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The Empty Quarter

Rub' Al Khali


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It looks to be another nice day out there. No chance of rain.

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Today we are leaving civilisation behind and travelling out to the fabled Empty Quarter, or Rub' Al Khali, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world and one of the driest regions; virtually uninhabited, and largely unexplored. I have high expectations for today as we set off with a different guide, also called Issa, heading north.

Once we have climbed over the mountains surrounding Salalah, the road is straight and flat, with very little interest either side. This road carries on for 650kms to Nizwa, through vast expanses of nothing.

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At the edge of the desert Issa lowers the tyre pressure to cope with the soft sand. The vehicle has been specially modified with roll over bars fitted for safety. I am hoping for some exhilarating 'dune bashing' today.

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Camel Farm

Our first stop of the day is a camel farm to see the rare, and much sought-after black camels who are only found here, Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Another first for us.

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The baby is only two or three days old

The place is swarming with flies.

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Rub Al Khali

We are now entering the Empty Quarter and soon the gravel road turns to sand and we start to see some dunes.

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I am surprised at how many small shrubs grow in the sand dunes. So far it doesn't have a particularly 'empty' feel to it.

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Despite a number of strategically placed rubbish bins along the side of the track, trash gets caught on vegetation as it blows around in the wind.

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The scenery is dominated by long, linear dunes running parallel to the prevailing winds. Between these are crescent-shaped barchan dunes, and large, firm salt flats called sabkahs, which is what we are driving on.

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The dunes are getting slightly higher now as we drive deeper into the wilderness.

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Issa takes a couple of attempts to drive up a steep-sided sand dune and then swings around and follows the ridge before heading directly back down again. After a couple more swirls on the dunes, he stops the car so that we can get out and stretch our legs. Walking in the soft sand is hard going though.

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We are only just touching on the very edge of this enormous desert, the world's largest erg (sand sea) at 583,000 km². That's about the size of France. To me it is totally incomprehensible to imagine an area the size of France covered in sand.

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Just like Wahiba Sands, Rub' Al Khali is popular with young lads and families on the weekend, coming out here to have a BBQ and maybe try their hand at some serious desert driving. You can see several failed attempts at driving up this sand dune.

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As we make our way back to civilisation, I am left with a feeling of “Is that it?” The dunes are all very nice, but I don't feel any of the mystery and romance that I expected. It all feels like it is just a 'tourist day trip into the desert', which of course, is exactly what it is.

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The ever-present tyre tracks don't help, and neither do the several other tourist vehicles we meet.

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Wubar Archeaological Site

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At the edge of the desert, near Wadi Thumrait and a small settlement of the same name, is the UNESCO Heritage Site of Wubar (AKA Shisr), believed to be the remains of the Lost City of Ubar, often referred to as the Atlantis of the Desert.

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Wubar was the 'door to the desert' in the heyday of the frankincense trade, a prosperous and wealthy caravan oasis; until the desert once more swallowed it up and it remained hidden for centuries.

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A 180° Audio Vision display in the newly built visitor centre shows the fascinating and moralistic story of how man's greed once again ruined the environment by overuse of water.

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The site, however, is way older than that, and evidence found here suggests it dates back to 5000 BC.

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Thumrait Palace Restaurant

We stop for lunch near the site, and enjoy some chicken nuggets, chicken fried rice, vegetables in a sauce, bread and salad along with some delicious fresh mint juice. It makes a nice change not to have the typical Indian fare for once.

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Wadi Dokah

On the way back to Salalah, we swing by Wadi Dokah to see the frankincense plantations. This national park is a stony semi-desert valley and a perfect habitat for the 1,257 frankincense trees found here.

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Issa shows us the proper tool for shaving the tree to get the sap flowing, although we don't actually use it, of course.

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As we make our way over the Dhofar Mountains and on to Salalah, I can but notice that Issa has a most unusual driving position, with his left leg tucked under his body.

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Pool / Beach time

We dump our stuff in the room and head for the beach. As we make our way through the reception, a young man appears from one side, making a beeline for me with his arms outstretched. “Baby, hello, I love you, you are beautiful...” Reaching out towards me he gently caresses my camera. We get chatting and it turns out he is the in-house photographer and does indeed have camera-envy.

We leave the photographer behind and spend the rest of the afternoon / evening walking along the beach, around the pool and in the little café.

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The hotel has a beautiful private beach that stretches around the bay in a crescent shape, with plenty of activities laid on if you are into that sort of thing. We're not.

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At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have to admit that this five-star luxury and fabulous mini-suite is all well and good; but give me a small, rustic hotel or lodge any day. This place is much too big for my liking, there are too many people, and I hate buffets with a passion. I prefer a small privately-owned place, where maybe the owner is the chef and you eat what they have that day. Something more personal where you get to know the staff and there are just a handful of guests. I don't need luxury, I want authenticity. In a large fancy hotel like this you could be anywhere in the world.

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It is not really a complaint though, just a personal preference. I understand that there are no such hotels in this region, the middle market is sadly lacking accommodation. The rest of this trip has been fault-less, and I yet again Undiscovered Destinations have done us proud. Thank you for organising this trip (and several more in the past and in the future).

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:13 Archived in Oman Tagged desert beach hotel sunrise sand pool unesco luxury camels dunes national_park sand_dunes erg unesco_heritage_site frankincense salalah camel_farm empty_quarter rub_al_khali wadi_dawkah thumrait deser archaeological_park anicent_city wubar ubar shisr al-fanar five_star Comments (2)

Ngorongoro - Ndutu

Lake Masek Tented Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad hair day?

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Sheltering from the rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serengeti - Arusha

Goodbye 'wilderness', hello 'civilisation'.


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

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Having been awake from 03:30 this morning scratching my insect bites, it's going to be a long day.

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It is still dark when we leave the lodge at 06:00.

Brown Snake Eagle

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Spotted Hyena

A cackle of hyenas congregate on the road, and seem a lot less timid than the ones we have encountered previously, some are even bold enough to come right up to the car.

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Not my favourite animal (sorry Malisa), but I will admit that this seven-month old juvenile is almost bordering on being cute.

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Sunrise

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Topi

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Wildebeest

A confusion of wildebeest are waiting to cross the Seronera River

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Vultures

A committee of vultures are waiting in a nearby tree for the wildebeest to get eaten by crocodiles while crossing the Seronera River.

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I see no crocodiles…

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Martial Eagle

The biggest eagle in Africa, the Martial Eagle can kill a baby antelope! He will grab it, lift it up and drop it until it is dead.

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Hot Air Balloon

We are right in the flight path of the balloon as it glides across the savannah.

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Watching the balloon

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Goliath Heron

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Grey Heron

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Hippo

Usually hippos only come out at night to eat and go back to the water in the morning. During that one night, they can eat as much as 150kg of grass; followed by three days merely digesting the food: just lying around farting, burping, pooping.

”I know someone else like that” says David, just prior to being whacked around the head.

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This hippo seems a little premature: although it is still eating, the smell of ammonia is so strong it makes Lyn gag, followed by a severe coughing fit.

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White Browed Coucal

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Olive Baboons

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Lions

Close to the road, on a flat open area, we see two brothers with one female. It makes a nice change for them not to be half-hidden by the long grass.

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The female is on heat, but the male isn’t the least bit interested at this stage. Dirty girl!

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“Come and get me…”

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Tart!

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“Not this morning dear, I have a headache”

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Even threats don’t work!

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Other than to make him back off further.

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As she is obviously not going to get her wicked way with him this morning, she walks off in a huff.

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It looks like she has had her nose put out of joint at some stage, and not just figuratively speaking. I am assuming that she got her deformity from a fight rather than a birth defect.

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It seems the king has food - rather than sex - on his mind this morning.

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Normally, the male lion will not let the female anywhere near his food until he has had his fill, as we have seen on a couple of occasions on this safari. When the female is on heat, however, it’s a different story: he will allow her to eat alongside him. Typical man! The only time he treats his woman to a meal is when he thinks there is something in it for him!

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Why does this picture remind me of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the tramp cartoon?

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Meanwhile, brother Leo comes to check out what all the fuss is about.

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There’s no room for another diner, so Leo skulks off, complaining loudly.

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Then goes for a drink instead.

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Black Backed Jackal

A jackal waits nearby; ready to move in on the leftovers once the lions have had their fill. I think he'll have a long wait.

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As we seem to be running out of time, we eat our boxed breakfast ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. We have to be out of the park by a certain time – the permits are purchased in blocks of 24 hours, and they are quite strict in enforcing the fines if you overstay.

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Tawny Eagle

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Elephant

A lone elephant is walking across the savannah, presumably to catch up with the large herd we can see in the distance.

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Road Maintenance

Months of rain (we are right at the end of the rainy season now), tourist traffic, heavy trucks and the huge numbers of animals who also use the roads have taken their toll on the unsealed tracks.

By scraping off the top layer, the surface is smoothed out, getting rid of the washboard effect that is typical in this region.

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Simba Kopjes

Named after the Swahili word for ‘lion’, Simba Kopjes are the tallest kopjes (rocky outcrop) in Serengeti and as the name suggests, a good place to spot lions.

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Lions

And guess what? There is the aforementioned simba!

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And another.

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Migration

We come across a breakaway crowd who have obviously been dawdling on their journey up north.

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Look at that long line meandering in from somewhere beyond!

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Secretary Bird

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Naabi Hill

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This marks the end of our safari in Serengeti, as we have now reached the entrance / exit gate at Naabi Hill. We have a coffee while Malisa completes the formalities.

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While Chris goes off to use the facilities, I prank him by hiding his coffee, putting an empty cup in its place. With hindsight it was not a good move, as anyone who knows Chris can attest for his love of coffee. Unfortunately Lyn gets the blame as he accuses her of drinking it. Oops. Sorry Chris. Sorry Lyn.

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On a positive note: they have upgraded their toilets since our first visit in 2007 (PS these are the old ones)

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Kori Bustard

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We’ll be back!

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Just because we have left the Serengeti behind, does not mean our adventure is over. As soon as we enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Malisa drives off-road. Because he can.

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White Stork

Just like us, the White Stork is not a resident in Tanzania, he has flown in from Europe and is just here for his holidays.

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Vulture Feast

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The zebra died of natural causes, and now the vultures are having a banquet!

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I love the red-necked vultures – no, they are not a new species, that is blood from where they have stuck their heads right inside the carcass.

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It’s a chaotic and grotesque scene, yet morbidly fascinating.

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You can’t hear it too well in this short video clip because of the wind noise, but the sound is deafening: like a huge mob of bleating sheep!

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Giraffe

It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down as it makes them extremely vulnerably to predators. Here it seems every tree has one.

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Dust

As we rejoin the main ‘road’, we also meet up with traffic. And traffic means dust. Lots of it.

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Ngorongoro Highlands

The road to Arusha takes us back up into the highlands, and at this altitude David soon starts to feel the cold.

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This area is farming land, and we see many herders with their livestock and small stock along the side and even on the road.

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More Giraffes

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Malanja Depression

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Ngorongoro Crater

Not the worst view I have seen from a toilet stop.

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But David is still feeling the cold.

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Family Planning

The Maasai have an ingenious way of temporarily stopping their goats from reproducing. It is uncomplicated, cheap, safe for the animal and easily reversible – a simple flap physically stops the goats mating! I love it!

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Maasai Village Elders’ Weekly Meeting

Beats a day at the office any time.

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Picnic

We have our lunch in a picnic area within a camp ground between Ngorongoro and Arusha. We are all very sad that the safari part of our holiday is now over. Apart from maybe Malisa, as he now gets to see his family again and have a few days off.

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Makuyuni

Coming back into ‘civilisation’ again after eight days in the wilderness seems almost surreal – markets, shops, saloon cars, motorbikes, noise, traffic, and even a political rally!

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Traffic Check

We also experience the ugly side of ‘civilisation’: Malisa is pulled over for ‘speeding’. Being totally secure in the fact that he was most definitely NOT speeding, Malisa argues the case, asking them to prove where and how fast he was going. Knowing they haven’t got that sort of evidence, the police eventually back down and let him go! Cheeky! I bet they were looking for a bribe!

Arusha

Back in the big town there is a hive of activity as usual.

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Sugar Shortage

Due to some political agenda, there is a temporary shortage of sugar and we see long queues at the few stores that have any left.

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The Surprise

“Do you need anything from town?” asks Malisa, “if not, Tillya has a surprise for you”.

Avoiding the centre of Arusha, Malisa turns off the main road and weaves his way through the middle of Tenguru weekly market.

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Lake Dulutu Lodge

Surprise! Our original itinerary had us staying at Kibo Palace in the centre of Arusha, but Tillya felt that we needed to finish the trip in style; and he was worried that we might not sleep well as the area around Kibo is very noisy. The service we get from Calabash Adventures never ceases to amaze me.

And neither does Lake Dulutu Lodge. Wow!

The entrance drive is long, with vegetation either side, and the car park is empty when we arrive. Nothing particularly awesome so far.

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While the receptionist performs the registration formalities, we are invited to sit down in the lounge. This is where the wow-ness starts. The lobby is like something out of Harper’s Bazaar and I feel decidedly scruffy in my dirty safari gear.

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Our room is an individual cottage in the grounds, which look nothing much from the outside.

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Once we get through the front door, however, its opulence is evident.

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And the moment I enter the bathroom I am extremely impressed: despite having been lucky enough to stay in some pretty luxurious properties over the years, I have never seen a bathroom like this before.

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Only two other tables in the restaurant are taken, so I guess the hotel is pretty quiet at this time of year. The service, food and wine are all excellent.

Vegetable Spring Roll with Chilli Sauce

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Chicken with Rosemary Sauce

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Beef Medallions with Pepper sauce

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Wine

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Banana Tart with Chocolate sauce

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After all that we should sleep well, especially knowing we don't have to get up for a 6am game drive tomorrow morning.

Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for the last eight days of safari, and for Malisa's expertise, knowledge, sense of humour, excellent driving and caring nature.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wedding travel market elephant police balloon sunrise holiday africa safari lodge zebra eagle luxury picnic coffee donkeys lions maasai hippo cold lioness ballooning giraffes cows serengeti ngorongoro dust hyena heron stork vultures cattle goats topi wildebeest hot_air_balloon arusha ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard hippopotamus african_safari grey_heron bustard family_planning political_rally speeding calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company opulence olive_baboons maasai_cattle ngorongoro_conservation_area naabi_hill kopje coucal seronera babboons spotted_hyena brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle seronera_river martial_eagle goliath_heron white_browe_coucal lioness_on_heat tawny_eagle simba_kopjes simba elephant_herd confusuion_of_wildebeest speed_check white_stork off_road_driving tower_of_giraffes feeling_the_cold malanja_depression goat_family_planning makuyuni weekly_meeting wedding_car sugar_shortage tenguru tenguru_market lake_dulutu_lodge best_safari_operator which_safari_operator Comments (1)

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