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Ndutu - Arusha Part 1 - sunrise, lion, foxes, buzzing picnic

African wildlife can be a real pain in the ass


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake early, on this, our last day on safari in Tanzania, to a glorious sunrise over Lake Masek, giving the sky and everything in its wake a lovely orange glow.

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The swimming pool at Lake Masek Tented Camp

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Breakfast Box

The food is always good here in Lake Masek Tented Camp, and this morning's breakfast spread is no exception. As well as the usual selection of pastries, meats, yogurts, cheeses etc, there is a chef making fresh sandwiches for us using what appears to be leftovers from last night's dinner with lots of choices of fillings and relishes/salads. I love it when we can select what goes in our packed breakfast and lunch boxes as not only does it mean that we get our own choice of food, it also saves on any waste.

Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

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Getting ready for another day with some gentle bending, stretching and preening.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Nubian Woodpecker

At first glance he is hiding his beautiful red cap, but as soon as he bends forward we can see it clearly.

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Augur Buzzard

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Giraffe

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Cheetah prints

When Malisa spots the prints of a cheetah adult and cub in the dirt track, the excitement in the car soars.

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We follow the tracks for a while, hoping they will lead us to the cats; but the prints soon disappear into the long grass.

White Browed Coucal

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Aardvark

This elusive animal is right at the very top of my wish list each time I come on safari, and the joke is that I have to keep coming back to Tanzania until I see one. This morning we see an aardvark hole in which these nocturnal animals live, and a fresh footprint. I get terribly excited, but as usual, that is all we see.

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Lion

Desperately looking for food to fill his empty belly, this painfully thin male lion is presumably feeling rather vulnerable, as he is determined to hide from us. I have to say that the camouflage is excellent.

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After a while hunger wins over the fear of us, and he starts to wander across the plains, hoping to find a little something for breakfast. There does not appear to be much around these parts though, for him to eat or us to photograph.

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The breakfast buffet is not looking too promising

Kori Bustard

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Ostrich

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Bat Eared Fox Den

The parents of these cute little two-month-old babies are tenacious in their effort to lure us away from the den in order to keep their babies safe.

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The pups are curious but shy and have obviously been trained not to speak to strangers.

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Breakfast Picnic

One of the beauties of a game drive in the Ndutu area is that off-road driving is permitted. In an open area with good visibility to ensure we are safe from predators, we get our picnic stuff out and enjoy the lovingly prepared breakfast boxes, while surrounded by wild nature. And five dozen wasps. Attracted by our food they appear out of nowhere and quickly become our 'public enemy number one' as they irritatingly whirr around our plates, hands and faces, making for a miserable experience. When I said “safe from predators”, I didn't consider the buzzing kind.

We promptly eat up to get away from the wicked flying beasts, and Lyn and I go for our 'call of nature' behind the car while the boys clear away the tables and chairs.

When we are all back in the vehicle and Malia starts up the car to continue on our journey, I feel a sharp smarting sensation on my bum. “Ouch”. Just as I am thinking that I must somehow have managed to pick up a prickly leaf when pulling my knickers back up after peeing, it happens again. And again. A painful stabbing sensation in an out-of-reach area. After a recurring onslaught of three or four more stings, I have had enough, and in some considerable distress whip down my trousers and knickers while pleading with David to discover the culprit of my torment and eliminate it.

By now my shrieks have attracted the attention of the others, who look on with great concern, then look away with great embarrassment as I unashamedly undress in their midst. As soon as my knickers have been lowered to thigh level, the evil perpetrator makes a mad dash for freedom: an enraged and terrified wasp leaving behind a trail of destruction and a humiliated Grete. Job done!

The whole episode causes much amusement to everyone else; who of course, do not let me hear the end of it for the rest of the day/trip, and still haven't to this day.

You will be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence of the episode.

On that note I will leave you for now – thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged lake sunrise breakfast kite africa safari tanzania eagle picnic lion giraffe ostrich woodpecker wasp kori_bustard bustard buzzard game_drive tented_camp ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area bat_eared_fox lake_masek coucal brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle secretary_bird lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik breakfast_picnic augur_buzzard breakfast_box aardvark white_browed_coucal masek pink_sky nubian_woodpecker cheetah_prints black_shouldered_kite Comments (2)

Lobo - Ndutu Part I - Lion Cubs on Togoro Kopjes

Our last full day in the bush


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Because we are moving on from Lobo to Ndutu today, we load up the car with all our luggage this morning. A troupe of Vervet Monkeys takes that as an opportunity to check out our car to see if we have any easily accessible food. We don't, and they are shooed away empty-handed.

Hartebeest

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Elephant

I see an elephant close to the road in front of us, but find myself dismayed and terribly embarrassed when it turns out to be a tree. Doh. For the rest of the day I am teased mercilessly about it.

Zebra in the Sunrise

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Hyena in the Sunrise

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Togoro Plains

Having had some good sightings here a couple of years ago, we take a detour to Togoro Plains to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).

Lions

On the top of a rock at Togoro Kopjes, two mamas with their seven babies are sunning themselves.

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They are a fair distance away, so we move to try and get a closer view, but that means the sun is in the wrong direction for good photos.

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After a short while they leave their original rock and head to another. First one of the adult females, then the rest of them, one by one.

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Their destination is another kopje nearby, and while the mums easily make it to the top, many of the cubs are struggling to climb the rocks.

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"Are you coming kids?"

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"Mum? Where are you?"

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"I think she went this way guys"

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"Wait for me!"

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They get so far, then hang around exploring the rock while they try to work out their route from there to the top.

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Meanwhile, mum wonders where her babies are.

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“It's obviously not this way lads, I've had a look”.

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Watching their different personalities as they try to follow their mamas up the steep slopes of the rocky outcrop is such a delight.

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Yay! The first cub has made it to the top to join his mum.

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He is soon joined by the next little lion to brave it all the way. Mum doesn't look too pleased to see them, however.

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"What took you so long boys?"

And then there were three.

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Meanwhile, back on the lower rock...

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One particularly timid little scaredycat is really unsure and has to be coaxed from the top by the adult female. It never ceases to amaze me how these cats communicate – we have seen it in so many ways and incidents now.

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"But, but, it is slippery...?"

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"C'mon, you can do it. Be brave!"

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“I guess that just leaves us then, bruv”

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As soon as all the little ones make it to the top of the second kopje, one of the lionesses goes off to see about getting the large brood some lunch. We surmise the hartebeest we see in the distance are on today's menu.

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Meanwhile, the kids explore their new playground.

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Klipspringers

Spooked by the lions, these small antelopes prance from one rock to another. Their hooves have a rubber-like coating to give them a better grip on rocky surfaces.

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The lions seems to have spotted them too but appear too lazy to do anything about it. Not that they would stand much a chance of catching the fast-moving klipspringers, not would they provide much food for nine hungry lions.

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This has been such a heart-warming and entertaining encounter, one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Pallid Flycatcher

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Cheetahs

These three cheetahs under a tree in the distance flatly refuse to do anything other than chilling in the shade, however long we hang around. Don't they know who we are?

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Crocodile in the Orangi River

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Retima Hippo Pool

Retima Hippo Pool is a bend in the river where numerous hippo gather together for safety in protecting their young.

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There is a lot of yawning, grunting, belching, farting, pooping, bickering and splashing going on. But mostly just sleeping.

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A crocodile does some sunbathing while he is waiting for the opportunity to grab a snack of baby hippo.

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That is why the hippo snuggle close together around their youngststers.

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The spot has been created into a rudimentary but popular viewing area over the years, with picnic tables and a toilet block.

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While we have visited here a few times in the past, this is the first time we have stopped here for a picnic.

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Blue Eared Glossy Starling

As is usual in an area where humans gather for food, a few opportunist birds hang around; this time the large and colourful Blue Eared Glossy Starling.

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Thank you to Calabash for yet another amazing morning of safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys elephant sunrise breakfast cute africa safari tanzania crocodile zebra birding cheetah picnic lions hippo lion_cubs serengeti hyena vulture lobo starling bird_watching calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload hartebeest retima_hippo_pool lappet_faced_vulture hippo_pool kopjes game_viewing cuteness orangi_river togoro_plains lobo_wildlife_lodge the_best_safari_company togoro togoro_kopjes lionesses klipspringers dark_chanting_goshawk goshawk retima blue_eared_glossy_starling Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 5 Part 1 Lion w/zebra kill, Ngare Naironya

This morning's highlight: Lion with Zebra kill


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

My back has not improved at all overnight, resulting in me feeling rather fragile and somewhat uncomfortable this morning. As is usual on our safaris, we leave the lodge before daybreak, setting out to 'see what nature has to offer us' as Malisa loves to tell us.

As we start our morning game drive, Malisa asks us whether we'd like to go off to find the migration today, or whether we'd prefer to search for cats. Four voices pipe up in unison: “Cats, please”. That's unanimous, then.

Hartebeest

This morning's breakfast (Malisa's expression for the first animal spotted that day) is a large group of hartebeest, including a number of youngsters.

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As it is still pre-dawn, the sun has yet to make it above the horizon, making for challenging photography and somewhat dull and grainy pictures.

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This guy has lost one of his horns, presumably in an altercation with another hartebeest over a possible mate.

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Or maybe she lost her horn while protecting her baby, as this is obviously a female hartebeest (my hartebeest gender identification skills are obviously sadly lacking).

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Buffalo in the sunrise

After a dull start, the light is now lovely as the sun rises and promises us another beautiful day.

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Zebra Kill

***** WARNING*****
Some people may find the following images disturbing

We haven't travelled far from the lodge before we see our first evidence of a big cat this morning: an abandoned zebra carcass. Probably the result of a leopard kill, and the cat vacating the dining table after being disturbed by our car approaching. With not many tourists venturing this way, the animals here are nowhere near as accustomed to cars as those in the much busier Central Serengeti region.

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The predators tend to start eating the 'soft' targets first, such as the eyes, ears, tail, genitals and other easily accessible bits.

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We hang around for a while, hoping the leopard will return to finish his breakfast. David spots him first, appearing in the distance behind the trees. It is not a leopard, however, but a beautiful male lion.

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As soon as he spots us, he stops in his tracks, unsure of whether to continue or not.

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The draw of the food is greater than the fear of us humans, however, and he ventures into the glorious light of the early morning sun.

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After initially settling down with his meal, he appears uncomfortable about having an audience while he is eating; and merely grabs a few half-hearted bites, then drags the carcass away with him.

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"What are you looking at? Can't a lion even eat breakfast in peace these days?"

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There is, of course, a much more logical reason for him moving his breakfast: the smell does not travel so well if the kill is positioned inside the bushes, thus less likely to attract other hungry predators (rival lions, leopards, and even hyena have been known to steal kills)

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Soon our lion is all but hidden by the trees and we realise that we are undoubtedly the only people to see the lion with his feast, as this road only leads to the lodge and the other guests were just arriving for breakfast when we set out earlier. By the time they'll drive past here later, they may not even spot the lion, let alone see the zebra carcass. Feeling smug for getting out and about early (and thrilled for having experienced this), we leave him be and continue on our way.

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Zebra

This youngster is around seven or eight months old and will suckle his mother for the first year or so of his life.

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They seem blissfully unaware of what happened to their cousin just a short distance away.

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Ngare Naironya Springs

There is lots of goings-on here at the pub (AKA waterhole), with hyenas and a few scattered birds crowding the bar, despite the spring being almost dry.

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I am loving the backlighting and the long shadows from the low morning sun.

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

Breakfast Picnic

On a hillside overlooking the waterhole, with 180 degree views, we set up our picnic chairs and table and get the breakfast boxes out.

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Amazingly, there is even a toilet block here, miles from anywhere.

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While we are enjoying our packed breakfasts, it seems that the zebra are arriving at the spring in their droves.

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After breakfast we too return to the waterhole and spend most of the morning there observing and photographing the goings on, but I will leave that for the next blog entry.

Calabash African Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals springs sunrise breakfast africa safari tanzania zebra picnic buffalo lion serengeti hyena lobo waterhole prey bird_watching suckling game_drive lion_kill hartebeest cape_buffalo big_cats breakfast_picnic packed_breakfast calbash_adventures sandgrouse ngare_naironya_springs bad_back zebra_kill zebra_carcass birs breakfast_boxes toilet_block Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 1 - Anniversary Breakfast

Lyn & Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The morning greets us with the promise of a beautiful day while sporting an orange glow over the horizon blending through hues of pink into a deep purple sky.

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We can still hear the lion roar this morning, presumably the same one that was calling out last night.

Cape Buffalo

Each morning we go out with Malisa as our wonderful guide, we discuss what our 'breakfast' is going to be, referring to the first animal spotted that day. Today it is a herd of buffalo just a few minutes after leaving the camp.

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I do find their stare rather unsettling.

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Topi

A small herd of Topi enjoy their breakfast near the road this morning, including several young babies.

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Sunrise

The sun fully emerges from its daily hibernation, casting a golden glow over everything in its wake.

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Including this giraffe

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And a magnificent impala

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White Bellied Bustard

Mr and Mrs Bustard are both rather well camouflaged.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A couple of Bat Eared Foxes in the far distance

Topi

This little baby is less than one month old; they don't start getting their distinctive 'stocking' markings until they reach three months.

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Here you can quite clearly see how the youngsters get darker as they age.

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Mum looks rather thin.

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Brown Parrot

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And he's off...

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Rattling Cisticola

Lion

Just like smaller pussycats, lions eat grass when they have a bad tummy, as this old male does. He is terribly thin and probably around eleven or twelve years old. Lions live for around 12-15 years, so this guy is an old chap who is most likely on his last legs. He will have been kicked out of the pride when he was no longer able to provide for the females, with another younger male coming along to replace him. No longer having a pride to depend on for food has meant he has been starved of regular fresh meat and judging by the matted mane he is unable to look after himself properly too.

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Spotted Hyena

I wonder if this scavenger is hoping for the old lion's immediate demise?

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He assesses the situation and decides it is probably not worth the wait. Any Monty Python fans may, like me, be thinking about the "I'm not dead yet" sketch.

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We follow the old lion for a while, as he staggers around looking food.

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Having lost sight of the lion, we stop nearby at a mobile camp site (now empty) for breakfast. Is that wise? We may be upwind from the lion, but even so...

Anniversary Breakfast Picnic

On this day forty years ago, Lyn and Chris said “I do” and became husband and wife. I feel so honoured that they chose to spend their special day in Tanzania with us. Back home we have a 'community flagpole' where we hoist various different flags for various different celebrations ~ and of course we (secretly) packed one of those flags for this trip.

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The Ole Serai has not just provided the customary breakfast boxes, they have given us a posh food hamper today, containing little tiffin containers with sausages, bacon, and pancakes in an attempt at keeping the food hot.

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Plus eggs and pastries – we are certainly not going to go hungry this morning.

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What a way to start the 40th wedding celebrations!

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This Superb Starling is hoping we'll leave some food behind for her.

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She's having a bad hair day as a result of the very strong wind today.

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More in the next blog entry.

Safari organised by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunrise safari tanzania parrot animal birding fox buffalo lion giraffe roller serengeti hyena impala topi bird_watching bustard game_drive bat_eared_fox cisticola game_viewing ole_serai lion_roaring calbash_adventures scavenger Comments (2)

The Empty Quarter

Rub' Al Khali


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

It looks to be another nice day out there. No chance of rain.

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Today we are leaving civilisation behind and travelling out to the fabled Empty Quarter, or Rub' Al Khali, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world and one of the driest regions; virtually uninhabited, and largely unexplored. I have high expectations for today as we set off with a different guide, also called Issa, heading north.

Once we have climbed over the mountains surrounding Salalah, the road is straight and flat, with very little interest either side. This road carries on for 650kms to Nizwa, through vast expanses of nothing.

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At the edge of the desert Issa lowers the tyre pressure to cope with the soft sand. The vehicle has been specially modified with roll over bars fitted for safety. I am hoping for some exhilarating 'dune bashing' today.

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Camel Farm

Our first stop of the day is a camel farm to see the rare, and much sought-after black camels who are only found here, Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Another first for us.

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The baby is only two or three days old

The place is swarming with flies.

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Rub Al Khali

We are now entering the Empty Quarter and soon the gravel road turns to sand and we start to see some dunes.

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I am surprised at how many small shrubs grow in the sand dunes. So far it doesn't have a particularly 'empty' feel to it.

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Despite a number of strategically placed rubbish bins along the side of the track, trash gets caught on vegetation as it blows around in the wind.

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The scenery is dominated by long, linear dunes running parallel to the prevailing winds. Between these are crescent-shaped barchan dunes, and large, firm salt flats called sabkahs, which is what we are driving on.

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The dunes are getting slightly higher now as we drive deeper into the wilderness.

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Issa takes a couple of attempts to drive up a steep-sided sand dune and then swings around and follows the ridge before heading directly back down again. After a couple more swirls on the dunes, he stops the car so that we can get out and stretch our legs. Walking in the soft sand is hard going though.

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We are only just touching on the very edge of this enormous desert, the world's largest erg (sand sea) at 583,000 km². That's about the size of France. To me it is totally incomprehensible to imagine an area the size of France covered in sand.

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Just like Wahiba Sands, Rub' Al Khali is popular with young lads and families on the weekend, coming out here to have a BBQ and maybe try their hand at some serious desert driving. You can see several failed attempts at driving up this sand dune.

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As we make our way back to civilisation, I am left with a feeling of “Is that it?” The dunes are all very nice, but I don't feel any of the mystery and romance that I expected. It all feels like it is just a 'tourist day trip into the desert', which of course, is exactly what it is.

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The ever-present tyre tracks don't help, and neither do the several other tourist vehicles we meet.

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Wubar Archeaological Site

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At the edge of the desert, near Wadi Thumrait and a small settlement of the same name, is the UNESCO Heritage Site of Wubar (AKA Shisr), believed to be the remains of the Lost City of Ubar, often referred to as the Atlantis of the Desert.

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Wubar was the 'door to the desert' in the heyday of the frankincense trade, a prosperous and wealthy caravan oasis; until the desert once more swallowed it up and it remained hidden for centuries.

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A 180° Audio Vision display in the newly built visitor centre shows the fascinating and moralistic story of how man's greed once again ruined the environment by overuse of water.

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The site, however, is way older than that, and evidence found here suggests it dates back to 5000 BC.

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Thumrait Palace Restaurant

We stop for lunch near the site, and enjoy some chicken nuggets, chicken fried rice, vegetables in a sauce, bread and salad along with some delicious fresh mint juice. It makes a nice change not to have the typical Indian fare for once.

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Wadi Dokah

On the way back to Salalah, we swing by Wadi Dokah to see the frankincense plantations. This national park is a stony semi-desert valley and a perfect habitat for the 1,257 frankincense trees found here.

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Issa shows us the proper tool for shaving the tree to get the sap flowing, although we don't actually use it, of course.

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As we make our way over the Dhofar Mountains and on to Salalah, I can but notice that Issa has a most unusual driving position, with his left leg tucked under his body.

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Pool / Beach time

We dump our stuff in the room and head for the beach. As we make our way through the reception, a young man appears from one side, making a beeline for me with his arms outstretched. “Baby, hello, I love you, you are beautiful...” Reaching out towards me he gently caresses my camera. We get chatting and it turns out he is the in-house photographer and does indeed have camera-envy.

We leave the photographer behind and spend the rest of the afternoon / evening walking along the beach, around the pool and in the little café.

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The hotel has a beautiful private beach that stretches around the bay in a crescent shape, with plenty of activities laid on if you are into that sort of thing. We're not.

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At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have to admit that this five-star luxury and fabulous mini-suite is all well and good; but give me a small, rustic hotel or lodge any day. This place is much too big for my liking, there are too many people, and I hate buffets with a passion. I prefer a small privately-owned place, where maybe the owner is the chef and you eat what they have that day. Something more personal where you get to know the staff and there are just a handful of guests. I don't need luxury, I want authenticity. In a large fancy hotel like this you could be anywhere in the world.

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It is not really a complaint though, just a personal preference. I understand that there are no such hotels in this region, the middle market is sadly lacking accommodation. The rest of this trip has been fault-less, and I yet again Undiscovered Destinations have done us proud. Thank you for organising this trip (and several more in the past and in the future).

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:13 Archived in Oman Tagged desert beach hotel sunrise sand pool unesco luxury camels dunes national_park sand_dunes erg unesco_heritage_site frankincense salalah camel_farm empty_quarter rub_al_khali wadi_dawkah thumrait deser archaeological_park anicent_city wubar ubar shisr al-fanar five_star Comments (2)

Muscat - Salalah

Leaving Muscat and the North of Oman behind and heading South


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

We wake up to a delicately muted sunrise over suburban Muscat, as seen here from our balcony.

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Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

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As the largest Mosque in the Middle East, Sultan Qaboos' place of worship is a construction on a grand scale in every way and took six years to build, using materials from several different countries.

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20,000 tons of Indian sandstone was used, while the marble came from Oman.

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The Mosque has five minarets, with the tallest being 91.5 metres and the others measuring 61 metres. In addition to the minarets, there are ten domes. The Muezzin's call to prayer is always live, never recorded. The entire complex covers 40,000 m²

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In total, including the men's and women's prayer halls, the inner courtyards, paved ground and passageways, 20,000 people can pray here at the same time. Only on certain auspicious days is the mosque full, however; normally only between 100 and 500 faithfuls actually do attend.

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More men come to pray than women, as this picture shows the scale of the vast, cavernous men's prayer hall.

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70,000 tons of pure cotton was used for this carpet, and it took600 women (in Iran) two years to weave the 1,700 million knots. There are 28 different colours in this single piece of woven floor covering which weighs 70 tons.

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The prayer hall is adorned with a spectacular chandelier, some 14 metres tall and weighing 8.5 tons. Featuring 600,000 Swarovski crystal trimmings, 24-carat gold plated metalwork, this ceiling light has 1,122 halogen lamps operated through 36 switching circuits. The chandelier is truly of gigantic proportions with a diameter of 8 metres making it the size of an average 3 bedroom detached house but twice the height! For maintenance purposes there is a staircase inside the chandelier. Not surprisingly it is reputed to be the largest in the world.

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I love the way the chandelier reflects on the tiles of the mirhab (niche which faces towards Mecca and in the direction Muslims face when they pray), specifically illuminating the beautiful golden Arabic writing.

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I have always been captivated by Islamic architecture, and love looking at the pendentives (curved triangles at the intersection between the arch and the dome), the squinches (small corbelled arches) and muqarnas (the 'honeycomb' effect caused by the geometrical subdivision of a squinch) found in the mirhab and other niches throughout the mosque.

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There are a number of smaller chandeliers throughout the mosque. When I say "smaller"; they are still not exactly 'small' as you can see if you compare the size of the lights with the people below.

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Unobtrusive speakers are hidden in the pillars that support the roof and dome of the prayer hall.

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The detail and amount of design followed by craftsmanship that has gone into the construction of the mosque is staggering

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Under the colonnaded walkways outside are a number of niches, each with a bench underneath, each one boasting a different design, and each with a panel explaining the origin of the pattern. Inspiration for the various artistic design styles has come from all over the Islamic world.

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The Grand Mosque does not differentiate between the various denominations of Islam, and welcomes Sunni, Shia and Ibadi (the predominate sect in Oman) alike. It is also the only mosque in Oman to allow non-Muslims to visit.

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Shoes have to left outside and women have to cover their hair and arms.

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All Muslims have to undergo ablutions before prayer.

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Before we leave the mosque I visit what is the most disgusting toilet I have seen in Oman by a long way. Three cubicles, two of which are squat-style, filled with excrement, cigarette packets, toilet paper, nappies and other items that I do not want to study too closely. The one western toilet is even worse: blocked and overflowing with goodness knows what. If I wasn't so desperate, I would hold it.

Muttrah Souq

The 200 or so stalls in this traditional souk, the oldest in Muscat, are all somewhat similar, selling a curious mix of tourist tat, traditional clothing and colourful haberdashery amongst other things.

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The traders are not at all pushy, which makes a pleasant change.

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Muscat is a popular stop on the cruise ship circuit and today there is a ship visiting, something we see evidence of in the market.

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Entrance to the souk

Juice Bar

We take a break on the Corniche at a juice bar that serves fast food where David has chocolate milkshake, pizza and garlic bread. I pinch one of his garlic breads while I enjoy a lovely mango juice.

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We spend some time watching the traffic police issue tickets to motorists parked in a loading bay before we go back to the hotel to pick up our luggage from their storage area. On the way we drive past the Sultan's Palace (stopping not allowed), an extremely impressive place!

Al Falaj Hotel

We pick up the suitcases and make ourselves comfortable in the lobby as we have a couple of hours before we have to leave for the sunset cruise and on to the airport for our flight. The delightful receptionist approaches us and offers us the use of our old room until we are ready to leave. “Yes please!” Consequently we have a lovely siesta before getting ready for the next part of our adventure.

Sunset Cruise

We arrive at the marina in plenty of time before the boat departs, as the company has changed their sailing times to one hour later but forgot to inform the ticket holders. This gives us time to wander around and admire the beautiful yachts anchored here.

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Dhow

This evening we are sailing from the marina along the coast to Muttrah for sunset on a traditional Arabic wooden sailing ship known as a dhow.

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There is a free bar on board (soft drinks only) and the crew walk around with snacks at regular intervals, as well as a never-ending supply of coffee and dates.

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The cruise follows the ragged coastline, lined with small communities, luxury villas and fancy hotels.

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I love the way the mist obscures the hills in the distance, giving them a wonderful dreamy effect.

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The scenery itself can best be described as rugged, with lots of little islets and curiously shaped rock formations.

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The other passengers are an eclectic mix of nationalities, including the first British tourists we have seen on this trip, and an Iraqi-British family with their gorgeous teenage daughter. It turns out they live in Wembley, just a few miles from where David and I first met, many years ago.

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Said, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

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The sun is getting lower on the horizon now, enveloping everything in its wake a in a golden hue.

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We are delighted to see a few birds along the shore too, one of which is a new one to us.

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Great Cormorant

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Grey Heron

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Sooty Gull

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Hundreds of cormorants make their way in murmuration style along the shoreline.

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They just keep on coming, it's an amazing sight.

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Al Jalali Fort

As we get nearer to Muttrah, we see the Al Jalali Fort, built in the 1580s by the Portuguese Empire to protect the harbour of Muscat following a couple of attacks by Ottoman forces.

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Al Mirani Fort

Close by is the 16th century Al Mirani Fort.

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More watchtowers follow as we get closer to the city

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Portuguese Cemetery

Sunset

By the time we reach Muttrah and the busy working harbour, the sky is alight with a glorious golden colour. The bay is full of ships, containers being unloaded, people walking on the Corniche and other evening life.

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All to often 'sunset cruises' disappoint in that the colours are uninspiring, but today the weather gods have given us exactly what we signed up for.

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The birds are back.

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Who would have thought that an industrial landscape could look so beautiful?

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The sun is almost at the horizon on its final journey for today.

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As the sun gets lower, the gorgeous golden sky fades and the sun turns into an orange ball.

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We hang around to watch the sun disappear behind the distant hills before making our way back to the marina where we started.

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Other pleasure cruisers are doing the same.

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The light is fading fast.

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By the time we return to the marina, it is pitch black.

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Flight to Salalah

From the marina we make our way to the airport for an evening flight to Salalah. It is always sad to say goodbye to a guide at the end of a tour and today is no exception. Said has been a trusted friend, an excellent driver and a very knowledgeable guide.

Airport formalities are super-easy this evening, and we go straight through to the gate, where a couple of young adults offer us their seats. Much as I appreciate the sentiment and am very glad of somewhere to sit for the two-hour wait before our flight, it does make me feel really old.

Passengers are transported to the plane by bus, where we are made to stand for 15 minutes before boarding as the cleaning and checking of the plane has not quite been completed by the time we arrive.

The seats on Oman Air domestic flight have to be the most cramped ever. Mind you, I still managed to catch a nap on the 2-hour flight.

Salalah

The driver who meets us a Salalah Airport has certainly not won any 'personality-of-the-year' competitions, and only just manages a groan of recognition as we make ourselves known to him.

Al Fanar Hotel Salalah

The hotel is approached along a long driveway, lined both sides with palm trees that are beautifully lit from below, making it a very warm welcome. I am very surprised at how lively the hotel is at half past midnight, but I remind myself that this is not our usual type of accommodation aimed at guests who are ttavelling around, this is a beach resort. I feel positively scruffy amongst the fashionistas dressed to the nines in their figure-hugging gold lamé dresses and impossibly high stiletto heels.

Ismalda, the receptionist, more than makes up for Mr Personalitiless Driver, especially as we are upgraded to a superior room with a seating area and a large balcony overlooking the pools and the beach beyond.

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As we slip into bed and switch the lights off, we notice the ceiling has twinkling stars that change colour from red to yellow, through green to blue. We can even control the sequence and pattern, have them flashing or just a single plain colour. This is definitely a first for us! Photographs can't really show it, and my video is rubbish.

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Another fabulous day in Oman as arranged for us by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:27 Archived in Oman Tagged mosque sunset religion forts sunrise muslim balcony crystal dome oman tiles worship islam carpet marble muscat souk souq chandelier sandstone minaret swarovski sunset_cruise shia muezzin al_falaj_hotel muttrah grand_mosque squinch muqarna pendentive mirhab prayer_all sultan_qaboos_mosque sultan_qaboos_grand_mosque sunni largest_chandelier_in_the_world gold_plated ibadi ablutions muttrah_souk muttrah_souq juice_bar cormorants dalalah al_fanar_hotel oman_air domestic_flight Comments (8)

Ras al Jinz - Wadi Bani Khalid - Wahiba Sands

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Said turns off the main road up this track

Wadi Bani Khalid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch

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

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

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

Wahiba Sands

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

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

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

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

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1000 Nights Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant

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Traditional seating area

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The snack-bar

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Swimming pool

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

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Sunset from the dunes

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

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

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

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

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These people seem to have brought a picnic

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

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

Tadoba National Park - Part III

No tigers this morning


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

Black Ibis
Considering it was only yesterday that we saw our very first Black Ibis, today the first thing we see is a whole flock of them flying.

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Another first: Muntjack AKA Barking Deer

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Gaur

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant - another new one for my list.

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Crested Serpent Eagle

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Green Bee Eater

The park is looking really pretty this morning, with rising mist and rays from the emerging sun seeping through the trees.

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Sambar in the sunrise

Wild Boar

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Sambar

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Vehicle Check
We are most surprised to find ourselves being stopped by the traffic cops in the middle of the park. Do they get danger money for being surrounded by wild animals at work?

Black Drongo

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Green Bee Eater

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White Throated Kingfisher

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Gaur

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We turn off the main road onto a smaller lane, and the next three cars coming the other way flash their lights at us. With high hopes for a tiger sighting, we set off at great speed!

Down by the waterhole there is a large gathering of Gypsy safari vehicles, all waiting for the tigress and her cubs to re-appear from the woods where they were spotted earlier.

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We sit around for ages, some 45 minutes or so, with no sighting of even a stripy tail!

A couple of birds appear to help us pass the time.

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Green Bee Eater

All too soon it is time to make our way out of the park and back to the lodge for lunch.

On the way we spot a gorgeous Indian Roller sitting on the telephone wire.

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And a couple of women carrying her stuff for the day in a bowl on their heads.

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Back at the lodge I discover just how dirty this game driving lark is, after wiping my face on a white cloth.

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Time for a rest and some food before this afternoon's safari – the last one of our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds travel india sunrise safari eagle birding travelling roller ibis parakeet kingfisher gaur barking_deer tadoba sambar drongo bird_watching lapwing indian_bison adjutant bee_eater muntjack sambar_deer Comments (3)

Pench National Park - Part I

A very rare and endangered sighting this afternoon


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

There appears to be some sort of confusion about our park tickets for today. It seems our agent booked them for the wrong gate, some 60km away. Hence the very early start of 04:30. Rakesh (the driver who brought us down from Jabalpur) is picking us up and driving us to the gate in his car, where we will change into the open top safari vehicle (known as a 'gypsy'), so that we won't get frozen solid by taking the long journey in an open top car. Wise move.

4:30 comes and goes. No Rakesh. At 05:00 I ask the young receptionist what is happening. He wanders off to check with the manager. After a few minutes, he comes running back and continues on to the car park.

A short while later a Gypsy arrives for us. There has been a change of plan. We are going to the nearest gate just a few kilometres away after all; and will pay for a new ticket instead, saving all the hassle of the long journey. That sounds good to me, as it would take well in excess of an hour to travel 60 km on these roads.

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We also have to pay for a (compulsory) park guide who will accompany us on this morning's safari. Once that is all in order, we can enter the park.

The first thing we spot, is an Oriental Honey Buzzard, another new tick on our life list.

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Seeing very fresh tiger pug marks is promising for a sighting this morning.

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The sun is just beginning to break through the mist as we make our way deeper into the forest.

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Dhole
We are very excited when our guide spots a rare and endangered dhole (Indian wild dog) in between the trees. Our very first sighting of this species in the wild.

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There are thought to be fewer than 2500 of these animals left in the wild, so it is in fact even more rare than the tiger.

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We follow him as he makes his way through the forest.

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Indian Ghost Trees
Found all throughout the park (as well as being quite common elsewhere on the subcontinent), the bark of this very distinctive tree (Sterculia urens) exudes a gum that is used for laxatives.

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Rufous Treepie

Jungle Fowl

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The sun is slowly warming up the air, but the mist is still hanging over the lower ground, creating a mystical and eerie atmosphere.

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

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Spotted Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Pond Heron

Changeable Hawk Eagle

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Another Peacock sunning himself

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Brown Fish Owl
The guide keeps telling us the name of this bird, but I just can't get what he is trying to say. It sounds something like 'ground peace owl'. It is not until very much later that I realise he is saying 'Brown Fish Owl'.

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We pass a flooded area with a Green Sandpiper feeding in the shallows.

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Golden Jackals in the far distance

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Indian Roller

Breakfast
We stop for breakfast in a dedicated picnic area. A structure has been created to provide shade or shelter you from the rain, but as the temperature this morning is still very much on the cool side, everyone remains outside to catch some warmth from the sun's rays.

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The breakfast box is rather disappointing this morning, especially considering how superior the food was at the lodge yesterday.

A rather hideous plastic Mowgli adorns the site, which is appropriately called Mowgli Picnic Area.

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We continue to a large wetlands area that is teeming with birds, and spend some time with binoculars picking out various species, many of which are new to us. It is all rather exciting.

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Indian Cormorant

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Bonelli's Eagle

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Green Sandpiper

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Little Ringed Plovers

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Painted Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Pond Heron having a bad hair day

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Great Egret

There are also a couple of jackals around.

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We reluctantly leave the pond area behind to go in search of more wildlife.

Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Hoopoe

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Chital

Nilgai
This is the first nilgai we see on this trip, and then only for a few seconds as she disappears into the forest.

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Jungle Owlet

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Black Drongo

Upon hearing loud warning calls, the driver stops the car and we sit and wait. There is obviously a predator in the vicinity, and a lot of very distressed langurs. We wait. And wait. And wait. As time is now getting on, we eventually have to move, despite not having seen any tigers.

It is time to leave the park and return to the Lodge as the park rules have very strict timings for just morning and evening safaris rather than the whole day as we are used to from Africa.

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On the way we spot these two gorgeous Indian Rollers, one with his lunch.

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As we were up so early this morning (plus I didn't sleep well last night), I decide to forego lunch and spend the time snoozing instead.

Stay tuned for the next entry.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india sunrise breakfast safari eagle mist birding picnic national_park pigeon peacock roller heron egret stork vulture dove langur gypsy owl cormorant jackal chital drongo bird_watching pench nilgai buzzard early_morning hanuman_langur owlet plover tiger_park breakfast_picnic pench_tiger_park pench-tree-lodge pench_national_park tiger_pug_marks dhole indian_wild_dog wild_dog ghost_tree indian_ghost_tree treepie jungle_fowl early_morning_mist mowgli sandpiper hoppoe snooze Comments (3)

Kanha National Park Part III - Moki Zone

Yet another tiger?


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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)

Kanha National Park Part I - Kanha Zone

Talk about "Beginner's Luck"!


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After a restless night full of meflaquine dreams (nightmare-inducing malaria prophylaxis), I wake to a knock on the door. Thinking that Ahmed will leave our coffee on the table outside the door, I just shout out “thanks” to him. It is several minutes later that I realise he is still standing outside waiting for us to open the door, and I feel really guilty about leaving him there.

Kipling Camp has its own Gypsy (specially converted safari vehicle), driven by Rahim, who is not just an excellent driver, spotter and identifier, he speaks good English too and is a thoroughly nice person. This morning we are also accompanied by Jeswin, the resident naturalist at Kipling Camp, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Rahim ensures we arrive first at the gate, in the pitch black, some 50 minutes before they open. As time goes on, a huge queue forms (but unusually for India, it remains orderly), and by the time we are allowed in (after having passports checked and tickets issued), there are dozens of Gypsies behind us.

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Drivers queuing for tickets

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Long line of Gypsies behind us

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We are finally let through the gate

Kanha National Park is divided into four zones, and visitors must drive the circuit stipulated on their tickets. This morning we have been allocated Kanha Zone, The first animals we spot, just inside the gate, are a pack of jackals and some cheetal (Indian spotted deer). It is still very dark, so the pictures are extremely grainy as a result of the high ISO (ISO 32,000 for my photography friends).

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Sunrise

And then the sun comes up, and what a sunrise it is, culminating in an elephant and mahout appearing out of the mist. Such a magical moment.

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We continue driving, seeing more animals and birds along the way.

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Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

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Eurasian Golden Oriole

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Hanuman Langur

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Cheetal

Tiger

Before leaving the UK, I had warned Lyn and Chris that seeing tiger is not easy, and to expect maybe one tiger sighting for every five game drives. And here we are, before 07:30 on our very first drive when we spot a tiger in the undergrowth. Wow!

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The tigress strolls along, taking no notice of us whatsoever.

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She heads straight for us initially, then veers off to her left, pausing briefly to turn towards the elephant that has appeared behind her.

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As the tigress saunters down the path, Rahim manoeuvres the Gypsy to a better position, anticipating the she will cross the road right in front of us.

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He is right, of course.

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You can see from the fact that I have caught part of the car in the bottom corner of the photo, just how close she is.

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And then she's gone. After nearly four minutes of sheer adrenalin and excitement, we are left with just one word on our lips: “Wow!” “We can go home now” says Chris, “we've seen what we came to see.” What an amazing experience and such a clear and close encounter. What a beautiful animal!

How can you top that?

We continue on our game drive to see what else the park has to offer. At least the pressure is off now as far as finding tigers go.

We get quite excited seeing these Blackbucks, as they are a new species to us in the wild.

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The male is black, while the females are a more neutral fawn colour. Here seen with a male cheetal.

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Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Gaur (Indian Bison) sticking his head above the long grass

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At up to ten feet long and seven feet tall, the gaur is the world's biggest wild cow. They are HUUUUGE

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Wild boar

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Indian Peafowl

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Jackal

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Jackal

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Cheetal - apparently there are some 22,000 of these spotted deer in the park

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Cattle egrets flying

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Stonechat

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Stonechat

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White Rumped Vulture

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Paddyfield Pipit

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Indian Roller

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Common Kestrel

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Green Bee Eater

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Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

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White Fronted Kingfisher

Breakfast picnic

At the Visitors Centre, we stop for a picnic. Kipling Camp made us some lovely scrambled egg wraps, plus fruit and juice - the best packed picnic on the whole trip.

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The monumental arch is made from antlers from cheetal, sambar and barashinga deer. Very impressive.

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Back on the road again for a little bit more game viewing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Unlike African safaris, Indian national parks only allow visitors to enter for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon.

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Black Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Roller

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Sambar

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Changeable Hawk Eagle

What an amazing morning's game viewing, not just a tiger, but also quite a few lifers (new birds to us) to add to our bird list. Well done Rahim and Kipling Camp.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:31 Archived in India Tagged india elephant sunrise safari mist birding tiger peacock bison stork vulture peafowl egrets langur gypsy kingfisher oriole jackal gaur indian_roller chital sambar blackbuck stonechat kestrel wild_boar lapwing kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park breakfast_picnic cheetal pipit munia wild_cow Comments (8)

Anjouan Island tour

Lobsters and lemurs

We both slept reasonably well, considering the party right below us went on until 04:00 this morning.

Sunrise

I stay behind taking photos of the sunrise while David goes off with Patrice to collect our bags from the port.

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Sunrise from our balcony

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Sunrise over the rocky beach

Picking up the luggage

Over at the quayside, David takes up the story:

”Arriving at the docks, we are faced with (what seems to be) a corrupt official, who insists we have to pay a 'port fee' just to go and collect the bags. They charge us per bag. It all seems like a total rip-off to me, and Patrice is furious.

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By the time we reach the ship, the crew are just starting to unload the bags, but ours are nowhere to be seen. Patrice arranges for me to be able to climb on board the ship to search for them rather than having to wait for every single case to be unloaded. Today there are not even any steps, nor gangplank, so I have to jump across the gap between the quayside and the ship.

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On board the boat last night's crew are busy cleaning up sick from the seats and gangways - not a job I envy them. I thankfully spot our luggage almost immediately, sitting just behind the bulkhead, and as soon as I hand over the luggage tickets, I am free to take the bags; which then have to be manhandled across the same gap between the ship and the docks. Once we are off the boat, we still have to transport them the considerate distance between the mooring and the dock gate, and from there back to where the car is parked, a couple of streets away. Thank goodness for luggage on wheels”

Back at the hotel, after a decent breakfast we finally have our shower and change, before setting out on a tour of the island with Patrice as the guide and Khalid as the driver.

Anjouan

A bit of a rebel child, Anjouan has never really fitted in. Declaring its independence from Comoros back in 1997, then changing its mind and asking to be re-integrated into France. Not being welcomed by the French, Anjouan reluctantly re-joined Comoros in 2002, only to once again declare itself an independent nation in 2007, prompting military action from the Comoros. The island now has a semi-autonomous status.

Island tour

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Setting off in a clockwise direction, we initially skirt the coast, then head inland and up into the highlands.

Cloves

Our first stop is at Koki Village where we see cloves being dried by the side of the road.

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Originally native to Indonesia, the Comoros is now one of the top exporters in the world of cloves. Patrice talks us through the whole process from harvesting through to bagging it up ready for export.

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The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to around ten metres high, with large leaves and crimson coloured buds growing in clusters, turning into white tufty flowers.

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When the flower buds have turned a bright red, they are ready to be harvested. Patrice gives us a raw clove to try – it is very strong and the taste lingers for a long time afterwards.

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At this stage they are 1.5-2.0 cm long with one end housing four outer petals and a central ball of four tight, unopened petals.

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The flower buds are then spread out on the ground to dry in the sun where they gradually turn brown, hard and slightly shrivelled up, just as you see them for sale in the west.

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Used in many culinary dishes as well as medicines and even cigarettes, cloves are also often used as a traditional treatment for toothache.

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I love spices and find it interesting how various spices are produced from various parts of the plants they come from: cinnamon is the bark, ginger is a root, and cloves are the aromatic flower buds. The whole area where we are standing is filled with the aroma, and I am sure from now on the scent of cloves will always remind me of Anjouan.

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Cloves bagged ready for export.

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Some of the local workers

Village of Bazimini

Further along the road, we look down on the village of Bazimini, which has been built inside the basin of an old volcanic crater.

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Sisal

Introduced to Africa from its native Mexico in the 19th century, the fibrous leaves of this spiky plant are stripped and dried to produce fibres used in rope, twine and sack production as well as mattresses, carpets and handicrafts.

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Pigeon Peas

Patrice calls them “petit pois model Comorione”: pigeon peas are very popular here, and are often served cooked in coconut milk.

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We try them raw and they are very pleasant.

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Tratringa Falls

Featuring on the 100FC and 125FC stamps, this waterfall is popular for more than one reason. and the natural beauty of these cascades is obvious.

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Unfortunately, the tranquil charm is ruined by heaps of trash floating in the water and blighting the side of the falls.

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The falls are wide (at least during the rainy season, today the water does not extend across the whole width of the falls) and tumble into a small pool before making their way under the road into another narrower chasm the other side.

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Being a Saturday, the area around the falls is quite crowded, and Patrice explain that they have mostly come up from Mutsamudu. The reason this place is so popular does not just have to do with the beauty of the place (although we do see a car full of locals pull up, get out, snap a few pictures with their mobiles and drive on); it is a much more practical and mundane explanation: People from the capital come here to do their laundry in the river.

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The paradox of someone driving here in a large, fancy, 4x4 or gleaming pick-up truck to wash their clothes in the river by the side of the road completely blows me away.

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Ylang ylang

Anjouan is affectionately known as the ‘Perfumed Isle’ as a result of its bountiful flora whose aroma often wafts with the wind and hangs in the air as we found earlier with the cloves.

The most prominent of those aromas, however, is arguably the ylang ylang, an ingredient found in many of the world’s most popular perfumes (including Chanel N°5, my mum’s favourite perfume). The ylang ylang, a tropical tree producing yellow flowers, is highly valued for its essential oil, of which Comoros is the world’s largest producer, exporting some 50 tonnes each year.

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The process is a fairly simple operation in this basic and somewhat primitive set up. But it works, and the surrounding area is enveloped in a glorious aroma.

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The aroma is slightly floral, so it is primarily used in women’s perfumes and other cosmetics, but it can also work as a middle note in fragrances and products for men.

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This aromatic oil is not just used for perfumes; however, it is also popular in aromatherapy. It is also said to increase libido, help fight depression, lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Maybe I should try some to get mine back up to scratch after all the illnesses and antibiotics I have had this year! It is also said to be extremely effective in calming and bringing about a sense of relaxation, and is thought to help with releasing feelings of anger, tension, and irritability. David says I definitely need some!

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Mango

As it is my favourite fruit, I am disappointed when I find out that this is not the mango season.

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Patrice, however, picks an unripe fruit from the tree, and eats it like he would an apple, skin and all. I remember having a salad in Laos some years ago made from green mangoes, and try the hard fruit when offered.

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After finding the skin a little tough and difficult to bite through, the fruit is tart and quite refreshing inside, like a cross between an apple and a pear.

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Once I have finished the whole fruit, I recollect the old adage about eating fruits and vegetables ‘abroad’: “Peel it, wash it or forget it”, and my mind goes back to eating an apple bought from a market in Ghana and the subsequent dreadful sickness that I suffered as a result. Oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten this mango… only time will tell.

Mausoleum of Abdallah

Continuing south, we reach the town of Domoni and the revered resting place of Abdallah. The first president of Independent Comoros in 1978, the late Ahmed Abdallah Abdermane is considered to be the ‘Father of Independence’ and very much a national hero. He was assassinated by a military guard during a coup d’état in 1989, allegedly on the order of the French.

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Turning inland and climbing higher, we can get a good look back on the town on Domoni.

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The town of Domoni

Sales people line the road side.

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As we turn inland, both he road conditions and the weather deteriorate, with a thick mist enveloping everything in its wake.

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The road snakes its way down from the highlands towards the south-west coast in a number of spectacular switchbacks

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Men and women climb the steep road, carrying firewood and animal fodder.

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Sometimes the road disappears into oblivion, as we can barely see more than a few feet in front of us.

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As we descend, however, the mist gradually lifts, and we can start to make out the beautiful coastline below.

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Moya

The road leading into the small town of Moya is particularly bad, with more potholes than actual road.

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Lunch at Moya Plage Hotel

After climbing down a number of pedestrian switchbacks and steep paths, we reach the Moya Plage hotel, perched on a ledge overlooking the ocean.

The table is bulging with seafood: lobster, tiger prawns, octopus curry, and tuna fish; plus a number of accompaniments such as fried bananas, taro, salad, mataba (cassava leaves) and rice.

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It is all absolutely delicious, and I gorge myself full of lobster, one of my favourite foods! (I eat three of them, but don’t tell anyone. Shhhh)

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Maki

Being very disappointed that I am not going to get to Mohéli Island on this trip to see the whales, dolphins, turtles, bats and lemurs, I am overjoyed when I spot a baby maki (AKA mongoose lemur) on the restaurant terrace. Never mind stuffing myself on lobsters… I am off to photograph the lemur!

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I don’t know what it is about feet / shoes and lemurs; I remember the ring-tails in Madagascar licking our feet. It must be something to do with the salt in the sweat, but why feet in particular?

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Although it seems my fingers don't taste too bad either.

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Despite not quite understanding my excitement about seeing a maki (“but they are always here…”), the kitchen let us have some fruit to entice the young animal with.

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Comoros is the only place outside Madagascar where you can find a population of wild lemurs. This little guy, although still quite young, is obviously used to people and is quite content to clamber over anyone who sits still long enough and happy let you stroke his back.

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In fact, he is rather partial to having his ears scratched.

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When Patrice informs us it is time to leave, I reluctantly tear myself away from my newfound friend.

William Sunley

In the 19th century, there was great rivalry between Britain and France in the Indian Ocean, prompting the British to establish a consul on Anjouan. The man appointed was a retired naval officer, William Sunley, who was later invited by the local Sultan to establish sugar plantations. As a result of using slaves provided by the Sultan, he was forced to resign as consul (slavery was by that time abolished in the British Empire). Concentrating on his export business, his holdings expanded and at one stage he controlled around half the arable land on Anjouan.

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What remains of William Sunley's warehouse

With a widespread rebellion among the slaves in 1889, the French took the opportunity to intervene and conquer the island. Thus started the French sovereignty in Comoros. Despite being implicated in the slavery trade, William Sunley appears to be some sort of hero on the island.

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The tomb of William Sunley

Coastal Road

Patrice gives us the option to travel back the way we came, or go along the coast, but “the road is bad, very bad” he says. We are OK with that; I would rather see something new.

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As we travel along the south west coast, we see glimpses of sandy beaches and rocky promontories with surf spraying up over the built-up road.

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Seeing those waves crashing in, I am glad I am not on that inter-island ferry today; yesterday was bad enough. Patrice tells us that the ferry is actually cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather.

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Small communities cling to whatever flat land can be found, eking a living from the sea.

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On this narrow country lane we meet a cavalcade of flash looking black cars with blackened windows and headlight on full beam. “It’s the Vice President” explains Patrice.

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Breakdown

We also come across a friend of Patrice’s, whose car has broken down. His battery is flat because the alternator is not working. We swap batteries so that he has a good battery, while we take the flat one and hopefully our (good) alternator will recharge his duff one by the time we get to the next village.

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Naturally we have to jump-start his car, but after that everything goes well all the way up a long hill to the village where we yet again swap over to the original battery.

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Another spanner in a trip full of spanners.

Malagasy Pirates

Comoros was a favourite haunt for Malagasy pirates in their quest to capture slaves they could sell on to Europeans. Patrice points out the headland where the buccaneers used to hang out and congregate before raiding the capital Mutsamudu.

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Abandoned ship

It seems that it is not just cars that are abandoned where they die; we see this rusting hulk beached just outside Mutsamudu.

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Hotel Al Amal

Yesterday the reception hinted that they may move us from Room 121, so when we arrive back at the hotel today, we ask “which room”. "121" the receptionist confirms, the same one as yesterday. As we are not particularly bothered whether we change rooms or not, we go and start to undress ready for a shower.

Looking forward to relaxing in the cool air-conditioned room, we are dismayed to find the remote control for the A/C is missing. With no other way of turning it on or off, we put our clothes back on again and go back down to reception.

”Oh, we have moved you,” says the same receptionist who a mere five minutes earlier told us we were in Room 121.

We pick up the key for Room 112, one floor down, and move all our stuff over. Yet again I take my shoes and trousers off and slump down on the bed and try to switch on the A/C. However much I try, and whichever button I press, the remote does not work. Clothes back on and back to reception. They agree to send an engineer up to look at it. He arrives around ten minutes later and after fiddling for some ten minutes more, concedes that the A/C is not working. Yes, we know.

Change rooms. Again. Clothes back on. Again. Move stuff over. Again.

Room 114 does have a working A/C! Hurrah! “No TV” reveals the engineer. “No problem” we assure him, but is it safe to get undress (again) yet? We check the bathroom. There is only one towel, which is wet. We still have the key for Room 112, so collect the one and only towel from there. That is also damp. I cannot work out whether they are leftover from the last occupant or just haven’t dried from being laundered, but as I’d rather not risk it, mausoleum I use the towel I brought from home.

The bathroom is somewhat shabby to say the least, with a shelf that looks like it is just about to disintegrate any minute. As for the bath mat – it is dirtier than the cloth I wash my floor with at home! Thank goodness for flip flops.

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Time for a shower. As there is no shower curtain,, it’s a sit-down job. I didn’t realise how much dirt was on that road today – the water that is coming out of my hair is the colour of mud!

Feeling much more refreshed after the shower, we go to change into something cool before going for dinner. “Where are the shorts?” Both David’s and mine are missing, and I know I packed them in Grand Comore. We wore them on the last night there and I distinctly remember asking David: “Is it OK if I put these in your bag as I have already done mine up?” I placed them on top of the other clothes in his bag and zipped it up. Oh dear. Somehow they have gone ‘missing’ between packing the bags before going for breakfast in Moroni and looking for them this evening in Anjouan. Hmm.

Dinner

One saving grace about this hotel is that they do serve a very good pizza! I have mine topped with lobster, while David chooses a pizza called Oslo, with meat and vegetables.

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What they don’t have, however, is stocked up on beer after David drank the last one yesterday. Another dry evening.

After dinner I look for stars. Last night the skies were full of them, but my tripod was in the luggage that was still on the boat. Tonight I have a tripod, but no stars. Oh well. Time for bed then I guess. There is a party on again this evening; in the sports stadium right next to the hotel.

This trip was booked through Undiscovered Destinations, an excellent tour operator who specialise in adventure tours to unusual destinations. Such as Comoros.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Comoros Tagged hotel surf waves ship river sunrise fruit waterfall africa dinner lobster lunch mist docks pirates ferry trash pizza bags mango breakdown swimming_pool luggage aroma fragrance indian_ocean octopus chasm laundry lemur abandoned towel distillery smell a/c perfume spray ylang_ylang comoros cloves malagasy_pirates anjouan al_amal_hotel quayside luggage_on_wheels maki photograhy bazimi sisal pigeon_peas tratringa_falls runnish unripe_mango green_mango moya moya_plage hotel_moya_plage ahmed_addallah_abdermane mausoleum_of_abdallah domoney switchbacks bad_road mataba tuna_fish william_sunley coastal_road car_battery alternator jump_start abandoned_ship room_121 air_conditioning Comments (3)

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