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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)

Serengeti Part II

Finally! The BIG FIVE!


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

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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)

Nairobi - Kilimanjaro - Arusha - Maramboi

Let the next stage of the adventure begin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carrying milk churns

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

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

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Blue Heron

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

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

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

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

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

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Whistling Acacia

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

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

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

Maasai Manyatta

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

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Sisal

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

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

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

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

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

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Donkey Cart AKA Maasai Landrover

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

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

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

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

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Birds of prey soar above or rest in the trees.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Tawny Eagle

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Augur Buzzard

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Dark Tawny Eagle

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

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Chestnut Weaver

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Lesser Masked Weaver

Soon we start to see our first wild animals.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Eland and Zebra

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Zebra

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Wildebeest

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

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

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Egyptian Geese

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Great White Egret

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

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

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

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Impala

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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

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Zebra

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Fischer's Sparrow-Lark

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Maramboi

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

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

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More follow.

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Magpie Shrike

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Hibiscus tea - a new experience for me

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

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

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

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

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

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Our room

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View from our balcony

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David with his Savanna

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Female Beautiful Sunbird

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Common Bulbul

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Beautiful Sunbird

Grete & David's Wedding Anniversary

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

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

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

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Flying spoonbills

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

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

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Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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