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Ndutu - Arusha Part 1 - sunrise, lion, foxes, buzzing picnic

African wildlife can be a real pain in the ass

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

I wake early, on this, our last day on safari in Tanzania, to a glorious sunrise over Lake Masek, giving the sky and everything in its wake a lovely orange glow.




The swimming pool at Lake Masek Tented Camp










Breakfast Box

The food is always good here in Lake Masek Tented Camp, and this morning's breakfast spread is no exception. As well as the usual selection of pastries, meats, yogurts, cheeses etc, there is a chef making fresh sandwiches for us using what appears to be leftovers from last night's dinner with lots of choices of fillings and relishes/salads. I love it when we can select what goes in our packed breakfast and lunch boxes as not only does it mean that we get our own choice of food, it also saves on any waste.

Dik Dik


Secretary Bird


Getting ready for another day with some gentle bending, stretching and preening.


Brown Snake Eagle


Nubian Woodpecker

At first glance he is hiding his beautiful red cap, but as soon as he bends forward we can see it clearly.




Augur Buzzard




Cheetah prints

When Malisa spots the prints of a cheetah adult and cub in the dirt track, the excitement in the car soars.


We follow the tracks for a while, hoping they will lead us to the cats; but the prints soon disappear into the long grass.

White Browed Coucal




This elusive animal is right at the very top of my wish list each time I come on safari, and the joke is that I have to keep coming back to Tanzania until I see one. This morning we see an aardvark hole in which these nocturnal animals live, and a fresh footprint. I get terribly excited, but as usual, that is all we see.



Black Shouldered Kite



Desperately looking for food to fill his empty belly, this painfully thin male lion is presumably feeling rather vulnerable, as he is determined to hide from us. I have to say that the camouflage is excellent.


After a while hunger wins over the fear of us, and he starts to wander across the plains, hoping to find a little something for breakfast. There does not appear to be much around these parts though, for him to eat or us to photograph.




The breakfast buffet is not looking too promising

Kori Bustard





Bat Eared Fox Den

The parents of these cute little two-month-old babies are tenacious in their effort to lure us away from the den in order to keep their babies safe.




The pups are curious but shy and have obviously been trained not to speak to strangers.



Breakfast Picnic

One of the beauties of a game drive in the Ndutu area is that off-road driving is permitted. In an open area with good visibility to ensure we are safe from predators, we get our picnic stuff out and enjoy the lovingly prepared breakfast boxes, while surrounded by wild nature. And five dozen wasps. Attracted by our food they appear out of nowhere and quickly become our 'public enemy number one' as they irritatingly whirr around our plates, hands and faces, making for a miserable experience. When I said “safe from predators”, I didn't consider the buzzing kind.

We promptly eat up to get away from the wicked flying beasts, and Lyn and I go for our 'call of nature' behind the car while the boys clear away the tables and chairs.

When we are all back in the vehicle and Malia starts up the car to continue on our journey, I feel a sharp smarting sensation on my bum. “Ouch”. Just as I am thinking that I must somehow have managed to pick up a prickly leaf when pulling my knickers back up after peeing, it happens again. And again. A painful stabbing sensation in an out-of-reach area. After a recurring onslaught of three or four more stings, I have had enough, and in some considerable distress whip down my trousers and knickers while pleading with David to discover the culprit of my torment and eliminate it.

By now my shrieks have attracted the attention of the others, who look on with great concern, then look away with great embarrassment as I unashamedly undress in their midst. As soon as my knickers have been lowered to thigh level, the evil perpetrator makes a mad dash for freedom: an enraged and terrified wasp leaving behind a trail of destruction and a humiliated Grete. Job done!

The whole episode causes much amusement to everyone else; who of course, do not let me hear the end of it for the rest of the day/trip, and still haven't to this day.

You will be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence of the episode.

On that note I will leave you for now – thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this amazing safari.


Posted by Grete Howard 02:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged lake sunrise breakfast kite africa safari tanzania eagle picnic lion giraffe ostrich woodpecker wasp kori_bustard bustard buzzard game_drive tented_camp ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area bat_eared_fox lake_masek coucal brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle secretary_bird lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik breakfast_picnic augur_buzzard breakfast_box aardvark white_browed_coucal masek pink_sky nubian_woodpecker cheetah_prints black_shouldered_kite Comments (2)

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.


But first, time to fill our bellies.


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

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.



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



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.



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.





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).


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.



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.


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).


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


Car Breakdown

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


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.



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.

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!


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.


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!


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.


Friday Mosque

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


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.






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.




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.

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.


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.

Reclaimed land on the coast


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





We continue along the north-east coastal road.


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.



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.


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.


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


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




The house where the daughter lived - now abandoned


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.


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.



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




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.



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



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.


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


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.


Galawa Hotel

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


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.


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

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.


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


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



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)



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


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.


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





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.


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



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

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.


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).

Chicken with mushroom sauce and vegetables

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.


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)

Ngorongoro - Ndutu

Lake Masek Tented Camp

View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.


Having left Ngorongoro Crater behind, we make our way to our overnight accommodation at Ndutu, driving across the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. When they hear the name Ngorongoro, most people think only of the crater; but that is a just very small part of the overall reserve as the map below shows.


As we make our way across the highlands we can once again see the Maasai tending to their cattle.



After not having slept much last night and still struggling with being able to breathe, I am feeling extremely sleepy as we bump along the rough track, drifting into a lovely long snooze while Malisa negotiates the road to Ndutu. I don't wake up until we reach the beginning of the Ndutu Plains, some two hours later.



It looks like this one feels about as sleepy as I do.







Ostriches live in harems, with the male having several females such as these ten here. The male will mate with all of them and the females will share the babysitting duties.










It is raining quite heavily now, and these giraffes look super miserable at getting wet.



Bad hair day?





Sheltering from the rain



Not only has it stopped raining by the time we reach our accommodation for the night; it is still daylight.


We last stayed here in 2011, when we arrived after dark and left again the following morning before daybreak. This time we have three nights here, and it is lovely to be able to actually see what the camp looks like.


The camp consists of 20 tents set on wooden platforms, linked by gravel paths, staggered for privacy and most (ours at least) overlooking the lake of the same name.




There is also a large dining tent with a bar, restaurant and a wonderful terrace with sweeping views.











This 'room' even brings glamping to a new dimension.



Outside the main tent, but still protected from the bugs by mosquito netting, is a cool terrace with comfy chairs and a great view. The perfect place for a sundowner.




The room itself features a huge four poster bed, bedside tables, a chest of drawers, two spacious luggage racks and a writing desk with chair.


There is a telephone, torch, whistle to attract attention in case of emergency, 24 hour electricity, plug sockets for charging phones and a very handy water dispenser for cold drinking water as well as hot water for making tea and coffee.


And the bathroom... what can I say? Twin vanity basins, a free-standing bath, bathrobe and hair drier, a wardrobe (with safety deposit box inside), and separate toilet and shower rooms.



The highlight is having a shower in the outside cubicle – nothing can beat a hot shower in cool rain under a starry sky!


David is most disappointed with his shower and complains that I have used up all the cold water: by the time he goes in (or rather out), it has stopped raining.


We have to call an askari (Maasai warrior) to come and collect us from our tent when we go to the restaurant. Dinner is a quiet affair, the only other guests are a German group of four, and the food consists of a 'buffet' brought to our table. As is usual on safari, we don't linger after dinner, and return to our tent around 21:00. The askari chooses his weapon ( simple spear) and escorts us safely to our room.


And so ends another amazing day on safari with Calabash Adventures.


Posted by Grete Howard 16:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged lake africa tanzania luxury giraffe ngorongoro hyena glamping impala safai ndutu calabash calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area _masek lake_masek_tented_camp askari Comments (2)

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