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Itatiaia - the higher elevation

A different side to the park


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

Today we are heading further up into the mountains, to the highest point in the park. But first, we have to go down to the park entrance and exit the park, and drive back along the main São Paolo to Rio highway again.

Our first stop is by an abandoned building next to a stream, which is known for its kingfishers. We do see the kingfisher, but he is too quick for the camera. Other birds inhabit the area too, so it is not a wasted stop.

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Toco Toucan

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Green Barred Woodpecker

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Greater Kiskadee

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Planalto Hermit

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Masked Water Tyrant

The road soon starts climbing into the hills, with some stunning views!

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Before we get as far as the park gates, we take a small detour to Snipe Valley and a road that is little more than a farm track in places. It yields some great bird sightings, though.

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Campo Flicker

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Burrowing Owl

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The sky in the distance looks stormy, I hope we don't get rain

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White Barred Piculet

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Curl Crested Jay

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Streamer Tailed Tyrant

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Chalk Browed Mocking Bird

Itatiaia National Park
Once inside the park, the road deteriorates immediately!

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We make many stops to check the trees and bushes for any bird activity.

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Cliff Flycatcher

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Shear Tailed Grey Tyrant

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Buff Breasted Tanager

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Variable Antshrike

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Green Barred Woodpecker

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Buff Throated Warbling Finch

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Suruca Trogon

Picnic
The lodge prepared us a picnic lunch today, and what a picnic it is! There is a whole box of enough food to feel a small army, with sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and drinks.

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We stop at a small grassy pull-in area, where the views of the top of the mountains peeking above the clouds are stupendous. We really are above the clouds here!

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The clouds are fast-moving and seem to bubble up from below the horizon, constantly shifting, constantly creating new abstract shapes.

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I am spellbound by this spectacle!

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We reach the highest point at 2,450 metres above sea level. This, I believe, is the highest motorable road in Brazil, and by comparison, it is a mere 19 metres lower than the highest mountain in Norway.

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Last night Ricardo suggested we wear all the clothes we have, as it gets very cold at the top here, so I put on leggings under my jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt under my long-sleeved shirt, followed by a fleece and a windproof jacket. I am roasting, and have been taking off layer after layer. It has not dropped below 15 °C at any point today!

The road is no better up here: it is merely a series of potholes joined by some rocks and a bit of compacted sand and slabs of concrete.

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At the top, there is a plateau surrounded by jagged outcrops. This is a popular area for hiking, and we see several groups of school kids around.

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Why, oh why, do people insist on standing in front of any beauty spot for their ******* selfie, ruining the view for all other photographers? Grrrrrr

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Rarely has there been a more appropriately named car!

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Diademed Tanager

We start our descent and make our way back to the lodge in time to shower, change and use the wifi in the restaurant before dinner. We enjoy a bottle of wine with the meal, and once back in the room, we remove the blankets from the third bed and pile them on top of the two other blankets already on our bed, to stave off the overnight cold temperatures.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 19:49 Archived in Brazil Tagged mountains views clouds highway brazil lunch brasil picnic national_park toucan jay cold south_america winding_road tanager woodpecker flycatcher view_point finch hummingbird selfie above_the_clouds itatiaia undiscovered_destinations picnic_lunch kiskadee flicker tyrant haermit high_altitude piculet stormy_skies wol mockingbird warbling_finch antshrike duster Comments (0)

Itatiaia - birding around the lodge

Such colourful birds!


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

I did not have a good sleep last night, the bed is hard and much more narrow than we are used to. So far all the hotels have had king or even super-king sized beds, this is just a standard double. I could not find a position that was comfortable, and I had some pretty awful dreams. One good thing, though, is it was actually quite cool in the night. We are right up in the hills here, so the average daytime temperature is very comfortable, an absolute delight after the Amazon heat!

We meet Ricardo for some early morning birding by the swimming pool, which is one level up from the restaurant and has good views over the surrounding trees and bushes where the birds congregate at first light.

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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White Eyed Parakeets

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Saffron Finch

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Piazuru Pigeons

Maroon Bellied Parakeets
I watch the parakeets as they flit from tree to tree, grabbing a bite to eat on the way.

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I love the human-like way they hold their food - I have never seen that before

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Rufous Collared Sparrow

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Dusky Legged Guan

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Rufous Bellied Thrush

We break briefly for breakfast, before continuing to look for birds. Ricardo is passionate about what he does, and it rubs off on me.

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Brown Capuchin monkeys on the balcony while we are having breakfast

Mr & Mrs Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

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Male

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Female

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Saffron Finch

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Female Blue Dacnis

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Male Blue Dacnis

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Plain Parakeet

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Golden Chevroned Tanager

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Green Headed Tanager

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Black Googled Tanager

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Golden Winged Cacique

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Brazilian Ruby

We drive down to an abandoned hotel, which is obviously one of “the” places to go bird watching, as we see three other birding groups here. Most people trek into the forest, whereas we just stay in and around the car park as my knee is not up to any serious walking, and see absolutely nothing.

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When we get back to the lodge, Ricardo dismantles part of the hummingbird feeder, wipes the flower with antiseptic gel, dips it in sugar water, and suggests I hold it in my mouth.

It doesn't take long before the first visitor arrives. Wow! It is totally mind-blowing to feel her little wings on my chin.

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Red Rumped Cacique

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Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Brazilian Tanager

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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Olive Green Tanager

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Saffron Finch

Lunch
As usual, the lunch consists of a buffet. We are joined by Ricardo, who asks for a link to my website. He spends some time looking through my wildlife photos on there and exclaims: “You're good!”, “You're one of the best I've ever seen!” I float on a little cloud for the rest of the day after that compliment!

After lunch, I go back to the hummingbird feeders and try and get some better pictures.

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Brazilian Ruby

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Planalto Hermit

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Brazilian Ruby

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Some interesting effects using a flash with a slow shutter speed

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Violet Capped Woodnymph

David gets fed up and goes back to the room to chill on the balcony, while I continue taking photos of the birds around the feeders.

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Female Black Goggled Tanager

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Saffron Finch

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Screaming Cowbird

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Double Collared Seedeater

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Not only do they feed the birds, but the squirrels are well looked after too

After a while, I go to join David and spot a few birds from our own balcony as well.

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Scaled Woodcreeper

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Magpie Tanager

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Saffron Toucanet

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White Spotted Woodpecker

David takes the chilling to the extreme!


Great use of an upcycled pandemic mask!

I decide to go to bed for a siesta instead, as I am feeling quite cold.

As we did yesterday, we go up to the restaurant before dinner to use the internet. The same group of American birders are there again tonight, with the guide going through, bird by bird, what they saw today. The same woman is making inane comments and correcting the guide's English, to the point he snaps at her: “You do realise English is my second language don't you”, and with a groan adds: “it's only the second day, this is going to be a very long week!” I feel his pain.

Back in the room, we grab the spare blanket for the bed, as we both felt cold last night.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife monkey pigeons guide hammock brazil lunch forest balcony birding brasil toucan website squirrel sparrow tanager woodpecker blanket guan hermit capuchin americans siesta finch adventure_travel hummingbirds pandemic bird_watching snoring knee ruby itatiaia undiscovered_destinations thrush snooze face_mask parakeets wild_birds painful_knee tyrant cacique euphonia dacnis bad_knee knee_pain hummingbird_feeder woodnymph cowbird woodcreeper toucanet eye_mask feeling_cold Comments (0)

Cuiabá - São Paulo - Itatiaia

Up into the hills


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

We have our earliest start yet this morning, with the alarm on for 04:30. After a room picnic of some snacks we bought on the way here yesterday, we are picked up at 05:40 for the transfer to Cuiabá Airport.

When we arrive, we ask the first worker we see inside the door – who turns out to be someone who works for a company that shrink-wraps cases – about special assistance. After previous experiences of very few people speaking English in the airports here in Brazil, David shows him a piece of paper with “I need a wheelchair for my wife” written in Portuguese (courtesy of Google Translate). Expecting him to point us in the right direction, I am very surprised when he jumps into action, runs to the other side of the building to collect a wheelchair, and commandeers a fellow worker to push me to the check-in desk. Such amazing service, but to be honest, everywhere we have been, the service has been exemplary on this trip.

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Waiting in the Special Assistance area to be collected for the flight.

The flight is just over two hours, which goes quickly by the time they have served a drink and some little snacks. Before we land in São Paulo, I am asked if I can walk down stairs (as there is no tunnel up to the plane here), and despite confirming that I am perfectly capable of managing stairs, a porter arrives in the provisions lift, to the door on the opposite side of the plane to the usual exit and takes us down to the ground in the industrial lift that doubles as a disabled carriage and food delivery port. Cool!

The luggage is there by the time we arrive at the carousel, and Ricardo, our new driver-guide, is just outside. He speaks excellent English, is very knowledgable, and we hit it off straight away.

For the first couple of hours, we travel along the most important road in Brazil: the connection between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It is a smooth, fast road, the best we've seen in Brazil so far.

Lunch
We stop at a service station along the road, where we have to enter through a turnstile and collect a token in the process. We can order anything we like in the food court, and it is charged against this token. At the end of the meal, we then pay for everything at the tills on the way out. An interesting concept, but it seems to work.

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We order a burger each, while Ricardo chooses from the buffet, where everything is charged by weight.

Itatiaia National Park
The smooth road ends at the entrance to the park. Our luck is in, the park is free to anyone over 60. The girl at the ticket office doesn't believe us, however, so we have to show our passports. I guess that is a compliment.

Welcoming Committee
The first thing we see when we enter the park is a couple of Brown Capuchin monkeys.

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Viewpoint
Ricardo claims that the top of the viewing area is a great place for observing different birds, so I struggle up the uneven stony steps. At least there is a handrail on one side to help me.

The view from the top is great, but the birds are hiding from us.

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Going down the steps is much worse than going up, and by the time I get to the bottom, my knee is very sore.

The rough track – way worse than the Transpantaneira – climbs ever upwards through the forest, until we reach the hotel.

Hotel do Ypé
Built on the side of a hill, the hotel has a very steep and winding incline to reach the parking area and reception.

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We asked Undiscovered Destinations to request a room on the level, and the message certainly got through, as we are staying in what is the closest room to the restaurant and reception.

The rooms are wooden swiss-chalet style, reminiscent of a European ski resort, and feature an open fire rather than AC.

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Our room with the main building behind

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Reception and the shady patio

Once we have checked in and taken the luggage to the room, Ricardo shows us the most important part of the hotel: the bird-watching balcony.

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I settle down with my camera for the rest of the afternoon.

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Female Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Red Rumped Cacique

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Violet Capped Woodnymph

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Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

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Short Crested Flycatcher

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Mr & Mrs Blue Dacnis

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The male is bright blue

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While the female is green

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Golden Chevroned Tanager

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Golden Winged Cacique

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Brazilian Tanager

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Magpie Tanager

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Green Headed Tanager

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Juvenile Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Black Goggled Tanager

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Dusky Legged Guan

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White Throated Hummingbird

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Planalto Hermit

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Brazilian Ruby

I reluctantly tear myself away when the light gets too low to take photos.

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David wanders around the grounds and photographs me from the upper level

Dinner
We go up to the dining room early in order to use the internet (there is no wifi in the room) so that David can check out all his birthday messages.

This hotel is mostly used by large birding groups, and there is a table for twelve Americans next to ours. Their guide is going through what they have seen today, and there is a very loud and irritating woman who asks questions and makes inane comments on everything the guide says.

We are rather surprised to find one of their party sitting at our table (each table has the room number or name of the group on it. We have a table for four as Ricardo was hoping to join us). It later transpires that she has tested positive for Covid and has been banished from their table. She does eventually move on to the far end of their table, but I have no idea why anyone thought it was acceptable for her to sit with us!

Dinner is yet again buffet style, with very similar dishes to what we have been served previously. We eat and then retire to our room.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged monkey brazil lunch birding brasil national_park south_america buffet sao_paulo tanager flycatcher wheelchair guan hermit capuchin cuiabá ski_resort bird_watching hummingbird viewpoint itatiaia undiscovered_destinations coronavirus covid covid_19 special_assistance tyrant cacique service_station dirt_track hotel_do_ype steep_hill swiss_chalet euphonia dacnis Comments (0)

Cristalino - birds and butterflies

Our last full day in the Amazon


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

Another early start today, up at 05:00, breakfast at 06:00, and leave at 06:30.

There is a mist hanging over the river this morning, creating an ethereal scene.

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Black Fronted Nunbird

Long Nosed Bats
They are so incredibly well camouflaged, as they try their best to hide from the Bat Falcon.

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Sunbittern

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Striated Heron

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Greater Ani

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White Tipped Dove

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Saffron Playboy Butterfly

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

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Capped Heron

Centipede
I love the way the pattern creates a false set of eyes on his rear end, and that he looks like a series of glass beads joined together.

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White Throated Toucan

Rapids
We return to the same area we visited yesterday, as the moving water often attracts birds.

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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White Banded Swallows

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Bearded Turtle

We are not the only ones from the lodge out and about on the water today.

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Bird Watchers

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A boat waiting for the trekkers to return

White Winged Swallow
I am still chasing these little birds around trying to catch one flying – I have some success, but still not completely happy.

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Scarlet Macaws

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Ruddy Ground Dove

Reflections
From the rapids we enter an area where the water is completely still, creating perfect reflections.

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Snowy Egret

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Olive Oropendula

Cristalino Lodge
The usual taxi (luggage truck) is waiting for me at the top of the steps to take me to the room when we get back from our morning's boat safari.

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Butterflies
On our way to the lodge when we arrived on the very first day, I saw a number of butterflies on a rock near the lodge, and I asked Gui if we could go back and take a closer look. They are more active in the middle of the day, so we go out at 11:45 to see if they are there.

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There are literally thousands of them, and they rarely stay still for more than a second, flittering about left to right, right to left.

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It is like being in the middle of a living, breathing, confetti shower.

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I spend over an hour photographing these mesmerising butterflies, with lots of exclamations of “wow” and “isn't this amazing”. The experience is like nothing we have ever known before.

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We have a photobomber

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Not one, not two, but three photobombers

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My taxi takes me directly to the restaurant this lunchtime, via the staff quarters (the truck can't drive the pedestrian path as there are too many tree roots along the way).

Lunch
I try and remember what I ordered last night (you pre-order the food for the next meal at the previous one). I photographed the items on the menu, but the starter bears little resemblance to what I receive. Whatever it is, it is very enjoyable.

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The main course is a Micaela-style tenderloin stew with parsnip chips and country-style corn meal.

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Dessert is something called Cupuaçu, a traditional dish of fruit pudding with crunchy Brazil nuts

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I spend some time trying some gentle exercises for my knee, as it is feeling very much better today. The rest of the afternoon is spent chilling in the room with the fan on before confidently walking the ¼ mile path through the jungle to reach the restaurant for dinner, without the use of my knee braces.

Dinner
Everything seems a bit of a shambles this evening, and while the service is friendly and helpful, it is a little hit and miss and at times rather slow.

After sitting down at our usual table, we ask the waitress for a jug of water. When after a while it has not arrived, we ask another of the waiting staff. Some time later, the maître d' comes over and asks if everything is OK. We mention the missing water, and he goes off to chase it. Soon after someone arrives with two jugs, immediately followed by two other people carrying three jugs between them. We now have five jugs of water, although they do take four of them away, thankfully, otherwise, I'd be up every half an hour throughout the night.

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Courgette hash with poached egg

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Cristalino steak - so tender and tasty

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Coconut pudding - delicious!

So much for the confidence earlier – walking back to the room, my knee is suffering big time. Full of disappointment and frustration, I take some painkillers before bed.

Goodnight from the Amazon, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:43 Archived in Brazil Tagged reflections wildlife river bird safari brazil lunch mist birding brasil amazon toucan south_america bats butterflies heron egret dove rapids guan ani boat_trip centipede boat_safari undiscovered_destinations swallow early_morning_mist wildlife_photography river_safari painful_knee cristalino sunbittern nunbird cristalino_lodge bird-watching centiped oropendula painkillers Comments (0)

Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege


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

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

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

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

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Amazon Kingfisher

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

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Green Kingfisher

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Great Black Hawk

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

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

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

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Sunbittern

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

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I follow him to his next perch.

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

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

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Green Ibis

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White Banded Swallow

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Swallow Winged Puffbird

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

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These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.

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

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Spectacled Caiman

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Anhinga

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Scarlet Macaws

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Capped Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

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

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle

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Green Ibis

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

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Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.

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

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

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Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

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


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Capped Heron

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

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

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

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An unusual rocking chair


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

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

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Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

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

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Very nice

Banana Crumble
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Yum! Must try this at home!

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

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

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Passion Fruit Caipirinha

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David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

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Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

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

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Savoury Granola

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

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

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

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

Araras Day One - walking tour and Jeep safari

A bird-watcher's paradise


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

Another slightly later start this morning: up at 05:30, breakfast at 06:30, leave at 07:00 for a wee walk around the hotel grounds to check out what's about.

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Red Breasted Cardinal

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Little Woodpecker, hiding

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Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

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One in, one out!

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Wattled Jacana

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We see Mr & Mrs Hornero, and this is their somewhat unusual nest.

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Greater Kiskadee

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Chopi Blackbirds

The grounds are surrounded by ponds covered in vegetation, amongst which caimans hide, waiting for an unsuspecting breakfast.

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We hear several loud grunts and look around expecting to see wild boar or something similar. “It's the mating call of the caiman” explains Roberto.

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Monk Parakeets

Black Collared Hawk
The hawk has caught something, although at first, I cannot make out what it is.

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On closer inspection, I can see it's a fish, and he is having quite the feast!

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Cattle Tyrant - it is the first time we have seen that red crest on the top of its head

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Yellow Rumped Cacique

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Rufous Bellied Thrush

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Rufous Cachalote. That is one very ambitious nest builder!

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Boat Billed Heron

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She is feeding her young

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Black Vulture

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Thrush Like Wren

The property owns a lot of land surrounding the lodge, and several boardwalks lead out across the marshland into the jungle beyond. There is also an observation tower, but neither of us feels up to climbing it.

On one of the boardwalks, we see a couple of spoonbills. I suggest Roberto walks onto the bridge so that I can catch the moment they fly away.

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Unfortunately, they both fly in the opposite direction from what I wanted them to do.

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A caiman looks as if he is heading to the swimming pool.

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Another is making a beeline for David.

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This one makes me laugh - I don't think the camouflage is working!

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They are awfully close to the hotel in my opinion.

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Roberto assures me that no attacks on guests have been recorded. “They are more afraid of you than you are of them”

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Savanna Hawk

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Purple Gallinule, hiding

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Black Capped Donacobius

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Plumbeous Ibis

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South American Ground Lizard

This place really is a birdwatcher's paradise. On a three-hour walk, during which we strayed no more than a few hundred metres from the lodgings, we have seen 34 different bird species, 22 of which are new to us on this trip.

Very satisfied, we return to the room for a few hours in the air conditioning before lunch. David is feeling only slightly better from his throat infection, and I still have the runs, so it is nice to chill for a bit.

Lunch
We make sure we go down to the restaurant as soon as the food is ready when they ring the bell at 11:30. I dislike buffets, and I dislike buffets that have been left out for an hour or two even more.

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Chicken stew, rice, and beans

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Caramelised payaya - very nice!

We have it on good authority that the large tree in the courtyard of the lodge attracts macaws most afternoons, so after a post-lunch siesta, I wander out there to see if I can spot any.

Hyacinth Macaw

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This is the largest parrot in the world, and I hear them before I see them. They are loud, very active, and quite humorous to watch.

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They are not so easy to photograph, however, and for the best part of an hour, they play hide and seek with me.

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I swear they are laughing at me.

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Mind you, chasing them around the tree with a walking stick in one hand and a chair in the other must have looked quite amusing. My balance is pretty awful (David would say I am 'unstable'), hence the chair for when I want to look straight upwards holding a long lens up to my face.

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Jeep Safari
Here at Araras, a number of activities are included in the package, such as trekking, climbing the observation tower, horseriding and canoeing. Obviously, I am unable to partake in any of those, so Roberto is taking us out on a Jeep Safari this afternoon.

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The safari vehicles are converted pick-ups, where the tiered seating on the back can be removed if the Jeep is needed for something else, like transporting luggage.

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David sits on the back, while I sit inside the back seat – I choose the back rather than the front, as I then have unobstructed views out both sides.

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Whistling Heron

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Thrush-Like Wren

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Purpleish Jay

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Black Collared Hawk

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Southern Lapwing

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Orange Backed Troupial

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Great Black Hawk

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Green Ibis Eating a Frog

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Grey Necked Wood-Rail

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Marsh Deer

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Before dinner, a group of guests have gathered around the camp fire, singing songs and playing the guitar.

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After the meal, David and I wander down to the boardwalk for some light painting.

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I also try my hand at some more astrophotography. I do think that I need heaps more practice!

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife safari hawk brazil lunch lizard birding brasil deer jay caiman woodpecker heron stork vulture ibis cardinal spoonbill blackbird kingfisher macaw pantanal astro bird_watching eco_lodge camp_fire milky_way jacana undiscovered_destinations lapwing astro_photography light_painting thrush after_dark wildlife_photography parakeets kiskadee araras jeep_safari hornero pousada_araras_eco_lodge tyrant cacique chachalote troupial wood_rail marsh_deer wild-birds wren galinule caramelised_papaya rice_and_beans Comments (2)

Porto Jofre - Araras

An exciting transfer


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

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

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

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

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Jabiru

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Buff Necked Ibis

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

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

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Belinha checks out David's new shows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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The lodge we just left

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

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

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You can see why they call it a wetland.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The pharmacy

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David's poorly eye - not a pretty sight!

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

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

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

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Ambulance

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There is no shame in admitting defeat

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

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More bikers abandon the ride

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

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

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Little Blue Heron

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Black Necked Stilt

Pousada Araras Eco Lodge

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

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

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

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Flower decoration on our bed

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

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

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

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

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It still tastes just as good as I remember.

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

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

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

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Rufous Hornero

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Campo Flicker

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Striated Heron

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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Greater Kiskadee

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Green Ibis

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Purpleish Jay

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Bare Faced Curassow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iguaçu - helicopter, glass lift and boat trip

Another busy day


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

We are joined by the usual crew this morning at breakfast.

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David and his favourite member of staff: Melissa

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Plush Crested Jay

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Toco Toucan

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Planalto Hermit

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Saffron Finch

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A hungry Coati

Helicopter Flight
As soon as we meet up with our guide Carini, we head straight to the heliport, just outside the park gates.

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We have booked a private sightseeing flight over the falls, which means that there is only us and the pilot on board, and I can move around much more freely in the back seat.

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We can see the mist rising from the falls long before we see the falls themselves.

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Here you can clearly see the amazing position of our hotel

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Devil's Throat

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In the pictures below, you can see just how near we were to the edge of the falls yesterday!

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The pilot takes a couple of loops around the falls to give us both some great views, but the ten minutes is soon up and we are back at base again.

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I have hardly had time to breathe on the flight, I have been so busy taking photos, with two cameras, out of the windows on both sides. I would love to go around again without the cameras and just enjoy the scenery. I get out of the helicopter absolutely buzzing with the excitement and adrenalin of it all. Wow! What an experience that was!

Itaipu
Carini suggests we go on an optional excursion this morning, to see something different while we are here: Itaipu Dam. I remember it being pointed out to us when we were here last in 1990, but these days they offer guided tours of the hydroelectric plant, something David thought might be interesting.

We drive through the town of Iguaçu, very much a tourist place, with lots of hotels of every size and budget, and many restaurants. It looks like a laid-back and interesting place, but I would still rather stay inside the national park in the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

We get to the power station, where we find the gates locked shut. A security guard explains that they have recently started closing it to tourists on a Tuesday, something Carini was not aware of. Oh well.

Lunch
Instead, we head for a large tourist restaurant at the head of the falls, driving past our hotel to the end of the road. This was definitely not here when we last visited!

In addition to the restaurant, there is a visitors centre and a large souvenir store, where David finds a pair of nice thin trousers, ideal for the jungle.

The restaurant is huge, with seating inside and out. We pay a fixed price on entry and find ourselves a table outside overlooking the river with the top of the falls in the distance.

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The food is an all-you-can-eat buffet and is quite pleasant, nothing more, nothing less.

Glass Lift
I remember walking down to this from the hotel when we last came and being amazed by the proximity to the falls and the little swallows nesting behind the falls, flying in and out of the spray.

From the road, there are stairs and a ramp leading down to the upper platform, from which you take a glass lift down to the lower viewing area. We walk straight into the lift, with no queue.

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There are further walkways to take, in order to get nearer the falls. Both David and I decline the offer.

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Selfies
Selfies are the bane of a photographer's life! While having the odd picture of myself or me and David while we travel is nice, I cannot see the desire to be in every single photo I take! It just seems so narcissistic to me. “Look at me! Look at me!” Can people no longer just purely enjoy the surroundings, or it is just for likes on Instagram?

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Mind you, it is infinitely better than before the selfie invention, when one person would stand near the edge and their companion on the other side of the path to take their photo so that no one could get past.

And here is our selfie!

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There is a long line of people waiting for the lift to go back up again, but Carini has a word with the operator, and not only do we jump the queue, we actually get a private lift to ourselves (the service lift).

Macuco Boat Trip
I am constantly impressed with the way Brazilians accommodate less able people. The transfer truck that takes us from the entrance to the funicular, is easily adapted to take a girl in a wheelchair and me on a ramp, while still being able to seat a number of able-bodied passengers. I have never felt that I am a nuisance, every single adaptation and modification has been carried out without hesitation and with a smile.

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The truck takes us to the top of a funicular, where there are lockers and changing rooms. There is a choice of “wet” or “dry” boats, and we decide to go for the dry boat so that I can take photos. At the last minute, however, we change our minds, leave everything except the waterproof cameras in the lockers, and go to get wet!

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Getting into the boat is down some very steep steps, from where you step across into the boat. I manage with a bit of help, and the staff effortlessly carry the paralysed girl and place her in a seat. There is no turning back now!

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The boat is extremely powerful and weaves from side to side, leaning right over to add to the adventure, negotiating the rapids with ease. It reminds me very much of the jetboat on the Shotover River in New Zealand.

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We stop to view the falls from a distance, and this is the point at which the “dry” boat would turn around. As a result of all the mist, the view is not great, so I am glad I didn't risk my cameras, as even the “dry” boat would have got us wet from the spray.

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From here it is full steam straight into the falls!


How can I describe it? It starts off as a gentle shower and you brace yourself for the downpour. It doesn't come. Just as you think that “this is actually quite bland, it hits you. Quite literally! Imagine a huge barrel full of icy-cold water dumped over your head without warning... that is what it feels like. To say it's a shock is an understatement!

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David looks shell-shocked!

Then they do it again. And a third time. By this time we are both shivering, and the wind as we speed back to the jetty does not help.

For sure it was an adventure, and I am glad I did it – would I do it again? Not on your Nelly!

At the jetty, I struggle to get out of the boat, as I haven't got the strength in my knees to step up onto the seat. It hurts like hell when I try. Panic and distress set in. Eventually, I manage to manoeuvre myself so that my bum is leaning on the back of the seat, and with David's help manage to lift one leg up, and then the other. By the time I have climbed the steep steps back up to the platform, my legs are shaking, and I haven't even got the strength in my knees to walk. I drag my feet on the floor, shuffling along like a zombie.

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Carini is worried about me, and as soon as we get back to the hotel, she asks for a wheelchair for me, as well as some ice to be delivered to the room. As he is pushing me up the incline in the hotel corridor, the porter comments “leg day yesterday, arm day today, no need for gym”.

Dinner
On Carini's suggestion, we order room service for our dinner this evening. This hotel can manage to make a salad and sandwich look like a five-star meal!

The waiter arrives with a large tray complete with condiments as well as a small bunch of flowers.

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My chicken Caesar salad

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David's tuna sandwiches

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Some fresh fruit to share for dessert

I see housekeeping has been having fun with my glasses again while we have been out, creating a little pouch for them from a face cloth. How sweet.

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Tonight we need to pack, as we are moving on to pastures new tomorrow. Why is there so much less room in my bag now than there was when I left home, even though I haven't bought anything?

Goodnight from Iguaçu for the last time. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls breakfast brazil lunch mist brasil jay jetty jetboat shock pain coati iguacu devils_throat pilot wheelchair iguassu hermit finch boat_trip hummingbird selfies itaipu hydroelectric helcipter helicopter_flight heliport glass_lift macuco macuco_boat_safari painful_knee room_service Comments (2)

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

A taste of things to come


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Headed Tanager

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Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

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Greater Kiskadee

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

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

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

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

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Scarlet Ibis

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King Vulture

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Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

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Black Fronted Piping Guan

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Buff Necked Ibis

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

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

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Black Bellied Sliders

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Broad Snouted Caiman

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

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

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Red and Green Macaw

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Chestnut Fronted Macaw

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Jandaya Parakeet

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Blue and Yellow Macaw

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Blue Winged Macaw

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An unidentified bird in the park

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

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

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New shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Queueing up for selfies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

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

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

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

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

Still no 'Maternity Ward'


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Shouldered Kite

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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White Browed Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

The Great Migration

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

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

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

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Cattle Egrets

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

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Helping fellow game watchers

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

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

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Here they go!

Cheetah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildebeest

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

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We see plenty of Cattle Egrets, however.

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Hyena

Thomson's Gazelle

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Cape Hare

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

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

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

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

Lake Natron - Mto Wa Mbu walking Tour - Kilimamoja

Something a little different today


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

Lake Natron Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giraffe

Our path is blocked by a giraffe again today.

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Strange earth mounds appear on the side of the road.

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Crowned Lapwing

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

Kori Bustard

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

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

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Capped Wheatear

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

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Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse - today's first lifer

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk, lifting one leg for thermoregulation.

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

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White Throated Bee Eaters

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

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

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The hillside is ablaze with colour

Zebra

We spook a zebra mummy and her young foal.

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

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

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

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

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

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The local bus service

It looks like we have another river to get across.

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Breasted Bee Eater

Ngaruka

We pass through the small town of Ngaruka again.

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The roads are still pretty awful

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Donkey Cart, AKA Maasai Landrover

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

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Where did the road go?

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Here it is. Or rather, was.

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This looks like fun


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Road Re-Construction

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

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We stop and give them some bottles of water.

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

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Cactus

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

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Mto Wa Mbu

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

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

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

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

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It's a muddy job!

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

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

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

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Dried out corn husks will be used as animal fodder.

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Taking it home for the cattle

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Okra or Lady Fingers

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Cassawa Plants

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

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Banana Plantations

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

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Lunch

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

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It's good to be out of the fierce sun

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

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

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

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Lake Manyara

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

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Kilimamoja Lodge

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

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

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

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

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Towel art on the bed


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We have an unobscured view of the valley below

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

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Always prepared for a great photo opportunity

Dinner

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

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

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

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

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Cappuccino Art

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

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

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

Ashgabat - Bugdayly - Kipchak - Geok Tepe - Nohur - Serdar

Horses, mosques, and goat horn graves

33 °C
View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today we are leaving the city behind and travelling west, and we soon find the green parks of the capital replaced by dry, sandy conditions, which is not surprising as 80% of the country is covered with desert.

Bugdayly Ahal Teke Horse Stables

Our first stop today is a stable housing the famed Ahal Teke horses. Known as 'the gift from the desert,' this breed was developed for endurance and agility. Considered the art piece of the horse world - elegant and graceful in appearance and stride – Ahal Teke horses are among the rarest, most exotic full-sized breeds in the world, with only around 6,600 animals, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia.

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We are treated to a fine display at the stables, with several specimens being brought out and paraded around for us. Most of these horses are bred for display and competition purposes, with each animal worth from US$10,000 upwards. The stable never purchases new horses, they breed from existing stock, and when they sell, they make sure that the stallions are unable to sire further offspring.

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The Ahal Teke horses have a reputation for speed and stamina, intelligence, and a distinctive metallic sheen. The shiny coat of palominos and buckskins led to their nickname 'Golden Horses'.

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Named after an oases in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan (Akhal) and the tribe (Tekke) that lived there, these horses are adapted to severe climatic conditions, having to tolerate sparse water and food supplies as well as extremes of heat and cold; and are thought to be one of the oldest existing horse breeds.

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The Akhal-Teke is distinctively fine-boned and flat-muscled. Its body—with its thin barrel and deep chest—is often compared to that of a greyhound or cheetah.

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This white horse is 30 years old – allegedly the oldest ahel teke horse in the country – but she still seems to be fit and frisky.

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After the display, we are taken to see the paddocks and stables, where we swoon over a young foal only born yesterday. The stables themselves, however, are surprisingly small, basic and somewhat dingy.

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David the horse whisperer.

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Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Our next stop is the village of Kipchak, and the huge, modern Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque.

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Built by Saparmurat Niyazov, the first president of Turkmenistan, the mosque courted controversy as a result of the president insisting that the walls be inscribed with scriptures from not only the Quran but also the Ruhnama , the spiritual guide to life written by Niyazov himself. He apparently hit back at his critics by explaining how he had talked to God and could confirm that anyone who read the Ruhnama (the Book of the Soul) three times would be guaranteed a place in heaven.

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The dimensions of the 40 metre high dome and 63 metre tall minarets are significant – Mohammed was 40 years old when he became the prophet and aged 63 when he died.

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The colossal gilded door leading in to the prayer hall weighs half a ton, but can still be opened reasonably easily, especially by a fit young man such as our guide Meylis.

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Look at those enormous knockers

The mosque is reputed to be the largest in Central Asia, holding a total of 10,000 worshippers – 7,000 men on the ground level and 3,000 women on the first floor gallery.

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Running in a circular fashion underneath the mosque is an entire 'ablution city', complete with marble, gold and chandeliers.

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There is also apparently an underground parking area with a capacity for 400 cars.

Niyazov's family Mausoleum

Next door to the mosque is the final resting place of Saparmurat Nyazov, (also known as Turkmenbashy the Great), who passed away suddenly in 2006.

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The entrance to the mausoleum is flanked by two guards in sentry boxes.

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We enter the mausoleum on the first floor and look down on the sarcophagi of Niyazov, his two brothers, his mother and his father (his dad died during WWII).

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The mausoleum, a miniature version of the mosque, was finished a couple of years prior to Niyazov's death. His mother and two brothers died in the massive 1948 earthquake that killed nearly 90% of the population of Ashgabat. The only reason Niyazov himself survived, was because he happened to be in the wooden outhouse at the time. The earthquake happened at 01:12, and the other members of his family were asleep in the brick-built house, which was razed to the ground in 15 seconds. The small wooden latrine was all that remained of his family home. This earthquake, measuring 10 on the Richter scale, was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters of the 20th century and destroyed nearly all brick buildings in the capital city and surrounding villages.

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The mosque and mausoleum were built in Kipchak, the home village of Niyazov and his family as well as the site being very close to the epicentre of the earthquake. Niyazov's plan for the mausoleum was for it to become a pilgrimage site, although today we only see one other tourist with accompanying guide and a worshipper in the mosque.

We continue our journey west to the site where the historical battle between the forces of the Russian Tsar and Turkmens of the Teke tribe took place in 1881.

Saparmurat Hajji Mosque

Built on the site of the former Geok Depe Fortress, the mosque commemorates the 15,000 or so lives lost when the Russian army launched their bloody attack, killing all the soldiers and civilians stationed here.

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The mosque also honours President Niyazov’s pilgrimage to Mecca (hence the name of the president and the word 'Hajji' in the title)

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Constructed in 1995, Saparmurat Hajji Mosque was the first mosque to be built in the country following independence after the dissolutionof the USSR in 1991.

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As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, carpets are of great importance to the Turkmen people, and each region has its own design, the pattern associated with this area is featured here in the mosque.

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Lunch

Carrying on a little further, we stop at a somewhat nondescript roadside café for lunch. Meylis pops in to find out if they have any tables and chairs, rather than just the large bed-like frames, or carpets on the floor, as is the traditional way of dining in this part of the world.

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We are ushered into a private dining room with a full-sized snooker table as well as a huge flat screen TV showing Lara Croft and Harry Potter dubbed in Russian. It is all rather surreal, and I really regret not taking a photo of the room.

There is no menu, and after chatting with the waiter, Maylis suggests we order grilled fish as this is their speciality here. The chips, salad and spicy tomato dip arrive way before the fish. There is also a whole square tin loaf of bread on the table, cut into one-inch pillars.

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Not only do I not photograph the room, I also forget to take pictures of the food until we have almost finished.

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Unfortunately my tummy is giving me terribly trouble today, and I hardly touch the lunch, rushing to find the fairly basic local-style (hole in the ground) facilities. Oh, how I hate the 'squits on the squats'!

For the next part of the journey I mostly sleep, until we reach the spectacular Kopetdag Mountains.

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Nohur Village

Our destination here in the mountains is the isolated village of Nohur, where the inhabitants are not true Turkmen, but claim to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great. These mixed race people (Greek + Turkmen) have their own language, and according to Meylis, our guide, “live differently”. 'No' means nine and 'Hur' is princesses; as legend suggests that the tribe originates from nine princesses.

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Nohur Cemetery

The main attraction in this village is its cemetery, which is like nothing I've ever seen before (and trust me, I have visited quite a few graveyards in my time): a large number of the headstones have goat horns attached to them.

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The local inhabitants believe that goat horns fight off evil spirits and can assist the souls of the deceased during their passage to heaven. Goats have always been considered sacred in this region, revered for their strength and endurance.

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Another reason for goats being honoured here, is the legend that tells of their forefather, Alexander the Great, having horns on the side of his head. The Macedonian king was brought up with the belief that he was of divine birth, and claimed descent from the Egyptian god Amun, whose symbol was ram's horns. Archaeologists have found a large number of different types of ancients coins from around his time in 300BC depicting Alexander the Great with two horns.

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Here in Nohur (as well as many other places in Central Asia), traditional beliefs co-exists perfectly with the Islam faith.

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Driving back down through the village from the cemetery, we encounter an extremely arrogant and inconsiderate driver – despite there being a drive-way he could pull into right next to him, he refuses to budge and makes us reverse up the narrow, winding road for quite some distance.

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On reaching the main road, we joke that the traffic police are always in the wrong place, never there when you need them!

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Serdar Guest House

Having dozed off a little on the way, I wake up as we pull into the car park of the place we are staying tonight. It is described in the itinerary as a 'guest house', but it has all the facilities of a hotel, albeit a rather quirky one. We are on the ground floor right at the end of a corridor, and the carpet running along the hallways has obviously been bought by the metre from a roll; but instead of cutting it to size, they have just left the rest all rolled up against the wall at the end of the long thin corridor. The presence of a pair of slippers just inside the bedroom door indicates that we are expected to remove our shoes as we enter. It is, however, the curtains that has me perplexed when we enter; or rather the lack of. There are just nets over the windows, despite the fact that our room faces out onto the car park and road beyond; and the curtain pelmet is artistically wavy.

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After a quick shower and change, we settle in with a pre-dinner drink from our Duty Free when there is a knock on the door. Maylis has been told that the restaurant staff would like him to be there when we order dinner as they don't speak any English. Fair enough.

As we enter the restaurant, a tantalising aroma wafts from the kitchen. “I'll have whatever that smell belongs to” I say to Meylis.

But first to more important things: beer! Gotta love their weak larger here: 12%. It is very nice though and carries quite a punch as you'd expect.

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To start we have lentil soup, which is really quite peppery, rather thick and very tasty.

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After following his nose into the kitchen, Meylis comes back with the source of the mouthwatering scent from earlier: lamb with liver and kidneys. I am so eager to dig in that I forget to take a photo until it is nearly all gone (apologies for awful picture). I am happy to report that it tasted as good as it smelled.

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Returning to the room for the night, I look for an electric socket to charge my phone. Really?

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With a distinct lack of ladders to reach this one, we end up unplugging one of the bedside lamps instead. The hotel is hosting a wedding reception this evening (much to David's delight earlier, as he spent the entire dinner checking out the well-dressed and all rather attractive female guests arriving); and between the noise from the party, people coming and going, a barking dog in the car park and the pain from yet another blister on my foot (that is four blisters now, and this one covers the entire ball of my left foot. Thank goodness for Compeed!) ; I don't anticipate getting a lot of sleep tonight.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private tour for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:48 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mosque cemetery horse muslim lunch mausoleum islam saparmurat_niyazov bugdayly ahal_teke horse_stable türkmenbaşy_ruhy_mosque niyazov kipchak saparmurat_hajji_mosque geok_depe snooker_table nohur nohur_cemetery serdar Comments (9)

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