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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