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Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege


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

The room finally cooled enough for me to put the covers on at 01:00. The alarm is set for 05:00, but I am awake from 03:00 anyway.

Boat Safari
Like Araras, the activities here at Cristalino revolve mostly around trekking, but because of my bad knee, Gui has arranged boat safaris instead.

It is still dark when we go out at 07:00, so not good for photography.

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Amazon Kingfisher

The sun soon comes up, though, giving me more light to work with.

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Green Kingfisher

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Great Black Hawk

The guests that are staying here at Cristalino Lodge are mostly a combination of families looking for adventure, and avid bird watchers. Not sure where we fit into that.

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Long Nosed Bats
With clever camouflage, these bats attach themselves to the bark of a tree, hiding from the Bat Falcon.

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This caiman is also very well camouflaged amongst the logs and rocks in the river.

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Sunbittern

White Winged Swallow
I spend ages trying to make this little chap fly, but he is not very cooperative, and when he finally does take off, I am not ready with my camera.

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I follow him to his next perch.

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After hanging around for ages, I yet again miss him taking off. I give up for now.

Until I see a couple of a rock, that is!

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Green Ibis

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White Banded Swallow

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Swallow Winged Puffbird

We are now at the beginning of the dry season here in the Southern Amazon, so the level of the river is slowly going down. You can see just how much lower the water is already.

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These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.

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It certainly makes for challenging navigation and heightens my admiration for our skilled captain.

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Spectacled Caiman

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Anhinga

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Scarlet Macaws

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Capped Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

We spend most of our time motoring gently along the shady side of the river. David and I agree how incredibly privileged we are to be here, doing this.

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle

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Green Ibis

A dragonfly lands on the boat, and I try – not altogether successfully – to capture it before it flies off.

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Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.

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It looks like this one is in the throes of passion.

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Rapids
Where the water level has gone down, and rocks have become exposed, a number of rapids have developed.

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Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

The moving water attracts birds and is fun to navigate – for us. Again I admire the captain and his experience and knowledge as he steers us safely up the river.


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Capped Heron

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Back to Cristalino Lodge
We return to the lodge mid-morning, where Gui has arranged for me to have a ride back to the room in the electric luggage buggy in order to save my knee. I sit on the flatbed at the back, while David joins the driver in the front.

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We chill in the room and later on the patio before lunch

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An unusual rocking chair


Lunch
This oppressive 38 °C heat is making me feel lethargic, and I struggle to muster up the energy to walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Cristalino Cream of Tartar: with tomatoes, red onions and green herbal oil, plantains, Dijon mustard, capers, and ginger. Served with banana chips.

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Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

Regional spaghetti dish with cured beef, tomatoes, and orange sauce

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Very nice

Banana Crumble
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Yum! Must try this at home!

We opt out of taking an excursion this afternoon due to the heat, my knee, and David's sore throat; instead, we snooze for the afternoon before I drag myself to dinner. It doesn't feel any cooler after the sun has gone down. This heat is really getting to me.

Dinner
We start with a drink, while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Passion Fruit Caipirinha

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David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

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Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

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Cristalino salad: seasonal leaves, pickled red onion with mustard seeds, cherry tomato confit, cucumbers, pickled palm heart, olives, red cabbage, served with savoury granola. The dish is overly salty (which is saying something as I love a bit of food with my salt), the crunchy topping is nice though

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Savoury Granola

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Tucupi risotto and smoked catfish: rice, tucupi (cassava broth), jambu (paracress), Grana Padano cheese, and catfish smoked in cashew and blackberry leaves.

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Brazil nut mousse - I am not at all keen on this dish

And so to bed. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife kite hammock dinner safari hawk brazil lunch birding luxury amazon bats turtle caiman heron anhinga ibis rapids guan kingfisher macaw dragonfly bird_watching otter boat_safari dry_season undiscovered_destinations swallow wildlife_photography river_safari puffbird cristalino sunbittern water_level Comments (5)

Araras - Alta Floresta - Cristalino

Transfer Day


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

We are leaving Araras at 07:30 this morning, but I am awake from 03:45. As soon as it is light, I do some last-minute bird watching.

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Chaco Chachalaca

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Packed and ready to go

Our new-found German friends, Tina, Kristian, and their four children are moving on to the same lodge as us today, too, and we joke at breakfast about who will get to the airport first to put the towels down to reserve the seats.

We win.

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Cuiabá Airport
We do have a couple of advantages, however, one being that we are on a private tour so that we can don't have to wait for other people, and not travel in a 12-seater minibus, which means we spend less time loading and unloading luggage as there is only us.

The other advantage is that Roberto arranges special assistance for me once we arrive at the airport, which includes priority check-in as well as boarding, and special seats on the plane (the first three rows are dedicated 'disabled' seats, with extra legroom)

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The city of Cuiabá from the air

Alta Floresta
At the small airport (which only gets two flights a day, apparently) there are two vehicles waiting to take guests to Cristalino Lodge: a small truck for us and the luggage, and a minibus for all the others.

The first part of the road is on tarmac, but that soon turns into a gravel track, as we pass farms and logging stations. If we thought the Transpantaneira road was bad, that is nothing compared to this. We bounce all over the place each time the truck hits a pothole – which is often – and the driver seems to spend his time apologising. He doesn't speak much English but has a great sense of humour, and we laugh a lot on the one-hour journey.

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Cashews
At a gate across the road, he stops to poach some cashew fruits from a tree by the side of the road. He justifies it by explaining that the farm and land belong to Cristalino Lodge. Cashews always fascinate me the way the nut hangs at the bottom of the fruit.

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The fruit itself is also very pleasant to eat, so we take a couple of them with us.

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Boat Trip
When we arrive at the docking area (a fancy name for where the end of the road goes into the river), there is an army of helpers on hand to get the luggage from the truck into the waiting boats.

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Here we meet our guide, Gui, for the first time. He is to be with us for the next four days.

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The journey along the river to Cristalino Lodge takes around half an hour, and we do some bird watching along the way.

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Green Ibis

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Swallow Wing Puffbird

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle and Dyas Julia Butterflies

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White Winged Swallows

Gui explains that the dark colour of the water comes from minerals washed out of the forest, and contains decomposing leaves and other vegetable matter. The good news is that the mosquitoes do not like this water, so they stay away.

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Cristalino Lodge
This eco-lodge gets rave reviews on every site I have looked at on the internet, with National Geographic Traveller selecting it as one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world; and another sire describing it as “the best lodge in the Brazilian Amazon for wildlife enthusiasts”. I have high hopes for this place!

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The landing stage also features a sunbathing and swimming platform, with loungers and umbrellas (and apparently a cozy firepit in the evening).

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To get to the lodge there are 30 wooden steps, but before that, I have to get out of the boat.

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I try to step up onto the raised part at the front, but my knee will not let me. I attempt to swing my leg over the side and straight onto the boardwalk. I fail again. Finally, I sit down on the front, but I am still not able to get my legs up.
The aforementioned army of helpers step in and literally lift me up and out of the boat. I am impressed they manage it, but by this stage, I am feeling pretty stressed and panicky.

I manage the steps, and the trail through the jungle to the restaurant, which is up a few more wooden steps. The public areas of the hotel are all on a raised platform: the inside and outside dining areas, the bar, the lounge, the shop, toilets, conference room, and patio. It oozes luxury.

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Gui

We are given a welcome drink, made from a fruit called cocoazu. I have not heard of it before, and I have to admit it is a little too bitter for me.

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As we missed lunch while travelling (it is now mid-afternoon), they serve us a small wrap, some fruit salad, and a delicious cake.

Gui is very laid back and nothing seems to be a rush here. We saunter back down the wooden steps along the path from the restaurant to the crossroads of paths where we came up from the jetty.

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As we turn into the jungle and the track that leads to our room, we come across Mr and Mrs Bare Faced Curassow, reinforcing my high expectations of seeing a lot of birds here.

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Our Room
Having upgraded to a Junior Suite, we find that our room is almost the furthest away from the restaurant and the jetty. But at least it is private, set in its own clearing in the forest.

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The inside is large, bright, and airy. There is an overhead fan, but no air conditioning.

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The welcome pack contains two complimentary metal water bottles that can be refilled at the bar for free, a box of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, and some postcards.

There is a separate dressing room, toilet, and shower, with an additional shower outside.

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Once we have settled in, we try out the outdoor shower. To say it is refreshing would be a gross understatement – the water is absolutely freezing.

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Dinner
We joke that walking to the restaurant for dinner is about as far as it is to walk to our local Tesco supermarket. “Fancy Tesco for dinner this evening?”

As everything is cooked to order here at Cristalino, they brought us the menus when we arrived for us to choose what we would like to have for dinner this evening. After seven nights of buffet food, it is such a pleasant change to be served at the table.

We are greeted on arrival at the restaurant by the customer relations manager, Gabriel, who is very pleasant, very knowledgable, and has a great memory, but he does talk too much, lingering at the table while we are eating.

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Sun-dried meat croquettes with pepper aioli and a hot sauce. Crunchy outside, with a soft centre. Very nice.

The main course is extremely slow to arrive, but when it finally turns up after around 40 minutes or so, it is worth the wait.

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Grilled tenderloin medallion steak

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The caramel nut pie is only just OK. It has a slightly unpleasant gritty texture and definitely needs more caramel!

With no AC, the room feels very hot as we go to bed, so I lay on top of the sheets without anything on and put the ceiling fan on full.

Goodnight from the Amazon. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:44 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards flight airport river jungle dinner brazil birding brasil luxury amazon turtle butterflies ibis steak kingfisher cuiabá boat_trip cashew bird_watching swallows eco_lodge undiscovered_destinations outdoor_shower water_bottles special_assistance araras curassow chachalaca alta_floresta puffbird cristalino cocoazu caramel_pie Comments (2)

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)

Serengeti V: mongoose, baboons, klipspringers, gazelles

North to Lobo. Or maybe not.


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

Breakfast Picnic

We are unable to get into the actual picnic site as the ground is too sodden and muddy, so we set up our table and chairs on the side of the road instead. We are the only people here, so it doesn't really matter.

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New for this year, are the posh chairs, with little foldable tables attached, complete with cup holder.

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Another great breakfast provided by Matawi Serengeti Camp

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What a great idea to have a shape cut out to include the cup handle.

We may be the only humans here, but a couple of lions have walked right through the site this morning.

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On the other side of our table are fresh hyena prints. We are definitely out in the wild here.

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Butterflies

We have seen more butterflies on this trip than any other safari in the past, with some places featuring literally hundreds of them. They are very difficult to photograph as they rarely hang around for very long, although I managed to catch this one as it landed for a few seconds.

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Tiger Butterfly

Swallows

Swallows dart around, pausing briefly to pick up crumbs left on the ground.

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Lesser Striped Swallow

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White Rumped Swift

In the distance we see a car being helped out of the mud by several other drivers.

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Martial Eagle

This huge eagle is easily recognisable by its relatively short tail. Such a powerful bird, it has been known to just fly down and pick up baby antelopes. Farmers fear it as it will attack livestock, which in turn makes it one of the most persecuted eagle in Africa. It is classed as 'vulnerable', heading towards extinction as a result.

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Here you can better see the short tail without the confusion of the branch behind

Marabou Stork

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These really are such ugly birds.

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Nile Crocodile

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Hippos

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Dwarf Mongoose

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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He's found a bug

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He briefly lands on the road

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Then takes off again

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The roads are still very muddy

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Sausage Tree

Named for the huge sausage-like fruits hanging down, which in fact are poisonous when raw. They can, however, be dried, roasted or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Lobo

Malisa suggests we head north towards Lobo, partly to get away from all the crowds in Seronera, and also in the hope of seeing some elephants. I have been very surprised at the lack of pachyderms on this trip.

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We need to get out of this mess

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Another flooded river crossing

Cape Buffalo

The first thing we see is a large herd of buffalo; although all we can really see is the top of their backs sticking up over the long grass.

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Olive Baboons

A large troupe of baboons walk past our car on the road.

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Little Bee Eater

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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Fan Tailed Widowbird

Orangi River crossing

Apparently this was full and overflowing yesterday. It's amazing how quickly it dries out in this heat.

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Red Billed Hornbill

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Topi

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The landscape is very different up here.

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Impala

Grant's Gazelles

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Turtle

Malisa spots the tiniest little turtle, his shell not much bigger than my thumbnail, trying to climb the mountainous (to him) tyre track in the road. We stop and make sure he gets out of the way before we carry on. He's heading for a small pond at the side of the road.

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As soon as we stop, we get eaten alive by the &*%@# tsetse flies!

White Headed Vulture

The rare and endangered White Headed Vulture beaming down on us.

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It seems the only animals around here are the tsetse flies. We take a joint decision to return to Central Serengeti

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Another turtle

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Topi

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Klipspringer

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Yet another Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pallid Flycatcher

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Little Bee Eater

More Klipspringers

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He's not happy with us!

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Another turtle – the water here is incredibly clear!

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We meet a ranger who tells us there elephants the other side of the kopje. We check it out, but they are so far away that I don't even bother to try and take a photograph. Instead we stop for our lunch picnic. More in the next blog entry.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for organising this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds wildlife africa safari tanzania crocodile birding buffalo hippo baboons turtle roller serengeti butterflies stork vulture flycatcher lobo impala gazelle topi mongoose bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller swift calabash_adventures klipspringer swallow grant's_gazelle breakfast_picnic bee_eater game_viewing sausage_tree orangi_river togoro goshawk wildlife_photography whydah wildlife_viewing widowbird lion-prints hyena_prints picnic_chairs eacgle Comments (4)

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