Mikumi to Udzungwa Mountains, Part 4
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.
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!
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:)!
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.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow we hike to Sanje Falls, Nancy