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Lake Natron

Fish pedicure and hominid footprints


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Lake Natron Camp

We can see the camp from a distance, initially looking little more than dark pointy hillocks or large boulders on the landscape.

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The 'boulders' are in fact large camouflage Bedu style net covers, hiding the accommodation. Like everywhere else we have been so far, a whole army of helpers arrive to help carry our stuff as soon as we pull up in the car, and we are ushered into the open mess tent which doubles as a reception.

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After the usual formalities, we are shown to our tent. They are well spread out, making them very private. The whole tent, as I said, is under a huge fly sheet, offering shade from hot sun.

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The accommodation is relatively spacious and offers three parts – first the screened veranda , with a couple of chairs and a table. The staff leave our lunch boxes here, which we brought with us from Kilimamoja this morning.

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The main part has a large double bed, a writing desk and a day bed which in our case doubles as a luggage rack.

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A partial wall separates the bedroom from the bathroom, where there is a wash basin, compostable eco-toilet and bucket shower.

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We dump our stuff, change into swimwear and head down to the 'spa area'.

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This is another area shaded by a large fly sheet, offering chairs, day beds and a couple of hammocks alongside a natural spring which feeds the main lake.

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We take our picnic boxes with us and enjoy our lunch overlooking the spring and the marshland.

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The main attractions here, however, as far as I am concerned, is the little freshwater spring. As soon as we step into the cool water, the endemic cichlids start to nibble at our feet.

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For a number of years I have wanted to have a fish pedicure, but I have always been concerned about the hygiene in the tanks in British salons (they have since been banned in the UK for that very reason). Here, however, I have no such concern, and am loving every minute of it!

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David, on the other hand, is way too ticklish to get pleasure from it, and merely dips his feet in briefly.

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I could spend hours here, but the sun is very strong and I worry about my photo-sensitive dermatitis on my shins; so we reluctantly go back to the tent.

This area is affectionately known as 'Zanzibar' to the locals, as it is very much hotter than Arusha and the northern safari circuit. We try to have a little siesta, but it is really rather too hot to get any decent sleep.

The not-so-distant thunder than rumbles on and on and on doesn't exactly help. We prepare ourselves for a deluge, but it appears the storm travels all around us, and by the time we are ready for an afternoon excursion, it is thankfully still dry.

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Malisa, ready to see what nature has to offer us this afternoon

Homenid Footprints

Malisa is taking us, along with a local Maasai guide arranged by the camp, to see some old footprints left on the mud flats. When we spoke with Malisa about it yesterday, he had some concern about whether we would be able to reach the site because of all the flooding, and indeed we do get a little lost this afternoon as the road has washed away.

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The floods and subsequent receding water have left some strange formations in the mud.

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When I say “some old footprints”, I am grossly understating, of course, these impressions captured for eternity are seriously cool.

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Some 19,000 years ago, the nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano erupted, spewing out its innards down to the shores of the lake. Unable to outrun the fast flowing lava, the local people left their footprints in the hot magma as they made their desperate escape attempts.

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Judging by the way the footprints are facing in different directions, it is assumed that the family (there are different sized prints too) were overcome with panic, unsure of which way to run.

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While these imprints are seriously cool to see, I can only begin to imagine the anguish the people felt at the time, stepping on the ground which measured at 600 °C.

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The Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique in that it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. What that meant for these people, is that the thin silvery lava flowed faster than they could run, so there was no escape.

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Today the volcano looks peaceful.

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From here we continue on foot down to the lake edge for bird watching.

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Great White Pelican, Lesser Flamingo, Great Cormorant, Long Tailed Cormorant, Slender Bill Gull

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Blacksmith Plover

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Chestnut Banded Plover, our second lifer on this trip.

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Eurasian Avocet - I love the way they move their head from side to side to stir up the bottom, just like a spoonbill.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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The Gang

Flamingos

As I said in my previous blog entry, this time of year normally sees thousands of flamingos descend on the lake to breed. Here the water evaporates leaving behind very high concentrations of soda. Algae and zooplankton thrive in this water, which in turn supports great numbers of flamingos. The combination of remoteness and the hostility of the soda mud-flats provides the flamingos with a relatively safe area to breed and rear chicks. This year, however, as a result of the heavy rains, the vast majority of them have remained at Big Momella Lake in Arusha National Park. We still see a few here though.

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Greater Flamingo

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Lesser Flamingo

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There is a group of four South Africans staying at the camp tonight too, and we see them walking with their guide much nearer the lake edge.

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They look rather unsteady as they cross a small stream, and I keep my camera handy should one of them take a tumble. I am all heart!

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No-one fell!

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We return to the camp via the spa area, where Malisa also finds the fish pedicure too ticklish!

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Little Egret

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White Throated Bee Eater

Sundowners

It is time to sit and watch the sunset with a drink or two.

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The camp fire is lit, but the sunset is rather unimpressive.

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It turns out we've all been facing the wrong direction, the clouds away from the sunset are colouring up beautifully!

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Sustainable Tourism

Lake Natron Camp prides itself on being eco-friendly, with $15 per guest per night going to the local village (as well as an annual fee for rental of the land). It has been agreed that this money be used primarily for secondary education. They are also involved in community projects that have been requested by the villagers themselves such as building new classrooms at the school, teaching the local community about permaculture, making keyhole gardens in the local bomas and creating a vegetable patch by the school.

The camp employs local staff, with 19 Maasai woman working on a 6-week rotation to give an opportunity to other Maasai ladies who may wish to have a job here.

The structures are 100% removable, the toilets compostable with all human waste taken off the site. All kitchen waste is taken off site with all non-biodegradable waste removed to Arusha for disposal, while paper waste is incinerated. Limited charcoal for cooking comes from eco-friendly brickettes – made from recycled wood or coconut husk sources. The decking and furniture in the mess area and pool area, is made out of recycled plastic by a local company from discarded items collected from Arusha.

The glassware they use is from Shanga Shaanga. Over the years Shanga has grown to employ more than 60 people with a range of disabilities to make creative products including weaving, glass blowing, beading, paper making and metal work, using recycled materials wherever possible. We were lucky enough to visit this enterprise in 2011 and 2016.

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Dinner

Once the colourful clouds have disappeared, we move on to the mess tent for dinner.

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Tilapia fish from Lake Victoria - fish and chips Tanzania style

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Ginger pudding with custard

By the time we have finished eating, the camp fire has gone out. So much for toasting marshmallows!

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I set my camera up on a tripod with a wide angle lens to try and capture some of the amazing stars; but the bright moon and bottle of wine (as well as a couple of rum and cokes) that I have consumed this evening, renders it a complete failure.

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Instead we watch parts of Malisa's wedding video on his laptop before retiring to our tent for the night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:53 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset volcano tent safari tanzania camping wine moon birding spa hot lava seagull maasai flamingo thunder eco egret pelican avocet community_projects glamping magma cormorant sustainable gull bird_watching sundowners camp_fire calabash_adventures shanga plover bee_eater lake_natron ol_doynio_lengai volcanic_eruption lake_natron_camp compostable_toilet fish_pedicure freshwater_spring homenid_footprints footprints_in_lava carbonatite_lava shanga_shaanga Comments (1)

Arusha

Culture, shopping, charity, and coffee


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

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Cultural Heritage Centre

Each previous time we have come to Tanzania for a safari, we have passed this place along the side of the road just outside Arusha, and each time we have thought it looks expensive and touristy but interesting; with its futuristic architecture, metal animals sculptures in the grounds, and impressive entrance.

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Today we are making a visit, and I am glad we do. Yes, they do have some expensive, but truly beautiful art, but they also have crafts at prices to suit us mere mortals.

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The Centre is a cross between a museum, an art gallery and a craft shop, and we are given a guided tour of the exhibits.

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Said to be the world’s largest ebony carving, this sculpture was carved from a single piece of ebony wood and took 14 years to complete. The carving depicts the (now banned) Maasai culture where a young warrior has to prove his manhood by killing a lion.

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Ujamaa

The Ujamaa (Family Tree) is carved from one piece of rose wood and took 38 years to complete. Ujamaa is a Swahili word meaning extended family and refers to a kind of communal living where people work together and are united regardless of tribe, ethnic background, religion, gender or language. Each figure represents a different trade or skill.

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Tanzanite

This fabulously coloured gemstone was only discovered fairly recently (1967) and is unique to Tanzania. In the upmarket on-site jewellery store, we are given a thorough explanation of it grading, sizes, clarity etc, even though we make it perfectly clear we are not in a position to buy.

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I have to admit that the rings made from this gemstone are absolutely gorgeous.

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Shopping

Prices here at the Cultural Centre are supposed to be fixed, but with a little bargaining we get a discount on our purchases: a Maasai shuka (the blanket they use to wrap around them), a dung beetle and a lizard. As you do.

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David is left carrying the heavy bags. And believe me, metal dung beetles weigh a ton!

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Mount Meru Markets

Apparently the market burnt down since we were here last, so they’ve had to rebuild all the small individual stalls selling paintings, carvings, crafts and clothes to tourists. We are the only visitors here, and as such are the attention of all the sales people. “You come and see my store” “No charge for looking” and so on. David and I have absolutely no intention of buying anything, but Chris gets a really good deal on a couple of leather passport covers.

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Shanga Shangaa

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This successful socially conscious for-profit enterprise employs people with disabilities to create unique, high quality, handmade jewellery, glassware and home ware using recycled materials. These products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits bring reinvested back into development of new products and further employment of disabled people.

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It all started back in 2006 with a local girl making beads for the Christmas market. The necklaces were so successful; they now have a serious and sustainable operation employing 36 deaf, mute and physically disabled people supplying retail outlets across Tanzania and beyond.

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We are given a guided tour of the five different workshops, each team staffed by highly talented craftsmen and women.

The Weaving Team

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The Sewing Department

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Jewellery making

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Glass blowing

It's all about recycling at Shanga Shangaa. Wine and beer bottles are collected from local tourist lodges and hotels in Arusha, as well as broken window glass; and this is then melted down to make new glass items, including the beads for the jewellery and mosaics.

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Metal work

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Plus, there is also this guy, who was paralysed aged 17 when he fell out of a tree; and did not have any opportunities in life until he was offered a position here, painting brightly coloured wall plaques with themes from Tanzania and the African bush.

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Jikoni African Restaurant

Shanga has moved its location since we were last here 18 months ago, and is now set within the grounds of the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Next door, still within the same complex, is Jikoni African Restaurant.

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Obviously aimed at the high-end tourist market, there is a large group of Americans there, plus us. A band plays African tunes while we wait for the lunch buffet to be ready.

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Although somewhat too touristy for my liking, it is a great opportunity to sample local food, the likes of which is not generally served at safari lodges; and each dish is explained in detail.

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Banana Soup with Beef

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Makanda (Corn and Beans)

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Pilau

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Kachumbari (Tomato and Onion Salad)

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Mchicha (Spinach and Peanut Curry)

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Kuku Baka (Chicken 'painted' with spices)

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Salad

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Ugali

We are shown how to make the East African staple known as ugali - millet flour cooked with water to make a dumpling-type dough, which is traditionally eaten with your hands, scooping up the sauce.

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Dessert

'Doughnut', rice flower cake and butternut squash in coconut milk with cardamom

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The food is tasty, the music enjoyable, the company fun and life is good.

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Coffee Tour

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Arusha Coffee Lodge offers tours of their plantations, which are strangely set in the lodge grounds amongst the guest cottages.

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Our guide, Nassoro, has a notable laugh, but is very knowledgeable, and good at imparting information about the coffee plantation, and the life story of that hot, steaming cuppa.

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Established in 1899 by a German settler, it is the oldest plantation in Tanzania and they grow two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta.

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Beans take 25 days to ripen, before they are hand picked.

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Dark beans means they have been left for too long.

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After the walkabout amongst the coffee bushes, we are shown what happens to the beans once they are harvested.

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Following the hulling and polishing you are left with green beans, which smell like grass. The amount of roasting time dictates the colour of the finished bean, and also the taste of course.

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Nassoro grinds some beans and brews coffee for us to taste. The grinding process should not be done any longer than 15 minutes before the coffee is brewed, otherwise it will lose some of that lovely taste.

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Water should be added at exactly 97 °C, and the resulting foamy coffee should be left for seven minutes before straining.

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We are finally allowed to get our hands on the finished product!

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Farewell Tanzania!

With no time to relax, we have to leave Arusha, head to the hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to Kilimanjaro airport to start the long and tedious journey home.

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It goes without saying, and I am sure that those of you who have been following us on this trip from the start will agree, that we have had the most incredible holiday. We have seen more game on this trip than any other safari, it has been such fun to share it with our best friends, and Calabash Adventures have yet again done us proud! As for our dedicated, courteous, funny, kind, knowledgeable, caring guide Malisa – you are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:14 Archived in Tanzania Tagged art weaving gallery market shopping sculpture africa safari tanzania painting jewelry coffee carvings demonstration charity gems crafts jewellery mosaics arusha workshops haggling bargaining ugali tanzanite african_food coffee_tour dung_beetle calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company best_safari_operator which_safari_operator wood-carving ebony ujamaa shuka precious_gems semi_precious_stones maasai_market masai_market shanga shanga_shangaa tinga_tinga_paintings tourist_buffet jikoni arusha_coffee_lodge tinga_tinga glass_blowing mount_meru_market cultural_heritage_centre art_and_crafts craft_centre art_gallery Comments (1)

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