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Entries about scenery

Austvågøya

In search of the lights


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Laukvik

We take a quick look at the small settlement of Laukvik (where we are staying) this morning before setting out to explore the rest of Austvågøy Island.

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Misty mountains at Delp

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Right at the start of the planning stages for this trip, I did an internet search for “Northern Lights Lofoten” and images. Looking at the ones I really liked, I then tried to establish where they were taken. Photographing the northern lights requires a lot of planning, as it is not just a question of pointing the camera at the sky and pressing the shutter. I wanted a decent foreground / background, and as the lights generally appear to the north, it had to be carefully worked out. Not only do I need find a suitable scene, but also somewhere where we can stop the car and ideally for us to be able to get off the road with the tripods. Another consideration was whether or not we wanted the moon to be present – I chose half and half: present in the early evening for the first few days, while for the remainder of the trip it won't doesn't rise until later in the night. The aurora most commonly makes an appearance between 22:00 and 02:00, but of course that can vary a lot.

What we are doing today, is to physically drive around to recce the sites I have made a note of on my map. It is so much easier to check them out in daylight, then we bookmark them on the SatNav for later.

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Fiskebøll

This looks like a good place to observe and photograph the aurora from, with the beach in the foreground, sea in the middle and mountains at the back. We'll make a note of that for later.

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The further north you go, the more time the sun takes to rise (and set). As you can see, the sun hasn't made it very far up the horizon in the hour-and-a-half since the last sunrise photo I took.

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Driving towards Vestpollen

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Near Osen

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The roads in both Vesterålen and Lofoten consists of many, many tunnels and bridges, linking the numerous islands that make up this archipelago.

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The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

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Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

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I wasn't prepared for just how grandiose and awe-inspiring the scenery would be.

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We return to base and have some dinner and chill before popping out again later to look for the lights. The forecast is good.

Northern Lights

While out for a cigarette, Lyn spots some lights in the sky and we all go and investigate. By the time we get out there, those 'lights' have turned to bright green sheets of colour swirling around the sky. Frantically grabbing our camera gear, we take a few shots right by the accommodation as we Fear that they are not going to hang around for long.

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The aurora show no signs of fading, so we move on to Morfjorden, one of the sites we bookmarked earlier in the day.

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The last stop this evening is near Fiskebøll, the beach we visited earlier. Here we have the lights in three directions with ample opportunities for different foregrounds.

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After three hours of spectacular light displays, the aurora borealis once again goes back to sleep, and we return to base to do the same. What an amazing day!

Posted by Grete Howard 15:30 Archived in Norway Tagged mountains sunset landscape beach scenery sunrise mist lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland norge arctic_circle aurora_borealis nord_norge astro_photography northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik norwsay gimsøya delp fiskebøll vestpollen osen lyngvær morfjorden Comments (4)

Hovden - Laukvik

Moving on to Lofoten today


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was dull and grey, whereas when we wake up this morning the harbour is bathed in a glorious light!

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View from Frugga Feriehus in one direction...

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...and in the other

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View of the harbour at the end of 'our' road

Some beautiful – albeit almost monochromatic – reflections in the still fjords as we make our way south.

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While I love the scenery, I really don't think I could live here, it is far too remote for me. This, I presume, is a holiday cabin (hytte); and only accessible by boat by the looks of it.

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Vågen

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Drift Ice

The fjords have obviously been previously frozen and now that the weather is milder, the ice is cracking up and moving with the sea, creating interesting 3D patterns.

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Bjørndalen

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We stop in Sortland, the first town we have seen since Andenes, to stock up on provisions and diesel.

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Sortland

We are now leaving Langøya Island and crossing the bridge to Hinnøya. I love the tall curved bridges around here – made that way to allow for Hurtigruten to pass under.

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Hurtigruten at Ånstadsjøen. The coastal ship has supplied goods and moved people between Bergen and Kirkenes in the far north for over 120 years.

Stormy skies

What started with a glorious light this morning has now turned into dramatic storm clouds.

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LivLand Lofoten

As we get nearer tonight's accommodation, I ring the number given to us by Booking.com. A man answers. I am assuming he is speaking Norwegian, so I do so myself too. He replies in 'nordlandsk', the local dialect. After asking him to repeat what he said half a dozen times, I apologise and explain that I have lived abroad for 45 years and my Norwegian is very rusty. I try to repeat everything I 'think' he says, so that at least if I have got it wrong, he will realise that!

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The conversation put me in mind of the Barclaycard advert with Rowan Adkinson some 20 years ago: “We are both fluent; sadly in different languages".

The way I understand it, his wife is going to meet us at the house, and she is 15 minutes away. So are we. After waiting around for a while when we get there, David offers to ring up again and speak to him. I listen in and decide that this chap is way easier to understand in English than he is in Norwegian!

He tells David where to find the key, and we let ourselves in. We are now in Lofoton, where we are staying in a small settlement called Laukvik. The accommodation looks out over a pretty little bay.

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Our part of the building

Yet again the stairs are steep and winding. Is that a local speciality? The main problem with these stairs, however, is not just the gradient, but also the fact that each step is so shallow – around half the size of my foot! It is not so bad going up, but I already have recurring nightmares about falling down stairs (and other precipices) without the thought of trying to (carefully) negotiate these each time I want to use the loo in the night!

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The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs (with the latter having lovely underfloor heating beneath the tiles). Upstairs is the open plan lounge-diner and kitchen.

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The landlady turns up soon after we've settled in and she is thankfully very much easier to understand than her husband. We chat for a while about local conditions, snowfall, avalanches and such like. Before she leaves, she warns us that the old house can be quite noisy in the wind.

We are all finding it quite hard to adjust to the limited daylight hours, and feel somewhat confused that even though it is only 4pm, it is pitch black outside.

I am looking forward to having a shower this afternoon. I strip off and tip toe across the cold floor and into the lovely large bathroom, where the underfloor heating immediately warms my feet. The nearer the shower I get, the hotter the floor becomes. The heater appears to be right underneath where the shower is, and I soon hot-foot it (literally) back out again. It is unbearably hot, like walking on tropical sand in the heat of the day! Ouch! No shower for me tonight, as I didn't bring any flip-flops with me to protect my feet! We turn the heating down a little and hope it will be better tomorrow.

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With no aurora activity this evening (the sky is full of dark clouds), we have a few drinks before retiring for the night. The storm is raging out there now, and we are looking forward to a cosy evening listening to it from the comfort of our beds.

The first thing that strikes us about the wind is that it seems to be coming up through the floorboards! I have never experienced that before, and I don't understand how it can happen, as the house is not on stilts!

Once we settle into bed, we certainly understand what the landlady meant when she said the house is noisy! Wow! I have never known a building to make a racket like that before! While it isn't scary, I cannot describe the sounds, they are like something you'd hear in a horror film: whistling, groaning, squeaking, knocking, whining, howling, and almost barking. By morning we think we're the ones that are barking!

Good night. Not. Beds are comfy though.

Posted by Grete Howard 14:34 Archived in Norway Tagged harbour landscape storm scenery ice sunrise steps stairs norway windy wind lofoten norge hurtigruten sortland nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen hinnøya frugga_feriehus hovden austvågøya laukvik vågen frozen_fjord drift_ice bjørndalen ånstadsjøen sormy_skies storm_clouds nordlandsk livland_lofoten narrow_steps underfloor_heating noisy_house døgnvill Comments (2)

Risøyhamn - Hovden

A day of driving


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

One of my plans for some creative photography when I am here in Norway, is to take pictures of frozen bubbles. We set everything up – cameras on tripods, husband on blowing duty, photographers on the remote releases. Despite the thermometer showing -2 °C, the bubbles refuse to freeze, and after several attempts we give up and move on.

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We are leaving Risøyhamn this morning, driving down through Hinnøya Island and crossing the bridge onto Langøya Island for our next accommodation.

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The day consists mainly of driving through some stunning scenery. Stopping is often very difficult, as there aren't many lay-bys around, and if we do see somewhere, it has usually not been cleared of snow, thus making it too dangerous to pull in. Many of these photos are taken from a moving car, while occasionally David is able to just stop the car for a few minutes if the traffic is light.

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The bridge across to Langøya

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Icicles

When we eventually find a large parking area to pull off the road, we are delighted to see the 20-foot high black rock face is spectacularly covered in the most amazing enormous cascading icicles. What a sight!

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The light is fading now, but the reflections remain fabulous on the very still water.

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Frugga Feriehus

By the time we reach our accommodation for the night, right at the end of as small track in Hovden, it is completely dark. The apartment is modern, built on a hillside, with the entrance at the bottom, and all wood inside with glass balustrades.

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It's a bit like “Death by Ikea” (the following two pictures were taken from the Booking.com website – who we booked it though; as I forgot to take pictures inside).

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David does, however, photograph the stairs leading up to the top floor – like a loft room. The steps are more like a ladder!

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Dinner

Before we left home, I promised to make Lyn one of my favourite Sunday dinners from when I grew up in Norway: whale steak.

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Tender and lean, like the finest beef, whale meat is nothing like you imagine.

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The whale and mushroom casserole has to be served Norwegian style, with the ubiquitous boiled potatoes. When I grew up in this country, no meal was complete without boiled potatoes!

This evening is proving to be cloudy, so we settle down with a drink, safe in the knowledge that we are not going to be going out looking at the Northern Lights tonight!

Posted by Grete Howard 13:43 Archived in Norway Tagged snow reflections fjords scenery norway icicles norge bubbles langøya risøyhamn northern_norway vesteralen inside_the_arctic_circle nordnorge hinnøya frozen_bubbles artcic_circle frugga_feriehus hovden whale_steak whale_dinner whale_beef Comments (4)

More Andøya

A leisurely day


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We set out to do more explorations of Andøya today, and are very excited to see the coastal voyage ship Hurtigruten ready to dock at Risøyhamn.

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As we don't have the pressure of collecting Lyn's luggage today, we have the chance to stop for photographs a little more often.

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Failing to find a suitable lay-by, I merely take photos through the windscreen.

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Sørmela

The topography here in Vesterålen is nothing short of spectacular, with steep cliffs tumbling straight into the sea. Communities have been carved out of the small area of flat land that are found near the ocean; or where there is no suitable ground, the road is cut into the hillside for want of any other space. This is why the coastal voyage postal ships were so vital before the roads – and bridges – were built.

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The roads also travel through the mountains on several occasions, with some very long tunnels, as well as short ones such as here.

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There are some impressive waves too.

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Woodpecker

Without warning, a woodpecker cuts across the bow of the car and flies up onto a telegraph pole. Excitedly we wait for him to reappear so we can take a decent photo of him. He doesn't. He hides behind the post until he decides he has teased us enough and disappears into the distance. Later identified as a Grey Headed Woodpecker, he is another new bird to us.

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Rubbish photo, but we saw him!

Every few minutes there is a scene that I beg David to stop the car for so that I can photograph it. I have to confess that I often just shoot from the passengers seat, as most times we are unable to find an area to pull off the road where we can safely get out of the car. Thankfully traffic is light to the point of almost non-existent, so we are able to just stop the car on the main road for long enough to take pictures.

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Once we are back on Hinnøya, we take the road from last night, but continue on further.

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At a junction we are unsure of which direction to take, and soon realise we've probably chosen unwisely when we come across a sign that states: “Construction road. Bad Condition. Continue at your own risk.”

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We do continue for a short distance, but decide that it probably isn't worth the risk and with nowhere to turn the car, David ends up reversing back to the crossroads.

The other choice at the intersection takes us past farms with a few domestic animals, the first we've seen on the trip so far.

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While the sky is still showing feint hues of pink, purple and yellows, the moon is just rising and looming large from behind the mountains.

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Reindeer

David spots it first: an animal in the road. A horse maybe? No, it has antlers, it must be a deer.

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As we get nearer we realise – to our great surprise - it is in fact a reindeer! Not just one, but two!

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Another one appears and crosses the road in front of us. This is seriously exciting!

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As more and more reindeer come into sight, it becomes apparent that these are indeed domesticated – albeit free range – reindeer.

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Burying their heads in the snow, they dig for moss and other tasty vegetation.

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They may be part of a domestic herd, but is still the first time I have seen reindeer walking around freely in all the years I lived in Norway. What a very special experience!

The daylight is all but gone by the time we get back to the house. We are hoping for some more Northern Lights this evening, but unfortunately they are not playing ball, so we spend the evening eating, drinking and chatting.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:40 Archived in Norway Tagged landscapes waves scenery farm tunnel moon norway woodpecker reindeer norge hurtigruten nord_norge risøyhamn drive_by_shooting northern_norway vesteralen andøya nordnorge hinnøya sørmela coastal_voyage Comments (3)

Serdar - Kopetdag - Magtymguly - Mollakara - Balkanabad

Moon Mountains and the Salt Sea


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

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

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

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

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

Moon Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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Magtymguly Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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17th century ewers found during excavations

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Meat cooler made from sheep skin

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

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

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

Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mollakara Sanatorium and Salt Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who needs an expensive health spa to reap the benefits?

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Cemetery

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

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Balkanabat

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

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

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Nebichi Hotel

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

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

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Dinner

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

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

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Too pretty to be used

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achiltibuie, Coigach and Stoer Peninsulas

Mist and rain


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

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

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In fact it is still raining.

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

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

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Dundonnell River

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

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Ullapool

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

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Some people are pretty desperate for a coffee.

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

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The Brochs of Coigach

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

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

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

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Achahaird Beach

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Summer Isles

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Summer Isles

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

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

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

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Common Spotted Orchid - a fairly rare sighting

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

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Stoer Lighthouse

Tall Cottongrass

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

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Pied Crow

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

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Spotted Flycatcher

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

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Clashnessie

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Another traffic jam

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The Summer Islands

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Drumbeg Viewpoint

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Atlantic Salmon Fish Farm

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Ardvreck Castle

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Ardmair Point

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Ullapool - almost home

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

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

Evening Roadtrip

Around the coast


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

Evening road trip

As it is still early (and light out), we decide to go for a wee drive this evening (see how I am getting into the local lingo already?)

Before going anywhere, we check out what is at the bottom of the lane leading downhill from the cabin.

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Little Lock Broom

Before we even reach the end of the lane, we spot something moving in the long grass in the field next to the road.

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Red Deer

Then we spot another – can you see it?

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Further down in the field is yet another one, this time a sika deer – the first time we have seen one in the wild.

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There are further red deer in the far field, separated from the others by a couple of stone walls and wire fences.

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Is she going to try and jump?

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I get very excited at the prospect and am poised ready with my camera, but all this deer wants is to fill her belly.

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Maybe...?

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Yes!

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She leaps effortlessly and gracefully to the next field.

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She is now one step nearer her two mates.

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As she contemplates the next fence, I make sure my camera is ready to catch the action again. I won't get a second attempt at this.

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Reunited at last.

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We leave the deer to do their own thing and continue to the water's edge, where we see a couple of Harbour Seals basking on the rocks. Another first for us.

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On our way back up the lane we see a barn swallow on the line, preening himself.

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From here we head out to the main road to make a small circuit around the coast.

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One of the things about the cabin is that there is no mobile signal. Wanting to phone my dad, we stop in a lay-by where our lane meets the main road to make the call once we get a connection. It's not a bad view from here over Little Loch Broom.

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Being on a mission to find a 'hairy coo' (long haired highland cattle), I am disappointed to see that the cattle in the field here are not what I am after. They are quite cute though.

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The scenery along the way is nothing short of stunning, with new, exciting vistas around every bend.

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Fish farms on Little Loch Broom

“The light is amazing!” soon becomes my mantra this evening (and for the rest of the trip) as the low sun lights up the already beautiful scenery.

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Horses

We stop for me to photograph a couple of black horses in a bright yellow field.

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One of them is obviously convinced that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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Little Gruinard Beach

Scotland has some beautiful beaches, and this one looks very inviting, especially from a photographer's point of view, with its water-filled ridges reflecting the fading light. Did I mention the light is wonderful here in Scotland?

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Little Ringed Plover

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We continue on our planned circular trip, although after a while we realise that it is not going to be just a 'quick drive after dinner' as planned, the route is very much further than we realise.

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Traffic jam, Scottish style

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We see very few other cars, and are a little taken back when we spot these temporary traffic lights. They seem so out of place with the rest of the route.

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Despite spending the first 15 years of my life in Norway, which is at an even higher latitude, I am rather surprised to find how light it still is at 22:30 at night.

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Although there may still be a reasonable amount of light, there is not enough to get a decent photo of the deer alongside the narrow lane as we make our way back.

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We reach the cabin over three hours after we left for a 'quick evening drive'. We go to bed tired but very content.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:07 Archived in Scotland Tagged road_trip horses scenery deer seals plover badluarach red_derr harbour_seals little_loch_broom little_gruinard_beah little_ringed_plover Comments (1)

Ras al Jinz - Wadi Bani Khalid - Wahiba Sands

From turtles on the beach to a gorgeous oasis and finally a fabulous desert.


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

Bleary-eyed, we drag ourselves out of bed when the alarm goes off at 04:10 this morning in order to get down to the beach for the sunrise and hopefully see some more turtles.

Unlike last night, this morning's excursion is only available to hotel guests, so thankfully there are nowhere near as many people as there were last night. Today's walk is further than yesterday, however, as the one remaining turtle is further down the beach; and it is still dark when we reach the nesting site. The turtle is just finishing off covering her eggs with sand when we get there.

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The sunrise is a little disappointing (especially as this is the most easterly point on the Arabian peninsula I was expecting a little more), but the surreal rock formations along this stretch of the beach more than make up for it.

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As soon as it is light, the turtle makes an awkward dash back to sea, having deposited her eggs on the same beach she was born on many years ago.

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Back to the hotel for breakfast and then meet up with Said, our guide, for the today's journey. Having been up so early, we sleep most of the way, but wake up as Said takes a turning off the main road, into the mountains again.

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Our hotel seen from the track leading up from the beach.

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Said turns off the main road up this track

Wadi Bani Khalid

At the top of the hill, Said stops the car for the view over the bleak and desolate landscape. The scenery may be barren and harsh, but it has a stark and austere beauty to it that totally mesmerises me.

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Said beckons for us to walk to the edge of the cliff (my fear of heights has kept me well back so far), and tells us to look at the crack in the plateau. Our eyes follow the canyon down and then we see it. Wow! There, nestled on the valley floor, is the most picture-perfect oasis: Wadi Bani Khalid.

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After taking our photos from above, we drive back down to the oasis and walk from the car park along the felaj (ever-present irrigation channels) to reach the stunning pools of iridescent aquamarine water.

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The water is unbelievably clear and glistens in various shades of blue and green under the bright sunlight. Apparently this place is extremely popular on weekends, and I can see why.

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Said relaxes in one of the many pavilions that dot the area around the emerald-green pools.

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The pools are fed year-round by a stream making its way down through the crack we saw in the Hajar Mountains. This is known as Oman's most beautiful wadi, and for good reason.

Lunch

In the town of the same name, we stop at a small restaurant for lunch. As my stomach is still very much playing up, I just order a plate of hummous and some bread, while David chooses a schwarma. Said, of course, has his usual mountain of rice.

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And, no, this is not water from the oasis, but a refreshing minty drink.

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Back in the car, I doze until we reach the small town of Bidir, where we lower the tyre pressure on the car for the journey into the desert (plus pick up a tow rope, 'just in case').

Wahiba Sands

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Suddenly the tarmacked road ends, rather abruptly, and we continue on a reasonable track of compacted sand. “This used to be like a washboard” Said says, and explains that the camps come out occasionally with heavy machinery to create new 'roads' in the sand.

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This vast expanse of perfectly formed rolling sand dunes stretches 200 miles from North to South and is named after the local Wahiba tribe who still spend their winters in the desert tending to their camels before migrating to the coast in the heat of summer.

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Other than the tourists camps, there are no permanent settlements in this hauntingly empty swathe of sand, featuring towering dunes, reaching almost 100m in places, sculpted by the wind into delicately moulded crests and hollows.

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Every now and again Said makes a detour off the main track, shimmying up the soft dunes and back down again.

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1000 Nights Camp

Nestled comfortably on the valley floor, this is one of a handful of tourist camps in this area, surrounded by nothing but sand with high dunes either side.

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Just outside the gates, an old truck is partially buried in the sand.

The car park is almost full as we arrive (being a Thursday, it's the eve of the weekend here, with most locals having Friday and Saturday off), with almost every car being a self-drive 4x4.

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We are greeted with a refreshing wet towel in reception and after the usual formalities an electric golf buggy takes us and the cases to our room.

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The rooms are fashioned on the traditional goat wool Bedouin tents but with a touch of modern comfort.

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The camp is nicely spread out in amongst mature trees, with four levels of accommodation: basic Arabic tents with no bathroom facilities; the Sheikh tents that we are in with attached open-air bathroom; luxury glass-sided Ameer tents with A/C; and lastly, two-storey brick-built Sand Houses.

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Also on site is a large restaurant, a snack-bar on board a wooden boat and a swimming pool.

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Restaurant

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Traditional seating area

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The snack-bar

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Swimming pool

With no A/C, the temperature is almost the same inside the tent as it is outside: 32 °C.

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Sunset from the dunes

After a quick change, we leave the camp behind and head for a bit of fun on the dunes with Said. Seeing a group of lads just outside the gates, crowding around a wreck of a car that has obviously been 'rolled' doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. I check that my seatbelt is properly fastened before we tackle the off-roading.

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As we race up the steep-sided dunes, large amounts of sand gets thrown about, and the car slides around like a ballerina on ice. Great fun!
Here, on top of the dunes, the wind is quite ferocious, sandblasting everything in sight (including us and the cameras). No wonder these dunes are constantly on the move, shifting inland at a rate of 10m per year.

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There is a definite driving skill involved in scaling the soft dunes, and Said makes it effortlessly to the top every time, unlike these Germans in a self-drive car. The secret is to keep the speed high and the tyre pressure low.

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After trying unsuccessfully to free their car, which is stuck half way up the dune, the tourists walk back to camp to recruit a local expert to help them out. The local guy gets the car out of the pickle without too much trouble, then shows off as he reaches the crest of the dune: taking off and landing awkwardly, dislocating the bumper of the car. Oops. Having finally reached the top, the Germans join us to watch the sunset, and we have a good laugh with them. The ridge is in fact full of tourists waiting to see the sun go down over the desert.

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These people seem to have brought a picnic

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Strangely enough, as soon as the sun goes down, the wind drops. We head back to camp, driving straight down the dune in front of us. Eeek!
What a fantastic way to finish another eventful and exciting day! Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for organising this fabulous Oman trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:01 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains turtles oasis desert sunset beach travel scenery sunrise valley sand camp camping dunes sand_dunes wadi glamping bedouin middle_east hajar_mountains wahiba_sands ras_al_jinz wadi_bani_khalid hajjar_mountains natural_pools wahiba sunset_over_the_dunes off-roading dune_bashing 1000_nights_camp desert_camp Comments (2)

Muscat - Sur - Ras el Jinz

Along the north coast


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

The breakfast buffet this morning is huge, with choices of various breads, Indian, English, American and Middle Eastern dishes, plus Continental cold meats / cheese and cereals.

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The whole place seems in a bit of a muddle this morning though, as there are no cups by the coffee machine, so people take them off the tables; there are no spoons in the cinnamon nor syrup, they run out of waffles as well as orange juice, no teaspoons are available so David has to stir his coffee with a dessert spoon.

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I managed to get a couple of waffles before the ran out

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David had to 'make do' with a fry-up.

Fish market

Our first stop on today's journey is at the fish market in Muscat, housed in a nice new modern building, a mere four months old.

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The long thin fish on the left are barracuda, while the big yellow ones with spots are the famed kingfish.

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The market is all very clean and the produce looks of high quality.

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Tuna

Most of the workers in the market are 'middle men' rather than the fishermen themselves, often ex-boatmen who maybe now find the all-night fishing a bit too much.

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Totally in awe of his skill and speed, we watch this man de-bone and fillet a large fish in next to no time.

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Vegetable Market

Next to the fish market is the equally new and modern vegetable market.

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Most of the produce is imported, and among the more familiar items, we see a lot of typical Indian vegetables, obviously to appease the immigrant population.

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The dates, however, are local and a must to accompany kahwa, the traditional Omani coffee.

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Off-roading

Said asks if we would prefer to take the main road between Muscat and the coast, or a short-cut which would mean 20km of off-roading.
Without hesitation, we both answer in unison: “off-roading please”

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The road is way smoother than either of us anticipate, but the geological formations alongside it are fascinating: bleak, ragged, crumbly hills more akin to man-made slag heaps than anything nature has created.

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I desperately try to take pictures through the car windows at every turn in the road, most of which don't turn out at all.

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The only other car we see on the 20km journey.

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Eventually, we stop on a ridge to tale photos out over the surreal landscape at Wadi Al Hawh. Is this really Planet Earth, or did we travel to the moon by mistake?

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Hawiyat Najm Park, featuring Bimmah Sink Hole

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Fresh water is mixed with sea water in this sink hole, making for a beautiful iridescent aquamarine colour, some 50m x 70m large and 20m deep.

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Despite the Arabic name Hawiyat Najm, which literally means 'the falling star', this depression was not caused by a meteorite as suggested by local folklore, but rather as a result of limestone erosion. Said suggests it was a fairly recent occurrence, maybe 25 years ago.

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The area around the sink hole has been turned into a leisure park, with decent toilets, shaded picnic areas and steps leading down to the water for locals and tourists to swim. Apparently it is a very popular place with families on the weekend. I can see why as there is a nice cooling breeze coming in from the sea.

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Kahwa and dates

Before we leave, we are invited for kahwa by Said's friend who is the gatekeeper guardian of the park.

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Kahwa is more than just a 'mere coffee' to the Omanis, it's a ritual that occupies a special place in their society. Friends and guests will always be served coffee and dates, usually in small, handle-less cups.

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By handing back the cup without any further ado, you indicate that you would like some more. If you have finished, you should shake the cup as you give it back.

Wadi Shab Oasis

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What an odd place. The initial access to the oasis is underneath a highway flyover, with the pillars supporting the road sitting on an island in the wadi.

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Having read all about this place before we left home, I had already decided I was going to give it a miss. Hearing that after the initial boat trip across the river we have to walk for an hour or more along a small rugged ledge and scramble over huge boulders just to get to the initial pools; then if we want to see the main attraction, we need to swim and wade across three pools; and in order to enter the cave, we actually have to swim through a hole between the mountains then climb up using a rope to reach the waterfall.

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I think we'll leave this place to the adrenalin-seeking youngsters we once were.

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Apparently, the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving final was held here in Wadi Shab.

Wadi Tiwi

To make up for not fully exploring Wadi Shab, Said suggests that we drive up the road through the five villages of Wadi Tiwi. Sounds like a fair exchange to me.

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My, oh my, what a drive! This really has to be one of the most amazing roads ever. Initially the road runs along the valley floor, between date and banana plantations and rock pools with boulders so large we discuss how they could possibly come to have rested in such a place.

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Known as the 'Wadi of Nine Villages', the road snakes its way between towering canyon walls in amongst old, traditional settlements (where Said seems to know everyone), criss-crossed by a network of aflaj (the traditional Omani irrigation channels).

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I am fascinated by the huge, upright boulder in the middle of this village. Real or mad-made I wonder...

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Said expertly handles the car around huge boulders and rocky outcrops in some impressive bends.

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Trying to grab photos of passing scenery is proving quite a challenge, with me hanging out of the window holding on to the camera for dear life.

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Eventually Said does stop the car so that we can take a proper look at the views.

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If driving up was impressive, travelling down is mind-blowing, with impossibly sharp bends, large rocks jutting out into the track, crumbling plantation walls and local houses seemingly blocking our way.

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During the rainy season this road becomes completely impassable for a few days as flood water gushes down the valley.

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The ever-present falaj (irrigation system).

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Lunch

At the bottom of the valley, we stop at a small road-side restaurant in the village of Tiwi.

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We order traditional Omani kingfish which is lovely and fresh and comes in a tasty coating. We also have a dish with vegetables, a spicy sauce, a salad and roti; and no self-respecting Omani would have lunch or dinner without a mountain of biriyani rice.

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Sur

With the appearance of a sleepy little seaside town, it is surprising to learn that Sur is the fourth largest city in Oman (after Muscat, Nizwa and Salalah) with nearly 70,000 inhabitants.

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Said looking out over the estuary

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Turtle in the water

During the 1500s, Sur was the region’s most important port, importing and exporting goods from India and Africa, including slaves.

Dhow Museum

It's for the construction of dhows, the traditional Arab sailing vessels, that Sur is famous today, however.

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Sur established itself as Oman’s most important ship-building centre around the 16th century, a trade which continued until the beginning of the 20th century and is barely kept alive today.

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The word 'dhow' is generally used to describe all traditional wooden-hulled Arabian boats, although locals will either refer to them as safena or suh-fin which both basically mean just ‘ships'; or they will use the more specific names such as boom, sambuq, ghanjah – which for all intents and purposes are different styles of dhow.

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Houri Al safeena – a small sailing boat used to send a rescue team to stranded boats.

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Launch samak – diesel boat from 1983 used for fishing with cast nets.

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Al Mashouh – a light canoe with a square shaped stern used for ferrying sailors to their ship and back.

Dhow Shipyard

The traditional Arab sailing vessels known as dhows are still being produced here at this shipyard in Sur, the only remaining of its kind in Oman.

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This dhow has been a 'work in progress' for over two years now, and will cost somewhere in the region of 200,000-300,000 Rial (ca £400,000-600,000).

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Traditionally, dhows were constructed of teak planks sewn together using coir rope and powered by enormous triangular lateen sails. These days iroko wood is mostly used.

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Many people work on the construction, with each person having a specific task, such as this woodcarver. Traditionally all the work was carried out by locals, but these days many immigrant workers, mostly from India, have taken over the jobs.

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I decline the invitation to climb on board the partially finished ship as health and safety is non-existent.

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Ras al Jinz Hotel

We continue to our hotel for the night, and as soon as we have checked in, we go to our room and await the porter bringing our bags.

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He arrives fairly promptly, but once he has left, we can't find the key to our door. We search everywhere. No sign of it. Eventually we give up and ask Housekeeping for a spare, so that we can actually lock the door when we leave the room.

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As it will be a late night tonight and an early start tomorrow, we try to have a bit of a nap, but struggle to get to sleep on the very hard bed.

Some two hours later, a very sheepish porter turns up with the key that was in his pocket all along. Doh.

Turtle Information Centre

There is only one reason for coming here: turtles.

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One of the main tourist destinations in Oman, Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve was set up in 1996 to protect the rare and endangered green turtle which returns every year to lay its eggs on the same beach where it was born decades ago.

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The well laid out visitor centre showcases the lifecycle of the green turtle as well as the archaeological findings from this area through museographical displays – whatever that means!

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There are interactive displays and a short film showing the life of a turtle and the work carried out here.

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Dinner

Having a bit of an upset tummy, I am not feeling up to much food this evening. The buffet is mostly Indian, with the odd international dish thrown in. I stick to potatoes with a yogurt-type dressing.

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Turtle Watching

Turtles are big business here, and I have to admit to finding the whole organisation rather too big and commercialised with far too many people.

This is considered the low season as far as turtles go, so we are told to gather in the lobby at 20:15 for news on whether any turtles have been spotted on the beach this evening. The area is very crowded, with nowhere near enough seats for everyone. We are lucky, as we arrive early to find a spare sofa.

We wait. And wait. And wait. No news.

Finally, at 21:15 we rush off in seven different groups. As hotel residents, we have priority and are in group # 1.

We exit through the rear of the hotel, each group being led by a local naturalist with a torch. Initially there is a smoothish gravel path, but soon the ground becomes like slippery mud, then slightly looser sand. As we get near to the water, the sand is deep and soft, making walking rather hard work.

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This photo, taken the next morning, shows the gravel path leading out from the hotel

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Here you can see the 'slippery mud' (the shiny bit reflecting the sun) and just how far away the sea is.

With just a small torch, it is hard to see what is going on, but eventually we come across the one and only female who is on this beach today. She has finished laying her eggs and is now covering them with sand, ready for her to leave them to their own devises as she returns to sea. Flash photography is strictly forbidden, as is individual torches, making for very dark conditions for getting any sort of photograph of the turtle. (For my photography friends: these images were taken on ISO 32,000)

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After digging a hole by scooping out clouds of sand with her flippers, the turtle deposits up to 100 eggs, before carefully covering them again and returning to sea, exhausted.

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The eggs take around 60 days to hatch, and the tiny creatures then have to not just burrow their way to the surface of the sand; they have to make it safely to the ocean, avoiding any predators on the way.

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AS there is only one turtle on the beach tonight, each group is only given five minutes at the nesting site, before moving on to make room for the next group.

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Sitting on a rock at the water's edge I become aware of something luminous in the water, being washed up on the beach with each wave: bioluminescent algae or glow-in-the-dark plankton. Never having seen this phenomenon before, I am absolutely mesmerised. Trying to take photos proves impossible, so I just sit there enjoying the spectacle, which coupled with the bright starry sky above, makes this a totally magical moment.

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As we leave to return to the hotel, the turtle has finished her duty and sets off to sea. Confused by all the people crowding around her, she leaves the nesting site in the wrong direction, and it saddens me that maybe we have caused her some unnecessary stress by our presence here tonight. Or at least the sheer numbers of us – there must be between 70 and 80 tourists here this evening.

Returning to the hotel we are offered a ride in the pick-up truck, which we gladly accept.

What a perfect ending to an amazing day! Thank you Undiscovered Destination for this fabulous trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:05 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains boats turtles fish oasis park canyon scenery breakfast valley sur ships sinkhole coffee oman stars buffet muscat wadi dhow dates shipyard fish_market ragged starry_night short-cut outer_worldly bimmah bimmah_sinkhole sink_hole hawiyat_najm_park kahwa wadi_shab ras_al_jinz bioluminescent glow_in_the_dark_plankton plankton egg_laying tiwi wadi_tiwi Comments (2)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part I

Zany zebras, baby baboons, eccentric elephants and lounging lions


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

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

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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

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Wildebeest

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

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Hot Air Balloon

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

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Flooded River

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

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Zebras

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

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Cheetah

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

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Olive Baboons

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

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

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But I still think he looks like an old man.

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Such a tender family moment!

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

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Giraffe

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

Banded Mongoose

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

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Hippo Jaw

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Buffalo Skulls

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

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Rock and Tree Hyrax

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

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

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But not always.

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

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A hyrax with ambition: pretending to be a wildebeest.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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The Gowler African Adventure

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

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

Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Hippo

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

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Black Headed Heron

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Giraffes

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

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

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

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We'll never know.

Olive Baboons

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Elephants

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

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

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Having a good scratch.

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

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

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Lion

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

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Giraffe

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

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White Browed Coucal

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Impala

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Tse Tse Flies

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

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Lions in a tree

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

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On the other side is another lion in another tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serengeti Part II

Finally! The BIG FIVE!


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As we arrive at our lunch stop, a memory of 29 elephants wander past in the distance. As they do.

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We are the only humans here and have a choice of tables – we pick a couple in the shade.

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What a delightful picnic area – there are so many birds here I am too busy photographing to eat!

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Silverbird

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Grey Headed Sparrow

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Magpie Shrike

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Superb Starling

White Headed Buffalo Weavers

A family of White Headed Buffalo Weavers amuses me for quite some time with their antics.

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Giraffe

All the time we’ve been here the giraffe has been standing perfectly still, staring at something in the distance. However much we train our binoculars in that direction, we cannot fathom out what is grabbing his attention.

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With full bellies we continue our afternoon game drive.

Leopard

We see a couple of cars in the distance, near a tree, and go off to investigate. It’s a leopard and she has something up in the branches with her that she is eating.

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On closer inspection, we can see that she is trying to pull the fur off some skin, most likely from a baby wildebeest.

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On a branch the other side of the tree is her cub, a one-year old male, fast asleep.

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Mum is making sure nothing is wasted, pulling and tugging at the hide.

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When nothing edible is left, she takes the skin off to a hiding place for safekeeping.

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Making her way down the tree, she calls out to her son, then jumps down to the ground.

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The cub wakes up and follows his mum down into the long grass where they disappear from our view.

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How exciting! Being nocturnal hunters and solitary animals, leopards are the most difficult of the cats to see on safari.

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This now completes the BIG FIVE on this safari - a term coined by big-game hunters, referring to the five most difficult – and dangerous - animals in Africa to hunt on foot: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo.

As I have said a couple of times before, Lyn and Chris are having such incredible luck out here – we’d been on several safaris before we saw all the Big Five on the same trip!

Olive Baboons

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More Elephants

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And a couple of giraffes

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Vultures

Spotting a tree full of vultures, my first thought is “what’s died?”

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They are also circling above in great numbers, but however much we look on the horizon, straining our eyes through the binoculars, we cannot see anything of significance.

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Hippo

During the day hippos generally wallow in shallow water such as rivers and lakes, coming out at night to graze. It is therefore quite unusual to see them on land in the day.

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This guy cannot stop yawning – he is obviously dazed and confused. Maybe he just flew in from Europe and is jet-lagged?

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Formed at the meeting of three rivers, Retima Pool attracts a great number of hippos, who are believed to crowd here in order to protect their calves against crocodiles.

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The noise of 200 hippos (the American guy next to me claims he counted them) belching, grunting, farting, pooping and splashing, is a sound I won’t forget in a hurry. I am just very grateful that videos don’t record aromas. Yet.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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‘White’ Giraffe

Having read about a white giraffe (appropriately named Omo) that had been spotted a few months ago in Tarangire National Park, I added that to my wish list this year. We didn’t see it, but I am quite excited to see a rather pale baby giraffe this afternoon.

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Not an albino, the giraffe is suffering from leucism, a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in pale or patchy colouration of the skin.

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More Hippos

We see more hippos as we cross the river again making our way back to camp.

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Kimasi Kopje

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The sun is getting low now, painting the sky with yellows, pinks and purples.

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Our tented camp is built in amongst the rocks that constitute the Kimasi Kopje, and we can just about make out the tents in the failing light.

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Mbuzi Mawe

Amazingly it is still not completely dark when we reach the camp – it’s the first day we have had some real chill time since we arrived in Tanzania: we actually have half an hour spare this evening!

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When we go to into the bathroom, we discover that while we were out, squatters have moved in, clinging to dear life on our shower curtain.

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Mbuzi Mawe is a super place, and the restaurant is intimate, friendly and relaxed, yet luxurious. The general manager walks around the tables this evening, making sure everyone is happy. Tonight they are celebrating a honeymoon couple, with more singing, clapping and cake!

Yet again the food comes out under shiny domes, but there is some confusion as to which plate is which. I guess it is not so easy to see when it is all under wrap like that.

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That's magic!

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Starter of garlic salami, Waldorf salad and balsamic reduction.

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Main course: Rajma Masala - a 'curry' of red beans in s spicy sauce - absolutely delicious!

We retire to bed and a restful sleep after another amazing day in the mighty Serengeti! Calabash Adventures - and Malisa of course - have done us proud yet again.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys restaurant travel views hotel elephants adventure roads scenery holiday africa tanzania lodge lunch birding tourists giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip serengeti leopard heron memory gourmet glamping impala good_food spicy stunning bird_watching sundowners game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels central_serengeti kopje retima_hippo_pool leucism Comments (1)

Serengeti Part I

The lions of Togoro Plains and much more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cape Buffalo

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

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

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It will soon warm up when the sun comes out.

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Lions

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

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

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

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

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Wildebeest

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

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

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

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

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Well, kiss my ass!

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

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

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

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Wildebeest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile dad continues to eat his breakfast.

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

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“Let’s go and harass dad”

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

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Has he finished?

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Nah.

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Finally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jackal versus Vultures

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

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

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End of Round One: Vultures 1 Jackals 0

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

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The vultures bring in the reserves.

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

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The opposition team regroup to work out their next move.

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It seems they don’t quite agree on tactics.

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

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

Lion and Jackal Prints

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More Lions + Another Kill = More Vultures

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

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

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The lions and a jackal look on with bemusement.

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Topi

Does my bum look big in this?

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Wildebeest Rutting Season

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

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

Picnic Breakfast

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

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All around us is the hum of the wildebeest.

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

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

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Grey Crowned Cranes

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Lions Re-Visited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klipspringer

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Red Duiker

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Cape Buffalo

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Impala

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

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Giraffe

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Hippos

A couple of hippos wallow in the shallow Orangi River.

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Olive Baboons

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Dust

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

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Warthogs

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

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African Fish Eagle

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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

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Magpie Shrike

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Tree Python

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

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

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Black Chested Snake Eagle

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Little Bee Eater

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Black Headed Heron

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Serval

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

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End of Part I

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

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

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