Another beast spotted while walking in the garden for you to find.
Although not one of the most difficult, I found it because it open its wings as shown below.
Another beast spotted while walking in the garden for you to find.
Although not one of the most difficult, I found it because it open its wings as shown below.
A rococo is a large toad as you would expect with such spectacular name! It has been classified as Rhinella schneideri and it is also known as cururú toad in other parts of South America. In English it goes under the much less spectacular name of Schneider’s toad.
As toads go, a rococo is a large one: the males can measure between 15-17cm and the females between 18-25cm with a maximum weight of 2kg of weight! Pretty sizable if you ask me.
Rhinella schneideri is a widespread and very common species that occurs in a variety of habitats but most commonly in open and urban ones. It breeds in permanent and temporary ponds.They are found in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil where they are sometimes kept as pets. I remember my aunt in Salto, Uruguay that used to have one in her garden that would come every evening from the cover of the plants to get its mince meat!
Luckily, at Salta, although we are at about 1,500 m above sea level we do get rococos and we see them sometimes around the house, feeding on the insects attracted to the outside lights. They are fierce predators feeding not only on invertebrates but they have been seen feeding on rodents, snakes, small birds and even fish and other amphibians.
Despite this, it a a shy animal that itself falls prey to snakes and birds of prey. In fact, just a few days ago we saw a roadside hawk (Rupornis magnirostris) catching one on the road but our approach by car scared the bird that -luckily for the toad- dropped it unharmed (as we stopped to check it). They are able to pump themselves up to avoid being swallowed by snakes but this is clearly no defense against birds.
They are mainly nocturnal and very imposing creatures with a rather large body but rather weak hind legs that makes rather slow. They are distinguished by their supraorbital crests and their pupils are large and slit-shaped. Apart from their size they also have tibial glands located in their hind legs that secrete a milky bufotoxin. The later causes nausea, vomiting, and even paralysis and death in potential predators.
Luckily, they are not threatened despite being collected for the pet trade.
Kenya and Tanzania – February 1988
Beautiful and promising wall-painting in a petrol station at the Kenya-Tanzania border!
The trip in a few words.
Nairobi City (Kenya) – Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) – Manyara Lake (Tanzania) – Nairobi City (Kenya)
 4WD – driver;  Xray – wife and game spotter – in Land Rover;  ScoutSpirit – driver;  PinkShade – partner and story teller;  Khanga – mum of PinkShade – in Isuzu Trooper.
The team getting ready, early in the morning, around the Land Rover (PinkShade missing)
The trip in detail.
Saturday, 20th of February – Towards the mythical crater – Getting in the mood and freezing!
In two cars, on a beautiful Saturday morning, we left Nairobi for Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. A light spirit invaded me as we set off. Initially nothing special to mention, except for the very good road conditions up to Namanga, on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.
After passing through the Kenyan and Tanzanian border posts we were on our way to Arusha. The landscape was quite green despite the dry-area type of vegetation. We tried to spot Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, but the clouds were totally hiding the mountains, not as usual just the top.
For lunch, we stopped in Arusha, briefly visited the Mount Meru Lodge, and refuelled. We eventually found ourselves on the road to Babati and Dodoma. It started to rain, so we rushed to Makuyuni on a zig-zag-track mixed with some parts of the old road – roadworks in progress!
Along that road we encountered some young Maasaï boys. They were dressed in black khangas over their shoulders and around their waists, their faces painted with white clay. Huge ostriches feathers were held on the back of their heads with headbands. They seemed to appear from nowhere, walking in small groups, an impressive and beautiful sight. I had never been lucky enough to see these young, newly circumcised boys in Kenya .
A cultivated area on a wide plateau, before the entrance gate
At Makuyuni, we turned right, towards the lake and the crater. The traditional Maasai became scarce, and after the climbing above Manyara Lake we saw almost nobody, but that was the start of the collective cultivation: a vast plateau stretching out as far as the eye could see, all broken up into long and wide rectangular shapes. It might be a good thing for Tanzania, but it is a very disappointing landscape for those who wish to discover the wilderness.
We passed the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservation Area  and started the long climb to the rim of the crater, which peaks at something like 2,600 m. As we passed the gate we started drinking the usual mate . From the viewpoint, the inside of the crater was striking and everybody was surprised as it somehow didn’t match what each of us had imagined. We all agreed that it was much better than our expectations, quite GORGEOUS in fact.
Friends had described the crater to me so, I expected it to be small, crowded, with animals standing shoulder to shoulder. I had been told that it was much like a zoo and that I might be disappointed. Thank God, it wasn’t like that at all! It was big but not too big, just the right size to be impressive, but still on a human scale! We spotted buffalos and some patches of other undetermined beasts, but they did not cover the whole crater floor like a wall-to-wall-carpet. We wanted to go down immediately to see it all from close, but, as it was late we chose instead to rush to the campsite because it was getting dark.
First view coming up the outer rim of the crater… almost at dusk
The “Simba” campsite wasn’t that easy to find. We spent one hour driving around the crater looking for it and arrived at 8 PM on the dot; the temperature was already freezing. There was a lot of soft and thick grass for our comfort, and a lot of cold and rough wind for our misery! We then forgot about it all, and after unloading the cars, we started to cook as soon as possible. Of course the gas-cooker wouldn’t stay alight with such a wind, so we settled it on the grass in between a few crates, to keep it away from the thick grass. After the meal, we felt warm again for about 10 minutes, but started to freeze again very soon. So we disappeared into our tents, and inside our sleeping-bags.
The Simba campsite as we discovered it on the next morning…
Sunday, 21st of February – Visiting the garden of Gods – Getting down the rim and enjoying!
I froze at the beginning of the night, Scout Spirit froze a tiny bit in the morning, and Khanga froze the whole night! X-Ray sweated the whole night and 4WD was apparently alright! I was told later that Khanga didn’t get the sleeping-bag that was meant for her. Obviously X-ray got it!
Anyway, the sun came up and heated our tents and surrounds, but three of us (no names!) stayed in their beds. That is why we were very late going down into the crater. Well, not only that, we also lost some time by having two punctures on the way out of the campsite. This brought us to the Park’s garage or workshop. We had to go there anyway to meet the warden and ask permission to go down without a guide.
The pride of lions that 4WD and then Khanga spotted…
At 11 AM or so, we descended from the rim to the bottom of that old volcano and by the time 4WD stopped, he already had spotted ten lions! He didn’t tell us where just to tease us. And it took us nearly a quarter of an hour to find out what it was. Khanga spotted some funny beige things, many of them, and thanks to her we saw the lions that 4WD was talking about.
We also saw very far away a big black-maned lion walking across the plain. We watched him for some time, a very nice sight, in fact majestic. After a while, I realized that he looked quite thin and I wished we could have seen him better because I wasn’t sure that he was alright. We had with us a rough map of the crater, quickly drawn by the warden when we were at the office and we discovered that we could do a circuit. So we left for the North-East.
That itinerary gave us great pleasure as there were a lot of ponds along the track. This meant we saw many water birds and amongst them, a few of the famous Abdim’s storks. We saw three more male lions on the bank of a big pond, beautiful black-maned lions. We spotted a lot of Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and zebras and wildebeest. As we wished to eat our picnic, we spotted a hill that we thought would provide us with a perfect view. On climbing the slope, we encountered the biggest herd of buffaloes we’ve ever seen. They were drinking around a waterhole, surrounded by hundreds of cattle-egrets, ibises and crowned-cranes.
Three black-maned lions lying by a small pond
Yellow orchid found on the hill (4WD’s picture)
View of a big pond at the bottom of the crater
As we sat down, we noticed a male ostrich guiding his seven chicks along the foot of the hill. The buffalos had already finished drinking and moved off quickly. As 4WD threw his bone (from a chicken) away, a kite dived to fetch it, but missed! ScoutSpirit and 4WD played with him for a while, throwing the bone in the air again and again. After several misses, the kite managed and left, obviously exhausted, with the bone in his claws as a trophy. After that, we continued our game-drive around the top of the hill where we saw fantastic flowers such as red hibiscus and yellow orchids in the high grass. We reached a point where we had a view over the eastern side of the foothill, and a herd of elephants appeared, great! Not far from there, we came across another lion on a sandy shore and another elephant, standing alone in some low bushes. All that from that one hill. What a lucky and happy time!
From there we zigzagged between the shore of Lake Magadi and small tributaries where some spotted hyenas were lying and rolling in the mud, as disgraceful as usual! One golden jackal passed by and as we went East, and lost sight of 4WD’s Land Rover, we nearly drove over two sleeping rhinos. We waited there for 4WD and X-Ray to join us but they had spotted some maybe– cheetah, so they were waiting for us to come ! In the end, we all met up to watch the rhinos for a while.
A little bit further on were two more rhinos, and lots of wildebeest and eland. Scout Spirit thought that he spotted some tiny bat-eared foxes and Khanga pointed out two lion-cubs. We curved downwards to the West to join the track climbing out of the crater. The light was splendid, just GORGEOUS of course! I don’t know what was spotted and then lost, but the point is that we used this very stop to start the mate. Khanga became friends with a small Bustard. She could approach it so closely that she shot a picture with her 35 mm and it came out quite nicely. After that, we were able to get quite close to some hippos, another fantastic view.
In the late afternoon the lake and the mountains were covered by a gentle yellow light. There were plenty of water birds, mostly Egyptian geese and ibises. To the West, the yellow fever trees were also brightly illuminated and as we drove through them we met some elephants again. It was a pretty magical time! But while we were surrounded by magic we realized that some of our suspension leaf-springs were broken! We had to get to a garage so we started to climb up the rim very slowly, staring down at the crater, beautiful in the last sunrays. We went through a thick forest with lianas and then along a rocky track with wonderful flowers and plants on all sides.
The famous bustard, good friend of Khanga!
Egyptian geese feeding and resting near a pool
The big yellow fever trees (acacias) in the evening light
Yellow fever trees near a spring and crater’s rim
Zebras grazing the abundant grass near the tree
A mythical view climbing up the rim of the crater – much faded picture alas
We reached the garage where we had to collect the tyres at night, but now needed to also ask for repair of those leaf-springs! It was of course too late for any repair to be done, but the tyres were mended and after some discussion about prices, we went away with what they called a “good price” which they agreed to because we had picked up some words –essentially numbers– of their excellent Tanzanian Kiswahili.
After that, in the dark, we drove pole-pole  to the campsite and started to prepare our meal. It was quite late again. But the ascari  had already prepared a really huge fire for the evening and we were better off than the day before with such a wonderful source of heat combined with the calories from our dinner. On top of everything, the wind finally dropped and we felt much warmer and more comfortable than the previous night.
Monday, 22nd of February – Such a tough transition – Getting out of bed roasting and boiling!
On that night, nobody froze, maybe somebody sweated, maybe somebody snored? But we didn’t really want to know about that. Soon after a glorious breakfast, 4WD and ScoutSpirit went to the garage and Khanga, X-Ray and I stayed at the campsite, cleaning and packing up. We also got slightly burnt while talking in the sun in our swimming suits at an altitude of 2,600 m! When 4WD and ScoutSpirit came back with the car repaired, we packed up both cars and left. It was too late to think about a way back through the Serengeti . So we decided to go to Manyara for a game-drive and the night.
At the campsite after breakfast..
We were still on the rim at around 2 PM. We had a particularly unpleasant picnic lunch there because we had chosen the spot quite badly. First of all, there were no trees to offer shelter, and the grass and bushes were high enough to hide the great view. Then, hundreds of biting flies invaded the place, a total nuisance! On top of that, the Land Rover got stuck trying to climb over the ditch towards the picnic spot. It was then pulled out by the Trooper (polite return for the help received in Shaba ).
After this not-so-brilliant rest we rushed down the slope towards the park gate. Just after the gate, as the forest ends, we found migratory European storks, impressive clouds of them, hundreds in the sky and hundreds on the ground, for a total estimated at about 3 thousand! We felt a deep emotion gazing at this extraordinary meeting and thought that some of them might even come not far from our home back in Europe!
We reached Manyara at 5 PM, just in time for the traditional mate! Once out of the car, we were very surprised by the heat. We went for information and for the usual entrance and camping fees and then we rushed for a late game drive, hoping secretly for a view of some of those lions hanging from the trees, the speciality of Manyara National Park [15)! But none were to be seen. Instead we saw lots of baboons in the forest and then water birds and hippos near the river. Not much more to see except a jackal, a few zebras and antelopes. This seemed rather dull after the diversity and abundance of wildlife in the crater, but the sight of hippos in the shallow pool was tremendous. As usual we had to hurry out of the Park as it was closing down. Again the mild yellow light of evening was so enjoyable…
On the dirt road towards Manyara…
Important sign board to read at our arrival… (4WD’s picture)
Manyara Springs, near the entrance…
PinkShade and X-ray watching the hippos…
At dusk at Hippo Pool, so quiet!
Manyara Lake with flamingoes in the far…
Baboons were occupying most of the campsite, so we had to choose within what was left! Again the meal arrived somehow late, but everybody was happy and much refreshed by a cold shower. It didn’t take time before we were all feeling very hot again as the temperature was quite high. The heat put us in a sleepy mood and helped us to go to bed early.
ScoutSpirit preparing the camp fire to cook our meal
Tuesday, 23rd of February – If only it could never end – Getting back near the farewell!
The baboons seemed to quarrel all night and none of us had a good nights sleep! This may help you to understand why these safaris are so tiring. It is not the travelling on bumpy roads in the heat and dust, looking for the right track and avoiding the ditches, pools or rocks, or trying to stay in the middle of the road when it is slippery like black-cotton mud. It is not the buying, preparing, cooking, packing of food, water and other survival supplies or doing the washing up, not even the setting up of the tents and sleeping attire. It is simply and basically the lack of sleep! And you would think, when people say they haven’t slept, that it was because of some exciting events or noises, the sight of lion’s footprints around their tents or the roaring of them in the neighbourhood or the belly rumbling of an elephant nearby. But you never ever think, nobody dares to say it as it is, that it is because of cold weather, hot weather, shouting baboons or persistent mosquitoes. Yes, these are the most common reasons for sleepless nights in the bush! Remember this clearly.
Well, anyhow, in spite of that short night, we woke up as early as possible in order to go and look for those famous lions and enjoy the dawn. We covered the entire length of the Park, up to Maji moto , number two. We saw nothing special except an unusual sunrise on the mountain’s slope on our right hand-side. Around us, there were very big baobabs, herds of gazelles, many giraffe and even some hippos out of the water grazing peacefully. It looked like the beginning of the world, a magnificent and quiet world, just before the baboons and the men took their place in the evolution!
At the hot spring (Maji moto), a ground hornbill greeted us from a big rock and flew away noisily. It was 9 AM and we were sweating like hell. I guess that is why the place is called “hot springs” since there was, by that time, no water really springing there!
A ground hornbill taking off (4WD’s picture)
A beautiful African scene at sunset
A clear Mount Meru, appearing on our way back!
Well, as we had to reach Nairobi on the same day, we quickly turned back towards the campsite for a big brunch. Yet it was a nostalgic meal as is every last moment before packing and leaving a nice place. We were interrupted in our nostalgic mood as we noticed that the baboons, probably wanting to show us disapproval for camping there, had jumped on our tents, and had opened one of our boxes and spread everything around with their dirty hands and feet. We really didn’t approve of their idea of using our tents as trampolines, especially our brand new one which looks now and forever “used”, much used! Near 11 AM we were all ready, the Land Rover had even been washed! So we moved off on our return journey.
This was such a clear day that we felt absolutely sorry to leave. We headed for Arusha where we hoped to acquire some meerschaum-pipes and khangas.  After some circuits around the town –roadworks still in progress, we arrived at the very place where the shops were. A man was selling raspberries, a treat that is not to be found everywhere! When we had enough of hanging around, losing the others, looking for them, finding them again, we took off for Namanga where we had to stop for the customs and police checks.
Once on the Kenyan side, we went for a drink and stayed until dark because we couldn’t bring ourselves to end this safari. We all knew that it was most probably the last safari of this kind together as 4WD and X-Ray would leave Kenya for Ethiopia very soon. But ScoutSpirit and PinkShade planned to go and visit them there . Anyway, the prospect of not living in the same country anymore was a bit hard to overcome. That is how we ended up in the Maharajah’s restaurant on Muindi Mbingu Street, in Nairobi, hungry and speechless. But despite our continuous efforts to appear cheerful, we were all half-asleep over our excellent dishes. We were sure that that night we would fall asleep very fast, and baboons could have danced on our bellies, or shouted in our ears, none of us would have noticed them.
 4WD (four-wheel drive): as he can make his way through everywhere and possibly through every situation. 4WD is an ancient nickname of the well-known today’s Bushsnob!
 X-ray: as she has a very accurate eyesight and the ability to spot before anybody any living creature for miles around in the bush!
 ScoutSpirit: as he is so calm and well organized that you could always count on him to provide what you did not bring or to have some spare place in his boot to host your things even If very heavily loaded!
 PinkShade: as she used to wear particular sunglasses that makes you see everything pinkish and also because she tried very hard to see the positive things although sometimes very anxious in that period of her life!
 Khanga: as she is very keen on this typical East African cloth, and passionate for the birds of the same name (guinea-fowls)!
 More information on Maasaï circumcision under “Upset Maasaï” by BushSnob, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2016/07/16/upset-maasai/)
 NCA: “the jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20 km across, 600m deep and 300 km2 in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder (Wikipedia + NCA’s official website = http://www.ngorongorocrater.org/).
 Mate: see “Swiss-Uruguayan Eastern Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2014/09/24/swiss-uruguayan-easter-safari-rally-kenya-16th-to-20th-april-1987/)
 There were no cell-phones in those days. We had to guess what to do!
 Words in italic are Kiswahili terms that we adopted as we found them more expressive or poetical than ours. Pole-pole means slowly, cautiously.
 Ascari is a Kiswahili word for a security guard.
 And through “Olduvai Gorge”, an interesting archaeological and paleontological site where the famous Leakey family made important discoveries.
 See “Easter Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (see above)
 Dudus are the equivalent of troublesome insects or pests in Kiswahili!
 MNP: “the Park is a “Man and Biosphere Conservation Area” since 1981 and consists of 330 km2 of arid land, forest, and a soda-lake which covers as much as 200 km2 of land during the wet season but is nearly non-existent during the dry season. Its name comes from a plant called Emanyara by the Maasai (Euphorbia tirucalli) used for hedges to protect the cattle” (Wikipedia + MNP’s website = http://www.tanzaniaparks.go.tz/).
 Maji moto literally means “hot water” and usually indicates some hot springs.
 A khanga is a typical East African cloth (150 cm wide by 110 cm long) made out of light and colourful fabric, with a border all around, a symbol in the middle and bearing a Kiswahili saying. A post on Pinkshade’s mother Khangas’ collection is being prepared on those beautiful pieces of East African culture.
 A future safari to Ethiopia, to be read soon in this blog, hopefully!
While in Presidencia Roque Saenz Peña in the Chaco Province of Argentina (on our way to Salta) we came across this sighting. I wonder if you can guess what it is?
It looks like some kind of terraces that could be of volcanic origin?
Not so. It is a finding I have not seen before: ant nests!
They “sprouted” in the front of our hotel and their builders were some species of leaf-cutting ants busy carrying stuff to their nests. However, this cargo was not the usual green bits but yellow.
Here they are in motion…
Curious, we followed the yellow ribbons for quite a long distance around the corner and immediately saw the “victim” about 50m away: a smallish tree still covered with yellow flowers despite the ongoing harvest.
I am sure that in a couple of days the ants will have to look for other source of sustenance as the flowers would have gone!
Although we are in Argentina at the moment, Stephen, our Zimbabwe housekeeper for the past 20 years, periodically keeps us up to date of the situation in the country, city and house. Like this we learnt that the rains in Harare have been good so far and that he is already starting to enjoy the first fresh mealies (corns) from his nearby field. Unfortunately this event, together with the ripening of the mangoes in the garden happens when we are away!
Through his message we learnt that he spotted a gravid chameleon laying eggs in the garden and we hope they will hatch next year. In our experience, chameleon eggs spend the entire dry season buried and only hatch during the rains the following year, probably when the earth gets soft and they can dig themselves out of the ground in a wise “delayed” development.
We also had an account of what happened to him recently that I believe is worth telling in his own words. The news came in a Whatsapp message we got on 18 February. I have only inserted clarifications in brackets.
“…I have been so busy since late Friday afternoon (15 February) running around to try and find my goats which I almost lost to thieves in the rural area (near Mukumbura in the border with Mozambique), if it wasn’t for my brother who quickly alerted me that they have gone missing the previous day. I agreed with the suspicion because there had been a truck seen loaded with goats in the area destined for sale in Harare where they fetch good prices.
After getting the news, I asked if there was anyone with the contacts of the driver or anyone amongst the people in the truck. When I got the driver’s number, I phoned him pretending to be someone who was in the business of buying and selling goats and wanted to know to which abattoir he had gone to sale the animals or if he had encountered any problem with police along the way.
He told me he was at one of the abattoirs along Seke road, close to the airport in Harare (about 25km from our house).
I quickly boarded a commuter omnibus to the abattoir. When I arrived I was shocked to discover and identify my six goats among the animals, which were about to be sold and slaughtered.
I managed to recover them and they arrived back home late evening yesterday. The same truck was asked to take them back. Unfortunately, with (the) difficulties people are facing, they are grabbing and selling anything they see can give them money to survive.
There was lots of celebration in my rural area.”
Later he gave more details:
“They were boys from my village and happen to be my relative even though not close, he raided them from the grazing area. In my area goats move freely and the owners only collect them in the evening and check if they are none missing to lock them in the kraal and open in the morning.
I had to make a report to the police to make it easy for them to facilitate the transportation of the goats back home (otherwise) it was not going to be easy for me to get them back home because I should have spent money to hire a truck, get a permit & explain to the police how the reason the goats end up in Harare.”
As you can see from the story, the “bush telegraph” is working more efficiently these days and I cannot but admire Stephen’s quick reaction that enabled him not only to recover the stolen goats but also to arrange for the culprits to return them to his home in the bush!
Every year we embark on our annual migration that covers three continents: Africa, Europe and South America. We find this ideal. Not only we avoid the bulk of the rainy season in Zimbabwe but we also get to Uruguay and Argentina to take advantage of the summer time there. After our sojourn in the Americas we avoid the winter and return to Zimbabwe with a summer stop in Europe to visit our children.
This year things changed as our son moved to Tenerife in the Canary Islands and we decided to spend the end of the year holidays there. We traveled there via Rome to spend a few days with our daughter and friends prior to our trip to Tenerife. This, unfortunately, was not the best move as we picked up severe flus that matured on arrival to the Canary Islands and kept us homebound for several days, some of them spent in bed!
Despite this, the fact that the family was together offset our sicknesses and, fortunately guided by our son we had some good time touring Tenerife and have a look at its attractions although planned trips other islands and visit to friends were cancelled.
After this, already recovered, we traveled to Uruguay where we spent a few days in the company of relatives and childhood friends. It was summer time and we enjoyed the warm weather that sometimes turned rather too hot but always preferable to the cold and wet winters that Uruguay can also deliver.
It was soon time to travel to Northern Argentina, a long but interesting journey that would take us to our farm in Salta “La Linda” (the beautiful) as it is known in this latitude.
After a few years of traveling this route we have decided to divided into three legs of about 600km each. The first takes us to Mercedes in Corrientes, the second ends in Presidencia Roque Saenz Peña and the final one -slighty longer- takes us to our final destination in Salta. This time, because of a basketball tournament there was no hotels in Mercedes so we booked a place in Curuzú Cuatiá, a few km nearer to Carmelo.
The weather during the journey was expected to be stormy but, despite some rains on the way, we had no difficulties. After driving about 600km? we reached Curuzú Cuatiá, a small town whose name comes from cross (curuzú) as it is placed at an important crossroads with traffic to and from several important Provinces in Argentina and Buenos Aires. The Jesuits had marked this place with a large wooden cross but the local Guaraní already had a name for the place: Curuzú Cuatiá.
After a good night rest we continued North, this time under heavy rain until, …km later and driving through the Iberá wetlands, we crossed the Paraná River at Corrientes through the large bridge that joins the Provinces of Corrientes with the Chaco. This time, the waters of this wide river showed a ribbon of clear water on the side of Corrientes (the waters from the high Paraná) and a wide brown area occupying more than half of the river course on the Chaco side. The latter indicated that the Paraguay River, that joins the Paraná a few km upstream, was in flood. The view reminded me to that seen at Khartoum with the Blue and White Nile running in parallel.
A couple of hundred km after crossing the river we arrived at our destination for the day: Presidencia Roque Sanz Peña. The reader may ask why we stopping in such an unsung place. As I mentioned, we needed a stopover that would be located about two thirds of the way to Salta and, after trying a few options Presidencia (for short) was chosen. It is the second city in importance in the Chaco Province after Resistencia, its capital. Luckily we discovered that it has a comfortable hotel with a sauna, adjacent to a thermal water spa. Just a short walk away there is also a good BBQ place where a large display of various meats allows for the choice of dinner to be made. A great desert of cheese and papaya in syrup is usually tasted after a good portion of “asado” (barbecued meat).
The final leg is the harder as it is a bit further and the road offers some “challenges”! Hence we departed as early as possible stocked with plenty of water. The straight road took us across what was a vast expanse of forest known as “El Impenetrable”. The straight road traverses the Chaco and Santiago del Estero provinces before getting to Salta. It passes through places with dramatic and even scary names, some of which are worth mentioning.
The first location we find is Avia Terai, (originally “Aviauck Tadaek” meaning large or thick forest in the Toba Qom language). Unfortunately, only isolated clumps of forest remain this day although, because of its woodlands of white and red quebrachos (Schinopsis spp) a very hard (density 0.9–1.3) wood tree species whose name means “axe-breaker”; algarrobo (Ceratonia siliqua) and guayaibí (Patagonula americana) was once known as the “Fortress of the woods”. Charcoal burning, the extraction of the hard woods and the clearing of lands for cultivation (mainly soybean) have taken their toll throughout the region nowadays
You then reach Concepción del Bermejo, a rather symbolic village that evokes an earlier settlement known as Concepción de la Buena Esperanza. This early attempt at colonizing effort was founded in 1585. Although it was the most effective Spanish occupation of the Chaco Province, it came to grief in 1631 when a tribal coalition destroyed it and forced the survivors to migrate all the way to Corrientes (240km), luckily ignored by the attackers!
The string of dramatic names starts with the next settlement called Pampa del Infierno (Hell’s Pampas) that clearly illustrates the feeling of the early settlers that chose the name when confronted with the intense heat and humidity that prevailed there. The next town, Los Frentones, is another small enclave that remembers the indigenous nation of that name that roamed this area. They used to shave their heads half way up their skull appearing to have a wide forehead (frente) hence their name that means “large fronted”.
Río Muerto’s (Dead River) is the next place we crossed. Its rather gloomy name comes from a dead “cauce” associated with the Bermejo River that apparently was blocked during the Chaco conquest through which the Argentinian Government conquered the aborigines. Pampa de los Guanacos is the next town name as a herd of these ruminants? were seen in the area at some stage. The place is home to a Mennonite colony? that came from Paraguay over thirty years ago. They live their rather isolated lives working the land and producing excellent cheese that is very sought after in the area!
We then came to Los Tigres (The Tigers) where probably jaguars once lived but no longer. Here the asphalt road deteriorates taking a rather “political” characteristic that also makes it interesting. It runs smoothly through the Chaco until you enter Santiago del Estero where the potholes become more frequent until it becomes a totally broken road. If your car survives the knocks, you emerge triumphantly back in the Chaco at Taco Pozo (hole of the tree or hole of the the algarrobo in Quechua) about 70km later after having driven through Monte Quemado (Burnt Forest).
Happy that we made it through this bad stretch, we decided to stop to regain our breath and recover some of the energy spent.
Aware that, after spending time negotiating the bad road drivers tend to go really fast we drove off the road down a gentle slope a few metres towards the railway track that runs parallel to the road most of the way and enjoyed our food while discovering a few interesting inhabitants.
When the time to go came we were surprised that the car did not move although the engine was making an effort to go! We got out and discovered that one back wheel was spinning in the hitherto undetected red mud. I engaged 4WD and tried again with no difference. Well, there was a difference as a wheel at the front also buried. Used to these situations, I stopped the car and proceeded to inspect the situation learning that the grass upon which our left wheels were it was very soft and the wheels were deeply set. We were well stuck!
Luckily we carry a few tools for these occasions and the spade came very useful to dig in front of the wheels to enable them to move as their thread was totally filled with sticky mud that did not allow any grip. To make matters more sticky, raindrops were falling and it was imperative that we dug fast. We had about two attempts at going but our rather optimistic digging did not work. Eventually, after quite an effort the car move about one metre. That was all we needed and I rocked it back and forth until it gain some motion forward and, with the engine screaming, Mabel pushing and spreading mud all over, the car moved and I did not stop until I was on high and firm ground. It was a relief as we had lost about two hours between the picnic and the mud!
From then on we had no other difficulties and we soon caught sight of the hazy mountains in the distance that are always welcome as they are the sign that we are getting close to the Andean mountains and our destination: Salta La Linda from where I will be writing for the next three to four months.
An immature mantis waiting for the right prey to pass by!
We were on a game drive following the Shingwedzi River towards the Kanniedod dam in the Kruger National Park on 5 October 2017. About four km after leaving the Shingwedzi rest camp we spotted a group of lions feeding on a greater kudu that appeared to have been killed earlier that morning. It was 08:30 hours.
There were ten lions, two adult males, on one young male and seven adult females. They were feeding on the opposite bank of the river. Although the latter was open sand banks with scattered bushes, our visibility was rather limited by the dense vegetation on our side. As we were alone -a rare occurrence- we drove up and down the river trying to get a good view. All we managed to find was a rather narrow gap in the vegetation and from there we watched.
At exactly 08:45 hours (we know the exact times because of the pictures’ information) four lionesses were feeding on the kill while the remaining members of the pride were nearby, either a few metres away or up on the river bank. We also noted that there were three adult buffalo about 50 metres towards the right of the lions. They were not grazing, just watching them.
Suddenly, one of the buffalo rushed towards the lions at speed and charged the group scattering them in all directions.
Through the dust I saw the buffalo head-butting something on the ground and my first thought was that it had got one of the lions! However, as the situation became clearer, I could see that it was in fact violently thrashing the greater kudu carcass!
The buffalo clobbered the carcass for a few seconds while the lions run away and then stopped and watched the buffalo. A second buffalo arrived to the scene but it did not join the first at the carcass.
Then, the third buffalo appeared and the trio stood at the site for a while before moving off to the other side of the carcass to a distance of about 30 metres.
Two minutes later the lions started to come back and resumed feeding, still being watched by the buffalo, now from the left of the pictures.
Once the buffalo cleared off, the lions returned to the kill and fed for about half an hour.
Then, when everything appeared quiet, a second buffalo charge took place!
This time the buffalo seemed satisfied scattering the lions and it did not interfere with the carcass.
After this second interaction the three buffalo turned their attention towards the various lions and proceeded to chase them and flash them out from the various locations they chose to hide.
After about one hour of this confrontation one of the lionesses moved off and walked about two hundred metres towards a pool in the river and, after drinking its fill, hid herself under some bushes, clearly fed up with the buffalo!
By about 11:00 hours the contest was over and the buffalo moved away leaving the lions undisturbed either singly or in small groups at various places along the river. When we returned before sunset a group of lions was resting on the riverbed but the buffalo were no longer in the area and, by the following morning. there were no signs of the lions or the carcass but some buffalo were still in the area.
We always learn from these kind of observations and I believe that there are a few issues of interest. The first is that at no time the lions attempted to confront or retaliate against the buffalo despite the size of the pride. This is probably explained either by not being hungry (as they had fed on the grater kudu) and/or being aware that the strong buffalo were a dangerous prey.
The second is the clear and understandable adverse reaction of the buffalo against the lions that they perceive as a danger and did not wish to have in their territory.
The most puzzling observation relates to the buffalo behaviour towards the carcass. It is possible that, unable to retaliate against the lions, the buffalo’s anger was expressed against what they perceived as associated with the predators. Of course we cannot rule out that some other reason sight- or smell-related triggered this conduct.
Perhaps readers with more experience on animal behaviour would like to comment on this and put forward a better explanation?
During earlier visits I have seen some of the big five in Rome and I described one of them already . During our brief visit this month we were treated to a nowadays rare sight: an endangered white rhino under the Arc of Janus at the Via del Velabro, very close to the church of Santa María in Cosmedin where the famous Bocca della Veritá (Mouth of Truth) mask is located.
The Arch of Janus, seen behind the rhino, is the only quadrifrons  arch in Rome. This arch has four facades and it was built at an important place and crossroads in antiquity, where the slope of the Palatine Hill (where most Emperors lived) coming from the centre of Rome met an important port on the Tiber River.
Interestingly, the experts say that the structure was built from pieces of other ruins, including the marble slabs that cover it. This construction method has enabled archaeologists to date the structure to the second half of the Fourth century.
Unfortunately, following an explosion that took place in the area in 1993, the arch was fenced and remained inaccessible to the public since then and it also remains unrestored. But now it has a rhino inside the fence…
The white rhino is there as part of a drive by the Fendi Foundation to give this less known area of Rome some visibility through the promotion of art at their Palazzo Rhinoceros nearby .
Hopefully, the presence of this very real-looking rhino that somehow surprised me will also promote its conservation!
 In Greek “tetrapylon”, and in Latin “quadrifrons”, is a kind of ancient Roman arch of cubic shape, with a gate on each of the four sides. These kind of arches were generally built at crossroads.
We have a few macadamia trees at home that have not yielded very much for luck of water. Last year we had very good rains so we were rewarded with a good harvest and we are busy drying them under the sun so that I can then proceed with the rather time-consuming exercise of opening them.
Macadamia’s shells are extremely hard and, after trying various methods, I have resorted to a vise in the workshop that so far is still working until its thread gives in!
Some time ago we have discovered hollowed out nuts in the garden and we could not believe that an animal could be so powerful as to gnaw such thick and hard shells! Eventually we found lots of empty nuts near a large hole and realized that we had a colony of Southern Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) .
After a while we stopped seeing them and they disappeared. Apparently they moved off our house one night in a group and entered under the gate of a neighbouring house but I was not a witness to this Pied-piper of Hamelin-like migration!
More recently, we noted that the nuts we were drying were being peeled from their green outer cover and taken away whole from the sunning box. We “smelled a rat”!
A search up and down the garden was organized and, eventually, a large hole was discovered at the farther corner of the garden. Suspecting that the giant rats were there I set up a camera trap pointing towards the suspected burrow and this is what I got:
We confirmed our fears as the various videos taken showed one rat at a time either entering or leaving the burrow. As I was curious to see how many there were, I decided to put some food hoping that they would gather to feed. Although I got over 180 ten-second videos, I still failed to get a rat gathering! However, I got a few that prompted me to write this post!
I have selected a few that I find interesting and/or funny. Please note that one is eating a few carrot pieces on the ground while the others are chewing a chunk of (delicious for humans at least) butternut hanging from a bush, the idea being that they would not drag it into their nest!
This giant rats are widely distributed in mainly tropical regions of southern Africa, notably Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I first saw them in Monze, Zambia while driving on the main road and I had difficulties stopping my Zambian workers from jumping from the moving vehicle to catch them as they consider them a delicacy!
Later, also in Zambia, Bruno, a colleague from Belgium, invited me with a surprise roast that happened to be delicious and it was a giant rat -as tasty as a piglet- with baked potatoes (tasting like potatoes!)! Giant rats were very abundant in that area at the time and I am sure contributed to food security of the village where the project was based.
Giant pouched rats are named after their large cheek pouches and they are only distantly related to the true rats. Recent studies place them in the family Nesomyidae and not in the Muridae as they used to be .
They are able to produce up to 10 litters of one to five young per annum and they are nocturnal and omnivorous with special taste for palm nuts and, as we have experienced, also for macadamia nuts. Interestingly, they are hind gut fermenters and coprophagous, producing pellets of semi-digested food that are consumed.
They are not only easily tamed as pets but useful for detecting land mines as they have an excellent sense of smell, particularly sniffing TNT while being too light to detonate the mines! But this is not all. They are also being trained to detect tuberculosis by smelling sputum samples. This procedure is faster than the normal diagnostic test and remarkably increases the sample processing. 
So a few disappeared nuts ended up producing an interesting story and I am now positive that we have a colony of rats (being fed on expensive macadamia nuts) that could potentially be bred to remove mines and improve human lives!
I regret now having eaten one (and liked it!) and I will not do it again!
 I am not a rat taxonomist so I base my identification more on distribution and abundance than on their morphology. The other possible species in Zimbabwe would be C. gambianus but the whole pouched rat taxonomy is under review. See: Olayemi, A. et. al. (2012). Taxonomy of the African giant pouched rats (Nesomyidae: Cricetomys): molecular and craniometric evidence support an unexpected high species diversity. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 165, 700–719.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_pouched_rat#cite_note-MetH-1. Seen on 6/12/18.
 https://www.apopo.org/en. Seen on 6/12/18.
I will not tire repeating that Alan Young was the principal driving force behind the research on Theileriosis in Africa and I still regret its untimely passing in 1995 that resulted in a crippling blow to our progress in the understanding and controlling the disease in Africa.
Apart from being very intelligent, Alan was a “hands on” researcher that enjoyed fieldwork and a good laugh. During the few years we shared in Kenya there were a number of great working moments and achievements as well as some amusing ones. As this is not a scientific blog, I will share with you some of the latter that I still remember.
Although he was always writing and publishing scientific papers and work was his passion, Alan still managed field trips and he loved to visit Intona. As I described before it was Alan who brought me to the ranch in the Transmara for the first time after my first trip to Mbita Point with Matt .
Alan inspecting the cattle at Intona ranch.
I needed his expertise to protect cattle against Theileriosis so I could stop applying acaricides to them for my trial. He was always busy following up immunized animals, a procedure that required many hours behind a microscope checking lymph and blood smears to detect early signs of the disease and take appropriate action.
Luckily, we had a cohort of well-drilled KEVRI and ICIPE technicians that would stay at Intona monitoring the cattle as well as the tick work I was involved. Some of them were the protagonists of some incidents that I believe are worth narrating.
During one of my first trips from Muguga to Intona with Alan and the herdsmen, in particular a very funny one called Ben, we left Muguga at about 09:00hs. Not a very early start but the herdsmen needed to wait for the Government’s cashier to give them their per diem for the days they would be in the bush. This meant that we needed to stop on the way to get their provisions for the entire spell that they would be out.
So, after getting cooking oil, ugali  and cabbages, we stopped to fill-up the car at the main Nairobi to Kampala road. Alan dealt with the fuel, I did nothing but walk about while the herdsmen went off to get paraffin for cooking.
After a while we were ready to depart. While Alan waited for the change from the cashier I got in the car and noted a rather overwhelming paraffin smell. Thinking that one of the herdsmen containers was still dirty in the outside I kept quiet thinking that it would soon dry up and the smell would stop.
Alan came in and he immediately detected the strong fumes and asked the herdsmen at the back of the Land Rover to check their paraffin containers. They both replied that all was in order so we moved on with our windows open. However, as the stink continued, Alan decided to stop about a kilometer further to have a look. He was not amused when he found that Ben was clinging to his plastic paraffin can. Alan noted that he was trying to block a leak with his finger! It was necessary to return to the petrol station to get a new container before the journey resumed! Luckily, over the long journey we shared a great laugh with Ben over the issue.
Once my work started at Intona I was there often and regularly to manage the tick trials I was running. Kiza, the resident veterinarian at the ranch, supervised Alan’s work but also looked after the numerous Murumbi’s pet dogs that kept him very busy. The arrangement with the cattle was that Kiza would radio Alan in case of any complication was detected.
So, during one of my stays at Intona, Alan turned up to deal with some abnormal cattle temperature readings. I was at a particular busy time and did not know what was taking place so here I reconstruct the story from the various participants.
The monitoring of cattle immunized against Theileriosis included recording daily body temperatures and taking blood and lymph node smears to check for parasites in both tissues. There was a book where these findings were recorded daily.
At that particular time, John, one of the hard working KEVRI staff, was in charge of monitoring the cattle. Immediately upon arrival Alan asked for the book where the daily cattle temperatures were recorded and started to go through it with Kiza and John himself. The issue was that, for the last four or five days there were some unusual temperature readings, different from the earlier trend. The experienced Alan smelled a rat so he asked John to repeat the temperature checking for that day to compare with those in the book and see if he could detect anything.
After the request, an inordinate amount of time elapsed before John started checking the animals and, eventually, he came to reveal that all the thermometers had broken and that, over the days in question, he had taken “temperature estimates” of the animals based on how they felt to the touch under the tail area!
Later on, when things settled down, over a beer Alan narrated the event to me and he was very amused to the point that he coined the term “John’s finger test” to describe what had happened! Although we never quite knew about the real procedure employed by John, we had a good laugh and both his working mates and us forever teased John about this incident.
This anecdote of a time when we were applying identification ear tags to cattle at Muguga confirms that I was not the only one that had difficulties to understand Alan. We were using new ear tags and noted that we had forgotten the special pen to write on them known as the Magic marker as it would write on plastic and the paint would last long.
So, Alan asked one of the older workers called Ernest to bring it. After about twenty minutes Ernest had not yet returned although the office was quite near. Alan and I were getting anxious and wondering what happened as this was a routine procedure and we needed to get on with more important work.
When I was about to go and check we saw Ernest walking very slowly towards us trying not to spill the water from a plastic washbowl. We looked at each other fearing some “cock-up”; the term we normally used for these eventualities. Alan echoed my thoughts when he asked Ernest “why did you bring this if we asked you for the magic marker?” “Oh”, Ernest replied, “I thought you wanted “maji moto”, KiSwahili for hot water. The delay was now clear and he rushed to get the pen while we both burst out laughing.
After a few years I completed my FAO assignment but remained in Kenya as a scientist with the ICIPE and my collaboration with Alan continued although my work had shifted to cattle resistance to tick infestations. I continued visiting Intona with a new experiment that required the building of a special paddock.
It was very important that the wild animals were kept out and the cattle inside the paddock for the trial to succeed. We were not only dealing with African buffalo that were common at the ranch but also with elephants that at times would literally walk through Intona and we knew that they would not be stopped by a normal fence!
So, Alan had the idea of setting up a strong paddock with an electric fence. Alan was traveling frequently to the USA at the time and brought a couple of solar powered electric fence units capable of delivering 11,000 Volts pulses of very low amperage (safe as high Amps are the ones that could kill you) but the high Voltage will “only” hurt you!
The day came to connect the fence so that the trial could start. We needed to confirm that the solar-charged batteries were delivering the correct electricity current according to the manual. For that purpose the equipment came with a very fancy tester that Alan would use. We had left the unit charging from the day before as advised by the makers.
Although it rained most afternoons, because of the influence of Lake Victoria, there was sunshine from sunrise to about 17:00 hs, enough for charging the batteries. So, Alan, the herdsmen and myself, after listening to the pulse clicks at the unit, went to the fence to finally test its power.
Alan applied the terminals to the wire and, before I go on, I must tell you that what took place happened very fast so I may have missed some details as I was looking at the reading in the tester. I believe that first there were some sparks but in any case, the tester disappeared from my field of vision together with Alan that proffered a rude epithet while being thrown back from the fence and falling on his bump!
“Pole sana” said the herdsman and I also muttered a rather useless “oh, sorry!” Alan sat on the ground, rubbing his right hand that was still holding the charred remains of the tester! Our concern about his wellbeing evaporated the moment that Alan burst out laughing and we all relaxed learning that he was still his usual self even after the shock!
Probably the rain that fell the day before had had some impact in the transmission of the electricity pulses that, somehow, got to Alan and not to the tester. From that day on we assumed that the fence was powerful enough and no further checks were ever performed again for lack of volunteers and a tester!
While performing field trips with Alan he kindly lent me his Land Rover as part of our collaboration until some years later ICIPE finally decided to buy a similar one for our work.
Alan’s car was heavily used, as we not only traveled to Intona but also Busia and Laikipia to name the most common ones. Although I never noticed it, years later during a visit while I was already out of Kenya, I managed to meet with some of our former herdsmen who as one of the events they remembered was that we had been carrying Chang’aa, an illegal drink! I was astonished when they explained me how it happened.
Alan’s Series III Land Rover had two jerry cans fitted at the front of the car. As we considered carrying petrol there too dangerous in case of an accident we kept the cans empty and, frankly, we forgot about them.
Chang’aa, also known in various languages as kali, kill-me-quick, Kisumu whisky, maai-matheru, machozi-ya-simba and others, was (and still is) the name given to distilled spirits in Kenya and the manufacture, commerce, consumption or possession of it was, at the time, illegal and punishable with heavy fines and even up to two years in prison! .
So it resulted that the guilty herdsmen would buy Chang’aa in the field, place it in the jerry cans and “import it” under the cover of our work to Nairobi where they would, I imagine, sell it for a handsome profit!
So, without our knowledge, our Land Rover (and us!) was used as a “mule” in the rather clever operation! I never had the chance to comment this with Alan as I learnt about it after his passing so I am not sure that he ever found out about it.
Alan and I shared the passion for soccer. While this should not surprise you in my case, as I come from Uruguay but for someone from Northern Ireland, not a great soccer nation, it was remarkable at least in my book. We shared our soccer interest with Walter, the then Director of KEVRI, Muguga, and this was a frequent topic during our many morning tea breaks at the Institute. Walter was the Chairman of one of the main teams in Kenya, AFC Leopards, but also followed football worldwide.
In 1989, living and working in Ethiopia, I attended one of the FAO Expert Consultations on Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Rome where I met Alan and, during the meeting, we learnt that there was a football match the coming Sunday. The meeting was ending on Friday so we agreed that, return flights to Africa permitting, a soccer match of the Serie A League was a must.
Because I could speak some Italian I dealt with the organization of the outing once both checked that our flights would leave on the Sunday night. So, I confirmed that Lazio, one of the two teams from Rome, was playing Fiorentina (from Florence). The game would take place at the Stadio Olimpico, the main arena in Roma built for the 1960 Summer Olympic Games.
I still remember that it was Sunday 21 May 1989 when, before lunchtime we left the Sant’ Anselmo hotel in the Aventino area of Rome and walked to the bus stop as advised by my Roman contacts. The bus was empty as the stop was the start of the line and, seated, we were soon on our way. About half way a crowd of Lazio tifosi (fans) dressed for the occasion and carrying lots of flags and banners filled the bus. They were many and about half of them were left behind when the doors were closed!
We were really packed, almost worse than in a Kenya minibus! Surrounded by people dressed in their team’s pale blue shirts I felt like going to a match where the “celeste” (pale blue) of Uruguay was playing! After a while the tifosi started to jump all together and to move sideways… We look at each other in disbelief and grabbed whatever handle we could, as the danger of the bus toppling sideways was a real one!
Feeling like survivors, we were the last leaving the bus. It was about an hour earlier and it was filling fast. We approached the usual ticket sale points and they were all closed, except for the really expensive ones. We were in trouble, as we had not planned for such expenditure! Far from giving up, we looked for a quiet corner and counted our cash realizing that it would be either soccer or lunch! Luckily we already had the return bus tickets.
Without hesitating we agreed to skip lunch so two starved and penniless people entered the grand stand that afternoon! The attraction for me was that Rubén Sosa, a Uruguayan that had a distinguished career as a fast attacker with a great goal scoring ability and exact passing. He is considered by many as one of the best soccer players Uruguay has produced in the second half of the 20th Century!
The match was even and entertaining until early in the second half Lazio was awarded a penalty that Sosa converted into a goal and Lazio won. The people in the stadium went wild and, when he was replaced at the 89th minute, got a standing ovation (that included us!). We were really happy and the occasion gave me good ammo to tease Alan in the future about my South American origins!
 KiSwahili for white maize flower, the staple food in Kenya.
 “Sorry” or “very sorry” in KiSwahili means
 Kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/pdfdownloads/…/Changaa_Prohibition__Cap_70_.doc Consulted on 25/11/2018.