Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Usambara Mountains

Helen doesn't like it when i get too grumpy but on this occasion I think she agrees with me.  We have a number of complaints about this section of the holiday, it was in truth the only disappointing part.

The planned eight-hour drive was never going to be any less than ten hours.  Our driver was super-super cautious which made progress at times agonisingly slow.   We stopped in Arusha city centre to meet someone from Simba Safaris who wanted to talk to us about the food incident in Tarangire but didn't have anything to say, we even had to buy our own tea and coffee in the hotel he picked to meet us at, which cost us an hour and made an already over long day even longer.

Our driver din't know where the lodge was and eventually having taken a couple of wrong turns gave in to our pressure and called the lodge, twice for directions.

On arrival at Muller's Mountain Lodge the place was dark, no power.  They did have a generator but it wasn't on.   They used wood to heat the water but hadn't put that on either.   The swaying manager stank of booze, this was at dusk so 6:45pm,  His approach seemed to be to bully and shout at his hard-working staff.  We were put at the top of an unlit path, some distance from the lodge, even though we were the only guests.   The water wasn't on in the room.

I went down to the lodge and spat my dummy.  We got moved to a better room, closer to the lodge, still no light or hot water though.  No wifi either as the manager hadn't topped up the service.  It was also the only place we stayed that didn't know in advance we were vegetarian, rather they did but the manager had forgotten.   Cue food preparation panic, so you don't eat meat?  No.   Chicken?  no.  Fish?  No.   Sigh.  Given all this they still served chicken.

The grounds have a lot of rubbish, the windows don't fit and are in poor repair,  At one meal the manager who by this time knew we weren't happy came in, drunk again and demanded to know what the problems were.  Given he was the problem we demurred.   We did however compliment three members of the team all of whom were then harried and shouted at until they came and stood sentinel and watched us eat our dinner.   We were so uncomfortable we couldn't finish our food.

I could go on.

We also had a magical time briefly, when the manager had disappeared on our second and thankfully last night (he really did disappear, the staff had no idea where he had gone so we had to settle our bill with them the following morning), sat by the big fire, drinking beer, listening to reggae and 'bongo flavour' pop and watching a small laser show projected into a nearby tree.   We almost forgot where we were...

We did see some great species around the lodge, including Eastern Double-collated Sunbird:



Baglafecht Weaver:


African Grey Flycatcher:


We booked a birding drive the following morning, rather a drive with our driver and vehicle, and the lodge provided bird guide to a nearby nature reserve.  This promised to be a key birding day on the trip but again the lodge manager struck.   The bird guide was utterly hopeless.  He had a very old and incomplete book and knew about three of the local bird species.  We identified a lot more than he did.  He also gravitated to Helen a lot which made her uncomfortable.  Our walk into the reserve was therefore a lot less productive than hoped and more frustrating and uncomfortable.   Given the potential bird species in the area we really did blow this part of our holiday.

The fog was lifting as we drove to the reserve:


We saw African Tailorbird close to the reserve entrance:


On the walk we added Bar-throated Apalis:


Black Cuckoo-Shrike:


Common Waxbill:


Grey-olive Greenbul:


At an abandoned sawmill Red-rumped Swallow settled between feeding flights:


Streaky Seedeater:


A bird we really wanted to see and were delighted to do so, White-starred Robin:



One thing our guide was good at spotting were the local Chameleons, he pointed out all of these for us:





The walk as I said though was mostly a waste of time.   The target species he assured us was at the destination (Usambara Weaver) was nowhere to be seen.   We didn't in fact see a single one of many potential endemic species.  Anyway enough grumbling.  We spent the afternoon back in the grounds, seeing what i think is a melanistic African Goshawk:


Montane White-eye:


Pallid Honeyguide:


and the abundant Pied Crow atop one of the rooms:


Another long journey awaited us the following day....

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