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Ngorongoro - Oldupai - Ndutu

Education, education, education!


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

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Seeing the clear skies from our balcony this morning, I really wish I’d got up in the night to take some pictures of the stars. I shall just have to photograph the sunrise instead.

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Our room has an amazing view over the Ngorongoro Crater from its balcony. The hotel is rustic to the extreme, having been built from rough local stone with the rooms all set on the ridge, facing the crater.

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There’s an even more spectacular view from the bar!

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Walking Safari

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This morning we leave Malisa and the car behind and set out to explore the area on foot with a ranger called Yohana, in order to get a deeper understanding of the bush and up close and personal with nature.

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The first wildlife we see is a Cape Robin-Chat, right outside the front door of the lodge.

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We amble at a slow pace, along the Ngorongoro Crater Rim and upwards into the hillside as Yohana teaches us the language of the bush.

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These signs always amuse me – do the wild animals read them and refuse to venture past that point (in the other direction) too?

This is not so much a safari in that we are not really seeking out wild animals; we are here to learn what native peoples have known for millennia – how wild plants are used as medicine and food. I am hoping to find something for the back ache I have been suffering with since we left home.

Sodom’s Apple
Although this fruit belongs to the tomato family, you won’t find it in any salads. Known as Sodom’s Apple as it is said to be the first plant to grow again after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the small, yellow fruit is used as a medicine for stomach ache, diarrhoea and to treat external wounds.

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Plant with unripe fruit

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The flower of the Sodom Apple

Wild Marijuana
This plant, which is in the same family as the common marijuana plant, is used to produce pesticide, as insects do not like the smell of it. Neither does Lyn by the looks of it.

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Leaves are soaked in water, which is then used to spray the fields to keep insects from eating the crop.

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Enkang oo-nkiri Maasai Ceremony
We encounter a Maasai who is in the bush for the Engkang oo-nkiri, or meat-eating ceremony – one the many stages of initiation into warriorhood for the young men of the tribe. A dozen or so men take a bull into the bush and slaughter it, staying there to eat the meat for two weeks. This is said to help them remain strong.

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Devil’s Snare
The fact that this invasive species is poisonous has not stopped the Mexicans from making drugs from it apparently.

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Stingy Nettle
Like we do in the West, the locals make soup “and wot not” (Yohana’s favourite expression) from this.

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Being full of sugar sap, nectar eating birds love this plant, whose name I don't catch.

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Beautiful Sunbird

Natural Insect Repellent

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Wild Tobacco
Yohana warns us that it is “not very good”.

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Old Man’s Beard
The presence of this lichen on trees is an indication of the air quality – it will only grow where the air is pure and clean!

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Augur Buzzard

Altitude
We have been climbing gently but steadily upwards from the lodge, and here at 2400 metres above sea level I can certainly feel the altitude.

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“I can see your house from here!” - Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

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Elephants
Yohana tells us elephants came by here in the night, eating the tops of the plants.

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Elephant Dung

Here we learn to read the jungle as a ‘daily newspaper’, by identifying trails, inspecting bushes and trees, studying spoor marks and animal tracks to deduce what animals have passed by recently, which way they were going, how long ago, how fast they were going, what they have eaten and so on. In fact there seems to be a story to be told in virtually every track and dropping that we come across. A bit like opening up Facebook first thing in the morning.

There’s a great view over the crater from up here.

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Eucalyptus

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It’s well know for being beneficial for clearing a blocked nose.

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Chris puts it to the test.

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Juvenile Common Fiscal Shrike

This is where we part company with the guys – Lyn and I head for the road where Malisa is waiting with the car; David and Chris continue their walk with a hike to the top of the hill.

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While we wait for the boys to do their daily workout, we chat to a group of school children on the road. One by one, as they pass, they shout out “Shikamo” – the greeting reserved for respected elders. That’ll be me then, I guess. In reply, I shout back: “Marahaba” (the traditional reply), much to their surprise and delight.
The kids explain to Malisa that their bus has broken down, so they have to walk the 40 minutes to their school.

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The guys come back bearing gifts.

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Mushroom – you can't get much fresher than this. And very good it is too.

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Khat – the drug of choice from Somalia to Yemen and beyond (and is also available – although illegal – in our home town of Bristol). It does nothing for me – it’s a bit like chewing grass.

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Quinine – this one might be useful for treating malaria.

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It’s time to move on to the next item on today’s itinerary – but first we have to get there, and we never know what we might see on the way.

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Malanja Depression with Mount Lemakarot in the distance

Emuratare - Circumcision ceremony

A couple of young Maasai lads have their faces painted to indicate that they have just undergone the circumcision ceremony. This is the most vital initiation of all rites of passages in the Maasai society and is performed shortly after puberty.

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Cow Bells

We stop to listen to the sound of the cowbells as Malisa explains that this is how the area got its name. Ngoro ngoro ngoro ngoro. A lot of goodwill and some poetic licence is required methinks.

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Kaki Weed

Today is an educational sort of day for sure, as Malisa hands us this plant which some people do smoke.

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Cooke's Hartebeest

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Maasai Warriors

Ahead a number of Maasai Warriors are walking along the road, and we are warned by Malisa not to take photos. The scene is surreal, like we are driving through a film set.

A Tower of Giraffes

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At Endoldol we spot a few giraffe on the ridge, in the distance.

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Then a few more.

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Soon we have a whole forest of giraffe.

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We count 53 animals – which beats Malisa’s previous record of 48 - but it's impossible to put an accurate number down as more and more keep coming from the back.

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I have never seen anything like this incredible spectacle.

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When a Maasai warrior appears in the distance, the whole scenario goes from being fantastical to becoming completely absurd as 50+ giraffe start running.

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Giraffe are awkward runners, and with their long necks arching and bending as they go, they look like a wave. Totally, utterly unbelievable!

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There is just one word that will do: WOW!

Elerai Maasai Boma

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We are introduced to David, the son of the chief, who explains – in very good English – about the village and the dances we are about to see. The name Elerai refers to the yellow barked acacia trees that grow around here.

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First of all, the men and women perform a ‘welcome dance’ for us.

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The dance is accompanied by a single musical wind instrument (traditionally a kudu horn), an olaranyani (song leader) singing the melody and a chorus chanting harmonies, combined into a sort of screeching syncopation.

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This is followed by a display of the Maasai men's famous ‘jumping’ dance, known as adumu. This dance is traditionally performed during the eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of a Maasai warrior.

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Chris decides he would like to join in

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So he studies the style and technique carefully.

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His approach is a little strained initially.

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But he soon gets the hang of it.

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Elerai is what is known as a ‘cultural boma’. The Tanzanian government restricts visits to Maasai homesteads to just a small selection of villages in a bid to limit the damaging effect it has on their culture.

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The beauty of visiting one of the official villages is that not only are we shown around the village, we can also freely take photos of the people who have ‘dressed up’ for the occasion. Taking photos of the Maasai walking along the road is considered very bad and is strongly discouraged, as mentioned in the RULES AND REGULATIONS at the entry gate.

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Here at Elerai, however, I can snap away to my heart’s content. And I do.

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The women have been hanging around while the men have been jumping, but now it is their turn to dance.

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Over the years we have visited a few Maasai villages, as well as other East African ethnic groups, and never before have we been treated to a display of women jumping.

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They may not jump quite as high as the men, but they make a brave attempt.

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While David (the chief’s son, not my husband) takes Lyn and Chris around the village, Kaki, his brother, leads us into one of the other huts.

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To us, the village doesn’t look all that big, but this collection of straw-and-mud huts is home to around 120 people.

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The work of constructing the huts falls on the women, who build a frame from wooden sticks, make the walls and roof from acacia grass, they then cover the whole lot with cow dung. During the rainy season the houses have to be re-covered with new dung every night.

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Standing around or walking very slowly, as we have been doing while watching the dancing, has a terrible effect on my troubled back, it is now hurting so much I am struggling to walk. I therefore decline the invitation to see what the hut looks like on the inside, instead I send David in with strict instructions to take photos using his video camera.

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The heigh of luxury it ain't, but I guess they don't spend much time inside.

Eventually curiosity gets the better of me, and I carefully put my head around the corner to take a peek.

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Although the older children go to school in a nearby small town, the younger ones attend the on-site kindergarten.

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The children beautifully recite the alphabet and numbers in English for us.

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The occasional grubby exterior fails to hide the beauty and innocence of these charming kids.

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The Maasai – as well as most other ethnic tribes in this region – build their homes in a circular pattern, with a ‘fence’ made from thorny acacia bushes to keep any wild animals out.

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At night, the domestic animals are herded into a coral for safety.

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Exit through the shop.
A Maasai ‘market’ has been set up in the centre of the village where we are ‘encouraged’ to buy something from the stall belonging to the householder whose home we just visited.

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This stuff always looks so good - and tempting - when you see it like this in its appropriate surroundings, but usually becomes horribly out of place if you take it back home.

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We choose a ‘talking stick’ and a small calabash to go on our wall next to the necklace we bought in Kenya last year.

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The talking stick is a communication tool used by the Maasai elders during their community gatherings as a symbol of authority and a right to speak. Everyone present must listen respectfully to the person holding the stick, and only that person is allowed to speak. When he has finished talking, the stick is passed on to someone else, ensuring everyone present has a chance to be heard.

Not sure how it would work in the Howard Household…

We are only partially successful in getting a mutually satisfactory price, and walk away with a feeling of having been ripped off.

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Moving on to our next educational stop, with a few interesting (or not) sights along the way.

Camels

Tanzania has become a lot more commercialised in just the 20 months since we were here last – these camels are brought to the road side by the Maasai who charge tourists to have their photo taken with them.

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Dust

This may be the green season, but the only rain we have seen so far is a mere five minutes just as we left Kilimanjaro Airport. Any vehicles, especially large trucks, throw up great amounts of dust from the tracks.

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As we slow down for the junction, a group of teenagers shout and wave their arms. One young lad lifts his gown to reveal nothing underneath except a hard-on. I am left in a state of incredulity: “Did I really just see that?” You’ll be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence.

Eland

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Thomson's gazelle

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Rough track

The vibration caused by the incredibly rough rutted track results in Lyn’s lens filter becoming unscrewed and me shouting: “Can you keep the noise down please!”

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Beetle

A stowaway flies in through the window, hoping to catch a ride. One of my ambitions for this trip is to see a dung beetle, but this one is sadly dung-less. I know, I know, there is no pleasing some people.

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Oldupai Gorge – Where human life began

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The thirty-mile long and 300 feet deep ravine is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches through East Africa. The original paleoanthropologists who excavated this area over 50 years ago, wrongly named it Olduvai after mishearing the Maa word for the wild sisal plant which grows in the vicinity. The Tanzanian government renamed it (correctly) Oldupai Gorge in 2005.

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It is thought that millions of years ago, the site was that of a large lake, the shores of which were covered with successive deposits of volcanic ash. Around 500,000 years ago seismic activity diverted a nearby stream which began to cut down into the sediments, revealing seven main layers in the walls of the gorge. Just one small pinnacle remains standing.

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This is another place I hardly recognise from last time we came – which admittedly was nine years ago in 2007 – there is so much building work and a completely new Orientation Centre.

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Scenic as the gorge may be, it is by no means on the same scale as the Grand Canyon, or even Cheddar Gorge; but then again it is not the gorge itself that is the star attraction here; it is all about the secrets this deep-sided the ravine concealed.

Cradle of Mankind Museum

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Oldupai Gorge is considered to be one of the most important pre-historic sites in the world. In the 1930s Mary and Louis Leakey discovered fossils of early humanoid dating back some 5 million years (give or take a few hundred thousand years); which has been hugely instrumental in furthering our understanding of early human evolution.

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Realistic replicas of some of their most important discoveries are on display in the modest museum, including the ‘Laetoli Footprints’ – perfectly preserved marks in the rock showing two upright bipedal hominids, out for a stroll more than 3.5 million years ago. If that doesn’t make you feel humble and small, nothing will.

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Other exhibits include fossils, tools, artefacts and display boards with old photos from the Leakey’s time.

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Part of the exhibition is dedicated to Dr Yoshiharo Sekino, who set out on a remarkable journey following the routes of ancient civilisations.

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Dr Sekino's bike

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His route on the map within the exhibition

We have our picnic lunch overlooking the gorge, next to the group of American college students we saw on the flight from Nairobi as well in Tarangire National Park. They are incredibly noisy, but I am more concerned about the fact that this girl thinks it is perfectly acceptable to eat her lunch in public with her great big walking boot on the table!

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History comes to life with a short presentation on how the various layers of rock strata have formed over the past 5 million or so years.

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We can clearly see three of the five layers here:

1. Basalt from 2 million years ago
2. Volcanic ash from 1.75 million years ago
3. Iron oxide from 1.2 million years ago.

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The top two layers (ash and mud – 800,000 and 150,000 years ago respectively) have eroded over the years.

Different types of humanoids inhabited the different time epochs. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I have my own slant on evolution…

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We are also given the low-down on the sisal plant – which the gorge is named after – and its many uses: rope and mats, painkillers from the roots and animals will chew on it for water.

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After our educational break, we head down into the gorge itself, on some pretty basic tracks.

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What I want to know is how we can be sure we are not actually driving on top of some hitherto undiscovered important archaeological remains.

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The Mysterious Shifting Sands

Having come across articles about this phenomenon while researching our trip, I asked Malisa if we could make a detour to try and find these elusive dunes.

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These fascinating crescent-shaped mounds are a remarkable occurrence known as barkan. Dunes are formed when ground dust blown by unidirectional wind collects around a stone and continues to accumulate until a small dune is formed. As more sand is added, the process continues and the dune moves, in this case around ten metres a year.

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Shifting sands is not a new experience for us; but this one is different in that it is not only made up of very fine black sand, but it is also highly magnetised due to its high iron content.

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Despite its very fine texture, when you throw a handful of the stuff in the air, it doesn’t blow away on the wind, it falls almost straight down. The whole thing is eerie and ethereal, like an alien world.

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The volcanic sand that makes up the 9-metre high and 100-metre long dune originates from the Maasai’s most holy of places, Ol Doinyo Lengai - meaning ‘Mountain of God’ - which erupts with frequent intervals sending plumes of steam and ash over the surrounding countryside.

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Erm... why Chris?

The sands have moved around 500 metres since people started to take notice of it – there are markers on the road to indicate its route – the first recorded resting place was over by those trees in the background some time in the 1950s.

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Lemuta

Instead of taking the direct route west from Oldupai to Ndutu, Malisa heads off towards Lemuta, “to see what we can find”.

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Giraffes

The first thing we see is four giraffes lying down – a most unusual sight. In this position giraffes are very vulnerable to predators because of the time and effort it takes them to get up.

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Beetle

Another dungless beetle flies in through the window and lands on Chris. “Throw him out” I shout, and with that Chris gets out of the car! Doh!

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We make sure he is not on his back on the ground (the beetle, not Chris), before we drive off.

Thomson's Gazelles

A large herd of gazelles start running as we approach. One little baby gets separated from the rest and instead of running across; he sprints along the track as fast as his little legs will carry him.

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Malisa slows down so as not to cause him any more stress, and soon mum comes in from the left to collect him. Phew. Another disaster averted.

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A few gazelles refuse to run – instead they stand and stare eerily at us as we pass. David waves out of the window, but they don’t wave back. Ignorant so-and-sos.

(Ex) Wildebeest

It was the end of the road for this wildebeest as he died of natural causes.

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Vultures

Something obviously didn’t make it here either – Malisa explains that it is an old cheetah kill which the vultures are now finishing off.

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Endless Plains

Seeing the Short Grass Plains at Lemuta, I can understand how Serengeti got its name – it means “Endless Plains” in the local Maa language. As far as the eye can see in every direction there is nothing but grass, dotted with a few animals. It is quite overwhelming, and none of my photographs do it justice.

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The panorama below – joined together from nine different images, shows a 180° view, to give you some idea.

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Secretary Bird

This large bird - standing at 125 cm - gets its name from the crest of long quill-like feathers which gives it the appearance of an old-style secretary with quill pens tucked behind their ear. Although it has the ability to fly (I have never seen one in flight), the secretary birds is largely terrestrial, hunting its prey on foot

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Lappet Faced Vulture

A lappet Faced Vulture surveys the plains, looking for food.

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Vultures and Jackal

Another old cheetah kill attracts a number of vultures (White Backed, Woolly Necked, and Rueppell’s Griffon) as well as a Golden Jackal.

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Squabbles are almost constant, with everyone looking for an opportunity to grab a piece of meat for themselves.

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The jackal is definitely at the top of the pecking order, while the vultures fight amongst themselves.

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A couple of Lappet Faced Vultures arrive to join in the party

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More fighting, and even the jackal joins in with a growl.

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It looks like the jackal has his fill as he licks his chops and walks off.

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Then, and only then, do the vultures get a look-in.

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They tuck into what's left of the once cute little Thomson's Gazelle.

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Having access to the meat doesn't stop them feuding, however.

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We continue across the short grass plains, looking for cheetah at every kopje. No luck. Not one.

Hyenas

We do, however, spot a cackle of female hyenas. They lie down in puddles and streams to cool down while digesting their food. Unhappy at being woken up from her afternoon nap, this one takes flight when she sees us.

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Female hyenas have a false penis (which you can just about make out in the photo below) and are the pack leaders.

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For a while they circle a Tommy family (Thomson’s Gazelle), but eventually decide it’s too much like hard work and call it a day.

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Kori Bustard

Another tall bird at almost one metre in height.

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Capped Wheatear

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Crowned Plover

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Golden Jackal

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Eland

As a result of hunting (eland meat is highly prized), these animals have become very skittish, so it is good to get some photos that are not ‘bum shots’ for a change.

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Dung Beetle

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Each time I go on a safari, I have a wish list of animals I would like to see. This year the dung beetle is one of my top requests for Malisa to try and locate. As always, he comes up trumps, and much excitement ensues when he stops the car to introduce us our new little friend.

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Aren’t dung beetles just the coolest, most fascinating little animals? OK, maybe you think I am very sad for getting excited about a small shit-eating insect, but just hear me out first before you poo-poo my statement.

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These tiny bugs (about twice the size of my thumbnail) prefer excrement from herbivores rather than carnivores, as the former is largely undigested vegetable matter. OK, so now we have a vegetarian poo-eating insect. Although, the veggie poo is not so easy for them to locate as it gives off less of an odour than the meat waste. So, it has now become a vegetarian poo-eating insect with a sensitive nose.

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Most dung beetles are fussy eaters, so they won’t just eat any old shit; it has to be waste from a particular animal. They also like their poo to be fresh – don’t we all – the fresher the better. I think I am beginning to understand this; these are finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eaters. A new patty can be descended on by up to 4000 dung beetles within 15 minutes of being dropped, and as many as 15,000 have been observed on one pile of dung at the same time. A real sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eater it seems.

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All I wanted was one single beetle carefully rolling away his prized poo!

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You could say he is on a roll... actually, they move surprisingly fast!

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Dung beetles can eat their own weight in less than 24 hours, and are probably the most industrious resident on the savannah, clearing up the mess left behind by other animals. The original recyclers! We can now add another string to his bow, making him a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating eco-warrior.

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So how does a dung beetle know which way he should be rolling his poo? He navigates using the Milky Way of course. Now this is starting to get serious: he is a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian, poo-eating environmentally friendly astronomer.

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This image is all mine, although the pictures of the sky and the beetle were not taken at the same time.

Although not all dung beetles roll their dung away, those that do, do so to feed their young. There is nothing like passing poo to your babies eh? Those beetles that don’t move the poo, make their home in the pile of dung. You could say they are happy as a pig in shit – or it that beetle?

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As well as food and housing, that pile of manure is also great for cooling off your feet (or rather for the beetle’s feet) – a bit like us trying to get off the hot sand on a sunny beach. Dung is considerably cooler than the parched African soil, mainly due to its moisture contents. So, how is that little insect doing now? He can now be described as a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing environmentally friendly astronomer.

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The last point I want to make is about their strength (I’m am not going to mention about his horn) – imagine yourself pushing a giant ball (just try not to think about what it is made from) which is over a thousand times your body weight, which is equal to an average gym-goer pushing 80 tons!
Now our little friend has become a sociable, finicky sensitive-nosed vegetarian poo-eating, hot footing, athletic, environmentally friendly astronomer. He sure is my hero!

And you thought he was just another beetle!

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You think I am talking a lot of crap? Check it out for yourself.

Dung Beetles guided by Milky Way

Wikipedia

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Safari Vehicle

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This is what our ‘home’ for the eleven days in Tanzania looks like. Based on a Toyota Landcruiser, it has been especially converted for safari use, with plenty of room in the back (six seats plus luggage compartment), an elevating roof means we can stand up for a better view to take photos, and it is easy to move around on a flat floor. There are charging points for camera batteries, and a beanbag for photography, plus we can attach a clamp with a tripod head to the rails too. All mods cons (including a fridge full of cold drinks), and comfortable seats - it has everything we need for long days on the African savannah.

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Pregnant Hyena

This pregnant hyena is very close to giving birth, and all she wants to do is sleep. Instead she has to pose for these horrid tourists. It’s a hard life isn’t it?

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A congress of Jackals

Five or six Golden Jackals turn up.

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A couple of Ostriches

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Female

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Male

And some Zebra

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Spotting another vehicle makes us realise that the last time we saw one was actually four hours ago. I like this low season safari lark.

Wildebeest Migration

Because the rains arrived later than normal this year, the wildebeest seem confused and appear to have split up. You can see from the map below where they normally are during May, and where we spot large herds of them today.

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Grant’s Gazelle

The wildebeest are accompanied by Grant’s Gazelle.

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And a Tawny Eagle

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Lion Pride

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Not far from our lodge, and with the light fading fast, we come across a pride of nine lions spread out over a swampy area between Lakes Ndutu and Masek.

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The females and young males lie in the late sun, stroll around or play fight.

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By reason of a strict pecking order, these guys are waiting their turn to have dinner – once the two alpha males have had their fill.

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And for those of you who are wondering exactly how close we are to the lions – THIS is how close!

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When one of the boys has had enough and gets up and walks away, the others look at the kill expectantly.

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But it seems his brother is still not finished.

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Has he had enough?

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Has he?

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It seems that way…

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Has he heck!

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The youngsters resign themselves to having to wait a little longer for supper.

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One of the braver ones decides he is going to risk it.

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Finally!

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Seeing the look on this guy’s face as he struggles to bit off a slice of the fresh rib, I am instantly grateful for steak knives.

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And after all that, all he ends up with is a mouthful of bones. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

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Maybe, just maybe… he is trying to bite off more than he can chew…?

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He looks forlorn: “There’s got to be an easier way than this.”

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“I’ll try a different approach”

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“Or maybe I’ll just lick the plate”

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Malisa points out that meanwhile, behind us, a glorious sunset is painting the sky orange over the lake, signalling the end of another extraordinary day and time for us to say goodbye to our lions and head to camp.

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Ndutu Lodge

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As with our previous visit, it is dark by the time we arrive at Ndutu Lodge. Despite several other safari vehicles arriving at the same time, the check in is impressively swift and efficient. After a quick shower and change, we meet up dinner.

Good food, Savanna Cider, Genets in the Rafters, coffee in the lounge and Dik Diks on the lawn – a perfect end to a perfect day!

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Chicken and rice

Small Spotted Genet

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Cat-like in appearance, the genets are wild but encouraged to hang around the rafters of the lodge by staff who occasionally slip them tidbits of food in exchange for keeping the rodent population down. They are also obviously very popular with the guests.

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Apparently the roof of the dining room / bar area was originally supported by huge wooden beams which the genets used a climbing frame. When the rafters were removed during the refurbishment, one of the beams was retained purely for the pleasure of the genets

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Dik Diks

Normally extremely shy, these tiny antelopes have become accustomed to people and feed happily in the grounds of the lodge.

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Yet again Calabash Adventures and their wonderful guide Malisa have given us a day in the bush to remember.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:04 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sunset road_trip view travel vacation views shopping village adventure roads kids scenery museum sunrise africa safari tanzania lodge zebra lunch beetle unesco birding chicken souvenirs lions maasai giraffe roadtrip lion_cubs ngorongoro dust hyena kill tribes anthropology wildebeest olduvai jackal ngorongoro_crater rip_off bird_watching game_drive road-trip eland african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle great_rift_valley night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii school_kids qat calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company nature_trail maasai_cattle ngrongoro_serena ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe maasai_boma kindegarten shifting_sands oldupai lamuta lion_kill Comments (0)

Maramboi - Ngorongoro

How can we possibly top that?


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

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

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

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...and the sunrise.

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

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

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

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Why have a healthy lunch when you can have cake?

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

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

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The old traditional style

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And the more modern type

Minjungu

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

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Today we are heading for Ngorongoro.

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

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Ostrich, Zebra and Wildebeest

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Thomson's Gazelles

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

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

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

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Albino donkey?

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Nice ass!

Maasai Manyatta (village)

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

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

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

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Mto Wa Mbu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yellow Billed and Maribou Storks

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Yellow Billed Storks

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Yellow Billed Stork and Pink Backed Pelican

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Yellow Billed Stork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Karatu

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

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

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Loduare Gate

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

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

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

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There is also an even smaller shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tomb of Michael Grzimek

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

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

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

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

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Zebra and Wildebeest

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

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Maasai herders taking their livestock to softer grass

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Red Duiker

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

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

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

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

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

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Seneto Boma, a temporary Maasai settlement

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Maasai cattle co-exist happily with wild zebra

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

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

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

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The entrance area is full of flowers and plants.

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And birds.

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African Pied Wagtail

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Northern Anteater Chat

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

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And this is our road.

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

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The scene is quite surreal, like an impressionist painting.

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

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

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

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Augur Buzzard

Warthogs

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Wildebeest

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Rufous Lark

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

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Zebra with Maasai cattle in the background

Zebra

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

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

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

Thomson’s Gazelle

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

Grey Crowned Crane

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Grant’s Gazelle

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

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Fischer's Sparrow Lark

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

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Wildebeest with Wattled Starling on its back

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Female ostriches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nubian Woodpecker

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

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

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

The mystery is solved and I can sleep soundly tonight!

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We have company for our picnic.

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Hildebrand Starling

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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

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Blacksmith Plover

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I’ve never seen one sit like this before.

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Rufous Lark

Wattled Starling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one’s not for him either.

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

Sacred Ibis at Gorigor Swamp

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

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More wildebeest.

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Including this suckling baby.

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

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

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The threat appears in the form of a spotted hyena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to smell the flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ngorongoro 2014

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

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

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

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Golden Jackal

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

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

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

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

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

Ngorongoro Serena Hotel

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

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

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

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

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Nguru Wa Kupaka - king fish in exotic Swahili sauce

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

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

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

Tarangire National Park

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


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

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

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

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

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Two lionesses with two cubs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Impala bachelor herd

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

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Giraffe family consisting of eight members, young and old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A warthog looks on with amusement.

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

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Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Yellow Crowned Canary

Marula

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

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Baobab Tree

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

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

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

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Red Bishop

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Fischer's Lovebird

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Ashy Starling

Tarangire National Park

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

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September 2014

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May 2016

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

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The queues for the permits in 2014

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The queue in 2016

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Permit in hand – we’re ready to roll!

Tse Tse Flies

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

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

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

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Red Necked Francolin

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White Crowned Fiscal Shrike

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

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

Dwarf Mongoose

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Senegal Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

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

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

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Magpie Shrike

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Crowned Lapwing

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Giraffe with passengers

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Yellow Billed Oxpecker

African Green Pigeon

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

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Elephants

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

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

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Mr and Mrs Ostrich

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Rattling Cisticola

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Little Bee Eaters - one of my favourite birds!

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Two Banded Courser

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Dwarf Mongoose

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

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Matete Picnic Site

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

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Elephants in Tarangire River

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Tree Hyrax

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

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pygmy Falcon - the fastest bird in the park!

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Grant's Gazelle

Sausage Tree

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

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More Elephants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hammerkop

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

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

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

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So much greenery this time of year!

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Fischer's Lovebirds

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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

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Baobab Trees – the Tree of Life

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

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

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The story of how the baobab got his looks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Termite mounds

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

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

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Red Billed Hornbill (male)

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Red Billed Hornbill (female)

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Common Waterbuck

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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

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

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Lilac Breasted Roller - another of my favourite birds

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Ashy Starling

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Red Billed Hornbill

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

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Three Banded Plover

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Another Hammerkop – one of Malisa’s favourite birds

Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pancakes with mango

We make friends with some of the local inhabitants.

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Bat

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Stick Insect

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

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

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

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

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Crowned Plover

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Green Wood Hoopoe

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

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And an African Ground Squirrel.

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

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

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

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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

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This is thankfully not life sized!

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Grey Kestrel

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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White Rumped Helmet Shrike

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

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

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Lost the will to live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Impala

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Fresh lion paw prints, but no lions.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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

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

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

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

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

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Egrets flying home to roost for the night

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

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

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

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

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

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I do find their stare rather unnerving.

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

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

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Same tree, different sunset!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nairobi - Kilimanjaro - Arusha - Maramboi

Let the next stage of the adventure begin


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

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After a fitful sleep we drag ourselves out of bed this morning for a 05:00 pick-up for the airport and a day full of security checks ahead.

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The first check comes in the form of a road ‘block’ on the approach road to the airport where the cars are given a once-over while passengers get out and walk through an X-Ray and security screening.

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Security Check # 2 sees our tickets and passports inspected in order to gain entry into the terminal building.

Check # 3 is a conveyor-belt X-ray for all the bags, including the checked-in luggage. Panic sets in when the tray containing my camera and phone is accidentally pushed off the belt by the stuff behind it, and lands upside down on the hard tiled floor. A broken camera on the second day of the trip is the sort of thing I have nightmares about! I take a quick picture of David to check it out, and thankfully it appears to be fully working. Phew.

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Having checked in on line last night for today's flight, the bag drop is fairly painless. Check # 4 = passports.

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In order to be allowed to join the queue for Immigration, we have our passports and boarding cards checked (#5).

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At Immigration, the passports are scanned, fingerprints are taken and we are photographed. (Check # 6) We have now officially left Kenya.

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Consulting the departures board to see which gate we are going from, we are dismayed and somewhat confused to find our flight has been cancelled. Why on earth did the check-in staff not say anything when we dropped our bags off some ten minutes ago?

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We queue for the Kenya Airways Customer Service Desk, and find that the flight has not really been cancelled as such, it has just been combined with a flight to Zanzibar – which means that our flight leaves half an hour earlier than scheduled (and then travels on to Zanzibar).

Customer Services check our passports (#7), and re-issue the boarding cards. When we checked in on line last night we specifically chose left-hand side window seats behind the wing in order to be able to see Mount Kilimanjaro from the air as we come in to land in Tanzania. I ask for similar seats this time too, but am told that it is not possible as the plane is full. Bummer! Mind you, it is very dull and grey today, and quite misty, so I don’t suppose we would be able to see much anyway.

Between the main departures hall and the gate is security check # 8, with all hand luggage X-rayed and a full body scanner. All accessories must be removed, including watches, shoes, belts, glasses and such like.

Not until we reach the departure gate does Chris realise that he has left his watch behind at the scanner. He rushes back to retrieve it. “I left my watch behind” he tells the security officer, pointing to the watch, which is still exactly where he left it. “What does it look like?” the chap asks. “Well…” says Chris, rather bemused by now …”it has a blue and red strap… like that!” gesturing towards the watch. “Oh”, says the security guard, “is this yours?”

Chris arrives back just as we are called forward to go through security check # 9, showing our passports and boarding cards before getting on a bus bound for the plane.

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The cabin crew perform check # 10 (boarding cards) as we enter the plane.

Much to our amusement – and joy – we find we have exactly the same seats as we chose last night when we checked in on line: window seat, left-hand side, just behind the wing.

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There is a low cloud cover some hundred metres or so above the ground, but it is just a thin layer, which we fly above.

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Mount Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks rise majestically above the cloud cover. At 4,877 metres, it is the highest mountain in Africa and very popular amongst climbers.

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The next peak we spot is Mount Meru, a 4,562 metre high dormant volcano, which is believed by some to be the point where Noah’s Ark came to rest as the flood receded. There is no sign of the Ark today.

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From the sunny skies above the clouds, we descend into the thick pea-soup layer where we can hardly see the tip of the wing. A very strange sensation indeed.

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Soon we are through to the other side of the clouds and ready to land at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania.

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Two more checks (passport and customs – numbers 11 and 12!) and we are finally in Tanzania! After all the warnings we received about immunisations, none of us are asked about our Yellow Fever certificate!

As I said before, our flight left half an hour earlier than scheduled, and it is a larger plane than the original - thus faster, which means we arrive some 45 minutes before ETA and there is no one there to greet us. We are not alone as we wait outside the terminal building for our driver.

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A huge dung beetle causes some amusement amongst the waiting passengers, and Chris calls me over, as he knows that this is the item right at the top of my wish list. Pfft. This one is dung-less, that doesn’t count.

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Malisa turns up just as the rain starts, wearing a ready smile that we will come to know and love over the next couple of weeks. Instantly likeable, he seamlessly fits into our ‘family group’ and immediately joins in with our sarcastic sense of humour.

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First stop – the supermarket to stock up on some of life’s little necessities.

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On the one-hour journey from the airport to Arusha, Lyn and Chris take in all the African street scenes that have become so familiar to me over the years. Having safari newbies with us means that I look at these scenes with new eyes as I share their excitement and wonder.

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Carrying milk churns

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Malisa explains that farmers with five cows or fewer don’t tend to send their cattle out to graze, they send their men out to fetch the fodder while the cows stay home.

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Works are in place to make this road into a nice new dual carriageway. It’ll be great when it is finished, but for now the construction causes the usual traffic jams.

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Blue Heron

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At the Blue Heron in Arusha we meet up with Tillya again. He took the bus from Nairobi to Arusha last night, a journey which used to take six to seven hours when we first started coming to Tanzania, but can be done in a speedy three hours now that the new road has finally been completed.

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Blue Heron is run in conjunction with Malaika Children’s Home, a charity that helps local underprivileged children. One of the many things I like about Tillya and Calabash Adventures is that they are very socially and environmentally conscious in their choices of places to visit / stay / eat.

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Chicken Shawarma and Mango Juice seem to be the popular choices for lunch.

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Our lunch is accompanied by a pair of Yellow Bellied Sunbirds.

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After (the very early) lunch we are back on the road, heading for the wilderness and our first safari lodge. A road trip in Africa is always exciting, with many things to see along the side of the road.

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Whistling Acacia

The whistling acacia tree is so called because these brown nodules (they are not fruit, but hollow swellings) have small holes in them (caused by ants) which creates a whistling sound when the wind blows.

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The acacia tree and the ants have a symbiotic relationship, a kind of mutual respect. The tree provides the ants with food by secreting droplets of sweet fluid, and the ants in return protect the tree by attacking anything that tries to eat its leaves. The pheromones given off by the ants act as a warning to giraffes and other animals who then leave the tree alone.

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It's not all lovey-dovey between the two parties though, as the ants also fiercely protect 'their' tree from enemy ant colonies by trimming the branches and flowers of the acacia, which stunts the growth of the tree, killing the tips so the tree cannot propagate itself.

Maasai Manyatta

This is Maasai land we are passing through, and you can tell the number of wives a man has by the number of huts. One hut = one wife. This guy has seven, although some can have up to 20 or more.

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Sisal

A plant in the agave family, sisal yields a stiff fibre used to make a variety of products such as rope, mats, bags, carpets and cloths. I have seen these plants along the side of the road before, but had no idea what they were. I just thought they were a pretty plant.

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I certainly never expected to see camels grazing in the fields. I can’t remember ever seeing camels on previous visits to Tanzania.

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While the rest of us admire the marvels of nature and man, David takes an afternoon nap.

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The road along this stretch has improved beyond all recognition since we first came this way nine years ago. It is now very smooth and comfortable and cuts the travel time between parks considerably.

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Every now and again we get a glimpse of Lake Manyara, the alkaline lake Ernest Hemmingway dubbed “the loveliest in Africa” and whose shores we will be staying by tonight.

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Donkey Cart AKA Maasai Landrover

A local family struggle to get a heavily-laden donkey cart up a slope.

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The more they push, the less willing the donkeys become. Is this where the “stubborn as a mule” expression comes from?

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In the shade of a tree, a group of Maasai village elders hold their weekly meeting.

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I am amused to see that some of them arrived on motorbikes - 21st century Maasai.

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Birds of prey soar above or rest in the trees.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Tawny Eagle

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Augur Buzzard

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Dark Tawny Eagle

This tree is home to a number of weaver birds – notice how they make their nests on the western side of the tree due to the prevailing winds.

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

Soon we start to see our first wild animals.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Eland and Zebra

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Zebra

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Wildebeest

The wildebeest are chased by four young Maasai boys, wearing black and with their faces painted. Although they look menacing, the attire merely signifies that they have recently undergone the circumcision ceremony, which takes them from being young boys to becoming feared and respected morans (warriors). The white paint which adorns their faces (you can’t see it very clearly in these photos as they are a long way away) is used to repel any ‘evil eyes’ to help aid their recovery after the operation. Armed only with sticks / bows and arrows, the boys wander alone in the wilderness for three months to prove their manhood.

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Even during the Green Season there is a lot of activity around the waterholes.

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Egyptian Geese

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Great White Egret

At a small settlement we see catfish from Lake Manyara drying.

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While the kid is pleased to see us, the mum is none-too-happy with us taking photos of her dinner, so we make a hasty retreat.

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Impala Harem – one male will have several females. These gazelles are affectionately known as McDonalds after the M shaped markings on their rumps.

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Impala

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

To me there is something even more special about seeing these wild animals along the side of the road rather than in the actual national parks. I know there are no physical boundaries around the parks so that the animals can wander freely between them, but even so…

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Zebra

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Fischer's Sparrow-Lark

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Maramboi

After three hours or so on the road, we reach the turn-off for Maramboi, our home for the next two nights.

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Almost immediately after entering the large grounds of the lodge (it set in an exclusive conservancy area that covers 25,000 hectares and is run by the local Maasai community), we encounter a giraffe right next to the track.

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More follow.

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Magpie Shrike

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Hibiscus tea - a new experience for me

Check in procedures are interrupted by a group of warthogs walking through the grounds.

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We stayed here at Maramboi a couple of years ago, but at that time we arrived in the dark and left before it got light, so it is really nice to be able to see the lodge in daylight today.

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It is quite a big place, and the main restaurant / bar area is on a raised wooden deck, with views of endless vistas of rolling golden grassland and palm lined desert across to the shores of Lake Manyara and the escarpment of the Rift Valley / Ngorongoro highlands beyond.

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Since our last visit there have been a number of upgrades, such as all new decking/railings, refurbished rooms and a completely new swimming pool area.

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We are shown to our rooms, and we spend some leisure time on the balcony with a drink. There are not many places where you can see giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala and a plethora of colourful birds from your private balcony.

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Our room

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View from our balcony

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David with his Savanna

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Female Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Beautiful Sunbird

Grete & David's Wedding Anniversary

This evening we have a private sundowner by the lake to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.

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I set my camera on a tripod, affixing an intervalometer to it so that it will automatically take one photo every 30 seconds until I tell it to stop. That way I can enjoy the sunset, drinks, snacks and company too.

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The sunset is not spectacular, but the ambience, surroundings and company make it very special indeed.

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Flying spoonbills

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We have to be back up at the lodge before daylight fades completely, as it is not safe to wander around the grounds after dark.
As we start to make our way back, it feels wrong to leave the waitress on her own down by the lake, with only an empty bottle of wine to protect herself against wild animals with, so we hang around until the askari (Maasai security guard) can be seen making his way across the plains.

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That, of course, leaves the five of us walking back in the dark with a couple of tripods for protection. All is well that ends well, and we all make it back to the restaurant without incident.

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Dinner

This evening the kitchen is serving a Mongolian BBQ where we choose our vegetables from a buffet and the chefs prepare them, along with our chosen meat, in a large wok. They add various sauces of our choice and finally pasta or rice. The result is absolutely delicious.

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As we finish our meal, a commotion is heard behind us. All the kitchen workers come out singing, with the guy at the end banging a dustbin lid. As you do. They walk around the tables for what seem like an eternity, as if they are not quite sure whose birthday it is. Eventually the cake is placed in front of me!

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So… there is apparently a story behind this cake. Knowing that it is our wedding anniversary today (39 years, how time flies), Lyn wanted to do something special. She saw on the Maramboi website that they do celebration cakes so she contacted them. They replied to say they were very happy to provide a cake but they needed our booking reference. This, of course, is something Lyn doesn't have as we booked the lodge as a package through Calabash Adventures. Lyn then contacted Calabash, and Tillya managed to get this organised for her. Thank you both, it was a lovely thought and helped make the day very special for us.

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The perfect end to another perfect day. Thank you Calabash Adventures for organising this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:45 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset road_trip travel vacation airport holiday africa safari tanzania birding giraffe kilimanjaro glamping arusha bird_watching sundowners tented_camp calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company maramboi kenya_airways blue_heron Comments (4)

Alta - Tromsø

A dull, grey day with excellent accommodation to finish on

overcast -13 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

There was no mouse waking us up last night thankfully – although I did hear the dogs howling at the moon at some stage during the night.

We leave a beautiful sunrise behind us (as well as a cool -13 °C) as we start our journey back to Tromsø today.

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The promise of a dramatic sunrise soon fizzles out and settles into a dull, grey day.

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Even the tunnels seem to be grey today, with a strange mist hanging in the air.

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These red barns with the bridge leading up to the upper floor, are typical Norwegian, and bring back many happy memories of learning to drive – reversing up the sloping bridge, driving down, reversing up, driving down...

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And here is the actual barn bridge and car I learnt on, in a photograph from 1975!

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This journey from Tromsø to Alta and back has made me fall in love with Norway all over again. Not that I was ever out of love with her, but I guess I was too young to appreciate the beauty of the country and its people when I lived here; and during our visits since, the main focus has been on seeing family. This time I have been overwhelmed by the scenery and charmed by its inhabitants.

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The road conditions this morning are not good, with slippery ice covering the surface. Thank goodness for studded tyres.

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The roads are regularly cleared, ploughing away the snow and scraping the ice. Those ice scrapers don't do the road surface much good though and by the end of the spring thaw, deep ruts have appeared in the roads – it must be a maintenance nightmare!

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The scenery along the coast really is quite delightful. Unfortunately there are not many places for David to stop so that I can get out and take photos. I do manage a few 'drive-by-shootings' though.

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As we get nearer Tromsø, we notice a lot more snow on the ground. Not just on the ground: fresh, white snow is hanging heavily on the branches of birch, spruce and other trees.

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Where the forest is thickly vegetated, the snowy branches make for a fascinating abstract monochromatic effect.

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Each bend of the road brings with it another magnificent vista.

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It looks like there might be bad weather ahead...

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By the time we get to Sørkjosen, the light is already beginning to fade.

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Approaching Oderdalen and the first ferry, we see a string of cars coming towards us and realise the ship must be in port. Just as we head around the last bend and into the holding area by the jetty, however, the boat starts to close its bow. Bugger. It's another hour before the next crossing.

Thankfully the workers on board spot our car, and open the gate again, just for us. Such great service!

We pop to the on board café for a late lunch of 'pølse med brød' – probably the most popular fast food in the country.

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I really struggle to order food in Norway – the Norwegian language has no word for 'please'. To my ears it sounds so rude to just ask for “two hot dogs”. I add a “thank you” at the end, but it doesn't sound right.

Although not exactly haute cuisine, the sausage fills a gap and at Kr 35 each (ca £2.70), I can't even complain about the price.

We've been wanting to see elk on this trip and we finally do – in the shape on a photograph by an excellent Norwegian photographer on the wall of the ferry café.

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Today is just a day of driving, and once we hit Tromsø, the traffic is awful. I just want to get to my destination now.

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This is our last evening, and we have treated ourselves to some rather nice accommodation as a treat. We stop at Eide Handel again to buy a few bits of food for this evening as well as some stuff to take back to the UK with us. We wait here for the owners of Tromsø Apartments to turn up and guide us to the house.

And what a house it is!

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Looking quite ordinary from the outside, the interior is nothing short of luxurious. Decorated in a minimalistic retro style, the open living space is stylish and elegant, and the kitchen is a cook's dream!

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I love the way the house number is carved into the door and glazed! As is usual in Norway, there is a small entrance hall where you take off your shoes - it is considered rude to keep your footwear on when entering someone's home in Norway.

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Just off the hallway is the dining room and from there, the bedroom. The dining room also leads onto a lovely balcony overlooking the Tromsø Fjord. Shame it is cloudy tonight as that would be an awesome place to watch the northern lights from!

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A small 'everyday kitchen table' leads us into the spacious main lounge area.

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The bathroom has lovely warm underfloor heating!

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Finally, the kitchen. A decent size, but at first glance it is just an ordinary kitchen. That is, until we see the built in coffee machine, the enormous corner fridge, built in electric wine cooler and induction hob.

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We start opening cupboards and drawers, and soon realise that this is not your average rental 'apartment'. A Kenwood Chef and smoothie maker are amongst the numerous 'gadgets' we find. Shame we are not staying longer!

I rustle up a couple of reindeer steaks for dinner,as you do.

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This is followed by 'fløyelsgrøt', a kind of porridge-like dessert made from butter, flour and milk; served with sugar and cinnamon, and a 'smørøye' – 'butter eye'. Healthy it is not, but this dish brings back many happy memories from my childhood.

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No aurora hunting tonight, just chilling on our last night in Norway. For this time. We most definitely want to come back!

Posted by Grete Howard 10:51 Archived in Norway Tagged road_trip coast travel fjords scenery beautiful norway alta tromsø norhern_lights Comments (1)

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