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Arusha - Ngorongoro Crater Day 1 Part 1

Worth the early start


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

Lyn and Chris are nearly always up before us and are such sticklers for time-keeping that we are very surprised when they don't arrive at the agreed time for breakfast.

They finally show up some 20 minutes later – it turns out they had set the alarm time but not turned the alarm on. No harm done, thankfully, and we are all ready to go when Malisa arrives.

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Augur Buzzard

A mere 100 metres down the road from the hotel we spot our first wildlife of the day: the regal Augur Buzzard.

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Not so welcome this morning are the police checks on our way to Ngorongoro, we get stopped at two of them for Malisa to show them his paperwork – which is all in order, of course - so we are soon on our way to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).

Lodoare Gate

While Malisa waits for the paperwork at the entrance gate to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we make use of the facilities and free wifi. We notice they have painted the gate a different colour to how it was when we came here last (it was a safari-beige, it is now a jade-green).

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Crater View Point

Even here, miles from anywhere, free wifi is being advertised. I guess it is good for a brief 'boast post' on social media, but I do feel somewhat sad that being surrounded by wonderful nature and amazing wildlife is no longer enough.

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Malisa assures us that the small blob we see in the far, far distance is in fact a rhino.

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Porcupine

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, I usually bring along a 'wish list' on my safaris, and porcupine is on this year's list. The next best thing to a live animal is seeing these porcupine spines. The meat has gone, of course, as it would most likely have been killed by a leopard for its dinner last night.

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Chameleon

My wish list is going really well and so early on in the safari, with another item being ticked off when Malisa spots this Flap Necked Chameleon by the side of the road. I don't know just how he manages to spot it; as you can see it blends perfectly with its surroundings. I am excited about this small reptile as it is the first time I have ever seen a chameleon in Tanzania.

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Ngorongoro Crater

We take a different route down into the crater today than the one we normally do: this time using the Lemala Descent Road. We have come down this track once before, a few years ago, and I love the way the track makes its way underneath the majestic Flat Topped Acacia Trees.

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The trees, with their characteristic flat tops (hence the name), act as umbrellas and protect the soil from erosion during heavy rains.

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Look at how dense that canopy is ~ isn't nature wonderful?

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Sodom's Apple

Although this fruit belongs to the tomato family, you won’t find it in any salads. Known as Sodom’s Apple as it is said to be the first plant to grow again after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the small, yellow fruit is used as a medicine for stomach ache, diarrhoea and to treat external wounds. When you see this plant growing, you know that the soil in the area is not of high quality as it grows best in poor soil.

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Olive Baboons

A large troupe of baboons crosses our path.

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The little one who almost got left behind.

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It is so sad to see empty water bottles littering the crater floor. Malisa explains that the Maasai tribesmen who come this way are guilty of this.

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Love the human-like expression on the face of this baboon as he ponders his next move

This little guy appears to be trying to get some sleep while being carried on his mother's back.

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Speckled Mousebirds

Sociable creatures, Speckled Mousebirds often huddle together for warmth and company. It was only when they moved apart that I realised this was in fact TWO birds, they were so close together initially.

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Cape Buffalo

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He is right beside the car

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Unpredictable and highly dangerous, these guys have the most impressive horns. They reportedly charge thousands of people a year, and gore over 200. They can attack and cause serious injury with the tips of their huge, curved horns, or by head butting with their "boss" which is the solid shield of horn that covers the skull where the horns emerge.

Got to scratch that itch!

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Northern Wheatear (non-breeding female)

Warthogs

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The sort of face only a mother could love

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Uncharacteristically, these warthogs do not run away as we stop to take photos – they are usually such skittish creatures and these are remarkably close to the vehicle. They just lift their head and make a cursory glance in our direction before resuming their grazing.

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Ostrich

You can tell from the pink colouration to the neck and legs that this huge bird is on heat and ready to fertilise those all-important eggs.

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Augur Buzzard, apparently in a 'strop', stamping his feet: "I don't want to fly off!"

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Crested Lark

Black Backed Jackal

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Secretary Bird

We are rather bemused by this secretary bird performing his mating ritual. We are not quite sure who it is aimed at, as there are no other birds in sight. Maybe he is just practising for the real thing.

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Lion

We initially wonder why this lioness is not chasing the warthogs, as they look to us that they could be an easy lunch, but then we discover that she is heavily pregnant and thus would be concerned that any exertion could make her lose the baby.

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She's just a big pussycat really

Is she going for it? They are pretty close to her now and would make an easy target.

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Big baby belly

Too late, they've discovered her.

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Instead she saunters off to try and find a safe place to give birth. I wish we could stay around for that.

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By the time the lioness has disappeared, David admits that he is absolutely desperate to pee. We are just about to make a 'bush stop' when another vehicle turns up. A lot of heavy breathing and jumping from foot to foot ensues until Malisa can find a safe place for David to get out of the car. Getting back in again he lets out the largest sigh of relief you can imagine, much to everyone else's amusement.

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Little Bee Eater

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Levaillant's Cisticola

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Singing his little heart out

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Tawny Eagle

Hippos

It is fairly unusual to find them out on land, normally all you can see is the top of their backs as they wallow in shallow water. Hippos cannot swim, so they will always find areas where the water is no deeper than they are able to stand at the bottom while still having their heads above the water. Here we can only just see the top of their backs as the rest is hidden by vegetation. Makes a change from water I guess.

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Just as we are about to leave the hippos and head to the picnic site, they get up and start to move, so we stay for a little longer, watching them splash into the small pond.

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Ostrich Porn

On our way to lunch we get side tracked by another ostrich, and this one has found himself a likely suitor. Initially he pretends to be totally disinterested although it doesn't take long before he is doing his very best to impress her with a dramatic dance routine.

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She is bowled over by his sexy moves and capitulates to his charms.

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David caught it all on video, with narration provided by Chris

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As soon as he's had his wicked way with her, he just gets up and walks away, leaving her apparently frustrated and still flapping her wings for attention, wondering what all the fuss was about. Sheesh. What a lothario!

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Zebras

We almost end up with a T-bone steak when a zebra without road sense decides to dart out in front of us. Thankfully no harm done.

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European White Stork - not a permanent resident in Tanzania, the stork is a seasonal migrant visitor from Europe

Waterhole

Last time we came to Tanzania (2017) was at the end of the rainy season, a green and verdant time. Now we are here at the end of the dry season, and everything is arid, dusty and brown, which makes this waterhole even more visually striking and of course a great temptation to the animals.

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I love the way Big Bertha seems to have picked out the personality of these buffalo.

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African Fish Eagle

Red Billed Quelea

Popularly referred to as 'feathered locusts', the Red Billed Quelea is Africa's most hated bird. For generations this small but voracious bird has gathered in huge numbers to decimate subsistence farmers' fields across the continent. With some colonies numbering into the millions, the quelea is the most abundant bird in the world, and sadly also the most destructive. With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is believed that the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea is in excess of US$50 million annually which would be totally devastating to those already barely getting by.

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We finally make it to the picnic site for our lunch stop, and this is also where I will finish this blog post. Be sure to read the next entry for stories about the rest of our afternoon in the crater.

As usual, our thanks go to Tillya of Calabash Adventures and Malisa our driver, without whom this fabulous safari would never have happened.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged trees animals africa safari tanzania zebra national_park buffalo lion rhino baboons ostrich lioness ngorongoro acacia warthog chameleon arusha jackal hippos viewpoint porcupine big_bertha lark calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company tawny_eagle mousebird grant's_gazelle lodoare_gate red_billed_quelea quelea bee_eater africa_animals augur_buzzard safari_permit flat_topped_acacia acacia_trees umbrella_trees sodom's_apple pregnant_lioness cisticola Comments (3)

Wahiba Sands - Ibra - Jebel Akhdar - Nizwa

Leaving the desert behind and heading for the mountains


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

As we leave the desert this morning, we see more Bedouins with their camels making their way across the desert. Like we did on the way into the desert, we stop at the small town of Bidiyah, this time to increase the tyre pressure again. By this time I am desperate for the loo. I was hoping that my tummy troubles were over, but obviously not. We aim for a Public Toilet at the edge of the desert – this could be an 'interesting' experience.

Wow! I am totally overwhelmed by the modern facilities and absolute cleanliness of these loos; much better than the majority of public conveniences you find in the UK. Well done Oman! (You'll be glad to hear there are no pictures)

Ibra

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One of the oldest cities in Oman (it is said to predate the Prophet Muhammed's calling), Ibra was the centre of trade, religion, education and art, and enjoyed great prosperity during Oman’s colonial time.

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Many of the 400-year old houses have been painstakingly restored by their owners, others have been left to crumble. Here you can see the original and restored side by side.

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More crumbling mansions

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The houses were constructed 400 years ago using stone, clay and sarooj (traditional Iranian water-resistant mortar made from clay and limestone mixed with other materials such as fibres and egg) and have laid abandoned for around 45 years.

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These large mansion-style dwelling were not used by 'ordinary' people, rather they housed administrative heads of tribes.

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Wells were constructed inside the housing complex as it was difficult and dangerous for the inhabitants to venture outside to fetch water during times of war.

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The walls are deliberately kept thick to keep the houses cool during the hot summers.

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The tiny door has two purposes – enforcing people to bow as a sign of respect; and making it easier to catch any enemies trying to enter. In fact, Ibra is full of fascinating doors.

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And other details

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All around the village there is a 25km long wall, with watch towers every three kms.

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Mosques were/are not just for prayer, they also act as a place for learning the Koran.

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David looks up at the hole in the ceiling of the gate, which was used to drop hot honey or oil on enemies.

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Lookout holes come in two sizes, small for humans to survey the surroundings, and larger ones to point the canons at approaching enemies.

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Jebel Akhdar

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We are heading up in the mountains, some two hours drive away. So are hundreds of cyclists as today is Tour de Oman, a cycle race from Muscat to Jebel Akhdar. We see a lot of spectators along the way, and whole school classes supporting the riders with banners and flags. We want to make sure we get through to the road up before it is closed for the race, and judging by the number of police in the small town of Berkat al Mouze at the start of the climb, we only just make it.

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At the start of the dead-endy road leading up to the mountain-top, is a Police Check Point, making sure that only 4WD vehicles attempt the climb as there have been too many deaths from regular saloon cars not being able to negotiate the bends.

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As we continue up through the mountains, every bend offers a more magnificent vista than the previous. The name Jebel Akhdar means 'Green Mountain', but it is neither green, nor a single mountain, but an 1800 km² range, with several peaks reaching up over 3000 metres.

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The massif is also home to 58 villages and over 700 wadis.

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Near the top, we stop for lunch: dhal, sabzi, channa, roti, chapati, rice and salad. Just a small lunch then.

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Wadi Bani Habib

The old village of Wadi Bani Habib clings to the side of the canyon. It was deserted back in the 1950s as a result of the challenges faced by the villagers in terms of bringing supplies to their homes, which prior to the construction of the road were accessible only by a six-hour steep climb by foot or donkey.

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The people moved into nice modern houses on the top, while still keeping their plantations on the valley floor, watered by the ever-present felaj irrigation system.

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The trees we see today may mostly look dead, but after the rains, they will produce crops of almonds, pomegranate, figs, grapes, oranges, mandarins and peaches.

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Diana's Point

Named after the late, and much loved, Princess Diana, who arrived here by helicopter in 1986, this vantage point on the Saiq Plateau offers insane views over the canyon below.

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Close by, the recently built hotel Alila Jebal Akhdar has magnificent views from all its bedrooms and restaurant. With a price tag to match, of course. We are not staying there tonight.

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Wadi al Ayn

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The wadi (valley) of Al Ayn has the most amazing hillside terraces I think I have ever seen. This area is famous for its rose plantations, mainly used to produce rose syrup and rose water for cooking.

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Animal fodder is also grown here.

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Some of the terraces have been abandoned, while others are still in use today.

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Nizwa

As our budget does not extend to staying in either of the two posh hotels on the summit, we return to the lower levels to spend the night in the modern town of Nizwa.

The drive down is, if possible, even more spectacular, with better views out over the canyon (impossible to photograph though). This drive is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and every few hundred yards there are escape lanes for use if your breaks fail. Said explains that in the rainy season this road is perilous, with running water and gravel covering the surface.

As we get lower, all signs of the Tour of Oman have gone, we just see a pick-up loaded with bikes and a truck full of barriers.

Falaj Daris

Another hour's drive takes us to our hotel for the night, and unfortunately we arrive at the same time as a large bus-load of French tourists. As the hotel is fully booked, Said has to sleep elsewhere tonight.

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The hotel is quite modern and nondescript, but comfortable enough.

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We take a buffet dinner by the pool and go to bed soon after.

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Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fabulous private tour of Oman for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:09 Archived in Oman Tagged villages mosque view canyon mountain plateau doors road fruits terraces ancient cycling oman swimming_pool islam koran vista wadi 4wd trave abandoned plantations middle_east viewpoint bends nizwa undiscovered-destinations snaking jebel ibra reconstructions medresa madrasa sarooj crumbling_mansions jebel_akhdar green_mountain tour_de_oman tour_of_oman cycle_race police_check bendy_road wadi_bani_habib terrace_farming diana's_point saiq_plateau alila_jebel_akhdar jabal_akhdar wadi_al_ayn falaj_daris falaj_daris_hotel Comments (3)

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