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A day of doing very little at Mandina Lodges

Our last day in The Gambia


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

Having foregone the early morning coffee delivered to our room this morning, we sleep in until we wake naturally, and wander down to breakfast when we are ready.

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We choose the full works today:

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Fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee

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Continental selection: bread, jam and butter – as always there is too little butter, it seems to be the same all over the world!

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Full English: eggs of choice (I have vegetable, cheese and chilli omelette), bacon sausage, baked beans and tomato. I am rather surprised to be offered bacon in an Islamic country – I am assuming the chef is not a practising Muslim.

The day is spent between the shade on our private terrace with a book (and my camera by my side, just in case); on the bed in the cool room with a book; in the bar with a cold drink and a book; and in the pool cooling off - without a book.

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Egret on the neighbours' deck

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Western Plantain Eater

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Common Bulbul

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African Palm Swift

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Western Plantain Eaters

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Common Bulbul

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Channelling my creative side...

I love the artwork dotted around the grounds.

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Dinner

Our last night here at Mandina Lodges is as uneventful as the day has been.

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Prawns in Black Bean Sauce with Noodles

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The fish cakes are disappointing as they seem to be mostly potato, but the home made tartare sauce is delicious

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Apple Fritter with Ice Cream - or rather ice cream with apple fritter

And so it is off to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 11:33 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds book breakfast africa dinner swimming pool birding egret creative artwork prawns west_africa bulbul gambia omelette bird_watching bacon swift the_gambia plantain_eater makasutu makasutu_forest full_english_breakfast continental_breakfast reading_a_book manidian_lodges creative_side fish_cakes Comments (7)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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

After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

Bakotu Hotel - Mandina Lodges

Transfer Day


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

Transfer day. After a leisurely breakfast, we get picked up for the transfer to our next – and last – lodge on this trip. The journey takes the best part of an hour, with the last half on dirt tracks that the driver describes as “African Massage”.

Mandina Lodges

The modest track leading down to the lodge from the main road is not indicative of the opulence that meets us at the lodge. Linda, the manager, greets us warmly and gives us a briefing about the lodge and its surroundings. I am a little disappointed that we do not have a private guide as advertised in the brochure, but share with a single lady from the UK. I can, however, understand the desire to keep staffing levels down this late in the season, especially as this evening there are only five of us staying.

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Reception area

Porters take our luggage as we are shown to the room along elevated wooden boardwalks.

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The rooms are nicely spread out to allow for plenty of privacy.

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There are nine rooms at Mandina, including four floating lodges, one of which we are staying in.

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Our lodge is # 3

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As we are in the third room from the main public area, there is just one lodge beyond ours. The gangway from the main boardwalk leading across to our room varies in steepness according to the level of the tide.

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The gangplank leads to a floating terrace where there are two sunbeds, plus a covered area with a couple of chairs and a table.

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Another gangplank leads across to the room itself, which is also floating on the river.

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The room has a small balcony that wraps itself around on three of the four sides, offering great views up, down and across the river.

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The wood panelled inside is spacious with a four poster bed in the centre of the room.

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The en suite bathroom is open to the elements out the back of the room.

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A preservation order forbids the owners to bury pipes under the lodges, so the toilet is fitted with a de-compostable plastic bag which takes a bit of getting used to. It is changed every day, but flushing it can be a little awkward, and the sound when you pee is rather disconcerting.

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Once we have settled in, we check out the large free form swimming pool.

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We're amazed to see a Pied Kingfisher nonchalantly sitting at the edge of the pool.

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He dives down into the pool, not for food, but to cool down in the hot, midday sun.

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Dotted around the pool are covered sunbathing areas (or rather shady areas to get away from the sun), again spaced apart for privacy.

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There is also a firepit, surrounded by chairs for sharing stories and keeping cosy on those chilly winter evenings.

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A large wooden deck leads down to the river, where the lodge's boats are moored.

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The restaurant features large, heavy metal chairs and ornate mosaic decorations on the floor.

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We saunter down to the bar area, where there is a little bit of a cooling breeze.

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David is delighted to find the bar stocks cider, while I choose a non-alcoholic ginger drink with a real punch.

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Fancy going all the way to West Africa to drink British cider!

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My ginger punch looks like mud but tastes delicious.

The bar overlooks the mud flats around the mangroves, which are dry when we arrive, but as we stay for a while drinking and enjoying some lunchtime sandwiches, the water rises with the tide.

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The mud appears to be moving, and on closer inspection we see hundreds of little Fiddler Crabs.

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Odd looking Mudskippers, who appear to have legs, fins and wings, also frolic in the shallow waters.

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The flowerpots attract Red Billed Firefinches.

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After lunch we retire to our new home for a siesta in the midday heat.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa pool bar birding crabs swimming_pool cider west_africa kingfisher transfer siesta boardwalks finch gambia firepit bird_watching the_gambia the_gambia_experience firefinch wild_birds bakotu kotu mandina_lodges makasutu mandina floating_lodge makasutu_forest four_poster_bed outside_toilet mangoves mud_flats fiddler_crabs muskippers Comments (6)

Ngorongoro Crater Day 2 Part 2 - kingfisher, baby zebra

From breakfast until lunch


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

Picnic Breakfast

We stop at the now very familiar Lerai Picnic Site for breakfast. On most of our previous visits to the crater we have stopped here, either to have a picnic or simply to make use of the facilities. The first time we came, in 2007, the toilets were pretty horrendous, but these days they are very much improved, with an attendant looking after cleanliness and stocking up on soap and paper.

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David is ready to get going "to see what nature has to offer us" (one of Malisa's favourite sayings)

We share our picnic this morning with a cheeky little monkey and a Hildebrand Starling.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Defassa Waterbuck

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You can easily tell the Defassa from the Common Waterbuck, providing you see them from behind: the Defassa has a circular white spot on its rear, while the Common Waterbuck features a much more prominent 'toilet-seat-shaped' white mark on its bum.

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Bird Pond

Initially attracted by a Hammerkop, we stop at a marshy area and soon discover the site is teeming with colourful birdlife.

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Hammerkop

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Sacred Ibis

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Egyptian Goose

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Black Headed Heron

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Immature Yellow Billed Stork

Malachite Kingfisher

I spot something colourful out of the corner of my eye, and ask Malisa to reverse to a different view, where I am delighted to see a Malachite Kingfisher sitting on some reeds.

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I grab Big Bertha (my 600mm lens) and wait for him to go fishing. He does, but he misses and so do I. He does fly around a bit and offers me a few different poses though.

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Bad hair day!

Finally he settles on a reed nearer to us, without a distracting background. Yay!

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Rasta Lion

That lump you see under the tree is a sleeping lion. Honestly.

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Hildebrand Starling

Ring Necked Dove

I get really excited about seeing this dove until I realise it is the same ones as we have in abundance back home in the garden. Doh.

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African Hoopoe

Lions

These are the same lions we saw yesterday devouring their kill. Having filled their bellies with zebra, they do not need to eat again for three days or so, rather they will now spend the time resting in the shade while they are digesting their food.

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Hippo and Zebra

Thomson's Gazelles

Cute little Tommy babies (Thomson's Gazelle). The good news is they are the second fastest animal in Tanzania. The bad news is, the cheetah is faster.

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Wildebeest

These odd-looking ungulates are renowned for being incredibly stupid with a dangerously short memory. Here they prove that theory by suddenly forgetting why they are fighting.

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Kori Bustard

Bateleur Eagle

These striking raptors have no tail to steady them in flight, instead they use their wings and body weight.

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Lions

These three lions are brothers, and while the one at the front is older, the other two hail from the same litter.

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Male lion

Yet another lion just lazing around, sleeping the day away, not realising that he should be performing for the camera-wielding tourists.

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Augur Buzzard

Zebra

Less than one week old, this baby zebra is torn between exploring the world and sticking close to his mum. When he is spooked by another zebra, mum jumps to his defence and sees the intruder off.

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Golden Jackal

Rhino

Malisa assures us that the blurry blob we see in the far distance is in fact a rhino. We have to take his word for it. Heat haze, dust, and atmospheric distortions make it impossible to take a decent photo, or even verifying his claim.

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Eurasian Hobby

Cape Buffalo

With a baby just a few days old, the mother looks painfully and alarmingly thin.

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Thomson's Gazelle

Although in some ways, and certainly from a photographer's point of view, it is great that the animals in Tanzania's national parks have become so accustomed to tourists that they no longer see the vehicles as a threat; the danger lies when they don't even bother to get out of the way – we almost run this little Thomson's Gazelle over as he isn't the least bothered about moving from our path as we approach.

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Hippo Pool

Some years ago when we came to the Crater, we had our picnic in this spot, and the pond was teeming with hippos (the aroma of 50 hippos belching, farting and crapping is not a good accompaniment to a tasty packed lunch), but today there are only a few of them around.

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Great White Pelican

There are, however, quite a number of Great White Pelicans showing off their breeding plumage.

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This is what a pelican looks like when it's yawning:

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Cattle Egret

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Hyena

Through all the distortions it is impossible to make out what this hyena is carrying in its mouth, even with powerful binoculars or Big Bertha. Could it be a baby Tommy? Or maybe a Kori Bustard?

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Windy

The wind has really blown up today, creating havoc with any dust kicked up by moving vehicles and blowing my hair in all directions (especially in front of my eyes as I am trying to take a photo)

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Grey Crowned Cranes

It seems I am not the only one having a bad hair day.

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In particularly arid areas where there is no vegetation to hold on to the soil, the sand gets blown into the car and we end up quite literally eating grit.

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Warthogs

Looking like they are praying, warthogs eat by kneeling on specially adapted pads on their front legs. This is because their short necks and relativity long legs make it difficult for their mouth to reach the ground in a conventional feeding position.

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Golden Jackal

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Kori Bustard

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Flamingos

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Secretary Bird

The same bird we spotted last night is still busy on her nest. I am not sure if she is still building it or just rearranging the furniture.

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It is time to leave the Ngorongoro Crater – one of my favourite places in the world - for this time. We will be back.

Thank you Tillya of Calabash Adventures for arranging this superb safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel breakfast sand africa safari tanzania pool zebra birding picnic buffalo lion windy rhino hippo wind crane hobby dust hyena heron egret stork ibis pelican waterbuck gazelle kingfisher warthog goose kori_bustard grip big_bertha calabash_adventures hammerkop secretary_bird picnic_breakfast augur_buzzard breakfast_box lerai_picnic_site malachite_kingfisher rasta_lion crowned_crane cattle_egret thomason's_gazelle golden_jackal baby_zebra Comments (2)

Lisbon - Accra - São Tomé

Finally getting to our destination

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having spent the night at an apartment in Lisbon, we arranged for the owner of the accommodation to pick us up at 06:30 this morning to take us the short distance to the airport. Ana is prompt and the journey only takes a few minutes. With no queues for check-in or security, we soon find ourselves in the Food Court, ready to eat breakfast.

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One of the best things about Portugal is its Pastel de Nata, a delicious custard tart with a particularly crispy pastry casing.

Departure Gate

I begin to feel slightly concerned when the ground staff start walking around the passengers asking for hand luggage to be checked in. This is usually a sign of a full flight. I soon notice, however, some blatant racism going on: only when every single one of the black passengers have been approached, does the lady start asking white travellers. This is despite a few of the white passengers have considerably larger bags. The selection was so obviously not made on the size of the bags, but the colour of their skin. Disgusting! I vow never to fly TAP again.

TAP Long-Haul Flight

Thankfully the flight is not full as the aircraft is horrendously uncomfortable. The seats are very thin with little padding, absolutely no lumbar support and they don't recline. There is no head rest and no entertainment system. The legroom is ca. 2” shorter than my legs and with no padding on the back of the seats, I soon develop a bruised knee. These seats are no better than certain short haul European budget airlines. More reasons to avoid TAP in future.

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I still manage to sleep, and wake up when the food trolley comes around. There is a choice of “cow or pasta”. I choose the cow, and she is delicious: chunky pieces of beef in a rich, slightly spicy, gravy with peas, carrots and mashed potato. The usual starter salad of a few lettuce leaves and a thin slice of tomato, stale bread roll, jelly, and cheese and biscuits.

The flight is reasonably uneventful until we approach our landing in Accra, when we have some of the best turbulence we have experienced in a long time, sending passengers into panic with women screaming and children crying. The same people give the captain a round of applause on landing.

Layover in Accra

Quite a number of people get off in Accra, the capital of Ghana; probably around 75% of the passengers. This is more of a refuelling stop than a proper 'layover' so all passengers continuing on to São Tomé are requested to remain on the plane. The crew are tasked with identifying each and every carry-on item left in the aircraft, which turns out to be a monumental task. Many people have moved to another seat than their original allocation, or are milling around the plane; thus are nowhere near their bags. It really would have been so much easier to get everyone to exit the aircraft (even if only down onto the tarmac), taking their luggage with them. By now I am even more unimpressed by this airline, it is not only racist and uncomfortable, but also totally disorganised.

Only a handful of passengers get on the plane here in Accra, and we continue our journey for the 1hour 40 minute flight to São Tome.

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I am shocked to see the amount of pollution floating in the Atlantic.

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São Tomé from the air

São Tomé e Principe

It is dry, but very warm and humid when we land at the small airport of São Tomé on the island of the same name.

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Before being allowed to enter the terminal building, our passports are checked for visa status. He looks at several pages of David's passport, then checks that his picture matches his real-life face. The official takes my passport, looks at the outside, says “ah, Noruega” and waves me through without as much as a glance at my picture.

Inside, the queue for immigration is long and slow, and when we finally get to the front, the guy is very hard to understand. It is all very smooth and painless though, and we soon find ourselves outside, where a friendly-looking guy holds a board stating “Mrs Grete”. He introduces himself as Agostinho, who will be our guide for the duration, and leads us to a micro-bus and our driver Nino.

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No visa was necessary after all that palaver before we left home

Miramar Hotel

From the airport it is a short ten minute ride to our hotel, through the sleepy capital.

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As hotels go, the Miramar is very pleasant, quite up to usual international business hotel standards. The room overlooks the pool (which is full of water and very clean – some of you may remember the saga from Comoros last year), and the grounds are dotted with flowers, bushes and trees.

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There are even sunbeds (again referring to last year's accommodation in Anjouan, Comoros)

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The pool (bucket) shower

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We take a quick shower and change before making our way down to the bar for a drink before dinner. This is where the differences with Comoros stops.

“Do you have local beer?” “No” I see rum on the shelf and ask about Diet Coke. Despite being shown on the drinks menu, the answer is negative. We settle for a Portuguese beer and wander outside.

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Baron Restaurant

The menu is mostly in Portuguese, with some interesting translations. I order a steak with land snails, but they have run out of snails, so I choose a carpaccio of fish instead. David has vegetable soup, and we share a 'carbonara pizza', which is very garlicky.

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The fish is absolutely delicious, very refreshing with a sweet and sour dressing made from pineapple.

When David tries to order a beer with his dinner, he is informed that they have run out. Yet again, David has drank the hotel bar dry on our first night.

By the time I get half way through the meal, I am in agony with back pain, most probably from the lack of support on the plane. We decide to go for a walk before bed, and stroll along the promenade and through the deserted streets around the hotel. The only people we come across are lovers snuggled up on concrete benches and security guards with snarling dogs outside large metal gates. We sit for a while listening to the waves and watching men with torches search for food (snails? whelks?) on the rocky shoreline.

And so ends the first day of our São Tomé trip as arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. So far so good.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged beer hotel africa pool ghana lisbon portugal accra miramar tap carpaccio sao_tome tap_airways hotel_miramar carpaccio_of_fish Comments (3)

The Empty Quarter

Rub' Al Khali


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

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

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

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

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

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Camel Farm

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

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The baby is only two or three days old

The place is swarming with flies.

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Rub Al Khali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wubar Archeaological Site

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

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

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

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

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Thumrait Palace Restaurant

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

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Wadi Dokah

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

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

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

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Pool / Beach time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port au Prince: Marché de Fer and Atiz Rezistans

Iron Market and Craft Centre

34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Iron Market (Marché de Fer)

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As we were unable to reach this – one of Haiti's most important civic landmarks - on our last visit because of the political rallies taking place, we have set aside a morning to explore its sales halls.

Shipped over from France in 1891, the structure was originally destined for Cairo, where it was going to become a railway station; but the deal fell through so it ended up here in Port au Prince instead. No-one is quite sure why or how.

The iconic market was badly destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, but has since been rebuilt and is yet again the focus of the city's vendors.

Notorious for its overwhelming atmosphere and high-pressure aggressive salesmen, it is with some trepidation we enter the first of the two halls, which contains a number of food and everyday household items for sale.

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Manioc

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Plantain Smasher

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Star anise

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Gourds and dried mushrooms

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Great selection of fancy shoes

Herbal Medicine
Many locals prefer to rely on alternative medicine, and we see several stalls selling a great variety of herbal infusions.

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For medicinal purposes only?

No salesmen have bothered us so far, but I guess the other hall – full of Vodou paraphernalia, artists and souvenirs, is where it is all happening as far as the tourist goes.

Here we see all sorts of 'creations' – I find the ones featuring dolls (of which there are many) - somewhat unnerving.

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Other - equally macabre - items are produced from and around human skulls. Real human skulls that is.

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When the slaves were brought over from Africa, they were forbidden to practice their Vodou religion, so would disguise their art behind a veil of Catholic saints. Today the two merge into one as far as art goes.

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The bowls of turtles intrigue me, and Serge explains that they are used for rituals. The turtle is not killed, merely drained of some blood, which is mixed with rum and coffee (isn't everything over here?), and given to pregnant women to protect the foetus from evil spirits.

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Candles used for ceremonies

The last part of the market is dedicated to souvenirs, and although we are approached by the stall holders and encouraged to browse their goods, they are not what I would call 'aggressive', or even particularly persistent. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Serge has spent years trying to discourage them; maybe it's because we have taken one of the stallholders as a guide, or it could be that we are just so used to it from our many travels through Africa and Asia that we just ignore it. While Haiti does not receive many tourists as such, the great number of visiting diaspora are the main buyers of these items, wanting to take a small piece of their home-land back to the US (or wherever) with them.

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From the Iron Market we make our way across town to the area known as Grand Rue (Main Street) through the labyrinthine warren of back streets in neighbourhoods dedicated entirely to car scrap yards and recycling.

Atis Rezistans – the Sculptors of Grand Rue

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It is not immediately obvious where the junk-yard ends and the art museum / gallery begins.

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The artists in this tight-knit community use salvaged wood, discarded car parts and household items to create bold, radical and warped sculptures.

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E Pluribus Unum”: out of many, one.

Compelling and whimsical, sometimes disturbing, often absurd, always extraordinary, each piece of art has a story behind it and a meaning to it, although the latter can be very elusive to the non-initiated.

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This open-air gallery is crammed full of sculptures, the focus seemingly being on ghoulish representations, although I am told the symbology is based on slavery, death and rebirth, Vodou, Christianity and the occult.

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Fetish, sexuality and anatomy are recurring themes in these fantastical creations reborn from discarded everyday items.

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And of course the ever-present human skulls grinning at us as we walk past.

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“Who buys this stuff” I ask André Eugéne – the founder of the art museum – as he invites us in to see his studio and bedroom. “It is mainly art collectors from all over the world, rarely locals” he explains. The interior of his work-and-living-space is dimly lit – by a human skull with red and green bulbs in its eye sockets. Not exactly what I would like to wake up to after a night on the rum.

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As we are leaving, I take a fancy to a mask hanging by the exit. “Everything here is for sale” says Eugéne, but I recoil when he ask for $400. “That is way out of my reach” I explain. “How much?” asks Eugéne hopefully and I throw back an almost derisory offer of $100, which is immediately rejected for double that. I explain that this price is still way too high for me and walk away. Eugéne calls me back, money changes hands and I am now the 'proud' owner of an 'original' piece of Haitian art. More on that tomorrow.

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Kids' Place – a Street Kid Project

Children between the ages of 10 and 17 are encouraged to create their own art and have been given a small shack in which to display and sell their creations.

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We - no, correction, I - buy another mask for our collection. David looks at me and shakes his head. Evidently he and I do not share the same taste in art.

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The kids are cute and love playing up for the camera.

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Le Plaza Hotel – chill time

After a morning of 'culture', the 'arts' and shopping, we have some free time this afternoon. Inspired (encouragingly 'bullied') by my friend Ian to use my macro lens, I take a few close-up pictures of everyday items in the restaurant.

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Ice cubes in my ginger ale

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The metal table

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Salt Pot

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Bubbles and condensation on my glass

Levitation Trick

The rest of the afternoon is spent in and around the swimming pool - first to create some trick photography.

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So how are these created? Quite simple really – one photo of David on a chair, and one photo of just the scene (making sure that the camera is in the identical position), then layer them in Photoshop and remove the chair. Voila!

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Later we fool around in the pool with my little waterproof camera, until the sun goes down and the lights come on.

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Dinner

After a quick shower we wander down to the restaurant for dinner. Although they do have an air-conditioned dining room, we make the most of the lovely warm evening by sitting outside in the leafy courtyard.

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David enjoys a cold Premiere beer in a frosted glass

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Prawn skewers with garlic mango sauce

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Filet mignon with creamy mushroom sauce

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I take great pleasure in a refreshing Plaza Punch after dinner, before it is time to say goodnight.

Thank you Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere for arranging this amazing trip to Haiti for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Haiti Tagged art craft masks hotel market sculpture pool photography souvenirs mask swimming_pool artists haiti recycling port_au_prince vodou le_plaza le_plaza_hotel atis_rezistans sculptors scrap_yard atis_resizistans_vodou_art vodou_art iron_market marché_de_fer mask_collection 2010_earthquake fun_in_the_pool waterproof_camera levitaion_photography _levitation_trick levitation andre_eugene Comments (0)

Jalousie, Bouteliers, Furcy and Pétionville

Head for the hills

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

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I have to say the cleaning staff is certainly efficient here, Housekeeping knock on the door at 07:55 this morning, wanting to make the room up! Normally we are up and out by that time, but this holiday has some nice, leisurely starts. In fact, we have quite a lot of free time on this trip – is this a sign that we are getting old?

Not only are they efficient here at Le Plaza, they are extremely friendly too. The girl who 'checks us in' at breakfast fusses over my hair; and Jerry, the waiter, won't let us carry and thing - not even the plate or glass - from the buffet.

I try a vegetable tortilla and some sautéed ham for breakfast this morning, rather than the usual omelette. It makes a nice change.

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Jalousie – Beauty v/ Poverty

Today we head for the hills, with the first stop being a look-out point over Jalousie, one of Haiti's slum areas built into the side of Morne L’Hôpital.

Inspired by famous Haitian painter Prefete Duffaut, who died in 2012, the houses have been painted in rainbow colours as part of a government scheme called “Jalousie en couleurs” (Jalousie in Colours).
The scheme involved rebuilding earthquake-damaged houses, installing running water, and introducing rent-free accommodation (initially at least), in order to attract people to move here from displacement camps downtown. Being on such a steep slope has its disadvantages though, with many of the homes built on the ravines that serve as canals for rainwater. Due to the lack of vegetation to hold it back, during the rainy season water and mud have been known to carry away people, animals and even entire houses.

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Poverty

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and the third poorest country in the world outside Africa (the top spots go to Afghanistan and Nepal). Decades of neglect and a lack of investment in water and sanitation are still manifested in the country’s malnutrition and child mortality rates, which are the highest in the region. Some 80% of the population live below the poverty line while the country is in an advanced state of industrial collapse, with a GDP per capita of just $2 a day.

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Pride

What has struck us here in Haiti, however, is the pride of the people. No-one looks poor. Everyone takes great care of their appearance, their clothes are always clean, the children are immaculate in their school uniforms. If I take one single word away with me from our time here is Haiti, it has to be PRIDE.

A new building springing up this side of the ravine - I guess the view we have today will soon be obscured by a multi-storey apartment block.

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Love the writing on the side of his helmet: Le Boss!

The road is narrow and winding, with lots of traffic. We get stuck behind a large truck which spews out putrid, black smoke as we travel up and up and up.

Bouteliers

We leave the smoking truck behind and turn off the main road to take a detour to Bouteliers, where the aptly named restaurant Observatoire offers amazing views.

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Below us lies Port au Prince and its suburbs spread out.

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On closer inspection, we can see the different aspects of Haiti's capital city, from its leafy suburbs...

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… to its tightly packed poorer quarters...

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… the town's enormous cemetery...

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… and the main town centre.

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It's not until I see it all laid out below me like this that I realise just how central our hotel is. There it is, right in the middle of all the main sights of downtown Port au Prince.

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Chaîne de la Selle

As we climb higher into the mountainous interior of Haiti, low clouds obscure the top of the mountain ranges.

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Ayiti (the original name of Haiti) means mountainous land in Taino language, the ethnic group who lived in Haiti for 700 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. In fact, Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean with its peaks plunging steeply down to the thin strips of coastal plain.

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We stop a couple of places to admire the scenery, looking out over the valleys, terraced fields and clusters of buildings that dot the countryside. Here they grow vegetables which are sold in the street markets and at the big supermarkets in town. It is nice to know that the small squares we see are owned by the farmers, not by some rich landowner leasing it to workers at an astronomical price.

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At Fermanthe, we stop to buy some post cards, a fridge magnet and use the facilities. The choice of post cards – the first ones we've seen in Haiti – is very limited indeed. Serge – who is also a keen photographer – is thinking about making his own. I hope he does, as I am sure he would be able to offer a much better selection than the ones available at the Mountain Maid Baptist Mission here.

Kenscoff

This is where a lot of the produce we saw growing on the hillsides ends up – the main market for the whole mountain region.

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Furcy

At 6,236 feet (Serge has an altimeter on his smart watch!), the air here is cool and clean – quite the contrast to Port au Prince at sea level.

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The site is absolutely spectacular, sitting on a ridge overlooking valleys and mountains, and there is an almost serene Alpine charm to the place.

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The spectacular track on the ridge of the mountain range takes you across to Jacmel – it is accessible by 4WD only though. Shame. It looks like a fun drive.

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This, surely, is where the Haitan proverb Dèyè mon gen mon ('Beyond the mountain there are mountains again') was coined.

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Pétionville

Making our way back down to Port au Prince, we make a stop in Pétionville.
Named after the first president of the Republique of Haiti, Alexandre Pétion, this is the upmarket tourist area of Port au Prince and is known for its palatial mansions and numerous art galleries. I found the description of Pétionville in Wikipedia patronising, condescending and highly insulting, suggesting that the suburb has “an appearance of western normality”. What the **** is that, and why would I travel to Haiti to experience it when I can instead immerse myself in the rich and eclectic culture that the years of mixed heritage has created ?

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Anyway, climbing back down from my soap box...

Pétionville has a country club and Haiti's only golf club. Wow! (insert sarcasm font here).

Lunch

We mentioned to Serge yesterday that we are keen to try some local food rather than international stuff and that we like spices; so he takes us to La Coquille Restaurant for lunch.

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With tightly packed tables inside and out, the buffet restaurant is popular with locals.

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One of the drinks Jacqui suggested we try, was soursop juice – a fruit native to Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean. This is a new one to us, and it tastes a little like a creamy banana milkshake.

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Again it comes served au naturel, with extra sugar to add if desired.

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And judging by the look on David's face, I would say it is probably required.

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Round one of the buffet consists of:

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diri djon djon – a traditional Hatian Creole dish where rice is cooked with water in which dried black mushrooms have been soaked/cooked. The mushrooms themselves are not served with it, just the rice which is stained brownish-black by the mushroom water.

rice served with beans in a sauce poured over it

lalo legume – jute leaves cooked until slightly sticky

cabbage and carrots

For round two I pick up a few things that were not available on my first visit to the buffet – some very fatty but tasty fried beef, green beans, beetroot and pasta in a creamy sauce.

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Art Gallery

Pétionville is famous for its art galleries, and after lunch, we visit an upmarket showroom, complete with armed security guard outside, a beautifully presented but bored looking female assistant, and super-efficient air conditioning. To be fair, it has some pretty awesome art - we are not tempted, however. Serge asks us, half-heartedly, if we would like to visit another gallery...? I think he knew the answer even before he finished the sentence.

Caribbean Supermarket

Instead he takes us to the Caribbean Supermarket. Commenting to Jacqui yesterday that the one thing I would miss if I moved to a place such as Haiti, is the supermarkets back home; Jacqui looked at me aghast and exclaimed: “Are you kidding me?” Entering the clean, modern and extremely well stocked store, I see her point. Heck, they even have Strongbow cider!

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Barbancourt Rum

And no, we don't buy any cider. We do, however, get some local 8 year old rum. The Barbancourt Distillery is over one hundred and fifty years old, and the rum is referred to as the 'rum of connoisseurs'. We shall look forward to sampling this and seeing what it is like. Not that I am a connoisseur, but I do have some experience with rum...

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Taking no chances, we strap our booty well in to the seat of the van as we make our way back to Port au Prince.

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Post Office

Having bought post cards this morning, the logical next step is stamps. You'd think that would be an easy job. Not so in Haiti. The post office does not produce stamps above 20 gourdes. A card for America costs 200 gourdes and for England we require 15 stamps per card. Don't even think about sending post cards to Australia! $40 for stamps to go on ten cards may be horrendously steep, but to me it is worth it just for the unique experience of sticking the blighters on the cards! I just hope they actually get there after all this!

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Traffic

As we enter Port au Prince proper, we get stuck in traffic. Serge blames it on the school run – nothing new there then: just like back home! At least it gives me a chance to people-watch...

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Everybody needs some form of entertainment, and in a country like Haiti, where life is tough, jobs are scarce and poverty is rife, dominoes offer just that: a chance to relax, hang out with friends and even partake in a spot of gambling without necessarily having to put down any monetary stakes.

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It seems it is not just me who finds the city heat too much – I suppose if you work on a street-side vegetable stall, you have to use some ingenuity in order to find somewhere to take an uninterrupted afternoon siesta.

Road Block

Fed up with sitting in stationary traffic, Geffrard tries to take short cuts across other avenues, but he's not the only one attempting to get around the gridlock. Eventually we discover the reason for this heavier-than-usual amount of traffic – a road block. Riot police with shields and semi-automatic guns at the ready tell me “no photos”. I oblige – after a quick covert snap from inside the car.

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We are ordered out of the car, as no vehicles are allowed anywhere past this point. Geffrard and Serge argue that they want to transport these tourists to their hotel; but the gendarme is not impressed. Don't they know who we are? Apparently not; and we make our way through the throngs of milling people on foot to get to Le Plaza, where the metal gate is locked, bolted and guarded by two burly men armed with assault rifles. “Let us in!”

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Safe Haven?

As always, Le Plaza is a haven of tranquillity and respite from the disturbing turmoil on the streets outside. But did I come here for a sedate and calm holiday? Did I heck! Finding a suitable (safe?) viewpoint, I start photographing the political rally that snakes its way through the city.

Political Rally

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Unlike some of the recent inflamed and destructive demonstrations by the opposition parties (there are over 100 political parties, with 56 presidential candidates for the upcoming elections); this procession is organised by the ruling party with a strong anti-violence message in an attempt to show the world (or at least the Haitian voters) their own peaceful approach.

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Pink? Really? Who on earth was in charge of the colour scheme for the campaign?

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Having already twice been told “No Photos” by uniformed, armed police, I am initially a little apprehensive about openly photographing the rally, even from my safe view point; but the protesters themselves seem very friendly and quite happy to have their picture taken, waving their hands and placards at me. Haitians don't seem to smile naturally like some other nations, but when they do, their whole face lights up.

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The only casualty we see, is this guy who gets knocked off his bike when a car collides with it. At those snail-pace speeds, no harm is done and he laughs as he is helped back up again.

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Despite being billed as a peaceful rally, the police are taking no chances, and are out in force: ready for combat with their riot gear and armoured vehicles. When we later hear several sirens from outside the hotel grounds, we do wonder if the rally remained peaceful.

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Pool time

The show is over, and it's time to chill in more ways than one.

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Post cards

OK, we now have to start licking – the amount of stamps required for each card necessitates that the stamps go on immediately after the name and address, before even thinking about what to write.

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It certainly doesn't leave much space for writing!

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In fact, it doesn't leave much of the other side either; only the two cards bound for the US retain an unscathed picture. Australian friends will have to guess what the card shows.

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Beer!

With our tongues coated in glue, a drink is much called for! Rarely has an ice cold beer looked so welcome!

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Dinner

As usual, I find the starters on the menu more interesting than the main courses, and order two entreés instead of one mains, while David settles for a meat lovers' pizza.

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The starters are huge!

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Kebbeh – Arabic fried minced meat dish served with Picliz (Haitian coleslaw), and this one has a real kick!

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Accras de malenga – taro root fritters. A little bit dry - would have been nice with a chilli sauce or something for dipping

I am just grateful that I had two starters, not a starter and a main course, as I certainly couldn't finish these two!

As we have a late start tomorrow morning, we enjoy the rest of the evening by the pool in the company of a rum punch or four.

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PS. As of March 13th - six weeks later - none of the post cards have arrived. Boo! All that effort (and money) for nothing. I have waited until now to publish this blog entry in the hope that they would, so not to spoil the surprise.

Posted by Grete Howard 14:43 Archived in Haiti Tagged mountains art beer hills views shopping scenery pool pizza swimming_pool rum stamps haiti art_galleries petionville la_plaza_hotel port_au_price furcy political_rally post_cardselections haiti_elections Comments (0)

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