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Edge of the World

Stunning desert scenery


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a morning at leisure, Ali, our guide here in Riyadh, picks us up at 13:00, with the words: “Have you had lunch?” When we confirm that we have not eaten anything since breakfast, he replies: “Oh good!”

Heading North West out of Riyadh, he stops in a small town to buy food from a restaurant for our picnic. Being very environmentally conscious, he carries his own insulated food containers, so that no packaging is wasted. I like him already!

Our first stop after we turn off the tarmac road is a small area of Huraymila National Park, where Arabian Sand Gazelle, locally known as Reem Deer (Gazella marica), have been reintroduced.

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Off Road Driving
There is a marked dirt track leading to the Edge of the World viewpoint, but Ali, like us, thinks it is much more fun to drive off-road. He is obviously a very experienced 4x4 driver, something that is confirmed when he tells us he is on the board of the organisation that rescues stranded motorists in this region.

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Picnic
We spend a little time looking for the best spot to enjoy our picnic lunch; somewhere that is free of scorpions and snakes and offers some shade from the fierce Arabian sun. We find the perfect place in a dried-up riverbed.

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Ali has come prepared, with blankets, mats, cushions, and pouffes to sit on, as well as bowls, cutlery, and paper towels.

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With my bad knee, I would be unable to get back off the floor if I was to sit that far down, so I have brought my own foldable stool. I love this stool, with its clever telescopic mechanism – it was invaluable during my trip to France, where I used it all the time while I was photographing the white horses of Camargue. It folds down really small, is surprisingly light, and is extremely strong, marketed as being able to hold 500 lbs, which is considerably more than my large frame weighs.

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As soon as I set the stool down on the ground and plonk my bottom on it, I hear some ominous creaking. I immediately start to get back up again, but too late: the whole thing has collapsed in a thousand pieces below me, leaving me on my back on the desert floor, flailing my arms and legs in the air like an upturned beetle, and rolling with laughter.

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The poor stool

Ali springs into action. Getting David to grab me under my left elbow, he places both his hands under my arms and effortlessly lifts me up again as if I am just an ordinary shopping bag in the grocery store. Wow!

You will be pleased to know that the only thing that was injured was the stool.

Post note: as soon as we got home, we wrote to the seller, explaining what happened, and had a very nice reply with apologies and full responsibility as well as a replacement stool.

For safety and comfort, I retire to the front seat of the car to eat my lunch.

Lamb Mandi
Originating in Yemen, mandi is a very popular dish in Saudi Arabia. Traditionally cooked in an underground oven, these days a tandoor is usually used. Initially, the meat is boiled with special spices, and the spiced stock is then used to cook the basmati rice at the bottom of the tandoor. The meat is suspended inside the tandoor above the rice and without touching the charcoal. After that, the whole tandoor is then closed with clay for up to eight hours.

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The tasty meat falls off the bone, and the rice is lovely and fluffy. There is so much food left over, however, I feel rather guilty for not eating more.

After finishing up our lunch and packing away up the leftovers to feed to the animals later, we make our way back to the main track. There used to be two choices of two tracks leading up to the Edge of the World, but following a fatal accident involving Italian tourists and their driver, the other route was closed for safety reasons.

We can see from a distance that we are most certainly not going to be alone at the viewpoint, so when Ali suggests going to another area he knows, which also has some spectacular views, we jump at the chance.

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Not only do I get some good images of this stunning scenery, but I also have a very willing model to 'photobomb' my images while dressed the part. Perfect!

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Edge of the World
The spectacular cliffs popularly known as The Edge of the World, are part of the 800-km long Tuwaiq Escarpment. The official name is Jebel Fihrayn.

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It is a very popular place for an afternoon excursion, taking around 1.5 hours from Riyadh, especially on a weekend (today is Saturday). I didn't expect it to be quite so touristy, there is even an official car park here!

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Not being a fan of heights and having a healthy respect for crumbling cliffs, there is no way you'd find me climbing to the top of this rock.

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Looking out over the edge of the precipice, you can see the ancient ocean floor some 300 metres below.

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As you can see, the view I had hoped to get for my photograph, is photobombed by a group of Americans having a picnic. With some clever composition and a little Photoshop magic, I manage to get a semi-decent shot without them.

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We hang around to see the sun set behind the rocks, then head back to the main road avoiding the official dirt track so as not to travel behind other vehicles and eat their dust!

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Ali heads for a spot in the national park where there is a small well/spring for animals to have access to water. He leaves the leftover food here for the wildlife to finish off.

Stopping just once more for Ali to partake in his evening prayers, we head back to the main road, Riyadh and our hotel, where we learn that poor Bacha was not informed that we were leaving at 13:00, not 16:00 as we first thought, and he turned up at 16:00 to much confusion.

Room Service
Back at the hotel, we struggle to get into the room as the key card, which has been quite temperamental, is now completely refusing to cooperate. After having it reprogrammed by reception, it works first time.

We order a couple of pepperoni pizzas from room service, of course, pepperoni is made from beef, not pork here in Saudi. When they arrive, we realise that we could probably have made do with just one between us, as they are quite large. There is lots of cheese, the base is crispy and the filling is tasty.

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We take an early night after a great day, as organised for us by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:04 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged sunset fall off_road 4x4 crowds photoshop weekend cliff picnic photography pizza national_park mandi 4wd gazelle riyadh lamb saudi_arabia viewpoint traditional_food undiscovered_destinations off_road_driving jebel touristy room_service huraymila huraymila_national_park arabian_sand_gazelle sand_gazelle edge_of_the_world collapsible_stool telescopic_stool foldable_stool falling_off lamb_mandi arabic_food photobombs precipice ancient_ocean_floor tuwaiq tuwaiq_escarpment escarpment jebel_fihrayn Comments (4)

Porto Jofre - Araras

An exciting transfer


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After the early starts over the last few days, we are delighted to be able to have a lie-in this morning, with the alarm set for 05:30! David's eyes were stuck shut when he woke up, and he feels so rotten, he wishes he was back home! Poor thing.

After breakfast we try and find reception to settle our bill – we are moving on to a new playground today.

On the way, we have a mini-safari in the hotel grounds.

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Jabiru

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Buff Necked Ibis

Southern River Otter
This is the same little otter than was chased into the restaurant by a jaguar on our first evening here. Although not a pet or tame as such, she has become habituated and is unafraid of humans.

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The staff has named her Belinha, which means “little beautiful”.

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Belinha checks out David's new shows.

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They get her seal of approval – or is that otterly approved?

She follows us into reception, running around our feet as we pay our dues. At one point she gets a little too excited and bites my toe - she has sharp teeth, but thankfully she doesn't break the skin. Thank goodness she is only playing, I am sure those gnashers could cause some intense damage if she was serious.

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Jabiru - I love the way they strut around as if they own the place!

Flight Transfer
Instead of travelling to Araras by car, we have opted for a flight transfer, and our plane is here already.

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With scruffy jeans and a camouflage shirt, long greasy hair and covered in tattoos, Julinho so does not look like a stereotypical pilot! He is delightful, though, speaks great English and has a super sense of humour.

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We had hoped to do a panoramic flight over the national park as part of the transfer, but the message does not seem to have come through to Julianho, who is most apologetic when he explains that he does not have enough fuel to do that, much as he would be more than happy to.

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Getting into the plane involves climbing up onto the wing, and somehow sliding myself in. I manage without too much difficulty.


Take-off
To call it a 'runway' would be a gross exaggeration, the airstrip is, in fact, a patch of land with gravel and grass. You can see it on the Google Earth map below.

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Space is at a premium inside, and I daren't move a muscle for fear of touching some of the controls as I am sitting next to the pilot in the front. There is no room for the luggage, so that travels separately in another truck that is going that way today anyway.

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You can see my knees jammed right up against the dashboard.

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The lodge we just left

Photography, as a result, is extremely challenging. Not just because of not being able to move around freely as I did in the back seat of the helicopter (where there was loads more legroom too), but also because none of the windows open, they are small and covered in scratches and splattered with kamikaze insects. Oh, and my side is into the sun.

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It does, however, make for some great shots of the low sun reflecting in the rivers. Well... they would be great if the dirty window wasn't there.

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You can see why they call it a wetland.

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Julinho points out Areras Lodge, our next overnight accommodation as we fly past. Unlike Porto Jofre, Araras does not have its own airstrip, so we are carrying on to Poconé and will drive back down the Transpantaneira (the long straight track that runs through the Pantanal wetlands that you can see in the photo) to reach the lodge.

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As we get nearer to Poconé, we see gold mines rather than wetlands.

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As we approach the landing strip in Poconé, Roberto points out to Julinho that there is another small aircraft that is due to land just before him. Oops. We do a swift, about-turn, and circle the town to come back when it is safe.


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At least it means that I get to see Poconé from the air; which I otherwise would have missed as there would have been no reason to fly over the city because of where the airstrip is located.


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While I am sure they would still have been able to avoid each other, I guess this is what in aviation terms would be classed as a near-miss. When there is no air traffic control, you have to rely on physically seeing any other aircraft.

Landing in Poconé is somewhat bumpy – the landing strip here is not a great deal better than the one in Porto Jofre.

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Getting out of the aircraft can only be described as 'interesting'. None of the other three can help me, as I have to get out before them. The lack of space is not helping one bit, and obviously, neither is the fact that I struggle to bend my knee.

Eventually, I manage to swing myself around so that my bum is resting on the wing. What now? The owner of the plane, and the driver who has come to pick us up for the road transfer look on with bemusement, not sure whether to laugh or cry. When I start to laugh, they nervously join in.

By the time I have endeavoured to somehow get my legs out of the cockpit, with some pushing and lifting by Julinho, and swing those same legs over the top of the plane while lying on my back on the wing, everyone is roaring with laughter. “No need to go to the gym today!” says Julinho.

I slowly slide down the wing, conscious of not losing my pants in the process, I land on the ground with whatever small amount of dignity I have left and smile broadly. “Welcome to Poconé” says the plane's owner.

Thankfully there is no video of this, as David is still inside the aircraft.

Poconé
We ask Roberto to stop at a pharmacy for David to get something for his sore throat. The pharmacist himself shines a torch down into his throat and exclaims: “that is very red and looks extremely sore. I think you have a bad infection there!” He prescribes antibiotics for the throat and drops for the eyes.

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The pharmacy

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David's poorly eye - not a pretty sight!

Transpantaneira Safari
Roberto says we will take a safari on our way to the lodge, and instructs Mr Marcos to drive slowly. I never see him smile once during the entire journey and rename him Misery Guts.

Charity Cycle Ride
The first thing we see is a plethora of MILCC – Middle Aged Lycra Clad Cyclists. Actually, they are not all middle-aged, but few of them have the usual cycling event type body. This is a charity event and one that whole families and groups of friends can take part in.

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Roberto claims he's never seen so much traffic on the Transpanntaneira before, not only the 500 or so participants on bikes but also sponsors, police, ambulances, pick-up trucks, supporters, bike carriers for those who have given up, food suppliers, water trucks and more.

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Ambulance

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There is no shame in admitting defeat

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Prat's, the sponsors (they make orange juice)

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More bikers abandon the ride

I must admit I would not want to cycle on the Transpantaneira – not just the heat, but the dust! Every time a car goes past, a cloud of dust gets thrown up and hangs in the air, just waiting to enter those poor cyclists' lungs.

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As for wildlife, it is conspicuous with its absence today, undoubtedly as a result of the charity event with its numerous cyclists and vehicles.

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Little Blue Heron

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Black Necked Stilt

Pousada Araras Eco Lodge

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As soon as we arrive, Roberto negotiates with the manager for us to have a room nearer the restaurant and parking area. Good man. The room is not ready yet, however, so we have a drink in the shade while we wait.

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The lodge consists of several accommodation blocks set in lovely grounds that include a swimming pool.

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Each room has a couple of comfy chairs and a hammock on the veranda, and the interior is cool and cosy.

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Flower decoration on our bed

The one thing that I find surprising here, is the number of children. We saw none in Porto Jofre, whereas here there are several – German, French, English, American and Brazilian.

Lunch
We hear a bell at 11:30, which we later learn is the dinner bell. By the time we arrive at 12:30, all the tables under cover appear to be taken. There is one free table out on the patio, in the shade, that is laid up. When we get nearer, we discover it has a name on it: “Matias Family x 4”. The waiter casually moves the sign to an empty table and beckons us to sit down.

As usual, the food is served as a buffet – I so don't like buffets! There is a large bucket filled with ice, where soft drinks and beer are found, and you just help yourself. I assume the waiter makes a note of it from your table, hence the names.

As I rummage through what is left of soft drinks in the cooler, I come across cans of Guaraná, and memories from our last visit to Brazil come flooding back. I was completely hooked on this drink back then.

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It still tastes just as good as I remember.

The main course may be a buffet, but the dessert is served! And very nice it is too!

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Afternoon Safari
Araras Lodge has a number of included activities, mostly centred around trekking, horse riding and canoeing. As my poorly knee will not allow me to do any of those, Roberto has arranged for the use of a car every day we are here, and we will do car safaris.

This afternoon Roberto drives the vehicle himself, with me in the front and David in the back seat. Bird sightings begin even before we get into the car, right here in the grounds of the hotel.

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Rufous Hornero

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Campo Flicker

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Striated Heron

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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Greater Kiskadee

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Green Ibis

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Purpleish Jay

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Bare Faced Curassow

Sundowners
As we return to the lodge in time for sunset, a welcome drink of champagne and nibbles has been laid on for us, overlooking the lagoon as the sun goes down.

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Dinner
At dinner, we join an English family with two teenage boys, who are absolutely delightful. Much as I love chatting to people, I do tend to be rather antisocial when we travel, but here we don't have a great deal of choice. There are no tables for two, and the barman tries to get you to mix by placing you with different people each night - hence the names on the tables.

Still feeling rough, and no doubt knocked out from the antibiotics he is now taking, David goes straight to bed after eating. Roberto and I, however, go out into the wilderness in search of a good place for shooting the Milky Way.

He knows of a large open area with some old farming machinery left lying around that could be used as a foreground.

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The stars are absolutely amazing tonight, with no light pollution whatsoever on the horizon. These are truly dark skies!

Goodnight from Araras and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:07 Archived in Brazil Tagged sunset wildlife flight dinner safari brazil lunch brasil eye jay south_america stars heron stilt ibis cardinal spoonbill gold_mine guarana pharmacy bubbly pantanal eco-lodge astro cockpit drops mosquitos otter antibiotics jabiru milky_way pocone astro_photography wildlife_photography undiscovered_destination throat_infection araras port_jofre southern_river_otter small_aircraft pantanal_from_the_air near_miss transpananeira charity_cycle_ride cycle_ride cycylists pousada_araras safarai_by_car jeep_safari hornero flicker curassow sundowner chanpagne unlimted_champage Comments (6)

Iguaçu - day trip to Argentina

A new day, a new country, a new viewpoint


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning at breakfast, we pick up an extra cookie, which we break up on our table hoping to attract some of the colourful birds. You could say “that's the way the cookie crumbles”. We don't have to wait long before the first visitor arrives.

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Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

We deliberately sit at the table nearest the one that staff use as a bird feeding station, despite the seats being outside the covered roof, thus damp from the spray of the falls overnight.

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Melissa comes along, puts some crumbs in her hand, and a jay almost immediately lands and stuffs its face while perched on her fingers. Apparently, only one bird will eat from the hands, and they have affectionately named it Philhelmina.

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David tries to do the same, holding his arm out at a right angle for so long it begins to hurt, but he only gets one very quick grab-and-go visit.

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While we wait for Carini to pick us up for today's excursion, we do some more bird watching out the front of the hotel.

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Black-fronted piping guan, colloquially known as Jungle Turkey. I can see why.

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Southern Lapwing

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Scaly headed parrot

We make a quick stop at another viewing platform on the Brazilian side of the falls before continuing.

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Unlike yesterday, which had a reasonably thick cloud cover all, day, today the sun is shining; creating beautiful rainbows over the falls.

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Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, the park is closed for cleaning every Monday, so the only people we see today are those who are staying in the Belmond Hotel.

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Argentina
From the viewing platform, we continue out of the park and the short distance to the Argentine border. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, and while Brazil has the best views for that very reason, there are some interesting boardwalks on the Argentine side, including one that goes right up to the edge of the most impressive of all the falls, The Devil's Throat.

But first, we have to get into the country.

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Getting out of Brazil is reasonably quick, but the official at the Argentine immigration claims that we should have filled in and printed out an online application before we arrived. Carini is confused about this, as she came through here last week with British tourists and was not asked for this paper then. “They can be so bureaucratic,” she says. We are sent to a 'special immigration office', but to get there we have to make a U-turn and join the original queue again. Carini is having none of that and opens up a new line by moving some bollards.

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Carini is gone for ages, and we can see the official typing away on his keyboard, completing the online forms for us, and we are each issued with a number, which we then take back to the original immigration booth for them to access our online form.

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The official studies us intently (David and I have been in the car all this time, letting Carini sort out all the paperwork – that is one of the many reasons we like to have a guide!), before declaring that David's date of birth has been typed in wrong. Sigh.

Being sent back to the 'special immigration office', Carini is at her wit's end, and states that she is prepared to use tears to get what she wants. David and I both burst into song: “Don't cry for me Argentina...”

After one hour and lots of frustration, we are finally in!

The last time we came to the Argentine side of the falls, some 32 years ago, we parked up at the then Sheraton Hotel (now the Grand Meliá) and walked down from there. These days it is very commercialised, very modern, very well organised.

The entrance is huge and the distances great, so Carini arranges a buggy to take me to the train station. Despite there being plenty of room in the buggy, Carini, as a local guide, is not allowed to travel with us, but has to walk.

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Train tickets are timed, and at the station, there is a large waiting area with a souvenir shop and cafeteria.

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The announcer is a perfect character for the job, and obviously very funny, as he creates a lot of laughter. It's a shame I can't understand what he is saying. He comes over to me and explains that despite having tickets for the following train, he will not only get me on the next one, but ushers me onto the platform to ensure I get to board first!

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At least Carini is allowed to travel with us on the train!

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The train makes one stop at the start of the falls, before continuing to the end station and the trail leading to The Devil's Throat.

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On the map below, you can see the route from the car park, through the Visitors Centre and Entrance, then the train track down to the station at the end.

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Last time we only walked the yellow trail along the top of the different cataracts nearest the hotel, so this is an all-new experience for us.

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David and I make a slow start on the boardwalk, while Carini goes off to get a wheelchair for me.

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The trail is around a mile in each direction, so theoretically I should be able to do it under my own steam. I don't want to completely ruin my already painful knee at this early stage of the trip, however, so the wheelchair is very welcome when it arrives.

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Along the way, we cross little islands while turtles and birds rest on rocks jutting out of the river.

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Arriving at the end of the boardwalk, there are many people and a kind of one-way roundabout system to relieve congestion. It works very well.

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From a distance, the cascade looks impressive, but that is nothing to how overwhelming the view is once you are literally on the precipice of the falls.

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Devil's Throat
The horse-shoe-shaped cataract gets its name from an old legend in which an indigenous chief's daughter, named Naipi, was considered so beautiful that she was able to stop the waters of the Iguaçu River. Learning that her father had offered her to the god M'Boy, she escapes across the river in a canoe with her young warrior lover called Tarobá. M'boy was furious, and in retaliation, opened up a huge chasm in the river, turned Naipi into a rock, and Tarobá into a palm tree at the edge of a nearby abyss. It is said that M'boy stands at this spot to guard over the two young lovers to this day.

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Devils Throat is made up of 14 separate powerful waterfalls and at 82 metres, has the highest drop of any of the cataracts in the entire waterfall system; and is also the most photographed.

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The sheer power of the water tumbling over the edge of the river is mind-blowing, and the spray gets everywhere, as you can see from the video below.


I am forever cleaning my lens!

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The image below, taken from a helicopter, shows just how close to the edge of the waterfall that viewing platform is!

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The whole experience is totally breathtaking, and I am so mesmerised by the fast-moving water that I don't want to leave!

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The time has come to return to Brazil, however, and we head back to the train station, where there are as many coati as there are passengers.

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I rename the station Coati Central.

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One of them manages to get into the pushchair storage area of the train, making a passenger in our compartment completely freak out.

The same lovely buggy driver takes us back to the entrance area where we grab a quick burger before returning to the border.

Getting out of Argentina is way easier than getting in! The officials on the Brazilian side want to see our Covid Vaccination certificates – we do have hard copies but didn't think to take them with us today. Doh! We can show digital versions on our phones though, which is good enough for the officers. While David goes with Carini to the office, I stay in the car. They come back for me to find my document on my phone, but by the time they get back to the office with my phone, the screen has blanked and the image 'disappeared'. Thankfully David is able to find it again after some searching.

Insect bites
Both David and I seem to have suffered quite a few insect bites since we've been here at Iguaçu.

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With David, it is his legs that have been attacked, for me, it is my arms.

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The Belmond Tower
I politely decline when David suggests he wants to climb the tower at the hotel, which offers great views over the grounds and the falls beyond. I give him my camera with a fish-eye lens attached and send him on his way.

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David gets creative while photographing the staircase, and I apply a creative edit

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Sunset
As we are getting ready for dinner, we notice that there is a beautiful sunset this evening.

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Dinner
Forgetting that Brazilians eat their evening meal much later than we do in the UK, we arrive at the restaurant at 19:00, only to be told that the à la carte dinner is not served until 19:30. We are offered some nachos while we wait.

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Tonight's waitress Ana, is delightful, and we have many laughs. She later comes back to apologise for a joke she told about 'musical condoms', which she feared may have been inappropriate. She obviously does not know our sense of humour.

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We order a small pepperoni pizza each, which, when it comes, really is small.

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At least it means that we have room for dessert.

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David's lemon pie

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My meringue with berries - I love the design of the plate!

Ana persuades us to try a glass of dessert wine – she suggests two different ones, so we try one each and swap.

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With coffee and liqueurs to follow (Baileys and Cointreau), we are not surprised when the bill for the evening comes to around £200.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds sunset tower waterfall dinner rainbow argentina brazil birding pizza iguazu jay south_america cascade helicopter turtle dessert bureaucracy anhinga boardwalk coati immigration iguacu devils_throat wheelchair guan finch spray baileys devil's_throat cataracts fish_eye undiscovered_destinations nachos belmond lapwing insect_bites belmond_hotel_das_cataratas feeding_the-birds lemon_pie meringue cointreau ecological_train torn_ligament lens_cleaning fish_eye_lens dessert_wine Comments (2)

Arusha - Dar es Salaam - London - Bristol

Heading home


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With a free morning before our flight home, we were hoping for some decent bird watching in the grounds on Kia Lodge. There are, however, surprisingly and disappointingly, few birdies this morning.

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House Sparrow

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Millipede

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Some sort of butterfly or moth - I have been unable to identify it

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Dwarf Yellow Headed Gecko

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The Fork Tailed Drongo makes it the 158th trip tick (number of different species we've seen on this trip), of which 19 are lifers (new species to us).

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Some of our lifers from the trip

We spend some time chatting to a Dutch lady by the swimming pool, chilling in the room, and having lunch, before it is time to leave. The transfer to the airport is by open sided safari vehicle!

We fly via Dar es Salaam, and have a great view of Tanzania's former capital from the air.

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Soon the sun is going down and we sit back to sleep our way to Doha and onward to London Heathrow.

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The only thing I worry about when we get to Heathrow, is that Big Bertha (my Canon 600mm lens, which, because of its size, I had to check into the hold) arrives in one piece. She does, and all is well in the Howard Household yet again. Now all I have to do is to edit the 55,000 photos I took. Footnote: it took me six months to finish!

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Big Bertha in her solid housing.

The safari has been amazing from start to finish, with super accommodation, fantastic company, and some great bird and animal sightings. Thank you again Tillya and Halima of Calabash Adventures, and of course, the wonderful Malisa, without whom the trip would not have been what it was. Love you guys ♥

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:54 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunset flight airport tanzania birding butterfly gecko sparrow heathrow millipede drongo dar_es_salaam big_bertha calabash_adventures kilimanjaro_airport kia_lodge Comments (1)

Ndutu X - lion, 1000 wildebeest, dung beetles, cheetah cubs

A perfect end to a perfect day


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We set off after lunch to see what nature has to offer us here in Ndutu, and hopefully find a wildebeest herd where we can witness a birth.

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African Hoopoe

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Juvenile Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

Lion

Under a tree we see a magnificent male lion. Initially just resting, he soon sits up surveying the tourists arriving.

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Big yawn. And other funny facial expressions.

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He licks his chops and walks straight towards us.

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Too close for comfort, or at least for photography!

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It's only when we drive away that we realise that Dickson (our driver during our first three safaris in Tanzania) and his clients are right behind us.

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Two Banded Courser

Eurasian Avocet

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"What are you looking at?"

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Blacksmith Plover

Wildebeest Migration

Continuing on our way, we drive alongside thousands of wildebeest, running in an (almost) single file.

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The line seems to go on forever, then group into a HUGE herd, surrounding us on every side, and they just keep on coming.

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More and more and more arrive, a never ending stream of wildebeest join the mêlée, until there is just a sea of horns.

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We see very few babies in amongst this crowd though. A few of the females look like they are ready – they are fat, their nipples have developed and they are struggling to walk – but none are just about to drop. Oh well, we'll keep searching.

Zebra

A few zebras have joined the wildebeest, and we see a few babies too. Our hearts stop as we spot what appears to be a dead baby zebra in the grass.

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We hold our breath when the mother appears and starts nudging her little foal. Is he alive?

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Yes, he is, and he soon runs off with his mother. Phew.

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Dung Beetles

So many wildebeest in one place means two things: 1. we are eaten alive by pesky flies, and 2. it is a dung beetle's paradise.

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Within a few minutes, large piles of dung are turned into neat little balls and rolled away.

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With my love of dung beetles, I am totally in my element here, and before I know it I have taken over a thousand photos of... basically a pile of shit - plus these fascinating insects, of course.

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It is now several hours since we last saw any other cars or human activity. This may be the height of the season in Ndutu, but it is still possible to have large areas all to yourself. Most people go back to the lodge for lunch, preferring to stay out of the sun in the midday heat. I can see why, as we are being cooked to perfection even in the shade of the car. I wouldn't want to miss an animal experience though!

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Greater Spotted Thick Knee

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Light Tawny Eagle

European White Stork

A number of storks return to roost for the night, gliding effortlessly across the savannah.

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Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands! They just keep on coming.

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And I just keep on photographing them.

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And the wildebeest just keep on walking.

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The storks are followed by a large flock of Cattle Egrets.

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Even a small chattering of Wattled Starlings join in. (chattering is the collective noun for starlings)

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Cheetah

A mum and her two cubs are very active in the late afternoon sun, running around and playing and for the next 30 minutes or so we delight in their antics. The dozen or so photos you will see here, are whittled down from a massive 1200 images – that amounts to around one picture a second!

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I have nothing more to say about this encounter, I think the note I made in my journal at the time sums it up!

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Much as we'd love to stay and watch these adorable little animals for longer, we really have to go. We are still quite some distance away from the lodge, and have to be back by 19:00.

Sunset

As we approach Lake Ndutu, I gasp. I don't think I have ever seen such a spectacular sunset here in Tanzania before.

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I make poor Malisa stop time after time as a new vista comes into view.

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Thankfully sunsets are over rather rapidly this close to the Equator, and we can continue on our way back to the lodge as originally planned.

Until we get to the Marsh.

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The light is really poor now, too dark for photography, so I don't feel bad that we don't stop long.

We do, however, stop to help out this vehicle which is well and truly bogged down.

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Not sure I'd like to be out of the vehicle this close to two lions.

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And they're out!

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Having to rush along the basic tracks that make up Ndutu's 'road system', we dislodge an enormous amount of dust. It seems almost incongruous that a few days ago there was heavy rain and every track was a mud bath.

Ndutu Lodge

We finally make it back to the lodge by 19:30, and after a quick shower and change we are the last to dinner. Again.

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Apple, feta and walnut stack with home made dressing

Somehow I forget to take a photo of the main course, which was lamb tagine with couscous, green beans and courgettes. I do, however, snap a picture of a large moth enjoying what's left on David's plate.

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A very tasty Malva Pudding for dessert

The excellent arrangements for this safari was made by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra eagle birding cheetah lion stork egrets avocet starlings migration wildebeest courser bird_watching hoopoe wild_animals dung_beetles ndutu calabash_adventures lake_ndutu thick_knee wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle plover lapwing game_viewing blacksmith_plover annual_migration wildlife_photography big_marsh wild_birds cheetah_cubs ndutu_lodge the_great_migration african_birds cattle_egrets africa_safari aniams african-animals thickknee Comments (2)

Ndutu IV: zebra, stuck in mud, lion in a tree

What an adventurous afternoon!


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Picnic Lunch

We find the only tree for miles around, under which to have our picnic this lunchtime. There is something very special about eating our lunch in the wild.

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After lunch we go on our way again to see what else nature has to offer us today.

Zebra

The first wildlife we see is a few zebra.

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One month old baby

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Two month old baby suckling

This Grant's gazelle is all on its own, miles from anywhere and any other animals. Most odd.

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Bogged Down

There are not many animals in this area, so we decide to move on elsewhere. Although there is a track, it is very muddy and pot-holed, so Malisa drives off-road; heading towards a forested area we can see in the distance. While the plains look fine on the surface, the ground is sodden underneath, hidden by the long grass; so Malisa speeds up to try and avoid sinking in to the soft soil. It makes for a very bouncy ride, and poor Bertha (my 600mm lens) falls off the seat onto the floor and gets detached from the camera body. Hoping she has not suffered any damage, I put her back together again and leave her on the floor - at least then she can't fall anywhere!

The ground gets wetter and wetter, but Malisa manages to stay afloat so to speak, by turning on the four wheel drive and some skilful driving skimming across the surface. Until we hit a hole created by termites. We come to an abrupt halt, and no amount of revving the engine or turning the wheels makes any difference. We're stuck. Well and truly bogged down.

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Malisa gets out the spade and tries to dig us out, while David and I make sure we are facing opposite directions as we scan the horizon for wild animals. In areas with lots of plains game such as wildebeest, antelopes or zebra, you know you are reasonably safe from predators; whereas here there are no signs of life, human or animal for as far as the eye can see. I stare so intently at the surrounding area that every bush and tree becomes a cheetah or a lion. This is not good for my blood pressure! Five minutes later the same bush again looks like a big cat - I soon become paranoid and start seeing signs of danger with every small movement of the vegetation. David admits to his imagination playing havoc with him in the same way too.

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David on the look-out

Having worked up a sweat trying to shift the heavy wet soil and make a sold path for the wheels, Malisa gets back in the car and tries to drive off again. The wheels just spin and spin. It's no good, we are still stuck.

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Time to radio for help. All morning the radio has been going, with the occasional message about an exciting cat sighting, but mostly calls for help to get out of a sticky situation like this. Malisa grabs the microphone. Nothing. Completely dead. We can hear others, but they can't hear us. He keeps trying but it is obvious the microphone is faulty. Kaput.

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Plan C: Modern technology to the rescue, Malisa whips out his mobile phone to call for help. No signal. I try mine. Also no signal. David, who is on a different network to me, has a very weak signal, so Malisa uses it to make a call to the lodge. After initially having to explain to the confused receptionist why he is calling from a British phone, Malisa is able to let them know what has happened, explain where we are as best as he can, and ask for assistance.

Meanwhile continues to try and dig us out, using a spade and a mud board. David and I go back to scan the horizon, not just for predators, but also for any other cars that may be able to help us out of this mess.

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In the far, far distance, we spot three cars heading from right to left. They are too far away to see us, we can only just make them out using binoculars. How to attract their attention? Malisa tries using his torch, and David waves his mobile phone around with the light on. Both are way too weak to be seen, and anyway, the others will probably just think it is a reflection of the sun.

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I have a bright idea. Taking the speedlight flash gun from my camera bag, I set it on full power and use the TEST button to fire it. Again and again and again. It seems to work, as the vehicles change direction and appear to be heading towards us, coming closer and closer. What a relief! When they are within shouting distance, Malisa tells them not to come any nearer, as there is no point for them to get stuck in the mud as well. Protecting himself with a stick against any potential wild animals, he walks over to the other cars.

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All three drivers come back over with Malisa – these are the same guys who we helped rescue earlier this morning down by Lake Ndutu – and discuss a plan of action. A few more attempts at digging us out are made, then the decision is taken that David and I should go with the others, who will take us back to the lodge. Meanwhile Malisa will stay with the car and wait for help. I argue. I don't want to leave Malisa on his own, but I am talking to deaf ears. I guess he is right when he says that we would be more of a hindrance than a help to the rescuers.

We quickly grab all our stuff and walk across to the other cars. Or at least try to. On my third step I sink knee deep in the mud. I manage to get my left leg out, but in the struggle to free the other one, my shoe gets left behind. Malisa ends up having to use his spade to dig it out. Someone mentions: “all that brown stuff is not just mud, you know...” Thanks a lot for that thought!

The passengers in the other cars are very welcoming, cheering as we arrive and offering us welcome drinks (cartons of juice) and cakes when we get inside the car. Thank goodness they have some spare seats! Only when we drive away do we realise that Malisa is stuck in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals (potentially) and without any form of communication. We should have left David's phone with him, the only one that worked! I feel really bad about that, but he is too far away to hear me shout, and anyway, none of us feel like traipsing through that mud (!) to go back to where he and the car is.

Douglas, our hero rescue driver, explains that we need to go back to close to the point where we had lunch (they had lunch not far away too - we could see them when we were picnicking) before trying to find the road that will take us back to the lodge. Like Malisa did, he drives at great speed over the boggy landscape, resulting in the windscreen being splattered with mud!

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As we carefully make our way towards the area where we can safely meet up with the track again, we chat to the other passengers. They are on their last day of a five day safari, and are disappointed that they haven't seen a cheetah yet. We try to explain to them where we saw the mother and cubs yesterday.

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Being in a full car (seven passengers plus driver), also makes me realise how spoilt we are for space with just the two of us. Plus Malisa, of course. Having a private safari is the only way to go in my opinion!

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Beautiful late afternoon light over Lake Ndutu

Wildebeest

We drive through large areas dotted with hundreds – no thousands – of wildebeest, some with young babies. Like us, the passengers in this car are on the lookout for a wildebeest-mama just about to give birth. They have not been lucky enough to witness that either, and of course, this afternoon is their last chance. We all frantically scan the herds to look for large bellies.

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We also see a couple of Black Backed Jackals running away. I am sitting in the front seat next to the driver, where photography is not so easy as standing up is difficult because the roof hatch doesn't line up with the footwell, and there is no 'aisle' to stand in like there is at the back. With all my camera gear on my lap, it is hard to manoeuvre myself in any direction.

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Giraffe

Stuck. Again.

Making our way back to Ndutu and the lodges, we have to cross the same boggy area near Lake Ndutu where we helped the car out of the mud earlier this morning. Guess what? Maggie, one of the other drivers in our convoy, gets stuck in the mud.

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Douglas drives our car as close as he dares, then gets out and attaches a tow rope to Maggie's car.

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Here we go:


Easy peasy!

The plains are bathed in a glorious warm glow from the setting sun.

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Someone in the car complains that they haven't seen anything 'interesting' this afternoon. Another good reason why I am so grateful we are not travelling in a group - to me every wild animal we see is interesting in its own right, it is not just about the big cats and other 'popular' animals. He does take a bit of stick for his comments from the others in the car, to be fair.

Lions

Back by the lake, our three lions are still hanging around. I hope our whinger from earlier is happy now. We notice a vehicle from the KOPE Lion Conservation Project is here too. They have followed these particular lions making their way from Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu. I later find out that these are the same lions we saw as tiny cubs in the crater back in May 2016 - how cool is that!?!

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Being in a convoy of three cars means that the lead car (which on this occasion is us) can't just find the best position at a sighting, he has to make sure the other two cars can get a good view too.

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We move along to give the other two cars access.

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It looks like the lions have been asleep all afternoon, and are now just waking up.

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He's on the move!

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His brother follows.

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OMG! He's climbed the tree again!

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“I might not make it, but I am going to try. Hold on tight!” says Douglas as he drives straight for the bushes. Not just into undergrowth, but shrubs the height of the car. He cuts through them as if they are just tall grasses. These cars – and their drivers – are amazing!

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The King looks magnificent as his surveys his domain. What light! What colours!

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He doesn't look all that comfortable.

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That's better!

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Definitely not comfortable!

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Unfortunately we have to leave as Douglas is dropping us off, and then taking his original passengers to another camp further away. When we arrive at Ndutu Lodge, he gives the manager the co-ordinates of Malisa's position from his GPS. We are relieved to later hear that help has gone out and have located Malisa; and they promise to let us know when Malisa and his rescuers arrive back safe and sound.

Shower

My feet and legs are filthy dirty after this afternoon's wallow in the mud, and I take my shoes and sock with me into the shower. There is mud everywhere and I feel guilty for using so much water to wash off. I am normally very conscious of my water usage when we travel, so it goes against the grain to stay in the shower for a long time.

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Dinner

The first thing we do when we get to the main building, is to ask the manager if Malisa is back. He is not. It is dark outside now and I am really concerned, but I am reassured to know that he is no longer on his own and they are working hard to rescue him.

There are not so many people in the restaurant tonight, two if the large groups from last night have moved on.

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Starter of Greek Quesadilla drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Followed by a very nice tomato soup which I did not photograph

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Peppered beef - tender and tasty. One of the many things I like about Ndutu Lodge is that they serve extra vegetables on the side. We eat a lot of veggies at home and I so miss them when travelling, as I find most restaurants merely plonk a bit of greenery on the plate for visual impact (if you're lucky).

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The dessert – described as After Dinner Chocolate Slice – is served too cold for my liking. I dislike any cold food straight out of the fridge! I even take ice cream out 10-15 minutes before serving it, or put it in the microwave at home. OK, so I'm weird, we all know that.

Small Spotted Genets

Ndutu Lodge is famous for its resident population of genets – small cat-like creatures who live in the rafters of the lodge. They are wild, but have become habituated to people (and flash guns). The kitchen staff tempt them into the lounge after dinner with leftovers, but they are free to come and go as they like. We later see them roaming the ground and climbing bushes when we go back to our room.

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I refuse to go to bed until Malisa is back, even if it means staying in the reception area half the night! We position ourselves in the bar so that we can see up the pathway leading to the car park, hoping that Malisa will come down this way before going to the drivers' quarters. Thankfully we don't have to wait too long, and when he arrives at around 21:30, we give him the biggest hug ever.

Malisa explains how his rescuers were unable to drive right up to where he was stuck, but like we did, they walked across and helped him dig out the car and place mud boards underneath the wheels. While waiting for them to turn up, Malisa also managed to fix the radio to get the microphone working again. He is such a star! We can go to bed happy and relieved now.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari, and Malisa for looking after us so well. We love you guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:05 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife adventure phone dinner mud safari tanzania zebra flash dirty birding dirt radio picnic shower lions giraffe mobile_phone gazelle stuck wildebeest douglas bird_watching maggie ndutu calabash_adventures jackals game_viewing picnic_lunch wildlife_photography malisa tree_climbing_lions ndutu_lodge lion_in_a_tree stuck_in_mud bogged_down rescued cell_phone no_phone_signal mud_board speedlight flash_gun camera_flash kope genets Comments (2)

Ndutu I: chameleon, lions, migration, cheetah

Goodbye Serengeti, hello Ndutu


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It's late afternoon as we leave Serengeti National park behind and head for pastures new, with five nights in the Ndutu region of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

There are just as many zebras here as there were the other side of the park border. Of course the animals don't have to check in and out of the parks as we do, and there are no physical borders.

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Wattled Starling

A tree by the side of the road is alive with these colourful and impressive-looking birds.

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They get their name from the long wattles found on the throat of breeding male birds, who also display unfeathered yellow skin and a black forehead (the rest of the year they are a dull grey)

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Female

Jackson's Chameleon

Without warning, Malisa comes to a screeching halt on the apparently empty road. Except it is not so empty. Malisa's eyes never cease to amaze me – he has spotted a chameleon crossing the road!

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They are seriously bizarre in the way they walk.


Having safely crossed the road, our little friend disappears up the bank and into the undergrowth. What an exciting sighting!

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European White Stork, a seasonal migrant

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The dark line you see just before the horizon is thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeest making their annual migration through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Some 3-4 million animals in total are part of this spectacle.

Lions

Also watching this amazing phenomenon is a pride of seven lions, but not for the same reasons as us: they see it as a line-up of prospective lunch choices.

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Although this one seems to be watching us.

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Wildebeest

We soon find ourselves in the midst of the hoofed melee, surrounded by wildebeest on all sides.

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There are a few zebra amongst them too, but nowhere near the numbers we saw just a little bit further north in Serengeti.

At this time of the year, the plains of Ndutu are descended on by what is known as the 'Great Migration', and the animals are here to give birth to their babies before continuing on their never-ending quest for greener pastures. It is in the hope of seeing the young animals or even babies being born that we have chosen to come here now; we are therefore a little disappointed to see that there do not appear to be any little ones around, at least not in this herd.

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We finally see this one single youngster in amongst all the adults.

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He's full of life as he explores his new world.

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At just a couple of days old, he doesn't know what to make of this egret.

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“I think I'll go back to mum.”

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Mum, meanwhile, has a non-fare-paying passenger in the form of a wattled starling.

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The fare-dodger is soon evicted, however.

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Cheetah

In he distance we see a few cars gathered and go off to investigate.

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Initially we can't see what they are all looking at, but then we spot a little head in the long grass.

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There is a mum and two young cubs, somewhere in the region of 5-7 months old, and they have a kill that they are feeding on. Their dinner, however, it completely overrun with flies!

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Mum tries to move the carcass, but it proves too heavy for her.

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Having had enough to eat, they all join together and roll in the grass in an attempt to rid themselves of those pesky flies.

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It's getting late and we need to be at the lodge before dark; and as we don't know what we might see on the way to delay us, Malisa wants to get going.

Great White Egrets and Abdim Storks

We are not the only ones heading for home – a great number of egrets and storks fly low on the way to their roosting sites for the night.

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Road Block

More and more ungulates are joining the migration this point, with the road being blocked in several places by wildebeest and zebra.

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Uh uh. It looks like there may be a road block of a different kind here; I hope we can manage to get through the puddles.

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The cars in front of us have made it, so we should be OK. It probably looks worse than it actually is.

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We're through!

Great White Egrets
As we cross the narrow strip of land between Lake Masek and Lake Ndutu, we see hundreds and hundreds of egrets fly low over the water as they are coming home to roost. The light is gorgeous with the setting sun giving the whole scene a warm, yellow glow.

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It's a spectacular sight, and we stay as long as we can before having to make the journey to the lodge for the night.

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Ndutu Lodge

This is the third time we have stayed here at Ndutu Lodge, and as yet we've never arrived early enough to be able to have the time to sit around the camp fire before dinner.

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Today is no different. By the time we have a shower and change, we are the last to arrive in the restaurant. The food here has always been excellent, but as they are under new management, we are a little concerned that this may have changed. We needn't have worried, it every bit as good as it always was.

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Another good thing about Ndutu Lodge which hasn't changed, is that they serve Savanna Cider.

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Mini tomato tart

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Chicken curry with coconut and banana, mango chutney, rice and poppadum; with vegetables on the side

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Chocolate mousse

Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:58 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife africa cats safari tanzania big zebra birding flies cheetah lions egret stork migration starling wildebeest chameleon bird_watching african_safari ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lake_ndutu lake_masek wildebeest_migration game_viewing great_migration wildlife_photography flying_birds wildlife_viewing cheetah_cubs abdim_stork ndutu_lodge Comments (4)

Serengeti III: lost lion cub, pond life, croc, leopard

What an amazing afternoon!


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Serengeti Visitors Centre

Always busy at lunchtime, we get the last free picnic table in the grounds. The place may be commercialised, but it has a very decent toilet block these days, and there are always lots of birds, rock hyraxes and lizards around to amuse us.

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Grey Headed Social Weaver

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Rock Hyrax

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

Once we have finished eating, we move on “to see what else nature has to offer us” - Malisa's favourite saying.

Warthog

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He looks like he is smiling

Impala

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This poor guy has a bad limp and barely gets out of the way of the passing car.

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I fear he will come a cropper sooner rather than later.

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Pond Life

We spend a long time watching the comings and goings at a small pond.

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Grey Heron

A baby baboon has found a bottle top that someone has dropped. He hope he doesn't choke on it.

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Big Bertha* tries to get inside the nostrils of a hippo (*my 600mm lens)

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Spur Wing Plover

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Marabou Stork

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"Look into my eyes..."

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Another Grey Heron

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Three Banded Plover

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A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling shows off his beautiful feathers

He later also shows off his singing voice – he's a bit of an extrovert, this one.

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Nile Crocodile

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Blacksmith Plover

Olive Baboons

Nearby a family of baboons eat their way through the vegetation.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from all the activities that are going on here by the water's edge, and move on to pastures new.

Banded Mongoose

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A young giraffe

The sky is dark and foreboding and a sudden gust of wind blows across the savannah. Are we in for a storm?

Dik Dik

I love how names in Swahili are very often repeated, such as Dik Dik. These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and when you see one of them, there is usually another one nearby - here you can see his mate in the bushes behind.

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Lion Cub

When a lioness with young goes off hunting, she will leave her cubs behind, with strict instructions to stay where they are (we have seen this in action previously – fascinating!). This little cub obviously did not do as he was told, and wandered off. Now he can't find his siblings, nor his mum.

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He walks out onto the road, but is unsure of which way to go.

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Maybe she went this way?

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Maybe not...

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He strikes a lonesome, forlorn figure. We follow him for a while as he makes his way along the road, aimlessly darting into the grass on the left, only to pop over to the right hand side soon after.

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Eventually he changes his mind completely, and walks back the way he came, right by our car.

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Providing he doesn't deviate too far from where she left him, there is every chance that they will be reunited. When the mum gets back, she will call out for him.

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Rain Storm

I was right earlier when I surmised we'd get a bit of a storm – after some huge lightning bolts and deafening thunder, the heavens open.

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Followed by a rainbow.

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Nile Crocodile

This one is very much bigger than the one we saw earlier.

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African Hoopoe

It is still raining, and the poor hoopoe is looking somewhat bedraggled.

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Two Banded Courser

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Nubian Woodpecker

Giraffe

An old male giraffe is being greatly bothered by the Oxpeckers all up his spine. His tail cannot reach that far so he shakes his neck violently to try and rid himself of the birds.

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Unusually, he is feeding on the ground rather than from a tree.

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Augur Buzzard spreading his wings to dry after the rain

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Fischer's Lovebird

Leopard

Seeing a leopard on safari is always rewarding, as they are the most difficult of the three big cats to spot. Seeing two leopards is lucky! Seeing THREE leopards in the same day is just greedy! (we saw two others earlier in the day at two different sightings)

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This guy is posing beautifully for us.

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He's a big male, and judging by his restlessness, he's about to jump down from the tree.

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He is soon on the move.

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Is he going to jump or just rearrange himself in a different branch?

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As he disappears the other side of the trunk, I expect he will be gone without a sight now.

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There he is! He's coming down!

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All around me I can hear the high speed clicking of cameras. Unlike everywhere else we've been at any time in Tanzania, this sighting has attracted a number of serious photographers, including half a dozen other Big Berthas.

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Having a high frame rate certainly increases the odds of capturing the animal just at the right time.

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Soon all we can see is the top of his tail. I can't believe just how long the grass is!

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It looks like he is making his way towards the road.

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Could we be lucky?

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There he goes, between the cars!

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He re-emerges briefly the other side of the road, and disappears into the bush for the night.

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We really need to get going anyway, as the day draws to a close.

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We make a brief stop at a very exciting lifer - the Green Winged Pytillia

There is not much of a sunset tonight, but Malisa does stop a couple of times for me to photograph some dramatic cloud formations.

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Looks like rain in the distance

Sunburn

My lips feel very sore this evening when I get back to the tent. After a couple of incidents over the years, my bottom lip in particular has developed photosensitive dermatitis, and I am quite paranoid that they have become sunburnt. Three years ago an innocent sunburn turned into a secondary infection covering my entire mouth is open sores, something I really don't want a repeat of.

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Insect Bites

My arms are itching like mad and I soon discover why – the bites from those horrible little tsetse flies have turned into blisters and angry red patches. I smother them in antihistamine cream and hope they get better overnight.

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Dinner

We have company this evening in the restaurant: a Swedish couple and their driver.

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After another delicious dinner, starting with green banana soup (which tastes much better than it sounds); we retire to bed to the sounds of a not-so-distant lion.

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Main course: tender steak with croquette potatoes, vegetables and a fruity salad

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Peach cobbler to finish

Thank you Calabash Adventures for yet another amazing day on safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife africa dinner safari rainbow tanzania crocodile lizard birding picnic lion giraffe hippo baboon serengeti leopard woodpecker heron stork sunburn steak impala starling weaver mongoose warthog hyrax barbet courser bird_watching hoopoe big_bertha calabash_adventures serengeti_visitors_centre plover dik_dik agama_lizard picnic_lunch pond_life wildlife_photography crake lion_cub lost_lion_cub rain_storm oxpecker lovebird pytillia dermititis insect_bites tsetse_fly tse_tse_fly peach_cobbler green_banana_soup Comments (2)

Lake Natron

Fish pedicure and hominid footprints


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Lake Natron Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homenid Footprints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today the volcano looks peaceful.

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

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

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Blacksmith Plover

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Chestnut Banded Plover, our second lifer on this trip.

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

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Thomson's Gazelle

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The Gang

Flamingos

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

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Greater Flamingo

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Lesser Flamingo

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

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

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No-one fell!

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

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Little Egret

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White Throated Bee Eater

Sundowners

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

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

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

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Sustainable Tourism

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

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

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

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

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Dinner

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

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Tilapia fish from Lake Victoria - fish and chips Tanzania style

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Ginger pudding with custard

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

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

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

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this trip for us.

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

South to Å

Our last full day in Norway


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We head out for a last day of exploration this morning.

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The small complex where our apartment is

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Not far from where we are staying

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I love how the mountains completely dwarf the houses!

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Ramberg

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I can well imagine how crowded this lovely beach would be in summer. Wait... is that a swimmer I can see?

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Crazy man! I love how he is wearing a woollen hat to keep his head warm for his ice swimming.

Hamnøy

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We are surprised to see a bride and groom at the end of the jetty.

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Reine

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Å

Competing for the shortest place name in the world, Å comes from old Norse and means small river.

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In Norwegian we have 29 letter as opposed to the 26 in English, with an Æ, Ø and Å tacked on at the end. It is pronounced "awe".

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We start to make our way back to base.

Tind

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Djupfjord

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More rorbuer

Hamnøy

We stop in Hamnøy again on the way back, to take advantage of the glorious low sun.

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The sunset is sensational!

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It may only be 13:45, but that's it, with no prospect of Northern Lights tonight, we're done for the day!

Posted by Grete Howard 12:03 Archived in Norway Tagged sunset wedding a norway reine hamnøy ramberg rorbu norge ure nordnorge vestvågøya nothern_norway ure_rorbuutleie nordgård moskenesøya kilan winter_swimmer ice_swimming djupfjord Comments (2)

Austvågøya - Vestvågøya

My birthday!


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning we are moving on to another place and another apartment. Along the way, of course, we stop frequently to take photos.

But first, a last goodbye to Laukvik, which has been our home for the last couple of nights.

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Sunrise over Vestpollen

Vatterfjorden

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Tjelbergvika

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Lyn at Tjelbergvika

I am loving the patterns created by the frost on the puddles in the car park.

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Hopspollen

Henningsvær

Our last landlady suggested Henningvær would be a worthwhile diversion from a photographer's point of view; so we turn off south just before leaving Austvågøya. The road there along the coast is very pretty in itself.

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Sometimes dramatic with deep oranges and silhouetted islands, while other times showing delicate pastels, the sunrise is still waiting to fight it out with the upcoming sunset for our attention.

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The bridge across to Henningsvær

This is as high as the sun will rise above the horizon - it's just before midday, so soon the sun will starts its journey back down again and sunrise will become sunset.

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We find somewhere to park and go off for a walk around the small town. Today being my birthday, Lyn has promised to treat me to waffles and hot chocolate. We feel sure that Henningsvær – being a well known and somewhat touristy place – will have somewhere suitable.

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The gallery / souvenir shop / café is, like everything else in these parts, closed for winter. No waffles for me today then.

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Henningsvær is a quaint little town, and like so many others in this area, it is nestled between steep sided craggy mountains and the sea.

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How's that for a stone wall!

We leave Henningsvær behind and carry on our journey today, past ever-changing stunning scenery.

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It has been a lot milder the last couple of days, hovering around freezing most of the time, which means much of the snow has melted.

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The bridge to Gimsøya

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The sun has now turned and is on its way down again.

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Gimsøya

Vestvågøya

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Just above the horizon, strange cloud formations gather, merging in with the mountains below.

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The light is failing now, even though it is only 13:45!

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We have been through some amazing tunnels on this trip, some several miles long. There is a bit of a joke about the tunnels in this area: “Go to Northern Norway to see the mountains – from the inside!”

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We check out a few places for possible northern lights photography before continuing to our overnight accommodation.

Ure Rorbuutleie

There is some confusion when we arrive at the apartment. We try to ring the number provided, but no reply. Reception is closed, with a sign on the door suggesting that we ring them.

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After several attempts, we eventually get through and are given the secret location of the key!

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For a number of years I have wanted to stay in a rorbu. Traditionally a type of seasonal house used by fishermen, the buildings are built on land, but with the one end on poles in the water, allowing easy access to vessels. These days they are mostly rented out to tourists.

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Having checked the aurora forecast and found it to be some good activity this evening, we grab an early dinner and head out in search of Northern Lights.

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For my birthday dinner I chose to cook a traditional Norwegian meal of reindeer balls with boiled potatoes.

Utakleiv

We found this place earlier and decided it would make a good location for capturing the aurora borealis. It seems we are not the only ones. It's a large car park here, and several other people out with their tripods.

There is some light cloud cover, but you can still quite clearly see the green streaks in the sky.

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As the evening wears on, however, the cloud cover thickens.

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After a while it becomes increasingly difficult to see the northern lights with the naked eye. The camera, however, is still able to capture it.

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More and more people arrive, unfortunately for them it is too late to see the best part of the light show, and their torches shine brightly across my photos.

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When the sky is completely covered in a thick cloud, we decide to call it a day and go back to the apartment for a drink to celebrate my birthday.

Cheers!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:32 Archived in Norway Tagged sunset travel lights sunrise birthday northern norway lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland rorbu norge ure aurora_borealis northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik gimsøya vestpollen vestvågøya vatterfjorden tjelbergvika hopspollen henningsvær rorbuutleie utakleiv Comments (2)

Austvågøya

In search of the lights


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Laukvik

We take a quick look at the small settlement of Laukvik (where we are staying) this morning before setting out to explore the rest of Austvågøy Island.

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Misty mountains at Delp

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Right at the start of the planning stages for this trip, I did an internet search for “Northern Lights Lofoten” and images. Looking at the ones I really liked, I then tried to establish where they were taken. Photographing the northern lights requires a lot of planning, as it is not just a question of pointing the camera at the sky and pressing the shutter. I wanted a decent foreground / background, and as the lights generally appear to the north, it had to be carefully worked out. Not only do I need find a suitable scene, but also somewhere where we can stop the car and ideally for us to be able to get off the road with the tripods. Another consideration was whether or not we wanted the moon to be present – I chose half and half: present in the early evening for the first few days, while for the remainder of the trip it won't doesn't rise until later in the night. The aurora most commonly makes an appearance between 22:00 and 02:00, but of course that can vary a lot.

What we are doing today, is to physically drive around to recce the sites I have made a note of on my map. It is so much easier to check them out in daylight, then we bookmark them on the SatNav for later.

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Fiskebøll

This looks like a good place to observe and photograph the aurora from, with the beach in the foreground, sea in the middle and mountains at the back. We'll make a note of that for later.

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The further north you go, the more time the sun takes to rise (and set). As you can see, the sun hasn't made it very far up the horizon in the hour-and-a-half since the last sunrise photo I took.

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Driving towards Vestpollen

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Near Osen

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The roads in both Vesterålen and Lofoten consists of many, many tunnels and bridges, linking the numerous islands that make up this archipelago.

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The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

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Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

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I wasn't prepared for just how grandiose and awe-inspiring the scenery would be.

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We return to base and have some dinner and chill before popping out again later to look for the lights. The forecast is good.

Northern Lights

While out for a cigarette, Lyn spots some lights in the sky and we all go and investigate. By the time we get out there, those 'lights' have turned to bright green sheets of colour swirling around the sky. Frantically grabbing our camera gear, we take a few shots right by the accommodation as we Fear that they are not going to hang around for long.

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The aurora show no signs of fading, so we move on to Morfjorden, one of the sites we bookmarked earlier in the day.

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The last stop this evening is near Fiskebøll, the beach we visited earlier. Here we have the lights in three directions with ample opportunities for different foregrounds.

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After three hours of spectacular light displays, the aurora borealis once again goes back to sleep, and we return to base to do the same. What an amazing day!

Posted by Grete Howard 15:30 Archived in Norway Tagged mountains sunset landscape beach scenery sunrise mist lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland norge arctic_circle aurora_borealis nord_norge astro_photography northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik norwsay gimsøya delp fiskebøll vestpollen osen lyngvær morfjorden Comments (4)

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