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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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