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Selous Game Reserve (Part One)

Southern Circuit, Tanzania

At 7 a.m. on the dot I am picked up by Athuman, my driver for the week, for the six hour journey from Dar Es Salaam to Selous Game Reserve. Driving through the city in peak hour is frustratingly slow, facing long waits at intersections and traffic hurtling towards us on the wrong side of the road. For a while we have no choice but to drive along the footpath, forcing pedestrians to scurry out of the way. It's a nerve-racking experience. I try not to look up too much.

Leaving the urban area behind, we drive through rolling green hills dotted with palm trees. Athuman identifies various fruits and vegetables growing along the road - coconuts, mangoes, pineapples, cassava, bananas. It's a tropical paradise, one that's making me hungry after not having eaten breakfast this morning. Athuman also points out cows and donkeys, as though they are unique species to Tanzania. They are not a highlight.


After three and a half hours the road turns to dirt and the drive becomes a bit bumpier. We still maintain a good speed, although I have no way to measure this as the speedometer doesn't work. Every now and then we pass a village, each of which contains only a few dozen mud huts with thatched roofs. Adults sit listlessly by the side of the road, while kids run around entertaining themselves.


Four kilometres before the park gate we turn off to African Safari Camp, located down a sandy track in the middle of nowhere. The accommodation is absolutely amazing,  and I have the entire place to myself. Large huts are spread out around a central swimming pool, while communal spaces are spacious, open-air, and topped with domed thatched roofs. My hut is bigger than my entire apartment back in Hong Kong, and the bed is twice the size of the one I sleep in at home. There is no glass on the windows, only fly screen, and the breeze is wonderful. The bathroom is lined with bamboo, letting in tons of natural light in the spaces between the poles. Stunning artwork is hung on the walls. Danny would love it here.


I am told that I am not allowed to walk around outside by myself at night, as elephants sometimes come wandering through. If that happened, this would hands down be the best place I have ever stayed. There is no phone in the room, but I'm given a whistle for emergencies.

Lunch is served in one of the enormous wooden huts, me their only guest in a restaurant that could hold a hundred. The waiter brings me the best soup I've tasted in Tanzania (and I've gone through more soups than I can count), followed by pizza with cheese, which I don't eat (I guess my dietary restrictions got lost in translation somewhere), salad and potato wedges. This is my first meal of the day, and it isn't particularly filling, but it is the highest quality food I have eaten in weeks. 


I have a couple of hours spare, so I put the bartender to use by buying a bottle of South African white wine. So far I have counted six staff, but there could easily be more lurking about. As you would expect, service is outstanding. The weather is warm, as is the wine, but I'm sitting outside, in the shade of another empty hut that I'm sure is usually teeming with guests, in an African paradise. It's perfect.

At 4 p.m. Athuman arrives to take me on my boat safari. He has changed into a traditional Maasai outfit, despite not being member of the tribe himself. A guide joins us, who has a name I can't pronounce and an accent I struggle to understand. He carries a book on local birds. I hope that's not all we see.


Arriving at the launch point on the Rufiji River, I expected to see a narrow waterway lined with thick forest, and animals coming down to drink at the water's edge. It is nothing like that. The river is several hundred metres wide and dotted with sandy islands, the trees are sparse, and a steep bank prevents larger mammals from coming close. I soon realise that this isn't the sort of safari to see the iconic African animals.


The boat is a tiny 8-seater, loud, rusted, sitting low in the water. The driver, who speaks no English, spots most of the wildlife. He alerts my guide, who then alerts me. Athuman joins us, seemingly to enjoy the ride and to take photos for his company. It is peaceful on the water, except for the sound of our boat, and a slight breeze creates superb weather conditions. On the downside, I quickly discover how difficult it is to take photos from a rocking boat.


Almost immediately we spot pods of hippos swimming through the water. For the most part they just look like grey lumps, until they stick their heads out to take a huge yawn. They then retreat below the surface again, the show over in mere seconds. They aren't the most engrossing animals to watch.


Numerous crocodiles, of all shapes, sizes and colours, inhabit the small islands in the middle of the river. Every single one of them bolts straight into the water as we approach. One particularly large croc hovers slightly below the surface as we draw near, apparently not afraid of us. In fact, I think I'm more scared of him, as I visualise him jumping up and attacking us in our low-lying boat.

Large flocks of attractive white-fronted bee-eaters are seen darting in and out of small hollows carved into the vertical banks. The guide takes quite some time to identify the bird, even with his bird book. In the end it is the driver who comes to the rescue and gives me a name to put with the photo.

Other animals seen include:

  • A giant monitor lizard, camouflaged on a rock.

  • Vervet monkeys, running up and down the banks.

  • An eagle, high up in a tree.

  • An egret.

  • Various other unidentified birds.

The driver pulls up to one of the islands and we hop off to walk around it (all the crocodiles have fled before we arrive). It's calm and quiet, but there's not much to see. The guide points out several animal prints in the sand, such as hippo and Egyptian goose. This is as exciting as it gets. We spend an inordinate amount of time here staring out at nothing. I think they are trying to fill in time before we are due to head back.


On the return journey we are treated to a dazzling sunset over the water. Unfortunately, the trip ends before the sun hits the horizon, ruining what is, for me, the high point of the afternoon. Overall, the animal haul isn't as impressive as I was hoping. Apart from the hippos, I feel I could be in any country in the world right now. I think I would have been more satisfied if they had called it a sunset tour rather than a safari, and as a bonus there are a few animals to see along the way. Today's outing definitely didn't feel like a safari.

After a ginormous dinner back at camp, a Maasai guard walks me to my hut, in case any wildlife decides to come wandering by. Disappointingly, we see nothing. Athuman spends the night in the local village - I can imagine the quality of his accommodation compared to mine. I feel a little a guilty that I have this entire place to myself, and wish Danny was here to share it with me.