Iringa to Ruaha Part 7
Paul and I had just settled into bed last night when we heard running accompanied by what sounded like a rolling ball overhead. After the third frenzied episode, Paul went outside to determine if there was a hotel room above us. Returning from his reconnaissance tour, he reported that there is no second story to the hotel. Luckily for us, whatever was cavorting on the roof or worse yet in the ceiling finished their rambunctious play and we were able to go to sleep. We were woken once in the night to an encore performance, but luckily the culprits only made one curtain call.
Paul and I have an adjoining room with Brian and Daktari, who also heard the impromptu game being played over our heads. At some time between eating breakfast and leaving the Savilla Hotel, Brian told one of the young waiters about the noise last night and asked him what was responsible for the ruckus. Without blinking an eye the young man said “rats in the ceiling”. I was hoping more for a “there were monkeys on the roof” explanation!
As Paul and I are leaving our room to go to breakfast, we meet Bwana Cheka who tells us that Bibi Vitabu fell ill during the night. Oh man, we have a long drive ahead of us today and a lot of it will be on rough, country roads. Though we haven’t spent a lot of time with Vitabu she seems to roll with the punches. Still, how miserable to have to ride over bumpy, dusty roads when you are not feeling well.
The Savilla restaurant has a breakfast buffet and we dine on cereal, toast and yogurt, although they have plenty of other food choices if you want them. Everyone in the group comes to dine at their leisure as there is no rush to depart this morning. Once we are preparing to leave, Vitabu joins us, looking pale but determined.
As we drive through Iringa I am surprised at how large the city is. Today is Sunday but the city is bustling with residents shopping, selling, or going to church. Brian and our drivers need to buy bottled water for the camp and we stop at an African version of a mini mart. I never heard why but the men come up empty on this task. Next the drivers find a gas station and fill the Rovers with diesel. When our leaders finish with the errands we have become familiar with one street of Iringa because we have driven on it three times now! At last we are exiting the city to begin our journey to Ruaha National Park.
As usual, the roadside scenes are fascinating and there is always something to marvel at. We pass a peddler walking along the highway, carrying a peg board on his back which is hung with a wide assortment of articles. We cruise by students dressed in white and navy uniforms, as they walk along the shoulder of the road. There are golden sheaves of dried grass leaning against sheds, along with crudely made elevated corncribs, filled with ears of corn. Little children wave and yell at us, as our vehicles pass them by.
We stop at an Orthodox church, gleaming white in the dusty landscape, which is open for the public to visit. If I understood correctly, they only hold one service a year at this country church. Can that be right? We enter the church and look with curiosity at the framed pictures depicting biblical figures and scenes, including one painting of the Last Supper. The religious articles the priest would use during the service are sitting on a table in the curtained alcove, although the bible is lovingly covered with a silken cloth. There is a small settlement just across the road from the church and curious children come out to stare and smile at the tourists, or peek in through the church doors at us.
Continuing down the sandy road, our guides bring the Rovers to a halt because there is a dead snake lying in the road. Many people get out of the vehicles to take a closer look at what Mochie identifies as an Egyptian cobra. I just take photos of the deceased reptile and its human onlookers from the window. The smushed snake isn’t very impressive until Bacari holds the snake up by the tail, and suddenly you realize how long the reptile is.
We stop for lunch at what we would call a one-horse town back in America, (my kind of town). We tourists, along with some natives, crowd under the thatched roofs of two open-sided structures to escape the searing noonday sun. The atmosphere here is relaxed, as children play checkers, and adults play the confusing game of bao, while we eat our boxed lunches next to them. We have a surprise at lunch because there are various types of sandwiches instead of the normal chicken/boiled egg lunch. The Savillas’ reputation for good food continues as the sandwiches are very tasty. Vitabu seems to be doing better too, which is certainly good news.
We are eating next to a “strip mall” in this sleepy village. I couldn’t figure out the number systems on the shop doors for the life of me but I’m sure there is a reason for the out of sequence numbering. Most of the shops in the building are closed, but a couple of shops are open offering basic staples, and one even has jars of candy on the counter. The candy selection doesn’t include chocolate, (which many of us are beginning to crave), because there is no way to keep it from melting. One of the shops has the bottled water needed for our mobile camp and Brian buys several cases from the happy store owner. Now the question arises, where do we put the stuff since the vehicles are already packed full? Our Rover has one empty seat in the back so we pile some boxes on the seat and floor. There is a permanent cooler between the two back seats and we put two boxes on it, plus some backpacks. Brian finds room for the rest of the water boxes in the other Rovers. Nyama selflessly volunteers to occupy the seat next to the tower of supplies and luggage when we leave town. Nyama is often shoving the load back into its allotted space since the stuff keeps shifting into her territory, as we bounce our way towards Ruaha. Paul and Ngruwe each take turns in the cramped back seat before we reach our mobile camp, so Nyama doesn’t have to endure the tight quarters for the entire journey.
As we approach the outskirts of Ruaha National Park, there is a single giraffe near the road and I think of him as our welcoming committee of one. I take this lone sentry as a good sign of things to come for our safari in Ruaha!
While our guides check in and fill out the mandatory paperwork, our group peruses the various postings around the porch that surrounds the office, describing the origins of the park and the wildlife that is found here. We study the log book where people write down their wildlife sightings and other comments about the park (all good). One of the more exciting comments is that someone saw wild dogs in the past few days. Could Paul and I, (others in this group have seen them on prior safaris), be so lucky to finally see wild dogs?
After our guides finish wading through the red tape, it is time to pop the tops on our vehicles and enter the park. I guess I haven’t really talked about our safari vehicles in detail. The Rovers have a roof that pops up leaving a wide space between the roof and the side of the truck. For me, the best way to see what is out there in the wild is by standing up in the vehicle. We can stand on the seats but only if you take your shoes off. Since I am so short, I must stand on the seats because if I stay on the floor I can barely see over the top of the sides of the Rover. Nyama, Uwiano, and I almost always stand up on the seats; the guys generally stand on the floor. I think Vidole Juu stands on the seat if he is riding next to Kevin as it is harder to see out of the front while sitting down, there is a section of the roof that pops off in the cab too.
As we begin our drive through the park, my first reaction is that it is dry, brushy, and empty. There is a type of palm tree here, which I don’t remember seeing on other trips to Africa, (but perhaps I have forgotten), and it seems odd to see palm trees here. After driving a short distance in the Park, I see something move a long ways from the road in a small ravine. I yell out “Simama”, Swahili for stand or stop, and Kevin complies with my request. I ask Kevin to back up until we reach the spot where I saw movement. Sure enough there are three animals in the ravine; one is standing in the open while the other two critters are obscured by brush. I point and try to give verbal directions to where the animals are and eventually everyone sees the animals. Kevin identifies the big antelope as Kudu. These are the first Kudu we have seen on this safari, and they are all males, easily identified as such by their long spiraling horns. Our Rover is trailing the convoy again, and the other two vehicles have long disappeared from our sight so they miss out on the three “grey ghosts” of Africa.
We catch up to our companions at the Ruaha river and they are feasting their eyes on a variety of wildlife including, grazing hippopotamus and waterbuck, crocodiles and a large array of birds. There is one enormous hippo, well most adults are enormous, who is lying out of the water and I ask Bacari if the animal is dead. He assures me the blob of blubber is very alive and shortly after my question, I see the sleeping behemoth shift slightly. Holy Cow, I never get over how massive these mammals are.
Several of us walk onto the bridge and we peer down at the clear water and see schools of fish. The sight of the fish makes Brian wish aloud for his fishing gear. A fish eagle careens down to the water, talons at the ready, and comes up with a large fish. We watch as the raptor goes airborne with his prey and flies in a circle several times before carrying his dinner to a nearby dead tree. I wonder what the purpose of the circling was, to make his catch so dizzy it couldn’t flop around? It made me half dizzy watching the white-headed eagle doing his loop-de-loops in the air, so maybe that isn’t such a farfetched thought!
As we are standing on the bridge watching a bloat (yep, that is one word for a group of hippo) of hippos lazing in the water along with some nearby crocs, several truckloads of soldiers trundle across the bridge. Later, we see these soldiers marching through the bush in what I assume are training exercises. Still, this isn’t something you expect to see taking place in a National Park and I find it a bit disconcerting. It is time to move on so we leave the Ruaha River that is bursting with wildlife, to venture into the dry plains of the National Park.
As we motor through the park on the way to our mobile camp we see plenty of animal life. One of the funniest encounters for me is one I have dubbed the grumpy Lilac-breasted Roller. I have so many photos of various Rollers from this safari and I can’t find another one with the scowling features of Mr. Grump. It makes me laugh every time I look at this birds’ portrait. We observe elephants plucking and munching on the leaves of thorny bushes, which look not only painful but nearly impossible for the elephant to manage. However, the big pachyderms seem to be indifferent to the thorns. There are also stately giraffe to enjoy as they glide in slow motion across the arid bush.
Coming to a dry riverbed, there are elephants and impalas scattered about the area. Across the dry channel are a male ostrich and several female ostrich. We will only see these large birds one more time and unfortunately we never get close to either group. Our drivers prepare to cross this sandy river bottom and they must put the vehicles in 4-wheel drive to make it through the deep sand. There is a herd of elephant with a small baby and several juveniles standing next to where our vehicles are exiting the riverbed. The adults and youngsters close around the small baby, in a circle the wagons defense, ears fanned out to warn us they mean business. I am always enthralled with the instinct for all of the elephants, not just the mother, to protect the youngsters. Once the matriarchs decide we mean them no harm, they break rank and begin walking through the sand to only they know where. We encounter some handsome zebra too, and as usual they seem to perk up at the sight of a camera.
We continue driving near the river bed through brush that slaps and scrapes at vehicle and humans alike. Vidole Juu and Uwiano become very adept at warning their fellow passengers when a low-lying branch is likely to whip an inattentive person in the face or hands and the two continue to be our warning system for the remainder of our safaris. I know they saved me from the sting of a branch, often thorny at that, many times.
We arrive at our mobile camp and it is isolated and perfect. Our tents are situated near the dry river channel and as we have seen on our safari today, the river bed seems to be a preferred mode of travel by a lot of wildlife. It is good to see Christophe and the camp staff again, (I’m ready for those delicious dinner rolls), and to settle into the number eight tent again.
Next installment, Game drives in Ruaha National Park. Later, Nancy