolutely delicious, way better than its more famous counterpart! Out of politeness I take one of their home grown cucumbers, despite this being just about the only food I do not like the taste of. I try it to see if my tastes have changed. They haven’t. I eat it out of courtesy, but make sure I have plenty of tasty cheese and the scrummy tomatoes to take the taste away afterwards.

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Stuffed cabbage leaves is another popular dish in this region, where it is known as sarmale.

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Just as I think we cannot possibly eat any more, a dish of cheese-stuffed pastry, called plej placinta, is brought out. They are really fresh and doughy and I wish I could have room for more.

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Throughout the meal, home brewed wine is flowing freely for us with freshly made peach juice for Leonid the driver and Valeriu the guide.

Boat trip on Dniester River

As we walk from the guest house down to the river, we notice a Land Rover parked in the water and muse whether it is a local car wash. It seems a rather odd sight, but we soon forget about it.

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At the end of a small naturally made ‘jetty’, a speedboat is waiting to whisk us off for a trip on the Dniester River.

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The boat is fast, and skims the surface as it speeds past fishermen and fishing birds.

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Many fishermen spend considerable time on the river, staying in specially constructed floating cabins, some of which are quite elaborate and look rather comfortable.

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The opposite bank of the river is Transdniestr, the breakaway nation that sided with Russia during the disbanding of the USSR, despite being officially part of Moldova. A self-declared republic, relations with Moldova are tense after bloody skirmishes in 1992, followed by an uneasy ceasefire.

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Tipova Monastery

From the river we get a good view of Tipova, the largest cave monastery in Eastern Europe. The monastery dates back to the 10th century AD, and is best known as the place where Stefan cel Mare, the local hero who defended Moldova from the Ottomans in the 15th century, got married. The caves have now been turned into a museum.

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In the distance we see what looks like a lighthouse, but as we get nearer we discover that it is in fact the sun reflecting on the gold roof of a church, creating a bright beacon of light! Totally surreal!

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The boat trip is serene and exhilarating at the same time, as we watch eagles soar above and the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the river.

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On returning to the shore, we discover why the Landrover is parked in the water, as the captain floats his boat on to a submerged trailer to pull it back on land.

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For me, one of the highlights about the boat trip is listening to Valeriu in the car afterwards. I am assuming from his exuberant comments that it was his first time in a speedboat, and he is waxing lyrical about the experience, exclaiming that is was the highlight of his day.

As we continue on our journey, Leonid tells me that the owner of the guest house where we had lunch was convinced I was from Romania, because I "spoke fluent Romanian" (the language of Moldova). My conversation with her consisted of the only four words I know in Romanian: “hello”, “please”, “thank you” and “goodbye”. I feel flattered and amused in equal parts.

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David talks to the locals.

Orheiul Vechi (‘Old Orhei’)

The name ‘Old Orhei’ comes from the word ‘orhei’, meaning ‘fortification’; referring to the original (ie old) city built in this place. The position - on a ridge overlooking a valley on one side (now a village) and the river on the other, is certainly strategic.

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The earliest discoveries in this ‘smorgasbord of civilisations’ is a Late Palaeolithic camp site, believed to be some 25,000 years old – give or take a few thousand years. Other settlements date from Copper Age (4,500-4,000 BC), Iron Age (1,200-100 BC) and the medieval period (500-1,550 AD).

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Today Oheiul Vechi is an open-air museum, showcasing a number of man-made caves that pre-date Christianity in the region, created some 2000 years ago by the Dacian tribes. Orthodox monks turned some of the caves into a monastery in the 13th century; and occupied the site right into the 18th century. In 1996, a handful of monks returned to the cave monastery and have since been working on its restoration.

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Here you can see the caves hewn out from the limestone rock underneath a much later chapel (as well as people standing outside the cave on a ledge). We climb up a number of stairs to reach the chapel, followed by a number of stairs down to reach the cave.

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The evening service is just finishing off as we arrive, with solo chanting creating a spiritual atmosphere. We are the only people here, apart from three monks.

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The cells where the monks stayed are very spartan – they would sleep on the hard concrete floor without the use of any mats, and the ceiling was kept deliberately low so that they would have to stoop. The current monks are no longer living here.

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There is a great view over the valley from the ledge outside.

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Ascension of St Mary Church

Built in 1905, the church has recently been restored after it was shut down in 1944 and abandoned during the Soviet era. Services resumed in 1996.

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Butuceni Agro-Rural Pension

Situated in the small village of the same name at the bottom of the ridge, Butuceni Agro-Rural Pension is a collection of traditional peasant houses set inside mature gardens. We are warmly welcomed by the owner, whose English is only marginally better than my Romanian.

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Our room is large and comfortable, with the traditional style under-bed heating!

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In the grounds we find an adorable and playful kitten who keeps us occupied for some considerable time.

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As the light fades, dozens and dozens of house martins hang around on the telegraph wires before retiring for the night.

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Dinner is scheduled for 20:00, but when we wander around the grounds a few minutes before, we are unable to locate a restaurant. Or any sign of human life inside or outside the building.

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After much searching we discover a faded sign on the outside wall of the pension, directing us to the restaurant 200 metres along the road.

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We find the restaurant but it seems to be full of a wedding party, who all stare at us as we walk through. As there doesn't seem to be any other rooms where food is being served, we ask a girl in a national costume (who looks like she works there) about the ‘hotel restaurant’. She speaks no English and my Romanian doesn’t stretch that far; so David holds up the room key while I make eating motions with my hands. She gestures towards some stairs at the back of the hall, and we clamber through a pile of DJ equipment to reach them.

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At the top of the stairs is a very unwelcome closed door that we reluctantly open, leading into a room with one long table full of tourists, who all turn around and stare as we stand there somewhat lost and bewildered. We find a small table suitable for two people and sit down, not quite sure what to do next.

After what feels like a long, awkward period (but is probably just a few minutes), a waitress walks in, and while she initially looks at us quizzically, her face suddenly lights up and she flashes us a lovely warm smile before rushing off again. OK… now what?

She returns with food. Lots of food. Bottles of water and a jug of home made wine. Then more food.

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I love the home made cheese, the tomatoes are really tasty too; and there is enough Placinta du Branza (cheese pie) to feed a large family.

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Friptură de porc (stew) with smetana (soured cream) and branza (brined cheese); served with mămăligă (polenta) which the waitress cuts into segments using a thin string.

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For dessert there is Placinta cu visine, a delicious sour cherry pie.

We feel really bad for leaving so much of the food, and hope there are some very well fed pigs around (in addition to us). All the dishes are delicious, but we had a very late lunch, and there really is way too much food for two people!

We waddle back to the accommodation and retire to bed after the long and varied first day in Moldova.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:42 Archived in Moldova Tagged food fishing boat travel river adventure rural wine lunch pie winery tourism speedboat chisinau vinyards cheese moldova pastry boat_trip polenta orheiul orheiul_vechi dniester_river spee_boat placinta hanul_lui_hangana bryndza plej_placinta sarmale zeama moldovan_food butuceni butuceni_agro_rural_pension mămăligă cricova cricova_winery smetana branza Comments (0)

Home - Gatwick

On our way to yet another trip


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

I hadn’t originally planned on including this day in my Moldova blog, but as a couple of amusing incidents happened, now that it is time to write it all up, I have changed my mind; so here goes:

In order to avoid an early start and any hassle associated with long distance motorway travel in the UK, we decided to drive up to Gatwick the day before and stay in a hotel. After checking in to the Premier Inn near the airport, we head straight for the outside bar to enjoy a pint of cider (or two) in the warm summer’s evening.

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Also in the beer garden are a table of ‘virgins’ - air stewardesses from a well-known airline. They completely freak out when a few wasps are attracted to their food; screaming, waiving their arms about and running around like demented beings. Their hysteria is complete when the resident cat saunters over to check out their dinner. The girls abandon their table, complete with plates of half-eaten food, and seek safety from the dangerous beasts of Surrey inside the pub. Hmm. This is the calibre of people we have to rely on to be calm, efficient, and business-like in the case of an emergency on a flight?

This is our third visit to Gatwick Manor, and we are not sure whether to be flattered or worried that the restaurant manager still remembers us, especially as it is four years since we last came! We must have made quite an impression.

I often find appetisers are more interesting than entrées on the menu; so like many times before, I choose three starters rather than a first and second course.

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STILTON & PEPPERCORN MUSHROOMS - Sautéed button mushrooms on a garlic toasted muffin with peppercorn & buttermilk sauce. Topped with crumbled Stilton.

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KOREAN-STYLE PULLED CHICKEN dressed in a hot red pepper sauce. Served on noodles with red onion, soya beans and red pepper in a soy, lime & chilli sauce. Finished with sesame seeds and a honey & chipotle dressing...... and ..... CARIBBEAN-STYLE PORK MINI RIBS, slow-cooked and served in a sweet and spiced jerk marinade. Accompanied with cooling kale coleslaw and a jerk barbecue dip.

David is more of a traditionalist, and after his Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms, he has SLOW-COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, cooked for 8 hours and served with mashed potato, buttered seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine sauce.

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For dessert, David predictably chooses the apple and blackberry crumble with custard and ice cream.

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I, on the other hand, go for the cheese plate.

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Having eaten – and drunk – too much, and with the room being way too hot, sleep evades me, and I toss and turn throughout a restless night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in England Tagged food restaurant airport drink cat pub virgin cider gatwick wasps premier_inn gatwick_manor Comments (2)

Maramboi - Ngorongoro

How can we possibly top that?


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

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Breakfast at Maramboi is interrupted this morning by a family of warthogs coming through...

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... a couple of birds visiting the dining area...

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...and the sunrise.

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This morning we get to pick the contents of our own lunch boxes – another thing we like about Maramboi.

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There is quite a selection to choose from – something for everyone.

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Including for Chris, who struggles with the weight of his over-full box!

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Why have a healthy lunch when you can have cake?

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We are off to pastures new this morning – another park, another lodge, another eventful day filled with exciting animal encounters.

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In order to try and contain the elephants within Tarangire National Park, bee hives have been hung from the trees along the park boundaries – it has been found that those big, brave, huge animals are afraid of a tiny little bee! And I thought it was just mice that freaked elephants out, and then only in cartoons. Apparently not.

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The old traditional style

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And the more modern type

Minjungu

At Minjungu Village, Maasai women are busy setting up the weekly market.

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Today we are heading for Ngorongoro.

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We may not be in one of the national parks right now, but that doesn’t stop us seeing a plethora of wild animals along the way.

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Ostrich, Zebra and Wildebeest

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Thomson's Gazelles

Chris spots some animals in the distance and excitedly exclaims: “zebra!” They turn out to be donkeys, but shall be forever known as ‘Chris’ Zebra’.

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Maybe Chris has discovered a new species? A zonkey known as Debra?

Donkeys have extremely strong bones and in an impact with a car they can easily get up and walk away even if the car is a total wreck.

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Albino donkey?

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Nice ass!

Maasai Manyatta (village)

In the far distance we can see a huge Maasai Manyatta (terrible photo, sorry), belonging to the local village chief and his 27 wives! With over 100 children between them, he has even built his own school; which, with the help of the government, has since expanded to allow other local children to attend. One of the richest men in the area, he built his empire to become the biggest supplier of milk in the region . (And he's been milking it ever since)

So it is true what they say about the milkman then!

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I can’t remember seeing so many tuk tuks on our previous visits. These three wheeled auto rickshaw taxis are known as bajaji here in Tanzania. They are cheap and readily available, but probably not a good idea for a safari.

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Mto Wa Mbu

The small town of Mto Wa Mbu is just beginning to come to life as we pass through this morning on our way to the highlands.

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The town owes its fast increasing population to Medicine Men in Loliondo near Lake Natron, some 250 kilometres away. Offering to cure all incurable diseases, the witch doctors are extremely popular with believers who overnight here in Mto Wa Mbu before being taken to meet the doctors. The medicine dispensed is very reasonably priced at 500 shillings (ca. 22cents in US$) – the transport required to take you there, however, will set you back US$100. Sounds like a dreadful, but apparently successful, scam to me!

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Hanging out of the window with my camera in hand, I practise my usual drive-by-shooting.

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Meaning Mosquito River, Mto Wa Mbu is one of the few places around where you can find all Tanzania’s 120 ethnic tribes represented; mainly because of the lure of the tourist dollar and also the aforementioned racket involving greedy quacks.

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Mto Wa Mbu is where you find the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park, so there are plenty of tourist stalls around. Also, all road traffic to Ngorongoro and Serengeti come through here.

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Malisa stops the car and buys some little red bananas for us to try. They are sweeter than the normal yellow type, and Malisa explains how they will only grow successfully in volcanic soil – plant them anywhere else and the fruit turns green rather than red.

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This area is a major breeding site for storks (Marabou, Yellow Billed and African Open Billed) as well as Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed and Maribou Storks

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Yellow Billed Storks

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Yellow Billed Stork and Pink Backed Pelican

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Yellow Billed Stork

It also seems to be a favourite place for Olive Baboons to hang out – maybe they are after berries dropped by the birds, or it could be that tourists stopping to photograph the birds feed the baboons too…

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As we start to climb onto the Ngorongoro Highlands, we can feel the temperature dropping. We are doing some serious climbing today – thankfully by car – from an altitude of 4,150 feet above sea level at Maramboi, to around 7,200 on the crater rim. That’s a difference of a whopping 3,000 feet!

Putting it into perspective, the peak of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in UK, sits at 4,416 feet.

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We stop part way up to look at the view over Lake Manyara, from the shores of which we watched the sun rise this morning.

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As with all places where tourists routinely stop, a number of salesmen hang around. We negotiate a good deal on some fun little necklaces with carved animals, and we all wear one, including David and Chris.

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While sandals made from old tyres are quite a common sight all over sub-Saharan Africa, Malisa has a very much more upmarket version!

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Especially commissioned and made from brand new motorcycle tyres, they are totally unique and even have a cool antenna at the front! I love them, I can’t imagine, however, going in to a Clark’s shop in Bristol and asking for a “size 180/55ZR-17 with a six inch pole and four beds please”.

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That's the best grip I have ever seen on any sandal!

As we climb higher, large fields of sunflowers brighten up the scenery.

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So far on this trip we have been extremely lucky with the weather – especially as we are here in the Green Season – but those clouds looming over the hills do not look very promising.

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Karatu

There’s a different look and feel to this town up here in the highlands than the atmosphere of Mto Wa Mbu in the lowlands.

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And they have motorcycle taxis – known as pikipiki – instead of tuk tuks.

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Loduare Gate

As the portal to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as well as the Serengeti further along, each year more than 1.5 million people pass through this gate!

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It is not just safari tourists who enter – goods and passengers come this way too as this is the main B144 highway travelling north-west from Arusha.

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While Malisa completes the registration and pays the fee, we have time to inspect the small information centre with a cool 3D map depicting the dramatic ecology, ethnography and topography of the region.

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There is also an even smaller shop.

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At least the toilets here have improved drastically since our first visit in 2007, although that wouldn’t take much!

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Malisa has our permit and we are ready to move on to the next part of our adventure.

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Immediately after passing through the gate, the road goes from being a super highway (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration... but at least it is sealed and relatively smooth) to a simple dirt track. This is one of the things I like about Tanzania compared with places such as South Africa – you do feel that you are visiting a real African wilderness rather than a commercial safari park.

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Over a distance of around six kilometres, we negotiate a number of switchbacks as we climb ever upwards. Here the vegetation is more like a tropical rainforest, and I am very surprised – disappointed even – that the usual heavy mist is absent from the densely forested slope of the outer crater wall today.

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In the photo above, you can see the road we just came up at the back on the left

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We even get some quick glimpses of the ‘lowlands’ below us.

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Just as the road levels out, the mist finally appears.

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Then the dense vegetation surrounding the road abruptly opens up into a clearing and we are greeted by the most breathtaking panoramic view from the crater rim, a vista beyond all imagination.

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Chris’ reaction as he looks out from the viewpoint brings me to tears.

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Throughout our trip so far, we have all being uttering exclamations of delight with “wow” being one of our favourite expressions.
Chris on the other hand, has been more level headed. “I am not a ‘wow’ kind of person” he has been saying, “I was prepared to be amazed, and I have been”. For him, therefore, to be calling out “wow” at this point is really stupendous.

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I know how he feels, however. That first glimpse of the crater floor spread out below never fails to excite me as I gaze in awe at the small dark specks, trying to make out individual animals below through binoculars.

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This is our first visit in the Green Season, and I am almost overwhelmed by how verdant the crater floor looks. It looks totally different to the dry season, like a completely different park! I love it!

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As we continue on our way around the rim in a clockwise direction, the mist descends on us.

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The Tomb of Michael Grzimek

HE GAVE ALL HE POSSESSED
INCLUDING HIS LIFE
FOR THE WILD ANIMALS OF AFRICA

The German film maker and passionate conservationist Michael Grzimek is best known for the film 'Serengeti Shall not Die', and his tireless work (and infinite generosity) on the survey of the annual migration in East Africa which resulted in the mapping and extending of the Serengeti National Park.

After his plane crashed following a collision with a vulture in 1957, he was buried here at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. Later this memorial was erected in his honour.

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I am totally blown away by the colours of the Ngorongoro Highlands in the Green Season. I didn’t notice the difference to the same extent down in Tarangire and surroundings, but up here the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, with entire hillsides of the Malanja Depression covered in yellow flowers.

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Zebra and Wildebeest

In fact the surroundings look so different this time of year I am beginning to think that I have never been here before. David agrees. Malisa assures us that we must have come this way last time (and the time before), as there is a one-way system in and out the crater, and the only descent route is further down this road. That makes sense, so I guess the greenery makes all the difference.

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Maasai herders taking their livestock to softer grass

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Red Duiker

Despite its best efforts to hide in the tall grass, Malisa spots a Red Duiker – a small, shy antelope. Malisa never ceases to amaze me how he can pick these smallest of animals out while still concentrating on driving. And an excellent driver he is too!

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Patience rewards us with a better view as the antelope forgets we are there and starts to move around, feeding.

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I am particularly excited about being able to photograph this guy, as I have only even seen one very briefly once before, and that one was far too quick for me to be able to capture him on film.

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He eventually decides he’s had enough and makes a run for it.

Unlike Tarangire – and the more famous Serengeti – Ngorongoro is a conservation area rather than a national park. What this means in reality (amongst other things) is that the Maasai are permitted to live and herd their cattle within the area.

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Seneto Boma, a temporary Maasai settlement

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Maasai cattle co-exist happily with wild zebra

The further we drive along the road which skims the rim of the crater, the more convinced David and I are that we have not come this way before. And the more insistent Malisa is that we MUST have done, as there is no other route. Because my memory is usually extremely good (as the tree in Tarangire proved), it bothers me. Greatly.

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It plays on my mind and I keep trying to recall our journey from 20 months ago. I fail miserably, vowing to check blog from that trip when we get to the hotel – and Internet access – tonight to see if that helps to throw any light on this.

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When we reach Seneto Entrance, I have to concede that I have a vague recollection of having been here before, but it seems a lot longer ago than two years. I am beginning to get seriously worried about my mental recall here.

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The entrance area is full of flowers and plants.

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And birds.

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African Pied Wagtail

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Northern Anteater Chat

The Maasai are allowed to herd their cattle inside the crater, but they have to be out by nightfall. They don’t use the same access roads as tourists – here you can see their path leading in and out.

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And this is our road.

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Seneto Descent Road offers a different view over the crater – I love the way whole areas are shrouded in purple flowers!

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The scene is quite surreal, like an impressionist painting.

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By the time we get to the bottom of the road, I am still feeling perplexed as I look – unsuccessfully – for any familiar signs within the surroundings. Nothing. Total blank.

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Never mind, I will just enjoy the crater floor and check on my photos / blog tonight.

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Descending the 2000 feet high walls of this natural amphitheatre is like entering another world. We drove through a rainforest earlier, now we appear to be in the desert. It may only be just over ten miles across, but the flat-bottomed floor of the sunken caldera contains a wide range of eco-systems featuring the whole world of East African safari in miniature.

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Augur Buzzard

Warthogs

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Wildebeest

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Rufous Lark

I really can’t remember seeing Maasai cattle mingle with wild animals on our previous visits to the crater. I drive everyone else mad with my constant doubts: “are you sure there is no other way down?”

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Zebra with Maasai cattle in the background

Zebra

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“Is he dead?” We worry about a lifeless zebra on the grounds with two of his mates looking on.

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You'll be pleased to know he is only taking it easy in the heat of the day.

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Baby zebra are a delightful chocolate brown when they are young, gradually turning to black as they grow up.

Thomson’s Gazelle

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Thomson's Gazelle is the second fastest land animal in Tanzania after the cheetah; which is why you only tend to find them on the menu for the cheetahs: they are too fast for any of the other predators.

Grey Crowned Crane

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Grant’s Gazelle

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These are the first ungulates we’ve seen in any numbers, as they are not present in Tarangire at this time of year. During the dry season large herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles can been seen in all three parks, so this is a new experience for us.

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Fischer's Sparrow Lark

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There’s nothing like a dust bath on a dry and dusty day…

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Wildebeest with Wattled Starling on its back

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Female ostriches

Ngorongoro Serena
From the crater floor we can see the hotel we are staying in tonight, the Ngorongoro Serena, perched high on the rim overlooking the caldera.

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A couple of spotted hyenas (with dirty bottoms) stroll by and appear to upset a lone elephant who disappears back into the woods with a loud trump.

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Ngorongoro has much to boast about: it is a UNESCO Heritage Site; the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera, it has the densest population of large carnivores and herbivores anywhere in the world (as in density, not lack of intelligence!), and it is arguably the most impressive geological feature in Africa – no wonder it is commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The crater delivers some of the best game viewing Africa has to offer, the Africa of wildlife documentaries.

An African White Backed Vulture flies overhead – I love watching the daily life in the Ngorongoro Crater.

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When Malisa claims that the hyena is his favourite animal, I am not sure whether he is joking or not as I personally find the hyena quite sinister looking without any real redeeming features.

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A very unhappy wildebeest alerts us to the presence of a male lion, mostly hidden in the grass.

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Not that the lion appears to take any interest in the wildebeest, but I guess if you are considered a menu item you can’t be too careful.

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Lerai Forest
Its name being Maasai for the tall, yellow barked acacia trees that grow here, Lerai was once a thick forest, but over the years elephant destruction has reduced this area to a mere woodland glade.

And, as if on cue, here are the elephants.

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The big male is in musth and ready to mate. Apparently they pee down their own leg at this time – I will be eternally grateful humans don’t do the same!

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This guy lost one of his tusks when trying to bring down a tree. I would say “serves him right”, but I guess it is what elephants do. When asked if park rangers ever replace the trees decimated by elephants, Malisa replies: “No. They just let nature take its course”

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In order to exit Lerai Forest, we have to ford the Lairatati River. It looks like they’ve had some serious rain here!

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Nubian Woodpecker

Driving through the forest triggers a thought process in my brain, and I suddenly remember that last time we came, we descended into the crater through a host of flat-topped acacia trees. I mention this to Malisa, and he somewhat sheepishly admits: "yes, there is another road into the crater, right over the other side, and there were a few months in 2014 when Seneto descent Road was closed for resurfacing"

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Eureka! I am not cracking up! We really didn't come down the same way last time. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It also follows that we used that other road the previous time too, as we were staying in the lodge you can see just to the right of the red arrow.

The mystery is solved and I can sleep soundly tonight!

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We have company for our picnic.

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Hildebrand Starling

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

Ngorongoro Crater has to be one of the most iconic safari locations in Africa, and this incredible caldera is a haven for around 20,000 of Africa’s most cherished animals, virtually the whole range of East African wildlife including all three big cats but no giraffe (the trails along the crater walls are too steep for them to negotiate). We continue our journey in a quest to watch the dramatic unfolding of wilderness action. Malisa is on a mission to find a Rasta Lion.

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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A barrel of monkeys (I have been checking out the various collective names of animals) hang around in the trees. This particular youngster is enjoying an afternoon nap.

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Blacksmith Plover

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I’ve never seen one sit like this before.

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Rufous Lark

Wattled Starling

A deafening cacophony emanating from a tree draws our attention to a great number of wattled starlings.

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Dozens of tiny hungry mouths beg to be fed. Every time one of the parent birds arrives in the tree, all the babies clamour for attention, not just the offspring of that particular adult. What a racket! No wonder the collective word for a group of starlings is chattering!

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And when mum – and the food – flies past to feed their offspring, the other babies sulk.

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Until the next mother arrives with food for another baby in a different nest.

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It’s all too much for one little baby, who promptly falls asleep.

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He wakes up just as mum arrives…. to feed his brother!

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Once again he is left hungry as mum goes off in search of more grubs.

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This one’s not for him either.

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Much as we’d like to stay on to make sure ‘our’ little baby gets fed, we have places to go and animals to see.

Sacred Ibis at Gorigor Swamp

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While we’re busy looking at the ibises, Malisa spots a mother and baby rhino way out there on the horizon. The rest of us struggle to locate them, even with binoculars. Eventually, after a lot of directions, we do pick them out through the heat and dust haze that always hangs heavily in Ngorongoro Crater.

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More wildebeest.

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Including this suckling baby.

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Zebra - or horse in pyjamas as Lyn calls them. Or maybe we should call them 'Chris' Donkeys'?

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Always on the lookout for predators, the zebra can smell danger.

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The threat appears in the form of a spotted hyena.

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Two more rhinos – another mother and baby – can be seen on the horizon. This time they are considerably nearer and we can make them out to be a little more than just two blurry blobs.

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Seeing a couple of lions walking on the road in the distance, we rush off to join up with them.

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This one appears to have a broken tail. I wonder how that happened? I'd like to imagine some heroic escape from the clutches of a predator - but as lions have no predators in the crater, perhaps an elephant stood on it?

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These are two youngish brothers, and not the Rasta Lion Malisa was hoping to see.

Malisa gets word from a passing vehicle - one of the very few we have seen - that there is a lioness nursing her two babies further ahead, so we speed off to see for ourselves.

As we approach, they get up and start walking towards the road.

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They come right up to the side of the road, just a few feet away from us, and settle down in the part shade of a small bridge. To our absolute delight, the babies start to suckle!

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If ever there was such a thing as cuteness overload, this surely is it!

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Having had their quota of mother’s milk, the babies are full of life and mischief. If I thought the feeding cubs were adorable, when they start to play, it is almost too much to bear and I feel sure my heart is going to burst!

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Mum, however, is exhausted and all she wants to do is sleep.

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After spending a few tender moments with her little ones, mum is not amused when the cubs start jumping on her and pulling her tail.

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Eventually she loses her temper and lets out a frustrated snarl at her cubs: “will you guys leave me alone. Please!”

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As so many other mothers all over the world have done before her, she gets up and walks away is sheer exasperation to try and find a place where she can have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

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Time to smell the flowers

Much to the cub’s displeasure: “Where are you going mum?” “Mum??”

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She crosses the road to lie down in the shade, leaving her offspring behind, hoping that a bit of rough-and-tumble will have them worn out by bedtime.

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One of the cubs appears to have lost interested in playing.

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At a mere three weeks old, these cubs are incredibly inquisitive and heart-stirringly adorable.

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When I look into those deep eyes, I feel like I am very much part of a wildlife documentary, not just merely on holiday! I have to pinch myself that this really is happening. I feel exceptionally privileged to be here, witnessing this.

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We spend fifty minutes with the lioness and her delightful cubs, during which time we see one other vehicle. They stop for just a few minutes, take some photos and move on. I don’t understand that mentality at all – observing the interactions between the family members is what differentiates this wilderness experience from a zoo, surely?

This year's experience is also in stark contrast to our last lion cub encounter in the Ngorongoro Crater, in September 2014 during the dry season, when we struggled to get anywhere near the cats!

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Ngorongoro 2014

As we bid our cats goodbye and head towards the exit, I rib Malisa: "These cubs are very cute and all that, but you promised me a Rasta Lion! Where is he? It’s just as well Malisa understands my twisted sense of humour.

We see our two young brothers again (the one with the broken tail), walking across the marsh, but no Rasta Lion. I think Malisa is making this up.

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Further along, a couple more lions rest in the grass right by the side of the road (that’s the shadow of our car you can see in the photos). Did Lyn say before we left home that she was worried about not seeing any lions on the safari? How many is that so far? Twelve? And it’s only Day Two of the actual safari.

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Golden Jackal

Finally, there he is – Malisa’s Rasta Lion, an eight years old king and a very powerful one.

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Really? He looks more like a big pussycat to me.

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Now, there’s a reason why I spent this afternoon teasing Malisa about his ‘Rasta Lion’ – we brought over a T shirt as a gift for him from Bristol Zoo, which coincidentally features… yes, you guessed it: a Rasta Lion! Although we had planned it as a parting gift, now seems to be the right moment.

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We make it to the exit with seven minutes to spare until closing time – being late carries a $200 fine!

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As he does every evening, Malisa asks us about today’s highlight. As if there is any doubt!?! Malisa, of course, claims seeing the hyena was his favourite moment. Really?

Ngorongoro Serena Hotel

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As usual, we arrive at our accommodation for the night after dark. So do a lot of other people, so check in is not as quick and smooth as we are used to.

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Our room seems to be down an awful lot of steps, and after a very quick shower, it’s time to climb back up them for a drink in the bar while we watch the Maasai dancing.

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For such a big hotel (also part of a bigger chain), I find this evening’s set-up quite amateurish – there is no stage as such, just a small area of the bar, which has been cleared of furniture. A good view of the dancers is limited to those people in the front row only. The outfits are colourful, and the dancers fairly enthusiastic, but I find the whole scenario too commercialised and touristy for my liking. The main dance moves are rocking of the necklaces for the women and traditional jumping for the men. At least half of the performance is dedicated to ‘audience participation’. No thanks.

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The hotel redeems itself over dinner. The restaurant is super, the staff friendly, the menu table d'hôte and the food tasty.

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Nguru Wa Kupaka - king fish in exotic Swahili sauce

What a day! What can I say, apart from “How can we possibly top that?”

Thanks, yet again to Calabash Adventures – not forgetting our wonderful guide Malisa - for what is turning out to be a holiday of a lifetime!

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys food road_trip travel vacation elephants adventure roads sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding tourists photography souvenirs lions maasai donkey baboons flip_flops babies roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro woodpecker memory cattle glamping caldera boma wildebeest ngorongoro_crater bird_watching suckling karatu game_drive road-trip african_food adorable safari_vehicle manyatta calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators best_safari_company out_of_africa maramboi olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload maasai_cattle seneto seneto_descent_road malanja mto_wa_mbu Comments (1)

Birmingham - Dubai - Nairobi

We've finally arrived in Africa!


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

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As we approach Dubai Airport after seven hours or so in the air, the sun rises and we get a brief glimpse of this modern metropolis from the air.

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On exit from the plane, a series of transfer buses are waiting to take us to the terminal – it’s all very well organised, with a different bus depending on your onward flight destination or whether you are stopping in Dubai. We board a bus for Nairobi. Not literally of course.

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We have a three-hour layover here in Dubai, so we spend a lot of time sitting about in the airport lounge.

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Eventually we are called for the flight and moved to another lounge at the departure gate, where we learn that the flight is delayed for over an hour – more sitting around, waiting.

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The next flight is also very comfortable, with space to spread out. I spend most of the time sleeping, only waking for food and again just before landing at Nairobi.

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At the immigration control in Nairobi, David is berated for having a Transfer Visa and is told that he should have a ‘proper’ visa if he is to leave the airport and stay overnight. This, of course, is quite contrary to the information on the Kenya Immigration Website, and the three of us go through the passport check without a single comment. David must have got the grumpy one this afternoon. Thankfully he is let through and we have finally arrived in Africa!

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The luggage is very slow to turn up, and as more and more bags arrive but ours are nowhere to be seen, we start to get a little twitchy. Eventually the last one appears on the luggage carousel and we breathe a sigh of relief. I suppose someone’s bag has to be the last one.

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At customs I am questioned at length about commercial filming due to all my camera equipment, but we finally make it through to the outside world, where William is waiting to take us to our hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.

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As usual, the Nairobi traffic is appalling despite the fact that we are not even entering the centre of town, and we sit in one huge jam as the road improvement works causes major diversions and delays as we make our way to the suburb of Karen. Eight months ago when we came this way on the way back from Lake Turkana, the road was pot-holed, rutted and chock-a-block with traffic. It is comforting in a way to see that some things never change.

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As we pull up at the hotel, we are delighted to see our friend Abdi, who has travelled down from North Horr to meet up with us.

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Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages

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Tillya (of Calabash Adventures) came out to Nairobi last month to personally check out our rooms here at Karen Blixen Cottages, and as we are shown to our room, we concur that he has made a good choice.

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Each room is set in an individual period-style cottage designed after the historic Swedo House in the so-called first generation style , and comes complete with a four-poster bed, a seating area with a fireplace, high-beam ceiling, a dressing room and a large bathroom with separate shower, toilet and bathtub. There is also a nice verandah (with a very friendly resident cat) for relaxing with a pre-dinner drink. The room evokes a taste of the past with yesteryear historic ambience from Kenya's early pioneering days.

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History

Much history is attached to this place - Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages (that is the longest hotel name we have come across since the 'Best Western Premier Amaranth Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel' in Thailand) is set in one of the largest and oldest formal gardens in Kenya, in what was once the estate of Karen Blixen (the author of the best selling book 'Out of Africa' which was later made in to an award-winning film).

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Meandering paths lead through the gardens, connecting the cottages with the main buildings, gym and swimming pool. It is hard to imagine how the original house was surrounded by indigenous forest, bush and grasslands at the time of its construction in 1906 – the 5½ acres of formal hotel gardens are now full of ornamental trees such as candelabra cactus, jacaranda (my favourite tree when in bloom) and bottle brush, as well as numerous (over 200 species I am told) exotic flowers.

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I am a little disappointed however, with the lack of bird life – I expected the flowers to attract a number of birds, but all I see is this ‘measly’ little sunbird.

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Swedo House

This building within the grounds was once the hunting lodge, and the farm manager's residence for Karen Blixen's coffee farm. Later Thomas Dinesen (Karen Blixen's brother) lived in this house, and Karen herself also spent a great deal of time here. It has since been refurbished to its original style.

The architectural style of Swedo House is typical of the pioneering days of Kenya, being built on stilts with the original walls of corrugated iron lined with wood inside; and sporting raised verandas with arched roof supports. The corrugated iron walls were later replaced by cement plastered over chicken wire. These days the house contains the lounge and gift shop.

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Meaning ‘medicine’ or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili, Dawa is the signature cocktail at Tamarind (the chain which owns the hotel restaurant). Based on the famous Brazilian Caipirinha, the cocktail it is made from vodka, sugar, quartered lime, ice and honey, and is apparently one of the most widely consumed cocktails in Kenya. As I really don’t like honey, I didn’t think I’d like it. I was wrong. The honey is served on the little wooden stick in the glass, and just tastes sweet rather than a strong honey taste.

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The curiously named Elephant Mudbath cocktail is a must as we are going to be visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the morning. The cocktail comprises of coffee liqueur, Amarula, Vodka and ice. A little drop of heaven in a glass!

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To go with the cocktails, an amuse bouche of chilli chicken and crab cocktail arrives.

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The chicken is surprisingly bland, whereas the crab cocktail is nicely spiced and absolutely delicious.

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At dinner I practise the little bit of Swahili I have tried to learn in the last few weeks, much to the amusement and delight of the staff.
“Nataka chakula cha kiafrika” (I would like African food) I ask, and John, the waiter, suggests the Chicken Ndogo Ndogo, a whole spring chicken grilled with ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime juice.

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Ndogo ndogo apparently means “young lady” or "nice thighs" in Swahili, and a few slightly risqué comments are banded about.

I ask for the chicken to be served kali (spicy), but instead they include a selection of pili pili (chillies), hot sauce and freshly chopped coriander. The chillies certainly pack a powerful punch!

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To go with my chicken I order ugali – the staple food throughout East Africa – a stiff polenta-like dough made from millet flour and water.

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Chris settles for the Fish with Mushrooms, a fillet of fish topped with mirin-flamed mushrooms and served with fried rice and creamy champagne sauce. From the contented murmurs and delighted exclamations, I am deducting that he is enjoying it.

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My request “tafadhali nakata nne bia Tusker baridi” gets us exactly what we want – four cold Tusker beers! This Swahili-speaking lark sure is fun!

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At the beginning of the meal John (the waiter) asks Chris to write down all our names on a sheet of paper, and from then on he calls us by name as he dishes up our food. Very personal service indeed. I am even more impressed when the dessert is delivered. Only David orders a pudding – crepe suzette – but the rest of us get complimentary petit fours, beautifully served on personalised plated with a Swahili saying and our names written out in chocolate! This certainly is a first for me!

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As we leave the restaurant, the serenade of the frogs in the grounds is almost deafening as you can hear from this little video. There is no picture as such as it is pitch black by now, but it is worth a listen for the sound alone.

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Having travelled for 24 hours through the night to get here, jetlag descends on us after dinner and we retire to bed for an early night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for a great start to our trip!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:00 Archived in Kenya Tagged food fish restaurant travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing chicken dubai karen kenya cocktails emirates birmingham gourmet nairobi good_food tamarind african_food calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen_coffee_gardens_and karen_blixen dawa_cocktail dawa Comments (1)

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