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Entries about rain

Lake Manyara - Serengeti - Mating Hyena, Serval

Not just one serval, but two! And a surprise camp.


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Ngorongoro Crater Viewpoint

This is one of my most favourite places on this earth. I will never tire of seeing this view of the Ngorongoro Crater from above.

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When we came to Tanzania with our friends Lyn and Chris in 2016 for their very first safari, Chris was totally overwhelmed when we arrived at this point, and for the first time on the trip exclaimed: “WOW”. He is not normally a 'wow-man', so that was saying something.

Lyn and Chris we unable to accompany us on this trip, but we did manage to sort out a second best – having brought large photographs of them with us to recreate this 'wow-moment' in this place.

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Nyati Picnic Site

We stop for lunch at a designated site overlooking the crater. Hoping guests will leave a few crumbs behind, there are always a lot of birds to be found here.

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Black Kite

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Red Collared Widowbird - an exciting lifer!

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Baglafecht Weaver

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Common Bulbul and Baglafecht Weaver

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White Necked Raven - another lifer

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Black Kite circling above

As we are eating, the temperatures suddenly falls considerably, and soon we feel the arrival of large, heavy rain drops. Getting a little wet along the way, we hurriedly return to the car to continue on our journey. We still have a couple of hours' drive before we even reach Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill Gate, and then there is a further half an hour drive to our camp.

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When the heavens open and we get a torrential rain shower, Malisa starts to worry about a certain river we have to cross on the way. As we are on the only road to Serengeti in this area, it would be a major problem if we were to be unable to get across.

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When the rain stops, the road becomes steamy in the oppressive heat.

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Zebra

Here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we often see wild animals intermingling with domestic sheep, goats or cattle; or even humans, such as here.

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Zebra mum with her three day old baby

We are initially concerned when we see this tiny baby lying motionless next to his mother, but much to our relief, he eventually sits up.

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It looks like the ink ran out during the printing process of this one.

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This sculpture is new since we were here last, some fifteen months ago – advertising Oldupai Gorge, AKA The Cradle of Mankind, where hominid footprints were found and a new museum has opened up.

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The skulls are not life sized

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As we make our way across the area known as the Short Grass Plains, we see the tail end of the migration – the horizon is dotted with the black outlines of wildebeest making their way to the Ndutu area for the birth of their babies.

We have now arrived at the river crossing that Malisa was worried about previously. He gingerly makes his way through the flooded river, and thankfully we make it to the other side without incident. Phew!

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Vultures on a carcass

A number of various vultures have descended on a predator's leftovers, and have now eaten so much they are unable to fly for the moment.

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Look at this guy at the front: he is so full he can't even move, let alone fly!

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Ostriches

This family consists of seven babies who are around two-three months old. Unusually, we only see one female adult: male ostriches have been known to take a harem of up to fifteen concubines!

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To think how wet and muddy everything was earlier – look at the dust generated here by the other car!

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Migratory Abdim's Storks flying in from Europe

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Hyenas

We see a couple of hyenas strutting their stuff, before 'getting intimate'.

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Jealousy is not a pretty emotion – a third hyena takes great interest in what they are doing, but gets chased off by the initial suitor.

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A Golden Jackal comes over to investigate. This confuses me: why would a jackal be interested in a couple of mating hyenas? Malisa explains that the growling sound made by the male seeing off his rival, is like the noise they make when squabbling over food.

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The jackal shakes his head and makes a dozen or more tsetse flies homeless.

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He realises that food is the last thing on the hyenas mind, and slopes off, disappointedly.

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Meanwhile, our hyena ménage à trois are back at it.

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And the interloper is still not welcome.

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Neither of them are prepared to give in, and they go round in circles for a while.

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Quite literally.

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Eventually he manages to get rid of his rival for good.

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We too move on as we still have quite a long way to go.

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Gabar Goshawk

There are several of these on the ground and in the trees.

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More Hyenas

A few miles later two males are in a dispute over a female. Again.

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Naabi Gate

The entrance gate to Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill is one giant building site at the moment, and the lovely little pool which always used to attract such a great variety of birds, has all gone; as have the birds. David is also disappointed that the grocery store doesn't stock any of his favourite Savanna Cider; so we both sit and sulk in the car until Malisa comes back from registering us into the park.

Death by Poison

It is hard to see from this photo, but there is a carcass of a wildebeest, with a dead hyena next to it. Malisa believes that the wildebeest died from eating poison grass, which was so toxic that the hyena died almost as soon as he tucked into the meat! Now the two bodies lie there decomposing as a stark warning to other animals not to get anywhere near it for fear of death! Instinct tells animals to leave well alone - isn't nature grand?

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Immature Steppe Eagle

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Black Backed Jackal

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Tawny Eagle

There is so much water about after the rains, with flooding everywhere, and the Short Grass Plains will have to be renamed, as the grass is no longer short.

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Serval

Suddenly Malisa spots something altogether more interesting. This timid cat doesn't hang around long enough for us to photograph him properly and with the aforementioned 'short grass' being so long, it makes it all too easy for him to hide.

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All we can see is a couple of black stripes in amongst the vegetation.

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He turns around briefly, but is still very obscured by the greenery.

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Wandamu River

“You cannot be serious Malisa?”

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The crossing looks completely and utterly impossible. I cannot believe that Malisa would even think of attempting this! I hold my breath as he gingerly moves the car along the 'road', hidden somewhere under an unknown depth of water cleverly disguised as a river.

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We are surely going to get washed away?

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This image is not taken from the safety of a bridge, it is looking straight down out of the car window.

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Phew! I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we get to the other side without incident. I am not a nervous passenger by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to admit even I had serious concerns about our safety here. Thankfully Malisa really knows what he is doing and I should have realised that he would never attempt it if he's had any doubts. Sorry Malisa.

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Geese

Meanwhile, on the dam by the ford, there is a family of Egyptian Geese with several babies. My racing heart has still not settled down from the river crossing as I try to enjoy looking at the chicks.

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There are also hippos in the water

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Giraffes in the distance

Serval

Would you believe it! Servals are such rare cats to spot, and here we see two different ones within an hour of each other!

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This one is also almost completely hidden by the tall grass though.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

More babies!

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Sunset

It is getting late now and the daylight is fading fast. Here, so near the equator, the twilight is short and darkness descends quickly.

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Matawi Serengeti Camp

We knew earlier today that we wouldn't be staying at the 'advertised' accommodation, but Malisa would not tell us where Tillya had (yet again) upgraded us to.

The approach road to the camp is no more than a couple of tyre tracks in the grass, and the reception area is extremely low key. With only six luxury tents, this camp is very exclusive and private, with exceptionally friendly service.

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The communal tent where the reception, lounge, bar and restaurant are found

We are asked if we'd prefer a double or a twin room, and on confirming the latter, we are taken to our tent by an askari (Maasai guard).

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The tent is large, with one double and one single mosquito-screened bed; two armchairs and a small coffee table, a little fridge (great for keeping the Coke and cider cold), a writing desk and chair, free standing claw-feet bath, and a separate shower and toilet.

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What a strange idea to put spiky branches in a vase on the coffee table!

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Dinner

As the only guests staying we are greeted warmly when we arrive in the restaurant. I try out my little bit of Swahili, much to the delight of the staff.

“Habari za jioni?” (good evening, how are you)
“Nzuri, asante, ne wewe?” (well, thank you, and you?)
“Nzuri sana, asante” (very well, thank you)
“Samahani, ongeza pilpili tafadhali” (excuse me, I'd like some more hot sauce please)
“Chakula nikitamu, asante” (the food was delicious, thank you)
“Usiku mwema” (goodnight)
“Lala salama” (sleep well)
“Tutaonana kesho” (see you tomorrow)

It may be just a greeting and a few pleasantries, but everyone joins in and one guy whispers to Malisa: “Does she speak Swahili? We have to be careful what we say...”

The food is delicious, with a very peppery butternut squash soup to start, followed by what they describe as “ram meat”, which turns out to be a goat curry.

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The chocolate dessert is very creamy with a hint of coffee.

As the askari walks us back to the tent after dinner, we can hear the hyenas very close by. Thank goodness he has a big stick to protect us! We can still hear them from the inside of the tent, and the sound of hyenas mating carries on most of the night. I struggle to sleep, not just because of the hyena porn going on outside; but I have not so much 'restless legs', as 'restless body'. I am twitching and itching and unable to find a comfortable position.

At 23:30 I hear vehicles arrive and people chatting. Malisa was telling us earlier that a group of Korean tourists (three cars) were unable to reach their accommodation further north this evening because of the bad state of the roads and the amount of flooding (large parts of the Serengeti are completely inaccessible at the moment for that reason); and they were heading to our camp. They have obviously arrived.

In addition to the sex-mad hyenas and lost tourists, I am kept awake by the rain; as well as dust on my lungs, resulting in wheezing and squeaking when I breathe. When I finally manage to drop off, I suffer a terrible nightmare in which I fall off a high walkway! Thanks Lariam!

This safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds rain wildlife raven tent africa dinner safari animal zebra eagle hawk birding adventures picnic national_park hippo flooding serengeti ngorongoro hyena stork vultures geese ford glamping weaver olduvai jackal poison swahili ngorongoro_crater bird_watching african_safari wild_animals ostriches serval serengeti_national_park fording calabash oldupai tse_tse_flies askari guineafowl golden_jackal picnic_lunch goshawk naabi_gate wildlife_photography steppe_eagle black_kite river_crossing abdim's_stork ngorongo_conservation_area nyati_picnic_site lunch_box widowbird baabi_hill wildebest short-grass_plains vultures_on_kill menage_a_trois gabar_goshawk wandamu_river matawi matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp permenent_tented_camp Comments (2)

Arusha National Park

Raining morning in the bush


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

Despite the long journey, I was way too wired to sleep last night: I only managed one hour and 20 minutes in total and am really hanging this morning. Malisa didn't get much sleep either apparently, as sharing out the presents we brought for his family created a Christmas Day atmosphere.

It is still raining when we leave the hotel this morning, and I am amused to see a number of motorcycles with large umbrella attachments. This is not something I have seen before, but my attempt at photographing them through a wet windscreen is rather unsuccessful.

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Arusha National Park

Another change of plan this morning – as a result of recent heavy rains, large parts of Lake Manyara National Park is under water. The lake itself has swelled so much that some lodges – including Maramboi, which we have stayed at three times previously – are closed due to flooding. Tillya therefore suggested we go to Arusha National Park instead. Another reason for doing so is that the flamingos are largely still there, rather than having migrated to Lake Natron, where we were hoping to see them tomorrow.

It is still raining as we enter the park, but that does not deter the animals, of course.

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Common Waterbuck

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Cape Buffalo at an area known as Little Serengeti

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A somewhat damp Olive Baboon

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One of the rarer species, which is not found in the other larger northern parks, is the Black and White Colobus Monkey

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Giraffe

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I can't believe how small the Dik Dik looks next to the giraffe.

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The tiniest little Olive Baboon baby - probably no more than two hours old, still struggling to walk

Warthogs

A sounder of warthogs are startled by our approach, and make a run for it.

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Others join in, not realising why they are running. Warthogs are known for their stupidity and the way they blindly follow their leaders. These two, however, appear to be unsure about which way to run initially.

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They soon realise the errors of their ways

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They reach the road and cross right behind us, much to our delight.

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They might be ugly creatures, but they have such elegant legs!

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A little one gets left behind and makes a mad dash for it.

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This surely has to be one of the highlights of today: a warthog mother in her den with a two-week old baby suckling.

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Hadada Ibis

I find it interesting how certain birds and animals are more prevalent at certain times of year - we've only had a couple of brief sightings of this bird on our previous six safaris in Tanzania, whereas here there are a number of them!

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Augur Buzzard

Trying to balance on a thorny bush, he has a bit of a flap on.

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They are seriously impressive birds when they spread their wings.

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It is interesting how different cameras and lenses render colours differently. The previous images were taken with a Canon 1DXII with a Canon 100-400mm and a 1.4 extender; whereas the one below was a Canon 7DII with a Canon 600mm f/4. Both shot with a Cloudy White Balance, yet the green colour is very different.

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A six-week old baby giraffe - look at those ears!

We stop for ages in this one place, as it seems to be all happening around us: birds aplenty, mongooses, giraffes, buffalo, warthogs.

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I always find it amazing how giraffes can eat around the thorns on the acacia trees

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Ashy Starling on a giraffe

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Banded Mongoose

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The Cape Buffalo attracts the flies and the flies attract the Red Billed Oxpecker

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Masked Weaver

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Hammerkop

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Red Billed Oxpeckers

Common Waterbuck

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While photographing the backside of this antelope to demonstrate the difference between a Common Waterbuck (with the toilet seat shaped white marking on its rear), and the Defassa Waterbuck with its more solid markings (see inset), we notice that he is struggling to walk.

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On closer inspection, it seems he has a nasty flesh wound on his upper thigh, probably caused by a hyena. It is causing him a great deal of distress, and he appears very weak and painfully thin. Not long for this world I fear.

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We move on to “see what else nature has to offer us”.

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Hippo in Big Momella Lake

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Pale Flycatcher

African Scops Owl

Without warning, Malisa grinds the car to an abrupt halt and reverses back. What has he seen? There, skilfully camouflaged in a tree, is an owl. An African Scops Owl – one of the handful of birds / animals on my wish list this year. Good job Malisa!

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He is well hidden, but we leave the vehicle and explore on foot to try and get a good viewpoint. Thankfully there are no big cats here in Arusha National Park, so it is reasonably safe to do so.

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He changes position, we follow.

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Owls looks seriously weird when they blink!

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Eventually he flies off to another tree, and we move on.

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Common Sandpiper

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Juvenile Augur Buzzard

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He is such a noisy bugger, squawking loudly

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African Pied Wagtail

Big Momella Lake

As I said at the beginning of this blog entry, today's visit to Arusha National park is totally unscheduled, with a plan to see the flamingos. And see them we do!

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Lesser Flamingos are much smaller but brighter in colour than the Greater Flamingos.

And thus ends the first morning in the bush. Thank you once again to Calabash Adventures for arranging our latest safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain wildlife monkey africa safari tanzania birding african buffalo giraffe baboon flamingos ibis waterbuck starling owl warthog arusha bird_watching suckling buzzard calabash_adventures hammerkop dik_dik olive_baboon augur_buzzard black_and_white_colobus_monkey wildlife_photography arusha_national_park colobus_monkey wildlife_viewing baby_suckling warthog_suckling hadada_ibis ashy_starling fiscal_shrike oxpeckers african_scops_owl wagtail big_momella_lake Comments (2)

Achiltibuie, Coigach and Stoer Peninsulas

Mist and rain


View In search of the Hairy Coo - Scottish Highlands 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Judging by the car this morning, it must have rained in the night.

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In fact it is still raining.

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It is also misty. Very misty. We can barely see land the opposite side of the loch. It may reduce visibility, but I do find mist very atmospheric.

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Today we are heading north, following the coast road as much as we cab.

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Dundonnell River

First stop today is to try and photograph the waterfall without getting wet. While I don't have a problem with being out taking pictures in the rain, I do just sneak a couple of shots from the car this morning.

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Ullapool

We make a point of stopping in Ullapool to do some grocery shopping and are quite surprised to find that the usual Sunday trading laws that we are used to from home do not apply here in Scotland. The Tesco is very much smaller than our local store, but then, despite being much more well-known than our home town, Ullapool only boasts around 1500 inhabitants.

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Some people are pretty desperate for a coffee.

Below are some images of the scenery and stormy clouds as we make our way north along the coast.

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The Brochs of Coigach

This eco-friendly luxury accommodation is inspired by iron-age roundhouses, known as 'brochs' in these parts. It sure looks a fabulous place to stay, blending as it does with nature.

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The traffic is thankfully not heavy around here, despite this being the height of the summer holiday. We share the road with sheep, geese and deer as we continue to explore the Coigach Peninsula.

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I am happy to see that the deer are traffic savvy and only cross at dedicated 'Passing Places'.

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Achahaird Beach

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Summer Isles

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Summer Isles

We leave the Coigach Peninsula behind and continue north, initially passing a number of small boggy ponds, then later joining a magnificent scenic road snaking its way across the hills and valleys.

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It's nice to see the Scots are such polite drivers. The sign is obviously aimed at people like us, who like to drive slowly, and will make lots of stops to photograph the scenery.

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We stop for a break by a small pond and I go for a short walk to take some photographs.

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Common Spotted Orchid - a fairly rare sighting

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A sign telling us to be aware of frogs crossing - another fairly rare sight. We don't see any.

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Stoer Lighthouse

Tall Cottongrass

Found all over this area, the tall cottongrass fascinates me, the way is blows in the wind and glows in the low sun when backlit.

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Pied Crow

We see a large bird circling above and get very excited, but it turns out just to be a Pied Crow.

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Spotted Flycatcher

A little bit further along, however, we spot a small bird that I initially think is a sparrow, but is in actual fact a Spotted Flycatcher. I guess this makes up for the crow.

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Clashnessie

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Another traffic jam

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The Summer Islands

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Drumbeg Viewpoint

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Atlantic Salmon Fish Farm

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Ardvreck Castle

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Ardmair Point

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Ullapool - almost home

We return to the cabin after a lovely day out despite the dull and grey weather. The scenery is constantly stunning though.

Posted by Grete Howard 07:51 Archived in Scotland Tagged landscapes rain scotland road_trip scenery mist grocery_shopping stormy_clouds ullapool the_wee_barn inclement_weather Comments (1)

Rolas Island

Wedding anniversary


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

Happy 41st anniversary to my best friend and favourite travel partner, the love of my life: David.

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Map of Rolas Island

We lie in bed this morning listening to the rain. Heavy rain. It rains when we walk to breakfast. We watch the rain from the restaurant. Heavy rain. It is still raining when we walk down to the bar. Then more rain as we make out way back to the room. We spend most of the morning sitting on the balcony watching – and photographing – the rain.

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The hotel grounds are pretty 'free range', with all sorts of animals wandering around freely: pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and cats. And of course birds.

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Cattle egret

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Common Waxbill

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Yellow Billed Kite

Infrared

A few weeks ago I bought a second-hand camera converted to Infrared, and have been looking for a chance to put it though its paces. A grey rainy day is certainly not the best condition for successful infrared photography, but I wander around the grounds with it all the same.

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Instead of lunch we take a long siesta, and when we wake up again, the rain has stopped so we head for the pool.

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It starts to rain once more, making the water quite chilly, so we go back to the room and change, then head for the bar.

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Tonight's buffet is extensive, and there is something for everyone.

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My 'minute steak', cooked to order

We finish the evening off in the bar with a last drink of the day.

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Happy anniversary!

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this tour of São Tomé for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:43 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged animals rain africa dinner bar wine photography drinks swimming_pool infrared sao_tome rolas_island infrared_photography infrared_camera pool_time Comments (3)

São João dos Angolares – Rolas Island

Rolas Island: The Middle of the World


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

As we go for breakfast this morning, we are given a message from our agents that the rain has caused havoc with the roads, so they are going to be half an hour late picking us up this morning (Nino, the driver, and Agostinho, the guide, went back to São Tomé Town yesterday after lunch).

When we walk into the restaurant, we see two girls sleeping on futons in the bar. I can only assume that the hotel was full last night and they arrived late without a reservation.

Breakfast

This morning's breakfast consists of bread, home-made jam, cheese, chocolate cake, biscuits, star fruit, bananas, papaya and guava.

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As it turns out, Nino and Agostinho are only about 20 minutes late, by which time we are in reception with our bags, ready to go.

The road south from here is very bad in places, with large potholes and huge chunks of the road eroded away by the rain.

After a while we turn off the main road onto an unmarked, much smaller track, as we head for the jetty.

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The ferry to Rolas Island

We arrive at the jetty where the ferry is going to take us to Rolas Island in plenty of time for the boat. In fact, the boat is not even here yet. A small band of performers are waiting to greet tourists, and two young French girls also waiting.

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A small, open boat arrives, and all four of us are quite sure it is the one taking us across to the island. The girls are filled with trepidation. “I have known worse, much worse”, I reassure them, “at least it is not raining”. “You travel a lot?” one of the girls asks. “This is our 140th country” we explain. She is totally dumbstruck and keeps repeating incredulously “140 countries...?”, over and over again.

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When a large bus belonging to the Pestana Group (who own the hotel on the island) arrives, the musicians and singers burst into performance. This is a little too touristy for my liking.

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Soon afterwards, our boat arrives, and it is bigger and with roof cover.

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It seems the smaller, open boat is for staff transport.

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As soon as we have all piled on board, we are off. Some people, including the two French girls we spoke to earlier, are just going to the island for the day. Most people, however, are staying for a week, we are here for two nights.

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Rolas Island

The ferry ride is quite short, and soon we can see the jetty on Rolas Island. By the time we arrive, however, we are absolutely soaked: one of the problems of sitting at the back of the boat, being drenched in sea spray.

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As I said before, the whole operation is quite commercialised and touristic, and on arrival at the island we are giving a welcome drink while we wait to check in.

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We watch the 'staff boat' arrive with all the luggage on board, and hope they don't drop our bags over the edge as they unload.

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Our bags made it safely to dry land

Rolas island is a small islet, an ocean paradise with swaying palm tress and beautiful sandy beaches. Apart from this one hotel, there is not much else on the island.

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The rooms are all spread around the large grounds, with blocks of four rooms in each wooden cottage, offering plenty of privacy.

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We have a small covered balcony with a couple of lounging chairs.

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Complete with our very own lizard.

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The rooms are nice and big, all dark wood, with an efficient A/C unit, large wardrobe, a couple of chairs and some cosy mood lighting.

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The hotel pool is said to be the largest in West Africa, and it is certainly impressive.

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Several bridges connect the patios, grassy areas and the islands in the free form pool, with the two 'islands' representing the islands of São Tomé and Principe. The pool comes complete with a pool bar, with a swim up area featuring underwater bar stools.

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The restaurant and bar on the hill behind the pool

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The bar

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The bar

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The bar

Lunch

This being a resort hotel, lunch is buffet style, with the usual selection.

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Equator

There isn't much here outside the hotel. A path leads through the jungle-like interior to the biggest draw of the island – the Equator marker.

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This small island is the nearest landmass to the point where the Equator meats the Meridian – here we are 0° south and 6° west.

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Agostinho points out a blowhole and gets soaked in the process.

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There is some spectacular coastline too.

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Pool time

The beach is deserted, and as it doesn't look overly inviting with its rocky approach and underfoot in the ocean, we opt for an afternoon in and around the pool.

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Crabs on the beach

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Wine for Dinner

As the afternoon draws to a close and the rain starts to come down, we grab a bottle of wine and head for the terrace of our cabin, where we stay for the duration of the evening with another bottle of wine replacing the first one. We miss dinner completely, preferring to chill with a drink and snacks, watching the rain from our balcony.

And so ends another day in São Tomé, as perfectly arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. Thanks again guys, you rock!

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:04 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged rain coastline wine crabs chilling swimming_pool equator blowhole meridian roca são_joão_dos_angolares rolas_island west_africa's_largest_swimming_ swim_up_bar middle_of_the_world postana Comments (1)

Grand Comore - Anjouan

Another day, another island, another spanner in the works

This morning there are no bowls or spoons at breakfast, so David ends up eating his cereal out of a coffee cup with a teaspoon.

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After breakfast we meet with Omar in the lobby to hear of news about today’s ferry to Anjouan. “We leave in five minutes” he declares, which is not a problem for us: we are ready and packed!

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Another small car, unable to close the boot with our luggage inside, arrives to take us to the ferry ticket office to check in our bags. We are an hour early: check in starts at 09:00, with the ferry leaving at 10:00. Inshallah.

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We are not the first, however, there are already a lot pf people here: families travelling together, young men arriving in taxis, sales people trying to cash in, children throwing tantrums…

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Rather than hanging around here in the heat and melee, Omar suggests we go for a drive around town and come back when the office is open. Good idea.

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It seems to me that all the streets of Moroni are one giant market place with everyone selling and no-one buying.

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Volo Volo Market

We take a short walk through the new market, which, to be fair, doesn’t look all that different to the old market in the Medina that we saw a couple of days ago.

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Clothes, household good and food are sold from a number of very similar stalls.

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The Grand Marriage

On our way back to the check-in area, we come across a Grand Marriage. An age-old tradition that has been passed from generation to generation and is very much kept alive today, the Grand Marriage is so much more than a ‘mere’ wedding; it is all about a symbol of social status, being elected to the rank of a person of note, something that every self-respecting Comorian must do. A Comoran man can only wear certain elements of the national dress, take part in decision-making at the bangwe (gathering place where village elders meet to discuss important matters), or stand in the first line at the mosque if he has had a grand marriage. Apparently, the current president has not had a Grand Marriage and for this has become the scandalous subject of consternation and ridicule.

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While most people here in Comoros get married in a small wedding like many other places in the world, some men will then devote the entire rest of their lives to pay for the Grand Marriage. Most men are middle aged before they can afford to pay for this important celebration, having been officially married to their spouse for years already. Sometimes the Grand Marriage involves taking a second, much younger wife; Comorian men are permitted to have up to seven.

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The celebrations for this important occasion involve a major series of parties, processions and gatherings that can last up to two weeks and take over the whole village.

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Check in – another spanner in the works

When we get back to the port area, lots of people are queuing with their luggage, ready to check it in. Omar takes our nags to go and get them weighed and comes back looking somewhat concerned. “There is a little bit of a delay…” he says his voice trailing off into a kind of embarrassment.

The security police are on strike and refuse to go back to work until the government has made promises that they will repair the badly potholed road leading onto the docks. Their luggage truck has been damaged several times now and they are fed up with it.

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The luggage truck ready to go

”How long is it likely to be?” I ask. Omar shrugs and looks defeated: “It could be one hour, or two, one day or two days or more…”

My heart sinks. This trip started off as a three-island tour; then yesterday it became a two-island itinerary after all the flights were grounded. Now it looks like we may be stuck on this main island for the duration.

Omar suggests going to the Itsandra Hotel (the best hotel on the island) for coffee while we wait. He leaves our bags in the safe hands of the harbour master while we head for some refreshments.

Itsandra Hotel

Even in the aftermath of a heavy rainstorm, the hotel looks friendly and welcoming.

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We sit and enjoy a cold drink and the view out over the bay, while Omar goes to check on availability of a room for tonight, ‘just in case’. They have two rooms left and Omar asks them to reserve one of them for us, in case that ferry never leaves.

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Back to the dockside check in area

In order to reach the docks again, we have to drive right through the capital, Moroni, and as usual there is a traffic jam. At least this gives me a chance to people watch and take some photos.

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Love the name of this boat: Air Force One 007

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Meanwhile, back at the loading area, everyone is still waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

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The only people benefiting from this situation are the local tradesmen and women.

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The nearby 'Old Market'

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After 1½ hours of nothing much happening, Omar thinks lunch is in order, so we yet again leave our luggage in the office and head out.

New Select Salon de Thé

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Today being Saturday, I decide to try the Comorian Saturday Special. It’s off. We see someone on another table with a very tasty looking baguette, so order ‘”one of those please”.

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Chicken, chips and coleslaw sandwich. It was really tasty and fresh.

Rain

Suddenly the heavens open and torrential rain that within minutes has caused quite some flooding of the roads outside.

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Half an hour goes by, no sign of Omar. We pay for our lunch and get ready to leave, and after 45 minutes they turn up. Africa time. There has been no change in the strike situation and Omar suggests we go down to the docks one more time, and if there is still nothing, we’ll grab the cases and go to the hotel for the night. That sounds like a plan to me.

When we get to the docks it is all go! A compromise has been reached, the luggage has left and the passengers are making their way on foot towards to docking area. Omar hands us our tickets and luggage tags and we drive the kilometre or so down to the docks.

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Yay, I have a ticket! I am a little concerned that the date of departure shows tomorrow's date, but Omar tells me "not to worry, it is correct".

The entrance to the docks is locked. It seems the ferry company decided to tell passengers to go, before any agreement had been sorted with the security, so now we are left standing, in the full sun, on the pavement outside the dock gates. Women on the right, men on the left. After 20 minutes or so of communal baking, we are let through the gate (tickets checked) into a waiting room, where we are asked to take a seat.

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An official walks around the room, collecting tickets (and in our case also our passports, which he has to check in with the ‘big boss’) and puts them in a large pile on a desk. After collecting all the tickets, he then picks them up again, and walks around the room, shouting out the names on the tickets, the corresponding passenger must show ID in exchange for a boarding card (which he carries under his arm in a cardboard box, wrapped in glittery red Christmas paper).

Once we have our boarding card, we are free to leave the waiting room and walk the ¼ km or so to the boat.

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The free-standing aluminium steps are steep and wobbly, without a hand rail, and there is a one foot gap between the steps and the ship. One man each side holds my arms, and they helpfully (and thankfully) take my bags off me as I board. Then I watch the local women carry a child in one arm, a large bag in the other and a bundle of stuff on their head, all while wearing flip flops, negotiate the steps as if they were a smooth marble floor. I suddenly feel very ungainly and awkward.

Having already been told off twice for taking photos, I daren’t scratch my itchy shutter finger any more, despite being ‘desperate’ to document every part of this whole day’s shenanigans.

We take our seats, and as soon as all the passenger have boarded, we cast off. Just then they remember that a motorcycle must come off. The gap between the ship and the step is getting bigger and bigger as four men try to haul the heavy bike across. I am fully expecting it to end up in the water, but it seems they have done this sort of thing before. I risk a photo when I think no-one is looking.

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The crossing

We finally leave at 14:45, nearly five hours late. At least we are on our way.

You know it is going to be a rough crossing when the first thing the crew do, is to routinely hand out sick bags to every single passenger.

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I really cannot find anything good to say about this crossing, much as I would like to. The temperature is sweat-drippingly hot, and the TV is showing a bloodthirsty film full of violence, gore, and carnage (not just one, but three savage films, back to back). There is lots of screaming going on, by unwell kids, and each time a child screeches, a mentally disabled youngster near the front of the ship wants to imitate, shrieking his lungs out, jumping up and down in his seat and frantically flailing his arms about.

In addition to crying children, there are a number of adults shouting into mobile phones, holding the top part of the phone up to their ear for listening (as normal), then removing the phone from their ear and shouting into the ear-piece when talking. I have never seen that anywhere else on all my travels, but it seems quite common over here.

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We follow the shore for some time, and the waves are reasonably calm. Once we round the tip of the island, however, huge swells make the ship bounce around in a most unpleasant way. All around us people are throwing up (I am sure watching the awful films does not help one bit!), and shouts of “sachet” (bag) can he heard almost constantly. The crew are very attentive; collecting used sick bags and handing over fresh ones.

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Omar told us the journey should take 3½ - 4 hours from Moroni to Anjouan. After four hours its starts to get dark, and land is still nowhere to be seen. 5½ hours: I see land!

Anjouan

There is another big step to negotiate off the boat at this end, with the added disadvantage that it is almost pitch black. As soon as we step on land, Patrice, the local guide, greets us warmly. I guess, as the only white passengers, we are easy to spot.

Although I was not actually sick on the journey, my stomach does feel a little unsettled, and it feels good to be on dry land again. I can’t wait to get to the hotel for a shower and change out of these clothes that are soaked through with sweat. So, where do we collect our luggage? “Tomorrow” is the answer. The crew are not taking any luggage off the ship this evening; we will have to come back at 07:00 tomorrow morning. Groan. No toiletries. No nightwear. No sandals. Thankfully I always carry a change of clothes in my hand luggage, so at least I do have some dry clothes.

As it turns out, by the time we reach the hotel, it is so late that we go straight to dinner.

The good news is that they have beer! The bad news is that they only have one.

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We both opt for chicken pizza tonight. There is a cute old guy (he looks about 80, but I am guessing he has just had a hard life) who speaks excellent English waiting on the tables tonight. Table. We are the only two diners this evening.

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As we leave the restaurant at around 22:00, we notice some pretty impressive speakers being installed in the restaurant. We soon find out that Saturday night is party night in Al Amal Hotel, with loud music (our room is two floors directly above the restaurant), singing, dancing and shouting. I am too exhausted to take any notice and despite the ruckus below, quickly drift into sleep.

This trip was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:18 Archived in Comoros Tagged rain market ship music party africa sick docks ferry pizza floods street_market queue strike sandwich comoros nausea delay moroni grand_comore spanner_in_the_works itsandra_hotel tantrum anjouan volo_volo_market ferry_crossing al_amal_hotel grand_marriage new_select_salon-de-thé rain_shower torrential_rain sea-sick boarding_card loud_speakers violent_film Comments (3)

Grand Comore Island Tour

A brief glimpse of life on this island


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night’s sleep, I feel ready to take on Comoros: today we have a tour around the main island, Grand Comore.

Breakfast

But first, time to fill our bellies.

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While I hate being presented with a buffet for dinner, I am rather partial to a breakfast buffet.

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David’s breakfast of fried egg, potatoes and beans.

The restaurant is full of sparrows nesting in the rafters and hanging around waiting for the opportunity to grab a few crumbs.

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They are really quite cheeky, swooping in on abandoned plates as diners leave the tables to refill their coffees or whatever.

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Island Tour

We make an anticlockwise tour of the northern part of the island; but first we travel a short distance south along the west coast.

Iconi Cliffs

It was here, in the 16th century, that a number of local women threw themselves off the cliffs rather than allow themselves to be captured by Malagasy pirates to be sold into slavery.

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Kavhiridjewo Palace

Strategically positioned on a rocky promontory, the 15th century Kavhiridjewo Palace was built entirely from lava blocks and still retains some of the walls and defence towers from the time of the last Sultan.

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The Sultan was captured by the French and taken to Madagascar, whereas the Prince is buried here (the larger, more elaborate tomb) alongside his mum (the smaller, simpler grave at the front).

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There are no rivers or other waterways on the whole island, and although there is one spring that feeds the capital, most people have to rely on digging wells such as this one in the Sultan's palace for their drinking water.

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Spider

There is a legend attached to the Guardian of the Palace, the ‘humble’ spider: when the enemy wanted to attack the Sultan, the spider created a web strong enough to protect him. From that day on the Sultan vowed not to kill spiders.

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My on-line searches suggest that this is a female Red Legged Golden Orb Spider, a rather large spider (it is a bit bigger than the palm of my hand) who weaves extremely strong webs.

Witchcraft Lake

In the old days, the people of Comoros strongly believed in witchcraft (many still do); and when the Sultan wanted to win the war, it was only natural that he consulted the local witch. The Sultan was told to kill his slaves and throw them in the lake for the spirits to drink their blood and the fish to eat their flesh, which he duly did (and he went on to win the war).

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It is said that for many years, screams could still be heard until the whole village got together to pray for the lost souls.

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Car Breakdown

As we go to drive away from the lake, the car won’t start. Again.

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The driver fiddles under the bonnet of the car, but still nothing. It fires, then dies. I use the time to wander over to the lake again to take some photos of the egrets in the trees on the far side.

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Still no joy with the car. The driver phones for a mechanic to come and have a look at it. We hang around, photographing more birds.

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Pied Crow

When, after half an hour there is still no mechanic, there is only one thing to do: we have to make a sacrifice!

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An hour passes. There is not much around here, and Yahaya suggests we have to call for another car and driver rather than wait for the mechanic. Of course, soon after the call has been made, the mechanic turns up! By this stage neither the driver nor the guide is anywhere to be seen.

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The mechanic spends less than a minute ‘tinkering’ with the engine and once the other two realise the car has been fixed, we make a move!

Parliament

Politics of the Union of the Comoros takes place in a framework of a federal presidential republic, whereby the President of the Comoros is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. There are 42 members of parliament, none of whom are women. There seems to be widespread corruption, with the president giving himself a huge pay-rise as soon as he came to power, and all the important jobs going to his mates.

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Friday Mosque

Today is Friday and we can hear the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

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Badjanani Mosque

Built in a unique Comorian architectural style, Badjanani Msoque (AKA Ancienne Mosquée du Vendredi – Old Friday Mosque) is a symbol of the rich cultural and historical heritage of the country. Originally constructed in 1427, it is the oldest mosque in the Medina in Moroni, although the minaret was added much later, in 1921.

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Plateau Diboini

We drive across the island from the west coast to the east, over the picturesque Diboini Plateau with its seven cones of extinct volcanoes.

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Mount Karthala

On a clear day (not today), you can see Mount Karthala from this point on the east coast. The highest point of the Comoros and at 2,361m, it is the largest active volcano in the world, as well as one of the most active. Over the years it has had a devastating impact on many parts of the country.

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Mount Karthala hiding behind the cloud

Like so many of these type of disasters, the eruption of Mount Karthala has a bit of a legend attached to it: a tired and thirsty holy man wandered from home to home in the village looking for water, but everyone turned him away, apart from one old lady who was generous enough to offer him a drink. Complaining about the bad people of the village, the holy man insisted on taking the kind woman and her family with him when he left. Cursing, he turned to the volcano and with that the lava erupted, flattening the village they had just left.

Heroumbili

During one of the many eruptions (there have been more than twenty since the 19th century, the last one in 2007), the lava from the volcano reached the sea here and created an extension of the coastline land in the village of Heroumbili.

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Reclaimed land on the coast

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The village kids come out in force to interact with us.

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We continue along the north-east coastal road.

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Turtle Island

This small island has been given a 'protected status' to stop locals rowing across and 'harvesting' the turtles who nest here, or their eggs.

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Kissing Rocks

In Comoros, strictly-followed tradition means that the first-born girl must be kept pure until her parents find a suitable husband for her. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend, unlike any subsequent daughters.

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Legend tells of one such first-born girl, who had gone against tradition and her family’s wishes by secretly dating a young man. Hearing of her father’s arranged marriage to a suitor she did not know, she feared what would happen in the morning after the wedding night when all the male members of both families traditionally meet to inspect the bed sheet for signs of blood. She was very much in love, and not wanting to cause shame and embarrassment to her father, she and her boyfriend chose to jump to their death from the cliff.

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As they kissed one final time, their bodies turned to stone. If you look carefully, you can still see them there now, kissing.

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From the top there is a great view of the coastline below to one side and the mountains on the other.

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The house where the daughter lived - now abandoned

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On the road again.

Lac Niamawi, AKA Lac Salé (Salt Lake)

In the 16th century, an eruption demolished the city of Niamawi. In its wake, it left a crater that has since filled with salt water.

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The lake changes colour throughout the day, from brown to blue to green and is said to have healing properties due to its high sulphur content. No one knows how deep the lake is. In 1977 a team of Belgian divers went down to investigate, but they were never seen again.

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Lunch

Near Mitsamiouli we stop at a small restaurant called Mi Amuse, where we have lunch.

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The food consists of barracuda served with sweet and ordinary potatoes, carrots, fried bananas and rice, with a side of pickled lemon and chilli sauce.

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The restaurant, which is also a hotel, has a bar serving alcohol and a nightclub with lively music and dancing of an evening.

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Baobab Prison

As baobab trees get older (this one is a few hundred years old for sure), they very often become hollow in the centre.

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Hollowed-out baobabs have been utilised for a number of different things all over Africa, including as here, a prison

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In the old days, wrongdoers were put inside this ‘organic’ prison for three days, with the added night time punishment of the only light being the moonlight shining down through the gap above.

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Galawa Hotel

“Once upon a time…” Isn’t that how all fairy tales start? Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending.

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Back in the 1980s and 1990s, this part of Comoros was a really ‘happening’ place, with a luxury hotel that employed 750 people and saw 350 visitors arrive twice a week on charter flights from South Africa.

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Yahaya proudly tells us he worked here for ten years, and Omar was his boss then, as he is now.

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At least the frangipani still flowers

After going into decline following neglect by the Comorian government, the hotel was razed to the ground by the French some fifteen years ago. Promises of renewed interest and investment from Dubai have not materialised and all hopes were dashed by the financial crash of 2008.

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One of Galawa's three beaches, there was a popular beach bar here

Today locals enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean at this site

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They are even enjoying a little song and dance routine as they bathe.

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The only evidence of the former leisure hub is the tiled fountain and a redundant gate (the gate doesn't actually do anything, as we can drive around the side)

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Yahaya also points out the spot where the hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed in 1996.

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Mtswamwindza Mosque

It was here that Islam was first introduced to Comoros in the 7th century. Mtswamwindza, whose real name is Mhassi Fessima embarked on a journey to Medina where he converted to Islam and then returned to his city, Ntsaoueni, and converted the people to the new religion.

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It was only the second mosque to be built in Africa, and Mtswamwindza is buried here.

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Rain

On our way back down the west coast, the heavens open and throw bucket-loads of water on us. Thankfully we are dry inside the car, albeit a little warm once we close the windows. The roads are horribly potholed from the frequent torrential showers.

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Along the coast we see beautiful sandy beaches, mangroves and lava flows reaching the sea.

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Note the abandoned hull of a car - the whole island is littered with such wrecks, just left where they lost their will to live.

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Road side grocery store

Bad News

Later Omar meets us in the reception of the hotel to tell us the arrangements for our flight to Anjouan tomorrow. There has been a change of plan... Really? That seems to be the theme of this trip.

The domestic airline Int’Air Iles has two planes: one 28-year old Airbus and a small 9-seater Cessna. The government has taken the larger plane to Kenya. We believe (hope?) it is for servicing; as I understand both Réunion and Madagascar have recently banned the airline citing safety issues.

What this means for us, is that we will have to take a ferry (hopefully) to Anjouan Island tomorrow instead of flying; but we will not be able to visit Mohéli Island as planned because there are no ferries connecting the island. The former is not a big deal, but the latter is a great shame, as our stay on Mohéli was to be the main part of our trip and the highlight: that is where we were going to go whale and dolphin watching, see turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night and see the rare Livingstone bats as well a the maki lemurs.

Oh well, there is not much we can do about it, we will just have to make the most of our time on Anjouan. Omar has arranged for us to come back to Grand Comore one day earlier than planned, so that we can easily connect with the new departure date from Comoros, also one day earlier than planned. That means four nights on Anjouan instead of the planned two.

Dinner

The restaurant has run out of lobster (I was hoping to try the local speciality of lobster in vanilla sauce) as well as fries, so it is rice or vegetables tonight (we can't have both).

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Chicken with mushroom sauce and vegetables

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Beef in mushroom sauce and rice

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in adventure travel to unusual destinations (such as Comoros), for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:46 Archived in Comoros Tagged rain mosque travel volcano hotel lake kids island breakfast crow africa prison spider muslim lunch parliament buffet islam sultan slavery baobab egrets sparrows sacrifice legend breakfast_buffet comoros barracuda undiscovered_destinations moroni grand_comore sultan's_palace karthala_volcano karthala iconi inconi_cliffs malagasy_pirates kavhiridjewo_palace witchcraft car_mechanic car_breakdown pied_crow friday_mosque badjanani badjanani_mosque plateau_diboini mount_karthala heroumbili turtle_island kissing_rocks ivoini mitsamiouli mi_amuse baobab_prison galawa_hotel galawa mtswamwindza mtswamwindza_mosque int'air_iles Comments (2)

Tarangire Part I

Elephants galore


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It is still dark when we leave the lodge this morning, just as it has been every single morning since we arrived here. Today is our last day in Tanzania, so it won't be long before we are able to have a lie-in once we get home.

There is no sign of the lion from last night around the hotel grounds this morning, but we do see a lot of giraffe close to the lodge today, as well as a couple of waterbuck.

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The weather is still pretty murky by the time we reach the Tarangire National Park gates, hence the quality (graininess) of the first handful of photos.

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These girls belong to a harem. Male impala sometimes have as many as 50 or so females in his harem, here there are nowhere near that many. Where there is an impala harem, there is usually a bachelor herd nearby waiting for the polygamous husband to retire (or maybe just tire, with so many females to service) so that they can move in.

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Tarangire is famous for its incredible bird life, especially at this time of year, with nearly 500 species recorded in the park. We see quite a few this morning, including a few species that are new to us (known as a lifer - a new addition to the life list)

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Ashy Starling

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White Winged Widow Bird (a lifer)

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Brown Parrot

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah (another lifer)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (above) construct elaborate and fanciful hanging nests (below)

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Magpie Shrike

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A rather wet and bedraggled Wattled Starling

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We're having to put the roof up, down, up, down this morning as the showers come and go at various intervals. I think you could call the weather changeable.

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White Browed Coucal

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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While the mongooses we saw earlier were quite some distance away, these are really close by the road, where an abandoned termite mound has been converted into social housing for a family on mongooses.

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As we stay to observe them for a while, small, furry heads pop out of various orifices in the mound, including some cute babies.

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And angry little not-so-cute adults.

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You can distinguish the Common Waterbuck from the other species found here, the Defassa Waterbuck, by the white markings on its rump, commonly referred to as the toilet seat.

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Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge herds of elephants, so we are quite surprised to not have seen any yet this morning, just damage caused by these large animals as they passed through.

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Not long afterwards, when we are on on our way to the Matete Picnic Site for breakfast, we see a lone elephant, as if on cue.

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Then a large bachelor herd appears.

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Time for morning ablutions, in the form of a little dust bath.

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The mood suddenly turns nasty, with an unfriendly mob marching angrily towards us. Malisa proves that he is just as capable (and safe) a driver backwards, as he has to quickly reverse the car out of the way of the bullies. Never argue with an angry elephant.

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It's not all anger management issues this morning, however, there's a bit of bonding session going on here with two teenage brothers butting against each other.

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When they have finished showering each other with affection, they walk right past out car, so close I could reach out and touch them. I have to really restrain myself not to.

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I feel so incredibly privileged to be here so close to these majestic giants, watching them go about their daily lives and be party to their family interactions, I almost cry with happiness.

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All around us are elephants, in every direction we look. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. To think I was only complaining a couple of minutes ago that we hadn't seen any elephants yet.

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More family snuggles. This is like reality TV but with animals. Much more interesting.

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For some reason this next picture reminds me of Colonel Hathi in the Jungle Book cartoon.

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I have heard of 'pink elephants', but never 'red'. These eles have obviously been rolling in the mud. Or maybe it's the latest must-have face mask.

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She has a young baby with her, probably around four months old. We can only just see the top of his back over the long grass.

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In places the grass is shorter so we can see him better.

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On the other side of the car is an even younger baby, this one is less than 2 weeks old. All together now: “awwwww”

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Look at the difference in size!

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We leave the elephants behind (pun intended) and (yet again) try to make our way towards the picnic site. This could take a while, depending on what we see on the way.

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We finally make it for breakfast, to a completely empty picnic site. This place has changed beyond all recognition since we were first here ten years ago: back then there was one squalid long-drop toilet. Now there is a very modern facilities block with clean flushable toilets, lockable doors, water, soap and toilet paper.

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Check out my next blog entry for more animal encounters with Calabash Adventures, the best safari
operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain travel elephants africa safari tanzania parrot eagle picnic giraffe tarangire impala waterbuck starling weaver mongoose shrike barbet bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller mongooses calabash_adventures maramboi coucal best_safari_operator widow_bird impala_harem spurfowl guineafowl guinea_fowl go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete matete_picnic_site picnic_breakfast Comments (4)

Ndutu Day II Part II (Wedding Anniversary)

Finally, some cats


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We're ready to roll for another afternoon of exciting adventures in the African wilderness.

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Dik diks mate for life, so more often than not you find two together or even three, like here with their offspring.

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“Sit down and close your window!” comes the urgent call from Malisa as we find ourselves right in the middle of a swarm of bees flying from one nest to another. Phew, that could have been nasty!

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We see three different vultures (Lappet Faced, African White backed and Hooded) sitting in a tree and wonder if there is a kill somewhere.

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It's mid-afternoon and we still haven't seen any cats today.

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Cute little baby, some 3-4 months old. Later we see an adult wildebeest, on his own, limping badly. I cannot help to think he will be someone's dinner tonight.

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There's a lot of dust around this afternoon and I am seriously worried about my lungs. They do not feel good. I am therefore grateful when the skies start getting darker and more threatening.

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With a strange light, dark clouds and rain on the horizon; it looks like we are in for some inclement weather.

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I am hoping for a dramatic thunder storm.

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No such luck though. The rain is somewhat localised, and fortunately not in our locale.

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But I guess it is best to start heading towards the camp.

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Before long, the skies are blue with pretty pink clouds. Talk about changeable!

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Time is getting on, the light is fading fast, and we have given up all hope of seeing any big cats today, which means these two lions are a real bonus.

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Not that they do much, but enough to get a few nice photos to round the day off nicely.

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She is greatly bothered by flies, and tries to wipe them off with her paw.

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It doesn't last long, however.

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Time is moving on, the lions are tired and we really should be getting back to camp.

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On the way we see a lone buffalo in the sunset.

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And then another.

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One of the things I love about a safari in Africa is that we get well away from any light pollution, making the stars all the more visible at night. I am very surprised, and delighted, that we are able to see any stars at all this evening after all the thick, dark clouds that covered the sky just a couple of hours ago.

The downside of being in the wilderness, of course, is the fact that we are surrounded by wild and dangerous animals, which means I can't stray far from the lodge and the armed askari guards.

Setting up my tripod just outside the entrance to the lodge means I do get some stray light from behind, but we can still see the milky way quite clearly.

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As I said in the very first blog post from this trip, the reason for being here in our favourite part of the world at this time, is to celebrate forty years of married bliss.

We brought with us a bottle of bubbly from the UK, which Nina, the waiter, kindly opens for us at dinner.

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I clear my throat, bring out a scroll tied with red ribbon, unroll it and begin to read:

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Ode to marriage

The year was 1974
In Wembley near London Town
A boy wooed a girl with flowers and more
He wanted to settle down

The girl was from Norway, her English not good
He loved her accent and eyes
Always a gentleman, just as he should
Much better than other guys

She was so young and impressed by his car
Just 16 years old, in her prime
He chatted her up in the Century bar
Into his Lotus she'd climb

Education finished, she left her school
To Norway she must return
If he let her go, he would be a fool
He knew he would always yearn

He told her he loved her and would she be his?
She said “yes” straight away
They must stay together, she surely agrees
“Let's get married, without delay”

Friday the 13th the engagement took place
But the very next day she left
He jacked in his job and took up the chase
To Norway, feeling bereft

Friday the 13th, such a special date
“Let's see when the next one is”
The following year was the estimate
To enter married bliss

By 1977 they wed
In Oslo Town Hall it was
From the bright lights of London to Bristol they fled
In a fancy car of course

They easily settled as husband and wife
Both working as hard as they could
To pay for their major passion in life
Exploring the neighbourhood

Their travels took them to near and far
A never-ending quest
From Antarctica, to China to Zanzibar
They were totally obsessed

The years quickly passed amid work and fun
And travels to faraway lands
A number of bucket list items were done
Scuba, canoeing, and boarding on sands

Work in IT and banking, a means to an end
For funding the thrill-seekers' aim
Rafting and driving a tank round the bend
Quite the daredevils they became

Zeppelin, bobsleigh and bamboo raft
Plus driving a Formula Ford
They sailed and quad-biked and often laughed
Even bungy, but never bored

DIY, cars and cycling too
Always busy, he loved to be
Participating in local voodoo
He even learned to ski

Her passions are cooking and photography
And travelling as much as she can
Sociable, smiling and very carefree
She idolises her man

Old age has crept up, with health not so great
But they're only as young as they feel
Troubles are easy when shared with your mate
Which was always part of the deal

To mark this occasion, where should they be?
A favourite haunt for sure
Tanzania of course, for a safari
Such a wonderful place to explore

As they sit here tonight, celebrating their love
Memories plenty to look back on
They thank their stars and heavens above
For the 40 years that have gone

It's 40 years since she gave him her heart
And she loves him more than ever
She said she's be with him “till death us do part”
And even then it's forever

By the time I am finished there is not a dry eye in the house, even the waiter has to wipe away a tear.

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As was the case at lunch, a selection of several dishes are brought to our table: stir fried chicken, curried vegetables, lentils, potatoes and rice, preceded by soup and followed by fresh fruit.

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Malisa also has a surprise up his sleeve: he has arranged for the lodge to make us a cake. The entire staff of the lodge accompany it is brought out, singing traditional Tanzanian songs and keeping the rhythm by banging kitchen utensils. Love it!

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.

Who would have thought, all those years ago, that this young couple would be here in the African wilderness forty years later, drinking champagne and eating celebration cake.

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Calabash Adventures really are the best, thank you so much for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:09 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys rain elephants cake clouds africa safari tanzania celebrations birding lions vultures weaver wildebeest bird_watching bustard ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik wedding_anniversary champage mousebird stormy_weather Comments (4)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part II

Rain doesn't stop play, it creates photo opportunities


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

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Lake Magadi

After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.

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Terns

On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black.
As we get closer, they all take off en masse.

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Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling

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Grey Backed Shrike

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We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.

Banded Mongoose

This is an enormous family!

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Cape Buffalo

A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.

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Ostrich

A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.

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Moru Kopjes

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Gong Rock

On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.

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Maasai paintings

The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.

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The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.

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I am intrigued by the bicycle.

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Rock Hyrax

The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.

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My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre

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Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.

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Phew!

Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.

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Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.

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The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.

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One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.

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For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.

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Squacco Herons

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These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.

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Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!

More Ostriches

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Giraffe

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Rain

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In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.

♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪

"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

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Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.

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Lions

Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.

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We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.

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Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.

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The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.

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Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.

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One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.

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She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.

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Followed by a quick roll on the ground.

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Before continuing her stroll.

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The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.

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And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!

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Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.

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The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.

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I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!

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Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!

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Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”

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"But muuuuum..."

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Sunshine

Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.

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It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.

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She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.

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Aha! So, that is what she could smell!

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Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.

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Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.

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The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.

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She is still having none of it.

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I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.

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Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.

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Time to get a move-on

We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.

The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!

Hyenas

This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.

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Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.

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Rainbow

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Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!

The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

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Sunset

This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.

I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.

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Serengeti Serena Lodge

Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!

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The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!

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The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.

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The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!

As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.

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Lyn and Chris' room.

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The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.

Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds sky rain beer sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel roads museum cute holiday fun africa safari rainbow tanzania crocodile mist moon unesco birding tourists picnic wet photography buffalo lions giraffe hippo roadtrip lion_cubs ostrich conservation serengeti hyena heron terns starling misty mongoose hyrax jackal skidding rock_art stunning bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive backlit road-trip adorable safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company hammerkop lion_kill serena_hotels long_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje stormy_clouds rock_hyrax banded_mongoose moru bedraggled black_backed_jackal nile_crocodile squacco_heron lions_in_the_rain serena_serengeti seronera rhino_project muddy_roads mud_on_road controlled_skid lake_magadi hamerkop hamerkop_nest rhino_conservation cape_buffalo moru_kopjes gong_rock maasai_paintings mosquito_bites rim_lighting Comments (0)

Ndutu - Mbuzi Mawe

The Legendary Serengeti


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

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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)

Easter Island: Rano Kau, Orongo Ceremonial Village and rain

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.

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View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It rained all through the night and this morning there is a terrible smell in our room. It smells like raw sewage and we report it to the reception on the way out hoping they’ll do something about it while we’re out.

At the first site we can still see the red paint on the fallen moai. It is thought that they were all painted at one stage. Wind and rain has damaged so much of these statues and if nothing is done to preserve them, they’ll be completely eroded away in another 500 years. What a terrible thought.

We stop at an extinct volcanic crater to look down at the lake 253m below. It is green and repulsive on the surface but the slopes are wooded and apparently quite popular with walkers. Many have got lost where they didn’t realise quite how far it is.

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The Orongo Ceremonial Village is larger than I imagined. There are 48 restored houses in total, each with stone walls, grass roof and low doors. There are many theories about the usage of the buildings; my book says that the contestants for the Birdman title would stay here for a time before the competition. Victor reckons they housed virgins for up to four months at a time before the ceremonies. I do not fully comprehend what they did with the virgins afterwards. It is a very impressive site, of a later date than the moai.

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Right out on the thin ledge between the ocean and the crater lake, you can appreciate the bravery of the men who risked life and limb to jump off the cliff, swim to the outlying rocky islands, collect the first frigate bird egg of the season and return as hero and gain the title of Birdman for the following year. The ledge is very precarious in the wind and I don’t linger to peruse at the petroglyphs on the rocks.

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It rains buckets all the time we are here, and stops just as we get back to the car. In fact the weather is so bad and the conditions so wet and muddy that we totally miss out the visit to a quarry, and go back via the deep harbour and the petrol tanks. Most items have to be imported to Easter Island, including cars, fuel, clothes, electronic items and many foods. There are no mobile phones on the island as there is no signal.

The blocked drains in the hotel have not been fixed, so we end up moving to another room. This one is nearer the swimming pool, has its own balcony, a telephone and a fan! We put the fan on to dry David’s clothes which are still rather wet from washing them 2 days ago. I am waiting for David’s to dry before I do mine as we have nowhere to dry any more clothes.

Lunch at a little café in the high street is slow but good. I order the local speciality of empanada (a sort of pasty) with beef and cheese, David tries the pizza and we share some chips. More chips. Please give me some boiled or mashed potatoes, pasta or rice. The waiter/cook/owner of the café is tall, painfully thin and has long flowing hair. Initially we can’t work out whether it is a man or a woman, but we decide it is a he and that he is gay. We really don't care about his (or her) sexual preferences, and at £12 for the lot including a couple of beers each, we're not unhappy . There are two internet cafés in town, but they are both closed and no opening times displayed outside. It is still raining. The only thing we can do is to adopt the Latino way of life with an afternoon siesta. The runs are back, I don’t want to block up these toilets too.

For our evening meal we try another restaurant in the high street, and although it appears to be very popular, the menu is rather limited. Apart from chicken and chips, there is fish and chips and also lobster at a hefty price. We choose chicken and chips. I still don’t feel too well, so I eat some of the chicken but leave most of the chips. I hope we soon get something different.

Who’d have believed that we’d get such a spectacular sunset after all the rain we’ve had today. Several tourists congregate at the harbour to watch the sun go down behind the restored moai in the main street.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:07 Archived in Chile Tagged rain travel chile rtw easter_island Comments (1)

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