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Ndutu IV: zebra, stuck in mud, lion in a tree

What an adventurous afternoon!


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Picnic Lunch

We find the only tree for miles around, under which to have our picnic this lunchtime. There is something very special about eating our lunch in the wild.

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After lunch we go on our way again to see what else nature has to offer us today.

Zebra

The first wildlife we see is a few zebra.

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One month old baby

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Two month old baby suckling

This Grant's gazelle is all on its own, miles from anywhere and any other animals. Most odd.

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Bogged Down

There are not many animals in this area, so we decide to move on elsewhere. Although there is a track, it is very muddy and pot-holed, so Malisa drives off-road; heading towards a forested area we can see in the distance. While the plains look fine on the surface, the ground is sodden underneath, hidden by the long grass; so Malisa speeds up to try and avoid sinking in to the soft soil. It makes for a very bouncy ride, and poor Bertha (my 600mm lens) falls off the seat onto the floor and gets detached from the camera body. Hoping she has not suffered any damage, I put her back together again and leave her on the floor - at least then she can't fall anywhere!

The ground gets wetter and wetter, but Malisa manages to stay afloat so to speak, by turning on the four wheel drive and some skilful driving skimming across the surface. Until we hit a hole created by termites. We come to an abrupt halt, and no amount of revving the engine or turning the wheels makes any difference. We're stuck. Well and truly bogged down.

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Malisa gets out the spade and tries to dig us out, while David and I make sure we are facing opposite directions as we scan the horizon for wild animals. In areas with lots of plains game such as wildebeest, antelopes or zebra, you know you are reasonably safe from predators; whereas here there are no signs of life, human or animal for as far as the eye can see. I stare so intently at the surrounding area that every bush and tree becomes a cheetah or a lion. This is not good for my blood pressure! Five minutes later the same bush again looks like a big cat - I soon become paranoid and start seeing signs of danger with every small movement of the vegetation. David admits to his imagination playing havoc with him in the same way too.

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David on the look-out

Having worked up a sweat trying to shift the heavy wet soil and make a sold path for the wheels, Malisa gets back in the car and tries to drive off again. The wheels just spin and spin. It's no good, we are still stuck.

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Time to radio for help. All morning the radio has been going, with the occasional message about an exciting cat sighting, but mostly calls for help to get out of a sticky situation like this. Malisa grabs the microphone. Nothing. Completely dead. We can hear others, but they can't hear us. He keeps trying but it is obvious the microphone is faulty. Kaput.

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Plan C: Modern technology to the rescue, Malisa whips out his mobile phone to call for help. No signal. I try mine. Also no signal. David, who is on a different network to me, has a very weak signal, so Malisa uses it to make a call to the lodge. After initially having to explain to the confused receptionist why he is calling from a British phone, Malisa is able to let them know what has happened, explain where we are as best as he can, and ask for assistance.

Meanwhile continues to try and dig us out, using a spade and a mud board. David and I go back to scan the horizon, not just for predators, but also for any other cars that may be able to help us out of this mess.

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In the far, far distance, we spot three cars heading from right to left. They are too far away to see us, we can only just make them out using binoculars. How to attract their attention? Malisa tries using his torch, and David waves his mobile phone around with the light on. Both are way too weak to be seen, and anyway, the others will probably just think it is a reflection of the sun.

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I have a bright idea. Taking the speedlight flash gun from my camera bag, I set it on full power and use the TEST button to fire it. Again and again and again. It seems to work, as the vehicles change direction and appear to be heading towards us, coming closer and closer. What a relief! When they are within shouting distance, Malisa tells them not to come any nearer, as there is no point for them to get stuck in the mud as well. Protecting himself with a stick against any potential wild animals, he walks over to the other cars.

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All three drivers come back over with Malisa – these are the same guys who we helped rescue earlier this morning down by Lake Ndutu – and discuss a plan of action. A few more attempts at digging us out are made, then the decision is taken that David and I should go with the others, who will take us back to the lodge. Meanwhile Malisa will stay with the car and wait for help. I argue. I don't want to leave Malisa on his own, but I am talking to deaf ears. I guess he is right when he says that we would be more of a hindrance than a help to the rescuers.

We quickly grab all our stuff and walk across to the other cars. Or at least try to. On my third step I sink knee deep in the mud. I manage to get my left leg out, but in the struggle to free the other one, my shoe gets left behind. Malisa ends up having to use his spade to dig it out. Someone mentions: “all that brown stuff is not just mud, you know...” Thanks a lot for that thought!

The passengers in the other cars are very welcoming, cheering as we arrive and offering us welcome drinks (cartons of juice) and cakes when we get inside the car. Thank goodness they have some spare seats! Only when we drive away do we realise that Malisa is stuck in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals (potentially) and without any form of communication. We should have left David's phone with him, the only one that worked! I feel really bad about that, but he is too far away to hear me shout, and anyway, none of us feel like traipsing through that mud (!) to go back to where he and the car is.

Douglas, our hero rescue driver, explains that we need to go back to close to the point where we had lunch (they had lunch not far away too - we could see them when we were picnicking) before trying to find the road that will take us back to the lodge. Like Malisa did, he drives at great speed over the boggy landscape, resulting in the windscreen being splattered with mud!

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As we carefully make our way towards the area where we can safely meet up with the track again, we chat to the other passengers. They are on their last day of a five day safari, and are disappointed that they haven't seen a cheetah yet. We try to explain to them where we saw the mother and cubs yesterday.

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Being in a full car (seven passengers plus driver), also makes me realise how spoilt we are for space with just the two of us. Plus Malisa, of course. Having a private safari is the only way to go in my opinion!

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Beautiful late afternoon light over Lake Ndutu

Wildebeest

We drive through large areas dotted with hundreds – no thousands – of wildebeest, some with young babies. Like us, the passengers in this car are on the lookout for a wildebeest-mama just about to give birth. They have not been lucky enough to witness that either, and of course, this afternoon is their last chance. We all frantically scan the herds to look for large bellies.

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We also see a couple of Black Backed Jackals running away. I am sitting in the front seat next to the driver, where photography is not so easy as standing up is difficult because the roof hatch doesn't line up with the footwell, and there is no 'aisle' to stand in like there is at the back. With all my camera gear on my lap, it is hard to manoeuvre myself in any direction.

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Giraffe

Stuck. Again.

Making our way back to Ndutu and the lodges, we have to cross the same boggy area near Lake Ndutu where we helped the car out of the mud earlier this morning. Guess what? Maggie, one of the other drivers in our convoy, gets stuck in the mud.

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Douglas drives our car as close as he dares, then gets out and attaches a tow rope to Maggie's car.

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Here we go:


Easy peasy!

The plains are bathed in a glorious warm glow from the setting sun.

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Someone in the car complains that they haven't seen anything 'interesting' this afternoon. Another good reason why I am so grateful we are not travelling in a group - to me every wild animal we see is interesting in its own right, it is not just about the big cats and other 'popular' animals. He does take a bit of stick for his comments from the others in the car, to be fair.

Lions

Back by the lake, our three lions are still hanging around. I hope our whinger from earlier is happy now. We notice a vehicle from the KOPE Lion Conservation Project is here too. They have followed these particular lions making their way from Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu. I later find out that these are the same lions we saw as tiny cubs in the crater back in May 2016 - how cool is that!?!

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Being in a convoy of three cars means that the lead car (which on this occasion is us) can't just find the best position at a sighting, he has to make sure the other two cars can get a good view too.

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We move along to give the other two cars access.

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It looks like the lions have been asleep all afternoon, and are now just waking up.

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He's on the move!

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His brother follows.

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OMG! He's climbed the tree again!

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“I might not make it, but I am going to try. Hold on tight!” says Douglas as he drives straight for the bushes. Not just into undergrowth, but shrubs the height of the car. He cuts through them as if they are just tall grasses. These cars – and their drivers – are amazing!

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The King looks magnificent as his surveys his domain. What light! What colours!

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He doesn't look all that comfortable.

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That's better!

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Definitely not comfortable!

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Unfortunately we have to leave as Douglas is dropping us off, and then taking his original passengers to another camp further away. When we arrive at Ndutu Lodge, he gives the manager the co-ordinates of Malisa's position from his GPS. We are relieved to later hear that help has gone out and have located Malisa; and they promise to let us know when Malisa and his rescuers arrive back safe and sound.

Shower

My feet and legs are filthy dirty after this afternoon's wallow in the mud, and I take my shoes and sock with me into the shower. There is mud everywhere and I feel guilty for using so much water to wash off. I am normally very conscious of my water usage when we travel, so it goes against the grain to stay in the shower for a long time.

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Dinner

The first thing we do when we get to the main building, is to ask the manager if Malisa is back. He is not. It is dark outside now and I am really concerned, but I am reassured to know that he is no longer on his own and they are working hard to rescue him.

There are not so many people in the restaurant tonight, two if the large groups from last night have moved on.

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Starter of Greek Quesadilla drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Followed by a very nice tomato soup which I did not photograph

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Peppered beef - tender and tasty. One of the many things I like about Ndutu Lodge is that they serve extra vegetables on the side. We eat a lot of veggies at home and I so miss them when travelling, as I find most restaurants merely plonk a bit of greenery on the plate for visual impact (if you're lucky).

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The dessert – described as After Dinner Chocolate Slice – is served too cold for my liking. I dislike any cold food straight out of the fridge! I even take ice cream out 10-15 minutes before serving it, or put it in the microwave at home. OK, so I'm weird, we all know that.

Small Spotted Genets

Ndutu Lodge is famous for its resident population of genets – small cat-like creatures who live in the rafters of the lodge. They are wild, but have become habituated to people (and flash guns). The kitchen staff tempt them into the lounge after dinner with leftovers, but they are free to come and go as they like. We later see them roaming the ground and climbing bushes when we go back to our room.

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I refuse to go to bed until Malisa is back, even if it means staying in the reception area half the night! We position ourselves in the bar so that we can see up the pathway leading to the car park, hoping that Malisa will come down this way before going to the drivers' quarters. Thankfully we don't have to wait too long, and when he arrives at around 21:30, we give him the biggest hug ever.

Malisa explains how his rescuers were unable to drive right up to where he was stuck, but like we did, they walked across and helped him dig out the car and place mud boards underneath the wheels. While waiting for them to turn up, Malisa also managed to fix the radio to get the microphone working again. He is such a star! We can go to bed happy and relieved now.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari, and Malisa for looking after us so well. We love you guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:05 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife adventure phone dinner mud safari tanzania zebra flash dirty birding dirt radio picnic shower lions giraffe mobile_phone gazelle stuck wildebeest douglas bird_watching maggie ndutu calabash_adventures jackals game_viewing picnic_lunch wildlife_photography malisa tree_climbing_lions ndutu_lodge lion_in_a_tree stuck_in_mud bogged_down rescued cell_phone no_phone_signal mud_board speedlight flash_gun camera_flash kope genets Comments (2)

Arusha National Park - Malisa's House - Kilimamoja Lodge

Meeting our Tanzanian 'family'.


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

Picnic Time

We took breakfast in the hotel this morning, but for lunch we have the first of many picnic boxes we will enjoy on this trip. We climb to the top of a small hill where picnic tables have been arranged overlooking Big Momella Lake.

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We are joined for lunch by this damselfly.

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And a Speckled Mousebird, trying its best to hide behind a thin branch.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

They may be 'just a chicken', but their babies are cute – a family of guineafowl attempt to cross a muddy path.

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Some of you will already know the story behind the 'just a chicken' comment: many years ago in a vehicle in Sikkim, India, David exclaims: “Oh look, a colourful bird!” With more than a hint of disdain in his voice, the driver replies: “It's a chicken!” Malisa has cottoned on to the joke (as did Lyn and Chris when they travelled with us a couple of times on safari) and every time we see a guineafowl, at least one of us makes this 'joke'.

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Flamingos

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, one of the main reasons for visiting Arusha National Park on this trip, is to see the flamingos that spend part of the year on Big Momella Lake.

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Normally at this time of year they will mostly have flown to Lake Natron (where we are going tomorrow), but because of the recent heavy rains, the vast majority of them are still here.

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Cape Buffalo

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I love how each of these bovine animals have a completely different look and personality!

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Banded Mongoose

A band of mongooses frolic in the grass. The collective noun for these animals is band; and the plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese.

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You looking at me?

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Look at those claws! Her nails are longer than mine. Just right for digging out termites.

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Who knew mongooses liked dust baths?

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More and more join them.

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As we make our way towards the park gate, we see our injured waterbuck again; apparently lying down to die. It is always sad when nature takes its course like that, but there is nothing we, as visitors to their domain, can, or should, do.

Malisa's Family

We consider Malisa almost as an adopted son, and he calls us Mama and Papa. Today we get the opportunity to meet his family for the first time while visiting his house.

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We are made to feel very welcome, offered refreshments and given gifts and lots of hugs.

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The track leading to and from Malisa's house is more like a river than a road.

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Kilimamoja Lodge

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At Mto Wa Mbu we once again leave our comfortable ride behind and head off down another dirt track towards our accommodation for the night.

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On arrival at the lodge, we are greeted by an army of helpers who take every piece of luggage we remove from the car; we are not allowed to carry anything! A few staff sing and dance for us, and adorn us with a traditional Maasai necklace.

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The lodge is fairly large, with 49 rooms spread around sprawling grounds, perched on a cliff overlooking The Great Rift Valley.

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Sculptures in the grounds

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The pool with the Rift Valley beyond

The palatial lobby sports high ceilings and grandiose furniture; much like Palace of the Lost City in Sun City (South Africa) – the only six star hotel we have ever stayed in.

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The reception has a life size sculpture of an elephant; another similarity to The Lost City.

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After a welcome drink and paperwork formalities where we are introduced to Lilian, 'who will be looking after us during our stay' (a bit like having our very own butler-esse), we are shown to our very impressive room.

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I do like my mosquito nets to be away from the bed at night, for two reasons: I have been known to wake up in the morning with my knuckles covered in insect bites where my hand has been resting against the net overnight; and I so hate to have to fight with the net before I can even put my feet on the floor when I get up to use the bathroom in the night. This room has got it right, with a good foot on all sides of the bed (the net pulls around the canopy above the bed), and even the bedside tables are inside it - another pet hate of mine is having to find the opening of the net if I want to have a drink in the night.

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There is a comfortable armchair and foot rest in the room too, which we have filled up with some of all our stuff, as well as a chaise longue . A fireplace offers warmth on a chilly evening and beyond that you can see the double (!) shower unit! That is a first for us!

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Double hand basins, naturally.

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Every comfort has been thought of – there is also an outdoor shower should you prefer to shower in the fresh air - which is something I love, especially in the rain – there is nothing quite like standing under the African sky, with the hot shower mixing with the cool rain. But on this occasion we take a shower side by side in the bathroom. It certainly speeds things up, leaving more time for a pre-dinner drink on the balcony.

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The spacious balcony wraps around two sides of the room, with great views over the valley beyond. It is furnished with a circular day bed, two wicker chair plus a table, and a hanging egg chair.

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The entire wall of the bedroom is made up of sliding doors, giving the impression when open that the balcony is very much part of the room. I love it!

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Dinner

We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the luxurious room to wander up to the restaurant for something to eat.

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Lilian, our 'personal assistant' is there with the menu. There are four other tables occupied, and a plethora of staff milling around. The service is professional, yet very personal, with Lilian and the waiting staff using our first names at every opportunity.

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'Design your own salad' for starter, with a choice from tomato, bell peppers, carrots, onion, black olives and cheese. All drizzled with a tasty 'chef's dressing'.

The menu shows a choice of main courses, or so we think. It turns out that we get all of it: beef fillet stir fry, pan roasted king fish in a Swahili sauce, and chicken rubbed with mild mustard and herbs. Three waitresses walk around the table at the same time serving us both simultaneously from platters. The meats are accompanied by a potato and chick pea curry, roasted herb potatoes and Swahili chapatis.


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Dessert is a choice of fruit custard or chocolate fondant, and the latter is to die for. It comes out as a bit of a dull-looking pudding, but once I cut into it and the melted chocolate starts oozing out... O.M.G.

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The chef later takes a walk around the tables, and we see him chuckling to himself as he meanders back to the kitchen after I tell him the dessert was “better than sex”.

Back in the room we enjoy a glass of Amarula and Captain and Coke on the balcony before going to bed.

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While we were at dinner, staff have been in to perform turn-back service, leaving us a couple of little chocolates on a dish, with the message: "La la salama", which means "sleep well" in Swahili. While turn-back service is fairly common in higher class establishment, providing chocolate as part of it is not so prevalent these days. Last time we experienced that was when we were in Tanzania with Lyn and Chris in 2018, staying at the Ole Serai in Serengeti. We later learn that this hotel is part of the same chain.

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Thank you Tillya of Calabash Adventures for booking us in to this amazing lodge, as well as arranging our seventh safari in Tanzania.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:20 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife dinner safari tanzania birding picnic buffalo flamingos mongoose arusha amarula bird_watching calabash_adventures mousebird guineafowl ole_serai wildlife_photography malisa arusha_national_park big_momella_lake damselfly malisa's_family bad_roads kilimamoja_lodge palace+of_the_lost_city turnback_service chocolate_fondant better_than_sex Comments (6)

Bristol - Arusha

Heading back to our beloved Tanzania


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

For a number of years we have talked about visiting Tanzania during the 'Baby Season', ie. the time of year when the wildebeest and zebra return to their place of birth to to continue the circle of life with a new generation of babies.

Today we set out on the journey to make this happen.

Packing light is not an option when you are a photographer, and we are also taking a number of gifts for our Tanzanian 'family' this time. With my 600mm f/4 lens, known as Big Bertha, travelling in its own flight case, we are dangerously near the 60kg checked in luggage limit for the two of us.

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Big Bertha has to be sent as Oversized Luggage, as does the soft bag with gifts, and we reluctantly wave them goodbye at the special desk at Heathrow, and watch them being wheeled off into the belly of the airport. “Take good care of my baby now!”

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Dinner

Once we are rid of the checked in luggage, we proceed through immigration and go to The Commission pub to grab something to eat.

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Salmon with curried cauliflower

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Fish finger toasted sandwich

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Rekorderlig Strawberry and Lime

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I didn't quite manage Dry January, it's another three hours to go. Cheers!

Qatar Airways

Thankfully the plane for the first leg of the journey (London to Doha) is not full, and we are able to spread out a little with three seats for the two of us.

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There is a screaming child behind us, constantly screeching, crying and whining. While David finds it super-annoying, after years of working in a nightclub I can mostly tune out unwanted noise. I put my cervical collar on and drift off to sleep.

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Doha

The city looks quite spectacular as we approach the landing, all lit up in the early morning. I try to take some photos through the aircraft window, but fail miserably.

To reach the terminal building, we have a long bus journey following a slow luggage truck around the aiport apron. One we get inside, we are a little dismayed to find our connecting flight to Tanzania is not showing on the Departures Board.

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We follow everyone else downstairs to the departures hall anyway, where an official scans our boarding cards and tells us the gate number. It is a long way to reach the other terminal, and involves a train journey. It seems everyone in the entire airport are right here right now, and I find it a little uncomfortable when there is a massive crush for the down escalator.

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Like we did on the first flight, we have plenty of space on the aircraft for the next leg too, with two seats each. By the time we take off from Doha, it is daylight, and we have a great view of the city below.

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The flight is reasonably uneventful, and although I do manage to grab some sleep, it is very disturbed sleep as a result of taking Lariam this morning (antimalarial prophylaxis which causes dreadful nightmares), restless legs and the overwhelmingly bad BO wafting from the seat in front.

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Approaching Kilimanjaro Airport, we initially fly over the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which looks surprisingly dry, with clearly defined animal paths. Later we see cultivated areas, with green patterned fields; followed by the urban areas of Arusha. I cannot believe how much more sprawling the city has become since the fist time we visited in 2007.

Kilimanjaro Airport

After landing at Kilimanjaro, the international airport servicing Arusha and the northern safari circuit, we have to wait ages for the aircraft steps to arrive. The flight goes on to Dar es Salaam, and a number of passengers are continuing rather than de-planing here. A very inconsiderate such lady passenger decides that re-arranging her luggage is much more important than letting the other travellers off the plane, and spends ages blocking the aisle. Eventually she reluctantly steps aside, while still leaving her trolley bag in the gangway for us to step over. Some people should not be allowed to fly!

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Before we are allowed into the terminal building, we all have to line up outside and disinfect our hands.

There is a long queue for Visa on Arrival, and as we walk directly up to the immigration counter we are extremely grateful that we applied for ours before we left home.

Both Malisa (our driver-guide) and Tillya (the owner of Calabash Adventures, the company who arranged our safari) are there to greet us with enormous hugs! It feels like coming home to family!

Soon after we leave the airport, Malisa stops to get a small treat out of the car fridge for David – a Savanna Cider, David's favourite!

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Gran Melia Hotel

We see the rear side of the hotel from a distance, and comment on how lovely the balconies look. Expecting to be driving to the other side of Arusha to check in to the A1 hotel (a modern but somewhat soul-less establishment), we are delighted to be staying here instead. Despite being a large hotel, the Gran Melia is extremely nice and a completely different class to the A1. We are greeted with the customary welcome drink before checking in to our room.

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It is good to see that they are well ahead of the eco-game, using bamboo straws in their drinks

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Our balcony looks out over the front of the building, and we love the plants on the roofs below, making the outlook softer, adding insulation and creating more of a green space!

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We have a couple of hours before we are meeting Tillya and his wife Halima for dinner, so we take a walk around the resort.

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The central atrium

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Giant chess set on the patio

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The lobby

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The lounge

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Sculpture at the entrance

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The front entrance, providing a covered drop-off point for guests

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Love the old car!

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Ponds with mosquito-eating fish along the covered walkway from the drop-off point to the reception and lobby

The grounds are more akin to a botanical garden, with the large free-form swimming pool blending in with a natural lake and waterfalls, all connected by walkways and bridges.

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Dinner

Having known Tillya for 13 years, and also communicated with his wife on several occasions via email, it is great to finally meet Halima in person.

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The hotel buffet is very nice, especially the dessert section, and we have a lovely evening catching up on news, hearing about Tillya's future plans and discussing politics and current affairs.

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Tender beef kebabs, fried yam, a local green vegetable similar to spinach, taro crisps, chicken kebabs, prawns with sesame seeds and a spicy sauce, plus a bowl of delicious dhal

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Some of the selection from the dessert buffet. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but I went back for seconds. With so many different dishes to choose from, it would be rude not to!

And so the first day (and second, technically, as we left the UK yesterday) of our latest trip comes to and end; and after 32 hours of travelling, it is a relief to get into bed.

Thank you Calabash for arranging yet another safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged safari tanzania heathrow cider doha arusha big_bertha calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area kilimanjaro_airport qatar_airways savanna_cider the_commission_pub oversized_luggage malisa gran_melia_hotel psanone_supermarket tillya halima dessert_buffet Comments (5)

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