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Lake Manyara: Tree Climbing Lion, Leopard -Treetop Walkway

Some great sightings in a park without high expectations


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Breakfast Picnic, Lake Manyara National Park

We find ourselves at a large picnic site overlooking the valley below, with several picnic tables dotted about, and thankfully no other tourists.

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Last night the chef asked us what we wanted for our packed breakfast for today, and he suggested that we might like some croissants with bacon. It didn't expect three of them, plus boiled eggs and bacon, two yogurts and three bananas. We are certainly not going to starve on this trip. The croissants are, as you'd expect from an establishment such as the Kilimamoja Lodge, freshly made this morning, and were still warm when Malisa collected the boxes at 6am.

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We are joined by an army of ants.

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Later three cars with American tourists turn up. They are not the least bit interested in the view or other surroundings, they all want to see, feel, lift and have their photos taken with Big Bertha (my 600mm f/4 lens). It's a bit like having a puppy that everyone wants to stroke – she is certainly a talking point and a way of meeting people.

I use Bertha hand held to take this picture of elephants in the river way, way below us. With the 1.4x converter and the 7DII body, it makes an effective focal length of 1344mm. Bertha is really a bit too heavy to hand hold, so I used a 1/4000 second exposure, resulting in an ISO of 1000. Unfortunately the 7DII doesn't fare well with high ISO and the image is rather grainy as a result.

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Detour

Not even Malisa and his super-skilled driving can manage to get us across this ravine where the road has been washed away as a result of recent heavy rain.

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We, and the three cars behind us, have a bit of a job trying to reverse back to a place suitable for turning.

Tree-Climbing Lions

Lake Manyara National Park is supposedly famous for its tree-climbing lions. On neither of our two previous visits to the park did we see a lion, let alone one aloft any branches. Malisa hears on the radio that one has been spotted not far away, so sets off in hot pursuit.

We are not alone, and initially we can't get anywhere near the cats!

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With a bit of skilful manoeuvring, however, and the goodwill of others drivers, we do eventually get to see one of the famous tree-lions of Manyara!

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Under the tree we pick out two more. No, three. Actually, there are FOUR!

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She doesn't look comfortable in her tree, and fidgets a lot, trying out different positions.

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Neither are we. The pesky tsetse flies are irksome to say the least, and I feel like I am being eaten alive.

Leopard

So, do we hang around here, hoping the lioness will jump down, or do we follow the news on the radio that there is a leopard in a tree too? We opt for the latter.

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She is some distance away from the road (and my camera), and very well hidden in amongst the tree branches, making it very hard to focus. She too is unsettled.

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Not long after we arrive, she starts to make her way down from the tree. We are very lucky to have got here just in time. She didn't hang around for me to get a clear photo of her.

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Blue Monkey

On our way out of the park, we spot the Blue Monkey, a species that we have seen rarely on our previous safaris.

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Treetop Walkway

A new treetop walkway has opened up, just a five-minute drive from the main gate, and we stop there on our way.

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First we take a short walk through the woods, and our guide explain a few things along the way.

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Mahogany Pod

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So this is what the baboons were picking up from the floor and eating earlier.

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Golden Orb Spider; a common insect in the forest

A gentle slope leads up to the first of ten platforms, and the start of the hanging rope bridges.

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I start off nonchalantly, almost cocky, on the first bridge. Until it starts to sway. Considerably! Fear grips my like an iron glove and I feel myself starting to panic. Concentrating on breathing heavily, I stop and let the bridge settle down before continuing, this time much more gingerly and much less confidently.

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I made it! Still shaking, only eight more bridges to go.

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Even Malisa wavers a little at the swaying. To be fair, he is carrying my big camera in one hand, David's video camera in the other and his own over his shoulder.


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It is the first treetop walkway in Tanzania and with a total of 370 metre,s one of the longest in Africa!

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There are nine bridges and ten platforms.

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By the time I get to the end of bridge number four, I have regained my confidence, and am beginning to enjoy it.

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Having been on several of these in the past, I have no expectations of seeing any animals or even birds from it; I am just here to 'enjoy' the experience. I am therefore very surprised to see a couple of Blue Monkeys.

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Look at the length of that tail!

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The walkway’s highest point is 18 metres above the ground.

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It's all downhill from now on.

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Just a short walk through the woods back to the car and we'll be on our way for the third part of today's adventures. Stay tuned!

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging all this for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife elephants breakfast africa safari spider birding picnic lions flooding ants manyara leopard fear blue_monkey detour bird_watching panic lake_manyara big_bertha calabash_adventures tse_tse_flies big_cats breakfast_picnic ravine breakfast_box wildlife_photography picnic_site kilimamoja_lodge canon_600mm american_tourists tree_climbing_lions treetop_walkway canopy_walkway hanging_bridges rope_bridges manyara_treetops_walkway mahogany_pod Comments (2)

Kanha National Park Part IV - Kisli Zone

A disppointing turnout of animals in the park


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having returned to Kipling Camp after this morning's game drive, we have time to take a little nap before lunch. David chooses to chill in a hammock while I snooze in a chair in the lovely shady courtyard.

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After another delicious lunch of egg curry, spinach, pumpkin, dhal and curd, we go off for the last game drive here in Khana.

This afternoon we are allocated Kisli Zone, and Astrid (the manager at Kipling Camp) comes with us. Lyn and Chris, however, go off to spend the afternoon with Tara (more about that later).

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The first thing we see this afternoon is a dead baby chital, who most probably died during the birth.

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A few minutes later we see a female sambar with her offspring, and I can't help thinking about the poor chital who lost her baby.

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Maybe this is her?My heart breaks.

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Rahim stops the car to show us pug marks on the track – that looks promising.

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The sun is getting low now, and we haven't seen a great deal yet this afternoon.

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The spider's webs are enormous out here, maybe some 4ft across. While I don't mind spiders at all, I would hate to walk into that web!

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Oriental Turtle Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Grey Hornbill

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

All too soon it is time to leave the park behind, despite having seen no tigers this afternoon. We see the piglets again by entrance as we leave - it is almost pitch black now.

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When we get back to camp, we are eager to hear how Lyn and Chris' afternoon went.

Tara
Lyn and Chris debated long and hard whether to come out on safari this afternoon, or to stay in camp and go with Tara, the resident elephant, for her daily bath in the river. I persuaded them to do the latter, and am so glad I did, for several reasons, not least of all the fact that we saw very few animals in the park this afternoon.

Lyn and Chris, on the other hand, are full of it. “It was the stuff that dreams are made of” Chris enthuses when I ask him about it. Here is a brief resumé of their experience:

Tara led the way for them down to the river, and the mahout made sure she didn't go in the water until Lyn and Chris – who were unable to keep up the same speed as their much larger friend on the walk through the forest – arrived. Into the deep part of the river she went, splashing about to her heart's consent.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

Tara then made her way to the shallow part near the bank where both Lyn and Chris were able to get into the water with the elephant, and even assist in washing her.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

She gets a good scrub with a rough rock every day to ensure she gets all the grime and dirt off her skin.

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©Lyn Gowler

When her daily ablutions were over, she showed off to her new-found friends, before crossing her legs ready for her pedicure.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

For Lyn and Chris this was most definitely a highlight of the trip, and I am so glad they got to experience this.

After a lovely dinner and a few drinks in the bar, it is time to tuck in for our last night at Kipling Camp. I am sad to leave but excited to see what our next camp, Pench Tree Lodge is like.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:25 Archived in India Tagged india elephant hammock spider tara pigeon kanha peacock dove chital sambar wild_boar kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park cheetal piglets tiger_safari kisli_zone hotnbill pug_marks low_sun elephant_bathing Comments (3)

Kanha National Park Part III - Moki Zone

Yet another tiger?


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept very well last night, and wake up this morning to an alarm call by the lake: a deer of some sort making a lot of noises to warn other animals of impending danger.

When Rahim arrives, he tells us he saw a leopard when he was on his way to the lodge this morning on his bicycle. Gulp. I guess everyone here must learn to co-exist with wild animals.

Kanha National park

This morning we are allocated the Moki Zone, which is a long drive from the gate, almost an hour. But of course we can game view on the way.

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Wild boar
It seems the wild boar we saw just inside the gate last night is still here this morning. And there is still not enough light to take a decent photo.

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We hear desperate warning calls from the langurs, and can safely assume there is a tiger in the thicket of bamboo. We cannot see him/her, however, so when the calls stop we move on.

A few minutes later we spot a pug mark in the road. This is looking promising.

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The sun is staring to come up now, teasing us with warm rays through the mist and the trees.

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Spider
We've seen a number of pretty impressive spider's webs these last couple of days, and the largest belong to the Giant Wood Spider (Nephila pilipes). This is the female, who is about the size of a small dinner plate. Chris is not happy – he hates spiders with a passion.

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We also see a lot of these odd shaped webs belonging to the funnel spider. We never see the spider itself though, as they are hiding in the bottom of the funnel.

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Morning are really quite cold here in the park, we are all dressed up with hat and gloves and Kipling Camp provides a blanket for our legs. I love the effect the cooler temperatures has on the weather: creating some beautiful early morning mist, esepcially over water.

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Cormorant

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Tiger
Three game drives, three tigers. We can't believe our luck when we spot another one this morning. He is very much hidden behind the vegetation, so it is not quite such a good / clear sighting as the presvious two, but we are still very excited.

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When he makes his way towards the road, Rahim races ahead to see if we can get closer for a better view.

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The tiger is certainly very much nearer, as he explores the undergrowth in great detail.

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There are now a number of vehicles on the road, but he doesn't seem to be the least bit bothered.

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He crosses to the other side of the road and continues his exploration.

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He sniffs and sprays and sniffs again.

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And continues his early morning stroll.

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Making funny faces while yawning.

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It looks like the tip of his right front tooth has been chipped off.

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And spray...

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This is a most amazing sighting in terms of distance, activity and time span: we are so close, the tiger is not just walking in a straight line, he is actually doing things, and it has been several minutes already.

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He certainly is a pretty boy.

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And then he was gone.

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Wow! 18 minutes in total from the first spot until he disappeared out of sight again.

We continue our quest.

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Collared Scops Owls, beautifully camouflaged in a tree

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Male barashinga with their magnificent antlers

At a designated site, we stop for a breakfast picnic. The toilets here are somwhat unusual – a fence made from long thin sticks joined together vertically encloses a small square area for 'doing your business'. No pit, no long-drop, no nothing. Just flat ground. Great if you are just having a pee...

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You'll be grateful that I don't take my camera when I go, and that I can't be bothered to go back.

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Alexandrine Parakeet - a new one for us

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Jungle owlet

Rahim stops the car for us all to sniff the air – the smell of a fresh kill. But there is nothing to see, unfortunately.

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Indian Pond Heron

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Large Cuckoo Shrike

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Green Bee Eater

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Black Hooded Oriole

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Hanuman Langurs

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Giant Wood Spider

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White Bellied Drongo

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Male Sambar

On our way out of the park after this morning's session, we spot the same (maybe, they all look alike to me) Wild Boar as earlier. They must live just inside the gates as we have seen them in the same small area on every visit.

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And so it is time to return to base (Kipling Camp) for some rest, followed by lunch, before this afternoon's game drive.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:54 Archived in India Tagged india sunrise spider mist tiger kanha parakeet cormorant sambar drongo jungle_owlet wild_boar barashinga kilping_camp langurs cuckoo_shrike bee_eater pond_heron scops_owl funnel_spider moki_zone Comments (1)

Grand Comore Island Tour

A brief glimpse of life on this island


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

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

Breakfast

But first, time to fill our bellies.

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

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

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

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

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Island Tour

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

Iconi Cliffs

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

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Kavhiridjewo Palace

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

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

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

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Spider

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

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

Witchcraft Lake

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

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

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Car Breakdown

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

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

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

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Pied Crow

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

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

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

Parliament

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

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Friday Mosque

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

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Badjanani Mosque

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

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Plateau Diboini

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

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Mount Karthala

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

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Mount Karthala hiding behind the cloud

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

Heroumbili

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

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Reclaimed land on the coast

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

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We continue along the north-east coastal road.

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Turtle Island

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

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Kissing Rocks

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

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

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

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

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The house where the daughter lived - now abandoned

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On the road again.

Lac Niamawi, AKA Lac Salé (Salt Lake)

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

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

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Lunch

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

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

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

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Baobab Prison

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

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

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

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Galawa Hotel

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

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

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

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At least the frangipani still flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mtswamwindza Mosque

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

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

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Rain

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

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

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

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Road side grocery store

Bad News

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

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

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

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

Dinner

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

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Chicken with mushroom sauce and vegetables

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Beef in mushroom sauce and rice

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

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

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