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Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part I

Zany zebras, baby baboons, eccentric elephants and lounging lions


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Another early start in the dark today, complete with luggage as we are moving on to pastures new. Leaving Mbuzi Mawe this morning, we are all feeling the cold.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Much as I really enjoy leaving at the crack of dawn to make the most of the day on the savannah, this first hour or so is not conducive to photography. Darkness = high ISO = grainy and dull images.

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Wildebeest

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This morning we appear to be in the heart of the migration, with wildebeest all around us. Unfortunately, with the animals come the tse tse flies. Nasty little buggers and they are particularly numerous and bothersome where there are trees, such as here.

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Hot Air Balloon

A hot air balloon glides gracefully over the savannah as we make our way through the park.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Flooded River

I think it must have rained heavily during the night, as the river is flowing over the causeway this morning.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Zebras

Everywhere we look there are zebras. A huge herd – or dazzle – of zebras. Long lines of zebras. Adult zebras. Baby zebras. Lactating zebras. Mating zebras. Eating zebras. Zebra crossings. And more zebras. And then some.

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Cheetah

Two young brothers can barely be seen above the long grass. Having just eaten (we missed it), they saunter off into the distance.

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Olive Baboons

We follow a troop of baboons along the road for a while.

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The baby is very young - no more than two or three days old at the most.

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But I still think he looks like an old man.

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Such a tender family moment!

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That moment when your dad has got you by the scruff of the neck but mum is looking out for you.

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Giraffe

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Located in Seronera in Central Serengeti, the visitors centre is a good place to stop for several reasons:
1. they have new and very clean / modern toilets (I have a problem again today)
2. there is a nice picnic area with lots of semi-tame birds, hyraxes and mongooses
3. an intersting exhibition displays information about Serengeti in general and the wildebeest migration in particular
4. there is also a nice little nature walk on elevated wooden walkways.

Banded Mongoose

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Sadly the boardwalk is closed for crucial repairs today, but we are given a guided tour of the information centre.

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Hippo Jaw

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Buffalo Skulls

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Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, will know that I have a wish list, and that aardvark is on that list (and has been for the last four safaris here in Tanzania - it became a running joke with our previous driver Dickson). I still haven’t seen one, so I have to make do with a mural on the wall.

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Rock and Tree Hyrax

It is very hard to tell the difference between these two different animals – the tree hyrax has a lighter stripe down the back, but it is not always obvious.

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And I guess the Tree Hyrax is more often found in …. yes, you guessed it … trees.

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But not always.

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Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest!

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A hyrax with ambition: pretending to be a wildebeest.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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The Gowler African Adventure

On previous holidays with Lyn and Chris (canal barge cruising) we have always had a themed day where we all dress up for a bit of fun, so this time I made these T-shirts for us all to wear, with the ‘team logo’. This safari has been in the planning stages for well over a year, and along the way we have had a lot of fun.

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After our usual packed breakfast at the picnic site here in the Visitors Centre, we continue our game drive, exploring more of the Serengeti.

Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Hippo

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Although we can only just see the tops of their backs, we can certainly smell them!

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Black Headed Heron

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Giraffes

Q: What do you call a group of giraffes?
A: A tower, journey, corps or herd.

There’s a bit of trivia for your next pub quiz.

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Suddenly they all turn to face the same direction and continue staring that way for quite some time. I wonder what they have spotted?

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We'll never know.

Olive Baboons

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Elephants

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They’re everywhere. So many of them – we count 31!

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One of the older ladies appear a little ‘eccentric’, carrying grass on the top of her back.

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Having a good scratch.

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You know the grass is long when you can lose a couple of baby elephants in it.

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For the next half an hour, the herd of elephants (also known as a memory or parade) slowly meander all around us – sometimes very close - as they munch their way across the savannah.

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Lion

A lone male lion tries to hide in a prickly bush.

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Giraffe

Earlier we saw an almost white giraffe, whereas this one is very dark. I had no idea giraffes vary so much in their colouration!

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White Browed Coucal

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Impala

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Tse Tse Flies

This area seems to be teeming with these pesky little flies, and I get bitten around fifteen times in as many minutes. They hurt when they bite you and itch like **** afterwards.

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Lions in a tree

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Just like I was complaining about the tse tse flies a few minutes ago, lions sometimes climb onto tree branches to get away from them, but as you can see from the photo below, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

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On the other side is another lion in another tree.

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After a while, another car pulls up. As usual, we can hear the Americans before we see them. They take a few shots with their mobile phones and numerous more selfies before they move on again. They are not even here for three minutes.

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We, on the other hand, stick around to see what the lionesses might do, and are rewarded with a bit of action. If you can call it that – at least it is some movement rather than just photographing sleeping lions. Or photographing ourselves with sleeping lions in the background.

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The lone lioness from the other tree decides to join her mates.

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There is a lot of shuffling going on, they never seem to find a particularly comfortable position. I can see why you'll never see a male lion in a tree!

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Look at the number of flies on this poor girl's face! It's no wonder she is not comfortable.

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Well, that was certainly worth enduring the tse tse flies for!

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Time to stop for lunch, and a convenient time to break this blog entry. This afternoon’s game drive will feature in a new entry

Thank you so much to our guide Malisa and Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by a long shot.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes trees animals birds monkeys road_trip travel elephants roads scenery cute holiday africa safari tanzania unesco birding cheetah photography lions giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip ballooning serengeti vulture memory flycatcher impala kingfisher mongoose wildebeest shrike hot_air_balloon hyrax bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive tented_camp lilac_breasted_roller road-trip adorable safari_vehicle calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys tower_of_giraffe serena_hotels central_serengeti tse_tse_flies lions_in_a_tree mbuzi mawe grey_headed_kingfisher lappet_faced_vulture serengeti_visitors_centre wildebeest_migration rock_hyrax tree_hyrax banded_mongoose swallow barn_swallow coucal grey_backed_shrike moru Comments (0)

Serengeti Part I

The lions of Togoro Plains and much more


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

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As we wait for Malisa to come and collect us for today’s safari, Chris catches up on some sleep.

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The sun has not yet made an appearance and darkness hangs over the camp when we leave, so I still have no idea what this place looks like: the layout, or the surroundings. Usually I do a lot of research of each accommodation before we leave home, but this lodge is a complete surprise for everyone - an alien concept to me.

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It's quite exciting really, like a mystery tour!

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Sunrises (and sunsets) are pretty speedy affairs this close to the equator, so we haven’t travelled far before we can start making out the outlines of the kopjes around the camp.

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Initially just as a silhouette, but within a few minutes we can distinguish some features on the landscape.

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Cape Buffalo

So these are the guys we heard chomping last night, right outside our tent, and whose eyes the escort shone the torch into while (over) dramatically telling us how dangerous they are?

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The temperature this morning is a little on the cool side.

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It will soon warm up when the sun comes out.

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Lions

Chris isn’t the only one who is feeling tired this morning it seems.

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On a meadow of fluffy grasses, a lion pride made up of nine members, gathers around a kill. A wildebeest. Or rather an ex-wildebeest. It could even be the mother of the orphaned calf we saw yesterday.

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The pecking order is very evident here as a couple of the youngsters try to join dad for breakfast. He tells them what he thinks of that in no uncertain terms, while mum looks on with resignation: “They’ll learn”.

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The cubs are soon distracted. “We’ll have a play instead”

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Wildebeest

All around us, literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest greet the rising sun. Individually their grunt sounds a little like a human groan, but in these numbers the noise they make becomes a hum, like an enormous swarm of bees!

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Speaking of sounds – we can clearly hear the lion crunching the bones as he devours his prey.

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Dad licks his plate, then moves his breakfast a few feet along the open plains. Erm… why?

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In the crater we had a Rasta Lion and at Ndutu there was a Punk Lion. Here we have a Hippy Lion – just look at that hair… I mean mane. It is like a 70s rock star!

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Well, kiss my ass!

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“Do you think a fringe suits me? I’ve heard it is all the rage this year.”

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The youngsters wait in the wings for dad to finish his meal.

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On every bush and in every tree is a vulture hanging around until it is their turn too.

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Wildebeest

A long line of wildebeest is heading straight for the lions. Their poor eyesight is leading them into trouble again.

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The young lionesses realise that there is a potentially earlier - maybe even easier - breakfast than having to wait for dad to finish eating.

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The wildebeest have also spotted the lions and are running for their lives. Literally.

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She’s closing in, aiming for that baby at the back. An easy prey…

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She has to be quicker than that, it’s no good just sitting there looking at them; they’re not going to come to you.

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The last of the wildebeest makes it alive past the lions. Phew! I can breathe again now.

Meanwhile dad continues to eat his breakfast.

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While the rest of the family lie around licking their chops impatiently for when they will be allowed to have some.

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“Let’s go and harass dad”

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Dad, however, is totally unperturbed by the whole thing.

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Has he finished?

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Nah.

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Finally?

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It certainly looks that way, as with a full tummy he wanders off to find water.

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Typical male: once he’s had his meal he goes off to the pub for a drink, leaving his wife to do the clearing up!

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The rest of the family descend on the dining table like hungry… well, lions.

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I notice dad hasn’t left much to be divided between the remaining eight. You could say he's had the lion's share. I can certainly see where that expression comes from.

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This guy has managed to secure himself a tasty little morsel, however.

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The vultures move in a little closer, and noisy plovers circle above screeching out distressed warning signals. “Yes, we know there are lions. Thanks anyway guys".

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As we wonder how many lions you can fit around a scrawny wildebeest carcass, we leave them – and the constant wildebeest hum - to it and move on to our next wilderness experience.

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Jackal versus Vultures

We come across another kill where the predators have moved on, leaving what little is left in the hands of the scavengers, in this case some White Backed Vultures and a couple of Marabou Storks.

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All is reasonably calm until a couple of Black Backed Jackals arrive.

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End of Round One: Vultures 1 Jackals 0

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Round Two: the jackal seems to have managed to somehow get hold of a slither of meat, and the vultures go all out for the tackle. The ensuing squabble is reminiscent of the scenes I once witnessed in Tesco when the reduced items came out on a Saturday afternoon.

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The vultures bring in the reserves.

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Despite this somewhat unfair advantage, the score at the end of Round Two is Vultures 1 Jackals 1

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The opposition team regroup to work out their next move.

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It seems they don’t quite agree on tactics.

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With all the internal politics, and no real action, the audience looks bored.

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While not exactly bored, we leave the jackals and vultures to fight it out between them and drive a little further north.

Lion and Jackal Prints

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More Lions + Another Kill = More Vultures

Further along we see seven lions on a kill (that’s the fourth kill we’ve seen this morning, and it's only 08:15) and another ‘Vulture Tree’ full of birds waiting to swoop on the carcass.

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As soon as the lions move off, the vultures descend en masse.

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The lions and a jackal look on with bemusement.

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Topi

Does my bum look big in this?

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Wildebeest Rutting Season

This time of the year is when the males compete for the attention of the females – they have been known to fight until death!

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This morning, however, hunger wins and they go back to grazing. So do we.

Picnic Breakfast

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When we made our choices last night for the breakfast box, Chris crossed everything out on the menu except the muffin. That was all he wanted for breakfast – a muffin. Fair enough. Imagine his disappointment when he opens his box this morning, and finds everything in there, EXCEPT the muffin!

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All around us is the hum of the wildebeest.

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It is very much cooler this morning than any previous days.

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Although Malisa doesn’t seem to feel it as he wears his Rasta Lion T shirt and motorcycle-tyre sandals.

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Grey Crowned Cranes

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Lions Re-Visited

We go back to see our lions, who have their eye on another wildebeest.

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They do some more half-hearted stalking, but they are obviously not that hungry.

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The vultures hover expectantly above, but this time they are out of luck.

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As we're driving along, David shouts out "Oh, look: wildebeest". We all fall for it, sitting bolt upright and looking for... wildebeest? Even Malisa stops. Doh... for the last hour or so, we have been surrounded by several thousand wildebeest - they are not exactly a novelty!

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My tummy is not at all happy today, and when I let Malisa know, he suggests going back to the camp to use their facilities, as we are very near anyway. That sounds good to me – not just because there is a proper toilet, but it will also be nice to see the camp in daylight.

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Today we can see just how close to our room the buffalo do graze. Gulp.

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The camp is totally devoid of human life, but we do see a few four legged critters.

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Emergency over, we continue our game drive, this time we head south.

Klipspringer

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Red Duiker

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Cape Buffalo

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Impala

One male can have a harem of up to 60 females.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Giraffe

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Hippos

A couple of hippos wallow in the shallow Orangi River.

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Olive Baboons

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Dust

We hit the main road through Serengeti; and while there is not much traffic compared with the main dry season, the huge trucks still throw up masses of dust!

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Warthogs

You can only just see the top of their backs in the long grass; which is exactly why they run with their tails straight up - so that their youngsters can see them!

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African Fish Eagle

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

These noise birds get their name from the sound they make when disturbed: “kweh” “kweh”, which does sound a bit like “go way”.

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Magpie Shrike

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Tree Python

Until this trip, we had never seen a snake in Tanzania, and it is one of the items on my wish list. Not only did we see a cobra in Tarangire, and a grass snake crossing the road earlier this morning; a couple of cars stopped with people staring at a tree alerts us to an enormous python.

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At around two metres in length, this brute can swallow an antelope!

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Black Chested Snake Eagle

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Little Bee Eater

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Black Headed Heron

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Serval

This wild African cat is about half way in size between a domestic cat and a cheetah and it’s a fairly rare sighting. Lyn and Chris have been so incredibly lucky with their animal spotting on this safari, although we still haven’t seen a leopard to complete the BIG FIVE.

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End of Part I

As today features quite a few more sightings, I have decided to publish it in two parts; so all that remains now is to say thank you to Calabash Adventures and Malisa for an exciting morning’s game drive.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises birds road_trip view travel vacation views hotel adventure scenery sunrise cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lodge lizard birding picnic photography lions giraffe hippo babies roadtrip eagles serengeti dust kill heron vultures python glamping impala topi wildebeest warthogs jackal stunning stalking bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip serval safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys lion_kill mbuzi_mawe long_grass_plains short_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje marabou_stork red_duiker klipspringer black_headed_heron african_fish_eagle tree_python jackals Comments (0)

Ndutu - Mbuzi Mawe

The Legendary Serengeti

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I start the day with a spot of bird watching as the sun comes up.

White Rumped Helmetshrike

Dung beetle for breakfast anyone?

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Superb Starling

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Unusually, we take breakfast in the lodge this morning, before setting off for another day of game viewing.

When asked if he would like egg and bacon, David jokingly says – in a lowered voice as the waiter walks away – “mushrooms, baked beans…” Of course, that is exactly what he gets!

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Aardvark

On our last couple of safaris with Calabash, I bantered with our guide Dickson about wanting to see an aardvark, and that I will keep coming to Tanzania on safari until I do.

Today I finally get to see my aardvark, in the grounds of Ndutu Lodge. Shame it is made from metal – I guess I can’t quite tick it off my wish list yet.

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Oxpeckers

These birds have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes. The giraffe provides a happy home for ticks, which the oxpeckers eat, relieving the giraffe of the annoyance the insects can cause.

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Giraffe

Today's host is an old male giraffe.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

As the leopard’s favourite food, the vervets go to great lengths to hide their whereabouts from their nocturnal predator, including smearing their poop on the branches at night, rather than letting it drop to the ground so that the leopard cannot easily detect where they are sleeping.

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He is showing off his bright blue testicles again.

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Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

On the prowl across the grasslands, looking for snakes.

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Spotted Hyena

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Lions

These guys have not moved from the spot where we left them resting last night, although the missing ninth lion has rejoined them.

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A couple of them head our way, coming right up to the car, sniffing the tyres and eventually settling down in the shade of the vehicle. That’s pretty close!

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I think that means we have a symbiotic relationship with the lions – we provide them with shade, they give us some great photo opportunities.

This guy does not look too sure about Chris. It makes me wonder how high they can jump.

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Woolly Necked Vultures

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Engine Failure

Ten minutes after leaving the lions, the engine coughs, splutters and then dies. After a few tries, Malisa gets it going again, but not for long. We joke that he’s filled it with ‘jumpy diesel’, but eventually he cannot get it going again just by turning the key, and has to get out and under. Oh dear.

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An area filled with lions, cheetah, leopards and hyena is not the best place to lie down on the ground under a car, so I am relieved when Malisa gets the car going again reasonably quickly – a wire had broken from all the off-roading.

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Having a trained car mechanic as a driver-guide certainly has its advantages. Well done that man! I am surprised that breakdowns don't happen more often - this is the first one we've encountered in the four safaris we've had with Calabash.

Short Grass Plains

Heading for the entrance gate to Serengeti, the track runs across what is known as the Short Grass Plains, for obvious reasons. One of the great things about a safari on the Northern Circuit in Tanzania is that even as you drive from one place to another, there is always an opportunity to do some game viewing, and this morning we see a few animals along the way.

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Here we can see Naabi Hill in the distance, which is what we are aiming for - the official entrance to the Serengeti National Park.

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Grant's Gazelle

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Zebra

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Ostriches

As we approach, panic mode sets in and these enormous flightless birds start running around like headless chickens. “Don’t panic, don’t panic!”

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We leave the Ndutu area behind a join the main ‘road’ to the gate.

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Lions

Just before the entrance, we spot a lioness with two cubs resting in the shade of a kopje.

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Giraffe Drinking

It is fairly unusual to see a giraffe drinking from the ground like this, as being in that position makes him very vulnerable to predators.

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It is even more unusual to see a three-necked giraffe!

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Naabi Hill

Towering above the grassy plains of the Serengeti, Naabi Hill is the location of the main entrance gate to the park, and offers amazing views over the Endless Plains below.

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While Malisa goes off to get our tickets and sort out the registration, we take a short walk on the Kopje Trail that leads up the scenic observation point on top of the rocky outcrop behind the information centre.

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The kopje appears to ‘float in the sea of grass’ that is the Serengeti Plains.

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From the summit we can easily understand why the Maasai named this place Serengeti – 'a vast land that runs forever, where endless plains meet the sky' in the local language.

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It is said that the only way you will get a better view of Serengeti, is from a hot air balloon, and that is definitely not on the agenda for this trip, not at $539 per person!

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Naabi Hill is a haven for lizards, who lounge on the sun-baked rocks along the path, totally unperturbed by passing tourists.

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Exit is through the shop, as usual.

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While we wait for Malisa to finish up the paper work, we do a spot of bird watching.

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Rock Martin

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Juvenile Ashy Starling (I think)

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Juvenile Hildebrand Starling

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Hildebrand Starling

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Lappet Faced Vulture

After a while I comment that the entrance formalities seem to be taking a particularly long time today, which considering how quiet it is, I find a bit strange. It turns out that while we have been waiting for Malisa outside the information centre, he has been at the car, wondering where we are. Doh!

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Serengeti National park

This has to be the most renowned wildlife park in the entire world, and for good reason; with over 10,000 square miles of pristine wilderness, it’s like stepping in to a wildlife documentary. The variety and abundance of wildlife here is unmatched anywhere else in Africa. Serengeti is unparalleled in so many ways – not only does it have the world's largest herd of migrating ungulates, but also the largest concentration of predators in the world.

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Most people think of the Serengeti as being a vast endless grassy plain, as well as totally underestimating its size. In reality the park is comprised of a wide range of ecosystems, with some parts featuring areas of acacia forest, others granite mountains and soda lakes, each with its own different character and range of wildlife.

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Rather than taking the main road this morning, we head east towards Gol Kopjes, an area where we need a special permit to visit.

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Giraffe

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Warthogs

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Aren’t they just the cutest when they run with their tails straight up? They do that so that the babies can see their mums in the long grass.

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Mirage

A naturally occurring optical illusion, a mirage is caused by light bending rays, giving the impression of an oasis in the distance.

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Steppe Eagle

For one spine-tingling moment we believe he has picked up a snake; until we realise he is merely nest building.

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It is still pretty cool to see him carry it away in his beak though.

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Marabou Stork

This has to be one of the ugliest birds in existence, surely?

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Lions

In the distance we spot a couple of lions. We are becoming almost blasé to them now – there is not much point in hanging around when they are so far away. We have seen them nearer and better before…

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Gol Kopjes

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Nicknamed the ‘world’s largest Japanese rock garden’, this is a picturesque area, with a series of granite outcrops (kopjes) dotted on the otherwise flat short grass plains.

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This area is said to have the highest concentration of cheetah in Africa, but it is not a cheetah we spot sleeping on the rocks, but a lion.

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When we go closer, we see it is in fact a collared lioness. The head of the pride, she is an exceptional hunter, which is why the authorities want to monitor her.

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As this girl is a well-known matriarch, it’s a pretty good bet that there are more lions in the near vicinity; and we don’t have long to wait before another lioness appears on the top of the rock behind.

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With a full belly she walks slowly and lazily, settling down in the shade of a tree.

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A heaving brown lump in the long grass indicates a male lion panting heavily. The lions have obviously recently eaten and are all full to bursting.

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This one seems to have the right idea.

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Golden Jackal

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Committee Meeting

The collective noun for vultures is committee, and here we have Rueppell’s Griffon, Woolly Necked and White Backed Vultures, as well as a couple of Marabou Storks.

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Thomson’s Gazelle

It’s that time of year – two Tommy males spar for the attention of a female.

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Topi

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Tawny eagle

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Coke's Hartebeest

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Dung Beetle

This poor little beetle is trying to roll his ball of dung into a hole in the ground, but is finding the earth too hard. He eventually just rolls it into the grass cover.

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More Lions

Another kopje, another lion pride. Such is life in the Serengeti.

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The one ‘security guard’ left out on the sunny savannah looking after the remains of dinner (probably a baby wildebeest) gazes longingly at the other pride members resting in the shade.

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Tortoise

One of the animals on my wish list this year is a tortoise, and this morning one strolls right by as we are watching the lions.

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Steppe Eagle

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Judging by the droppings, I'd say this is a favourite perch of his.

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After finding a large pride of lions at each of the last three kopjes, Lyn is not at all happy about getting out of the car when we stop at another rocky outcrop for our picnic lunch. “Is it safe” she asks Malisa, but eventually - after plenty of reassurance - she reluctantly alights the vehicle.

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Malisa teases her about it, and even takes a photo of her still in the van to send to Tillya.

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As we drive away from the picnic site, Lyn jokingly shouts out “Oh, look: simba!” pointing to a non-existent lion near the kopje we had just been sitting next to. Much to our amusement, Chris falls for it!

Grant’s Gazelle

A bachelor herd full of young wannabes.

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Topi

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After one quick look at us, he takes off. Literally.

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White Stork

Non-resident, they are European migrants – just like us then.

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Wildebeest

We come across a small herd of migrating wildebeest.

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A few minutes later we see this lone youngster, probably left behind when the herd moved on. He seems to be rather dazed – no wonder they call a group of wildebeest a confusion.

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He looks suspiciously towards us, then misled by his very poor eyesight, runs off in the opposite direct to the group we saw earlier.

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Having eaten too much for lunch, I feel like the lazy lions we encountered this morning and all I want to do is go to sleep in the shade to digest the food. I have a little nap in the car and wake up when we stop.

Dead Wildebeest

Malisa surmises that this wildebeest mother fell during a stampede and got trampled on, and has now become food for the vultures and Marabou Stork. Each of the different vultures have beaks that are designed for different actions, so as not to cause competition at a kill. The only one who can open a carcass is the Woolly Neck; so that's who they are all waiting for.

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The saddest thing about this scene is the baby wildebeest just standing there, watching the scavengers eating her mum. That really breaks my heart.

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In the middle of the road there is another, much younger baby wildebeest. We are guessing that his mother has probably been taken by a predator; this guy is so weak he can hardly walk and way too young to make it on his own - he is literally just waiting to be someone’s dinner.

That’s the stark and sometimes cruel reality of the wilderness.

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Long Grass Plains

As we drive further into the Serengeti, we notice that the plains change from the short grass that is typical around Ndutu, through medium grass plains around Naabi Hill to the longer grasses in this area. The plains are framed by rocky hills and river courses, swelled by the recent rains.

So why is the length of the grass worthy of a mention?

It is not so much the grass – although length does matter dontcha know – it’s the fact that the change of grassland also brings a change in the balance of the species – for instance, we see many more hartebeest and topi here than anywhere else on this trip.

Another point - sometimes we can only just see the tops of the animals, one of the disadvantages of travelling in the Green Season.

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Muddy Tracks

One of the other downsides to coming here at this time of year is that often the tracks become just pure mud after a heavy rainfall.

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Some even turn into impromptu streams and become totally impassable.

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Malisa engages the 4WD to make sure we can get through OK – we don’t really want to have to get out and push unless absolutely necessary.

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It’s easy peasy when you have the right tool for the job.

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Cape Buffalo

A breeding herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo.

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Bateleur Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Warthog

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Maasai Kopjes

Kopjes – an Afrikaans term referring to isolated rock hills that rise abruptly from the surrounding flat savannah – are remarkable in that they have their own little ecosystems with a range of vegetation and wildlife.

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Lions

Maasai Kopjes are home to a large pride of lions, who are the subject of numerous studies by the Serengeti Lion Project. We study them sleeping for a while this afternoon.

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Dik Dik

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White Headed Vulture

Malisa excitedly informs us this is a very rare sighting – it is certainly a new bird to us.

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Hippo

One lump or two?

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Pin Tailed Swallow

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Defassa Waterbuck

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Zebra

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It seems that stripes are in this year.

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Wildebeest Migration

The rains being a month late arriving this year has confused the wildebeest, and instead of being up in the Western Corridor now, they are found in great numbers here in Central Serengeti.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Coqui Francolin

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He makes the most peculiar sound – as if he is laughing.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Stormy Clouds

Some formidable dark clouds are building up and the light is extraordinarily intense with the low evening sun creating remarkably saturated colours! I think we might be in for some rain before long…

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Klipspringer

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And here comes the rain – bringing with it some even more bizzare conditions: the sunset reflecting in the water drops with a rainbow behind.

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We move on a bit further and are able to see the whole rainbow, with the dramatic light constantly changing.

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Mbuzi Mawe

By the time we reach our camp, it is dark and the rain has really set in – what was a gently drizzle, is now a heavy downpour. It’s the first ‘proper’ rain we’ve had on this trip, so we shouldn’t complain.

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A small army of porters with umbrellas meet us in the car park and take us to the reception. It seems a long walk.

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After the usual formalities, we are shown to our tent – which ironically is half way down to the car park again. Apologies for rubbish photos taken hand held in almost pitch black.

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The tents are very spacious, with two huge four-poster beds, a seating area and a writing desk. Attached to the back is a modern bathroom with double basins, shower, toilet and changing area. This is my sort of camping.

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This place is as much of a surprise to me as it is to Lyn and Chris. When he knew the wildebeest migration was changing route, Tillya changed our accommodation to a more convenient position – that is one of the numerous reasons we keep coming back to using Calabash Adventures – their customer care!

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I love it!

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Just after we get to the room, housekeeping arrives to carry out the ‘turn-back service’. A young girl is being trained and they seem to take forever - I know they prefer to come and do it while we are in the room so that we’ll tip them; but its a bit of an inconvenience as we have just a short time between arriving back from safari and going for dinner.

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So we have a drink instead of a shower. Shucks. Life is hard.

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The tents are all facing outwards on the edge of the camp, overlooking the kopje (or you would be looking at it if it wasn’t pitch black). Buffalo graze in the long grass the other side of the path.

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A gentle man with a big spear, little English and a contagious laugh escorts us from the tent to the restaurant.

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Rock Hyrax

On the way he shines his torch at the rocky outcrops, illuminating a huddle of rock hyrax.

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The dinner is impressive, arriving served under large silver domes, all four of which are removed at exactly the same time to reveal the piping hot food underneath.

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Both David and I have Kuku Wa Kupaka – a local dish of chicken cooked in a coconut cream with ‘coastal spices’.

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Lyn and I share a bottle of white wine, David and Chris have red.

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The dessert gateau is a disappointment apparently, as is my self-serve cheese and biscuits: there is next to nothing left.

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The servers and kitchen staff serenade an Australian couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, just as the staff did for us in Maramboi.

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We retire to our rooms after another spectacular day on safari with Calabash Adventures. Thanks again guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sky night monkeys rain hills sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel adventure roads scenery sunrise clouds holiday fun party africa mud safari rainbow tanzania lodge zebra eagle wine beetle lizard birding chicken tourists picnic photography alcohol lions giraffe hippo roadtrip serengeti hyena vulture night_time glamping waterbuck starling wildebeest stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip ndutu african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe hartebeest nadutu_safari_lodge gol_kopjes maasai_kopjes mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels long_grass_plains short_grass_plains naabi_hill central_serengeti mussy_tracks kopje stormy_clouds Comments (0)

Ndutu Part II

A very rare sighting indeed!


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

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Ndutu Lodge

Food at Ndutu is always a pleasure and today’s lunch is no different. After a starter of soup and bread, we are served a ham salad, the taste of which is nothing short of exquisite!

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I am feeling grateful for a relatively small portion at midday, until the accompaniments arrive: potato salad, capsicum salad, and coleslaw.

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Ndutu Lodge is one of the few remaining truly independent safari lodges in Tanzania, and also one of the oldest camps around, dating back to the 1960s when it was the domain of the flamboyant and eccentric professional hunter George Dove.

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When he abandoned hunting in 1967, he made a tented camp here at Ndutu. The lodge was taken over and refurbished in 1985, with stone cottages replacing the original tents. The lodge remains an extremely popular place to stay, and rightly so.

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Renowned wildlife researchers Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick used Ndutu as a base for much of their research about wild dogs and the lodge is popular with a lot of well-known wildlife photographers such as Nick Garbutt, Stu Porter and Steve Bloom. And not to forget Grete Howard and Lyn Gowler!

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I love the lodge's motto:
“Don't expect five stars; from our campfire you will see millions.”

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The lodge is also a cracking place for bird watching, with over 400 species recorded in the vicinity; so after lunch Lyn and I head out with our long lenses to see what we can shoot.

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Slate Coloured Boubou

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Blue Capped Cordon Bleu

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Swahili Sparrow

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Speckled Mousebird

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Laughing Dove

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Common Drongo

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Pool Party!

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Variable Sunbird

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White Bellied Canary

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

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Scarlet Breasted Sunbird

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Steel Blue Whydah

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Ndutu Safari Lodge is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, just outside the border with the Serengeti National Park. Of course, there are no physical barriers separating the two reserves, and the migrating animals aren’t too good at reading maps, so they wander in and out of the parks at will.

Dik Dik

We see these dik diks in the lodge grounds as we leave for this afternoon's game drive.

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Lake Ndutu

We head for the lake again this afternoon. Lake Ndutu used to belong to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but the authorities decided to move the border so that the lake is now inside Serengeti National Park. The reason for doing this is to do with to off-road driving, which is not permitted in the Serengeti but can - and does – take place in the conservation area. The number of cars driving too close to the lakeshore caused erosion damage and was a threat to the environment and the wildlife.

The white post marks the border, and Malisa is very careful to stick to the designated tracks here.

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Lesser Flamingo

On the lakeshore we find a few Lesser Flamingo – the ones that are darker with more pink colouring, are the younger birds; they get paler as they grow older.

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Spotted Thick Knee

We also spot a Spotted Thick Knee in the grass.

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A mini tornado

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And a couple of wildebeest carcasses

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Lions

Heading towards Lake Masek, we come across the lions we saw last night feeding on the zebra carcass. Today there are only eight, not nine, so one must have gone walkabout.

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We can still see the dried blood on this guy's face from yesterday's feast!

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Because they ate yesterday, there is no need for them to kill again for another three days.

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Now they are just lazing around, digesting the food.

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After eating, lions do not produce any solid waste for days: they poop blood!

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It's always such a relief to be able to 'pass through' a big meal I find.

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A family of Helmeted Guineafowl stroll by. As they do.

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There is not much left of yesterday’s zebra today, and the stench is nauseating.

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The lions have had their fill.

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The vultures have finished it off, and now all that is left is for the bluebottles to clean it.

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We let sleeping lions be, and move on.

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Caracal

We’re busy looking up into a tree at a hiding hoopoe, when Malisa gets word on the radio about a caracal being spotted down on the flats between the two lakes. Seeing this elusive cat is very rare, so it is an adrenalin-filled vehicle that rushes off in the direction of the sighting.

We can’t believe our luck when he comes rushing out of the bushes, right next to our car. He certainly isn’t hanging around, and I only manage to get a quick bum-shot as he dashes for cover!

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Anticipating that he may – or may not – emerge the other side; we drive around the thicket, occasionally catching a very brief glimpse of his backside as he creeps deeper into the shrubbery.

This is where having a quality guide pays off – Malisa moves with some considerable haste towards a very small clearing, urging us to get our cameras poised, ready for action so that we can shoot on the move if he emerges.

And he does. And we do.

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What a wondrous sighting! Knowing that this is only the third time Malisa has ever seen a caracal – it is that rare – we feel extremely honoured to have managed to catch a brief three-second glimpse of one today.

Giraffe

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African Hoopoe

We finally get a picture of the hoopoe that was so rudely interrupted by a caracal earlier.

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Speckled Mousebird

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Lake Masek

I don’t know what it is about trees on this trip – in Tarangire I remembered the tree I photographed two years ago, and today I recognised a tree under which we had a picnic in 2011. I really do need to get out more…

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Lake Masek 2016

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Picnic at Lake Masek 2011

Cape Teal

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Common Stilt

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Lesser Flamingo

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Hippo

The hippo only stay down this end of the lake as fresh water from the stream that runs into the lake at this point means the water is not as brackish here.

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Augur Buzzard

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The Golden Hour

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As the sun dips low on the horizon, painting everything in its path a rich golden orange, we encounter an elephant with her young baby – some 1½ years old.

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After a while the elephants wander in to the sunset, and so do we, heading for camp.

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Crested Eagle

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After another great dinner at Ndutu Safari Lodge, we join the genets for a quick drink in the bar, marking the end of yet another glorious day in the African Bush.

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As usual, I would like to thank Calabash Adventures and our ever-wonderful guide Malisa for allowing us to experience all this.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:23 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset road_trip travel elephants adventure roads cute holiday fun africa safari tanzania lunch birding photography lions giraffe hippo flamingo roadtrip ngorongoro stilts kill good_food bird_watching hoopoe game_drive road-trip ndutu teal safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company ngorongoro_conservation_area lion_kill thick_knee cape_teal lake_masek caracal ndutu_safari_lodge Comments (0)

Maramboi - Ngorongoro

How can we possibly top that?


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

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Breakfast at Maramboi is interrupted this morning by a family of warthogs coming through...

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... a couple of birds visiting the dining area...

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...and the sunrise.

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This morning we get to pick the contents of our own lunch boxes – another thing we like about Maramboi.

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There is quite a selection to choose from – something for everyone.

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Including for Chris, who struggles with the weight of his over-full box!

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Why have a healthy lunch when you can have cake?

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We are off to pastures new this morning – another park, another lodge, another eventful day filled with exciting animal encounters.

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In order to try and contain the elephants within Tarangire National Park, bee hives have been hung from the trees along the park boundaries – it has been found that those big, brave, huge animals are afraid of a tiny little bee! And I thought it was just mice that freaked elephants out, and then only in cartoons. Apparently not.

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The old traditional style

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And the more modern type

Minjungu

At Minjungu Village, Maasai women are busy setting up the weekly market.

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Today we are heading for Ngorongoro.

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We may not be in one of the national parks right now, but that doesn’t stop us seeing a plethora of wild animals along the way.

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Ostrich, Zebra and Wildebeest

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Thomson's Gazelles

Chris spots some animals in the distance and excitedly exclaims: “zebra!” They turn out to be donkeys, but shall be forever known as ‘Chris’ Zebra’.

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Maybe Chris has discovered a new species? A zonkey known as Debra?

Donkeys have extremely strong bones and in an impact with a car they can easily get up and walk away even if the car is a total wreck.

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Albino donkey?

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Nice ass!

Maasai Manyatta (village)

In the far distance we can see a huge Maasai Manyatta (terrible photo, sorry), belonging to the local village chief and his 27 wives! With over 100 children between them, he has even built his own school; which, with the help of the government, has since expanded to allow other local children to attend. One of the richest men in the area, he built his empire to become the biggest supplier of milk in the region . (And he's been milking it ever since)

So it is true what they say about the milkman then!

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I can’t remember seeing so many tuk tuks on our previous visits. These three wheeled auto rickshaw taxis are known as bajaji here in Tanzania. They are cheap and readily available, but probably not a good idea for a safari.

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Mto Wa Mbu

The small town of Mto Wa Mbu is just beginning to come to life as we pass through this morning on our way to the highlands.

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The town owes its fast increasing population to Medicine Men in Loliondo near Lake Natron, some 250 kilometres away. Offering to cure all incurable diseases, the witch doctors are extremely popular with believers who overnight here in Mto Wa Mbu before being taken to meet the doctors. The medicine dispensed is very reasonably priced at 500 shillings (ca. 22cents in US$) – the transport required to take you there, however, will set you back US$100. Sounds like a dreadful, but apparently successful, scam to me!

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Hanging out of the window with my camera in hand, I practise my usual drive-by-shooting.

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Meaning Mosquito River, Mto Wa Mbu is one of the few places around where you can find all Tanzania’s 120 ethnic tribes represented; mainly because of the lure of the tourist dollar and also the aforementioned racket involving greedy quacks.

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Mto Wa Mbu is where you find the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park, so there are plenty of tourist stalls around. Also, all road traffic to Ngorongoro and Serengeti come through here.

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Malisa stops the car and buys some little red bananas for us to try. They are sweeter than the normal yellow type, and Malisa explains how they will only grow successfully in volcanic soil – plant them anywhere else and the fruit turns green rather than red.

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This area is a major breeding site for storks (Marabou, Yellow Billed and African Open Billed) as well as Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed and Maribou Storks

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Yellow Billed Storks

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Yellow Billed Stork and Pink Backed Pelican

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Yellow Billed Stork

It also seems to be a favourite place for Olive Baboons to hang out – maybe they are after berries dropped by the birds, or it could be that tourists stopping to photograph the birds feed the baboons too…

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As we start to climb onto the Ngorongoro Highlands, we can feel the temperature dropping. We are doing some serious climbing today – thankfully by car – from an altitude of 4,150 feet above sea level at Maramboi, to around 7,200 on the crater rim. That’s a difference of a whopping 3,000 feet!

Putting it into perspective, the peak of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in UK, sits at 4,416 feet.

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We stop part way up to look at the view over Lake Manyara, from the shores of which we watched the sun rise this morning.

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As with all places where tourists routinely stop, a number of salesmen hang around. We negotiate a good deal on some fun little necklaces with carved animals, and we all wear one, including David and Chris.

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While sandals made from old tyres are quite a common sight all over sub-Saharan Africa, Malisa has a very much more upmarket version!

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Especially commissioned and made from brand new motorcycle tyres, they are totally unique and even have a cool antenna at the front! I love them, I can’t imagine, however, going in to a Clark’s shop in Bristol and asking for a “size 180/55ZR-17 with a six inch pole and four beds please”.

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That's the best grip I have ever seen on any sandal!

As we climb higher, large fields of sunflowers brighten up the scenery.

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So far on this trip we have been extremely lucky with the weather – especially as we are here in the Green Season – but those clouds looming over the hills do not look very promising.

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Karatu

There’s a different look and feel to this town up here in the highlands than the atmosphere of Mto Wa Mbu in the lowlands.

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And they have motorcycle taxis – known as pikipiki – instead of tuk tuks.

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Loduare Gate

As the portal to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as well as the Serengeti further along, each year more than 1.5 million people pass through this gate!

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It is not just safari tourists who enter – goods and passengers come this way too as this is the main B144 highway travelling north-west from Arusha.

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While Malisa completes the registration and pays the fee, we have time to inspect the small information centre with a cool 3D map depicting the dramatic ecology, ethnography and topography of the region.

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There is also an even smaller shop.

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At least the toilets here have improved drastically since our first visit in 2007, although that wouldn’t take much!

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Malisa has our permit and we are ready to move on to the next part of our adventure.

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Immediately after passing through the gate, the road goes from being a super highway (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration... but at least it is sealed and relatively smooth) to a simple dirt track. This is one of the things I like about Tanzania compared with places such as South Africa – you do feel that you are visiting a real African wilderness rather than a commercial safari park.

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Over a distance of around six kilometres, we negotiate a number of switchbacks as we climb ever upwards. Here the vegetation is more like a tropical rainforest, and I am very surprised – disappointed even – that the usual heavy mist is absent from the densely forested slope of the outer crater wall today.

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In the photo above, you can see the road we just came up at the back on the left

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We even get some quick glimpses of the ‘lowlands’ below us.

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Just as the road levels out, the mist finally appears.

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Then the dense vegetation surrounding the road abruptly opens up into a clearing and we are greeted by the most breathtaking panoramic view from the crater rim, a vista beyond all imagination.

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Chris’ reaction as he looks out from the viewpoint brings me to tears.

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Throughout our trip so far, we have all being uttering exclamations of delight with “wow” being one of our favourite expressions.
Chris on the other hand, has been more level headed. “I am not a ‘wow’ kind of person” he has been saying, “I was prepared to be amazed, and I have been”. For him, therefore, to be calling out “wow” at this point is really stupendous.

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I know how he feels, however. That first glimpse of the crater floor spread out below never fails to excite me as I gaze in awe at the small dark specks, trying to make out individual animals below through binoculars.

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This is our first visit in the Green Season, and I am almost overwhelmed by how verdant the crater floor looks. It looks totally different to the dry season, like a completely different park! I love it!

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As we continue on our way around the rim in a clockwise direction, the mist descends on us.

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The Tomb of Michael Grzimek

HE GAVE ALL HE POSSESSED
INCLUDING HIS LIFE
FOR THE WILD ANIMALS OF AFRICA

The German film maker and passionate conservationist Michael Grzimek is best known for the film 'Serengeti Shall not Die', and his tireless work (and infinite generosity) on the survey of the annual migration in East Africa which resulted in the mapping and extending of the Serengeti National Park.

After his plane crashed following a collision with a vulture in 1957, he was buried here at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. Later this memorial was erected in his honour.

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I am totally blown away by the colours of the Ngorongoro Highlands in the Green Season. I didn’t notice the difference to the same extent down in Tarangire and surroundings, but up here the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, with entire hillsides of the Malanja Depression covered in yellow flowers.

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Zebra and Wildebeest

In fact the surroundings look so different this time of year I am beginning to think that I have never been here before. David agrees. Malisa assures us that we must have come this way last time (and the time before), as there is a one-way system in and out the crater, and the only descent route is further down this road. That makes sense, so I guess the greenery makes all the difference.

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Maasai herders taking their livestock to softer grass

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Red Duiker

Despite its best efforts to hide in the tall grass, Malisa spots a Red Duiker – a small, shy antelope. Malisa never ceases to amaze me how he can pick these smallest of animals out while still concentrating on driving. And an excellent driver he is too!

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Patience rewards us with a better view as the antelope forgets we are there and starts to move around, feeding.

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I am particularly excited about being able to photograph this guy, as I have only even seen one very briefly once before, and that one was far too quick for me to be able to capture him on film.

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He eventually decides he’s had enough and makes a run for it.

Unlike Tarangire – and the more famous Serengeti – Ngorongoro is a conservation area rather than a national park. What this means in reality (amongst other things) is that the Maasai are permitted to live and herd their cattle within the area.

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Seneto Boma, a temporary Maasai settlement

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Maasai cattle co-exist happily with wild zebra

The further we drive along the road which skims the rim of the crater, the more convinced David and I are that we have not come this way before. And the more insistent Malisa is that we MUST have done, as there is no other route. Because my memory is usually extremely good (as the tree in Tarangire proved), it bothers me. Greatly.

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It plays on my mind and I keep trying to recall our journey from 20 months ago. I fail miserably, vowing to check blog from that trip when we get to the hotel – and Internet access – tonight to see if that helps to throw any light on this.

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When we reach Seneto Entrance, I have to concede that I have a vague recollection of having been here before, but it seems a lot longer ago than two years. I am beginning to get seriously worried about my mental recall here.

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The entrance area is full of flowers and plants.

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And birds.

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African Pied Wagtail

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Northern Anteater Chat

The Maasai are allowed to herd their cattle inside the crater, but they have to be out by nightfall. They don’t use the same access roads as tourists – here you can see their path leading in and out.

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And this is our road.

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Seneto Descent Road offers a different view over the crater – I love the way whole areas are shrouded in purple flowers!

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The scene is quite surreal, like an impressionist painting.

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By the time we get to the bottom of the road, I am still feeling perplexed as I look – unsuccessfully – for any familiar signs within the surroundings. Nothing. Total blank.

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Never mind, I will just enjoy the crater floor and check on my photos / blog tonight.

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Descending the 2000 feet high walls of this natural amphitheatre is like entering another world. We drove through a rainforest earlier, now we appear to be in the desert. It may only be just over ten miles across, but the flat-bottomed floor of the sunken caldera contains a wide range of eco-systems featuring the whole world of East African safari in miniature.

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Augur Buzzard

Warthogs

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Wildebeest

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Rufous Lark

I really can’t remember seeing Maasai cattle mingle with wild animals on our previous visits to the crater. I drive everyone else mad with my constant doubts: “are you sure there is no other way down?”

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Zebra with Maasai cattle in the background

Zebra

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“Is he dead?” We worry about a lifeless zebra on the grounds with two of his mates looking on.

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You'll be pleased to know he is only taking it easy in the heat of the day.

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Baby zebra are a delightful chocolate brown when they are young, gradually turning to black as they grow up.

Thomson’s Gazelle

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Thomson's Gazelle is the second fastest land animal in Tanzania after the cheetah; which is why you only tend to find them on the menu for the cheetahs: they are too fast for any of the other predators.

Grey Crowned Crane

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Grant’s Gazelle

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These are the first ungulates we’ve seen in any numbers, as they are not present in Tarangire at this time of year. During the dry season large herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles can been seen in all three parks, so this is a new experience for us.

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Fischer's Sparrow Lark

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There’s nothing like a dust bath on a dry and dusty day…

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Wildebeest with Wattled Starling on its back

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Female ostriches

Ngorongoro Serena
From the crater floor we can see the hotel we are staying in tonight, the Ngorongoro Serena, perched high on the rim overlooking the caldera.

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A couple of spotted hyenas (with dirty bottoms) stroll by and appear to upset a lone elephant who disappears back into the woods with a loud trump.

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Ngorongoro has much to boast about: it is a UNESCO Heritage Site; the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera, it has the densest population of large carnivores and herbivores anywhere in the world (as in density, not lack of intelligence!), and it is arguably the most impressive geological feature in Africa – no wonder it is commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The crater delivers some of the best game viewing Africa has to offer, the Africa of wildlife documentaries.

An African White Backed Vulture flies overhead – I love watching the daily life in the Ngorongoro Crater.

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When Malisa claims that the hyena is his favourite animal, I am not sure whether he is joking or not as I personally find the hyena quite sinister looking without any real redeeming features.

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A very unhappy wildebeest alerts us to the presence of a male lion, mostly hidden in the grass.

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Not that the lion appears to take any interest in the wildebeest, but I guess if you are considered a menu item you can’t be too careful.

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Lerai Forest
Its name being Maasai for the tall, yellow barked acacia trees that grow here, Lerai was once a thick forest, but over the years elephant destruction has reduced this area to a mere woodland glade.

And, as if on cue, here are the elephants.

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The big male is in musth and ready to mate. Apparently they pee down their own leg at this time – I will be eternally grateful humans don’t do the same!

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This guy lost one of his tusks when trying to bring down a tree. I would say “serves him right”, but I guess it is what elephants do. When asked if park rangers ever replace the trees decimated by elephants, Malisa replies: “No. They just let nature take its course”

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In order to exit Lerai Forest, we have to ford the Lairatati River. It looks like they’ve had some serious rain here!

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Nubian Woodpecker

Driving through the forest triggers a thought process in my brain, and I suddenly remember that last time we came, we descended into the crater through a host of flat-topped acacia trees. I mention this to Malisa, and he somewhat sheepishly admits: "yes, there is another road into the crater, right over the other side, and there were a few months in 2014 when Seneto descent Road was closed for resurfacing"

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Eureka! I am not cracking up! We really didn't come down the same way last time. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It also follows that we used that other road the previous time too, as we were staying in the lodge you can see just to the right of the red arrow.

The mystery is solved and I can sleep soundly tonight!

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We have company for our picnic.

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Hildebrand Starling

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

Ngorongoro Crater has to be one of the most iconic safari locations in Africa, and this incredible caldera is a haven for around 20,000 of Africa’s most cherished animals, virtually the whole range of East African wildlife including all three big cats but no giraffe (the trails along the crater walls are too steep for them to negotiate). We continue our journey in a quest to watch the dramatic unfolding of wilderness action. Malisa is on a mission to find a Rasta Lion.

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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A barrel of monkeys (I have been checking out the various collective names of animals) hang around in the trees. This particular youngster is enjoying an afternoon nap.

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Blacksmith Plover

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I’ve never seen one sit like this before.

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Rufous Lark

Wattled Starling

A deafening cacophony emanating from a tree draws our attention to a great number of wattled starlings.

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Dozens of tiny hungry mouths beg to be fed. Every time one of the parent birds arrives in the tree, all the babies clamour for attention, not just the offspring of that particular adult. What a racket! No wonder the collective word for a group of starlings is chattering!

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And when mum – and the food – flies past to feed their offspring, the other babies sulk.

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Until the next mother arrives with food for another baby in a different nest.

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It’s all too much for one little baby, who promptly falls asleep.

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He wakes up just as mum arrives…. to feed his brother!

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Once again he is left hungry as mum goes off in search of more grubs.

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This one’s not for him either.

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Much as we’d like to stay on to make sure ‘our’ little baby gets fed, we have places to go and animals to see.

Sacred Ibis at Gorigor Swamp

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While we’re busy looking at the ibises, Malisa spots a mother and baby rhino way out there on the horizon. The rest of us struggle to locate them, even with binoculars. Eventually, after a lot of directions, we do pick them out through the heat and dust haze that always hangs heavily in Ngorongoro Crater.

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More wildebeest.

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Including this suckling baby.

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Zebra - or horse in pyjamas as Lyn calls them. Or maybe we should call them 'Chris' Donkeys'?

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Always on the lookout for predators, the zebra can smell danger.

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The threat appears in the form of a spotted hyena.

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Two more rhinos – another mother and baby – can be seen on the horizon. This time they are considerably nearer and we can make them out to be a little more than just two blurry blobs.

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Seeing a couple of lions walking on the road in the distance, we rush off to join up with them.

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This one appears to have a broken tail. I wonder how that happened? I'd like to imagine some heroic escape from the clutches of a predator - but as lions have no predators in the crater, perhaps an elephant stood on it?

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These are two youngish brothers, and not the Rasta Lion Malisa was hoping to see.

Malisa gets word from a passing vehicle - one of the very few we have seen - that there is a lioness nursing her two babies further ahead, so we speed off to see for ourselves.

As we approach, they get up and start walking towards the road.

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They come right up to the side of the road, just a few feet away from us, and settle down in the part shade of a small bridge. To our absolute delight, the babies start to suckle!

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If ever there was such a thing as cuteness overload, this surely is it!

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Having had their quota of mother’s milk, the babies are full of life and mischief. If I thought the feeding cubs were adorable, when they start to play, it is almost too much to bear and I feel sure my heart is going to burst!

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Mum, however, is exhausted and all she wants to do is sleep.

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After spending a few tender moments with her little ones, mum is not amused when the cubs start jumping on her and pulling her tail.

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Eventually she loses her temper and lets out a frustrated snarl at her cubs: “will you guys leave me alone. Please!”

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As so many other mothers all over the world have done before her, she gets up and walks away is sheer exasperation to try and find a place where she can have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

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Time to smell the flowers

Much to the cub’s displeasure: “Where are you going mum?” “Mum??”

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She crosses the road to lie down in the shade, leaving her offspring behind, hoping that a bit of rough-and-tumble will have them worn out by bedtime.

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One of the cubs appears to have lost interested in playing.

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At a mere three weeks old, these cubs are incredibly inquisitive and heart-stirringly adorable.

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When I look into those deep eyes, I feel like I am very much part of a wildlife documentary, not just merely on holiday! I have to pinch myself that this really is happening. I feel exceptionally privileged to be here, witnessing this.

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We spend fifty minutes with the lioness and her delightful cubs, during which time we see one other vehicle. They stop for just a few minutes, take some photos and move on. I don’t understand that mentality at all – observing the interactions between the family members is what differentiates this wilderness experience from a zoo, surely?

This year's experience is also in stark contrast to our last lion cub encounter in the Ngorongoro Crater, in September 2014 during the dry season, when we struggled to get anywhere near the cats!

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Ngorongoro 2014

As we bid our cats goodbye and head towards the exit, I rib Malisa: "These cubs are very cute and all that, but you promised me a Rasta Lion! Where is he? It’s just as well Malisa understands my twisted sense of humour.

We see our two young brothers again (the one with the broken tail), walking across the marsh, but no Rasta Lion. I think Malisa is making this up.

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Further along, a couple more lions rest in the grass right by the side of the road (that’s the shadow of our car you can see in the photos). Did Lyn say before we left home that she was worried about not seeing any lions on the safari? How many is that so far? Twelve? And it’s only Day Two of the actual safari.

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Golden Jackal

Finally, there he is – Malisa’s Rasta Lion, an eight years old king and a very powerful one.

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Really? He looks more like a big pussycat to me.

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Now, there’s a reason why I spent this afternoon teasing Malisa about his ‘Rasta Lion’ – we brought over a T shirt as a gift for him from Bristol Zoo, which coincidentally features… yes, you guessed it: a Rasta Lion! Although we had planned it as a parting gift, now seems to be the right moment.

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We make it to the exit with seven minutes to spare until closing time – being late carries a $200 fine!

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As he does every evening, Malisa asks us about today’s highlight. As if there is any doubt!?! Malisa, of course, claims seeing the hyena was his favourite moment. Really?

Ngorongoro Serena Hotel

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As usual, we arrive at our accommodation for the night after dark. So do a lot of other people, so check in is not as quick and smooth as we are used to.

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Our room seems to be down an awful lot of steps, and after a very quick shower, it’s time to climb back up them for a drink in the bar while we watch the Maasai dancing.

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For such a big hotel (also part of a bigger chain), I find this evening’s set-up quite amateurish – there is no stage as such, just a small area of the bar, which has been cleared of furniture. A good view of the dancers is limited to those people in the front row only. The outfits are colourful, and the dancers fairly enthusiastic, but I find the whole scenario too commercialised and touristy for my liking. The main dance moves are rocking of the necklaces for the women and traditional jumping for the men. At least half of the performance is dedicated to ‘audience participation’. No thanks.

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The hotel redeems itself over dinner. The restaurant is super, the staff friendly, the menu table d'hôte and the food tasty.

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Nguru Wa Kupaka - king fish in exotic Swahili sauce

What a day! What can I say, apart from “How can we possibly top that?”

Thanks, yet again to Calabash Adventures – not forgetting our wonderful guide Malisa - for what is turning out to be a holiday of a lifetime!

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys food road_trip travel vacation elephants adventure roads sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding tourists photography souvenirs lions maasai donkey baboons flip_flops babies roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro woodpecker memory cattle glamping caldera boma wildebeest ngorongoro_crater bird_watching suckling karatu game_drive road-trip african_food adorable safari_vehicle manyatta calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators best_safari_company out_of_africa maramboi olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload maasai_cattle seneto seneto_descent_road malanja mto_wa_mbu Comments (1)

Tarangire National Park

Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Oh, and did I mention cute baby elephants?


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

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I am awake before the alarm goes off this morning, being abruptly dragged out of my slumber by the not-so-distant roar of a lion.

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It’s another early start today, leaving the lodge at 05:45 to get to Tarangire National park entrance for opening time at 06:15. Bleary eyed, we set off in the pitch black with humble expectations.

We don’t have to wait long for our first sighting. Just a couple of hundred yards from the lodge, we spot something in the car headlights.

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Two lionesses with two cubs!

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It is so dark out there we can only make them out with a torch or the car headlights, so I am surprised that the camera has picked anything up at all. (For those of you with an interest in the technical aspects, these photos were taken with a Canon EOS 6D with a 24-105mm f/4 at ISO 25,600 at 1/50 sec. Some of them have been cropped in the post processing stage, but no editing beyond the RAW conversion.)

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Now it makes perfect sense why we are not permitted to walk around the lodge grounds after dark without an escort!

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Mum is on the look-out for food, while the cubs just want to play.

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Before we left England, Lyn was concerned “what if we don’t see any lions?”, and here we are, before 06:00 on our first day of safari, before we have even left the grounds of the lodge, let alone reached the national park; and we have four lions within feet of the car! Talk about beginners’ luck!

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By 06:15 we are still here, and the sun starts to rise. We never did make it to the gate for opening time.

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While it is still quite dark, at least it does mean we can actually see the lions now without resorting to shining a bright light on them.

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It also means that I can bring the ISO down to a more manageable 6400-8000.

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We stay with the lions until they move out of sight in their quest for breakfast.

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This bachelor impala has been kicked out of his herd and will stay on his own for a while before creating his own harem and herd. He seems to have a growth on the side of his neck.

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Impala bachelor herd

Progress is slow for us this morning as we encounter animals after animals within the lodge grounds.

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Giraffe family consisting of eight members, young and old.

Including some very cute babies, thought to be around three months old.

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As far as male giraffes go, females believe that the darker markings the better, as these are thought to be the stronger animals. Definitely a case of wanting their mates to be tall, dark and handsome!

Having read that the giraffes in Tarangire are darker than usual with deeper marking, I am keen to inspect the difference for myself. As the national animal of Tanzania, the killing of giraffes is illegal. Unfortunately, bush meat poaching is still big business in the rural areas, and illegal market hunting for meat is well known to be rampant around Tarangire.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the giraffes and move on to the next animal sighting – Olive Baboons.

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There is a lot of squealing going on as a mother punishes her babies and they run to hide under our car.

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There is playing, mating, grooming and fighting going on, with the old males just sitting around doing nothing – much like our local pub on a Friday night.

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There’s another animal that seems to have a growth on its side.

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Two males chase one ready-to-mate female. After a loud fight, the winner takes it all.

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A warthog looks on with amusement.

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Lilac Breasted Roller – apparently they got their name from the way they roll when they mate. I had no idea…

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Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Yellow Crowned Canary

Marula

This is the marula tree – the fruit that makes the delicious liqueur Amarula. Apparently the elephants have been known to eat the fruit and then get drunk – the thought of meeting a drunk elephant in a dark alley is a frightening one…

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Baobab Tree

It is unusual to see a young baobab tree such as this one – believed to be about sixty years old – as the elephants destroy them. A Baby Baobab tree looks very different from its adult form and this is why some Bushmen believe that it doesn't grow in the same way as other trees. They think it suddenly crashes to the ground with a thump, fully grown, and then one day simply disappears.

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We have finally left the grounds of the lodge and are now heading towards Tarangire National Park – just about two hours later than planned.

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We are still not actually inside the park yet, and we make a few more stops before we are. That’s the beauty of a safari – you never know what nature is going to offer you.

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Red Bishop

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Fischer's Lovebird

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Ashy Starling

Tarangire National Park

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Our arrival at the Tarangire National Park Entrance Gate could not be any more different to the last time we were here – this time we are the only car waiting; last time the car park was full!

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September 2014

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May 2016

Last time it took 3/4 hour for Dickson, our guide, to get our permits. This time Malisa has the necessary paperwork in no time at all!

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The queues for the permits in 2014

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The queue in 2016

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Permit in hand – we’re ready to roll!

Tse Tse Flies

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One of the main problems with travelling to Tanzania in the Green Season is the prevalence of tse tse flies. These pesky insects are very attracted to the colours black and navy, so large flags have been hung from trees throughout the parks to encourage the insects to land on them. The material has been impregnated with poison, so that any unsuspecting flies which come into contact with them become sterile.

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There have apparently been a few cases reported recently about tourists having contracted sleeping sickness after being bitten by the tse tse fly in Tarangire, although Malisa and the other guides get bitten all the time and they haven't contracted the illness. It's probably a case of the media making a mountain out of a mole hill. It is certainly one animal that I really would rather NOT see while we are here, but unfortunately they are present in all the parks we are visiting, and are said to be particularly bothersome in Tarangire during the wet season.

These pesky flies have a painful bite, and when I was bitten on our last visit to Tanzania, the bite became quite red and swollen, but the fly thankfully did not carry the sleeping sickness disease. This time.

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Red Necked Francolin

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White Crowned Fiscal Shrike

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Common Waterbuck. They excrete a bad taste which predators find unpleasant, so are not generally found on the menu of the local lions and leopards.

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

Dwarf Mongoose

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Senegal Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

A large troupe of banded mongooses stare at us in disbelief before scampering; stopping occasionally to check if we are following them.

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Superb Starling. Chris soon gets the hang of differentiating between Superb and Hildebrand Starling – it’s all in the white band on its chest and the colour of the eyes!

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Magpie Shrike

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Crowned Lapwing

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Giraffe with passengers

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Yellow Billed Oxpecker

African Green Pigeon

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The long grass almost completely hides a pair of Southern Ground Hornbill, and they are pretty large birds!

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Elephants

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Tarangire National park is best known for its concentration of elephants – the densest anywhere in Africa – so I am therefore rather surprised that we don’t see any for quite a while after entering the park. In fact, some two hours pass before we come across the first herd – or memory as they are called – of eleven elephants, which includes this cute one-week old baby.

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We have a delightful close encounter for Lyn and Chris’ first wild elephants, as the family group saunters past our car.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Mr and Mrs Ostrich

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Rattling Cisticola

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Little Bee Eaters - one of my favourite birds!

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Two Banded Courser

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Dwarf Mongoose

Malisa spots some fresh lion footprints on the main track. They are heading towards the same picnic site as we are.

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Matete Picnic Site

With great views over the valley below, Tarangire River, elephants and with a tree hyrax in the railings, Matete Picnic Site is not a bad place to stop for breakfast.

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Elephants in Tarangire River

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Tree Hyrax

The facilities here have improved immensely since our last visit, with clean and modern attended toilets. A few other vans stop here too while we have our breakfast, including a group of American college student we saw on the flight from Nairobi. I am quite chuffed when – after a quick exchange of pleasantries with their driver in this native tongue – he asks: “where did you learn Swahili?”

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pygmy Falcon - the fastest bird in the park!

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Grant's Gazelle

Sausage Tree

– Kigela Africana
Named after its large sausage-shaped fruit (that is in fact a wood berry, not a fruit), which can grow up to a metre long! It's a useful tree in that monkeys eat the seeds and elephants chew on it for water. Humans make brushes from the dried fruit and even brew beer from it. Sausage Tree Beer – it has a certain ring to it, don't you think? It's all the rage these days to drink randomly-named designer beers from micro-breweries. Like so many African plants, it is thought to have a range of medicinal benefits, including curing syphilis. I shall have to remember that. The fresh fruit, however, is poisonous. The other danger from the tree is fallen fruit – being so big, they can cause some serious damage to anyone (or anything) underneath at the time!

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More Elephants

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This 40-year old male is in musth – as can be seen by the 'tear' secreted from his temporal gland. Musth is an annual cycle when the male is primed to mate, and is indicated by a heightened sense of aggression. Elephants in musth are known to attack and fight other males, and even destroy inanimate objects that get in their way. Such as safari vehicles.

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In order to get some relief from the heat, elephants wave their ears about; they are able to cool down an impressive 12 litres of blood at a time this way.

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The grass here is so long at this time of year that the baby elephants are almost hidden in the meadow. The play around like babies of every species do, wrapping their trunks around each other, and mock sparring.

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Infrasound
Elephants use this low frequency sound to communicate over great distances – vibrations are passed through the ground by their lowered trunks and can be picked up from up to 5 kilometres away by another elephant through the feet. Absolutely amazing stuff!

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The elephants are unbelievably close now, as they go about their daily business, wandering right by our vehicle; occasionally looking up to gawk at the humans in a tin can.

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In the photo below you can see just how close these elephants are to the car – that is the ledge of the car you can see in the bottom left! They are literally just feet away!

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The adults are extremely protective of their youngest, most vulnerable family members, doing their best to hide them from prying eyes by placing them in the middle of the herd; but occasionally we get a brief glimpse of one of the babies through the foliage from between mum's legs.

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Isn't he just simply adorable? I love the way he looks so young and innocent while his skin looks so wrinkly and weathered!

This is, without question, one of those unforgettable, magical moments.

Elephants eat around 300kg of vegetation a day; but only 60% of that is digested – the rest goes straight through. They spend a large part of the day eating, some 80% apparently! I know some people like that too.

It also means their droppings are still full of nutrients. The elephant's that is, not my acquaintances'.

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We reluctantly bid the elephants goodbye and carry on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Hammerkop

Much excitement ensues when we spot a Savannah Monitor on the banks of the river. A very rare beast indeed, this is a first for us. Good job Malisa!

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There is in fact not just one monitor, there are three of them!

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A Southern Ground Hornbill preens itself in a tree. As the name suggests, this is an unusual bird to find on a tree branch.

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So much greenery this time of year!

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Fischer's Lovebirds

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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It's at this point that I have to admit that it took me 29 years of safaris in Africa (last year to be precise) before I actually noticed that vervet monkeys have blue testicles. And I don't mean just slightly bluey-grey; these balls are as bright as they can be!

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Baobab Trees – the Tree of Life

Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the iconic baobab tree grows across 32 countries in Africa where it is often known as the ‘Tree of Life’. Found at the heart of local folklore, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition.

To me, this curious-looking ‘upside-down’ tree is synonymous with the African bush – its uniqueness in terms of geographical distribution, shape and size makes it one of the most impressive symbols of the African Savannah.

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The story of how the baobab got his looks

An old bushman tale explains that the baobab was one of the first trees that were created. It was short and stocky, and when the slim, graceful palm tree appeared, the baobab was jealous of its elegance and insisted that he should be created taller like the palm. Then the glorious flowering flame tree came along and again the baobab was dissatisfied, crying out that he wanted a mass of beautiful red flowers! The magnificent fig tree also aroused great envy, as the baobab was desperate to have sweet, tasty fruits growing from his branches. Eventually God got so fed up with the baobab’s selfish, demanding ways, and in one swift motion uprooted him and stuck him back down again upside down, hoping to shut him up once and for all.

And that, my friends, is how the baobab got his peculiar upside-down appearance.

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Water storage
Of course, there is a very good reason for the thick trunk and spindly branches: The tree has adapted to life in seasonally arid areas. In the wet months water is stored in its thick, spongy, fire-resistant trunk in readiness for the nine dry months ahead. A large baobab can store up to 120,000 litres of water in its trunk and can withstand long periods of drought; in fact it has been known to survive for ten years with no rain. Many animals take advantage of this - they survive drought by accessing the water within the tree, including elephants who cause a lot of damage to these ancient trees in Tarangire. Baboons and warthogs also enjoy feasting on the seed pods.

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Home, sweet home
A lot of birds make baobab trees their home, such as barn owls, spinetails, hornbills and weavers, making nests in the branches or clefts. The creased trunks and hollowed interiors also provide homes to countless reptiles, insects and bats, and in some cases even large cats have been known to take refuge inside the trees.

Humans too utilise the enormous trunks (the largest circumference on record is 47m) and baobab trees have been used as jail, water tank, post office, shop, toilet ( apparently complete with a flushing system), bus stop and pubs, amongst other things.

The baobab is a prehistoric species, predating both mankind and the splitting of the continents over 200 million years ago. In Tarangire there are some pretty ancient trees, with most of the larger specimens exceeding one thousand years old. The baobabs can have a lifespan of up to 5000 years.

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This tree is believed to be some 1,800 years old and the huge vault was created when an elephant broke down a branch.

Leaves
Having only ever seen the trees naked (“oh err missus!”) - as the branches are leaf-less most of the year - I am very excited to find leaves on them today!

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Flowers
Once it reaches the age of 20 or so, the baobab produces large, sweetly scented flowers on long drooping stalks. Having never seen them flower, I was hoping that the rainy season might bring them out, but no such luck. The flowers bloom at night only and bushmen believe that the flowers are home to spirits and that anyone picking the flowers will be torn apart by lions. The flowers only last 24 hours after which they turn brown and give off an unpleasant aroma. Pollination by fruit bats also takes place at night.

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Fruit
Six months after flowing, large, egg-shaped fruits – known as monkey-breads – are produced. These have a hard outer shell and a white powdery interior, which was previously used to produce cream of tartar. Rich in ascorbic acid, drinks made from baobab fruits are used to treat fever. It doesn’t really taste of much – we tried it last time we were in Tanzania.

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The baobab fruit is said to have an amazing amount of health benefits, however, and is reputed to be one of the most nutrient-dense fruits in the world.

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A good all-round plant
Almost every part of the baobab tree is utilised; in addition to nutritious drinks, porridge is also made from the pulp, seeds are used as thickener for soups, the pollen can be used as glue, and the leaves are eaten as a vegetable. Fibres from the bark are used for string and ropes, and the roots produce dye.

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Medicinal uses
Traditionally the baobab is thought to have a wide range of medicinal benefits, and various parts of the tree are used to treat a number of ailments: kidney and bladder disease, asthma, insect bites. Maybe that is something worth trying for tse tse bites?

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Superstition and folklore
As well as the story of the origin of the ‘upside down tree’ above and the one about evil spirits in the flowers punishing anyone who picks them by being ripped apart by a lion, there are a number of traditional beliefs surrounding the baobabs. I love legends, so here are a few others I have heard over the years or found during my research:

In some part of Africa the tree is worshipped as a symbol of fertility, and shrines are built at the base of the tree, such as this one we saw in Taberma in Togo in 2006. There is some scientific truth behind this superstition, however, as eating plenty of baobab leaves has been proven to increase a woman’s fertility rate.

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In Zambia, one particularly large baobab tree is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a python, who inhabited the tree long before the arrival of the white man. Locals worshipped the python, who in turn answered their prayers for good luck on their hunting expeditions, rain for their crops, or a good harvest. When the white hunters arrived and shot the python, the consequences were disastrous. It is said that you can still hear a loud hissing noise from the tree on a still night.

Drinking the water in which baobab pips have been soaked is believed to protect you from crocodiles, whereas sucking or eating the seeds will attract crocs.

Bathing a baby boy in a bark infusion will make him strong, but if you leave him in the water for too long, he will become obese; and should the water touch his head, it could cause this to swell.

Again in Zambia, there is a tree known as ‘Kondanamwali’ – the tree that eats maidens. Legend tells that the tree fell in love with four beautiful young girls, but when they grew up and got married, the tree opened up its huge trunk during a raging thunderstorm and swallowed up the girls in a fit of jealousy. To this day you can hear the pitiful cries of the imprisoned maidens on a stormy night.

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The Big Screen
Does the tree look familiar to you? There could be a reason for that. Baobabs played an important role in Disney’s Lion King – Rafiki (the baboon) lived in one. It has also featured in Avatar (The Tree of Souls), Madagascar and The Little Prince.

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Termite mounds

The park is also famous for the termite mounds that dot the landscape. Those that have been abandoned are often seen to be home to dwarf mongoose or snakes as we saw earlier.

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Tarangire Tango
We slide and slither along the sandy tracks, from one side to the other, doing the Tarangire Tango, as we make our way along the unmade roads that criss-cross the park.

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Red Billed Hornbill (male)

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Red Billed Hornbill (female)

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Common Waterbuck

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

We come across another cartload of vervet monkeys, including some young babies.

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This little kid looks so blissful during the mother-child bonding session (AKA picking-nits-out-of-the-little-bugger’s-fur)

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Lilac Breasted Roller - another of my favourite birds

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Ashy Starling

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Red Billed Hornbill

Another large memory of elephants grazing merrily under the trees in the far distance.

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Three Banded Plover

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Another Hammerkop – one of Malisa’s favourite birds

Lunch

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Tillya has another surprise for us today – in honour of our wedding anniversary yesterday, he has arranged for us to take lunch at the Tarangire River Lodge, which is inside the actual park; rather than having the usual lunch box.

After all our animals and bird sightings this morning, we are running a little late, so the lodge calls us up on the radio "Calabash, Calabash, are you there?", to make sure we are still coming. I guess it is getting towards the end of the lunchtime session and they want to finish serving soon.

When we enter the lodge, we are welcomed with the greeting: “At last you arrive”. It’s nice to feel welcome… All joking apart, everywhere we go on this trip, we are made to feel like we are extremely welcome and much anticipated VIPs.

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A large-ish lodge, it has great views over the plains and river below from its expansive terrace.

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Although the usual lunch boxes provided by the lodges are more than adequate, it is very nice to be able to choose hot food from a buffet and eat with proper knives and forks. And very tasty the food is too.

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Chicken enchilada, beef meatballs, spicy beans, pilau and chapati

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Pancakes with mango

We make friends with some of the local inhabitants.

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Bat

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Stick Insect

Soon we are on our way again, checking out some more of the critters in the park.

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We seem to go ages, however, without seeing anything this afternoon. It is hot, the sun is beaming down on me, I had quite a big lunch..... I find myself starting to nod off. Game viewing is nearly always best first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the middle of the day, the birds and animals don't tend to do much. Probably because they feel just like I do now...

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We eventually come across a couple more elephants – perhaps not surprising, as that is what Tarangire is most famous for. Some 3000+ of them live in the park year round.

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It was just what I needed to drag myself out of the land of slumber.

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Crowned Plover

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Green Wood Hoopoe

We come to a stop as the road is ‘blocked’ by some impala.

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And an African Ground Squirrel.

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For a while there is a most peculiar staring match between them.

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After a while both parties get bored and wander off in their different directions.

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I know impala are two-a-penny in the Tanzanian parks, but I still very much enjoy seeing them, and still find them rather cute – especially the youngsters.

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Grey Breasted Francolin

We are being bitten to smithereens this afternoon by those pesky tse tse flies. Their appearance – and bite – is somewhat similar to the horse fly, equally painful when they get you. They are quite slow in their reactions, however, so we manage to swat quite a few before they know what’s hit them! Reducing the population doesn’t seem to have any effect though; I get around 15 bites in a short time. There has to be something that repels them?

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This is thankfully not life sized!

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Grey Kestrel

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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White Rumped Helmet Shrike

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Dik Dik – this normally shy and very skittish antelope stands completely still right by our vehicle. This is almost unheard of and we discuss possible reasons for its lack of fear These tiny animals mate for life, but there is no sign of his wife anywhere, so maybe a leopard has taken her and he has lost the will to live?

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Whatever the reason, he does not seem to care at all about our presence and goes about his daily activities regardless, even when we start the engine and drive off. Most bizarre.

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Lost the will to live?

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These little Red Necked Spurfowl chicks cause us a bit of concern as one of them appears spread-eagled and totally motionless on the track, while the others tip toe around.

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Chris is ready to get out and give the little fellah a helping hand, but thankfully no intervention is necessary – he is obviously just warming himself up in the sun and as soon as we start the engine he plods along with his brothers. We all breathe a sigh of relief.

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Egyptian Cobra - another item I can cross off my wish list this afternoon! In all the years I have been coming to Kenya and Tanzania on safari – this is the first time I have seen one.

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Further along the track we see a few of these Red and Yellow Barbets – one of which is not only considerably larger than the others; it also has no tail! Chris theorises that with no tail he is unable to exercise (fly), hence he has put on weight. Hmmm

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Looking at the pictures on my computer screen back home, I think that the smaller one is possibly a Crested Barbet rather than a Red and Yellow, or maybe a juvenile; which would account for the size difference.

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Oh, and our tail-less wonder does fly, so no need to get a personal trainer involved.

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Giraffe. There is something so prehistoric about this animal; so graceful yet so awkward looking. I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing them in the wild. It was the very first wild animal I saw on our very fist safari in Kenya in 1986, and I was captivated. I still am.

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Impala

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Fresh lion paw prints, but no lions.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

A lone elephant kicks up dust as he walks along the track in front of us. We follow him for a while despite that we are now in a little bit of a rush – we have to be out of the park by 18:30.

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Elephants are fickle creatures, and right now this particular one has changed his mind. He turns round to walk in the opposite direction.
Malisa starts to back off, as Tarangire’s elephants are not known for their friendliness. Best to play safe, so we keep our distance.

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He really is not happy now, so Malisa speeds up (going backwards) and eventually reverses into the bushes, leaving the track free for the elephant to pass. Does the animal not know we are on a tight schedule?

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Did I mention that our elephant friend is fickle? Instead of making his way down the track past out vehicle, he eventually – after a few tense moments – wanders off into the bush again.

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Phew. We can continue on our way towards the gate as the sun gets lower on the horizon.

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Egrets flying home to roost for the night

A flock of Red and Yellow Billed Oxpeckers congregate on a giraffe. They have a symbiotic relationship – the giraffe provide the oxpeckers with a dining table while the birds remove insects from the larger animal.

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As with our last two previous visits to Tarangire, we have been 'side tracked' by the animals and are in a mad rush to get out of the gate. And this time too, I stand in the vehicle, trying to hold on for dear life with one hand and photograph the sunset with the other.

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While the sunset is not overly spectacular as sunsets go, it is still worth the effort.

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Tarangire has to be one of my all time favourite places to photograph the sunset – those awesome baobab trees make for striking foregrounds.

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A large herd (obstinacy) of buffalo hinders our progress towards the gate.

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I do find their stare rather unnerving.

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One of the photos I took while travelling at speed to reach the gate before the official closing time in 2014 has somehow become my most popular image on Flickr, with 36,000 views and over 500 ‘favourites’. This picture is in the back of my mind as I am hanging on to the rattling car for dear life and shooting wildly towards the sunset this evening.

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And there it is! My tree! The others don’t believe me when I tell them I recognise the tree from 20 months ago (Chris suggests that maybe I need to get out more), but here is the proof!

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Same tree, different sunset!

We make it to the gate at 18:35, and Malisa does not get fined when he checks out. Phew.

The lodge is busy tonight with lots of people coming down from Arusha for the weekend. We take a quick shower and sort out our luggage as we are moving on to another park and another lodge tomorrow; then go for dinner.

I love the the Maramboi Tented Camp, their grounds are like a safari park in its own right – as soon as we enter through the gate this evening, we pick out a giraffe in the headlights of the car!

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Lit almost entirely by candlelight, the open air dining area is very dark at night. Even at ISO 25,600, my camera struggles to pick up much of the surroundings here.

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Another thing I like very much about Maramboi is that, unlike most other lodges, the guides eat with the guests. During dinner Malisa asks us, one by one, what our highlight of the day has been. It is hard to choose – the lions in the lodge grounds before sunrise, or the elephants that came so close to our car? Maybe the little one peeking out from behind mum’s legs? Even the savanna monitor gets an honorary mention. It was all go good – how can we possibly top that?

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I huge thank you must go to Tillya and his team at Calabash Adventures for yet again organising a superb safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees animals birds monkeys sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation views elephants adventure roads scenery folklore holiday fun africa tanzania birding photography lions giraffe baboons roadtrip monitor night_time waterbuck cobra stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company maramboi hammerkop savannah_monitor sname egyptian_cobra olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls tarangire_river_lodge Comments (0)

Nairobi

Close encounters with giraffes, elephants, birds, flip flops, history and exotic meats

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

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As we are enjoying breakfast in the hotel, Tillya (owner of Calabash Adventures) arrives and greets us from behind a huge smile. He has come up from Arusha to personally show us Nairobi today.

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Giraffe Centre

Our first port of call today is the Giraffe Centre, and we arrive nearly half an hour before they open. They kindly let us in early, and we have the place to ourselves apart from one other family.

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Betty Melville founded the Centre in 1979 with the main objective being the breeding of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe whose habitat had been reduced to an 18,000-acre ranch that was slowly being subdivided to resettle squatters. Only 130 animals remained at that time. Betty rescued two of them and founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, a Non-Profit making organisation.

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Following fundraising efforts, 26 breeding giraffes were rescued, rehabilitated and relocated to other parks within Kenya. Since then, the programme has had huge successes, having rescued, hand-reared and released around 500 orphaned giraffes back into the wild since opening.

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The Giraffe Centre is now one of the top tourist attractions in Nairobi, where visitors can come to hand feed the giraffes. And that is exactly what we are doing this morning! Tillya recommended that we arrive at the centre first thing in the morning in order to successfully feed the giraffes – apparently the giraffes are often too full to be bothered to come out for the tourists later in the day!

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Our first close encounter is a pregnant female who is quite happy to be fed but doesn’t like being petted.

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We are encouraged to place specially formulated food pellets in our mouths for the giraffes to grab them with their long tongues, making for some hilarious reactions.

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No one seems to have told the giraffes that it is not 'proper' to do 'tongues on a first date'.

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I am a little concerned that Chris appears to be enjoying the kissing a little too much…

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David, on the other hand, isn’t quite so sure.

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He soon gets into the swing of it, however.

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The ranger assures us that giraffe saliva is antiseptic. That’s OK then…

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It's all good fun!

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After a lovely long snogging session, it’s time for some education. In 1983, conservation also became part of the organisation’s agenda when they opened the environmental education centre. The primary objective here is to provide conservation education for school children and the youth of Kenya and they offer all sorts of free programmes to schools and other youth groups. They also give an interesting and numerous presentation to us tourists about all things giraffe, where we are treated to a very hands-on experience.

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Wild warthogs run freely around the grounds and have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes – apparently they like to hang out underneath their tall friends in order to snack on giraffe droppings. That brings a whole new meaning to the expression 'friends with benefits'.

Warthogs are said to have small brains, a simple mind and a bad memory. As soon as the giraffes start to run, the warthogs follow; but they will soon forget why they are running.

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They also seem to have a high sex drive...

Nature Trail

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A naturalist guide named Moses takes us on a short nature trail, and explains about the medicinal, poisonous and other plants we see along the way.

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The bark of this tree produces a milky substance, which – if you get it in your eye – will make you go blind. I like Moses' logic: “If you get the milk into your eye, you have two options – you look for running water. If you cannot find running water, you go blind. If you cannot find running water, you look for a lactating mother; and it’s very hard to spot a breastfeeding mother on safari…”

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The Alaeodendron treats syphilis, diarrhoea and bloody cough, but the leaves are poisonous to cattle.

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The sap from the Acokanthera schimperi tree is collected to produce the poison used on hunting arrows. It can also be used to treat syphilis.

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Before we left home, I created a wish list of animals and birds I would like to see on this trip, and one of the items is a chameleon. I'm off to a good start, being able to one tick off on the first day!

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Jackson's Chameleon

These termite mounds appear to have been evacuated, probably because an anteater appeared on the scene, and a snake has moved in. Both aardvark and python are on my wish list, but we see neither.

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David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

We are early for the Elephant Orphanage too, and end up waiting outside for a while.

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Daphne Sheldrick set up David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust in memory of her husband after his death in 1977. The trust has played a significant and important role in Kenya's conservation effort, something the Sheldricks had both been heavily involved in prior to the creation of the trust.
Orphaned baby elephants are brought to the centre and are hand raised using Daphne's special baby milk formula - not an easy job. Armed with enormous patience, the staff take on the role of the elephants' mothers, teaching them how to suckle, use their trunks and ears, roll in the dust and bathe.

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The baby elephants are fed every three hours and continue to be mothered up until the age of two, when they are able to feed for themselves; at which stage the slow process of reintegration into the wild begins. This could take up to ten years.

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For an hour each day, the public are allowed in to the orphanage to see the elephants being brought out to feed.

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We stand at the rope waiting for the elephants to arrive, while looking around for other wildlife. A herd of impala wander past, a pin-tailed whydah flitters about and an inquisitive serval causes a bit of a stir.

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One by one the baby elephants start arriving. Slowly at first, then the anticipation of food gets the better of them and the excitement is palpable.

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The baby elephants are adorable, and watching them drink, play and being generally mischievous is an enchanting experience.

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Alamaya

Lyn fosters a baby elephant called Alamaya (a Mother's Day gift from her daughter Kelly). Ravaged by hyenas, Alamaya had lost her tail and suffered severe trauma in the attack, and it wasn't until three months after her rescue, when an operation was performed to help cut away scar tissue which was inhibiting her from urinating, that they discovered that Alamaya was in fact a he. So severe was his injuries when he was rescued from the Masai Mara in neighbouring Kenya two years ago that nothing remained to give the vets any evidence of his genitalia or indication of gender.

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Lyn at the entrance to the sanctuary, showing off her adoption certificate

Kelly chose Alamaya in particular, because the lack of a tail would make him easier for us to spot in amongst all the frolicking baby elephants. His name Alamaya is the Maa (local language) word for 'brave'.

You can read all about Alamaya here and even see the video of her/his rescue.

So, here we stand, looking at the backside of every elephant as they appear from the forest. They all have tails. A little disappointed, we resign ourselves to the fact that Alamaya is one of the elephants not making a public appearance today.

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The last elephant saunters in to the arena, and much to our delight, he is tail-less! This is Lyn's transgender immigrant foster child.

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Seeing Alamaya now, it is hard to imagine what a tough start in life he had!

We have some amazing close encounters with the elephants as they wander up to the single rope fence that divides us from them. What an experience!

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An African Love Story

If you have an interest in African animals and elephants in particular, I would wholeheartedly recommend reading Daphne Sheldrick's autobiography 'An African Love story: Love, Life and Elephants'. I read the book very recently and absolutely loved it. It is an extraordinary story of unconditional love of animals and enormous dedication to conservation. Well worth a read.

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As we leave the centre, Tillya decides he wants to do his bit and become a foster parent to a baby elephant. Here he is with the certificate for his adopted child. Congratulations on your latest offspring Tillya!

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Utamaduni Craft Centre

Utamaduni, which means “culture, tradition and folklore”, consists of a number of individual craft shops, where a portion of the profits supports charities including Street Boys.

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Veranda Restaurant

Our main reason for visiting Utamaduni is to have lunch in its peaceful restaurant on a shaded patio.

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I don't want to fill up too much at lunchtime today, as we are going to Carnivore for an early dinner tonight, so I settle for the melted steak and cheese sandwich.

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After my disappointment finding a lack of birds in our hotel gardens yesterday, the grounds here at Utamaduni more than makes up for it. I spend the entire lunchtime jumping up and down from my seat trying capture some of the feathered inhabitants that flit around the feeders and bird baths.

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Red Billed Firefinch

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Baglafecht Weaver

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Olive Thrush

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Large Golden Weaver

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Dusky Turtle Dove

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Bronze Mannikin

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Reichenow's Weaver

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Marula Studios

In most parts of Africa recycling is not a modern environmentally friendly feel-good concept; it has long been a necessity:
over the years we have seen petrol sold in used glass bottles along the side of the road, children's toys created from whatever is available, old car tyres becoming sandals or a toy for the kids, jewellery made from seeds or ring-pulls, cement sacks turned into clothing, sardine tins reappearing as oil lamps... you get the picture.

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The concept of recycling and upcycling has been taken one step further here at Marula Studios. Started by Julie Johnston after seeing the creative toys produced from plastic waste by the children of Lamu Island off the Kenyan coast; stuff which would otherwise have been an environmental hazard to birds, turtles and other marine life.

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From its humble beginnings in 2005, the enterprise now employs over one hundred women to collect discarded flip-flops (and the now more ubiquitous Crocs - Homer, take note!) dumped or washed up on Kenya's beach resorts.

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Truckloads of odd sandals are transported to the workshop here in Nairobi where the flip-flops are washed, sun-dried, sorted into colour schemes and then glued together to form bigger shapes.

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We are given a private tour of the workshops, with each stage explained to us in detail.

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Washing

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Drying

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Sorting

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Gluing

Using ordinary kitchen knives, the resulting blocks are carved into all sorts of shapes such as animals, toys, ornaments, photo frames, coasters, key chains, Christmas decorations, bottle holders and much more.

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Larger pieces start life with a core of Styrofoam before the flip-flops are affixed.

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Sanding machines add the finishing touches.

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The end products become stunning works of art and are sold here at Marula Studios and exported all over the world.

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To complete the recycling loop, any off-cuts left over from the carving is used for the creation of the soft mats found in children's playgrounds.

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The concept is a simple one, but it benefits the society in many ways:
· Cleaning up the beaches, making them more appealing to locals and tourists
· Preventing birds and marine life from getting sick or dying from ingesting waste
· Creating local employment on the coast as well as in the workshops and studio
· Reducing the amount of waste
· Offering domestic and foreign visitors unique souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home

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These two pieces now happily coexist in their new home in Bristol.

Naturally, exit is through the shop.

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Karen Blixen House

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For those of you old enough to remember the book Out of Africa and subsequent award-winning film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, the name Karen Blixen will be familiar. The film provides a vivid snapshot of life in the last decades of the British Empire and some breathtaking scenery shots, although not a true version of Karen's memoirs of the 17 years she spent in Africa.

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On a private tour of the house, the guide tells us all about the history of the house, pointing out the original pieces of furniture from Karen's time and the movie; as well as recounting Karen's Blixen's personal life story.

History of the House

Karen and her husband Bror von Blixen bought the house in 1917 as part of a coffee farm venture in Kenya, which was then called British East Africa. Karen called the house 'Bogani' or 'Mbogani' meaning a house in the woods. When their marriage failed after eight years, Karen continued to run the farm on her own until she returned to Denmark in 1931.

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Later the farm was broken into 20 acre parcels for development by its next owner Remy Marin, who is said to have named the subsequent residential Nairobi suburb Karen after the farm's famous resident.

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For a time the house was only sporadically occupied until the Danish government purchased it in 1964 and presented it to the Kenyan government as an independence gift. After the success of the Out of Africa film in 1985, the government opened the house as a museum. Many pieces of furniture that Karen Blixen sold on her departure were acquired for the shooting of the Out of Africa film, and are now part of the exhibition in the Museum. The architecture is typical of late 19th century, which includes the spacious rooms, verandas, tiled roof and stone construction typical of this period.

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The grounds contain old farm equipment, and from the terrace we can see the famed Ngong Hills, as mentioned in the opening scene from the Out of Africa film:

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills...”

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Karen Blixen's life

Born in Denmark in 1885, Karen entered into a marriage of convenience with her half-cousin Bror van Blixen who promised to buy her a dairy farm in Africa. Bror, however, developed their farm as a coffee plantation instead. The farm fared little better than their marriage - which ended in divorce after hard-drinking womanising Bror infected Karen with syphilis (funnily enough, the guide omits the bit about syphilis in her story) - and was plagued by a number of disasters including fire, repeatedly bad harvests and falling market price for coffee.

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Karen Blixen

After her divorce, Karen fell in love with an English man, Denys Finch Hatton. Tragedies were to follow Karen, however, and after Finch Hatton died in a plane crash in 1930 (he is buried in the Ngong Hills we can see beyond the house), she was forced to return to Denmark where she pursued a career in writing.

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Denys Finch Hatton

Karen died on her family estate in Denmark in 1962 at the age of 77.

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We go back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before Peter – Tillya’s driver – takes us to Carnivore Restaurant for dinner, where we again arrive early, nearly half an hour before they open for dinner. This means we have to sit and have a drink in the bar, oh the horror of it!

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The well-fed and very expectant cat follows us in to the restaurant when we are seated.

Carnivore Restaurant

The Carnivore opened its doors in 1980 to instant success as a strikingly different dining experience to anything previously seen in Kenya. Voted by UK magazine Restaurant to be among the 50 best restaurants in the world in 2002 and 2003 in recognition of the fact that you could dine here on exotic game meats. When we first came here in 2001 (and later in 2006) we were told that they had their own farm where they bred exotic game for the BBQ, and we were served meat such as zebra, warthog and even giraffe!

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In recent years, however, strict new laws mean that zebra, hartebeest, kudu and the like are now off the menu, which is quite ironic as I can buy all those and others in a store less than 20 miles from where we live in Bristol, UK (OK, I have never seen giraffe meat in the shop, but certainly all the others). Exotic meats or not, this is NOT the place to visit with a vegetarian – the Carnivore is a meat speciality restaurant whose motto is 'The Ultimate Beast of a Feast'; not dissimilar to a medieval banquet.

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Tonight's menu

Nyama Choma

This certainly is a BBQ with a difference and not for the light eater – hence my choice of a small lunch earlier. The Carnivore is a rather indulgent ‘Nyama Choma’ (barbecued meat) dining venue where we can sample a variety of local meats roasted over a charcoal fire. Dominating the entrance to the dining room is the spectacular fire pit, the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else on our travels. Whole joints of meat – legs of lamb and pork, ostrich, sausages, rumps of beef, spare ribs, chicken wings, kidneys and crocodile steaks are skewered on traditional Maasai spears and roasted over the fire.

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We are shown to our table and the movable feast can begin. Knowing from experience what is about to come, I urge the others not to eat the soup for starters but dive straight into the feeding frenzy of grilled meats.

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When the meat has reached a perfect temperature, an army of carvers carry the full skewers from table to table, carving slices of meat on to our sizzling cast iron plates for as long as we want and as much as we can handle.

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As long as the little white flag on the table is still flying the meats continue to arrive.

As I said earlier, most of the meat these days is of the more mainstream type, but that does not mean there is a lack of variety:

Roast beef
Roast leg of lamb
Roast chicken
Pork sausages
Crocodile
Ostrich
Turkey
Beef sausages
Honey glazed pork ribs
Chicken wings
Lamb chops
Beef ribs
Chicken legs

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Some of the ‘speciality meats' are brought out in little taster-sized morsel on a tray.

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There are chicken livers, spicy lamb sausages, rabbit and bulls’ testicles.

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Yes, you read that right: bull’s testicles. That’s what the small half-an-egg-shaped item is at the front of the plate. Not a strong taste, but it has a somewhat odd texture. Not unpleasant, but not something I would be in a rush to order again. At least I have the balls to try it!

The food is piled on our plates until our stomachs are over-full and the lurking (ever-expanding) cat has devoured any 'accidentally' dropped leftovers. Something tells me we won’t be sleeping well tonight – such an enormous amount of meat on top of this morning’s Larium*** tablets doesn't bode well!

  • ***Larium is a malaria prophylaxis known for its rather unpleasant side effect of psychotic nightmares.

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When we reach the point in this gastronomic overload that even just one more mouthful will send us over the top – we declare defeat and lower the white flag in capitulation.

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Yes, it is fairly pricey; and yes, it is most certainly touristy, with the zebra-aproned waiters’ theatrical ‘performances’ giving it an almost Disneyesque feel; but Carnivore has been an icon amongst tourists, ex-pats and wealthier locals for the last 25 years for a reason. Love it or hate it, I do think visitors to Nairobi should experience this circus-like dining adventure at least once.

Peter takes us back to our hotel for an early night as we have an early start tomorrow.

Thank you Tillya and Calabash Adventures for a great first day in Africa!

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:50 Archived in Kenya Tagged animals birds travel vacation elephants adventure holiday fun africa safari lunch bbq photography kenya giraffe flip_flops charity barbecue crafts kissing nairobi braai recycling bird_watching canon_eos_5d_iii calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen giraffe_centre snogging tongues which_safari_company best_safari_company nature_trail utadamuni marula_studios out_of_africa isak_dinesen carnivore carnivore_restaurant nyama_choma Comments (1)

Cormier Plage - Cap-Haïtien - Port au Prince

Back to the Ole Smoke

sunny 34 °C
View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day eight of our tour of Haiti with Undiscovered Destinations.

Darkness still hangs over the Caribbean as we go for breakfast this morning, later replaced by an aspiring sunrise which never really amounts to anything.

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In the distant twilight we spot the Anthem of the Seas – The Royal Caribbean's cruise ship - heading for Labadee so that its passengers can spend the day on the beach.

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In the time it takes the ship to make its way across our horizon, twilight has almost been pushed aside by daylight, showing the ship in all its glory. I reluctantly admit that it does look impressive, at least from this distance.

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The sun is still low as we are driven to the airport for our return journey to the capital.

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Arriving at the airport, my heart sinks when I see the long queue of people - complete with huge amounts of luggage - waiting to check in; and when I realise that even the passengers are being weighed ready for the flight, the aforementioned heart plunges further into my stomach. I am therefore immensely relieved when Serge walks past the queue to another check in desk - the poor people heading for the humiliation of having their weight recorded are travelling to one of the outlying islands, not Port au Prince. Phew!

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Pimp my Truck

In Port au Prince Geffrard awaits us, now like an old friend, navigating his way through the morning traffic; all of which is infinitely more colourful and enriched than our min-van.

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Literally meaning 'quick quick', these buses – known as tap-taps, follow fixed routes, but not a timetable – they leave whenever they are full. That is full according to Haitian standards, not European, with passengers often hanging on the back or even sitting on the roof! There are no fixed bus-stops, the passengers knock the roof when they want to alight.

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They are mostly pick-up trucks which have been lovingly home welded and garishly decorated to the point where they resemble art galleries on wheels.

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Often painted with religious names or slogans, portraits of famous people, and intricate, hand-cut wooden window covers, the ubiquitous tap-taps are unique to Haiti.

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Musée Canne à Sucre

Although it is not far from Port au Prince airport, by the time we reach the museum I am feeling decidedly weary. The sun is shining relentlessly, and it's already very hot - I always suffers from the effects of dehydration quite quickly - and severely - and I suspect I have not taken in enough liquids this morning.

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All I want to do is sit down, in the shade somewhere, with a cool drink. Instead we are introduced to the guide who will show us around the museum.

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The first room displays a brief chronicle of Haiti's history, from the Taino Indians through to Victorian times.

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Taino artefacts

I feel listless and disinterested, which isn't at all like me. Normally I love museums, and soak up every word the guides say, but this morning I find myself wandering around the displays aimlessly, not really taking any notice of the explanations offered.

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The museum has the appearance of a haphazard collection of random items, situated in someone's living room.

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Slavery
The second room focuses on slavery, revolution and black history in Haiti. If there is such a human trait as having too much empathy, then I suffer from this condition. Looking at the impassioned illustrations displayed, my mind immediately wants to try and imagine how I would feel if I was in that situation. Damn emotions... STOP IT! If I was indifferent to the exhibits earlier, I now find myself getting quite distraught at the thought of man's inhumanity to man.

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Seeing Haiti today, it is hard to believe that it was once the wealthiest overseas colony in the French empire! However, economic success came at a cost - Haiti's riches could only be exploited by importing up to 40,000 slaves a year. For nearly a decade in the late 18th century, Haiti accounted for more than one-third of the entire Atlantic slave trade.

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Map showing where the slaves came from

Conditions for these men and women were atrocious; the average life expectancy for a slave once they arrived on Haiti was 7 years. Essentially, the owners worked their slaves to death and then just bought more slaves. Those who tried to run away were severely punished and by 1789, there were 500,000 slaves in Haiti.

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Cut-away model of slave ship shows the conditions the slaves were transported across the Atlantic under. Goods at the bottom, people on the middle deck.

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Some of the gruesome ways the slave masters kept their 'workers' in check. It doesn't even bear thinking about how cruelly these people were treated. I find it impossible to imagine how someone would have the mentality it would take to dish out that sort of punishment to another human being, and the fact that it was not just isolated incidents, it was considered the norm.

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Once they arrived in Haiti, slaves were divided into different categories: domestic help, overseers, agricultural workers and those involved in the sugar cane industry.

Revolution
Inspired by the French Revolution, the revolution in Haiti (1791-1804) is the only successful slave revolt in modern times, and makes Haiti the only country where slave freedom was taken by force. A bedraggled group of slaves organised themselves, held a vodou ceremony calling for their liberty and went out with a guerilla war to defeat Europe’s most powerful army.

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Plantations were taken by force, or by using more subtle methods, such as poisoning their masters.

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In 1804, Haiti went on to become the first independent nation in Latin America; it is the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere (after the US); and the oldest black republic in the world. The three main players in the fight for Haiti's liberty were Jean Jaques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion.

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Set in the grounds of the ruined old sugar plantation Habitation Chauteaublond, the museum courtyard features a collection of antiquated material relating to the sugar cane industry.

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17th century water mill, brought over from England, was used to extract the juice from the sugar cane.

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The guide turns the water on for us to show the wheel in operation. As we are the only people in the museum, it makes sense not to have the mill running continuously.

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As well as hydro-power, animals were used to operate this traction wheel.

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Vats for boiling the sugar cane to make molasses for export to Europe where it would be fermented to make rum.

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Belonging to the Haitian American Sugar Company, S.A. (HASCO), this – the first train in Haiti – was used for transporting sugar cane from the fields to the processing plants.

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Relais de Chateaublond Restaurant
Although the gorgeous on-site restaurant is famous for its selection of flavoured rums (such as passion fruit, anise and various herbs), we stick to Diet Coke with our lunch.

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Croix des Bouquets

In the suburb of Noailles is the commune of Croix des Bouquets, famed for its metalwork artisans. The flamboyant movement of recycling metal into art was started some 60 years ago and today there are over 1,000 artisans working in Croix des Bouquetes, hammering away to create intricate masks and other wall hangings from discarded oil drums, car parts and even kitchen utensils.

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We visit the workshop of Jacques Eugene, a renowned artist who was born here in Croix des Bouquetes and now employs several other locals in his studio.

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Like most of the artists, Jacques takes his inspiration from vodou, creating extraordinary wall hangings which are as bizarre (to us) as they are curious.

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Jacques explains the process from the raw material to the finished product: the oil barrel is cut open, burnt and flattened, then a pattern is traced on the surface. The rest is done with a hammer and chisel, metal cutters and artistic skill.

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This handsome mask now hangs proudly in my living room along with the two masks we wore for Jacmel carnival and the one I bought at Milot (well, I had to have something to do while David and Kyle were visiting the Citadelle – that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

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In addition to the intriguing masks, one of the most popular designs for steel drum art is the Tree of Life, a symbolic image with a cultural significance to the people of Haiti. Representing immortality, new life, blessings and fertility, the branches of the tree reach into the sky, while the roots burrow deep into the earth; uniting heaven, earth and the underworld. Having seen several different variations on walls in our hotel rooms as well as restaurants, we are keen to pick one out to bring home.

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David also adds a lizard to his collection.

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Making our way back to Hotel Le Plaza (again), we are stuck in a traffic jam (again). The cars are completely stationary, and we soon become aware that several cars in front of us make a turn. Serge goes off to investigate what the problem is, and comes back to explain that there was an accident between a car and a motorbike, and all the bystanders have taken the side of the motorcyclist. They then set about beating the car driver, who very wisely retreated to the safety of his vehicle. That didn't stop the mob apparently, and now they are pelting his car with stones. Justice Haitian style!

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We also decide to get out of here before this escalates. That means driving through a 'less-than-salubrious' neighbourhood, and we are advised to close the windows and put the cameras away. So what do I do? Take photos of course...

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With so many cars having turned around to avoid the melee and are now travelling the opposite direction, the traffic is still terribly slow moving, so it's a great relief to finally arrive at the hotel. This being our third visit to Le Plaza in the last week, it's like coming home.

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Feeling awfully jaded and quite unwell by now, I am rather grateful we don't have any plans for the rest of the afternoon; and after re-packing for tomorrow's journey home, we take a siesta. I notice I have the beginnings of a cold sore on my lip, something that causes me some concern after last time I had one, which developed a secondary infection, resulting a several courses of antibiotics.

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When Geffrard turns up to pick us up later, he brings me a gift from Serge: spicy peanut butter! What a wonderful surprise.

This evening we have arranged to meet up with Jacqui (the local agent) and Paul (the Bradt Guidebook writer we met in Jacmel) for dinner. Jacqui has also invited Dawn (she was at the carnival with us too), who is bringing a friend; so it is quite a happy little band who turn up at La Plantation Restaurant in Pétionville.

The cocktails are good, the food is great and the conversation is even better.

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It's a delightful way to end this tour – we have found Haiti to exceed our expectations in every way. This small nation has so much more to offer than the usual Caribbean attractions of sunshine, beaches and sunset cocktails – although it has its fair share of those too! With extremely welcoming people and an intriguing culture, I am already planning my return visit to delve deeper into its vodou customs and celebrations.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:37 Archived in Haiti Tagged beaches art planes beach history travel vacation hotel museum caribbean artisans photography cocktails revolution slavery pilot metalwork artists aerial_photography slaves spicy haiti undiscovered_destinations canon_eos_5d_iii voyages-lumiere port-au-prince port_au_prince baron_samedi paul_clammer bradt vodou cap-haïtien haitien_revolution haitien_food haitien_art labadee cormier cap_hatien petionville croix_des_bouquets jacques_eugene sugar_cane haitian_revolution peanut_butter Comments (1)

Port au Prince – Cap-Haïtien

Palace Sans Soucie and Citadelle la Ferrière - incredible UNESCO Heritage sites

sunny 32 °C
View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day six of our tour of Haiti arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

An early start this morning for our transfer to Aérogare Guy Malary (the domestic airport) for the short flight to Cap-Haïtien. Even at this early hour (we leave the hotel at 06:15), there is quite a lot of traffic on the streets of Port au Prince, with many more people walking to work. One young lad jumps on the ladder at the back of our van to catch a free ride for a while, then knocks on the roof when he wants to be let off.

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There is not much action at the airport – we are supposed to be meeting an American guy called Kyle here, who is joining us for the day. Meanwhile we hang around, eating the packed breakfast provided by the hotel.

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Kyle eventually turns up – his driver took him to the international airport rather than the domestic one, so he had to grab a taxi to bring him here. To add insult to injury, his flight ticket has been cancelled, so he is put on standby. Kyle is very laid back about it all, and we keep our fingers crossed as we watch people arrive in the waiting room. His luck is in - fortunately not all the booked passengers turn up and Kyle is on the flight!

It's only a small plane, and I sit right at the front with a good view of the cockpit. When the pilot arrives, I ask him if he is able to fly over the Citadelle for me to take some photos, and he promises to try.

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My view is restricted by the engine, but I still get a reasonable good look out over the spreading metropolis that is Port au Prince as we take off.

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The urban sprawl soon gives way to mountains as we head north.

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It's only a 30 minute or so flight, and about half way through, the captain beckons me to come forward into the cockpit just as the imposing Citadelle la Fèrriere comes into view, perched spectacularly atop a craggy peak.

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As we pass the fortress, the pilot dips his wing so that we all get a good view, even through the side windows with the engine in the way.

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What a star!

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Sans Souci

From Cap-Haïtien airport we are whisked to Milot, where we meet with Maurice, our local guide.

Sans Souci palace was constructed in 1806 for King Henri Christophe to concentrate all administrative functions of the monarchy around the royal residence. The gates were allocated according to rank – only the king could enter through the middle gates, and the soldiers used the door on the right.

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The building you can see with a domed roof, is a catholic church.

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Originally decorated in European style, the palace was looted after the king's death in 1820 and later suffered damage during the earthquake of 1842 before gradually turning into the ruins you see today.

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Christophe had this palace built (along with his fortress which we will be visiting after this) for three reasons:

1. to defend the country from the French
2. to defend his kingdom from enemies from the south (Haiti was divided in two at that time)
3. to show the world what a great nation Haiti was and what it was capable of

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When Napoleon sent two spies to Haiti to report back on how the palace was organised for a possible raid, Christophe tricked them into believing that he had an enormous army. The French envoy stood in this very position at the top of the stairs (below), while Christophe's soldiers marched down the steps opposite.

Christophe's entire troupe of one thousand soldiers paraded down the stairs, then snuck around the back and up into the palace, changed into another set of uniforms and filed down those steps again (and again and again...); thus giving the French spies the impression that Haiti had a ten thousand-strong army!

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Christophe greatly admired Napoleon. So much so, that he had his portrait hanging in one of his galleries. When news reached him that Napoleon had been captured alive, Christophe tore down the picture, tearing it to pieces with the words: “Great men should never survive!”

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Later, suffering from illness and fearing a coup, Christophe committed suicide in 1820, aged 53. The deed was done in this very room (below), using the silver pistol we saw in the museum on our first day in Port au Prince.

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Fearing attacks from the French as well as the southerners, security was strict at the palace. The guards in the sentry box would stop any visitors, and if they were unable to show the right ID, it was straight to the dungeons. Fortunately Maurice doesn't exercise the same defence policy!

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The palace complex also includes the Queen's apartments,

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her pool and fountain,

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and a printing press. Christophe's philosophy was that all children should receive a decent education.

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Having been here before the palace was built, the authorities are now trying to keep this 300 year old star apple tree alive. It was known as the Justice Tree, because the king used to sit under its branches, handing out judgement to his people.

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Kyle turns out to be quite the mountain goat, and he climbs a crumbling old wall for a better view of the palace from above.

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We take our photos from the safety of terra firma.

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Citadelle la Ferrière

From Sans Souci Palace, we continue up the hill to Citadelle la Ferrière.

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This is the number one tourist attraction in Haiti, and the most common way to reach the towering heights of the fortress, is on horse back.

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As I am adamant that there is no way I am going to subject any horse to the weight of my body, Maurice tries to organise a 'rhino' for me. I struggle with the thought of a one-horned African animal with a saddle on its back ferrying me on narrow stony paths in Haiti... especially after my last close encounter with a rhino. I am therefore very relieved to know that the 'rhino' they refer to is in fact a small motorised vehicle similar to a golf cart.

Unfortunately, however, the rhino is sick today. Looks like there will be no visit to the Citadelle for me then, as the 1.6 mile long track is notoriously steep and not something I relish the thought of attempting in this heat. I therefore give David my camera, wave him goodbye and stay behind with the horse handlers, self-appointed guides and souvenir vendors; while David mounts his horse and rides into the great unknown with Kyle, Serge and Maurice.

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David has never really been at ease on a horse (he has similar memories of Peter the Plodding Pony as I do of rhinos), so I am impressed that he manages to take photos while riding!

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At the top, riders alight the horses onto cannons, some of many still left around the grounds of the fort.

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It is customary to buy the horse handlers a drink from the conveniently positioned vendors (above), while the horses get their own water and are left to graze as the tourists explore.

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The imposing Citadelle was commissioned in 1805 by Henri Christophe - who at the time was chief administrator in the region, became the president of Northern Haiti in 1807 and declared himself king four years later.

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The largest fortress in the western hemisphere, it took 20,000 men 15 years to build. Created as a protection against the French, who were expected to return after Haiti's independence to re-take their colony by force, the citadel was built to be able to accommodate 5,000 defenders - as well as general / president / King Christophe and his family - for up to a year, enabling the king to use the so-called scorched earth policy in case of attack.

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The construction of the Citadelle is certainly monumental, with ten feet thick and 130 feet high walls, making it a daunting prospect for anyone to try and storm the fort.

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Three of the four sides are virtually impregnable, with only the south aspect a little more exposed. To counteract this weakness, another fort was built on a small hill nearby to protect the Citadelle from any would-be invaders choosing to attack from this direction.

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Not to mention the amazing artillery battery pointing in this direction.

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The Citadelle was outfitted with 365 cannons of different sizes obtained from various monarchs including this British one (bottom photo).

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The height of the mountaintop upon which the Citadelle resides is 950 meters, and provides an exceptional views of the surrounding landscape, something which was the main factor of the fort's position - King Christophe and his men were able to observe any ships arriving at the coast. Apparently it is even possible to see the eastern coast of Cuba (140km away) on a clear day.

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Under Christophe's policies of corvée, or forced labour, the Kingdom increased its wealth by trading in sugar; but the people resented the system. Unpopular, debilitated by a stroke, and concerned about being overthrown, Christophe committed suicide in 1820, by which time the Citadelle was only 95% completed. His body is allegedly entombed within its walls, as is that of his brother-in-law (below), who died in an accidental explosion.

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The fort complex included a printing shop, garment factories, a hospital, schools, a distillery, a chapel, and military barracks.

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And apparently a pizza oven!

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One of the more impressive features is the rainwater collection system on the roof. With a lack of underground water (the Citadelle is built directly onto the rock), the fort was constructed so that rain could be utilised to supply its inhabitants with water.

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Citadelle la Ferrière was never put to the test, since the French did not come came back to reconquer Haiti; and the fort was later abandoned.

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Lakou Lakay

We too abandon the Citadelle and make our way to Lakou Lakay Cultural Centre for lunch. Run by Maurice (our guide) and his family, the aim of the centre is to preserve the rich cultural traditions of Haiti including folk dance as well as teaching local children to read.

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There are many beautiful items for sale in his small boutique, all locally made.

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In the grounds of his property grow various fruit trees, including this soursop tree. The leaves are thought to cure cancer and the juice made from the fruit cleanses the blood. We have become rather partial to this drink, so it is good to hear that it has medicinal properties too.

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We are greeted by Maurice's beautiful daughter with a bowl of water and some soap; so that we can be nice and clean in preparation for tucking into the delicious spread provided: there is chicken, vegetables, fried plantain, diri djon djon (rice cooked with the juice from black mushrooms), potatoes stuffed with fish...

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… with a special mention to the hot pickles. For many years now I have graded chillies and spicy food on a 1-10 'Grete Scale'. Since arrived in Haiti, much to Serge's surprise, I haven't found anything spicier than a 6. These chillies, however, are super HOT, and I would say they are a good 8.5 or even a 9! Pretty mind-blowing stuff!

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After lunch we need to drop Kyle off at the airport for his flight back to Port au Prince. Unlike his outbound flight this morning, the check-in process goes without a hitch, and we are soon on our way across town, leaving Kyle to wait for his flight.

Cap-Haïtien

Cap Haïtien was an important city during the French colonial period, serving as the capital until it was moved to Port-au-Prince in 1770. Again after the revolution in 1804, Cap Haïtien became the capital of the Kingdom of Northern Haiti until 1820. The town is now a mix of a shabby and somewhat seedy port area and a much more charming 'down-town' section where brightly painted, well-kept houses mingle with dilapidated and crumbling properties.

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Wherever we go, there is traffic. Always traffic. Which is one of the reasons the waterfront area looks like it does - a whole swathe of buildings have been removed to make way for a brand new freeway.

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And well turned out school children. As per education policies, children are not allowed to turn up at school looking in any way unkempt. However poor the family may be, their kids always look immaculate: neatly pressed uniform, hair with half a dozen or more bows, highly polished shoes. Just like the children back home in England. Not.

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Hotel Roi Christophe

At this point I must have a little whinge about my lack of linguistic abilities. OK, so I am bilingual in Norwegian and English, I speak enough German to just about hold a simple conversation, and I can order food in Spanish; so why, oh why, do I struggle so with French? Pourquoi indeed. To me the pronunciation is just totally illogical: take the word roi (meaning king) for instance. How on earth this word goes from being written roi, to being pronounced wah is beyond me. (See here for the correct pronunciation).

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Anyway, back to the hotel, named after Henri Christophe, the former slave and a key leader in the Haitian Revolution, which succeeded in gaining independence from France in 1804. Christophe created a separate government in this area and in 1807, three years after the end of the revolution and independence of Haiti from the French, he was elected President of the State of Haiti, as he named that area. Alexandre Pétion was chosen as president in the South. In 1811, Christophe converted the state into a kingdom and proclaimed himself Henry I, King of Haïti.

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Touted by Lonely Planet to be the most charming hotel in Cap HaÏtien, the Roi Christophe is a delightful colonial building from the 18th century. Once a palace belonging to a French governor, it now has a Spanish hacienda feel to it.

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The moment we arrive I am in love with this place. So much greenery, so many little gems hidden away amongst broad leaved banana shrubs and flowering hibiscus, such as intimate seating areas and eclectic art.

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There are several bar areas dotted around, although the service is more than a little slow... funnily enough, having tipped well when the first drink is brought out, the speed of the server suddenly increases rapidly.

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Eventually we settle on some chairs by the pool, overlooking several large trees for some bird watching. With a drink of course.

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While we haven't seen many birds here in Haiti up until this point – the Roi Christophe grounds are overrun with the endemic Hispaniolan Woodpecker!

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I have never seen so many woodpeckers in any one place – everywhere we look there is another one – I count at least a dozen!

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Parents flit back and forth feeding their babies, and some even seem to service two nests at once. How does that work?

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They may be pretty birds, but look what they've done to the poor trees!

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Also spotted in amongst the foliage is the Hispaniolan Palm Crow and the Palm Chat – both endemic to this island; the more widespread Grey Kingbird and the near-endangered Plain Pigeon.

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Palmchat

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Grey Kingbird

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Plain Pigeon

We see what initially looks like a 'blob' (a fruit maybe?) high in a tree, and wander off to investigate. The 'blob' turns out to be a large bird, but we are really not sure exactly what it is. After further inspection, a lot of discussions, and googling on our phones, we decide it is a juvenile Yellow Crowed Night Heron.

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Seeing several adults in the same tree later, including a nest, seems to confirm our suspicions.

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There might not be a great variety of birds here, but there are certainly more than we have seen anywhere else in Haiti; and it's such a charming place to while away a few hours that we are almost sorry when the light fades and it's time to get ready for dinner.

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Dinner

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Not particularly memorable, but the Griot de Porc is very tasty, albeit a little too fatty and bony for me. The fried plantains, however, are the best we've had so far on this trip!

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The flan (vanilla/caramel pudding) is quite nice.

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We have another couple of drinks before retiring to bed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:58 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds traffic horses history travel ruins hotel fort flight palace canons caribbean unesco photography airline revolution woodpecker chillies pilot aerial_photography spicy haiti bird_watching horse_riding fortifications citadelle cap-haïtien sans_soucie citadelle_la_ferrière sunrise_airways cap_haitien roi_christophe haitien_revolution fotress canon_balls lakau_lakay haitien_food haitien_art soursop school_kids yellow_crowned_night_heron fried_plantain Comments (1)

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