Mikumi National Park Part 2
Today we leave Morogoro for Mikumi National Park after having breakfast at the hotel. Most of us have shown up at the dining area together and Vidole Juu directs our attention to the TV, which is anchored on the wall. Oh yuck, a big rat is crawling up the cable and then disappears into the ceiling. Lovely! After our initial gasps and groans, we settle down and continue to eat our meal. Vidole Juu tells us later on that he has listed the rat in his journal as his first mammal sighting. That’s funny.
I forgot to mention in my first blog that on our drive from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro we met up with our actual safari drivers around the midway point between the two cities and transfer into three vehicles. Paul and I are riding with two other couples from Kansas, Vidole Juu, Uwiano, Nyama, Ngruwe, and our driver/guide is Kevin. After breakfast, our luggage is being packed in the vehicles and we are waiting to load ourselves into our designated vehicles. An employee of Hotel Oasis walks out of the lobby carrying my red fanny pack and asks who it belongs to. Good grief, how did I not gather that bag up with everything else? Thank goodness the honest woman found it before we left. Although I could have survived without it, it did contain the bird book I borrowed from my sister-in-law, my journal, and other items I wanted to be able to get my hands on easily.
As we speed our way toward Mikumi, I try to take photos from the moving Rover. On past trips I have had really good luck capturing road scenes through the window but so far my results on this trip are not good. I finally figure out why most of my efforts are proving disappointing on this trip. The windows on our Rover don’t roll down; they slide open and only halfway at that. I can’t get the camera lens out the window far enough to point it forward thus the camera can’t focus well. Pooh.
As we near the outskirts of Mikumi National Park, there is a troop of baboon along the edge of the highway. They act like beggars and I suppose foolish tourists have tossed them food from car windows. Don’t get me started on people who feed human food to animals in National parks and then wonder why they become a nuisance. A bit farther up the road I spy several elephants in the distance. Impalas and ground hornbills (these birds are huge) have been spotted by the lead vehicles in our group. All Right! We haven’t even entered through the official park gate yet.
Our drivers pull into the dirt parking lot adjacent to the official entrance to Mikumi. They have to check in and fill out paper work that will allow us to legally enter the park. All of us unload from the vehicles and gratefully make our way to the restrooms. We then walk into the Parks headquarters to look at their displays of various items such as skulls, maps and photos of the wildlife found in Mikumi. The main “attraction” is a group of bats that are hanging from the rafters. Someone comments that they aren’t real and gullible me actually believes them. Well, in my defense, they do look a bit like a stuffed display but once you begin to scrutinize the rather creepy creatures, you can see some of the bats moving around, or opening and closing their eyes.
Once we load back into the safari trucks, the guard lifts the wooden barrier for us and we are off on our first game drive! Holy Smokes, it didn’t take long for us to find what we were searching for. Within a few hundred yards of the gate we see a few wildebeest (they really are the oddest designed critters), zebra (they always seem to be posing for the camera), elephant (the true king of the bush), impalas (such fine boned and graceful antelope), a giraffe (giraffe are oddly hard to see sometimes), plus numerous birds. All of us are snapping photos as fast as we can and I am surprised our shutters are not smoking with the nearly nonstop punching of our camera buttons.
Earlier in our trip, after we had been divided into the three safari vehicles, Brian gave us a lesson on helping your fellow passengers find an animal or an unusual roadside scene that you have found. Using the direction the arms of an imaginary old-fashioned clock would point to on the hour, is supposedly the easiest way to direct people’s eyes to the area they need to look. The front of the vehicle is designated as twelve o’clock. So if you see an animal to your immediate right of you, one should yell out “three o’clock”. Now that may seem easy enough but with most of our time pieces digital now this simple directive isn’t as reflexive as you would assume. I for one must think for a moment before yelling out the corresponding time, by then we may have driven far enough that the animal that was at one o’clock is now at three o’clock.
This lesson in alerting fellow passengers to an animal you have found reminds me that I left out an amusing story in my first blog, so I have included it here.
The first time Vidole Juu called out “three o’clock” was when we were riding back to the hotel from our hike to the falls. The five of us dutifully direct our gaze to the right and see nothing. Vidole Juu apologizes and says he really meant nine o’clock. I can’t even remember what Vidole Juu was trying to get us to look at, but we do give the man some grief for the mix-up. When Vidole Juu mixes up three and nine o’clock occasionally on our game drives we tease him unmercifully, partly because Vidole Juu’s career is all about working with numbers. We keep telling him we are going to ask Brian to change his name to Mr. Three o’clock. Being a good sport Vidole Juu banters back and offers the excuse that his mix up is because we are on the other side of the equator and the hands of the clock are reversed! Good come back but not enough to keep us from kidding him when he slips up. Paul reminds me after he proofread my blog that the first time Vidole Juu made this mistake, Paul actually looked towards nine o’clock when Vidole Juu called out three, so I guess the hands on Paul’s clock had reversed directions too.
We are the trailing vehicle in the convoy because our driver, Kevin, is not familiar with this part of Tanzania, thus he needs to follow the other guides that know the roads in this park. As we continue down the dusty, red, dirt road, our vehicle leaves the main track to check out the hippopotamus pool. We see a few bulbous heads poking out of the water but mostly the large mammals are keeping as much of themselves out of the hot sun as possible. There are also some small crocodiles that we observe sunning themselves along the edge of the water.
We leave the hippo pool and drive in the direction our sister vehicles went. As we round a corner we find them and three other safari trucks sitting on the side of the road. Well no wonder the rest of our group drove by the hippo pool, a small pride of lions have killed a Cape buffalo right by the side of the road. There certainly was no hurry for us to get here as the lions are lounging around, so stuffed full of meat they can hardly move. There are two male lions, lying off by themselves, while two lionesses and three cubs have found shade in a clump of bushes not far from the kill. Our poor cameras are given another frenzied workout! Nyama hauls out a long lens and attached it to her canon camera. I admit I look at that powerful lens with some envy. I would guess if she gets a photo of one of these lions yawning, Nyama will be able to see if they have any cavities! We sit for quite some time watching the lions, which mostly just lay around trying to alleviate the pressure on their bulging bellies.
Since we are to be in camp at 1:30 for lunch we reluctantly leave the lions behind. We do stop at the hippo pool on our way back to camp, where we are allowed to leave the vehicles and stretch our legs. The hippopotamuses still are just grey bumps in the water but we do see some larger crocodile lying on the dam across the water from us. They are camouflaged so well that it takes a while to convince ourselves that what we are looking at aren’t just dead logs.
When we arrive at camp we must all choose a tent where we will sleep for the next two nights. There is one large open air tent and the rest are small two person tents, each containing two cots and a wooden table. Paul and I settle on tent number eight, and when the camp staff sets up our mobile camp in other parks, tent number eight will always be ours. The inside of the tent is really hot, so Paul goes to open the back rain flap in hopes that some air will find its way through the tight mesh of our canvas house. Paul calls to me and shows me the darndest insect, happily perched on the side of our tent. Yikes, I’m glad that thing is on the outside and not crawling around on our beds.
Christophe the chef puts a meal of spaghetti, watermelon, salad and cheese in front of his safari clients. Despite the fact that we rolled into camp late (hey it was lions!), then had to choose our tents and retrieve our luggage, Christophe managed to keep the spaghetti and sauce hot and edible. Christophe is cooking over wood and it is amazing the meals this man puts in front of us over the next two weeks. The fact that he can produce such fare while preparing the food over an open flame or coals while using just a few pots and pans is unbelievable.
After the satisfying lunch, we have some quiet time before we leave on a late afternoon game drive. Paul manages to take a nap in the stuffy tent, but I can’t tolerate the heat so retreat to a chair outside. I look over my photos, good grief at this rate I will fill my cards up before we are halfway through this safari. I delete a few photos that are obviously blurry, and some that are exact copies of each other. I admonish myself to try to temper the urge to photograph the same animal or a landscape shot every few seconds. I write a few notes in my journal and before you know it, 4:30 has arrived and it is time to leave for our second game drive.
Our camp is not far from the park entrance and we haven’t driven far when someone observes two jackals trotting through the underbrush. They are smaller than our coyotes and like most predators are very well camouflaged. We watch the little canines until they trot out of sight.
Our drivers take us back in the direction of the lion pride we saw this morning. Along the way we find a group of zebra that contains a baby zebra. I can’t help but verbally gush over the cute, toy like creature. I’m pretty sure that the other females in the vehicle joined in my out loud admiration, but I was so engrossed in expressing my own delight I can’t be sure :).
We watch a group of warthogs for a while but they mostly just stare back at us. Good heavens, these animals have a face that only a mother could love. Brian and Mbuzi will probably scold me for that critique! Also, why do these warthogs have a mane, and what is its purpose? Our convoy also encounters more regal elephant and graceful impalas. We watch a lone reed buck exhibit some odd behavior. The antelope lays down, then jumps up and runs for a short distance before lying down again. Kevin tells us (or maybe it was Brian) that this is classic behavior of a reed buck when it is nervous about a nearby predator. We leave the reed buck behind after scrutinizing the brushy area for big cats. We saw no sign of a predator but that doesn’t mean something wasn’t hiding in the tall grass.
When we reach the lion pride again one of the male lions is partaking of some more Cape buffalo meat. The sun is sinking low in the African sky and the rays are lighting the lions up as if they were spun of gold. Although some might find it gruesome, the power of the lion in stripping the meat off of the carcass was something to see. The big male doesn’t eat for long and as he is walking away from the buffalo one of the lionesses walks up to him. The two big cats head butt each other in the exact manner that domestic cats greet each other. The majestic male then lies down by the base of a tree and begins grooming himself. Once he is satisfied that he is clean, he rolls over on his side and points his overstuffed gut to the sky.
The female has two cubs trailing behind her, their little bellies so full they appear to be sway backed. The lioness goes up to the Cape buffalo, sniffs at it, takes one bite, than sits down near the carcass. The two cubs do begin eating more meat, one cub practically crawling in the cavity of the old buffalo’s stomach. How in the world the youngsters manage to make room for any more meat is a mystery to me, but eat they do.
We must leave the satisfied lions as the sun is beginning to set and our guides must be out of the park by 6:30. We don’t quite make the deadline but the guard at the gate just opens the barrier and waves us on through. I have a feeling they are used to late departures.
When we arrive at camp, the staff has hot water ready to fill the bucket showers for us. There are two shower stalls but with bucket showers one doesn’t spend much time in them, maybe five minutes tops. Basically, you open the spigot and wet yourself down, shut the water off, lather up, turn the spigot back on and rinse off, put your towel or clothes on and let the next person have their turn. After a long day of driving, we are dusty and sweaty so a shower feels wonderful!
The only thing I remember about the meal Christophe put before us tonight is the homemade dinner rolls and the leek soup. The dinner rolls are out of this world, raised up to great heights with a crusty exterior and perfectly done in the middle. The soup is thick and wonderfully seasoned. If the man only put soup and rolls in front of me for the remainder of the safari I will be completely satisfied. Our first game drive was stupendous but also tiring so we turn in soon after the meal. Next installment, Mikumi day 2. Could it top today?? Nancy