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Abuko

Big day today: Lifer # 1000


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a position that didn't hurt my arm. That'll teach me for spending so long at the waterhole photographing the birds. Not. I even struggle to bring my hand up to my face this morning, affecting washing, brushing my teeth and hair, and eating. Photographer's elbow. A bit like a tennis player having played in an all day tournament after normally just having a game once or twice a week. The pain won't stop me going out taking photos of birds though.

Abuko

This morning Malick is taking us to Abuko. He's decided that we are going to be better off walking along the plantations just on the outskirts of the woods, rather than inside the thick forest itself, where the conditions will be rather difficult in terms of photography: dark and too many branches in the way. Sounds good to me.

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Onions

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Bitter Tomato

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Sweet Potato

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Mango

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Tapping the palm toddy

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Scarecrow. Or should that be scaredog?

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I don't think the strips of cloth hung from this pole to keep the birds away from the crops are working too well.

We almost immediately spot birds in the trees and on the ground. As before, any lifers (new species to me) will be denoted with *

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Sacred Ibis

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African Grey Hornbill

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Hooded Vulture

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher*

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Grey Woodpecker*

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Spur Winged Plover

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Striated Heron

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Black Crake

Malick warns us to be careful as we step over the ants who are making their way along a well-defined path.

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African Jacana

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Senegal Coucal

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers*

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Two different species of Egrets - Intermediate and Cattle

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Squacco Heron

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Black Heron

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David testing out his directional microphone, hoping to cut out some of the "click click click" he normally gets on his videos from my photography.

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Giant Kingfisher with a Tilapia in his beak

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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Pied Crow

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Gull Billed Tern*

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Red Eyed Dove

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Senegal Thick Knee*

This is a very special and important moment in my birdwatching mission – my 1000th lifer!

Ta da!

While I have been interested in seeing and photographing birds for a very long time, it is only in the last 13 years or so that I have taken it to the next level and making a point of identifying and recording the birds I see. I would not consider myself a serious birder, but I am an ardent list-maker, so to make 1000 different species makes me jubilant and proud.

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Little Bee Eater

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Hammerkop

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Broad Billed Roller

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Hooded Vulture

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Reef Heron

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Purple Heron

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Great White Egret

I came to The Gambia with a very short wish list, consisting of only three species that I really wanted to see: Western Bluebill, Western Plantain Eater and the Abyssinian Roller. Having ticked off the first two yesterday, Malick promised me the roller today. He succeeded in spotting it, and the bird put on a delightful display for us.

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The perfect finish to a perfect morning's birdwatching. Thank you Malick.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow birding mango ants roller woodpecker heron egret vulture ibis parakeet dove west_africa kingfisher plantations garlic cormorant sweet_potato tilapia gambia bird_watching hornbill hammerkop thick_knee coucal tern the_gambia malick_suso crake afraica abuko bitter_tomato palm_toddy scarecrow 1000th_lifer lifer life_tick Comments (3)

Brufut

So many lifers


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Yet again Lariam (malaria prophylaxis) upsets my sleep with a series of bad dreams: while faced with a plethora of colourful birds, my camera refuses to operate despite repeatedly and frustratingly pressing the shutter. I wake up agitated and distressed, realise it is thankfully just a dream and return to sleep. And the dream. The same horrid dream. This repeats itself time and time again and by the time the alarm goes off at 6am, I am exhausted.

Birding Pool

Knowing we are too early for the breakfast, and will be out for most of the morning, we grab some snacks from our bags and head to the bird pool to wait for the guide to arrive.

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As it is still fairly dark, photography is almost impossible, so we just sit and enjoy until Malick turns up.

Police Check Point

We pre-booked Malick – Chris Packham's birding guide of choice - through The Gambia Experience before we left home, just to make sure we had a couple of days of serious birding organised. Having someone who knows where to go and the transport to take us there is half the battle.

As with so many African countries, The Gambia has its fair share of Police Road Blocks where they check the drivers' paperwork. It also acts as an opportunity to investigate the birds that hang around here, feeling on rubbish left behind.

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Yellow Crowned Gonolek

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Brown Babbler

Brufut

Our destination for today, however, is Brufut, a community-organised bird sanctuary protected by the West African Birds Study Association.

Before we reach the woods themselves, we stop near some habitation at the edge of a few plantations and take a short walk to see what species can be found around here. We are very excited to spot so many 'lifers' (species new to us, indicated by * below) in such a small area.

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Yellow Billed Shrike*

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Stone Partridge*

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Piapiac*

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White Crowned Robin Chat*

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Village Weaver

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Senegal Wattled Plover*

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Black Crake

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

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African Jacana

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Pied Crow

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White Billed Buffalo Weaver*

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Beautiful Sunbird (female)

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Bearded Barbet

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Splendid Sunbird (female)

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Copper Sunbird*

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Intermediate Egret

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Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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Variable Sunbird (female) The female sunbirds all look very similar.

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Common Sandpiper

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

The plantations include such crops as cashew nuts and mango trees.

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Unripe cashew fruits with the nuts not yet having developed - they will be hanging down below when ripe

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Mango fruits

Brufut Woodland Bar

We continue to an area known as Brufut Woods, where there is even a bar serving drinks. Fearing that they may not be open this late in the season, Malick had already contacted them by phone earlier, to make sure they put the kettle on.

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A number of benches are set out, overlooking an area with several bird baths in the trees and on the ground. I notice that rather than putting out food for the birds so that they become dependent on humans for feeding, only water is provided. I like that.

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This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.

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We spend the next couple of hours watching, photographing, and listening to the birds, seeing their family squabbles, how they interact with each other and some obvious pecking orders.

As before, any lifers are denoted with *

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Senegal Coucal

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Black Billed Wood Dove*

I usually have a wish list of birds (or animals) I wish to see when we travel, and this is one of only three on my list this time:

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Western Plantain Eater*

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Bronze Mannikin

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Yellow Throated Leaflove*

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Laughing Doves

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Common Bulbul

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Black Necked Weaver*

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Lavender Waxbill*

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

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African Thrush*

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Splendid Sunbird

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Hooded Vulture

We employ the services of a local guide to help us go in to the woods to look for the Long Tailed Nightjar which is often found in this area. After a short moment of concern when the bird is not where he saw it half an hour earlier (as nocturnal birds, nightjars don't tend to move far during the day unless they are spooked), he spots it on the ground, very well camouflaged.

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We start making our way back to the main road, along dirt tracks frequented by more animal carts than vehicles.

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But first, Malick wants to check out some palms on the way.

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Grey Woodpecker*

Having seen them here in the last couple of days, this is what he was looking for:

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Red Necked Falcons*

And so ends a very productive morning's birdwatching. Now back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow africa birding coffee mango woodpecker heron egret vulture dove malaria west_africa kingfisher starling plantations weaver falcon shrike bulbul dreams finch barbet gambia lariam nightjar bird_watching hornbill sunbird jacana cashews coucal plover thrush sandpiper life_list robin_chat mefloquine malaria_prophelaxis malaria_tablets nightmares disturbed_sleep police_check_point chris_packham malick_suso the_gambia_experience gonolek cordon_blue brufut brufut_woods piapiac whistling_ducks honeyguide crake glossy_starling greenshank red_bishop mango_trees cashew_nuts cashew_trees plantain_eater mannikin firefinch waxbill Comments (4)

Anjouan Island tour

Lobsters and lemurs

We both slept reasonably well, considering the party right below us went on until 04:00 this morning.

Sunrise

I stay behind taking photos of the sunrise while David goes off with Patrice to collect our bags from the port.

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Sunrise from our balcony

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Sunrise over the rocky beach

Picking up the luggage

Over at the quayside, David takes up the story:

”Arriving at the docks, we are faced with (what seems to be) a corrupt official, who insists we have to pay a 'port fee' just to go and collect the bags. They charge us per bag. It all seems like a total rip-off to me, and Patrice is furious.

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By the time we reach the ship, the crew are just starting to unload the bags, but ours are nowhere to be seen. Patrice arranges for me to be able to climb on board the ship to search for them rather than having to wait for every single case to be unloaded. Today there are not even any steps, nor gangplank, so I have to jump across the gap between the quayside and the ship.

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On board the boat last night's crew are busy cleaning up sick from the seats and gangways - not a job I envy them. I thankfully spot our luggage almost immediately, sitting just behind the bulkhead, and as soon as I hand over the luggage tickets, I am free to take the bags; which then have to be manhandled across the same gap between the ship and the docks. Once we are off the boat, we still have to transport them the considerate distance between the mooring and the dock gate, and from there back to where the car is parked, a couple of streets away. Thank goodness for luggage on wheels”

Back at the hotel, after a decent breakfast we finally have our shower and change, before setting out on a tour of the island with Patrice as the guide and Khalid as the driver.

Anjouan

A bit of a rebel child, Anjouan has never really fitted in. Declaring its independence from Comoros back in 1997, then changing its mind and asking to be re-integrated into France. Not being welcomed by the French, Anjouan reluctantly re-joined Comoros in 2002, only to once again declare itself an independent nation in 2007, prompting military action from the Comoros. The island now has a semi-autonomous status.

Island tour

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Setting off in a clockwise direction, we initially skirt the coast, then head inland and up into the highlands.

Cloves

Our first stop is at Koki Village where we see cloves being dried by the side of the road.

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Originally native to Indonesia, the Comoros is now one of the top exporters in the world of cloves. Patrice talks us through the whole process from harvesting through to bagging it up ready for export.

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The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to around ten metres high, with large leaves and crimson coloured buds growing in clusters, turning into white tufty flowers.

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When the flower buds have turned a bright red, they are ready to be harvested. Patrice gives us a raw clove to try – it is very strong and the taste lingers for a long time afterwards.

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At this stage they are 1.5-2.0 cm long with one end housing four outer petals and a central ball of four tight, unopened petals.

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The flower buds are then spread out on the ground to dry in the sun where they gradually turn brown, hard and slightly shrivelled up, just as you see them for sale in the west.

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Used in many culinary dishes as well as medicines and even cigarettes, cloves are also often used as a traditional treatment for toothache.

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I love spices and find it interesting how various spices are produced from various parts of the plants they come from: cinnamon is the bark, ginger is a root, and cloves are the aromatic flower buds. The whole area where we are standing is filled with the aroma, and I am sure from now on the scent of cloves will always remind me of Anjouan.

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Cloves bagged ready for export.

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Some of the local workers

Village of Bazimini

Further along the road, we look down on the village of Bazimini, which has been built inside the basin of an old volcanic crater.

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Sisal

Introduced to Africa from its native Mexico in the 19th century, the fibrous leaves of this spiky plant are stripped and dried to produce fibres used in rope, twine and sack production as well as mattresses, carpets and handicrafts.

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Pigeon Peas

Patrice calls them “petit pois model Comorione”: pigeon peas are very popular here, and are often served cooked in coconut milk.

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We try them raw and they are very pleasant.

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Tratringa Falls

Featuring on the 100FC and 125FC stamps, this waterfall is popular for more than one reason. and the natural beauty of these cascades is obvious.

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Unfortunately, the tranquil charm is ruined by heaps of trash floating in the water and blighting the side of the falls.

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The falls are wide (at least during the rainy season, today the water does not extend across the whole width of the falls) and tumble into a small pool before making their way under the road into another narrower chasm the other side.

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Being a Saturday, the area around the falls is quite crowded, and Patrice explain that they have mostly come up from Mutsamudu. The reason this place is so popular does not just have to do with the beauty of the place (although we do see a car full of locals pull up, get out, snap a few pictures with their mobiles and drive on); it is a much more practical and mundane explanation: People from the capital come here to do their laundry in the river.

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The paradox of someone driving here in a large, fancy, 4x4 or gleaming pick-up truck to wash their clothes in the river by the side of the road completely blows me away.

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Ylang ylang

Anjouan is affectionately known as the ‘Perfumed Isle’ as a result of its bountiful flora whose aroma often wafts with the wind and hangs in the air as we found earlier with the cloves.

The most prominent of those aromas, however, is arguably the ylang ylang, an ingredient found in many of the world’s most popular perfumes (including Chanel N°5, my mum’s favourite perfume). The ylang ylang, a tropical tree producing yellow flowers, is highly valued for its essential oil, of which Comoros is the world’s largest producer, exporting some 50 tonnes each year.

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The process is a fairly simple operation in this basic and somewhat primitive set up. But it works, and the surrounding area is enveloped in a glorious aroma.

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The aroma is slightly floral, so it is primarily used in women’s perfumes and other cosmetics, but it can also work as a middle note in fragrances and products for men.

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This aromatic oil is not just used for perfumes; however, it is also popular in aromatherapy. It is also said to increase libido, help fight depression, lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Maybe I should try some to get mine back up to scratch after all the illnesses and antibiotics I have had this year! It is also said to be extremely effective in calming and bringing about a sense of relaxation, and is thought to help with releasing feelings of anger, tension, and irritability. David says I definitely need some!

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Mango

As it is my favourite fruit, I am disappointed when I find out that this is not the mango season.

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Patrice, however, picks an unripe fruit from the tree, and eats it like he would an apple, skin and all. I remember having a salad in Laos some years ago made from green mangoes, and try the hard fruit when offered.

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After finding the skin a little tough and difficult to bite through, the fruit is tart and quite refreshing inside, like a cross between an apple and a pear.

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Once I have finished the whole fruit, I recollect the old adage about eating fruits and vegetables ‘abroad’: “Peel it, wash it or forget it”, and my mind goes back to eating an apple bought from a market in Ghana and the subsequent dreadful sickness that I suffered as a result. Oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten this mango… only time will tell.

Mausoleum of Abdallah

Continuing south, we reach the town of Domoni and the revered resting place of Abdallah. The first president of Independent Comoros in 1978, the late Ahmed Abdallah Abdermane is considered to be the ‘Father of Independence’ and very much a national hero. He was assassinated by a military guard during a coup d’état in 1989, allegedly on the order of the French.

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Turning inland and climbing higher, we can get a good look back on the town on Domoni.

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The town of Domoni

Sales people line the road side.

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As we turn inland, both he road conditions and the weather deteriorate, with a thick mist enveloping everything in its wake.

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The road snakes its way down from the highlands towards the south-west coast in a number of spectacular switchbacks

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Men and women climb the steep road, carrying firewood and animal fodder.

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Sometimes the road disappears into oblivion, as we can barely see more than a few feet in front of us.

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As we descend, however, the mist gradually lifts, and we can start to make out the beautiful coastline below.

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Moya

The road leading into the small town of Moya is particularly bad, with more potholes than actual road.

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Lunch at Moya Plage Hotel

After climbing down a number of pedestrian switchbacks and steep paths, we reach the Moya Plage hotel, perched on a ledge overlooking the ocean.

The table is bulging with seafood: lobster, tiger prawns, octopus curry, and tuna fish; plus a number of accompaniments such as fried bananas, taro, salad, mataba (cassava leaves) and rice.

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It is all absolutely delicious, and I gorge myself full of lobster, one of my favourite foods! (I eat three of them, but don’t tell anyone. Shhhh)

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Maki

Being very disappointed that I am not going to get to Mohéli Island on this trip to see the whales, dolphins, turtles, bats and lemurs, I am overjoyed when I spot a baby maki (AKA mongoose lemur) on the restaurant terrace. Never mind stuffing myself on lobsters… I am off to photograph the lemur!

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I don’t know what it is about feet / shoes and lemurs; I remember the ring-tails in Madagascar licking our feet. It must be something to do with the salt in the sweat, but why feet in particular?

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Although it seems my fingers don't taste too bad either.

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Despite not quite understanding my excitement about seeing a maki (“but they are always here…”), the kitchen let us have some fruit to entice the young animal with.

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Comoros is the only place outside Madagascar where you can find a population of wild lemurs. This little guy, although still quite young, is obviously used to people and is quite content to clamber over anyone who sits still long enough and happy let you stroke his back.

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In fact, he is rather partial to having his ears scratched.

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When Patrice informs us it is time to leave, I reluctantly tear myself away from my newfound friend.

William Sunley

In the 19th century, there was great rivalry between Britain and France in the Indian Ocean, prompting the British to establish a consul on Anjouan. The man appointed was a retired naval officer, William Sunley, who was later invited by the local Sultan to establish sugar plantations. As a result of using slaves provided by the Sultan, he was forced to resign as consul (slavery was by that time abolished in the British Empire). Concentrating on his export business, his holdings expanded and at one stage he controlled around half the arable land on Anjouan.

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What remains of William Sunley's warehouse

With a widespread rebellion among the slaves in 1889, the French took the opportunity to intervene and conquer the island. Thus started the French sovereignty in Comoros. Despite being implicated in the slavery trade, William Sunley appears to be some sort of hero on the island.

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The tomb of William Sunley

Coastal Road

Patrice gives us the option to travel back the way we came, or go along the coast, but “the road is bad, very bad” he says. We are OK with that; I would rather see something new.

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As we travel along the south west coast, we see glimpses of sandy beaches and rocky promontories with surf spraying up over the built-up road.

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Seeing those waves crashing in, I am glad I am not on that inter-island ferry today; yesterday was bad enough. Patrice tells us that the ferry is actually cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather.

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Small communities cling to whatever flat land can be found, eking a living from the sea.

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On this narrow country lane we meet a cavalcade of flash looking black cars with blackened windows and headlight on full beam. “It’s the Vice President” explains Patrice.

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Breakdown

We also come across a friend of Patrice’s, whose car has broken down. His battery is flat because the alternator is not working. We swap batteries so that he has a good battery, while we take the flat one and hopefully our (good) alternator will recharge his duff one by the time we get to the next village.

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Naturally we have to jump-start his car, but after that everything goes well all the way up a long hill to the village where we yet again swap over to the original battery.

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Another spanner in a trip full of spanners.

Malagasy Pirates

Comoros was a favourite haunt for Malagasy pirates in their quest to capture slaves they could sell on to Europeans. Patrice points out the headland where the buccaneers used to hang out and congregate before raiding the capital Mutsamudu.

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Abandoned ship

It seems that it is not just cars that are abandoned where they die; we see this rusting hulk beached just outside Mutsamudu.

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Hotel Al Amal

Yesterday the reception hinted that they may move us from Room 121, so when we arrive back at the hotel today, we ask “which room”. "121" the receptionist confirms, the same one as yesterday. As we are not particularly bothered whether we change rooms or not, we go and start to undress ready for a shower.

Looking forward to relaxing in the cool air-conditioned room, we are dismayed to find the remote control for the A/C is missing. With no other way of turning it on or off, we put our clothes back on again and go back down to reception.

”Oh, we have moved you,” says the same receptionist who a mere five minutes earlier told us we were in Room 121.

We pick up the key for Room 112, one floor down, and move all our stuff over. Yet again I take my shoes and trousers off and slump down on the bed and try to switch on the A/C. However much I try, and whichever button I press, the remote does not work. Clothes back on and back to reception. They agree to send an engineer up to look at it. He arrives around ten minutes later and after fiddling for some ten minutes more, concedes that the A/C is not working. Yes, we know.

Change rooms. Again. Clothes back on. Again. Move stuff over. Again.

Room 114 does have a working A/C! Hurrah! “No TV” reveals the engineer. “No problem” we assure him, but is it safe to get undress (again) yet? We check the bathroom. There is only one towel, which is wet. We still have the key for Room 112, so collect the one and only towel from there. That is also damp. I cannot work out whether they are leftover from the last occupant or just haven’t dried from being laundered, but as I’d rather not risk it, mausoleum I use the towel I brought from home.

The bathroom is somewhat shabby to say the least, with a shelf that looks like it is just about to disintegrate any minute. As for the bath mat – it is dirtier than the cloth I wash my floor with at home! Thank goodness for flip flops.

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Time for a shower. As there is no shower curtain,, it’s a sit-down job. I didn’t realise how much dirt was on that road today – the water that is coming out of my hair is the colour of mud!

Feeling much more refreshed after the shower, we go to change into something cool before going for dinner. “Where are the shorts?” Both David’s and mine are missing, and I know I packed them in Grand Comore. We wore them on the last night there and I distinctly remember asking David: “Is it OK if I put these in your bag as I have already done mine up?” I placed them on top of the other clothes in his bag and zipped it up. Oh dear. Somehow they have gone ‘missing’ between packing the bags before going for breakfast in Moroni and looking for them this evening in Anjouan. Hmm.

Dinner

One saving grace about this hotel is that they do serve a very good pizza! I have mine topped with lobster, while David chooses a pizza called Oslo, with meat and vegetables.

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What they don’t have, however, is stocked up on beer after David drank the last one yesterday. Another dry evening.

After dinner I look for stars. Last night the skies were full of them, but my tripod was in the luggage that was still on the boat. Tonight I have a tripod, but no stars. Oh well. Time for bed then I guess. There is a party on again this evening; in the sports stadium right next to the hotel.

This trip was booked through Undiscovered Destinations, an excellent tour operator who specialise in adventure tours to unusual destinations. Such as Comoros.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Comoros Tagged hotel surf waves ship river sunrise fruit waterfall africa dinner lobster lunch mist docks pirates ferry trash pizza bags mango breakdown swimming_pool luggage aroma fragrance indian_ocean octopus chasm laundry lemur abandoned towel distillery smell a/c perfume spray ylang_ylang comoros cloves malagasy_pirates anjouan al_amal_hotel quayside luggage_on_wheels maki photograhy bazimi sisal pigeon_peas tratringa_falls runnish unripe_mango green_mango moya moya_plage hotel_moya_plage ahmed_addallah_abdermane mausoleum_of_abdallah domoney switchbacks bad_road mataba tuna_fish william_sunley coastal_road car_battery alternator jump_start abandoned_ship room_121 air_conditioning Comments (3)

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