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Kilimamoja Lodge - Lake Natron

Exploring new ground


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

Despite having lots of strange and unpleasant dreams, I slept very, very well last night. I get up before dawn this morning to try and capture the sunrise.

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Breakfast

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A continental selection is available as a buffet, and Lilian comes to take our order for cooked food. As soon as I see Eggs Benedict on the menu, I know what I am having.

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We slide along the same muddy track back to the main road this morning. It hasn't improved any overnight!

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We are joining the sealed road only briefly today, as far as Mto Wa Mbu, where we turn off left towards Lake Natron

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My mum used to meet me with my bike and hers after school when I was eight, but I have never before seen someone cycling with THREE bikes before!

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There are always a lot of baboons near Mto Wa Mbu. This one looks somewhat philosophical!

The Road to Lake Natron

We are now entering new territory for us, this is the first time we have come this way. The track follows the Ngorongoro Escarpment on the left, with the flat plains of the Great Rift Valley on the right.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Roadworks

Work started on repairing this road last year, with the rocks just having been arranged in place when the rain came and washed them all away. Now they have to start all over again.

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We can certainly see why they are having problems. I find it amazing that Malisa can manage to negotiate these sort of tracks. He has brand new chunky tyres, four-wheel drive and is an excellent driver, but even so.

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The track crosses a number of rivers on the way. Why does this make me think of a UB40 song?

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As we get nearer, I realise that the river is really rather fast flowing. "Are you sure you are going to drive across that Malisa?"

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So far so good...

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At this point I am getting a little concerned that we are going to wash away down the river. The water is so murky that it is impossible to see what is at the bottom, or how deep the river is.

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At least we'll have a good video for YouTube if we do!

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We make it, safe and sound (and dry) to the other side!

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The track doesn't get much better this side – I have seen smoother dried up river beds.

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This looks like another impossible crossing – a sheer drop of around a foot.

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A few little boulder the other side of the drop does the trick. We're fine!

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White Throated Bee Eaters

Abdim's Stork

A migrant from Europe, who comes to this area for winter; this is the first time we have seen the Abdim's Stork in Tanzania.

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Uh, uh.

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It is not as bad as it first looked; there is a slightly easier route to one side. But only slightly.

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Another river to cross, although this one is nowhere near as deep.

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We pass a few villages, with straw and mud huts.

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Ngaruka

We drive through the small settlement of Ngaruka Town, which has only recently had electricity installed.

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Of course, not everyone has power.

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Gotta love the petrol station, where fuel is sold in plastic water bottles.

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This may look primitive to us, but it is also pretty eco-friendly: true basic upcycling.

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Blue Naped Mousebird

Another river to cross. We're getting good at this!

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Traffic Jam

We encounter an unexpected traffic jam.

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Affectionately known as 'Maasai Landrovers', donkeys are much sought after within the agricultural community and are generally well looked after.

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I have never before noticed that donkeys have a stripe along their backs and down their necks.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano

Meaning 'Mountain of God' in the local Maasai language, Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano that last erupted in 2008, although in 2017 scientists confirmed it was quietly rumbling, showing signs that an eruption may be imminent.

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From a scientific point of view, it is extremely fascinating: it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. This thin, silvery lava melts at a lower temperature (around 600 °C), and more importantly, it can flow faster than a person can run. This sensational discovery was not made until as recently as in the 1960s.

More bad road surface.

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Layers of lava clearly showing.

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Augur Buzzard

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Ostrich

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Brown Snake Eagle

Giraffe

I don't think I will even get used to seeing exotic wild animals such as the giraffe, roaming free. In the national parks, yes, but here we are just driving across the country, not actually in a designated animal park. There are no physical barriers and the animals don't know where the borders are of course.

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The youngster is about a year old.

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Broken Down Bus

Up until this moment, it has felt like we are pioneering travellers in a land that time forgot. Knowing that this is a bus route ruins all that in a flash.

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I am not at all surprised that it has broken down, I am more amazed that it managed to get this far in the first place!

When we realise that there are people working underneath the vehicle, we stop and give them some of our water. They are delighted, and even more so when they find that the bottles are cold out of the fridge!

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Kori Bustard

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Booted Eagle - a dreadful photo, but it is a lifer.

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We have no idea what this boy was doing under the tree miles from anywhere, but I think he makes an interesting silhouette.

The original sheep contraception. Sometimes simple solutions work better than chemicals.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

From a distance we can see tonight's accommodation, so I will finish this blog entry here. Thank you Calabash Adventures for making this trip possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife volcano bus sunrise breakfast safari eagle birding lava donkeys petrol giraffe baboons ostrich goat electricity ford gas_station kori_bustard bird_watching buzzard roadworks great_rift_valley broken_down_bus calabash_adventures eruption mto_wa_mbu snake_eagle tawny_eagle traffic_jam mousebird augur_buzzard bee_eaters sandgrouse wildlife_photography petrol_station kilimamoja_lodge muddy_tracks lake_natron river_crossing abdim's_stork ngaruka fuel_station maasai_landrovers ol_doynio_lengai mountain_of_god volcanic_eruption broken_down goat_contraception Comments (4)

Serdar - Kopetdag - Magtymguly - Mollakara - Balkanabad

Moon Mountains and the Salt Sea


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

Breakfast this morning in the guest house here at Serdar consists of yogurt, cherry jam, cheese, tomatoes and the ever-present bread. There can't be many nations on earth who eat as much bread as the Turkmen do.

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Later we are asked if we want fried egg and salami. It's an unusual combination, but rather enjoyable.

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This morning's drive takes us south through barren and desolate scenery, with no trees or even falcons, which we saw many of on our journey yesterday. Nothing. The place appears eerily devoid of life.

We are now nearing the Iranian border and arrive at a restricted area that requires special permission to enter. We have been warned that the checks here may take a while, and that we are to avoid photography at all costs. We hand over our passports, which Artem (our cute driver) takes to the police post along with vehicle registration documents, his driving licence and the tourist authorisation certificate; and wait. And wait. Meanwhile we listen to music in the car; Artem plays a good mix of popular western and Russian songs. The procedure takes just over 25 minutes in all, and we are on our way again.

Moon Mountains

The Kopetdag Mountains is a 600 kilometre long mountain range stretching along the Turkmenistan-Iran border. The landscape is distinctly lunar in appearance, living up to its local nickname of 'Moon Mountains'. The name Kopetdag, in fact, means 'many mountains' in the Turkmen language.

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Once located at the bottom of the sea, the heavily furrowed sedimentary rock slopes look like soft gravel or even slag heaps, but are in fact more akin to solidified mud, and very firm underfoot. We see evidence of crustaceans on the ground, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

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Stretching as far as the eye can see, the forbidding desert-like landscape is as curious as it is beautiful – seeing the arid remains of low-level vegetation, I can but wonder what it would look like in spring, after the rains, when plants and flowers come to life.

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This area is rich with pomegranate and walnut trees, and we see a number of the former along the side of the road.

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It's the first time we have seen pomegranates in their natural habitat, and I am keen to see how they grow and photograph them. That is one of the numerous things I love about travel – exotic fruits that I have only ever seen in the supermarkets, are commonplace somewhere in the world. It never ceases to amaze me that however much we travel, we still manage to get 'firsts' on every single trip.

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Magtymguly Museum

We make a stop at a small museum dedicated to a local hero, Magtymguly Pyragy, who was an Iranian-Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet in the 18th century.

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Looking at the copies of some of the books Magtymguly has written, I am intrigued by the frames within each page containing diagonal writing. Neither the guide nor the museum curator are able to shed any light on this peculiar aspect.

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Magtymguly was much more than a renowned poet; he also worked as a silversmith for a while.

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He even made a wedding ring for Mengli, the girl he loved and wanted to marry. Unfortunately her family forbade the union, and the ring remained unworn.

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Magtymguly had a number of strong political views, and fought to keep the Turkmen-way sacred, as well as maintaining the harmony and integrity of the Turkmen nation. He became a symbol of Turkmen unity but also a common voice of Turkish and Islamic world and is revered not only in Turkmenistan but also in neighbouring countries. The museum is very proud of the artefacts associated with his life and career.

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17th century ewers found during excavations

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Meat cooler made from sheep skin

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Kitchen implements, including a pestle used to make the customary small holes found in the traditional Turkmen bread

David is suffering from a severe cold he picked up on the flight out here, with his eyes being extremely sore and sensitive to light, so stays behind in the car while I have the museum, guide, and curator to myself.

The journey back through the border control is way quicker, just a mere three minute passport check and we're on our way, continuing further west. For a while the road is intermittently bumpy, with a number of potholes, and a couple of times I find myself caught unawares and bouncing off the ceiling.

Lunch

Yet another private room with a huge flat-screen TV. This one is not playing Lara Croft, however, but a very funny Russian slap-stick comedy about an incompetent chef in a restaurant. There is no need to understand Russian to appreciate the humour, although Meylis translates any dialogue of importance. None of us want to leave when we have finished our meal, as we are desperate to find out what happens next in the soap opera. Alas, we will never know the fate of the live goose the hapless chef bought.

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After the huge lunches we've had the last couple of days, and as my tummy is still pretty fragile, I order just a plain lentil soup accompanied by the ubiquitous bread

The road from here is long and straight, cutting through a vast flat area with the Kopetdag Mountain Range behind, and in the distance a mirage appears on the horizon. It must be soul-destroying boring to drive, and although the speed limit is 90km / hour, we are travelling a 'little bit' faster than that.

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Sand from the Karakum Desert (which covers 80% of the country) blows across the road for a few miles, offering some reprieve - and interest - from the previous monotonous view.

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In this arid and barren region we are surprised to see a flood plain. Apparently the water is still here since some heavy rain they experienced in April. I am absolutely flabbergasted that surface water can survive the oppressive dry heat in this region for five months without evaporating. That must have been some rain storm! It's not just a small puddle either, but covers quite a substantial area. Meylis tells us that at the time the road was deep under water for a couple of weeks. I can well imagine that is must have been pretty bad for there still to be so much flood water left now.

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We stop at a filling station to put fuel in the car, and are impressed by the Eco 93 petrol sold here. Apparently it is the first 'clean petrol' in the world, made from gas (of which Turkmenistan has rather a lot). At 2 manat a litre (57c / 46p at the official rate of 3.5 manat per dollar) it is more expensive than regular petrol. I wish I could take some home!

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Mollakara Sanatorium and Salt Lake

Opened in 2012, the modern health spa was built in a famous therapeutic mud resort on the shores of Lake Mollakara. The lake is fed by underground sources, and its healing features include chlorides and sodium sulphate, magnesium, iron, bromine salts and other minerals.

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Artem is trying to find a way down to the lake, but it seems the sanatorium wants to monopolise the salty waters, and has closed all gates and entrances that lead down to the shore. After trying a number of options, which include ignoring signs, attempting to pick gate locks, and driving off road to get around fencing; we finally manage to get near the water's edge, only to find the lake is almost dry!

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How astonishing! We passed areas of flooding just a few miles back, yet here there is very little water left in the lake! The sanatorium websites talk about swimming and floating in the alkaline waters - here it is so shallow that you'd be lucky if your ankles get wet!

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After driving around a little bit more, Artem finds another part of the lake, where, although there is very little water left, the salt deposits are easily accessible close to the road.

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The salt has formed little ridges on the surface, creating an interesting texture.

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Like little kids, all four of us go and play on and with the crusty salt formations.

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The benefits of salty water and mud treatments have been know to people from old times, and as long ago as 1900 there was a sanatorium built here.

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Who needs an expensive health spa to reap the benefits?

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Cemetery

It seems that different regions of Turkmenistan have different traditions and cultures when it comes to burying their dead. The grave markers at this cemetery consist of leaning plants of wood.

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Balkanabat

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This area is well known for its strong winds (which we saw evidence of earlier, with the sand drifting across the road), something that is reflected in this sculpture depicting desert people leaning in to the wind and shielding their faces from the blowing sand as they walk.

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Balkanabat may be a modern city built on the proceeds of oil; but there are still unattended camels wandering around the streets.

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Nebichi Hotel

As with the hotel we stayed at in Ashgabat, Nebichi Hotel looks palatial from the outside and has a grand-looking lobby.

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What it doesn't have, however, is a lift. Nor does it provide more than one set of towels or spare roll(s) of toilet paper. This seems to be a common trend here in Turkmenistan, and we ring for Housekeeping to bring the missing items to the room. Thankfully Meylis helps carry our bags up the two flights of stairs. Having a strong young man for a guide, certainly has its advantages.

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Dinner

As he did last night, Meylis knocks on the door as he has been asked to come down to the restaurant to help us order as the waitress speaks no English.

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The restaurant is full of idiosyncrasies – lovely linen tablecloth, covered in tacky-looking plastic; and the beautifully folded cloth napkins are apparently just for decorative purposes. Once the waitress has taken our order, she removes David's napkin and places it on a storage cabinet next to us. As soon as she is out of sight, however, I recover the napkin and place it back onto David's plate. When she returns with our drinks, the server yet again removes the cloth napkin, and brings us cheap paper serviettes instead. By this stage I have already unfolded mine and put it on my lap, so the moment she disappears back into the kitchen again, I carefully re-fold it, thread it through the little serviette-ring and put in with David's on the side. I might as well comply with the unwritten napkin rule and enjoy a my beer.

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Too pretty to be used

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David's head cold is still making his eyes extremely sensitive to light, so he plays Mr Cool with his sunglasses on.

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Adana Kebab - meat in a wrap with vegetables and a tasty sauce.

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The beef stroganoff features the best meat we've had so far on the trip

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Russian salad. With ham. In a Muslim country. OK.....

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The food is good, and we go to bed feeling very satisfied after another fascinating day here in Turkmenistan. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:12 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged beer desert landscape cemetery scenery museum dinner tv flood camel salt gas petrol cold travel_photography mirage poetry fuel arid comedy poet turkmenistan salt_lake kebab central_asia undiscovered_destinations head_cold pomegranate karakum ex_ussr fried_salami border_checks moon_mountains kopetdag kopetdag_mountains lunar_scenery pomegranate_trees magtymguly magtymguly_museum private_dining lentil_soup karakum_desert mollakara sanatorium mollakara_sanatorium mollakara_salt_lake balkanabat petrol_station nebichi_hotel idiosyncrasy napkin napkin_saga serviette adana_kebab beef_stroganoff stroganoff russian_salad Comments (11)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 2 - ele herd, lion cubs v/whirlwind

Plenty of elephants


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

After a very nice packed lunch, a stroll around the Visitors Centre, a use of the facilities and a tank full of petrol, we set off for some more explorations of the Seronera area of Serengeti.

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Baby Thomson's Gazelle

This little youngster, here seen with his older brother, is less than two weeks old. All together now: “Awwww”.

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Elephants

If we thought yesterday's herd was big at 75 animals, today we count 83 elephants. They are, however, technically two large herds in close proximity. Not just to each other, but also to us, walking right by all the cars gathered.

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Two males are bonding with a spot of play-fighting, or is it a bromance?

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The herd, or memory as a group of elephants is also known, consists of several cute youngsters.

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We stay with the elephants for a long time, just watching them make their way across the savanna, heading for an area with palm trees and water.

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Cheetah

Under this tree in the far distance is a big male cheetah. Honestly.

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He is keeping a close eye on a warthog in the even further distance.

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The cheetah gets up, walks around a bit, then lies down again. Too much excitement for one day.

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I don't think he fancies his chances against the elephants on the horizon.

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We let him carry on with his siesta and continue on our way to “see what nature has to offer us”.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

We see a couple of these birds within minutes of each other, or maybe it is the same one following us.

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Different bush, different light

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Spotted Hyena

Malisa tells us that a campaign has been in place to thin out the numbers of hyenas in the Ngorongoro crater as there were too many in such a small space. A number of them were tranquillised, marked and moved to the Serengeti; however, within sixteen hours they were back in the crater. I guess it is easier to eat your food in a bowl such as Ngorongoro rather than trying to chase your peas around a large dinner plate like the Serengeti.

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Thomson's Gazelles

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Two males fight for control of the large harem. The following conversation then occurs in the vehicle:

Malisa: “Thomson's Gazelles are polyandrous, females mate with several males”

Grete: “Lucky girls”.

Chris: “I'd call them sluts”

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Secretary Bird and Roadkill

She is eating a hedgehog, although it is unlikely that she killed it herself, it was most likely the victim of a road accident.

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Whirlwind

This mini dust tornado barges its way across the savanna with no regard for man or beast in its way.

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Giraffe

Just out for an afternoon stroll

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He stops off for a snack along the way.

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White Browed Coucal

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"You looking at me"?

Sausage Tree

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You can see why these sponge-like fruits are used as loofahs.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

As soon as we stop the car, it is like the dust suddenly catches up with us, and for a while the animals are enveloped in a cloud of brown 'smog'.

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It takes a minute or so for the dust to settle. Thankfully on this occasion the monkey didn't make a run for it before the air had cleared.

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Thomson's Gazelles

As is often the case when you see Vervet Monkeys, we find Thomson's Gazelles nearby. They have a symbiotic relationship based on commensalism, where the gazelles benefit from fruits dropped from the trees by the monkeys and their early warning signals of impending danger.

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Pond Life

Waterholes are always a hive of activity, especially at this time of year when much of the savannah has completely dried out.

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Secretary Bird

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Bohor Reedbuck

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Three Banded Plover

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Ruff

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Bohor Reedbuck

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Secretary Bird

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Blacksmith Plover

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Three Banded Plover

Lions

Shade created by a tall tree shelters four lions from the midday sun. These are three cubs from two different mothers. One of the females has gone off, leaving the other in charge of the babies. She may be hunting or she may have 'sacrificed herself' by going off to mate with a strange male to stop him from coming into the pride and killing the cubs.

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Whirlwind

We hear it long before we see it. It's a strange sound, a bit like tires on gravel or ice, but without the engine noise. The cubs can hear it too, and it seems to really spook them.

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One the dust devil has passed, they all gather together and peace is yet again restored to this small lion family.

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Troop of Olive Baboons

Young and old baboons are all around us – on the ground, climbing the trees and eating the flowers, riding on their parents' backs or bellies...

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Thank you Calabash, the best safari company by far, for another terrific morning in Serengeti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:40 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys elephants tree africa safari tanzania cheetah petrol lions giraffe baboons lion_cubs roller serengeti dust hyena shrike bird_watching hedgehog game_drive water_hole lilac_breasted_roller whirlwind calabash_adventures olive_baboons vervet_monkeys seronera spotted_hyena plover secretary_bird game_viewing sausage_tree ruff mini_tornado thomson's_gazelle reedbuck visitors_centre seregeti_visitors_centre grey_backed_fiscal_shrike dust_devil white_browed_coucal black_faced_vervet_monkets pond_life three_banded_plover blacksmith_plover Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 1 - 3 brothers, Visitor Centre

Leaving Turner Springs, the Three Brothers and Serengeti Visitors Centre


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

Despite being up and in the car by 05:40 this morning, we somehow don't seem to leave until 06:10. The good thing about this, of course, is that we actually get to see the Ole Serai Luxury camp in (almost) daylight.

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This is the view at 05:40

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It's getting lighter

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Almost daylight

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The lodge reception. It is sad to leave Ole Serai behind as we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, but it is time to move on to our next accommodation and more adventures. When we depart, all the staff come out to wave us goodbye.

The sun rises really quickly this close to the equator.

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The Three Brothers

Malisa explains that these three male lions are brothers, and that each of them has a distinct purpose: one is a fighter (we can distinguish him by the scars), one the lover (no physical scars visible, but he maybe has some mental ones?) and the last one acts as the lookout.

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Look at those scars!

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This must be the lover, he is very handsome

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Judging by their flat bellies, they are all hungry. Because of their large, heavy size, they are more likely to take the easy option, however, and steal another lion's kill as it uses much less energy than trying to make a kill themselves. They are not the least bit interested in the Thomson's Gazelle in nearby.

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The lions have drawn quite a crowd.

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The brothers settle down to enjoy the warmth of the early morning sun and we move on to “see what else nature has to offer us today”, one of Malisa's favourite sayings.

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Long Crested Eagle

Spotting something on the ground, he takes off, dives down, tries to grab whatever it was he saw, but returns to his lofty perch empty-handed. Or should that be empty-taloned?

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Coke's Hartebeest

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The long pointy ears make it look like the hartebeest has four horns.

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Serengeti Visitors Centre

This is always a good place to spot birds and small mammals, as many visitors have their picnic here leaving crumbs for the residents. We are stopping for breakfast today.

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Red and Yellow Barbet

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Hildebrand Starling

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African Paradise Monarch

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Female Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

Rock Hyrax

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Tree Hyrax

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After our picnic we go for a stroll along the interactive boardwalk around the kopje while Malisa goes off to get petrol for the car. Last time we came with Lyn and Chris (in 2016) it was closed for renovation, and last year (2017) when it was just the two of us I was unable to partake in the walk because I was suffering badly from pneumonia, so it was good to be able to see what they had done to it.

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It's a fun walk, sympathetically created to blend in with nature, complete with lots of metal sculptures and explanation boards.

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Dung Beetles

Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while, may remember that I have a soft spot for dung beetles.

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Another good reason for stopping here is to use the very decent modern toilets.

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A great big “THANKS” goes out to Calabash Adventures for organising yet another fantastic safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds breakfast africa safari tanzania birding picnic petrol lions toilets serengeti monarch starling hyrax barbet bird_watching game_drive tented_camp dung_beetles calabash_adventures hartebeest kopje rock_hyrax tree_hyrax breakfast_picnic game_viewing ole_serai_luxury_camp ole_seari luxury_camp three_brothers long_crested_eagle serengeti_visitor_centre hildebrand_starling red_and_yellow_barbet african_paradise_monarch visitors_centre visitor_centre Comments (1)

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