Final day in the Selous Reserve, part13

Final day in Selous, part13

Another beautiful sunrise

Another beautiful sunrise

If there were any animal visitors or sounds during the night in our camp I slept right through them. I’m up early and walk down to the lake to watch the sun come up. Tembo and Mawe have already taken up vigil near the lake and are also watching as the red sun slowly edges up into the African sky. The sunrise is another stunner and we quietly appreciate its beauty.

This Grey Heron was in this spot at our camp site every morning

This Grey Heron was in this spot at our camp site every morning

Today we are taking lunch with us and will spend the whole day traversing through a small part of the vast Selous Reserve. Once we get through the gnarly road that leads away from our camp, we amble through timber areas, grassland, and alongside lakes. Yesterday as we searched for wild animals, I found myself humming the tune of “Quiet your mind”, by the Zac Brown Band (my favorite group). Today the song pops into my head again and I realize I am humming it out loud. The words of one stanza runs through my mind and they are certainly appropriate, particularly because of the sunrises we have seen at this mobile camp. I include the words so you can see why I find them so fitting.

At the end of the water

A red sun is rising

And the stars are all going away

And if your too busy talking

You’re not busy listening

To hear what the land has to say

Quiet your mind.

I don’t know why this song has surfaced in the last two days; maybe my subconscious is just reminding me to make the most of the end of our time here.

Baby Bushbuck

Baby Bushbuck

Some of the highlights of this morning include a baby bushbuck following its mother and turning to give us a curious look before walking into the thickets. There is a victorious impala buck chasing his vanquished foe along the edge of a lake, a trio of ground hornbills in the background are unimpressed with the impala skirmish that is taking place. Two majestic fish eagle are outlined against the deep blue sky as they perch in a sun bleached dead tree. Across the water are three giraffe, two of them in their awkward straddled position as they drink.

Drinking Giraffe

Drinking Giraffe

Mid-morning our drivers stop near a lake, set up a table and lay bananas and drinks out for us to snack on. Brian finds a dead palm frond and brandishes it like it is a whip while scowling at us as if he has had enough of his wards. I think he was just kidding!

Brian brandishing his make believe whip

Brian brandishing his make believe whip

As we continue on, someone in one of our sister vehicles spots an aberration in a female impala that is sporting one horn. Female impala do not have horns! To make this oddity even stranger, the horn is growing downward and unfortunately the point of the horn is beginning to pierce the doe’s cheek. Occasionally, this will happen in cattle and you must saw the tip off of the horn or the horn will literally puncture the animals flesh and result in a wound. This does not look good for the impala as she isn’t going to receive any human help. Our next unusual find is a giraffe that is so light in color we at first wonder if the animal is an albino. The giraffe’s eyes are brown so obviously the animal isn’t albino, but the leggy animal is still  a very unusual color.

Female Impala with a horn. A doe should not have horns!

Female Impala with a horn. A doe should not have horns!

The light colored Giraffe

The light colored Giraffe

The guides stop by a large lake to prepare lunch for us and it is a perfect place to eat our last lunch in the Selous. There are several half-submerged hippopotamus in the calm water and the vast sky is full of puffy, white clouds. Yes, it is hot but there are trees that lend us a little shade. After eating, I ask Kevin if I can walk to a tree that stands not far from our picnic spot. Kevin gives me his permission and laughingly says that I can also go for a swim if I want to.  No thanks and I plan to stay far from the water’s edge!

We ate our lunch gazing at this gorgeous view.

We ate our lunch gazing at this gorgeous view.

The dinner bell must have rang:)

The dinner bell must have rang:)

After our leisurely lunch, we move on through the dusty land and we haven’t gone far when Ngruwe points to a tree and declares that there is an animal there. I see the outline of rounded ears and soon we realize a huge hyena is sitting at the base of the tree. As we watch, the animal gets to its feet and awkwardly lopes off. The spotted hyena doesn’t go far after deciding we are harmless, and sits down in the shade of a tree. The ugly critter, (in my opinion) stares back at us with one brown eye and one blue eye. I’m fairly certain that the hyena is blind in the blue eye. The tree that the hyena is sitting by has a mythical look in my imagination, as to me it looks like a knight type figure that has a shield over its head, one eye is visible and what looks like an arm is resting on the back of the hyena. It is kind of creepy to tell you the truth.

The big hyena running away from us before sitting down again

The big hyena running away from us before sitting down again

The hyena at the base of the tree that looks like a mythical knight like figure to me

The hyena at the base of the tree that looks like a mythical knight like figure to me

Moving on through the Reserve we find four lion near a lake sleeping among low growing bushes. They have no interest in us and the sun dappled felines barely open their eyes as we invade their space. Nyama decides to crawl out onto the back roof, where Brian often rides, to get better photos. It doesn’t take long for the lions to notice this aberration to the vehicles shape and one of the big females stands up looking towards our Rover. Oops, I suggest that maybe it would be wise if Nyama would come back inside the truck even though the big cat doesn’t seem alarmed or upset. I would guess a leap onto the roof wouldn’t be likely for the lion to do, but let’s not tempt the beautiful animal into proving that wrong.

A sleepy Lioness

A sleepy Lioness

Eventually two sleepy lions manage to muster enough energy to sit up and move all of 20 feet to the other side of the bushes. Kevin maneuvers the Rover around so we are privy to have a frontal view of the cats. The beautiful lionesses catch sight of a few impalas grazing across the road and fix them with an interested stare. They aren’t hungry enough to attempt to hunt the antelope and eventually the duo lay back down. The youngster in the group joins them briefly before deciding to crawl back into the bushes where there is more shade.

The Lioness' see grazing impalas across the road

The Lioness’ see grazing impalas across the road

Three relaxed lions

Three relaxed lions

We leave the contented lions behind and continue exploring this new area of Selous. About an hour later it is obvious our guides are looking for something as they have slowed the vehicles down and are searching intently among a group of trees. Kevin pulls up next to a small grove of acacias(I think), and there in the center of the cluster of trees are a pack of wild dogs! No way, in our four previous trips to Africa the closest we have come to wild dogs are seeing the canine’s tracks in the dirt. Now we have seen two different packs of dogs in back to back days. We again tell our vehicle mates that they have no idea what an incredible safari this has been and how fortunate they have been to see all the animals we have seen in one trip. Unbelievable.

Wild Dogs resting in the shade. Paul's photo

Wild Dogs resting in the shade. Paul’s photo

This group of dogs is sleeping on grassy ground under the shade of the acacias and are lying very close together. It occurs to me that when the dogs are all lying still and on their sides you could imagine that someone dumped a large amount of marbled cake batter on the ground since the painted dogs hides seem to be a continuous color of yellows and blacks! This group of dogs for the most part does not have as much white in the color scheme of their coats as the pack we saw yesterday. They also appear to be as healthy and well fed as the group we saw yesterday.

One dog getting a little playful with a pack mate

One dog getting a little playful with a pack mate

The day is fading away and we need to get back to camp before the sun exits the sky so we reluctantly leave the painted dogs behind. Another incredible day in the wilds of Africa and I find it hard to believe we will be leaving everything behind tomorrow.

Painted Dog close up

Painted Dog close up

Christophe has prepared a special meal for us tonight in celebration of the end of our safari. It seems that all of the camp staff chipped in money to buy a goat and Christophe has been roasting the meat all day. The meat smells and tastes good but the sacrificed goat must have been an old goat as the meat is tough and it takes a lot of chewing to reduce the bite of meat to a state where you can swallow it. Regardless, most of us take seconds because this thoughtful offering from the wonderful people who have taken care of us is very touching.

The gift of roast goat from the camp staff. Paul's photo

The gift of roast goat from the camp staff. Paul’s photo

The camp staff isn’t finished with surprises tonight because once we finish the main course, all the staff parade toward us out of the dark, singing and dancing. One of the guys is holding a cake whose icing is green and yellow, two of the colors of the Tanzanian flag. Brian joins in the joyful dancing as the rest of us watch the entertainment with delight. Paul has supplied Amarula for everyone in our last two mobile camps for an after dinner drink. Everyone raises their glass for the last time in a salute to this wonderful safari, (I don’t like Amarula, but tonight I join in the ritual). Eventually, we all drift away to our tents to organize our things for our departure tomorrow.

The men singing and dancing on our last night in camp. Paul's photo

The men singing and dancing on our last night in camp. Paul’s photo

Paul and I are settling into our tent when Brian comes by and asks if we want to go with Sahidi, Daktari, and himself on a search for the bushbaby that is around the camp. Heck yes we do, we have never seen one of the noisy creatures and would love to add the bushbaby to our wildlife list. Sahidi leads the way as he shines a weak beam of light that barely penetrates the darkness a foot ahead of him. Brian, who is walking right behind Sahidi, finally adds his strong headlight beam into the treetops where Sahidi is shining his own light. We stumble around in the woods, dodging numerous spider webs and low hanging limbs. Sahidi is surprised that we do not find the tree-dwelling creature but agrees to come wake Paul and I up if the camp robber shows up later tonight.

As all of us are walking towards our tent, I continue to shine my light into the trees.  We have nearly reached our tent when my headlamp lights up a pair of eyes looking down at us from a nearby tree. Sure enough a bush baby is crawling around in the tree not 10 foot from our tent. Since we are neighbors to Vidole Juu and Uwiano, they come out to see what the fuss is about and join in watching the bushbaby. I am surprised at how small this animal is and wonder how it manages to make such a loud sound. Well, that was a great way to end our final night in the Selous. Later, when Paul and I get up to visit the back of the tent, we see glowing eyes in an adjacent tree. I look at it briefly and assume it is another or the same bushbaby. Paul takes a more careful look and discovers that the reflective eyes belong to a big rat. Lovely.

On our last morning in the Selous, many of us are at the lakes edge to watch the sun come up but this morning there are clouds just thick enough to keep us from having another beautiful sunrise. I have to walk away to get a little privacy from the group as tears are beginning to run down my checks. This always happens to me when it is time to leave Africa.

Brian reading a letter to the staff before we leave for Dar

Brian reading a letter to the staff before we leave for Dar

Reaction by the men to a part of Brian's letter

Reaction by the men to a part of Brian’s letter

After breakfast, Brian gathers all the camp staff and reads them a letter he has written in Swahili. We safarists have no clue what is being said but there are beaming smiles on the staff’s faces and often they break into laughter. We have all contributed tip money, which Brian presents to Christophe who will distribute the dough evenly among his coworkers. Luggage is loaded into the back of the Rovers and we climb into our vehicles to begin the long drive to Dar es Salaam.

Brian and the camp staff striking a cowabunga pose. Paul's photo

Brian and the camp staff striking a cowabunga pose. Paul’s photo

As we leave our camp I realize that tears are welling up again and I search for a kleenex as I keep my head averted from my fellow passengers. Rats, no kleenex and in a voice thick with emotion, I ask Paul to give me the kleenex out of my pack. Paul is in the back and he doesn’t understand what I want, but Nyama quickly hands me a tissue from her supply. Well that’s a bit embarrassing, but I can’t help it and I do manage to compose myself rather quickly.

The roads we are traversing are rough and dusty for the first part of our journey. The red roads take us through many small villages but we are driving fast over the bumpy tracks so taking photos is almost impossible. Eventually we turn onto a highway which leads us into Dar. We are stuck in one traffic jam due to a disabled truck which turns the busy highway into a one-way road. Ugh, the chaos of a big city is hard to take after the wilds of the bush.

Two women that passed us as we were having our last boxed lunch in Africa

Two women that passed us as we were having our last boxed lunch in Africa

A trio of Masai we encounter on the journey to Dar

A trio of Masai we encounter on the journey to Dar

As we are sitting at a stop light on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam a group of preteen boys are yelling at us and it isn’t hard to figure out by their body language and tone of voice that what they are saying isn’t “Welcome to Dar”! This intuition is confirmed when one of the youngsters extends his middle finger at us. Kevin yells something like “Ne, Ne” and when the boy looks at him, Kevin shakes his finger at him in admonishment. The tough guy wilts like a piece of day old lettuce when he sees the look of disapproval Kevin gives him. What a difference from the children in the country who yelled and waved at us with huge smiles on their faces. Welcome back to civilization!

Kevin’s demeanor has changed since we hit the big city traffic as he tries to keep up with the other two vehicles. His laid back attitude has turned serious and tense and I can surely relate to his mood. Before we go to our hotel, it was decided we would visit an area that sells local crafts. When we pull into the parking lot we agree to return to the vehicles at a set time then everyone goes their own way on a quest for souvenirs. Paul and I wander into a few of the dukas (shops) but we don’t find anything that reaches out and says, “buy me”. When we arrive back at the Rovers, it appears that everyone else has found a few souvenirs or gifts to take home with them.

The guides now deliver us to the Tanzanite hotel where we say our final goodbye to these men that have taken such good care of us in our travels. When we enter the Tanzanite it is good to know that this time they do have rooms for all of us!! We all retire to our rooms and agree to meet at 6:30 to go back to the Lebanese restaurant for supper. Paul and I shower and rest until it is time to meet our friends for our last supper in Africa. The food is as good as the first time although I’d trade it all for Christophe’s dinner rolls and pumpkin soup. We return to the hotel and manage to sleep for 3 hours before we leave for the airport at 12:30 a.m…

Check in at the Dar airport went smoothly until Paul discovered that he had not picked up his passport holder that contained his money clip (his passport was in his hand) out of the rubber tubs when we came through the security screening. An airport screener went back to check the baskets and returned telling us that she could not find the missing items. A security man comes over after observing our distress to learn what the problem is and decides to recheck the containers himself. We watch as he unstacks the containers and when he reaches into one and pulls out Paul’s passport holder and the money clip, relief floods through us. We profusely thank the fellow and join our friends in the waiting area.

Everyone has visited the airport shops and returned with various kinds of chocolate. Paul brought me m&m’s, a kitkat bar, and a few more chocolate candy bars. As you can see we were all desperately craving chocolate. Vidole Juu and Uwiano present me with a huge chocolate bar and they give Paul a bottle of Amarulla! How thoughtful is that!

Brian predicted that our plane would be 45 minutes late and he was exactly right. Once on board we settle into our seats and I soon discover that the woman next to me is not well as she goes into frequent coughing fits. One of the flight attendants is also ill and at one time when I visit the restroom at the back of the plane, she is literally in tears, holding a paper cup over one ear. That is a new one but I assume it must alleviate pain associated with an earache. If we escape any illness after this exposure it will be a miracle.

When we land in Istanbul we are behind schedule since we left Dar so late. There are five of us that are spending two days in this city, Brian, Daktari, Cheka, Vitabu and Paul and I, so we don’t have to rush off to catch another flight. Our safarists that are catching another flight hurry to get on the first buses that are waiting to take us from the plane to the terminal. We wave goodbye as the buses carrying our friends drive towards the airport buildings.

When the five of us get off our bus and walk into the terminal, we find Vidole Juu, Uwino, Nyama, and Ngruwe waiting for us. There are hugs all around and Nyama is teary eyed which makes us respond with our own eyes tearing up as we say a proper farewell. The foursome leaves us and move on toward the gate that will fly them home to Kansas. The five of us make our way to the baggage claim and are delighted when our bags appear immediately. We catch a glimpse of Tembo and Mbuzi as they are whisked to the gate for their flight. We wave goodbye to them, Mbuzi sees us but we can’t get Tembo’s attention.

When we exit the baggage area we find our driver holding up a sign with Hesse on it and we follow him to his car. We will spend two nights in Istanbul and I will write a separate blog on this fascinating and beautiful city.

This ends my version of our terrific safari in Tanzania. There was a request from a reader asking me to give the English version of our Swahili names. The cast of characters are as follows.

Bwana Vidole Juu-Mr. Fingers Up

Mama Uwiano-Balancing Lady

Bibi Nyama-Meat Lady

Bwana Ngruwe-Pig Man

Bibi Bahati Njema-Lady good luck

Bwana Mkatagiza Usiku- Mr. “he who cuts the night”

Bwana Cheka-Mr. Laugh

Bibi Vitabu-Ms. Books

Mista Tembo-Mr. Elephant/Tusker

Mama Mbuzi-Goat Lady

Bwana Mawe-Rock Man

Mama Uchunguzi-Research Lady

Daktari ya Moyo- The heart doctor

Mzungu Mrefu- A Tall White Guy-none other than our fearless safari leader Brian

Mama Ndege- Bird Lady

Bwana Mapumbo- Mr. Testicles

Some of these Swahili names, like mine, are straight forward. Others have a story behind the name such as Paul’s.

The end, Nancy

Three phases of a lion's yawn in three photos

Three phases of a lion’s yawn in three photos

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Selous Game Drives Part 12

Selous Game drives Part 12

A view of an oxbow lake

A view of an oxbow lake

Phew, it was hot sleeping in the tent last night. Those in our group whose tents were close to the oxbow lake (I think I wrote in the last blog our camp was by the river) said they had a nice breeze but the cooling wind didn’t reach our tent. Paul and I still slept sound enough that the only night music we heard was the grunting and complaining of feeding hippopotamus. Brian and Daktari had a Cape buffalo behind their tent that they startled during the night, sending the frightened buffalo crashing through the bushes. I’m glad we didn’t encounter that beast. Nyama and Ngruwe heard something eating next to their tent and I believe that it was Mawe and Uchunguzi that listened to an unidentified animal as it lapped up water from the river.

I did hear Sahidi (sp) our night watchman singing in a soft voice near our tent last night. When I asked him about his singing this morning he gave me a puzzled look and said he wasn’t singing. The mystery is solved at breakfast when I ask if anyone else heard singing last night. Our next door neighbor, Mkatagiza Usiku laughs and said that Njema was singing in her sleep. Ha, I wasn’t dreaming and I compliment Njema on her voice, it was quite lovely. Speaking of Sahidi, it seems the only thing he had to chase out of camp during his watch was a bush baby trying to get into the kitchen garbage bag.

Paul and the beautiful sunrise over the lake

Paul and the beautiful sunrise over the lake

There is a beautiful sunrise this morning and everyone is taking photos as the rising of the red sun draws colorful lines in the water. We are all up early this morning as the guides want to get out of camp as quickly as possible. After our breakfast we gather our gear and are exiting the camp by 8 a.m. Kevin wrests the Rover through the winding road leading from our camp until the narrow lane intersects with a main road.

The road takes us along the edge of one of the many oxbow lakes found in the Selous Refuge. Our guides drive the Rovers over dried up fingers of the lake to get us close to the edge of the water. These areas are pitted with the hoof prints that hippopotamus made when there was water here for the river horses to wallow in. As we bounce over the pockmarked ground, impromptu grunts and groans escape through our lips. On this game drive and the remaining game drives, whenever we see that our vehicle is going to cross another dry area of a lake a resigned murmur of regret filters through the truck. These rides were, to say the least, not comfortable but we certainly got close to the myriad of life along the water’s edge by enduring the bone jarring rides.

A pair of hippos relaxing

A pair of hippos relaxing

Face to face with a crocodile

Face to face with a crocodile

As we tour the lake shores, we observe the ubiquitous hippopotamus and crocodiles, plus an array of water birds. We see African Jacana whose long toes and big feet allow them to step around on the vegetation that covers the surface along the edge of the lake. There are Black-winged Stilts strutting in the water sporting bright pink legs, Three-banded Plovers, Herons, and Egrets and on and on. A birders paradise indeed.

African Jacanas

African Jacanas

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt

Our convoy leaves the lake behind and we drive further into the interior of the Selous on the quest for land mammals which hopefully will include wild dogs. The landscape is dry and dusty and I often pull out my bandana and hold it over my nose and mouth in an effort to filter out some of the red dirt that is kicked into the air by the lead vehicles. This means I am hanging on to the roof tubing with only one hand, so when we hit the inevitable bumps, I ram into the side of the truck even harder than normal. In fact Nyama and I have traded seats at Nyama’s suggestion, and I paraphrase, so we will have both sides and arms equally sore instead of just one arm and side bruised and aching! At this rate, my left side will soon catch up to the soreness of my right side!

This morning, as was the case yesterday, we find numerous giraffe along our route, most of them staring curiously at us with their liquid black eyes. One exception to the placid giraffes is a pair of male “teenagers” that are practicing for combat that they are bound to take part in when they become adults. I wish I could share the video I have of the two playmates that shows their fighting technique. The youngsters will cock their long necks back towards their sides and then swing their long necks towards their opponent. The giraffes then land a blow with their head on their opponent. Imagine the similarity to a human holding a mace and cocking their arm back as far as they can, swinging the weapon through the air and landing a blow on their enemy with the maces head. The young giraffes are just goofing around but even so their heads land with some hefty thumps on each other’s body. What a battle must occur between adult male giraffes when they are fighting for real!

A tower of Giraffe

A tower of Giraffe

When we stop for a choo break, Brian asks if anyone wants to challenge him in a dung spitting contest. No, I’m not kidding you about this! Paul has already participated in this safari game in the past (I declined both times) so decides to forego the fun. The only human taker to the challenge is Vidole Juu, who takes it in stride when he learns this contest doesn’t mean you spit on dung, it means you put some dung in your mouth and see how far you can spit it. Impala dung is prevalent here and the dung is a nice, small, round pellet which works well, so I’m told. Vidole Juu gives it his all but comes up well short of the distance that the professional dung spitter Brian sends his round, black pellet. Paul decides our friend squid should give dung spitting a try but squid proves to be a poor participant and the impala poo lands at Paul’s feet.

Squid participating in the dung spitting contest with Paul's help

Squid participating in the dung spitting contest with Paul’s help

I might as well give you a short background on why we have a plastic squid traveling with us. Squid came into our lives when someone, (Paul’s sister Joy), found her lying on a beach and stuck the drink glass decoration in my purse while we were in Puerto Rico. The unwanted orange piece of plastic was snuck back into Joy’s possession before we left that beautiful island. Since then squid has been shuttled back and forth between Colorado and Kansas until we all ran out of ideas or friends who would help us in getting the wayward squid into each other’s house. We both began taking squid on our various travels, trying to outdo each other with photos of squid enjoying or in trouble on our respective vacations. We even got our Rover pals to help show our horror when squid was accidentally dropped out the window on one of our game drives in Ruaha and was consumed by an elephant! You will be relieved to know that we later discovered an intact squid in a pile of elephant poo :). Many of you probably think this is a bit silly, but we have had a lot of fun with our adventures with squid. Right now squid is in Paris with Joy, and seems to be enjoying her foo foo French holiday after the rough travel of Africa.

Squid Overboard!

Squid Overboard!

After our break, we travel on through areas that have a park like appearance. Tall acacia and other thorny bushes and trees are thinly scattered over grassy expanses. We find herds of impalas, zebra, more giraffe and a large herd of wildebeest, the first wildebeest we have seen in the Selous. We do not find any elephant.

As we are driving back to camp for lunch, we come across a small group of impalas in genuine alert mode. They are staring at a dense stand of brush, snorting and stamping their front legs. In time the females lose their nerve and take off running, but two males stand their ground and continue to sound the alarm. Our vehicles begin to drive on but we beg Kevin to wait a little bit longer since the bucks seem so sure that danger is lurking nearby. We stare in the same direction as the nearest male is looking, and soon a shadowy figure is seen walking in the bushes. Hyena! Oddly enough, this is the first hyena we have actually seen on our safari although we have heard plenty of the skulking beasts calling at night.

The young hyena has no fear of our vehicles and continues ambling to the edge of the brush line where he lays down on the far side of the nearest bush to our vehicles.  Our sister vehicles drive to where the hyena is lying in order to get a clearer look at the creature. When our companions finish observing the hyena we take their place so we can take a few photos before leaving the sleepy animal alone. The heck of it is that when I am going through my photos of our first hyena sighting, I think I am hitting the protect button for these photos and instead I have been deleting them! Brother, I have mistakenly deleted photos before so you would think I would have learned my lesson. I only have one photo, see below, of the hyena peering out of the bush when he walked to the edge of the brush line not far from our Rover.

My surviving photo of the hyena

My surviving photo of the hyena

After lunch, and I have no clue what we were served but I’m sure it was excellent, we take a break and rest from the rough drive of this morning. In order to get some air through our tent we follow the example of our safari leader and a couple of other safarists and open both ends of our tent. There doesn’t seem to be many bugs around and this is definitely worth doing as it makes the interior of our tent much more comfortable. There is a convoy of ants that discover the opening in the back of our tent, but drawing my finger through the dirt forms a barrier that the small brown insects will not cross. Why does that work??

It’s midafternoon when we leave for our afternoon game drive. Our drivers are setting a good pace and seem to have a destination in mind, as they don’t seem to be looking too hard for game. We pass by a large herd of wildebeest lounging in the shade of the trees, well back from the road. In Paul and my memory which very well might be wrong, we lose sight of the other two vehicles and Kevin must get directions from Mochie over the radio in order to find our fellow safarists. When we see our friends they are parked near the road underneath a couple of acacia trees. There are clumps of ground plants with spiky, palm like leaves growing around the acacias. When we drive up to join the rest of our group the first thing we see is a Wild Dog lying flat on its side. The male dog’s bloated belly is protruding into the air, and if I couldn’t clearly see that this animal is a male, I would have guessed it was a pregnant female!  Alright, Paul and I can finally add the sighting of wild dogs to our African safari highlights!! This is no small feat, as the wild dog numbers are on the decline and only found in a few places in East Africa.

I'm not sure this Painted dog could move if he wanted to.

I’m not sure this Painted dog could move if he wanted to.

The wild dogs hiding in the ground Palm bush(I made that name up)

The wild dogs hiding in the ground Palm bush(I made that name up)

Brian is riding in our vehicle and is as excited as any of us at the sight of these interesting canines. Judging by the first dogs extended stomach, it appears that the pack is lying around digesting their lunch, while also escaping the blazing sun as they nestle among the ground palms. It is easy to see why wild dogs are also called painted dogs since the mottled coats of the animals look like someone lobbed pellets of yellow, white and black paint at the canines which decorated their hides in a modern art style. If you’re a horse person I suppose you could call them the Appaloosa of the canine world.

It is easy to see why they are nicknamed Painted Dogs.

It is easy to see why they are nicknamed Painted Dogs.

Look at the size of those ears!

Look at the size of those ears!

I didn’t record in my journal how many dogs there were in this pack but it seemed that when you thought you had seen them all another one would stick its nose out from the serrated leaves of one of the palm like bushes. Often, one of the long-legged dogs  emerge from its resting place, panting from the heat, and walks a short distance to crawl into a neighboring bush, making the palm leaves rattle like a bamboo wind chime. Several of the dogs were content to lay, sit, or stand in the open under the tall acacias oblivious to their human admirers.

One of the dogs posing like Rin Tin Tin. Boy am I dating myself

One of the dogs posing like Rin Tin Tin. Boy am I dating myself

The dogs have long legs that allow them to run after their prey for long distances.

The dogs have long legs that allow them to run after their prey for long distances.

There is one male who seems uneasy with the closeness of humans and he whines then gets to his feet walking across the road to hide in another bush. The slender dog reappears and trots off down the road and then returns. Eventually he entices a couple of his pack mates to follow him and they walk into a patch of tall grass and disappear.

The male dog that wasn't comfortable with his human admirers

The male dog that wasn’t comfortable with his human admirers

As I am watching the dogs out the back of the vehicle, we begin to move and I ask out loud “what are we doing”. The next thing I know Kevin has driven the Rover up to a Palm bush and tapped it with the bumper. No one can quite believe what Kevin just did and Brian admonishes him and tells him not to scare the dogs, which we did of course! I’m not sure if it was Bacari or Mochie who performed the same stunt on a different bush almost simultaneously with Kevin. I wonder if our drivers have pulled this trick before because the result is that several dogs jump to their feet and exit their hiding place.  None of us are happy about the incident and Usiku tells us later that Njema declares that we are harassing the painted dogs and insists that they leave immediately. Good for Njema. I am puzzled by the action of the two drivers because I know they have a genuine respect for the wildlife.

We have a long trip back to our camp and on the return trip we catch a glimpse of a Red Duiker. We nearly drive by a tree full of Black and White Colobus monkeys that are feeding. Most of the monkeys scamper away through the treetops when we stop to observe them. Two braver monkeys continue to forage and one of them performs a gravity defying reach for a particularly tempting morsel. I wonder what the purpose is of the long mantle of white hair that grows from these monkeys shoulders. Whatever the reason the silky white hair is very striking.

I hope the food that tempted the monkey to reach for it in this dangerous way was worth it!

I hope the food that tempted the monkey to reach for it in this dangerous way was worth it!

Black and White Colobus monkey showing the mantle of long white hair.

Black and White Colobus monkey showing the mantle of long white hair.

As we are driving along the lakeside, Kevin stops and points out a Black Stork which is also known as the Umbrella bird. We are astonished by the hunting tactics of the bird and I swear my mouth is agape as we watch the jet black bird search for food. The Stork will take two or three steps, throw its wings into a circle that completely covers its head and body, rustle its feathers and then when it drops its wings, there is often a small fish wriggling in the bird’s beak. All of us are quite taken by the Umbrella birds performance and someone, (was it you Ngruwe?), quips that all we need is some Dracula theme music to accompany the show. That is a perfect analogy, because when the bird throws his black wings over himself it is akin to Dracula throwing his black cape across his face!

The Black Stork or Umbrella bird covering himself with his wings as he hunts.

The Black Stork or Umbrella bird covering himself with his wings as he hunts.

The Black Stork coming uncovered.

The Black Stork coming uncovered.

Well, the day is waning and we have returned to camp ready for a feast from Christophe. We line up for the showers and keep the camp workers busy pouring hot water into the bucket showers. What an exciting day we have had with all our animal and bird encounters. The icing on the cake naturally is seeing the elusive and rare Wild dogs. Supa!!

Next blog, one last full day in the Selous. Nancy

A Game Float down the Rufiji River, Part 11

A game float down the Rufiji River, Part 11

This sign was by the road that is in front of the lodge:)

This sign was by the road that is in front of the lodge:)

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.

Paul relaxing on our porch

Paul relaxing on our porch

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.

Apollo, our guide

Apollo, our guide

Our fellow travelers preparing to leave for our trip down the Rufiji River

Our fellow travelers preparing to leave for our trip down the Rufiji River

Lovely scenery and sky

Lovely scenery and sky

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.

Look at the channel created by the ridges along each side of the croc's tail.

Look at the channel created by the ridges along each side of the croc’s tail.

This is why you keep your arms and legs inside the boat!

This is why you keep your arms and legs inside the boat!

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.

A watchful hippopotamus

A watchful hippopotamus

We dare you to cross this line.

We dare you to cross this line.

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.

A convenient perch for this Egret

A convenient perch for this Egret

A Beautiful Malachite Kingfisher

A Beautiful Malachite Kingfisher

Goliath Heron

Goliath Heron

Some of the Rookery

Some of the Rookery

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.

Elephants along the shoreline

Elephants along the shoreline

Waterbuck

Waterbuck

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.

Brian goes barefooted a lot on the safari!

Brian goes barefooted a lot on the safari!

Stretching our legs and having a cold soda

Stretching our legs and having a cold soda

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?

One of many giraffe on our drive to the camp

One of many giraffe on our drive to the camp

A bushbuck we saw on the way to our mobile camp

A bushbuck we saw on the way to our mobile camp

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.

A small sample of the camp

A small sample of the camp

The dining area at the camp. Our group members swapping stories

The dining area at the camp. Our group members swapping stories

Our night watchman

Our night watchman

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.

This beautiful scene is just a few steps away from the dining area.

This beautiful scene is just a few steps away from the dining area.

Next blog, Morning and Afternoon game drive in Selous, Nancy

Leaving Ruaha and Flying to Selous Part 10

Leaving Ruaha and Flying to Selous Part 10

Jennifer (Nyama) sent us this photo. We and others were often in this pose!

Jennifer (Nyama) sent us this photo. We and others were often in this pose!

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!

Toasting bread for our last breakfast in Ruaha

Toasting bread for our last breakfast in Ruaha

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.

Our camp staff dismantling the tents.

Our camp staff dismantling the tents.

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!

The invading Baboon troop

The invading Baboon troop

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.

Southern Blue-eared starlings that landed in the trees

Southern Blue-eared starlings that landed in the trees

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.

The Serval stump Ngruwe saw as we flew down the road. It sure looks like a cat.

The Serval stump Ngruwe saw as we flew down the road. It sure looks like a cat.

Zooming in on the "serval" which turns out to be a stump

Zooming in on the “serval” which turns out to be a stump

The actual Serval cat we saw on a prior game drive. You can see why Ngruwe thought he had found another Serval. This is Jennifer's photo

The actual Serval cat we saw on a prior game drive. You can see why Ngruwe thought he had found another Serval. This is Jennifer’s photo

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.

Changing the flat tire

Changing the flat tire

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.

The airport and one of the elephants near the landing strip

The airport and one of the elephants near the landing strip

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!

The two planes we thought were ours

The two planes we thought were ours

Terminal A & B

Terminal A & B

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.

I found this lizard near the bathrooms. Look how he is holding his toes up off of the hot surface of the log.

I found this lizard near the bathrooms. Look how he is holding his toes up off of the hot surface of the log.

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.

The big poker game. Brian had to make do with a bone for a chair.

The big poker game. Brian had to make do with a bone for a chair.

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!

The landing plane that wasn't ours.

The landing plane that wasn’t ours.

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.

Boarding our plane

Boarding our plane

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.

O.K. maybe this is the real reason they made us sit in the back! Obviously screening is not part of flying in country:). Brian actually posed and took this photo.

O.K. maybe this is the real reason they made us sit in the back! Obviously screening is not part of flying in country:). Brian actually posed and took this photo.

Hippos from the air

Hippos from the air

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 tent at The Rufuji River Lodge

Our tent at The Rufuji River Lodge

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.

A fuzzy photo of the Bohms Bee-eater outside our room

A fuzzy photo of the Bohms Bee-eater outside our room

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 and his Mapumbo cakes.

Paul and his Mapumbo 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

All Day Game Drive in Ruaha, Part 9

All day game drive in Ruaha, Part 9

Elephants and Baobab trees in Ruaha National Park

Elephants and Baobab trees in Ruaha National Park

In camp tonight, the usual activities play out, some of us wash clothes, look through photos, and we keep the camp staff busy heating water so we can shower. In fact the water for my shower is so hot tonight; I must step in and out of the water stream to keep from being scalded. Whew!

When we sit down to eat we visit about the day, laugh a lot, and enjoy the food Christophe has prepared, as usual the meal is accompanied by his famous dinner rolls. I know, I’m obsessed with those rolls but I am not the only one. For some reason, Christophe always has one more dinner roll than diners. This extra roll is always devoured by someone in our group, and at times two or three people divide the roll among them. I remember one evening when, Oscar I think, tried to remove the extra dinner roll from the table, and Vidole Juu told him not to even think of taking it away, making everyone around the table laugh. I think Oscar was hoping to consume the wondrous roll himself!

Tonight with the full moon shining down on the African bush, we again are serenaded by a patrolling lion as we are going to bed.  The lion sounds much closer than the lion did last night, and this fellow repeats his territorial proclamation more than once. You would think a lion roaring and huffing about his importance would make one sit straight up in bed. For me I struggle to keep my eyes open so I can listen to the magnificent animal’s voice. In the end I drift off to sleep, the lion’s song still drifting through air.

Tea, coffee, and juice bar in the bush

Tea, coffee, and juice bar in the bush

I’m up early and follow the same ritual as yesterday morning. I wash up in cold water and take hot tea with me as I walk to the river bed. I tread cautiously as I make my way through the bunchy grass until I reach the open area of the dry river. This morning the river channel is quiet and empty. Perhaps the noisy lion passed through here last night and scared all the wildlife away. Paul, Ngruwe, and Nyama soon join me, in hopes that the honey badger might show up again but he doesn’t put in an appearance.  I imagine I gave the badger such a scare yesterday that he will avoid this area of his territory for a few days!

Our guides encourage us to get around a bit earlier this morning as they are hoping to find the lion that was broadcasting his presence near our camp last night. As we drive through the narrow, wood lined, road leading away from our camp, Nyama points and exclaims, and I paraphrase, “there is something”. Yes there is, as a pair of Dik-diks is standing under a thorn-bush near the road! These diminutive antelope always remind me of a cross between a large rabbit and an antelope. Their almond-shaped eyes and narrow snout being rabbit like, but having the slender long legs and body of an antelope. I guess Nyama sees the same resemblance to a rabbit because another time when she spotted the tiny creatures, she yelled out “rabbit”! Throughout our remaining game drives, I remember that Nyama, Ngruwe, and Vidole Juu always find the Dik-diks; perhaps Paul and Uwiano spotted some too. I just know that I never see the little buggers until someone else alerts me to them, but I will give the lame excuse that I am usually searching further away from the roadside and the Dik-dik we see are always near the road.

One of the Dik-dik's that Nyama found.

One of the Dik-dik’s that Nyama found.

When our convoy emerges from the trees and we enter the more open area of the park, everyone sees a creature standing in the distance. I have this mental image of all of us peering at the object bare eyed, trying to discern what we are looking at despite the fact that most of us have binoculars hanging around our necks!  Once we have the sense to use our binoculars, the unidentifiable object materializes into an enormous, golden-maned lion.   I yell out “it’s a lion!” and find myself jumping up and down on the seat like a kid jumping on their bed. I am a little embarrassed when I become aware of what truly is an involuntary reaction by me, but since I have no recollection of what my vehicle mates say or do at this moment, I am hoping they were oblivious to me too. The way the lion is standing proudly with his head up, looking defiant, while confidently portraying the fact that he knows he is King of this part of the jungle. This scene reminds me of what one would see at the opening credits of an old-time movie. Is this the owner of the voice that was roaring last night? I think it is a pretty good bet that it is.

Fabio standing proudly in the African bush when we first saw him.

Fabio standing proudly in the African bush when we first saw him.

As our vehicles move toward the mature male, he lies down in the grass and we are able to take our time in photographing this incredible specimen. The lion is immaculately groomed and I believe it was Mbuzi who commented later in the day, please forgive me if I am mistaken on this fellow safarists, that it appeared as though the beautiful cat had just stepped out of a beauty parlor. Indeed the lion’s mane is tangle free, and gleams golden in the morning sun. Later, after looking at photos, I named the handsome rascal, Fabio for his golden tresses. The lion soon tires of our attention, rises to his feet and strolls across the road in front of us, disappearing into some bushes a few hundred yards away. In our vehicle, we speculate that there might be females already resting in the leafy foliage because surely, Fabio is too fabulous not to have his own pride.

Fabulous Fabio

Fabulous Fabio

We follow the dry river bed again and see an enormous troop of baboons spread out over the sandy bottom. It is obvious that elephants have passed through here, and the baboons have been combing through the dung the pachyderms have left in their wake.

The baboon troop and sifted through elephant dung

The baboon troop and sifted through elephant dung

Our wandering brings us to a giraffe drinking water at a small pool on the edge of the river. You can imagine how complicated this task is for the long-necked, long-legged animal. It is almost painful to watch as the rangy giraffe spreads its front legs wide so he can get his head low enough to reach the water. Brian tells us that the reason the giraffe snaps its head up quickly after drinking for a short time, is that the giraffe has a kind of warning system that tells it when too much blood is flowing into its head. The giraffe knows to raise its head when it feels pressure in its skull and must quickly pull their head up before they do damage to themselves. Brian explained the cause and effect of excess blood flowing to the giraffe’s head much better than I did, but you get the idea. Because of this blood flow problem, the giraffe must raise and lower his head many times in order to drink its fill.  What an ordeal the poor giraffe must go through just to quench its thirst.

The awkward position giraffe must drink from.

The awkward position giraffe must drink from.

The giraffe spraying water as it lifts up his head quickly

The giraffe spraying water as it lifts up his head quickly

Our drivers pull into an area where we are allowed to leave the vehicles to stretch our legs and use the choo. The problem is the long drops are so nasty at this stop that we women decide to retreat behind a large boulder to answer the call of nature. Hiding behind a tree, boulder or bush is becoming common place because usually there aren’t any restrooms anyway! Aw, you just get used to it and one’s modesty disappears quickly!

There are other tourists here, some eating an early lunch on the jumble of boulders that are adjacent to the mostly dry river. Because the bird’s eye view from the kopjes is occupied, Paul and I walk next to the pile of rocks so we can look down the river channel where an elephant is drinking water from the “well” it has dug with its trunk. We watch as the large beast’s trunk disappears into the sand and then reappears with a trunk full of water which it transfers to its mouth. This female is accompanied by her baby who is having fun running around mom, and generally acting silly. The antics of young elephants, or any baby animal, always make me laugh out loud.

Wahoo, I can run!

Wahoo, I can run!

If you look closely you can see water spilling from the elephants trunk

If you look closely you can see water spilling from the elephants trunk

When Paul and I walk out of the weedy area we have been standing in, Paul finds a couple of small ticks crawling on his arm. Lovely, I don’t find any on me but every little tickle I feel for quite some time causes me to search my skin to make sure the nasty bloodsuckers aren’t crawling on me.

This is a sausage tree with fruit/seeds hanging from the branches

This is a sausage tree with fruit/seeds hanging from the branches

When we get back to where the vehicles are parked, Kevin points out a Black-backed Jackal across the river, trotting through the grass. Vidole Juu, Ngruwe, and Paul find a fallen fruit from the sausage tree near our Rover. They each take turns in holding  the big seed from the sausage tree, comment on how heavy the fruit is and what damage the elongated fruit would do if it hit human, animal, or vehicle when it fell from the tree. There is always something to learn and contemplate on safari!! This was a nice area to stop and relax a bit but it is time to move on down the road.

Our convoy of three is moving right along when Mochie’s vehicle comes to a stop in front of us. After some initial conferring and looking under the hood, Kevin crawls back in our Rover, drives gently into Mochie’s defunct truck and begins to push him. Yikes. The ailing Rover’s engine comes to life after getting the boost but only manages to keep running for a short distance, before sputtering to a stop. The drivers and Brian all pile out of their vehicles and begin to comb over the broken Rover. They are under the hood and Kevin is crawling beneath the vehicle. Brian walks to our truck and asks Ngruwe if he will help them, because Ngruwe has shown prior to this incident that he is mechanical minded. Vidole Juu also leaves the vehicle to see if he can be of help.

Eventually, the way I understand it, the men have found that the switch between the empty diesel tank and the full tank isn’t working, (or was it the return hose?) and they can’t seem to fix the problem. Mechanical stuff makes my eyes glaze over, but I do know that the diesel isn’t being fed from the full tank to the engine. In the end they come and collect empty water bottles and drain diesel from the full tank into the bottles, pouring the siphoned fuel into the empty tank. Once they feel as though they have transferred enough diesel to the empty but good tank to get us to Park Headquarters they crank the engine over and it coughs but starts. There is no game sighting now as our guides drive quickly to the Park Headquarters.DSCF4558

Once we arrive at the working headquarters of the Park, all of us climb out of the trucks, grab a soda or beer, and sit around the tables that are situated outside the office buildings. There is an “elephant proof fence” around the building and yard but we muse at the fact that there is plenty of elephant dung inside this fence, though for the life of us we can’t figure out how the grey beasts managed to get inside! Mochie has driven back to where the Park owned vehicles are kept and soon reemerge with a full tank of diesel in the working tank. I have written in my journal that when asked what the diesel cost to purchase from the Park authorities, Brian told us they were charged eighteen dollars a gallon. Surely I wrote that down wrong, if not someone made a mighty good profit.

Some of our group relaxing at Ruaha Park Headquarters

Some of our group relaxing at Ruaha Park Headquarters

Since Park Headquarters is obviously situated inside Ruaha we can begin looking for wildlife as soon as we board our Rovers. As we drive by one of the out buildings a lone elephant is standing next to it. Just a bit farther down the road a little girl happily waves at us from the doorway of her house as we pass by. Can you imagine this scenario? “Mom can I go outside and play?”, “Sure, honey but watch out for elephants” :).

Your backyard visitor in Ruaha!

Your backyard visitor in Ruaha!

Little girl waving at us as we leave the Headquarters of Ruaha Park

Little girl waving at us as we leave the Headquarters of Ruaha Park

Not much time has passed since we left Park headquarters with our expensive diesel when I see movement along the ridge of a hillock. Asking Kevin to stop, I try to figure out what I have seen. I can’t quite get a fix on the animal but I think it is a male Kudu since the animal is sporting a huge set of horns. Kevin is anxious to move on but I ask him to wait a bit still hoping that I can turn this antelope into a Sable or a Roan antelope instead of a Kudu. Kevin finally says to me with some exasperation that we must go as there are lions near the road up ahead of us. Aha, he had to break the code of silence that exits among guides and actually tell us why we need to rush somewhere! I exclaim “Let’s go” and within minutes we arrive to see a pride of lions on the move.

The Lion Pride when we first saw them. Wow!

The Lion Pride when we first saw them. Wow!

This photo of the lions coming towards us makes my skin tingle!!

This photo of the lions coming towards us makes my skin tingle!!

Our sister vehicles have been watching the Lion pride for a while but we still get in on the excitement of watching the lions move across the bush with a certainty that exudes from the felines that they own this place! The pride has twelve lions in it and this includes two mature males. Kevin tells us that the males are brothers and that is why they are willing to share a pride. The lions are heading for the river and they end up meandering right by our vehicles, hardly giving us a glance. As our guides drive slowly along it is interesting to see that two large females and one of the males break off of the group when they near the river and walk up to high ground that looks over the river. The two females walk to the edge of the bluff and lay down right on the edge of the cliff which gives them a clear view of the surrounding area. The male that split off the main group lies down under a tree not far from the female duo and appears to doze off.

The two sentries watch as their pride members drink from the Ruaha River

The two sentries watch as their pride members drink from the Ruaha River

The main body of the pride that went to the river to drink.

The main body of the pride that went to the river to drink.

The remaining lioness and nearly grown cubs walk to the river and begin to drink. The other male walks to a puddle, lies down and laps his water from it. When the felines finish drinking they walk to the bottom of the bluff directly below where the lioness lookouts are situated and lay down. One of the lionesses has carried a plastic water bottle she found by the river and is having fun chewing on the debris some stupid human left behind. One of the nearly grown cubs decides he wants the noisy toy and takes it from the lioness, which willingly lets him have the bottle.

Playing with the plastic bottle

Playing with the plastic bottle

As I study this group of lion, I decide that they are not faring that well. The lions seem thin compared to the other lions we have seen on this trip so far. I notice one lioness has a blue eye, very likely blind in it. The male that stayed with the main group has an angry red splotch on his side. Is it an injury or a skin condition? So many mouths to feed means they need to have successful kills and a lot of kills. I don’t know how much a mature lion needs to eat to stay healthy but I don’t think these animals are meeting that requirement.

The lioness with the bad eye

The lioness with the bad eye

We drive around to the other side of the lions so we can see the group who are lying down next to the bluff.  I am taking photos of the sleepy group, when suddenly the male and a cub jump to their feet with the cub running up the hill to join the sleeping male and lioness lookouts. One of the lionesses in the group sends an intensive stare in our direction so we look around trying to find what has upset the lions.  It doesn’t take long to see that some fool has gotten out of their car, is hiding behind a bush and taking photos. As the photo below shows, some of the lions had no reaction at all.  I think everyone in our truck is turning bright red with anger, I know I am.  Kevin calls over to the knucklehead and tells him he can’t get out of his car. He looks Kevin’s way and then a woman (his wife?) in the car, tells him he needs to get back in the vehicle. I hate to say it but by her accent they are obviously Americans. It takes my blood pressure awhile to return to normal after this incident to say the least.

I would never want to see a lion staring at me like she was staring at the fool who left his car!

I would never want to see a lion staring at me like she was staring at the fool who left his car!

It is our own lunch time and our guides take us to a beautiful spot above the Ruaha River. There are elephants very near so our drivers place the vehicles in a semi-circle to provide a shield should the elephants get testy. It isn’t necessary because in the end the foraging elephants decide they would rather not share the area with us and vacate the premises.

This baby elephant was having lunch himself.

This baby elephant was having lunch himself.

Paul and I posing at the place we ate lunch.

Paul and I posing at the place we ate lunch.

We continue our drive along the river and we find an abundance of birds, including Fire finch and Blue-capped Cordon-bleu (really that is their name). We watch in wonder as Pied Kingfisher hover over the water as easily as hummingbirds and then plunge like miniature torpedoes into the water, often reappearing with a small fish in their beaks. There are disheveled Speckled Mousebirds in a tangle of brush that appear like they have had one to many drinks, as the funny birds can’t even seem to perch upright.

Speckled Mousebird. they always look half-drunk to me

Speckled Mousebird. they always look half-drunk to me

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Blue-capped Cordon-bleu birds.

Blue-capped Cordon-bleu birds.

Our vehicle stops to look at some Grant’s gazelle and we end up losing sight of the rest of our group. The men decide they need to “check the tires” so Kevin obligingly stops for them. This is a good time to admit that the first time Kevin got out to “check the tires”; I innocently ask if we have a low tire! Oh go ahead and laugh, everyone else did. Nyama went one better than I, as when the Fearless Four were hiking to Sanje Falls their guide said he was going to look for something to barbeque tonight. Nyama started to follow him off the trail because she wanted to help! Brian called her back and explained that it meant the guy needed some privacy. I know another euphemism we heard by our drivers for answering the call of nature was that they needed to look for medicine in the bush.

Getting back on track, Kevin starts the motor and starts to leave while the guys are still “checking tires”. It is just reflex on our part, but we women tell Kevin the guys are still outside which makes him start laughing at our concern. Even the men admit when they return to the Rover, that for a moment they too wondered what was happening. About this time, Mochie begins to plaintively call Kevin’s name over the two-way radio. Kevin begins driving quite fast and makes a turn which leads us to the river again. Whoops, appears we went the wrong way so Kevin turns around and speeds down the road turning the opposite direction when we get back to where we were previously. Hmm, this is mighty reminiscent of Mikumi.

What a beautiful young male leopard

What a beautiful young male leopard

When we finally find our companions they have been watching a leopard that I believe Bahati Njema spotted. The good news is that the leopard is still here, and walks directly towards our Rover, crossing the road in front of us. The handsome male enters the tall grass and walks a few hundred feet into the natural cover. The leopard sits down and despite all the noise coming from the vehicles, honestly the drivers are shouting back and forth to each other, is concentrating on some impalas that are grazing in the distance. The young leopard begins to walk towards the antelope when he suddenly drops to his belly and just disappears. How does such a big cat do that? We know when he reaches or gets close to the impalas because we can hear the alarm snorts, and the antelope take off running. It looks like the leopard struck out although since we can’t see him, and the fleeing impalas have disappeared from sight, we can’t be certain that he didn’t manage to catch lunch.

Scouting out the grazing impalas before he begins stalking them.

Scouting out the grazing impalas before he begins stalking them.

We can't decide what is on this leopards neck. Stickers of some sort?

We can’t decide what is on this leopards neck. Stickers of some sort?

Moving on, the guides drive us down to the river where we are allowed to get out and wade in the Ruaha if we want to. Brian and several others do take their shoes off and slosh around in the river. I prefer to dip my fingers in the Ruaha River because I remember all the caution antelope take when they go to the river to drink due to crocodiles!

Wading in the Ruaha River with a grazing hippo in the background. Paul's photo

Wading in the Ruaha River with a grazing hippo in the background. Paul’s photo

What a day we have had in Ruaha! When we arrive at camp I realize how tired I am at the end of our all day game drive. My arms ache from hanging on for dear life as we bounced down miles of dusty roads, and there are sore spots on my side, from constantly bumping into the side of the Rover. Believe me this is a small price to pay for the wonders we have seen so far!

Tonight we talk about how we might have missed seeing some of the animals if our timing would have been off just a few minutes. What if we had been a few minutes later getting out of camp, we would have missed seeing Fabio. What if Mochie’s Rover had not broken down, would we have already driven by the area where the pride of lions showed up? It is quite possible we would have missed the lion pride on the move, without the hour delay of our breakdown. What if we wouldn’t have gotten lost, oh wait we would have been right with our fellow safarists when they saw the leopard from the beginning. Still we wouldn’t have had the excitement of speeding down the road, wondering what was waiting for us when we arrived! What a day!  I think I have written that phrase in several blogs already!

Next blog, Flying to Selous Part 10, Nancy

Enjoy some more Lion photos

One of the males of the Pride

One of the males of the Pride

The lions walked within a few feet of us as they made their way to the river.

The lions walked within a few feet of us as they made their way to the river.

Day two in Ruaha National Park, Part 8

Ruaha day two, part 8

A photo in Ruaha National Park to start the blog.

A photo in Ruaha National Park to start the blog.

 

Last night after supper a portion of our group sat around the bon fire regaling one another about the events of our interesting day and helping Nyama and Ngruwe compile a list of events for their journal of the past two days.   There is something rustling the leaves of the trees that we are sitting under and occasionally a bit of debris hits the ground or us, as an unknown creature feeds overhead. Brian shines his torch into the tree canopy and a shadow flits briefly into the light. Bats! Whatever is hiding in the trees these bats want it, as they appear to deliberately brush the leaves and branches with their wings. Ngruwe finds out that the bats are dropping more than crumbs as he is the recipient of a well-aimed bat poo bomb. The rest of us escape the bat droppings as far as we know. If I recall correctly, Ngruwe and Nyama discover in the morning that the bats were visiting the tree next to their tent last night and left bat crap all over the laundry that they had hanging on the line. I think they had to rewash all of their clothes!

When Paul and I return to our tent for the night, we have just started to get ready for bed when a shrill call splits the air. We look at each other and simultaneously say “what was that”? We sit for a few seconds waiting for a repeat call which doesn’t come. Paul wonders if this is a bush baby as it sounds similar to Brian’s mimicry of a bush baby. Yes, Brian can do a good imitation of many African animals, you should hear his Hadada Ibis (its a bird) call! Paul decides to step back out into the night and search the trees close to the tent for the small mammal, but he fails to find the owner of the night splitting shrieks.

Settling into our beds, I am just drifting off when I hear the sound rolling down the river channel like muted thunder. I whisper, Paul do you hear it, and he answers that he has been listening to the lion for a couple of minutes. We listen as the male lion harrumphs in short coughs, broadcasting to any would be usurpers, that they had better stay out of his territory or else. The lion finally falls silent and I go to sleep smiling because that is the best lullaby one can wish for when sleeping in a canvas tent in the African bush.

I am up early, too early for the hot water that the staff brings around to our tents in the morning for washing up. I don’t mind, since the briskness of the cold water I splash on my face, snaps my sleepy eyes to wide open status. I’m definitely ready to see what might be in the dry river bed a few yards from our tent.  One of the camp crew is sitting by the fire, a red blanket, wrapped around his shoulders as he stares out into the breaking dawn, while a blackened, cast iron kettle simmers over the cook fire. Other staffers are setting tea bags and coffee on the small table by the dining tent along with silver thermos jugs of hot water. I pour steaming water into a cup containing a tea bag, and carry the beverage with me as I walk to the river channel. There are bushes and tall, yellow grass lining the edge of the sandy river bottom. Mindful of how a lion would blend into the dried grass, I step cautiously into the dry river bed.  I stand still and peer into the nearby bushes and grass before I take another step. I follow this cautious pattern for a few steps, when Bacari suddenly appears. I guess he decides to scout for me since he walks with me until we are in a more open part of the river. After looking around, Bacari seems satisfied that it is safe and he leaves me in solitude in the early dawn.

Last night I watched the splendor of the full moon rising over Ruaha National Park. This morning I get to watch the full moon drop below the horizon and then I watch as a vivid red sun rises within minutes of the moon set. Talk about doubly dramatic.

A red sunrise over Ruaha

A red sunrise over Ruaha

As I am enjoying the colorful  end of the night and the start of the day, I see a small creature hurrying through the golden grass not far from where I am standing. What is that animal?  I set my teacup on the ground and ready my camera, in hopes for a photo. For a minute I think I am looking at a skunk because the animal is black with a lighter back, but it is too big bodied, plus the animal’s whole back is grey, and besides that I’m in Tanzania! I get so excited while trying to train my camera on the scurrying critter that I kick my teacup over, which scares the animal making it reverse course and  run into heavier cover. Wow, some wildlife photographer I am! I did snap one photo of my mystery guest, but I moved my camera so the animal is an unidentifiable, blurry, blackish, blob. When I describe the animal and show the hopeless photo to Kevin, he doesn’t hesitate in identifying the animal as a honey badger. Super, I have never seen a honey badger before so what a great way to start the day! Brian informs me later that there is a superstition in Africa that if you see a honey badger you will have good luck. He also informs me that the Honey Badger is a vicious fighter if cornered! Thank goodness the badger had plenty of room to get away.

I didn't get the honey badger but this Saddle billed- Stork landed  later.

I didn’t get the honey badger but this Saddle billed- Stork landed later.

This morning our fearless leader, Brian, will be riding in our vehicle, which is great as he is a fountain of information on the wildlife and the bush, plus his spotting ability is terrific. As far as our regular group of six, when it comes to spotting wildlife we all do pretty well, but I will give the “eagle eye” award to Ngruwe. The man seems to be able to see animals near or far, moving or motionless, it’s uncanny, and I’m darned glad he is in our Rover. I admit that I will usually see an animal if it moves but I have a tougher time seeing a sedentary animal, which is why believe it or not, I can overlook giraffe. Giraffe often stand perfectly motionless under or next to a tree and I guess my eyes are fooled into thinking they are a tall tree with four trunks :).

It’s time to go and we women climb up on the seats, grab onto a part of the frame of the pop up roof, and hold on for dear life. It is rough riding on the roads of Ruaha and you better keep a firm grip or you might end up on the floor. The men hang on to the black piping too, even when they are standing on the floor because you can lose your balance quickly.  Brian often sits on the flat platform at the back of the Rover and seems to get along just fine, but honestly, I don’t know how he does it.

Brian perched on top of the Rover, this was actually in Mikumi

Brian perched on top of the Rover, this was actually in Mikumi

We come upon a covey of Black-faced Sand grouse next to a dry creek, dusting themselves in the sand, which certainly accentuates the bird’s name! They are beautiful birds and seem to have little fear of us, although most of them take flight once we drive by them. Moving on through the park we see Vervet monkeys and graceful giraffe. We have a close-up view of Greater Kudu as they stand behind a screen of brush and the size of the antelope’s ears is astonishing. The better to hear you with indeed. It is easy to see how the dusky Kudu gained the name “grey ghosts” of Africa as they can quietly melt into the underbrush and become nearly impossible to see.

Black-Faced Sand Grouse

Black-Faced Sand Grouse

Greater Kudu. Look at the size of those ears!

Greater Kudu. Look at the size of those ears!

Kevin and Brian are unsure of the identity of a starling they find, and after searching and comparing the bird to plates in the bird guide, they come to the conclusion it is the Ashy Starling, a bird that should not be in this part of Tanzania. Alright. Finding a bird that has strayed out of its normal range is always exciting.

Soon after finding the Ashy Starling, we see a pair of golden-colored mongoose. As Brian and Kevin search through the mammal book, their first conclusion is that these are Yellow mongoose. Kevin isn’t comfortable with this identification because the Yellow mongoose shouldn’t be here either. Kevin gets his smart phone out and runs a google search on the Slender mongoose which does reside in Ruaha. Sure enough, there are photos on his phone showing various colors of the Slender mongoose including a yellowish one. I blow up the photo I took of these mongoose to compare it with the picture on google and unfortunately, it is almost a direct match. Phooey, I was hoping for two species in one day that normally aren’t found in Ruaha. Oh well, the blonde, Slender mongooses are strikingly pretty, and fun to watch as they scurry on their way. In this same area there is a pile of boulders where Rock Hyrax are sunning themselves on the jumble of grey rocks. Upon closer scrutiny, we also see lizards crawling around on the kopjes.

One of the Slender Mongoose

One of the Slender Mongoose

We have lost sight of our sister vehicles, but what else is new:). As we jounce down the road, I catch sight of something moving through the tall grass, on the left side of the road. I call out, “Stop Kevin, there is something moving out there”. Basically, the ears and the back of the creature are all that is visible, and at first I think it might be a jackal, but Brian soon identifies the animal as a Serval Cat! How lucky is that? Paul and I have seen Servals on just one other safari, so we are delighted to have another encounter with the spotted cat. We never get a clear look at the Serval although the small cat did stop once and peeked over the top of the grass at us before strolling on, eventually disappearing into a brushy area. Paul pats me on the shoulder, adding a “good job Nancy” while Brian congratulates me on a good spot, along with kudos from the rest of our companions. O.K., I admit that I am beaming a little bit:).

Kevin catches us up with the other two vehicles, where our friends are watching a lioness under a tree. There is supposedly a male lion too, but for the life of me I can’t see it. Oh how quickly one is humbled on safari! I get plenty of helpful directions from the others in our vehicle, but it is finally Ngruwe’s explanation that the big male is lying flat on his side and I must watch for his flanks rising and falling as the lion breaths. I stare into the space that has been pointed out to me, and finally I do see the slight movement of a flank as the Lion breathes, which helps me see the faint outline of the recumbent lion. There is more proof that this really is a lion when he shakes his head slightly and his fringe of dark mane rises above the grass. Good grief, I wonder who the person was that found the male lion in the lead vehicles? I forgot to ask them who the eagle eye was when we returned to camp. Talk about a terrific spot!

Lioness

Lioness

Our convoy has arrived at the Ruaha River and with water comes lots of bird life. We stop to watch two elegant Crowned Crane aptly named due to the feathery crest on their heads that is in the shape of a crown or an unfurled fan, golden no less . Among the many species we find on the river are Wooly-necked Stork, Little Bee-eaters, Yellow Wattled Plover and egrets.

Crowned Crane- a gorgeous bird

Crowned Crane- a gorgeous bird

As we continue our bumpy, dusty route near the river’s edge in this awesome National Park, Kevin halts the Rover so we can look at a Martial Eagle that is standing in a pool of water. As we are looking at the Eagle and the beautiful vista that is spread out in front of us, Brian asks us to closely look at the Martial Eagle. He points out that the Eagle appears to be missing part of its right leg as there is space between the water and the leg. Sure enough, there is a little gap and we all muse aloud saying things like, how can it survive because surely an Eagle couldn’t kill prey with only one leg. Suddenly the rest of the Eagles’ right leg appears emerging from his fluffy, belly feathers.  Once the Eagle plops his feathered right leg into the water, he raises his left leg up and abracadabra he appears to have lost the bottom half of this leg!   What can you do but laugh at yourself after being fooled by the “now you see it now you don’t” trick by the Eagle magician!

Admit it this Martial Eagle appears to be missing the lower half of his right leg

Admit it this Martial Eagle appears to be missing the lower half of his right leg

We encounter a pair of Ground Hornbills talking to each other as they stroll through a wooded area. Their deep booming sounds remind me somewhat of the oompah sounds of a tuba. However, maybe a better likeness of their call is when Ngruwe blows across the top of a glass bottle and comes close to the hollow sound the big birds were making. There is a giraffe standing nearby, looking curiously at the musical two bird band as they march by him. As I write this I can hear and see this scene in my mind’s eye as plain as if it were happening now. I don’t know why this had such an impact on me but it surely did.

One of the musical Ground Horn Bills, I don't know why I don't have a photo of the pair

One of the musical Ground Horn Bills, I don’t know why I don’t have a photo of the pair

Our vehicles stops to admire a group of baby impala that someone in our group (I’m sorry I can’t remember who) aptly dubs an impala preschool. The silky little ones are congregated near a dead tree and there are two lizards atop the tree, heads lifted high, as if they are the school monitors.

Impala preschool

Impala preschool

Lizards on the dead tree that the baby impalas were under

Lizards on the dead tree that the baby impalas were under

Continuing driving along the edge of the Ruaha River we watch Impala and Kudu cautiously approach the water to drink. Both antelope species warily eye the river’s edge and when they do lower their heads to the water, Kudu and impalas alike keep their legs stretched back in a position that will allow them to spring away from a lurking crocodile if one tries to attack the vulnerable animals while they drink.

See how they are stretched away from the water when they drink?

See how they are stretched away from the water when they drink?

Our vehicles stop on a bluff overlooking the Ruaha River and we watch a parade of elephant as they wade into the water, first drinking and then crossing to the other side. There is a group of hippopotamuses downstream from the elephants where the babies have crawled up on the adult’s backs in order to stay above water.

Elephants crossing the river

Elephants crossing the river

Baby Hippopotamus using the backs of the adults to stay above water

Baby Hippopotamus using the backs of the adults to stay above water

Moving on, the lead vehicles have come to a halt due to a trio of elephants standing alongside the road our drivers want to go down. The big female has fanned her ears in warning at our companions, due to the fact that one of the members of this trio is a tiny baby, which according to Kevin, is at most two or three weeks old. Kevin watches the elephants for a bit and evidently doesn’t think the stay away signal given by the mother is serious and drives within a few feet of the pachyderms. It appears that our excellent guide was correct in his assessment, as the three wrinkled animals walk placidly in front of our Rover and into the grassy plain on the other side. Gosh darn, a baby elephant looks so miniscule next to a full-grown elephant you wonder how they keep from getting stepped on or knocked over.

Crossing in front of our Rover

Crossing in front of our Rover

2 week old baby elephant dwarfed by her mother

2 week old baby elephant dwarfed by her mother

We cross the river after our elephant encounter and watch in amusement as two male giraffe chase a young female. The duo will dash after the uninterested female for a short distance but she always manages to stay a step ahead of them. The three will slow to a walk but once the two males get too close for comfort for the female, they are off and running again.

As the day draws to an end our last encounter is with a troop of baboon. The baboon scout is perched in the crotch of a tree high above where the members of his troop are sifting through elephant dung, searching for seeds that passed through the elephant’s digestive system intact. I know, not a pretty picture but at least nothing is going to waste (no pun intended) with this baboon tactic. The scout seems less than excited with his guard detail, and I swear when we begin to snap photos of him, he goes into model mode. The Yellow baboon gives us his left profile, than his right profile, the sultry over the shoulder look which does no good because we aren’t behind him. Something moves our primate model to lift his foot up and smell it, or maybe he is just showing off his dexterity. In addition to getting some excellent photos of our baboon subject he also makes us laugh.DSCF4495

The posing baboon

The posing baboon

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As we prepare to leave the dung foraging baboons, a young male sneaks up behind a female who is scrutinizing a handful of elephant poop, and mates with her. The “what the hell” look on the poor females face along with the fact that the young male is looking guiltily about, makes us howl with laughter.  I’m sure the young baboon is fearful about what the dominate male will do to him, if he catches his subordinate in this seditious act! The Big Guy would likely sink his large canine teeth into the insolent underling and banish him from the clan (I really don’t know that this would happen)! In defense of the little male, the female has announced her readiness for mating via a swollen pink bottom which you couldn’t miss if you wanted too! The females, I’m available advertisement, was obviously too tempting for the young baboon to ignore.  I include the photo I took of the mating baboons so you can see for yourself the look of surprise on the unsuspecting females face, and note that the cheeky male appears to be looking about to see if trouble, in the form of a male twice his size, teeth bared, is heading his way. Hopefully this photo will make you laugh too (I hope not offend anyone).

Although this adult male wasn't part of the troop I write about, it shows you how big they are.

Although this adult male wasn’t part of the troop I write about, it shows you how big they are.

Mating baboons

Mating baboons

So this wonderful day has come to an end. Somewhere in between all the wildlife encounters we went back to camp for lunch, and I note in my journal that we were an hour late. Oops, poor Christophe, I know I get irritated if Paul and Randall are a few minutes late for lunch and I have modern means to keep food warm. Christophe must try to keep lunch edible over hot coals or a wood fire. I also note in my journal that we dined on beef stew and macaroni and it was delicious.

Next blog, an all-day game drive in Ruaha. Nancy

Close up of the forked stripes

Close up of the forked stripes

The zebra on the left has some unusual white stripes

The zebra on the left has some unusual white stripes

 

 

 

Iringa to Ruaha part 7

Iringa to Ruaha Part 7

Leaving Iringa and looking down onto the outskirts of the city

Leaving Iringa and looking down onto the outskirts of the city

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.

Church goers in Iringa

Church goers in Iringa

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.

We saw a lot of these small butcher(bucha) shops, often with meat hanging in the window.

We saw a lot of these small butcher(bucha) shops, often with meat hanging in the window.

A busy street in Iringa

A busy street in Iringa

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.

The students we met. Paul's photo

The students we met. Paul’s photo

Sheaves of grass and corn in the crib.

Sheaves of grass and corn in the crib.

The peddler, what a variety of merchandise he has.

The peddler, what a variety of merchandise he has.

DSCF4191We 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.

The Orthodox church

The Orthodox church

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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.

Members of our group getting a close up look at the dead snake

Members of our group getting a close up look at the dead snake

The Egyptian Cobra looks a little more impressive once Bacari picks it up.

The Egyptian Cobra looks a little more impressive once Bacari picks it up.

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.

Playing checkers and bao Paul's photo

Playing checkers and bao
Paul’s photo

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.

Some of the shuttered shops in the mini supermarket:). I love a good oxymoron.

Some of the shuttered shops in the mini supermarket:). I love a good oxymoron.

Nyama sharing space with boxes of water and backpacks. Pauls' photo

Nyama sharing space with boxes of water and backpacks. Pauls’ photo

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!

Giraffe just outside of Ruaha National Park

Giraffe just outside of Ruaha National Park

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.

This photo was taken in Mikumi National Park but it shows how the tops of the safari trucks pop up.

This photo was taken in Mikumi National Park but it shows how the tops of the safari trucks pop up.

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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.

Grazing Hippopotamus

Grazing Hippopotamus

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!

Looking over the Ruaha river from the bridge. The water looks murky but you could see down into it quite well.

Looking over the Ruaha river from the bridge. The water looks murky but you could see down into it quite well.

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.

I laugh every time I look at Mr. Grump the Lilac-breasted Roller.

I laugh every time I look at Mr. Grump the Lilac-breasted Roller.

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.

Two elephants and a look at the arid plains of Ruaha

Two elephants and a look at the arid plains of Ruaha

I took this photo on maximum zoom. The ostrich were a long ways off.

I took this photo on maximum zoom. The ostrich were a long ways off.

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.

Watching one of our group vehicles cross the sandy river bottom

Watching one of our group vehicles cross the sandy river bottom

The herd of elephants closing ranks around their most vulnerable member as we drive next to them.

The herd of elephants closing ranks around their most vulnerable member as we drive next to them.

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.

I can't leave the zebra out. Yes I meant to take the photos this way!

I can’t leave the zebra out. Yes I meant to take the photos this way!

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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

I walked out into the river channel to take this photo of the full moon rising the first night in our Special Camp in Ruaha. Gorgeous!!

I walked out into the river channel to take this photo of the full moon rising the first night in our Special Camp in Ruaha. Gorgeous!!