Sunday, 27 June 2010


People are always wondering where the Mancub's blond curls come from... we reassure them that Grandad also had curls at the Mancub's age. But perhaps the real reason is that he isn't even homo sapiens? After all, he does have 4 heads.

Me: "I need to wipe your forehead Mancub"

Mancub: "One, two, three, four head!"

Friday, 25 June 2010

Sports Day

Today's big event - Sports Day! Kitty joined in with everything - hurrah, and even won herself some 'rosettes'. First, a warm up to some funky music

then a relay

Kitty's partner was the slowest but the Kitty grabbed the baton and did some superfast running to bring the team into 3rd place!

There followed an obstacle race and a sack race

But the crowning achievement of the event was Mama's run to glory in the Mummy's race, together with fellow runner balancing a plastic ball on a piece of paper...

And lastly, and because I can't resist, here is the Mancub taking a leak....

or is that leek?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Selous safari

Having now recovered enough it seems time to post about the last section of my grand adventure: Iringa to Arusha, via the Selous. When I was looking into how to get down to Iringa I'd been wondering about stopping for a night or two in some of the southern parks - one (Mikumi) straddles the main paved road from Iringa to Arusha, so would make a nice stop. And idly surfing the we one evening, I spotted a websitewith photos of birds from the Selous from one of the camps there. As is often the case, several of the photos weren't labelled correctly and instead of just ignoring it like normal, I decided to send an e-mail to the address at the bottom giving a few corrections. And to my surprise I got a response the next day saying thanks very much, and who are you anyway... Which led to me being invited for two nights in both of their two camps in the Selous to do some guide training on my way back. A very good excuse for a visit to an area I'd really been rather keen on seeing one day! The Selous is, if you don't know, Africa's largest protected area. It's also one of the least visited - just 4000 tourists a year. You could drop the Netherlands into it and it would be noticed for several months. Just lots and lots of wilderness. And also lots of beasties, including the largest population of Wild Dogs left in Africa, and lots of nice southern birdies, so lots to explore. It's also not really on the way from Iringa to Arusha, being about 170km down a rather bumpy dirt track from the main road. Still, undeterred I picked up my travelling companionion for the return leg some time before 7, and wizzed up the main road, stopping only at two police checkpoints and only slowing briefly as we headed through Mikumi NP and passed elephants and other beasts by the side of the road. So we got to Morogoro by about 12, and after a brief banana and diesel stop, we hit the dirt road, needing to get to the entrance gate by about 4.30 if we were to be let into the park.  The road did some amazing twists and turns through some beautiful forest
 and over some interesting bridges

but we were wizzing so fast we didn't have time to stop. Next time I think a camp in the forest would be a good break... Still, eventually after virtually becoming airborne several times and a total rearrangement of the luggage we made it to the gate at 5pm and after a little persuasion and promise to not stop on my way to the camp we were let in and on our way again. Happily we guessed the right way and just as it was getting dark we were met by a vehicle from the camp come to search for us, who led us back. After a quick shower I sat down with the camp manager to plan the activities for the next couple of days – in the morning we would have a dawn boat trip with the four boat drivers, a short drive before lunch with any guides free, then I'd give a talk after lunch to all the guides and drivers before heading out with them all piled into two open vehicles at 4 for an evening drive. And we'd then meet again the next morning at dawn for a short walk followed by another drive, taking our leave after lunch to make our way on to the next camp. The location at Lake Manze is beautiful, surrounded by some lovely bush full of game (four mammal species in this shot, and a nice big bird or two as well!)

Our morning walk was enlivened by elephants mock charging, and (on the rare times ) when I was in my tent there were often elephants just yards away – here's a couple tussling just beyond my deck chair...

The boat trips were a great way to see the river and lake systems that provide the life of the Selous...

The bush around, as well as having plenty of birds, was full of game and we came across wild dogs on our first drive – a pack of 10 that are usually in the area.

As well as another new mammal for me – Greater Kudu. Very fancy horns – but surely better in the bush than on the dining room wall?

It's just a shame that that with a couple of exceptions the guides weren't really up to much at this camp. Still, we headed on over to the next camp - Impala Camp. Rather a different place - electricity for one thing, and a beautiful location on the river with tents on stilts, so the hippos can graze under the tent a night and the crocs are basking just metres away. (and, one night, a lioness too - who we tracked in the morning and had walked right through camp, jumping up on the decking by the swimming pool and then trotting past the Maasai ascaris without them noticing... A similar programme was knocked together for the staff here, though we managed two boat trips - one focussed on cooperative breeding and why bee-eaters are so colurful, whilst moored next to a great colony, the other to a nearby  heron and egret colony.
These are open bill storks at the top (adapted to crack snails), with sacred Ibis and assorted egrets below.                                                                     And this a nice African spoonbill

The boats really are an excellent way to get close to the birds - four bird species here too...

and other wildlife too - we saw a few completely submerged eles!
But I think the highlight for R who came with me were the lions - first two males and a female with a fresh wildebeest kill (I was very impressed that although we were in an open vehicle and only a few yards away R wasn't at all worried. Would like to take Grannie to the same place and see the reactions...)

(These are actualy old males, but the Selous lions don't have anywhere near as impressive manes as those of the Serengeti ecosystem) Then a pride of six females with two cubs on the way back to camp.

All in all, Impala guides were much more on the ball and I thoroughly enjoyed being with them. Will have to make another visit at a different time (and next time bring Mama and the littlies too!). Though we'd have to be careful going for morning walks past these lumps... (look carefully in the shadow to the left... It was a big one weighting about 3 tons. Can be slightly distracting when trying to explain the finer points of nest parasitism...)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Safe return

Mr B and our friend R returned safely last night to an extremely overexcited and bouncy welcome! After a slight hiccup with a broken fan belt and overheating engine, they managed to get things fixed and race back in time to see the kids before they went to sleep. Kitty, the Mancub and I stayed up late reading books in Kitty's bed until they finally pulled in and then there were Welcome Home hugs, banners, cards, presents and two children bouncing off the walls with excitement.

I'm sure Mr B will put on some nice photos soon. After 2800km of driving over the last 12 days, including 3 trips to garages for repairs and some hairy night driving with no brakes or lights when the electrics packed up 60km before one day's destination, I think he'll be on for a nice quiet weekend.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Welcome Home Laptop

Mr B is yet to return but the computer has made it home, delivered by a friend. Unfortunately we seem to have no internet connection at home and the moment, and our mobile phone company still seems unable to connect us to the the internet mending people.... so I'm back at the cafe with  very slow connection and two moany children.

We're all fine here. Frequent refrains of "where Daddy gone?" etc and very very quiet evenings. I have been reading a LOT of books but may indulge in a DVD this evening.

Bring on Friday and the return of the non-native!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Southern Adventures continue

So after a day of reovering from tummy things and talking over lots of bird atlas related things until very late at night, we had an appointment to take a bunch of students for a walk in the Udzungwa National Park yesterday. Despite a planned departure of 5.30, the expedition didn't begin until 7, thanks to disorganised students. Which, happily, at least, gave me plenty of time to meet and tow one of the team into town who's car had proken down! What is it with cars arriving in Iringa?! Still, we did get off in the end and it gave me a chance to try out the car on a long run, where if the alternator was going to fail again I'd at least have someone nearby to help out... So off we set. Arrived at the park gate and were told, "oh no, you can't buy a permit here - you need to go to the main HQ (5 hrs away!) to get your permit, then come back". Ooops. After a bit of chatting and faffing around, we decided to give up and go for a walk along the river just below the park gate and find some birds there. Pictures speaking more than words, here they are...

Lots of dry bush around here, but beautiful elevation gradients too if you look close enough!

 Happily, none of the students had a bee allergy... Though this swarm was very docile in the heat of the day.

As the dry season starts down here, there's nothing prettier than the desert rose really!

And we got back to town to catch the second half of the opening game of the world cup, as both people I was with are mad keen football fans - though not before the alternator started making some suspicious noises again, so it will be back to the garage afterall today... Hopefully with enough time to also fit in lots more talking and a trip to some nearby birds...

Meanwhile, Mama B reports all is well, but still quiet in Arusha.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The back way to Iringa

My adventures continue, with Mama B and the littlies abandoned in Arusha. As planned, I picked up a friend and headed south on Sunday morning. We decided that rather than taking the main road to Iringa, via Dodoma (dirt after a couple of hours, bir direct), or via the coast (paved all the way, but longer) which can be done in a day and a half, we'd take the back way and make a trip of it, trying to fill in some of the gaps in the Tanzania bird atlas dataset. So, after 30mins of traffic and slow driving in town, we hit the bush headed pretty much due south from Arusha. We'd got no set itinerary, but planned three nights in the bush on the way down, with enough food and out tents to be self-sufficient.

The first bit of our route was on a fairly good and well travelled section, passing the site we'd camped a few weeks ago, but then we hit new territory for me and our first stop for birds was in the plains about 3 hours south of Arusha, where the wildebeest from Tarangire have been busy breeding and enjoying the flowers during the wet season - great to be driving through fantastic country with zebra, wildebeest and gazelles.

After this first stop we chose smaller and smaller tracks to try and get to some of the least visited portions of the country, stopping every now and again to record the birds (and especially at the boundary between two different atlas squares to maximise the value of our stops!). The road took us through more plains (and drier ones too)

and thick bush
where there we no signs of other cars - wonderful country. We came across dusty towns every now and again where we could ask for directions and half-way through Monday we suddenly hit a major transition from the dry Acacia savannah's of the north, to the huge expanses of Miombo woodland to the south - amazingly the change from one major biome to another took place over no more than 100m up one side of a hill, and down the other. And within a few minutes we were seeing new birds - the highlight for me was a racket-tailed roller which was quite stunning. And camping in the Miombo was lovely too.

Our plan for the third day of the drive was to hit the main road to Dodoma, wizz along there (on a tarmac road - wow!) into the city to pick up some more fuel, then wizz south and find a camping spot somewhere about 60kms short of Iringa in a different Acacia type forest. All went well (bar the inevitable two sets of traffic police stopping us on the main road - where do you think you're going with all that stuff in the back? Camping? To look at birds? A likely story...) and Dodoma is a strange capital city and we were back on dirt roads again. Pushing south we had to stop at a barrier at the big hydro-electric dam that powers most of Tanzania and after registering our trip with the police (they time you between the two barriers to check you've not stopped and done naughty things like photgraph anything...) got back in, turned the key and fizz-bang, nothing. Ooops. Still, start-motor problems? We've had them before, so after bump starting backwards down the hill, we motored on and remembered not to cut the engine as we passed the other barrier and on we went - the plan was to get to the rift escarpment for the night anyway, so we'd be fine bump-starting in the morning. Except then the engine cut, as though we'd filled up with dodgy fuel. Happily, a rare truk turned up at that point and the driver and crew (usually very good mechanics) came and looked things over and concluded that somehow the battery had overcharged and we'd fried all the electrics - including the fuel cut-off bits which are, surprisingly, electric too. Ooops. Still, a bit of manual pumping of the fuel and another push and we were off- as long as we didn't hit the brakes and kept the revs up high the fuel kept coming and we kept moving. So we estimated we had about an hour of light left and one three hours to Iringa, and mostly up hill, so off we went... Interesting trying to keep your foot on the accelerator all the time... nd as it got dark we pulled out the torches and I let P drive whilst I hung out the window with the torches to light the way as much as possible - on the bendy roads up the escarpment. Happily we only had one truck and one bus coming the other way, and the guy at the police barrier at the top of the escarpment was so totally amazed at what we were trying to do ("a small problem with the battery, sorry...") that he waved us through. ANd all went well, until about 10kms from our destination, when the engine died. And afterpushing and pushing, we decided it wasn't going to work and had to call our friends for a tow... So eventually, we arrived in Iringa - early, and in some style! Yesterday I managed to get the car fixed - it turns out the regulator on the alternator had fried, probably on the first long run we did into and out of Dodoma, and overcharged the battery which then proceded to fry everything. Great! But not too expensive to fix, except a new battery. And I'm up and running again now - and the whole of Iringa already knows the story!

Ah well, all part of the adventure. I'm going to have to take it for a bit of a run sometime in the next day or two to check that all is really well, before I head into the bush again on Sunday... Mind you, I also need to fix myself, N and I having picked up a bug yesterday that had us up and down all night. Joy - my first Tanzanian tummy thing. At least it's not making me feel too bad at the same time!

NB, couldn't get the pictures in the right place at all. Sorry!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

12 days...and camels

12 days is how long I will be off-line, off-email, off-skype etc. Mr B is heading off tomorrow morning for a grand work trip down to southern Tanzania, taking in Iringa and the Selous and various stops along the way. He will be able to get online some days and check emails etc but the children and I will be left without our usual sources of communication (or DVD entertainment!) I will have my mobile though, so feel free to text!

We had a nice family day today. A quiet morning playing games, reading books and phoning a few people.

The we headed for the "Karibu" Tourism Fair, which is happening on the edge of town for 3 days.

It may seem strange, but tractors are an essential part of some tourist lodges' kit... how else do you pull all those 4x4s out of the mud?

And this certainly beats a donkey ride on the beach...

Friday, 4 June 2010

Manyara, Eyasi and the Hadza

So...our camping trip. It has been Kitty's half term this week and we wanted to get away somewhere special but without paying expensive lodge and park fees the whole time. A nice combination proved to be a day in Lake Manyara National Park with friends who have only just got a vehicle and therefore are now able to safari independently, followed by 3 nights camping at Lake Eyasi. Mr B had made contact with the owner of a lodge there who is also keen on birds, and they had very kindly invited us to use their campsite for free.

We got off to a bad start by arriving at our, according to the guide book, middle of the range tented lodge, and finding it completely unprepared for the tourist season. The tents hadn't actually been checked over and after rejecting the first on the basis of a non-functional toilet and, in fact, no water at all, and the second as it had a large and vigourous growth of mould inside, a leaking pipe flooding the toilet and water only from the tap at mid-calf level, and the others as they were twins only and we had two families to accomodate... we moved on and found some other accomodation.

However, we had a great day in Lake Manyara National Park, all the more fun for being with friends. We even made it down as far as the hot springs, which were inaccessible due to mud when we first visited the park with the Wicked Uncle.

Red and Yellow barbet, several of which were hopping about under our feet at the picnic site

very muddy elephant just been wallowing

the hot springs

The drive on to Lake Eyasi involved 40 minutes or so on an excellent road and then over an hour on a bumpy dusty track that seemed to lead through more and more barren territory. Where were we headed anyway??

However, when we arrived at the lake and campsite, it proved to be a wonderful location and we quickly settled into enjoying the whole campsite to ourselves and getting into the swing of camp life and routines.

Eyasi is a soda lake, but a natural spring right by the lodge feeds a stream down to the lake, creating a little green fresh-water corridor across the sandy shore. We could wander out from our campsite across grass and sand and follow this down until it got too muddy to go nearer the lake itself. Storks, flamingos, spoonbills, goliath herons, plovers of many descriptions... It was a lovely walk and the children were happy finding shells, 'fishing' with sticks, racing stick boats down the fast-flowing sections etc. The rift made a spectacular backdrop to it all.

Mr B spotted a Kittlitz's plover with chick and we managed to locate it. A reminder of those baby Kentish plovers on the Alvor dunes in Portugal.


On another wander from camp we explored more of the woods surrounding the lodge and climed the rock immediately behind it. Wonderful views over the lake and to the rift
and also a view down to a striped hyena sleeping outside her den with her cubs. We first spotted her as she wandered past camp on the first evening while we were eating our dinner.

The lodge, called Kisima Ngeda, is run by a fascinating and extremely friendly couple, C who is German but grew up here and N who is from Argentina and met C in a bar in Arusha having been travelling the world for 5 years. They have two sons, 8 and 10, and a beautiful house in between the lodge and the campsite. They were exceptionally welcoming, offering us the use of the lodge pool plus the use of their own garden as often as we wanted, so that we could sit and drink coffee while the kids played on the trampoline, slide, climbing frame, tree house and, best of all, giant ride-on toy tractor!! They even had us over for dinner on our last evening and we had a lovely time over some chicken and nice red wine with the kids sound asleep in the tent watched over by a friendly Askari.

Still the best was yet to come though. The most amazing part of our holiday, which made us feel as though we were taking part in a living National Geographic article, was our visit to the Hadza on our last morning. The Hadza are the last tribe in Tanzania to still live a true hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They speak a click-based language, in the same family of languages as that of the better known San Bushmen of southern Africa.They live in nomadic family bands and move around, settling in rudimentary encampments for a few weeks before moving on. Animal skins are still a very important part of their dress. We saw people wearing baboon skins, impala and what looked like Dikdik, and a dog slept on a kudu hide. Beaded necklaces, headbands and other jewellery were also much in evidence. There are almost certainly fewer than 2000 Hadza left and it was an immense priveledge to be able to visit with them and see the way they live.

Our guide, who came with us from the lodge, explained a lot of the traditions to us. Such as the different arrows used for hunting different game or birds.

including poisen tipped arrows for larger animals
We were treated to some music

and watched an arrow shaft being created

Then we were shown how to make fire, with special woods chosen for the stick that is rotated rapidly and the wooden base receives the friction and creates the spark

 Mr B and I both had a go, and, after a bit of tuition and a lot of effort, managed to make fire!

We also went to meet the women and babies, who sat apart, creating jewellery and planning the division of labour for that day's tasks: water collecting, root digging, berry gathering etc.


Then it was time to get ready for a hunting and gathering expedition. Some of the men and boys led the way, with their bows and arrows in hand and dogs in tow. We followed close behind and three girls brought up the rear, chatting away and carrying their digging sticks.


One of our first stops was at a huge baobab tree. One of the Hadza had spotted the miniscule entrance made by wild bees into a cavity inside a rotten branch. Honey!

This went down very well with everyone

The Mancub was so keen he joined the Hadza boys (and their dogs) in trying to extract the last sticky drops

We also tried some berries, baobab fruit (very tasty) and some roots that are full of moisture and hence a life-saver in times of severe drought.

We didn't managed to catch any animals or birds, but a few attempts were made, including a near miss for a stork

On arrival back to camp it was obviously time for some archery practice

And then music again, and dancing!

We were all invited to join in. It felt a bit like Music Makers with a difference, especially as we seemed to be doing the hokey cokey, albeit without the 'left leg in' bit.

The Mancub fancied a go with the snake-skin belt covered in bells. By jumping up and down he could make a good noisy rhythm, and the Hadza danced to that for a while

Finally it really was time to say goodbye. We bought a couple of beaded bracelets for Kitty and I, and then wended our way back to the car past the sleeping quarters

It was a wonderful end to a great holiday