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Lobo - Ndutu Part 3 - elephants, warthogs, giraffes

...and a couple of 'almost' leopard sightings.


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

More Elephants

This time under the shade of a tree

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Black Faced Vervet Monkey

This young lady is carrying the tiniest of babies, but she doesn't seem to want to show him off to us.

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For a moment it looks like the baby is losing his grip on mum's belly.

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Whirlwind

We've seen a lot of these mini-tornadoes on this trip, with more windy weather than we've ever experienced in the past.

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Another Leopard Tree

Just like before, the leopard has jumped down from the tree before we arrive, and could be absolutely anywhere by now.

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Kill in Tree

This is beginning to be the 'Story of Our Day' as we see the carcass of a reedbuck in a tree. The predator has deserted her kill to go off hunting again. Knowing that she is likely to return to move the kill to protect it from lions, we wait. And wait. And wait. “Just ten minutes more”. Eventually, after what seems to me like an eternity, we take a vote and decide to move on to “see what else nature has to offer us”.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

I know they are birds, but it is still unusual to see the guineafowl in a tree.

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Warthogs

Heading for the waterhole

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Rolling around in the pond, the warthogs are essentially 'applying sunscreen' using the thick mud for protection.

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Seeing warthogs walk makes me think that they look like ladies in stilettos.

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Thomson's Gazelles

Also at the waterhole are a few Thomson's gazelles.

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Reedbucks

The shy reedbuck stay in the distance, hoping for the gazelles to vacate the waterhole so they can go down to drink in peace.

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Elephants

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This herd includes a couple of really young babies, just two and three months old.

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Mum is very protective over her baby.

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Note the dust devil in the background – as I said earlier, we saw more of these on this trip than we have on all the previous safaris put together.

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Lioness

This young lady is having an afternoon siesta under a tree, all by herself.

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Topi

Surveying the landscape from the top of a small mound. As they do.

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White Bellied Bustard

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Steenbok

Not sure what this steenbok has done with his ears – he looks rather odd.

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Short Grass Plains

Looking out over the area that they call Short Grass Plains, I can understand how Serengeti got its name: Endless Plains (the meaning of the name Serengeti in the local Maa language).

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Dust

At this time of year, vehicles travelling on the dirt tracks of the Serengeti throw up huge clouds of dust, especially the large trucks.

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Common Kestrel

He has a little lizard in his talons, but seems more interested in looking around than eating, but eventually bites its head off and flies off holding the rest of his lunch in his claws.

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Steppe Eagle

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Chipped Windscreen

The problem with these dry gravel tracks is not just the dust, there are also little stones being thrown up. This started as a small chip less than an inch long a few days ago, but with the vibrations of the uneven surface and the vacuum effect caused by driving at speed, it is now almost a foot long. Every time we pass another vehicle, Malisa holds on to the windscreen with his spare hand to lessen the chance of it shattering. Fortunately there is very little traffic today.

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Naabi Gate

By the time we reach the gate to exit Serengeti, both David and I have the runs; thankfully the toilets here are clean and modern these days.

Ndutu

After completing the formalities and leaving Serengeti, we enter one of my favourite places in Tanzania: Ndutu. Part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Ndutu encompasses a lake of the same name as well as Lake Masek.

Baby Golden Jackal

There is no sign of the rest of his family, I am guessing (hoping) they are hiding somewhere nearby.

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Spotted Hyena

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Fireball Lily

Unlike our last two visits, which have been in May when the plains are turned into enormous, colourful meadows, at this time of year it is unusual to see any flowers, making this fireball lily all the more special.

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Flamingos on Lake Ndutu

The way they move when they are feeding, tripping up and down, lifting one leg, then the other, always makes me think of little children needing the toilet. They are, of course, doing it to try and disturb algae.

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Yellow Necked Francolin

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Giraffe

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As I said earlier, the dry soil means that the car kicks up a large amount of dust as we are driving along the dirt tracks. While we are moving, it is not so noticeable, as the dust is mostly behind us; but as soon as we stop, the fine powder seems to catch up with us, making photography impossible for a minute or so until it settles.

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While I was complaining about the dust a minute ago, I love it when we get back-light from the setting sun and the animals themselves kick up the dust. It adds a magical atmosphere to the photographs.

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Elephants

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Wait for me!

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The elephants are heading to the Big Marsh area to have a drink before bed time.

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Fork Tailed Drongo

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More Elephants

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We notice one of them has a broken tusk, probably destroyed it while trying to bring down a tree.

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The light is really failing now as Malisa makes his way to our camp for the night.

Tawny Eagle

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Black Backed Jackal

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Striped Hyena

I always travel to Tanzania with a wish list of some animals I would really like to see. While I am of course excited by whatever “nature has to offer us”, there are still some animals that we have yet to encounter in the wild. Striped Hyena is one of those. It has been on my wish lists every single one of the six times we have come to Tanzania on safari.

Just before we arrive at our night stop, Malisa abruptly stops the car as an animal crosses the track in front of us at the speed of light. “What was that” I ask as I instinctively grab my camera. Malisa is almost too excited to speak. “Striped Hyena”. Wow. Not only is the light so low by now (ISO 20,000 for my photography friends), the hyena is such a fast mover, that he is way into the bush by the time I press the shutter.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very excited to announce that this is a STRIPED HYENA. Honestly.

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Lake Masek Tented Camp

This is the third time we have stayed at this charming camp, and it never fails to delight us.

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After completing the usual formalities, we check out the new deck that has been built since we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary here in May last year.

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The view from here has always been spectacular, overlooking the lake of the same name.

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This evening a welcoming camp fire is burning in the elevated fire pit, with director's chairs surrounding it, facing the stunning outlook.

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We also see there is new and a very inviting-looking swimming pool on a lower deck. It is a shame we never have time to enjoy the facilities of these lodges – it's a balance between making the most of the animals on safari or the accommodation and the wildlife wins every time.

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Spacious tents on wooden platforms come complete with a four poster bed, large bathroom featuring a stand-alone bath, double basins, a separate toilet and an open air shower.

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The latter is a new experience for Lyn and Chris and causes much amazement and amusement. At dinner Chris regales us with an entertaining account of the conversation that occurred while they were getting ready:

Lyn: “The shower has no roof”
Chris, not taking a great deal of notice: “Oh yeah”
Lyn: “No, really, there is no roof.”
Chris, a little more interested now: “What do you mean 'no roof'?”
Lyn: “I can see the stars”
Chris, a little confused: “Really? Don't be silly”

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Unfortunately it is not raining this evening, as having a warm shower in the cool rain is an unforgettable experience. Mind you, so is star gazing while showering.

It is not until I take my watch off this evening that I realise just how much sun you can catch even though you are inside a vehicle and using a factor 20 sun tan lotion.

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We just about have time to enjoy a pre-dinner drink on the mosquito-screened balcony in front of our tent.

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One of the many things I like about this camp is that Malisa is permitted to eat with us, and we have a terrific evening with lots of raucous laughter, excellent food and free beer and wine. Thankfully the lodge is not full this evening, with only three other tables taken for dinner.

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All this was, of course, arranged by the ever-helpful Calabash Adventures, our favourite safari partner.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys sunset elephants africa safari tanzania pond eagle birding lion windy giraffe wind swimming_pool lioness lily flamingos serengeti dust hyena sunburn gazelle topi warthog waterhole cracked jackal drongo bird_watching bustard tented_camp ndutu camp_fire kestrel whirlwind windshield calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys lake_masek short_grass_plains black_backed_jackal spotted_hyena tawny_eagle lake_masek_tented_camp endless_plains spurfowl guineafowl francolin game_viewing golden_jackal mini_tornado white_bellied_bustard reedbuck dust_devil naabi_gate wildlife_photography leopard_kill thomsons_gazelle common_kestrel steppe_eagle chipped_windscreen windscreen baby_golden_jackal striped_hyena fireball_lily yellow_necked_spurfowl yellow_necked_francolin broken_tusk fork_tailed_drongo pre_dinner_drinks outdoor_shower Comments (6)

Serengeti Day 5 Part 3 - baby eles, lion cubs, Lobo Lodge

A lion's share of animals


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

Olive Baboons

Clusters of strongly scented white flowers of the Umbrella Thorn Acacia tree, as well as the associated seed pods, provide food for the baboons.

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The blooms also attract a number of insects, as we can see here.

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Elephants

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Migration

The intention today was to look for cats rather than the migration, and although we did see a lone lion first thing and later a cheetah, we have also come across the migration – first the zebra leading the way just after breakfast, and now the wildebeest.

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Reedbucks

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Tawny Eagle

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We are treated to a spectacular areal display by this impressive raptor.

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Hooded Vulture

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Elephants in Bologonja River

It is pure entertainment watching this little elephant (less than two months old) drinking, as the babies don't start using their trunks until they are around five months old.

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With a bit more practice it won't be long before he's got the hang of it.

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The eroded dry riverbank makes for a good scratching post.

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Reedbucks

Also on the Bologonja riverbank, are three reedbucks. Normally solitary animals, it is unusual to see one male mating with two females.

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Lions

Under a tree, we see a male lion, with a female on heat.

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Nearby we see another female with couple of two-week old cubs, suckling.

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We drive nearer to get a better view, and they retreat into the bush partially hidden from us.

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They finally settle down at the edge of a thicket.

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The cubs attempt to come out occasionally before being called back into safety by their mum, where they spend their time suckling, cuddling and sleeping.

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Meanwhile, the male is completely crashed out after all the hard work of keeping his females happy.

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Even though Malisa thinks the cubs will eventually brave it out into the open, we decide to move on to pastures new.

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Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

Eland

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Hyena

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Giraffe

We follow this gorgeous animal as he meanders along the ridge, beautifully backlit by the setting sun.

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I experiment with creating some silhouetted images too.

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Lobo Wildlife Lodge

It must be so difficult for the safari guides to get the timing right on the daily game drives: yesterday we arrived late because we saw a leopard fairly close to the lodge; and today we see nothing as Malisa makes his way back to camp. The result is that for the first time on this trip, we arrive at the lodge in daylight.

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Cute door handle to our room

Finding ourselves with some unexpected spare time, we go walkabout to check out the lodge and its surroundings. Whilst the accommodation itself is rather basic and in desperate need of refurbishment, its stunning position on the edge of a cliff with unrivalled views over the savannah below is breathtaking.

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Set among the rocks of a kopje, surrounded by trees, the lodge features lots of different levels and angles, with wooden walkways and stone steps connecting them all.

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As always, we wish we had more time in the lodge when we see the inviting swimming pool

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Look at that view!

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The bar looks inviting too

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The place is swarming with rock hyraxes – one even manages to slip in to the restaurant as soon as the door is opened.

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After a quick shower we enjoy a pre-dinner drink, then wander up for dinner.

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This evening we are the only guests staying, and Malisa is allowed to eat with us. Going by the table service and quality of food tonight, we'd be forgiven to think we are staying in a different hotel this evening.

That brings us to the end of yet another amazing day as arranged by Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals sunset elephants africa safari tanzania eagle lions giraffe baboons lion_cubs serengeti hyena vulture lobo wildebeest hyrax suckling game_drives eland calabash_adventures olive_baboons wildebeest_migration rock_hyrax tawny_eagle go_away_bird reedbuck lobo_wildlife_lodge hooded_vulture acacia_tree great_migration annual_migration bologonja_river Comments (6)

Serengeti Day 3 Part 3 - steenbok, eles, breaking into tent

A varied afternoon with an adventurous ending


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

Lunch

While we are having our picnic lunch, the leopard (the reason we are eating inside the car) jumps down from the tree and disappears in the long grass. Good for him, getting away from the baying crowd.

Hippo

A small pond is home to a handful of hippos, including a couple of youngsters.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Black Winged Stilt

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Those legs are impossibly tall!

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It must seem like a long way down.

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Cape Buffalo

Including some cute little babies.

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The public transport of choice in the Serengeti.

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Wattled Starling

Lion Cubs

Three young babies, around two months old, have been left home alone while mum goes off shopping (AKA as hunting for food); and chances are that she will stay out all night. In the UK she would have Social Services on her back.

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Being under strict instructions from mum to stay put (we actually saw this in action on our last safari, the way a lioness 'barked' orders to her offspring – very impressive) doesn't seem to deter the naughty youngsters who boldly leave the safety of their hideaway in the long grass to explore the world around them, oblivious to dangers.

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Saddle Billed Stork

Although not a lifer, it is a very unusual bird to see and the first time I have been able to take a decent photo of one.

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Steenbok

Startled by our vehicle, these steenbok make some impressive jumps trying to get away.

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Olive Baboons

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Spotted Hyena

I love the long shadows created by the late afternoon sun.

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He's out looking for love by the looks of it.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Reedbuck

Hiding in the bushes

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Another roller, this time captured by Big Bertha, bathed in the delightful golden hour.

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Elephants

Backlit elephants + dust + setting sun = happy photographer

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With side-light, the mood changes drastically.

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Banded Mongoose

Plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese, and a group of these animals is called a band.

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They are looking for termites.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

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Reedbuck

Doing what reedbucks do best: hiding in the reeds.

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Sanderling

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The light is fading fast now.

More elephants

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Lions

Lots of cars are gathered around these four lions, three of which are sleeping.

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The large rasta, however, is walking near, and later on, the road. One of the drivers gets so close to the animal that I fear he is going to run the poor guy over.

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White Headed Vulture

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Black Backed Jackal

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Sunset

As we yet again rush back to reach camp before dark, we are following several other vehicles. I love it when this happens as the cars kick up lots of dust which add wonderful atmosphere to my photos.

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Leopard

Just before we turn off towards the lodge, a leopard crosses the road just in front of us. He has gone long before Malisa manages to stop, let alone us getting cameras out. How exciting, though.

Evening at Ole Serai

At dinner this evening Rashid, the manager of Ole Serai Luxury Camp, spends a lot of time chatting with us. Even chef Raymond comes out from duties in the kitchen to say hello.

Lyn and Chris join us in our tent for a drink after dinner. From very close proximity we can hear the roar of a lion, as well as the loud American group who arrived today. Go lion, go!

I have my first walkie-talkie experience this evening as I call for the askari (Maasai escort) to take the others back to their tent. Hearing the lion so close by, they are naturally nervous. It is very dark out there, the cat could be anywhere.

Trying to get in, Lyn and Chris find the padlock on their tent stuck. The askari tries everything, including the master key, but to no avail. The lion is still very vocal, very near. Eventually they use a rock to break open the padlock and our friends can let out a sigh of relief as they return to the safety of their room. An added adventure they could probably have done without.

Thank you yet again to Calabash Adventures for arranging such an amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset elephants safari tanzania eagle lunch picnic buffalo lion hippo baboons lion_cubs roller serengeti hyena stork vulture mongoose bustard game_drive tented_camp lilac_breasted_roller padlock calabash_adventures olive_baboons cape_buffalo spotted_hyena brown_snake_eagle sanderling wattled_starling game_viewing ole_serai sandgrouse lunch_picnic white_bellied_bustard packed_lunch yellow_billed-stork black_winged_stilt saddle_billed_stork steenbok reedbuck ole_serai_luxury_camp luxury_tented_camp Comments (3)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 3 - rimlit lion, anniversary dinner

A lion's share of cats this afternoon


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

Lunch

Just like breakfast, Ole Serai (the luxury camp we stayed at last night) has provided us with a terribly posh lunch hamper, complete with 'hot' food in traditional tiffin containers.

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We are joined by a couple of Superb Starlings in a nearby tree.

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Moving on from our picnic site, we stop at a small pond area that reveals a hippo and a couple of birds.

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Ruff

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Three Banded Plover

Lions

Across the dry, grassy plains we barely see the tops of a pride of six lions, eating the remains of a warthog.

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The older animals patiently wait for the youngsters to finish their meal for deciding to go off for water.

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Whirlwind

A really strange sound, like rubber tyres on tarmac, reaches us, and we become aware that it is a 'mini-tornado'. Quickly covering up all electronic equipment, by the time the whirlwind reaches us we become sandblasted and totally engulfed in dust. For ages afterwards we feel as if we are eating grit.

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King of the Castle

A lot of the plains animals of Serengeti like to use termite mounds as look-out posts, surveying the surrounding landscape for any predators or prey depending on which end of the food chain they are.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

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Black Bellied Bustard

Topi

At a dried-out waterhole near Ogol Kopjes, a herd of topi have gathered to lap up what little water there is left.

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Over their lifetime topi go through six set of teeth, the last of which grow when they are around 15 years old. When they lose those teeth, in what is their old age, they basically starve to death. Nature can be so cruel at times.

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Lioness

Not far away, in the shade of a tree, a healthy looking lioness is chilling.

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She certainly looks like she has a belly full of food.

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When, after a lot of fidgeting, rolling, yawning and several changes of plan, she finally stands up, the topi are on high alert.

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Our beautiful girl has other ideas, however, and walks off in a different direction, towards a warthog in the far, far distance.

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Then she changes her mind again – talk about fickle!

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When she has yet another change of plan and lies down in the long grass, we give up on her and move on to see what else “nature has to offer us” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings, which has now become mine too).

Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

While spotting animals is theoretically easier during the dry season, the problem with coming this time of year is that everything is so brown; and birds, such as this Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse, are extremely well camouflaged. And photos look so...well, brown.

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Baby Black Backed Jackal

Another brown animal on the brown earth surrounded by brown grass.

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This one looks so much like a puppy dog, I just want to throw him a stick and shout "fetch!"

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It looks like he heard me, as he has picked up a small piece of wood.

Aardvark

For the last four or five (or maybe even more) safaris we have taken in Tanzania, my dream has been to see an aardvark. Imagine my excitement when Malisa points out a fresh aardvark hole. That is, however, all we see. A hole.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while, will probably remember that we have a saying “just a chicken” referring to an incident back in 2007 in Sikkim when David exclaimed excitedly “Oh look, a colourful bird!” The driver let out a loud exhalation of air while stating in a most disinterested and almost despairing voice: “It's just a chicken”. Malisa has the intonation down to a T, and won't let David hear the end of it, referring to all guinea-fowls as “just a chicken”.

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Baby Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

The Research Pride

In case you have ever wondered, this is what eighteen sleeping lions look like.

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There is some slow and gentle movement within the pride, but mostly it is all about that late afternoon siesta.

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Rimlit Lion

One of the (many) things I admire about Malisa, is the fact that he is very interested in photography himself and has an excellent eye for a great photo, knowing where to position the car for the best light for instance. When he sees a lion walking across the plains in the setting sun, Malisa has a plan...

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He keeps moving the car every minute or so, which means that we are shooting straight into the sun at all times as the lion continues walking with the occasional sit-down for a rest.

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I try out a number of different camera settings for various high key and low key effects, and play with some of the images further in post processing too.

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Of all the pictures I took, I think this is probably my favourite and is most like the image I had in mind when deliberately underexposing to get that rim-light effect.

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Reedbuck

Trying to remain inconspicuous by hiding in a tree, this reedbuck's camouflage tactics are no match for Malisa's eagle eye.

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Yet another lion

We have certainly seen more than our fair share of big cats today (31 lions at six different sightings and three cheetahs). Lyn spots this one, initially just seeing the lower parts of his legs as he rolls over in the long grass.

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The Golden Hour – every photographer's favourite time of day.

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Our young man is fighting a losing battle with the pesky tse tse flies.

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He's not a happy bunny.

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Sunset

We make Malisa stop for more photos as the setting sun peeks from behind a low cloud, creating some of my favourite crepuscular rays.

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I continue shooting as Malisa makes his way to the camp. As usual it is a mad dash to get back before darkness sets in (it is against the law to drive within the national parks in Tanzania after darkness).

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'Drive-by shooting' is never easy from a moving safari vehicle on a dusty, bumpy dirt track, but I don't think I am doing too badly with some of these photos.

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We make it back to base just as the last remnants of daylight leaves the African plains, all too soon followed by that all-encompassing darkness you only see in places with very little light pollution.

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Celebratory Dinner

After a quick shower and pre-dinner drink while we get ready, we meet up with the anniversary lovebirds for an evening of celebrations. The dining room looks very welcoming with soft lighting, period furniture and white tablecloths

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Tonight Malisa has been given permission to eat with us as we are celebrating Lyn and Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary. It's a shame that he couldn't join us for dinner every night – that would make this place absolutely perfect!

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After dinner all the staff come out playing drums and singing the customary celebration song, just as they did at Ang'Ata Nyeti. Poles apart, the two lots of accommodation couldn't be more different, yet both extremely enjoyable and both places made us feel part of the family. Only two other people are staying here tonight, and I feel somewhat sorry for them as they are rather left out of all the fun!

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Once it is all over we go back to Lyn and Chris' tent for a couple of drinks before returning to our own tent and settling in to bed ready for another early start tomorrow morning.

Thank you yet again to Calabash Adventures for making this dream safari come true, and to Tillya for the fabulous surprise stay in Ole Serai.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset party dinner safari tanzania celebrations birding picnic lions serengeti topi starling jackal bustard game_drive whirlwind calabash_adventures hartebeest tse_tse_flies plover guineafowl superb_starling game_viewing 40th_anniversary 40_years ole_serai sandgrouse lunch_picnic ruff mini_tornado thomson's_gazelle aardvark research_pride rimlit 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)

Wahiba Sands

Lunch in a Bedouin camp, sunset over the dunes and the stars at night


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

As soon as the sun rises at 06:15 this morning, the peace is broken . It is a case of “Gentlemen, start your engines”. Except these are no gentlemen: the sound we can hear is cars revving up to trash the dunes by young lads who have come out from town for the weekend. They make as much noise as possible, take unnecessary risks on the steep slopes and leave a lot of rubbish behind in the desert. They are about as popular as stag parties in the UK.

I try to get down a little something at breakfast, but as I still have the runs, I also want to be careful with what I eat.

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As I wander around the restaurant area taking photographs after breakfast, I somehow manage to miss a step and splat flat on my face. Thankfully I am able to avoid my camera hitting the hard concrete floor. Phew. My knee doesn't fare as well, unfortunately. Before I have even had time to realise what has happened, four strong men are there to help me up. Thankfully there are no serious injuries, so I am able to continue with my day.

Bedouin Camp

Today we are seeking out a Bedouin settlement to learn about their way of life and have lunch with the family.

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We are visiting Salma and her extended family, with her two sons and a daughter living in the camp. The daughter and one of the sons are married, while the other son remains a bachelor as the family cannot afford the dowry (the going rate being around £14,000).

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Salma's daughter-in-law and her children

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Salma's daughter is expecting her ninth child; she already has two sets of twins.

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We have lunch in their dining tent: chicken, biriyani, 'desert fish', vegetables, rice and Omani bread.

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It is all very tasty, but I am still very conscious of my delicate tummy, so I just nibble a little of each dish. I hate for Salma to think I am being rude or fickle, so I ask Said to explain to her why I am not eating much.

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After lunch, the Bedouin women dress me up in their traditional face mask and I ask Salma's daughter-in-law to paint my hands with intricate and beautiful henna designs.

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We return to our camp in time for a pre-dinner drink in the 'Boat Bar'.

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When I say “drink”, I am not talking about an alcoholic beverage unfortunately, as this, like so many in Oman, is a dry hotel. Chocolate milkshake it is.

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We don't linger too long, as the place is swarming with pesky little flies.

Sunset

After a short snooze, we leave the camp once again in search of some suitable sand dunes for creating beautiful vistas as the sun goes down and the shadows become longer and darker. My favourite time of day.

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We are certainly not the only ones enjoying this evening's sunset.

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We leave before the actual sunset, as we saw the big red ball in the sky last night, and it is nowhere near as bright tonight. I am really only interested in photographing the shadow-sculpted dunes anyway.

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Entertainment

After dinner, a local Bedouin family entertain us with songs and dance.

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There is what appears to be a party of local lads and hearing all their cheering, clapping and whistling, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were watching a couple of strippers rather than this demure family-friendly display.

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The Stars at Night

When booking this trip, I paid special attention to the moon phase, to ensure we were going to be here in the Wahiba Desert where there is almost zero light pollution at the darkest time of the month.

So here we are. The stars this evening are fabulously bright and I try to take some photos with the tents in the foreground and then wander into the car park to get a different view of the camp.

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We get chatting to a couple of guys who had also been out taking pictures of the stars over the dunes, and when they complain that this is a dry hotel with no alcohol for sale, we invite them back to our room to share our rum and some great travel stories.
Sebastian and Kasper – if you are reading this – thanks for a fun evening!

Yet another fantastic day in Oman, thank you Undiscovered Destinations once again for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:24 Archived in Oman Tagged night desert sunset travel sand shadows dancing drums sand_dunes oman stars henna singing rum bedouin astro bedouin_camp burqa wahiba_sands night_shots night_photography astro_photography wahiba 1000_nights_camp henna_painting dowry face_mask burka long_shadows stars_at_night Comments (4)

Ras al Jinz - Wadi Bani Khalid - Wahiba Sands

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Said turns off the main road up this track

Wadi Bani Khalid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch

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

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

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

Wahiba Sands

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

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

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

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

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1000 Nights Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant

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Traditional seating area

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The snack-bar

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Swimming pool

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

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Sunset from the dunes

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

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

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

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

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These people seem to have brought a picnic

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

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

Muscat

Half a day in the capital


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

Having arrived at the hotel at 03:30 this morning, we miss breakfast totally and sleep through until we are woken by Housekeeping at 11:00. I am sure this is a sign of getting old: some 30 years ago we would have been up at 07:00 to make the most of our time here in Muscat; today we thoroughly enjoy the lie-in and leisurely start.

Al Falaj Hotel

Named after the traditional irrigation channels that Oman are famous for, the hotel is in a residential suburb of Muscat, with very little around in the way of amenities. The hotel itself, however, is very pleasant, with super-friendly staff, a nice pool and comfortable rooms.

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Hotel entrance

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Lobby

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Self-playing piano in the lobby

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The outside dining area

Interestingly, it has a Sri Lankan Tea Shop off the lobby and a Japanese Restaurant on the top floor.

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Lunch

While not being at all keen on a buffet lunch, there really isn't much choice here. The mezze starter selection is nice, and I enjoy the tabbouleh and hummus in particular.

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Mezze selection

The chicken is a little too dry and I am intrigued by the 'bacon', which looks and tastes exactly like regular bacon. As Oman is a strict Muslim country, pork is banned, so it is probably turkey, but it is certainly a very good imitation.

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Thinking this is labneh in oil, I am very disappointed to find it is in fact pickled Brussels sprouts. I guess it was meant to be for decorative purposes only...

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Fresh fruits and desserts

The chocolate mousse is even better than it looks!

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Aslam, the restaurant manager, comes over to chat with us. Like most of the staff, he comes from Sri Lanka. That could explain why all the main course dishes are Indian-style.

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There are some nice decorative touches in the restaurant too.

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Old Muscat

At 15:00 Said, our guide for the next eight days, picks us up for a short tour. First he stops for a view over Old Muscat, with the City Gate, Forts and Palace clearly visible.

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Bait Al Zubair Museum

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Photography is not allowed inside the museum unfortunately, which is a great shame as there are some amazing displays: clothing and jewellery, including the khanjar, the ornamental dagger worn on a belt. Mannequins show the traditional costumes from various parts of Oman, much of which seems to be inspired by Indian outfits. The Omani wedding displays are my favourite.

Scaled models show the four main forts of Oman: Nizwa, Quriyat, Jabrin and Al Hazm.

The section dedicated to guns is of less interest to me than the kitchen utensils and cooking implements. I am particularly taken with the Al Dallah, the coffee pots that look like they are taken straight out of an Arabian fairytale.

The second part of the museum, housed in a different building, shows old photograph from Oman before the Renaissance of 1970, when the current Sultan turned the country around from a poverty-stricken backwater with just three schools and one hospital in the entire country; to the modern progressive nation we see today.

There is also a wonderful exhibition with winners from a recent photographic competition. Absolutely breathtaking photographs!

Rooms are set out as they would have appeared in the living quarters of the late Sheikh Al Zubair bin Ali (founder of this museum) in the 1940s and 50s. It is interesting to note that most of the furniture came from England and India.

Amongst the exhibits are two items that make me feel particularly old – my very first camera (Kodak 66) and a desk caddy very, very similar to the one I inherited from my grandmother.

The grounds of the museum are nicely laid out, with further exhibits and a miniature village scene.

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There are also a number of these sponsored painted goats dotted around the grounds.

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Kalbuh Bay Park

After a refreshing juice stop, we continue to the Muttrah Corniche from where we will watch the sun set over Muscat.

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The park is a lovely little haven, with fountains and pavilions; and is popular with locals and tourists alike.

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David climbs the watchtower for a better view

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David's view

I love the way the low sun makes the hills disappear into misty oblivion, with paler colours on the further away peaks.

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Off shore is the Sultan's private yacht – better looking than any cruise ship!

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On a hill above the park stands a giant frankincense burner

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Tourists are ferried around the harbour in dhows, the traditional ships historically plying these waters.

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As the sun gets lower, the colour of the sky intensifies.

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Going, going, gone

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We stay for a while after the artificial lights come on along the promenade and on the giant frankincense burner.

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Kargeen Caffe

Tonight is the only night where food is not included, so we wanted to make the most of it by choosing a restaurant very carefully. Usually included hotel dinners tend to be international buffets, and I wanted to try some traditional Omani food. I spent a fair amount of time on the internet searching for somewhere not too touristy, but not so traditional that we have to sit on the floor. This is what I came up with, and we certainly aren't disappointed as we walk in: the place oozes atmosphere. The clientele is a mixture of ex-pats, tourists, families and trendy young Omanis.

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I am not sure how I feel about being watched by a couple of sheep while I eat...

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Labneh plate and breads

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Traditional stuffed bread

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Main course of shuwa and chicken biriyani

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Shuwa - tender lamb traditionally cooked for 24-48 hours in an underground oven.

What a lovely way to end our first day in Oman. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:38 Archived in Oman Tagged sunset sheep museum oman buffet muscat dhow corniche mutrah undiscovered_destinations al_falaj_hotel old_muscat lunch_buffet bait_al_zubair muttrach_corniche muttrah kalbuh_park kargeen_caffe shuwa labneh Comments (3)

Tadoba National Park - Part IV

Great afternoon birding


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

On the way to the park gate this afternoon, we stop to see the cotton fields and women collecting grass for their cattle.

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Black Shouldered Kite

This afternoon it has been decided that for a bit of variety, we will enter a different part of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, the Agarzari Buffer Zone.

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Seeing leopard paw prints just inside the gate, gets us off to a promising start.

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We see lots of beautiful and colourful butterflies around a particular meadow, but they are so hard to photograph when they are on the move.

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Purple heron

We head for some wetlands and spend most of the rest of the afternoon in and around this area.

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There are lots of birds around, but mammals are sadly lacking.

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Purple heron

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Little Cormorant

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Black Ibis

The fickle Asian Open-Billed Stork

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I'm coming in to land... get off my perch!

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Ooh! Changed my mind... I think I will find somewhere else to sit.

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Nah, you can keep your rock.

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Well.... actually, I think I prefer it over this side anyway.

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Perhaps this wasn't such a bad place after all.

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Intermediate Egret

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant

The first mammal we see this afternoon is this sambar hiding in the tall grass.

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Oriental Magpie Robin

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White Fronted Water Hen

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White Fronted Water Hen

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Asian Open Billed Stork

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Little Cormorant spreading his wings to dry them out

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Our fickle Openbill is back, with a snail in her beak.

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Sunset over the marshland.

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The light is fading really fast now, as we make our way back to the park gate.

We see one more animal on our way out, in the near darkness.

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Gaur

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He is eyeing us suspiciously from behind the grass.

And that brings a very abrupt end to my blog from our 2017 India trip. For some reason I did not take any photos after this. To be fair, I had an upset tummy in the evening and the next day for our long journey home (Tadoba - Jabalpur-Delhi-London-Bristol (including a stop in Delhi during their awful smog problem when schools and offices were closed).

For my birding friends: We ended up with a trip count of 71, 31 of which were lifers. That is what I consider a successful birding trip! And, of course, we did see FIVE tigers, so all in all it was a very good safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:46 Archived in India Tagged sunset india kite safari birding butterfly cotton wetlands heron egret stork ibis cormorant gaur tadoba sambar bird_watching tiger_park adjutant buffer_zone agarzari_zone openbill open_bill magpie_robin water_hen Comments (2)

Pench - Tadoba

A lovely surprise awaits us in Tadoba


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

This morning we are treated to a breakfast fit for a king, with cereal, fruit, watermelon juice; followed by egg, vegetable sausage, tomatoes. Then they bring out the kedgeree. I walk away from there absolutely stuffed.

Sorry, no photos.

Pench - Tadoba

We are having an easy day today, just driving between Pench National park and our next – and final – tiger reserve: Tadoba National Park.

There is not much to say about the first part of the journey, until we start seeing signs for Tadoba, so I will just leave you with a few photos from the road trip.

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Yet another bullock cart photo

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Village life

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Rakesh stops the car for us to get out and take some pictures as well as a stretch of legs.

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After quite a few miles of rural lanes, we venture on to the highway of sorts. It's a little disconcerting when you are faced with a long line of trucks coming towards you, on both sides of the road with no obvious space for it to pull in.

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The same goes for those trucks driving the same direction as us – this one only narrowly misses the red car coming the other way.

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Border crossing

For the last six days we have been in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and today we are crossing over the border to Maharashtra State.

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It doesn't affect us in any way, but trucks have to have a special licence for each of the states and are required to pass through border control.

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I love the beautifully decorated trucks that you find in India. You can see on this one that he has a sign saying: “All India permit”, meaning he is allowed to travel to other states too.

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They do like to overfill their trucks here though.

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The large, overfilled trucks play havoc with the road surface, leaving huge potholes and slowing down our journey considerably.

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Although the fact that we are slowing right down, means I have more of a chance to photograph the street scenes, such as these two men sitting at the road-side.

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Tadoba

We see signs for Tadoba, and turn off the main road. I have the name of the village where the lodge is located and the closest gate. The road scenes are getting much more rural again now.

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We see signs for the gate, and soon afterwards stop and ask the way to the hotel.

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We ask again.

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We know we are getting close to a park when we see this sign.

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The fourth time Rakesh stops to ask for directions, we are sent in the opposite direction. Groan. Here we go again.

It seems the whole village of Bhamdeli (where the lodge is located) is gated, as we have to wake up the guard to let us through. Rakesh shows him the piece of paper with the lodge name and address, and he points in the general direction we are heading.

After passing a few cotton fields, we find ourselves driving through this linear village, lined with hotels, lodges and camps either side. This is obviously where the bulk of the accommodation for the park is found.

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Cotton

Suddenly we see a unassuming looking sign at the side of the road, and turn into a side track. The first impression from the sign is a little worrying, this is the only hotel on this trip I didn't choose (I left it to our tour operator), and I don't know what to expect.

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My expectations rise considerably when I see the entrance gate to the lodge, however.

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Irai Safari Retreat

We get a warm welcome at the reception from the very friendly manager who not only has a great sense of humour, but also speaks excellent English. He scans our passports – or rather, tries, to, as a power cut interrupts the action. Fear not, his mobile phone does the job just as well.

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The bar and reception area

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The comfortable lounge

After a briefing about the hotel and its facilities, we are shown to our rooms. From the website I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am very pleasantly surprised.

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Paved paths lead to the accommodation

Rooms are located in cottages spread around the well kept gardens, and each cottage houses two rooms. Other than our immediate neighbours who are in a room within the same building (in this case it is our friends Lyn and Chris, of course), we are far enough away from the other cottages for it to feel very private and exclusive.

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Our side of the cottage - steps on the left of the photo lead to the roof terrace - more about that later

Each of the rooms has a covered seating area outside the front door, making for quite a romantic little niche.

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There is also a sunny balcony with a hammock for a relaxing afternoon siesta. There's even a BBQ in the corner – not that I am thinking of doing any cooking while I am here!

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The bedroom is spacious, with a separate cosy seating area.

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The bathroom features double basins and a proper bath tub. Personally I prefer a walk-in shower, but I know Lyn likes to have a bath.

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The lodge is owned by a member of the local royal family, and most of the furniture and ornaments are from his personal collection. I particularly like these horse-shaped door handles on the wardrobe.

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Swimming Pool

The lodge also has a very inviting-looking pool, so we get changed and head over there while it is still sunny.

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Just as I am about to get undressed, I discover a series of tiny little blisters on my shin, plus one that is quite large. They cover an area about the size of a mobile phone, in the exact spot that I had cellulitis earlier in the year. If this is a sunburn, it is rather worrying, as I have only been outside in the sun for around 15 minutes, and a large proportion of that was walking in the shade. After much deliberation I decide it is probably best not to go in the pool after all.

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Sunset

Instead I climb to the roof terrace with my camera equipment and wait for the sunset.

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The sky is a dreamy pink, later to turn a glowing orange; and I can see the lake from which the lodge takes its name from up here.

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Being situated in the buffer zone of the national park, there are naturally a number of birds in the vicinity, many of which are coming back to roost for the night. They fly around a bit before descending into the surrounding trees, rustling the leaves as they land, making quite a noise.

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On closer inspection, most of the birds are cormorants.

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With a few storks.

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And a Red Vented Bulbul thrown in for good measure.

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Plus a Rufous Treepie.

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Although the evening started off with a beautiful pink sky; as the sun gets lower, the mist wins the battle and colours the sky a dirty brown. The sun holds its own for a while as a golden globe sinking slowly to earth.

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Once the sun has gone down, I go in and have a shower (without getting my poorly leg wet – quite a feat and requiring me to be a bit of a contortionist) before dinner.

Dinner

Dinner tonight is buffet and very good it is too. We have dhal fry (a nice spicy lentil dish), vegetable keema (minced vegetable curry), jeera rice (rice with cumin seeds), methi mattar makhani (a buttery curry with fenugreek and peas).

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It is all very tasty and I go to bed a happy bunny, ready for another day in another safari park tomorrow.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:12 Archived in India Tagged birds sunset road_trip india hammock dinner safari border bbq lost swimming_pool maharashtra trucks sunburn royal_family tadoba blisters pench bullock_cart irai_safari_retreat madya_pradesh cotton_plantation all_india_permit ask_directions buffer_zone Comments (4)

Naabi Hill - Ngorongoro Crater - Maramboi

Ngorongoro revisited


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we approach the Ngorongoro Crater Descent Road, we see some Maasai with their donkeys collecting firewood. Unlike here in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, there are no human settlements within Serengeti, so these are the first locals we've seen for a while (other than staff involved in the tourist industry of course).

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There is a one-way system for entering and exiting the crater, and from the Seneto Descent Road we get a good view down over the crater floor. It doesn't look too busy this afternoon – in fact I can only see one car in this part of the crater. It looks like it is dusty though.

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The heavily forested crater walls rise steeply from the crater floor – 610 metres to be exact – with the descent road gently traversing the sides as shown in the photo below.

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I really don't know how he does it. “There's a Yellow Mantled Widow Bird”. Malisa stops the car and points to a mangled bush. At first glance all we can see is intertwining branches, leaves and the odd yellow flower. Well, one of those yellow flowers isn't a yellow flower, it's a patch on a black bird. Apparently.

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I zoom my lens right in (as seen above) and can just about make out an outline; it isn't until I get home on my PC and give the picture a severe crop that I can see the bird properly. Yet Malisa spots - and identifies - this while safely and comfortably negotiating a steep gravel track. Extremely admirable!

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This one is a little easier to spot, even I can see this one with the naked eye.

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Male (above) and female (below)

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There are now at least two other cars in the crater, and they are just about to meet on a dusty track.

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Heading for the long grass with a small pond for a spot of fishing.

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Another large bird on the hunt for some lunch

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About a week ago when we were here the first time on this trip, we saw a rhino reasonably up close and were thrilled to bits as on all previous visits they have been spotted in the far, far distance only. Imagine our surprise when we see one equally close again this afternoon!

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This one's on the move and heading directly towards us!

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He stops to sniff the air for a while. They do say we should all “make time to smell the flowers”.

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Unless they taste nice. Then you should just eat them. The flowers that is, not the rhinos.

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When he is just about 100 metres away from us, he changes his mind and turns the other direction.

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Still eating of course.

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It is time for us to have some lunch, and more importantly, to use the local facilities, so we head for the picnic site.

I wonder if the road workers get danger money working here in the crater?

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Compared with last week, Ngoitoktok picnic site is extremely quiet today.

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Many of the old bull elephants in the crater have enormous tusks such as this guy.

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We see three more elephants in the distance, plus a couple of lions.

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There are a lot of birds around in the crater this afternoon, a few of which are new to us. Being a 'list girl' I always enjoy adding a new species to my life list.

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Egyptian Geese

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Fan Tailed Widow Bird

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Several Grey Crowned Cranes flying around.

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Long Toed Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis

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Hadada Ibis

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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The Wattled Starling gets its name from the black wattles (there's a surprise) which are only found in breeding males.

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Red Knobbed Coot

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As we climb out of the crater, I can feel the altitude affecting my chest, and I star coughing uncontrollably to the point of almost blacking out.

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The crater walls are near vertical in places, with trees somehow still clinging on to the slope.

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The view from the top back over the crater is nothing short of spectacular!

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I sleep the entire journey onwards to the gate with sheer exhaustion from the incessant coughing. Thankfully, we are now going down to a lower altitude for the rest of the trip.

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While Malisa signs us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we amuse ourselves by watching the baboons. Unfortunately these cheeky animals have become used to stealing food stuff from the large trucks coming from the markets, and as a result are now very aggressive every time they see a vehicle.

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These little monkeys have found some spilt rice on the ground.

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I can't stop myself dropping off to sleep in the car for the next part of the journey either, but fortunately I wake up as the sun starts to set and we approach our accommodation for the night.

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As soon as we enter the large grounds of this super tented camp, we spot a few impala in the near-darkness.

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The low light capabilities of this camera (Canon EOS 5D IV), is phenomenal. For my photographer friends, this picture was taken at ISO 16,000 with no noise reduction applied.

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One of the things I really like about Maramboi, is all the animals found in its grounds at any time of day or night. This is our third time staying here, and we have not been disappointed yet.

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Banded Mongoose

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Impala with the rooms behind.

When we check in I ask for a room nearest the restaurant / reception / car park so that I don't have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. They oblige and give us the closest room. That will help my poor lungs tremendously.

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As I said earlier, the grounds of the Maramboi are full of wild animals, and you are strictly forbidden to walk around after dark on your own. We call an askari (Maasai guard) to escort us from the room to dinner. Acting fairly agitated, he shines his torch on the next but one room from us. Two eyes look back at us from the bushes just by the entrance to the room. "Lion" says the askari.

You can see an arrow pointing to the location of the lion below, on a picture taken last year. In fact that was our room last year.

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There is a buzz of nervousness at dinner, with our waitress admitting to being “very scared”. There is only us and one other couple staying, and I get the feeling the staff can't wait to get away.

As it is an almost clear night, I want to take some photos of the stars this evening. For safety reasons the manager is understandably not willing to switch any lights off for me apart from those far out by the swimming pool, so I have to made do with what I've got and embrace the floodlit of trees as part of my picture.

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So, so many stars, with a few clouds partly obscuring the Milky Way

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As you can see from the arrow in the picture below, the lion is not exactly far away. The guards are constantly shining their torches across the grass, making sure they know where the lion is at all times.

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While photographing the stars, I can hear a car starting up, and later the askari who walks us to the room tells us that they 'lost' the lion temporarily, but found him when they went out with the Land Rover. He's killed a warthog and is tucking into his supper, so we can all relax a little for a while.

At the end of another fabulous day on safari with Calabash Adventures, I want to say thank you to Malisa, our wonderful guide, for not just being a fantastic driver, but also for looking after me while I have been feeling so poorly on this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged night sunset travel africa safari tanzania zebra donkeys lion rhino maasai giraffe baboons crane stars serengeti black_rhino ngorongoro heron ibis impala starling weaver warthog astro ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard milky_way night_shots calabash_adventures best_safari_company maramboi seneto naabi_hill olive_baboon widow_bird wattled_starling lapwing lodoare_gate maramboi_tented_camp astro_photography Comments (6)

Montrouis - Moulin sur Mer beach resort

More chill time

storm 36 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am up early this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds.

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Yellow Faced Grassquit

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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White Necked Crow

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Bananaquit

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

The hotel also has domestic ducks and geese on its ponds; as well as a pigeon loft.

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Breakfast

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Lots of lovely fresh mango, and French toast with bacon - one of my favourite breakfasts!

Montrouis Beach

Apart from a conch shell salesman, and a sunbed stacker, we have the beach to ourselves this morning.

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It is blisteringly hot and suddenly my tummy doesn't feel good at all. In fact, it is so sudden that I don't make it back to the bathroom on time – a most unpleasant experience.

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You'll be glad to know that there are no photos of my little "accident".

Lunch

Today is Sunday, so lunch is a buffet.

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Chicken curry, national rice, fried plantains, creamed corn and tomato salad

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A delightfully tart passionfruit mousse

Rain? What rain?

The forecast for this weekend (and beyond) has consistently showed rain, rain and more rain, plus the odd thunder shower. There is certainly no sign of that this afternoon, the sea is sparkling in the sunshine.

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We sit for a while just gazing out to sea and those mesmerizing sparkles of sunshine dancing across the water like little luminous fairies. Life is good, until my tummy tells me that the lunch is an unwelcome guest and is about to be evicted, so we retire to the cool room. Next door is a lovely local family who are here for the weekend with their small child. I am unconcerned when I hear hear the key being turned in the connecting door as it is surely locked from both sides; but before I have had the chance to say “I'd better put some clothes on”, the girl and her father are in our room. I don't know who is most shocked: the kid or her dad! For the rest of their stay he avoids all eye contact with me.

I guess that is my cue to get dressed and head out to wait for the sunset.

There are a few more people down at the beach this afternoon; both in and out of the water.

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Tonight's sunset is not a patch on yesterday's, but the 'Bushwacker' cocktail more than makes up for it: Khalua, Amaretto, Baileys, cream and ice cream. Heaven in a glass!

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What the evening sky lacks in terms of colour, intensity and clouds, it more than makes up for in a passing lightning storm.

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Dinner

On the menu tonight is langoustine thermador – one of my favourite dishes. It certainly lives up to expectations.

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Thank you to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for yet another day here in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:05 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sea water sunset ocean beach storm caribbean sleep drinking birding photography lightning thunder woodpecker cocktail haiti lightning_storm langoustine bird_watching kestrel american_kestrel moulin_sur_mer montrouis voyages_lumier twitcher hispaniolan_woodpecker grassquit yellow_faced_grassquit bananaquit kingbird grey_kingbird waterskiing bushwalker_cocktail langoustine_thermador Comments (0)

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