Leaving Ruaha and Flying to Selous Part 10
Tonight Christophe lays a feast in front of us starting with Pumpkin soup and dinner rolls. I love African soups but Pumpkin soup is my absolute favorite! The thick, slightly sweet soup is just superb and I savor every spoonful. The soup is followed by mashed potatoes and swiss steak which is quite tasty.
At some point during the meal, Brian asks us to try to get out of our tents as early as possible tomorrow so the staff can begin dismantling our camp. I hate to even think about leaving because I love this camp. Mikumi was fine but the sights and sounds of human civilization were not far away from our little encampment. Here in the Ruaha camp it feels like we are the only humans around. Heck, maybe we are the only people camping in the Park. I don’t remember seeing any other camping sites, at least not close to ours.
We will be flying to Selous while the camp staff will have to drive for a day and a half to arrive. We only need to pack what we need for an overnight at our Lodge, and the excess luggage will be packed in the Rovers. Wait a minute, what was all the hoopla about only bringing 25 pounds of luggage because our in country flight only allowed this much per person on the plane. I think someone pulled one over on us!
Paul and I are up early, and the camp staff is already pulling down their own tents. Paul and I carry our beds and night stand outside of the tent to save the guys from that chore. There is supposed to be an area to put the luggage we are taking on the plane, and a separate area to put the luggage that will travel with our drivers. Paul and I are trying to find out what goes where, when we notice one of the workers is starting to pull our tent stakes. We rush back and explain that our luggage is still inside the tent. My goodness, the guys really are in a hurry to get rolling down the road.
Once we have rescued our luggage and deposited it in the correct piles, I make my way to the river bed. I stand in the dry channel, enjoying the solitude in the cool African morning. As I survey the area, I see a small group of baboon sitting in the sand as they soak up the warmth of the first sun rays. Just beyond the primates, a giraffe glides in aslow motion walk into the river bottom and crosses to the other side. The giraffe slowly melts away into the trees which add to the dream like quality of the scene. A few hundred yards from me, the bushes lining the river bank begin shivering and rustling, and baboons begin streaming out of the thick foliage. This is a large troop of baboons with many youngsters among them. Some of the little ones chase each other around the sandy channel in a game of tag that often ends in a wrestling match. The small group of baboons that were peacefully soaking up the sun began running for the tree line the minute the invading group appeared. I guess that means they aren’t friends!
Paul, Brian, and Bwana Mawe have come to check things out and Brian suggests we walk across the channel to the jumble of rocks adjacent to us. As we near the halfway point, there are elephant footprints imprinted in the golden sand. We stroll on until we reach the tumble of rocks. We catch a glimpse of rock hyrax running for cover as we intrude upon the small mammal’s home. A flock of Southern Blue-eared starlings land in the leafy branches of a nearby tree, instantly turning it into a Christmas tree, decorated in neon blue, living ornaments. Though I am sad to be leaving here, this last morning has certainly been a memorable one.
It’s time to leave this special place and make our way to the dirt airstrip where we will board prop planes that will fly us to Selous. There must not be time for a leisurely, final game drive in Ruaha, as our guides are clipping down the road at 25 or 30 mph. I try to stand and watch for game despite the wind whipping in my face and the extra effort it takes to hang on to the roof framework but I finally cry “uncle” and sit down, peering out the window as the landscape flashes by. Ngruwe calls out for Kevin to stop and once the truck shudders to a halt, Ngruwe instructs Kevin to back up until we arrive at the place where he caught a glimpse of something that didn’t fit in with the surroundings. Sure enough, we are looking at the back of a pair of ears and neck with the rest of the critter hidden by the dead grass it is lying in. The shutters of our camera are snapping away as we are congratulating Ngruwe on such a fabulous spot.
Suddenly, Brian stops taking photos and announces that what looks so cat-like is actually the remnants of a burned stump! I look through my binoculars and sure enough those feline ears are charred protrusions left behind from some past fire. Our laughter isn’t aimed at the initial man who spotted the Serval like stump, Ngruwe’s spot was still astonishing, but at ourselves for the way our minds took this stump and made it into a living creature. Yesterday on our game drive, Ngruwe and I called out nearly simultaneously, “there is a turtle”. Kevin stopped the Rover, backed up and our turtle turned out to be made of rock. This “turtle” was atop a large boulder that was lying in a dry stream bed which of course made no sense. However, when you are driving at a fair speed and in the mindset to find wildlife, often your brain will oblige you by turning inanimate objects into a creature. I never worry much about this kind of mistake, it is better to call out and be wrong than to keep quiet and take the chance that what you saw really was a wild animal.
We have fallen behind the other two vehicles and Mochie is beseechingly calling Kevin’s name over the two-way radio “Kevin, K e e v i i n”. This becomes a source of amusement for those of us riding with Kevin and when we need to ask our driver something or if he is busy with other things, we often mimic Mochie’s plaintive call to get his attention. It’s all in good fun of course and it makes Kevin laugh. This time the call for Kevin isn’t because we are lost but because Mochie’s vehicle is getting a flat tire and he needs help.
We finally catch sight of Mochies’ truck and as we are crossing a low spot in the road, Ngruwe points and declares that a Dik-dik is standing in the small ravine. I look in the direction of the pointed finger and sure enough I catch a glimpse of the tiny antelope staring at us. When we reach the disabled vehicle, a few of us decide to walk down to where Ngruwe saw the teeny antelope in hopes we might get a photo. Although the Dik-dik is still standing in the same spot, five people on foot are too much for the little guy to handle and he takes off running. Well, we knew that getting a photo was a long shot but our short hike at least killed some time while the tire is being changed.
We arrive at the Park airport at ten a.m. and see two small planes parked on the “terminal”:). There are also two bull elephants moseying around the short landing strip which reminds you that this isn’t your ordinary airport. When our luggage and box lunches have been unloaded and carried to the outside waiting area, our drivers wave goodbye, and begin their overland journey to the Selous. There are no pilots around but our flight isn’t scheduled to leave until noon so we aren’t worried. There are two gazebo like structures for passengers to sit in while they await their in country flight, and Bwana Cheka jokingly asks if our flight leaves from terminal A or terminal B. The wisecrack makes everyone laugh as we settle onto the benches inside the shelters to escape the hot sun. I suddenly realize that today is Paul’s birthday, so quietly wish him happy birthday and apologize for not remembering it until now. Paul told Brian and me a few days ago that he didn’t want any big deal made about his birthday. Well, I guess I took Paul’s request to heart since I nearly forgot all about it!
Twelve o’clock arrives with no sign of any pilots so some of us decide to eat the boxed lunches Christophe made for us. Another group of tourists have arrived and they join us under the welcome shade of the rest areas. At 1:15 our pilots show up and begin readying the planes for us passengers. The other group of tourists walks out to the planes and is talking to the pilots. Brian goes to join the group and is also conversing with the bush pilots. Several of us are watching the scene and witness Brian turn on his heel, slap the papers he has with him against his open hand, and note that his usual easy gait is now a no-nonsense walk. Uh oh, we all agree that if we are reading Brian’s body language correctly that he has not received good news.
Brian breaks the bad news to us that it seems these are not our planes after all. Hmm. The good news is they have room for four of us to fly out with them and a bit later they decide they can make room for five of our group of sixteen. We all agree that Tembo, Mbuzi, Daktari, Njema and Usiku should board the plane and the rest of us will, hopefully, join them later.
It doesn’t take long for luggage and passengers to be loaded on the planes and those of us left behind line up and wave goodbye as the plane carrying our companions, lifts off the red dirt runway and in no time is just a speck above the African bush. Nyama, tongue in cheek (I think), wonders if we will ever see our travel companions again. We note that this airstrip has no lighting so if our pilot doesn’t arrive soon we may be spending the night on the benches of terminal A & B!
We kid about how they could use wildlife to hold lanterns, which prompts Brian to pantomime how things would go if they used elephants for the job. Brian uses his arm to represent the elephant’s trunk and slowly sweeps his arm back and forth like elephants really do move their trunks. With a little imagination you can visualize what a disaster this would be for a plane landing in the dark! I suggest impalas could be used since they are so numerous, which prompts Brian to demonstrate how the constant movement of an impalas head would not be conducive for night lighting either. By the time Brian is through with his impromptu skits we are laughing so hard that we have forgotten for the moment we are stranded without plane or vehicles in the middle of Ruaha.
To pass the time many of us begin reading or writing in our journals, but a foursome begins playing poker with the participants using the gravel beneath their feet for money. At one point I see that Nyama is accumulating a nice pile of rocks in front of her and later Brian seems to have won all the pieces of granite. Brian takes handfuls of the pebbles and rubs them over his chest as he wallows in his riches, but somehow it doesn’t work quite as well as actual greenbacks do. Still the action is hilarious which is the point of course.
Hello, a plane has appeared in the sky and begins its decent to the little runway. As he coasts into the terminal we all assume that this is our flight out of here. The young pilot alights from the plane and makes his way towards us, all smiles, but continues past us to the bathroom. Rats, he isn’t our pilot, he is just friendly. There are some other people waiting in their vehicles near the plane parking area and they are the lucky passengers. As he passes the” terminals” on his way back to his plane, he smiles and says “good luck”. Somehow that isn’t a phrase I want to hear!
A troop of baboons have shown up to occupy the empty airstrip and Ngruwe starts contemplating what would happen if the primates began rearranging the white-painted cement blocks that line the edges of the landing strip. By the time his imagination has played out on what the baboons are saying and what their mischief would cause the pilot and plane, I am doubled over with laughter. I suppose we are a little slap happy and that you really had to be there to appreciate the humor, but I am chuckling just typing this. The pilot is starting down the runway and we watch to see if the baboons will play chicken with the plane. All but one of the baboons exit the airstrip before the plane gets close and this brave fellow stands his ground a bit longer.
Surely, this is our plane coming in for a landing! The small plane comes trundling down the runway, dust billowing out behind it. The rather harried looking pilot affirms that he indeed is here to fly us to the Selous! Hurray, we won’t be spending the night here after all! Seriously, we only waited a little over an hour after our travel mates left although it seemed longer than that.
Our luggage disappears into the belly of the prop plane and we climb into the close confines of the planes’ interior. Those that suffer from motion sickness are at the front, Paul and I take the back seats since we have no problem with this malady. As we lift into the air I look down at the earth beneath us and see hippo in a river we are passing over, later I spy a group of elephants that look like miniature versions of real life elephants from my bird’s eye view in the air. I’m going to miss Ruaha.
An hour and a half later our plane is bumping down another dirt air strip and it comes to a halt near two open-topped vehicles that probably are waiting to take us to Rufuji River Lodge. Yep, they are waiting for us and the friendly drivers welcome us to Selous. The drive to the lodge takes only a few minutes and we are reunited with the rest of our group, who are settled comfortably in the lounge, enjoying some liquid refreshment! Those of us who just arrived are handed a complimentary juice drink and a small piece of cake. After this welcome, we are assigned our rooms and given instructions on the running of the Lodge. One of those rules is that a Masai will take us to our rooms and come escort us to the restaurant tonight, as wild animals roam freely through the grounds. We trudge after our chaperone for what seems like a mile to our room (oh, I’m exaggerating). We aren’t the last ones in the line of chalets though, that honor goes to Ngruwe and Nyama.
Our room is a tent but just a tad different from our mobile camp tents. These are luxury tents that have a wood frame over them making them look like a house. We have a porch that is on two sides of the structure and inside the tent is a large room with two king size beds, an open closet for hanging your clothes along with benches for your luggage, a desk in another corner of the tent, along with authentic African articles in the room for decoration. There also is a large bathroom partitioned off on one end of the room. We have no time to relax as we are going to take a quick game drive before dusk so we deposit our luggage and return to the check in area.
There are two safari vehicles waiting and once everyone is situated we are off on our first game drive in the Selous. Our driver and guide are a fountain of information and can answer about any question you can think to ask them. Our first sighting is a group of elephant foraging around some of the maintenance buildings belonging to the lodge. As we drive along the Rufuji River we see giraffe, waterbuck, and warthogs, plus some new birds. The most exciting being the Bohms Bee-eater whose range is fairly small, so we were fortunate to see one. I later see a Bohms outside our tent so am doubly lucky. Kevin really wanted to see this bird but we never found the colorful bird after we left the Lodge.
After returning from our short but productive game drive, Paul and I decide to shower before supper. Brr, our water is cold because these showers are heated by solar power and there wasn’t much sun today. Our Masai shows up at the allotted time and walks us to the restaurant. There is a long table set up for our large group and we find a place to sit, ready to enjoy a good meal. I have no clue what was served for dinner but after we have finished the meal, the staff comes in singing and carrying a birthday cake. Actually they have brought two small cakes, about the size of cupcakes. Brian explains that since Paul requested that he not make a big deal about his birthday, Brian settled for having the chef make these two small cakes to represent Paul’s Swahili name, Mapumbo. For those of you who don’t know, Paul’s Swahili name is Bwana Mapumbo and it means Mr. Testicles. You can ask Paul how he obtained this name on a prior safari, but he didn’t earn the name for what you are thinking right now!! Brian took the photo of Paul and his birthday cakes.
Paul accepts the fact that his birthday is going to be celebrated whether he likes it or not and accepts the attention with smiles and grace. Paul tries to divvy up the chocolate, brownie treats so everyone can at least have a bite. It is delicious and now I wish we had a whole cake! The celebration isn’t over as a trio of Masai sings and demonstrates their incredible ability to leap into the air. The leaps one man in particular can do from a standstill would make any college coach drool with anticipation of having him on the team. The Masai are rewarded with applause and compliments from our group for their excellent performance. It was a great way to end the evening. When we are ready to return to our rooms the Masai performers are also our escorts.
Next blog, a game float from a boat on the Rufugi River, Nancy