Isimila, Part 6

Driving to Iringa and visiting Isimila, Part 6

Not a bad view from our balcony

Not a bad view from our balcony

Brian announced last night during dinner that we would leave Udzungwa Mountain lodge mid-morning to drive to Iringa. He also informed us that Sykes monkeys were roosting (my word, do monkeys roost?) in the trees behind our duplex, and the monkeys would begin to stir around dawn, for those that were interested.

This morning Paul and I are up by daybreak and scoping out the trees for the russet-backed primates. Nyama, tousled haired and sleepy-eyed, is sitting on their balcony, but when no monkeys appear after waiting for some time, she decides to go back to bed. Nyama and Ngruwa saw them yesterday morning anyway, so it’s not like they will be missing out.

Paul looking for Sykes monkeys

Paul looking for Sykes monkeys

Paul and I rotate between the balcony and the room as we check for monkeys and pack our suitcases. Finally we see a Sykes monkey sitting on a tree limb near Nyama and Ngruwa’s balcony. The sun has yet to fully illuminate our back yard so the dim light makes for fuzzy photos of the monkey. Upon closer scrutiny through binoculars, we see that the monkey is holding a half-grown baby. Eventually, the youngster leaves its mothers arm and scampers around in the tree. Another Sykes joins the pair and begins feeding on the fruit or leaves of the tree. The breakfasting monkey, often stands precariously on shaky tree limbs as it reaches up or over to another branch, for a particularly tempting morsel.

When the steadily rising sun sends tendrils of light into the copse of trees, the rapidly warming air brings the troop of monkeys to life. Most of the Sykes monkeys leap from the big tree down into smaller bushes and disappear from sight. Some monkeys stay and feed in the roost tree, but one monkey ventures into a verdant bush not far from our balcony. Paul and I watch as the female monkey sorts through the leaves of the bush in search of the perfect leaf, pluck it and pops the tidbit into her mouth. The monkey is aware that she is being watched and occasionally makes eye contact with us, or in most cases makes contact with a camera lens or binoculars. Mostly she ignores us as she dines on an endless buffet of leaves. The scheduled time for breakfast arrives so we leave the foraging monkeys to their feast.

Sykes monkey in the nearby bush

Sykes monkey in the nearby bush

Plucking a leaf

Plucking a leaf

Enjoying a leaf

Enjoying a leaf

While at breakfast, Paul and I learn that Vidole Juu, Uwiano, and their guest Brian, were watching for the monkeys from their balcony too. They told us that they would just look over at our balcony from time to time, because they knew if I was taking photos, this was confirmation that the monkeys had arrived! One of them even took a photo of me, taking a photo of the monkeys. What can I say; I am a photo taking fanatic.

After a leisurely breakfast, we return to our room to brush our teeth and gather our luggage. We make our way to the reception area and settle our bill for laundry and drinks. Paul and I carry our luggage to the parking lot where our drivers are busy packing luggage in the Rovers. Paul strikes up a conversation with a young man while we are waiting for the all aboard call. I don’t know what they were talking about but they were quite animated.

Paul in conversation with a staff member

Paul in conversation with a staff member

The manager appears and I go to thank him for a wonderful stay in his establishment. I inform him that Paul writes reviews on Trip advisor and that I’m sure Paul will speak highly of the Lodge. Kenny’s (the manager) face lights up and says he will be looking forward to reading the review, after which he hands me his business card. Paul goes over to Kenny a few minutes later to thank him and assures him that his review of the Lodge will be a complimentary one. I think Paul just made the man’s day because he shakes Paul’s hand and thanks him profusely for the endorsement of the Lodge. Trip Advisor is a powerful site that travelers the world over use to research trips including Paul. I notice several other members of our group having words and shaking hands with Kenny. I think everyone enjoyed our stay here.

Getting ready to "Kennel up" as Tembo would say

Getting ready to “Kennel up” as Tembo would say

It is time to load up and head on down the road for Isimila and Iringa. For some distance we drive through villages with the typical market stands, or pastoral scenes where we occasionally see herds of goats and cattle. We leave this peacefulness behind when we must travel a busy mountain highway to reach our destination. This highway is congested with overloaded trucks, public buses crammed so full of people you wonder how they can breathe, along with cars and motorcycles.

Notice the slogan on the bus.

Notice the slogan on the bus.

We haven’t driven far when I feel tenseness in the air of our Rover and a lot of it is coming from me. The people driving on this road seem to have no fear or sense! The public bus drivers in particular seem to enjoy playing chicken on this narrow, winding road. The drivers of the colorful buses have no qualms in passing slower vehicles on blind curves, and since the bus drivers are driving at excessive speeds just about every car are slower than they are. We see the aftermath of three accidents, none of the crash sites looked like the occupants would have escaped injury to me.

You can sort of see how narrow this road is. This was one of three wrecks we passed.

You can sort of see how narrow this road is. This was one of three wrecks we passed.

I don’t know how long we drove that highway from hell, but I think there was a collective sigh of relief from all of us when we left the mountain road for the calmer and more level roads we had become used to. When Brian was questioned about the driving of the public bus drivers, he explained that part of their behavior is competitive. The drivers are trying to be the first to arrive at the next bus stop so they will have first dibs at the waiting customers. The more customers they can cram in their bus, the more money for their bus line I suppose.  The other reason the bus drivers speed like they are competing in the Indy 500, is so they can finish their route and go home. They obviously have little regard for the wellbeing of their customers. Brian tells us he rode one of the buses over this highway on a prior visit and he doesn’t seem too fond of the memory. You couldn’t get me on one of those buses for the world!

It is nice to be traveling a more benign road where we can again enjoy the life that goes on along the roads of Tanzania. I notice two women visiting, while balancing baskets of vegetables on their heads. There is a man by the side of the road, crushing large rocks into gravel by pounding on them with a big ball peen hammer. Can you imagine doing that job all day! We drive through miles of countryside where red onions are being offered for sale along the edge of the road. The onions are piled up into pyramids which seem to be the popular way to display most vegetables in the places we have visited so far. I don’t understand how anyone gets any onions sold as the red bulbs are everywhere you look. We meet traveling salesmen riding a bicycle on the highway, who has fixed up an ingenious rack on the back of his bike. The rack is full of children’s clothing, mostly frilly dresses for little girls. I am feeling much more relaxed now and obviously others in the vehicle are too. Ngruwa and Paul (Mapumbo) are napping though one of them swears he wasn’t really sleeping.

Onions for sale, taken as we were driving

Onions for sale, taken as we were driving

One of these guys isn't sleeping.

One of these guys isn’t sleeping.

We drive through part of Iringa and continue to the road that is marked,” to Isimila”, some 15 miles from the city of Iringa. Our guides turn onto the dirt road that leads to the Isimila Stone Age Site, and our drivers must slow the trucks to a crawl, as we bump and bounce our way down the narrow tree-lined road. The bruising ride ends at the headquarters of the Isimila Stone Age Site.

The staff welcomes us to Isimila and a man leads us on a tour of the small museum that occupies half of the building. There is a display of some of the stone tools and artifacts that were used by the hunter-gathers that frequented Isimila when the now dry lake bed, was a thriving lake with plenty of creatures to hunt. The artifacts on display date back tens of thousands of years. After perusing other displays that pertain to the area, our guide leads us to the trail that descends down into the dry lake bed.

Our guide at Isimila

Our guide at Isimila

Whoops, Paul and I didn’t think that we would need our hiking poles, and I don’t have my good hiking boots on. What were we thinking?  Right off the bat, we must walk down a steep, sandy slope and the traction is not good. Once we manage to navigate this short stretch, thankfully there are steps that lead to the bottom of the old lake bed. Walking across the gravely bottom to the other side is no problem but now we must climb out of here. The path up is just as steep and slippery as our walk down was. All of us manage to stay upright as we climb to the top, but I did have one major slip which gave me a good scare. When we arrive on the plains above the old lake, Paul finds a dead branch and breaks it off so it is the perfect length for a walking stick. I intend to put it to good use for the rest of our hike. Vidole also finds an old branch for Uwiano to use. As we catch our breath before walking on to the canyon, there is a Grey-headed Kingfisher perched in a tree and his call rings out like choppy laughter. If the bird is looking for water, he is a few thousand years too late, so the joke is on him.

Our group traipse across the dry grassy field until we come to the edge of the small canyon that contains the famous stone pillars of Isimila. All I can say is “Wow” as the sandstone towers that were formed due to weather erosion are just jaw-dropping beautiful. We stand at the rims edge admiring the various shades of reds and yellows in the sculptures formed by Mother Nature. The sun is playing peek-a-boo, in the partly cloudy sky, so we wait patiently for the sunlight before snapping pictures because the stone shafts truly glow under the sun rays. The one problem with these geological phenomena is that someone in their infinite wisdom decides the high power electric line should pass over the top of this small section of the canyon. Never mind that just a few yards to the left the lines could have been built on level ground, and they wouldn’t have had to pass over a huge hole in the ground. Honestly!

Sandstone pillars, you can see the electric tower even though I tried to hide it with the tree branch

Sandstone pillars, you can see the electric tower even though I tried to hide it with the tree branch

Paul and Mawe checking out the rock.

Paul and Mawe checking out the rock.

Another problem arises because in order to get up close and personal with the stone pillars we must walk down into the abyss, so to speak. I stand back and watch as people carefully short step their way into the canyon. Those with walking sticks still slip and slide at times but at least their staffs help them maintain balance. I can’t remember who, but one of the women after observing the problems of getting down the path, decides to sit and scoot her way down the path.  When Nyama starts walking down she is nearly at the bottom when one foot slips, sending her sliding on the sandy soil. Nyama keeps her balance, and by using Brian as a backstop manages to bring herself to a halt. Holy smokes, I wonder how Brian’s nerves are holding up as he watches his group, stumble and slide, but fortunately never fall, out here literally in the middle of nowhere. It is my turn to start down the treacherous trail and I decide to walk sideways using my staff to steady myself and my nerves. Made it! Paul and Scott bring up the rear and seem to have no problem on their trek into the canyon. The columns are just as stunning up close as they were from the top of the gorge. Of course, most of us have our photo taken in front of some of the pillars, and Brian patiently becomes the photographer for the group.

These photos are an example of the scenery we walked through in the canyon. Gorgeous!

These photos are an example of the scenery we walked through in the canyon. Gorgeous!

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Brian snuck into this photo

Brian snuck into this photo

We wander down the sandy channel enjoying the various size and shapes of the rock skyscrapers that are in every direction we look. The sun has managed to escape the thinning clouds, and is lighting up the canyon as the deep azure sky helps accentuate the glory of the multicolored sculptures. The day is marching towards its end so our guide tries to hurry us along towards the headquarters. However Usiku, Mochie, and I discover a bird singing heartily as it perches on a bedraggled bush on the canyon rim. We search Usiku’s bird guide for the scarlet bellied bird but are having no luck in finding a match for it. Brian comes along and we point out the singing bird to see if he knows its identification. Nope, but he watches over Mochies’ shoulder as he rifles through the book again. Brian catches a glimpse of a similar bird, thumbs through the book himself, and we soon know that we are looking at a Cliff Chat. We can mark another bird off our list!

The rest of the group has disappeared from sight so we hurry along in hopes of catching up. As we round a bend in the canyon, they are standing around discussing the snake that Ngruwe saw disappear into a hole in the ground near the trail. The guide insists that there are no snakes in Isimila which causes some raised eyebrows among us. We have no doubt Ngruwe saw a snake and besides this country appears to be prime snake habitat. I wonder why the young man was so adamant that they have no snakes. We have good laugh about the whole thing, and the no snake statement becomes a running joke throughout the rest of our safari.

Some of the ancient tools in the first shed.

Some of the ancient tools in the first shed.

Ngruwe examining the still sharp ax.

Ngruwe examining the still sharp ax.

Our guide takes us to a small shed with open sides and we peer at ancient stone tools that have been unearthed around and in the lake bed. There is another shack across the way and we are able to go inside and handle some of the tools that are just lying in heaps inside the building. There is an axe that still has a sharp edge among the various artifacts. Some of these tools are huge and I don’t see how the ancient people handled the unwieldy objects.

Resting at Isimila headquarters after our trek

Resting at Isimila headquarters after our trek

Taken on our drive to Iringa. No camera tricks, that is just the way the lowering sun lights up this red earth.

Taken on our drive to Iringa. No camera tricks, that is just the way the lowering sun lights up this red earth.

It is time to return to our Rovers and drive back to Iringa where we will spend the night at the Savilla hotel. Our room is a bit worn and the lighting dim but it is clean. We settle into the room and have time to shower before going to the hotel restaurant for dinner.

Tembo and Mbuzi are occupying a table for four and we ask if we can join them. We were on safari with them a few years ago so we often sit together during meals so we can visit with our old friends. Tembo enjoys teasing me so I’m not sure why I subject myself to this! Just kidding, we enjoy bantering back and forth and it’s all in good fun (I think?).

The food here turns out to be excellent. I have pea and potato soup, with nan (bread) on the side. Scrumptious. Mbuzi orders a pizza which she shares with us and it is delicious. Paul had some kind of chicken which was excellent but there was so much he gave the excess to Brian. Brian and Ngruwe are always the recipients of extra food that the rest of us can’t finish, the group’s garbage disposal I guess you could say :). Tembo had a bowl of French onion soup that we all agreed (Tembo let us sample it) was the best we have ever tasted. You know this food was top-notch because I seldom remember what we have to eat at meals.

When we finish eating the four of us get up to leave when Brian approaches us to ask to wait a bit. It seems he has ordered a cake for Ngruwe and Nyama’s eleventh anniversary. How cool is that to celebrate your anniversary in Tanzania! We go back to our table and await the appearance of the celebratory dessert. Scott and Jennifer are completely surprised when the staff approaches their table with the lovely decorated cake. Everyone in our group, plus another couple that is dining here, get to enjoy a piece of the delicious cake as we congratulate the couple on eleven years of marriage. I hope they will be able to celebrate another anniversary on the African continent in the near future!

A fuzzy photo of the anniversary cake and couple.

A fuzzy photo of the anniversary cake and couple.

Tomorrow we go to Ruaha National Park and stay in the mobile camp. Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

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Hiking to Sanje Falls Part 5

Hiking to Sanje Falls, Part 5

Our room at Udzungwa Falls Lodge

Our room at Udzungwa Falls Lodge

Paul and I slept well last night in our oversized bed under the hum of the air conditioner. I sort of missed that squawking bird though:). We were up early so we decide to see if we can eat breakfast now, even though the restaurant has our group scheduled for a 7:30 breakfast.  When we arrive at the open air dining room, the wait staff is happy to seat us at our groups prepared table, and we soon have our food.  One unusual practice here at the Lodge is that you must order your evening meal at breakfast. When we arrived yesterday they took our dinner order after we received our room assignments. Interesting.

The rest of our companions begin filtering into the dining area as we are finishing our meal. We find out that we missed seeing monkeys that were climbing in the trees near our balcony. Rats, sometimes the early bird misses out. Hopefully the monkeys will show up outside our room tomorrow morning.

Tembo and Mbuzi decide to forego the hike and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Lodge, as we have been told the Sanje Falls hike will be tougher than the Morogoro hike. I am surmising that another reason our friends are staying behind, is that Mbuzi needs to recuperate from tsetse fly bites. For some reason, these nasty flies decided that Mbuzi was the tastiest member of our group. While we were in Mikumi, the stinking tsetse flies were relentless in pestering Mbuzi, and their bites left welts and even bruises on her arms and legs. Mbuzi was obviously having a reaction to the bite of the pesky insects, but she never lost her sunny smile despite this misery. In our vehicle, I only know of Paul and Ngruwe who were bitten by the nasty flies. If Uwiano or Vidole Juu were ever feasted on by the insects, they never told us.  Ngruwe learned the hard way that you really need to think about where the enemy has landed, before you viciously swat a tsetse fly. It took twenty minutes for Ngruwe’s voice to come back down two octaves! Poor Ngruwe, it’s a heck of a deal when your friends laugh at your demise instead of commiserating with you.

We stopped to take a far away photo of Sanje Falls along the road and I found these curious  boys a better subject.

We stopped to take a far away photo of Sanje Falls along the road and I found these curious boys a better subject.

Well to get back on track here, we climb into the Rovers and take an extremely bumpy, dusty ride to the headquarters of the Udzungwa National Park. Once we arrive, we are ushered into a room where a ranger talks to our group about the Park, and the endemic species that are found in the Udzungwa Mountains. Unfortunately, I really can’t understand the man so my attention is wandering. I notice Nyama keeps looking out the door and eventually she leaves the building. Being curious, I look out the door myself and see that she has returned to our Rover. I walk over to the vehicle and ask Nyama if everything is alright. Nyama motions to a trio of young men she has been keeping an eye on as they began moving toward our unlocked vehicle. Nyama felt it might be wise to stand vigil since our packs and some cameras were left in the truck. The fact that the young men are leaning on a fence right next to our Rover might be completely innocent, but we both decide to sit in the truck while the others are still inside.

Eventually, Bacari appears at the door, but when he rushes out to return to his truck, it is because a baboon is walking towards the Rover, and the driver’s window is rolled down. Bacari makes quite a ruckus in order to chase the marauding baboon off the premises. The baboon has obviously found goodies in vehicles before and was again hoping for easy pickings.

When the program is over, everyone returns to their vehicles and we backtrack over the bone jarring road. Somewhere (due to my lousy journal keeping I’m not sure where) we stop and divide the box lunches among those who are trekking the long hiking trail and those of us who are taking the short route. We shuffle around so the long trekkers are in one of the trucks and those of us going the short route take the other two Rovers.  Brian, Vidole Juu, Nyama, Ngruwe, our driver Kevin, and a local guide are taking the circuitous route. That leaves seven of us going up the shorter trail, plus Bacari, and our local guide. We go our separate ways now, as our trailheads begin in different areas of the park.

I am surprised that Njema, Mawe, and Uwiano didn’t hike the long route because they had no problems, as far as I could see, on our hike in Morogoro. Earlier, I had told Paul that he certainly didn’t need to stay with me if he wanted to hike the long trail. Paul waffled a bit but then decided the short way was fine with him.

The stairs are the start of our hiking trail

The stairs are the start of our hiking trail

We arrive at what appears to be a private home and sure enough this is where the trail begins, so we prepare to follow our young guide up the mountain to the top of Sanje falls. The trail is steep but well maintained and our guide has obviously been instructed to go “pole, pole” (poh-lay, poh-lay) which means slowly. The young man evidently took it to heart as sometimes it feels like we are standing still! Oh wait, often we are standing still, as many of the trees and bushes have educational signs by them containing the trees name, and all the products that can be derived from that tree.  We stop by every one of the labeled trees and listen as our guide tells us the name, plus all the products, be it lumber, medicine etc., that the particular species is used for. Some of the trees and bushes are also poisonous or have mind altering properties if its leaves or seeds are ingested. At one place our guide uses a rock to pound on the huge trunk of a tree (I don’t remember the name of the tree). We listen as the hollow sound booms through the valley below us. In ancient times the natives used these trees to communicate with each other. It was pretty cool.

Our local guide

Our local guide

One of many stops to learn about the flora from our guide

One of many stops to learn about the flora from our guide

The education of the forest is very interesting for a while, but at least for me there is getting to be too much information. Several of us become restless and are ready to walk steadily up the mountain.  Some of us, me included, ask the young man leading us if we can’t walk faster, but he insists we go “pole, pole”.  I suppose to this youngster we look ancient, (anyone over 35 probably looks old to him), but hey, we are not in that bad of shape. Eventually, Njema and Uchunguzi begin walking in front of our guide which seems to speed things up a bit. At times, Paul and I take the lead and walk faster too.

Bacari puts this interesting vine to good use

Bacari puts this interesting vine to good use

Our group reaches a point in the trail that opens up for a wonderful view of Sanje Falls. We stop to take photos of the waterfall as it plunges over 500 feet down the mountain cliff.  I notice, (I do have an imagination) that the rock ledge at the top of Sanje Falls, looks like an African mask. Paul agrees, and points out an elephant shape in the rock towards the bottom of the waterfall. Sure enough, I see it easily. I can’t remember who else admits that they see our fanciful images, but it certainly is not Daktari ya Moyo. With his usual dead pan humor, Daktari questions whether Paul and I sampled some of the hallucinogenic leaves we were schooled about along the trail! Daktari delivers a lot of priceless one-liners throughout our safari that always makes us laugh out loud.

Can you see the African mask at the top and the elephant shape at the bottom?

Can you see the African mask at the top and the elephant shape at the bottom?

I am surprised that we have seen virtually no birds or even heard much for bird song on our hike.  Maybe it is just too late in the morning. We do see Black and white Colobus monkeys, but they are obscured by the foliage of the trees they are perched in.

The back of a Black and White Colobus monkey. The best view we had unfortunately

The back of a Black and White Colobus monkey. The best view we had unfortunately

When we reach a fork in the trail, our group splits up as three members decide to go down to the bottom of Sanje Falls and Bacari will take them there. The rest of us opt to travel onwards and upwards.  There are lots of manmade steps in this segment of the trail and they vary in height, which adds to the challenge of climbing them.  At least as we climb higher the air is cooler and it certainly isn’t as humid. I am going pole, pole now and it has nothing to do with the pace of our guide! The sound of the falls continues to grow louder with each step and finally we reach our destination. Yea, we made it and I feel pretty good!

Our guide takes us down a short path which leads to a huge slab of rock situated at the top of Sanje Falls. There is another man and his guide occupying the rock ledge, (truthfully, this duo breezed by us like we were a bunch of turtles, quite some time ago) but there is still plenty of room for our group too. We ohh and ahh, as we look out over the expansive valley from this birds eye view.  There is a gush of water tumbling down a small rock face behind our stone picnic table, and the water gathers in a channel carved by water erosion. The small river flows along the edge of the rock ledge, and then fans out as it approaches the precipice, before plunging hundreds of feet down to the valley.

The spectacular view

The spectacular view

The stunning overview and the soothing sound of rushing water makes for a great backdrop to eat lunch. Hey, we have cold chicken, boiled egg, an apple, and a cucumber/tomato sandwich. All kidding aside, I really do enjoy the chicken and boiled egg; these two items travel well and they always taste good to me.

Some of the group enjoying lunch

Some of the group enjoying lunch

There is a pair of Mountain Wagtail who entertains us, particularly Usiku, Paul and I, as the birds forage in the crevices of the rocks. We discover that the birds have a nest tucked under an outcrop of rock, close to the small waterfall. We are delighted to discover with the aid of our binoculars that there is a chick in the nest. These birds crack me up as they never stop moving their tails up and down, hence the name wagtail.

We had the other visitor take this group photo

We had the other visitor take this group photo

DSCF3901We relax in this special place for a short time after lunch and then begin walking up to the main trail. We haven’t traveled far when we hear the sound of familiar voices. I wish I had a photo of the rather shocked look on the faces of the foursome when they see us. I hear Nyama exclaim (is that disbelief in her voice?), “It’s Nancy!” which makes me laugh out loud. After exchanging some pleasantries, the long haulers, tell us we should hike on to the other small falls which are farther up the mountain. Vidole assures us that it is only a hundred yards or so to the first waterfall. Oh why not, we had a nice rest while eating and if they are that close, we can handle it.

The first waterfall with the innocent looking pool

The first waterfall with the innocent looking pool

A least a quarter of a mile later (was Vidole pulling our leg?); we arrive at the first waterfall.  There is a sign that proclaims you are not to swim here and we are told that there is a deep hole beneath the surface of this innocent looking pool of water, which has a whirlpool effect. If you get sucked into the dervish, you aren’t coming back out. We continue up a steep path until we find the second waterfall which plunges down a vertical wall of stone. The water is falling with such power that mist is spraying through the air. With the roar of the waterfall and the spray of mist, this falls is quite dramatic.

Paul, Nancy and squid at the second waterfall. Squid will be explained in a future episode!

Paul, Nancy and squid at the second waterfall. Squid will be explained in a future episode!

This time we really are returning to our Rovers, and the steps are no easier to navigate going back down.  Sometimes you must take giant steps, then regular steps, baby steps, and too often, rickety steps. Brian’s crew catches up with us and we hike the trail together. When we reach the fork in the trail that leads to the base of the falls, the fearless four along with Uwiano decide they will make the trip to the base of Sanje falls. The rest of us say no thanks and continue to where our Rovers await. The reason I call them the fearless four is because Nyama told me they had to cross a suspension bridge while hiking the long trail, which is a bit thrilling in itself. This bridge went beyond thrilling though, as it was missing some planks, so they had to shimmy along the support wires to get across the thing!! No Thank You.

As we continue down the path, I see a long branch hanging down from a tree just off the trail. Except this isn’t a branch at all, it is a tail, and the tail belongs to a Red Colobus monkey. Hurray! I really wanted to see one of these red-headed primates and I am pretty excited at spotting the monkey. Usiku, Paul and I show our enthusiasm verbally with the sighting of the Red Colobus.  Daktari and Mawe enjoy the primate in their typical quiet demeanor. We realize there are several monkeys when they begin to vacate the tree, and are making acrobatic leaps to tree limbs below them. It dawns on me that I have hogged the prime spot to take photos of the primates, which makes me feel terrible. Everyone, including Paul, should not have been so polite, and told me to move!DSCF3913

The Red Colobus monkeys we saw on our way down

The Red Colobus monkeys we saw on our way down

When we reach our truck, the trio who went to the bottom of Sanje Falls this morning, are waiting for us, along with Njema and Kevin, who left those of us walking at a more leisurely pace in the dust. Kevin agrees to take five of us back to the lodge since we see no reason to wait for the people who are hiking down to the base of Sanje falls. It was a tough, tiring hike but the spectacular view was certainly worth it. Plus we were able to spend some quality time with others in our group that we are separated from when we are on game drives.

In visiting with Tembo and Mbuzi this evening they tell us they saw three different species of monkeys on the grounds of the lodge including the Red Colobus. Excellent! We also see photos of the fearless four spelling out KSU(Kansas State University) on the peak of the mountain. I would guess they are the first KSU graduates to strike this pose in the Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania!

Tonight our dinner entertainment includes a flute player who is very talented. The dancers have a wider variety of moves than the guys last night too. The food is excellent once everyone gets their order straightened out. Well, a few people just give up on receiving what they ordered this morning and take the plate of food that is offered to them!  Nancy

P.S, If you want to confuse spellcheck, Swahili is the way to do it:).

 

 

 

 

 

Mikumi to Udzungwa Mountains, Part 4

Mikumi to Udzungwa Mountains, Part 4

Framed elephant in Mikumi

Framed elephant in Mikumi

 

I guess I slept better in the level bed because I only heard that annoyingly loud bird during the night, in addition to a flock of birds which announced themselves before dawn as they flew over the camp. Paul was able to remedy, to some degree, the tilting cot by yanking the thin mattress into its proper place on the frame. Paul did awaken me in the wee hours of the morning when he got up to answer his third nature call. He announced in a disgusted voice “this is ridiculous” as he left the tent. I laughed and turned back over to go to sleep. So much for Pauls’ leek soup theory.

We eat breakfast and prepare to leave on our last game drive in Mikumi National Park. Mkatagiza Usiku, my fellow bird watcher, is feeling under the weather so decides to stay in camp. I am afraid I would be near tears if I couldn’t participate in a game drive!  The staff will tear the unoccupied tents down first, leaving Usiku and Njema’s tent for last so he can rest. We will return by mid-morning to pick up Usiku and travel on to the Udzungwa Mountains.

Brian suggests we take our time on this game drive and just observe the animals as they go about their business. This “take it easy’ plan is gladly accepted by us. I think we are all ready for a leisurely pace since we have had such wonderful animal sightings the past two days.

I haven’t talked about the fact that our vehicle companions, Nyama, Ngruwe, Vidole Juu, and Uwiano, are what Brian refers to as newbies because they are on safari for the first time. All of them are world travelers and excited for this new adventure although Ngruwe admits he is skeptical that an African safari is really all it is cracked up to be. He speculates, tongue in cheek I think, that the animals are probably trucked in just as the tourists arrive! Paul and I surely enjoyed watching the “newbies”, Ngruwe in particular, fall under the spell of Africa! Ngruwe had announced early on that he had been reluctant to travel to Africa and was only 50% committed to taking the trip. I think it was after our first game drive in Mikumi that Ngruwe announced he was now at 90 %. If I remember right, that night as we sat around the fire, Ngruwe proclaimed with a smile, that he was all in at a full 100% for this African adventure! Yep, that is the effect this wild country has on people.

The elephants strolling towards our vehicle

The elephants strolling towards our vehicle

We haven’t been driving in the Park long when we come upon a pair of foraging elephants. The two pachyderms are browsing on bushes and slowly walk toward our Rovers. ( Oh yeah, I was looking at photos today and saw that the safari vehicles are Land Cruisers but figured no one really cares so I’ll stick with the shorter incorrect version!)   Eventually the elephants are eating tree nuts that are lying on the ground within a few feet of us. It is so interesting to watch the elephants pick up the small nuts with their prehensile trunks that are as functional as fingers and transfer the nuts to their mouths. When the elephants have sated their hunger, they walk right by our vehicles as they cross the road. It is amazing how such huge animals can walk so silently!

The elephants really were right next to us

The elephants really were right next to us

So many wrinkles and intricate lines

So many wrinkles and intricate lines

While watching the elephants, a beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller lands in a tree next to the road. We shift our attention for a short time to the brightly colored bird, which seems to enjoy having its photo taken. The picturesque bird gives us his profile from both sides in addition a full on frontal view. I took his photo in every pose:)!

Lilac-breasted roller, one gorgeous bird

Lilac-breasted roller, one gorgeous bird

Often there have been false sightings by those of us searching the African bush for wild life. Today is no exception, and I call for Kevin to stop when I think I see an animal in the distance. Kevin, as always, complies with the request and after scoping the unidentified animal with my binoculars, I say, “nope, it’s a large boulder”. Kevin laughs and says you found an ALT, and then interprets the phrase for the acronym as Animal Like Thing. This makes everyone laugh and we agree that it won’t be the last ALT we will find.

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

Since the elephants have left us, we cruise on down the dusty road. A large group of Cape buffalo is strung out across the plains as they head for a water hole. As the herd plods by us we scrutinize them, and they often stop to stare back at us.  The bovids are dusty, some even mud encrusted, with plenty of pesky flies annoying them. As the stragglers amble by we see one animal with an open wound between its shoulders and we can only guess what caused the large wound. There are oxpeckers (birds) sitting on the buffalos back and pecking around in the raw flesh. I ask Kevin if these birds will help the animal by keeping flies and other nasty things out of the wound. Kevin tells us that the birds probably will do more harm than good, since their constant pecking at the wound will not let it heal. Well that wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear but it does make sense.

It looks like the Cape in the background is smiling. Those who raise cattle know he has been checking a female for estrus

It looks like the Cape in the background is smiling. Those who raise cattle know he has been checking a female for estrus

Another buffalo walks by and we see that its tongue is lolling out the side of its mouth. As we study the animal it is obvious the tongue is not functional.  What a horrific problem for that poor creature as without a working tongue it won’t be able to eat or drink. All of us agree that this animal won’t last much longer, and it soon will become a prime target for predators that are always on the lookout for weak and vulnerable prey. As sad as this seems, we all understand that this is just the circle of life in the wild.

Somebody in the lead vehicles found a monitor lizard in a tree. It’s quite large with a pretty golden tinge to its hide.  We also watch a few warthogs as they graze on grass, some on bended knee. One of the hogs has been wallowing in mud somewhere this morning, and the sticky dirt is matted in their bristly hair and mane. We leave the warthogs behind and Kevin turns the truck toward the exit gate of Mikumi National Park for the last time.

Warthogs and the Mikumi landscape

Warthogs and the Mikumi landscape

A muddy warthog

A muddy warthog

When we get to the parking lot we see that one of the staff members has brought Usiku here to meet up with us. Usiku looks like he is doing well, thank goodness. Having to travel on the road when you are ill certainly is not fun. We all take advantage of the Park’s rest rooms before loading back in the vehicles, so we can move on down the road to our next adventure. We will meet up with the camp staff in two days in Ruaha National Park.

It will be hard to top this wonderful place and Paul tells the newbies, if we don’t see another animal we still have had one incredible safari! Mikumi not only gave us unbelievable animal encounters, but the landscape was quintessential Africa. Another plus was that there were very few tourists here, so often our convoy of three trucks was all alone as we drove through the park. Would I return to Mikumi? The answer is an emphatic “absolutely”!

Men threshing grain

Men threshing grain

As usual there is plenty to see along the road as we drive toward our destination. We pass by small villages, little children who yell and wave to us, wares for sale displayed near the roadside, people walking down the roads, farming activity and so on. I continue to shoot photos hoping that now and then I will get lucky in capturing the exotic sights.

Christophe has prepared box lunches for us and we stop in the town of Ruaha (at least that is the name I put in my journal) to eat the lunches. A restaurant agrees to let us eat our food on the second level of their establishment.  Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.? We all buy sodas from the proprietor so that at least puts a little money in their pockets. There is plenty to watch and take photos of, as we survey the people in the street below while enjoying our cold chicken and boiled egg among other goodies.

Grains for sale in Ruaha

Grains for sale in Ruaha

Street life in Ruaha

Street life in Ruaha

Brian has the restaurant owner prepare chicken and goat in the local style. I can’t remember what the dish was called but the chicken was quite tasty although a bit tough. Brian commented that he knew the chicken was fresh; because there were some feathers floating around the kitchen when he went down to see if the chicken was ready. I think he was teasing but I’m not sure. We finally give up being served the goat meat as time is slipping away. We were stuffed full anyway. We have all settled back into our Rovers when someone appears with the goat meat and Brian divides it among the vehicles. We all sample the flavorful although chewy meat.

We continue to enjoy watching the scenery roll by as we make our way to the Udzungwa Falls Lodge. The mountains form a boundary around the valley we are driving through, that is planted with huge fields of sugar cane, while marshmallow clouds laze in the deep blue sky. It really is gorgeous.

Mountains and Cane fields on our way to the lodge

Mountains and Cane fields on our way to the lodge

Our extra wide bed with flower petals

Our extra wide bed with flower petals

We arrive at the Lodge and is this place nice! As we wait in the lounge area for our room assignments, staff members pass out hot face towels and cold drinks. Both of these thoughtful items are much appreciated. Once the room keys have been passed out among the Cowabunga group, we make our way to where the workers are gathered by our luggage. A young woman picks up our large duffel bag and begins to lead us to our chalet. We are walking steadily upwards and I suggest to the young lady that she pull the wheeled duffel instead. The woman gives me a smile and extends the handle rolling the duffel over the cement path. Thank goodness, that thing is heavy!

Wow, this place is something else, beautifully landscaped and appealing chalets that are duplexes. Our neighbors are none other than Nyama and Ngruwe and we can chat with them when we are out on the balconies. The room has the biggest bed I have ever seen with flower petals arranged in patterns over the sheets. The bathroom has flower petals arranged around the sink too. This is quite a difference from what we were sleeping in last night!  I will tell you right now if I had to choose between staying in a lodge or our mobile camp for the entire safari, I would without hesitation pick the mobile camp! Not that I won’t fully enjoy being here of course.

Scott and Jennifer, our neighbors. They gave me permission to reveal their identities:)

Scott and Jennifer, our neighbors. They gave me permission to reveal their identities:)

Paul and I return to the lobby area once we have deposited all our stuff in the room so we can check our email. Randall and Erin took the rest of our steer calves to the auction yesterday, and we want to see how they sold. We also are hoping there is news that we had rain. I know, if we were in a mobile camp we would not have Wi-Fi so we couldn’t check on things back home. I could live with that too. The good news is that our calves sold very well, the bad news is that we still haven’t had rain.  I leave Paul checking out more email and walk back to the room. On my way I hear voices drifting up from the swimming pool and find our neighbors enjoying the water. Vidole Juu is off on a bike ride touring the cane fields and villages, with one of the guides from the Lodge. This man never seems to get tired!

I intend to take a nap as soon as I get socks and underwear washed out and clothes unpacked and hung in the roomy closet. Brian calls and wonders if we are interested in walking to a small waterfall that is a ways up the mountain behind the lodge. I tell him that I am not interested and inform him several members of our group are already enjoying the pool. I know this as I was on the balcony enjoying the view and saw more of our group making their way to the pool. I tell him Paul is in the lobby and he might want to accompany him to the falls.

A really bad photo of the falls, part of it is obscured by the tree

A really bad photo of the falls, part of it is obscured by the tree

Within a few minutes, Paul has arrived at our room, changes into his swim trunks and flip-flops, ready to venture up the mountain. Am I the only one that is tired in this group? I do stretch out on this ridiculously oversized bed and take a short nap.  Paul returns within an hour having enjoyed the walk and Brian’s company although the pool at the waterfalls base was too shallow to swim in. Since I am refreshed from my nap, we decide to return to the waterfall so I can enjoy it too.

Paul leads me to the dirt path and we walk through the forest and up the mountain. This is where the lodge gets their water and we chuckle at the water that is spouting from leaks in the rubber hoses that run to the water holding facility for the Lodge.  Soon we are walking on a rough, slick path and a black hose, maybe 6 inches in diameter, is lying in the path. I begin to question Paul about this trail as it doesn’t appear to be very well-traveled. Paul says he thinks this is the way Brian and he came, but it doesn’t seem quite right. When we see the waterfall we realize we are approaching the top of the falls, instead of the base where the pool is! Obviously we missed a turn somewhere! We retrace our steps, slipping and sliding on the way down.  We find the trail we should have taken and there are a series of steps to climb down. We laugh about our side trip as we make our way to the bottom of the falls. There is not a lot of water volume falling over the wall of stones but it was still worth seeing.

Tonight we have locals entertaining us before and during our dinner.  We watch the performers while drinking cold Tusker beer and snacking on homemade potato chips, although Mbuzi actually joins the dancers for a few minutes much to our and the dancers delight!  The wait staff seats us for dinner at a table that is lit with candles, and there are more utensils around my plate than I know what to do with. The food was good, the company great and another wonderful day is coming to an end in Tanzania.

Our table for dinner that night

Our table for dinner that night

Tomorrow we hike to Sanje Falls, Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mikumi National Park, part three

This could be a Kansas sky in June!

This could be a Kansas sky in June!

Mikumi Day Two, Part 3

Ah, our first night sleeping in a mobile camp in Tanzania. When Paul and I are ready to retire, I discover my pjs are missing and deduce that I must have left them at Hotel Oasis. We checked the room over twice before leaving, so I have no idea how I missed packing them. A borrowed t-shirt from Paul covers me for the rest of the trip! Our tent is pitched with one side slightly uphill, so my cot listed to the left and I felt like I was sliding off the narrow bed all night. I told Paul this morning that tonight he could sleep in the left leaning bed.

The best part of sleeping under canvas is the sound of an African night. We heard the whoop of hyenas, the trumpeting of an elephant and one very loud, annoying call that was repeated over and over, which I attributed to some bird that had its night and day confused. Also intermingled with the creatures calls, were the sound of tent zippers throughout the night as the camp occupants answer the call of nature.

Paul and I add the rasp of our tent zipper to the night’s musical repertoire and follow Brian’s directions before we step out of our tent. First unzip your tent, stick your head out and listen, next shine your torch all around the area (never mind that you are lighting up your neighbors tent) and see if there are any eyes glowing in the dark. If you hear or see anything, step back inside, zip your tent up, and suffer:). If you detect no sign of wild animals, you can leave the tent and take care of business. Once outside make sure you don’t trip over the tent stakes!

Those of us far away from the choo, (the choo consists of a hole in the ground, topped with a wooden stand that has a hole cut in the middle, surrounded by a rubber curtain), have permission to visit the back of our tents instead. I know, more information than you needed.  This is fine, but Paul and I can’t get behind our tent due to brush and trees. Instead we will go by the side of our tent and we broker a deal with our neighbors that if we venture out at the same time, we will just turn our backs on each other. Most of us have been in mobile camps before and so we know a person’s modesty disappears in a hurry! For some reason, Paul and I must exit our tent three times during the night, and Paul blames this on the leek soup. I know, go ahead and groan. At least we are on the same schedule and could venture into the darkness together.

After eating a breakfast of eggs, sausage, fresh fruits, cereal, toast and hot tea or coffee, it is time to load up in our designated vehicles to venture forth and see what the morning will bring. It’s eight o’clock before we leave the camp and I admit that I am fretting that we aren’t out viewing game at the crack of dawn. Hey, I am a morning person and daylight is wasting.

Zebra we admired on road out of camp

Zebra we admired on road out of camp

A small herd of zebra ready themselves for our cameras along the dirt road as we leave the camp. When we reach the busy highway we must drive across to enter Mikumi, there is a trio of giraffe that want to cross the highway to reach the protected area. We drive on the black top road until we are near the giraffe, park on the shoulder of the road to photograph and watch what the graceful, towering creatures will do. The giraffe walk near the edge of the highway, then retreat, and then come back. Finally, the three long-necked beasts seem to think better of walking across the highway and begin to glide back in the direction of our camp. With the giraffe decision to stay put, our driver’s make a U-turn and drive back to the entrance of Mikumi. After we enter the park, we look back to see that indeed the trio of giraffe have safely crossed the road and are striding across the safe ground of Mikumi.

giraffe trio that wanted to cross the highway

giraffe trio that wanted to cross the highway

This morning we are taking a different route in the National park, and in my mind we are heading north instead of the westerly direction we took yesterday. Of course, my compass, like some peoples clocks, might be reversed since crossing the equator! One of the first animal encounters we have is watching an elephant feint a charge at a lone cape buffalo. The buffalo is facing the elephant and seems to have no fear of him. I think he knew the big bull elephant wasn’t serious. A bit further down the dusty road, we find a herd of elephant with a very young baby in their midst. Hmm, which is more adorable, baby elephant or baby zebra? I won’t even try to choose as I thoroughly enjoy both of the diminutive animals. We see lots of baby elephants before our safari is over and I will admit the little pachyderms prove to be ornery and very playful.

There is a baby elephant in the midst of this parade of elephants

There is a baby elephant in the midst of this parade of elephants

Elephant that mock charged the Cape buffalo

Elephant that mock charged the Cape buffalo

There is no shortage of impalas, and their numbers range from large herds of the bronze antelope, to single males with their impressive spiral horns, standing like statues in the shade of a tree. It is great fun when a herd of impalas run across the road in front of us, leaping high into the air as they perform their own graceful ballet.

I never got a good photo of leaping impalas. This will have to do

I never got a good photo of leaping impalas. This will have to do

Kevin is very patient with his six passengers and is willing to stay in one spot so we can enjoy the behavior of the animals and birds we encounter. Also, Kevin is an avid birder and because this part of Tanzania is unknown to him, some of the birds we are seeing are a first for him too. Kevin also loves to take photos and joins in with his wards when we go into a photo frenzy mode like a bunch of paparazzi. Because of our vehicle lagging behind, Kevin is often trying to catch up with the other two vehicles carrying our fellow safari mates.

This morning is no exception and when we finally catch up with our group, they are sitting next to a dead tree that is standing just a few yards from the road. It doesn’t take us long to spy what has brought their Rovers to a stop. A carcass of a reed buck is hanging among the bare branches of the grey tree, blood still trickling down the small doe’s throat. Wow, we obviously just missed seeing a leopard bring down the unlucky antelope and after killing it, dragging the carcass into the tree. Can you imagine the strength it takes for a leopard to pull dead weight up into a tree!! It sure keeps their kills safe from the likes of lions and hyenas.

The reed buck that a leopard had stashed in the tree

The reed buck that a leopard had stashed in the tree

We look everywhere for signs of the leopard. One vehicle drives under a nearby leafed out tree, thinking the leopard took refuge in the cool canopy to rest after the exertion of what took place here a short time ago. We all scan with our binoculars, the expanse of grass that reaches as far as one can see behind the storage tree. Is that something lying in the shorter grass just before the expanse of towering grass starts?  I hold my binoculars on the dark spot and swear I see a yellow eye looking back at me. I can’t explain to anyone where I am looking at because it is just an expanse of grass. Brian tries to follow the direction my binoculars are pointed but has no luck in seeing what I think I have seen. There again, I swear I see a slow motion turn of the head and the eye is gone. My arms are getting tired and no one else is having any luck finding my ” leopard”. Again I am sure a yellow eye appears through the leaves of grass before slowly turning away. I know if I lower my binoculars and try to point out where I am looking I will never find the area with my bare eyes. We finally give up and move on down the road with the intent of returning to the stashed carcass on our afternoon drive. Before we leave, I take one last look and am sure “an eye” is staring back at me.

As we move on through the park, there is a tower of giraffe scattered over the plains under a beautiful blue sky filled with puffy, white clouds. I have never seen so many giraffe in one group! Several people decide to count these skyscrapers of the African plains, and settle on thirty-four giraffe. Paul asks Brian what is the largest number of giraffe he has seen on his forays in the African continent, and his reply is twenty-six. Wow, this really is something special.

A few of the 34 giraffe that were together in this area

A few of the 34 giraffe that were together in this area

There is an enormous bull giraffe who is a giant among giants, and his coloring is nearly black compared to the reddish-brown of his companions. This handsome male is paying a lot of attention to one of the smaller females in the herd. It is quite obvious to us, as we observe the males antics, the young female is coming into estrus. We watch as the male sniffs around on the female, or dips his chin towards her back. The cow always walks away when the male makes his advances and when she retreats, the big bull trails after her. Again we have been left in the dust by our companions so must move on darn it. Ngruwe and I stare back at the amorous pair until they become specks in the vastness of the bush. Wouldn’t that have been interesting to see such gangly creatures mate!

The amorous couple

The amorous couple

You do realize that we are still on our morning game drive and I have only hit the so-called highlights! We have one more encounter this morning and that is a seemingly endless herd of Cape buffalo. The surly buffalo are strung out over the plains of Mikumi, and I can’t back my camera off enough to come even close to capturing where the string of bovids start and where they end! Again, Paul and I have never seen so many Cape buffalo at one time.  I don’t even try to guess at the number, but Paul and others that are better at such things; guess there must be three to four hundred of the hulking beasts. Holy Smokes, what a morning we have had and my worries about leaving camp late certainly prove to be unwarranted.

A small portion of the enormous herd of Cape buffalo

A small portion of the enormous herd of Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo peering back at us

Cape buffalo peering back at us

Oops, I forgot that we make a stop at an ancient baobab tree where a rectangular hollow is big enough for a person to walk into. Brian asks us to join hands and see if the whole crew can encircle the monstrous tree. We link hands and with our backs against the “upside down tree”, we encircle the enormous girth of the baobab trunk. After this experiment, Brian then takes a group photo of us gathered at the base of the tree.

We return to camp for lunch, and in my journal I have jotted down how great the lunch of kabobs, quiche, tomato/cucumber/avocado salad, and oranges was. I don’t recall the meal at all which proves I’m not traveling for the food (except those dinner rolls!).

After eating, I decide to wash out a few clothes and hang them from the cords that run from our tent to the ground stakes. Others are showering now so there aren’t so many of us lining up to shower when we get home from our afternoon game drive. As I am washing out t-shirts I hear some excited female voices from the direction of the shower area. I later learn that a snake decided to take a tour near the shower stalls while Bibi Bahati Njema and I think Mama Uchunguzi were either in or preparing to shower. Well, that will get your blood coursing through the old heart.

It is time to venture out to see what is taking place in Mikumi this afternoon. This time we are the lead vehicle in line as the decision has been made to go see if the lion pride is still at the Cape buffalo carcass, and Kevin knows his way. I think Kevin is tired of playing catch up and eating the other vehicles dust. We are clipping right along as we aren’t seeing a lot of animals at the moment, when Kevin receives a call on his two-way radio from Mochie(sp). Mochie is always the second vehicle in our convoy while Bacari (sp) is the leader. Bacari is the native of this part of Tanzania and knows the parks. Bacari’s radio is broken, so he calls Mochie on the phone if need be, and Mochie then passes the info on to Kevin via radio. Did you follow that? The next thing we know Kevin is turning the Rover around and stepping on the gas pedal. There are a couple of other safari vehicles driving in front of us and Kevin buzzes around them like they are sitting still. My proof reader, Paul, thought I should inform you that the times when our vehicles were racing down the roads, we obviously knew some special sight had been relayed to us via our group or the bush telegraph (other guides). In our vehicle at least, there seemed to be an unspoken code that the driver wasn’t going to tell us what we were rushing to see, and we passengers never asked the driver what information had been conveyed to them. Perhaps the drivers didn’t say anything to us since the wild animal they were speeding towards might not be there once we arrived, thus saving us from being disappointed. For me at least, I was willing to wait until we arrived at the destination and enjoy the surprise.

When we reach our sister vehicles they are parked along the road staring towards the grass airstrip. Oh my gosh, sitting along the edge of the short grass of the landing strip is a large leopard. Kevin apologizes to us for driving so fast but explains that often a leopard will disappear in minutes. I don’t think any of us were upset as we figured there was a good reason for the urgent driving.

Leopard that Brian spotted next to the airstrip

Leopard that Brian spotted next to the airstrip

The big cat is paying no attention to us and is staring intently down the landing strip. It appears the object of his attention is a big impala buck, sporting a nice pair of black spiral horns. The leopard rises to his feet and my goodness,  is this an impressive male cat. As he walks onto the airstrip you can see this massive cats muscles rippling. The magnificent feline specimen has one odd thing about him, I don’t remember who noticed this and alerted the rest of us, but he has no tail! How in the world does a leopard lose its tail?

The leopard has no tail but what a gorgeous animal anyway

The leopard has no tail but what a gorgeous animal anyway

The cat moves across the airstrip without the impala, which is a long ways off, noticing him. Once he reaches the tall grass he disappears without a trace, even though the leopard is actually closer to us now. Our drivers move down the road in the direction of the impala, anticipating that the feline is sneaking through the grass towards the antelope. More safari vehicles have arrived now but most came too late to see the leopard while it was in the open. Thank you Kevin! After several minutes the impala begins to snort and look towards the area of the unkempt grass. It isn’t long before the buck loses its nerves and takes off running, but there is no leopard in pursuit.

Our group and a half-dozen more vehicles drive slowly along the road in hopes the beautiful leopard will materialize again. We know the cat is in all that cover somewhere as several wart hogs come running out of the grass, their little tails pointed skyward as they flee from danger. We continue to wait for quite some time but eventually conclude that our hope of seeing the tailless leopard isn’t to be. I ask who spotted the cat and how they saw it because the leopard was a long way from the road and just sitting still. Brian has the honor of taking credit for the awesome find and explains that he once saw a cheetah sitting on a landing strip on another safari. He figured it was worth checking out the area as they drove by. Yes it was oh great safari leader:).

Our guides turn the vehicles around and we make a quick visit to the lions. The pride is still there along with a bunch of vultures skulking around acting like, well vultures. We don’t stay long to watch the lions, which are still lying around looking miserably full. We spent quite some time with the leopard and the drivers want to go back to where we saw the stashed reed buck this morning. That is a long drive and the afternoon is slipping away.

vultures at the lion kill

vultures at the lion kill

Our convoy moves along at a good clip and when we arrive at the dead tree we are dismayed to see that the reed buck is gone! We are looking all around the area when Ngruwe sees the carcass lying on the ground fifty feet from the tree. Where is the leopard? Everyone is scrutinizing the area with and without binoculars. Suddenly, Kevin yells out, “There he is”. No way, that leopard was lying almost next to the dead reed buck in scant cover and none of us saw it until it got up. The big cat slinks behind some small bushes and disappears from sight. How do such big animals do that. We are all staring at those bushe, hoping he will move again when Nyama cries out that she sees him. Where?? Nyama directs me to an area behind the dead tree a good 50 yards away. What the heck, the leopard must have been flat on the ground and belly crawled until he felt like he was far enough away to safely expose himself. Again, he disappears from sight and again it is Nyama who finds the leopard as he continues to retreat further from our intrusive presence.

Photo I took when Kevin first spotted the leopard

Photo I took when Kevin first spotted the leopard

The sun continues to slip toward the horizon and I am ready to leave the beast in peace, so he can return to his kill. Our drivers decide they want to drive out to where the leopard was last seen before disappearing again. I am completely against this as I consider driving off the road after animals,  harassment. Out we go anyway and it is our vehicle that approaches the area where we had our last look at him and we scare the leopard out of his hiding place. This seems to satisfy our drivers and they turn around and drive back to the road. This action leaves a bad taste in my mouth and when we return to camp, I ask Brian if what our guides did was legal. He explains that there are areas where you are allowed to go off-road and this was evidently one of them. Well, I’m glad we weren’t doing something illegal but it still didn’t feel right.

When I saw this fuzzy photo of the leopard looking through the grass, I was sure that I had indeed saw the leopard this morning.

When I saw this fuzzy photo of the leopard looking through the grass, I was sure that I had indeed saw the leopard this morning.

There is no way we are going to get out of this park on time. Our guides are driving with urgency, when we come across animals that are stampeding across the plains near the road. There are zebra, wildebeest and best of all thirty or forty of the largest antelope in Africa, eland. It is a surreal scene as dusk is falling and the herds of running animals are throwing clouds of dust into the air which obscure them even more as we race toward the exit. What an interesting way to end this incredible day.

I am so ready for a shower and I follow the camp staff as they carry buckets of steaming water to fill the shower canister. I hear branches snapping in the woods that are close to the shower stalls. As I peer into the gloom I can see a big tree moving back and forth. “What is that” I ask one of the guys as they finish filling the canisters. “Elephant” but he quickly adds that they aren’t coming this way. Maybe not but they aren’t feeding that far away either. I’m having second thoughts about this shower! I convince Paul that he should stand guard while I shower. Paul agrees but tells me that he doesn’t see what he can do if the elephants make an appearance. Well, that’s true but just having Paul nearby at least gives me some moral support. I finish my shower in record time and when I emerge from the cubicle, I see three staff people shining a light into the trees as the sound of breaking branches punctuates the air. Ha, they must be worried that the grey ghosts of Africa might be heading this way after all!

As our tired, but happy group sits around the fire before dinner, the whoop of hyena breaks into our discussion of the events of the day. We stop talking to listen to the eerie sound and because of our silence, we also hear the low rumbling of elephants. I love it.

Next installment, our final game drive in Mikumi National Park then we  move on to the Udzungwa mountains. Nancy