A game float down the Rufiji River, Part 11
Last night we had visitors next to our “tent”. We sat in bed and watched the pachyderms by the light of the moon, as they noisily foraged on the leaves from the trees that stand next to our tent. One of the massive beasts bumped into the wooden deck as the group were walking by, causing the whole structure to shake. Wow, if an inadvertent bump can make this place shudder just think how easily an elephant could dismantle our abode if it really wanted to.
I also wake up at some point to the loud call of that same darn bird I have been hearing since our mobile camp in Mikumi, except I have figured out now that it isn’t a bird making the incessant noise but the squall of a bush baby! As many times as we have been to Africa you would think we would have known this sound! Anyway, I listen to the bush baby crying, when suddenly there is the sound of scuffling among the leaves and grass next to our tent, a muffled squawk, then silence. I think I just heard a kill tonight! I wonder what preys on bush babies? There was also the snorting and grunting of many hippos during the night. I love that African night music!
Paul and I get up early to pack our luggage and when we are finished we sit out on the deck, listening to the early morning sounds as Africa wakes up. The birds are numerous and vocal but the elephants and hippos have gone quiet. At 7:30 we go to eat breakfast with the rest of our group. As we visit we learn that Mkatagiza Usiku and Bahati Njema, who are in the tent next to us, also had the elephants visit them last night. Usiku decided to observe them from the porch but soon changed his mind when one of the elephants began walking towards him. Usiku hastily retreated to the safety of his canvas room! We also were told that yesterday, Bibi Vitabu was temporarily trapped in her tent when a group of elephants were eating around it! Cool.
Since we are to be checked out of our tents by eleven that means we must leave our luggage at the checkout area after breakfast because we won’t be back from our river trip by then. Paul and I lounge around our room after breakfast until just before nine, then take our luggage and packs and drop them off with the man at the desk. We go back to the restaurant and meet up with the rest of our group and the guides that are taking us out on the Rufiji River. The guides lead us down to two pontoons and we split into two groups. The group we are with includes Nyama, Ngruwe, Njema, Usiku, Uchunguzi, and Mawe. Our guide is Apollo (I can remember that name!), and we also have a river boat pilot.
After our scary encounter on the Zambezi River on our last trip to Africa, I said I would never get into a boat and go down a river in Africa again. I can’t say I’m all that excited to board our boat, but I have given myself a pep talk and here I am. At least we aren’t making the trip in a canoe. It is a beautiful day, the wind is calm and the African sky is filled with fair weather clouds. The river soon proves to be teeming with hippopotamus and crocodiles. In fact one of the rules Apollo recited to us is don’t dangle arms or legs over the side of the boat, adding to that directive, the ominous news that many people have been killed by crocodiles along the river this year. This is a very long river so hopefully those statistics include the entire length of the Rufiji and not just this area.
Our boat hasn’t traveled far when a hippo makes a big splash near the side of the boat I am riding on. I instinctively scoot away from the edge of the boat as if that would do any good, should the animal decide to upend us! I watch another hippo run into the water as another boat passes close to where the animal was standing on the shore, but it appears the big brute just wanted to get to the water for its own safety. You can’t believe how fast these hefty animals can run for a short distance! I manage to relax after our river cruise is well under way, although whenever a line of ears and eyes appear in a channel of water my heart rate increases. I always give a sigh of relief when our boat skipper makes a wide berth around the line of belligerent looking hippos that appear to be daring anyone to cross the line in the water they have physically made.
Where there is water there are birds and we see them everywhere. It is a kick to see Egrets perching on the back of hippopotamus as if they were big boulders. Wonderfully colored birds like the Malachite Kingfisher bring appreciative aahs from its human observers. There are Goliath Heron, aptly named because they surely must stand nearly as tall as me. We see flocks of White-fronted Bee-eaters and float by a bank where the small birds have hollowed out holes in the soil for nests. We find the common, but regal Fish Eagle, that somewhat resembles our Bald Eagle. We motor up to a rookery where Spoonbills, Ibis, and Yellow-billed Storks are nesting. The rookery is noisy, smelly, busy, but makes for some interesting behavior for us to watch.
We float by Waterbuck, Elephants, one old Cape buffalo, Giraffe, Bushbuck and lots and lots of Hippos and Crocodiles. All the animals are more skittish than we found them in Mikumi and Ruaha due to the fact that big game hunting is still allowed in the southern part of the Selous Game Reserve. I can understand hunting if you consume the meat of what you kill, but for the life of me, I don’t understand how anyone can kill these incredible animals just so they can hang a head on the wall or lay a pelt on their floor or to possess a piece of ivory. I’d rather have photographs of the image of a living animal hanging in my house, which of course I do.
The two boats carrying our safari group have not stayed together as the skippers take us down the Rufiji River. We do meet up when our guides dock the boats on the river bank so we can stretch our legs, have some cold soda, and find a bush if necessary. It is really hot by now so we are surely grateful the pontoons have a canvas top for shade when we load back on the boats and start back towards the Lodge.
We were gone on our floating game drive for five hours and if I understood correctly we covered about 35 miles! Needless to say we are ready for lunch when we tie up to the dock of the Lodge, as it is well past noon.
While we are having lunch there is a troop of Vervet monkeys scoping out the restaurant. The majority of the monkeys leave but one member of the group climbs into the restaurant rafters, greedily eyeing our food. One of the wait staff claps his hands and manages to shoo away the would be thief. When the staff begins stacking plates, some with leftover food on them, on a side table, a Vervet monkey dashes into the open air restaurant and grabs a handful of spaghetti off of one of the plates. The thief scampers away as a waiter runs towards the rascal to chase him from the premises. The monkey seems to think that his pilfered spaghetti is in need of a piece of the Italian bread that was served with the lunch and dashes into the room again, grabbing a half-eaten piece of bread from another plate. He sits within a few feet of the restaurant and consumes this stolen feast. I’m pretty sure that the primate has committed food heists many times before. Well, at least the little beggar didn’t grab the food off our plates while we were eating!
Our drivers arrive not long after we have finished eating and it is good to be reunited with our guides/friends. We climb into our respective vehicles and begin driving to the last mobile camp of this exceptional safari. Naturally, we stop for any game we see along the way. The most numerous animal found on our game drive this afternoon is giraffe. I just can’t believe how many giraffe we have seen on this safari! We also see Dik-dik, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, birds and several squirrels. We keep a look out for wild dogs but the canines are not to be found. Maybe tomorrow?
My goodness, Vidole Juu and Uwiano are kept busy warning their fellow passengers to watch out for the various limbs that are slapping at the vehicle as the Rovers wend their way through the narrow lane that is lined with trees. There are places where it seems the road will never be wide enough for our truck to pass through but Kevin skillfully maneuvers the Rover through the tight spots. We arrive at our final camp which is situated in another beautiful setting. I’m not sure how Brian manages to reserve these remote camping sites but I’m guessing it isn’t an easy task.
The camp staff has worked hard at setting up the camp and is still putting the finishing touches on the camp as we arrive. They haven’t been in the Selous very long so their effort to get the camp prepared for us is quite an accomplishment. You can see that the men are exhausted and rightly so after their marathon drive from Ruaha. The staff only has one shower erected and most of us decide we can do without a shower tonight in order to give these terrific people a small break.
The isolated camp is situated near the river where hippopotamus can be seen up and down the river, and a few of the blubber butts are half-submerged in the water not far from our camp. For the first time on our safari we have a night watchman to watch over our camp while we sleep. It’s been a long day but a good day and it was fun to have a different perspective of the wild animals from the seat of a boat. Our game drive to our new mobile camp, though rough, showed the promise of good things to come in the last two days of our stay in Selous.
Next blog, Morning and Afternoon game drive in Selous, Nancy