Friday, 14 August 2015

Zanzibar Dreaming

Day One
Just twenty minutes of flying time transfers you from the hustle and bustle of Dar Es Salaam to the idyllic island of Zanzibar. Used as a major trade port for decades Zanzibar is rich in history, incredible architecture and ancient culture. We landed later than expected (the typical African motto of arriving in time as opposed to on time rang truest that day) and drove the one and a half hours to Matemwe village on the East. We passed through the open fields on the islands interior and every so often we caught glimpses of the beautiful Indian ocean and shrieked with excitement. We were shattered when we finally arrived and so after a delicious Swahili style dinner we fell asleep to the sound of the ocean waves lapping the coral at the edge of our verandah. 

Day Two
As we had arrived in the dark the night before we woke to a very special site. Matemwe’s guest rooms are so close to the edge of the reef that you almost feel as though you are floating in the sea itself! The sun rose spectacularly across the open water, greeting the early morning fisherman and illuminating the oceans golden hues.

We started off at Breezes hotel on the island’s lower Eastern edge and explored The Zanzibar Collection’s three very different beach side properties: Breezes, The Palms and Baraza. And then, sensing a break in the weather we made a mad dash for the near by Rock Restaurant. We had heard so much about it so we were quite excited to visit. We passed through what seemed to be a very battered old village and started wondering what the heck kind of mess we had gotten ourselves into. But the tiny, sandy streets opened out onto the ocean and floating in the middle was indeed the little restaurant on the rock – it was exactly as we had imagined it. Of course we took about twenty minutes standing at the base of it looking up in wonder and taking photo after photo, and then finally climbed the sandy steps to the top.

After lunch we headed North to Ras Nungwi where we discovered what must be Zanzibar’s best beach. It was that exquisite white colour that you only really see in movies and the ocean was turquoise, like a scene from a movie. The hotel itself was curled comfortably on a slope down to the beach with a warm, friendly air about the place and as an extra bonus: diving and dive training on site!It was quite late in the day and the temptation to roll into a beach side hammock, order a cocktail and stay there forever was incredibly tempting. Talk about the icing on the cake!

Day Three
Another early morning for us as we boarded our little boat bound for the coral reefs of the Mnemba Atoll. The boat ride out was about thirty minutes and our driver took great care edging us around the reef breaker and away from the big waves. We were in the water before you could say “snorkel” and the reef revealed all kinds of little treasures – certainly some of the best snorkeling in East Africa! To top it all off a call came from our boat captain and we saw sets of little fins gliding through the water. Dolphins! They swam all around us and passed below us leaving us silly humans all a little awestruck. 

Once we were back on dry ground and down from our dolphin induced high we had a quick lunch and then were whisked off to Stone Town for a short tour with our new friend, Ben. Stone Town is an architectural gem, but we must admit that being two little bush women we did not manage too well in the big city! We wandered the markets and filled our shopping bags before enjoying a sun-downers on the roof of Emerson Spice Hotel and demanding we be taken back to the wide open spaces of Matemwe for the beach barbecue. It was a chaotic and beautiful afternoon that wont be forgotten anytime soon and we recommend at least a visit to this fascinating town for all our guests, even the country bumpkins.

Day Four
We left early in the morning to catch our flight back to Nairobi and sat in stony silence in the taxi on the way to the airport. Matemwe had found its way into our hearts!

A big thank you to the wonderful folks at Matemwe for putting up with us for three nights – you were all superb!

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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Tanzania: The Wild South

Day One 
We left our comfortable room at Macushla House in Nairobi early to catch our outbound flight. It’s a short 1.5hrs in the air from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam and upon landing we had pre-arranged a transfer to take us directly to the local terminal for the afternoon flight to the Selous. However, feeling a tad overexcited we opted instead for our own taxi chap (his name was Ali, he was nice) to go and explore downtown Dar Es Salaam. Including a ten minute stop for lunch, we had a wonderful time munching cashew nuts in the traffic and panicking about whether we would make it back in time for our connecting flight.

The flight to the Selous is about one hour twenty minutes and flying out of the city, deep into the heart of Tanzania you begin to really understand how big and beautiful this country really is. The landscape changes so dramatically; from lush green forests to dusty dry savannas until finally the water wilderness of the Rufiji river system is below you and it takes your breath away. We barreled out of the plane in a semi calm panic, happy to be back on solid ground and met our enthusiastic guide, Ernest, from Sand Rivers Selous.

Sand Rivers is perched right on top of the Rufiji river with some of the best views in the park! We both felt immediately at home here and are still pining to return. After a quick shower and an inappropriate amount of squealing we headed off with trusty Ernest on a bush walk to stretch our legs and see what little treasures the Selous held. We didn’t walk far, stopping and photographing each and every tree with total fascination and the sun hit the undulating landscape in such a way that everything beyond that moment and that place became totally irrelevant.

Day Two
The next day we were up early – seize the day and all that – and were whisked off into the bush. The lakes in this area are rich with hippos, crocodiles and a variety of colourful birdlife. Masai giraffe ambled about with zebra, impala, yellow baboons, elephants, leopard and lions and after a dip in the hot spring we tucked into a delicious picnic breakfast on the banks of Lake Tagallala. We had lunch at Beho Beho, which is an elegant lodge built away from the river with sweeping views across the hills and valley below, before continuing on to Lake Manze Camp on the shores of Lake Manze.

With so much water around we just had to do a boat cruise! That afternoon we cruised through the tributaries around Lake Manze looking at birds, crocodiles and other little critters before emerging out onto the lake to watch the sun set to the sound of grunting hippos and fish eagle calls.

Day Three
Despite the gloomy weather, our incredibly knowledgeable guide Sammy somehow coerced us into good spirits and took us for a bush walk the following morning. It wasn’t far, but we learned more about the Selous Eco-system on that single walk than we did on our entire trip. Shout out to Sammy! After our walk we transferred to the near by Impala Camp (Lake Manze’s sister camp) where we were met by a sweet Italian man named Faustus. The camp was so lovely and lunch was served on the dining platform, making the most of the river view. Faustus also accompanied us to our next stop - Siwandu Camp. Along the way Faust very proudly informed us that the airline we were flying with was actually Italian owned! “So, maybe might die,” he said. “But at least you have good pizza on board.” Cue nervous laughter. PS. Coastal Aviation – I’m still waiting for said promised pizza.

At the superbly romantic and secretive Siwandu Camp we got back on the boat and headed off for a spot of fishing. The number of crocodiles in the lake was just astonishing – it’s a wonder anything survives here. But the catfish do, so after a few close encounters with the scaly beasts we parked our camping chairs on the lake side and cast our fishing rods. In the space of an hour we produced an almost-catfish and an unfortunate terrapin (which we later spent an hour operating on and eventually released in good spirits). Obviously this has nothing to do with our stunted fishing skills - June is just the wrong time of year for it!

Day Four
Finally a sleep in before our flight to Ruaha! After a relaxing breakfast and emergency checking of work emails (we are still getting on top of this “being on safari is not an excuse” stuff) we catch our one hour, fifty minute flight to Ruaha which lands at the main airstrip in the heart of the park. Saidi, from Kwihala camp greets us enthusiastically and whisks us off into the unknown, via a pride of lions with cubs on a giraffe kill of course.  Arriving at Kwihala camp, Sandy meets us with cool towels and a warm greeting. We fall in love with Sandy almost instantly and we laugh and natter over a delicious light lunch in their shady dining tent. After lunch, Lorenzo comes to meet us. Lorenzo is the walking guide at Kwihala. He’s Italian, of course and he’s a hoot! Our walk that afternoon takes us between the towering baobab trees, into the rocks and out onto the golden grassland. Lorenzo is engaging, funny (in that offbeat Italian way we love) and incredibly knowledgeable.  We drink G&Ts, watch the sun set among the giant baobabs and listen to a leopard calling near by. This is Africa.

Day Five
Up nice and early we head off in search of Mdonyo Old River Camp. It’s surprisingly chilly this morning, but luckily Kwihala anticipates our naivety and packs extra blankets and hot water bottles in the car. Brownie points! En route we find a serval hunting in the long grass, some elephants, a male lion, lesser kudu and a troop of baboons. Mdonyo Old River Camp is based, as the name suggests, right along an old river, between a cascade of incredible trees and wildlife. We only stop for a coffee and a look around but it is certainly a fantastic site! Saidi then deposits us on the side of a beautiful dry riverbed for our “bonnet breakfast” where we witness our first “crossing”, as pictured below. Nothing quite like the great wildebeest migration to be sure, but the moment is entirely our own and the wilderness is unlike any we have seen before!

We arrive at the simple but stylish Kigelia Camp in time for lunch. The basic, bush friendly layout of this place is fused perfectly into its surroundings and we spent a bizarre amount of time walking around, touching things and gasping at the general beautifulness. That afternoon we take a drive through the spectacular baobab forests that Ruaha is so famous for and on the way back spot a caracal (huge excitement!). Drinks around the fire and a delicious three course meal under the stars mean we head off to bed with full tummies and happy hearts. 

Day Six
We are up before dawn to find our way to the beautiful Ruaha river. Starting from a viewpoint, we walk down and along the river. It’s only a short walk but all we need to stretch the legs and take in the spectacular scenery before a picnic breakfast on the bank. After breakfast we take a short drive down the river, enjoying incredible riverside birdlife like fish eagles, herons, egrets, bee-eaters, kingfishers and ground hornbills before catching our lunchtime flight to Zanzibar

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Lion fight in Laikipia

It was early November and I was driving around Laikipia’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy with professional wildlife photographer and dear friend Margot Raggett. We had failed spectacularly in our search for cats that morning, but around lunchtime we heard that lions had been spotted recently in the area so we decided to return in the afternoon and soldier on. A combination of desperate hope, Margot’s eagle eyes and pure luck produced the result we were hoping for: a solo lioness emerged from the bushes. She seemed to be waiting for something, staring resolutely into the bushes behind. At first we thought she was hunting and had spotted a tasty impala shaped snack that we couldn’t see. But about five minutes later a mating pair of lions arrived.

She ran over to join them. They all seemed familiar and greeted each other affectionately, but she was obviously very interested in the male. Amid our scandalous chatter about lion relations I gasped, “Margot! There’s another male.” A big male appeared near by and made a bee-line for the threesome.

He wasted no time splitting them up and then a loud and bloody fight erupted between the two males. It happened so quickly I barely had time to register it. I just pressed click! 

It was everything you would imagine it would be. When such an incredibly powerful force of nature unexpectedly erupts it is thrilling, terrifying and magical. Sometimes I get complacent watching these great beasts sleeping. They grumble and ignore everyone and everything around them and I wonder what all the fuss is about. This scene reminded me why lions are ‘the king of the jungle.’

Claiming his prize

Injured but victorious

The female in question

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